Japanese Mission Becomes first to Land Rovers on Asteroid

By Elizabeth Gibney, Nature magazine

Japan’s asteroid mission Hayabusa2 has become the first to land moving rovers on the surface of an asteroid.

On 22 September, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tweeted that it had confirmed the mission’s twin rovers, called MINERVA-II 1A and 1B, had landed safely on the space rock Ryugu, and were moving on the surface.

The Hayabusa2 mothership deployed the small probes late last week as it dropped to just 55 metres above the surface, later pulling up to a higher orbit.

Mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) lost communication with the MINERVA rovers in the hours after deployment. The team said the silence was probably down to the landers being on the far side of the asteroid, as seen from the orbiter.

But the hexagonal rovers have now sent back their first, slightly blurry, colour images of their surface and made their first ‘hop’—their primary means of movement on the rock’s surface. The probes use rotating motors to make jumps, each lasting some 15 minutes owing to the body’s low gravity.

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Scientists: Don’t let Arizona superintendent Diane Douglas ‘sabotage’ evolution

By Laurie Roberts

A group of scientists – read: people who don’t believe that dinosaurs marched two-by-two into Noah’s Ark – is asking the Arizona Board of Education not to let Superintendent Diane Douglas “sabotage” the scientific literacy of our kids.

Specifically, they are asking the board to ignore Douglas, who seems determined to insert a little Sunday school into science class by casting doubt on whether evolution occurred.

So determined, in fact, that she recently asked a creationist – a guy who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were passengers on Noah’s Ark – to look over the proposed science standards.

Yep, she did that.

Cue the collective horror of a group of Arizona university science professors, among them a recipient of The Nobel Prize.

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Sharks, dishwashers and guns: A running list of viral hoaxes about Hurricane Florence

By Abby Ohlheiser

The Internet exists, and so does Hurricane Florence. The inevitable result? An ever-growing tally of online hoaxes about the dangerous storm, hoping to go viral on the good intentions of people who are trying to find and share the latest information.

We’ve been here before. As we have in the past, the Intersect is keeping a running list of unverified rumors, hoaxes and other misinformation about Florence as the storm hits the East Coast. And please, if you see something that isn’t in the post, feel free to send it our way.

Look on this list, ye Mighty, and despair.


**takes a deep breath**

Shark hoaxes are so common during natural disasters involving flooding that their circulation has become a meme. And yet, those who aren’t online all the time seem to fall for these hoaxes every storm. Florence appears to be no exception.

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A failure of parents to transmit religion to their children could be driving the rise of nonreligion

By Eric W. Dolan

The number of so-called “nones” — individuals who do not identify with any organized religion — is rapidly growing in the United States. New research suggests that this trend could be driven, at least in part, by a disconnection between parents and their children.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, found a large gap between the religiousness of parents and their teenage children.

“In an earlier publication, Joseph Hammer, Michael Nielsen, and I developed a new scale for measuring how secular someone is,” said study author Ryan T. Cragun of the University of Tampa.

“There were many reasons why we developed that scale. The obvious reason was that no one had done anything like that before. But there are two other important reasons. Most prior measures of religiosity either did a really poor job of asking questions that could be answered by the nonreligious or didn’t even ask questions that were relevant to the nonreligious.”

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Spanish actor detained over blasphemy complaint released

By the AFP

A Spanish actor accused of blasphemy was released without bail after being questioned in court on Thursday, in the latest high profile case to raise free speech fears in the country.

Willy Toledo, a cinema and television actor, is facing a complaint over a social media post last year.

He was arrested in Madrid on Wednesday after he had twice failed to show up for questioning.

The case stems from a July 2017 Facebook message in which Toledo, 48, defended three women charged with blasphemy for staging a mock-religious procession wielding a giant vagina.

In profane language, Toledo expressed contempt in his post for God and the Virgin Mary.

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Testing and cleaning North Carolina’s water supply post-Florence could prove tricky. A microbiologist explains why

By Frankie Schembri

Hurricane Florence dropped record-breaking amounts of rain as it hovered over the Carolinas last week. The resulting floodwaters killed dozens of people and created a lingering crisis for drinking water supplies. Across North Carolina, lagoons full of livestock waste, enclosures full of dead chickens and hogs, raw sewage from wastewater treatment plants, and coal ash ponds are all overflowing. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement on Monday that at least 23 drinking water systems in the state had temporarily halted their operations and that 21 others were operating with boil water advisories.

Rachel Noble, a microbiologist at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and her team are working to track potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses as they flow through North Carolina’s water system. She told Science about poststorm threats to drinking water and how to cut down on the dangerous lag time in the tests that detect them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Planet Earth Wobbles As It Spins, and Now Scientists Know Why

By Stephanie Pappas

Humans are responsible for some of the wobble in Earth’s spin.

Since 1899, the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted about 34 feet (10.5 meters). Now, research quantifies the reasons why and finds that a third is due to melting ice and rising sea levels, particularly in Greenland — placing the blame on the doorstep of anthropogenic climate change.

Another third of the wobble is due to land masses expanding upward as the glaciers retreat and lighten their load. The final portion is the fault of the slow churn of the mantle, the viscous middle layer of the planet.

“We have provided evidence for more than one single process that is the key driver” for altering the Earth’s axis, said Surendra Adhikari, an Earth system scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a lead researcher on the new study.

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Mike Pence warns Christian conservatives against complacency in midterm elections

By Maureen Groppe

Two years after Mike Pence helped convince evangelical Christians to back Donald Trump’s presidential bid, the vice president warned faith voters that complacency is the greatest threat to Republicans keeping control of Congress.

“The other side is mobilized, and some say they’re motivated as never before,” Pence said Saturday at the Family Research Council’s Voter Values Summit. “But I say we must match – in fact, I say we must surpass – the energy of the American left and their enthusiasm and passion.”

He called the midterm elections a “choice between a party that celebrates America and one that often demeans millions of our neighbors and friends.”

 “Let’s keep faith that He who has ever watched over this nation still governs in the affairs of men,” Pence said.

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Taxpayers Fund Creationist Textbooks for Religious Schools in New Jersey

By David G. McAfee

As public schools in New Jersey are struggling for funding, the state’s citizens are footing the bill for Creationist “textbooks” used in private religious institutions.

State funds were used to buy dozens of copies of a “textbook” with a clear bias in favor of religion, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Books for religious teaching are not supposed to be purchased with state grant money, but one of the private school texts, titled “Fundamentals of Life Science,” promotes a “greater appreciation of the greatness of Hashem and His magnificent creations,” according to the book’s cover posted on Amazon.com. Hashem, a transliteration of Hebrew, is a word used in place of God.

About 60 copies of the 198-page book written by Rabbi Yaakov Lubin were purchased last year through the state grant program.

The Press asked the New Jersey Department of Education, which administers the textbook grant program, about foreign language texts and the books with religious themes — and whether they were allowed under state rules. In response, a department spokesman said state staff were reviewing how textbook grant funds were spent in Lakewood.

“I can tell you that we are looking into it,” education department spokesman Michael Yaple said, adding he could not provide further information about the review.

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Ancient Mystery Creature That Defied Classification Is Earth’s Oldest Animal

By Mindy Weisberger

An enigmatic creature that lived half a billion years ago is as “strange as life on another planet” and has defied classification for nearly a century. But researchers can finally identify the mystery organism as an animal — the oldest known animal on Earth — thanks to traces of ancient fats.

This precious organic evidence emerged from exceptionally well-preserved fossils found in northwest Russia near the White Sea. The remains come from a strange organism known as Dickinsonia. Dating to around 558 million years ago, Dickinsonia had an oval, segmented body that measured about 5 feet (1.4 meters) long, and it lacked physical features typically associated with animals, such as discernable limbs, orifices or organs, or a discernable head.

For decades, the oddball bodies of Dickinsonia and other peculiar creatures from this period — the Ediacaran, about 635 million to 541 million years ago — made it challenging to place these creatures on the tree of life with certainty. But the recent discovery of additional Dickinsonia fossils revealed something that had never been seen in this type of fossil before: organic tissue preserved in the fossilized impression left behind by the creature’s body. From this impression, or biofilm, researchers were able to identify molecules of cholesterol, a fat that is recognized as “a hallmark” of animals, the scientists reported in a new study.

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