Getting closer to the Sun

NASA have successfully launched its mission to ‘touch the Sun’. The Parker Solar Probe, named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker who first described solar wind in 1958, aims to get closer to the Sun than any satellite has before. The probe will get as close as  6.12 million km to the sun, significantly nearer than the 43 million km Helios-2 reached in 1976. This distance allows the Parker Probe to dip into the corona, or outer atmosphere, of the Sun. To protect the instrument from the extreme temperatures – the corona is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface – a 11.5 cm thick carbon-composite barrier will shield the spacecraft, only exposing a small area of solar cells to power the probe.

The mission hopes to collect data on solar wind, which consists of a flow of charged particles. This causes the aurora polaris (in the northern hemisphere known as the aurora bolearis) that we can see on Earth, but also can affect the Earth’s magnetic field which can result in power surges and loss of communications as satellites are disrupted. Information collected by Parker could help to forecast solar storms.

After four weeks of instrument testing beginning in early September, the probe can begin scientific operations, and NASA hopes to resolve some of the mysteries of the Sun throughout the seven years of its mission.


A new insight into blue light

A recent study has investigated the impact of blue light from digital devices on the retina. Researchers from the University of Toledo (US) published in Scientific Reports, revealing that continued exposure to blue light triggers the generation of toxic molecules.


Macular degeneration is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina. It is an incurable disease that typically starts around at the age of 50 or 60, and is the leading cause of blindness in the US and UK.

The eye’s cornea and lens cannot block blue light, and exposure causes retinal cells to initiate a reaction which generates toxic molecules leading to damage in the photoreceptor cell from which they are unable to regenerate. This effect was not seen when using green, yellow or red light. Blue light has a shorter wavelength and is of higher energy than other colours of light.

To minimise this effect, the researchers advised to wear sunglasses which filter UV and blue light, and to avoid using digital devices in the dark. They hope that by learning more about the pathways that lead to macular degeneration people’s vision can be protected in the future.

Pesticide Bans

The US government has been ordered to ban the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos within 60 days. On the 9th of August a federal appeals court in the US ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must finalise a ban which was proposed under Obama but denied by Scott Pruitt under Trump. Pruitt was the formed EPA administrator, who resigned in July amid ethics scandals, and has denied a petition by environmental groups to ban the insecticide.

Chlorpyrifos was banned in the UK in 2016, and most home uses were banned in the US in 2001. However, evidence of neurodevelopmental damage in children due to residues of the insecticide on food warranted the recent further action by the court. The leading manufacturer of chlorpyrifos has stated their intention to challenge the ruling.

This news comes on the back of a ruling against the agrochemical giant Monsanto. Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million in damages after a Californian jury found them liable in a lawsuit filed by Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who alleged their glyphosate weed killers, including RoundUp, caused his cancer. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide, and while Monsanto state that glyphosate does not cause cancer, the World Health Organisation classified it as a probable carcinogen in 2015.



Written by Izzy Tibbetts

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