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NASA plans to launch rockets to investigate the impact of the eclipse on the ionosphere

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Eclipse excitement isn’t just for people who can’t wait for next week’s amazing sights. As part of APEP (Atmospheric Perturbations around Eclipse Path, which is also the name of the Egyptian Sun God’s enemy), NASA will send three sounding rockets to see how the temporary absorption of sunlight changes the upper atmosphere.

As it starts 90 kilometers (55 miles) above the Earth’s surface, the ionosphere is well above the highest clouds and generally gets sun all day. The only time this isn’t true is during an eclipse, which gives you a chance to study it in a way that dusk doesn’t. Most eclipses don’t have good places to launch rockets, at least not in the line of totality. But on April 8, the eclipse will be close to some important American sites.

The APEP team, led by Professor Aroh Barjatya of Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, launched three sounding rockets from New Mexico’s White Sands Test Facility during the 2023 annular eclipse. They added new equipment to these rockets. These will look into the ionosphere up to 420 kilometers (260 miles) above Earth during the peak of the eclipse and for 45 minutes before and after.

She said in a statement that the ionosphere is “an electrified region that reflects and refracts radio signals and also affects satellite communications as the signals pass through.” “Understanding the ionosphere and making models to help us predict disturbances is important for keeping our world running smoothly in a world that depends more and more on communication.”

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Of course, sunlight affects the whole atmosphere, but it is the sunlight that makes the ionosphere. Photons with a lot of energy split atoms into electrons and ions with positive charges. They come back together at night, which makes the ionosphere weaker. Up in the atmosphere, weather conditions also play a role, making the scene more complicated.

Satellites have observed even greater effects of eclipses, but people with the right equipment are rarely in the right place at the right time to make observations. The rockets, on the other hand, can be timed however experts want. The launch point on Wallops Island, Virginia, is to the west of the path of totality. The APEP team thinks it’s close enough to get the information they need, though.

The waves created by ionized particles during the 2017 total solar eclipse

Previous observations indicate the presence of air waves that have an impact on the entire trajectory of the eclipse. Additionally, there are localized disturbances, called perturbations, that can disrupt radio communications. The alterations are observable in fluctuations in both temperature and plasma density.

During the eclipse, the rockets will measure and compare the density of charged and neutral particles at three specific locations. “According to Barjatya, each rocket will release four secondary instruments, which are the size of a two-liter soda bottle and measure the same data points. This means that the results obtained from these instruments are equivalent to those obtained from fifteen rockets, despite only launching three.” The endeavor will receive further support through the utilization of high-altitude balloons, ground-based radar, and a selection of satellite observations.

Above is a depiction of the rockets’ launch that took place during the annular eclipse in 2023. At the American Geophysical Union conference, it was stated that there was a significant decrease in plasma density.

“We observed the disturbances that can impact radio communications in the second and third rockets, but not in the first rocket, which occurred prior to the maximum local eclipse,” stated Barjatya. “We are extremely enthusiastic about relaunching them during the total eclipse in order to determine if the disturbances occur at the same height and if their intensity and size remain consistent.”

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Science

69% of gamers say they “smurf,” even though they hate it

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A recent study on toxicity in gaming reveals that a significant majority of gamers, 69 percent to be precise, openly confess to engaging in smurfing, even though they vehemently despise it when others resort to smurfing tactics against them.

For those unfamiliar with the term, smurfing may seem like a perplexing concept. Some may even imagine a scenario where 69 percent of gamers paint themselves blue and only communicate using the word “smurf” during their gaming sessions. If that’s your assumption, then you couldn’t be more mistaken.

When engaging in online multiplayer games, developers strive to create a balanced and enjoyable experience by matching players with opponents of similar skill levels. This ensures that players aren’t constantly overwhelmed by opponents who far exceed their abilities. However, individuals have discovered workarounds for this issue. They either create new accounts or borrow existing ones from other gamers to compete against opponents who possess significantly lower skill levels.

In 1996, two players of Warcraft 2 gained such a fearsome reputation for their exceptional skills that fellow gamers would immediately withdraw from matches upon spotting their usernames. When it came to playing the game they had bought, they decided to create additional accounts called PapaSmurf and Smurfette and proceeded to dominate their adversaries using these fresh profiles. The term “smurfing” gained popularity and is now commonly used to refer to players who intentionally create new accounts to compete against less skilled opponents.

A significant number of gamers have reported the occurrence of smurfing, with 97 percent of participants in a recent study acknowledging that they encounter smurfs during their gameplay. The gaming community perceives this behavior as detrimental; despite this, 69 percent of individuals acknowledged engaging in smurfing on occasion, with 13 percent admitting to doing it frequently or almost always.

The study conducted by the team from Ohio State University found that, in comparison to smurfees, participants perceived smurfs as having a higher likelihood of being toxic, disengaging from the game, and enjoying the game. “There were also significant self-other effects observed.” Compared to their own perception, participants believed that other gamers were more prone to displaying toxic behavior, less inclined to continue playing the game, and less likely to derive enjoyment from it.

Upon concluding the study, the researchers solicited feedback from gamers (recruited from Reddit) and discovered various motivations behind smurfing. These motivations included the desire to play with friends of varying skill levels as well as the satisfaction derived from defeating inexperienced players. The team conducted a subsequent study, in which players were asked to assess different justifications for smurfing. They were informed that these justifications were actual reasons provided by smurfs who had achieved victory in the game they were smurfing in. In addition, they were queried about the appropriate degree of retribution to be meted out to the smurf.

The team anticipated that individuals would adopt a “motivated-blame perspective,” wherein they would universally consider smurfing to be morally objectionable, regardless of any justifications.

“According to lead author Charles Monge, this perspective asserts that if an action is deemed wrong, the justification behind it becomes irrelevant as it remains inherently wrong,” as stated in a press release. “The concept is that it should be irrelevant whether you were simply playing casually to join your friends; you caused me to lose this game, and now I am angry.”

Nevertheless, the team discovered that gamers assessed the morality of smurfing on a personal level, categorizing certain forms of smurfing as more culpable than others. They also expressed a desire for stricter penalties for smurfs who had less valid reasons for engaging in smurfing, such as a desire to dominate less skilled players.

A third study discovered that individuals who do not play video games exhibit a similar socially regulated viewpoint, perceiving subtleties in smurfing behavior. Although intriguing due to the commonly associated toxicity in gaming, the team aspires to apply the findings in other areas.

“Games can serve as a powerful tool for testing concepts that extend beyond the realm of gaming,” Monge stated. Studying how blame is assigned in an online setting can provide insights into how blame is assigned in general.

The research is published in the journal New Media & Society.

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Medicine and Health

What are the indications of the novel COVID-19 variants?

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The COVID-19 virus remains prevalent, and it is increasingly common to hear people expressing their illness symptoms in recent weeks. We are aware of the presence of new COVID variants circulating, but what are the specific symptoms that should be monitored?

The COVID-19 FLiRT variants, known for their boldness, have rapidly gained worldwide prevalence in recent weeks, surpassing the previously dominant variant (JN.1). Currently, the variant KP.2 is responsible for the largest share of infections. These findings are based on the most recent data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, according to experts, there is evidence to suggest that previous vaccines or a recent COVID infection may still provide some level of protection. Promising recent research backs up this viewpoint. However, it is widely acknowledged that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly cunning and elusive. Although vaccines have undeniably had a profound impact on the trajectory of this pandemic, they do not provide complete immunity against infection.

Despite the Northern Hemisphere being currently beyond the usual period of highest activity for respiratory viruses, it is important to note that COVID-19 is not the sole pathogen present. What are the indicators of an infection?

The manifestations of COVID have evolved over time, in conjunction with our comprehension of how this ailment can exhibit distinctive characteristics in various individuals. Ziad Tukmachi, a general practitioner based in London, stated in an interview with BBC Future that the peculiar and ambiguous symptoms of COVID at its onset included cognitive impairment, extreme fatigue, and loss of taste and smell. “Currently, I perceive that it has undergone mutations that have led to symptoms that closely resemble those of the flu. This makes it challenging for medical professionals to differentiate between the two based on clinical observations.”

As of the time of publication, the CDC’s most recent update on COVID-19 symptoms was on March 15 of this year. Therefore, the list of potential symptoms provided is based on our current understanding of the latest variants that are currently circulating. The following items are included:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea

These latter two can catch people off guard, as they may mistakenly believe they are experiencing symptoms of a stomach infection instead. Similarly, you may experience symptoms that are so mild that you could confuse them with a common cold or even seasonal allergies. Currently, symptoms such as the diminished ability to perceive taste and smell, which were highly indicative of COVID-19 during its initial stages, seem to be significantly less prevalent.

Consequently, it is currently more challenging than ever to determine if one is truly infected with COVID-19 or another ailment without undergoing a diagnostic test. If you are experiencing symptoms of the cold and flu, the most prudent course of action is to remain at home and maintain a safe distance from other individuals. If you possess risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing severe symptoms, the CDC advises promptly seeking medical attention, as there are currently available treatments that can be effective if administered in a timely manner.

COVID-19 can potentially result in enduring consequences that the scientific community is actively striving to comprehend. Although many of us may no longer be experiencing mask mandates and toilet paper shortages, it is crucial that we remain considerate of the more susceptible individuals in our communities who may still be unable to let their guard down. Adhering to fundamental measures such as isolating ourselves from others when we are ill and getting tested to confirm the significance of any symptoms can assist everyone in safely managing this pandemic.

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Medicine and Health

How will the global disease landscape appear in 2050?

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If you are curious about the potential state of health and disease in the next 30 years, including the prevailing conditions and their impact on our lives, your curiosity ends here. Based on the most recent findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), it is projected that by 2050, there will be a significant rise in life expectancy and a shift towards non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

The GBD study is a comprehensive endeavor to measure the extent of health decline worldwide over a period of time. Since 1991, it has enhanced our comprehension of the evolving health challenges confronting individuals worldwide and provided valuable insights to healthcare professionals, researchers, and policymakers operating in the field of health.

In the 2021 edition of the GBD, it was found that neurological conditions have surpassed cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of ill health globally. The Lancet has recently published additional findings from the 2021 study in a series of six articles.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 became the main focus. According to Professor Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the most recent GBD findings show that there has been the greatest decline in life expectancy globally in the previous 71 years. According to Murray, global life expectancy experienced a decline of 1.6 years from 2019 to 2021. Peru witnessed the most significant decrease, with a decline of 6.5 years.

Moreover, the GBD also emphasized additional health patterns that have persisted during the global pandemic, with articles centering on fertility, mortality causes, disability-adjusted life-years, and risk factors to underscore the intricacies of disease burden worldwide, extending beyond COVID-19. It has also anticipated the future to forecast the potential state of diseases in the upcoming decades.

“Our article on projections for GBD […] emphasizes that future patterns may deviate significantly from past patterns due to factors such as the widespread occurrence of obesity, the rise in substance-use disorders, and climate change. It also emphasizes the immense possibilities to change the course of health for the upcoming generation,” Murray adds.

The study examined 204 countries and territories, projecting the anticipated disease burden until 2050. It also considered alternative scenarios by eliminating specific risk factors.

Undoubtedly, the researchers lacked the ability to predict the future of global health over the next three decades. Instead, they utilized projections of significant determinants of health, such as climate models and anticipated levels of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), to inform their predictions.

Life expectancy is projected to increase, with males expected to gain an additional 4.9 years and females expected to gain an additional 4.2 years. However, this increase is slower compared to the three decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest increases are anticipated in countries with a lower life expectancy.

“Although climate change, BMI, high fasting plasma glucose, drug use, and, in certain areas, PM2.5 are becoming increasingly problematic, Murray predicts that life expectancy and healthy life expectancy will continue to rise until 2050,” states Murray. Nevertheless, he warns that the anticipated advancement is delicate and susceptible to being disrupted by various challenges, including but not limited to food insecurity, antimicrobial resistance, the escalation of conflicts involving nuclear weapons, and the rise in cases of diabetes, obesity, addiction, and aging.

Projections also indicated that “health will improve in the upcoming decades,”  but there will be a change in the prevalence of diseases. The burden of communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases (CMNNs) will decrease, while non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will become more prominent. NCDs are diseases that cannot be transmitted directly from person to person, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

In addition, there will be a rise in the number of years lived with disability (YLDs), suggesting a transition from early mortality to morbidity. This means that people will have longer lifespans but will experience more years of ill health.

Furthermore, it is anticipated that disparities in life expectancy based on geographical location will diminish. “Although health disparities between the most affluent and least affluent regions will persist, they are gradually narrowing, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” Murray stated.

Considering different possible futures that focused on lowering environmental risks, CMNN risks, and NCD risks, as well as the combined effects of these scenarios, showed that getting rid of certain risks can greatly improve future health outcomes, especially when big NCD risks are targeted.

“Murray concluded that there is a significant opportunity for us to shape the future of global health by proactively addressing the increasing metabolic and dietary risk factors. These risk factors are primarily linked to behavioral and lifestyle factors such as elevated blood sugar levels, high body mass index, and hypertension.”

The research findings are published in the prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet.

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