TIME space

Chandra Observatory: 15 Years of Glorious Pictures

Human eyes don't know half of what they're missing. But the Chandra Observatory, with its x-ray vision, gives us a stunning peek.

You’ll never see the universe as beautifully as the Chandra Observatory can see it. That’s because Chandra—which is celebrating its 15th anniversary in high-Earth orbit—sees in x-ray frequencies and you don’t. It’s a pity, actually that we’re blind in that bandwidth, because so much of the cosmos makes itself known there. Signals coming from planets, comets, supernovas, from the dark matter in the vast spaces between galaxies, all emit x-ray energy. The portraits they paint, with false color added to make them visible to our eyes, are more than static snapshots. They are, instead, pictures of processes: of matter spinning down the eternal drain of the black hole at the center of our galaxy; of galaxies colliding and merging; of the cool gas swirling at the center of the Andromeda galaxy.

Chandra records all of these cosmic processes—bits of history really, since at their great distances many of them played out in the remote past. In its own short life, it has crossed many boundaries in terrestrial history too. The satellite was lofted by the shuttle Columbia in 1999—a ship that was destined for catastrophe just four years later. It left Earth at a time when the World Trade Towers stood; when Barack Obama was an Illinois State Senator, one year away from losing his bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; when no one had ever heard of an iPhone. That doesn’t seem like much in a universe whose chapters play out in epochs, not mere years. But for a fragile machine from a fragile planet, 15 long years of exploratory work aren’t bad—especially when the post cards it sends home are so improbably dazzling. —Jeffrey Kluger

TIME climate

June Was Hottest on Record, NOAA Says

Temperatures Soar To Highest Of The Year
A giant plastic ice cream cone glints in the sun on the South Beach Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

May was the hottest on record, too

Not only did 2014 boast the hottest May on record, but new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the global population experienced its hottest June ever, too.

Well, at least this summer is keeping things consistent.

According to the NOAA, the combined average temperatures of land and ocean surfaces was 1.30°F above the 20th century average of 59.9°F. If only looking at land surface temperature, though, it was only the seventh highest June on record.

Anomalies are now becoming less of an anomaly as nine of the ten warmest Junes recorded occurred in the 21st century, including every June in the last five years.

TIME vaccines

RFK Jr. Joins the Anti-Vaccine Fringe

RFK, Jr.: Big bullhorn, bad ideas
RFK, Jr.: Big bullhorn, bad ideas Ethan Miller; 2014 Getty Images

A man who used to tell hard truths now peddles dangerous nonsense

There are lots of places to go if you want dangerous crazytalk. There are websites, blog threads, cable channels trafficking in all kinds of addled nonsense about birther conspiracies and one-world governments. And then there was Robert Kennedy, Jr., the tireless, honest climate hero long famous for fighting the very good fight.

But that was then. RFK, Jr. may still know a thing or two about global warming, but he has taken a disreputable plunge into the world of anti-science with his new and inexplicable crusade: warning people about the dangers of vaccines.

Let’s be clear: Kennedy will tell you he’s not against vaccines themselves, but rather, against thimerosal, a vaccine preservative purportedly responsible for the rise in autism in the U.S. He’s even publishing a new book—Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak—making this frightening point. The problem is: he’s wrong—utterly wrong, so wrong it’s hard even to know what the biggest piece of that wrongness is.

But let’s start with a single fact that ought to be, as the lawyers like to say, dispositive: the thimerosal ain’t there. With the exception of the flu vaccine, it was removed from or reduced to trace levels in all vaccines given to children under 6-years-old 13 years ago. You face a greater mercury risk eating seafood and fish—and even that danger is low enough that the EPA recently recommended that pregnant and nursing women increase their intake of certain kinds of fish because the nutritional benefits outweigh the theoretical dangers.

Kennedy is wrong on basic epidemiology too. Autism diagnoses have indeed risen steadily in the U.S. in recent years, but that has been happening in the same period in which thimerosal levels in vaccines plunged. When your cause goes away and your reputed effect increases, well, you really do need to review your class notes on what cause and effect mean in the first place.

Most fundamentally, Kennedy does not get chemistry. Thimerosal is an ethylmercury product. Mercury in general may be a neurotoxin, but it’s in its methylmercury form that it does its damage—and only in particular concentrations. The quantity of ethylmercury that was once in vaccines was so small that it was actually within acceptable limits for the more toxic, methyl form—but it wasn’t even in that methyl form to begin with.

Kennedy, more than most anti-vaxxers, really ought to know better. In his long career as a climate crusader he has had to answer the febrile claims from the denialists that the whole threat of global warming is a conspiracy cooked up by “grant-grubbing scientists” and liberal politicians looking to expand the role of government. Yet when it comes to vaccines, he clangs the same loony-tune bells.

As long ago as 2005, he published an anti-vax article in Rolling Stone claiming to reveal how “government health agencies colluded with Big Pharma to hide the risks of thimerosal from the public.” And Keith Kloor, the author of a new Washington Post Magazine profile of Kennedy, reports that last year, in response to a story he wrote on the Discover magazine website labeling this kind of thinking as the nonsense that it is, Kennedy called him up and said bluntly, “I’m trying to figure out whether you are a shill for Big Pharma.”

The worst—and the least explicable—thing about Kennedy and his new cause is the company he keeps. His book is being put out by Skyhorse Publishing—an outfit that also includes the disgraced Andrew Wakefield in its stable of authors. Wakefield is the U.K. investigator whose fraudulent 1998 paper purporting to link autism to the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine set off the entire anti-vaccine wildfire. In 2010, The Lancet formally withdrew the 1998 paper and Wakefield has since been banned from practicing medicine in the U.K. And as for the company Wakefield himself keeps? The foreword to his book was written by Jenny McCarthy.

Kennedy may deeply believe the rubbish he’s peddling—but science doesn’t care about your sincerity; it cares about the facts. That doesn’t mean he’s not in a position to do real harm. Like McCarthy, he has a big soapbox and a loud bullhorn, and every parent he frightens into skipping vaccinations means one more child who is in danger.

In the Washington Post profile, Kennedy complains about the trouble he’s having getting his anti-vaccine message across. “I’m completely f***ing alone on this,” he gripes. Well, good. He deserves to be alone, and if fewer people than he hoped are listening to him, that’s a positive sign.

TIME natural disaster

Charred Earth: The Wreckage of the Washington Wildfires

Hundreds of people have been displaced in the northeast part of the state

It took thousands of firefighters Saturday and Sunday to battle a wildfire raging east of Washington state’s Cascade Mountains. The four-blaze Carlton Complex fire destroyed about 100 homes and displaced hundreds of people.

The weekend inferno is the latest in a series of fires that have plagued the drought-ravaged west coast this summer. Area residents hope that forecasts for cooler weather this week will help quell the siege of flames, the Associated Press reports.

TIME space

See What the Raging Pacific Northwest Fires Look Like From Space

NASA

In a photo taken from the International Space Station, smoke blankets a large swath of the western United States

Wildfires across the Pacific Northwest have been blazing since Monday and have scorched large areas of forest as a result of hot, dry weather in Oregon and Washington. A total of 25 large, uncontained wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres, with the single largest affected region in eastern Oregon’s Malheur County where about 369,000 acres of land has been burned. Incredibly, you can see smoke rising above the region from outer space. Reid Wiseman, an astronaut on the International Space Station, posted this photo on his Twitter feed.

TIME Environment

The 5 Worst Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

A most wanted list for alien pests in the Sunshine State

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As I write in a cover story in TIME this week, invasive species are a growing threat around the U.S. And there’s no place quite as thoroughly invaded as Florida:

“We are ground zero for the impacts of invasive species,” says Doria Gordon, director of conservation science for the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) . “And our invaders are very good at finding new habitats.”

Often those habitats are in or around the Everglades, that vast “river of grass” that covers much of South Florida. Half of the original Everglades has been developed for farming or housing, and the sprawling wetland has been carved up by more than 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of canals and levees that divert water for South Florida’s 5.8 million people. That mix of suburbs and wilderness makes the Everglades an invasive free-for-all.

But which invasive species pose the biggest threats to the Everglades? Check out the video above

 

TIME space

Apollo 11’s Rarely-Seen Outtakes

For the 45th Anniversary of the moon landing, TIME searched through NASA's archives for these rarely seen images

After 45 years, you’d think there is no picture of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing that hasn’t been seen a thousand times—but you’d be wrong. Like all travelers, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins shot a whole lot of frames, and not all of them were keepers. NASA did keep every one of them, of course. Here a few of that are rarely published—mixed with some of the iconic ones that capture best just how extraordinary that long-ago mission was.

TIME space travel

When Man Met Moon

The cover of Time Magazine on July 25, 1969
The cover of Time Magazine on July 25, 1969

Forty-five years after the giant leap for mankind, TIME remembers the July 25, 1969, issue

There’s always something grandiose about gazing back across the gulf of history. Today, we know so much about what was to come, and the people of the past knew so very little. It’s impossible to read through TIME’s July 25, 1969 issue—which was released 45 years ago this week, will be re-released in full on Time’s tablet edition next week and featured the epochal Apollo 11 moon-landing on its cover—and not indulge in some of that generational smugness. There is the good-news story about a lull in the fighting in Vietnam—a story that feels a lot less good when you know that the war would drag on for six more years and kill more than 15,000 additional American soldiers. There was the laudatory profile of Attorney General John Mitchell, the man nicknamed “Nixon’s heavyweight,” who would later come to be known less nobly as inmate number 24171-157, serving 19 months in prison for his part in the Watergate scandal.

There were the ads too—for sugar as a diet food (it can “turn your appestat back to low”), for Marlboro Longhorn 100’s, for RCA’s Octoputer, a computer mainframe that “works from way over here where you are to way over there where it is.” There was the story about the European Common Market, and the question of whether it would ever lead to a true European Union. (Answer: yes, sort of, eventually.) There was the speculation over what effect the Chappaquiddick accident, which occurred the same week as the moon landing, would have on Teddy Kennedy’s “nationwide constituency,” polite code for his Presidential prospects. (Answer: a bad one.) The folly of “the appestat,” the future of the computer, the bloody arc of Vietnam were all part of the unknowable future to the people of then and are just lines in the historical archives to the people of now.

But here’s the thing about those people, the ones who opened that edition of TIME two generations ago—that paper edition with its adhesive mailing label and its Louis Glansman acrylic painting of Neil Armstrong on the cover, which was the best color image of the moonwalk available since the Apollo 11 crew had not yet returned home with their hand-carried rolls of film that would still have to be taken to the lab for processing and then hand-distributed or sent by wire to the world: those people belonged to an age that could put human beings on the moon and you don’t.

They had achieved that momentous feat just days before TIME’s issue hit the stands and would do it again and again and again and again. They had gone from a standing start on a spit of land in eastern Florida in 1961 to the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, not only proving that the damned thing could be done, not only besting the Russians, who had long led the Space Race—the great meme of that pre-meme age—but making a war-torn, race-torn nation that had every reason to feel very, very bad about itself, feel, at least briefly, very, very good.

That the giddy forecasts that followed the mission never materialized—the boot prints on Mars in 1982, the 12-person space stations (“including the first American spacewoman,” TIME reported) by the 1970s—does nothing to diminish the thing that did happen. That thing happened two generations ago this summer, and it kept happening until 1972, when American astronauts left the moon for the last time—and for what has turned out to be a very long time. So hat tip to you, people of 1969; maybe we’ll grow up to be just like you.

TIME Environment

How to Catch a Python, in Five (Sort of) Easy Steps

The inelegant art of hunting an invasive snake

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“Fear is a natural reaction.” That’s what the dangerous-animal expert Jeff Fobb told me stood in the backyard of his house in Homestead, Florida, waiting to tangle with a Burmese python. Fobb was right—even though Burmese pythons don’t really pose a threat to human beings, there’s something about the way a snake slithers, the way the muscles under the sheen of its scales ripple, that seems to strike a bell in the human amgydala. Almost as scary: the fact that there may be tens of thousands of invasive pythons slithering around the state of Florida.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch a python—provided you can find it. Here’s how:

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