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    Poliovirus detected in NYC sewage; health officials urge vaccination / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 August - 18:54

Transmission electron micrograph of poliovirus type 1.

Enlarge / Transmission electron micrograph of poliovirus type 1. (credit: Getty | BSIP )

Health officials in New York are ramping up efforts to boost polio vaccination rates in local children as yet more poliovirus has surfaced in sewage sampling.

On Friday, August 12, New York state and New York City health officials announced that poliovirus had been detected for the first time in New York City sewage , suggesting local circulation of the virus.

The finding follows similar detections in sewage sampling in nearby Rockland and Orange counties during May, June, and July. On July 21 , health officials in Rockland county reported a case of paralytic polio in a young, unvaccinated male resident who had not recently traveled out of the country. The man's symptoms began in June.

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    Betelgeuse is bouncing back after blowing its top in 2019 / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 August - 17:28 · 1 minute

Artist’s conception in 2021 provided a close-up of Betelgeuse’s irregular surface and its giant, dynamic gas bubbles, with distant stars dotting the background.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception in 2021 provided a close-up of Betelgeuse’s irregular surface and its giant, dynamic gas bubbles, with distant stars dotting the background. (credit: European Southern Observatory)

Astronomers are still making new discoveries about the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, which experienced a mysterious "dimming" a few years ago. That dimming was eventually attributed to a cold spot and a stellar "burp" that shrouded the star in interstellar dust. Now, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories have revealed more about the event that preceded the dimming.

It seems Betelgeuse suffered a massive surface mass injection (SME) event in 2019, blasting off 400 times as much mass as our Sun does during coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The sheer scale of the event is unprecedented and suggests that CMEs and SMEs are distinctly different types of events, according to a new paper posted to the physics arXiv last week. (It has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.)

Betelgeuse is a bright red star in the Orion constellation— one of the closest massive stars to Earth, about 700 light-years away. It's an old star that has reached the stage where it glows a dull red and expands, with the hot core only having a tenuous gravitational grip on its outer layers. The star has something akin to a heartbeat, albeit an extremely slow and irregular one. Over time, the star cycles through periods when its surface expands and then contracts.

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    The Soviet Union once hunted endangered whales to the brink of extinction / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 August - 16:48 · 1 minute

Soviet whalers manning mechanized harpoons in 1960.

Enlarge / Soviet whalers manning mechanized harpoons in 1960. (credit: Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images )

Every year, an estimated 13 million people go whale-watching around the world, marveling at the sight of the largest animals ever to inhabit Earth. It’s a dramatic reversal from a century ago, when few people ever saw a living whale. The creatures are still recovering from massive industrial-scale hunting that nearly wiped out several species in the 20th century.

The history of whaling shows how humans have wreaked careless havoc on the ocean, but also how they can change course. In my new book, Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling , I describe how the Soviet Union was central both to this deadly industry and to scientific research that helps us understand whales’ recovery.

A humpback whale breaches in Boston Harbor on August 2, 2022. Whaling greatly reduced humpback whale numbers, but the species is recovering under international protection.

From wood to steel and bad to worse

At the start of the 20th century, it seemed whales might gain a reprieve after years of hunting. The era of whaling from sailboats, depicted in such memorable detail by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick , had nearly wiped out slow, fat species like right and bowhead whales and also wreaked substantial harm to sperm whales .

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    Rocket Report: SpaceX sees rideshare demand, Russia’s odd launch deal with Iran / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 August - 11:30 · 1 minute

India's Small Satellite Launch Vehicle takes flight on Sunday.

Enlarge / India's Small Satellite Launch Vehicle takes flight on Sunday. (credit: ISRO)

Welcome to Edition 5.06 of the Rocket Report! The big news this week is Northrop Grumman's deal with both Firefly and SpaceX to make sure it can continue flying Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. This is a bold move that draws upon the deep US commercial space industry in order to meet NASA's needs in space. It is great to see this kind of cooperation in the aerospace community.

As always, we welcome reader submissions , and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.


Astra pivots to larger rocket . Astra will shift away from its previous mantra of being lean in terms of staffing, moving at breakneck speed, and tolerating some failure in launch vehicles, Ars reports . It will also go bigger in terms of its rocket size. "First, we've increased the payload capacity target for launch system 2.0 from 300 kg to 600 kg," CEO Chris Kemp said. "Second, we're working with all of our launch service customers to re-manifest on launch system 2.0. As such, we will not have any additional flights in 2022. And third, we're increasing investments in testing and qualification."

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    CDC no longer gently recommends COVID precautions most weren’t following anyway / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 11 August - 23:29

Huge facade for CDC headquarters against a beautiful sky.

Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images )

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its pandemic guidance today, offering slightly looser recommendations that likely won't change much about how Americans handle the pandemic these days.

According to the updated guidance , people who are not up-to-date on their vaccinations —i.e., unvaccinated people or people who have not received the recommended number of boosters—no longer need to quarantine if they know they've been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Instead, if a not up-to-date person is exposed, the CDC now recommends they wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure and get tested for COVID-19 on day 5. Currently, roughly 68 percent of the US population is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccination.

This guidance update essentially ends all COVID-19-related quarantine recommendations since the CDC had previously said that those who are up to date on their vaccines do not need to quarantine but only wear a mask for 10 days and test.

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    Sauropods had soft foot pads to help support their massive weight / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 11 August - 20:48 · 1 minute

A 3D paleoreconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur has revealed that the hind feet had a soft tissue pad beneath the "heel," cushioning the foot to absorb the animals immense weight.

Enlarge / A 3D paleoreconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur has revealed that the hind feet had a soft tissue pad beneath the "heel," cushioning the foot to absorb the animals immense weight. (credit: Andreas Jannel)

Ask people to think of a dinosaur, and they'll likely name Tyrannosaurus Rex , the carnivorous antagonist prominently featured in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World film franchises. But an equally well-known dinosaur clade are the herbivorous sauropods , which include Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus , Argentinosaurus , and Brontosaurus . Australian paleontologists have digitally reconstructed these plant-munching giants to glean insight into how their feet managed to support their enormous weight, according to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances.

"We've finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and we provide, for the first time, biomechanical evidence that a soft tissue pad—particularly in their back feet—would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses," said co-author Andreas Jannel , who worked on the project while completing doctoral studies at the University of Queensland. "It is mind-blowing to imagine that these giant creatures could have been able to support their own weight on land."

Sauropods (clade name: Sauropoda, or "lizard feet") had long-necked, long-tailed bodies that made them the lengthiest animals to have roamed the Earth. They had thick and powerful hind legs, club-like feet with five toes, and more slender forearms. It's rare to find complete Sauropod fossils, and even those that are mostly complete still lack the heads, tail tips, and limbs. Scientists have nonetheless managed to learn a great deal about them, and digital reconstruction is proving to be a valuable new tool in advancing our knowledge even further.

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    Did giant impacts start plate tectonics? / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 11 August - 17:05 · 1 minute

Artist's depiction of a crater-covered early Earth.

Enlarge (credit: Simone Marchi/SwRI )

One of Earth's defining features is its plate tectonics, a phenomenon that shapes the planet's surface and creates some of its most catastrophic events, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. While some features of plate tectonics have been spotted elsewhere in the Solar System, the Earth is the only planet we know of with the full suite of processes involved in this phenomenon. And all indications are that it started very early in our planet's history.

So what started it? Currently, two leading ideas are difficult to distinguish based on our limited evidence of the early Earth. A new study of a piece of Australia, however, argues strongly for one of them: the heavy impacts that also occurred early in the planet's history.

Options and impacts

Shortly after the Earth formed, its crust would have been composed of a relatively even layer of solid rock that acted as a lid over the still-molten mantle below. Above that, there was likely a global ocean since plate tectonics wasn't building mountains yet. Somehow, this situation was transformed into what we see now: The large regions of moving, buoyant crust of the continental plates and the constantly spreading deep ocean crust formed from mantle materials, all driven by the heat-induced motion of material through the mantle.

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    Backyard hens’ eggs contain 40 times more lead on average than shop eggs / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 11 August - 14:00

Backyard hens’ eggs contain 40 times more lead on average than shop eggs

Enlarge (credit: Cavan Images | Getty )

There’s nothing like the fresh eggs from your own hens, the more than 400,000 Australians who keep backyard chooks will tell you. Unfortunately, it’s often not just freshness and flavor that set their eggs apart from those in the shops.

Our newly published research found backyard hens’ eggs contain, on average, more than 40 times the lead levels of commercially produced eggs. Almost one in two hens in our Sydney study had significant lead levels in their blood. Similarly, about half the eggs analyzed contained lead at levels that may pose a health concern for consumers.

Even low levels of lead exposure are considered harmful to human health , including among other effects cardiovascular disease and decreased IQ and kidney function. Indeed, the World Health Organization has stated there is no safe level of lead exposure.

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