New Scientist

New Scientist 19-oct-19

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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in this issue

1 min.
editor’s note

Vol 244 No 3252 Cover image: Francesco Ciccolella MANY thanks to everyone who joined us for another four-day spectacular at New Scientist Live last weekend. As ever, the exhibits on the show floor were immense, but for me, the best bit is meeting our readers – and seeing the talks. Some of the highlights are showcased on pages 8-10 and 31-33. To hear scientists describe their latest work – whether building liquid xenon detectors for dark matter, or using hot water to drill through the Antarctic ice sheet – is a thrill and a huge privilege. Rock-star palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger was the standout for me. His story of discovering Homo naledi at the bottom of a suffocatingly narrow shaft in a cave in South Africa is one he tells brilliantly and with sparkling humour…

2 min.
uncertain times

“THE only certainty is that nothing is certain”, wrote Pliny the Elder with classical authority in his Natural History. Later, more waggish sources added death and taxes to the list, but the passage of time has done little to diminish the original sentiment. Indeed, modern life seems to have elevated gnawing insecurity to an art form. Whether it is awaiting a diagnosis or the result of an interview, trying to get pregnant or completing on a house sale, few of us haven’t felt that sense of limbo: of a fate in the balance, determined by forces outside our control. The UK has even been experimenting with making it a form of national psychosis with its failure to decide on its future relationship with the European Union. Good, then, that psychologists are beginning…

2 min.
marathon milestone

TWO years after missing out on a 2-hour marathon by only 25 seconds, Eliud Kipchoge has become the first person ever to run 42.2 kilometres in less than 2 hours. He ended the run in Vienna, Austria, on 12 October, smiling and pointing to the crowd as he accelerated through the final kilometre to finish in 1:59:40. The feat won’t be recognised as an official world marathon record because it wasn’t a race and the elite athlete was assisted by a pace car and a rotating team of 41 pacemakers. Nevertheless, Kipchoge’s achievement is undoubtedly historic. And the following day, Brigid Kosgei set a women’s world marathon record of 2:14:04 in the Chicago Marathon. These feats show how far sports science has come. “Many of the leading scientists didn’t really see [a sub-2-hour…

1 min.
pollution linked to miscarriage risk

HIGH levels of air pollution may increase the chance of a missed miscarriage, according to data from pregnant women living and working in Beijing, China. A missed or silent miscarriage is when a fetus dies or stops developing during pregnancy, usually without any symptoms. Such miscarriages tend to happen in the first trimester, and can be picked up on 12-week scans. Little is known about what causes them. Liqiang Zhang at Beijing Normal University and his colleagues assessed the health records of 17,500 women in Beijing who had a missed miscarriage in their first trimester. They also collected data on the levels of air pollutants close to where the women lived and worked. Those exposed to higher levels of air pollution had an increased risk of a missed miscarriage. The team didn’t directly…

2 min.
first ever uk moon rover

THE first moon rover to originate from the UK is going to be tiny. SpaceBit, a UK-based start-up, announced last week that it is set to have its lander touch down on the lunar surface in 2021. In May, NASA said that US space robotics firm Astrobotic and two other companies had been awarded funding to build lunar landers. Astrobotic was given $79.5 million to carry up to 14 NASA instruments to the moon, as well as 14 payloads from other partners, including private companies and other nations. SpaceBit will be one of those partners, sending its small lunar rover to the surface inside Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. Weighing just 1 kilogram, the rover is the smallest lunar rover ever, according to SpaceBit. Once the lander reaches the moon, the rover will drop…

2 min.
crabs found with stomachs full of discarded plastic

SHOCKING amounts of plastic are being ingested by crabs in the Thames river in the UK, and it may be passed up through the food chain to other species. A UK team surveying the river looked at 55 shore crabs (Carcinus maenas) and 57 Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis, pictured), and discovered that almost every one had plastic in their stomach, intestines or gills. Much of it was so tightly wound and tangled together inside the gastric mill–the relatively small stomach inside these crabs – that the plastic fibres completely filled it. “What is particularly shocking is, not only are they filling the stomach, but they can be made up of over 100 fibres [in each crab], so they are very highly contaminated,” said Alexandra McGoran of London’s Natural History Museum, speaking…