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NASA

NASA Rocket Launch Will Create Blue-Green and Red Clouds on Sunday

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NASA

Mark your calendars for June 11, East Coast skywatchers: We may be in for a lovely show Sunday night, as NASA launches a sounding rocket and brightly colored vapor clouds into the night.

The (dog-inspired?) Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket is an information-gathering craft laden with instruments to capture information about our atmosphere and ionosphere. Its path will follow a sharp U-shaped trajectory, launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, soaring miles into the sky, peaking, then falling back to Earth and plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch is scheduled to occur between 9:04 and 9:19 p.m. EDT. Experts estimate that the flight will take about eight minutes from start to finish. Approximately four or five minutes after the rocket takes off, NASA will deploy 10 soda can–sized canisters full of reactive chemicals. The cans will burst 96 to 124 miles in the air, producing enormous, vibrant blooms of harmless red and blue-green clouds formed by the interaction of barium, strontium, and cupric-oxide. (These are commonly found in fireworks.) If the weather cooperates, these vapor tracers should be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward into Virginia.

Map predicting visibility of vapor tracers during a NASA rocket launch.
NASA

Scientists will track the movement and dissipation of the clouds to understand how particles and air are flowing through the sky above us. Deploying the vapor tracers at a distance from the rocket should help provide an even fuller picture of just what’s going on up there.

We’re using words like should and might because Sunday’s launch is far from a sure thing. It’s already been canceled and rescheduled four times—three times for overcast skies, and once due to the presence of some boats in the launch hazard area.

Those in Virginia or nearby (it's near the Delaware border) can head to the Wallops Visitor Center at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday to watch the launch up close.

The rest of us can catch it via Ustream or on the project’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

For launch and project updates, check out the Wallops website or download the adorably corny What’s Up at Wallops app, available through Google Play and iTunes.

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environment
Environmental Pollution Is Deadlier Than Smoking, War, AIDS or Hunger, Experts Find
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In 1970, Congress pushed forward the Clean Air Act, which took aggressive steps to monitor and control pollutants in the environment via federal regulations. Over the years, people living in the United States have been exposed to considerably fewer contaminants such as lead and carbon monoxide.

But as a new study in the Lancet medical journal points out, pollution continues to be a global crisis, and one that might carry a far more devastating mortality rate than previously believed. Analyzing the complete picture of contaminated regions around the globe, study authors believe pollution killed 9 million people in 2015—more than smoking, AIDS, war, or deaths from hunger.

The study’s authors aggregated premature deaths on a global basis that were attributable to pollution, singling out certain regions that continue to struggle with high concentrations of toxic materials. In India, one in four premature deaths (2.5 million) was related to environmental contamination. In China, 1.8 million people died due to illnesses connected to poor air quality.

A lack of regulatory oversight in these areas is largely to blame. Dirty fossil fuels, crop burning, and burning garbage plague India; industrial growth in other locations often leads to pollution that isn’t being monitored or controlled. Roughly 92 percent of deaths as a result of poor environmental conditions are in low- or middle-income countries [PDF].

The study also notes that the 9 million estimate is conservative and likely to rise as new methods of connecting pollution-related illness with mortality in a given area are discovered. It’s hoped that increased awareness of the problem and highlighting the economic benefits of a healthier population (lower health care costs, for one) will encourage governments to take proactive measures.

[h/t Phys.org]

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This Just In
Pablo Neruda's Death Wasn't Caused by Cancer, Experts Conclude
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MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

Pablo Neruda—whose real name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto—died on September 23, 1973, less than two years after he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. The official cause of death was recorded as cancer cachexia, or wasting syndrome, from prostate cancer. But while Neruda did have cancer, new tests on his remains indicate that the left-leaning Chilean politician and poet didn’t actually succumb to the disease, according to BBC News.

It’s still unclear what, exactly, caused Neruda’s demise. But in a recent press conference, a team of 16 international experts announced that they were "100 percent convinced" that the author's death certificate "does not reflect the reality of the death,” as quoted by the BBC.

Neruda died in 1973 at the age of 69, less than two weeks after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. Neruda, a Communist, was a former diplomat and senator, and a friend of the deposed politician.

In 2011, Manuel Araya, Neruda’s chauffeur, claimed that the poet had told him that Pinochet’s men had injected poison into his stomach as he was hospitalized during his final days, Nature reports. The Communist Party of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit, and Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and later reburied in 2016, according to the BBC.

Many of Neruda’s relatives and friends were reportedly skeptical of Araya’s account, as was the Pablo Neruda Foundation, according to The New York Times. But after samples of Neruda’s remains were analyzed by forensic genetics laboratories in four nations, Chile’s government acknowledged that it was “highly probable” that his official cause of death was incorrect.

And now, the team of scientists has unanimously ruled out cachexia as having caused Neruda’s death. “There was no indication of cachexia,” said Dr. Niels Morling, a forensic medical expert from the University of Copenhagen, as quoted by The Guardian. Neruda “was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection.”

The investigating team says that their analysis yielded what might be lab-cultivated bacteria, although it could have also originated from the burial site or been produced during the body's decomposition process. Test results will be available within a year, they say.

[h/t BBC News]

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