By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
My husband’s dream vacation has long been a cruise around Antarctica, and I have long resisted based on one simple premise: It’s too cold! Normally, temperatures there hover around freezing even during the summer, and my chilly fingers tense up at the thought. So imagine my chagrin—mixed with existential dread—when news reports started appearing this month that the Antarctic Peninsula was hitting temperatures in the mid- to high 60s. Some of these measurements have yet to be confirmed, but if they bear out, they will become modern-day records for the frozen continent.
Such singular highs are alarming, for sure, but it’s even more worrisome that they are symptoms of a long-term trend. As writer Madeleine Stone reports for Nat Geo, dramatic warming over the past several decades set the stage for these kinds of temperature extremes to appear, and if warming continues, any newly announced records may quickly be broken.
As Antarctica glaciologist Peter Neff says, "it's part of the trend."
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Hello there: This close-up view shows a celestial meeting of the two brightest planets visible in Earth's sky. On this late November evening, Venus and Jupiter are seen next to the Lagoon Nebula, 4,100 light-years away in the galaxy. Photographer Babak Tafreshi, in Guatemala, captured the vivid colors of dusk in this tropical latitude before the planets disappeared behind towering cumulus clouds.
Read: The world’s top places to see the stars
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Today in a minute
Mapping a story: Three maps of East Africa tell the story of a massive swarm of locusts that threaten crops in five nations. In a sequence of maps, Nat Geo shows the huge cyclones that hit the region in 2018 and led to enhanced locust breeding; a rare storm in 2019 that kept conditions favorable, and today’s onslaught. “If we see this continued increase in the frequency of cyclones,” the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Keith Cressman tells us, “I think we can assume there will be more locust outbreaks and upsurges in the Horn of Africa.”
How coronavirus affects the body: Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever doesn’t mince words. “The disease can cast a storm over the whole human body,” McKeever writes. If COVID-19 is severe, she says in her explanation of its effects, it “can spark a viral-induced fire throughout many of a person’s organs.”
The end of trash: “Of the minerals, fossil fuels, foodstuffs, and other raw materials that we take from the Earth and turn into products, about two-thirds ends up as waste,” writes National Geographic’s editor in chief, Susan Goldberg. What would it take for us to break the cycle? Can we recapture waste and turn it into something else? It’s already happening, says our senior environment editor, Robert Kunzig, pointing to fungi filaments used to create compostable packaging and to an effort to turn beer waste into animal feed.
Cool: How come butterfly wings don’t overheat in the sun? Could we develop textures like that to keep us cool on a warming planet? Initial studies, UCLA’s Aaswath Raman tells Scientific American, “can inspire ways of efficiently getting rid of heat in very lightweight systems."
This week in the night sky
Lord of the Rings: Early risers looking toward the southeastern sky at dawn on Thursday will be greeted by a close conjunction of the waning crescent moon with the planet Saturn. They will appear to be only two degrees apart at their closest. If you have a small telescope, check out the planet’s rings, made from billions of chunks of ice and rock. Looking like a vinyl record, the rings are no wider than three miles and span about 150,000 miles across. —Andrew Fazekas
The big takeaway
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The last glimpse
Mucus grenades? It sounds like something in a juvenile comedy. But those grenades sting, scientists say. They have discovered microscopic stinging structures inside the mucus secreted by this creature, popularly known as the upside-down jellyfish.
Read: These jellyfish can sting you without touching you