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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
I used to joke with my friend Bradley that we should do the science version of an epic rap battle; me in defense of deep space, and him championing the deep sea. It surprises me how often they are pitted against each other when it comes to research funding and public outreach. Both areas of exploration share so many challenges—the main one being getting humans to inhospitable places—and in a lot of ways, they share many of the same goals, such as broadening our understanding of where life might thrive.
Now, it seems we have the ultimate tie-breaker in former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan (pictured above). This week, she descended to the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, a whopping 6.9 miles below the surface of the Pacific. She accomplished this feat aboard a privately funded submersible, and she capped the experience by calling up the International Space Station, which recently welcomed two astronauts who launched into orbit aboard a privately funded rocket and space capsule.
I would have loved to listen in on that conversation—or better yet, be a fly on the wall at the get-together I imagine a few months from now, with these record-setting explorers back on dry land and comparing notes over a pint. Would they talk about the odd life-forms that dwell in Earth’s deepest seas, and how they may well resemble what we’d find in the oceans of a Jovian moon? Will they gripe about how cramped it can get in capsules built for such drastic extremes; one under crushing watery pressure, and one in the near-vacuum of space?
In my mind, they’d talk about how exciting and humbling it is to be an explorer, and how important it is that we are good stewards to even the most remote regions of the cosmos. As we push boundaries and make the most out of drastic leaps in technology, it’s good to be reminded that humans are capable of remarkable things. But these astronauts and oceanographers know all too keenly that humans are messy. They’ll be among the first to tell you that preventing a mess is far better than cleaning one up. For every story about plastic found in the bottom of the Mariana Trench, there’s one about debris littering low-Earth orbit.
Maybe sea and space have too much in common for a rap battle to really light up. But Bradley, old sparring partner, since Sullivan’s done both space and sea, I guess she should have the mic drop.
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Growing vertically: This futuristic vertical farming company is housed in a repurposed steel mill warehouse in one of New Jersey’s busiest industrial districts. The aim is to sustainably grow fresh vegetables in the shadow of New York City, while educating the community about nutrition. This way of growing uses 95 percent less water than would be required in a field, photographer Luca Locatelli says. “It is estimated that almost 30 percent of the food production inside the U.S. is wasted—but technology could change that. As a photographer, my work revolves around this transition humanity is facing as we look for new ways to live in the future.”
Related: How to feed the world without destroying the planet
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Today in a minute
What kind of weapons? Rubber bullets and tear gas the police have sprayed upon protesters the past two weeks may need to be reclassified from “non-lethal”—and questions are being raised as to why so many police forces have used these weapons so often and carelessly. “When misused,” writes Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever in her timely story, “these weapons break bones, burn the skin, and cause internal injuries that can be fatal.” Sadly, cases of serious injury abound in the past two weeks.
In related news: A group of scientists has called for police to stop using chemical irritants such as pepper spray at this time, saying these tactics could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. The irritants run the danger of "compromising the body’s ability to fight off the infection," Scientific American reports.
What isolation is doing to dementia patients: One husband, separated from his wife with early-onset dementia for the past 11 weeks, is concerned she will not be able to recognize him when they see each other again. Before COVID-19 restrictions on visitors to her memory care facility, they would listen to music together—something she still enjoyed. “It’s been truly heartbreaking to see,” Alyssa Kamp, a speech-language pathologist who works with dementia patients, tells Nat Geo. “They know their families haven’t been to visit them, but they can’t remember why.”
The monster that saved millions: The pacemaker has saved millions of lives since it was invented. So, what’s the monster? Well, inventor Earl Bakken was a fan of the 1931 movie Frankenstein, adapted from the 1818 novel, in which an electric current stimulated a body to life. “What intrigued me the most, as I sat through the movie again and again, was the creative spark of Dr. Frankenstein’s electricity,” Bakken is quoted as saying in the latest in our Sci-Fi to Sci video series.
The housing market and climate change: Maybe a jolt to mortgage-payers everywhere may move people to action on climate change. Fewer people are buying federally backed flood insurance, even as storms increase and more housing is vulnerable. “A series of disasters in a single region could trigger a full-blown housing crash,” Politico writes. Says Amalgamated Bank VP Ivan Frishberg: “Everyone is exposed in this. I’ve had conversations with all of the big banks and we are kind of all aware of this.”
Can't say this enough: There is no scientific basis for race. This made-up label has been used to define and separate people for millennia, Elizabeth Kolbert documents in this story in National Geographic's special 2018 issue, now made available to all after the police killing of George Floyd.
This week in the night sky
Mars meets the moon and Neptune: A sky-watching opportunity will present itself before dawn on Friday, as the planets Mars and Neptune have a close encounter. Turn your telescope toward the southern sky at the bright red, star-like Mars. Within the same low-magnification field-of-view, the much fainter bluish disk of Neptune will be visible. The brightness difference between these two worlds is astounding—Mars shines some 1,800 times brighter than the eighth world from the sun. Neptune sits so far from Earth that reflected sunlight off the cloud tops of this ice giant takes 250 minutes to reach us. By Saturday morning, look for the quarter moon paying a visit to the red planet in the southern sky. Both worlds will make for a stunning pair as seen with unaided eyes. — Andrew Fazekas
Subscriber exclusive: A brief history of human spaceflight
The big takeaway
Want to get away (from humans)? A new map shows the parts of the world where we aren’t. “If you want to know where in the world you can find a place that has not yet been transformed by agriculture, infrastructure, or settlements, [this map] is where to find it,” says global ecologist Erle Ellis, who contributed to the analysis. The map’s creators hope it will bolster arguments to preserve half of Earth’s land for nature, Emma Marris writes for Nat Geo.
Subscriber exclusive: The case for optimism about the Earth's future
In a few words
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On Thursday, Rachael Bale covers the latest in animal news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Whitney Johnson on photography, Debra Adams Simmons on history, and George Stone on travel.
Overheard at Nat Geo
The FBI took custody of a dinosaur? Yep, that’s one thing coming in the third season of Overheard, our Webby-winning podcast with Nat Geo’s Peter Gwin and Amy Briggs. Another: How is the coyote (pictured above) flourishing in North America when so many species aren’t? The podcast, as one guest puts it, is about "things you don’t learn about in your sanitized school." In past episodes, your curator has learned about diving through archaeologically rich caves in Mexico, bread (and graffiti) from nearly 2,000 years ago, and understandable and smart rat behavior. Catch the trailer here. New episodes begin on Tuesday right here.
The last glimpse
Can you erase a national monument? That’s what the U.S. president is essentially aiming for by opening up the Northeastern Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the East Coast to commercial fishing. The order, announced Friday, will be challenged in court, Laura Parker writes for Nat Geo. Native American tribes and environmental groups are already challenging administration efforts to reduce the size of two monuments in Utah. The change to the maritime areas, while not affecting their borders, would essentially render them useless, says marine biologist Enric Sala, founder of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas program. “If commercial fishing were allowed in a monument, it would become just a name on a map, and no different than any other place in the ocean.” Pictured above, pink bubblegum corals in the Seamounts monument provide a suitable habitat for two crabs.
Photos: The amazing sea life in the Seamounts Marine National Monument
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, and have a good week ahead.