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Study: Sicker livestock emit more methane, accelerating climate change



Oct. 7 (UPI) — Warming temperatures may inspire a feedback loop of climate-altering flatulence, according to a new paper published Wednesday in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Over the last decade, atmospheric methane concentrations have risen dramatically, and studies suggest livestock and their digestive systems are responsible for roughly half of the increase in methane emissions.

Scientists suggest the problem is likely to get worse as temperatures rise.

According to the new paper, a review of scientific literature on livestock health and methane emissions, rates of parasitic worm and bacterial infections are expected to rise as the planet warms. When cows, sheep and other animals are battling an infection, they emit more methane.

“Some parasitic worms spend part of their life cycle in the external environment — on grass, for example — and temperature can affect the rate at which these parasites develop into a life stage that can infect animals,” lead study author Vanessa Ezenwa told UPI in an email.

“For example, in some areas, colder temperatures during winter months slow down or stop the development of these parasites,” said Ezenwa, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia.

Several studies have shown parasitic and bacterial infections increase the amount methane produced per unit of food consumed by livestock.

“It’s not known why this happens, but it could be related to the disruption caused by these parasites in the GI tract which is where methane is produced through bacterial fermentation of plant material,” Ezenwa said.

Because sicker livestock are often less productive — cows plagued by parasites yield less milk — farmers need more food and animals to maintain production levels, boosting methane emissions.

Bacteria and parasitic worms aren’t the only infection agents expected to proliferate in a warmer world.

“Recently, the protozoan parasite that causes trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, have been linked to increased methane emissions in livestock,” Ezenwa said.

Ezenwa and her research partners used data from their scientific review to model the impacts of parasitic infections on livestock methane emissions. The simulations revealed a disconnect between current models and reality.

“Current and future contributions by ruminant livestock to global methane emissions may be substantially underestimated,” Ezenwa said. “Given that ruminant livestock are responsible for nearly half of all the methane produced from living sources, this is an important insight that we hope will prompt further research to understand the connections between livestock diseases and methane emissions.”

Ezenwa hopes the newly published paper will inspire other scientists to investigate the effects of rising temperatures on a variety of infectious agents, as well as the effects of those agents on methane production.

To slow methane emissions by ruminant livestock, researchers must identify and combat the most problematic parasites and bacteria strains.

Ezenwa said scientists must avoid studying parasites, bacteria and methane emissions in isolation. Instead, researchers need to focus on untangling to the complex connections between climate warming, infectious diseases and greenhouse gas emissions.

“To date, studies on the effects of climate warming on infectious diseases in animals have been mostly decoupled from studies on the effects of animal diseases on greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “However, these problems are connected and studying them together is necessary to better understand and mitigate both the challenge of climate change and infectious disease.”

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touches down on asteroid Bennu to nab sample



Oct. 20 (UPI) — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touched down on asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening in a mission to scoop a sample of rocks and dirt.

The spacecraft — the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer — made soft contact with the asteroid at 6:12 p.m. EDT.

The historic “touch and go” event featured animation displaying OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection activities in real time. It takes time for real images of the touchdown to travel back to the Earth, so they won’t be released to the public until Wednesday.

The craft executed a series of maneuvers over the course of several hours before making soft contact with the surface of the asteroid to collect regolith, or rocks and dirt.

“It will be four and a half hours of anxiousness,” Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations manager at Lockheed Martin Space, said in a news conference ahead of the event.

Buck made a comparison to the descent of a spacecraft on Mars, when there is typically “seven minutes of terror.”

The goal is to learn more about the solar system’s history and help “planetary defense” engineers with missions to protect earth from rogue asteroids. Bennu is believed to be a window into the solar system’s past since it’s a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying building blocks of both planets and life.

At around 1:50 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft left orbit around the asteroid before executing a series of burns to position itself over a sampling area nicknamed Nightingale.

Once in position, the craft began its approach to the asteroid at 5:50 p.m. EDT. It then spent about 15 seconds attempting to collect the regolith sample before backing away again.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference.

The original mission called for a landing “zone” about 150% larger than Nightingale, at 82 feet, but that changed because Bennu was more rocky than expected.

The goal was to collect at least 1.7 ounces of fine-grained material, but the spacecraft can carry up to 4.4 pounds, Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona said.

“I would love for that capsule to be completely full,” Enos said.

Though early images from the asteroid should hint at whether the mission succeeded, it will take engineers roughly 10 days to compare and analyze the mass before and after the maneuver to actually know how much dirt is inside the OSIRIS-REx.

If it failed, the spacecraft has enough fuel to attempt two more touch downs to collect material.

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth, with the regolith sample from Bennu, in 2023.

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SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch until Thursday, if weather cooperates



Oct. 21 (UPI) — Just three days after sending 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit, SpaceX is aiming to launch another batch of broadband satellites into space from Florida.

If the weather cooperates, Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 15th Starlink mission.

Liftoff had been scheduled for 12:29 p.m. EDT Wednesday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but controllers scrubbed the launch due to weather and rescheduled for 12:14 p.m. on Thursday.

With a launch Sunday, SpaceX increased the size of their Starlink constellation to nearly 800 satellites. The 15th mission will see another 60-odd satellites join the network.

“The goal of Starlink is to create a network that will help provide Internet services to those who are not yet connected, and to provide reliable and affordable Internet across the globe,” according to the Kennedy Space Center.

Weather for Wednesday’s planned launch had looked so-so and the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

“A mid-level inverted trough and associated easterly wave currently across the Bahamas will meander into the state over the next few days, bringing enhanced moisture, cloud cover, and instability with a higher coverage of showers and storms,” Space Force forecasters wrote.

They said Thursday’s forecast looks quite similar to Wednesday’s.

Earlier this month, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink’s constellation was big enough to begin beta-testing the Internet service system in both the United States and southern Canada.

SpaceX has already offered Starlink Internet services to emergency responders in wildfire-stricken areas of Washington State.

Washington’s Hoh tribe is also using the Internet service to provide their members online education and telehealth services.

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Chernobyl-level radiation harms bumblebee reproduction



Oct. 21 (UPI) — Bees are more sensitive to radiation than scientists thought. Scientists found the reproduction rates of bumblebees declined significantly when exposed to Chernobyl-level radiation.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests radiation in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could impair pollination services, triggering wider ecological consequences than previously estimated.

Humans are not allowed to live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the disaster area more directly impacted by the 1986 nuclear accident, the worst in history. However, the destroyed nuclear reactors are surrounded by forests that are populated by robust populations of birds, bears, bison, lynx, moose, wolves and more.

Efforts to gauge the effects of radiation contamination on insects have yielded mixed results in the past. While some studies have suggested insects are relatively radiation-resistant, others have demonstrated significant impairment.

When researchers exposed bumblebees in the lab to radiation dose of 100 µGyh-1, an amount approximating exposure inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, reproduction rates among the bees dropped between 30 and 45 percent.

Researchers found a direct correlation between the size of the radiation dose and reproduction rate declines. Lower levels of radiation had a smaller effect, while larger doses yielded greater declines.

Scientists were surprised to find they were able to detect reproductive rate declines at very small levels of radiation exposure.

“Our research provides much needed understanding as to the effects of radiation in highly contaminated areas and this is the first research to underpin the international recommendation for the effects of radiation on bees,” lead study author Katherine Raines, environmental scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said in a news release.

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