On a regular basis, Google compiles a list of which science and technology and science topics are being queried the most by U.S. users in its dedicated Search engine. Over the past 24 hours, a diverse collection of topics from flying snakes to TikTok found its way to the top.
Flying snakes • Chrysopelea paradisi
On Monday, NPR published an interview between host Ari Shapiro, science journalist Nell Greenfieldboyce, Dr. Jake Socha and graduate student Isaac Yeaton of Virginia Tech about snakes that can fly…sort of.
Greenfieldboyce stated that “When a flying snake leaps off a branch, it transforms its body. It becomes flatter, less cylindrical. And as the snake glides, it undulates.” Socha had a chance to research this movement within a campus theater where he encouraged the reptile to jump and glide.
TikTok • YouTube • India
On Monday, the Government of India announced that 59 mobile apps developed by Chinese companies are being banned in the country for being “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India.” Among these apps are TikTok, WeChat and Weibo.
Meanwhile last week YouTube confirmed its development of a TikTok-like feature for the video platform that would allow users to create and edit 15-second clips.
The New York Times • Apple News
On Monday, The New York Times announced that it has pulled its content from Apple News stating that “Apple News did not align with its strategy of building direct relationships with paying readers.” No more Times stories will be viewable on the news platform.
Palo Alto Networks • Vulnerability • Computer security • Exploit • Security Assertion Markup Language • Authentication
On Tuesday, cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks confirmed that it has patched a security bug that allowed hackers to bypass firewalls to access protected network resources. According to Palo Alto, it appears that no one has exploited this vulnerability, though customers are still encouraged to upgrade their tech. NVG
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Century-old photos show effects of climate change in Rocky Mountain forests – Vancouver Sun
The towering crags and peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains have been getting steadily greener over the past century, according to a new study.
“They are kind of becoming the needly or leafy mountains at this point,” said lead author Andrew Trant, an ecologist at the University of Waterloo.
The researchers stumbled across a collection of 120,000 historic images — mainly high-quality, glass-slide photographs — from early cartographic surveys of the Canadian Rockies, which they were able to compare with modern images of the exact same scenes taken nearly 100 years later.
“In about 90 per cent of the cases the trees are growing higher up the mountain and in greater numbers, so more individual trees,” he said.
Areas that were once covered by stands of low-lying, sideways-growing trees, gnarled and tortured by the elements, are now growing upright, they found.
“Conditions have improved enough that these same individuals have turned from a prostrate, craggly thing into an upright tree,” he said. “What’s likely is that as things are warming they are able to do something they couldn’t do before and they are starting to grow upwards.”
NASA injects $17M into four small companies with Artemis ambitions – TechCrunch
NASA awards millions of dollars a year to small businesses through the SBIR program, but generally it’s a lot of small awards to hundreds of companies. Breaking with precedent, today the agency announced a new multi-million-dollar funding track and its four first recipients, addressing urgent needs for the Artemis program.
The Small Business Innovation Research program has various forms throughout the federal government, but it generally provides non-dilutive funding on the order of a few hundred thousand dollars over a couple of years to nudge a nascent technology toward commercialization.
NASA has found, however, that there is a gap between the medium-size Phase II awards and Phase III, which is more like a full-on government contract; there are already “Extended” and “Pilot” programs that can provide up to an additional $1 million to promising companies. But the fact is space is expensive and time-consuming, and some need larger sums to complete the tech that NASA has already indicated confidence in or a need for.
Therefore the creation of this new tier of Phase II award: less than a full contract would amount to, but up to $5 million — nothing to sneeze at, and it comes with relatively few strings attached.
The first four companies to collect a check from this new, as yet unnamed program are all pursuing technologies that will be of particular use during the Artemis lunar missions:
- Fibertek: Optical communications for small spacecraft that would help relay large amounts of data from lunar landers to Earth
- Qualtech Systems: Autonomous monitoring, fault-prevention and health management systems for spacecraft like the proposed Lunar Gateway and possibly other vehicles and habitats
- Pioneer Astronautics: Hardware to produce oxygen and steel from lunar regolith — if achieved, an incredibly useful form of high-tech alchemy
- Protoinnovations: Traction control to improve handling of robotic and crewed rovers on lunar terrain
It’s important to note that these companies aren’t new to the game — they have a long and ongoing relationship with NASA, as SBIR grants take place over multiple years. “Each business has a track record of success with NASA, and we believe their technologies will have a direct impact on the Artemis program,” said NASA’s Jim Reuter in a news release.
The total awarded is $17 million, but NASA, citing ongoing negotiations, could not be more specific about the breakdown except that the amounts awarded fall between $2.5 million and $5 million per company.
I asked the agency for a bit more information on the new program and how companies already in the SBIR system can apply to it or otherwise take advantage of the opportunity, and will update this post if I hear back.
Watermelon snow shows up on Italian Alps – The Weather Network
Watermelon snow has appeared atop the Presena Glacier in the Italian Alps.
Researcher Biagio Di Mauro, of the Institute of Polar Sciences at Italy’s National Research Council, told CNN his team went to investigate the site over the weekend and encountered an “impressive bloom” — but that’s bad news for the glacier, as it can speed up melting.
Di Mauro says watermelon snow has been unusually common this year.
He plans to study it in greater detail with the help of satellite data.
File photo courtesy: USDA.
WHAT IS WATERMELON SNOW?
While it is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, watermelon snow is becoming increasingly common in the spring and summer because it requires light, higher temperatures, and water to grow.
“Watermelon snow is formed by an algal species (Chlamydomonas nivalis) containing a red pigment in addition to chlorophyll,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist Joe Giersch said in 2018 in an Instagram post of a photo of watermelon snow that he spotted at Glacier National Park.
This pigment protects the algal chloroplast from solar radiation and absorbs heat, providing the alga with liquid water as the snow melts around it. As snow melts throughout the summer, the algae are concentrated in depressions on the snow surface (which further accelerates melting), with small populations persisting in puddles through the fall.”
Watermelon snow is one of nature’s peculiarities. Scientists don’t fully understand it, or the long-term impact it could have on the environment.
Here’s one thing they do know: Watermelon may look neat but it’s not something conservationists want to see.
According to a study in Nature Communications, red algae can reduce a snow’s albedo — i.e., the ability to reflect light — by up to 13 per cent. That means the snow absorbs more of the sun’s energy and melts faster.
Couple that with a stint of above-seasonal temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for accelerated melting.
Oh, and one more thing: If you come across a patch of watermelon snow don’t eat it. You’ll make yourself sick.
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