Stephen Hawking Dies Aged 76

Stephen Hawking, world-famous British physicist, died at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge, England. The scientist became famous for his work on black holes, relativity and quantum mechanics.

In his most famous discovery, Hawking showed that black holes leak a bit of energy, known as Hawking radiation and then shrink and evaporate.

At the age of 22, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS,  a rare disease of the nervous system.  At that time doctors gave him only a few years to live.  However, Hawking proved them wrong and fought bravely against his illness. He spent most of his life paralyzed in a wheelchair and was only able to speak through a voice synthesizer.

Hawking was not only a professor at Cambridge University until 2009, but also a popular celebrity who appeared in TV shows like the Simpsons, and the Big Bang Theory.  He also wrote a bestselling book about the mysteries of the universe called A Brief History of Time, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His early life was dramatized in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything“, which received several Academy Award nominations.

Because of him, many ordinary people got interested in physics and the universe. Scientists, politicians and other experts around the world praised Hawking as a person with a  brilliant and extraordinary mind.

 

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

Words

  • Academy Award = an Oscar
  • black hole = an area in space into which everything near it, including light, is pulled
  • bravely = with a lot of courage
  • brilliant = extremely clever and intelligent
  • celebrity = famous person
  • diagnosed = to find out what illness someone has
  • discovery = finding something for the first time
  • evaporate = here: disappear slowly
  • extraordinary = great and impressive
  • however = but
  • leak = a hole that lets something through
  • mind = your thoughts and ability to think
  • nervous system = your brain and nerves in your body; it controls what you feel and how you move
  • ordinary = normal, like you and me
  • paralysed = unable to move or feel all or parts of your body
  • physicist = a scientist who has special knowledge of physics
  • politicians = people who work in the government, parliament or for political parties
  • popular = well-known
  • praise = to admire and approve of someone
  • quantum mechanics = the scientific study of the way atoms and smaller parts of things behave
  • radiation = form of energy  which may be dangerous in large amounts
  • rare = something that does not exist very often
  • receive = get
  • relativity = the relationship in physics between  time, space and movement; the theory was created by Albert Einstein
  • several = some, a few
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • universe = all of space, including the stars and planets
  • voice synthesizer = a computer system that produces sounds like human speech
  • wheelchair = a chair with wheels, used by people who cannot walk

Polar Bears Could Face Extinction Earlier Than Thought

Polar bears could become extinct faster than predicted. That is because there is a shortage of food in their habitat and scientists have now found out that polar bears need more energy than previously thought.

As a result of global warming, Arctic ice is melting quickly, so that polar bears have to travel further in search of food. In a study that has spanned the last three years, scientists found out that polar bears have to travel one and a half times more than in the past.  As a result, they lose weight.

Experiments conducted with modern technology show how polar bears move and behave. High-tech GPS collars were put on 9 female polar bears. Their movements and energy consumption have been tracked over a period of 12 days. Results show that a few of them lost up to 10%of their weight.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, polar bears spend half of their time hunting for something to eat. They rely mostly on young seals as the main source of food, but the seal population is getting scarce because of the melting ice.

A polar bear needs about 12000 kilocalories a day to stay healthy and even more to put on the body fat it needs to survive the winter months.

Over the past ten years, the number of polar bears has declined by 40%. Ice on their habitat, Arctic Sea ice is decreasing at a rate of 14% per decade.  It is currently at its lowest level in 40 years.

 

Polar bear feeding on a dead seal
Polar bear feeding on a dead seal – Image: AWeith

Words

  • according to = as reported by …
  • behave = act in certain situations
  • body fat = here: the fat an animal needs to protect itself from the cold weather
  • collar = band of leather or plastic that is around an animal’s neck
  • conduct = carry out
  • currently = at the moment
  • decade = ten years
  • decline = to go down
  • decrease = become lower
  • energy consumption = the amount of energy you need and use up
  • extinct = to die out and not exist anymore
  • global warming = increase in the atmosphere’s temperature caused by more carbon dioxide and other gases
  • further = a longer distance
  • GPS = system that shows where your position is on earth through a system of radio signals
  • habitat = natural home of a plant or animal
  • lose weight = become thinner
  • melt = when ice turns into water
  • predict = to say that something will happen before it does
  • previously = at an earlier time
  • rely = here: eat
  • scarce = not very much left
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • seal = large sea animal that eats fish and lives near coasts
  • shortage = not enough
  • source = where something comes from
  • span = period of time between two events
  • study = piece of work that is done to find out more about a subect
  • survive = stay alive
  • track = monitor, watch closely
  • World Wildlife Fund = organisation that wants to protect the environment and save animals and plants

 

 

Oldest Human Fossil Found Outside Africa

A human fossil found in Isreal in 2002 now shows that humans may have left Africa up to 100,000 years earlier than originally thought. Researchers spent one and a half decades studying an upper jawbone and stone tools found in a cave in Isreal.

The jawbone was found with teeth that were thought to be between 170 000 and 190 000 years old.  CT scans helped to build a 3D model, which researchers then compared with other fossils from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The tools found nearby suggest that prehistoric people were busy making various objects that they used for hunting animals and gathering.  While some scientists say that the tools could only have been made by homo sapiens, modern people, others do not ignore the fact that Neanderthals could also have made them.

Up to now, the oldest fossils found outside Africa were also located in Israel. According to archaeologists, they were no more than 90,000 to 120,000 years old.

The new discovery also sets back the date at which homo sapiens appeared in Africa. While the current theory says that they originated in Africa 200,000 years ago, we now may believe that they actually showed up between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. If that is true, then they probably left Africa on short trips to other continents as early as 200,000 years ago.

 

Skull of a Homo Sapiens
Skull of a Homo Sapiens – Image: Dr. Günter Bechly

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • appear = show up; start to exist
  • archaeologist = a person who studies ancient civilisations by looking at what is left of buildings, tools etc..
  • cave = a large natural hole in the side of a hill or mountain
  • compare = to look at two or more things and find out the differences between them
  • CT scan = an  examination in which the inside of an object  is produced on a computer using x-rays
  • current = now
  • decade = ten years
  • discovery = finding something for the first time
  • fossil = an animal or plant that lived many thousands of years ago and that has been preserved in rock
  • gathering = to look for plants to eat
  • homo sapiens = modern man; the type of human that exists now
  • humans = people
  • ignore = pay no attention to …
  • jawbone = one of the bones that are in your teeth
  • located = found
  • Neanderthal = early type of human being who lived in Europe during the Stone Age
  • originally = at first
  • originate = come from
  • prehistoric people = people who lived a long time ago, before anything was written down
  • researcher = someone who studies a subject in detail in order to find out more about it
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • skull = the bones of a person’s head
  • stone tools = early tools that the first people made out of stone; they were used for hunting, gathering food and making fire
  • suggest = to say that something may be true
  • various = different kinds of …

 

 

Cloning of First Monkeys in China

Two monkeys have been cloned in a Chinese laboratory. They were created with the identical technique used to clone Dolly, the sheep back in 1996. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born a few weeks ago at a Chinese lab. Researchers say they are growing normally.

Over two decades ago, Dolly, became the first successfully cloned mammal. Since then cows, pigs, dogs and other mammals have been cloned.  The cloning of primates was thought to be more difficult than the creation of other mammals in a lab. The Chinese team has brought the scientific community one step closer to the cloning of humans.

The technique used in the test involves transferring the nucleus of a cell into an egg which has had its nucleus removed. The experiment was remarkable because it used fetal cells instead of adult cells. It took the Chinese scientists many attempts and 127 eggs to clone just two monkeys.

According to scientists, the cloning of monkeys will help to research human diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It is also important in drug research.

China has invested heavily in research in the past years. The successful test came at a time when American and European scientists have backed away from using monkeys and apes for ethical reasons.

 

Close-up of Dolly, the sheep in her stuffed form
Close-up of Dolly, the sheep in her stuffed form – Image: Toni Barros

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • Alzheimer’s disease = disease that affects the brain, especially of older people; it makes it difficult for you to move, talk or remember things
  • attempt = try
  • back away = stop doing something
  • cancer = serious illness in which cells can grow in an uncontrolled way
  • clone = an animal or plant produced by scientists from one cell of another animal or plant so that they are exactly the same
  • creation = making something
  • decade = ten years
  • disease = illness
  • drug research = creating new forms of medicine
  • ethical = something that is morally good or bad
  • fetal = belonging to an unborn baby or animal
  • human = a person
  • identical = the same
  • including = also
  • invest = put money into …
  • laboratory = room or building in which scientific experiments take place
  • mammal = type of animal that drinks milk from its mother’s body when it is young; humans, dogs and cows are mammals
  • nucleus = the central part of an atom
  • primate = member of a group of mammals that includes humans and monkeys
  • remove = take away
  • remarkable = unusual, surprising
  • researcher = person who studies something in order to find out more about it
  • scientific community = all the people who do research work in labs
  • technique = method; way of doing something
  • transfer = move from one place to another

 

World’s Largest Flooded Cave Discovered in Mexico

In one of the world’s biggest underwater discoveries, Mexican divers have found a flooded cave near Tulum, a beach resort on the Yucatan peninsula. The cave is part of the Sac Actun cave system, which now measures a total length of 347 km.

The discovery was made by members of Gran Acuifero Mayaa, a  project dedicated to the study and preservation of underground water systems in Yucatan. After a few months of exploring divers found an underwater link between two existing caves. After examining the flooded area divers found rocks and stones with ancient markings, grave sites and remains of human bones.

The flooded cave may be connected with the ancient Maya civilisation and could help us understand the Mayan culture. The Yucatan peninsula is full of monuments and ancient Mayan sites.

Mayan cities and temples were built over sinkholes, so-called cenotes. They were natural pits that were formed by the collapse of limestone, revealing subterranean rivers.

 

Flooded cave
Flooded cave – Image: Blueway

Words

  • ancient = very old
  • collapse = when something suddenly falls down or apart
  • connect = to join together
  • dedicated = to work on something very hard
  • discovery = to find something new for the first time
  • diver = person who swims or works under water  using special equipment that helps them breathe
  • examine = to look at something very closely
  • flooded cave = natural hole in the earth that is full of water
  • grave site = place where people are buried
  • length = how long something is
  • limestone = type of rock that lets water through and has calcium in it
  • link = connection
  • measure = how large something is
  • peninsula = piece of land that is surrounded by water on three sides
  • pit = hole in the ground
  • preservation = to try to keep something in its original state
  • remains = what is left over from a human body
  • resort = town where people spend their holidays
  • reveal = to show something that you didn’t see before
  • sinkhole = a hole in the ground caused when the surface collapses

 

Ozone Layer Over Antarctica Is Slowly Recovering

According to the American space agency  NASA, the world’s ozone layer is slowly recovering. A report states that, for the first time,  scientists have observed a decrease in the amount of chlorine in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

Ozone in the atmosphere is essential because it protects life on our planet by absorbing dangerous ultraviolet radiation, which causes skin cancer and damages plant life. Is the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer, which has become larger ever since.  It is especially large over the Antarctic continent and Australia.

Shortly after the discovery, an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, was signed, banning the use of substances that are responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer. It limits the use of CFCs, chemical compounds that rise into the upper layers of the atmosphere where they are broken down by the sun’s ultraviolet light. In the process, chlorine is released which destroys the ozone molecules.

Since the ban has taken effect major companies have started looking for alternatives to CFCs.

Changes in the ozone level are usually measured during the Antarctic winter, between July and September, when temperatures are lower and results are more accurate. Since 2005, there has been a 20% rise in the amount of ozone. Even though it is the first time that the hole in the ozone layer has become smaller it will take decades to recover completely.

Environmentalists around the world have welcomed the announcement, stating that we can actually save the environment by acting decisively.

 

Largest ozone hole ever recorded over the Antarctic in 2006
Largest ozone hole ever recorded over the Antarctic in 2006

Words

  • absorb = take something in
  • according to = as reported by …
  • accurate = exact
  • act decisively = to do something about a problem
  • agreement = promise by two or more countries to take action
  • announcement = official statement
  • atmosphere = mixture of gases that surrounds a planet
  • ban = forbid
  • break down = chemical change
  • cancer = serious disease in which cells in your body grow in an uncontrolled way
  • CFCs = chlorofluorocarbons = a gas used in refrigerators and spray cans; they are responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer
  • chlorine = greenish-yellow gas with a strong smell, that is also used to keep swimming pools clean; it is one of the gases that are responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer
  • completely = fully
  • compound = substance containing two or more atoms
  • decade = ten years
  • decrease = when something goes down
  • destruction = when something is damaged completely
  • discover = find for the first time
  • environmentalist = person who cares about nature and the world we live in
  • especially = above all
  • essential = very important and necessary
  • even though = true, but other things are true too
  • limit = control, check
  • measure = to find out how big something is
  • molecule = smallest unit made up of two or more atoms
  • observe = watch closely
  • protect = to keep something safe
  • recover = to return to a normal condition
  • release = set free
  • responsible = the reason for
  • scientist= person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • sign = put your name on a document
  • state = say in public
  • substances = elements; material
  • take effect = start
  • ultraviolet radiation= light that comes from the sun but cannot be seen; it makes your skin darker
  • welcome = to be glad that something has happened

Bleaching Endangers World’s Coral Reefs

A recent study shows that the world’s coral reefs have been showing signs of strong bleaching due to global warmingIn the 1980s bleaching was rare, occurring about once every 25 years. Now the rate has risen to about once every five years. Environmentalists predict that by 2050 bleaching will happen every year or two.

Bleaching is caused when warm water breaks down the algae inside the reefs. They provide food for the corals and keep them healthy. When algae fall off, corals lose their colour and can die within a short period of time. Even if the water surrounding the reefs gets colder again it may take years for the damaged reefs to recover completely.

While bleaching is especially a problem in the waters of the Carribean Sea and Western Atlantic, reefs around Australia and South Africa have hardly been hit. In addition to the warming temperatures of the oceans, coral reefs are also endangered by pollution and overfishing.

Coral reefs are an important ecosystem. They are home to 25% of all marine species and provide a  habitat for countless types of fish. Reefs protect coastal regions from flooding and tidal waves. In addition, coral reefs are tourist attractions that lure millions of people every year.  The tourist industry around the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, for example, is worth about 5 billion dollars a year.

 

Healthy coral on the left and bleached coral on the right
Healthy coral on the left and bleached coral on the right

Words

  • billion = a thousand million
  • bleaching = to make something pale or white; when an object loses its colour
  • break down = to change its structure
  • Carribean Sea = sea between North and South America
  • cause = the reason for something; why something happens
  • countless = too many to be counted
  • due to = because of
  • ecosystem = all the animals and plants in a certain area and the way they live together
  • endangered = to be in danger
  • environmentalist = a person who cares about the world around us
  • especially = above all
  • global warming = when the temperatures in the atmosphere get higher because of increased amounts of carbon dioxide
  • habitat = place to live
  • in addition = also
  • lure = attract; here: bring people to the area
  • marine species = animals and plants that live in the oceans
  • occur = happen
  • overfishing = when you take too many fish from the sea so that the overall number of fish becomes too low
  • pollution = when water becomes dirty so that it cannot be used anymore
  • predict = to say that something will happen in the future
  • protect = keep safe
  • provide = give
  • rare = not very often
  • recent = a short time ago
  • recover = to become as healthy as they were before
  • sign = to show that something is happening
  • study = a piece of work that is done to find out more about a certain topic
  • surrounding = around
  • tidal wave = very large ocean wave that flows over land and destroys things

 

 

 

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

NASA Discovers Star System With 8 Planets

NASA has discovered the eighth planet of a star system, similar to our solar system. The star, Kepler-90  is over 2,500 light years away and larger and hotter than our sun. It is the first star known to have as many planets as our solar system.

The Kepler-90 star system is much more compact than our solar system. The outermost planet orbits the star at about the same distance as the earth orbits the sun.  its inner planets are small and rocky while the outer ones are larger and made up of gas

The newly discovered planet, Kepler -90i, is the third celestial object in the star system. It is probably rocky and similar to our earth, but because of its closeness to its home star has an average surface temperature of about 400° C. It moves around the star once every 14.4 days.

The discovery was made based on data provided by the Kepler space telescope. Launched in March 2009, the telescope has constantly been scanning certain sections of the universe in search of new stars and planetary systems. Up to now, over 2,000 new worlds have been discovered.

To help analyse the data NASA has been relying on artificial intelligence software supplied by Google.  This software examines weak signals of light when objects pass in front of a star.  The new way of examining data is expected to reveal even more new planets in the future.

 

Kepler 90 star system compared to our solar system
Kepler 90 star system compared to our solar system

Words

  • artificial intelligence = when computers do intelligent things  that only people can do, such as think and make their own decisions
  • average = normal, usual
  • based on = use
  • celestial = about the sky
  • closeness = being close to something
  • compact = here: the planets are closer together and near to the star
  • constantly = always
  • data = information
  • discover = to find something for the first time
  • distance = the amount of space between two objects
  • examine = look at something closely
  • launch = to send  an object into space
  • light year = the distance light travels in one year = 9,460,000,000,000 km
  • orbit = to go around
  • outermost = the farthest away from something
  • planetary system = star with planets moving around it
  • provide = give
  • rely = depend on; need
  • reveal = to show something that was not known before
  • rocky = covered with or made of rocks; here: a hard surface
  • scan = when a machine looks at things carefully but quickly
  • similar = like
  • solar system = our sun and the eight planets that move around it
  • surface temperature = temperature you get when you stand on the planet
  • weak = not strong