human behavior

Your Baby Is a Racist—and Why You Can Live With That

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It don't come easy: bonding across racial lines requires overcoming some very old genetic programming Hero Images; Getty Images/Hero Images

From humanity's earliest era, we had evolved to distinguish in-groups from out-groups and to assign powerful value to those differences. Call it racism, but it helped us survive

You always suspected babies were no good, didn’t you? They’re loud, narcissistic, spoiled, volatile and not exactly possessed of good table manners. Now it turns out that they’re racists too.

The latest evidence for that decidedly unlovely trait comes from research out of the University of Washington that actually sought to explore one of babies’ more admirable characteristics: their basic sense of fairness. In the study, 15-month-old toddlers watched an experimenter with a collection of four small toys share them either evenly or unevenly with two other adult volunteers. When allowed to choose which experimenters the babies wanted to play with later, 70% of them preferred the ones who had divided the toys evenly.

Nice, but there was an exception: when the two adults who were receiving the evenly or unevenly divided toys were of different races and the race of the one who got more toys matched the babies’ own, the 70% preference for the fair distributor dropped and the share of babies wanting to play with the unfair one rose. The implication: unfairness is bad, unless someone from your clan is getting the extra goodies.

“If all babies care about is fairness, they would always pick the fair distributor,” said University of Washington associate professor psychology of Jessica Somerville, in a statement that accompanied the study. “But we’re also seeing that they’re interested in consequences for their own group members.”

OK, so that doesn’t speak well of human nature at even its sweetest and most ingenuous stage. But here’s the thing: if we weren’t rank racists when we were very little, the species probably never would have survived. The idea of in-group bias is well established in behavioral science, and it has its roots long ago, in humanity’s tribal era. The fact is, the people in your own band are more likely to nurture you, care for you and protect you from harm, while the people from the tribe over the hill are more likely to, well, eat you.

As soon as you become old enough to toddle away from the campfire and wander out on your own, it thus pays to recognize, at a glance, what an alien other looks like. Sometimes it’s dress or hairstyle that provides the telltale cue, but just as often it’s skin tone, hair texture and the shape of facial features. It was the human tendency to migrate and settle in parts of the world with varying climates that caused these physical differences to emerge in the first place.

“We didn’t start off as a multi-racial species,” psychologist Liz Phelps of New York University told me in my upcoming book about narcissism. “We have races simply because we dispersed.” Once we did disperse, however, those differences in appearance—skin tone especially—turbocharged our suspicion of the outsider.

A study by psychologist Yarrow Dunham, now at Yale University, showed that color is an especially salient feature for very young people to overlook. Children in a classroom experiment who were divided into two groups and given two different color t-shirts to wear were, later on, much likelier to remember good things about all of the children who wore their color shirt and bad things about the ones who wore the other. “Kids will begin to show these preferences right away, in the lab, on the spot,” Dunham told me. “It’s not just a preference, it’s also a learning bias—the children actually learn differentially about the in-group and the out-group.”

Sometimes, for small children, there can be a certain sweetness to the bias, since they may feel concern for the person of a different race, the assumption being that anyone who doesn’t look like them must be unhappy about that fact. When my older daughter was three or four years old, we approached an African American cashier in a store and she asked her, “Are you sad that you don’t have light skin?” I winced and began to splutter an apology, but the woman answered, “No, honey. Are you said that you don’t have dark skin?” When my daughter said no, the woman responded, “So you see? We’re both happy with who we are.”

The sweet phase of simply noticing racial differences fades, to be replaced either by a higher awareness of the meaningless of such matters or a toxic descent into assigning ugly, negative values to them. Which way any one baby goes depends on upbringing, community, era, temperament and a whole range of other variables. What we will never be, like it or not, is an entirely post-racial species. Our better impulses may wish that weren’t so, but our ancient impulses will always test us. They are tests we must, from babyhood, learn to pass.

space

Astronomers Spot Most Earth-Like Planet Yet

Earth-Like Planet
This artist's rendering provided by NASA on Thursday, April 17, 2014 shows an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler-186f orbiting a star 500 light-years from Earth. JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle—AP

(LOS ANGELES) — Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that’s similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it’s not too hot and not too cold for life.

The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

“This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock solid,” University of California, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, who had no role in the discovery, said in an email.

The planet was detected by NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope, which studies the heavens for subtle changes in brightness that indicate an orbiting planet is crossing in front of a star. From those changes, scientists can calculate a planet’s size and make certain inferences about its makeup.

The newfound object, dubbed Kepler-186f, circles a red dwarf star 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. A light-year is almost 6 trillion miles.

The planet is about 10 percent larger than Earth and may very well have liquid water — a key ingredient for life — on its surface, scientists said. That is because it resides at the outer edge of the habitable temperature zone around its star — the sweet spot where lakes, rivers or oceans can exist without freezing solid or boiling away.

The find “is special because we already know that a planet of this size and in the habitable zone is capable of supporting life as we know it,” lead researcher Elisa Quintana of NASA’s Ames Research Center said at a news conference.

The discovery was detailed in Friday’s issue of the journal Science. It was based on observations that were made before the Kepler telescope was crippled by a mechanical failure last year.

The planet probably basks in an orange-red glow from its star and is most likely cooler than Earth, with an average temperature slightly above freezing, “similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day,” Marcy said.

Quintana said she considers the planet to be more of an “Earth cousin” than a twin because it circles a star that is smaller and dimmer than our sun. While Earth revolves around the sun in 365 days, this planet completes an orbit of its star every 130 days.

Scientists cannot say for certain whether it has an atmosphere, but if it does, it probably contains a lot of carbon dioxide, outside experts said.

“Don’t take off your breathing mask if you ever land there,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, a Harvard and Max Planck Institute astronomer who had no connection to the research.

Despite the differences, “now we can point to a star and know that there really is a planet very similar to the Earth, at least in size and temperature,” Harvard scientist David Charbonneau, who was not part of the team, said in an email.

If the planet is habitable, photosynthesis may be possible, said astronomer Victoria Meadows of the University of Washington, Seattle.

“There are Earth plants that would be quite happy with that,” she said.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has confirmed 961 planets, but only a few dozen are in the habitable zone. Most are giant gas balls like Jupiter and Saturn, and not ideal places for life. Scientists in recent years have also found planets slightly larger than Earth in the Goldilocks zone called “super Earths,” but it is unclear if they are rocky.

The latest discovery is the closest in size to Earth than any other known world in the habitable region.

Astronomers may never know for certain whether Kepler-186f can sustain life. The planet is too far away even for next-generation space telescopes like NASA’s James Webb, set for launch in 2018, to study it in detail.

NASA has not yet decided whether to keep using the crippled Kepler telescope on a scaled-back basis. While the instrument may never detect another planet, scientists have a backlog of observations to wade through.

___

Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

Environment

Fish Found with Mercury in Remote Western Regions

(FRESNO, Calif.) — Federal scientists have found high amounts of mercury in sport fish caught in remote areas of national parks in the West and Alaska, according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service said that most fish they caught had acceptable levels of mercury, but 4 percent exceeded healthy levels.

Mercury occurs naturally, but scientists say its presence in national parks, which are supposed to leave wildlife unimpaired for future generations, was cause for concern.

Among the most widespread contaminants in the world, mercury can damage the brain, kidneys and a developing fetus. Fish and the birds and other animals that feed on them are also at risk, the report said.

The two agencies behind the study don’t regulate health guidelines, but the National Park Service said it is working with officials in the 10 states studied on possible fish consumption advisories.

“For us this is a wakeup call,” said Jeffrey Olson of the National Parks, the agency that protects animals found in the wild. “We’re charged with keeping their habitat in good condition so generations to come visiting these parks can see what these landscapes look like.”

In the study, researchers caught 1,400 fish between 2008 and 2012 at 86 lakes and rivers in places such Yosemite National Park in California, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

In two Alaskan parks, the average level of mercury in fish found bypassed the federal standard for human consumption. The amounts of mercury also exceeded healthy levels at parks in California, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming, the study found.

Mercury occurs naturally from sources such as volcano eruptions, but pollution from burning fossil fuels is the leading contributor, the study said.

The results are not surprising because pollution in the atmosphere is a global problem, said Olson, adding that these findings call for a better understanding of how mercury is introduced into the remote corners of nature and the risks.

society

The Rapture of the Nerds

Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014
Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014 Bob Croslin for TIME

A new religion has set out to store memories for centuries and deliver its believers into a world where our souls can outlive our selves

In the backyard of a cottage here overlooking the water, two poles with metal slats shaped like ribcages jut out from the ground. They look indistinguishable from heat lamps or fancy light fixtures.

These are satellite dishes, but they aren’t for TV. They’re meant for dispatching “mindfiles,” the memories, thoughts and feelings of people who wish to create digital copies of themselves and fling them into space with the belief that they’ll eventually reach some benevolent alien species.

Welcome to the future. Hope you don’t mind E.T. leafing through your diary.

The beach house and the backyard and the memory satellites are managed by 31-year-old Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor of Terasem, a new sort of religion seeking answers to very old kinds of questions, all with an abiding faith in the transformative power of technology.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God.”Beneath the cottage is a basement office where the mindfile operation is headquartered. Next door is an ashram, an airy glass building with walls that slide away to reveal a backyard home to a telescope for stargazing and a space to practice yoga. Tucked behind a shroud of greenery, most neighbors don’t even know this house of worship exists.

The name Terasem comes from the Greek word for “Earthseed,” which is also the name for the futuristic religion found in the Octavia Butler sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower that helped inspire Gabriel’s parents, Bina and Martine Rothblatt, to start their new faith. Martine founded the successful satellite radio company Sirius XM in 1990. (Martine was originally known as Martin. She had sex reassignment surgery 20 years ago.)

Organized around four core tenets—“life is purposeful, death is optional, God is technological and love is essential”–Terasem is a “transreligion,” meaning that you don’t have to give up being Christian or Jewish or Muslim to join. In fact, many believers embrace traditional positions held by mainstream religions—including the omnipotence of God and the existence of an afterlife—but say these are made possible by increasing advancements in science and technology.

“Einstein said science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind,” Martine Rothblatt tells TIME. “Bina and I were inspired to find a way for people to believe in God consistent with science and technology so people would have faith in the future.”

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss people who think they can somehow cheat death with a laptop. But Terasem is a potent symbol of a modern way of life where the digital world and the emotional one have become increasingly entwined. It is also a sign, if one from the fringe, of the always evolving relationship between technology and faith. Survey after survey has shown the number of Americans calling themselves “religious” has declined despite the fact that many still identify as “spiritual.” People are searching, and no longer do they look to technology to provide mere order for their lives. They also want meaning. Maybe, it’s time to hack our souls.

DIGITAL SCRAPBOOKING
While there may seem nothing so new-fangled as thousands of people broadcasting their innermost thoughts to outer space, technology has always played a role in shaping religious practice and belief.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God, at least sometimes,” says John Modern, a Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. “So it’s certainly logical that someone would see the power of technology and locate their faith in it.”

Some believers in Terasem are motivated by a longing similar to one shared by followers of more familiar faiths–a desire to be reunited with people who have passed. Linda Chamberlain, cofounder of the cryonics company Alcor Life Extension Foundation and an active Terasemian, anticipates that one day in the future she’ll be reanimated alongside her husband Fred, who passed away a few years ago, and they can explore space together. Giulio Prisco, an Italian physicist who practices Terasem, says he hopes he’ll finally be reunited with his mother.

Though from the outside Terasem might look a little kooky, some ideas at its center resonate with Silicon Valley’s mainstream where millions of dollars are being spent to research how technology can alter the end of life and beyond. People like Google’s Larry Page and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel are investing in projects focused on life extension and rejuvenation.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt
A portrait of Bina and Martine Rothblatt (left to right) photographed in April 2010. George Tolbert

Portraits on the wall of Terasem’s Florida headquarters show people who have attended the organization’s meetings in the past, some of whom are among the tech industry’s most radical thinkers. Marvin Minsky, who helped start MIT’s artificial intelligence lab, is there. So is Google engineer Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s most prominent proponents of transhumanism, an intellectual movement that shaped Terasem and animates many avant garde ideas in Silicon Valley.

Born nearly a century ago with a spike in popularity in the 1990s, transhumanism advocates for the ethical use of technology to transcend biology and enhance humanity’s physical and intellectual abilities. Google Glass, artificial limbs—even birth control, as one transhumanist told me—are ways in which we can harness technology to upgrade our biology. And one day, if the mindfile system works the way it’s supposed to, we just might be able to leave our physical bodies behind and transmit our brains into computerized vessels.

Johnny Depp puts a face, or at least a voice, to that far-out vision with the release of Transcendence Friday. Depp plays a terminally ill artificial intelligence researcher who uploads his consciousness into a computer, a plot that will land many of the ideas behind Terasem in movie theaters around the world.

“Some folks have seen this coming for 40 or 50 years,” says director Wally Pfister, who won an Oscar as the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender Inception. “The moment they saw the power of computing they said, ‘Okay, at a certain point this is going to get to the point where we can either transcend the human mind or merge the human mind or build it into something greater, and that’s fascinating.”

The ability to control the universe like some sort of galaxy genie probably isn’t going to happen no matter how many times you watch The Matrix, and even if it does, it’s not going to be any time soon. But though the majority of transhumanists identify as atheists or agnostics, some have flocked to new religions like Terasem, which satisfy a yen for a spiritual sustenance in people whose lives are increasingly devoted to technology.

Terasem counts its Florida cottage and a solar-powered cabin in Lincoln, Vermont as its primary homes. It’s in Vermont that the Rothblatts keep a robot named BINA48. The machine is modeled after Martine’s wife, Bina, and was built to see just how precisely a robot loaded with mindfiles can resemble a living, breathing human being.

Roboterdame Bina48
Bina48 talks to her designing engineer Bruce Duncan at a press date in Wetzlar, Germany, March 15, 2013. Frank Rumpenhorst—DPA/AP

Terasem’s followers are dedicated to studying and raising awareness about what they call “personal cyberconciousness”—the creation of mindfiles. They believe that by ritualistically recording your thoughts and feelings with great detail, you can ultimately assemble a digital copy of yourself, available for future use.

To start, you write down or record a video of you talking about a thought, memory or feeling, and upload it to a website. You can also choose to have each mindfile beamed out into the universe—hence the satellites. So far more than 32,000 people have created free mindfile accounts.

The mindfiles are stored on servers located in both Vermont and Florida, and by using Terasem’s services you accept their promise that they will protect those files for the long-term future, making it possible for some not-yet-invented software to organize those files into an approximation of your consciousness so they can be uploaded into an artificial body 50, 100, 500 years from now.

“A lot of people have problems digesting” the idea, Gabriel says. “Instead of saying ‘mindfiling,’ I say ‘digital scrapbooking.”

The basement of the Rothblatts’ cottage is the heart of Terasem’s CyBeRev project, housing servers where users’ files are stored and the desk of a full-time programmer who keeps the shop up and running.

The cottage is also where Lori Rhodes, who helps run Terasem Movement Inc., the group’s educational non-profit, and Nikki Knudsen, Terasem’s financial manager, have their offices. The irony that people who smoke cigarettes make up a significant part of the staff for a movement dedicated to life extension isn’t lost on them.

Both Knudsen and Rhodes came to Terasem by happenstance: Knudsen, 38, was introduced through Rhodes’ sister, and Rhodes, 51, who had previously worked as a paralegal, found Terasem in 2005 through an online job advertisement for a compliance manager.

“Most people say, ‘Oh, it looks like a cult,’” Rhodes says. “My older sister did. When she first looked at it, she told me, ‘Don’t work for that organization. It looks like a cult and you’ll be blacklisted in the legal community.”

“But any religion starts with just a few members,” Rhodes says. “And I guess organized religion is cultish.”

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Until 2011, Gabriel was a manager at a local pizza restaurant. Now, he spends most of his time running for Congress in a longshot campaign to get on the Democratic ballot to challenge Rep. Bill Posey this fall.

One afternoon this winter, Gabriel set up a small table advertising his candidacy at a home and garden expo. The crowd was made up of mostly white, upper-middle class baby boomers searching for the perfect garden hose or a nice new backsplash for their freshly renovated kitchen.

“When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.”In a district that went 59 percent for Posey, a Republican, in 2012, Gabriel’s status as a Democrat may be just as much a stumbling block as Terasem. “He’s probably for Obamacare,” said one man as he walked by Gabriel’s table.

“My opponent has already begun using Terasem against me,” Gabriel tells me one night over dinner about Corry Westbrook, a former legislative director for the National Wildlife Foundation. “She says I’m inexperienced and bizarre…that I’m part of a cult.” Later, after giving me a tour of the ashram, he says that Westbrook has taken to telling people he “worships computers.” (Westbrook did not return requests for comment.)

Though one of Terasem’s core tenets is “God is technological,” Gabriel insists that’s not to be taken literally—instead, it’s meant to convey the notion that the way that you envision God directly influences your life.

It’s not exactly difficult to see how someone could misinterpret a bold statement like “God is technological.” It just sounds kind of nuts. Plus, a religion governed by a zealous devotion to technology is bound to attract critics.

Rhodes puts it more bluntly: “Some people call it the rapture of the nerds.”

“For us God is in-the-making by our collective efforts to make technology ever more omnipresent, omnipotent and ethical,” Martine says. “When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.” (Martine, who rarely speaks to the press, answered questions sent by e-mail.)

When you possess this amount of reverence—and, yes, faith—in the power of science, it starts to mirror religious belief, particularly when the possibilities you believe future technologies will have—like omnipotence and the ability to resurrect the dead—are similar to ones mainstream religions ascribe to God. This is how technology becomes religion, and how God becomes a computer.

Now, in 2014, technology can do almost everything for us—alleviate loneliness, send taxis and hairstylists and groceries to our doorstep, even make people resigned to a life of silence hear again—but it can’t bring the people we love back from the beyond.

At least, the Terasemians say, not yet.

space

Almost Earth: A Newly Discovered Planet Could Be a Lot Like Ours

An artist's conception of Kepler 186f, with its reddish sun setting over its maybe-ocean
An artist's conception of Kepler 186f, with its reddish sun setting over its maybe-ocean. Danielle Futselaar

The best place to look for extraterrestrial life would be on worlds with a size and composition like our own. Astronomers have now discovered what may be the Earthiest planet yet—and there are surely more out there

When a faulty aiming device crippled the Kepler space telescope last year, NASA officials reluctantly declared the orbiting observatory’s planet-hunting days over—but they also said that Kepler would keep finding planets. That’s not as crazy as it sounds: the probe had made so many observations since its launch in 2009 that scientists hadn’t come close to processing them all. There were sure to be spectatcular discoveries still lurking in those terabytes of stored data, said Kepler’s founding father, William Borucki, of the NASA Ames Research Center.

Turns out he was right: a team of astronomers has just announced the discovery of a planet almost identical in size to Earth, orbiting in the habitable zone of its star—the region where water in liquid form, an essential ingredient for life as we know it, could plausibly exist. Kepler has found Earth-size planets before, and habitable-zone planets, but nobody has ever found a single planet that falls into both of these crucial categories.

“We’ve had a handful of candidates that looked good in the past,” says Elisa Quintana, of NASA Ames, lead author of the paper describing the discovery, which appears in Science. “But we always took them with a grain of salt.” That’s because false-positive detections are always possible in the planet-hunting game. Kepler finds planets by watching for the almost imperceptible dimming of stars as an orbiting world passes in front of them. But other things can cause a very similar signal. The star itself might flicker, or a dark sunspot might slide across its face. Another possibility: a pair of mutually orbiting stars could be sitting almost directly behind the target star, increasing the total amount of starlight that reaches Kepler. When one of these background stars moves in front of the other, the collective incoming light dips—just as it would if a planet eclipsed a single star.

Every candidate planet goes through tests to rule out these possibilities, and in the end, all of those possible habitable-zone Earth-size planets failed. But this planet, called Kepler 186f, passed with honors. “Statistically,” says Quintana, “we’re 99.98% certain that this is in fact a planet.”

They’re also reasonably sure, although not quite as certain, that the planet is made mostly of rock, just like the actual Earth. It wasn’t possible to conduct the definitive observations that would make this a slam-dunk—that is, measuring how much the planet’s gravity makes the star wobble back and forth with each full orbit. If the astronomers could do that, they’d know the planet’s mass, not just its size. Dividing mass by size would have given them Kepler 186f’s density, and thus its composition.

At nearly 500 light-years away, however, Kepler 186f is too distant for that sort of measurement. Still, the best available planet-formation models suggest that the new world is too small to be made of anything but rock. The discovery last fall of Kepler 78b, a somewhat bigger planet that is close enough for the wobble test and is definitively rocky, lends credence to the idea that 186f is too.

Still, there’s one thing about the new planet that’s decidedly non-Earthlike: it orbits an M-dwarf, a dim, reddish star with only about half the mass of the Sun. As recently as a decade ago, few astronomers would have considered such a star a good place to look for life-friendly planets. One reason is that M-dwarfs tend to have lots of violent flares and magnetic storms that spew charged particles out into space. And because these small stars put out less energy than the Sun, their habitable zones are much closer in, exposing planets to a more severe bath of radiation (Kepler 186f, for example, has a “year” that lasts just 130 days, putting it closer to its star than Venus is to our Sun).

Those closer orbits can also place M-dwarf planets at risk of becoming tidally locked to their stars, just as the Moon is to Earth. That means they’ll always show one face to the star; the bright side can therefore be far warmer than the dark side, which could create violent weather that would make life hard to sustain.

But planet hunters have been rethinking all of these factors, and new theoretical studies suggest they might not necessarily deal-breakers. And in this case, they may not even apply: the star that is home to Kepler 186f is relatively massive and bright for an M-dwarf, putting a habitable-zone planet far enough away to be outside the danger zone. Plus, says Quintana, the star has relatively little flare activity. The true measure of Earthiness, of course, would be if Kepler 186f has water on its surface, and more than that, if the water has helped give rise to life. But there’s no way of knowing that from the current observations.

The good news is that there are ridiculous numbers of M-dwarfs in the Milky Way—far more than there are Sun-like stars. There are so many, in fact, that a study concluded last year that if only six percent of them had an Earthlike planet, and if they were spread evenly through the galaxy, that would put the nearest one a mere 13 light-years away. “Astronomically speaking,” said the study’s lead author Courtney Dressing, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, at the time that study came out, “this is like a stroll across the park.”

The even better news is that a newly approved mission called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, scheduled for a 2017 launch, could find such nearby planets in droves—and the James Webb Space Telescope, which could go up as early as 2018, could follow up by probing their atmospheres, looking for the chemical byproducts of living organisms.

Kepler scientists, meanwhile, are still looking for a more elusive quarry: a true Mirror Earth, the size and composition of our own planet, orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. “Kepler 186f,” says Quintana, “is more of an Earth cousin than an Earth twin.” While scientists can theorize all day about whether life might be possible in the reddish light of an M-dwarf, they know for certain it’s possible on a world like Earth bathed by yellow-white light. “We’re still working hard to find one,” Quintana says. And the fact that Kepler died nearly a year ago isn’t slowing them down even a little bit.

We Want Your Pictures for Earth Day

Looking at the Icebergs, Near Franklin Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica in 2006.
Looking at the Icebergs, Near Franklin Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica in 2006. Camille Seaman

Google+ and TIME are teaming up to find beautiful pictures of our planet. Selections made by TIME's photo editors will be featured here on TIME.com on Earth Day

Earth doesn’t do ugly. There’s virtually no place you can live on the planet that at some point can’t knock you out with its flat-out gorgeousness—and we’re not just talking rainforests and coral reefs here. Badlands are anything but bad when you appreciate their raw, rugged beauty; the same is true of tundras and deserts and sprawling plains—fruited or not. The odds are at least one of these bowl-you-over vistas is located in your part of the world.

OK, so prove it. To honor Earth day 2014, Google+ and Time want to see your best picture of your beautiful Earth, which you can share with the straight-up hashtag #MyBeautifulEarth. Google+ will feature your images on a page of all of that local loveliness from now through April 22, which can be seen and savored in real time, as the page grows. Time’s photo editors will cull through the submissions, and the best of them will appear here on TIME.com on Earth Day. Earth being what it is—and people being what we are—it’s almost certain that at some point you’ve looked around yourself and wished that everybody could see the mesa or glacier or mountain or river or coastline or canyon or valley or bay just outside your window. On April 22, 2014, they could.

To share your photo, go to plus.google.com and click on “Share what’s new” in the Share box at the top of your stream, or open the Google+ app on your phone, and click the blue camera icon. Add a description for your photo, and include the hashtag #mybeautifulearth. Add your photo to your post, then add “Public” in the “To:” box. Click Share, and you’ve shared your part of the planet with the world.

policy

Court Upholds EPA Emission Standards

(WASHINGTON) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In its ruling, the court rejected state and industry challenges to rules designed to clean up mercury, lead, arsenic and other dangerous air pollutants.

The new regulations were designed to remove toxins from the air that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.

Some industry groups have criticized the standards, saying the EPA was overstating the benefits. Industry groups argued it would cost billions of dollars annually to comply with the rules.

The EPA proposed the rules in 2011.

At the time they were brought forward, there were no limits on how much mercury or other toxic pollutants could be released from a power plant’s smokestacks.

Tuesday’s ruling is “a giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, which was a party in the case.

The Environmental Protection Agency called the decision “a victory for public health and the environment.”

“These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn,” the EPA said.

Congress did not specify what types or levels of public health risks should be deemed a hazard under federal law.

By leaving this gap in the statute, Congress delegated to the EPA authority to give reasonable meaning to the term “hazard,” said the appeals court opinion.

space

It’s a Moon! Saturn Expecting a Baby

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
A small bulge in Saturn's A Ring (bottom left), may be the first signs of a moon being born NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

New findings from a NASA space probe suggest that one of the solar system's most fertile planets may be adding offspring number 63 to its family. The new moon has not been directly spotted yet, but scientists have already given it a nickname: Peggy

It’s not as if Saturn needed any more kids. The ringed planet already has 53 known moons and 9 more candidate ones—putting it just two shy of 64, which would make it kind of an octo-octo-mom. That’s an awfully big shopping bill when it’s back to school time.

But Saturn apparently can’t help itself, and according to new findings by NASA’s Cassini-Huygens space probe just published in the journal Icarus, baby number 63 may be being born.

The new arrival has not been spotted directly yet. What Cassini, which has been orbiting through the Saturnian system since 2004, has seen instead is a sort of bulge in Saturn’s A Ring—the outermost of its larger, brighter bands—that measures 750 mi. (1,200 km) long and 6 mi. (10 km) wide. The rings — made of ice, rock and dust — are believed to be the nurseries in which all of the moons were born, with material coalescing and clumping, adding more mass and thus more gravity, and growing bigger still. The new moon—if it exists—is a pipsqueak, perhaps only 0.5 mi. (0.8 km) in diameter, somewhere within the 750-mi. clump, though there’s no telling exactly how large it will get.

As befits something so little and—if you’re an astronomer—irresistibly cute, the moon has been given a nickname: Peggy. It will eventually be given a formal name, but that will only be after it has, effectively, grown up and left home.

“We have not seen anything like this before,” said astronomer Carl Murray, the lead author of the Icarus study, in a statement. “We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.”

If so, Peggy could represent the end of the line. Since the largest of Saturn’s icy moons are located furthest from the planet, the belief is that they are also the oldest, growing bigger and bigger and moving outward as they did. The formation of those big siblings as well as all of the smaller ones is believed to have depleted the rings of much of their moon-forming raw material. What’s left is enough to keep the overall ring system alive, but not enough to allow the emergence of any more moons. At 4.5 billion years old, Saturn may at last be ending its child-bearing years.

space

Watch the ‘Blood Moon’ Lunar Eclipse in 9 Seconds Flat

Blood moon lunar eclipse
Getty Images (25); Gif by Mia Tramz/TIME

Millions of people were greeted last night with a strange celestial sighting, the “blood moon” lunar eclipse. The phenomenon occurs when the moon passes into the earth’s shadow and, for about an hour, takes on a reddish hue from the sunlight being refracted around the earth’s horizon.

Due to cloud cover over much of North America, many people, particularly on the east coast, didn’t get a chance to see the blood moon Tuesday morning. Don’t worry though, we’ve got a time lapse of the event for you right here.

Death Toll in Ebola Outbreak Rises to 121

(DAKAR, Senegal) — The World Health Organization says an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has been linked to the deaths of more than 120 people.

As of Monday, the organization recorded a total of 200 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, which is normally found in central or eastern Africa, in Guinea, Liberia and Mali. The bulk of the cases are in Guinea, and Mali has yet to have a confirmed case. Tests are ongoing.

The deaths of 121 people in Guinea and Liberia have been linked to the disease.

There is no vaccine and no cure. Officials have said the current outbreak could last months. Health care workers are isolating the sick and tracking down anyone they have come into contact with.

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