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New Scientist 15-dec-18

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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51 Issues


access_time1 min.
another bubble bursts

WHEN New Scientist first reported on bitcoin in June 2011, excitement was brewing as its value hit the heady heights of $10. Now, as the price threatens to dip below $3000 from a peak of almost $20,000, cryptocurrency fans are despairing (see page 24). If you had bought in those early days, you would be sitting happy on a princely sum. The trouble is that most people didn’t, and those who joined the bitcoin bubble late are now looking pretty sorry, and swearing off the whole thing as just another failed get-rich-quick scheme. But bitcoin was never meant to be a vehicle for rampant speculation, say proponents. The point was to build a new global payment system, free from the influence of governments. Assessed against this goal, bitcoin has also failed, and spectacularly.…

access_time1 min.
a confusion of numbers

NUMBERS, numbers, everywhere but what are we to think? Numbers matter, but they can leave us bewildered rather than better informed. Take the greatest challenge facing our civilisation: climate change. Two of the vital questions are: what is a safe limit for global warming, and what do we have to do to ensure we don’t pass it? The available answers vary greatly. This is partly to do with us. We are the biggest uncertainty in climate projections. However, the baffling array of numbers also has much to do with the often hidden assumptions and definitions underlying the figures. For instance, when people talk of limiting warming to 1.5°C – itself a figure plucked from the air – what many mean is getting the temperature back down after first passing this limit. And…

access_time5 min.
meet your unknown ancestor

MORE than 20 years after a remarkable skeleton was found in South Africa, analysis suggests we may need to add a new species to the family tree of early human ancestors. The analysis also uncovered evidence that the species was evolving to become better at striding on two legs, helping us to understand when our lineage first became bipedal. The specimen, nicknamed “Little Foot”, is a type of Australopithecus, the group of hominins to which the iconic fossil “Lucy” belongs. Lucy’s species is called Australopithecus afarensis, but we know of several other species of these human-like primates living in Africa around 2 million years ago, including Australopithecus africanus. The findings have been released amid a long-running controversy over who should have access to the fossil. As a result, a team that has been…

access_time1 min.
global climate talks

ONGOING climate talks in Katowice, Poland, have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The talks are part of continuing efforts to finalise the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement. That deal involved each country saying what it was prepared to do up to 2030 to tackle climate change. But despite several meetings since then, the final rules for assessing progress are yet to be agreed. As New Scientist went to press, only modest progress had been made in Katowice. What we do know is that a large gap remains between what has been promised and what is needed to achieve the Paris target of limiting warming to well under 2°C. A central idea of the Paris Agreement was that countries would continue to “ramp up” their ambitions on…

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journey to the far side of the moon

IF ALL goes to plan, China is soon to be the first country to land on the far side of the moon. The uncrewed Chang’e 4 mission, which includes both a lander and a rover, blasted off to the moon on 7 December. The China National Space Administration is yet to announce a landing date. The far side of the moon never faces us because the moon and Earth are tidally locked by gravity. Previous lunar probes have only studied this side from orbit, but if Chang’e 4 gets a good view of the craters on its surface, it could teach us much more about the history of the solar system. Chang’e 4 will also act as a test bed for other future endeavours on the moon, including potential colonisation. The lander is…

access_time3 min.
bouncier running shoes may be bad

HEAVILY cushioned running shoes are meant to protect against leg injuries, but it turns out they may be having the opposite effect. Despite regular changes in the padding of running shoes over the years, it is estimated that every year at least a third of runners get stress fractures, shin splints or muscle or joint injuries caused by repeated pounding of pavements. Many sports shoe makers have begun adding extra material to the soles of running shoes, to try to soften the impact on the legs – so-called maximalist footwear. But injury rates haven’t fallen. A new study suggests this is because the extra cushioning alters the spring-like mechanics of the legs of a runner in a way that means their limbs experience a greater impact with every stride. Juha-Pekka Kulmala at the University…