TIME Environment

Here’s How Much We Spend Powering ‘Always-On’ Inactive Devices

They're consuming plenty of energy while plugged in, even if they're not used actively

Americans spend some $19 billion a year on electricity for devices that are powered on but inactive, according to a new report that aims to help reverse the trend.

Electricity consumed by devices like televisions, computers, printers and game consoles accounts for the majority of the figure, which translates to roughly 50 large power plants’ worth, according to the study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). All of those devices consume energy while plugged in, even if they’re not used actively, and ones like refrigerators, washers and dryers that have electronic controls or displays—even Internet connectivity—are also a factor.

The NRDC recommends that consumers unplug appliances like televisions, computer and game consoles when they’re not being used, as well as choose more energy efficient products when replacing older models or buying newer ones. The report also calls on manufacturers to reduce the amount of energy that their products require in sleep mode, with the report’s author, Pierre Delforge, labeling the reduction of always-on consumption “a low-hanging fruit opportunity to cut climate-warming pollution.”

That reduction could have a significant effect on consumer’s bottom line, the report argues, stating American consumers could knock $8 billion off their collective utility bill if they reduced their electricity use by always-on devices to the consumption level of the 25% most efficient households surveyed. It’d help the environment, too, by preventing some 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

Read the full report here.

TIME Premature Babies

Viable at 22 Weeks: Just How Low Can Preemies Go?

A pound and a half of life: This baby was born in 2014 at 23 weeks in Sichuan China.
TPG; Getty Images A pound and a half of life: This baby was born in 2014 at 23 weeks, in Sichuan China.

A landmark study raises tough questions about science and ethics

Babymaking is easy when everything goes right. All it takes is a single—decidedly agreeable—act and the rest runs on autopilot for the next nine months. But it’s the “everything goes right” part that is the rub, because in too many cases, at least one thing goes wrong. In the U.S., about 18,000 times per year, that one thing is prematurity.

The outlook has gotten better for premature babies over the last half century. In 1960, the survival rate for a 3.3 lb (1,500 gm) premie was just 28%. By 2010 it was 78%. But everything depends on the calendar: Babies born at, say, 27 weeks—out of the normal 40-week gestation period—have a far easier go than those born at 26 weeks, whose odds in turn are better than those at 25 or 24. The cutoff, the no-go zone, has long been considered 22 weeks. At that age and earlier, there’s just not enough baby to save.

But now, it seems, that may have changed. A study just released in the New England Journal of Medicine is shaking the preemie community with the surprising findings that in a small but significant number of cases, the 22-week limit may be no limit at all. The announcement raises all manner of new questions about how aggressively to treat the littlest infants, how much care is too much—and how much is suddenly not enough. It also, unavoidably, has a lot of people asking how an even slightly lower age of viability affects the fraught debate over abortion.

The new research, led by epidemiologist Michael A. Rysavy of the University of Iowa, involved 4,704 babies born at 24 different hospitals from 2006 to 2011. All of the babies were born before 27 weeks of gestation, and the care they received differed dramatically depending on the hospitals in which they were treated. Virtually any neonate born above 23 weeks of age received aggressive, active treatment. Things were less certain for those born at 23 weeks—with anywhere from 52.5% to 96.5% of them getting full-team medical attention in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the rest receiving mostly comfort care. And for those born at the 22-week cutoff, the likelihood of receiving treatment was nothing short of a crapshoot, ranging from just 7.7% to 100%.

“The [study] shows that variations in hospital rates of active treatment for babies born at 22 weeks gestation were highly attributable to the birth hospital,” says Edward McCabe, chief Medical Officer for the March of Dimes.

But, the study suggests, those hospitals that leave the 22-weekers to what has always seemed an all-but certain death may have to rethink their policies. Of the entire sample group of babies, 78 of the 22-weekers received aggressive care and just 18 of them survived into toddlerhood. Of those, only 7 were largely healthy, left with no moderate or severe impairments like blindness or cerebral palsy. Those are not especially promising numbers, but they’re better than anyone ever thought they could be.

“Overall, if you look at the mean survival rates for 22 week old babies [in the study], it was just 2%, and only 9% for those who received resuscitation [and other care],” said Dr. Michael Uhing, the medical director of the NICU at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and a principal source for a 2014 TIME cover story on premature babies. Still, 2% and 9% are not 0%, and the mere decision not to resuscitate—often made to spare the baby the pain of a slow and all-but inevitable death —may have helped drive overall numbers down. “When outcomes are with babies hospitals never resuscitated,” Uhing says, “the results may have been falsely low.” In other words, provide the care that’s often withheld as an ostensible act of mercy, and improved survival rates may follow.

It’s too soon to know if—and how—the new study will change hospital policies. In Uhing’s NICU, the findings of the Iowa study will simply be added to the uncountable other data points and therapeutic options families of preemies must consider. “It’s always been a conversation with the parents and a joint discussion about the outcomes,” Uhing says. It will continue to be.

And as for the third rail issue—the abortion debate? That, the doctors acknowledge, will surely heat up with the new findings. But it’s not an argument they’re interested in joining. “It’s a different subject,” Uhing says flatly. The people who work in NICUs are there to save babies. If science lets them do that at 22 weeks, they’ll do it. If future breakthroughs allow them to go down to 21 or even 20, they’ll save those babies too. The political wars will tend to themselves. In the NICUs, the only battle has ever been with the limits of medical science itself.

TIME public health

Cities like Baltimore Still Suffer From the Toxic Legacy of Lead Contamination

Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.

Before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury at the hands of the police, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of lead poisoning

The Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore has all the markers of the depressed inner city. Unemployment is high, drug abuse is rampant and many houses are vacant and dilapidated. Less apparent—but equally insidious—is the prevalence of lead poisoning.

More than a decade before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of the neurotoxin that contaminated the walls and windows in the dilapidated home where he grew up, according to a report in the Washington Post. Gray reportedly struggled academically, accumulated a criminal record and had trouble focusing—all outcomes associated with the long-term effects of lead poisoning.

Gray was not alone. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans were exposed to lead during their childhood, and, for many, the poisoning has been associated with dramatic problems in their day-to-day lives as adults. And despite the fact that lead was phased out as an additive in gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s, lead poisoning continues to affect children—most of them poor—to this day.

Baltimore, a city where nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, has become ground zero in the fight against lead poisoning. Many Baltimore homes were built in an era when the use of lead paint was common, and economic crisis has left many homes and neighborhoods in disrepair, exposing children to lead in chipping paint.

Lead hasn’t been used in paint since 1978, and regulations require landlords to reduce the risk that their tenants are exposed to the substance. But many landlords opt to use risk reduction methods that contain lead temporarily, but leave tenants vulnerable in the longterm. For instance, a landlord may paint over lead paint with safe paint to meet regulations. That reduces the chance of exposure but doesn’t eliminate it. Furthermore, the regulations in Baltimore don’t address owner-occupied homes. To eliminate risk paint needs to be stripped entirely and windows and doors need to be removed, said Ruth Ann Norton, who heads the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

“If land lords don’t comply with the law, we need to have strong and immediate enforcement,” she said. “But the truth is we have to couple that with investment to actually do the work, to hire young men and women to to replace windows and to remove the lead paint.”

Given that lead was banned in the 1970s, many people are unaware that the toxin is still present in some homes. More than 525,000 children were diagnosed with an elevated level of lead in the 200s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Most people think lead is history, that we passed a ban, therefore it’s not a problem,” said Norton. “Since 1993, we have reduced childhood lead poisoning by 98%, but the job isn’t done.”

For those exposed to lead as children when their brains are still developing, the poisoning can be devastating. The cognitive effects of lead poisoning include diminished intelligence, shortened attention span and increased risk for developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to Mount Sinai’s Dr. Philip Landrigan, who did pioneering research in the 1970s on the health effects of lead. “Unfortunately, it’s permanent,” he said. “The human brain displays very little capacity to repair itself once it’s damaged.”

And it might be difficult to recognize when a child has been exposed. Symptoms aren’t immediately visible, and a lead dust specimen the size of nickel could contaminate a 3,000 square-foot home, Norton said.

The effect of lead poisoning on the brain at an early age can hold back victims for life. Like Gray, many victims of lead poisoning have struggle to find and keep jobs. Some research has even suggested that lead poisoning causes sufferers to lose control of their impulses and behave erratically, which may make it more likely that they’ll commit violent crimes.

“If we’ve poisoned the child the rest of the investment fails, they can’t read, they can’t get to the classroom and they can’t learn,” said Norton “And I don’t want to fill our jails with kids.”

TIME solomon islands

People on the Solomon Islands Have Killed Over 15,000 Dolphins For Their Teeth

Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015
Vasily Fedosenko—Reuters Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015

The teeth are used by the islanders as a currency

Villagers in the Solomon Islands killed over 15,000 dolphins from 1976 to 2013 for their teeth, which are used as currency or personal ornamentation, according to a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science.

In 2013 alone, more than 1,600 dolphins were killed by residents in the village of Fanalei. The extracted teeth are valued at 70 cents apiece.

The traditional hunting method involves up to thirty canoes driving dolphins to shore, where they are killed.

Such hunts have been going on sporadically since the early histories of the villages. There was a brief respite in 2010 when the Earth Island Institute paid villagers to stop, but the agreement deteriorated in 2013 and 1,000 dolphins were killed.

While dolphins are not classified as endangered, the resurgence of these dolphin hunts worries scientists and conservation activists because they claim far more dolphin lives than hunts in Japan and elsewhere.

TIME A Year In Space

The Sweetest Little Space Flight You Ever Saw But Probably Missed

The SpaceX Dragon took a big step toward proving its fitness to carry crews

NASA flew a teeny-tiny, 90-second, unmanned mission this morning—and you should care about it a lot. Here’s why.

The flying object that lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 9 a.m. EDT and splashed down about a mile away in the Atlantic at 9:01:30 after climbing just 5,000 ft. (1,500 m) was a test version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. Dragon has been making unmanned cargo trips to the International Space Station since 2015 and will start carrying crews in 2017. But carrying crews is an order of magnitude more dangerous than carrying equipment and supplies, and that means a great many additional safety drills. One of the most important of those is what’s known as the pad abort test.

MORE: See the Trailer for TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year in Space

Liftoff is easily among the most dangerous parts of any space mission, when the controlled bomb that is the rocket roars to life with a pod full of astronauts sitting atop it. Ever since the days of the Mercury program—when there was just a single crewman aboard—NASA knew it needed a way to get that pod out of harm’s way if the booster seemed set to blow. And so spacecraft were equipped with escape towers, little scaffolds at the very tip of the rocket stack outfitted with mini-rockets that would ignite at the first sign of trouble and pull the capsule up and away.

That was the system that was tested today, with no booster involved and nothing but the 20-ft. (6 m) capsule and trunk on the launch pad. While that didn’t make for terribly dramatic TV, it was, in its own way, a very dramatic mission—if only because of the sleek engineering at work. SpaceX’s escape system does away with the tower part of the escape tower, embedding its mini-rockets into the base of the capsule itself. When they ignite, they thus push the capsule from below as opposed to pulling it from above, which provides greater stability.

It takes eight engines to lift the 8-ton vehicle, each producing 15,000 lbs. (6,800 kg) of thrust. The collective 120,000 lbs. (54,000 kg) is about twice the oomph of the Redstone rocket that carried America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, on his popgun suborbital flight in 1961.

The Dragon that flew today was stuffed with sensors to measure thrust, temperature, structural stresses and more, as well as a microphone to record internal acoustics and a camera to beam back on-board visuals. It also carried a human dummy, nicknamed Buster, to determine the g-loads on a passenger.

The eyeblink mission ended with the Dragon descending under three red and white parachutes into the ocean, just as a real Dragon mission will—and just as the old Apollo spacecraft did. Indeed, NASA TV made something of a point of comparing this splashdown to the triumphant returns long-ago crews made from the moon. That analogy may have been overwrought, but only a little. Ever since the last shuttle flew, the U.S. has had no spacecraft capable of getting astronauts to space. Today’s tiny flight was a big step back.

TIME Environment

Watch Oregon’s Lost Lake Disappear Through a Hole in the Ground

It looks like a draining bath tub

Lost Lake in Central Oregon looks a bit like a draining bath tub.

Melted snow fills up the basin with water at the end of winter creating a lake. But at the bottom of the body of water is a giant hole that sucks down the water, much like the drain in a bath tub. The drain, an open lava tube, is one of many throughout the region, according to a report in The Bend Bulletin. The water is likely absorbed by material just below the surface.

[The Bend Bulletin]

TIME Archaeology

Oldest Known Ancestor of Modern Birds Is Discovered

Holotype of Archaeornithura meemannae, the oldest ancestor of modern birds has been dug up in China which evolved almost six million years earlier than previously thought.
National News—Zuma Press Holotype of Archaeornithura meemannae, the oldest ancestor of modern birds has been dug up in China which evolved almost six million years earlier than previously thought.

The discovery indicates that modern birds originated roughly six million years before previously thought

Scientists said in a paper published Tuesday that a newly discovered species is the oldest known relative of living birds.

The Archaeornithura meemannae lived roughly 130.7 million years ago in northeastern China, about 6 million years before the previously thought origin of modern birds, according to the researchers who published their findings in Nature Communications.

The bird—which looks largely similar to modern birds—was reconstructed mostly from imagination but also from intact plumage and skeletal features, a researcher told the Washington Post. In part because of its long legs, the scientists believe it patrolled water sources looking for food.

While a separate bird species that lived some 145 million years ago remains the oldest known bird, but it had no living descendants.

TIME A Year In Space

Star Wars, Tacos and Mice: Life Aboard the Space Station

A quiet evening at home: NASA Tweeted this picture of movie night aboard the space station with the caption "Just watching @starwars. In space. No big deal."
NASA A quiet evening at home: NASA Tweeted this picture of movie night aboard the space station with the caption "Just watching @starwars. In space. No big deal."

You can do a lot of hard science in space—but you need your Earthly luxuries too

Think you’re cool because you hosted a Star Wars-watching party on May 4, a date that is recognized as Star Wars Day? Well, you’re not as cool as you think. Watching Star Wars on May 4 when you’re 250 miles above Earth, orbiting the planet aboard the International Space Station (ISS), now that’s cool. That’s how year-long space travelers Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, along with the other member of the ISS crew, spent a few hours of downtime on Monday.

The ISS is not without these Earthly grace notes. There were tacos—or the closest approximation of them when you’re using rehydrated food—the next day, in honor of Cinco de Mayo. And there was espresso, thanks to a just-delivered machine—dubbed the ISSpresso—which Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti set up and tried.

“Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised,” she tweeted. “Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew…”

But there’s a lot more than good food and good films happening on the station this week—and, as with every week, much of it involves good science. Take the mouse studies, which are routinely conducted in orbit but take on special importance in the context of the extensive biomedical research that is at the heart of Kelly’s and Kornienko’s marathon stay.

Mice don’t care for being in space—at least it stands to reason they wouldn’t since zero-g can be as hard to manage for them as it is for human beings and they spend a lot of time in their enclosures just trying to gain purchase on something that’s standing still. Conducting experiments on them is harder too, since the last thing you want to do is open a habitat just anywhere and have an escapee drift free and get lost. So mouse enclosures must be anchored on an experimental rack, lights, fans and power connectors have to be engaged, and food bars have to be provided to keep the mice distracted as the work gets underway.

The research focuses on the animals’ skeletal, muscular, immune and cardiovascular systems—all of which can go awry in humans exposed to extended periods in zero-g. But unlike human subjects, mice can be, well, sacrificed and dissected to provide more detailed looks at what’s going on inside them. Other, less lethal sampling like blood draws can also be conducted. Sample extraction is a big part of what the ISS crew-members working on the mouse studies are doing this week, preparing the tissue to be brought home aboard the SpaceX cargo vehicle when it returns to Earth later this month.

Cristoforetti is spending part of her week working on the straightforwardly if unartfully named Skin-B study, which involves analyzing cells and tissue samples to determine why human skin ages so much faster in zero-g than it does on Earth. That should not happen, since much of what causes the ordinary stretching and breakdown of skin is gravity, which is not a factor in space. But what should happen and what does happen are often two different things in science, and Cristoforetti is working to learn why.

The purpose of the work has nothing to do with human appearance. Skin is the body’s largest organ and it pays to know why it suffers so much in zero-g before sending astronauts on missions to Mars that could last more than two years. Both in space and on the ground, what’s learned from Skin-B could also provide insight into the functioning—and malfunctioning—of the body’s other organs, especially the ones lined with epithelial cells, the type of cell that makes up the skin.

American astronaut Terry Virts, the current commander of the ISS, is busying himself in the Japan-built Kibo module, getting ready for the next round of Robot Refueling Mission-2 (RRM-2) exercises. RRM-2 explores ways to repair, upgrade, and refuel satellites in orbit, using robots instead of astronauts to do the dangerous work. Satellite servicing was one of the big selling points of the space shuttle, and while the program as a whole never made that kind of on-call repair visit routine, some of the most impressive of the shuttles’ missions were the maintenance trips astronauts made to the Hubble Space Telescope. This week, Virts will be configuring the Kibo airlock so that the RRM-2 slide table and task boards can be positioned outside by the ISS’s Canada-built robot arm.

Least important to the station’s science objectives perhaps, but most important to its crew, are preparations Kelly and Virts are making to replace the filters that scrub carbon dioxide from the ISS atmosphere. Remember the scene in Apollo 13 in which the astronauts had to figure out how to make a replacement filter from cardboard, plastic bags and duct tape or they would suffocate on their own exhalations? The station crew doesn’t want to have to do that—so Kelly and Virts kind of have to get things right.

That’s the rub about any given week on the space station: the maintenance jobs can be routine—but only until they’re critical. The science can seem arcane—but only until it revolutionizes our knowledge of human biology. Kelly and Kornienko have 52 such weeks to do their otherworldly work, and the other crewmembers have up to six months each. The rest of us have forever to use the knowledge they bring home.

TIME space

Watch the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower

A meteor shower made up of remnants from Halley's comet

Meteors will streak through the skies Tuesday night as part of the Eta Aquarids, a meteor shower made up of remnants from Halley’s comet.

Viewers in the Southern Hemisphere can expect to see an average of 30 to 60 meteors per hour, but those north of the equator will likely see fewer, astronomers said. The nearly full moon will likely interfere with viewing as well.

“Probably the main allures of this show are that these meteors are debris from the famous Halley’s comet,” said astronomer Bob Berman.

At 8 p.m. EDT, watch the Slooh’s broadcast with host Eric Edelman and experts Berman and Will Gater weighing in live.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com