Science news from the Guardian

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Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2021

Latest Science news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice

Last feed update: Saturday October 16th, 2021 05:58:13 PM

Nasa’s Lucy rockets into the sky with diamonds to explore asteroids

Saturday October 16th, 2021 11:36:32 AM Associated Press in Cape Canaveral
Spacecraft with name inspired by a skeleton and the Beatles, and with lab-grown gems, starts 12-year questA Nasa spacecraft named Lucy has rocketed into the sky with diamonds on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation. Continue reading...

How did Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin fail to dominate the billionaire space race?

Saturday October 16th, 2021 09:00:01 AM Daniel Oberhaus
The company employs the world’s top engineers and has access to unlimited money but is plagued by safety concerns and toxic workplace cultureThe billionaire space race is only a race by name. In actuality, there is SpaceX – and everyone else.Only the company founded by Elon Musk nearly two decades ago has sent an orbital rocket booster into space and landed it safely again. Only SpaceX has landed a rocket the size of a 15-storey building on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean. Only SpaceX has carried both Nasa astronauts and private citizens to the International Space Station. Only SpaceX is producing thousands of its own table-sized communication satellites every year. Only SpaceX has the almost weekly launch cadence necessary to single-handedly double the number of operational satellites in orbit in less than two years. Only SpaceX is launching prototypes of the largest and most powerful rocket ever made, a behemoth called Starship that is destined to carry humans to the moon. Continue reading...

AI and maths to play bigger role in global diplomacy, says expert

Friday October 15th, 2021 11:13:22 AM Hannah Devlin Science correspondent
Professor of negotiation and conflict management says recent advances mean techniques will be used moreInternational diplomacy has traditionally relied on bargaining power, covert channels of communication and personal chemistry between leaders. But a new era is upon us in which the dispassionate insights of AI algorithms and mathematical techniques such as game theory will play a growing role in deals struck between nations, according to the co-founder of the world’s first centre for science in diplomacy.Michael Ambühl, a professor of negotiation and conflict management and former chief Swiss-EU negotiator, said recent advances in AI and machine learning mean that these technologies now have a meaningful part to play in international diplomacy, including at the Cop26 summit starting later this month and in post-Brexit deals on trade and immigration. Continue reading...

‘Sensational’: skeleton buried in Vesuvius eruption found at Herculaneum

Friday October 15th, 2021 07:33:02 PM Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Archaeologists find remains of fugitive during first dig at site near Pompeii in almost three decadesThe partially mutilated remains of a man buried by the AD79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town close to Pompeii, have been discovered in what Italy’s culture minister described as a “sensational” find.Archaeologists said the man, believed to have been aged between 40 and 45, was killed just steps away from the sea as he tried to flee the eruption. Continue reading...

Chinese astronauts arrive at space station for longest mission

Saturday October 16th, 2021 12:58:36 AM Agence France-Presse
The Shenzhou-13 vessel docked at its space station to kick off a record-setting six-month stayThree astronauts successfully docked with China’s new space station, state media said, on what is set to be Beijing’s longest crewed mission to date and the latest landmark in its drive to become a major space power.The three blasted off shortly after midnight on Saturday (1600 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert, state-run news agency Xinhua said, with the team expected to spend six months at the Tiangong space station. Continue reading...

‘Sophisticated’: ancient faeces shows humans enjoyed beer and blue cheese 2,700 years ago

Thursday October 14th, 2021 12:42:57 AM Agence France Presse
Austrian Alps salt miners had a ‘balanced diet’, with an analysis of bronze and iron age excrement finding the earliest evidence of cheese ripening in EuropeIt’s no secret that beer and blue cheese go hand in hand – but a new study reveals how deep their roots run in Europe, where workers at a salt mine in Austria were gorging on both up to 2,700 years ago.Scientists made the discovery by analysing samples of human excrement found at the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. Continue reading...

Why Britons are tolerating sky-high Covid rates – and why this may not last

Friday October 15th, 2021 02:33:08 PM Hannah Devlin Science correspondent
Analysis: as Covid cases reach 40,000 a day, scientists think normalisation is partly to blame for the lack of public reactionCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageIt is one of the conundrums of the current phase of the Covid pandemic: the UK has among the highest number of infections across the world and a death toll that continues to steadily climb, yet the national mood seems sanguine. So is this down to British stoicism, a Keep Calm and Carry on mentality?Not according to experts. They talk of many factors being at play – and warn it may not last. Continue reading...

Covid PCR tests: at least 43,000 in UK may have had false negatives

Friday October 15th, 2021 09:31:51 AM Jamie Grierson, Steven Morris and Rowena Mason
Health Security Agency suspends operations at privately run lab in WolverhamptonCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageAt least 43,000 people may have been wrongly given a negative Covid test result, the UK Health Security Agency has said, as it announced the suspension of operations at a privately run lab in Wolverhampton.NHS test and trace has suspended testing operations by Immensa Health Clinic at its laboratory in Wolverhampton, the agency said. Continue reading...

People taking statins less likely to die from Covid, study suggests

Thursday October 14th, 2021 06:00:06 PM Andrew Gregory Health editor
Experts warn findings do not prove cholesterol-lowering drugs can reduce death ratesMillions of people who take statins may be less likely to die from Covid, research suggests.The cholesterol-lowering drugs are one of the world’s most popular medications. They can also reduce inflammation in blood vessels, which has prompted questions over whether they could help with outcomes in coronavirus patients. Continue reading...

Covid booster shots important to stop infection, finds English study

Thursday October 14th, 2021 05:01:41 AM Ian Sample Science editor
Study shows protection against Covid starts to wane several months after full vaccination Scientists have urged eligible people to have Covid booster shots after a major survey in England found evidence of “breakthrough infections” more than three months after full vaccination.Researchers at Imperial College London analysed more than 100,000 swabs from a random sample of the population and found that Covid infection rates were three to four times higher among unvaccinated people than those who had received two shots. Continue reading...

Figures of Babylon: oldest drawing of a ghost found in British Museum vault

Saturday October 16th, 2021 05:00:04 PM Dalya Alberge
A 3,500-year-old image tablet of a ‘miserable male ghost’ gives up its secretIts outlines are faint, only discernible at an angle, but the world’s oldest drawing of a ghost has been discovered in the darkened vaults of the British Museum.A lonely bearded spirit being led into the afterlife and eternal bliss by a lover has been identified on an ancient Babylonian clay tablet created about 3,500 years ago. Continue reading...

Climate study linking early Māori fires to Antarctic changes sparks controversy

Wednesday October 13th, 2021 11:27:43 PM Tess McClure in Christchurch and Eva Corlett in Wellington
Research tying Māori activity 700 years ago to Antarctic changes sparks debate in New Zealand over Indigenous inclusion in scienceDeep in the ice of a remote Antarctic peninsula, a group of researchers found evidence that fires started by early Māori wreaked changes in the atmosphere detectable 7,000km away. In New Zealand, the research sparked a heated controversy of its own – over Indigenous inclusion in scientific enterprise, and what scientists owe the people whose history becomes a subject of their research.The research, published this month, examined ice cores from the Antarctic peninsula. Scientists found high concentrations of black carbon, dating back 700 years. Atmospheric modelling narrowed the possible sources to New Zealand, Patagonia or Tasmania – but only in New Zealand did charcoal records match the timeframe. The deposits coincided with Māori arrival in New Zealand, and showed downstream effects of Māori using fire to clear the land. Continue reading...

Ultrasound trial offers hope for brain cancer patients

Wednesday October 13th, 2021 05:00:26 PM Linda Geddes
New technique temporarily allows drugs to cross blood brain barrier to treat tumoursA technique has been developed that could revolutionise the treatment of brain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases by temporarily allowing drugs and other substances to cross the blood brain barrier – a structure that separates the brain’s blood vessels from the rest of its tissues.A trial in four women whose breast cancer had spread to the brain showed that magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) could safely deliver the antibody therapy Herceptin into their brain tissue, causing the tumours to shrink. Continue reading...

Drug trial offers new hope for those with metastatic breast cancer

Tuesday October 12th, 2021 11:01:05 PM Andrew Gregory Health editor
Scientists are studying whether talazoparib could help treat those with incurable breast cancer Scientists have launched a new trial that could offer hope to those with incurable breast cancer.They are studying whether an existing drug, talazoparib, also known by the brandname Talzenna, may offer a new treatment to people with incurable breast cancer that has spread to the brain. Continue reading...

Bezos’ Blue Origin is at odds with everything Star Trek represents | Akin Olla

Wednesday October 13th, 2021 10:18:18 AM Akin Olla
The entire premise of Star Trek was utopian: it pushed the limits of diversity, progressivism and inclusion on television and the science fiction genreThe 90-year-old actor William Shatner, best known for his leading role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk of Star Trek: The Original Series, is headed to space, for real this time. Shatner will be launched off this Wednesday by on-again-off-again richest man in the world Jeff Bezos’s private aerospace company Blue Origin.The entire premise of Star Trek was utopian: it pushed the limits of diversity, progressivism and inclusion on television and the science fiction genre. That Shatner would be affiliated with Bezos feels like a contradiction. And yet, colonialism and capitalism are too embedded within the culture of the United States for even sacred projects like space travel or Star Trek to remain unsullied. Continue reading...

The Covid report should damn this government: it’s tragic that it won’t | Marina Hyde

Tuesday October 12th, 2021 12:55:35 PM Marina Hyde
It is a clear indictment of Boris Johnson’s administration and its scientific advisers. How jolly he’s still riding high in the pollsYou will note that good news bear Boris Johnson has given the old swerve-a-roo to the release of the Covid select committee report. Doubtless the prime minister would like to respond in full to this tragic indictment of the UK’s catastrophic response to the pandemic, but he is sadly prevented from doing so by being on his holibobs in Marbs. I hear the paella’s great, if that helps?Anyway: the report. Given that one of its milder conclusions is “pandemics like Covid-19 will become more common”, it feels like something to which we should pay attention. Then again if our overlords actually cared about “lessons being learned” from mass avoidable tragedy, we would have had a speedy inquiry into what went wrong in the first wave in summer 2020, as plenty of people were demanding at the time, which might have prevented tens of thousands more dying in the second wave. Hey ho. A real public inquiry is apparently scheduled for spring 2022. I haven’t got a date for the inquiry into the winter that we’re about to have, but will keep you posted.Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist Continue reading...

More people are dying at home than in the past | David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters

Sunday October 10th, 2021 10:00:09 AM David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters
Did they receive care and compassion from loved ones or did they die alone, fearful of getting infected in hospital?From the start of the pandemic to 24 September 2021, deaths at home in England and Wales have been 37% higher than the 2015-2019 average, according to the Office for National Statistics.For every three people who used to die at home, four now do. That’s more than 71,000 “excess” deaths, only 8,500 of which involved Covid. Even as mortality elsewhere fell back to past levels, dying in private homes has persistently remained above average. A natural question arises: are these “extra” deaths or a shift from other locations? Continue reading...

Why is England doing worse against Covid than its European neighbours? | Christina Pagel and Martin McKee

Thursday October 7th, 2021 09:00:48 AM Christina Pagel and Martin McKee
Instead of relying on vaccines alone, countries such as France and Germany are using extra measures to keep cases and deaths lowOnly two months after being forced at the last minute to “cancel Christmas” in 2020, Boris Johnson committed to a “cautious and prudent” roadmap out of lockdown that recognised the evolving epidemiology of the virus. But memories are short. On 19 July, all social distancing and face-covering requirements, as well as limits on the number of people at indoor or outdoor events, were lifted in England. As the summer progressed, international travel restrictions were eased and fully vaccinated people and children were no longer required to isolate if they had been in contact with someone who contracted Covid-19.Some people in England, and many more elsewhere, watched with astonishment. Israel, a world leader in vaccinations, was already seeing the beginning of a rapid increase in cases driven by the new Delta variant. England had a rising number of cases; 54% of the population was fully vaccinated by 19 July. CNN, capturing a widespread view, called England’s approach an “experiment” (a leader in the Irish Times prefaced that word with “reckless”). Fortunately the large increase in cases that some feared would arrive after 19 July didn’t materialise. According to the Sage modelling subgroup, this was largely due to a slow return to pre-pandemic behaviour, school holidays and continued home-working.Christina Pagel is director of UCL’s Clinical Operational Research Unit, which applies advanced analytical methods to problems in healthcare. Martin McKee is professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Continue reading...

The world finally has a malaria vaccine. Why has it taken so long? – podcast

Thursday October 14th, 2021 12:06:52 PM Presented and produced by Anand Jagatia
Last week the World Health Organization approved the world’s first malaria vaccine. It’s been hailed as a historic breakthrough that could save tens of thousands of lives each year. But researchers have been trying to create one for more than a century – so why has it taken so long? Anand Jagatia speaks to Dr Latif Ndeketa and Prof Chris Drakeley about how the new RTS,S vaccine works and why it’s been so difficult to produceArchive: WHO, ITV News Continue reading...

Is gene editing the future of food? – podcast

Tuesday October 12th, 2021 04:00:07 AM Presented and produced by Madeleine Finlay
The world’s harvests are coming under increasing pressure from extreme weather events, disease and deteriorating soil health – problems that are set to get worse in the next few decades. Could one solution be to genetically edit our food to make it more resilient? With the UK’s recent announcement that it will ease the rules for growing gene-edited crops in England, Madeleine Finlay investigates what it will mean for scientists researching the technology, and why it could become a critical tool for the future of our food Continue reading...

Covid-19: will there soon be a pill that stops us getting sick? – podcast

Thursday October 7th, 2021 04:00:42 AM Presented by Madeleine Finlay and produced by Anand Jagatia with reporting from Hannah Devlin
Last week the pharmaceutical company Merck released promising early data on a pill for Covid-19, which trials suggest halves hospitalisations and deaths. So what do we know about this experimental treatment? Madeleine Finlay talks to the Guardian’s science correspondent Hannah Devlin about whether this antiviral could be a gamechanger. And as some UK experts warn ‘there isn’t much A&E capacity left’, we also hear from Prof Peter Horby on the importance of drugs in the fight against Covid-19Archive: NBC News Continue reading...

Trio of scientists win Nobel prize for physics for climate work

Tuesday October 5th, 2021 11:53:05 AM Linda Geddes
Sykuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi share award for advancing climate knowledgeThree scientists have won the 2021 Nobel prize in physics for their groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems – including how humanity influences the Earth’s climate.The winners, Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi, will share the award, announced on Tuesday, presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000). Continue reading...

Viva la vulva: why we need to talk about women’s genitalia

Saturday October 16th, 2021 02:00:07 PM Eleanor Morgan
Ignorance about the basic biology of vulvas is still shockingly high – yet there are huge health benefits, physical and emotional, to be won with better understandingIf you have a vulva between your legs, could you identify the seven separate structures in a mirror? If your partner has a vulva, can you identify theirs?For over half the population, the vulva is a significant part of their body; an exit and an entrance, a site of pleasure and, often, pain, that speaks to core human function and need. In 2021, it can feel as if we’re on the cliff-edge of emancipation from the history of oppression and ick surrounding female genitalia. The booming sex toy market, a growing awareness of hormonal cycles and the messy reality of periods, a sharper focus on female pleasure and evolving conversations about menopause all point to real progress. Yet there remains a well of misunderstanding in society about what’s down there (clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, urethral opening, vaginal opening, perineum and anus, by the way), with tangible consequences. Continue reading...

More power to Mark Billingham’s book-hurling elbow. I might join in | Rebecca Nicholson

Saturday October 16th, 2021 04:00:02 PM Rebecca Nicholson
Life’s too short for bad literature, so let’s follow the writer’s exampleDo you ditch a book if it does not immediately grab your attention or do you trudge through it joylessly, weighed down by some invisible obligation to complete it, no matter how arduous the task? The writer Mark Billingham got stuck into this endless debate at the Cheltenham literature festival last week, admitting that he gives up on five out of 10 books that he starts, because “life’s too short” and “there are so many great books out there”. If genre fiction, in particular, doesn’t grab you after 20 pages, he said, “then, for God’s sake, throw it across the room angrily”.The thought of it! It is so bold, so cavalier. There are two books in particular that I went on to adore, after several abandoned attempts to read them. It quite literally took me years to get into both Wolf Hall and The Luminaries and it was only a combination of very lazy, pool-based holidays and dogged perseverance that finally got me to stick with them. I am very glad I did. They rewarded patience and in a culture of instant gratification this seems increasingly rare. Continue reading...

Covid: how did error over wrong PCR test results in UK happen?

Friday October 15th, 2021 11:16:48 AM Jamie Grierson
An estimated 43,000 people may have been given false negative results. Here are the key issuesCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageAn estimated 43,000 people may have been given wrong negative PCR Covid test results, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.Here we answer key questions about the error: Continue reading...

Well you would say that: the science behind our everyday biases

Saturday October 16th, 2021 04:00:03 PM Adam Rutherford
Covid has turned us into pandemic experts, all too ready to gainsay scientists and distorting our reasoning, but psychology can help us understand how our prejudices are formedAs I wasted an hour’s worth of petrol trying to find more petrol last month, Justin Webb poked at the chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, on the Today programme, seeking a reason why much of the country is running on fumes and why HGV drivers are currently more elusive than dark matter. Clarke explained that the problem is “driven in part by workforce demographics” – no doubt – and is “worsened by Covid restrictions”. Agreed. “And worsened by Brexit,” Webb helpfully chipped in. “That’s just a fact.”But no, Clarke was having none of it. “Well, no. It’s not a fact.” Continue reading...

Did you solve it? Another game of brutal genius from South Korea

Monday October 4th, 2021 04:00:26 PM Alex Bellos
The solutions to today’s puzzlesEarlier today I set you the following puzzles, designed by the South Korean puzzle master Han Dongkyu. The first two are a slow build up to what is one of the most fiendishly brilliant geometrical puzzles I have ever seen.If you want a print out of the puzzles, click here. Continue reading...

Can you solve it? Another game of brutal genius from South Korea

Monday October 4th, 2021 06:10:00 AM Alex Bellos
Will you make the cut?UPDATE: The solution can be seen here.Today’s three challenges are from Han Dongkyu, a talented young puzzle designer from South Korea. The first two will warm you up for the third, which is probably the most stunning example of a dissection puzzle I have ever seen. Prepare to be awed – and have your brain twisted inside out.1. Librarian’s Nightmare Part I Continue reading...

Did you solve it? Russia’s Prime Minister sets a geometry puzzle

Monday September 20th, 2021 04:00:10 PM Alex Bellos
The answer to today’s teaserEarlier today I set you the following puzzle, which was a challenge Russia’s Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, gave to a class of Russian sixth formers earlier this month.Construct a perpendicular from the (red) point on the circle to the diameter, without using any measuring devices. Continue reading...

Can you solve it? Russia’s Prime Minister sets a geometry puzzle

Monday September 20th, 2021 06:10:04 AM Alex Bellos
The ruler with a rulerUpdate: The solution can now be read hereEarlier this month, Russia’s Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, marked the first day of the school year by visiting a sixth form maths class at one of his country’s top science-oriented schools.The class was studying a problem about business. “Why do you guys need to do business projects in [school]?” he asked. “Fundamental knowledge is needed here, right?” Continue reading...

'Johnny'll love that': Ringo Starr wishes Nasa Lucy mission well – video

Saturday October 16th, 2021 12:03:25 PM
The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, was among those asked to add their messages to a Lucy mission plaque. The spacecraft has set off on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids, mostly around Jupiter's orbit. The mission was named after the 3.2m-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half a century. Dr Donald Johanson discovered the remains while the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was playing, passing on the name to his discovery Continue reading...

Prince William: great minds should focus on saving Earth not space travel – video

Thursday October 14th, 2021 08:27:08 AM
The Duke of Cambridge has criticised the space race and space tourism, saying the world’s greatest minds need to focus on fixing the Earth instead. In an interview with Newscast on BBC Sounds before his Earthshot prize awards, Prince William also warned about a rise in ‘climate anxiety’ among younger generations. His comments come the day after William Shatner, 90, made history by becoming the oldest person in spacePrince William criticises space race and tourism’s new frontier Continue reading...






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