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COVID: Wildlife the latest frontier in coronavirus fight – CTV News

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GRAND PORTAGE, MINN. —
To administer this COVID test, Todd Kautz had to lay on his belly in the snow and worm his upper body into the narrow den of a hibernating black bear. Training a light on its snout, Kautz carefully slipped a long cotton swab into the bear’s nostrils five times.

For postdoctoral researcher Kautz and a team of other wildlife experts, tracking the coronavirus means freezing temperatures, icy roads, trudging through deep snow and getting uncomfortably close to potentially dangerous wildlife.

They’re testing bears, moose, deer and wolves on a Native American reservation in the remote north woods about 5 miles from Canada. Like researchers around the world, they are trying to figure out how, how much and where wildlife is spreading the virus.

Scientists are concerned that the virus could evolve within animal populations, potentially spawning dangerous viral mutants that could jump back to people, spread among us and reignite what for now seems to some people like a waning crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as a stark and tragic example of how closely animal health and human health are linked. While the origins of the virus have not been proven, many scientists say it likely jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through another species that was being sold live in Wuhan, China.

And now the virus has been confirmed in wildlife in at least 24 U.S. states, including Minnesota. Recently, an early Canadian study showed someone in nearby Ontario likely contracted a highly mutated strain from a deer.

“If the virus can establish itself in a wild animal reservoir, it will always be out there with the threat to spill back into the human population,” said University of Minnesota researcher Matthew Aliota, who is working with the Grand Portage Reservation team.

E.J. Isaac, a fish and wildlife biologist for the reservation that’s home to the Grand Portage Ojibwe, said he expects the stakes to get even higher with the start of spring, as bears wake from hibernation and deer and wolves roam to different regions.

“If we consider that there are many species and they’re all intermingling to some extent, their patterns and their movements can exponentially increase the amount of transmission that could occur,” he said.

INTO THE WILD

Their research is meant to ward off such unwelcome surprises. But it carries its own set of risks.

Seth Moore, who directs the reservation biology and environment department, recently almost got bitten by a wolf.

And they sometimes team with a crew from the Texas-based company Heliwild to capture animals from the air. One chilly late-winter afternoon, the men climbed into a small helicopter with no side doors that lifted above the treetops. Flying low, they quickly spotted a deer in a forest clearing. They targeted the animal from the air with a net gun and dropped Moore off.

Wind whipped at his face as he worked in deep snow to quickly swab the deer’s nose for COVID, put on a tracking collar and collect blood and other biological samples for different research.

The men capture moose in much the same way, using tranquilizer darts instead of nets. They trap wolves and deer either from the air or on the ground, and trap bears on the ground.

They knew of the young male bear they recently tested because they had already been tracking it. To get to the den, they had to take snowmobiles to the bottom of a hill then hike a narrow, winding path in snow shoes.

When Kautz crawled part-way into the den, a colleague held his feet to pull him out quickly if necessary. The team also gave the animal a drug to keep it sleeping and another later to counteract the effects of the first.

To minimize the risk of exposing animals to COVID, the men are fully vaccinated and boosted and get tested frequently.

The day after testing the bear, Isaac packed their samples to send to Aliota’s lab in Saint Paul. The veterinary and biomedical researcher hopes to learn not just which animals are getting infected but also whether certain animals are acting as “bridge species” to bring it to others. Testing may later be expanded to red foxes and racoons.

It’s also possible the virus hasn’t reached this remote location – yet. Since it’s already circulating in the wilderness of Minnesota and nearby states, Aliota said it’s only a matter of time.

LOOKING FOR MUTANTS

Close contact between humans and animals has allowed the virus to overcome built-in barriers to spread between species.

To infect any living thing, the virus must get into its cells, which isn’t always easy. Virology expert David O’Connor likens the process to opening a “lock” with the virus’ spike protein “key.”

“Different species have different-looking locks, and some of those locks are not going to be pickable by the key,” the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist said.

But other locks are similar enough for the virus to enter an animal’s cells and make copies of itself. As it does, it can randomly mutate and still have a key that fits in the human lock. That allows it to leap back to humans through close contact with live animals, scientists believe.

Although spillback is rare, it only takes one person to bring a mutated virus into the realm of humans.

Some think the highly mutated Omicron variant emerged from an animal rather than an immune-compromised human, as many believe. Virologist Marc Johnson of the University of Missouri is one of them, and now sees animals as “a potential source of pi,” the Greek letter that may be used to designate the next dangerous coronavirus variant.

Johnson and his colleagues found strange coronavirus lineages in New York City sewage with mutations rarely seen elsewhere, which he believes came from animals, perhaps rodents.

What scientists are most concerned about is that current or future variants could establish themselves and multiply widely within a reservoir species.

One possibility: white-tailed deer. Scientists found the coronavirus in a third of deer sampled in Iowa between September 2020 and January 2021. Others found COVID-19 antibodies in a third of deer tested in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. Infected deer generally have no symptoms. Testing in many other wild species has been limited or absent.

“It’s possible that the virus is already perhaps circulating in multiple animals,” said virology expert Suresh Kuchipudi of Pennsylvania State University, an author of the Iowa deer study. If unmonitored, the virus could leave people “completely blindsided,” he said.

CAN IT BE STOPPED?

Ultimately, experts say the only way to stop viruses from jumping back and forth between animals and humans — extending this pandemic or sparking a new one — is to tackle big problems like habitat destruction and illegal wildlife sales.

“We are encroaching on animal habitats like we have never before in history,” Aliota said. “Spillover events from wild animals into humans are, unfortunately I think, going to increase in both frequency and scope.”

To combat that threat, three international organizations — the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Health Organization — are urging countries to make COVID surveillance in animals a priority.

In Grand Portage, Aliota’s collaborators continue to do their part by testing as many animals as they can catch.

With icy Lake Superior sparkling through the evergreens, Isaac slipped his hand beneath the netting of a deer trap. A colleague straddling the animal lifted its head off the snowy ground so that Isaac could swab its nostrils.

The young buck briefly lurched its head forward, but kept still long enough for Isaac to get what he needed.

“Nicely done,” his colleague said as Isaac put the sample into a vial.

When they were finished, they gently lifted the trap to let the deer go. It bounded into the vast forest without looking back, disappearing into the snowy shadows.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Scientists Unearth the Mystery of Mirror World to Solve the Hubble Constant Problem – AZoQuantum

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According to a new study, an unseen ‘mirror world’ of particles that interacts with the universe solely through gravity might be the key to solving a crucial cosmological issue—the Hubble constant problem.

An artist’s rendition of the COBE Satellite. Image Credit: Matthew Verdolivo, UC, Davis.

The Hubble constant is the current rate of cosmic expansion, but the rate predicted by cosmology’s standard model is far slower than the rate discovered by the most accurate local observations. Many cosmologists have attempted to resolve this difference by altering the present cosmological paradigm.

The objective is to do so without jeopardizing the consistency of standard model predictions with many other cosmological phenomena, such as cosmic microwave background.

The issue that scholars like Francis-Yan Cyr-Racine, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, Fei Ge, and Lloyd Knox at the University of California, Davis, have been seeking to answer is if such a cosmic scenario exists.

Cosmology, according to NASA, is the scientific study of the universe’s large-scale characteristics. Cosmologists investigate topics such as dark matter and dark energy, as well as whether there is only one universe or a multiverse. Cosmology encompasses the entire cosmos, from conception to death, and is full of mysteries and intrigue.

Cyr-Racine, Ge, and Knox have now identified a previously overlooked mathematical characteristic of cosmological models that, in theory, might allow for a quicker expansion rate without affecting the mainstream cosmology model’s most accurately proven other predictions.

Most dimensionless cosmic observables are substantially invariant when gravitational free-fall rates and photon-electron scattering rates are scaled uniformly.

Basically, we point out that a lot of the observations we do in cosmology have an inherent symmetry under rescaling the universe as a whole. This might provide a way to understand why there appears to be a discrepancy between different measurements of the Universe’s expansion rate.

Francis-Yan Cyr-Racine, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of New Mexico

The study was published in Physical Review Letters.

This finding suggests a new way to reconcile measurements of the cosmic microwave background and large-scale structure with high Hubble constant H0 values by discovering a cosmological model in which the scaling transformation can be demonstrated without violating any measurements of values not protected by symmetry.

This effort has paved the way for a novel approach to tackling a difficult challenge. Additional model development might provide uniformity to the two remaining constraints: the inferred primordial deuterium and helium abundances.

Researchers are driven to an incredibly fascinating conclusion if the universe is somehow leveraging this symmetry: there is a mirror universe that is remarkably identical to ours but unseen, except through the gravitational influence on this world.

The “mirror world” dark sector would lead to efficient scaling of gravitational free-fall speeds while maintaining the accurately calculated mean photon density now reported.

In practice, this scaling symmetry could only be realized by including a mirror world in the model—a parallel universe with new particles that are all copies of known particles. The mirror world idea first arose in the 1990s but has not previously been recognized as a potential solution to the Hubble constant problem”, stated Cyr-Racine.

He further explained, “This might seem crazy at face value, but such mirror worlds have a large physics literature in a completely different context since they can help solve important problem in particle physics. Our work allows us to link, for the first time, this large literature to an important problem in cosmology.

Researchers are also asking if the Hubble constant gap could be caused in part by measurement mistakes, in addition to looking for missing elements in the present cosmological model.

While this is still a possibility, it is worth noting that the disparity has grown in importance as higher-quality data has been included in the analysis, suggesting that the data is not to be blamed.

According to Cyr-Racine, “It went from two and a half Sigma, to three, and three and a half to four Sigma. By now, we are pretty much at the five-Sigma level. That is the key number which makes this a real problem because you have two measurements of the same thing, which if you have a consistent picture of the universe should just be completely consistent with each other, but they differ by a very statistically significant amount.

He concluded, “That is the premise here and we have been thinking about what could be causing that and why are these measurements discrepant? So that is a big problem for cosmology. We just don’t seem to understand what the universe is doing today.

Journal Reference:

Cyr-Racine, F., et al. (2022) Symmetry of Cosmological Observables, a Mirror World Dark Sector, and the Hubble Constant. Physical Review Letters. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.201301.

Source: http://www.unm.edu/

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NASA Voyager 1 Space Probe From the '70s Afflicted by Mysterious Glitch – CNET

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NASA’s 45-year-old Voyager 1 spacecraft is a marvel.  It’s cruising along outside our solar system and still staying in touch with Earth. But it’s presented its team with what NASA is calling a “mystery.” It’s operating normally but sending back some odd telemetry data.

The issue likely traces to Voyager 1’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS), which handles its orientation in space, including the task of keeping its antenna pointed at Earth

“All signs suggest the AACS is still working, but the telemetry data it’s returning is invalid. For instance, the data may appear to be randomly generated, or does not reflect any possible state the AACS could be in,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said in a statement Wednesday.

The data isn’t making sense, but Voyager 1 is maintaining a clear line of communication with home and the problem hasn’t triggered a protective “safe mode.” 

The twin spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched in the 1970s and have long outlasted their expected lifespans. They’re both in interstellar space, which Voyager 1 and 2 project manager Suzanne Dodd describes as a “high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before.”

Voyager 1 is roughly 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) away from home. It takes a couple days to send a signal and then hear back, which adds to the challenge of understanding what’s going on. This leaves NASA with a whole lot of unknowns. Is the AACS the culprit or is another system experiencing a glitch? Will Voyager 1 be able to continue its science mission?   

There are ways forward from this glitch. Voyager 1 may just live with it. Or a software fix or a switch to backup hardware could be the solution. NASA hopes both Voyagers will continue to send back science data beyond 2025. 

Said Dodd, “A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission.”

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Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over – Phys.org

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This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner preparing to dock at the International Space Station, Friday, May 20, 2022. Boeing’s astronaut capsule has arrived at the International Space Station in a critical repeat test flight. Only a test dummy was aboard the capsule for Friday’s docking, a huge achievement for Boeing after years of false starts. Credit: NASA via AP

With only a test dummy aboard, Boeing’s astronaut capsule pulled up and parked at the International Space Station for the first time Friday, a huge achievement for the company after years of false starts.

With Starliner’s arrival, NASA finally realizes its longtime effort to have crew capsules from competing U.S. companies flying to the space .

SpaceX already has a running start. Elon Musk’s company pulled off the same test three years ago and has since launched 18 astronauts to the space station, as well as tourists.

“Today marks a great milestone,” NASA astronaut Bob Hines radioed from the orbiting complex. “Starliner is looking beautiful on the front of the station,” he added.

The only other time Boeing’s Starliner flew in space, it never got anywhere near the station, ending up in the wrong orbit.

This time, the overhauled spacecraft made it to the right spot following Thursday’s launch and docked at the station 25 hours later. The automated rendezvous went off without a major hitch, despite the failure of a handful of thrusters.

If the rest of Starliner’s mission goes well, Boeing could be ready to launch its first crew by the end of this year. The astronauts likely to serve on the first Starliner crew joined Boeing and NASA flight controllers in Houston as the action unfolded nearly 270 miles (435 kilometers) up.

Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner docking at the International Space Station, Friday, May 20, 2022. Boeing’s astronaut capsule has arrived at the International Space Station in a critical repeat test flight. Only a test dummy was aboard the capsule for Friday’s docking, a huge achievement for Boeing after years of false starts. Credit: NASA via AP

NASA wants redundancy when it comes to the Florida-based astronaut taxi service. Administrator Bill Nelson said Boeing’s long road with Starliner underscores the importance of having two types of crew capsules. U.S. astronauts were stuck riding Russian rockets once the ended, until SpaceX’s first crew flight in 2020.

Boeing’s first Starliner test flight in 2019 was plagued by software errors that cut the mission short and could have doomed the spacecraft. Those were corrected, but when the new awaited liftoff last summer, corroded valves halted the countdown. More repairs followed, as Boeing chalked up nearly $600 million in do-over costs.

Before letting Starliner get close to the space station Friday, Boeing ground controllers practiced maneuvering the capsule and tested its robotic vision system. Everything checked out well, Boeing said, except for a cooling loop and four failed thrusters. The capsule held a steady temperature, however, and had plenty of other thrusters for steering.

Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner approaching the International Space Station, Friday, May 20, 2022. Boeing’s astronaut capsule has arrived at the International Space Station in a critical repeat test flight. Only a test dummy was aboard the capsule for Friday’s docking, a huge achievement for Boeing after years of false starts. Credit: NASA via AP

Once Starliner was within 10 miles (15 kilometers) of the space station, Boeing flight controllers in Houston could see the space station through the capsule’s cameras. “We’re waving. Can you see us?” joked Hines.

There was only silence from Starliner. The commander’s seat was occupied once again by the mannequin dubbed Rosie the Rocketeer, a space-age version of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter.

The gleaming white-with-blue-trim capsule hovered 33 feet (10 meters) from the station for close to two hours—considerably longer than planned—as flight controllers adjusted its docking ring and ensured everything else was in order. When the finally came, Starliner closed the gap in four minutes, eliciting cheers in Boeing’s control center. Applause erupted once the latches were tightly secured.

  • Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
    A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, May 19, 2022, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA via AP
  • Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
    A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Boeing Starliner crew capsule lifts off on a second test flight to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, May 19, 2022. Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux
  • Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
    A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station stands ready on launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 18, 2022. The launch is scheduled for Thursday evening. Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux
  • Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
    A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch is scheduled for Thursday evening. Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA via AP
  • Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over
    NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Mike Fincke answer questions during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux

“These last 48 hours have just been a barnstorm, so it’s going to be very good to sleep tonight,” said Mark Nappi, and director of Boeing’s commercial crew program.

It was a double celebration for NASA’s commercial crew program director Steve Stich, who turned 57 Friday. “What an incredible birthday it was,” he told reporters.

The ‘s seven astronauts will unload groceries and gear from Starliner and pack it up with experiments. Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule that splashes down off the Florida coast, Starliner will aim for a landing in New Mexico next Wednesday.


Explore further

NASA, Boeing say Starliner on track for May 19 launch


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