from the world's big
An Asteroid Could Smash Us
Edward M. Sion is a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Villanova University. He received a B.A. in Astronomy from the University of Kansas in 1968, an M.A. in Astronomy from the University of Kansas in 1969, and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. His primary research interests include the formation and evolution of white dwarf stars, the physics and evolution of cataclysmic variable stars, and theoretical studies of accretion physics.
Question: What hazards exist in outer space that could pose a grave threat to Earth?
Ed Sion: Well one of the scenarios is the one regarding what our press release was about, concerning T Pyxidis. But I think that most scenarios now, for example, trying to account for the mass extinctions that have occurred throughout geological history that the, for example, the gamma ray burst. A burst of gamma rays from a very massive star that collapses on itself with a prompt formation of a black hole, and then with gamma ray jets that, if they’re oriented just right, the gamma ray burst will be directed at Earth. These could be potentially devastating, the gamma ray bursts.
In addition to that, there is a lot of debris in our solar system that was part of the fundamental building blocks of the solar system. Primordial matter is what we call it. Pristine chemical composition. There’s been no chemical alteration. The comets are good examples of that. And some of the asteroids are pretty primitive, that is they have a composition that is very pristine and primordial. It has been altered by geological evolution. That is, they haven’t been incorporated in large bodies that undergo geological evolution. So, these are the basic building blocks. Well, these building blocks, they’re out there and of course they can potentially collide with the planets, including Earth. And in fact this is how we think the moon originated.
The most widely held theory for the origin of the moon is the giant impacter theory where billions of years ago, after Earth had developed an iron core, after it had what we call it differentiation, where the heavy elements sink to the center of a newly formed planet and the lighter elements float to the surface because of their different density, that Earth once it differentiated early in the history of the solar system when collisions with other bodies was more frequent, earth was struck by a Mars-sized intruder body. That then liquefied a large portion of the Earth’s mantel at the collision site and ejected this liquid rock out into space. This liquid rock then cooled and solidified and then reassembled itself by gravity and that’s what we have now, according to this theory as the present day moon. It eventually then suffered other collisions, the moon suffered other collisions. That gives us the Man in the Moon appearance. The lunar seas, for example, those blue patches are actually gigantic impact basins that have been flooded with lava, with liquid rock during lunar volcanism, during volcanic activity in lunar history.
So, these collisions happened much more frequently in the past, but that doesn’t rule out that they can’t happen now. So, I think it’s an area that is really deserving of a lot of exploration as is being done now.
Question: How do you rate the danger of an asteroid or comet impact happening within our lifetimes?
Ed Sion: Well, within the human lifespan, it’s a very, very low probability. But on the other hand, one cannot rule it out. There are three families of asteroids that actually have the potential of colliding with Earth, the Amore Asteroids, the Apollo Asteroids, and the Aten Asteroids.
The Apollo Asteroids actually have orbits that are internal to Earth’s orbit and they’re perhaps the most likely, the Apollo Asteroids. And they are being monitored very carefully by telescopic patrol observatories that have been set up. And if one of the Apollo Asteroids were to enter into collision course with Earth, hopefully we’d have enough warning, but we do in fact have the technology now and in the future to intercept and possibly deflect such a body. But during the span of a human lifetime, it’s not likely. It’s rather improbable that something large enough to do a great deal of devastation of the globe would happen.
Now, there was an event in 1908, the Tunguska event, that appears to be a porous primitive asteroid that detonated, that exploded above the ground and this leveled an entire forest in central Siberia near the Tunguska River. But fortunately the area was very sparsely populated and there were no recorded human fatalities. But if that event had happened a few hours before, in other words, if it had happened – if the detonation had happened over the ocean, that could have generated tidal waves, tsunamis, and that could have had a devastating effect on the coast lines. So, it was really a lucky thing that the Tunguska even occurred over central Siberia and not over a populated area. Like for example in Western Europe.
Question: What would actually happen if an asteroid or comet threatened us in the near future?
Ed Sion: Well, I presume that our leadership would meet with NASA officials and plan to intercept such a body with either a kinetic energy device, a missile that would ram into it, but they would have to be very careful because you don’t want to fragment it too much. You don’t want to fragment it in such a way that the fragments themselves would enhance the devastation. So, you want to make sure it has to be carefully calculated. But I think this kind of scenario has been anticipated and I think that both with our space program, with other space programs, the Russian space program, the Chinese, I think there are plans in case of such an event. And of course you would want to avoid worldwide panic and that kind of thing. I think the details remain to be seen, but such plans have been in the works in case of, for example, an Apollo Asteroid being perturbed into a collision with us, with Earth.
Recorded on January 20, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Fortunately, the technology to intercept and destroy renegade space matter is no longer a Hollywood myth.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.