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Planet Earth

Strokes, Heart Attacks Spike on Days With Poor Air Quality

Hold Your Breath

Researchers already knew that chronic exposure to air pollution could wreak havoc on a person’s longterm health, causing serious ailments ranging from lung cancer to respiratory infection.

But now, new data out of the United Kingdom shows that air pollution can seemingly trigger heart attacks and stokes, too — bringing into focus the more immediate impacts of poor air quality.

Health Emergency

For this study, researchers from King’s College London gathered data on daily air pollution levels in nine cities in the U.K. and divided the data into “high pollution days” and “low pollution days.”

The researchers then looked at daily data on heart attacks and strokes in each city, and found that emergency services treated an average of 124 more people for heart attacks and 231 more people for strokes on high pollution days than on low.

Air Quote

King’s College plans to release its full report on the study in November, but according to Simon Stevens, National Health Service England’s chief executive, the preliminary data shows there’s no time to waste in addressing air pollution in England and beyond.

“These new figures show air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests, and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency,” he told The Guardian. “Since these avoidable deaths are happening now, not in 2025 or 2050, together we need to act now.”

READ MORE: Scores more heart attacks and strokes on high pollution days, figures show [The Guardian]

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Planet Earth

Former Apollo Astronaut Pushes for International Commitment to Protect Earth from Killer Asteroids

There are few astronauts more respected and remembered than those who served on the Apollo missions – thirty-two military jet and test pilots who made or died training for the three-man Apollo missions that eventually sent humans to the Moon and back. When they have spoken – about space travel, the Moon, future missions, UFOs and other subjects – the world has listened. Rusty Schweickart, the Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 9, spoke recently about the need for an international commitment to protect Earth from killer asteroids. As usual, his comments are worth listening to.

“During the Apollo 9 mission we were dark-adapted for an experiment, looking at the spectacular night-time Earth, watching weather fronts, thunder storms and lightning, a really great sight out of the window. Then, who knows who said it first, but one of us said they saw a little flash down there and someone else says ‘yeah, I saw it too,’ but you wouldn’t have mentioned it if the first person hadn’t said it. And then we realized: that was a meteor, burning up below us. Wow, below us – which meant it came down through our altitude!”

A close encounter of the worst kind – an asteroid impact in space – instead became an experience that forever influenced Russell “Rusty” Schweickart. When he was selected in 1963, Rusty Schweickart was a unique member of NASA Astronaut Group 3 – the fourteen astronauts selected by NASA to succeed the two-man Gemini missions in the three-man Apollo flights that would eventually lead to a walk on the Moon. Those names are well-known to the public today — Collins, Cunningham, Gordon, Aldrin, Cernan, Chaffee to list a few – but back then they were better known in the military as fighter pilots and test pilots. Schweickart was an experienced Air Force pilot, but he was also a research scientist at the Experimental Astronomy Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fields of upper atmospheric physics, star tracking and stabilization of stellar images.

Astronaut Group Three announced on October 18, 1963. They are (seated, left to right) Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., William A. Anders, Charles A. Bassett II, Alan L. Bean, Eugene A. Cernan, and Roger B. Chaffee. Standing (left to right) are Michael Collins, R. Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, Theodore C. Freeman, Richard F. Gordon Jr., Russell L. Schweickart, David R. Scott and Clifton C. Williams Jr. (Credit: NASA)

The 1969 flight of Apollo 9 was the first flight of the lunar module, piloted by Schweickart, and the first spacewalk of the Apollo missions, also by Schweickart. During a recent ESA Open Day at the European Space Agency’s ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, the former astronaut heard about the latest plans to stop asteroids like the one the Apollo 9 crew encountered before they destructively impact Earth. In 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test will hit the smaller member of the Didymos binary asteroids. Then, if approved this month by Europe’s space ministers, the ESA’s Hera mission will perform a close-up survey of the asteroid and crater after impact. Schweickart says he likes the idea of a multi-spacecraft mission rather than a single asteroid-seeking rocket.

“And one of the key unknowns of the kinetic impactor technique is a term we call ‘beta’ – when we hit the asteroid, how much stuff is going to come flying off? If it’s moving at greater than escape velocity, then that adds to the momentum shifting the orbit, boosting the technique’s effectiveness. That factor depends on the asteroid’s composition and structure, and we need a close-up look to find out what that is.”

In 2002, Schweickart helped found the B612 Foundation (named for the planetoid in The Little Prince), whose primary mission is “protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and informing and forwarding world-wide decision-making on planetary defense issues.” Since asteroids can hit anywhere on Earth, Schweickart has long advocated international cooperation in both deflecting space rocks and in determining which ones to hit. He sees the NASA/ESA tandem as the first example of this cooperation. Unfortunately, we’re barely into asteroid defection business and have no idea what an impact will do – it could actually push the space rock into a higher likelihood of impact.

“In that case the observer spacecraft would have another job to do – to switch to gravity tractor mode, using altimeters and ion engines to stay just away from the asteroid, and nudge its orbit enough to miss the keyhole as well as the planet.”

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart (Credit: NASA)

Rusty Schweickart makes it sound so easy and doable, but the former Apollo and Skylab astronaut knows the dangers of space. He was the backup pilot for Roger B. Chaffee on Apollo 1, which ended in the tragic deaths of the crew members in a ground test accident. He also knows how expensive a worldwide asteroid deflection system would be and how difficult it is to get nations to agree on anything, let alone unseen dangers from outer space. That’s why he stays involved in both the technology and the politics of space.

At 84, Rusty Schweickart is still influenced by that near-impact experience on Apollo 9. For that, we should all be grateful.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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Planet Earth

Climate change would be altering deer to give birth early

Credit: Elsemargriet / Pixabay

Usually, we think of evolution as a slow process that takes place over millions of years. However, a team of scientists has now documented how deer on a Scottish island seem to be evolving over the course of decades, possibly in response to climate change, which makes them give birth earlier, at the beginning of the year.

According to a study published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, these deer, who live on the island of Rum, near the west coast of Scotland, have undergone genetic changes that have contributed to the animals having children almost two weeks earlier over the past four decades.

Previous studies by other groups of scientists have shown that deer on this island have been giving birth before, partly as a result of warmer temperatures that have altered their behavior and the functioning of their bodies.

Genetic changes in deer

However, the latest study sheds light on the important role of adaptive genetic changes in this process. The researchers say that this work represents some of the first evidence that evolutionary changes are affecting the time of year when wild animals give birth.

Timothée Bonnet, lead author of the study of the Australian National University said in a statement:

This is one of the few cases in which we have documented the evolution in action, which shows that it can help populations adapt to climate warming. ”

For their research, Bonnet and his colleagues examined the field records and genetic data that scientists collected from the deer population living on the island between 1972 and 2016.

Red deer on the Isle of Rum, Scotland
Red deer on the Isle of Rum, Scotland. Credit: J. Pemberton

Bonnet told the website Newsweek:

That population of red deer has been monitored intensely since the 1970s, and even before in less detail. That is why researchers have been able to notice changes in birth dates over the years. That is the fundamental motivation for our study: try to understand that change. ”

Impact of climate change on deer

The team’s analysis revealed that red deer hinds, known as hinds, with genetic adaptations that made them give birth at the beginning of the year, they tended to have more offspring throughout their lives. Therefore, responsible genes offer an evolutionary advantage and as a result they have become increasingly common in this deer population in recent decades.

Bonnet said:

We discovered that the genetic makeup of the population had changed to determine the dates of birth before spring. We discovered that genetic change is probably a response to natural selection, but we do not know what causes selection: it could be climate change, change in population density or any unknown factor that has changed in recent decades.

It is very difficult to say when climate change causes genetic change, but genetic change occurs at a rate similar to direct (non-genetic) responses to climate warming and fast enough to matter in the ecological dynamics related to climate change. ” .

Climate change would be changing deer to give birth early
Credit: smarko / Pixabay

Sally Thomas, from Scottish Natural Heritage, who also did not participate in the study, said in a statement:

These findings are a fascinating example of the impact that climate change can have on wildlife. More and more research shows that climate change is influencing species throughout the United Kingdom and the world. ”

Climate change is affecting life on our planet Earth in several ways and scientists say that for species to survive they must adapt by experiencing genetic changes or migrating to more suitable habitats, for example.

But a recent research published in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that genetic adaptation along with dispersion in new ranges could put species in conflict with each other.

This finding could mean that scientists have been underestimating how the global climate change will affect biodiversity and the amount of extinctions that will occur.

Some scientists have argued that the Earth is currently experiencing its sixth mass extinction, with species that disappear significantly faster than historical reference rates.

In fact, a historical report by the UN recently warned that 1 million species around the world run the risk of disappearing due to human pressures and climate change.

The scientific study has been published in PLOS Biology.

Source: Newsweek

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Gold Peru

It is only in adventure novels that the profession of a gold digger is shrouded in a romantic flair. The inhabitants of La Rinconada know firsthand what difficulties and hardships have to be overcomed for the sake of one golden crumb. But, despite the unbearable working conditions, the population of this Peruvian city in just ten years, increased by as much as 235 percent. The blame is the gold rush, which drives everyone to the highest mountain city in the world to improve their financial situation.

La rinconada

For the time being, the inhabitants of La Rinconada had one reason for pride – they lived at an altitude of 5100 meters above sea level. Due to this circumstance, the village fell into the Guinness Book of Records as the highest mountain settlement on Earth. In this regard, it has no rivals. The place is located near the devil in small buns – in the Peruvian Andes, not far from the border with Bolivia.

You can get there by the only dangerous, winding and steep road, which takes more than one day. Far from civilization, surrounded by beautiful and majestic mountains, local ethnic groups used to live there. For centuries, their way of life did not change until they once discovered a gold mine. And away we go …

La rinconada
Photo: Walker dawson

Peru is a very poor country. Of all the South American countries, Bolivia weaves in the tail itself, Peru – in the penultimate place. In terms of living standards, the state takes the 115th place in the world. Almost half of the population (45%) lives below the poverty line.

Most Peruvians are employed in the agricultural sector, which does not generate large incomes. Therefore, the opening of a gold mine in the Andes, many Peruvians took with great enthusiasm. It seemed to them that a little work – and the golden key in their pocket. Accustomed to difficulties, the descendants of the Indians with their whole families went to La Rinconada in search of a better life. But, having arrived there, even these unhampered people were amazed.

La rinconada
Photo: Oscar Espinosa

The city is as beautiful as it is inhospitable to man. La Rinconada is located next to the glacier (it is, however, retreating, but this does not change much), in the conditions of permafrost. The temperature never rises above zero degrees Celsius, and negative temperatures always reign at night. This means that it is impossible to grow vegetables or fruits there.

But this is not so bad: since the air is constantly diluted, due to a lack of oxygen, a person suffers from anoxemia (low oxygen content in the blood). People get tired quickly, do not sleep well, etc. In general, vitamin deficiency and constant oxygen starvation are eternal companions of local people. But the highlanders have adapted over the centuries, but the foreigners have a hard time. However, the dream of wealth overpowers the fear of getting sick, and the Peruvians continue and continue to arrive at the mine.

La rinconada
Photo: Walker dawson

From 2001 to 2009, more than 50 thousand people came to this place forgotten by God, and over the past five years the number of “migrants” doubled. There are two reasons for this – a sharp increase in gold prices and the emergence of electricity in La Rinconada. However, despite the fact that the city was lit up, working conditions at gold mines did not become better.

About 30 thousand people are constantly working in the frozen mines of La Rinconada. Each of them runs the risk of contracting scurvy, pneumonia, tuberculosis, rheumatism, radiculitis. In addition, one of the most common diseases is poisoning. A huge amount of mercury and other toxic substances is released into the atmosphere daily. The fact is that gold is mined in the old fashioned way, in violation of all rules and regulations.

La rinconada
Photo: Oscar Espinosa

A piece of ore is placed in mercury and gold is thus separated from the rock. The resulting silver ball is burned with a blowtorch, while the poisonous gas escapes into the cold rarefied air. The result of such gold mining is mountain air poisoned by mercury vapor. According to UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) estimates, for every gram of gold extracted from a rock, two to five grams of mercury are released into the atmosphere.

Any doctor will say: the metal itself is not as dangerous as its fumes. The weakness and drowsiness that gold miners suffer from are flowers. Much worse than tremor, bleeding gums, indigestion, dizziness, cough, impaired memory, nausea, vomiting, renal failure. For all those who seek gold there, these diseases are a common thing.

La rinconada
Photo: Oscar Espinosa

Those who work with mercury directly are more at risk. But the locals who live near the mines, you will not envy. According to environmentalists, not only air but also water is poisoned in La Rinconada. Why, there, in the nearby village of the Ananei miners, as well as in rivers and lakes up to Lake Titicaca, which is 250 km from the town, traces of dangerous metal are found. In addition to mercury, gold miners are threatened by avalanches, glacial floods, chemical leaks, explosions and caving in mines.

La rinconada
Photo: Walker dawson

In general, Peru has strict safety rules, but in the La Rinconada, lost in the mountains, no one monitors their observance. Of the two hundred companies registered here, only five have the equipment necessary for gold mining. The rest offer their employees to buy everything they need on their own.

La rinconada

Gold mining in La Rinconada is a family business. In mines, one can often find not only men, but also women dressed in traditional colorful skirts and bowler hats. Often, along with children, they delve into the rock removed from the mine, since women are not allowed to enter the mine. According to the miners, if women enter the mine, gold disappears.

La rinconada

Not only working conditions, but the living conditions in the town are appalling. The only school in which there is not enough space for all children, the lack of police, post office, transport links, sewers, medical institutions, a sanitary service – these are the everyday life of La Rinconada.

Waste roads, hillsides, streets of the town are littered with sewage, garbage and industrial waste. Nobody ever removes this dirt, at best they burn it. Therefore, the air in the village is poisoned not only by mercury vapor.

La rinconada
Photo: Walker dawson

Residents of the city huddle, mainly in small metal shacks, standing next to each other at the foot of the mountains. In the homes of the benefits of civilization – only electricity. In La Rinconada, alcoholism flourishes. The drunken prospectors often find out the relationship, as a result, there is a high crime rate. In the dark, it’s dangerous on the street.

Earnings of gold miners – $ 170 per month. But luck does not always smile at them. With no luck, the salary does not exceed $ 30. For poor Peru, even this is good money. Many Peruvians dream of getting rich and returning to their native lands, where they can open their own business.

La rinconada
Photo: Oscar Espinosa

But La Rinconada, like a swamp, sucks people in, and many can never get out of here. If hard work does not kill the prospector, he dies from the knife of a drinking companion or illness. The average life expectancy in La Rinconada is 50 years. However, miners and townspeople are accustomed to death. Moreover, they do not perceive it as something terrible, death there is considered a good sign. Indeed, among the descendants of the Indians, human sacrifices to mountain spirits were of great importance. When these invisible entities received another sacrifice, they became more merciful and loyal to the living.

In addition, miners believe that the new victim “pushes” gold ore closer to the surface, making it easier to extract. So the superstition of local miners for  blood, is like fatalism. And how without this, can you voluntarily live in a city that resembles hell?

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