US Forecasters Predict ‘Extremely Active’ Atlantic Hurricane Season

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its prediction for this year’s North Atlantic hurricane season, saying it will be “extremely active,” possibly record breaking.NOAA and its National Climate Prediction Center gave their initial seasonal predictions in May. But in its August update, issued late Thursday, forecasters say the 2020 season has already broken records, with nine storms through the end of July, five of them hitting the U.S. mainland. Historically, NOAA says only two named storms form by early August.  In a teleconference with reporters, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster, Jerry Bell, said they now see 19 to 25 named storms during the season ending November 30.  Bell say seven to 11 of those are expected to become hurricanes and three to six could become major hurricanes.  Those numbers include the nine storms already recorded this season.Bell says oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification than they saw in May, when they predicted 13 to 19 named storms. He said these conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months.  Bell does not believe 2020 will break the record for storms set in 2005, when there were 28 names storms as warmer oceans and other atmospheric conditions were more favorable.  But he believes 2020 will be one of the stronger seasons on record.   NOAA reminded people in hurricane-prone regions to keep the COVID-19 pandemic in mind when making hurricane preparations, particularly if they are required to evacuate their area.

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New Study Shows Human Ancestors Had ‘Complicated Love Life’

Researchers have confirmed that hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals mated with at least four other contemporary species of ancient humans, or hominids, and the evidence lives on in the genes of modern men and women.A study published Thursday in the science journal PLOS Genetics shows how researchers from Cornell University analyzed the genomes, the complete genetic “map,” from Neanderthals, a prehistoric human ancestor called Denisovans, and modern humans.Analysis of the genomes revealed new evidence of gene flow between these species, bolstering earlier theories that the species intermated. The researchers found 3% of the Neanderthal genome came from interbreeding with other ancient humans that lived at the same time.The new study estimates this intermixing happened between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago — far earlier than previous estimates indicated.The researchers also found that 1% of the Denisovan genome contained genetic material that came from an “archaic human ancestor” that was neither human, nor Neanderthal, nor Denisovan. They suggested it came from Homo erectus, an early human ancestor believed to be the first to spread to what is now Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.Homo erectus looked much like we do today, but with elongated legs and shorter arms. They are believed to have outlived contemporary hominids, dying out as recently as 117,000 years ago.The new study suggests that 15% of the genetic pieces that came from Homo erectus have been passed on to humans today. They suggest it split off from the lineage that would become modern humans about 1 million years ago, which would fit the timeline for intermingling with its contemporary hominid species.The genome for Homo erectus has not been sequenced so it is difficult to precisely figure out how all the different human ancestors got together. But the researchers theorize that migration habits combined with the fact that all four species did overlap for several thousand years made it likely that they intermingled.

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Doctors Ask Medical Schools to Drop MCAT Tests During Pandemic

A professional society of 163,000 physicians, trainees and fellows of internal medicine in the United States is asking medical schools to waive the entrance exam because the COVID-19 pandemic has made testing unmanageable. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.The American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests the schools look at applicants holistically – considering factors including grades and experience – and dispense with the Medical College Admission Test – known as the MCAT – for entrance year 2021.“Applicants have experienced disruptions in taking the MCAT examination, whether due to personal health and safety concerns, vendor-initiated scheduling changes, or difficulties in accessing testing centers,” the ACP stated.“Furthermore, applicants of color and those from lower socioeconomic groups are disproportionately impacted by factors such as venue changes to distant testing centers. The ACP is concerned that mandatory MCAT testing in the midst of the current public health emergency will increase disparities in career opportunity among people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status,” it added.COVID-19 has made standardized testing for college entrance exams difficult, at best, because arranging for large groups of students to sit for exams in person increases the odds the disease will be shared. The germs are spread through droplets emitted during breathing, sneezing and coughing. It can also be contracted by touching a surface on which it has landed and then touching one’s face, where it makes its way to the eyes, nose or mouth.  Several universities, including most of the top schools in the U.S., have waived the testing requirement for standard entrance exams during the pandemic.Harvard Drops SAT/ACT Scores for New AdmissionsIvy League schools lessen demand on applicants during COVID“ACP supports the needs of learners as they pursue entry into medical school in the midst of the current COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, the group’s president. “Now more than ever, during these challenging times facing health care, we need to help reduce barriers for students who seek to continue their education and training on a path to join the physician workforce and medical community, which continues to fulfill a vital need in our country.”The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the U.S. with members in more than 145 countries worldwide, according to its website. 

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off From Cape Canaveral

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida early Friday, carrying 57 Starlink satellites for the company’s internet satellite constellation system.The rocket also carried two spacecraft for Spaceflight customer BlackSky. Shortly after releasing those satellites, and about an hour-and-a-half after launch, the spacecraft released the bundle of Starlink Satellites. It was the tenth batch of such satellites launched by the company.With Friday’s launch, SpaceX has deployed nearly 600 Starlink satellites in a rapidly expanding fleet of spacecraft designed to provide high-speed internet transmission to users anywhere in the world. Service in the northern United States and Canada is expected to start later this year.The first stage of the rocket returned to earth as planned after launch, with a clean landing on a drone ship.Friday’s launch marked a busy week for the commercial space company. On Sunday the Crew Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing two NASA astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station. The flight was the first to orbit NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.Two days later, SpaceX engineers in Boca Chica, Texas, carried out the first up-and-down test flight of a prototype upper stage for the company’s planned heavy-lift Starship rocket system.

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US Forecasters: Atlantic Hurricane Season to Get Stronger

The already record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is going to get worse, and forecasters could run out of names for storms, government meteorologists say.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast Thursday and is now predicting up to 25 named storms with as many as 11 becoming hurricanes and possibly six building into major hurricanes with winds of 178 kilometers per hour or stronger.An average number of Atlantic storms is 12.”First and foremost, oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification,” lead hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell said. “These conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months. Also, weather and climate models are all now indicating an even higher potential for an extremely active season.”NOAA says if the updated forecast pans out, it will run out of names for storms. If that happens, names would be taken from the Greek alphabet.Hurricane Isaias, which hit the Eastern Seaboard this week, was the earliest storm to start with the letter “I” since storms started getting names in 1950.The U.S. Atlantic hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 until November 30. Weather experts say the most powerful storms usually come in September.

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Is It Safe to Reopen Schools During Pandemic?

It depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community and the safety measures the school takes. In areas where the virus is poorly controlled, public health experts say in-person education would be too risky.
In areas where the virus appears to be under control, experts say schools still need to make adjustments to minimize risk when reopening. A sustained decline in cases and a positive case rate of less than 2% are among the signs the virus is under control, some experts say.
But given the many lingering unknowns about the virus, school districts are approaching the school year in a variety of ways.
Evidence suggests young children don’t spread the disease very easily, while kids aged 10 and up may transmit as easily as adults. But experts say more conclusive proof is needed.
And even though children appear less likely to get infected than adults, and less likely to become seriously ill when they do, severe cases and deaths have occurred.
Children and teens often have only mild illness or no symptoms when infected. That means they could unknowingly pose a risk to other students — who may pass the virus on to their parents and grandparents — or to teachers and other adults who might be vulnerable to severe illness if infected.
To reduce risk, experts say schools should make adjustments when resuming in-person classes.
Recommended safety measures include wearing face coverings in schools and limiting movement so kids stay in the same classroom all day. Placing desks several feet apart is also advised.
Canceling assemblies, cafeteria meals and other gatherings also helps, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some Scandinavian countries with far fewer cases than in the United States reopened schools with adjustments, and have had no outbreaks tied to schools. But in Israel, schools that reopened when virus activity was low ended up shutting down a few weeks later when cases spiked in the community, including among students and teachers.
In the U.S., some school districts are planning a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing. Other districts, such as those in Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, are starting classes online only.

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A First Diagnosis of Cancer in a Dinosaur

Canadian researchers have discovered the first known case of cancer in a dinosaur, according to a study published in the August issue of the scientific journal The Lancet Oncology.A leg bone from a Centrosaurus was discovered by paleontologists in 1989 in the Canadian province of Alberta.Experts initially believed that the deformed bone had suffered a fracture that healed.But recent examinations, under a microscope and using advanced technologies, such as high-resolution tomography, revealed that a lump on the bone, the size of an apple, was in fact a cancerous tumor.”The dinosaurs did not have an easy life, many of them had healing fractures, or bone infections,” one of the study’s authors, Mark Crowther, told AFP.On such ancient bones, “finding evidence of cancer is difficult”, he emphasizes: most tumors develop in soft tissue, poorly preserved by fossilization.Fine analysis of the bone of the prehistoric herbivore revealed a surprise: “oddly, under the microscope, it looked a lot like human osteosarcoma,” a malignant tumor of the bones, says Crowther.”It’s fascinating to see that this cancer existed tens of millions of years ago and still exists,” notes the researcher, who heads the faculty of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario.The tumor of this Centrosaurus, a horned herbivore that lived 76 to 77 million years ago, probably caused metastases that made this giant lizard limp, say the study’s authors.However, the researchers believe that it was not this cancer that killed the Centrosaurus: the bone of its leg was found among a hundred bones in the same herd, probably swept away by a sudden disaster, such as a flood.“The discovery of this cancer makes dinosaurs more real,” says Crowther. “We often imagine them as mythical creatures, walking with a heavy and robust step, but (…) they suffered from diseases like humans.””By discovering an example dating back more than 75 million years, we realize that (cancer) is part of life,” he concludes. “You have an animal that surely did not smoke, so this shows that cancer is not a recent invention, and that it is not exclusively linked to our environment.” 

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Drones with Infrared Cameras Help Track Elusive Koalas

Conservationists in Australia are hoping infrared drones might help save the remaining koala population in New South Wales, one of the regions most affected by recent Australian bushfires. The infrared camera makes it easier to spot the iconic marsupials — not bears — which scientists say could be extinct by 2050. VOA’s Mariama Diallo has this report.

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