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“Planet Earth Report” – A Graveyard of Giant Spacecraft to Fourth Atomic Spy at Los Alamos

“Planet Earth Report” connects you to headline news on the science, technology, discoveries, people and events changing our planet and the future of the human species.

Fourth Spy at Los Alamos Knew A-Bomb’s Inner Secrets –Historians recently uncovered another Soviet spy in the U.S. atomic bomb program. Fresh disclosures show he worked on the device’s explosive trigger. Last fall, writes William Broad for New York Times Science, a pair of historians revealed that yet another Soviet spy, code named Godsend, had infiltrated the Los Alamos laboratory where the world’s first atom bomb was built. But they were unable to discern the secrets he gave Moscow or the nature of his work. However, the lab recently declassified and released documents detailing the spy’s highly specialized employment and likely atomic thefts, potentially recasting a mundane espionage case as one of history’s most damaging.

A Graveyard of Giant Spacecraft Spins Through Space –-A collection of defunct spacecraft, their mission to chronicle the wonders of the universe long ended, glide silently in Earth’s vicinity. This week, writes Marina Koren for The Atlantic, NASA will turn off another, the Spitzer telescope, which has spent 16 years observing the cosmos. The telescope trails the Earth, looping around the sun, and little by little, it has drifted away from us. The growing expanse, now hundreds of millions of miles wide, has made it trickier for engineers to operate Spitzer and point it at the right places—the sun, to charge itself; Earth, to transmit data; and the dusky universe beyond, to collect even more. So they’ve decided to junk it.

Australia’s Ancient Forests Survived Planetary Extinction. Now, They’re Burning –The Gondwanan rainforests are a living time capsule that survived a continental breakup and a planetary mass extinction event. Now, they’re being tested by humanity writes Maddie Stone for Motherboard/Vice. The Gondwanan rainforests, home to ancient conifers that sauropods likely grazed on during the Jurassic Period and flowering plants that offer a window into Earth’s botanical evolution during the Cretaceous. This primeval landscape hosts an astounding array of animals, too, including rare, endemic frogs and marsupials, and songbirds whose dawn choruses are an acoustic window into deep time.

What Happens to Google Maps When Tectonic Plates Move? –Earth’s tremors can tweak your GPS coordinates. As a writer on physics, George Musser writes for, I am always seeking new metaphors for understanding Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and while working on my last book, Spooky Action at a Distance, I thought I’d compare the warping of space and time to the motion of Earth’s tectonic plates. Einstein explained gravity as the bending of spacetime. A well-hit baseball arcs through the air to an outfielder’s glove because it is following the contours of spacetime, which the planet’s mass has resculpted. The mutability of spacetime also means that nothing in the universe has a fixed position, since the framework by which position is defined is fluid. And something like that is also true of Earth’s surface. Nothing on the ground has fixed coordinates because the landscape is ever-shifting.

English Sparkling Wines Challenge the Supremacy of Champagne, France—Thanks to Climate Change. As average temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more common, vintners are forced to adapt year to year. English Sparkling Wines Challenge the Supremacy of Champagne, France—Thanks to Climate Change. In the spring of 2016, writes Jillian Kramer for The Smithsonian, something happened that sent the wine community into a bit of a tizzy: In a blind tasting, a selection of English sparkling white wines were chosen over comparable French champagnes. In fact, some of the experts gathered at the tasting—including well-regarded French tasters—believed the English wines they tried were actually French.

How World War I Planted the Seeds of the Civil Rights Movement –-The Great War was a “transformative moment” for African Americans, who fought for the U.S. even as they were denied access to Democracy. In early April 1917, writes Anna Diamond for, when President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress seeking to enter the United States in the first World War, he urged the “world must be made safe for democracy.” A. Philip Randolph, the co-founder of the African-American magazine The Messenger, would later retort in its pages, “We would rather make Georgia safe for the Negro.”

From the X Files –Why Did the Navy Claim that Further Release of UFO Footage is an “Exceptionally Grave” Threat to National Security? On January 20, published a story to the effect that the U.S. Navy had admitted that there is more video and information concerning the “Tic-Tac” objects that were videotaped by planes from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group off the coast of California in 2004. The Navy took the unusual position that revelation of this information would cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”

Neanderthals may have climbed an active volcano soon after it erupted-A set of preserved footprints suggests that ancient humans often went scrambling on the steep slopes of an active volcano, even in the aftermath of a major eruption. The volcano. writes Michael Marshall for New Scientist, may have been an important site for them. The footprints can be found on the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy, which has been extinct for 50,000 years. Local people called them “devil’s trails”, because only a supernatural being could walk such a dangerous path.

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