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.

TIME animals

Scientists Trace Back the First Sexual Act Ever, to Weird Ancient Fish

Ancient fish were the first to copulate. And according to a world renowned paleontologist, it looked a lot like square dancing

Scientists have discovered the origins of sex, and like anyone’s first time it sounds pretty awkward.

Now light some candles and let’s set the scene: The first act of copulation occurred in the nippy Scottish sea some 385 million years ago. The fornicators in question were a set of primitive jawed, bony fish aptly called Microbrachius dicki. The dirty details? Well, according to Australian paleontologist John Long, “With their arms interlocked, these fish looked more like they are square dancing the do-se-do rather than mating.”

Not only had scientists previously thought that the first sex act occurred on land at a later date, but Long says, “We didn’t expect these little suckers to have reproductive organs.”

But the M. Dicki were endowed, as is explained by Long and his colleagues in a paper that was published in Nature Monday. Although their genitalia are not described in romantic terms.

Long, a professor at Flinders University, explained to the BBC that the fish’s arms linked them together, “so the male can get this large L-shaped sexual organ into position to dock with the female’s genital plates, which are very rough like cheese graters. They act like Velcro, locking the male organ into position to transfer sperm.”

This is also the first species that displayed a different appearance between the male and female.

TIME Surgery

Paralyzed Man Walks Again After ‘Miracle’ Surgery

Polish doctors used cells from patient's nose to heal spinal injury

A man who was completely paralyzed from the waist down has learned to walk again after Polish doctors transplanted cells from the patient’s nose into the damaged part of his spine. This pioneering research offers hope for treatment to millions of people around the world with spinal cord injuries.

The patient, 38-year-old firefighter Darek Fidyka from Poland, was left with a completely severed spinal cord after being stabbed four years ago. His doctors had given him a less than 1% chance of recovery but thanks to revolutionary surgery carried out in 2012 Fidyka is now able to walk again with a frame. “It’s an incredible feeling, difficult to describe,” he recounts in a BBC documentary to be aired Tuesday “When it starts coming back, you feel as if you start living your life again, as if you are reborn.” Fidyka has been able to resume an independent life and is even able to drive a car.

The procedure was carried out by Polish surgeons in collaboration with British researchers at University College London. Professor Geoffrey Raisman, who led the U.K. research team, called the breakthrough “historic” and said what had been achieved was “more impressive than man walking on the moon.”

[BBC]

TIME climate change

2014 Could Be the Hottest Year on Record

A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014.
A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014. Grzegorz Michalowski—EPA

May, June, August and September have all been record-breaking months

The earth could be heading for its warmest year on record, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Monday.

Last month was the warmest September in 135 years of record keeping, with the global average temperature 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), the Associated Press reports. May, June and August were also record-breaking months.

NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden told AP it was “pretty likely” that 2014 would be the hottest year since measurements began.

The reason for the rise in temperature is partly due to a band of warm water that develops in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño. Other record-breaking years started off with El Niño, and meteorologists forecast one is likely to occur this year.

“This is one of many indicators that climate change has not stopped and that it continues to be one of the most important issues facing humanity,” University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles told AP.

[Associated Press]

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