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What to expect from science in 2019


SUPERMOON… The super blue blood moon that occurred January 31, 2018 ./ AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck

*Super Blood Wolf Moon to grace African, European, North American skies Jan 20-21
*Gene-editing, space probe, biosafety, climate change rethink set to shape research
*Electric powered device turns water into hydrogen, oxygen, could be used to power cities

Stakeholders are optimistic and have high expectations for research, science and technology in 2019.The supermoon and other astronomical spectacles, gene-editing, open access, biosafety, and climate change rethink are set to shape research in the New Year.The first full moon of 2019 is sure to be a spectacular sight. On the night of January 20-21, 2019 the full moon will bring a total lunar eclipse, which will cause Earth’s satellite to take on an eerie red glow in an effect that hass come to be known as the Blood Moon.

At the same time, the moon will sit at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, when it will appear massive in the night sky.According to a report first published by DailyMail UK, it will make for a striking combination of both a supermoon and the Blood Moon, and marks the last total lunar eclipse we will see until 2021.From start to finish, the umbral lunar eclipse will last just over three and-a-half hours, with totality accounting for roughly an hour of this time, according to EarthSky.

This is when the moon sits in the shadow of our planet, taking on a reddish hue as a result of light scattering through Earth’s atmosphere.The next total lunar eclipse comes around until May 26, 2021.The nighttime eclipse, or Blood Moon, will be visible in many parts of the world, including all of North America, and parts of Europe and Africa, according to TimeandDate.


Other regions, including the Middle East and the rest of Africa, will be able to catch a glimpse of a partial eclipse at moonset.It will not be visible in Australia and East Asia.As January’s full moon is already known as the Wolf Moon, the upcoming alignment of phenomena has made next month’s event sound particularly ominous.

Already, people have taken to calling it the ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon,’ among other variations.While partial eclipses will take place before and after totality – when the moon is completely in shadow – the total eclipse itself will last just over an hour.This is all dependent on where the moon falls within Earth’s shadow, EarthSky notes.The nighttime eclipse, or Blood Moon, will be visible in many parts of the world, including all of North America, and parts of Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile, the simple action of breathing in and out has inspired scientists to create a new technique for generating clean electricity. Engineers have designed a device that transforms water into fuel, based on the way our lungs work.The full findings of the study were published in the journal Joule.One hundred times thinner than a human hair, the gadget splits water into oxygen and hydrogen, which can be used to create carbon-emission free energy. This method could help existing green energy technologies – including fuel cells – to run more efficiently, researchers say.

These are currently used to power hydrogen busses and cars and could be used to power whole cities in the future.Stanford University set out to develop better electrocatalysts, materials that increase the rate of a chemical reaction at an electrode – an electrical conductor used in batteries and other energy storage systems.The team believes this material may be replaced with similarly thin non porous hydrophobic membranes capable of withstanding greater heat.


Gene-editing fallout
According to the journal Nature, geneticists will continue to deal with the repercussions of 2018’s claim by He Jiankui to have helped produce the world’s first gene-edited babies. Researchers hope to confirm whether He, a genome-editing researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, modified the genes of two embryos that produced twin girls. Following an international outcry, scientists will attempt to uncover any potential side effects of the process, and create a framework to ensure that any future efforts to edit heritable human Deoxy ribo Nucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material — such as that in eggs, sperm or embryos — happen in a responsible and regulated way.

Biosafety bible
According to the journal Nature, the World Health Organization expects to finish a major revision of its Laboratory Biosafety Manual in mid-2019. The widely used guidelines outline best practices for the safe handling of pathogens such as Ebola. This is the manual’s first overhaul since 2004. The revisions will increase the focus on creating site- and experiment-specific risk assessments, and on improving the management, practices and training of lab personnel. The rethink aims to discourage labs from approaching biosafety by rote, and encourage the creation of more flexible and effective procedures.

Climate tinkering
According to the journal Nature, as carbon emissions continue to rise, 2019 could see the first experiments that are explicitly aimed at understanding how to artificially cool the planet using a practice called solar geoengineering. Scientists behind the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) hope to spray 100-gram plumes of chalk-like particles into the stratosphere to observe how they disperse. Such particles could eventually cool the planet by reflecting some of the Sun’s rays back into space. Geoengineering sceptics worry that the practice could have unintended consequences and distract from efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The US-led SCoPEx team is awaiting the go-ahead from an independent advisory committee.

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