TIME space

This Was Messenger’s Goodbye Tweet Before It Crashed Into Mercury

"It is time to say goodbye"

NASA’s spacecraft Messenger just crashed into Mercury, and it sent two last tweets before self-destructing:

Messenger has been orbiting Mercury since 2011, and on Thursday it ran out of fuel and met its end. Other well-wishers have taken to Twitter to bid farewell to Messenger too:

TIME climate change

Global Warming to Speed Up Extinction

American Pika, photo taken on Aug. 17, 2005, is in trouble because it has few places to escape the heat with climate change.
Shana S. Weber—AP American Pika, photo taken on Aug. 17, 2005, is in trouble because it has few places to escape the heat with climate change.

1 in 6 species could be gone or on the road to extinction by the end of the century

(WASHINGTON) — Global warming will eventually push 1 out of every 13 species on Earth into extinction, a new study projects.

It won’t quite be as bad in North America, where only 1 in 20 species will be killed off because of climate change or Europe where the extinction rate is nearly as small. But in South America, that forecasted heat-caused extinction rate soars to 23 percent, the worst for any continent, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science.

University of Connecticut ecologist Mark Urban compiled and analyzed 131 peer-reviewed studies on species that used various types of computer simulations and found a general average extinction rate for the globe: 7.9 percent. That’s an average for all species, all regions, taking into consideration various assumptions about future emission trends of man-made greenhouse gases. The extinction rate calculation doesn’t mean all of those species will be gone; some will just be on an irreversible decline, dwindling toward oblivion, he said.

“It’s a sobering result,” Urban said.

Urban’s figures are probably underestimating the real rate of species loss a little, said scientists not affiliated with the research. That’s because Urban only looks at temperature, not other factors like fire or interaction with other animals, and more studies have been done in North America and Europe, where rates are lower, said outside biologists Stuart Pimm of Duke University and Terry Root of Stanford University.

The projected extinction rate changes with time and how much warming there is from the burning of coal, oil and gas. At the moment, the extinction rate is relatively low, 2.8 percent, but it rises with more carbon dioxide pollution and warmer temperatures, Urban wrote.

By the end of the century, in a worst case scenario if world carbon emission trends continue to rise, 1 in 6 species will be gone or on the road to extinction, Urban said. That’s higher than the overall rate because that 7.9 percent rate takes into account some projections that the world will reduce or at least slow carbon dioxide emissions.

What happens is that species tend to move closer to the poles and up in elevation as it gets warmer, Urban said. But some species, especially those on mountains such as the American pika, run out of room to move and may die off because there’s no place to escape the heat, Urban said. It’s like being on an ever-shrinking island.

Still, Pimm and Urban said the extinction from warming climates is dwarfed by a much higher extinction rate also caused by man: Habitat loss. A large extinction is going on, and for every species disappearing for natural causes, 1,000 are vanishing because of unnatural man-made causes, Pimm said.

“I don’t know we’re at the point where we can call it a mass extinction event, but we’re certainly heading that way unless we change direction,” Urban said.

A separate study in the same journal looked at 23 million years of marine fossils to determine which water animals have the biggest extinction risk and where. Marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals, have the highest risk. The Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, western Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean between Australia and Japan are hotspots for potential extinction, especially those caused by human factors, the study said.

TIME space

Watch NASA’s MESSENGER Crash Into Mercury After Running Out of Fuel

It had orbited the planet since 2011

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which had been orbiting Mercury since 2011, ended its mission Thursday by running out of fuel and crashing into the planet.

Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a news release about the crash, “Simply watching Mercury is always special and exciting, since it’s so close to the sun. Even the great Copernicus said he’d never seen it. But watching it close-up while the MESSENGER spacecraft meets its doom will be a poignant experience that I’m glad we’re sharing with the public.”

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

According to Slooh, MESSENGER orbited Mercury more than 4,000 times since its launch and mapped the inner planet, discovered water in the exosphere and found evidence of past volcanic activity, among other discoveries. In 2014, MESSENGER also uncovered signs of an annual meteor shower on Mercury.

Read next: This Was MESSENGER’s Goodbye Tweet Before It Crashed Into Mercury

TIME Diet/Nutrition

These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the U.S.

See all the GMOs you may already be eating

Chipotle announced Monday that the chain will no longer serve food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), raising the bar for transparency in the United States, where there’s no requirement to indicate the presence of GMO ingredients on food labels or in restaurants. Likewise, biotechnology companies aren’t required to report which genetically modified seeds are used in production.

Yet the use of GMOs is undoubtedly widespread. Since GMOs were approved for commercial use, and then first planted into U.S. soil in 1996, their production has increased dramatically. More than 90% of all soybean cotton and corn acreage in the U.S. is used to grow genetically engineered crops. Other popular and approved food crops include sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, papaya and summer squash. More recently, apples that don’t brown and bruise-free potatoes were also approved by the FDA.

 

 

Methodology

GM crops produced in the U.S. are listed at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech. Deregulated crops are tracked at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

TIME animals

How Bats Could Influence the Future of Air Travel

Researchers are learning from the way bats fly

A new study reveals how bats are able to fly with such precision in the dark, a finding that could eventually lead to innovations in airplane technology, researchers said.

The study, which examined big brown bats in North America and was published April 30 in Cell Reports, demonstrates for the first time that bats fly using highly sensitive touch sensors on their wings that respond to changes in airflow. These receptors then send signals to neurons in the bats’ brains, allowing the animal to make quick adjustments in flight.

The researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the University of Maryland say their findings could help people design aircraft that can sense and adjust to air turbulence and better avoid obstacles.

“This kind of information could be very important in the design of aircraft, particularly aircraft that must maneuver through complex environments,” said Cynthia Moss, one of the senior authors of the study and a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins. “Biology has done an exquisite job creating these animals that can maneuver so agilely, and so we might be able to learn some basic principles from the bat that could be transferred into technology.”

TIME Environment

Flying Is Sometimes Greener Than Driving

The energy used per person can be lower on a plane than in a car

Next time you feel guilty about booking a flight when you could have driven, cut yourself some slack: in many cases, flying may be the more environmentally sustainable choice.

New research by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute suggests that the energy expended per person is often higher when driving than when flying the same distance—more than two times higher on average, the Washington Post reports. This calculation depends on the energy efficiency of the vehicles involved, as well as on the fact that passenger planes are often crowded, dividing the necessary fuel among many people. On the other hand, drivers are often alone.

It’s important to note that most of the time, drivers are only traveling short distances, while flyers are traveling long ones—so the overall impact of drivers vs. flyers isn’t a clean comparison.

[Washington Post]

TIME

Why an Out-of-Control Spacecraft Is Bad News for Russia

A resupply craft heading for the space station spins out of control

If you want to get where you’re going (and where you’re going is space) there’s nothing like a Soyuz rocket. The venerable Russian booster was first launched in 1966 and has been flying ever since, reliably delivering cargo and crews to low Earth orbit—except, that is, when it fails. That, alas, appears to be the case at the moment.

A Progress cargo vehicle, destined for the International Space Station (ISS), was launched atop a Soyuz on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and while it reached orbit as planned just minutes later, everything since then has been something else entirely. The ship, carrying 2.6 tons of supplies—including propellant, oxygen, water, spare parts, crew clothing and spacewalk hardware, as well as a commemorative replica of the Soviet victory banner raised above the German Reichstag building 70 years ago this May—began what NASA has dubbed a “slow spin,” but which looks, from a video shot from within the spacecraft, like a pretty fast one. No matter how it’s described, any out-of-control spin is a very bad thing.

The vehicle had been launched when the ISS was in position to allow the Progress to rendezvous with it after a relatively quick, four-orbit, six-hour chase. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has now changed that to a more traditional 34-orbit—or 2.1 day—pursuit, in hopes of opening up enough time to fix what is wrong with the ship.

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

The problem appears to have been caused by the failure of two radar antennas to deploy as planned. The Joint Spacecraft Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif., reported that it detected 44 pieces of debris in the vicinity of the spacecraft. The significance of that is unclear—the Progress sheds a shroud before going to work in orbit and some debris could have been left behind—but it’s not a good sign.

None of this represents anything close to an emergency for the ISS crew. “The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” said NASA spokesman Dan Huot in an e-mail to TIME. “Both the Russian and USOS segments…continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight.”

But the problem comes at an unhandy time for Russia. Even as Roscosmos was fighting to right the Soyuz, a Dragon resupply vehicle, successfully launched by California-based SpaceX, was docked to the station and going through five weeks of unloading. Both SpaceX and the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences—which flies the Antares supply vehicle—are under contract to make cargo runs to the station. Progress has a far longer success record than either of the comparative upstarts, but the current malfunction is the second since 2011, when another Progress spun out of control just 325 seconds after launch and crashed into the Kazakh steppe.

Roscosmos has enjoyed a monopoly on manned space flight to the station ever since the shuttles were retired in 2011, and briefly owned the market for unmanned runs too—at least until the Dragon made its first successful trip in 2012. By 2017, both Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft are supposed to begin carrying crews to the station. That will hurt more than Russia’s ego: Roscosmos charges $70 million per seat for passengers, and Russia—pinched by low oil prices—could sorely use the cash. It’s not as if SpaceX and Boeing will fly folks for free, of course—the transition to private suppliers means someone’s got to make a profit—but SpaceX founder Elon Musk likes to speak about how important it is to “repatriate” the money the U.S. is currently paying Russia. It’s an idea that has special appeal when relations between Moscow and Washington remain chilly.

None of this means anyone should be dissing the Soyuz or the Progress. They’re sweet machines that have been doing their jobs for a long, long time. And the Russian engineers who build and fly them have proved themselves pros. But technology changes, time passes and markets move. Problems with the Progress can only help move them somewhere else.

TIME public health

These Are America’s 10 Most Polluted Cities

California is well-represented on the list

More than 40% of Americans live in a place with unhealthy air quality, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. But, when it comes to how bad that air pollution can get, there’s a real range.

Los Angeles, which has some of the most polluted air in the country, experiences unhealthy levels of particle pollution for the equivalent of nearly a month out of each year and unhealthy ozone pollution for the equivalent of more than two months annually. Six cities, all much smaller in size, went an entire year without an unhealthy day of either.

Particle pollution refers to the toxic exhaust emitted by processes like smoking or driving a car, and ozone pollution refers to an invisible substance present in smog. Exposure to either pollutant can exacerbate breathing problems and increase residents’ chance of developing cancer.

People most harmed by air pollution include those with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma, as well as children and the elderly. The report also notes that great disparities in risk exist even within cities. People who live close to highways or busy roads, for instance, are at increased risk, and overall, low socioeconomic status is associated with exposure to poorer air quality.

The report offers a few guidelines for individuals to manage pollution, like avoiding high-traffic areas, but the report also suggests a more top-level approach to public health: strengthening clean-air regulation.

Here are the U.S. cities with the most ozone pollution in 2015:

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
2. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
3. Bakersfield, CA
4. Fresno-Madera, CA
5. Sacramento-Roseville, CA
6. Houston-The Woodlands, TX
7. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX-OK
8. Modesto-Merced, CA
9. Las Vegas-Henderson, NV-AZ
10. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

The six cities without any days of unhealthy ozone or particle pollution are Bismarck, N.D.,Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Fla., Elmira-Corning, N.Y., Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn., Rapid City-Spearfish, S.D. and Salinas, Calif.

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA

    Pier G, foreground, sits idle at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif.
    Tim Rue—Bloomberg/Getty Images Pier G, foreground, sits idle at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 3, 2012.

    Los Angeles has topped the list of the most ozone-polluted cities in 15 out of the last 16 American Lung Association reports. And though the city has actually reduced the total annual days of ozone pollution, there was still an unhealthy level of ozone still for more than two months.

  • Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA

    Canadian geese fly over a tumbleweed-covered fallow field at sunrise on February 5, 2014 near Visalia, California.
    David McNew—Getty Images Canadian geese fly over a tumbleweed-covered fallow field at sunrise on Feb. 5, 2014 near Visalia, California.

    The number of days of unhealthy ozone levels in Visalia, a Central California metropolitan area of more than 600,000 people, declined to the lowest level in the 2015 report.

  • Bakersfield, CA

    Oil pumps stand at the Chevron Corp. Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif.
    Ken James—Bloomberg/Getty Images Oil pumps stand at the Chevron Corp. Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif., March 29, 2011.

    Mountains that surround Bakersfield on three sides trap pollution in this central California city.

  • Fresno-Madera, CA

    The downtown Fresno skyline with heavy haze
    Craig Kohlruss—MCT/Getty Images The downtown Fresno skyline with heavy haze is seen, Jan. 17, 2014.

    Fresno, another city in central California, is home to the greatest number of at-risk people, according to the report.

  • Sacramento-Roseville, CA

    California’s capital city is home to more than 200,000 people with asthma, including 50,000 children.

  • Houston-The Woodlands, TX

    U.S. Energy Surge Crowds Houston Port With $35 Billion Blitz
    Scott Dalton—Bloomberg/Getty Images A boat passes a refinery standing along the Houston Ship Channel in Houston, Texas, Jan. 30, 2014.

    Houston, home to a significant number of heavy industry companies, has instituted a number of policies in recent years that have actually improved air quality.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

    A 150-foot derrick towers over traffic along Interstate 35W, left, positioned on a natural gas well site in Fort Worth, Texas.
    Robert Nickelsberg—Getty Images A 150-foot derrick towers over traffic along Interstate 35W, left, positioned on a natural gas well site on Dec. 17, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas.

    The Dallas metropolitan area had an average of 16 days of unhealthy ozone pollution each year, according to the report.

  • Modesto-Merced, CA

    Modesto is yet another Central California city to fail pollution standards.

  • Las Vegas-Henderson, NV

    The M Resort in Henderson, Nev. on May 21, 2012.
    Steve Marcus—AP The M Resort in Henderson, Nev. on May 21, 2012.

    Las Vegas has hundreds of thousands of at-risk residents, including more than 175,000 people with asthma.

  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

    Morning view from the top of Piestawa Peak looking Southeast over Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and Phoenix, Ariz.
    Tim McGuire—Corbis Morning view from the top of Piestawa Peak looking Southeast over Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and Phoenix, Ariz.

    Phoenix, a newcomer to the top-ten list, saw reduced air quality in recent years.

TIME space

Watch This Supply Rocket Spin Out of Control in Space

It was supposed to deliver supplies to the International Space Station

A spacecraft that experienced difficulties Tuesday while trying to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) is spinning out of control, NASA said Wednesday.

A video released by NASA shows a point-of-view perspective from within the unmanned Progress 59 Cargo Craft, which has now entered into a “slow spin” as Russian flight controllers attempt to regain control of it.

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

The resupply vehicle is rotating once every five seconds, according to a statement released by the Joint Functional Component Command for Space’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) early Wednesday morning. The JSpOC has also observed 44 pieces of debris near the resupply vehicle, though it cannot confirm which part of the vehicle the debris came from.

Former ISS commander and astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted Wednesday that he predicts the spacecraft will now slowly fall back to Earth, burning up before it reaches the surface, while officials monitor it closely.

NASA has not yet confirmed what will happen to the spacecraft, though it is normal for resupply vehicles to fall back to Earth and disintegrate in the atmosphere after the missions are complete, says Stephanie Schierholz, a spokesperson for NASA Human Space Flight.

The spacecraft had launched successfully on a Soyuz rocket Tuesday morning, but an “unspecified problem” prevented controllers from establishing communications with the vehicle. Meanwhile, the six crew members aboard the ISS are safe and are continuing regular operations with sufficient supplies, NASA said Tuesday. The next planned delivery is scheduled for no earlier than June 19.

TIME A Year In Space

A Month Spent in Space—and 11 More to Go

.@FLOTUS Thank you. Made it! Moving into crew quarters on @space_station to begin my #yearinspace.
Scott Kelly—NASA Scott Kelly posted this selfie on March 30, shortly after his arrival to the space station, while moving into his living quarters, where he will sleep during his year in space.

The first 30 days of Scott Kelly's mission aboard the ISS are in the books

A year in space is marked in part by the holidays that will pass while you’re away. Christmas? Sorry, out of town. Easter? Ditto. Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Halloween? Catch you next year.

It’s fitting then, that the first holiday astronaut Scott Kelly spent in the just-completed first month of his planned one-year stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS)—which began with his launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in the early morning hours of March 29—was Cosmonautics Day. Never heard of it? You would have if you were Russian.

Cosmonautics Day celebrates April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin lifted off from the same launch pad from which Kelly’s mission began, becoming the first human being in space. Kelly and his five crewmates—including fellow one-year marathoner Mikhail Kornienko—got the morning off on this year’s special day, taking the opportunity to enjoy the relative comforts of a spacecraft with more habitable space than a four-bedroom home. But in the afternoon it was back to work—following a moment-by-moment schedule that is scripted on the ground, followed in space and that, while often grueling, is the best way for astronauts and cosmonauts who have signed on for a long hitch to keep their minds on their work and keep the time from crawling.

Kelly’s first month was, in some ways, typical of the 11 that lie ahead. There was the arrival of a SpaceX cargo ship—a vessel carrying 4,300 lbs (1,950 kg) of equipment and supplies, including a subzero freezer that can preserve experiments at -112º F (-80º C)—that needed to be unloaded; new gear to aid studies of the effects of microgravity on mice; and a sample of so-called synthetic muscle, a strong but pliant material modeled after human muscle, to be used for robotic limbs and joints. Also tucked into the load was a less practical but infinitely more anticipated item—a zero-gravity espresso machine, dubbed the ISSpresso.

There are 250 experiments that must be tended at any one time aboard the ISS, but the most important of them will be Kelly and Kornienko themselves. The human body was built for the one-g environment of Earth, but if we ever hope to achieve our grand dreams of traveling to Mars and beyond, we’d better figure out if we can survive the rigors of zero-g. And that’s no sure thing. Almost every system in the body—circulatory, skeletal, cellular, visual—breaks down in some ways in weightlessness.

In their first month in space alone, the two long-termers submitted to a whole range of preliminary experiments that will track their health throughout their stay: their eyes are being studied to determine the kind of effect the upward shift in fluids caused by zero-g has on the optic nerve and the shape of the eyeball. Space physicians already know the basic answer: not a good one. But the hope is that Kelly and Kornienko will help provide ways to mitigate the damage.

Other biomedical studies in the first month include sampling saliva and sweat to test for bacterial levels and chemical balance; leg scans to determine blood flow; studies of blood pressure—which can fluctuate wildly when the heart no longer has to pump against gravity; analyses of throat and skin samples; bone density tests and studies of the cells to determine why they change shape in zero-g. As exquisite serendipity has it, Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, is a retired astronaut, providing a perfect controlled study of how men with matching genomes and matching backgrounds react to a year spent in decidedly non-matching environments. Nearly all of the studies Scott submits to in space will be duplicated in Mark on the ground.

The eleven months ahead will not all be a Groundhog Day repetition of the first. Kelly will venture out on at least two spacewalks—the first of his four-mission career—and will help oversee a complex reconfiguration of the station, with modules and docking ports repositioned to accommodate commercial crew vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX, which are supposed to begin arriving in 2017. There will also be movie nights and web-surfing and regular video chats, phone calls and emails with family. And the periodic arrival of cargo ships will provide such luxuries as fresh fruits and vegetables, which don’t last long in space, but don’t have to because six-person crews missing the comforts of home scarf them down fast.

The clubhouse turn of Kelly’s and Kornienko’s one-year mission will occur next December, the 50th anniversary of what was once America’s longest stay in space: the two-week flight of Gemini 7, which astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell passed in the equivalent of two coach airline seats, with the ceiling just three inches over their heads. The ISS is a manor house compared to the Gemini. But the astronauts are still astronauts, human beings in a very strange place experiencing very strange things—in this case for a very long time.

TIME is covering Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the trailer here.

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