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: Friday July 23rd, 2021 10:14:40 PM

Enormous balloon could help astronomers get clear view of space

Tuesday July 20th, 2021 11:01:40 PM Alex Hern
SuperBIT project will suspend telescope under balloon the size of a football stadium 25 miles above surface of EarthA balloon the size of a football stadium could help astronomers get crystal-clear shots of space for a fraction of the cost of an orbital telescope like Hubble.The secret weapon behind the SuperBIT project is a simple helium balloon – albeit one that floats up to 25 miles (40km) above the surface of the Earth and expands to a football-stadium size when fully inflated. Continue reading...

AI firm DeepMind puts database of the building blocks of life online

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 03:00:27 PM Natalie Grover Science correspondent
AlphaFold program’s prediction of nearly 20,000 human protein structures now free for researchersLast year the artificial intelligence group DeepMind cracked a mystery that has flummoxed scientists for decades: stripping bare the structure of proteins, the building blocks of life. Now, having amassed a database of nearly all human protein structures, the company is making the resource available online free for researchers to use.The key to understanding our basic biological machinery is its architecture. The chains of amino acids that comprise proteins twist and turn to make the most confounding of 3D shapes. It is this elaborate form that explains protein function; from enzymes that are crucial to metabolism to antibodies that fight infectious attacks. Continue reading...

‘Part-time adventurers’: amateur fossil hunters get record haul in Cotswolds

Tuesday July 20th, 2021 11:01:39 PM Miranda Bryant
More than 1,000 scientifically significant specimens taken from former quarry after discoveryWhen Sally and Neville Hollingworth started going stir crazy in lockdown, rather than baking bread or doing quizzes on Zoom, the amateur palaeontologists turned to Google Earth.The couple passed the time planning for their next trip – using the satellite images to inspect sites that had previously yielded fossils – when they stumbled across a quarry in the Cotswolds. From the exposure of the geology Neville, who has a PhD in geology, could tell the site was promising, but he was not expecting it to yield one of the best fossil finds in the UK in decades. Continue reading...

Why does Jeff Bezos’s rocket look like that? An inquiry

Wednesday July 21st, 2021 01:11:10 AM Matthew Cantor
Experts weigh in on the ‘anthropomorphic’ design of New Shepard, the Amazon CEO’s Blue Origin rocketJeff Bezos’s 11-minute trip aboard a Blue Origin rocket to the edge of space on Tuesday left the world’s richest man feeling “unbelievably good” and his crew “very happy”. But afterwards, as he wondered aloud how fast he could refuel, the rest of the world was left pondering just why the New Shepard rocket had such a distinctive shape.As social media erupted with innuendo, we contacted a few experts to find out why it looked, in the words of one astrophysicist, so “anthropomorphic”. At one major research institution, the press officer referred us to the gender studies department, but Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was able to shed some light on the topic. Continue reading...

New device could help visually impaired avoid obstacles, research suggests

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 03:00:28 PM Nicola Davis Science correspondent
Chest-mounted video camera and vibrating wristbands developed by US team reduce collisions by 37% in small study Vibrating wristbands could help visually impaired people to avoid collisions when out and about, a study indicates.According to the NHS, about 360,000 people in the UK alone are registered as blind or partially sighted, with long canes and guide dogs among the methods used to help individuals avoid obstacles. Continue reading...

Spacewatch: UAE’s Hope Mars mission hits first anniversary

Friday July 23rd, 2021 05:00:45 AM Stuart Clark
Hope’s scientific mission is to study atmosphere and climate of Mars and is remarkable successIt is one year since the United Arab Emirates launched the Hope space mission from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima prefecture, in south-west Japan, to begin its journey to Mars.By 9 February 2021, Hope had crossed 493m km of space and performed the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) manoeuvre. On 23 March, Hope manoeuvred into its final operating orbit, a highly elliptical path that carried it from 20,000km to 43,000km in altitude above Mars, and, after a period of commissioning the instruments, science operations began on 23 May. Continue reading...

Pfizer vaccine second dose has ‘sweet spot’ after eight weeks, UK scientists say

Friday July 23rd, 2021 02:22:34 AM Press Association
Longer schedule led to more Covid antibodies and higher proportion of helper T-cells, supporting immune memory – researchersSee all our coronavirus coverageAn eight-week gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is a “sweet spot” when it comes to generating strong immune response while protecting the UK population against the Delta variant of coronavirus, scientists have said.In a study funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), researchers have found that when compared with a four-week gap, a 10-week interval between the doses produces higher antibody levels, as well as a higher proportion of a group of infection-fighting cells in the body known as “helper” T-cells. Continue reading...

Lockdowns do not harm health more than Covid, say researchers

Tuesday July 20th, 2021 06:00:19 AM Natalie Grover, Science correspondent
Little evidence that social restrictions during the pandemic have added to rates of death and ill-healthCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageSince early in the coronavirus pandemic, critics of unprecedented lockdown measures seen worldwide have argued that these interventions cause more harm than the disease itself. But an analysis of global health data suggests there is little evidence to support the idea that the cure is worse than the disease.The analysis, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, considered claims that lockdowns cause more health harms than Covid-19 by examining their impacts on measures including death rates, routine health services and mental health. Continue reading...

UK scientists back Covid boosters as study finds post-jab falls in antibodies

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 11:45:37 AM Ian Sample Science editor
Exclusive: Waning antibody levels are possible warning sign of lower protection in months after vaccination Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageScientists have backed proposals for Covid boosters in the autumn after blood tests on hundreds of people revealed that protective antibodies can wane substantially within weeks of second vaccine shots being given.Falls in antibodies after vaccination are expected and do not necessarily mean people are more vulnerable to disease, but the researchers are concerned that if the declines persist the effectiveness of the vaccines may diminish. Continue reading...

Keep wearing masks to slow spread of Covid, scientists warn Britons

Sunday July 18th, 2021 06:00:22 AM Robin McKie Observer science editor
Experts point to risks of indoor Covid-19 transmission: ‘If you don’t wear a mask, the virus spreads further. It’s as simple as that’Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageScientists have strongly endorsed the continued wearing of masks in enclosed public spaces over summer. As Covid-19 cases continue to spiral, face coverings offer people the most robust way of limiting the spread of the disease in cafes, theatres and restaurants, they said last week.Rates of new Covid-19 cases topped 50,000 a day last week, leading scientists and health experts to warn that the country could be forced into a lockdown later this year as rising numbers of infections look likely to continue until autumn. In these circumstances, they said, wearing of masks should be continued despite the government’s refusal to make such a move official. Continue reading...

Covid Australia live news updates: ‘national emergency’ as NSW vaccine request rejected

Friday July 23rd, 2021 09:51:14 PM Josh Taylor
Scott Morrison says no Pfizer doses will be taken from other states after Daniel Andrews called for ‘ring of steel’ around greater SydneyNSW restrictions; NSW hotspots; border restrictionsVaccine rollout tracker; get our free news app; get our morning email briefing 10.51pm BST ⚠️PUBLIC HEALTH ALERT⚠️NSW Health has been notified of a number of new and updated venues of concern and public transport routes associated with confirmed cases of COVID‑19, and of a new sewage detection. pic.twitter.com/ehPOZUlQuB 10.51pm BST Good morning and welcome to the live blog for Saturday. I’m Josh Taylor and will be taking you through the news of the day for Saturday.New South Wales health officials will be spending this weekend developing a roadmap out of lockdown after the state recorded 136 cases of Covid-19 on Friday, with 53 of them not isolating during their infectious period.We’re not going to disrupt the vaccination program around the rest of the country. That vaccination program is going and is hitting its marks and we want that to continue.” Continue reading...

PHE upgrade Delta variant’s risk level due to reinfection risk

Friday July 23rd, 2021 07:06:16 PM Ian Sample Science editor
Risk of reinfection with Delta may be 46% greater than with the Alpha variant, national testing data findsCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coveragePublic Health England has upgraded its risk assessment of the Delta variant after national testing data revealed it is more likely to cause reinfections than the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Kent.The health agency’s analysis found the risk of reinfection with Delta may be 46% greater than with the Alpha variant, with the highest risk seen six months after a first infection – when second cases caused by Delta were 2.37 times more common than with Alpha. Continue reading...

US in ‘another pivotal moment’ as Delta variant drives surge in Covid cases

Friday July 23rd, 2021 02:35:26 AM Joanna Walters in New York
Hospitals are filling up, especially in areas with low vaccinationsCDC offers no change in guidance on mask wearingThe US is “at another pivotal moment in this pandemic” as rising Covid-19 cases show no signs of abating, driven by the Delta variant, and some hospitals are filling up, especially in areas with low vaccination rates, government officials warned on Thursday.The US government did not change its guidance on mask wearing, despite debates going on in the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about whether those who have been vaccinated should once again be officially advised to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread. Continue reading...

Businesses that had no downturn from Covid crisis received $12.5bn jobkeeper windfall

Friday July 23rd, 2021 01:11:18 AM Ben Butler
Payments described as ‘waste of public money’ represent almost 14% of the $90bn programFollow our Covid live blog for the latest updatesRestrictions: NSW; Vic; Qld; SA; WA and NT; border restrictionsHotspots: NSW map; Vic list; Qld; WAVaccine rollout tracker; get our free news app; get our morning email briefingBusinesses that did not suffer any downturn in revenue as a result of the Covid crisis received a $12.5bn windfall from the government’s jobkeeper scheme, new figures show.The payments, which the opposition has called “the biggest waste of public money in living memory”, represent almost 14% of the $90bn program, which was designed to support workers at risk of losing their jobs at Covid-hit companies. Continue reading...

‘Trust the science’ is the mantra of the Covid crisis – but what about human fallibility?

Friday July 23rd, 2021 08:00:04 PM Margaret Simons
Science is the only method we have of understanding the world, making predictions, and rationally adapting our own behaviourFollow our Covid live blog for the latest updatesRestrictions: NSW; Vic; Qld; SA; WA and NT; border restrictionsHotspots: NSW map; Vic list; Qld; WAVaccine rollout tracker; get our free news app; get our morning email briefingAnyone else nostalgic for a time when we didn’t know the names of the nation’s chief health officers? Or when it would have been slightly ludicrous to declare, as a friend of mine did the other day, that they had a “favourite epidemiologist” among the bevy who are regularly on television?Marylouise McLaws was my friend’s favourite. Catherine Bennett, on the other hand, was regarded as too willing to take risks. Continue reading...

Witnessing England’s response to Covid at first hand has profoundly shocked me | William Hanage

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 08:36:17 AM William Hanage
On a visit to the UK from the US, I have seen how incoherent government policy is allowing Delta to run rampantWilliam Hanage is a Harvard epidemiology professorEngland ended all pandemic restrictions on Monday. Nightclubs reopened, along with other large events and gatherings – with masks, testing and other mitigation measures “encouraged” (which is another way of saying “optional”). This is against a background of skyrocketing case rates due to the Delta variant.In January, at the height of the second wave, the daily total hit 60,000 cases, but at the current rate of increase that will be eclipsed within days – even in the absence of all the renewed super-spreading opportunities that the virus will now enjoy. Thanks to the Covid-curious policies of the past few months, the UK is already in the grip of an uncontrolled epidemic among unvaccinated people, with significant numbers of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated. And both are about to get worse. Continue reading...

After Covid, the climate crisis will be the next thing the right says we ‘just have to live with’ | Aditya Chakrabortty

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 06:00:17 AM Aditya Chakrabortty
The politics of this new, extreme individualism will make collective responses to social crises impossibleSoon, a few of the more shameless newspaper commentators will urge the rest of us to “learn to live” with climate breakdown. Soon, a couple of especially sharp-elbowed cabinet ministers will sigh to the Spectator that, yes, carbon emissions should ideally be slashed – but we must make a trade-off between “lives and livelihoods”. Soon, a little platoon of Tory backbenchers will respond to TV pictures of another devastating flash flood or deadly heatwave by complaining about “fearmongering”. “Why is the BBC so doomy?” they’ll ask, as the death toll rises.Soon, shockingly soon, the cheap shots, the brazen stat-bending and the coprophagic cynicism that have warped British discourse since March 2020 will migrate from Covid to an even bigger and more lethal crisis: the climate emergency. And just as they have helped shape the self-inflicted catastrophe that England has embarked upon this week, so they will work their terrible influence on that one. Continue reading...

Covid restrictions on women giving birth are causing heartbreak. We need to be more humane | Hannah Dahlen

Wednesday July 21st, 2021 05:30:03 PM Hannah Dahlen
I’ve been studying the effects of restrictions on pregnant women since last year. Some are too harshHaving a baby is one of the most significant life events in the human spectrum of experiences.While it is a physical experience, it is also a profoundly social, psychological, cultural, and spiritual experience. This is something that is forgotten at times by busy health providers, but never by those giving birth and their partners. Continue reading...

Why are extreme weather events on the rise? (part one) – podcast

Tuesday July 20th, 2021 05:00:19 AM Produced and presented by Shivani Dave with reporting from Jonathan Watts
The Guardian’s global environment editor, Jonathan Watts, speaks to Shivani Dave about extreme weather events – including the extreme heat recently recorded in the US and Canada. In the first of two parts, we hear how extreme heat comes about and why extreme weather events such as floods and monsoons look set to become more likely and even more extreme Continue reading...

What are the risks of England unlocking on 19 July? – podcast

Thursday July 15th, 2021 05:00:33 AM Produced and Presented by Anand Jagatia with Ian Sample
Nearly all coronavirus restrictions in England are set to be lifted from Monday 19 July. But what are the risks of unlocking when we could be in the middle of a third wave of infections? The Guardian’s science editor, Ian Sample, talks to Anand Jagatia about how cases, hospital admissions and deaths are modelled to increase in the coming weeks, as well as the risks from long Covid and new variants Continue reading...

Covid-19: do we need to reframe the way we think about restrictions? - podcast

Tuesday July 13th, 2021 11:56:20 AM Presented & produced by Shivani Dave with Stephen Reicher
Before Downing Street urged ‘extreme caution’ around the lifting of restrictions on so-called ‘freedom day’, Shivani Dave spoke to Prof Stephen Reicher about how mixed messages surrounding restrictions can affect our behaviourCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverage Continue reading...

Daniel M Davis: ‘Unbelievable things will come from biological advances’

Saturday July 3rd, 2021 04:00:57 PM Ian Tucker
The immunology professor on the personal data which will shape our future and how the pandemic has fired everyone’s interest in the immune systemDaniel M Davis is a professor of immunology at the University of Manchester. He has published over 130 academic papers and two lauded popular science books, The Compatibility Gene and The Beautiful Cure. His third, The Secret Body, describes the forthcoming revolution in human health.As an immunologist, when you overhear conversations about antibodies or T-cells in the pub (when regulations permit), is it pleasing to you that these aspects of science have entered the public domain?Many terrible things have happened because of this pandemic, but the science of viruses and infections has come right to the foreground. As an immunologist I always thought my subject was quite important, but right now it’s become blatantly clear to everyone how critical it is to understand how the immune system works and how viruses evolve, and how infections spread between people. Without that deep understanding there wouldn’t have been progress in creating vaccines and many, many, many more people would have died. Continue reading...

Reasons to be fearful of China’s data-gathering | Letters

Saturday July 17th, 2021 01:00:01 PM Letters
We should be suspicious of the role of the Chinese Communist party in the harvesting of genetic data from unborn babies, argues William MatthewsIn her column (What does the Chinese military want with your unborn baby’s genetic data?, 10 July), Arwa Mahdawi suggested that the alleged involvement of the People’s Liberation Army (which is directly answerable to the Chinese Communist party) with BGI’s data-gathering (likewise answerable as a China-based company) is essentially equivalent to data-gathering by western companies. To suggest that the former case is worse, she argued, “smacks of Sinophobia”.As a scholar of China, I cannot agree. While the harvesting of genetic data by any company is frightening and fraught with ethical issues, it should be obvious that this is a false equivalence. It is undoubtedly worse if genetic data is gathered by a company which must also comply with the rule of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) and its military-industrial complex, a regime which harvests and aggregates data on its citizens on a massive scale and uses it directly to implement the most repressive system of social control on earth in Xinjiang. Continue reading...

Limited number of critical workers to be allowed to avoid self-isolation

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 08:32:43 PM Richard Partington, Jessica Elgot and Sarah Butler
Separate pilot daily testing programme will be expanded to up to 500 food and drink supply chain employersWorkers from 16 key sectors including health, transport and energy will not have to isolate after being pinged by the NHS Covid app, as it was revealed that more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were sent self-isolation alerts last week.The raft of changes, after days of frantic talks with industry leaders, came amid open Conservative revolt over the so-called “pingdemic” with the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warning the government that it was facing a crisis of public trust in the system. Continue reading...

Covid jab uptake slows among young people in England, PHE says

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 05:43:39 PM Nicola Davis Science correspondent
Scientists say efforts to increase vaccinations by tactics seen as coercive are less useful than good communication via role modelsCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageClearer information and messages from role models are needed to boost Covid vaccination uptake among young people, experts have said, as figures showed that fewer than 60% of 18- to 25-year-olds had received their first jab in England.Adults over the age of 18 have been eligible for vaccination against Covid-19 in England since 18 June. But according to the latest data from Public Health England (PHE), uptake of the vaccine in younger groups already appears to be levelling off. Continue reading...

Did you solve it? Oxford university admissions questions

Monday July 12th, 2021 04:00:18 PM Alex Bellos
The answers to today’s logical conundrumsEarlier today I set the following three puzzles, which have all been set during Oxford university admissions interviews for joint philosophy courses. In each case, there is an initial question, which almost all candidates answer correctly. The follow-up questions are more challenging.1. Stephanie’s surprise. Continue reading...

Can you solve it? Oxford university admissions questions

Monday July 12th, 2021 06:23:13 AM Alex Bellos
Brainteasers for budding philosophersUPDATE: Solutions can now be read here.Do you have what it takes to study philosophy at Oxford? Today’s three puzzles are ‘epistemic logic puzzles’, that is, puzzles concerned with reasoning about knowledge. But I know you know I know you know that.All three puzzles have been set in recent years during Oxford university admissions interviews for joint philosophy degrees. In each case, there is an initial question. Almost all candidates will answer this correctly, and I hope you will too. I’ve also included a sample of the follow-up questions. Only the best candidates will get everything right. Best of luck! Continue reading...

Did you solve it? Carl Friedrich Gauss, money saving expert

Monday June 28th, 2021 04:00:50 PM Alex Bellos
The answers to today’s puzzlesEarlier today I set you the following two puzzles, inspired by a money-saving trick devised by Carl Friedrich Gauss. (Click to the original for the explanation of the trick, and what it has got to do with Gauss).1. The double bill. Continue reading...

Can you solve it? Carl Friedrich Gauss, money saving expert

Monday June 28th, 2021 06:04:22 AM Alex Bellos
Take the 2021 envelope challenge!UPDATE: To read the answers click hereFinancially well-informed readers may have recently learned about a money-saving trick that uses a formula supposedly devised by Carl Friedrich Gauss, the 19th century maths colossus. The viral 100 envelope challenge is based on an apocryphal story that Gauss, when a young boy, outwitted his teacher by adding the numbers from 1 to 100 almost instantly.The child genius had realised that if you group the numbers from 1 to 100 in pairs, the sum is equal to (1 + 100) + (2 + 99) + (3 + 98) + … In other words, 101 + 101 + 101 + … Since there are 50 pairs of numbers, the sum is 101 x 50 = 5050. Continue reading...

How does the human body cope with extreme heat? (part two) – podcast

Thursday July 22nd, 2021 04:00:14 AM Presented and produced by Shivani Dave
We learned in our previous episode about the very real consequences that extreme heat has on human health and wellbeing, but there is little research into what actually happens to our bodies when exposed to extreme heat apart from in the world of sports science. In the second part of our discussion, as fears mount that the Tokyo Olympics will be the hottest on record and the world gears up for Cop26, Shivani Dave speaks to Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology Continue reading...

Richard Branson completes flight to edge of space – video

Sunday July 11th, 2021 06:06:42 PM
The British entrepreneur Richard Branson has successfully flown to the edge of space and back in his Virgin Galactic passenger rocket plane, days ahead of a rival launch by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 'I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars,' Branson said. 'Now, I’m an adult in a spaceship.'The rocket plane went into sub-orbital flight on Sunday morning, seventeen years after Branson founded Virgin Galactic to develop commercial spacecraft and cater to future space touristsRichard Branson flies to edge of space in Virgin Galactic passenger rocket plane Continue reading...

New album, Celestial Incantations, captures the 'sounds' of space – video

Friday June 25th, 2021 03:34:45 AM
It's true that sound waves can't travel in space. However electromagnetic and gravitational waves can. Now, a new album, Celestial Incantations, has turned these signals such as the oscillations of a comet, radiation from a galactic pulsar and the merger of two black holes into musical tracks. The album is a collaboration between Kim Cunio, an associate professor and convenor of musicology at the Australian National University, UK artist Diana Scarborough and Dr Nigel Meredith from the British Antarctic Survey. For those looking for a sonic journey through the cosmos, the album is free to stream and download‘Chirps’ in space: new album captures the sound of black holes colliding Continue reading...






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