For new stories every day, visit newscientist.com/news
Amazon oil row
moon’s surface and send back high-definition images and video. Additional prizes have now been introduced, with cash up for grabs for those who do not quite complete the challenge. The Lunar Arrival Milestone prize offers $1.75 million to spacecraft that either orbit the moon or try landing. The Soft Landing Milestone prize will award $3 million to any craft that successfully lands on the surface. The original competition offered $20 million to the first company to reach the moon by 2012. The prize money has risen as the deadline has been extended.
environmental assessments. But Total told New Scientist that those claims relied on “hypothetical” scenarios that the Brazilian environment agency Ibama demanded they simulate,
TO DRILL or not to drill. That is the question hanging over the Foz do Amazonas basin, an oil-rich area of sea 120 kilometres from the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil. As oil giants such as Total await “Claims that nearby a final decision from the Brazilian coastlines are at risk of oil spills rely on hypothetical government on whether drilling models, says Total” can go ahead, environmentalists have stepped up their opposition. Last week, Greenpeace argued for locations “where no actual that the coastlines of nearby drilling is planned”. islands – including Trinidad and Total says some models also Tobago and St Vincent – risked showed what would happen if a being inundated by oil spills, spill was left untended for 60 according to Total’s own days, which it says it would not do.
UK fracking warning
We see you
THE UK government wants to THE UK’s shale gas revolution has begun, but it might fizzle out almost be able to recognise individuals immediately. in live videos quickly, and it is Last week, extraction company spending big to do so. A contract Cuadrilla announced that it had put out to tender by the Home Office last week offers £4.6 million started drilling at a site in Lancashire. Cuadrilla hopes to use hydraulic for an upgrade to its automatic fracturing to extract gas from shale face recognition (AFR) software. rocks deep underground. Police forces in England and The hope has been that the UK Wales have databases containing could undergo a shale gas revolution about 16 million images of faces, similar to that of the US, helping the obtained from mugshots and country become less dependent on during questioning, that could imported natural gas. However, be used to identify people. For geologist John Underhill at example, in May, a man whose Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, image is in a police database was UK, says the UK’s wannabe frackers arrested in south Wales after AFR spotted him in footage from a van. are 55 million years too late. Underhill has found that the island Beyond that, AFR hasn’t had much success. Police trialled it last of Britain was lifted and tilted around year at Notting Hill Carnival, an event that draws 2 million visitors. Of the more than 400 arrests during the event, AFR wasn’t used in one. This failure is behind calls not to use it at this year’s festival. It is also opposed by civil liberties groups. Regulations on what governments can do with pictures are less strict than those for DNA and fingerprints. “Widespread use of facial recognition technology in public will have an impact on the freedom we take for granted [in] our daily lives,” says Harmit Kambo at Privacy International. “It turns us into walking ID cards.” –Too little, too late–
55 million years ago, in many places by more than a kilometre. This means much of the UK’s shale may be too cold to host significant amounts of gas. Rocks need to be at 80°C or more to hold gas, and that can only happen if they are buried at 2 to 3 kilometres, Underhill told New Scientist. What’s more, the tilting of the island means that the UK’s rocks are structured in a complex way, so will be harder to drill through than those in the US. “There’s a possibility that shale gas might work [to] a local extent,” says Underhill. But he says the idea that it could work on “an industrial scale”, enough to reduce the UK’s dependence on imports, is highly questionable.
Pick the right statins Statins are a safe way to reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease, but many people give up taking them because of muscle pains, a common side effect. A new form of genetic screening can help people avoid statins that might cause problems for them, allowing them to take their statins with confidence.
Western Canada ablaze Wildfires in British Columbia are now the worst on record for the Canadian province, surpassing the previous largest blaze in 1958. As New Scientist went to press, hundreds of fires had burned some 8900 square kilometres in total. About 45,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.
Gene clue to typhoid A mutation in a single gene makes people more susceptible to infection by Salmonella enterica, which causes typhoid fever. The mutation increases the cholesterol content of cells, something that makes it easier for the bacteria to get in (PNAS, doi. org/cb27). The finding also hints that cholesterol-lowering drugs might help protect against typhoid.
Bat-killer fungus traced White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the US since 2006. Now it seems the fungus that causes it was circulating in Europe a century ago: of 138 museum specimens tested, one French bat from 1918 was a carrier. US bat specimens of the same age tested negative, however, suggesting the fungus originated in Europe (Emerging Infectious Diseases, doi.org/cb28).
The upside of dying Mass deaths in nature are not always a bad thing. Experiments show that if one population of a species dies out, other groups survive longer. It may be because this cuts migration between groups, making them less likely to all crash at once (Nature Ecology and Evolution, doi.org/cb2s).
26 August 2017 | NewScientist | 5