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The Late Movies: Carl Sagan Interviewed By Ted Turner (!)

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In this 1989 CNN interview, Ted Turner interviews Carl Sagan on the environment, nuclear warfare, space, time travel, SETI, and other topics. Turner frequently seems to be out of his depth during this interview (as in part four, when he suggests that time travel to "live with the Indians" might be a good solution for modern-day environmental problems). Regardless, this is an interesting discussion, largely because of Sagan's calm, intelligent discourse. According to Wikipedia, this was supposed to be the fourteenth episode of Cosmos:

Some versions of the series including the first North American home video release included a specially made 14th episode, which consisted of an hour-long interview between Sagan and Ted Turner, in which the two discussed the series and new discoveries in the years since its first broadcast. This unique episode was not included in the DVD release.

So tonight, sit back and watch what was supposed to be the final installment of Cosmos -- albeit many years after the original, and without any of the wonderful production and theatricality of the original series.

Part 1 - Nuclear Weapons

While other topics are discussed, this is primarily about nuclear weapons and deterrence.

Sagan: "The professed function of the nuclear weapons on each side is to prevent the other side from using their nuclear weapons. If that's all it is, then we've gotta ask: how many nuclear weapons do you need to do that? ... You probably don't need more weapons than what's required to destroy every city on earth. There's only 2,300 cities. So, the United States, by that criteria, only needs 2,300 nuclear weapons -- well, we've got more than 25,000!"

Turner: "But not all those cities are our enemies!"

Sagan: "Of course not! A lot of those are our own cities!"

Part 2 - Nuclear Winter and the Environment

Turner: "Could you bring us up-to-date on [nuclear winter]?"

Sagan: (some minutes later) "We're in very bad trouble if we don't understand the planet we're trying to save."

Part 3 - Space & Time Travel

Sagan: "No other planet in the solar system is a suitable home for human beings; it's this world or nothing. That's a very powerful perception."

Turner: (some minutes later) "Are you a Socialist?"

Part 4 - The Environment, Time Travel, SETI, & Education

Turner: "If the world is gonna be environmentally degraded, you could take a few friends of yours and we could go back in the past and try and see if we couldn't live with the Indians a couple hundred years ago, before the white man came."

Sagan: "The trouble is that to do that, you need such an advanced technology that -- with that technology, you could solve our problem, or at least solve us. We might be more the problem than the technology."

Part 5 - Where Did We Come From, SDI, & Politics

Sagan: "I would love to believe that there was a God who made us, who's looking out for us, who's taking care of us, because we're in such a mess. [...] Then we would be relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. [...] But that does not seem to be the case; we have to solve our own problems."

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Space
Look Up! The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

October is always a great month for skywatching. If you missed the Draconids, the first meteor shower of the month, don't despair: the Orionids peak this weekend. It should be an especially stunning show this year, as the Moon will offer virtually no interference. If you've ever wanted to get into skywatching, this is your chance.

The Orionids is the second of two meteor showers caused by the debris field left by the comet Halley. (The other is the Eta Aquarids, which appear in May.) The showers are named for the constellation Orion, from which they seem to originate.

All the stars are lining up (so to speak) for this show. First, it's on the weekend, which means you can stay up late without feeling the burn at work the next day. Tonight, October 20, you'll be able to spot many meteors, and the shower peaks just after midnight tomorrow, October 21, leading into Sunday morning. Make a late-night picnic of the occasion, because it takes about an hour for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, lay out and take in the open skies, and let nature do the rest.

Second, the Moon, which was new only yesterday, is but a sliver in the evening sky, lacking the wattage to wash out the sky or conceal the faintest of meteors. If your skies are clear and light pollution low, this year you should be able to catch about 20 meteors an hour, which isn't a bad way to spend a date night.

If clouds interfere with your Orionids experience, don't fret. There will be two more meteor showers in November and the greatest of them all in December: the Geminids.

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science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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