Forecasters Turn to Greek Alphabet After Storm Names Run Out

Weather forecasters have started using the Greek alphabet to designate new storms after running out of conventional names.The U.S. National Weather Service says Tropical Storm Wilfred formed Friday in the eastern Atlantic, followed by Subtropical Storm Alpha off the coast of Portugal a short time later.Meanwhile, forecasters say tropical depression 22 in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be named Beta later Friday. At last report, the storm was about 400 kilometers southeast of the Texas-Mexico border and could become a hurricane threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast in the next few days.The threat comes days after Hurricane Sally came ashore in the southern U.S. as a Category 2 hurricane, and less than a month after the destructive Hurricane Laura came ashore in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy is headed toward Bermuda, which took a direct hit from Paulette earlier this week.The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Wilfred poses no threat to land.Weather officials say Alpha became the first Greek-named storm since 2005. That year the named storms made it all the way to Zeta, the end of the Greek alphabet, the only time on record that has happened.

your ad here

Drug Shows Promise in 1st Largely Minority COVID-19 Study

A drug company said Friday that a medicine it sells to tamp down inflammation has helped prevent the need for breathing machines in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the first large study that primarily enrolled Hispanics and Blacks.Switzerland-based Roche reported the results for tocilizumab, sold now as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. The company said it would quickly publish the results, which have not yet been reviewed by independent scientists, and would speak with regulators about next steps.The drug, given through an IV, tamps down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients. It failed in a previous study that tested it in people more severely ill from the coronavirus. The new study was done in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. About 85% of the 389 participants were Hispanic, Black, Native American or other ethnic or racial minorities. These groups have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.About 12% given the drug needed a breathing machine or died within 28 days versus about 19% of patients given a placebo.Looked at separately, there were fewer deaths among those on the drug — 8.6% versus 10.4% on placebo — but the difference was too small to say it might not have been due to chance.It’s unclear how the results will be viewed; another drug that works in a similar way failed in an experiment rigorously testing it in COVID-19 patients but some less scientific, observational studies have suggested benefit.This is the third time this week that companies have announced positive results from studies testing COVID treatments via press releases. Companies often are required to disclose results that could affect their financial situation.On Monday, Eli Lilly reported benefits from a study testing its anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when combined with the antiviral drug remdesivir. On Wednesday, it said interim results from very early testing suggested that its experimental antibody drug showed promise for helping clear the virus and possibly reducing the need for hospitalization in mild to moderately ill patients.

your ad here

Australia Warns Pregnant Women of Bushfire Smoke

Pregnant women living in bushfire-prone areas in Australia are being urged to protect themselves and their unborn babies from smoke as the fire season returns. Doctors in the worst-affected regions say they are horrified by the effects of the smoke from last summer’s catastrophic conditions.Doctors have said particles from bushfire smoke in Australia have left placentas that nourish an unborn child resembling those in women who are heavy smokers. Instead of being a healthy shade of pink, distressed organs are left grey and grainy.The result can be premature and underweight babies. One specialist said some were “unexpectedly and unpredictably small.”There’s a warning that newborns could suffer the consequences throughout their entire lives.General practitioner Rebecca McGowan said she believes global warming is exacerbating Australia’s bushfire danger and that babies are at risk of harm.“This is the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “We are starting to see literally the effects. It is not a sci-fi movie. This is happening in real life. We are starting to see the effects on the unborn, and we are starting to see these babies born now with major effects of climate change and we cannot deny it anymore. It is happening in front of us.”There is not a large amount of scientific knowledge on the long-term effects of bushfire smoke on pregnant women. Some experts have suggested that stress could also lead to premature births and smaller newborns. Australian health authorities have said there was no data or evidence to gauge the risk to babies in the womb. They do acknowledge, however, that smoke can aggravate existing lung and heart conditions in adults.A government inquiry into the Black Summer fires was told that the smoke they generated has been linked to the deaths of more than 445 people. It was estimated that 4,000 people were admitted to the hospital due to the smoke.Air quality in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, exceeded “hazardous” levels on several occasions. Other major cities, including the capital, Canberra, and Adelaide, were also shrouded in a toxic haze.Bushfire smoke is made up of very small particles and gases. Environmental groups have said it also contains cancer-causing substances, including formaldehyde and benzene. 

your ad here

Survey: Almost Half of Americans Say ‘No’ To COVID Vaccine If Available Today

Nearly half of Americans, or 49%, said they definitely or probably would not get an inoculation if a coronavirus were available today, while 51% said they would, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this month.The 49% who lean toward rejecting the inoculation cited concerns about side effects from the vaccine.The public’s trust in a safe COVID-19 vaccine coming to market has taken a tumble. In May, a Pew survey revealed 72% of Americans said they would be inoculated if the vaccine were available.Only 21% in this month’s poll said they would definitely get the vaccine.The recent Pew survey found that 77% of Americans believe the vaccines in development in the United States would likely be approved before their safety and effectiveness are completely understood.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A young woman wearing a face mask walks across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Sept. 18, 2020.A further breakdown of the numbers shows that Hispanic children made up 44% of the fatalities, and Black children made up 29%, compared with 14% for white children. American Indian and Alaska Natives accounted for 4% of COVID-19 deaths, with Asian and Pacific Islanders making up the same amount.The CDC report also found that 75% of those who died had at least one underlying health condition such as asthma, obesity, neurologic and developmental conditions or cardiovascular conditions. Researchers pointed out that certain social conditions, including crowded living environments, food and housing insecurity, and wealth and education gaps, could be contributing factors in the high fatality rates among minority children.The CDC on Wednesday outlined details of a plan to begin distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of official approval. Under the plan, the drug would be distributed once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes either an emergency use order or full formal approval, and would likely be administered first to essential personnel such as health care workers.The agency said the vaccine would be administered free of charge to all Americans once it becomes widely available.The announcement of the plan came on the same day President Donald Trump contradicted CDC Director Robert Redfield on when Americans would get a reliable COVID-19 vaccine.Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine could be generally available to the American public in the second or third quarter of next year, with those most at risk such as the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions to be prioritized for vaccination.In a news conference hours later, Trump made clear he did not like Redfield expressing a more cautious timeline.“I think he made a mistake when he said that. That’s just incorrect information,” Trump told reporters. “Under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”  

your ad here

Life on Venus, Counterpunching an Asteroid, and a Stargazers’ Perch

Researchers on a quest to find life in the universe got promising news this week.  Space agencies are joining forces to defend the planet from an aggressive asteroid, and a look at one of the best places on Earth to view the stars.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us “The Week in Space.”Producer: Arash Arabasadi.

your ad here

Christie’s to Put Tyrannosaurus Rex Skeleton Up for Auction

The British auction house Christie’s announced this week that it would sell the largest and most complete known skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex in early October.The auction house said the dinosaur skeleton is nearly 12 meters long and just under 5 meters tall. It has been known as Stan, named after amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison, who discovered it in the upper Midwestern U.S. state of South Dakota in 1987.Christie’s science and natural history specialist James Hyslop said scientists that looked at the bones initially misidentified them as belonging to a triceratops, a more common dinosaur discovery.It was not until Sacrison took the remains to the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in 1992 that anyone realized what he had found.A detail of the teeth of Stan, one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossils discovered, is pictured Sept. 15, 2020, at Christie’s in New York.Hyslop said the paleontologists from the institute carefully excavated and reassembled the skeleton, ultimately finding 188 of the estimated 300 total bones in a T. rex, more than for any previously found specimen.Hyslop said Stan eventually went on tour to Japan between 1995 and 1996, and he later went on permanent display in Hill City, South Dakota.Complete T. rex skeletons are very rare, and the last time one was put up for auction was in 1997, when the Field Museum in Chicago bought the now-famous Sue for $8.36 million. Hyslop said Christie’s hopes to beat that price when Stan goes up for auction October 6.Christie’s will display the dinosaur until mid-October at its Manhattan auction house, making Stan visible to the public through Christie’s windows.

your ad here

US Experts say Solar Storms Likely on the Upswing

Experts from the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say the sun is in the first year of a new cycle of activity, and they are watching it closely in an effort to guard against solar storms that could cause problems on Earth.Officials at NOAA explain that the sun, just like Earth, goes through “seasonal” cycles, which astronomers have been recording since 1755. The Solar Prediction Panel, chaired by experts from NOAA and the NASA space agency, monitors these cycles that last about 11 years. They report a solar minimum between Solar Cycle 24 and 25 — the period when the sun is least active — happened in December 2019, putting Earth eight months into the first year of Solar Cycle 25. The panel expects sunspot or solar flare activity to peak over the next five years.  Elsayed Talaat, NOAA’s director of planning and analysis, said if solar flares — bursts of electromagnetic energy out of the sun — are big enough, they can cause serious problems on Earth, including high frequency communication used by airlines or emergency responders, satellites, GPS navigation systems, cellphones, solar panels and more. Radiation from solar flares can also be dangerous for astronauts, especially those working outside the International Space Station, and for future explorers to the moon.Talaat said NASA and NOAA have developed the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan to help mitigate these events. “We have instituted space weather as part of the international, national emergency and local, state and local emergency management exercises,” he said.NOAA has also established the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, to monitor solar activity, much the way NOAA’s National Hurricane Center monitors tropical storms. Using NASA’s satellites and solar observatories can give forecasts and warnings of solar activity that could impact the Earth.Last month, the SWPC closely watched a minor solar flare, or “coronal mass ejection,” (CME) as it occurred on the sun, and the resulting electromagnetic material as it approached Earth. Luckily, that potential solar storm mostly missed the planet, but forecasters say it gave them valuable experience for future events.

your ad here

Flu Season Looms as COVID-19 Rages

As if the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t bad enough, flu season is about to begin in the Northern Hemisphere, adding millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths to the already-strained American health care system.”We really, really want to emphasize the potential for disaster, actually,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America board of directors, at a recent briefing for reporters.Experts are urging everyone to get flu shots in order to take some of the load off of health workers and hospitals.FILE – A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Sept. 30, 2014.Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, up to 61,000 people A women reacts to getting an influenza vaccine shot at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas, Jan. 23, 2020.It’s not clear how much the weather affects the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s a question scientists are actively studying.But the coronavirus is related to other viruses that cause the common cold, and “what we see with those viruses is that come October, November, December they skyrocket,” Mina said.”I hope that for some reason this virus behaves differently, but I don’t anticipate that it will,” he added.Get your flu shotWhile a safe coronavirus vaccine is still months away, health officials are urging everyone to get a flu shot.In most years, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, speaks to members of the Tennessee House of Representatives on March 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.The vaccine helps, even if it does not stop the infection, noted Vanderbilt University infectious diseases professor William Schaffner.”Even if you get influenza after you’ve had the vaccine, that illness is likely to be less severe,” he said. “You’re less likely to need to go to the emergency room, less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to die.”That’s good for patients, and it’s also good for the health care system.”The last thing we need is a huge surge of flu cases now,” he added.Manufacturers are expecting to produce a record supply of nearly 200 million doses this year. However, the conditions making flu shots so important are the same conditions that make them harder to distribute, Schaffner noted.Fewer people will get flu shots at work because more people are working from home. Many public health clinics are closed or reassigned to handle COVID-19. Many people are avoiding doctor’s offices out of fear of contracting the virus there.Pharmacies, grocery stores and other venues are still good options, noted IDSA’s Marrazzo. “People will probably need to be perhaps a little bit more creative,” she said.Luckily, the steps taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including masks, hand washing and social distancing, also seem to work against the flu. Influenza rates fell by two-thirds in China when COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions went into place, according to a new study.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says these measures have likely played a role  in the milder-than-expected flu season currently winding down in the Southern Hemisphere.”But we really can’t be complacent about this,” Marrazzo said. “If there was ever a year that you need to get your flu vaccine, and get your kids vaccinated, this is the year.”

your ad here

Scientists Discover Ancient Fossilized Giant Sperm

Scientists say they have found what may be the oldest specimen of fossilized sperm ever discovered, inside a tiny crustacean trapped in a piece of amber 100 million years ago.The researchers say the discovery in amber from Myanmar’s Kachin province, described in a paper published Wednesday in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, provides an extremely rare opportunity to study the evolution of the reproductive process.The scientists suspect the crustacean in which the sperm was found, a newly discovered species of ostracod about 1 millimeter long, was likely covered in amber shortly after mating.They say the sperm cell found in the animal was significant, not only because of the age of the specimen but also because of its size — about one-fifth the size of the entire animal that produced it.The researchers say that while most animals produce huge numbers of tiny sperm, there are still animals that exist today that produce so-called “giant” sperm. Some modern ostracods and species of fruit flies produce sperm many times longer than their bodies.One of the authors of the study, the University of Munich’s Renate Matzke-Karasz, says the most significant aspect of the discovery is that it shows this method of reproduction has been around a very long time.The researchers say it is unclear what evolutionary advantage producing a small number of giant sperm, as opposed to a large number of tiny sperm, may have. While a large sperm might have a better chance of reaching an egg, the reproductive organs of the animal producing them must be large as well, which would require a lot of “biological energy.”Matzke-Karasz says that before this discovery, evolutionary scientists questioned whether animals that developed this type of reproductive system were doomed to extinction. Now, she says, they know they can exist for millions of years. 

your ad here

UN Chief: COVID-19 Pandemic ‘Out of Control’

The U.N. Secretary-General warned Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic is “out of control,” and he called for global solidarity in making a future vaccine affordable and available to all.
“The virus is the No. 1 global security threat in our world today,” Antonio Guterres told reporters.
There have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 936,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks global data on the virus.People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus walk in downtown Madrid, Spain, Sept. 16, 2020.Guterres spoke ahead of Tuesday’s start of the U.N. General Assembly annual debate, which typically draws more than a hundred presidents, prime ministers and other senior officials to New York each year. But due to the pandemic, leaders will send pre-recorded video messages, and side meetings will be held virtually.
The U.N. chief said he will appeal next week for full implementation of his March 23 call for a global cease-fire by the end of this year so all attention could be focused on defeating the virus.
As scientists around the globe race to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Guterres cautioned that “there is no panacea” for the pandemic.
“A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term,” he said. “We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.”
He emphasized that a vaccine must be affordable and available to all, saying it must be seen as a “global public good.” He expressed concern that conspiracy theories and misinformation are spreading about a future vaccine, which could deter vast numbers of people from being inoculated.
The U.N. chief has been a vocal advocate for climate action.He said the global economic recovery from COVID-19 should be aligned with mitigating climate change and achieving development goals.
“The world is burning,” Guterres said of the warming planet. “Recovery is our chance to get on track and tame the flames.”
The United Nations marks its 75th anniversary this year. It was created in 1945in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another global conflict.
“In this 75th anniversary year, we face our own 1945 moment,” Guterres reflected. “We must meet that moment.” 

your ad here