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[l] at 3/31/23 3:33pm
Enlarge / This micrograph shows the presence of the fungal agent Blastomyces dermatitidis, 1978. (credit: Getty | CDC/Dr. Libero Ajello) Toxic fungal spores wafting around a Wisconsin neighborhood—possibly spread by recent construction in the area—sparked an outbreak of rare infections that left one person dead, state health officials reported Friday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In all, the outbreak cluster included five pet dogs and four people, with the onset of symptoms spanning from October 2021 to February 2022. While two of the cases in people were mild, the other two required hospitalization, including the fatal case. The five dogs were reported to have mild to moderate cases. The outbreak was caused by the poorly understood fungus Blastomyces (B. dermatitidis and B. gilchristii), which lurks in moist soil and decomposing organic matter, such as wood and leaves, often near water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the fungus could exist throughout the eastern US, but its distribution is uneven. It's often found around the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and the Great Lakes. Parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota are considered hotspots.Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, blastomyces, blastomycosis, fungus, infection, public health, Wisconsin]

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[l] at 3/31/23 2:20pm
Enlarge / Deployment of LSPM junction box 1. (credit: IN2P3/CNRS) In 1962, one of the world's first underwater research laboratories and human habitats was established off the coast of Marseilles, France, at a depth of 10 meters. The Conshelf 1 project consisted of a steel structure that hosted two men for a week. Now, more than 60 years later, another underwater laboratory is being set up not far from Marseilles, this time to study both the sea and sky. Unlike the Conshelf habitat, the Laboratoire Sous-marin Provence Méditerranée (LSPM) won't be manned by humans. Located 40 km off the coast of Toulon at a depth of 2,450 meters, it is Europe’s first remotely operated underwater laboratory. Physics under the sea Currently, three junction boxes capable of powering several instruments and retrieving data are at the heart of LSPM. The boxes, each measuring 6 meters long and 2 meters high, are connected to a power system on land via a 42-kilometer-long electro-optical cable. The optical portion of this cable is used to collect data from the junction boxes.Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Earth science, oceanography, Physics, seismology]

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[l] at 3/31/23 5:00am
Enlarge / This otherworldly photo was taken of the debut launch of the Terran 1 rocket on March 23, 2023. (credit: Relativity Space/John Kraus) Welcome to Edition 5.31 of the Rocket Report! We're about to tip over into April, and all signs continue to point to the likelihood of a Starship orbital launch attempt this month. I've heard all sorts of dates, but most recently, SpaceX appears to be working internally toward April 10. That lines up with about when a launch license is expected from the Federal Aviation Administration. It probably won't happen that soon, but we are pretty darn close, y'all. As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets and a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, rocket report, space]

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[l] at 3/30/23 1:22pm
On October 9, 2022, Swift’s X-Ray Telescope captured the afterglow of the brightest gamma-ray burst ever recorded, called GRB 221009A. On the morning of October 9, 2022, multiple space-based detectors picked up a powerful gamma-ray burst (GRB) passing through our Solar System, sending astronomers around the world scrambling to train their telescopes on that part of the sky to collect vital data on the event and its aftermath. Dubbed GRB 221009A and deemed likely to be the "birth cry" of a new black hole, the gamma-ray burst is the most powerful yet recorded. That's why astronomers nicknamed it the BOAT, or Brightest Of All Time. The event was promptly published in the Astronomer's Telegram, and we now have new data from follow-up observations in several new papers published in a special focus issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The findings confirmed that GRB 221009A was indeed the BOAT, appearing especially bright because its narrow jet was pointing directly at Earth. “It’s probably the brightest event to hit Earth since human civilization began,” Eric Burns, an astronomer at Louisiana State University, told New Scientist. “The energy of this thing is so extreme that if you took the entire sun and you converted all of it into pure energy, it still wouldn’t match this event. There’s just nothing comparable.” But the various analyses also yielded several surprising results that puzzle astronomers and may lead to a significant overhaul of our current models of gamma-ray bursts. For instance, a supernova should have occurred a few weeks after the initial burst, but astronomers have yet to detect one. Radio data from observations of the afterglow didn't match predictions of existing models, and astronomers detected rare extended rings of X-ray light echoes from the initial blast in distant dust clouds.Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, astronomy, astrophysics, Gamma ray bursts, multi-messenger astronomy, Physics]

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[l] at 3/30/23 12:28pm
Enlarge / An electron micrograph of a number of Marburg virions responsible for causing Marburg virus disease. (credit: Getty | BSIP) Equatorial Guinea's first outbreak of Marburg virus—a relative of the Ebola virus that causes similarly deadly hemorrhagic fever—is continuing to grow, spreading over a wide geographic area with potentially undetected chains of transmission, officials for the World Health Organization said. As of Wednesday morning, officials in Equatorial Guinea had reported nine confirmed cases, with seven confirmed deaths across three provinces since early February. "However, these three provinces are 150 kilometers apart, suggesting wider transmission of the virus," WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference Wednesday.Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, ebola, Equatorial Guinea, Infectious disease, Marburg, outbreak, public health, Tanzania, virus, WHO]

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[l] at 3/29/23 3:39pm
Enlarge / Starliner touches down in December 2019 for the first time. (credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani) NASA and Boeing announced Wednesday that the first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft will now take place no earlier than July 21. This moves the vehicle's flight, carrying NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, from the previously announced timeframe of April. The manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program, Steve Stich, said the delay was attributable to the extra time needed to close out the pre-flight review process of Starliner and also due to traffic from other vehicles visiting the space station in June and the first half of July. "When we look at all the different pieces, most of the work will be complete in April for the flight," Stich said during a teleconference with reporters. "But there's one area that's extending out into the May time frame, and this really has to do with the certification process for the parachute system."Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Boeing, NASA, space, starliner]

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[l] at 3/29/23 9:40am
Enlarge / Graduate student W. Walker Smith converted the visible light given off by the elements into audio, creating unique, complex sounds for each one. His personal favorites are helium and zinc. (credit: W. Walker Smith and Alain Barker) We're all familiar with the elements of the periodic table, but have you ever wondered what hydrogen or zinc, for example, might sound like? W. Walker Smith, now a graduate student at Indiana University, combined his twin passions of chemistry and music to create what he calls a new audio-visual instrument to communicate the concepts of chemical spectroscopy. Smith presented his data sonification project—which essentially transforms the visible spectra of the elements of the periodic table into sound—at a meeting of the American Chemical Society being held this week in Indianapolis, Indiana. Smith even featured audio clips of some of the elements, along with "compositions" featuring larger molecules, during a performance of his "The Sound of Molecules" show. As an undergraduate, "I [earned] a dual degree in music composition and chemistry, so I was always looking for a way to turn my chemistry research into music," Smith said during a media briefing. "Eventually, I stumbled across the visible spectra of the elements and I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and different they all look. I thought it would be really cool to turn those visible spectra, those beautiful images, into sound."Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Gaming & Culture, Science, chemical spectroscopy, chemistry, music, periodic table, sonification]

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[l] at 3/29/23 7:26am
Enlarge / Westlands Solar Park, near the town of Lemoore in the San Joaquin Valley of California, is the largest solar power plant in the United States and could become one of the largest in the world. (credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty) California’s San Joaquin Valley, a strip of land between the Diablo Range and the Sierra Nevada, accounts for a significant portion of the state’s crop production and agricultural revenues. But with the state facing uncertain and uneven water supply due to climate change, some local governments and clean energy advocates hope solar energy installations could provide economic reliability where agriculture falters due to possible water shortages. In the next two decades, the Valley could accommodate the majority of the state’s estimated buildout of solar energy under a state plan forecasting transmission needs [PDF], adding enough capacity to power 10 million homes as California strives to reach 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. The influx of solar development would come at a time when the historically agriculture-rich valley is coping with new restrictions on groundwater pumping. Growers may need to fallow land. And some clean energy boosters see solar as an ideal alternative land use. But a significant technological hurdle stands in the way: California needs to plan and build more long-distance power lines to carry all the electricity produced there to different parts of the state, and development can take nearly a decade. Transmission has become a significant tension point for clean energy developers across the US, as the number of project proposals balloons and lines to connect to the grid grow ever longer.Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Policy, Science, climate change, electricity, energy policy, solar power, syndication]

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[l] at 3/28/23 4:11pm
Enlarge / A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination center. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images) A vaccine advisory group for the World Health Organization said Tuesday that, at this point, it does not recommend additional, let alone annual, COVID-19 booster shots for people at low to medium risk of severe disease. It advised countries to focus on boosting those at high risk—including older people, pregnant people, and those with underlying medical conditions—every six to 12 months for the near- to mid-term. The new advice contrasts with proposed plans by the US Food and Drug Administration, which has suggested treating COVID-19 boosters like annual flu shots for the foreseeable future. That is, agency officials have floated the idea of offering updated formulations each fall, possibly to everyone, including the young and healthy. In a viewpoint published last May in JAMA, the FDA's top vaccine regulator, Peter Marks, along with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and Principal Deputy Commissioner Janet Woodcock, argued that annual COVID booster campaigns in the fall, ahead of winter waves of respiratory infections—such as flu, COVID-19, and RSV—would protect health care systems from becoming overwhelmed. And they specifically addressed the possibility of vaccinating those at low risk.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, booster, COVID-19, fda, high risk, immunocompromised, vaccination, vaccines, WHO]

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[l] at 3/28/23 11:18am
Enlarge / Certain squid have the ability to camouflage themselves by making themselves transparent and/or changing their coloration. (credit: YouTube/KQED Deep Look) Certain cephalopods like cuttlefish, octopuses, and squid have the ability to camouflage themselves by making themselves transparent and/or changing their coloration. Scientists would like to learn more about the precise mechanisms underlying this unique ability, but it's not possible to culture squid skin cells in the lab. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have discovered a viable solution: replicating the properties of squid skin cells in mammalian (human) cells in the lab. They presented their research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society being held this week in Indianapolis. "In general, there's two ways you can achieve transparency," UC Irvine's Alon Gorodetsky, who has been fascinated by squid camouflage for the last decade or so, said during a media briefing at the ACS meeting. "One way is by reducing how much light is absorbed—pigment-based coloration, typically. Another way is by changing how light is scattered, typically by modifying differences in the refractive index." The latter is the focus of his lab's research. Squid skin is translucent and features an outer layer of pigment cells called chromatophores that control light absorption. Each chromatophore is attached to muscle fibers that line the skin's surface, and those fibers, in turn, are connected to a nerve fiber. It's a simple matter to stimulate those nerves with electrical pulses, causing the muscles to contract. And because the muscles pull in different directions, the cell expands, along with the pigmented areas, which changes the color. When the cell shrinks, so do the pigmented areas.Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, biochemisty, biophysics, camouflage, chemistry, genetic engineering, leucophores, optics, Physics, science]

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[l] at 3/28/23 9:34am
Enlarge / The CHIME telescope has proven adept at picking up fast radio bursts. (credit: Andre Renard / CHIME Collaboration) By combing through a collection of data, researchers may have discovered evidence that we've already observed the first "blitzar," a bizarre astronomical event caused by the sudden collapse of an overly massive neutron star. The event is driven by an earlier merger of two neutron stars; this creates an unstable intermediate neutron star, which is kept from collapsing immediately by its rapid spin. In a blitzar, the strong magnetic fields of the neutron star slow down its spin, causing it to collapse into a black hole several hours after the merger. That collapse suddenly deletes the dynamo powering the magnetic fields, releasing their energy in the form of a fast radio burst. The researchers who performed the analysis suggest that this phenomenon could explain the non-repeating forms of these events. Too big to live How big can a neutron star get before it collapses into a black hole? We don't have a good answer, in part because we're not sure what happens to the bizarre forms of matter inside one of these massive objects. We don't even know if the neutrons that give the star its name survive or fall apart into their component quarks. It's one of those annoying questions where the answer includes the phrase "it depends."Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, astronomy, astrophysics, black holes, fast radio bursts, gravitational waves, neutron stars]

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[l] at 3/28/23 7:55am
Enlarge / Isar Aerospace tests its Aquila rocket engine. (credit: Isar Aerospace) There are essentially three areas in the world where clusters of private companies have started to develop small launch vehicles. The first such cluster emerged in the United States nearly two decades ago with SpaceX, which was then followed by Rocket Lab and about a dozen other serious companies. Next came China, with a profusion of quasi-private companies leveraging technology from the country's state-owned launch enterprises with private funding. The final region that has emerged in the last five years is in Europe. This European small launcher race has essentially followed a US model, with venture capital and investors backing a number of privately led efforts to develop commercially viable small satellite launchers. Much of this activity has been clustered in Germany and Great Britain, but Spanish and French companies are also in play.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, isar aerospace, space]

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[l] at 3/27/23 4:05pm
Enlarge / Transmission electron micrograph of poliovirus type 1. (credit: Getty | BSIP) Health officials in New York have once again detected poliovirus in wastewater from Rockland County, where a case of paralytic polio occurred last summer. Wastewater samples from Rockland and several nearby counties were positive for poliovirus for months after the initial case was reported in July, suggesting widespread circulation of the virus in the region. So far this year, officials have only detected poliovirus in one sample, which was collected from Rockland in February. Two samples from the county taken during March were negative. Before the detection in February, the last positive sample from the region was found in mid-December in Orange County, just north of Rockland. The last positive detection in Rockland was in October.Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, polio, poliovirus, Rockland County]

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[l] at 3/27/23 1:10pm
Enlarge / An illustration of what the inner portion of the TRAPPIST-1 system might look like. (credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI), T. P. Greene (NASA Ames), T. Bell (BAERI), E. Ducrot (CEA), P. Lagage (CEA)) At this point, we've discovered lots of exoplanets that fall under the general label "Earth-like." They're rocky, and many orbit at distances from their host stars to potentially have moderate temperatures. But "like" is doing a lot of work there. In many cases, we have no idea whether they even have an atmosphere, and the greenhouse effect means that the atmosphere can have a huge impact on the planet's temperature. So the Earth-like category can include dry, baking hellscapes like Venus with its massive atmosphere, as well as dry, frozen tundras with sparse atmospheres like Mars. But we're slowly getting the chance to image the atmospheres of rocky exoplanets. And today, researchers are releasing the results of turning the Webb Space Telescope on a rocky planet orbiting a nearby star, showing that the new hardware is so sensitive that it can detect the star blocking out light originating from the planet. The results suggest that the planet has very little atmosphere and is mostly radiating away heat from being baked by its nearby star. The ultra-cool dwarf and its seven planets TRAPPIST-1 is a small, reddish star—in astronomical terminology, it's an "ultra-cool dwarf"—that's about 40 light-years from Earth. While the star itself is pretty nondescript, it's notable for having lots of planets, with seven in total having been identified so far. All of these are small, rocky bodies, much like the ones that occupy the inner portion of our Solar System. While the star emits very little light, the planets are all packed in closer to it than Mercury is to the Sun.Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, astronomy, atmospheres, exoplanets, Webb telescope]

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[l] at 3/27/23 7:43am
Enlarge / The emergency escape system is seen firing on the New Shepard spacecraft Monday morning after its rocket was lost. (credit: Blue Origin) A little more than six months after the failure of its New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin has published a summary of the findings made by its accident investigation team. For a private company flying a private launch system, the analysis of this "NS-23" mission is reasonably detailed. Essentially, the rocket's main engine nozzle sustained temperatures that were higher than anticipated, leading to an explosion of the rocket. The accident occurred at 1 minute and 4 seconds into a research flight that launched on September 12, 2022. The emergency escape system performed as intended, rapidly pulling the spacecraft away from the disintegrating rocket. Had a crew been on board this flight, they would have experienced a significant jolt and some high gravitational forces before landing safely in the West Texas desert.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, blue origin, new shepard, space]

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[l] at 3/27/23 5:40am
Enlarge (credit: Kevin Gill (CC BY 2.0)) In 1960, visionary physicist Freeman Dyson proposed that an advanced alien civilization would someday quit fooling around with kindergarten-level stuff like wind turbines and nuclear reactors and finally go big, completely enclosing their home star to capture as much solar energy as they possibly could. They would then go on to use that enormous amount of energy to mine bitcoin, make funny videos on social media, delve into the deepest mysteries of the Universe, and enjoy the bounties of their energy-rich civilization. But what if the alien civilization was… us? What if we decided to build a Dyson sphere around our sun? Could we do it? How much energy would it cost us to rearrange our solar system, and how long would it take to get our investment back? Before we put too much thought into whether humanity is capable of this amazing feat, even theoretically, we should decide if it’s worth the effort. Can we actually achieve a net gain in energy by building a Dyson sphere? Spherical Dyson cows I’ll state from the outset that I'm a theoretical cosmologist, not an engineer. I have absolutely no idea how to go about building a bridge, let alone a structure that reshapes the very face of our Solar System. But I’m willing to bet that nobody knows how to engage in these kinds of mega-engineering challenges. We can’t say for certain what kind of advances in which technologies would be necessary to build a structure that even partially encloses the sun. To speculate on that would be science fiction—fun, but not very meaty.Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Features, Science, Dyson sphere]

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[l] at 3/26/23 5:08am
Enlarge / Recycling is sorted at the Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in New York City in 2015. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) To jumpstart a paltry market for recycled plastic, governments across the globe are pushing companies to include recycled materials in their products. Last year, the United Kingdom introduced a tax on manufacturers that produce or import plastic packaging containing less than 30 percent recycled plastic. In 2024, New Jersey will begin enforcing similar rules, albeit with lower targets. California now requires that beverage containers be made of 15 percent recycled materials, and Washington will enact a similar requirement later this year. The European Commission, Canada, and Mexico are all considering comparable moves. Currently, most plastic products are derived from freshly extracted fossil fuels, including crude oil and natural gas. Incorporating some recycled plastic could reduce emissions, and shrink pollution in waterways and landfills, experts say. But collecting, sorting, pulverizing, and melting post-consumer plastics for reuse is expensive. The new laws will potentially help recyclers find buyers for what would otherwise become waste. But regulators may need a better way to verify that the new laws are working. While companies can enlist a third-party to certify their use of recycled content, most certifiers take a bird’s-eye view, tracking the materials across a range of products and factories. As a result, an item with a “recycled content” label might be completely devoid of recycled content.Read 32 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, plastics, recycling, syndication]

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[l] at 3/25/23 5:21am
Enlarge (credit: Walter Zerla via Getty Images) Say you are a maker of computer graphics cards, under pressure from investors questioning your green credentials. You know what to do. You email your various departments, asking them to tally up their carbon emissions and the energy they consume. Simple enough. You write a report pledging a more sustainable future, in which your trucks are electrified and solar panels adorn your offices. Good start, your investors say. But what about the mines that produced the tantalum or palladium in your transistors? Or the silicon wafers that arrived via a lengthy supply chain? And what of when your product is shipped to customers, who install it in a laptop or run it 24/7 inside a data center to train an AI model like GPT-4 (or 5)? Eventually it will be discarded as trash or recycled. Chase down every ton of carbon and the emissions a company creates are many times times higher than it first seemed. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Policy, Science, climate change, emissions, syndication]

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[l] at 3/24/23 4:51pm
Enlarge / If this road is your only route to the outside world, it might not matter that your house didn't flood. (credit: Maurice Alcorn / EyeEm) Climate change produces lots of risks that are difficult to predict. While it will make some events—heatwaves, droughts, extreme storms, etc.—more probable, all of those events depend heavily on year-to-year variation in the weather. So, while the odds may go up, it's impossible to know when one of these events will strike a given location. By contrast, sea level rise seems far simpler. While there's still uncertainty about just how quickly ocean levels will rise, other aspects seem pretty predictable. Given a predicted rate of sea level rise, it's easy to tell when a site will start ending up underwater. And that sort of analysis has been done for various regions. But having a property above water won't be much good if flooding nearby means you can't get to a hospital or grocery store when you need to or lose access to electricity or other services. It's entirely possible for rising seas to leave a property high, dry, but uninhabitable as rising seas cut connections to essential services. A group of researchers has analyzed the risk of isolation driven by sea level rise and shows it's a major contributor to the future risks the US faces.Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, climate change, disaster planning, Earth science, risks, sea level rise]

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[l] at 3/24/23 3:11pm
Enlarge (credit: Getty | UniversalImagesGroup) Two more people have died and more details of horrifying eye infections are emerging in a nationwide outbreak linked to recalled eye drops from EzriCare and Delsam. The death toll now stands at three, according to an outbreak update this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 68 people in 16 states have been infected with a rare, extensively drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain linked to the eye drops. In addition to the deaths, eight people have reported vision loss and four have had their eyeballs surgically removed (enucleation). In a case report published this week in JAMA Ophthalmology, eye doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System, reported details of one case linked to the outbreak—a case in a 72-year-old man who has an ongoing infection in his right eye with vision loss, despite weeks of treatment with multiple antibiotics. When the man first sought treatment he reported pain in his right eye, which only had the ability to detect motion at that point, while his left eye had 20/20 vision. Doctors noted that the white of his right eye was entirely red, and white blood cells had visibly pooled on his cornea and in the front inner chamber of his eye.Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, antibiotics, CDC, drug resistance, eye, eyedrops, EzriCare, fda, infection, Infectious disease, outbreak, Pseudomonas aeruginosa]

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[l] at 3/24/23 12:06pm
Enlarge / Event display of a W-boson candidate decaying into a muon and a muon neutrino inside the ATLAS experiment. The blue line shows the reconstructed track of the muon, and the red arrow denotes the energy of the undetected muon neutrino. (credit: ATLAS Collaboration/CERN) It's often said in science that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Recent measurements of the mass of the elementary particle known as the W boson provide a useful case study as to why. Last year, Fermilab physicists caused a stir when they reported a W boson mass measurement that deviated rather significantly from theoretical predictions of the so-called Standard Model of Particle Physics—a tantalizing hint of new physics. Others advised caution, since the measurement contradicted prior measurements. That caution appears to have been warranted. The ATLAS collaboration at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has announced a new, improved analysis of their own W boson data and found the measured value for its mass was still consistent with Standard Model. Caveat: It's a preliminary result. But it lessens the likelihood of Fermilab's 2022 measurement being correct. "The W mass measurement is among the most challenging precision measurements performed at hadron colliders," said ATLAS spokesperson Andreas Hoecker. "It requires extremely accurate calibration of the measured particle energies and momenta, and a careful assessment and excellent control of modeling uncertainties. This updated result from ATLAS provides a stringent test, and confirms the consistency of our theoretical understanding of electroweak interactions.” Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, ATLAS, CERN, Large Hadron Collider, particle physics, Physics, science, the standard model, W boson]

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