WASHINGTON — The world's police forces recently arrested hundreds of suspects across the globe after three years of listening in on an app that was supposed to be the most securely encrypted app in the world. The huge surveillance operation started years ago, when a convicted drug smuggler offered the back door of his special new gangster phone to the FBI. Here are the details: Reuters reports that the ANoM app saga started in mid-2018, when a convicted smuggler met with FBI agents and made them an offer. In exchange for a possible reduction in his sentence, he would give the bureau a back door into the encrypted communications of a vast network of international organised crime groups. The smuggler had invested in developing an encrypted device which could be used by criminals around the world to avoid police surveillance. The new device, called ANoM, was a modified mobile phone, fitted with customised encryption software that made it very secure. The smuggler planned to provide ANoM phones to a network of distributors linked to organised crime groups. A new user would need to be vouched for by an existing user, which gave the system an added level of trust. Within three years, ANoM would be used by criminals in 90 countries to send tens of millions of messages, referring to murder plots, drug deals, corruption, and money laundering, including 450,000 images of big bundles of cash and cocaine. And all along the FBI and other police forces were listening in. The details of the operation, codenamed Trojan Shield, were included in an FBI affidavit filed in a US court on 17 May 2021. The affidavit states that more than 20,000 encrypted devices had been used by 300 criminals in more than 100 countries. 27 million messages had been reviewed by police services over a period of 18 months, and at least 800 arrests were made while 700 locations were searched worldwide.
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WASHINGTON — Two ships of the Iranian Navy have rounded the southern tip of Africa, becoming the first Iranian Navy ships to ever enter the Atlantic Ocean. This comes just days after Iran's largest navy ship caught fire and sank. It appears that the two Iranian ships are heading for Venezuela, which would have significant geopolitical ramifications. Here are the details: The Drive reports that two ships of the Iranian Navy have reportedly rounded South Africa's Cape of Good Hope and appear to be heading into the Atlantic Ocean. The two ships are the frigate Sahand, and the Makran, a converted tanker that looks like it's designed to be a mobile base. This latest news comes two days after the Kharg, one of Iran's largest and most important naval ships, sank after suffering a major fire, the causes of which remain unclear. This would be the first time Iranian naval vessels have operated in the Atlantic and previous reports have indicated that their final destination is in Venezuela, where they might offload a shipment of weapons. While it is still unclear if the ships are carrying any weapons, satellite imagery suggests the Makran is carrying a number of small, fast-attack boats that Iran has used to harass U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf. If Iranian Navy vessels gain the ability to operate in the Atlantic, analysts say it would be a significant step forward for Iran, which has tried and failed to do so in the past. The Pentagon says the delivery of Iranian weapons to Venezuela would be a provocative act and a threat to America's partners in the western hemisphere. The Pentagon said: "We would reserve the right to take appropriate measures — in concert with our partners — to deter the delivery or transit of such weapons."
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Sri Lanka's beautiful beaches are being swamped by billions of plastic pellets and toxins as the country deals with a massive and growing environmental disaster. The disaster started when a fire erupted on a container ship after it anchored near the port of Colombo. The ship's owners had been aware of an acid leak on the ship for weeks, but say they could not fix the problem because Qatar and India would not allow the ship to dock there. Here are the details: The BBC reports that Sri Lanka is dealing with a growing environmental disaster as billions of plastic pellets, oil and dangerous chemicals from a sinking ship smother its coastline. The container ship, X-Press Pearl, left the Indian port of Hazira on 15 May, heading for Colombo. The ship had earlier sprung a leak of highly corrosive nitric acid, but its owners claim they had been denied permission by both Qatar and India to dock the ship. While it was anchored off Sri Lanka's Colombo harbor, a fire broke out on 20 May. Sri Lankan officials believe the fire was caused by the leaking acid. The ship then burned out of control for two weeks before settling in the shallow waters of the harbor. In that time, hundreds of shipping containers fell into the sea, releasing toxins and billions of plastic pellets into the ocean. The plastic pellets have already covered miles of Sri Lanka's famously beautiful beaches. Experts say the pellets still in the sea could travel as far as India, Indonesia and Somalia. Local fishermen were told to stay out of the ocean, but the fishermen say they need to fish to survive and will need to be compensated by the government. Sri Lanka has launched a criminal investigation into the disaster and says it will seek compensation.
HANOI, VIETNAM — A new coronavirus hybrid that combines the Indian variant with mutations originally belonging to the U.K. variant has been detected in Vietnam, according to the country's health minister, cited by the AFP. The Indian variant is able to spread more easily than earlier forms of the virus partly because of a mutation it carries on its spike protein called L452R, according to Grace Roberts, Research Fellow in Virology at Queen's University Belfast, writing in the Conversation. The L452R mutation allows the virus to bind to ACE2 receptors on human cells more stably. Once the two are bound together, the cell's membrane engulfs the virus and internalizes it. The Indian variant also carries a second mutation on the spike protein, called E484Q. According to Roberts at Queen's University, research suggests mutations that affect this area of the spike protein may make the virus less susceptible to pre-existing antibodies. The new variant found in Vietnam combines both of these previous mutations with a Y144 deletion on its protein spike that is consistent with the U.K variant, according to Vietnam's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, cited by VN Express. This missing amino acid could also make it more difficult for antibodies to stick to the virus, according to the New York Times. After keeping the virus at low levels for most of last year, Vietnam's infections since late April account for more than half of its total 6,856 registered cases, according to AFP on May 30. After keeping the virus at low levels for most of last year, Vietnam's infections since late April accounted for more than half of its total 6,856 registered cases, according to a May 30 AFP report. The WHO has not yet made any assessment of the apparent new virus variant. However, it has introduced a new naming system for notable variants, based on the Greek alphabet. A statement on its website said naming variants after particular countries was "stigmatizing and discriminatory."
WASHINGTON — America's national debt is currently climbing past 28 trillion dollars, and the White House is asking for 6 trillion dollars more for its federal spending bill. This bill would give NASA a total of 24.8 billion dollars, making it the largest budget request for NASA science, ever. NASA says it will use 1 billion dollars to send two missions to check out Venus. Here are the details: The BBC reports that NASA has announced it is sending two new missions to Venus in order to examine the planet's atmosphere and geological features. The missions, which have each been awarded half a billion dollars in funding by the Biden administration, are due to launch between 2028 and 2030. The last probe to visit the planet was the Magellan orbiter in 1990. However, other vessels have made fly-bys since then. Venus is the second planet from the sun and the hottest planet in the solar system, with a surface temperature of 500 degrees Celsius — hot enough to melt lead. The Davinci+ mission will measure the planet's atmosphere to gain insight into how it formed and evolved. It will also aim to determine whether Venus ever had an ocean. The second mission, called Veritas, will map the planet's surface to understand its geologic history, and investigate how it developed so differently from Earth. It will use a form of radar to chart surface elevations and to find out whether volcanoes and earthquakes are still happening. NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the missions would offer the "chance to investigate a planet we haven't been to in more than 30 years".
GREELY, COLORADO — The disruptive power of ransomware attacks was already on full display last month, when hackers attacked Colonial Pipeline, halting fuel distribution from a crucial U.S. pipeline for days. Now, a new ransomware attack on a global meat supplier is threatening the food-supply chain — and underscoring, once again, that ransomware is an urgent national and international security issue. Here are the details: The BBC reports that the world's largest meat-processing company has been targeted by a sophisticated cyber attack. JBS said on Monday 31 May that its computer networks were hacked, causing operations in Australia, Canada and the US to shut down. Bloomberg reports that the shutdown had halted 20% of America's meat production. The White House said that this was a ransomware attack by a criminal group likely based in Russia. It said the FBI is investigating the attack while the White House is engaging directly with the Russian government and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals. In a ransomware attack, hackers get into a computer network and threaten to cause disruption or delete files unless a ransom is paid. The attack could lead to shortages of meat or raise prices for consumers. JBS said it had made "significant progress" in resolving the cyber attack and hoped the vast majority of its plants would be operational by Wednesday the second of June. According to the trade group, Beef Central, supermarkets and other big end-users — like the supply network for McDonalds burger patties — will be some of the most immediately impacted customers, due to their need for consistent supply.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — Danish media say that the Danish spy agency helped the U.S. to spy on powerful people and politicians in Western Europe from 2012 to 2014. And the famous NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, says U.S. President Joe Biden was deeply involved in this scandal when he was vice president to Barack Obama. Here are the details: The BBC reports that Denmark's secret service helped the U.S. to spy on European politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2012 to 2014, according to Danish media. The Danish public service broadcaster, DR, says Denmark's Defence Intelligence Service, or FE, collaborated with America's NSA to gather information. The NSA is said to have accessed text messages and the phone conversations of a number of prominent individuals in Germany, France, Sweden and Norway by tapping into Danish internet cables, in cooperation with the FE. Following the new report, the famous NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden accused US President Joe Biden of being "deeply involved in this scandal the first time around". Biden was US vice-president at the time the reported surveillance took place. The alleged set-up, said in the report to have been codenamed "Operation Dunhammer", allowed the NSA to obtain data using the telephone numbers of politicians as search parameters. Similar allegations emerged in 2013. At that time, the Obama administration gave no outright denial but said Mrs. Merkel's phone was not being bugged at the time and would not be in future. Denmark's Defence Minister Trine Bramsen told DR that "systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable".
WASHINGTON — A piece of space debris not much wider than a millimeter has smashed a hole through an important part of the International Space Station. Here are the details: Science Alert reports that a piece of space debris has hit and damaged part of the International Space Station. Photos released by NASA shows a small hole that had been punched through the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm. The arm has been a fixture on the ISS for twenty years. It's a multi-jointed titanium robotic arm that can assist with maneuvering objects outside the ISS. It's unclear exactly when the impact occurred. The damage was first noticed on 12 May, during a routine inspection. NASA says the robotic arm seems to be working normally, despite the damage. The space debris problem does seem to be increasing. Last year, the ISS had to perform emergency maneuvers three times to avoid collisions with space debris at its altitude of around 400 kilometers. An estimated 130 million fragments of man-made material smaller than a millimeter are orbiting Earth right now. Over 23,000 pieces bigger than a softball are being tracked in low-Earth orbit to help satellites and the ISS avoid collisions, but the millions of smaller fragments are too small to be tracked. Earth's superpowers have added to this space debris by blowing up satellites with missiles in the past. The latest to do so was China, who blew up one of its orbiting satellites in 2007, adding more than two million pieces of scrap larger than a millimeter in size. In Earth's orbit, small fragments like that can travel at speeds of around 32,000 kilometers per hour, each with the potential to cause more damage than a shell fired from a tank.
SIDOARJO, INDONESIA — Fifteen years after scalding mud and gas first burst from the ground in Sidoarjo, in eastern Java, the flow of foul-smelling mud shows no signs of stopping, according to Channel News Asia. The mud now covers an area of more than 6.5 square kilometers, or 2.5 square miles, and has forced around 60,000 people to leave the area or adapt to the unpleasant environment, with one study cited by CNA showing that the flow releases 100,000 tonnes of methane every year. The Guardian reports scientists associated with oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas blame an earthquake in Yogyakarta, 280 kilometers, or 174 miles away, for the flow. However, at a 2008 conference in Cape Town, of 74 independent petroleum geologists, 42 agreed that drilling had caused the mud flow. Pipes have since been used to redirect mud flow into a nearby river, according to CNA. And in 2006 the Sidoarjo Mud Flow Mitigation Center built an embankment around the mud flow site to prevent mud flowing out into surrounding areas. However, issues are still arising. "The mud from the burst is about 60,000 to 90,000 cubic meters per day," Pattiasina Jefry Recky, head of the Sidoarjo Mud Flow Mitigation Center told CNA this week. This is much more than the 30 million per year that can be diverted into the nearby Porong river. The embankment around the site is also prone to leaking, according to an article in the AIP Conference Proceedings journal, with Pattiasina adding to CNA that it was "built in a rush."
LONDON, U.K. — In his famous novel, "1984", George Orwell described a world where a totalitarian government controlled what people were allowed to think, and where government officials could see and hear everything that everyone did and said. Now, Microsoft's president says this dystopian nightmare might become reality only three years from now. Here are the details: Microsoft president Brad Smith told the BBC's Panorama program that the authoritarian hell depicted in George Orwell's novel, "1984", could come to pass in 2024 if lawmakers didn't protect the public against A.I. Smith was interviewed for a Panorama episode that explores China's increasing use of A.I. to monitor its citizens. Smith said: "If we don't enact the laws that will protect the public in the future, we are going to find the technology racing ahead, and it's going to be very difficult to catch up." Smith said Orwell's book was about a government that could see and hear everything that everyone did and said. The Panorama episode also looks at the complex competition between the West and China to create increasingly sophisticated A.I. for surveillance and control. China is currently the world leader in this, and 54 percent of the world's 770 million CCTV cameras are in China. The U.S. government's A.I. chief, Eric Schmidt, also spoke to Panorama, saying that Western democracies need to create strategies to beat China in the field of A.I. A.I. applications rely on mountains of data to train algorithms to recognize patterns and make decisions. Much of this data is harvested from us without us realizing it. Internet companies track our clicks to learn our preferences for products or news articles. Facebook recently announced it will begin to train A.I. models with public videos that users have uploaded on Facebook.
MIAMI — New data has revealed more about what might set off eruptions at the world's largest volcano. In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami modeled movements inside the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, which according to the U.S. Geological Survey website has a summit 17 kilometers, or 56,000 feet, above its below-sea-floor base. The researchers found that while there was recent movement along a fault under the eastern flank, relatively little movement was detected under the western flank. They concluded that an earthquake under the western flank is due. Alongside this, the researchers found that between 2014 and 2020, 0.11 cubic kilometers of new magma pushed its way into a dike-like magma body beneath the south of the volcano's summit. Given this magma influx, an earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater could cause an eruption, according to lead author of the study Bhuvan Varugu. The last time Mauna Loa erupted in 1984, lava got within 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, of the outskirts of the city of Hilo, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, though it took weeks to do so.
GOMA, THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — After an eruption at the Democratic Republic of Congo's Mount Nyiragongo volcano, there are fears that a 'limnic eruption' could occur at a nearby lake, spewing out suffocating gas, Reuters reports. The specific concern is that carbon dioxide trapped at the bottom of Lake Kivu could erupt out and be carried toward the nearby cities of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gisenyi in Rwanda, endangering more than 690,000 lives, according to the AFP. Nyiragongo, a nearly 3,500-meter or 11,500-foot-high stratovolcano that sits atop the East African Rift tectonic divide erupted on Saturday, releasing two rivers of lava that took 32 lives and left around 20,000 people without homes. In the wake of that eruption the Goma Volcano Observatory, cited by AFP, has warned that Nyiragongo could erupt again and lava from it could reach Lake Kivu. If there was also an earthquake beneath the bottom of the lake, or if magma erupted into it from below, pressure changes in the water could release some of the 300 cubic kilometers of carbon dioxide contained within the lake, according to the science journal Nature. Should this happen, thousands of people around Lake Kivu could be asphyxiated, the Goma Volcano Observatory warns.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA — An employee carrying multiple guns opened fire on co-workers at a Valley Transportation Authority light rail facility in San Jose on Wednesday morning, killing nine and injuring several other workers. Here are the details: The shooting began just after 6:30 A.M. on the morning of Wednesday 26 May in the city of San Jose in California. At that time, several 911 calls reported shots being fired near a maintenance yard of the Valley Transit Authority. Members of a union representing VTA workers were meeting in the yard when the shooting began, and some reports suggest that the shooting started at the meeting. The attacker was identified as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy. Most of the shooting happened in the maintenance yard of the facility. Police rushed to the scene and confronted the shooter within minutes of the start of the incident. Officers say the shooter had more than one gun and was shooting single shots when they approached him. When the shooter saw the police, he shot himself immediately, leaving nine victims dead and many injured. A fire started at a house that authorities believe to be Cassidy's home, at around the same time as the shooting started. Cassidy's ex-wife told The Associated Press that he had a bad temper and would rail about being treated unfairly at work. The nine victims were all employees of the Valley Transportation Authority. Their names and ages were Alex Ward Fitch, 49: Michael Rudometkin, 40; Lars Lane, 63; Paul Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Hernandez, 35; Timothy Romo, 49; and Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Director of National Intelligence says China's upcoming space station poses a threat to America's national security. This is part of an annual intelligence report that explains how the Chinese space station forms part of Beijing's bigger effort to compromise U.S. security. Here are the details: The U.S. Director of National Intelligence released a report last month claiming that China's upcoming space station poses a threat to national security. This adds to experts calling for the U.S. to prepare a space defense system. Many claim that the U.S.'s current satellite infrastructure is very vulnerable to attack. Seeing that much of the U.S. military's strategy is based on satellite technology like GPS, this does seem to be an important issue for the U.S. The intelligence report also said that China is readying counter-space weapons to target U.S. satellites. "Beijing continues to train its military space elements and field new ground- and space-based anti-satellite weapons," the report said. That means they're developing things such as spacecraft that can intercept and capture U.S. satellites with robotic arms, or simply destroy the satellites. The report states that China is already operating ground-based anti-satellite missiles intended to destroy satellites in Earth orbit, and ground-based lasers that can blind or damage space-based sensors in Earth orbit. In February, researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report titled "Defense Against the Dark Arts in Space: Protecting Space Systems from Counterspace Weapons". It details countermeasures the U.S. can take to defend against anti-satellite weapons.
TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Remember when collaborators were treated like traitors? Well, China is paying foreign collaborators to spread its disinformation in target countries, and these collaborators are often so-called "influencers" with many followers on social media platforms like Twitter. That's the finding of a new study published on Monday. The study also found that China pays collaborating news organizations to spread its disinformation. Here are the details: Taiwanese officials accused China on Monday 24 May of spreading fake news about the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan. That same day, Taiwan's DoubleThink Lab released a report that details how Chinese government-backed disinformation flooded Taiwan in 2020. The disinformation amplified discord prior to Taiwan's elections and spread COVID-related rumours aimed at delegitimizing Taiwan's democratic government. The researchers analyzed thousands of posts to determine their origin, purpose, effect, audience, and mode of spreading. They found that one tactic China uses is to pay news outlets to repackage Chinese propaganda as real news. Another tactic is to work closely with real online influencers in the target country to get them to share the disinformation through their platforms. China also uses websites that aggregate low-quality articles to spread disinformation, often through Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other platforms. Another tactic is to mobilize Chinese nationalists to post and amplify disinformation online. The report concludes that the Chinese government has developed a sophisticated set of disinformation tools that it is deploying inside liberal democracies. It says that Beijing's disinformation operations in Taiwan follow a set pattern, which is also being deployed elsewhere.
WEDDELL SEA, ANTARCTICA — The world's largest iceberg has broken off an ice shelf in Antarctica, according to the European Space Agency. The iceberg calved from western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf into Weddell Sea. At around 170 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide, or 105 miles long and 15 miles wide, it is slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca, according to the ESA, and almost four times larger than New York City, according to The Guardian. CNN reports that when this ice melts, it will not lead to a rise in sea levels, because it was previously a part of a floating 'ice shelf,' rather than resting on land. This is in contrast to glaciers or ice sheets, which do cause sea level rises when they melt, as they join the ocean having previously been resting on land. The formation of this particular iceberg is not believed to have been caused by climate change, according to Alex Brisbourne, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey, cited by New Scientist.
WASHINGTON — Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee say "significant circumstantial evidence" exists that the coronavirus pandemic originated from a leak at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to The Times of London. The report, which contradicts WHO conclusions following its investigative mission in Wuhan, claims the lab in Wuhan had been conducting what it calls 'dangerous research' on coronaviruses and had not followed 'necessary safety protocols,' risking an outbreak. The report goes on to add that researchers in the lab were struck with 'COVID-19-like symptoms' in late 2019. Addressing the idea that COVID-19 occurred naturally by jumping from another species to humans, the report says "little circumstantial evidence has emerged." The report's findings are, however, contested by Robert Garry, virologist at the Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans, who pointed out to Politico that the majority of early cases in humans were linked to different markets that sold wildlife or wildlife products in Wuhan.
MINSK, BELARUS — A Ryanair plane headed from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus on Sunday, where a dissident journalist who had been aboard was then seized, according to The New York Times. The passenger plane was escorted to land in Belarusian capital Minsk by a MiG-29 fighter jet. The New York Times reports a statement from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who won an election widely regarded as rigged last year, says he personally gave the order for the diversion due a bomb threat on the plane. However, no bombs were found, and Roman Protasevich, former editor of pro-opposition media group Nexta, was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight, according to the BBC.
STRESA, ITALY — Tragedy struck one of the world's most beautiful regions, when a cable car crashed down and rolled near the town of Stresa, in the scenic Piedmont region of north-western Italy. Here are the details: The BBC reports that fifteen people boarded a cable car in the Italian town of Stresa just after midday on Sunday 23 April. This cable car system moves tourists at a relatively high speed, taking only 20 minutes to complete the steep journey from Stresa to a lookout point on mount Mattarone. When the cable car was only 300 meters from the top, it seems that a cable snapped, and the car fell about 20 meters and rolled down the steep slope, before being stopped by trees. Nearby hikers reportedly heard a loud hiss before the crash. Some of those who died were thrown from the car. Of the fifteen passengers, fourteen died while the only survivor is being treated for serious injuries in a nearby hospital. The disaster is likely to renew doubts about Italy's transport infrastructure. In 2018, the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed after years of neglect, killing 43 people. In 2009, a freight train carrying gas derailed and exploded, killing 32 people. That accident was also blamed on poor maintenance. Rescuers faced a crash site on steep and difficult terrain. A fire-service vehicle overturned while responding, but no rescuers were injured. Each cable car can usually hold about 40 passengers. The service had recently reopened following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
MAINZ, GERMANY — Eternal youth is the first thing many of us might wish for if we stumbled onto a genie, but there's always a catch. Now, scientists have discovered a version of this story playing out in ant nests, as parasites drastically extend the lifespan of worker ants — but at a terrible cost. Researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz studied T. nylanderi ants that were infected with A. brevis tapeworms and found that the infected ants lived longer. They found that's because the tapeworms release chemicals that keep their victims young. Even at an advanced age, the infected ants still retained their youthful bodies. Young ants start off a yellow color, usually turning brown as they age and their skin hardens — but infected ants stayed yellow. The infected ants were also very lazy, never leaving the nest or helping with any of the usual tasks. The tapeworm chemicals also seemed to change the behavior of the ants around them, as these uninfected ants would serve them as if they were queens. Researchers think the tapeworms release the magical chemical in their hosts because it makes them too slow to move away when birds break open the ant nest to hunt ants. In this way, the tapeworms get swallowed with their hosts, which leads to the worms' eggs getting spread over large areas when the birds defecate. On closer inspection, the team found some metabolic changes in infected ants that drive this biology and behavior. When worker ants are promoted to become queens, certain genes switch on that boost their lifespan — and the worms also seem to be able to turn these genes on in their hosts. Infected ants also give off unique chemical signals that drive the other ants to want to look after them.
BEIJING, CHINA — China banned cryptocurrencies on Tuesday, 19 May. The ban forbids any financial institutions and payment companies from doing business related to cryptocurrencies. Markets responded negatively, and the move led to a plunge in cryptocurrency prices worldwide. Funny enough, the ban comes as China is testing out its own digital currency, called the DCEP, or "digital yuan". Here are the details: The South China Morning Post reports that China's sovereign digital currency, called the DCEP or Digital Currency Electronic Payment, is already undergoing trials. This so-called "digital yuan" is managed privately by the People's Bank Of China under a centralised system, which is the complete opposite of most forms of cryptocurrencies — which are designed to disperse power away from the government. Unlike cryptocurrencies, all transactions with the digital yuan would be completely traceable by the Chinese government. The database can be checked in real time and can be used to keep digital records and checks against citizens who have committed money laundering, tax evasions or similar offences. The DCEP will be used to simulate everyday banking activities; including payments, deposits and withdrawals from a digital wallet. Online payment services like Alipay and WeChat Pay are already popular payment methods in China, with mobile transactions accounting for four of every five payments in 2019. China has made it clear so far that cryptocurrencies in their current form are unwelcome in the country. It warns its citizens against the wild speculation of cryptocurrencies, while pushing for a fully centralized digital currency that could give it unprecedented powers.
GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES — Over the past few days, Palestinian militants have reacted to recent events by firing thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza. Israel had managed to shoot down many of these rockets with its Iron Dome missile-defense system. Here are the details: The BBC reports that Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system has shot down thousands of rockets fired from Gaza in the past few days. This system is designed to destroy unguided rockets flying at low altitudes. It comprises multiple batteries that are spread out to defend a large area. Each battery is made up of three parts. The first part is the radar unit, which detects enemy rockets and feed their speed and trajectory data to the command unit. The command unit calculates which rockets pose the greatest threat to urban areas and infrastructure, ignoring those whose trajectory indicates they are likely to hit unpopulated areas. The command unit then launches a three-meter-long missile at the selected target. The missile destroys the target by exploding in its path, and each missile costs about 40,000 dollars. These missile-defense batteries can reach targets up to 70 kilometers away, and they are designed to be mobile, so they can be quickly packed up, transported, and redeployed. The Iron Dome has also been repeatedly upgraded to counter the threat from mortars, which stay in the air for a much shorter time than rockets. It has more recently also been upgraded to shoot down drones. The Israeli Defense Force said on May 13 that the system had shot down a Palestinian UAV, making it the first time a drone had been shot down during combat.
JAKOBSHAVN, GREENLAND — A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. claims that the massive Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a major tipping point. The study's authors say enough ice to raise the global sea level by more than a meter is probably already doomed to melt from Greenland in the next few decades. Here are the details: The Guardian reports that a new study of the ice-sheet heights and melting rates in Greenland's Jakobshavn basin shows that the Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a major tipping point. Rising temperatures caused by the climate crisis have already seen trillions of tons of Greenland's ice pour into the ocean. Melting its ice sheet completely would eventually raise the global sea level by seven meters. The prime suspect for this surge in melting in Greenland is a vicious circle in which melting lowers the height of the ice sheet, exposing it to the warmer air found at lower altitudes, which causes further melting. Study co-author Niklas Boers says the findings show destabilisation of this ice sheet is under way, and might already have passed the tipping point. Boers said the findings suggest there will be substantially increased melting in the near future. Ice equivalent to one to two metres of sea level rise was probably already doomed to melt, though this would take centuries, and melting the whole ice sheet would take a millennium. Scientists say any large-scale melting of the Greenland ice sheet would have long-term global consequences, beyond rising sea levels. It could halt the Gulf Stream ocean current, with potential knock-on effects on the Amazon rainforest and tropical monsoons.
WASHINGTON — If an Earth-bound asteroid was seen with only six months' warning, a group of scientists from NASA and other space agencies has concluded that no-one could do anything to stop it hitting the planet, according to Business Insider. Their simulation, which played out online from April 26 to April 28 according to Space.com, found that there isn't a spacecraft capable of getting off the ground and flying up to disrupt the asteroid's trajectory in that amount of time. Having used a scenario where an asteroid was spotted 35 million miles from Earth, Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, told Business Insider that we would need a minimum of five years to stop any threat. However, MIT astronomer Richard Binzel concluded we would need at least 10 years, in order to study aspects of the asteroid such as its size, its path around the sun, and what it's made up of.
GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP — On Monday, the Israeli military continued to release waves of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip as Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets at southern Israeli cities, according to the BBC. According to the Associated Press, at least 212 Palestinians and 10 people in Israel have been killed in the week of violence, with the latest Israeli attacks destroying the Hamas-run Religious Affairs Ministry, which Israel said contained the main operations center for Hamas' internal security forces. The Israeli army also said one of its air strikes had killed Hussam Abu Harbeed, a commander from the Islamic Jihad group, which it says is responsible for some of the ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli territory, according to Al Jazeera. Israel says its attacks are primarily targeting tunnels used by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip, as well as the homes of Hamas military commanders, according to the Associated Press. However, the BBC reports that infrastructure has also been targeted inside Gaza, including the main coastal road in Gaza and power lines.
TAIPEI — Taiwan on Monday, May 17 announced 333 local COVID-19 infections, a new single-day record since the start of the pandemic, according to Taiwan News. The surge in infections continues to occur predominantly in the north of the country. New Taipei City reported 97 cases on Sunday and Taipei 89, and those figures have now increased again. Taiwan's government had already responded to the increasing infection rate on Saturday, bringing in strict new measures in Taipei and New Taipei City, including mandatory mask wearing at all times while outside, outdoor gatherings being limited to 10 people, and indoor gatherings limited to five. Businesses are also being asked to register customers before allowing entry. According to The Guardian, Wanhua District, one of the most heavily affected areas in Taipei, also saw trucks carrying decontamination teams cleaning its streets on Sunday.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is starting to open up about footage of UFOs taken by U.S. military personnel over the last few years. This comes as anticipation builds around the military's report about UFO sightings, which has to be presented before the U.S. Senate by next month. Here are the details: CBS News reports that the Pentagon has confirmed that strange footage taken aboard the USS Omaha in 2019 is being investigated by its UAP Task Force, after Navy personnel recorded video of UAPs, or Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, exhibiting characteristics that defy our current understanding of physics. After decades of public denial regarding UFOs, the Pentagon now admits that there's something out there, and the U.S. Senate has ordered the military to deliver a report on the mysterious sightings by June 2021. Luis Elizondo, who ran the Pentagon's top-secret UFO program, has warned the report could reveal the greatest US intelligence failings since 9/11. "Imagine a technology that can do 6-to-700 G-forces, that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water, and possibly space," he told CBS News. "And oh, by the way, has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces and yet still can defy the natural effects of Earth's gravity. That's precisely what we're seeing." U.S. Navy pilots told CBS News that they had encountered strange flying objects on an almost daily basis ― in the skies over restricted airspace off the coast of Virginia. Analysts believe the strange craft could be game-changing spy technology used by Russia or China, or devices operated by an alien civilization.
BOCA CHICA, TEXAS — SpaceX has filed plans to launch its huge Super Heavy booster together with its Starship spaceship, as part of the first orbital test of the Starship. This marks an exciting new development in SpaceX's efforts to deliver the first astronauts to the surface of the Moon since 1972. This moon mission is part of a contract with NASA, and here are the details: The Verge reports that SpaceX has filed an application with the FCC, outlining its plans for the first orbital test flight of its Starship spaceship within a year. Going orbital is a key stepping stone towards sending the first humans to the Moon since the Apollo missions. To get that high, Starship's Super Heavy booster, a gigantic 70-meter rocket stage, will help it take off from SpaceX's facilities in South Texas. The orbital flight test would mark the first time SpaceX stacks both elements of its massive Starship system together. The booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight, and will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 32 kilometers from the shore. Meanwhile, Starship will fly over the Florida Strait and continue into orbit, nearly completing a full trip around Earth before plunging back through the atmosphere over Hawaii, roughly 90 minutes after launching from Texas. SpaceX says the landing would be a "powered, targeted landing" about 100 kiloometers off the northwest coast of Kauai in what it calls a "soft ocean landing." The Elon Musk-led company says it's hoping to "collect as much data as possible during flight — to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime — which is extremely difficult to accurately predict or replicate computationally."
NEW DELHI, INDIA — Many Indians are horrified that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rebuilding the Indian capital's historic center during the COVID pandemic. The 1.8-billion-dollar revamp has sparked heated debate among politicians, architects and heritage experts. Here are the details: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's overhaul of New Delhi's historic center was controversial even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. CNN reports that, since it was announced in 2019, the 1.8 billion dollar Central Vista Redevelopment Project has been branded unduly expensive, environmentally irresponsible and a threat to cultural heritage. And with Modi's elaborate new private residence — which comprises 10 buildings across 15 acres of land — among dozens of planned new government structures, many critics have slammed the scheme as an architectural vanity project that serves India's populist leader, not its people. This outrage has been brought into sharp focus by the coronavirus crisis. Amid a devastating second wave that has pushed the country's hospitals to breaking point, opposition MP, Rahul Gandhi, took to Twitter to compare the cost of the project to the money needed to vaccinate 450 million Indians, or purchase 10 million oxygen cylinders. Mr Gandhi concluded his tweet by saying that Mr Modi's ego is bigger than people's lives. Indian nationalists generally support the prioritization of the project, as the building's symbolism lies not only in its design, which alludes to the importance of triangles in the sacred geometries of several religions, but also in India's ability to complete large-scale infrastructure projects quickly and on schedule.
HERCULANEUM, ITALY — Scientists studied the entombed remains of villagers and a soldier on the beach of a coastal village in Italy, and realized the soldier was part of an elite force that joined in a rescue mission to evacuate civilians trapped on a beach beneath the thundering volcano. Here are the details: In the year 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius exploded catastrophically. Below it, the Roman city of Pompeii, and coastal villages like Herculaneum were now caught in a terrible vice. As the volcano blew a gargantuan cloud of hot ash into the sky, the mountain kept on shaking and everyone fled, but for thousands it would be too late to flee. Around midnight the cloud collapsed, sending its deadly hot ash rolling downward at a terrifying speed. The people of Herculaneum were trapped between the mountain and the dark sea. And out of the dark sea came hope, in the form of the Roman Navy's elite Praetorian Guard. The BBC reports that this is the finding of a recent scientific study of the remains of a Roman soldier found on a beach, next to the remains of 300 civilians from the now-buried town of Herculaneum. Scientists say the coins and objects found on the soldier's skeleton mark him as an officer of the elite guard. It is believed the officer was part of a heroic rescue mission to get people on boats; when the beach was hit by a pyroclastic flow. Historians and archaeologists theorize the soldier was probably an elite officer that took part in the rescue mission launched by Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder was a famous Roman commander who himself died during the heroic rescue attempt.
ALPHARETTA, GEORGIA — The hack on a 5,500-mile pipeline on the U.S. East Coast is being looked at as one of the most significant attacks on key national infrastructure in history, according to the BBC. The Colonial Pipeline, which according to CNET serves fuel to seven airports and 14 states, was forced to shut down on Saturday after hackers broke into its computer systems in order to hold the company to ransom. Colonial is working with shippers to deliver fuel, according to CNET, however the Associated Press says more than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast have reported running dry due to panic buying, with states of emergency declared in both Florida and Virginia. It is possible hackers could have gained access to Colonial's computer network simply using an email to an employee, according to cyber expert Jon Niccolls, from CheckPoint, who was cited by the BBC. The FBI has identified the hacker group DarkSide as the group behind the attack and, describing Darkside's sophisticated operation, Cybereason reports that they use a help desk to negotiate with the targets of their attacks and have their own affiliate program. CNET reports that these types of cyber attacks have become common. City governments around the U.S., including Baltimore's and Atlanta's, have been hit by ransomware attacks in the past, and hospitals have been forced to shut down.
MUMBAI, INDIA — Even as a deadly second wave of Covid-19 ravages India, doctors are now reporting a rash of cases involving a rare fungal infection — also called the "black fungus" — among recovering and recovered Covid-19 patients. The infection has a very high mortality rate and treatment often involves the removal of an eye. Here are the details: The BBC reports that surgeons in India are reporting a sharp increase in the number of mucormycosis cases in patients who survived Covid-19. Mucormycosis is a rare fungal infection that is caused by exposure to mucor mould; which is commonly found in soil, plants, and even in the mucus of healthy people. It affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs, and can be life-threatening in diabetics or people with weakened immune systems. The infection has a frightening mortality rate of 50%, and often requires the removal of an eye or sinus tissues. Diabetics who survived coronavirus are especially at risk. Some doctors believe that's because diabetes lowers the body's immune defences, then coronavirus exacerbates the problem, and then steroids — which help fight coronavirus — acts like fuel to the fire. Steroids reduce inflammation in the lungs for Covid-19 and limit the damage. But they also reduce immunity in both diabetic and non-diabetic Covid-19 patients. It is thought that this drop in immunity could be triggering India's spike in mucormycosis cases. Mumbai's busy Sion Hospital has reported 24 cases of the fungal infection in the past two months — up from six cases a year. Eleven of them had to lose an eye, and six of them died. Most of the patients are middle-aged diabetics who were struck down by the fungus two weeks after recovering from Covid-19.
JERUSALEM — Ongoing disorder and violence has spiralled into retaliatory rocket and air strikes by Israel and Palestinians, according to the BBC. Tensions between the two sides had been escalating for weeks over two issues in particular, according to the Associated Press. Nightly Palestinian protests initially broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan after police placed restrictions on gatherings at religious sites, including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Clashes then escalated over Israeli plans to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, with more than 500 Palestinians and 21 Israeli police officers injured on Saturday night at the Al-Aqsa mosque, according to The Guardian. The violence peaked Monday night after Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel. In response the Israeli military launched air strikes against what it said were militant targets in the Gaza Strip, killing 20 Palestinians, according to the Guardian citing the Palestinian Health Ministry.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Mexico City is a massive expanse of a city, and it's infamous for being the most populous metropolis in North America. This massive city is sinking fast under its own weight, and has already sunk too low to be saved. Here are the details: A new study, published in the journal JGR Solid Earth, reports that Mexico City is sinking at an unstoppable rate, with some parts sinking up to 50 centimeters per year over the past few decades. The massive city was built on a dry lake bed that contains water aquifers which have held up the city in the past. But centuries of pumping water from these aquifers have made them so empty that the surrounding clay sheets are cracking and compressing. If the rate of sinking continues, it would lead to the contamination of drinking water for the city's 21 million people. More than three-quarters of the city's drinking water comes from wells that extract water from the ground and continue to deplete its aquifers. Experts first noticed the sinking in 1900, when subsidence was recorded to be about 9 centimeters a year. Drilling for groundwater wasn't capped until the late 1950s, by which time the city was sinking at a rate of 28 centimeters a year. This cap initially slowed the rate of subsidence, but the sinking accelerated again as the city's population and buildings increased exponentially. Geotechnical engineer Eddie Bromhead from Kingston University in London told The Guardian: "If you put heavy buildings on that kind of ground, and use shallow foundations, the soil compacts. So that, along with removing the water, is why Mexico City is such a mess."
WENCHANG, CHINA — Remnants of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket that was launched last month have crashed back down to Earth and into the Indian Ocean at a speed of around 4.8 miles per second, according to Reuters. On Sunday, Chinese state media, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said the rocket debris had mostly burned up upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere. However footage of the rocket's uncontrolled descent was recorded from Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, according to The Guardian. Corroborating those images, the monitoring service Space-Track, which uses U.S. military data, said the rocket was recorded above Saudi Arabia before falling into the Indian Ocean, to the west of the Maldives. After days of speculation that the debris could hit land and endanger lives, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on NASA's website: "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — MIT analyzed the infamous Chaos hack that targeted iPhones and found evidence suggesting the Chinese government is using civilian hacking competitions to find new hacks for its strategic hacking program — saying that China seemed to have used such a hack as part of its genocidal strategy to erase its Muslim minority. Here are the details: MIT's Technology Review magazine recently analyzed the infamous Chaos hack that targeted iPhones in 2018, suggesting that China used a civilian competition to create the hack and then used it to spy on its Uyghur Muslim minority. The U.S. accuses China of committing genocide against its Uyghur population. The magazine linked the hack to a statement made in 2017 by the CEO of the Chinese cybersecurity giant Qihoo 360, when he said Chinese hackers should stop participating in international hacking competitions, as such competitions give tech companies the chance to fix the hacks before China could use it to spy on people. The Chinese government agreed, forbidding its hackers to participate in such competitions. The next year the first Tianfu Cup competition was held in China, where citizens are forced by law to help Chinese spy agencies. The magazine says that U.S. officials and tech companies later found that the prize-winning hack at that Tianfu Cup was very similar to the hack used later that year to infiltrate iPhones used by Uyghurs. For the past seven years, China has committed human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other minority groups in the Western province of Xinjiang. Well-documented aspects of the campaign include detention camps, systematic compulsory sterilization, organized torture and rape, forced labor, and an unparalleled surveillance effort. The U.S. and a number of other countries have called the actions a genocide.
BEIJING, CHINA — China says it's ready to become the first country to land and operate a rover on Mars on its first attempt. China's first ever Mars mission arrived in Mars orbit a few months ago, and is scheduled to release its Mars lander ten days from now. Here are the details: The Chinese National Space Administration, or CNSA, says its Tianwen-1 orbiter will release its Zhurong Mars rover on 17 May. The orbiter arrived in Mars orbit on 24 February, carrying with it the rover and its landing cradle. The lander will detach from the orbiter and start to descend into Mars' thin atmosphere, protected by a heat shield that's designed to also slow the lander down with its sheer bluntness. Once the lander slows down enough, a large parachute will open and the heat shield will fall away, exposing the landing cradle. The cradle's landing legs would then deploy and the parachute would detach to let the lander fall freely. The CNSA says the lander would then fire a number of rockets to slow its descent, while also keeping the lander in an upright position until it touches down. After touchdown, the lander would deploy a ramp while the rover deploys its sensor arms and solar panels. If the mission is successful, China would become the first country to land a rover on Mars on its first attempt. The Zhurong rover is carrying six pieces of scientific equipment. After landing, it would survey the surroundings to study Martian soil, geomorphology and atmosphere. It would also look for signs of subsurface water ice.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Just days after the new governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Claudio Castro, took office saying he would prioritize reducing crime, at least 25 people, including one police officer, have been killed in a police operation in its capital, according to the New York Times. The Guardian reports around 200 police targeted an alleged drug trafficker gang in the working class district of Jacarezinho. Intense gunfire erupted as they entered the area in the early morning, according to local media outlet Globo. A police helicopter flew low as armed men fled by jumping between rooftops, according to images shown on local television seen by the BBC. The Associated Press spoke to witnesses describing police killing already wounded men. Nadine Borges, vice president of the human rights commission at Brazil's bar association, told the New York Times: "There were executions of people who had already surrendered ... It was absolute barbarism."
WASHINGTON — The huge, 30 meter-tall core of a Chinese rocket is tumbling wildly through low-Earth orbit and could crash anywhere on Earth in the coming days. The same type of Chinese rocket crashed into a village in West Africa a year ago. Here are the details. On Wednesday 28 April, China launched a massive Long March 5B rocket that carried the first module of its planned space station into orbit. The Guardian reports that the core stage of this rocket was supposed to fall back to Earth in a controlled descent, but something went wrong and the 30 meter-tall rocket stage started skipping on Earth's atmosphere — and no one knows where it will crash once the drag of Earth's atmosphere tugs it down to the planet's surface. Much of the core will likely burn up in the atmosphere, but there is a chance that some chunks of debris will survive the reentry and rain down on the land or ocean. This, sadly, wouldn't be the first time. In May 2020, a Long March 5B rocket slammed through the atmosphere, partially burning up during its descent. The core fell largely into the Atlantic Ocean, but some debris landed in West Africa. According to the South China Morning Post, some chunks of debris crashed into houses in villages in Côte d'Ivoire, though thankfully no casualties were reported. On Tuesday 4 May the latest out-of-control Chinese rocket was orbiting Earth around once every 90 minutes, at a speed of about 27,600 kilometers per hour, and an altitude of more than 300 kilometers. The US military has named it 2021-035B and its path can be seen on websites that track objects in Earth orbit.
BEIJING, CHINA — The Guardian reports that a study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences has found that recent human activity has shifted the Earth's axis by an unprecedented margin. The planet's geographic north and south poles are the points where its axis of rotation intersects the surface, but they are not fixed. Changes in how the Earth's mass is distributed around the planet cause the axis, and therefore the poles, to move. In the past, only natural factors, such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth, contributed to the drifting of the poles. But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice a year into the oceans — resulting from global warming — has caused the poles to move in new directions. The scientists found the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995. Since 1980, the positions of the poles have moved about 4 meters. The study theorizes that the accelerated decline of water stored on land is the main driver of the rapid polar drift since the 1990s.
WASHINGTON — NASA created a fictional asteroid and set it on course to hit Earth six months after being discovered by humanity's early warning systems. Earth's scientists worked together to stop the doomsday rock from hitting Earth, and this is what happened: NASA reports that it recently hosted a test to see if Earth's best scientists could stop an asteroid from hitting the planet. In the scenario, a fictitious asteroid was detected six months before it would hit Earth. The participants in the simulation considered various missions in which spacecraft could try to destroy the asteroid or deflect it off its path. Most options to deflect an asteroid — such as deflection via a high-energy impact, or a "gravity tractor" or an "ion beam shepherd" — work by only slightly nudging the targeted space rock. If performed far enough in advance, that small nudge builds up to become a large shift in position by the time the asteroid gets near Earth. But participants concluded that such missions wouldn't be able to get off the ground in the short amount of time before impact. However, they found that using a rocket to deliver a nuclear explosion on or next to the asteroid, could save the Earth. Unfortunately, a nuclear bomb would only be able to make a difference if the asteroid was relatively small, compared to the giants that had hit Earth in the past. Currently, Earth's early warning system does inspire confidence. Comet Neowise, a 4.8 kilometer-wide chunk of space ice, passed within 64 million kilometers of Earth in July. Nobody knew this comet existed until a NASA space telescope discovered it approaching only four months earlier. In 2013, a meteor about 20 meters in diameter entered Earth's atmosphere without warning. It exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, creating a shock wave that broke windows and damaged buildings across the region. More than 1,400 people were injured.
SURTSHELLIR CAVE, ICELAND — Archaeologists digging in a Viking cave in Iceland have discovered rare artifacts from Iraq in a huge stone boat. They say the stone boat was used to burn animals to strengthen a god that had to fight to save the world. Here are the details: Archaeologists were surprised to find artifacts from as far away as Iraq and Turkey while digging in an ancient Viking site in Iceland. Located in the Surtshellir cave, the ancient site is located in a lava pipe of a volcano that erupted almost 1,100 years ago. At the time of that eruption, the Vikings had recently colonized Iceland. In a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers theorize that the effects of this cataclysmic eruption must have been deeply unsettling for the Vikings. They say that, after the lava cooled, the Vikings entered the cave and constructed a boat-shaped structure out of rocks. Within this structure, the Vikings burned animal bones at high temperatures as a sacrifice. This may have been done to appease Surtr, a giant who Vikings believed would kill the last of the gods in the battle of Ragnarök and then engulf the world in flames. Another possibility is that the burnt offerings were meant to strengthen Freyr, a Viking fertility god, in the hopes that he could defeat Surtr and stop the fiery end of the world. Yep, the Vikings sure had some dark ideas floating around in those heads of theirs. Thank goodness we live in a time when we don't have to burn stuff in dark caves to feed imaginary giants — just so they won't burn us and our world.
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CALIFORNIA, U.S. — Marine scientists say they have found what they believe to be more than 25,000 barrels containing DDT dumped off the southern California coast near Catalina Island. According to a report released on its website by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, the barrels were discovered by two autonomous underwater vehicles used to map the seafloor. DDT was developed in the 1940s as an insecticide, but banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, owing to its 'adverse environmental effects.' Today, DDT is classified as a probable carcinogen, according to a briefing on the Environmental Protection Agency's website.
Biotech company Oxitec will controversially release half a billion 'gene-hacked' mosquitoes along the Florida Keys
FLORIDA KEYS — Biotech company Oxitec will this week begin controversially releasing half a billion "gene-hacked" mosquitoes along the Florida Keys in an experiment designed to kill off the islands' pest population, according to Futurism. The experiment will target the mosquito species Aedes aegypti, which makes up between 2 percent and 4 percent of the mosquito population in the area, but is associated with almost all cases of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and Zika. According to a statement released on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website, scientists have inserted a gene called OX5034 exclusively into male mosquitoes, which don't bite humans. They say the males will breed with wild females, which do. The OX5034 gene kills off female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes before they enter adulthood and therefore steadily reduces the overall population. The move comes as mosquitoes native to Florida are increasingly resistant to existing insecticide controls, Undark reports. However, the experiment has caused controversy across the Florida Keys area, with Futurism reporting many residents concerned with a lack of transparency.
GENEVA — All matter is made of atoms. The nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons. These protons and neutrons are, in turn, composed of subatomic particles, including up and down quarks, and force carriers. One of these force carriers is known as the Higgs boson. The Higgs field permeates all of space and gives elementary subatomic particles mass through its interactions with them, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Different particles interact with it in different ways. With virtually no mass, electrons pass through the Higgs field virtually unimpeded. On the other hand, top quarks, which have heavier masses, interact more strongly with the field, according to Symmetry Magazine. In 2012, scientists working at the CERN particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, proved the existence of the Higgs boson particle within the Higgs field, describing it on CERN's website as "the visible manifestation of the Higgs field, rather like a wave at the surface of the sea." The particle was discovered by sending protons racing around the world's largest particle accelerator at nearly the speed of light. The protons smashed into each other with enough energy to generate a Higgs boson.
MIAMI, FLORIDA — Florida has finally found a venomous new animal that is new, but not new in the sense that it's an invasive species that's devastating the local ecosystem. Here are the details: The Miami Herald reports that scientists have found a new species of venomous spider in Miami that looks like a small, shiny black tarantula. It's called the Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider and it is indeed a relative of the tarantula. The new spider was first found on the grounds of Zoo Miami. With legs extended, the female can measure up to seven centimeters wide. This is a trapdoor spider — meaning it lives in a burrow with a hinged cover, like a trapdoor, to hide from predators and ambush unlucky prey. Luckily, the spider's bite is only as painful as a bee's sting to humans. The spiders themselves can be eaten by birds and they can be targeted by wasps, who inject wasp eggs into them, which would later hatch as larvas and then devour the spider from the inside. However, the biggest danger to the arachnid is the loss of its habitat. The first specimen was found in critically endangered pine rockland forest surrounding Zoo Miami. It is likely that this species is limited to this small area of threatened habitat, which means it could be threatened itself. Although many people would be glad that this scary and venomous cousin of the tarantula is probably heading for extinction, scientists are already making plans to try and save this rare species.
WASHINGTON — NASA reports that its record-breaking space probe, the New Horizons, has reached another impressive milestone. On 17 April the half-ton craft became only the fifth man-made machine to fly more than 50 astronomical units into deep space. That's 50 times the distance from Earth to the Sun, for a total of 7.5 billion kilometers from Earth. At that distance, it takes commands sent from Earth at the speed of light, a whopping 7 hours to reach the probe; and scientists have to wait another seven hours to hear if the probe received the commands. Launched in 2006, the New Horizons is much newer than Earth's other deep-space probes, the two Voyager and two Pioneer spacecraft launched between 1972 and 1977. At a travelling speed of 58,000 kilometers per hour, it is also the fastest machine ever made. New Horizons became the first probe to study the distant planet of Pluto, and the first to study objects in the Kuiper Belt — a huge disk of mostly ice chunks that ring the outer reaches of our solar system. It also filmed the first video of an off-Earth volcano when it flew by Jupiter's moon, Io.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND — Popular Mechanics reports that New Zealand's Powerco power company will build a test grid that will transmit electricity through the air. This represents a big step in mankind's efforts to get rid of unsightly and expensive metal cables and their supporting towers that often blight otherwise beautiful landscapes. Scientists are currently also looking at tunnels to hide cables in, but wireless transmission has the advantage of cutting construction and maintenance costs. The idea is to keep a microwave beam tight and focused. Firstly, small radios create microwaves that are aligned in parallel, and will not spread much as they propagate. Secondly, the grid uses engineered metamaterials with tiny patterns that effectively interact with these microwaves. A transmitting antenna sends the beam through various relay panels to a "rectenna" that transforms the radiation back into electricity. Tiny lasers would be used to sense when objects like birds pass through the microwave beam, in which case the beam would shut off instantly until the object has passed through.