Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates with New Nebula

NASA has more cause to celebrate than discovering the possibility of life on Saturn’s Moon and four earth-sized planets. This year, the 28th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope is marked by gorgeous images and a fly-through video of a breathtaking accomplishment: the Lagoon Nebula.

Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), launched on April 24, 1990. The ESA’s Hubble site describes the Lagoon Nebula as a “colossal object” that’s 55 light-years in width and 20 light-years in height. Even though it is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, it is three times larger in the sky than the full Moon.

The entirety of the Lagoon Nebula cannot be completely captured by the images NASA released, showing only its heart. But the magnificence we can glimpse at is still mind-blowing. It joins a stellar line-up of the previous years’ anniversary explorations of the Hubble Space Telescope, including the Bubble Nebula and a pair of spiral galaxies. As part of the celebration, the Hubble site also publicizes some trivia for us:

Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data.

28 years ago, the scientists and astronomers that were part of the core team for this project had soaring ambitions, and yet they probably never imagined the heights their Hubble Space Telescope would reach. What a remarkable feat for science. And today, with another dazzling nebula, what a remarkable reminder of how science allows us to see the beauty of the universe.

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Recycling Robot “Daisy” Eats 200 iPhones an Hour

Technology nowadays strives to maintain its status as a life changer, with Apple adapting to people’s health-oriented lifestyles, a blockchain program providing social services to the homeless, and Google dabbling in environmentalism by being the biggest buyer of clean energy.

In keeping up with this trend, Apple now introduces its newest robot named “Daisy.”

The massive robot, which Apple says can tear apart iPhones at a rate of 200 per hour, is able to separate the various internal components of an iPhone and sort them into easy-to-access piles. Using this method, Apple say it’s able to recycle a greater volume of materials than it would if it used other methods, since more of the parts are maintained.

In 2016, Apple already announced the creation of “Liam,” a recycling robot which can take apart unwanted units of the iPhone 6. That one seemed to serve as an experimental prototype for “Daisy,” which can now chew up to nine different iPhone models, almost every model except for the iPhone X.

The announcement comes as part of a series of new environmentally-friendly announcements the company made to coincide with Earth Day. Apple also announced a new GiveBack program for making donations to Conservation International, and a new Apple Watch feature that will reward users who exercise outdoors on Earth Day.

Apple continues to prove itself a titan, apparently wanting to be at the top even of the environmental game.

It’s just a teeny-tiny bit ironic that a recycling robot will save the environment from electronic pollution, isn’t it? Seems like the trajectory of technology has a lot more surprises in store for us in the coming years.

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Shipping Industry Joins Fight Against Climate Change

All of us can participate, in our little ways, in the great battle against climate change. As I have written before, we need to take the task upon ourselves now more than ever. And while there are actions we can do just around our home, we also definitely need bigger stakeholders in the battle. As a momentous feat this 2018, the shipping industry is finally joining the fight.

For the first time, brokered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and effective over 170 member states, global shipping companies have agreed to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The agreement will require a revolution among ships, which are overwhelmingly fuelled by heavy oils at present. In future, they will have to not only be more energy-efficient, but also make use of cleaner energy, in the form of batteries supplying electricity, solar and wind electricity generation, and perhaps even a return to sail in some cases, or more controversially to nuclear power, as some warships already use.

As of the moment, shipping contributes only 2% of the world’s total carbon emissions, but this is no reason to be complacent, considering the ever-increasing need for transport due to globalization, as well as the ships’ use of carbon-heavy fuels like diesel.

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy adviser at the campaigning group Seas at Risk, said: “We have an important agreement and this level of ambition will ultimately require a sector-wide shift to new fuels and propulsion technologies. But what happens next is crucial. The IMO must move swiftly to introduce measures that will cut emissions deeply and quickly in the short term – without these, the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach.”

According to campaigners, to really carry out their goal and meet the objectives of the 2015 Paris agreement, shipping companies need to cut 70% of shipping emissions by 2050. However, that the shipping industry agreed to halve their current usage is already tremendous news.

The entire shipping industry is built on and relies on oceans, so let’s hope shipping companies finally start doing what’s best to protect them.

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Mutant Enzyme Created by Accident Eats Plastic

Let’s face it, no matter how many individuals choose to replace their styrofoam coffee containers with reusable cups and no matter how many soda companies exchange plastic bottles for reusable ones, the total amount of plastic generated globally is still a huge enough crisis to keep finding solutions to.

Lucky for us, a mutant enzyme that can break down plastic drink bottles was accidentally born to an international team of scientists.

The creation of the enzyme came by accident when the team, led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, tweaked a bacterium they had discovered in a waste dump in Japan in 2016. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and the scientists inadvertently made it even better at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the plastic used for drink bottles. The break-down process starts in a matter of days, not the centuries it can take in the ocean.

In 2017, it was found that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. A tragic pollution statistic. However, since the mutant enzyme naturally evolved to break down plastic components, scientists have found leads that it might soon be able to recycle clear plastic bottles into clear plastic bottles. Talk about evolution and resurrection.

“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” McGeehan said. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

Sometimes, accidents can be beautiful. Especially when it is born in a lab and extremely  helpful for the environment.

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Aquatic Moss Makes Contaminated Water Drinkable

Algae used to be fashionable, what with eco-friendly biomass algae shoes and green chandelier air purifiers. Something that looks quite similar (though is biologically different), moss, used to be functional and innovative, with equally eco-friendly moss-covered tires that absorb moisture and expel oxygen.

But now moss is just plain genius and essential, as scientists in Sweden discover an aquatic one that purifies water contaminated with arsenic, enough that it even becomes potable.

Researchers at Stockholm University say the aquatic moss, warnstofia fluitans, which flourishes in northern Sweden, can rapidly absorb arsenic, removing as much as 82 per cent of the toxins within one hour in some tests.

Due to mining operations in this part of Sweden, wetlands and water sources used for drinking and for growing crops are often contaminated with arsenic.

Arsenic is known to be a waste product from mining. Mine tailings are often toxic and difficult to separate from waste deposits, and toxin concentrations often end up in water sources. This makes mining a major environmental issue.

“We hope that the plant-based wetland system that we are developing will solve the arsenic problem in Sweden’s northern mining areas,” said Maria Greger, associate professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University and leader of the research group.

The process of cleaning the contaminated water done by the aquatic moss is called phylofiltration. The researchers have also mentioned that sometimes this process takes no more than an hour, which is indeed very quick. If only more humans are inspired to be as quick to act in the name of the environment.

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Tech Giants Unite Against Cyber Attacks

The past few years have seen tech giants display social accountability in different ways, especially when governments seem to lack the effort or perhaps the mobility in helpless situations, as in the case of Tesla providing batteries and Google’s parent, Alphabet, bringing Internet back to Puerto Rico after disaster hit the area. This display of accountability might have recently reached its peak as more than 30 global technology companies signed a joint pledge not to assist governments in cyber attacks.

“We recognise that we live in a new world,” Microsoft president, Brad Smith, said during a speech at the RSA cyber security conference in San Francisco. “We’re living amidst a generation of new weapons, and where cyberspace has become the new battlefield.”

Smith, who led efforts to organise the alliance, said the devastating cyber attacks in 2017 demonstrated the need for the technology sector to “take a principled path toward more effective steps to work together and defend customers around the world.”

Microsoft, Facebook, and many others have announced their cooperation in the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, which seeks to protect customers against cyber attacks regardless of political or criminal motives. New partnerships or networks within the tech industry and with tech researchers might also be built, so that they could share information on cyber threats.

It builds on an idea for a so-called Digital Geneva Convention that Smith rolled out at last year’s RSA conference, a proposal to create an international body to protect civilians from state-sponsored hacking. Countries, Smith said then, should develop global rules for cyber attacks similar to those established for armed conflict at the 1949 Geneva Convention that followed World War Two.

It is also great to hear that in addition to the tech giants working on their own movement to protect civilians, they are also calling on governments for the development on new international rules regarding political conflict.

Even in the transnational geopolitical landscape, perhaps the future of humanity really lies with tech.

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Facial Recognition System Traces 3,000 Missing Children

Sometimes, we know how cruel the world can be. It is an inevitable truth to admit that the world is not perfect, that there are many factors that contribute to its dangers. And sometimes, it hurts even more when we see its effects brought upon children, who are somehow quite more vulnerable to the world. And then sometimes, there are amazing folks who in their personal ways counteract these dangers through kindness, like a millionaire opening his own home to foster children displaced by a hurricane, or a ticket agent rescuing teenage girls from human trafficking.

Today, technology is our children’s hero. Through a new facial recognition system, 3,000 missing children have been traced by the authorities.

The [facial recognition system] was employed by the Delhi police department on a trial basis to scan the faces of 45,000 children living in children’s homes . . . During its testing phase between April 6 and April 10, 2,930 kids were recognized as missing children . . . The technology uses a massive database of photographs and profiles to match the facial features of any child to that of a “missing person”.

Efforts are currently ongoing to reunite these children with their families. If city police are given free use of the facial recognition system, it could identify more and more missing children, which is why a children’s rights organization called Bachpan Bachao Andolan is working on a proposal so that the Delhi police department may use the tech free of charge. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is also campaigning for the use of the technology.

“If such a type of software helps trace missing children and reunite them with their families, nothing can be better than this,” said Yashwant Jain, a member of NCPCR.

Through innovations like this, perhaps we might bring happiness and sincere smiles to the world, one child’s face at a time.

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Activists Demand Recyclable Cups From Starbucks

If Starbucks isn’t your go-to for mocha frappuccinos, you’re probably living on another planet. Known for its wide range of flavors and misspelling names, the coffee chain is the largest in the world. With coffee moguls inventing edible coffee capsules, Starbucks still needs to step up its sustainability game. At GeekWire’s annual summit, protesters demanded recyclable cups from the food giant, creating a Cup Monster made with Starbucks products.

“If Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is serious about transforming his company into a tech leader, he must first solve his company’s biggest environmental liability: the 8,000 [plus] cups that go into landfills every minute of every day,” said Stand.earth spokesperson Ross Hammond.

What makes Starbucks cups mostly un-recyclable is its inner plastic lining. While the company claims to incorporate post-consumer fibers into its cups, recycling methods vary among different states.

“It’s important to note that what is recyclable varies significantly by municipality and sometimes even by store. We pay local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost and trash.”

Extremely recyclable? Sort of recyclable? Regardless of how recyclable Starbucks thinks its products are, there is always room to be more eco-conscious.

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Qatar’s First Humanitarian Org Celebrates 40 Years

Last March 20, Qatar Red Crescent Society or QRCS held a grand celebration of its 40-year anniversary at the Katara Cultural Village in Doha. Attended by the country’s government officials, business leaders, senior officers and volunteers, and other representatives, it was an important event in the field of development and humanitarian advocacy. But it marked even more important achievements.

Established on March 20, 1978, QRCS “boasts of a track record of achievements, lessons learnt and milestones”, it has said in a statement. “These successes have shaped the arena of charitable and social work in Qatar, and enriched the country’s bright image as a major humanitarian player around the world.”

Committed to its slogan “Saving Lives and Preserving Dignity,” the QRCS—as a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—has helped develop zones afflicted by disasters, conflict, and poverty.

“Being Qatar’s first humanitarian organisation, QRCS became a pioneer in its vision, principles and efforts. Now, it serves as an auxiliary to Qatar in its humanitarian policies both locally and internationally. Also, it has become a role model for many NGOs and humanitarian service providers, which follow its strategies and operations,” the statement adds.

The day’s highlights include a special ceremony to honor the organization’s chief contributors and volunteers, the opening to a public exhibit of QRCS’s timeline and history at the Katara Corniche, a showcase and invitation for volunteering opportunities, and even kid-friendly activities.

However, humanitarian advocacy is not only enacted on the organization level, but some powerful individuals constantly do their share, exemplified by other recent milestones in philantropy such as charity auctions for the homeless and benefit concerts for diverse causes. Perhaps even in our smallness, we could wonder about the small ways we could contribute to the giant mission of relieving the suffering of others.

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Discarded Electronics Are Literal Gold Mines

If you have seen any dystopian film or have read any piece at all of dystopian literature, you would know that a landscape made of metal offers intense horrors that bank on some of the deep-seated fears of today’s society.

Realistically speaking, we have been inventing ways to address the problem of metal such as recycling laptop batteries into a source of alternative energy or something as strangely innovative as making stylish backpacks out of car parts, but there is a need to push further. A trio of researchers recently took a shot at that and conducted a study which tries to answer how profitable it is to recover metals from old electronics.

In 2016 alone, the world discarded 44.7 million metric tons of unusable or simply unwanted electronics, according to the United Nations’ 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor report. That’s 4,500 Eiffel Towers-worth of phones, laptops, microwaves, and TVs. Only 20 percent of this e-waste was properly recycled that year. The rest was likely either incinerated, pumping pollution into the atmosphere, or added to a landfill somewhere, with its toxins now leaking into our soil and water supply.

It turns out, urban mining costs much less than traditional mining. The researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Sydney’s Macquarie University published their results in a scientific journal after collecting data from recycling companies in China. While the cost of recycling might vary from country to country, China’s status as the world’s biggest producer of e-waste makes light of the truth that the practice of urban mining could have a big impact on both economic and environmental matters.

[W]e already knew electronics contain precious metals in addition to all that glass and plastic. While a single smartphone might not contain all that much, consumers buy about 1.7 billion of the devices each year. In just one million of those, you’ll find roughly 75 pounds of gold, 35,000 pounds of copper, and 772 pounds of silver.

Necessary reminder though: this is no reason at all to justify our technological consumption practices. If anything, it should make us ask more conscientiously, what do I do with my smartphone once I find a new replacement that has great upgrades and loads informative online articles (like this!) much faster?

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