TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Inside the Mystery of Greenland’s Vanishing Lakes

The lakes resided under Greenland's massive ice sheet

Two lakes in Greenland holding enormous amounts of water were drained within the course of weeks, researchers say.

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more about these vanishing lakes.

TIME Science

How NASA Finds ‘Super Earths’ Where Alien Life Might Flourish

NASA's Kepler mission recently announced the discovery of three earth-like planets existing in a star's "Goldilocks zone."

Since 2009 NASA’s Kepler Mission has been exploring the Milky Way using an extraordinary powerful space telescope. Their mission is to discover “exoplanets” or Earth-like planets that could, in theory, be habitable for human life.

But what makes a planet habitable?

Scientists say habitable planets should be in an area round the star known as the “Goldilocks zone,” where it isn’t too hot or cold for water to exist on the surface in liquid form. Thus far, the mission has confirmed many such candidates, including a significant discovery of three planets announced in January 2015.

Jeffrey Kluger explains the significance of this newest discovery and the importance for humanity to continue space exploration.

TIME astronomy

The Microsoft HoloLens Is Going to Let Scientists Walk Around Mars

Joe Belfiore, Alex Kipman, Terry Myerson
Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, from left, Alex Kipman, and Terry Myerson playfully pose for a photo while wearing "Hololens" devices following an event demonstrating new features of Windows 10 at the company's headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 Elaine Thompson—AP

Strap on your headset for a tour of the red planet

Microsoft and NASA have jointly developed software that will allow scientists to remotely walk around Mars using the wearable Microsoft HoloLens, a hologram tool designed to view and interact with 3D images.

Created in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, the technology, called OnSight, helps researchers prepare for future Mars-based operations by entering its richly-detailed environment, NASA announced in a news release.

Before this, scientists examined 2D digital representations of Mars, which geospatial depth.

“OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices,” said Dave Lavery, program executive of of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory.

“Previously, our Mars explorers have been stuck on one side of a computer screen. This tool gives them the ability to explore the rover’s surroundings much as an Earth geologist would do field work here on our planet,” said Jeff Norris, the OnSight project manager.

NASA intends to use OnSight in future rover operations and on a Curiosity mission this year.

[NASA]

TIME Research

This Is the Reason You Keep Forgetting Stuff

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Just seeing or hearing something isn't going to help you remember it

A new study coming out of Penn State suggests that individuals are better at remembering details when they anticipate having to recall them in the future.

“We found that in some cases, people have trouble remembering even very simple pieces of information when they do not expect to have to remember them,” said Brad Wyble, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State.

The researchers arrived at their conclusion after quizzing individuals about information they had just been shown. Participants often answered questions about their memories with ease when they anticipated what they would have to remember. However, when individuals were asked about information they had not specifically homed in on, they often were unable to remember the details accurately.

According to Wyble, the results from their experiments suggests that people’s expectations play a vital role in determining what they will be able to recall accurately.

“It seems like memory is sort of like a camcorder,” said Wyble. “If you don’t hit the ‘record’ button on the camcorder, it’s not going to ‘remember’ what the lens is pointed at.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Environment

How the Atomic Age Left Us a Half-Century of Radioactive Waste

Plutonium Plant
The American Atomic Energy Commision's plutonium production plant at Hanford, Washington, circa 1955 Evans / ;Getty Images

Dealing with nuclear waste at a plant in Washington State has proved an intractable problem. Why?

In 1951, atomic optimism was booming—even when it came to radioactive waste. In fact, entrepreneurs believed that the waste might pay off in the same way that coal tar and other industrial by-products had proved useful for the plastics and chemical industries. TIME reported that Stanford Research Institutes estimated they could sell crude radioactive waste from the Hanford plutonium plant in eastern Washington State at prices ranging from ten cents to a dollar a curie (a measure of radioactive decay). Every kilogram of plutonium the plant produced spilled out hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste. If the entrepreneurs were right, Hanford was a gold mine.

They were wrong. Instead, the former Hanford plutonium plant became the largest nuclear clean-up site in the western hemisphere. It costs taxpayers a billion dollars a year.

On the other hand, maybe they were right—just not the way they intended. Corporate contractors hired to clean up Hanford have made hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and surcharges, and, since little has been accomplished, the tab promises to mount for decades. Since 1991, the US Department of Energy has missed every target for remediation of Hanford’s deadly nuclear waste. Highly radioactive fluids are seeping toward the Columbia River watershed, while in the past two years 54 clean-up workers have fallen ill from mysterious toxic vapors. Last fall, seeking to finally get some action, Washington State sued the DOE to speed up the timeline and make the project safer—but, on Dec. 5, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the request. The express schedule was too expensive, they said, despite the fact that the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is planning to spend a trillion dollars in 30 years to create a new generation of more accurate, deadly weapons. In fact, the DOE spends more money now in real dollars on nuclear weapons than it did at the height of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, the Justice ruling—to scrimp on radioactive waste management while the DOE spends lavishly on bombs—makes for business as usual in the history of Hanford.

It’s never been a matter of knowing the danger. In 1944, Hanford designers understood that the radioactive by-products issuing from plutonium production were deadly. Executives from DuPont, which built the Hanford plant for the Manhattan Project, called plutonium and its by-products “super poisonous” and worried about how to keep workers and surrounding populations safe.

At the same time, DuPont engineers were rushing to make plutonium for the first Trinity test in Nevada in 1945, and they did not pause to invent new solutions to store radioactive waste. Plant managers simply disposed of the high-tech, radioactive waste the way that humans had for millennia. They buried it. Millions of gallons of radioactive effluent went into trenches, ponds, holes drilled in the ground and the Columbia River. The most dangerous waste was conducted into underground single-walled tanks meant to last ten years. Knowing the tanks would corrode, as the high-level waste ate through metal, Hanford designers planned to come up with a permanent solution in the future. They were confident in their abilities. Had they not accomplished the impossible—building from scratch in less than three years a nuclear bomb?

But, as the years passed, no new answer surfaced to safely store nuclear waste. The Atomic Energy Commission, which was in charge of bomb production, left radioactive garbage to its private corporate contractors. For two decades, the AEC had no office to oversee waste management, nor any regulation. AEC officials didn’t know how much radioactive waste there was or where it was located. They also didn’t pay much fiscal attention to the problem. The AEC allocated to General Electric, which took over from DuPont in 1946, $200,000 a year for waste management, small change in nuclear-weapons accounting. In the same decade, the AEC handed over $1.5 million annually to subsidize the local school district in Richland, Wash., where plant workers lived.

Meanwhile, the temporary underground tanks remained long past their expiration date. In the early 1960s, the first tank sprang a leak. Dozens followed suit leaching into the ground a million gallons of high-level waste. From 1968 to 1986, Hanford managers built 28 new, double-walled tanks, designed to last from 20 to 50 years. What was the major design innovation after two decades of experience? An extra tank wall.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 tore the plutonium curtain of secrecy surrounding Hanford. The newly renamed Department of Energy was forced to release thousands of documents describing how plant managers had issued into the western interior millions of curies of radioactive waste as part of the daily operating order. In the early 1990s, TIME recounted stories of people living downwind who had thyroid disease and cancer, caused, they believed, by the plant’s emissions. In 1991, the DOE resolved to clean up the Hanford site.

The agency hired the same military contractors that had managed the site while it was being polluted. Their main task involved building a state-of-the-art waste-treatment plant to turn high-level waste into glass blocks for millennia of safe storage in salt caverns. But by 1999, eight years and several billion dollars later, the DOE had to admit that its contractors had accomplished little. Multiple times, the DOE set new deadlines or hired new contractors, but the goalposts were always moved. In 2015, after decades of effort, the waste treatment plant is still in the planning stages. High-level waste remains in tanks, some of which continue to leak.

What makes dealing with nuclear waste at Hanford so intractable? The Savannah River Plant in Georgia also made plutonium and has successfully built a treatment plant. So too have the Russians and French. Despite the Department of Justice’s ruling, money is not the main problem. The current contractor, Bechtel Corp, has spent billions of dollars, yet has made little progress. Speaking this week, representatives of the Washington State Department of Ecology said that they would argue their case in federal court in February, hoping to get the DOE to commit to their timeline to get the waste treatment plant up and running. Decades after the story began, it continues.

So perhaps it’s a matter of history. Since the ’40s, Hanford contractors had enjoyed a free hand to produce plutonium and pollute with little AEC/DOE oversight. And for six decades reports of radioactive discharges were denied. It is hard to fix a problem one cannot see—and that’s been, by any measure, an expensive lesson.

Kate Brown lives in Washington, DC and is Professor of History at UMBC. She is the author of several award-winning books, including Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013). Brown’s most recent book Dispatches from Dystopia: History of Places Not Yet Forgotten will appear in April 2015 with the University of Chicago Press.

Read a 1986 report on the safety of the American nuclear industry, here in the TIME Vault: Bracing for the Fallout

Read next: Tourists’ Trash Caused the Oddly-Colored Geysers at Yellowstone, Study Finds

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TIME Research

A Rough Childhood Can Literally Age You Says a New Study

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Researchers say childhood adversity and psychiatric disorders may be linked to cellular changes that cause aging

Childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions may cause individuals to experience accelerated aging, according to research published last week.

In a study featured in Biological Psychiatry, scientists say they may have found evidence to suggest there is a link between aging at the cellular level and trauma or stress disorders.

To complete the study, researchers recruited 299 adults and separated them into different groups based on their experiences with childhood adversity, depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The participants then had their DNA analyzed to study the lengths of their telomeres and any alterations to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Telomere shortening and higher mtDNA content can serve as a yardstick to measure cellular aging.

“Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content,” read the report.

These effects were seen particularly in adults who had battled with major depression and anxiety disorders, along with parental loss or childhood maltreatment.

“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” said Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

[Science Daily]

TIME Archaeology

Scientists Unlock Secrets of Ancient Scrolls Near Pompeii

Italy Ancient Scrolls
David Blank, professor of Classics from the University of California, looks through a microscope at an ancient papyrus at the Naples' National Library, Italy, Jan. 20, 2015. Salvatore Laporta—AP

The breakthrough could help find more long-lost texts in a ruined library

Scrolls charred in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii are being read for the first time in almost 2,000 years, thanks to new X-ray technology.

The scrolls were recovered about 260 years ago from the ruins of the ancient Roman city Herculaneum, near Pompeii, preserved in a grand villa believed to be owned by the family of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, the New York Times reports.

In the famous eruption, they were burned black by a blast of hot gas and had been thought to be indecipherable, since any attempt to unroll the brittle scrolls would destroy them.

But thanks to the new, advanced imaging technology, scientists in Naples, Italy have begun to decipher the first lines of two scrolls. CNET reports that the X-rays are so powerful that researchers analyzed the handwriting to determine the author of one of the scrolls, Epicurean philosopher Philodemus. These scrolls are just a small piece of what is thought to be still buried in the library of the Herculaneum villa, and this breakthrough could lead to the rediscovery of many long-lost texts by Rome and Greece’s most famous philosophers, according to the NYT.

The results appeared in the scientific journal Nature.

“This study, without compromising the physical integrity of the roll, has not merely discovered traces of the ink inside it, but has also helped identify with a certain likelihood the style of handwriting used in the text, along with its author,” the researchers conclude in the report.

“It holds out the promise that many philosophical works form the library of the ‘Villa dei Papiri’, the contents of which have so far remained unknown, may in future be deciphered without damaging the papyrus in any way.”

[CNET]

TIME Science

Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson Explain the Meaning of Life

In response to a precocious 6-year-old

Famed astrophysicist and public speaker extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson is pretty great at interacting with young kids. At a recent event in Boston, a 6-year-old boy (well, 6 and three quarters, as he makes sure to point out) asked, “What is the meaning of life?”

The kid was probably asking just to be cute, but deGrasse Tyson took the question seriously and responded with a very thoughtful, extended answer.

He explains that it’s important to create meaning for ourselves and make sure we’re constantly bringing ourselves a little bit closer to knowing everything there is to know. “If I live a day and I don’t know a little more that day than the day before,” he explains, “I think I wasted that day.”

Basically, Neil deGrasse Tyson just really wants us all to maintain our sense of wonder and curiosity, whether we’re 6 and three quarters or 96 and three quarters.

MORE: Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Getting His Own Talk Show

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A simple plan pairing a low-income first-time mom with a nurse for advice through pregnancy and her child’s early years can give that family stability and even a better life.

By Nancy Cook in the Atlantic

2. Google will pilot test a build-your-own modular smartphone, operating out of a mobile phone-lab that looks like a food truck.

By Nathan Ingraham and Josh Lowensohn in the Verge

3. The belief that some scientific fields require innate genius or natural ‘brilliance’ may keep women out.

By Rachel Bernstein in Science Magazine

4. The FDA has cleared a ‘pacemaker for the stomach’ that could be a silver bullet against obesity.

By Thomas M. Burton in the Wall Street Journal

5. Offshore wind farms — if we can build them — stand to provide twice as much energy and create twice as many jobs as offshore drilling.

By Lindsay Abrams in Salon

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

This Argument About Whether the Moon Is a Planet or a Star Will Make You Rethink Everything

Out of this world

A segment on the home-shopping network was recently selling some science that we aren’t buying.

QVC host Shawn Killinger and designer Isaac Mizrahi were debating whether the Moon is a planet or a star. Here is a snippet of that conversation:

Killinger: “Isn’t the moon a star?”

Mizrahi : “No, the Moon is a planet, darling.”

Killinger: “Don’t look at me like that! The sun is a star!”

Mizrahi: “I don’t know what the Sun is.”

The Moon, the Earth’s only natural satellite, is neither, by the way.

Maybe the next segment will be selling science textbooks.

(h/t The Verge)

Read next: Here’s What Happens When You Set Off Fireworks Beneath the Surface of a Frozen Lake

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