International Headlines: Science and the Environment


NASA Finds ‘Earth’s Bigger, Older Cousin’2015.07.24 CNN NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has spotted the first nearly Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of a star similar to our own. The planet, Kepler-452b, is about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. It's about 60% bigger than Earth, and is located in its star's habitable zone -- the region where life-sustaining liquid water is possible on the surface of a planet. A visitor there would experience gravity about twice that of Earth's, and planetary scientists say the odds of it having a rocky surface are "better than even." While it's a bit farther from its star than Earth is from the sun, its star is brighter, so the planet gets about the same amount of energy from its star as Earth does from the sun. And that sunlight would be very similar to Earth's. If the assumptions of planetary geologists are correct, Kepler-452b's atmosphere would probably be thicker than Earth's, and it would have active volcanoes. Missions are being readied to move scientists closer to the goal of finding yet more planets and cataloging their atmospheres and other characteristics.  The James Webb Space Telescope will go up in 2017, and, will provide astonishing insights into other worlds, including their color, seasonal differences, weather and even the potential presence of vegetation.

Do the Easter Island Heads Really Have Bodies? 2015.07.12 Examiner Archeologists have discovered that the large heads in the Easter Islands also have bodies. In fact, these heads are actually monolithic statues carved out of volcanic rock by the Rapa Nui people between the years 1100 and 1680. There are 887 of them, officially called moai. Over the centuries, the statues were slowly buried under layers of slit until only their heads remained. In 1990, the Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) began an archaeological survey to document each statue. In 2010, they were able to start excavating moai for the first time.

Tiny plankton snacking on plastic is a big problem for the food chain 2015.07.07 CNET The effect of plastic microbeads on microscopic marine life is unknown, but footage of zooplankton has shown they are ingesting microbeads along with their normal diet. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into the oceans every year and between 6,350-245,000 metric tons of that plastic is floating, which means the rest of it lies somewhere beneath the surface. It is estimated that plastics cause the death of over a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year and now it could impact plankton's ability to survive after they ingest the plastic. This situation is cause for concern not just for the zooplankton, but for other species as well. Since zooplankton lie at the bottom of the food chain, if zooplankton populations drop, their predators will have a harder time finding food. Moreover, whatever zooplankton ingest will end up ingested by those all the way to the top of the food chain.

Germany Just Got 78 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewable Sources July 29, 2015 Think Progress On Saturday, July 25, Germany 78% of its electricity demand with renewable sources. This was during a stormy day with sunny conditions which powered its wind turbines and solar panels. In 2014, renewable energy sources accounted for 27.8% of Germany’s power consumption up from 6.2% in 2000. A relatively mild winter resulted in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions being down to the lowest level since 1990. Germany plans on phasing out nuclear energy by 2022 and reducing greenhouse gases at least 80% by 2050. After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, Germany decided to shut down its nuclear power plants.

Solar-Powered Plane Begins a Risky Trip Across the Pacific June 30, 2015 Wired 2 pilots are traveling 22,000 miles across half the Pacific Ocean. The plane travels at only 20 to 90 miles per hour and is powered by solar panels covering the wings and fuselage. Batteries charged in the daytime are used during night. In addition, the plane travels up to 30,000 feet during the daytime, and at night it descends to 5,000 feet. It converts altitude into distance.