News at a glance: Gravitational wave tracking, a lunar rover and the “best fossil hunter” | Science


ASTRONOMY

Fast glasses to spy on gravitational wave sources

Last week, researchers reached the midpoint of building a pair of observatories designed to pinpoint the location of cataclysmic events detected by gravitational wave detectors so other astronomers can quickly zoom in on the aftermath. . The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) uses two sets of 16 small telescopes, one in the Canary Islands – now operational – and one in Australia, the construction of which has just begun. They will automatically spring into action when gravitational wave detectors, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States and Virgo in Italy, register a spatiotemporal ripple caused by events such as a merger of two black holes. Such detectors do not give precise locations, so GOTO’s oscilloscopes will scan the region of space to quickly clear up objects that might be the source of the wave; operators will then send out alerts, giving more sensitive optical telescopes a location to aim for. A neutron star merger, spotted gravitationally in 2017, produced visible signals, but telescopes took 11 hours to find them after the event became known and missed the early stages of the explosion. The £4.4m GOTO Telescopes hope to do better and flag candidates within half an hour. Project leaders aim to be ready by March 2023, when LIGO and Virgo upgrades are complete and they begin their next observation missions.

INFECTIOUS DISEASES

Monkeypox emergency declared

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week declared the global outbreak of monkeypox, which has sickened more than 15,000 people in at least 70 countries, a public health emergency of international concern (USPPI), even if a sharply divided advisory committee had not recommended doing so. . In June, the WHO’s Monkeypox Emergency Committee initially advised against granting the outbreak USPPI status – which grants the WHO additional powers and helps focus political attention. on an epidemic – a decision that was widely criticized. At its second meeting on July 21, the panel could not reach consensus, with nine members opposing a USPPI statement and six supporting it. (The meeting was followed by tense exchanges between the participants by e-mail and SMS, Science learned.) Opponents noted that monkeypox is not yet circulating in the general population; it has been observed mainly in men who have sex with men. But others have pleaded for action now because there is a danger that the virus will become established in the wider population in the long term. On July 23, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the outbreak met International Health Regulations criteria and, in an unprecedented move, declared a USPPI anyway.

LUNAR SCIENCE

NASA delays launch of lunar rover

NASA’s first robotic rover to visit the Moon will be delayed a year from its November 2024 launch, the agency announced last week. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, known as VIPER, will land at the Moon’s south pole in search of water ice. The delay, which will bring the $754 million mission closer to China’s planned launch of a similar device, will allow further testing of the lunar lander, developed by Astrobotic Technology, which will carry the rover on the Earth’s first lunar landing. lander.

[He] was arguably the best fossil hunter the world has ever had.

  • The National Museums of Kenya
  • in The starat the death of 81-year-old Kamoya Kimeu, a Kenyan who found many important hominid fossils, including “Turkana Boy”, a homo erectus skeleton, in 1984.
BREXIT

‘Plan B’ for UK science funding

The British government announced last week a national program to replace the funding that UK-based researchers would have had access to of the European Union’s flagship research programme. The EU has avoided finalizing a deal allowing the UK to participate in the 7-year, €95 billion Horizon Europe program due to ongoing trade disputes in Northern Ireland. The UK’s ‘plan B’ would come into effect if the Horizon deal fails altogether. UK researchers could continue to participate in Horizon-funded international collaborations that include at least three partners in EU Member States or other countries associated with Horizon. EU rules would require these UK researchers to bring their own funding to the table, and Plan B would place no immediate limits on funding for such consortium participation.

CONSERVATION

Trump’s cash policy reversed

Completing a review promised by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finished last week rolling back changes to the Endangered Species Act by the administration of former President Donald Trump. One of Trump’s changes weakened a provision that governs when landowners can damage critical habitat needed for endangered species to survive. The Trump rule would have required the FWS to allow landowners to do such damage — by filling in wetlands, for example — if they showed credible evidence that continuing to protect critical habitat would cause economic harm. On July 21, the Biden administration reinstated a previous rule that allowed FWS to use its discretion on the advisability of acceding to these requests. In June, the agency reversed a separate Trump-era decision that has raised the bar for designating land as critical habitat.

PALEONTOLOGY

Oldest known living animal relative revealed

artist's reconstruction of Auroralumina attenboroughii
BRITISH GEOLOGICAL SURVEY/© UK RESEARCH AND INNOVATION

A fossil of an organism between 556 and 562 million years old shows features resembling those of modern jellyfish and corals, and appears to be the oldest example of an evolutionary group still alive today. Paleobiologist Philip Wilby and his colleagues at the British Geological Survey discovered the new fossil in Charnwood Forest, a hotbed of Precambrian paleontology in central England. The organism predates the Cambrian Explosion of around 539 million years ago, which scientists have historically accepted as the origin of modern animals. The specimen, Auroralumina attenboroughii (artist’s reconstruction, above), belongs to a group called cnidarianswhich includes today’s jellyfish and corals, the research team concludes this week by Nature ecology and evolution. The symmetry of its body resembles that of modern jellyfish. The team chose its name in part to honor naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, who grew up near Charnwood and brought attention to its fossils.

LEADERSHIP

Surgeon at the head of the cancer institute

President Joe Biden is expected to choose cancer surgeon Monica Bertagnolli as the next director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the world’s largest funder of cancer research. Bertagnolli, a physician-scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, specializes in gastrointestinal cancers and is well known for her expertise in clinical trials. His laboratory research on tumor immunology and the role of a gene called APC in colorectal cancer led to a landmark trial she led showing that an anti-inflammatory drug can help prevent this cancer. Bertagnolli, 63, will be the first woman to lead NCI.

LEADERSHIP

A head for a ‘high risk’ UK funder

Ilan Gur, entrepreneur and materials scientist, will lead the new UK agency to fund original research leading to commercial impact. The government created the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) this year, modeled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its sponsorship of “high-risk” science. , with high reward”. In February, ARIA selected DARPA Deputy Director Peter Highnam as its leader, but he stepped down before starting work. Gur worked as a program officer at ARPA-E, the US Department of Energy’s version of DARPA. He also founded the American non-profit organization Activate, which has supported the creation of more than 100 science startups, according to a government statement. To encourage innovative grantmaking, ARIA’s £800m 4-year budget will be separate from that of the country’s main research funder, UK Research and Innovation; the sum represents only 1% of total R&D expenditure. Unlike DARPA and ARPA-E, ARIA so far lacks a specific research focus, which some observers say will undermine its effectiveness.

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