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Fake asteroid? NASA expert IDs mystery object as old rocket - ABC News
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The jig may be up for an asteroid thats expected to get nabbed by Earths gravity and become a mini moon next month. Instead of a cosmic rock, the newly discovered object appears to be an old rocket from a failed moon-landing mission 54 years ago thats finally making its way back home, according to NASA's leading asteroid expert. Observations should help nail its identity. Im pretty jazzed about this, Paul Chodas told The Associated Press. Its been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and Ive been doing it for decades now. Chodas speculates that asteroid 2020 SO, as it is formally known, is actually the Centaur upper rocket stage that successfully propelled NASAs Surveyor 2 lander to the moon in 1966 before it was discarded. The lander ended up crashing into the moon after one of its thrusters failed to ignite on the way there. The rocket, meanwhile, swept past the moon and into orbit around the sun as intended junk, never to be seen again until perhaps now. A telescope in Hawaii last month discovered the mystery object heading our way while doing a search intended to protect our planet from doomsday rocks. The object promptly was added to the International Astronomical Unions Minor Planet Centers tally of asteroids and comets found in our solar system, just 5,000 shy of the 1 million mark. The object is estimated to be roughly 26 feet (8 meters) based on its brightness. Thats in the ballpark of the old Centaur, which would be less than 32 feet (10 meters) long including its engine nozzle and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter. What caught Chodas attention is that its near-circular orbit around the sun is quite similar to Earths unusual for an asteroid. Flag number one," said Chodas, who is director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The object is also in the same plane as Earth, not tilted above or below, another red flag. Asteroids usually zip by at odd angles. Lastly, its approaching Earth at 1,500 mph (2,400 kph), slow by asteroid standards. As the object gets closer, astronomers should be able to better chart its orbit and determine how much its pushed around by the radiation and thermal effects of sunlight. If its an old Centaur essentially a light empty can it will move differently than a heavy space rock less susceptible to outside forces. Thats how astronomers normally differentiate between asteroids and space junk like abandoned rocket parts, since both appear merely as moving dots in the sky. There likely are dozens of fake asteroids out there, but their motions are too imprecise or jumbled to confirm their artificial identity, said Chodas. Sometimes its the other way around. A mystery object in 1991, for example, was determined by Chodas and others to be a regular asteroid rather than debris, even though its orbit around the sun resembled Earths. Even more exciting, Chodas in 2002 found what he believes was the leftover Saturn V third stage from 1969s Apollo 12, the second moon landing by NASA astronauts. He acknowledges the evidence was circumstantial, given the objects chaotic one-year orbit around Earth. It never was designated as an asteroid, and left Earth's orbit in 2003. The latest objects route is direct and much more stable, bolstering his theory. I could be wrong on this. I dont want to appear overly confident, Chodas said. But its the first time, in my view, that all the pieces fit together with an actual known launch." And he's happy to note that it's a mission that he followed in 1966, as a teenager in Canada. Asteroid hunter Carrie Nugent of Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, said Chodas conclusion is a good one based on solid evidence. Shes the author of the 2017 book Asteroid Hunters. Some more data would be useful so we can know for sure, she said in an email. Asteroid hunters from around the world will continue to watch this object to get that data. Im excited to see how this develops! The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' Jonathan McDowell noted there have been many, many embarrassing incidents of objects in deep orbit ... getting provisional asteroid designations for a few days before it was realized they were artificial. It's seldom clear-cut. Last year, a British amateur astronomer, Nick Howes, announced that an asteroid in solar orbit was likely the abandoned lunar module from NASA's Apollo 10, a rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing. While this object is likely artificial, Chodas and others are skeptical of the connection. Skepticism is good, Howes wrote in an email. It hopefully will lead to more observations when its next in our neck of the woods in the late 2030s. Chodas' latest target of interest was passed by Earth in their respective laps around the sun in 1984 and 2002. But it was too dim to see from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) away, he said. He predicts the object will spend about four months circling Earth once its captured in mid-November, before shooting back out into its own orbit around the sun next March. Chodas doubts the object will slam into Earth at least not this time around. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Experimental COVID-19 vaccine is put to its biggest test - ABC News
The biggest test yet of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine got underway Monday with the first of some 30,000 Americans rolling up their sleeves to receive shots created by the U.S. government as part of the all-out global race to stop the pandemic. The glimmer of hope came even as Google, in one of the gloomiest assessments of the coronavirus's staying power from a major employer, decreed that most of its 200,000 employees and contractors should work from home through next June a decision that could influence other big companies. Final-stage testing of the vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., began with volunteers at numerous sites around the U.S. given either a real dose or a dummy without being told which. Im excited to be part of something like this. This is huge, said Melissa Harting, a 36-year-old nurse who received an injection in Binghamton, New York. Especially with family members in front-line jobs that could expose them to the virus, she added, doing our part to eradicate it is very important to me. Another company, Pfizer Inc., announced late Monday that it had started its own study of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and elsewhere. That study also aimed to recruit 30,000 people. It will be months before results trickle in, and there is no guarantee the vaccines will ultimately work against the scourge that has killed over 650,000 people around the world, including almost 150,000 in the U.S. Weve been sitting on the sidelines passively attempting to wear our masks and social distance and not go out when its not necessary. This is the first step of becoming active against this, said Dr. Frank Eder of Meridian Clinical Research, the company that runs the Binghamton trial site. Theres really no other way to get past this. As if to underline how high the stakes are, there were more setbacks in efforts to contain the coronavirus. In Washington, the Trump administration disclosed that national security adviser Robert OBrien has the virus the highest-ranking U.S. official to test positive so far. The White House said he has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site. The move to restart the national pastime ran into trouble just five days into the long-delayed season: Two major league baseball games scheduled for Monday night were called off as the Miami Marlins coped with an outbreak the Marlins home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees game in Philadelphia, where the Marlins used the clubhouse over the weekend. As for relief from the economic damage done by the virus, Republicans on Capitol Hill rolled out a $1 trillion package that includes another round of $1,200 direct payments but reduces the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits that expire for millions of Americans on Friday. Republicans proposed $200 a week, saying the generous bump discourages people from returning to work. Democrats call the added benefits a lifeline for those who have lost their jobs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows worked through the weekend on the GOP proposal and have agreed to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago. In Europe, rising infections in Spain and other countries caused alarm only weeks after nations reopened their borders in hopes of reviving tourism. Over the weekend, Britain imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Spain, Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France urged its citizens not to visit Spains Catalonia region. Scientists set speed records getting vaccines into massive testing just months after the coronavirus emerged. But they stressed that the public shouldnt fear that anyone is cutting corners. This is a significant milestone, NIH Director Francis Collins said after the first test injection of Moderna's vaccine was given, at 6:45 a.m. in Savannah, Georgia. Yes, were going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise on proving whether the vaccine is safe and effective. We are focusing on speed because every day matters, added Stephane Bancel, CEO of Massachusetts-based Moderna. After volunteers get two doses a month apart, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus is spreading unchecked. The answer probably wont come until November or December, cautioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIHs infectious-diseases chief. Among many questions the study may answer: How much protection does just one dose offer compared with the two scientists think are needed? If it works, will it protect against severe disease or block infection entirely? Dont expect a vaccine as strong as the measles vaccine, which prevents about 97% of measles infections, Fauci said, adding he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine thats 60% effective. Several other vaccines made by China and by Britains Oxford University began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month. But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country. Every month through the fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate, each with 30,000 volunteers. The final U.S. study of the Oxford shot is set to begin in August, followed by a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and one from Novavax in October. Thats a stunning number of people needed to roll up their sleeves for science. In recent weeks, more than 150,000 Americans filled out an online registry signaling interest, Collins said. But many more are needed. NIH is working to make sure that the study isnt just filled with healthy, younger volunteers but includes populations hit hardest by COVID-19, including older adults, those in poor health and African-Americans and Latinos. We really are going to depend upon that sense of volunteerism for individuals from every different corner of society if were going to really find out how this vaccine, and its potential to end this terrible pandemic, is go to work in each of those groups, Collins said. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Vitamin D deficiency unlikely to fully explain COVID-19's effect on people of color: Study - ABC News
Public health officials in the United Kingdom have launched an urgent review into the potential role of vitamin D in protecting people against the coronavirus, exploring whether vitamin D deficiency could help explain why Black and Asian citizens are more likely to die of the virus. This review comes in the wake of an alarming revelation that 94% of the doctors who have died from COVID 19 in the UK were Black, Asian and from other minority ethnic groups. "These figures are extremely disturbing," said Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, to the BBC. "This is a figure that cannot be explained on pure statistical variation," he said. A man exits Brixton underground station in Brixton, south London, April 23, 2020, during the lockdown designed to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus. A man exits Brixton underground station in Brixton, south London, April 23, 2020, during the lockdown designed to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images, FILE Experts agree that it's bad for your immune system to have low levels of vitamin D, some point to limited evidence that such a deficiency could make it harder to recover from lung infections. People with darker skin may need more sunlight to get the recommended levels of vitamin D than people with lighter skin, prompting the theory that Black and Asian British citizens may not be getting enough vitamin D, in turn making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. However, experts caution that this is just a theory, and would need to be supported with high-quality evidence, preferably from a randomized clinical trial designed specifically to answer this question. And they point out that vitamin D deficiency alone is unlikely to explain the stark disparities between different racial and ethnic groups when it comes to COVID-19. "There are likely to be many different reasons Black or Asian people are more likely to suffer from COVID-19 infection," said pharmacologist Andrew Hill, MD, of the University of Liverpool, in England, who is not involved in the urgent review. "More densely populated housing, higher prevalence of diabetes and hypertension, more likely to use public transport and also potentially low Vitamin D levels," Hill said. "I doubt that Vitamin D deficiency is the only reason for the higher risks of COVID-19 infection." Nevertheless, the UK government is exploring to what extent -- if any -- vitamin D might play a role in lung infections among the health of its minority citizens. A casket is placed into a hearse, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga., during the coronavirus pandemic. A casket is placed into a hearse, April 18, 2020, in Dawson, Ga., during the coronavirus pandemic.Brynn Anderson/AP In general, "it has long been known that vitamin D promotes good immunity," said Dr. Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York. However, studies have yet to prove that taking a supplement will help, according to Dr. Carlos del Rio, professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, in Atlanta. "There are a lot of diseases in which worse outcomes are associated with vitamin D deficiency, yet almost none has shown that restoring vitamin D leads to improved outcomes," del Rio said. "Bottom line, association does not mean causation," he said. And when it comes to COVID-19 specifically, experts agree data is inconclusive. Dr. Beth Kitchen, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Department of Nutrition Sciences, said that although several studies have suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency and coronavirus infection and COVID-19 severity, these studies so far have all been observational, meaning that there may actually be no link at all. Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, in Massachusetts, explains that in a number of studies, the apparent correlation between low vitamin D and worse COVID-19 outcomes disappears once researchers adjust for other factors that can also affect COVID-19 risk such as age, weight and socioeconomic deprivation. Such findings "do not support ... that vitamin D concentration may explain ethnic differences in COVID-19 infection," reported one such study that uses data from the UK Biobank, a resource that collects health data on half a million people from the UK. "It remains to be investigated properly, through randomized controlled trials, whether vitamin D can actually help prevent COVID-19 infection, or prevent severe illness," said Ellerin. For now, a spokesperson for Public Health England said the government will be collecting and reviewing existing evidence on vitamin D and the risk of acute respiratory tract infections, taking into consideration evidence on Black, Asian and other ethnic groups where available. The UK's regulatory agency, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), will publish a review on vitamin D sometime next week, with the help of Public Health England. However, experts stressed that relying on existing studies might not help answer this question, because existing studies skew heavily toward "observational" studies rather than the scientific gold-standard of randomized clinical trials. "Right now, no one can answer the question: Does vitamin D prevent severe COVID-19?" said Dr. Vincent Racaniello, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University, in New York. On June 18, the British Medical Association demanded more "tangible and urgent action" from the government to address the effects of COVID-19 on the country's minority communities. The association called for "immediate timelines for action plans instead of further consultations and reviews". Although a "theoretical possibility," it remains unclear whether vitamin D can protect against coronavirus infection, said Ellerin. Experts advise that if you have a specific vitamin deficiency, it is probably a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible ways to bolster your vitamin D intake. However, experts caution that for people who already get enough vitamin D from their food and from the sun, taking a supplement is unlikely to help and may even be harmful if consumed in excess. Hassal Lee, Neuroscience Ph.D. and student doctor at the University of Cambridge, U.K., is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman is the unit's coordinating producer.