First stars, bees, and chimps: this week in science | Miles O'Brien Productions

First stars, bees, and chimps: this week in science

Here’s a look back at this week in science, with stories you don’t want to miss.

Space babies
The world of astronomy was abuzz with the discovery of the light from the earliest stars. We now know that the first brilliant giants were born 180 million years after the Big Bang. Using a small but sensitive radio telescope in the heart of the Australian desert, researchers were able to pick out the signal of how that ancient light affected the hydrogen gas clouds around it.

But, wait, there’s more!
In an extra surprise, the signal hints at a possible time when dark matter interacted with normal matter using more than just gravity, pulling energy away from hydrogen clouds and making them much colder than the models ever predicted. More is sure to come from this type of investigation–if the findings are validated by other experiments. This discovery reminds me a lot of the recent dual-detection of colliding neutron stars, which similarly opened up a whole new avenue of astrophysics:

Beast from the East
If you live by the U.S. news cycle, you might have missed that Europe is currently in the tight grip of bitter cold weather. This cold front moved in from the Arctic, which is now in turn hitting record high temperatures. Many scientists, cautiously, are blaming climate change. Connecting the dots between specific extreme weather events and climate change is difficult, but scientists I talked to, like Lamont-Doherty climatologist Dr. Radley Horton, are starting to see some patterns:

This better BEE good news…
Sorry, it’s not. A comprehensive study by a European agency has confirmed that the widespread use of the neonicotinoid class of pesticides is harmful to bees. The study says that neonics can disrupt bees’ ability to learn, navigate, and reproduce. A European commission tasked with decide this year whether or not to ban the use of neonics has already said it will use this report to continue the push to ban the pesticides.

The politics of pesticides
In Europe, they regulate pesticides very differently than in the US. The so-called REACH regulation puts the burden on companies to prove a chemical is safe before it can be used. It’s just the opposite in the United States. Chemicals here are innocent until proven guilty and in this case the proof may be the collapse of many colonies of busy pollinators. Here is my take on neonics from last year:

When the sun don’t shine
I’m all for clean, renewable sources of energy, but what do we do when the Sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? A new report says that getting up to 80% renewables is feasible for the U.S., but going all the way to 100% is not practical considering we don’t have good enough battery technology to store the electricity we create for use during those still, dark nights. Might fusion energy hold the answer? One company is getting closer:

A heartwarming milestone
This week marks the first time there are more chimpanzees in sanctuaries than in labs in the U.S. “In 2017, 42 individuals made their way from Alamogordo Primate Facility to Chimp Haven,” reported the nation’s official chimp sanctuary. “As the last new arrivals for the year in December set foot on sanctuary soil, an important balance shifted – the number of chimpanzees who remain in research laboratories is now fewer than those who are living in accredited sanctuaries throughout the country.” There are now more than 230 chimps in the Shreveport, Louisiana facility, which I had the great joy to visit a few years back:

Banner image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

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