Set ablaze: More fires burning in Central Africa than Amazon

Reviewing the conflagration within Central Africa.

Set ablaze: More fires burning in Central Africa than Amazon
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  • There are more than five times as many fires in central Africa than the Amazon.
  • While the fires are mostly confined to savanna, they could threaten the Congo Basin.
  • The Congo Basin is the second largest rainforest in the world.

As the forest fires in South America's Amazon rainforest blaze on, concurrent disastrous fires are raging in large swathes of Central Africa and parts of Southern Africa.

One of the regions at risk is the Congo Basin forest, the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. The majority of the rainforest is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region absorbs a great deal of carbon dioxide and hosts rich and diverse animal and plant life.

NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) technology estimates that there are around five times as many fires burning in Africa than in the Amazon rainforest.

During the G7 summit, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the current devastation running through the savanna and wondered aloud why the African fires weren't getting as much air time or attention as the Amazon fires.

Currently, the individual blazes are confined to the savanna, but many experts fear that the flames could spread into close proximity with the Congo Basin and wreak havoc. The second-largest tropical forest makes up 500 million acres and is home to more than 2,000 species of animals and 10,000 species of plants.

Two forests and fires

Many of these satellite maps give us cause for concern. Visually and statistically there are more fires engulfing Africa. NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management Map (FIRMS) paints a disturbing picture of the African deluge at first glance. However, many of these fires are from controlled burns or brush fires, which are different that forest fires.

Indeed, while the deforestation and slash and burn tactics of African farming are environmentally reprehensible, fire experts caution against equally comparing the situation to catastrophe raging across Brazil and Bolivia. Lauren Williams, a forest expert at Global Forest Watch, believes that currently the situation is contained. Referencing the Global Forest Watch map, she finds that there's been no real damage being done to the forest.

This said, there's a stark difference between the fires engulfing the Amazon — they are consuming lush rainforests with flames — and those happening in the Congo. The fires in Central Africa consist are mainly raging across savannas and are mostly contained at the edge of the Congo Basin rainforest.

Correspondents stationed at CNN's bureau in Lagos, Nigeria, have been told that data shows the number of fires could possibly be lower than normal yearly levels. In Central Africa, it's typical for these types of ignitions to be lit during this time of the year. While some areas may self-combust during the dry season, the majority of the blame for the flames stems from slash-and-burn agriculture.

In South America, human-ignited burns initiated and eventually spread into sensitive areas of the Amazon rainforest. Forest manager with Greenpeace, Irène Wabiwa Betoko fears this could happen in Africa:

"If it catches the rainforest in the Congo Basin, it will be worse than in South America," she said in an interview with The New York Times. "We are calling on governments to not be silent. Start acting now to make sure these fires are not getting out of control."

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A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

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  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

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