Earth Doesn’t Really Have Any Protections In Place From Asteroids

It’s the stuff of science fiction: Scientists discover that an asteroid is heading for Earth, and we don’t have any measures in place to prevent the space rock from hitting us. But this scenario is actually more plausible than many people realize.

There are about 15,000 asteroids in our immediate galactic neighborhood. On March 2, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona spotted a 10-foot-wide space rock that passed Earth, “diving in closer than many communications and weather satellites,” reports. The asteroid came within 9,000 miles of Earth, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies. The moon, by comparison, is about 239,000 miles from Earth.

NASA has a website devoted to the possibility of an asteroid hitting the planet. And it’s involved in an international collaboration with the European Space Agency, known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, to address the issue. AIDA is in the planning stages of a proposal to somehow alter the course of asteroids in outer space ― especially any that are in danger of hitting Earth.

Ed Beshore, an engineer who helped build the Catalina Sky Survey software technology that detects asteroids, said we’re still several years away from even the first stages of the AIDA experimental asteroid deflection system, and the project needs a lot of funding.

“NASA can only respond to funded mandates from Congress, so Congress has to be convinced to spend money,” Beshore told The Huffington Post. “These missions are not cheap ― they’re hundreds of millions of dollars ― so Congress has to explicitly allocate money for those sorts of things. And it really gets down to them deciding where the money is supposed to be spent.”

Yet the Trump administration has indicated it may cut NASA’s funding.

“I think, to some degree, the response is pretty much commensurate with the risk,” Beshore said. There’s no immediate, looming threat of an asteroid collision that scientists can point to, and so Congress and policymakers are focusing on the problems they can see.

“Risk is the product of two things: the likelihood that something’s going to happen and the consequences if it does,” he said. “Consequence is dictated by the size of these objects. How big are they and what’s the likelihood that we’re going to get hit by a big enough object to do some damage?”

Beshore is on the review panel for NASA’s half of the combined AIDA mission. He said a 65-foot-wide asteroid that streaked through the sky in 2013 and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, showed up with no warning. Its sonic blasts released 30 times more power than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Forbes. It injured about 1,000 people and damaged many buildings, as seen in the video below.

This May Explain Why You Get Sick When You’re Overtired

If you want to skip the misery that comes with fighting a seasonal cold or flu, new research explains why sleep is some of the best preventive medicine.

young man in home interior

We already knew that not getting enough sleep can lead to an increased risk of getting sick, but Nathaniel Watson, a neurologist and sleep specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said this new research helps explain why.

Sleeping poorly can block specific genetic processes in the cells that make up your immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and disease, according to the new study.

“Your immune system is not functioning the way it was meant to when you’re sleep deprived,” Watson said.

This study is the first one that Watson and his colleagues are aware of that looks at what happens to the immune system’s DNA when you’re not getting adequate sleep.

“It’s further evidence of how important sleep is to human health and physiology,” Watson said.

Just an hour of lost sleep can cause cellular damage

The researchers followed 11 pairs of identical twins for the study. One twin reported sleeping at least seven hours per night, while the other slept approximately one hour less per night.

Looking at identical twins helped control for the fact that sleep needs vary by person, Watson explained. Genes account for about 50 percent of our sleep needs, meaning identical twins are the best-case scenario for getting a good comparison.

Each study participant wore a movement-tracking sleep monitor for two weeks, which confirmed that one twin in each pair slept, on average, one hour less than the other. (Total sleep time also included any daytime napping.)

The researchers took blood samples at the end of the study, which revealed that the immune system of the twin who slept less was less active than the twin who slept more. Those who slept less were actually making fewer proteins, the molecules that our bodies run on.

“They had an underperforming immune system,” Watson said of the shorter sleepers, “which would put them at higher risk of getting sick.”

To control for other potential factors that could affect sleep need and immune health, the researchers excluded people from the study who had diabetes, depression or other mental health problems and sleep disorders. They also left out shift workers, smokers, drug users and drinkers.

The big takeaway for individuals is that getting good sleep ― quality as well as quantity ― is a really important element of human health, Watson said.

“Add risk of infection to the myriad reasons why sleep deprivation is bad for you,” he said ― a list that already includes such issues as reduced performance during the day, depression, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and irritability.

This reporting is brought to you by HuffPost’s health and science platform, The Scope. Like us on Facebook and Twitter and tell us your story:

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at

Colossal Ancient Egyptian Statue Unearthed In Cairo Slum

Among his many other noble titles, Pharaoh Ramses II could soon add one more honorific: the ultimate slumdog millionaire.

Archaeologists have discovered a massive statue that likely depicts the ancient Egyptian ruler submerged in the groundwater of a Cairo area slum. The sculpture, believed to be some 3,000 years old, lies in Matariya, near the ruins of the ancient city of Heliopolis.

An Egyptian worker stands next to the head of statue at the site of a new discovery by a team of German-Egyptian archeologists in Cairo’s Mattarya district on March 9, 2017.
Statues of the kings and queens of the nineteenth dynasty (1295 – 1185 BC) were unearthed in the vicinity of the Temple of Ramses II in what was the old Pharonic city. / AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A team of Egyptian and German researchers began excavating the quartzite sculpture, estimated to stand 26 to 30 feet tall, on Thursday.

he discovery caps an archeological study of the area that had begun in 2012, CNN reports. The dig was just wrapping up having found little else of great import.

The statue “was in an area that was almost completely investigated,” Dietrich Raue from the University of Leipzig, one of the partners in the dig, told CNN. “We thought [the pit] would be empty without any features … so that was a great surprise.”

Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, ruled from 1279 to 1213 BCE. In that time, he greatly expanded the reach of the Egyptian empire, to as far east as modern-day Syria and as far south as current-day Sudan, according to National Geographic.

Florida Republicans Challenge Climate-Denying EPA Chief

Scientists, environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers pounced Thursday after Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt refuted his own agency by insisting carbon dioxide emissions don’t cause global warming.

On Friday, the most senior Republican congresswoman in the House of Representatives joined the chorus of critics.

“These comments by the EPA administrator casting doubt on the causes and impacts of climate change are disconcerting and troubling,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “I’m committed to helping ensure South Florida’s environment remains pristine and we continue to combat sea level rise in order to protect our community.”

She wasn’t alone. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) slammed Pruitt’s comment hours after it was broadcast Thursday on CNBC.

Spokespeople for Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen declined The Huffington Post’s requests for an interview Friday afternoon.

The pair drew attention during the presidential election last year when they publicly broke with the Republican Party line on climate change and formed the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House. At the time, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were both gunning for the Republican presidential nomination. Rubio had previously said he didn’t believe “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate,” while Bush said climate change “wouldn’t be on my first page of things that wake me up in the middle of the night.”

Last summer, Ros-Lehtinen filed legislation aimed at restoring coral reefs, in hopes that the underwater ecosystems would offer a natural bulwark against higher storm surges from sea-level rise. She also supported a bill requiring overseas companies to pay the cleanup costs for oil spills in nearby foreign waters. Curbelo, meanwhile, appeared in a National Geographic TV show on climate change, demonstrating what Politico described as his “role as a maverick Republican.”

South Florida has already been ravaged by the effects of climate change. Temperatures in the region have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, and are expected to soar by up to 8 degrees by the end of the century, according to the EPA. Hurricanes and heavy downpours have become more frequent and violent since the 1980s. Over the past 25 years, sea levels have risen by as much as 3 inches, a report from Miami-Dade County stated in December. Now regularly inundated, the city of Miami Beach alone plans to spend $500 million on flooding prevention.

Climate Change Could Be Increasing The Footprint Of Lyme Disease

Dr. John Aucott loves to let his dog go off-trail when he hikes. But as the director of the Johns Hopkins Rheumatology Lyme Disease Research Center in Baltimore, he knows better than to do it in June and July — the height of Lyme Disease season, when tiny nymph-stage ticks can move, undetected, from wild host (a mouse or deer) to a dog or human. While dogs can’t directly transmit Lyme disease to their owners, they can harbor ticks capable of doing the job.

wood tick

People who get Lyme disease suffer from unpleasant symptoms like a rash, facial paralysis and swollen knees. But it isn’t always easy to detect and if left untreated, can progress to complications like memory problems, heart rhythm irregularities and chronic arthritis. A small minority of people with Lyme disease may even suffer symptoms like fatigue and joint pain for months after treatment.

This year, because of the East Coast’s unusually warm winter, ticks seem to be making an earlier appearance, which could make people unknowingly vulnerable to getting Lyme disease. Aucott says he is already finding ticks on his dog.

“I just pulled an engorged tick off [the dog] in February, which would be very unusual if the ground was snow-covered and it was 30 degrees,” he said. “But there’s no snow, and it’s been 60 and 70 degrees for some reason this winter.”

One implication of the warm weather is that it attracts mice, which also harbor the ticks and bacteria that cause Lyme disease: 2017 is expected to be a very risky Lyme disease season, based on the surge of mice in New York measured in 2016, experts Felicia Keesing of Bard College and Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies told NPR this week. Aucott wasn’t surprised to hear this.

Local health departments, state university researchers and local doctors in other high-risk areas are also sounding the alarm in their respective communities about the rise of Lyme disease and tick sightings in their area this year.

“The mice of the previous year are important because they’re the ones infecting the larvae, and [they turn into] the nymphs that are feeding the following spring,” Aucott explained. “So it make intuitive sense — more mice, more infected larvae, more Lyme disease.”

However, just because there are a lot of mice in New York, doesn’t mean there are a lot of mice in other areas where Lyme disease is present.

“It’s really highly unlikely that the same variables in play in New York are in play in Virginia, Nova Scotia or Maryland,” Aucott said. “In other words, predicting one area doesn’t do a good job of predicting what’s going on in an adjacent region.”