How Big Space Really Is

 

Zooming Out

A new website called “The Size of Space” illustrates how incomprehensibly vast the cosmos are.

As you scroll to the side, the site takes you on a journey from the size of an astronaut all the way up to the entire observable universe. As the scale ramps up, from spacecraft to moons to planets and onward, the smaller objects become tiny dots before vanishing altogether.

Close Up

Neal Agarwal, the coder behind The Size of Space who’s also built pages like “Grandpa’s Art Show” and “Share This Page,” used some of the best visualizations for each of the objects — a rotating Earth based on satellite imagery, for example.

That means that most of the black holes are simply hand-drawn circles mixed in among the colorful images of distant galaxies and supernovas. Except, that is, for the giant black hole M87*, which was imaged earlier this year.

More on space visualizations: NASA’s New Black Hole Simulation Will Completely Melt Your Brain

Astronauts are getting CLOTS

 

According to a shocking report by NASA scientists, blood flow can stop and even reverse in the upper bodies of astronauts.

The study could have some major implications about prolonged trips through deep space, as we’re still trying to nail down the exact effects of spending long periods in microgravity.

The study looked at periodic ultrasound tests of 11 healthy astronauts who staffed the International Space Station.

The results were alarming: blood flow had either stagnated or reversed in the left internal jugular vein, a major blood vessel on the side of the neck, in seven crew members. The tests also found a clot and a partial clot in two of the crew members after their return to Earth.

A paper of the study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Wednesday.

“This was an unexpected finding,” Michael Stenger, senior author and manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told NBC News. “We did not expect to see stasis and reverse flow. That is very abnormal. On Earth, you would immediately suspect a massive blockage or a tumor or something like that.”

And that could have some very serious effects on astronauts’ health.

“If you get a clot in the internal jugular vein, the clot could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism — that’s very dangerous,” professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Andrew Feinberg told NBC./blockquote>

Caterpillars on the Moon

 

Space Prospector

Iconic construction vehicle company Caterpillar is working with NASA to build machines that could excavate and mine the lunar surface.

The goal is to determine whether it makes sense to send autonomous or remote-controlled construction equipment to the Moon, according to CNBC, to gather rocks, dust, and water that NASA could use as raw materials for its planned lunar outpost.

Self-Driving Shovel

NASA and Caterpillar have long collaborated on robotics projects, CNBC reports. But it’s the company’s autonomous capabilities — unusual for the construction vehicle market — that make it a standout candidate to build lunar infrastructure.

“There are many synergies between what NASA needs to meet exploration goals and Caterpillar technologies used every day on Earth,” NASA spokesperson Clare Skelly told CNBC.

Hazardous Workplace

Though Caterpillar’s resource industries division president, Denise Johnson, wouldn’t confirm any tangible lunar mission plans to CNBC, the idea of using at least semi-autonomous vehicles on the Moon is to cut down on how much dangerous construction work astronauts would have to do themselves.

“Customers are finding it difficult to operate in those remote locations, getting personnel in and out in a consistent way, which drives the value proposition,” Johnson told CNBC, specifically referring to using autonomous tech in hazardous areas on Earth. “The application of the technology becomes a necessity to make it work from a value-add perspective.”

READ MORE: Caterpillar’s autonomous vehicles may be used by NASA to mine the moon and build a lunar base [CNBC]
More on the Moon: NASA’s Plan for a Lunar Outpost Just Leaked

Livestreaming Human Autopsies

 

A bloody online video shows a doctor slicing into a human cadaver’s scalp, peeling back the skin, cutting open the skull with a brutally whining saw, and removing its brain. He holds the brain up for the camera to see, all the while explaining the process to a live online audience.

The cadaver’s face was covered by a towel, so by the end of the stream all the audience could see was a closeup of the inside of a skull that was so empty it no longer seemed like part of a human. The Twitch-style comments section was teeming with viewers sharing thoughts and questions.

“Nice trick to do that with the cut,” said one as the doctor sliced away.

The archived recording of a January 2019 livestream was posted to the website Autopsy.Online, a gruesome educational project run by the Autopsy Center of Chicago. The center was founded by autopsy pathologist Ben Margolis, the doctor who performed the brain removal.

Margolis offers clients — usually family members of the deceased who want answers or closure — the distinctly 21-century option to have their loved ones’ autopsies recorded or broadcast live. And many, he says, are taking him up on the offer.

Livestreaming the process of cutting into and dissecting a dead body may sound grisly or voyeuristic — almost like a snuff film or the unsettling wave of pimple-popping videos that flooded the internet a few years ago. But Margolis, who’s also an accomplished orchestral musician and improv performer, sees his services as an empowering tool for families of the recently deceased. Not only to provide useful information in the face of a tragic event, but also to help them come to terms with their loss.

“Families come to us for closure, for grief, to find out what happened,” Margolis told Futurism.

Margolis founded the Autopsy Center of Chicago in 2010. Archiving autopsies through photographs or video recordings is a common practice — there are years of gory videos (you’ve been warned!) on YouTube. But it wasn’t until January 2017 that Margolis performed his first live broadcast, strapping a GoPro camera to his head and giving viewers a first-person vantage point on the procedure as he explained each step on Facebook Live.

“Other autopsy videos basically plant a camera a few feet away from the case and it’s sort of a still perspective,” Margolis told Futurism, “and the person’s working away — you don’t know where to look.”

Margolis says that more immersive approach isn’t just a good sell to current or future doctors, but also more comprehensive for the casual, science-curious viewer, though sometimes he does use a stationary camera instead.

“Here it’s really directed,” he said. “You know the ‘Blair Witch Project’ — that live video — it’s kind of like you’re in it.”

While the livestreams are an engaging project, Margolis puts even more effort into his edited videos, which he turns into educational resources. To get the Autopsy Center of Chicago videos out there, Margolis created an app and is still building out his Autopsy.Online platform, which is full of annotated autopsy recordings.

Margolis’ ultimate goal is to complete a virtual “body map” where viewers can click on a body part and watch a video clip of that particular organ being removed and examined — a resource he says is particularly valuable for students who don’t have hands-on access to cadavers.

The platform also has a separate page for livestreams, parts of which are later edited into the shorter clips. Prior to launching his own app and platform, Margolis streamed on Facebook, which meant his audience was much larger and broader than the people who now pay for his content.

When it comes to the comments that pop up on his livestreams, Margolis says they’re largely positive. Sometimes, trolls will mock people for asking questions about what they’re seeing or share gross, occasionally sexually-explicit thoughts. But most people engage with the material in a constructive way.

“It’s not macabre, it’s the human body,” Margolis said. “We all have one, and it’s interesting.”

Most jarring for some viewers, Margolis told Futurism, is coming to terms with the fact that they’re looking at a dead body that was once a living person with thoughts and feelings. On one stream, Margolis was removing a cadaver’s brain when someone commented “Is that person dead?”

“That’s part of it: how do you talk about death? I’ve made an effort to be sensitive,” Margolis said, explaining that he’s banned people for making fun of others who asked questions, even if the answer seems obvious to some. “If you’re asking a question, there’s no issue. How wonderful that you can ask! If you’re ready to know what dead is, then teach. Help someone know, build a positive attitude.”

But the community response raises an important issue: how do you respect the deceased and their relatives while also putting meaningful content out there? Margolis says once he had 1 million people watching a livestream on Facebook at once — a lot of eyes casually observing the cut-open body of someone’s dead family member.

“The primary concerns with livestreaming autopsies are making sure that you are respecting the wishes and the privacy of the decedent and his or her family,” Baylor College of Medicine bioethicist Amy McGuire told Futurism, “and that you are treating the body with respect.”

Other bioethicists shared similar concerns — especially in regards to respecting the privacy of the deceased and their family members.

“It seems like a lot would depend on the purpose of the autopsy and whether the identity of the subject was going to be disclosed,” Mark Aulisio, chair of the bioethics department at Case Western Reserve University, told Futurism. Margolis keeps the names and identifiable characteristics of corpses under wraps. “If identifying information is not going to be disclosed, then professional and respectful comportment would be the main issue of concern,” Aulisio said.

Margolis takes pains to preserve the anonymity of cadavers. Before he begins recording, he covers up the deceased’s face in addition to any identifiable markings like tattoos or body tags. He also never discloses the person’s age or other personal details.

“We need to set it up in a way that’s ethical and empowers the family,” Margolis told Futurism.

McGuire saw those anonymizing steps as a positive sign, but also noted that as an ethicist she would want to make sure people were only using the videos for educational purposes.

New York University bioethicist Brendan Parent was most concerned about how clients are being approached about livestreaming or recording.

“Autopsy usually happens when we are suspicious about cause of death, which often involves private or sensitive life stories,” Parent told Futurism. “Even though this group is taking measures to prevent display of identifiable features and getting consent from family members, it’s unlikely any of the people whose bodies are being used conceived of this possible post-mortem state.”

Parent noted that Margolis’ practice is working on setting up a way for people to donate their bodies as part of their wills — similarly to how medical schools acquire cadavers to use as educational tools — saying that that would be a step in the right direction.

Margolis told Futurism that he spends upwards of an hour getting to know family members who approach him for autopsies before he considers bringing up the possibility of a video recording or livestream. In his consent forms, there are separate boxes asking for permission to take photos, video recordings, livestreams, or allow students into the room. If a client hesitates or seems uncomfortable after Margolis brings up the option to record to stream the autopsy, he says that he immediately backs down.

Even then, Margolis won’t bring up videos or streams at all if the deceased is a child or if the case involves an active criminal investigation, like for a suspected homicide.

But for those who agree to have their loved one’s autopsy recorded or streamed, Margolis says he sees the gesture as a gift and a way to build a legacy, akin to donating an organ or donating one’s body to science.

“What happens in the hospital is they get cut off, they get cut off from their relationships. If there’s some way to give life to that world again, to participate, it makes such a difference,” Margolis said. “It’s like organ donation, they want their loved ones to live on, to make a difference. Anything for the death not to be in vain is wonderful for them.”

He’s done cases where the autopsy reveals genetic medical conditions or helps determine whether living relatives might inherit conditions like Alzheimer’s. Armed with that information, those people can then go on to ask better questions and more effectively advocate for themselves when navigating the healthcare system.

“Autopsy is always for the living,” Margolis said.

The End of The World as we know it

 

Growing Divide

As jobs are automated out of existence, the division between the very wealthy and the very poor will grow — and any notion of a comfortable middle class will vanish.
That’s according to Roey Tzezana, a future studies researcher at Israel’s Tel Aviv University, according to Haaretz. That stands in contrast to the common argument that new jobs will emerge as others vanish, painting a grim picture for the workforce and global economy.

Survival Wages

Tzezana argues that the jobs that tend to survive automation are lower-paying, according to Haaretz, meaning that as companies generate increased wealth, almost none of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Instead, more people are stuck living paycheck to paycheck, even if unemployment rates are technically low.
“This figure is the end of the world for the average people,” Tzezana said, speaking about the growing gap between labor productivity and wages. “It reflects a rather depressing picture: The state and the economy are advancing by storm — but the workers are almost not benefitting from this progress and are left behind. It is almost a catastrophe.”
The end result? A society defined by pockets of extreme wealth but otherwise dominated by people who barely have enough to get by.

READ MORE: Futurist Sees ‘The End of the World as We Know It for Average Person’ [Haaretz]
More on automation: Globally, Most Workers Think Robots Couldn’t Handle Their Jobs

If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Smallest Dwarf Planet in Solar System

 

Moving On Up

The asteroid Hygiea just got a promotion.

Using European Southern Observatory’s SPHERE instrument at the Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers were able to get their most detailed look yet at Hygiea, an object in the asteroid belt.

And based on what they saw, they think the asteroid deserves reclassification as a dwarf planet — making it the smallest one yet identified in the entire solar system.

Four For Four

To be classified as a dwarf planet, an object must meet four requirements: it must be spherical, it must orbit the Sun, it can’t be a moon — and it must not have cleared the neighborhood around itself, which would make it a proper planet.

Astronomers already knew that Hygiea met the latter three requirements, and the new VLT data allowed them to confirm the first.

“Thanks to the unique capability of the SPHERE instrument on the VLT, which is one of the most powerful imaging systems in the world, we could resolve Hygiea’s shape, which turns out to be nearly spherical,” lead researcher Pierre Vernazza said in a news release. “Thanks to these images, Hygiea may be reclassified as a dwarf planet, so far the smallest in the Solar System.”

READ MORE: ESO Telescope Reveals What Could be the Smallest Dwarf Planet Yet in the Solar System [European Southern Observatory]
More on dwarf planets: Astronomers Just Found a Dwarf Planet Three Times As Far Away As Pluto

Crops in Martian Soil

 

Astronaut Farmer

Martian and Moon soil is surprisingly fertile, and new research suggests it may someday be possible to harvest crops grown at off-world colonies.

When Wageningen University scientists tried to grow ten different crops in soils developed by NASA to mimic that found on Mars and the Moon, nine of them grew edible parts and viable seeds, according to research published this month in the journal Open Agriculture.

While future off-world farmers will have to grapple with countless other problems — like, uh, the lack of an atmosphere — the experiment is still a tentative good sign for the future of off-world settlements.

First Steps

The plants grown in simulated Martian or lunar soil weren’t as successful as those grown in normal Earth conditions, and in most cases the mock Martian crops fared better than the Moon plants. Still, vegetables like tomatoes, radishes, rye, and quinoa grew in both types of space soil, with spinach as the lone casualty.

“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red,” project leader Wieger Wamelink said in a press release. “It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken.”

READ MORE: Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops [De Gruyter via Phys.org]
More on Mars farming: Contaminating Mars With Microbes Could Kickstart Colonization
</small

Super-Smart Designer Babies

 

In November, a company called Genomic Prediction announced that it had  developed a multi-gene screening technique for embryos. This method, the company claimed, allowed it to scan an embryo for conditions or traits impacted by numerous genes, including intelligence, and give it a “polygenic score.”

The company said this was so parents could avoid using an embryo with an abnormally low score for in-vitro fertilization. However, it quickly raised concerns about parents using the tech to have super-smart designer babies.

But now it seems that fear was premature: A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics debunks the accuracy of the technique.

Today, having fertilized embryos undergo genetic testing prior to implantation is a fairly common option for people using in-vitro fertilization. This can allow them to avoid using an embryo that likely wouldn’t lead to a successful pregnancy, or one that would produce a child with birth defects or certain single-gene disorders, such as cystic fibrosis.

The key to that type of testing is that it focuses on individual genes — in the case of cystic fibrosis, for example, the doctor would look for mutations in the CFTR gene.

To test the viability of Genomic Prediction’s multi-gene screening technique, a research team led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem statistical geneticist Shai Carmi created computer models of five hypothetical embryos by combining the DNA profiles of two people. In some cases, the researchers knew the heights of both parents and, in others, their IQs.

They then created “virtual genomes” for the embryos and gave each embryo a polygenic score predicting the height or IQ of the person that would theoretically be born from it.

The researchers found that the technique produced only slight gains — hypothetical children produced by the highest scoring embryos were approximately 2.5 centimeters taller and 2.5 IQ points smarter.

They then put the technique to the test again, this time giving polygenic height scores to all of the offspring in 28 families with an average of 10 children.

In just seven of the families was the child with the highest height score the tallest. And in five families, that child was actually the shortest of the siblings — meaning had their parents used the polygenic screening technique, they may well have ended up with a shorter child than if they’d left height up to chance.

So, while Genomic Prediction’s technique could still allow parents to identify embryos likely to produce children with intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t appear poised to lead to the creation of super-smart designer babies any time soon.

5G Might Actually cause Cancer

 

As 5G cellular network tech looms, conventional wisdom dictates that cell phone radiation is more or less safe for humans.

But writing for the widely respected magazine Scientific American, University of California, Berkeley, public health researcher Joel Moskowitz argues that we don’t yet understand the risks — and that more study is necessary before we roll out 5G infrastructure.

Moskowitz’s main concern: there just isn’t any research on the health effects of 5G. But he also points to a swathe of studies that suggest that the existing standards 2G and 3G are more dangerous than generally believed.

“Meanwhile, we are seeing increases in certain types of head and neck tumors in tumor registries, which may be at least partially attributable to the proliferation of cell phone radiation,” he wrote in SciAm. “These increases are consistent with results from case-control studies of tumor risk in heavy cell phone users.”

It’s hard enough to quantify the health effects of things that have already been deployed, nevermind an upcoming technology. But in SciAm, Moskowitz argues that regulators should listen to the 250 doctors and scientists who recently signed the 5G Appeal, a petition for a moratorium on public rollout of the tech until the health implications are better understood.

“As a society, should we invest hundreds of billions of dollars deploying 5G, a cellular technology that requires the installation of 800,000 or more new cell antenna sites in the U.S. close to where we live, work and play?” he asked. “Instead, we should support the recommendations of the 250 scientists and medical doctors who signed the 5G Appeal that calls for an immediate moratorium on the deployment of 5G and demand that our government fund the research needed to adopt biologically based exposure limits that protect our health and safety.”

Inhaled Poison

 

A strange vaping-related respiratory illness is sweeping the United States, afflicting more than 800 patients and killing at least 16. Officials still aren’t sure what’s causing “vape lung,” but theories range from the oils in vaping cartridges to fumes from the vaping devices themselves.

In an attempt to solve the mystery, a team of researchers from the Mayo Clinic analyzed samples of lung tissue taken from 17 vape lung sufferers, publishing the results of their analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What they saw when they looked at those samples is downright disturbing: injuries that looked like the ones suffered by people exposed to mustard gas and other poisons.

“All 17 of our cases show a pattern of injury in the lung that looks like a toxic chemical exposure, a toxic chemical fume exposure, or a chemical burn injury,” surgical pathologist Brandon T. Larsen told The New York Times.

“To be honest,” he continued, “they look like the kind of change you would expect to see in an unfortunate worker in an industrial accident where a big barrel of toxic chemicals spills, and that person is exposed to toxic fumes and there is a chemical burn in the airways.”

Larsen told the NYT that the researchers didn’t notice any oil buildup in the samples, meaning suspicions that vaping oils themselves cause vape lung might be unfounded.

Two of the patients whose lung samples the Mayo team analyzed have already died as a result of their lung damage. But according to Larsen, even patients who don’t succumb to the respiratory illness may face a lifetime of issues because of it.

“Based on the severity of injury we see, at least in some of these cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if we wind up with people down the road having chronic respiratory problems from this,” he told the NYT. “Some seem to recover. I don’t think we know what the long-term consequences will be.”

White House Cybersecurity Director

 

See Ya

The White House’s cybersecurity team is in a state of turmoil.

In an internal memo obtained by Axios, senior White House cybersecurity director Dimitrios Vastakis detailed his frustration with how the Trump administration has managed a mission established to protect the White House from digital security threats — and then submitted his resignation.

Real Subtle

The Obama administration established the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (OCISO) in 2014 after it discovered evidence that Russia had breached White House computers. In July, the Trump administration folded OCISO into the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Since then, leadership has attempted to remove the remaining OCISO staff by “reducing the scope of duties, reducing access to programs, revoking access to buildings, and revoking positions with strategic and tactical decision making authorities,” Vastakis wrote in his memo.

Chaos Reigns

To date, at least a dozen OCISO officials have either resigned from or been pushed out, and all that chaos has Vastakis concerned about the future security of White House data.

“Unfortunately, given all of the changes I’ve seen in the past three months,” he wrote, “I foresee the White House is posturing itself to be electronically compromised once again.”

And Vastakis isn’t going to be around to watch it happen.

READ MORE: Scoop: Cyber memo warns of new risks to White House network [Axios]
More on cybersecurity: Congressman: The 2020 Election Is Not Safe From Hackers