Today is the birthday of one of the oddest, least-known, and most important inventors in American history. Hiram Maxim, inventor of the first automatic machine gun, was born today in 1840 in Sangerville, Maine. Maxim invented everything from automatic mousetraps to a prototype of the curling iron and got involved in lengthy legal disputes with Thomas Edison about the development of indoor electricity.
His Eureka moment came in 1882, when he encountered another American while visiting Vienna. “Hang your chemistry and electricity!” Maxim recalled his friends saying. “If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with greater facility.” Gruesome, but accurate. By the start of World War I in 1914, all the European armies were armed with Maxim guns. As much as Edison or the Wright Brothers, Hiram Maxim shaped the world we live in today.
Our question of the week: Last chance to answer this one. Would you live in a city on Mars? For the sake of the question, this city can look like whatever you want: aboveground, underground, domed, or terraformed. But would you make the big jump? Respond on our Google form and we'll publish our favorite answers next week!
Shooting star — SpaceX Starlink may be about to set an incredible record
While the city on Mars is still a dream for the moment, SpaceX has already figured out how to make a tidy profit right here on Earth. There are the rockets, of course, but don't forget the satellites. SpaceX's Starlink program, which promises high-speed internet through satellites, is making progress all the time.
And now, SpaceX's rocket launches look set to break a new record as the firm plans two Starlink launches in quick succession.
This week, the space-faring firm announced plans to launch two missions just over 24 hours apart. Both of them will see Falcon 9 rockets send up the 18th and 19th batches of Starlink satellites used to power its developing internet service.
What they're saying: “For the system to be economically viable, it’s really on the order of 1,000 satellites.” —Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, on Starlink.
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Silent Spring 2 — Will birds go extinct? Study reveals the impact of climate change
Once a humble aquatic biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Rachel Carson eventually became one of the most well-respected public advocates for science and the environment of her day, writing several bestselling books about marine life. But by far her greatest accomplishment was Silent Spring, a book that investigated the devastating effect a chemical compound known as DDT was having on birds.
Recent research suggests we may be undergoing a second Silent Spring, with record declines in bird species due to climate change. A new study corroborates this research, predicting a potentially sad future for the survival of birds. Published Thursday in the journal Science, the study compares modern-day research regarding birds and small mammals to data gathered a century ago in the Mojave Desert.
What they're saying: “Many of the desert birds that bird enthusiasts love to see will become more difficult to find, leaving the desert a quieter environment without birds.” —Eric Riddell, assistant professor in the ecology department at Iowa State University, to Inverse.
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Our highly politicized culture has meant that professions once generally seen as apolitical have become anything but. If a doctor speaks out on seemingly “hot-button” issues like gun control, reproductive rights, or even face masks, they often meet a torrent of criticism and threats. Some doctors report their patient portals being flooded with negative reviews or being threatened with rape or murder.
This harassment isn't just emotionally grueling. It can taint careers and ultimately drive people— especially women of color and underrepresented minorities — off the web. In turn, a vital, diverse range of voices is muffled online and people lose networking opportunities to connect positively across social media.
This interview with an oncologist about dealing with an onslaught of harassment on top of a pandemic is worth your time.
What they're saying: “The people who we see harassed the most are those whose voices we need to hear the most.” —Dr. Shikha Jain, a practicing physician in Chicago, to Inverse.
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Coming soon ...
What is reality? That's the question that Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek are trying to figure out in the new Amazon Prime movie Bliss. Wilson plays a father who is being stretched in a hundred different directions until Hayek's scientist offers him an astonishing new escape. But as scientists, including Bill Nye, start to suspect something is wrong with her research, Wilson is left with realities that threaten to collide in on him.
It's a high concept, but fear not: coming soon, Inverse will have an interview with Bliss director Mike Cahill as well as a review.
Ketamine's reputation precedes it. Known far and wide as a club drug that could be a fixture at raves, it can create a short-but-tense hallucinatory experience. For 30 to 60 minutes, users can experience everything from intense out-of-body euphoria to meeting God. But that's not all it can do, scientists say.
To treat depression, the neurons which control the hormones serotonin and dopamine in our brains seem to get all the attention. The evidence so far suggests people who have major depressive disorder may benefit from an artificial boost to these chemical messengers — so psychiatrists prescribe drugs like Prozac, claiming to do just that.
But here's the rub: The drugs don't always work. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some seven percent of all adults in the United States will experience at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, with the most affected group aged 18 to 25 years.
In the quest to find treatments, scientists are starting to take a closer look at another, less familiar contributor to the brain's ability to function. A new study suggests these distinctive, star-shaped brain cells may play a far more significant role in depression than scientists had believed. They could also help explain why ketamine is of such great interest as a treatment.
What they're saying: “What happens if there is no water at an American football match? There's no water and nobody maintains the grass... What happens? Football disappears, most likely.” —Jose Javier Miguel-Hidalgo is a professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, drawing a comparison to brain connections, to Inverse.
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But despite bird flu, swine flue, mad cow disease, ebola, and more, these pleas were largely ignored by policymakers and the general public — until a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 jumped from animals to humans. And now here we are, at the one-year anniversary point of a global pandemic that has upended life as we knew it.
The trigger species has long been presumed to be bats — but exactly how the virus made the leap, and why, has been the subject of debate. Climate scientists would tell you it was our own fault, pushing into bats' wild habitats and bringing ourselves in too close contact with the animals which carry these viruses.
Turns out, they are — at least in part — absolutely right. New research published Friday in the journal Science of the Total Environment provides concrete evidence for the theory that SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, originated in bats.
What they're saying: “There is strong evidence that climate change will further shift the geographic ranges of many of the world's species, which can put them, and the viruses they carry, into contact with new species that can result in novel viral transmissions.” — Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, to Inverse.
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- Study explains the controversial link between bats, rats, and Covid-19
- Meet the vet “detectives” searching for the next Covid-19
And if you're looking for more, check out our recommendation for the most important sci-fi movie on Hulu before it leaves next week.
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