TIME space

Watch Live Footage of the Asteroid That Came Close to Earth

Don't worry—NASA's on it.

Astronauts and scientists kicked off the inaugural celebration of Asteroid Day with a talk on asteroid hunting and a live telescope view of the asteroid that passed within 5 million miles of Earth two weeks ago.

Journalist Will Gater, astronomer Bob Berman, astronaut Richard Garriott, and documentary producer Duncan Copp all took part in the talk—a debate on whether or not the Earth is prepared to defend itself against the potential hazard of a major asteroid. The discussion, hosted by Slooh Community Observatory, also included live footage of the most recent near Earth object: Icarus, an asteroid slightly over a half-a-mile long that passed by June 16.

According to Berman, asteroids are worth the hype. “Planets can’t hit us, while comet debris doesn’t survive to strike our surface. But asteroids — chunks of stone or metal — ­­arrive by the thousands every day, and are responsible for nearly all of the 50,000 catalogued meteorites,” he said in a statement to the press. “The largest asteroids are fascinating to observe, while the hazardous ones need to be watched while defenses are being conceived.”

U.S. agencies are already onto this concern—NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced a new deal on June 17 to cooperate in tracking and defending against asteroids.

TIME climate change

U.S., China and Brazil Commit to New Climate Change Goals

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House June 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rousseff and Obama held meetings and the press conference almost two years after Rousseff accepted but then skipped an invitation to the White House due to revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. had spied on Rousseff and other Brazilians.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a news conference at the White House June 30, 2015.

The countries are positioning themselves as leaders ahead of December's UN climate change conference

The United States, China and Brazil all made new commitments to combat climate change Tuesday, in advance of a landmark United Nations conference on the issue in December.

The U.S. and Brazil pledged to increase production of electricity from renewable sources to represent 20% of electricity production by 2030. That’s three times as much renewable energy as the U.S. currently produces and twice as much as is produced in Brazil, according to the White House. Brazil also announced new measures to curb deforestation.

Brian Deese, senior climate change adviser at the White House, told reporters on a conference call that the joint announcement “substantially elevates and builds” on climate progress and “should provide momentum moving into our shared objective of getting an agreement in Paris later this year.”

In a separate announcement, the Chinese government said it would aim to have carbon emissions peak in 2030. By that date, the country hopes to see a nearly two-thirds reduction in so-called carbon intensity—a measure of the amount of carbon emissions per unit gross domestic product, compared to 2005 levels.

“China’s carbon dioxide emission will peak by around 2030 and China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday in France, according to The Guardian.

The announcement from the U.S. and Brazil came during a meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama. The Chinese announcement came following a meeting of Li and French President Francois Hollande.

Tuesday’s commitments are intended to position the China, the U.S., and Brazil as leaders in combatting climate change ahead of December’s climate change conference in Paris. Many environmental activists hope that the gathering will lead to a binding agreement to significantly reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.

The U.S. said earlier this year that it plans to reduce carbon emission by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2020.

TIME A Year In Space

See the Best Photos from an Astronaut’s Third Month in Space

Astronaut Scott Kelly just passed the three-month mark in his yearlong stay aboard the Space Station. Here is a collection of the best photos he's snapped so far.

TIME is following Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the trailer here.

TIME Environment

How Draining Global Groundwater Supplies Could Harm the Food Supply

wheat stalks grain
Getty Images

The lack of rain caused by the California drought has left farmers desperate for water. With nowhere else to look, many have turned to ground water buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface. But this isn’t the first time American farmers have turned to groundwater. Indeed, more than 40% of irrigated agriculture in the U.S. relies on groundwater.

Now, a new study in the journal PNAS shows how reliance on a finite supply of groundwater for agriculture threatens global food security. More than 18% of the U.S. supply of so-called cereal grains like corn, rice and wheat depends on a limited supply of groundwater found deep below the earth in aquifers, researchers found.

“Eventually these groundwater resources will no longer be able to produce food,” said study author Megan Konar, an assistant professor at Princeton University. “If there are cereal shortages, that has direct consequences for people’s ability to consume enough calories.”

Trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater are hidden beneath the Earth’s surface, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. The supply is still finite even if that number sounds immense, Konar says. Unlike lakes and rivers, which can quickly replenish with new rainfall, aquifers collect water over centuries and millennia. Even if groundwater didn’t disappear entirely, continuing to exploit aquifers could ultimately make tapping groundwater for irrigation too costly for farmers.

For the study, researchers evaluated data on virtual groundwater use to determine which areas rely most on overextended groundwater aquifers. Virtual groundwater refers to the transfer of water via products, agricultural and otherwise, rather than direct water use. The study included the Central Valley Aquifer in California, the High Plains Aquifer in the central U.S. and the Mississippi Embayment Aquifer in the area surrounding the Mississippi River.

Within the U.S., the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and New Orleans topped the list of cities most reliant on groundwater aquifers. The implications of the study extend globally. Around 10% of cereal grains in Japan, Taiwan and Panama come from U.S. sources that rely on groundwater aquifers.

Still, policymakers could institute reforms to wean the agricultural sector’s reliance on groundwater and treat the water as reserves for when times get tough, like the current California drought. Crops that require high volumes of water—such as rice and corn—could be grown in areas with more rainfall, for instance, Konar says. The agricultural sector could also grow different crops that rely on less water altogether.

Despite these potential solutions, Konar says policymakers still need to weigh the costs of changing food production patterns. “It’s a tradeoff between future food security and current agricultural production,” she said.

TIME vaccines

Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill

Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The governor had a chance to protect thousands of children—and he did

Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

California does not often make common cause with Mississippi and West Virginia. America’s blue-red divide doesn’t come any wider than it does between the liberal laboratory of the Pacific West and the conservative cornerstones of the old south. But with a single signature on a single bill, California Gov. Jerry Brown ensured that the largest state in the nation joined the two far smaller ones in what ought to be a simple, primal mission: keeping children healthy.

The law, which passed the California legislature with bipartisan majorities, does a straightforward job—removing the religious and personal belief exemptions that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. The legislation leaves standing the medical exemption—the waiver families receive when a child has a manifest medical condition like a compromised immune system that would make vaccines dangerous. Under the new rules, families without the medical waiver face a choice: get your kids the shots or prepare to home-school them, which ensures they get an education but protects other children from whatever pathogens they may be carrying.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states in the country that currently have such no-nonsense rules and they’ve got the stellar vaccination rates to prove it: fully 99.9% of the states’ kids are up to date on all their shots. California was right to follow the example of those southern-fried smarts. Only 90.4% of the Golden State’s kindergarteners had their full complement of vaccinations in the 2014-2015 school year. The worst offenders are the parents in the too-rich, too-famous, too-smart by half provinces of Silicon Valley, where vaccination rates in some day care centers struggle to crack the 50% mark.

That matters—a lot. When vaccine coverage falls below 95%, communities begin to lose what’s known as herd immunity, the protection a fully inoculated population provides to the relative handful of its members who can’t be vaccinated. California has suffered the consequences of that, with outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps across the state. Earlier this year, more than 100 cases of measles in California and Mexico were traced to a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland. That outbreak, at one of the state’s most iconic destinations, at last got Sacramento’s attention, and the new law, though hotly debated, passed.

Brown was vague at first about whether he would sign the bill and that left a lot of health policy experts worried. He had signed an earlier bill that preserved the personal belief exemption but at least made it harder for families to claim one. No longer could parents simply check a box on a form—an awfully easy thing to do without giving the matter much thought. Under the previous law, they would have to visit a health care provider who would sign a statement confirming that the parents had been informed of the benefits (too many to enumerate) and the risks (vanishingly small) of vaccination. Once they’re in the doctor’s office, plenty of parents come around. But Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian who has made no secret of his spiritual side over the years, carved out an exception in that law for religious beliefs.

He was right not to make the same mistake this time. There was a time when religious exemptions were no cause for worry. The share of Americans whose faith forbids vaccinations is exceedingly small, and as long as the herd remained intact, those kids would remain safe. But that was before the nonsense factory of the anti-vaccine community went into operation, churning out all manner of misinformation about autism and brain damage and big pharma conspiring with big government to inject unsuspecting children with toxins. The result: Vaccine rates have plummeted nationwide, and children have paid the price.

The tension between religious liberty and civic responsibility is hardly a new issue in the American system. If your religion does no harm to anyone else—least of all kids—you ought to be free to practice it in peace. But if that faith requires prayer to treat pediatric cancer or laying on of hands as a cure for severe pneumonia, the state ought to be able to intervene and provide proper care if you won’t and prosecute you if your child is injured or killed. In some states that’s indeed possible but in others it’s not, and a complex patchwork governs the level of care each state will or won’t mandate.

Mandatory testing for lead levels in blood? OK in most places, but not if you live in Delaware, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where religious exemptions are available. Mandatory eyedrops to help prevent blindness in newborns? An important preventive for kids born to mothers with certain kinds of STDs—but they may be out of luck if they’re born in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, or Pennsylvania.

The kids, it’s worth noting, did not choose to be born in states with weak protections. And they don’t choose either to be born to parents who look at vaccines and see in them something sinister or dangerous or strangely unholy.

Anti-vax parents came into a world of medically rational adults who had seen the wages of polio or diphtheria or smallpox or whooping cough and were grateful for a preventive that could eliminate those horrors. Jerry Brown himself came into that world too. Contemporary children deserve the same kind of wisdom and the same kind of care the grown-ups around them enjoyed. And California children deserve a governor who will see to it that that they get it.

Today Brown lived up to that responsibility.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY leap second

Here’s How Much the Biggest Companies Will Make During the Leap Second

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Adam Gault/OJO Images RF/Getty Images

Spoiler: it's a lot

Tuesday, June 30, will be exactly one second longer than the typical day. That’s thanks to the “leap second,” which gets added on to a day every now and again to compensate for a constant gravitation tug-of-war between Earth and the moon that very gradually slows our planet’s rotation.

The leap second made us wonder: exactly how much do America’s largest companies make during that extra second?

To answer that question, we took the top five firms in the Fortune 500 and divided their annual revenue by the number of seconds in the average year. The result?

  • Walmart, the largest company in the world, makes enough in one second ($15,390) to feed a family of four for over 14 months.
  • It takes Exxon Mobil one second to generate enough revenue ($12,124) to buy one half of a Toyota Prius.
  • Chevron makes enough in one second ($6,457) to buy 2,333 gallons of gasoline.
  • Berkshire Hathaway takes in enough in one second ($6,169) to buy almost 16,000 cans of Coke, the favorite soda of Berkshire founder Warren Buffett.
  • With the amount Apple makes every second ($5,793), the company could buy nine new unlocked iPhones.

And how much does the average American household make in one second? According to the U.S. Census, the answer is less than a cent. It’s pretty good to be a giant corporation.

Read next: Why Tomorrow is Going to Be One Second Longer than Today

TIME space

You Can See Venus and Jupiter Come Very Close Together Tuesday Night

The two planets will appear to be a double star to the naked eye

The two brightest planets that can be seen from Earth will come this close to one another on Tuesday evening.

For anyone looking at a clear sky in North America, Venus and Jupiter will be just one-third of a degree apart in a phenomenon known as a conjunction and will have the appearance of a double star to the naked eye.

The stunning sight will be the culmination of the planets’ movement over the past few weeks, as they have been slowly creeping toward one another. According to Sky & Telescope magazine, conjunctions between the two planets aren’t actually that uncommon—there was a Venus and Jupiter conjunction last August and there will be another one in October.

But the publication’s Alan MacRobert also points out that though “[t]hese planetary groupings in the sky have no effect on Earth or human affairs,” the conjunction “can lift our attention away from our own little world into the enormous things beyond.”

TIME space

See Impact Craters On Earth From Space

Meteors don't usually make it through Earth's dense atmosphere—until they do. When that happens they can leave a geological scar behind. Here are some of the biggest planetary wounds as seen from orbit.

TIME

Why Tomorrow is Going to Be One Second Longer than Today

On Tuesday, June 30, the Earth will get a bonus second as a way to compensate for the gradual slowing down of the Earth's rotation

For all those who wish there were more time in the day, your prayers have been answered.

On Tuesday, June 30, the Earth will get a bonus second as a way to compensate for the gradual slowing down of the Earth’s rotation: at 8 p.m., Eastern time, the entire planet will relax for one extra second longer. Instead of the customary, 86,400-second Earth rotation, Tuesday will make the day 86,401 seconds long.

The last time we had a ‘leap second,” TIME explained why:

Leap seconds were introduced to keep our notion of time in line with an ongoing slowdown in Earth’s rotation, caused by volcanoes, earthquakes and other natural phenomena. While that slowing rotation is extraordinarily gradual, over long periods it adds up to notable chunks of time, potentially throwing our concept of time off from Earth’s day-and-night cycle — or even seasonal schedules.

The “leap second” attempts to rectify this by inserting an extra second into a day to give the Earth time to “catch up” to where it’s supposed to be based on the traditional solar cycle. The leap second was established as an international standard in 1972, and there have been 25 such seconds added since that year.

 

TIME A Year In Space

How Serious a Setback Is the SpaceX Rocket Explosion?

A dramatic accident just minutes after launch could mean problems for the International Space Station

There are uncountable laws of physics and engineering that govern the launch of a rocket. But there’s one that supersedes them all: Ultimately, stuff will blow up. Always has, always will.

Elon Musk had never come face to face with that rule before — at least not in space travel — but Sunday morning he did in a very big way, when his Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon cargo vehicle exploded just two and a half minutes after launch. The rocket came undone before its first stage had even shut down and separated, blowing itself to pieces and auguring into the Atlantic just off the Cape Canaveral coast.

NASA, as NASA does, initially framed the failure as clinically as possible, describing it as a “non-nominal” liftoff. But NASA administrator Charles Bolden later described the agency as “disappointed” by the loss of the mission. “We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight,” he said. “This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback.”

Musk himself was more candid, if a little oblique:

But the most poignant and most apt response came from astronaut Scott Kelly, currently completing the third month of his marathon year aboard the International Space Station:

And so space is—very, very hard, and it’s the International Space Station (ISS) that has recently been paying the price. In April, a Russian Progress cargo vehicle carrying thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies reached orbit but spun out of control and eventually plunged back through the atmosphere, incinerating itself and its cargo. In October 2014, an Antares rocket—built by Musk’s cargo competitor Orbital Sciences—exploded just six seconds off the pad.

But it’s the SpaceX explosion that will prove the most costly. The key piece of cargo the now-destroyed Dragon was carrying was the first of a pair of International Docking Adapters (IDA) that was supposed to connect to the station’s Harmony module and serve as the attachment node for private crew vehicles that are scheduled to begin flying in 2017. Two companies won the contracts to build the new craft—SpaceX, which is modifying its Dragon craft to make it habitable; and Boeing, which is building a new vehicle dubbed the CST-100. Boeing built the lost IDA as well, but both companies are designing their craft to be compatible with it.

How big a setback this will be to the future of station operations is not clear. The current three-person crew—which will increase to six when the next expedition launches from Kazakhstan in July—is in no danger of running out of essential supplies like food, water and breathable oxygen. But luxuries like personal packages from family members and perishables like fresh fruit can make it aboard only as often as the cargo runs succeed.

The docking adapter is another matter, however. One of the biggest action items on the astronauts’ to-do-list for the next few months is reconfiguring ISS’s various modules to ready the station for the new crew vehicles. Kelly and soon-to-arrive crewmate Kjell Lindgren will be embarking on their first spacewalks to help get that job done. Without the IDA, however, the work can only proceed so far.

Worse, the Obama White House and NASA itself have bet their space reps on NASA’s ability to make a smooth transition to private suppliers for trips to low Earth orbit, freeing the space agency to focus on unmanned missions to the planets and, eventually, manned trips to deep space. Serial failures by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX do not do much to boost confidence in that plan.

Geopolitics play a role too. American leverage in the increasingly strained relationship between Washington and Moscow has not been helped by the fact that, since the grounding of the shuttles, the U.S. has been entirely dependent on the Russian Soyuz rocket to carry astronauts to space.

In response to the U.S. and European measures to clamp down on Russian banking and overseas assets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin snarkily Tweeted, “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

Rogozin was bluffing. Russia charges the U.S. more than $70 million per seat for trips on the Soyuz and a cash-poor Kremlin is not inclined to say no to the ready pocket money. But it was galling at least for the U.S., and nobody in Washington or at NASA wants America’s dependency on the Russians to go on any longer than it absolutely has to go.

That, however, is for tomorrow. Today, Musk, who is experiencing his first major launch failure, must dig into his telemetry and the remains of his rocket and see what in the world went wrong. He’s not the first to have to conduct such a post-flight autopsy and he won’t be the last. Space is always hard—and on some days it’s too hard.

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