Scoring A Touchdown On Mars
February 19, 2021
The Good News
- A black-footed ferret has been cloned, a first for a US endangered species (Nat Geo)
- Stranger buys boy a basketball hoop after seeing him shooting hoops into a trash can (ABC)
- Experts identify ‘super-plant’ that absorbs roadside air pollution (Guardian)
“The stars will never be won by little minds; we must be big as space itself.” — Robert A. Heinlein
“We are the representatives of the cosmos; we are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.” — Carl Sagan
Scoring A Touchdown On Mars
(Christophe Petit Tesson via Getty Images)
On Thursday afternoon, mankind persevered through “seven minutes of terror” on our way to understanding the mysteries of our closest neighboring planet, Mars. Against all odds, NASA’s Perseverance science rover touched down on the surface of the Red Planet at 3:55 pm EST, making it the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world. The feat marks the end of the unmanned spacecraft’s seven-month journey, kicking off what NASA’s associate administrator of science Thomas Zurbuchen dubbed a “new era” of space exploration.
The rover’s descent into Mars was truly an incredible display of modern technology, reaching speeds of 12,400 miles per hour before using a combination of parachutes, thrusters, and “sky cranes” to achieve a cushy landing nearly 128 million miles from Earth. “The good news is the spacecraft, I think, is in great shape,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager who oversaw the $2.7 billion project.
Now that the Perseverance has successfully landed, it will begin its primary objective: scouring Mars for remnants of microbial life that may have inhabited the planet 3 billion years ago. The rover will collect samples of ancient sediments with the hopes of returning them back to Earth for further analysis later in the decade. If these samples can complete the long journey back, it will mark the first time humans have ever retrieved physical evidence from another planet.
President Joe Biden congratulated the American space agency on its pioneering achievement, tweeting: “Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.”
An Orthodox COVID Crisis
(Mostafa Alkharouf via Getty Images)
- Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This community, known as Haredim, makes up just 12.6% of Israel’s population, while carrying 28% of the country’s infections.
- Haredi are reluctant to participate in Israel’s mainstream secular society, opting out of military service and even employment. Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain Haredi sects have also been reluctant to follow public health procedures, keeping schools and synagogues open and attending masses and funerals without masks. Other Haredi groups, however, have closely followed pandemic protocols, masking up and staying home. Some Haredi have even organized to provide healthcare within their communities, hosting hotlines to identify cases within Haredi circles and providing oxygen and healthcare when needed.
- On top of the Haredi community’s internal conflict regarding how to live during the pandemic, COVID-19 has further increased the divide between Haredi and secular Israeli society. Secular Israelis see Haredi masses and funerals as a danger to society as a whole, while Haredi people see secular protests outside the prime minister’s residence as a double standard. (NYT)
Europe’s On Thin Ice
- When freezing temperatures swept Europe, many were excited at the prospect of playing in the snow and on the frozen-over ponds and canals — however, some paid the price. Many cases of skaters falling into freezing waters were reported and caught on camera as people took to the thin ice, with some cases requiring police helicopters and hospital visits.
- Authorities have urged people to behave responsibly as temperatures fell to levels that had not been seen in years. In some countries, such as Athens, unusual snowfall forced COVID-19 vaccinations to be halted, with authorities requesting citizens go outside only for essential activities. In Germany, a homeless aid group, BAG W, said last week that five people had died in the cold in a week. (NYT)
Additional World News
- As Fox News Struggles at Home, Murdoch Brings Its Playbook to the U.K. (NYT, $)
- Climate change may be behind the massive craters forming in Siberia (CNN)
- Climate activist Disha Ravi has been arrested in India for supporting farmers’ protests (Vox)
- Two journalists jailed for two years in Belarus for filming protests (Reuters)
- Princess Latifa: ‘Hostage’ ordeal of Dubai ruler’s daughter revealed (BBC)
- Amazon documents reveal company’s strategy to dodge India’s regulators (Reuters)
- Epic Games files antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU (CNBC)
- What to make of the Biden administration’s first overseas calls (Axios)
It’s Due Time For A Dip
- Despite the CDC’s pandemic forecasting models projecting that COVID-19 cases would grow throughout February, there have actually been signs of a decline in daily cases as the month draws to a close. Some people have tried to figure out what caused this shift in the numbers. Many believe that the number one reason is that people’s behavior has shifted to a “new normal.” More Americans are socially distancing and wearing masks, which has led to fewer cases and a slower spread of the virus.
- However, human behavior is not the only thing that has changed – the weather has changed, which has coincided with the pattern of COVID-19 spread. Some studies have begun linking COVID-19 to seasons of the year. In addition, theories of partial immunity have been discussed. As the number of cases went up, so did the number of people who became at least partially immune to the virus as they recovered.
- Lastly, the vaccination rollout has definitely impacted the number of hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19 in the United States. As more people are vaccinated, fewer people are being hospitalized with COVID-19, and though the pandemic is not over, there are good signs and positive trends for the time being.
Expect A Lower Expectancy
- As one might expect during a pandemic, the average life expectancy in America has dropped by a full year (although honestly, it still hurts to hear). From 2019 to 2020, life expectancy dropped from 78.8 years to 77.8. While deaths from COVID-19 are the main cause of the decline, the CDC has noted that drug overdoses were also a huge factor in the drop.
- Like many other situations in the United States, this change has most negatively impacted the Black and Hispanic community, with the average Hispanic life expectancy lowering by almost 2 years and the average Black life expectancy dropping an alarming 2.7 years. Black males had the largest decline of 3 years. This accurately reflects the disproportionate rates at which Black and Latino Americans have been dying from COVID-19. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- A Harriet Tubman $20? That’s Just the Beginning (Politico)
- Police Unions Lose Bid to Keep Disciplinary Records a Secret & Police Forces Have Long Tried to Weed Out Extremists in the Ranks. Then Came the Capitol Riot. (NYT, $)
- Promotions for Female Generals Were Delayed Over Fears of Trump’s Reaction (NYT, $)
- The New Debt Prisons (NYT, $)
- Republicans Back Trump Because of the Insurrection, Not Despite It (Atlantic, $)
- The Coal Industry Is Doubling Down Against Biden’s Climate Agenda (Vice)
- Millions Are Out Of A Job. Yet Some Employers Wonder: Why Can’t I Find Workers? (NPR)
Pixel (Not So) Perfect
- Have you heard of a “spy pixel”? You probably haven’t, and it’s not nearly as cool as it sounds. These pixels are placed into emails and are able to let the sender know if the email has been opened, how many times it has been opened, what device opened it, and the general location of the recipient.
- This pixel is called a pixel because it is usually a 1×1 pixel image or GIF that is dropped into an email. This pixel is most often used by marketing teams to gauge the effectiveness of an email campaign. The BBC investigation revealed that many popular UK brands use these pixels such as British Airways, TalkTalk, Vodafone, & Sainsbury’s.
- Opening one of these emails can in fact give away a bit of your personal information. If the pixel relays your “cookies,” the sender of the email may have access to some of your browsing data. They can then use this to send more personalized emails using the information they’ve learned.
- Thankfully there are 3rd party programs that can easily block these pixels from collecting your information. The UK and other parts of Europe have also created laws that require companies to disclose when they are using the spy pixel. (BBC)
- Grind Your Teeth? Your Night Guard May Not Be the Right Fix (NYT, $)
- ‘Spy pixels in emails have become endemic’ (BBC)
- The Auto Industry Bets Its Future on Batteries (NYT, $)
- How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Career (NYT, $)
- The Beach Bum Who Beat Wall Street and Made Millions on GameStop (Ringer)
- Citibank just got a $500 million lesson in the importance of UI design (Ars Technica)
- How to get more space in your Google storage (The Verge)
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