1.20.2020 8:29 PM

Science

Inverse Daily: flying taxis pipe dream

Zero-carbon flying taxis might be on the near horizon, at least for those who can afford them.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

After a five-year battle, the landmark, youth-led climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, has been dismissed from the Ninth Circuit. It certainly didn’t exit with a whimper, though! Judge Josephine Staton wrote an impassioned defense of the lawsuit, which made the case that the federal government is violating the youth plaintiffs’ constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by failing to act on climate change.

“It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward the Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses,” wrote Staton.

This article is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day.

We’ve got you covered on the modern-day asteroid known as the climate crisis here at Inverse. And if you need a sobering refresher on the asteroid that led to the dinosaurs’ extinction, along with a new volcanic twist on this fascinating theory, be sure to check out Inverse science writer Passant Rabie’s story.

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“In the future, as these devices improve, and with access to 24/7, real-time data, it may be possible to identify rates of influenza on a daily instead of weekly basis.”

— Jennifer Radin, an epidemiologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

New, volcanic insights into the extinction of the dinosaurs

For a few years, scientists have had conflicting theories about what exactly killed the dinosaurs. Aside from the massive asteroid that crashed into Earth 66 million years ago, some have also been blaming a volcanic eruption in a region of India as a culprit in their murder.

However, a new study clears the volcano’s name, suggesting that gas emissions from the volcano took place long before the asteroid hit Earth. Instead, the volcano may have actually led to the formation of a new form of life.

According to the new research, at least 50 percent of the volcanic activity occurred years before the asteroid hit Earth. However, the volcano may have played a very different role. The gasses released during the volcanic eruptions could have shaped the rise of the Cenozoic species after the extinction.

Cenozoic species are large mammals that were able to thrive and procreate on Earth following the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. And the scientists believe they were able to do so because of the global warming effect created by the greenhouse gases released from the volcano.

The latest research adds to the everlasting debate of what exactly happened on Earth millions of years ago, and how it led to life as we know it today.

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Fitbits could track the flu

The next great “Contagion” is imminent, researchers caution. To predict when a pandemic will strike, researchers have harnessed a huge trove of data — collected by the Fitbit. (Whether people still wear Fitbits is another story.) By analyzing sleep and heart rate data from these fitness trackers, scientists say they can pinpoint where flu outbreaks and other infectious diseases are spreading — instantaneously.

This real-time surveillance could help public health officials respond faster to outbreaks, saving lives and curbing the spread of disease. The approach has some technological weaknesses, but if we can get wearables to work for large numbers of the population, they may be useful in tracking disease outbreaks all over the world — especially in places where traditional health monitoring is difficult, such as war zones and rural regions.

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Flying taxis are still mostly a pipe dream

Zero-carbon flying taxis might be on the near horizon, at least for those who can afford them. Toyota is partnering with Joby Aviation, a California-based startup, to develop 4-person passenger taxis that will land and take off like a helicopter. “Its all-electric powertrain allows for a near silent cruise while accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation,” reads Joby Aviation’s website.

These 200 mph flying taxis are expected to begin operation in 2023. However, there are a lot of technical challenges to unravel to actualize this vision. A recent study by Deloitte, the professional services network, found that “propulsion, situational-awareness systems, and advanced detection and collision-avoidance systems” are problem areas across the industry.

Flying taxis could prove to be as much of a false promise as self-driving cars, but only time will tell.

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The dance of two atoms, finally documented

You love to see it. I’m talking about atoms separating, bonding, and then separating again. It’s the first time scientists have ever been able to witness this process close-up on video — for a full, mesmerizing 18 seconds. Inverse’s Passant Rabie describes in perfect detail this dance of two atoms that underlies all of life: “But slowly, they bop closer and closer together, before the two tiny specks suddenly merge as one. The unified figure then starts to distort, jumping about at different angles, and then, the bond is broken,” she wrote. Then they merge once again, forming an everlasting molecule.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time when bond evolution, breaking, and formation was recorded on film at the atomic scale,” Andrei Khobystov, a professor at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement.

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