TIME space travel

Watch NASA Fire Up the Biggest Rocket Booster Ever

And blast a serious hole in the Utah desert in the process.

NASA successfully fired up a huge new rocket booster at its Utah test facility on Wednesday, passing a major milestone for future deep-space missions.

The 117-foot booster is the biggest ever built and NASA says it’s powerful enough to reach beyond the Moon, to asteroids or even Mars.

Apart from making a serious dent in the Utah desert, the booster is part of a Space Launch System (SLS) being developed by the space agency that is scheduled to blast off in 2018.

The rocket was fired for two minutes (the same amount of time it takes to launch the SLS) and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust.

“The work being done around the country today to build the SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

TIME animals

Wild Beaver Colony in England to Be Set Free After Being Cleared of Disease

The beavers are free of disease and will return to their natural habitat

Beavers in England were once hunted into near extinction, but a small colony of them appears to be thriving and will soon be returned to the wild after the animals were found to be healthy.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was originally going to keep a group of five beavers from the Otter River in captivity due to their risk of becoming infected with Echinococcus multilocularis, which can cause a harmful parasite to grow in humans, The Guardian reports. But after animal and environmental activists called for the beavers to be left alone, arguing that the species was an important part of the ecosystem, the plan has changed.

Now that DEFRA has captured, tested and cleared the beavers of disease, the agency has handed over the animals to the Devon Wildlife Trust, which had applied in January for a five-year license to take care of the beavers and oversee their reintroduction. In a statement, the trust said the beavers were not injured during the testing and appear to be content in their temporary housing.

“We are confident that we will be able to announce the beavers’ return to the Otter in the near future,” the group said.

[The Guardian]

TIME animals

Scientists Just Found Out How Chameleons Change Color

What color is #ThisChameleon?

Scientists may have finally unlocked the mystery behind chameleons’ unique ability to change color.

The explanation is that the reptile’s skin is made up of tiny mirror-like crystals, contained within reflective pigment cells called iridophores. That’s according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

When the chameleon gets excited, or anticipates danger, the iridophores expand or contract to enable the crystals to reflect different levels of light, thereby changing its skin color.

The researchers used a combination of microscopy, high-resolution videography and color-based numerical modeling to arrive at this discovery.

“When the skin is in the relaxed state, the nanocrystals in the iridophore cells are very close to each other — hence, the cells specifically reflect short wavelengths, such as blue,” Michel Milinkovitch, a professor of genetics and evolution at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the lead author of the study, told Live Science.

Milinkovitch further explained that, when excited, the nanocrystals spread further apart to reflect longer wavelengths like yellow, red and orange, which combine with blue to produce different hues.

If any of those hues is white, gold, black, or blue, we might just have chameleons breaking the Internet soon.

Read next: The Weird Reason Humans Shake Hands as a Greeting

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME natural disaster

The Odds of a Massive Earthquake Hitting California Just Went Up

The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.
Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.

But the chances of a moderate earthquake went down

The chances of earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater hitting California in the next 30 years have been increased from about 4.7% to 7%, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said in a statement Tuesday.

The revised forecast was calculated by the Third California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3), a follow-up to 2008’s UCERF2 conducted by USGS and its partners, who modeled the latest geological data.

While UCERF3 increased the odds of a massive California earthquake, the study lowered the chance of an earthquake around magnitude 6.7—like the 1994 Northridge earthquake—by about 30%, from one every 4.8 years to one every 6.3 years.

“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” said the study’s lead author Ned Field.

Read next: A Village in Italy Just Got 8 Feet of Snow in 1 Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Apple

How Apple’s New Health App Could Be Used — or Abused

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on stage during an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco.
Stephen Lam—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on stage during an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco.

"There are some things you can't figure out by someone tapping into an iPhone”

The biggest news at Monday’s Apple event was the launch of the much anticipated Apple Watch. But the company also announced a new type of software — ResearchKit — that it says will help medical researchers collect health data directly from patients via their various iDevices.

ResearchKit is a software “framework” that hospitals and other health care organizations can use to create diagnostic applications, said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior VP of operations, at the watch event. An example: Williams demonstrated one app called mPower, designed to measure hand and voice tremors related to Parkinson’s disease.

“With the use of this technology, we feel there’s an unprecedented opportunity to gain insight into what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Dr. Todd Sherer, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The foundation collaborated with Sage Bionetworks to help develop the Parkinson’s app featured at Apple’s event. Fox’s foundation has also announced a new data-collection initiative, Fox Insight, which Sherer says his organization hopes to soon pair with the mPower app.

Sherer said identifying qualified patients for clinical trials and other research efforts is another potential benefit of this new technology. “Getting people to participate in clinic-based trials is a challenge for many disease researchers, including those studying Parkinson’s,” he says.

Apple’s Williams mentioned other applications — now available — that can help spot symptoms of diabetes, heart disease and asthma. Williams said these apps were developed with the help of Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford University, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and other equally august health care organizations.

Apple’s Williams was adamant that any health information you share through ResearchKit will remain confidential. “You choose what studies you want to join, you are in control of what information you provide to which apps,” states information appearing on the Apple site.

While helping health care providers and researchers collect data and recruit qualified participants could lead to meaningful research advancements, some see reasons to be wary. “Two things concern me,” says Dr. David Ross Camidge, director of the Thoracic Oncology Clinical Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. For starters, big-name institutions may have more money and resources to develop these sorts of diagnostic apps, Camidge says. He worries patients may be directed away from the most-relevant or appropriate clinical trials to those that have the most funding behind them. “I certainly don’t know if that will be the case, but there seems like room for potential bias and commercialization,” he says.

Also, people tend to be lousy at self-reporting health-related information, Camidge says. A poorly designed app may generate misleading or contradictory patient data that could hinder instead of help the forward progress of some medical research. “I’m sure there are ways it will be very useful,” he adds. But he adds that some things are not so simplistic, cautioning that for conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, he says, “There are some things you can’t figure out by someone tapping into an iPhone.”

TIME Dating

This Is Exactly How Much You Need to Drink to Seem More Attractive, Backed by Science

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, red wine, alcohol
Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

No more, no less

Want to seem more attractive to the opposite sex? Drink one — exactly one — very large glass of wine.

That’s what a recent study by a group of researchers at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychology, published in Science Daily, suggests.

The researchers asked 40 heterosexual men and women, divided equally between both genders, to complete an attractiveness-rating exercise. The volunteers were then shown two images of a person, one taken while the subject was sober, one after the subject had consumed 250 ml of wine (equivalent to a very large glass), and one after 500 ml of wine (two-thirds of a bottle) had been consumed.

The photos of those who drank 250 ml wine were rated as more attractive, followed by images of sober subjects. The photos of those who had drank 500 ml were considered least attractive.

The researchers attributed this to the increased facial flushing that comes with consuming low amounts of alcohol, along with additional muscle relaxation and subtle smiles that portray a heightened positive mood.

One more good reason to drink in moderation.

[Science Daily]

TIME energy

New York Residents Talk Secession in Regards to Big Fracking Upset

A woman holds an anti-fracking sign as a group of demonstrators gather for a rally for a Global Climate Treaty on Dec. 10, 2014 in New York City.
DON EMMERT—AFP/Getty Images A woman holds an anti-fracking sign as a group of demonstrators gather for a rally for a Global Climate Treaty on Dec. 10, 2014 in New York City.

The most affected communities lie along the east-west line between the Empire and Keystone states

One could argue America was conceived from intense frustration that ultimately led to separation. Fed up with what they perceived as excessive control by the Crown, colonists to the “New England,” in essence, seceded in 1776, and thus the United States was born.

Now, there is a renewed and growing secession conversation brewing in the New England region, this time fueled by a commodity: Natural gas. Infuriated by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s December decision to permanently instill a ban against hydraulic fracture stimulation, or fracking, residents in 15 communities in the Southern Tier of New York are discussing the possibility of redrawing the border between New York and Pennsylvania.

Most affected are communities that lie along the east-west line between the Empire and Keystone states. Dairy farms dot the landscape, and in Pennsylvania, where fracking is encouraged, farmers are building new barns, buying new equipment and communities are adding schools and hospitals. In contrast, only a few miles to the north, farms that have been in families for generations lie dilapidated. Equipment is old, and there are few signs of construction.

Read more: New England Growing More Dependent On Natural Gas

Karen Moreau is the Executive Director of the New York State Petroleum Council and is passionate about the plight of these residents. “He (Governor Cuomo) wiped out the hopes, the dreams, the opportunity for economic salvation for thousands and thousands of struggling farm families, rural communities and others who have stood by, civilly waiting, expecting the government to do the right thing, to do the honest thing, and instead this is what they were given,” she said.

Moreau characterizes the stark difference on either side of the state line as “East Berlin and West Berlin,” citing added burdens of excessive property taxes and some of the most expensive natural gas in the country. “For a 200 acre dairy farm with a modest home and buildings that aren’t so great, the property taxes are $20,000 a year,” she says. “Even though they have all this natural gas in the ground, they really don’t have any infrastructure, so their energy costs are among the highest in the nation as well,” Moreau added, saying it’s not unusual for families to burn wood to provide heat.

Cuomo instilled the permanent ban on December 17, 2014 following comments by acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker who said, “I consider the people of the state of New York as my patients. We cannot afford to make a mistake. The potential risks are too great, in fact they are not fully known.”

Read more: Big Oil Going On The Offensive

A recent Quinnipiac University poll indicated most New York voters agree with the Governor’s decision by a 55-25 percent margin.

In a double-blow to Southern Tier residents, on the same day Cuomo instilled the permanent fracking ban, the state also shot down two applications for casinos in the region.

Although acknowledged as a long shot, state legislator, Republican Tom Libous of Binghamton, mailed a survey to his constituents asking if they were interested in secession. Realigning state lines would require coordinated efforts from both state legislatures and the federal government. Meanwhile, these New Yorkers will continue to look across the border and will observe continued economic prosperity through the years, realizing the only thing separating them are a few very long miles.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME energy

How $8.9 Billion Became $250 Million in the Exxon Lawsuit

An Exxon Mobil Corp. gas station in Nashville, Tennessee on Jan. 16, 2015.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images An Exxon Mobil Corp. gas station on Jan. 16, 2015.

New Jersey's suit against Exxon says it damaged more than 1,500 acres of land

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration’s assertion that it worked “aggressively” to ensure that Exxon Mobil Corp. reimbursed the state for environmental contamination isn’t changing any minds among the critics of the deal.

For more than a decade the state has been fighting for a court order that would have required Exxon to pay $8.9 billion for environmental repair and other damages related to the company’s oil refining and other activities in northern New Jersey. Instead, the Christie administration has agreed to settle on $225 million to resolve the state’s lawsuit.

Word of the settlement emerged on Feb. 27 as a New Jersey judge apparently was considering how much Exxon should have to pay. The deal generated a chorus of criticism and vows by state legislators to block the deal.

On March 5, the state’s acting attorney general, John Hoffman, and its environmental commissioner, Bob Martin, issued a statement saying their two offices had worked hard together to reach a settlement with Exxon, which they called “the single largest environmental settlement with a corporate defendant in New Jersey history.”

Read more: This Is Why Warren Buffet Dumped His Exxon Holding

“[T]his administration aggressively pushed the case to trial [and] is the result of long-fought settlement negotiations that predated and postdated the trial,” the statement by Hoffman and Martin said.

Exxon said it would have no comment on the matter.

Despite the explanation from the state’s Republican administration, two prominent Democrats in the state legislature, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, are preparing to file a motion in the Exxon suit to block the settlement. Lesniak has also filed a formal request with the court for all documents related to the settlement.

“We have to and we will get to the bottom of this case to determine how $8.9 billion shrunk down to $250 million,” Lesniak said in a statement. “We are going to dig deep and then we will dig deeper to find the truth.”

Sweeney and Lesniak are among Christie’s critics who say he the governor acted quickly to take advantage of a budget law allowing the governor to divert revenue from environmental settlements that exceed $50 million away from intended clean-ups to the state’s general fund.

Read more: Judge Dismisses Suit Against Energy Companies Over Louisiana Erosion

The law expires June 30, and the critics say it forced Christie to act quickly by reducing the fines to the satisfaction of Exxon and use the proceeds to fill gaps in the state’s budget or even to finance subsidies meant to attract businesses to the state.

“Christie was trying to get this settlement in before [June 30] because [the state Legislature] won’t repeat it in the new budget,” Lesniak said.

Christie is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which has been the beneficiary of more than $1.9 billion in donations from Exxon since Christie first ran for governor in 2009. Asked if the generous settlement amounts to a gift from Christie to Exxon, Lesniak told the International Business Times, “One can certainly see it that way.”

The state’s suit says Exxon damaged more than 1,500 acres of meadows, wetlands and marshes in the northern New Jersey communities of Bayonne and Linden, where Exxon operated multiple oil refineries for decades. Just two of these facilities, the Bayway and Bayonne sites, would cost $8.9 billion to restore, according to an expert hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME climate change

Florida Reportedly Bans Environment Officials From Mentioning Climate Change

Climate Change Impacts South Florida Ecosystems
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Phillip Hughes, an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, walks through an area of buttonwood trees killed by a saltwater incursion in Big Pine Key, Florida. Hughes says over the past 50 years, as sea levels rise, the Florida Keys upland vegetation has been dying off and replaced by salt-tolerant vegetation

An investigative report claims that global warming and sustainability are also prohibited terms

Underscoring the divisiveness of climate change in American politics, government officials at Florida’s main environment agency have reportedly been asked to refrain from mentioning it.

Officials from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) were given an unwritten order not to use the words climate change or global warming in any official communication or reports, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) claimed on Sunday.

“We were told not to use the terms climate change, global warming or sustainability,” Christopher Byrd, an attorney in DEP’s Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, told FCIR in an interview. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Other former DEP employees claimed to FCIR that the unwritten rule was implemented after Rick Scott, who has repeatedly denied climate change is the result of human activity, became governor of Florida in 2011.

The DEP denies that it has a policy on the matter.

Read more at the FCIR.

TIME Environment

The First Solar-Powered Round-the-World Flight Has Begun

Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, takes flight as it begins its historic round-the-world journey from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015.
Jean Revillard—Getty Images Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, takes flight as it begins its historic round-the-world journey from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015.

The two pilots aim to circumnavigate the globe without using any conventional fuel

The world’s first round-the-world trip on a solar-powered plane got under way Monday with the initial leg from Abu Dhabi to the Omani capital, Muscat.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will pursue a record-shattering five-month journey, spanning 21,750 miles across several continents and two oceans, while using zero conventional fuel.

The Solar Impulse-2’s lightweight construction — weighing a mere 4,600 lb. — combined with its 236-ft. wingspan lined with 17,000 solar cells, makes it the first solar-powered aircraft capable of flying during both day and night.

“I am confident we have a very special airplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans,” Borschberg told the BBC.

The pilots have undergone rigorous preparation drills, and will forgo all sleep longer than 20 minutes while airborne, practicing yoga and self-hypnosis to cope with their airborne ordeal. (Some stints will involve flying continuously for five days.) Rest stops will be spent advocating for their clean-technology campaign.

“I had this dream 16 years ago of flying around the world without fuel, just on solar power,” said Piccard. “Now we’re about to do it.”

[BBC]

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