How to Make a Solar Eclipse Viewer

The moon will pass directly between the sun and the Earth on Monday, Aug. 21, causing a total solar eclipse. This will be the first total eclipse in 40 years to be visible from the continental U.S., and for the first time in 99 years, the path of totality — when the sun’s light is completely blocked by the moon — will travel across the length of the continent.

However, it’s extremely dangerous to look at the sun, even if most of its light is obscured by the moon. Just as a magnifying glass can focus enough sunlight onto a leaf to start a fire, the lens in your eye can also focus that sliver of light onto your retina to burn it. And because retinas have no pain receptors, you can permanently damage your vision without even feeling it happen. Let us make this perfectly clear: Don’t look at the sun during a solar eclipse!

That’s not to say you can’t watch it indirectly, though. The best way to view an eclipse is through a simple pinhole camera. To build one, all you need are a few household supplies: a box (a shoe box will work), a small piece of tinfoil, a white sheet of paper, tape, a pin or needle, and a box cutter or X-Acto knife.

Here’s how to make a solar eclipse viewer 5 easy steps:

Step 1. Cut a small hole (about 1 inch across) in one end of the shoe box, near an edge.

Step 2. Tape a piece of tinfoil over the hole.

Step 3. Using a pin or needle, punch a hole in the center of the foil.

Step 4. Tape a small piece of white paper to the inside of the box, at the opposite end from the foil-covered hole. The paper should be positioned so that light entering the box through the pin hole will hit it. This is where you’ll look for the sun.

Step 5. Cut a 1-inch-diameter hole in the box near the image screen (the white piece of paper), but on a different side of the box — the side adjacent to the screen. This is your viewing hole; it must be positioned such that you can look through it at an angle and see the image screen.

When the time comes for the eclipse, hold the shoe box so that it lines up with its own shadow, demonstrating that it is aligned with light from the sun. Stand so that when you look through the viewing hole, you can see a tiny bead of light on the image screen; that’s the sun. During the eclipse, you’ll see the shadow of the moon pass in front of the sun.

Earth-Like Planets Are Even Closer To Us Than We Thought

One of the great dreams of the 21st century is to get the heck off this rock for good, whether it’s Elon Musk trying to colonize Mars or the Kepler team’s ongoing discovery of planets across our galaxy. But the main question for astronomers is whether or not there are any planets in our relative neighborhood. And now it turns out there might be.

Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of California Santa Cruz have discovered four Earth-sized planets in orbit around Tau Ceti, a sun-like star in our same celestial city, so to speak. Even better, two are in the habitable zone, the Goldilocks distance that allows liquid water to form on a planet. This is particularly interesting because it helps refine a technique to find other Earth-like planets based on how stars “wobble,” tracking the minute gravitational effects of planets on the stars that orbit them.

There is, of course, a catch. Tau Ceti has an enormous amount of celestial space garbage circling it, meaning that any habitable planet around the star is likely being pounded by asteroids at a much higher rate than Earth. Living there would entail either living in bunkers or figuring out how to deflect all those burning rocks from our fragile futuristic space colonies. Still, this discovery is important both for refining the techniques and giving astronomers more idea of what to look for with sun-like stars. After all, if Tau Ceti is much like our own solar system, that implies there are other “friendly” systems out there worth discovering. And, in some far future, moving to.

NASA Has A Six-Figure Job Opening For Someone To Defend Earth From Aliens

US government scientists work hard to protect the public.

Some researchers study infectious diseases and effective treatments. Others ensure that drugs, food, vehicles, or consumer products live up to their claims and don’t harm anyone.

But the concerns over at NASA headquarters are, quite literally, extraterrestrial — which is why the space agency now has a job opening for “planetary protection officer.”

The gig? Help defend planet Earth from alien contamination, and also help Earth not contaminate alien worlds that it’s trying to explore.

The pay? A six-figure salary ranging from $124,406 to $187,000 per year, plus benefits, for three to five years.

A rare and cosmically important position

While many space agencies hire planetary protection officers, they’re often shared or part-time roles.

In fact, only two such full-time roles exist in the world: One at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.

That’s according to Catharine A. Conley, NASA’s current and sole planetary protection officer, whom Business Insider has interviewed a couple of times, most recently in March. (Conley and NASA did not immediately respond to our latest questions about her employment status and the open position.)

The job was created after the US signed and ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and it specifically relates to article IX of the document:

“States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

As part of the international agreement’s creation, its makers decided that any space mission must have less than a 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world.

“It’s a moderate level,” Conley previously said. “It’s not extremely careful, but it’s not extremely lax.”

This is why NASA’s planetary protection officer occasionally gets to travel to space centers around the world and analyse planet-bound robots. The officer helps ensure that we don’t accidentally contaminate a pristine world that a probe is landing on or, more often, is zooming by and taking pictures of.

For example, Congress and the president have green-lighted NASA to explore Europa: an icy, ocean-hiding, and potentially habitable moon of Jupiter. The goal of the initial $2.7 billion Europa Clipper mission is not to land on the moon, though, but to map its surface and look for clues about its hidden ocean and habitability.

Still, there’s a chance the robot could crash-land — and that’s where someone like Conley comes in to mitigate risk.

The concern also works the other way, most imminently for Mars.

The red planet is a frequent target for NASA because it’s oddly similar to Earth. It may have once been covered in water and able to support life, which is why many scientists are pushing hard for a Mars sample return mission, ostensibly to seek out signs of aliens.

While the expectation is not to scoop up freeze-dried Martian microbes — only ancient, microscopic fossils — there’s always the chance of an active contamination once those samples hit earthbound labs.

Again, this is where the planetary protection officer and her team come in: They help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce such risks.

“The phrase that we use is, ‘Break the chain of contact with Mars,'” Conley previously said of her work on such efforts.

No one ever said defending Earth had to be glorious all of the time, though; Conley said a typical week mostly involves a lot of emails and reading studies, proposals, and other materials.

Who qualifies as a candidate

An out-of-this-world job like Conley’s requires some equally extraordinary qualifications.

A candidate must have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, plus be an expert in “advanced knowledge” of planetary protection and all that it entails.

If you don’t have “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance,” then you may be wasting your time by submitting an application.

The job involves a lot of international coordination — space exploration is expensive and the costs are frequently shared by multiple nations — so NASA needs someone with “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”

Did we mention the advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics? You should have that on your resume, too.

The job comes with a “secret” security clearance, and noncitizens aren’t technically allowed to apply. (That rule is thanks to an executive order signed by former President Gerald R. Ford in 1976.)

Applications will be accepted through USAJobs.gov from July 13 through August 14.

What’s Really In Our Tap Water?

The tap water of nearly 280 million Americans is provided by community water systems monitored and regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While some public systems deliver a more pure product than others, the water coming out of your tap is overwhelmingly safe and can match almost all bottled water.

Cities and towns across the United States began disinfecting drinking water in the early 1900s, and the rate of waterborne illness dropped dramatically.

In 1900, for example, there were about 100 cases of typhoid fever for every 100,000 persons living in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, the rate had declined to 0.1 cases for every 100,000 persons, and 75 percent of those cases included people who had traveled overseas.

Still, testing by water utilities has found more than 250 contaminants in the tap water Americans drink, according an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. Many of the contaminants found were at levels that are legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act or state regulations, but above levels authoritative scientific studies have found to pose health risks, according to the EWG. In addition, there are no legal limits for the more than 160 unregulated contaminants the tests detected in the nation’s tap water, the group says.

The EWG’s Tap Water Database lets you search specifically for drinking water where you live so you can get specific information about contaminants that may be coming out of your tap.

The EPA sets standards and regulations for the presence and amount of about 90 different contaminants in public drinking water, including E.coliSalmonella, and Cryptosporidium species. Some of the contaminants — such as trihalomethanes, which can increase the risk of cancer — are a byproduct of the disinfection process. Other contaminates such as copper can come from corrosion of your household plumbing.

Some contaminants may cause gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders, particularly for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires public water suppliers to provide customers with annual drinking water quality reports, or consumer confidence reports (CCRs). The reports detail what contaminants have been detected in their drinking water and how these detection levels compare to national drinking water standards. Your water system’s CCR may be posted online.

But if you’re among the estimated 15 percent of Americans, or about 45 million people, who get their water from private ground water wells — you’re on your own. Private wells are not subject to EPA regulations.

Depending on your level of concern about the tap water — and the details in the water quality report from your water utility — you may want to install a home filter or buy a water filter pitcher.

Water filters using activated carbon will absorb organic contaminants that make the water smell and taste funky. Some carbon filters will also remove metals, such as lead and copper, and some cleaning solvents and pesticides.

Ion exchange filters will remove minerals, including fluoride.

A reverse osmosis unit removes most — but not all — contaminants. Such systems use a good deal of water, however.

Scientists Say You Should Play Video Games On Your Breaks At Work

It’s no secret that our jobs — often riddled with endless to-do lists and office politics — can be a source of tension. But a short break with some video games may be one of the best ways to help us relieve stress at work, a recent study suggests.

In surveys by the American Psychological Association from 2007 to 2015, work was consistently one of the most commonly named stressors, while a separate survey suggests that 80% of Americans may be stressed at work. All of that adds up — and considering stress is linked to impulsive decision-making, lowered productivity and a higher chance of mistakes, employers should really care about how we feel at work.

To test what helps alleviate employees the most, scientists asked 66 study participants to perform computer-based work that induces “cognitive fatigue,” which is often the result of stress, frustration or anxiety. Then they asked the participants to take a break, telling them to either rest quietly in the room without a phone or computer, take part in a guided relaxation exercise or play a video game called Sushi Cat for a bit.

Participants who just sat there reported little positive results after their break, while those who did de-stressing exercises felt less negative effects, the study said. However, only those who played the video game actually reported feeling better.

“We often try to power through the day to get more work finished, which might not be as effective as taking some time to detach for a few minutes,” Michael Rupp, one of the study authors and a doctoral student in human factors and cognitive psychology at the University of Central Florida, said in a release. “People should plan short breaks to make time for an engaging and enjoyable activity, such as video games, that can help them recharge.”

Now, we just have to convince our bosses a PS4 in the office is a worthy expense.

The Best Solar Eclipse Since 1918 Takes Place Next Month

In less than a month’s time, one of the finest solar eclipses since 1918 will pass across the United States. Weather permitting, the entire continent will be able to see the moon pass in front of the sun on 21 August 2017, as the total solar eclipse takes place.

Solar eclipse 2017: What time is the eclipse?

The total solar eclipse will start near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10.15am PDT (1.15pm EDT) and totality will end at 2.48pm EDT near Charleston, South Carolina. It will last around one hour and 40 minutes.

Solar eclipse 2017: Where will the eclipse be visible?

The total eclipse will only be visible over the US. NASA has produced an animated video showing the path of the eclipse. It shows the umbra (depicted as a black oval), penumbra (concentric shaded ovals) and the path of totality in red. The sun is also shown in a number of locations.

The path of totality is around 70 miles wide and will cross from West to East. Its longest duration will be over Illinois, where the sun will be covered for two minutes and 40 seconds.

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Solar eclipse 2017: What is a total eclipse?

The sun’s diameter is 400 times wider than the moon’s but is 400 times farther away. This geometry results in the sun and moon seeming to appear the same size when looked at from Earth. As they line up, the moon blocks the sun’s surface. This line-up occurs once every 12 to 18 months.

Partial solar eclipses occur when the alignment of the moon blocks only part of the sun, and these can occur more frequently.

During a total eclipse, the alignment occurs in such a way in which the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, appears to radiate around the shadow created by the moon. It looks like a ring of bright light bursting from the lunar disk.

Solar eclipse 2017: Why is the August eclipse so significant?

Beyond looking beautiful, and their rarity, total eclipses can be used for scientific purposes. In previous years, it has helped astronomers unlock the secrets of general relativity, coronal mass ejections, and the sun’s temperature.

“An eclipse teaches us so many things, but the 2017 eclipse is especially unique because of the uninterrupted land masses it will pass over,” said Dr Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will allow us to maximise our chance to collect data and connect the shadow of the moon to Earth science.”

The NASA-funded Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, or GLOBE, Program recently released an app that people watching the eclipse can use to gather scientific data. Each phone running the app will act like a ground sensor, feeding back information about the eclipse to create a simulation of this year’s eclipse and build a so-called 3-D radiative transfer model.

You can download the app from the GLOBE Observer site. To gather data you’ll need to register to become a citizen scientist and use a thermometer to measure air temperature. The app will guide you through the steps for collecting the data points and your observations will be recorded on an interactive map.

For example, studying the corona and its role in space will help astronomers understand the relationship between Earth and the sun, and offer clues to future space missions.

Solar eclipse 2017: How to watch the eclipse safely

NASA advises watching the solar eclipse through a filter that minimises ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. Eclipse glasses can be bought online. The only time it is safe to look at the eclipse is during the phase of totality, when the moon fully obscures the sun, but this lasts for seconds so it is better to watch through a filter at all times.

Tropical Storm Hilary Rises Up to Oppose Tropical Storm Don

On Monday, Tropical Storm Don took shape near the Caribbean in the Atlantic Ocean. That the storm shared a name with the sitting president seemed worthy of some snickering.

Then news came Tuesday of another tropical storm forming, this time in the Pacific. If it emerges, its name will be Hilary.

In other words, Hilary might soon be opposite Tropical Storm Don.

Right now, the air mass that could become Hilary hasn’t become a full fledged tropical storm, and forecasters are still somewhat doubtful that that’s going to happen. But just as Don got its name from the official list after becoming the fourth named Atlantic storm of the hurricane season, Hilary would be the eighth named Pacific storm of the season, and “Hilary” is the eighth name on the official list.

“Hilary” and “Don” aren’t some kind of weird meteorological political commentary, by the way. They’re drawn from a repeating list created by the World Meteorological Organization years in advance. Names only fall off the list if they become attached to particularly damaging storms, like Katrina.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast notes that the low pressure system, located about 800 miles southwest of the tip of Baja California, isn’t perfectly positioned to develop into a full-fledged storm. However, “only a small increase in the organization of this system could lead to the formation of a tropical depression at anytime.”

The NHC puts the odds of that happening in the next 48 hours at 80%.

Not-quite-Hilary is sandwiched between two other storms, Hurricane Fernanda and Tropical Storm Greg — both of which are moving harmlessly away from major landmasses at the moment.

Unlike Don, Hilary doesn’t seem to pose any immediate danger to the public.

Scientists Are One Step Closer to a Zika Vaccine

If you contract Zika during pregnancy, there’s currently no way to prevent your body from passing the virus along to your baby and triggering potentially devastating birth defects including microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormal head development, and other severe brain defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

It’s why researchers from Washington University School of Medicine are stoked about two new vaccines they’ve been testing to protect women from infecting their future babies before getting pregnant: In their study, which was recently published in the journal, Cell, the researchers injected female mice with a placebo or one of two experimental vaccines: The first (known as a “subunit vaccine,” in case you hear the term thrown around) is based on a genetic blueprint of the virus, while the other involves a live but weakened form of the Zika virus.

After vaccination, the mice became pregnant and were infected with Zika six days into their average 19-day pregnancies to simulate early-pregnancy exposure, when Zika can cause the most damage to a developing fetus. (The virus was passed along through the bloodstream, mimicking a bug bite. It didn’t simulate infection via semen, a totally different way to contract Zika during pregnancy, according to the CDC. This mode of transmission was not addressed in this experiment.)

A week after infection, researchers assessed the mothers, fetuses, and placentas of vaccinated mice, only to find that both vaccinations delivered: More than half of the placentas and fetuses given the subunit vaccine had no detectable trace of Zika, while the live-but-weakened vaccine left 78 percent of placentas and 83 percent of fetuses completely Zika-free.

In a second experiment, researchers assessed pregnancy outcomes under similar circumstances. The vaccinated mothers didn’t just remain healthy: Their babies were born with no detectable complications or trace of Zika.

Both vaccines appeared to have shifted the animals’ immune systems into high gear: Unlike mice given the placebos, vaccinated mice produced high levels of the antibodies that neutralize Zika, according to study authors.

While human studies are needed to confirm these findings and assess any adverse side effects, Zika-fearing women who’d like to have kids one day can rejoice that help is on the way.

What Are Sinkholes?

They’ve swallowed Corvettes in Kentucky, condos in Florida and homes in Texas. Clearly, sinkholes are not to be sneezed at. But what causes these collapses of supposedly solid ground?

Sinkholes are pits in the ground that form in areas where water gathers without external drainage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As water drains below ground, it can dissolve subterranean caverns, particularly in areas where the bedrock is made of water-soluble evaporate rocks such as salt or gypsum or of carbonate rocks such as limestone or dolomite.

Most of the time, sinkholes form gradually. Occasionally, though, the collapse is sudden. Those sudden sinkholes are often the ones that open up and swallow cars, homes and streets.

Geologists divide sinkholes into three types. The first is a dissolution or solution sinkhole. In this type of sinkhole, there is little soil or vegetation over the limestone or other bedrock. Water from rain and runoff slowly trickles through crevices in the bedrock, dissolving it. As a result, a depression gradually forms. Dissolution sinkholes sometimes become ponds if the depression gets lined with debris, trapping water inside. Dissolution sinkholes happen slowly and are generally not dangerous, but one that becomes a pond can drain suddenly if water makes it through the protective bottom layer.

The second type of sinkhole is a cover-subsidence sinkhole. These sinkholes happen in areas where sand covers the bedrock. The sand filters down into openings in the rock, gradually causing the land surface to sink. Continued erosion increases the size of the depression. Like dissolution sinkholes, cover-subsidence sinkholes happen slowly.

The most dangerous type of sinkhole is a cover-collapse sinkhole. In these cases, the bedrock is covered by a layer of clay. Beneath this ground cover, however, water dissolves an underground cavern. Gradually, ground sediments begin to erode, or spall, into the cavern from the bottom. The ground continues to crumble from beneath until only a thin layer remains between the surface and the underground opening. When that layer collapses, the sinkhole opens up suddenly, swallowing any structures on top.

Areas with underlying dissolvable rock are most susceptible to sinkholes. According to the USGS, the most dangerous spots are in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky.

There are often warning signs before a sinkhole collapse, however. The ground may slump noticeably, causing fence poles or trees to lean. Subsiding soil might also expose buried surfaces of trees or foundations, according to the Suwannee River Water Management District in Florida.

A structure threatened by a sinkhole may show small cracks, and doors and windows may stick or refuse to shut as the structure subtly settles. Circular patches of wilting vegetation or water gathering in small ponds where it never gathered before can also hint that the ground is failing.

An important warning sign is a “chimney hole” or “chimney sinkhole.” These are deep vertical holes of varying sizes with steep sides. Florida officials recommend fencing off chimney holes and reporting them to the county.

Sinkholes can be very destructive, but they are rarely deadly. An exception occurred in February 2013, when a sinkhole suddenly opened up under a bedroom in a home in Seffner, Fla., sending Jeffrey Bush, 37, tumbling to his death.

Bush’s brother Jeremy Bush attempted to rescue him minutes after the sinkhole opened, but found only a dirt-covered hole 20 feet (6 meters) across. Rescue crews deemed the ground too unstable to recover Jeffrey Bush’s body, and also condemned the two homes neighboring the residence.

A less tragic sinkhole opened up in February 2014 in Kentucky, swallowing eight cars at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green.

An enormous sinkhole in Louisiana in 2012, the Bayou Corne Sinkhole, created an environmental catastrophe by opening up a natural underground oil reservoir. The pit released not only oil, but also methane and hydrogen sulfide to the surface. About 350 people had to evacuate to escape the toxic gases. That sinkhole was caused by an underground mine collapse.

An Australian family was shocked in August 2016, when a similar human-influenced sinkhole suddenly opened up in their backyard. The water-filled sinkhole in the town of Ipswich in southeast Queensland was caused by the collapse of an old mine shaft.

Sinkholes can also appear when leaking water or sewer pipes undermine roadways. An investigation by the science news site Phys.org in May 2017 found that urban sinkholes seem to be a growing problem as cash-strapped cities neglect aging infrastructure. In January 2017, for example, a 55,000-pound Hydro-Vac truck sunk into a sinkhole in the parking lot of an auto shop in Oakwood, Georgia. The cause was a crumbling storm drain.

“Blue holes” are water-filled sinkholes in caves or in the ocean. The largest is Pozzo del Merro in Italy, which is at least 1,286 feet (392 m) deep. The Bahamas are home to the deepest Blue Hole with an underwater entrance, Dean’s Blue Hole. That sinkhole is 663 feet (202 m) deep.

Blue holes are magnets for tourists, which can cause environmental problems. A 2017 study in the journal Tourism Management found that runoff from the paving of parking lots as well as fuel leakage from visitors’ cars contaminated the water-filled sinkholes of Quintana Roo, Mexico, some of which were used by the ancient Mayans as sacrificial pits. Pollution levels rose and fell with the vacation season, the researchers reported.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the largest sinkhole in the world — these are unstable and difficult to explore geological features, after all — but a leading candidate is China’s “Heavenly Pit,” the Xiaozhai Tiankeng. This ancient sinkhole is about 2,170 feet (662 m) deep and 1,760 feet (527 m) wide.

Elon Musk Is Relaunching His Mysterious Website X.com

Elon Musk has just relaunched his website x.com. The billionaire recently re-bought the domain, which he lost after PayPal went public. Though no final figure has been confirmed, rumors suggest that he could have paid up to eight figures for the domain, which he previously said was of “great sentimental value” to him.

The site is currently empty, bar a solitary “x” in the lefthand corner, but Musk’s Twitter suggests that more information will be coming tomorrow.

While there’s no indication whether Musk will use the site for a whole new venture or an ongoing one, a new home for SpaceX would obviously be the logical choice. Check back for the announcement as it comes in.