TIME remembrance

Check Out an Astronaut’s Tribute to Leonard Nimoy from Space

A touching tribute from a fellow space traveler

Astronaut Terry Virts tweeted a tribute to the late actor Leonard Nimoy from outer space.

Virts, an astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station, photographed the “Live Long and Prosper” hand salute that Nimoy made famous as Spock on Star Trek, framed by the coastline of Nimoy’s home state, Massachusetts.

The actor passed away on Friday aged 83.

TIME Science

This Alien Might Exist on One of Saturn’s Moons, Scientists Say

A methane-based "azotosome" could theoretically exist on Titan

Scientists have modeled a hypothetical alien life form that might exist on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.

Researchers at Cornell University calculated that a methane-based lifeform containing no oxygen might theoretically exist on the orbital moon some 886 million miles away from the Sun.

Although it has an atmosphere, Titan’s frigid temperatures and methane seas would not seem to be hospitable to life as we know it. But the researchers at Cornell theorized a lifeform that could exist from the elements available there. Why Titan? It’s the only known body, other than earth, with bodies of liquid known to stably exist.

Anyone expecting an E.T.-like sentient being, though, may be disappointed: The notional “azotosome” (named for the French word for “nitrogen”) is about the size of a virus.

TIME animals

Wild Giant Pandas Making a Comeback in China

Mother giant panda Juxiao is seen with one of her triplets at Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, Guangdong province
Reuters Mother giant panda Juxiao is seen with one of her triplets at Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Dec. 9, 2014.

The population has grown by 268 despite many obstacles

The Chinese government has some good news for panda lovers.

A new survey by China’s State Forestry Administration indicates that the wild giant panda population has grown to 1,864, representing an increase of 268 pandas since 2003. The number of giant pandas in captivity also doubled.

The census, which took some three years to complete, reflects the country’s commitment to protecting an animal with a lot of obstacles against it: Pandas are slow to reproduce and historically have been a target for poachers, and, per the census, now have 832 miles of roads running through their habitats. China’s 27 preserves for pandas account for the growth.

[NBC News]

TIME space

Why Leonard Nimoy Mattered

The meaning of Spock

If you cared a fig for space travel, it was easy not to care when the first episode of Star Trek aired on Sept. 8, 1966. Just four days later, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon would be lifting off for their Gemini XI mission, which would orbit the earth 44 times in just under three days and set a then-unheard of manned-altitude record of 739 nautical miles (1,369 km). There was still one more Gemini flight to go before NASA could even think of test-flying its Apollo lunar ships—and only a little more than three years left if the U.S. was going to meet President Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon before 1970.

Against that, a group of actors on a paste-board set pretending to fly in space was pretty small beer. And as for one with the blunt-cut bangs and pointy rubber ears? Please.

But the space geeks and critics and TV execs—so many of whom sniffed at Star Trek during the brief three years it ran—were too smart and too cute by half. And the loss of Leonard Nimoy—who more than any other character captured the romance, the rocket science and the extraordinary wit of the series—is cause again to consider why the show was what it was.

Star Trek’s production values—with its wobbly doors and painted rocks and its lizard-like antagonist with, as a friend of mine once put it, bicycle reflectors for eyes—were entirely beside the point. It was the largeness of the stories Star Trek sought to tell that mattered, and never mind the idea that fever dreams about dilithium crystals and warp drive seemed all wrong for an era in which metal rockets and flesh-and-blood men were actually flying, the timing of the series was perfect.

I was one of those Gemini junkies when Star trek premiered—a 12 year old American boy who built model rockets and learned the names of astronauts and whose very first memory was standing on the front lawn looking for Sputnik when I was only three years old. I breathed rocket fuel almost from birth.

And yes, I was too distracted by the real space program to pay a lot of attention to Star Trek in its original run, but as with so many others, I soon tumbled for it hard. The space program, I came to know and appreciate, was the stuff of increments, of inches (literally when Gemini VI and Gemini VII became the first manned American spacecraft to rendezvous in orbit). It was a thing of fixed speeds—17,500 mph (28,200 k/h) to orbit the Earth and 25,000 mph (32,000 k/h) to escape its gravity. It was a thing of teeth-rattling liftoffs and bone-thumping landings and a dependence on fire—fire!, the fuel of the primitives—to get anywhere at all. And, as well, it was a thing of very real and very terrible deaths—as when some of that fire claimed three of those flesh-and-blood astronauts, or when two astronauts, who had trained hard and competed hard and made the cut and were chosen to fly, died before they ever got the chance, in a routine airplane accident.

Stanley Kubrick, with his huge, brooding 2001: A Space Odyssey, released eight months before human beings even orbited the moon, tried to combine the technology of the what-is with the wonder of what-could-be, and so gave us eternal slo-mo’s of thrusters firing and counter-thrusters responding and astronauts floating and space pods creeping, creeping, creeping toward mother ships. And only then, when you couldn’t take the glacial pace anymore, he blew the whole thing up in a lot of flashing lights and hallucinogenic images about, well, birth or life or death or who knew what and who, after a running time of 160 minutes, cared anymore?

Star Trek didn’t take itself nearly so seriously. It was about warp drive because regular physics is just too strict; it was about beaming up and down, because why shouldn’t the molecules that make you up be infinitely scramble-able and unscramble-able? It was about planet after planet with just the right air and just the right temperature because what’s the point of hiring good-looking actors if you can’t see them for the space helmets? And it was—pitilessly, riotously—about the lieutenant in the red shirt who was inevitably going to die on one of those planets before the first commercial because that was just plain good for the story.

MORE: How Leonard Nimoy Almost Wasn’t Spock

The genius of Star Trek was that it saw the high stakes and high price and punishingly hard science of a real space program and forgave us all that. It let us quit the real while still keeping it in sight, to live in a world in which it takes six years to fly from here to Pluto and glimpse a world in which it takes six seconds to reach Alastria, a Delta Quadrant planet that you can get to only with the help of a spatial trajector—whatever that was.

And it was Nimoy as Mr. Spock—half-human and half-Vulcan, part-brain and part-savage—who was the literal embodiment of that duality. Spock’s mind would have had no truck with the liberties the Star Trek series took. But his heart would have loved them.

We’re better, dreamier, more hopeful spacefarers for having spent time with Star Trek. And we’re better too for having had the wise corrective of Nimoy’s Spock to keep us honest while letting us dream.

TIME climate

Senator Throws Snowball! Climate Change Disproven!

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Is Sen. James Inhofe really the person we want chairing the Senate's environment committee?

What’s all this talk about global hunger? I don’t know about you, but I just tucked into a burrito and there are plenty more where that one came from. But that doesn’t mean the nation’s soaring obesity rates are anything more than a rumor. Most of the people I work with look pretty darn good, so QED right?

Something similar is true of climate change—at least if you’re Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and a man tasked with knowing a thing or two about, um, the environment and public works. The Senator, who has made something of a cottage industry out of arguing that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” at last has drop-dead, case-closed proof that he’s been right all along. The evidence: a snowball. And not just any snowball, one right there in Washington, DC!

Inhofe brought his snowball onto the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday and declared that “we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record.” Yet in a plastic bag, right on his desk, he had the evidence to demolish that claim. “I ask the chair, you know what this is?” he said. “It’s a snowball, and that’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out, very unseasonable.” Then he tossed the unexpected snowball to the unsuspecting chair and returned to his prepared text with self-satisfied, “Mm-hmm.”

Inhofe is completely correct, of course: It was very, very cold on Thursday—unseasonably so. And it was also very, very hot in Opa Loca Florida, where the temperature was 87º F (30º C)—awfully sweltering even for that part of the country, at least at this time of year. Presumably, Opa Loca’s unseasonable steam bath is equally compelling proof that climate change is real.

Look, it’s easy to take shots at Inhofe, which is why everyone is doing it today—here and here and here and here just for starters. But the implications are real. Either he really doesn’t understand that weather isn’t climate, that long-term trends are different from short-term bumps, that what happens at your house or in your town really, truly isn’t what’s happening everywhere else on the planet, or he does know and he’s pretending he doesn’t. Either way, it’s hard to argue that he’s the man you’d want as the Senate’s leading voice on climate policy.

Here’s hoping, if nothing else, that Inhofe has an easy commute home tonight. It’ll be long-awaited proof that the U.S. highway system has at last solved the problem of traffic.

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.

TIME remembrance

Leonard Nimoy, Who Played Spock on Star Trek, Dies at 83

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock on Star Trek, died Friday. He was 83 and had lung disease, and his family confirmed his death.

Nimoy was most famous for his role as the Vulcan Spock on the Star Trek TV show in 1966. He would also later appear in J.J Abrams’ Star Trek reboot movies.

“He was an extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author—the list goes on—and friend,” his granddaughter Dani said in a statement.

“I loved him like a brother,” William Shatner, who starred in Star Trek alongside Nimoy as Captain Kirk, said in a statement. “We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.”

Nimoy announced he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, on Twitter a little over a year ago. He urged fans to quit smoking immediately, so they wouldn’t get sick as well. He signed all his tweets with “LLAP,” an abbreviation of “live long and prosper,” his signature Star Trek line.

But Star Trek wasn’t Nimoy’s only claim to fame. He was also a prolific poet and photographer, and performed onstage as Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ and directed numerous movies including the 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby. He was also nominated for an Emmy for his role as Golda Meir’s husband in the 1982 movie A Woman Called Golda.

“He was a true force of strength and his character was that of a champion,” Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek, said in a statement. “Leonard’s integrity and passion as an actor and devotion to his craft helped transport Star Trek into television history. His vision and heart are bigger than the universe.”

Nimoy once said in an interview that the famous split-finger Vulcan salute was his idea, inspired by gestures made during Jewish religious ceremonies (he was an observant Jew.)

“He affected the lives of many,” his son Adam Nimoy told the Associated Press. “He was also a great guy and my best friend.”

MORE: How Leonard Nimoy Almost Wasn’t Spock

Over the course of his life, he wrote two autobiographies, “I Am Not Spock” (1975) and “I Am Spock” (1995.)

“In Spock, I finally found the best of both worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character,” he once wrote of playing the role.

TIME climate change

Senator Throws Snowball on Senate Floor to Disprove Climate Change

Sen. James Inhofe has a way with visual metaphors

Sen. James Inhofe tossed a snowball in the Senate chamber Thursday, using the stunt to emphasize his long-held belief that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

The Oklahoma Republican is the chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. After a blizzard blew through the southern states in recent days, reaching Washington D.C., Inhofe took advantage of the snow to make his symbolic point that extreme winter weather disproves global warming.

This isn’t the first time he’s done so. After a winter storm in 2010, Inhofe and his family built an igloo and named it after noted environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore.

TIME animals

Quiz: Is Your Dog Crazy?

Take this quiz and find out

A dog’s brain and your brain have very similar chemistry and many similar structures. It stands to reason they work in more or less the same way—and break down the same way too. More and more, behavioral veterinarians are diagnosing problems as diverse as depression, anger, dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder in dogs. As with humans, treatment involves behavioral therapy and sometimes even drugs. But first you have to know if a problem exists at all. Here are some of the symptoms veterinarians consider in making a diagnosis.

 

TIME Innovation

Watch How Dust Makes an Amazing Journey From Africa to South America

This NASA footage shows show dust from the Sahara winds up in the Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rainforest might be a little less green if not for a massive plume of Saharan dust that drifts across the Atlantic Ocean each year, according to a new, multi-year study by NASA scientists.

NASA used light pulses from its CALIPSO satellite to measure the transatlantic dust cloud in three dimensions. They found that wind carries roughly 182 million tons of Saharan dust out to sea each year. The cloud sheds roughly 50 million en route to South America, but the remainder fans out over the Amazonian basin and the Caribbean Sea, dusting the soil with 22,000 tons of phosphorus, a nutrient commonly found in commercial grade fertilizer.

Amazingly, the special delivery of plant food almost perfectly matches the amount of phosphorous the Amazonian jungle loses through heavy rains and run-off water.

“This is a small world,” said study author Hongbin Yu, “and we’re all connected together.”

 

TIME climate

These Maps Show How Much Trouble We’d Be in if the Sea Level Rises

New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, Seattle and London are all in trouble

At some point in the future, your favorite city might be a patch of sea floor.

Spatialities, a site devoted to spatial information and visualizations, has unveiled a series of maps that show how several urban cities and coastal regions would be impacted by various rises in sea level. And it’s bad news all around for cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, Seattle, London, among others, which are prone to flooding—and total submersion.

All the depicted sea levels are possible scenarios: They’re all less than the maximum rise in sea level calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey, which estimates that if all the planet’s glaciers melted, then the potential sea rise is about 80 m., or 262 ft.

But the good news is that you won’t see a sea level this high in your lifetime — according to one study, it would take about 1,000 to 10,000 years.

 

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