What do scientists see when comparing our future climate with the past? In less than 200 years, humans have reversed a multimillion-year cooling trend, new research suggests.

If global warming continues unchecked, Earth in 2030 could resemble its former self from 3 million years ago, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds.
 
During that ancient time, known as the mid-Pliocene epoch, temperatures were higher by about 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and sea levels were higher by roughly 20 meters (almost 66 feet) than today, explained Kevin D. Burke, lead author of the study and a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
 
 

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Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card.

 

The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself.

 

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MIT engineers have come up with a conceptual design for a system to store renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, and deliver that energy back into an electric grid on demand. The system may be designed to power a small city not just when the sun is up or the wind is high, but around the clock.

 

The new design stores heat generated by excess electricity from solar or wind power in large tanks of white-hot molten silicon, and then converts the light from the glowing metal back into electricity when it’s needed. The researchers estimate that such a system would be vastly more affordable than lithium-ion batteries, which have been proposed as a viable, though expensive, method to store renewable energy.

 

 

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said.

 

The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.

 

 

The nine companies, representing seven states, are:

  • Astrobiotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh;
  • Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado;
  • Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts;
  • Firefly Aerospace Inc., Cedar Park, Texas;
  • Intuitive Machines, Houston;
  • Lockheed Martin, Littleton;
  • Masten Space Systems Inc., Mojave, California;
  • Moon Express, Cape Canaveral; and
  • Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey.

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NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars on November 26 for a study of the Red Planet’s insides. “Touchdown confirmed, InSight is on the surface of Mars!” said Christine Szalai, a spacecraft engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a live broadcast from mission control. The lander sent its first picture — which mostly showed the inside of the dust cover on its camera lens — shortly after landing.

 

The landing of InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, brings the total number of successful NASA Mars landings to eight. InSight touched down at about 2:55 p.m. Eastern time in a wide, flat plain called Elysium Planitia, near Mars’ equator. News of the landing was relayed by a pair of tiny satellites called MarCO that travelled to Mars with InSight as an in-house communications team.

 

Over the next Martian year (about two Earth years), InSight will use a seismometer to listen for “Marsquakes” and other seismic waves rippling through the planet (SN: 5/26/18, p. 13). The lander will also drill five meters into Mars’ surface to measure the planet’s internal heat flow, a sign of how geologically active Mars is today.

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It sounds like the plot of the world’s tiniest horror movie: deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, a newly discovered species of wasp transforms a "social" spider into a zombie-like drone that abandons its colony to do the wasp’s bidding. That’s the gruesome, real-life discovery by University of British Columbia researchers, who detail the first example of a manipulative relationship between a new Zatypota species wasp and a social Anelosimus eximius spider in a study published recently in Ecological Entomology.

 

"Wasps manipulating the behaviour of spiders has been observed before, but not at a level as complex as this," said Philippe Fernandez-Fournier, lead author of the study and former master’s student at UBC’s department of zoology. "Not only is this wasp targeting a social species of spider but it’s making it leave its colony, which it rarely does."

 

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Landing on Jupiter’s moon Europa will be even harder than we thought due to a forbidding belt of huge ice spikes that could trap or incapacitate a spacecraft.

 

If you want to attempt a landing on Europa, you’d better bring a repair kit. Parts of its surface may be covered in meters-long blades of ice that could make exploring Jupiter’s frigid moon a dangerous endeavour.

 

 

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