TIME exploration

The Reason We Can’t Find MH 370 Is That We’re Basically Blind

Search For Missing Flight MH370 Shifts To Underwater Mission
Good luck finding anything with that. Bluefin-21 is craned over the side of Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 on April 14, 2014. Handout—Getty Images

We can see countless millions of miles into the blackness of space, but a 3-mile depth in the ocean is testing the very limits of our technology because most of it just doesn’t work underwater

Men have played golf on the moon. Images transmitted from the surface of Mars have become utterly commonplace. The Hubble Space Telescope can see 10 billion to 15 billion light-years into the universe.

But a mere three miles under the sea? That’s a true twilight zone.

As the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 demonstrates, at that depth — minuscule compared with the vastness of space — everything is a virtual unknown. A high-tech unmanned underwater submarine, Bluefin-21, has been dispatched four times to look for wreckage from the jet, but the crushing water pressure and impenetrability of this void mean that only its most recent pair of missions were completed. Scrutinizing dust and rock particles on the Red Planet, tens of millions of miles away, is a breeze. Understanding what’s on the seafloor of our own planet is not.

About 95% of deep ocean floor remains unmapped, but that’s almost certainly where the most sought after aircraft in history is going to be found. “Our knowledge of the detailed ocean floor is very, very sparse,” Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, tells TIME.

The reason for our ignorance is simple. Virtually all modern communications technology — be it light, radio, X-rays, wi-fi — is a form of electromagnetic radiation, which seawater just loves to suck up. “The only thing that does travel [underwater] is sound,” says van Sebille, “and that’s why we have to use sonar.”

Sound is formed by mechanical waves and so can penetrate denser mediums like liquids: but at a 3-mile (5 km) depth, even sonar starts to have problems establishing basic parameters. The waters in which the search for MH 370 is happening, for example, were thought to be between 13,800 and 14,400 ft. (4,200 and 4,400 m) deep, because that’s what it said on the charts that had been drawn up over time by passing ships with sonar capabilities. It turns out those seas are at least 14,800 ft. (4,500 m) deep. We only know that now because that’s the depth at which Bluefin-21 will automatically resurface — as it did on its maiden foray — when onboard sensors tell it that it’s way, way out of its operating depth. The problems with Bluefin-21, van Sebille says, show us that “even our best maps are really not good here.”

The other issue affecting visibility is the sheer volume of junk in the ocean. About 5.25 trillion particles of plastic trash presently billow around the planet, say experts, weighing half a million tons. There are five huge garbage patches in the world’s seas, where the swirling of currents makes the mostly plastic debris accumulate. The largest of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre measuring an estimated 270,000 to 5.8 million sq. mi. (700,000 to 15 million sq km). This refuse gets ingested by plankton, fish, birds and larger marine mammals, imperiling our entire ecosystem.

Flotsam debris has already impeded the hunt for MH 370. Hundreds of suspicious items spotted by satellite have sent aircraft and ships on hugely costly detours to investigate what turned out to be trash. (On Friday an air-and-surface search continued, with 12 aircraft and 11 ships scouring an area of some 20,000 sq. mi. [52,000 sq km] about 1,200 miles [2,000 km] northwest of Perth.) Officials are saying that such efforts are becoming futile.

For all we know, Bluefin-21 could also be confused by the sheer volume of garbage down there. According to a study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute published last June, based on 8,000 hours of underwater video, an unbelievable quantity of waste is strewn across the ocean floor. A third of the debris is thought to be plastic — bags, bottles, pellets, crates — but there is a vast amount of metal trash as well, including many of the 10,000 shipping containers estimated to be lost each year.

“I was surprised that we saw so much trash in deeper water,” said Kyra Schlining, lead author on the study. “We don’t usually think of our daily activities as affecting life two miles deep in the ocean.”

That’s because we can’t see it. It’s tempting to say that MH 370 might as well have vanished into space — only if it had, we’d have found it by now.

TIME astronomy

Why Do Blood Moons Occur?

Look up into the sky at 3:07 a.m. E.T. on Tuesday, and you'll witness one of four consecutive and complete lunar eclipses we'll see this year and next

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Millions of people will witness this year’s first Blood Moon, a.k.a. total lunar eclipse.

Our ancestors had many prophecies surrounding such events. The Maya, for instance, believed that the Blood Moon was caused by a cosmic jaguar swallowing the moon. Others have seen it as a sign the end times are near.

Thankfully, science offers its own explanation for the celestial phenomenon. The excitement this time is that the four consecutive and complete lunar eclipses — or the tetrad — occur at approximately six-month intervals and will all be visible over the U.S. this year and next. TIME’s science editor Jeffrey Kluger explains.

TIME space

Goodnight, Moon: Why the Lunar Lights Will Go Out Tonight

Lights out: a blood moon as a total lunar eclipse reaches its peak
Lights out: a blood moon as a total lunar eclipse reaches its peak KAREN BLEIER; Getty Images/AFP Creative

Look up into the sky at 3:07 a.m. E.T. on Tuesday, and you'll see the moon adorned in a rare shade of crimson as it crosses into Earth's shadow, one of four complete lunar eclipses we'll see this year and next. Subtle darkening will start at 12:54 a.m. E.T.

Thanks to the artificial lighting that washes out the glory of the night sky in many parts of the developed world, it’s hard to understand why the ancients were in such awe of the heavens. Step outside at 3:07 a.m. E.T. on Tuesday, though — assuming the weather is clear — and you’ll see something that almost certainly threw your distant ancestors into a panic. At that moment, the full moon will complete a transition from its usual silvery white brilliance to an ominous, coppery red. It’s a phenomenon known, with appropriate horror-movie overtones, as the Blood Moon.

What it actually is depends on whom you ask — or asked. The ancient Maya believed it was caused by a cosmic jaguar swallowing the moon; the Chinese agreed — except that it was three-legged toad doing the swallowing. And then there’s megachurch pastor John Hagee, who insists it’s a sign of a “world-shaking event” right around the corner.

Ask a scientist, though, and you’ll get a more prosaic answer: the moon, moving on its age-old orbit, will simply pass through the Earth’s shadow. The whole thing takes 78 minutes, and during that time the moon will look utterly weird. It won’t go entirely dark because sunlight is scattered as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere — the bluer parts of the sun’s rainbow of colors bouncing every which way (which is why the sky looks blue) and the redder parts streaming right through (which is why the sun and sky look red at sunrise and sunset). That’s part of it: the other part is that those red rays get bent as they pass through the atmosphere, just as though they were traveling through a lens — and some of those red rays are inclined at such an angle that they fall on the moon.

Totality — the time when the moon is completely shadowed — lasts less than an hour and a half. But a subtle darkening will start at 12:54 a.m. E.T., as the leading edge of Earth’s shadow begins to cover the moon. The full shadow (or maybe it’s the toad) begins to bite at 1:58 a.m. The whole thing is entirely over, with the trailing edge of the shadow leaving the moon its familiar silvery white again, at 6:37 a.m. If you miss it all, don’t worry: the whole thing happens again on Oct. 8 of this year, and again on April 4 and Sept. 28 of next year.

This four-fer is known as a tetrad, and there are eight sets of lunar-eclipse tetrads this century: the last was in 2003–04; the next will be in 2032–33. (Total lunar eclipses don’t happen every month, or even every year, because the moon’s orbit is tilted with respect to Earth’s orbit around the sun. As a result, the moon usually passes just above or just below Earth’s shadow, and only occasionally goes right through it.) So it’s all very scientific — nothing mystical or prophetic about it. Although you might not mention that in St. Louis: it was on the night of a total lunar eclipse back in 2004 that the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the fourth game to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

TIME Malaysia Airlines MH370

What’s Inside a Black Box?

Flight data may hold the answers to why MH370 went missing

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As search and rescue crews race against time to locate the flight-data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, what might we learn from these “black boxes,” which contain hundreds of data points about the plane’s location, movements, speed, altitude and mechanical integrity?

The biggest challenge remains finding the devices in the deep waters where it is believed they lie. If recovered, investigators will sift the data in hopes of finding answers to the flight’s mysterious disappearance more than a month ago.

TIME Religion

Millennials Losing Faith in the Bible

Percentage of Americans who say they're skeptical about the Good Book has nearly doubled from 10% to 19%, with young people driving the trend

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A study commissioned by the American Bible Society shows that the percentage of people who are skeptical of the Good Book has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% since 2011, with millennials driving the increase.

Two thirds of skeptics, or people who think the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice,” are between the ages of 18 and 29. The same share of Americans call themselves skeptical—19 percent—as call themselves “engaged” with the Bible.

TIME Security

Heartbleed Bug: Here Are the Passwords You Should Change

While extent of the data security breach caused by the Heartbleed Bug is unclear, it's better to be safe than sorry. The bug likely affected several popular websites. Here are the passwords you'll probably want to change

When it comes to changing your passwords, the Heartbleed Bug is a better-safe-than-sorry bug.

This is not a case of hackers breaking into a bunch of sites and stealing all the sites’ usernames and passwords; this is a vulnerability that allowed hackers to grab relatively small chunks of data as they flowed through sites. If you happened to be entering your username, password or credit card number as someone was making a grab, it’s probably out there now.

You’re playing the odds, in other words — and we don’t exactly know what the odds are. This bug has existed for a couple years but was just recently publicly disclosed, so there’s no telling how extensive the damage may or may not be. Again, you’re better safe than sorry.

Checking the Big Sites

A user over on GitHub has taken the liberty of checking the top 10,000 Alexa-ranked websites to see which ones are (or were) vulnerable to the bug. What’s handy is that the first test was run two days ago, and a second test was run within the past eight hours, so we can see which sites have patched up the vulnerability.

The good news is that the first test returned 630 vulnerable sites, while the second test returned just 178 vulnerable sites — so there’s progress being made as it pertains to patching things up. And the majority of the vulnerable sites on the most recent list aren’t exactly household names. I recognize only TinyURL, The Street and The Daily Caller.

Popular Sites Advocating You to Change Your Password

According to Mashable’s list of popular Heartbleed-afflicted sites, here are some of the big sites where you should change your password:

Google actually claims your password is safe, but it’s using the better-safe-than-sorry argument. Of note, Apple has stayed silent but the GitHub test-runs have shown that Apple’s main site doesn’t use SSL (the type of security protocol that’s affected by this bug). Apple’s online store (store.apple.com) is either fixed or unaffected, according to this Heartbleed testing site. But again: better safe than sorry. Have I mentioned that yet?

Sites That Weren’t Affected

Other big sites that definitely weren’t vulnerable, according to Mashable:

  • LinkedIn
  • Amazon
  • Microsoft (including Hotmail and Outlook)
  • AOL
  • PayPal
  • Evernote

Also good news: it looks like none of the major banking sites Mashable checked were vulnerable.

How to Check If a Site Is Affected

Any time you see the little lock icon up in your address bar, you can use this tool right here…

Test your server for Heartbleed (CVE-2014-0160)

…to check if that particular site is affected or not. Note that if a site is affected, you should not change your password for that site. Wait until the site has been patched up and then change your password. Changing your password before a site’s been fixed only makes your new password vulnerable.

How to Create a Strong Password

As far as the Heartbleed Bug is concerned, the strength of your passwords may not have mattered much, as evidence has suggested that the data grabbed from certain sites revealed unencrypted credentials, but it’s still a good idea to use strong passwords in the case of conventional security breaches.

Here’s a quick video with a popular technique for creating strong passwords:

The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now [Mashable]

TIME

Electrical Pulses Help Paralyzed Patients Move

Four people who were paralyzed below the waist for more than two years were able to voluntarily wiggle their toes and flex their legs, after researchers surgically implanted an electrical stimulator just above the spine's dura, in the epidura

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Four people who were paralyzed below the waist for more than two years were able to voluntarily wiggle their toes and flex their legs, thanks to a promising study that some are heralding as a breakthrough in spinal-cord-injury treatment.

The key to the achievement, say the study’s authors, was stimulation of the spinal cord using a commercially available electrical stimulator commonly used to treat pain. The device is surgically implanted just above the spine’s dura, in the epidura, where animal studies showed it could appropriately relay signals to the legs and lower extremities.

“What we have uncovered is a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can affect voluntary movement in people with complete paralysis, even years after their injury,” says Susan Harkema, rehabilitation research director at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville and the Frazier Rehab Institute.

(MORE: Paralyzed Rats Learn to Walk Again in Rehabilitation Experiment)

The study follows up the success Harkema and her colleagues had with one patient, Rob Summers. Summers had no motor control below the waist but retained some sensation in the lower extremities. He unexpectedly reported that when he thought about moving his leg, he was able to do so while getting stimulation in his spine.

Harkema decided to stimulate three more patients to better understand why that happened to Summers. She didn’t expect them to respond in the same way as Summers did; in fact, she expected them not to respond.

Two of the paralyzed patients, including Kent Stephenson, who was injured in a motocross accident, had no motor control and no sensation in the lower chest and legs. Harkema wanted to test her theory that Summers’ movement was due to remaining nerve connections in his damaged spinal cord that were somehow reawakened by the electrical stimulation.

Because Summers retained some sensation, Harkema figured that these nerves were being redirected to control some movement. She expected Stephenson not to respond at all to the stimulation, since he had no sensation remaining.

“I was the person who was supposed to go through the experiment and not move, and that was going to justify why Rob moved,” says Stephenson. “I was O.K., and at peace about that as my next thing to do, since the doctors told me I would never move my legs again and never feel my legs again.”

(MORE: Meanwhile, in the Lab …)

The first time the stimulator was turned on after it was implanted, however, Stephenson happily proved Harkema’s original theory wrong.

“The minute I tried to move my left leg, I felt a charge go down my leg and it pulled back just the way I was thinking [to move it],” Stephenson says. “I had done this test a handful of times before and nothing worked — it was boring. But it worked this time. And when I thought about relaxing my leg, it went back down. Everybody in the room went, ‘Whoa.’ My mom was in the room and she burst into tears. I was emotional myself.”

The same thing happened with the remaining two patients; all were able to voluntarily move their legs, feet and ankles within a week of starting the electrical stimulation.

Until these studies, researchers believed that the brain was the master orchestrator of movement, sending the appropriate signals to the spinal cord and helping to direct which signals the spinal cord relayed on to muscles in the legs or arms. But the latest results suggest the spinal cord may be more involved in processing movement than previously thought — the brain still needs to send signals to guide movement, but the spinal cord may be directing and processing neural messages even further.

Thus, focusing on restoring the spinal cord’s integral role in paralyzed patients may be an exciting new way to bring some movement back to them — even years after injury. All four of the patients in the study had been paralyzed for more than two years before they began the stimulation.

Harkema and her colleagues were also able to show that the movements were not just the reflexive responses from electrically stimulating individual nerves that control, say, a toe or ankle. This movement was more systemic, involving the brain and the central nervous system, which runs along the spinal cord. Not only could the patients move the appropriate muscle when they thought about it, but they could also move them when given visual or auditory cues, meaning their brains were processing the commands and relaying the information to the spinal cord for execution.

Harkema stresses that the patients aren’t walking — but they are able to move muscles that were previously lost to them because of their spinal-cord injuries. And that’s an important first step in understanding how to treat paralysis. She also says it’s not clear what role the intense physical therapy the patients received prior to getting the implants played in their responses. In animal studies, physical therapy alone — training animals in harnesses to step, for example — did, over time, teach the animals to step independently.

“It’s possible that the training optimized them to move once the stimulator took them up another notch,” she says. “But we don’t know for sure since we haven’t tried someone who has never been trained before getting the stimulation.”

The fact that the three patients responded almost immediately to the electrical stimulation does hint, however, that physical training isn’t the only factor involved in the restoration of movement in these patients, and that the electrical stimulation may represent an untapped and promising way to treat paralysis.

“The outcome of four out of four patients showing positive results in response to spinal stimulation is extremely exciting, and proves that it’s no longer just an anomaly,” says Grace Peng, program director for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which funded the study. Peng says the institute is supporting other studies on how such stimulation can treat paralysis, including studies on more flexible stimulators — for now, patients need to set the device to settings to target specific muscles and can only move one region at a time — and stimulators that can be adhered directly to the skin.

For now, however, Harkema is planning to follow up her results with more patients. And Stephenson is enjoying his ability to move, even if it’s limited. After figuring out that setting the stimulator allowed him to concentrate on his abdominal and lower back muscles, he went white-water rafting last summer with his father, cousins and uncle.

“It was an hour-and-a-half float trip, and we were doing 360s along some rapids,” he says. “It was cool!”

TIME

Watch: What You Need To Know About Elections in India and Indonesia

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April will be a big month for democracy, as elections take place in India, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Hungary, Indonesia, Algeria and Iraq – countries with total electorates of more than one billion people. In particular, the upcoming elections in India and Indonesia promise to be momentous, with more than 1 billion eligible voters, more than 1.5 million electronic voting machines and more than a million polling stations in India alone. In the video above, we asked TIME’s International Editor Bobby Ghosh for a preview of what we should know about the upcoming elections in the two countries.

TIME

Watch: the Winners and Losers from the McCutcheon Decision

The case Shaun McCutcheon - a chief executive and political financier - brought against the Federal Election Commission has ushered in a new era of political spending

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In Tuesday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case, the justices lifted the limits on aggregate political contributions.

The campaign finance ruling, which saw the Supreme Court sharply divided with a 5-4 vote, will likely transform the business of politics yet again, pushing even more money into elections. McCutcheon’s case has impressive implications, as TIME’s Sam Frizell explains. A single donor can now theoretically spend up to $3.5 million supporting candidates for the House and Senate, a figure that doesn’t include contributions to political action committees.

Watch TIME’s explanation of who benefits — and who doesn’t — from the ruling.

 

 

TIME General Motors

Watch: The Long, Troubled History of the Chevy Cobalt

Even before the ignition defect, Car owners complained of locks inexplicably opening and closing, power steering failures, and even door windows falling out

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Long before the Chevrolet Cobalt became known for having a faulty ignition defect, it was already seen as a lemon.

In more than 120 instances, General Motors was forced under state laws to buy back faulty Cobalts, pay settlements to owners or let them trade in the cars, a New York Times report showed.

The faulty ignition switch, which has caused the Chevrolet Cobalt and other GM cars to stall, and has disabled the air bags and power steering, has been linked to 13 deaths.

Watch the video above for more.

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