Welcome to Overnight News Digest- Saturday Science. Since 2007 the OND has been a regular community feature on Daily Kos, consisting of news stories from around the world, sometimes coupled with a daily theme, original research or commentary. Editors of OND impart their own presentation styles and content choices, typically publishing each day near 12:00 AM Eastern Time.
Topics in this edition include:
- Microplastics — how to stop them
- Exploring the middle ground between God and atheism
- JWST discovers a Cosmic Vine between 11 billion and 12 billion light years away
- What happens to a bioplastic fork after 64 months?
- Installing heat pumps in low-income NYC apartments
- Three ways climate change affects your life
- Consumer warning about Teflon-type pans
by Emma Bryce
Worth reading in its entirety, in my opinion.
In September 1993, during a beach clean on the Isle of Man, Richard Thompson noticed thousands of multicoloured fragments
at his feet, looking like sand. While his colleagues filled sacks with crisp packets, fishing rope, plastic bags and bottles, Thompson became transfixed by the particles.
They were so tiny that they did not fit any category in the spreadsheet where volunteers recorded their findings. “Yet it was pretty clear to me that the most abundant item on the beach was the smallest stuff,” Thompson says.
Back in the lab, they would confirm what Thompson had first suspected: the particles were all pieces of plastic, no larger than grains of sand, and ubiquitous along the UK coastline. It was pollution on a whole new scale.
“If we keep the nearly 300-400m tonnes of plastic we’re making every year, and all we’re doing is chucking biosource plastics [which are biodegradable] to fill the gap, it doesn’t fix the problem of litter, it doesn’t fix the problem of waste, it doesn’t fix the problem of chemicals,” he says. “It’s just substituting the carbon source.”
None of these kinds of actions change what he thinks is the real danger: the linear relationship we have with plastic – produce, consume, dispose – which created the problem. After two decades describing that problem, he is now focused on the cause. “It’s very much coming back to the land, my research, because the problem isn’t made in the ocean: it’s made by practices on land.”
by Phillip Goff
If you don’t believe in the God of the Bible or the Quran, then you must think we live in a meaningless universe, right? People get stuck in dichotomies of thought. If you don’t like Soviet communism, then you must be in favour of US-style capitalism. Well, not if there are political opinions other than those two (which of course there are). Another dichotomy is between traditional religion and secular atheism. Whose team are you on, Richard Dawkins’s or the Pope’s? Over a long period of time, I’ve come to think that both these worldviews are inadequate, that both have things about reality that they can’t explain. In my book Why? The Purpose of the Universe (2023), I explore the much-neglected middle ground between God and atheism.
by Jordan Pearson
The universe is more connected than you might think: In recent years, scientists have used new tools and techniques to map the “cosmic web,” which is made up of intertwined strands of gas structures known as filaments that link galaxies. Now, a team of researchers have identified a new “large-scale structure” in the universe that they call the “Cosmic Vine.”The researchers hail from numerous universities and institutions across Denmark, Chile, the U.K., and the Netherlands. They published a preprint of their work to the arXiv server on November 8. According to the study, the Cosmic Vine was spotted after poring over data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), humanity’s most powerful tool for peering into the far reaches of space and time.
According to the researchers, it is a massive “vine-like structure” that encompasses 20 galaxies and stretches for over 13 light years. It’s also very ancient: The researchers pegged it at redshift 3.44, meaning it’s situated in the early universe. Redshift refers to the way light stretches as it travels longer distances through time, with higher redshifts indicating an object is older. A redshift of 3.44 would mean light from the Cosmic Vine has been traveling for between 11 and 12 billion years before reaching JWST. The universe is roughly 13 billion years old.
by Adele Peters
In the summer of 2021, researchers from the nonprofit 5 Gyres carried a crate filled with samples of plastic trash to a dock in Long Beach, California. Inside mesh bags were 22 different items (from straws and bottles to pens, tampon applicators, and baby wipes) made from different types of bioplastic, standard fossil-fuel-based plastic, and natural materials like bamboo and paper.
They lowered the crate into the water, weighed it down with bricks on the ocean floor, and came back repeatedly over more than a year to measure exactly how each item was breaking down—or not.
A straw made from PHA, one type of bioplastic that’s touted for its ability to biodegrade, broke down as quickly as paper or bamboo in the ocean. But on land, where it was buried under soil or sand, it only started to show early signs of breaking down at the end of the study, after 64 weeks. A PHA bottle broke down slowly both in the ocean and on land. In Maine’s cold water, it stayed almost fully intact for the entire study.
by Justine Calma
For now, the window heat pump in apartment 1D sticks out like a sore thumb. Set between off-white lace curtains, it looks like a brand-new oven installed in a grandma’s living room.
The heat pump replaced a radiator — those rattling, hissing things that are hallmarks of most old buildings in New York City. And if the heat pump proves itself this winter, it could one day make its way into virtually every room in every home in the city’s public housing system. And that could just be the start for the future of home heating.
The prototype in this room at the Woodside Houses in Queens, New York, is already an engineering feat that New York state has funneled tens of millions of dollars into developing because nothing like it was on the market. Heat pumps can both heat and cool a home. To be sure, more complicated versions of the appliance have been around for a while. This one is novel because it’s simple. It can sit on a sill and plug into a wall like a window AC unit.
So far, the state has purchased 30,000 of them for New York City’s public housing as part of its plan to tackle climate change. They’re supposed to save energy, cut down utility costs, reduce pollution, and give residents access to air conditioning that didn’t have it before.
by Alajandra Borunda, Lauren Summer, Rebecca Hersher
Climate change is expensive, deadly and preventable, according to the new National Climate Assessment, the most sweeping, sophisticated federal analysis of climate change compiled to date.
Released every five years, the National Climate Assessment is a congressionally mandated evaluation of the effects of climate change on American life. This new fifth edition paints a picture of a nation simultaneously beset by climate-driven disasters and capable of dramatically reducing emissions of planet-warming gasses in the near future.
This is the first time the assessment includes standalone chapters about climate change’s toll on the American economy, as well as the complex social factors driving climate change and the nation’s responses. And, unlike past installments, the new assessment draws heavily from social science, including history, sociology, philosophy and Indigenous studies.
by Jeremiah Boudin
A new study has renewed some questions about the safety of nonstick pans, as researchers found that one small crack in the Teflon surface of a pan could release over 9,000 tiny plastic particles. What is happening?
Teflon is made from chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroakyl substances, commonly known as PFAS. Once these chemicals enter water sources and peoples’ bloodstreams — as the research has indicated they can when a Teflon surface is scratched or cracked — they essentially never break down, which has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”
“It gives us a strong warning that we must be careful about selecting and using cooking utensils to avoid food contamination,” said Professor Youhong Tang from the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders University.
This is an open thread where everyone is welcome, especially night owls and early birds, to share and discuss the science news of the day. Please share your articles and stories in the comments.