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Will rising seas claim Nasa's Kennedy Space Center?

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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

Growing up in a U.S. Navy family, I’ve spent most of my life along coasts, including a post in Italy when I was in my teens. I have vivid memories of visiting Venice then, crossing ornate bridges to exclaim over intricate glassworks. Recent headlines therefore caught my eye reporting that Venice is experiencing the worst floods in more than 50 years, likely tied to the effects of climate change.

But a similar tale of woe hit me even harder: Rising seas are coming for Kennedy Space Center. As Rachael Joy reports for Florida Today, the historic U.S. spaceport is weathering more extreme hurricanes and flooding due to higher sea levels. The area most at risk is Launch Complex 39A, the pad that sent Apollo 11 to the moon and that SpaceX now leases to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket. Admittedly, this news is only a facet of the ongoing climate crisis, but for a space geek like me, it’s a reminder of the palpable consequences of inaction in the face of global sea level rise.

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Today in a minute

Mysterious oxygen spike puzzles scientists. In spring and summer, the oxygen level rises on Mars, as do methane levels. Scientists are perplexed at the variance, which can't yet be explained. “Mars has fooled us again!” says Sushil Atreya, a planetary scientist at the University of Michigan.

“True polar wander.” The term refers to the significant rotation of the topmost layers of the planet, likely all the way down to the liquid outer core, even as Earth keeps turning daily around its usual spin axis. A massive shift 160 million years ago possibly caused an ecological collapse. Researchers determined plants and animals died in northeastern China, for example, as cool, damp forests dried and heated into deserts.

A victory against Ebola: European regulators approved a vaccine against Ebola. The vaccine, patented in 2003, already has been given to 250,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nature reports. An ongoing outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in the DRC since last year.

Ancient plumage: Scientists for the first time have found fossil features from dinosaurs that indicate the leviathans lived in the coldest parts of the world 118 million years ago. The fossils were found in Australia, which was connected to Antarctica then. “The discovery,” says paleontologist Benjamin Kear, “shows for the first time that a diverse array of feathered dinosaurs and flight-capable primitive birds inhabited the ancient polar regions.”

Fighting Nazis (in the skies): NASA got an up-close look at a distant piece of ice and rock in the Kuiper belt—and also changed its name to a Native American term meaning “sky.” Its previous nickname has been used by Nazis and white supremacists to refer to an ancient home of the Aryans, the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports.

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Beating the floods. The prolonged rain in the Great Lakes region last spring followed heavy snowmelt. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Erie reached its highest level on record. Keith Ladzinski photographed this scene in Port Clinton, Ohio. Many of the locals he spoke to in flooded areas have suffered serious damage to their businesses and homes, most citing insurance policies that won’t cover the damage, leaving them in difficult financial positions.

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This week in the night sky

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Planetary Pairing. At dusk on Saturday and Sunday, look toward the low southwestern sky to see a close encounter between Venus and Jupiter. The two worlds will appear as brilliant stars separated by only 1.5 degrees, a distance equal to three full-moon disks. Start your hunt about half an hour after sunset. People with even the smallest backyard telescopes will be able to see both planets as distinct disks; Jupiter will showcase its brown cloud belts, while Venus will appear as a miniature version of a gibbous moon. —Andrew Fazekas

The big takeaway

Gratitude. New York Times journalist Cara Buckley has sought how to live life fully when she is so wrapped up in the heating Earth and the changes that are destroying species. She went to a group meeting, in which she and an assigned partner talked about gratitude. "He told me he was grateful that he was living at a time when we could see gorgeous animals, plants and sprawling wilderness that might not be around much longer. My breath caught. I hadn’t thought of that. Something shifted. I noticed [his] eyes were red and leaky, and that mine were, too. Afterward ... I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld."

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One last glimpse

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Muddy ribbons. How to best show the bends and loops of the Mississippi? A mapmaker created these vibrant presentations from aerial laser data—known as lidar—to show the position and elevations of the Mississippi Delta. This stretch of the Big Muddy shows historical movement and shape-shifting across three counties in Mississippi.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading!