Chocolate in Danger of Becoming Extinct

Chocolate may be in danger of becoming extinct by the middle of this centuryPests and fungal diseases have been found in cacao trees that may endanger the crop’s survival.

In addition, cacao is also under attack by global warming. Trees grow in a very small area about 20° north and south of the equator, where humidity and temperatures are the same all year round. By 2050 rising temperatures and drier weather will push cacao production up into mountainous areas, many of which are home to wild animals.

Scientists from the University of California are trying to save the plant. Together with researchers from the American food company Mars, they are trying to grow cacao seeds that are more resistant and can grow at higher altitudes.

Most of the world’s cacao production comes from two countries in western Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. These areas may not be suitable for cacao production in the decades to come. Millions of farmers depend on cacao for a living.

 

Cacao tree
Cacao tree – Image: Luis Ovalles

Words

  • altitude = how high up something is
  • cacao = seeds from which chocolate is made
  • decade = ten years
  • endanger = to be a threat to something
  • equator = line around the middle of the earth
  • extinct = die out; not exist anymore
  • century = a hundred years
  • depend on = need
  • fungal disease= disease caused by  a simple plant that has no leaves  and grows in the ground or on other plants; mushrooms are a type of fungus
  • global warming = an increase in the world’s temperatures caused by growing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere
  • humidity = the amount of water that is in the air
  • in addition = also
  • mountainous = in the mountains
  • pest = a small animal or insect that can destroy crops and plants
  • researcher = person who studies a topic in order to find out more about it
  • resistant = here: it cannot be destroyed or damaged
  • rise = to go up
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • seed = small hard object from produced by plants, from which a new plant can grow
  • suitable = here: to be the ideal place to grow something
  • survival = existence ; staying alive
  • under attack = to be attacked by something

NASA Plans Mission to Alpha Centauri

NASA has announced that it plans to send a spacecraft to the nearest star outside the solar system, Alpha Centauri,  in 2069. The bold mission is scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing in 1969.

The announcement comes from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is responsible for planning new missions within the solar system and beyond.

Alpha Centauri is a system of three stars,  just four light years away.  Even at a tenth of the speed of light, which NASA experts say may be possible,  it would take a spacecraft 44 years to reach the constellation.

The technology for such a mission, however, does not even exist yet. Some form of laser-powered sails or a nuclear propulsion system would have to be created to reach such a speed.

 

NASA’s  first interstellar mission would concentrate on exploring one of the system’s exoplanets, Proxima Centauri b, which may be habitable.

Experts say that it would take half a century before such a mission could even be launched. As a result,  the spacecraft would probably not reach its destination before the beginning of the next century. In addition, considering cuts to NASA’s budget, the agency does not nearly have enough money to develop a spacecraft that could actually make the mission.

Currently, Voyager 1, launched in 1977,  is the farthest spacecraft and man-made object from earth.

 

The Alpha Centauri star system
The Alpha Centauri star system – Image: David Benbennick

Words

  • agency = organisation
  • anniversary = date on which something important happened in the past
  • announce = to say officially, in public
  • beyond =  here: outside the solar system
  • bold = exciting; not afraid of being difficult to do
  • century = a hundred years
  • coincide = be at the same time as
  • considering = if you look at or think about something
  • constellation =gourp of stars
  • currently = at the moment; now
  • destination  = place where you want to go
  • develop = plan, design and make
  • exoplanet =planet that is not in the solar system
  • explore = to travel to a place to find out more about it
  • habitable = a place with water and air, that allows you to live there
  • in addition = also
  • interstellar = between stars
  • laser = a narrow beam of light
  • light year = the distance light travels in one year = 9 500 000 000 000 kilometres
  • lunar = moon
  • mission = here: a trip to a faraway destination
  • nuclear propulsion system  = a system that uses nuclear energy to make a spacecraft  move forward
  • reach = get to
  • responsible = in charge of
  • scheduled = planned
  • solar system = our sun and the planets that go around it
  • spacecraft = object that can reach space and travel to the sun and other planets
  • technology = objects and machines to make something work

Baby Girl Born From Embryo Frozen 24 Years Ago

A human embryo that was frozen 24 years ago has now become a baby girl.  Emma Wren Gibson was born in Knoxville, Tennessee from an embryo frozen in 1992. The mother, Tina Gibson, at 25,  is only a year older than the embryo.  It is the longest known frozen embryo that has successfully become a baby.

The Gibsons are unable to have children of their own and, in the past, have taken care of several other children.

Couples who use IVF to have a baby usually end up with more embryos than they need. They can decide to store them for later use, dispose of them or donate them for scientific research. Many parents who have leftover embryos give them to special centres where they can be used for others.

Doctors claim them frozen embryos can develop just as well as fresh ones. The dangerous part, however, is the thawing process.Only about 75% of all frozen embryos survive it. Health experts think that there may be up to a million frozen embryos in the United States.

For those who can’t have babies, using a frozen embryo from a donation centre is similar to adoption, only that the baby grows inside the adoptive mother.

 

An eight-cell human embryo
An eight-cell human embryo

Words

  • adoptive = to become parent of a child that isn’t your own
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • develop = grow
  • dispose of = get rid of; destroy
  • donate = give something to an organisation in order to help
  • donation centre = here: a place where couples can give embryos they don’t need for others to use
  • embryo = a human being that has not yet been born but just started to develop
  • however  = but
  • IVF = in vitro fertilisation = process in which a human egg gets together with male sperm outside a woman’s body; it is also called a test-tube baby
  • leftover = here: embryos that you do not need any more
  • scientific research = when scientists try to find out more about a disease or medical problem
  • similar = like
  • store = to put things away and keep them somewhere until they are needed
  • successfully = having the effect that you wanted
  • survive= live on after a dangerous situation
  • take care of = to care for someone or look after them
  • thawing process = here: to take an embryo out of a freezer and wait until its body temperature becomes normal
  • unable = cannot

 

 

 

The Earth’s Hum – A Mysterious Noise

For the first time, scientists have recorded a humming sound that the earth has probably been producing for a long time. Scientists have been aware of the hum for decades, but for the first time, a team of experts have actually been able to record it

57 seismometers were placed over millions of square kilometres of the Indian Ocean.  Ultralow radio frequencies were recorded on the ocean’s floor

For some time, geologists have pointed out that the earth is not silent but vibrates almost everywhere. However, it is a sound with a frequency thousands of times lower than what the human ear can hear.

Scientists don’t know what causes the earth’s hum but could learn more by getting a clearer audio signal. There are a few theories about where the sound may come from. Some say that it’s the echo of waves crashing onto the coast, while others think that it may be the atmosphere in motion. Geologists, however, agree that the sound does not come from earthquakes because it is continuous.

In 1998 Japanese scientists proved that the earth’s hum was real, but nobody has been able to record it until now. Geologists hope that by analysing the recording they can get more information on the interior structure of the earth.

 

Seismometers record all kinds of noises and disturbances on the surface of the earth
Seismometers record all kinds of noises and disturbances on the surface of the earth

Words

  • agree = to have the same opinion
  • analyse = look at very closely in order to get more facts
  • atmosphere = the mixture of gases that surrounds a planet
  • audio signal = sound
  • aware = to know that something exists
  • cause = the reason for something
  • continuous = when something goes on all the time
  • crash = to hit something very hard
  • decade = ten years
  • earthquake = a sudden shaking of the earth’s surface that causes a lot of damage
  • geologist = person who studies rocks and how they make up the surface of the earth
  • humming = a steady low sound
  • in motion = moving
  • interior structure = what something consists of, or what it is made up of inside
  • place =  put, install
  • point out = to say how important something is
  • radio frequency = waves that are produced when you send out a radio signal
  • record = information about something that is written down or stored on a computer
  • seismometer = machine that measures how the ground moves
  • vibrate = to shake quickly and steadily in very small movements

 

NASA Fires Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to leave the solar system. 37 years after it was launched, NASA’s engineers fired the spacecraft’s backup thrusters. The primary thrusters have been getting weaker over the last few years. 

Voyager’s thrusters were fired for a few milliseconds from a distance of 13 billion miles in order to reposition the spacecraft so that the antennae would point towards earth.

Nobody at NASA knew if firing the thrusters would work after decades of inactivity. After 19 hours, the time which it took for the signal to get back to earth, it was confirmed that the thrusters had actually been fired. Voyager 1 will now be able to operate and send data back to earth for another 2 to 3 years.

As Voyager 1 software dates back to the 1970s,  scientists had to examine the software code to make sure the engines worked correctly.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were launched in 1977  to carry out a grand tour of the solar system. They passed Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. After that, the spacecraft kept on flying and passed the boundaries of the solar system. In the past decades, the two spacecraft made great discoveries, including active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and a methane atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Although Voyager 2’s thrusters are in a better condition than it’s sister craft NASA also plans to fire them in the near future.

 

Voyager 1
Voyager 1

Words

  • although = while
  • backup = something that you use to replace something that doesn’t work
  • billion = a thousand million
  • boundary = where something ends
  • condition = shape
  • confirm = know for sure that something has worked
  • correctly = in the right way
  • data = information
  • dates back = here: is from a certain time in the past
  • decade = ten years
  • discovery = to find something for the first time
  • distance = the amount of space between two objects
  • engine = machine that makes something travel
  • engineer = someone whose job it is to design and build machines, rockets, bridges etc..
  • examine = look at something very closely
  • fire = here: to make something work
  • grand tour = here: a journey that takes you far away to all the planets of our solar system
  • inactivity = here : not in operation
  • launch = start into space
  • man-made = made by a person, not nature
  • methane = gas that you can not see or smell, but which is burned to give heat
  • near future = sometime soon
  • operate = work the way it should
  • primary = most important, main
  • reposition = here: to move it into a new position
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • solar system = our sun and the planets that go around it
  • spacecraft = object that can travel in space
  • thruster = small engine in a spacecraft that controls how it flies by  pushing out small amounts of gas
  • twin = here: built in the same way

Did the Indus Valley Civilisation Grow Without a River?

Many great civilisations in history developed along rivers.  Up to now, historians have assumed that one of the oldest civilisations grew on the banks of the Indus River and its tributaries. Now, scientists may have found proof that people settled in the region after the Indus River had changed its course.

Archaeologists and scientists who have been working the region took probes from dried up river beds.  They found out that water hadn’t run through the Indus Valley for over 8,000 years. That means that when people started settling in the area about 5,000 years ago there was no river.   In addition, some ancient sites were found in the old river bed, which would not have been the case if a river had been flowing through it.

According to experts, the people who lived during that time may have got their water from yearly monsoon rains. There may have also been underground water supplies that they accessed.

Other great cultures used the advantages of a river to bring water to their fields and as a means of transporting goods throughout the region. That happened in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Historians point out that civilisations do not necessarily need to be near a river in order to grow. In fact, not having a river nearby may have advantages as well because people would not have to deal with regular floods.

 

Archaeological ruins along the Indus River in Pakistan
Archaeological ruins along the Indus River in Pakistan – Image : Junhi Han

Words

  • access = use
  • according to = as said by …
  • advantage = good side of something
  • Ancient Egypt = old civilisation that grew along the Nile River thousands of years ago
  • ancient site = a place where something was built a long time ago
  • archaeologist = person who studies old societies by looking at what is left of buildings or the objects that people made at that time
  • assume = think that something is true although you can not prove it
  • bank  = land along the side of a river
  • course = path
  • deal with = handle a problem
  • develop = grow
  • flood = when an area of land becomes covered with water
  • goods = products
  • historian = someone who studies history
  • in addition = also
  • means of transporting = what you use to bring things from one place to another
  • Mesopotamia = area in western Asia along the River Tigris and Euphrates; in ancient times the world’s first cities were built andan advanced  civilisation developed there
  • monsoon = rainy season in India and southeast Asia; it lasts between April and October
  • not necessarily = when you don’t really need something in order for  something else to work
  • probe = rocks from an area
  • proof = facts, information or documents  that show that something is true or has happened
  • river bed = the ground at the bottom of a river
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • settle = to start living in a place for the first time
  • supply = something that you need and use every day
  • tributary = a small river that flows into a larger one

 

Moderate Coffee Consumption May Keep You Healthy

According to new research drinking coffee may actually be healthier than previously thought. Some health experts now say that a few cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of certain illnesses including liver disease, cancerstrokedementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Coffee may contain substances that help fight these diseases. Caffeine is probably not one of them since people who drank decaffeinated coffee had the same benefits.

Although there is no real proof that coffee consumption will actually help you live longer, it seems to be safe to drink it. The research collected evidence from previous studies and showed that, compared with non-coffee drinkers, those who drink an average of 3 cups a day, experience a lower risk of some diseases.

On the other side, drinking too much coffee during pregnancy could be harmful to the unborn child. Health experts also say that coffee drinkers should avoid putting too much milk, cream or sugar in their coffee. In addition, doctors say you shouldn’t start drinking coffee if you haven’t done so before. 

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. Two billion cups are consumed every day.

 

A cup of coffee
A cup of coffee – Image : Julius Schorzman

Words

  • according to = as shown by …
  • although = while
  • avoid = not do something
  • benefits = good sides, advantages
  • billion = a thousand million = 1,000,000,000
  • beverage = hot or cold drink
  • caffeine = a substance that keeps you awake
  • cancer = very serious disease in which cells in one part of the body grow in an uncontrolled way
  • compared = if you look at …
  • consume = here: drink
  • contain = to have in them
  • decaffeinated = without caffeine
  • dementia = illness that affects the brain and your memory; it slowly makes you unable to think and remember things
  • evidence = facts that show that some things really are true or exist
  • experience = here: the effect that something has on you
  • illness = disease
  • in addition  = also
  • liver = large organ inside your body that cleans your blood
  • popular = common; liked by many people
  • pregnancy = situation in which you are expecting a baby
  • previously = before, earlier
  • research = studies about a special subject
  • stroke = a blood vessel in your brain suddenly bursts or gets blocked; you could die or be unable to move some muscles
  • studies = research work
  • substance = material; small parts of something

Artificial Light Makes Our World Brighter

A new study of satellite images has revealed that our planet is getting brighter and brighter during the night. More and more artificial lighting may cause harm not only to humans and animals but whole ecosystems.

The study has found out that the quantity of light has increased by 2.2 % per year over the last decade. Much of that increase comes from the Middle East and Asia, while in Europe and the USA brightness has stayed about the same.  Only a few countries have actually seen a decrease in the amount of light. Among those are Syria and Yemen.

Artificial light on earth is growing because more and more towns and other settlements are being created in places that were once farmland, forests or wilderness. In addition, China and other booming economies are building whole cities in sparsely populated areas.

Even though large areas of land surface remain dark, there are places on earth where lights never go out, for example, shopping malls, dining districts or international airports.

The technology of artificial lighting is also changing. More and more LED lights are replacing older light bulbs. They are more energy-efficient and emit a brighter bluish-white light. As they are becoming cheaper people tend to buy more.

Doctors warn that too much artificial light can bear health risks. It can lead to shorter periods of sleep, insomnia and changes in a person’s biorhythm.

Scientists have claimed that increased light have an effect on animal habitats. More light near beaches may affect the turtle population that comes there to lay their eggs. Migrating birds that rely on stars to navigate can be influenced by light and travel off course.

 

Satellite image of the United States at night
Satellite image of the United States at night

Words

  • actually = in fact, really
  • affect = influence, change
  • artificial light = light that is produced by people or machines, not naturally by the sun
  • bear = have
  • biorhythm = changes in the way and speed that your body reacts at certain times
  • booming economy = country where business is growing very strongly
  • brightness = being bright
  • cause harm = be a danger
  • claim = to say that something is true, even if you cannot prove it
  • decade = ten years
  • decrease = to go down
  • effect = change
  • emit = send out
  • energy -efficient = here: an object that produces more light and uses less energy
  • even though = while
  • habitat = natural home of a plant or animal
  • image = picture
  • in addition = also
  • increase = to go up
  • influence = here: to change the way you travel
  • insomnia = not able to sleep
  • migrate = to travel regularly to other parts fo the world
  • navigate = to find out which way you need to go when you travel from one place to another
  • off course = away from the route you would normally take
  • quantity = how much of something
  • rely = depend on, need
  • remain = stay
  • replace = to use instead of something else
  • settlement = group of houses or buildings where people live, especially in areas where nobody has lived before
  • shopping mall = large area with a lot of shops
  • sparsely = here: with few people
  • study = piece of work that is done to find out more about a special subject
  • surface = the top layer of an object
  • technology = here: how something is done or produced
  • tend = here: will probably happen
  • wilderness = large area of land that has never been developed  or farmed

Plague May Have Entered Europe in Prehistoric Times

According to recent scientific research conducted by Germany’s Max Planck  Institute, the plague was in Europe as far back as the Stone Age. When scanning the remains of 500 prehistoric skeletons, scientists found plague bacteria in six individuals. The samples come from Russia, Germany and the Baltic countries.

The deadly bacterium came to Europe during the mass migration of people who moved from Central Asia eastwards about 5,000 years ago. The findings suggest that the disease came to Europe in waves during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Some experts think that people may have been moving eastwards to escape the bacterium.

Most of the people at that time were nomadic farmers who travelled with their livestock. Animals may have harboured the plague bacterium and helped spread it.

By analyzing the bacterium scientists hope to find out how it evolved and became more deadly over periods of time.

The plague was responsible for many mass killings in history.  The deadliest was the Black Death which occurred in Europe during the 14th century and killed about a third of the continent’s population.   It still causes deaths in certain areas of the world. Recent outbreaks in Madagascar have killed hundreds of people.

Stone Age people may have spread the plague from Central Asia to Europe - Image: Gugatc
Stone Age people may have spread the plague from Central Asia to Europe – Image: Gugatchitchinadze

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • bacterium, bacteria  = some living things, some of which cause illnesses or diseases
  • Baltic countries = Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
  • Bronze Age = time between  6,000 and 4,000 years ago when bronze was used for making tools
  • century = a hundred years
  • conduct = do, carry out
  • disease = illness
  • escape = get away from
  • evolve = grow; develop; change
  • harbour = here: to have something in them that is dangerous
  • livestock = animals such as cows, sheep, goats that are kept on a farm
  • mass migration = when many people leave their homes, often  in order to escape from a dangerous situation
  • Neolithic = the last period of the Stone Age, about 10,000 years ago, when people started to live in small groups
  • nomadic = people who travel from place to place  instead of living in one place all the time
  • outbreak = when something suddenly starts to happen
  • plague = deadly disease that produces high fever and swollen places in the body; it often leads to deaths of a large number of people
  • prehistoric = time in history before anything was written down
  • recent = a short time ago
  • remains = what is left of a body
  • research = to study a subject seriously so that you can find out more about it
  • responsible = the reason for something
  • scan = look at something carefully
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • spread = take from place to place
  • suggest = imply; to say that something is probably true
  • Stone Age = early time in human history when stone was used for making tools

NASA Software Shows How Sea Level Rises Affect Cities

NASA scientists have created a new software program that can show how cities in coastal regions are endangered by flooding and sea level rise caused by global warming. The simulation shows how 300 coastal cities will be affected in the next century.

The software was developed by  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It calculates which ice sheets and glaciers are melting and how the additional water influences coastal regions. It takes into consideration the rotation of the Earth as well as the influence of gravity. The results are surprising. Sea levels will actually decrease around cities closer to ice masses, while the biggest rises will occur through ice caps that are farther away.

New York, for example,  will be most affected by melting ice caps in northeastern  Greenland. Sydney, on the other hand,  will actually be influenced by parts of Antarctica that are far away from Australia’s city.

The software aims at helping city planners prepare for sea level changes within the next few decades and how to keep ocean water out.

A climate report published this week shows that, since 1900, global sea levels have risen by about 20 cm, with half of the rise occurring in the last 25 years. Projections show that by 2100 ocean levels will rise by an average of 1 metre, however, the rise will not affect all coastal areas in the same way.

 

Ice Sheet in Greenland -
Ice Sheet in Greenland – Image: Christine Zenino

Words

  • actually = in fact
  • additional = extra
  • affect = change
  • aim = here: what it wants to do and who it wants to help
  • average = here: evenly spread out across all oceans
  • calculate = here: find out how much something will change by using numbers
  • century = a hundred years
  • coastal = where land meets the sea
  • decade = ten  years
  • decrease = go down
  • develop = create , make
  • endangered = to be in danger
  • flooding = when land becomes covered with water
  • glacier = very large mass of ice which moves down a valley
  • global = worldwide
  • global warming =  the increase in the world’s temperatures by higher amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • gravity = force or power that causes something to fall to the ground and stay there
  • ice cap = large mass of ice
  • influence = change
  • NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration = American space agency
  • occur = happen
  • prepare = get ready for something
  • projection = calculation about what something will be in the future  based on the information we have now
  • publish = to make information for everyone to see
  • rise = to go up
  • rotation = the Earth’s spin  around its own axis
  • sea level = the average height of the sea
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • simulation = here: software that shows how something could happen in the future
  • take into consideration =  here: to use  certain factors when you run the programme