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27,752 articles from Guardian Unlimited Science

Disruption will hamper efforts to unlock secrets of universe, say scientists

A flagship observatory that will map the heavens in spectacular detail and search the skies for asteroids on a collision course with Earth faces serious disruption from a new wave of satellites bound for space, the Guardian has learned.

Astronomers on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a state-of-the-art observatory due to open in Chile next year, have discovered that its views of the night sky will be marred by thousands of highly reflective communications satellites being launched by SpaceX, Amazon and other firms.

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Critics suspect hand of Project Blitz in draft passed by Ohio house which they fear could let students’ religious beliefs trump science

An Ohio state bill which could allow students’ religious beliefs to trump science-based facts is almost identical to model legislation backed by an evangelical, anti-gay Christian group.

The Student Religious Liberties Act, which passed the Ohio house last week, instructs schools to neither “penalize or reward” students on the basis of their religious speech. It also stipulates schools must provide opportunities for religious expression “in the same manner and to the same extent” as secular speech. Critics argue the bill would provide protect students from bad grades based on religion.

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Requiring minimal amounts of sleep is sometimes seen as a badge of honour. But for many of us, being able to actually function is a different matter altogether. So why is it that some people seem to need more or less sleep? And what are some of the ramifications if we don’t get enough? Hannah Devlin speaks to two experts whose work is bringing new understanding to our sleeping behaviours

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THURSDAY 21. NOVEMBER 2019


Can art advance science? Researchers on the hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence are using videos, music and more to go beyond the final frontier

Since 1984, the scientific research institute SETI has worked with some of the brightest minds on our planet: astronomers, solar system dynamics experts, exoplanet detection specialists, astrochemists. All of them are on a mission to decode the universe’s mysteries – but has one area of expertise been overlooked?

Jill Tarter thinks so. She’s the chair emeritus of SETI – whose name stands for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” – and the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact. Tarter believes scientists should look to the art world to help solve some of their biggest problems. “Art gives people an opportunity to think about bigger-picture ideas or think about them in a new way,” she says. “It can make people think differently about who they are, where they are, or questions such as: where do we come from? Where are we going? Is there anybody else out there?”

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Optimists have fewer strokes, sleep better and live longer than pessimists. But how do you change your outlook? By embracing your Best Possible Self, keeping a gratitude journal – and changing your narrative

I’ve been called many things in my life, but never an optimist. That was fine by me. I believed pessimists lived in a constant state of pleasant surprise: if you always expected the worst, things generally turned out better than you imagined. The only real problem with pessimism, I figured, was that too much of it could accidentally turn you into an optimist.

But accidental optimism is not one of the known dangers of pessimism, a list that does include career impairment, poor health and early death. Optimism, by contrast, is associated with better sleep and lower levels of cardiovascular disease. One study this year claimed that people who describe themselves as optimists had 35% fewer strokes than those who didn’t. Another, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science last summer, found that compared with pessimists, the most optimistic subjects lived 11-15% longer lives on average.

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PM suggests Australia could increase emissions without worsening current fire season, and says government finalising plans to crack down on environmental protests

Scott Morrison has argued there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of fires ravaging the continent, even suggesting Australia could increase its emissions without making the current fire season worse.

Under pressure due to a record season of early bushfires and the accusation by a coalition of former fire chiefs that the government has avoided the issue of climate change, Morrison said on Thursday there was no “credible scientific evidence” that cutting Australia’s emissions could reduce the severity of bushfires.

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WEDNESDAY 20. NOVEMBER 2019


Military alliance ‘will not put weapons in orbit but has to protect interests of west’

Nato is to turn its attention to space as an “operational domain” over concern that enemies of the western military alliance could cause chaos by jamming satellites.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said there was no question of weapons being deployed but that the alliance had to protect civilian and military interests.

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Astronomers note record-breaking observation of highest energy ever measured from gamma ray bursts

When gigantic stars run out of fuel they collapse under their own gravity and, in a last hurrah, send out a blast of light and matter in the most violent known explosions in the universe.

Now astronomers have discovered that these cataclysmic events, known as gamma ray bursts, release roughly twice as much energy as previously thought.

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Groundbreaking trial in US rapidly cools trauma victims with catastrophic injury to ‘buy more time’ for surgery

Doctors have put humans into a state of suspended animation for the first time in a groundbreaking trial that aims to buy more time for surgeons to save seriously injured patients.

The process involves rapidly cooling the brain to less than 10C by replacing the patient’s blood with ice cold saline solution. Typically the solution is pumped directly into the aorta, the main artery which carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body.

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Cameras mounted on a satellite allow users to take ‘selfies from space’ – on a beach, at a festival or sports event and eventually from anywhere you fancy – if the skies are clear

A growing number of authorities around the world may be banning selfies – most recently the Japanese city of Kyoto put the kibosh on the taking of photos in its geisha neighbourhood – but one company is hoping to cash in on people’s desire to capture memorable moments, by introducing “the world’s longest selfie stick”, in the form of an app that takes photos from space.

Spelfie.com allows users to take a selfie at the exact time that a satellite camera captures their location from space. Users of the app click on the event they are attending, then, once they are at the venue, the app provides coordinates so the user knows precisely where to position themselves and at what time. They then take a photo of themselves at the moment the satellite is taking its photo and later the same day the app sends back the satellite image juxtaposed with the selfie to be viewed in its gallery. Spelfie spokesman Anthony Burr said that in future the images will be available within a matter of minutes rather than hours.

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Disastrous global heating will soon become irrevocable – but despite politicians’ inaction millions are taking to the streets to fight the planet’s fever

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The one thing never to forget about global warming is that it’s a timed test.

It’s ignoble and dangerous to delay progress on any important issue, of course – if, in 2020, America continues to ignore the healthcare needs of many of its citizens, those people will sicken, die, go bankrupt. The damage will be very real. But that damage won’t make it harder, come 2021 or 2025 or 2030, to do the right thing about healthcare.

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Hollingside wood, Durham City: Earthstar toadstools puff out spores as cyclamen create floral fireworks

Apart from the screech of a jay, all is quiet. So quiet that the rustle of each falling leaf, adding to the bronze carpet of beech foliage that smothers the floor of this bluebell wood, is audible.

The woodland is settling into winter dormancy, but on the edge of the lane that runs through it there are flowers: pink and white shooting stars of sowbread, Cyclamen hederifolium, also known as ivy-leaved cyclamen, shouldering aside the detritus of autumn.

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Researchers examined more than 100 studies on the impact of human-produced noise

Noise produced by human activities should be better regulated to protect wildlife, say the authors of a study exposing how sound pollution affects myriad creatures from fish to birds.

Related: Seals are deafened in noisy shipping lanes, say scientists

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TUESDAY 19. NOVEMBER 2019


It’s the latest trend in the world’s tech capital. But is it really possible to cut yourself off from everything in life that excites you – and can it be any good for you?

They have done biohacking, clean sleeping and the keto diet, but now Silicon Valley types have coined a new health trend – dopamine fasting. It is thought that depriving yourself of the neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that motivates us to do things, can help to reboot or rebalance the brain. Fasting might entail abstinence from technology, artificial light, food, drink, conversation, eye contact – essentially anything that an individual finds stimulating. But is there any sense to the fad?

“Retreating from life probably makes life more interesting when you come back to it,” says David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London. “Monks have been doing it for thousands of years. Whether that has anything to do with dopamine is unclear.”

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Indian Ocean dipole events, linked to bushfires and floods, are becoming stronger and more frequent, scientists say

Global heating is “supercharging” an increasingly dangerous climate mechanism in the Indian Ocean that has played a role in disasters this year including bushfires in Australia and floods in Africa.

Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise.

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Fear of clusters of holes and cracks, called trypophobia, may be evolutionary in origin. But as details are shared, it is becoming a social contagion. By Chrissie Giles

Julia was around 11 years old the first time it happened. She let herself into her dad’s apartment in Malmö, Sweden, dropped her schoolbag and flopped on to the sofa. She switched on the TV and turned to her favourite channel in time for the cartoons. The screen filled up with a cartoon man with a huge head. On his chin, in place of skin or a beard were huge cracks. Suddenly, she felt like she was going to throw up in disgust. She screwed up her eyes and fumbled for the button to turn off the TV.

Every few months or so after this, she would see something that she just could not bear. Something that made her feel utterly disgusted and terrified. Sometimes it was cracks, but other times it was patterns of holes or dots, or scenes from nature programmes showing things such as groups of barnacles. She would shake, pour with sweat and end up lying on the floor in tears. One time, she was chatting on the phone when she saw something so awful she threw her mobile across the room. No one else she knew seemed to have this strange reaction. What was going on?

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Medical team say people’s unexplained breathlessness could be down to bedding dust

As winter approaches it might be tempting to curl up under a thick feather duvet, but experts have warned it might lead to more than just warm toes.

Doctors have reported a case of “feather duvet lung” – a lung inflammation caused by breathing in dust from the feathers in bedding – and have called for medical professionals to be on the alert if patients turn up with unexplained breathlessness.

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MONDAY 18. NOVEMBER 2019


Windfarms could be able to generate more energy due to phenomenon, says report

The global climate crisis could lead to more renewable electricity being generated by spurring faster wind speeds for the world’s growing number of windfarms, according to research.

Scientists have discovered that the world’s shifting ocean circulation patterns may have triggered a rapid increase in wind speeds over the last 10 years.

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Psychopharmacologist who started a clinic for people addicted to tranquillisers and wrote a manual on how to quit them safely

One day in the early 1980s a distressed patient went to see the doctor Heather Ashton at her pharmacology clinic in the Royal Victoria hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The patient had been given the tranquilliser Ativan (lorazepam) to relax her muscles before an operation and now feared she was addicted to the drug. Ashton listened to her patient and many others like her, studied their problems scientifically, and concluded that addiction to benzodiazepine tranquillisers was a serious problem, associated with severe withdrawal symptoms. The manual she went on to write on how to quit benzodiazepines safely now provides the basis for practice all over the world.

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Spray-on surface could prevent bacteria building up and reduce household water use

The toilet brush need never leave its holder again. Scientists have created a super-slippery coating that helps usher excrement on its way without leaving traces behind.

The spray-on coating, which is slipperier than Teflon, reduces adhesion of even tenacious faeces by up to 90%, tests suggest, so far less water is needed to flush them away and leave the toilet clean.

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Stress and emotional tension tends to be associated with distress – but a form called ‘eustress’ can be healthy and productive

Stress has become a defining feature of the 21st century, contributing to the mental-health crisis, fuelling a boom in mindfulness apps and even, science has suggested, affecting unborn children. But it is not always the villain it is made out to be. Psychologists are keen to arm us with the knowledge that some stress can be good, healthy and productive. This type is known as “eustress” and without it, they say, our lives would be dull and meaningless.

“Stress has got such a bad rap,” says Daniela Kaufer, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s this perception that stress is always bad for the brain, but that’s not true. Your stress response is crucial to your survival. It elevates your performance, is super-important for alertness and prepares you to adapt to the next thing that comes along.”

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In the 1950s, photojournalist Lennart Nilsson set out to capture the earliest stages of existence. His foetus images seized the public imagination – and sparked a controversy that has raged ever since

In April 1965, Life magazine put a photograph called Foetus 18 Weeks on its cover and caused a sensation. The issue was a spectacular success, the fastest-selling copy in Life’s entire history. In full colour and crystal clear detail, the picture showed a foetus in its amniotic sac, with its umbilical cord winding off to the placenta. The unborn child, floating in a seemingly cosmic backdrop, appears vulnerable yet serene. Its eyes are closed and its tiny, perfectly formed fists are clutched to its chest.

Capturing that most universal of subjects, our own creation, Foetus 18 Weeks was one of the 20th century’s great photographs, as emotive as it was technically impressive, even by today’s standards. And its impact was enormous, growing into something its creator struggled to control, as the image was hijacked by the fledgling anti-abortion movement.

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