TIME

New Pluto Image Shows Enhanced View of Its Heart

Pluto photo from four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the Ralph instrument
NASA/REUTERS An enhanced color global view of Pluto released on July 24, 2015.

NASA released the false color composite image

NASA released a false-color image of Pluto on Thursday, revealing an unprecedented view of the dwarf planet’s vividly contrasting patches of terrain.

The picture is a composite of multiple images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, captured 280,000 miles away from Pluto in the days before the July 14 flyby.

The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the probe captured photos that thrilled the world last week. Close-ups from that camera were combined with data from a Ralph instrument on board to create these new color depictions.

According to the NASA press release, the color suggests insights about Pluto’s “icy heart”: the ice appears to be originating and spreading outward from the “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum.

TIME vaccines

This Is How Nigeria Beat Polio

Goodbye to all that: Computer-generated model of a poliovirus
Calysta Images ;Getty Images/Tetra images RF Goodbye to all that: Computer-generated model of a poliovirus

A quarter-century campaign brings the world tantalizingly close to eradicating a disease

It’s easy not to notice a negative. A house burns down on your block and it’s all you can talk about. But a house doesn’t burn down? Where’s the news?

Still, absence can be the stuff of headlines, and that fact has rarely been truer than it is in Nigeria today—where health officials are celebrating a full year without a single case of polio. A polio-free Nigeria means a polio-free Africa, since it was the only country left of the 47 on the continent where the crippling disease was still endemic. The virus, which as recently as 1988 was endemic in 128 countries, crippling 350,000 children per year, has now been cornered in just two places—Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it’s barely hanging on there. Wipe polio out in those last two redoubts and it will become only the second disease in history—after smallpox—to have been vaccinated out of existence.

“We are celebrating the first time ever that Nigeria has gone without a case of polio, but with caution,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, who leads Rotary International’s anti-polio campaign in Nigeria. “Surveillance takes place in every nook and cranny of this country, even in those areas that have been free for years.”

The victory in Nigeria did not come easy—and it almost didn’t happen at all. For more than a generation, it has been Rotary that has led the drive to eradicate polio, administering vaccinations to 2.5 billion children in 122 countries at a cost of $1.4 billion. With the help of UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups, the effort paid off comparatively fast. As long ago as 2003, the virus had been chased out of all but six countries and the global caseload was down to just 732. There was talk of eradication by as early as 2005.

But Nigeria scuttled those plans. In the summer of 2003, Muslim clerics in the country’s northern regions halted all vaccinations, spreading the fiction that the vaccines contained HIV and were designed to sterilize Muslim girls. Quickly, the poliovirus did what all viruses do when they’re given that kind of running room: it spread, and fast. By 2005, cases consistent with the Nigeria strain were appearing in a 16-nation band that stretched as far away as Indonesia, before the outbreak could finally be contained.

“This is a disease that can’t be controlled,” said WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer at the time, “it has to be eradicated.”

While the current victory in Nigeria was a huge milestone, things remained dicey right to the end—again due to politics—when Boko Haram fighters killed nine polio workers and abducted three others earlier this year. But the vaccine program was already too far along for the attacks to reverse things, and as the July 24 anniversary arrived, victory was at last declared—albeit tentatively.

Nigeria is now officially off the list of endemic countries, but the poliovirus can lurk in sewage and elsewhere, and since there can be up to 200 asymptomatic cases of the disease for every paralytic one, there is no telling how many human virus reservoirs are still at large. Only after two more polio-free years pass will Nigeria be declared officially done with the disease.

That leaves Afghanistan and, most troublingly, Pakistan. Currently, there have been only 33 cases of polio recorded worldwide in 2015—28 in Pakistan and 5 in Afghanistan. At the same point last year, those two countries had already had 107 infections, and the Pakistani strain had turned up in at least six other countries.

Progress has been slowed in Pakistan by often-deadly attacks on polio field workers carried out by local Taliban fighters. Since 2012, however, the government has been providing help, committing its military to protecting the vaccinators and recruiting religious leaders to speak out on the moral imperative of ensuring the health of children.

National pride plays no small role too. India—Pakistan’s mortal rival—has not had a case of polio since 2011 and was declared officially free of the disease last year. That the Indians accomplished this in a country with four times the landmass and seven times the population of Pakistan has been galling to many Pakistanis. The dramatic reduction in new infections in Pakistan from 2014 to 2015 has been a point of national pride.

Protecting children should not, of course, be a matter of international bragging rights. It should just be something human beings do. We’re a species smart enough to have invented a vaccine and brave enough to go delivering it in very dangerous places. The effort to eradicate polio has been a halting thing, and we have too often gotten in our own way. But at last, sometimes despite ourselves, we appear to be on the brink of winning.

TIME animals

The Surprising Way Boa Constrictors Really Kill Their Prey

boa constrictor
Getty Images

It's not what we thought

For decades, scientists thought that boa constrictors suffocated their victims to death by cutting off oxygen. Now, new research suggests that the snake species may actually kill their prey primarily by cutting off the flow of blood through the body’s circulatory system.

Researchers allowed boa constrictors to attack rats while measuring how the prey’s body responded, including taking blood pressure and heart rate measurements. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, suggests that the snake’s grip cuts off circulation almost immediately. The lack of blood flow causes organs like the liver, brain and heart to stop functioning, causing death.

These results don’t mean that prey doesn’t also suffocate, but the loss of blood flow throughout the body kills more quickly than the inability to breathe. “Rather than suffocation, circulatory arrest may be the most proximate cause of death during snake constriction,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers performed the experiment on 24 lab rats that were given anesthesia prior to the test to reduce suffering. Scientists told the BBC that the research could provide insight on how to treat human crush injuries.

TIME space

NASA Discovers New Earth-Like Planet

It's a "bigger, older cousin to Earth"

NASA has discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting around a star, which a NASA researcher called a “bigger, older cousin to Earth.”

Kepler 452b was discovered on NASA’s Kepler mission orbiting in the habitable zone around a sun-like star, or the zone in which liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet, according to a NASA statement.

About 12 planets had previously been discovered in habitable zones that had similarities to earth, but, “Kepler-452b fires the planet hunter’s imagination because it is the most similar to the Earth-sun system found yet,” NASA’s statement says. “A planet at the right temperature within the habitable zone, and only about one-and-a-half times the diameter of Earth, circling a star very much like our own sun.”

Along with Kepler 452b, this mission also found 11 other small habitable zone planets. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Read next: See the Evolution of the Iconic Blue Marble Photo

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME space

Astronauts Successfuly Join Colleagues on the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

Three astronauts have docked with the International Space Station and are joining three existing members on board the station for the next five months.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay onboard for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME Infectious Disease

‘We Are Not Prepared For Another Epidemic': World Bank Survey

LIBERIA-HEATH-EBOLA
Getty Images A woman, suspected of carrying ebola, looks on while under quarantine in the red zone of the Elwa clinic, an ebola treatment center in Monrovia on July 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSO (Photo credit should read ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

A new World Bank poll reveals many countries are fearful of epidemics like Ebola and do not think the world is prepared to handle them

Correction appended, July 23

Many people living in developed countries do not think the world is prepared to appropriately respond to another infectious disease epidemic like the ongoing Ebola outbreak, a new World Bank survey shows.

The new data comes from a World Bank Foundation survey released Thursday morning. Researchers polled 4,000 people in the general public living in the regions as well as what the organization classified as opinion elites (defined as people with a university diploma who closely follow global news) and discovered that people around the world are highly concerned about global disease outbreaks, are not convinced the global community is well equipped to handle such outbreaks, and are in support of more funding for protections.

When asked to rank which global issues are most concerning, the people polled collectively ranked global health and epidemics third, after climate change and terrorism. Concern over epidemics was higher than that for global poverty and human rights abuses. When asked specifically about which global health problems concerned people most, global infectious diseases beat out other issues including HIV/AIDS, obesity and hunger.

Not only is concern over epidemics high, but twice as many people think there will be another epidemic like Ebola than people who do not. In addition, a high proportion of the people surveyed expect there could be an epidemic in their own country. That’s especially interesting, the researchers pointed out in a press conference, given that most of the countries had very few people with Ebola if any at all.

People living in the United States, France and the United Kingdom were especially unconvinced that the world is prepared to handle another outbreak. The Ebola outbreak has infected over 27,700 people and killed over 11,260. It’s been widely acknowledged that the world did not react fast enough, and a recent report cited major cultural problems at the World Health Organization (WHO) that interfered with the agency’s leadership during the outbreak and contributed to its failures to adequately respond.

The poll highlights the fact that members of the general public recognize the risk epidemics pose and support investment to prevent them. Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they support funding and policy changes in developing countries that will help protect their own country from risk, and about 70% say strengthening the health systems in developing countries will save money.

Pledges from countries to aid in the Ebola outbreak as well as vows from global agencies to reform their processes to better respond in the future have been made throughout the last year. Whether these translate to real changes and increased capacities to prevent and respond to the next outbreak remains to be seen, but it’s clear from the new poll that it’s what the people want.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated group that conducted the poll. It’s the World Bank Group.

TIME space

Watch Astronauts Dock With the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

After a successful launch, three astronauts are slated to dock with the International Space Station at 10:46 p.m. E.T. on Wednesday.

The astronauts launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST. Over six hours, the crew orbited the Earth four times as they caught up with the space station, which orbits the Earth at 17,500 mph.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME Food

USDA Says Bird Flu Vaccine Works on Chickens

Officials are testing the vaccine on turkeys

(DES MOINES, Iowa)—Scientists have developed a vaccine strain that has tested 100% effective in protecting chickens from bird flu and testing is underway to see if it also protects turkeys, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee at a hearing on Wednesday.

If it does, the agency plans to quickly license it for widespread production and is seeking funding from the Office of Management and Budget to stockpile it nationally.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get a lot of folks working collaboratively together and we stockpile enough so that if this does hit and hits us hard we’re in a position to respond quickly,” Vilsack said.

Developing a vaccine targeted to the H5N2 virus that has killed 48 million birds since early March in 15 states, including hardest-hit Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, is one aspect of planning for a potential recurrence of the bird flu, Vilsack said.

Scientists believe the virus was spread through the droppings of wild birds migrating north to nesting grounds. They’re concerned it could return this fall when birds fly south for the winter or again next spring.

While this year Midwest turkey and egg farms were hit hardest, the industry that raises chickens for meat in the southern and eastern states including Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia is worried it could spread there.

Still not all poultry producers are on the same page when it comes to using vaccine to fight an outbreak.

Turkey producers tend to favor vaccination to protect flocks because turkey immune systems appear more vulnerable to viruses. Some egg producers and farmers who raise broilers — chickens produced for meat — often resist vaccination programs because of the possible impact on export markets.

U.S. producers export nearly $6 billion worth of poultry and egg products yearly with about $5 billion of that chicken meat.

“There are many unanswered questions that must be addressed before any strong consideration is given to a vaccination program,” said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents producers of 95 percent of the U.S. broilers sold. “Two concerns of several are the effectiveness of the vaccine and potential impacts on trade.”

Meetings also have been held with importers of U.S. poultry products to try and convince them not to block all poultry imports if a vaccination program is enacted in response to another outbreak.

“That’s still an open question and we’ve been working with a number of countries today to get them convinced to ban regionally as opposed to the entire country,” Vilsack said.

Many countries have a strict policy of refusing to accept meat from nations using a vaccine because it can be difficult to discern through testing whether birds were infected with an active virus or were vaccinated, said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

Even during the current outbreak which affected 15 states, about 10 trade partners banned poultry imports from the entire U.S., Sumner said.

Vilsack said it’s uncertain when a vaccine would be ready for large-scale production. Even once stockpiled, a vaccination program would not begin until the USDA, consulting with affected states, decided it was necessary to control an outbreak

TIME space

Watch 3 Astronauts Launch for the International Space Station

Three astronauts who will spend the next five months in space launched from the desert in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

The astronauts launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST. Over six hours, the crew orbited the Earth four times before catching up to the space station, docking at 10:46 p.m. EST.

The astronauts’ launch was delayed after two consecutive failures of cargo vehicles that were meant to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

The first setback occurred in April when the Russian Federal Space Agency was not able to regain control of a vehicle after launch. As a result, the Progress vehicle and the cargo it was carrying burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The second failure occurred on June 28 when the SpaceX Falcon exploded just two minutes after the launch.

The unsuccessful supply missions created a ripple effect through the public and private agencies that work with the International Space Station, delaying American astronaut Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren’s planned first spacewalk, which was supposed to occur between Aug. 10 and Labor Day. The failures also delayed work on the reconfiguration of the space station for the arrival of commercial cargo and crew vehicles.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station on Wednesday include Lindgren and Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

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