TIME global health

Watch TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger Discuss How to Eradicate Polio

People in three countries still suffer from the disease

Since the development of the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, the number of cases of the devastating disease has been reduced by 99 percent. But despite that extraordinary progress, people in three countries still suffer from polio. Now, Rotary International, along with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF have brought the world tantalizingly close to eradicating the virus for good.

In recognition of World Polio Day, watch as TIME editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger moderates Rotary’s live-streamed event in Chicago, on Friday at 7:30 PM, EDT.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Manly Men Are Not Always the Best Choice, Study Says

It’s a Hollywood stereotype: Men prefer to partner up with feminine-looking women, and women favor masculine men. But even when you allow for same-gender couples and variations in personal preference, plenty of research suggests that the proposition is generally true. “It’s been replicated many times across different cultures,” says Isabel Scott, a psychologist at Brunel University in Uxbridge, on the outskirts of London, “so people tend to assume it’s universal.” A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences challenges that thinking, however.

Historically, human studies have shown that women with more feminine faces tend to have higher estrogen levels, which are in turn associated with reproductive health. In men, the argument is that masculine-looking faces are associated with stronger immune systems—always a good thing in a mate, especially if that trait is passed on to the kids. Masculine appearance may also a sign of a dominant and aggressive personality, but our distant female ancestors might plausibly have gravitated toward these men anyway, for the sake of their children’s health.

These theories fall under the rubric of evolutionary psychology—the idea that many of our fundamental behaviors have evolved, just as our bodies did, to maximize reproductive success. But as in many cases with evolutionary psychology, it’s easier to come up with a plausible explanation than to demonstrate that it’s correct. In this case, says Scott, “the assumptions people were making weren’t crazy. They just weren’t fully tested.”

To correct that, Scott and the 21 colleagues who put together the new study used computer simulations to merge photos of men’s and women’s faces into composite, “average” faces of five different ethnicities. Then they twirled some virtual dials to make more and less masculine-looking male faces and more or less feminine female versions. (“More masculine” in this case means that they calculated the specific differences between the average man’s face and the average woman’s for each ethnicity, then exaggerated the differences. “Less masculine” means they minimized the differences. Same goes, in reverse, for the women’s faces.)

Then they showed the images to city-dwellers in several countries and also to rural populations in Malaysia, Fiji, Ecuador, Central America, Central Asia and more—a total of 962 subjects. “We asked, ‘What face is the most attractive’ and ‘What face is the most aggressive looking,'” says Scott.

The answers from urban subjects more or less confirmed the scientists’ expectations, but the others were all over the place. “This came as a big surprise to us,” Scott says. “In South America,” for example, “women preferred feminine-looking men. It was quite unexpected.”

If these preferences had an evolutionary basis, you’d expect them to be strongest in societies most similar to the ones early humans lived in. “These are clearly modern preferences, though,” Scott says, which raises the question of why they arose.

One idea, which she calls “extremely speculative at this point,” is that when you pack lots of people together, as you do in a city, stereotyping of facial characteristics might be a way of making snap judgements. “In urban settings,” she says, “you encounter far more strangers, so you have a stronger motive to figure out their personalities on zero acquaintance.”

TIME space

The Largest Sunspot in Decades Is Spitting Solar Flares at Earth

NASA

The event could lead to more auroras and disrupt spacecraft and power systems on Earth

The sun’s largest sunspot region in more than 20 years is facing Earth, sending solar flares our way and threatening a coronal mass ejection (CME), which can cause auroras and significant disruptions to our power grids.

Sunspots are relatively cooler regions of the sun visible on the surface, with complex magnetic field activity. The sunspot region AR12192 is the “largest sunspot group since November of 1990,” according to Doug Biesecker, a researcher at the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center. AR12192 is roughly the size of the planet Jupiter, but the largest sunspot on record, seen in 1947, was three times that size.

AR2192 has been sending out high-energy solar flares but thus far no CME, which, Biesecker says, tend to be more closely associated with the magnetic complexity of a sunspot region than with a region’s size. A smaller solar storm around Halloween back in 2003, for example, created auroras visible as far south as Florida. With the high level of flare activity at present, scientists expect that if AR12192 releases CMEs directly toward Earth it will do so in the next three to four days, The Washington Post reports.

TIME climate change

E.U. Sets Plan to Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014.
European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014. JOHN THYS—AFP/Getty Images

Europe sets climate change goals to be met by 2030

Leaders in Europe have agreed that 28 nations will cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The deal comes a year ahead of international climate negotiations next year and is designed to set an example for the rest of the world.

The European Union finalized the deal after hours of debate among leaders. They have also vowed that renewable energy will meet at least 27 percent of European countries’ needs and that energy efficiency will increase by a minimum of 27% in the next 16 years.

 

TIME space

Watch Highlights From This Week’s Solar Eclipse

Watch highlights from the solar eclipse over North America

Much of North America saw a partial solar eclipse Thursday afternoon, barring obstructive rainclouds.

If you weren’t outside, watch the moon cover part of the sun here at TIME.com.

The sun’s dance with the moon was live-streamed from the Slooh Community Observatory beginning at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT, hosted by meteorologist Geoff Fox with expert astronomer Bob Berman.

While the next partial solar eclipse is expected on Aug. 21, 2017, there won’t be another one visible across the entire country until 2023.

Read next: Watch the Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse in One GIF

TIME space

See a Comet’s Close Encounter With Mars

This composite image captures the positions of comet 'Siding Spring' and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, on Oct. 19, 2014.
This composite image captures the positions of comet 'Siding Spring' and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, on Oct. 19, 2014. PSI/JHU/APL/STScI/AU/ESA/NASA

A comet flew past Mars this week and NASA captured the encounter

The comet known as “Siding Spring” had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with the Red Planet this week.

Traveling at around 125,000mph, the comet missed colliding with Mars by a mere 87,000 miles. That’s about one-third of the distance between the Earth and the Moon — in astronomical terms, a very close encounter.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the encounter in this composite image. Sadly, it will be another million years before we see comet Siding Spring again, after it completes its orbit around the sun.

See an artist’s rendition of the encounter in the video below:

TIME Outer Space

Look Up: There’s a Rare Partial Solar Eclipse Thursday

Sudan Solar Eclipse
A partial solar eclipse is seen over the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 3, 2013. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Here's when to look up at the sky

As long as rainclouds aren’t obstructing the view, people across the United States will be able to look up Thursday afternoon to witness the moon cover part of the sun in a rare partial solar eclipse.

According to Weather.com, nearly all of North America, barring part of Canada and New England, will be able to see the display. Sky and Telescope has a list of when the eclipse will be visible in different major cities. The partial solar eclipse will be viewable in New York beginning at 5:49 p.m. and peaking at 6:03, though skywatchers on the west coast will get the best show — the eclipse begins in Los Angeles at 2:08 p.m. and hit its peak midway point at 3:28 p.m. local time.

Here’s a map that tracks eclipse visibility:

While there will be another partial solar eclipse Aug. 21, 2017, Business Insider reports there won’t be another that is visible to the entire country until 2023. So maybe step outside — but take precautions.

“Looking directly at the Sun is harmful to your eyes at any time, partial eclipse or no,” says Sky and Telescope’s Alan MacRobert. “The only reason a partial eclipse is dangerous is that it prompts people to gaze at the Sun, something they wouldn’t normally do. The result can be temporary or permanent blurred vision or blind spots at the center of your view.”

[Sky and Telescope]

TIME Paleontology

Newly Discovered Fossils Reveal Goofy-Looking Dinosaur

Odd Dinosaur
This undated handout image provided by Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group, shows a deinocheirus Michael Skrepnick—AP

"This creature wasn’t built for speed. That’s pretty obvious”

Scientists in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert have unearthed fossils that have allowed them for the first time to build a complete picture of one of the more bizarre-looking dinosaurs.

Deinocheirus mirificus, which means “unusual horrible hand” in Latin, has stunned scientists with its strange combination of features, according to a study in the journal Nature.

The recently discovered 70 million-year-old fossils suggest deinocheirus was humpbacked, had a ”beer-belly,” tufts of feathers and wide hips and feet that caused it to waddle.

“This is an entirely new body plan,” said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K.

The fossils add to bones that were discovered 50 years ago. Back then scientists thought deinocheirus was smaller and fiercer, now they believe it was about the size of Tyrannosaurus rex, Nature reports.

“This creature wasn’t built for speed,” says Brusatte. “That’s pretty obvious.”

Scientists used data gathered from the fossils to create a video of what the dinosaur may have looked like and how it may have walked.

[Nature]

TIME space

What’s Cooler Than One Comet? A Storm of Them

Nifty alright. Now imagine 500 of these babies.
Nifty alright. Now imagine 500 of these babies. Art Montes De Oca; Getty Images

A stunning sighting around a nearby star offers a glimpse of our own solar system billions of years ago

With some 2,000 planets now known to orbit stars beyond the Sun and thousands more in the can waiting for confirmation, the once-exotic term “exoplanet” is so commonplace it requires no definition for many people. The term “exocomet,” by contrast, is a bit more obscure. Astronomers have known for years that comets orbit other stars—in particular, the relatively nearby star β Pictoris, which lies about 63 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pictor.

But a new paper in Nature is more than a little mindblowing nevertheless. A team of astronomers is reporting the detection of nearly 500 individual comets that passed in front of β Pictoris between 2003 and 2011. And that’s not even remotely a complete sample. “We had only a couple of nights of observing time per year,” says lead author Flavien Kiefer, now at the University of Tel Aviv. “If we’d been looking constantly, we would have seen many thousands.”

There are a lot of reasons all of this seems slightly crazy. To start with, there’s the notion that you can see something as relatively tiny as a comet from nearly 300 trillion miles away. And in fact, you can’t. But when comets approach the heat of a star, some of their substance boils off to form an enormous cloud of gas and dust, and sometimes a tail as well. And when that cloud moves in front of the star, it distorts the starlight in ways you can see with sufficiently powerful instruments.

In this case, the scientists used the High-Accuracy Radial-Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), located at the European Southern Observatory, in Chile. As the name implies, it was designed to find planets—and it has. HARPS does so by looking for subtle changes in starlight created as the star wobbles in response to an orbiting planet’s gravitational tug. The distortions caused by an intervening comet are different, but HARPS can find those too.

The technique isn’t easy, says Aki Roberge, an astronomer with NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, in Maryland who has studied β Pictoris as well, and who wrote a commentary in Nature on the new results, but it clearly works. “We always knew this would be a powerful technique,” she says, “They’ve done a really amazing job.”

The sheer number of comets also seems unlikely at first, until you realize that β Pictoris is extremely young—about 22 million years old compared with the Sun’s 4.6 billion. If we could see our own Solar System at that age, it wouldn’t look all that much different: a thick disk of gas and dust surrounding the central star, with planets just assembling themselves out of chunks of rock and ice. In fact, β Pictoris has at least one young planet already, but there’s still an awful lot of debris flying around.

And that’s what makes this discovery so important, not just as a technical tour de force, but also scientifically. “We can now begin to study a newly forming solar system in detail,” says Kiefer, “and perhaps get an understanding of how our own Solar System was born.”

It probably won’t be the last chance to do so, either. Roberge has her eye on a star called 49 Ceti, which she says is very similar to β Pic in many ways. Kiefer, meanwhile, is conducting preliminary surveys of no fewer than 30 promising stars. With powerful instruments like HARPS on the case, the word “exocomet” could become a lot more familiar before long.

TIME space

Missed Tuesday Night’s Orionid Meteor Shower? Watch Here

A shower of 20 meteors-per-hour began Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET

The Orionid Meteor Shower, a spectacle that occurs each year as the earth moves through debris left behind by a comet, gave skywatchers quite a show Tuesday night.

“Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, the source of the Orionids,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in a press release before the event. “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us a couple dozen of meteors per hour.”

While this shower may not be the strongest of the year, the position of nearby stars makes it one of the best to watch, Cooke added.

The show was livestreamed from the Slooh Community Observatory beginning at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, hosted by expert astronomer Bob Berman. Miss the event? Watch it here.

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