Of love letters and distant galaxies: Uplifting stories from 2023

It was a turbulent year from start to end, but 2023 was not just about devastating wars, natural disasters and the cost-of-living crisis. The past 12 months also saw the approval of a revolutionary new malaria vaccine, a sharp drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, and an historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Nepal. FRANCE 24 lists the top good news stories of the year.

  • Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies

The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. Four months later, the European Space Agency released the first five images captured by the telescope – and they were as stunning as they were enlightening.

One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. The images also included a nebula resembling a horse’s head, part of the Orion constellation.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.

This undated handout obtained on November 2, 2023 from the European Space Agency shows an astronomical image of a Horsehead Nebula taken during ESA’s Euclid space mission. © ESA via AFP

  • Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. This build-up is the pathological hallmark of the illness, and its detection could help diagnose the condition long before symptoms appear. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.  

“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.

There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. The implant comprises an electrode field placed against the spinal cord as well as an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, which stimulates the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson's patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis.
Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson’s patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis. © Gabriel Monnet, AFP

  • WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’

In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine –the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.

“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya.
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya. © Brian Ongoro, AFP

  • Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.

Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. Meanwhile, the previously “critically endangered” saiga antelope, found mainly in Kazakhstan, was reclassified as “near threatened” thanks to local anti-poaching measures.

Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.

Une jeune antilope Saïga dans la steppe à la frontière des régions d'Akmola et de Kostanay au Kazakhstan, le 8 mai 2022.
A newborn Saiga calf lies in the steppe on the border of Akmola and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan on May 8, 2022. © Abduaziz Madyarov, AFP

  • Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory

A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.

The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.

Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. Discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, which dates from the same period as the Archaeopteryx but has very different features, implies that there may have been not just one, but a variety of different dino-birds around the world at the same time.

Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Un fossile d'Archaeopteryx, considéré comme
A 150-million-year-old fossil of an Archaeopteryx, considered the world’s oldest bird, pictured in 2010. © AFP

  • A much-needed respite for the Amazon

When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. While that goal is still far off, the incoming government’s efforts have already started to pay off.

In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22.3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.

According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of the country’s total emissions.

La déforestation de l'Amazonie a diminué de 22,3 % en un an en 2023 pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis cinq ans.
Deforestation in the Amazon fell by 22.3% year-on-year in 2023 to its lowest level in five years. © Michael Dantas, AFP

  • COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund

The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.

The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.

“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.

Le président de la COP28, Sultan al-Jaber annonce le vote de l'accord final mentionnant les énergies fossiles, le 13 décembre 2023, à Dubaï.
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber applauds as delegates reach an agreement at the climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. © Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

  • LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal

LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.

Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.

In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”

Ram Bahadur Gurung, femme transgenre et Surendra Pandey, lors d'une conférence de presse après avoir officialisé leur mariage, le 1er décembre 2023, à Kathmandou, au Népal.
Transgender woman Ram Bahadur Gurung and her partner Surendra Pandey hug each other after their wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal, on December 1, 2023. © Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters

  • Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on

“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. But Chamberlain never received them.

Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. It remained unopened in British archives until history professor Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge finally unsealed the missives.

The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.

Une lettre d'Anne Le Cerf à son mari, rédigée au 18e siècle, a finalement été ouverte et lue plus de 250 ans plus tard, en 2023.
A letter from Anne Le Cerf to her husband, written in the 18th century, was finally opened and read more than 250 years later, in 2023. © The National Archives via AFP

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed

Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.

The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.

Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Deux momies ont été découvertes à un mois d'intervalle, plusieurs mètres sous terre, dans la nécropole de Saqqarah, dans la région de Memphis, en Égypte.
Two mummies were discovered a month apart, several metres underground, in the Saqqarah necropolis in the Memphis region of Egypt. © Khaled Desouki, AFP

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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How to get tech right in Europe?

As our societies navigate challenging times and undergo widespread digital transformation, fostering growth in our homegrown tech businesses has never been more critical to achieving the wider goals of the European project.

Via EUTA. Kristin Skogen Lund, president, European Tech Alliance; CEO, Schibsted

The European Tech Alliance (EUTA) represents leading tech companies born and bred in Europe. We believe that with the right conditions, EU tech companies can enhance Europe’s resilience, boost our technological autonomy, protect and empower consumers, and promote European values such as transparency, the rule of law and innovation to the rest of the world.

The European Commission’s ambitious targets for 2030 in the Digital Decade program represent a vision for a sustainable and more prosperous digital future. However, more is needed if we are to achieve our goals.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years. To unlock European tech leadership both at home and beyond, we need to have an ambitious EU tech strategy to overcome growth obstacles, to make a political commitment to clear, targeted and risk-based rules, and to pursue consistent enforcement to match the globalized market we are in.

An EU strategy for European tech

We need a strategy for European tech that empowers digital companies to grow and use new innovation tools to deliver the best services and products, including personalized experiences, to their users. European tech companies are valuable assets for Europe. They deserve to be nurtured and supported.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years.

In practice, this could take on several forms. For instance, we need to unlock the power of data as a key lever for innovation while respecting consumer privacy. Privacy-enhancing technologies and pseudonymization should be further promoted by lawmakers and regulators to empower European companies to use data, grow and remain competitive.

A European strategy for talent to enhance European companies’ attractiveness could also be pursued. Developers should be pushing the limits of innovation, using their imaginations to improve the services and products from European companies, rather than focusing their unique talents on compliance tasks.

Lastly, EU tech companies should have a seat at the table when proposed rules affect their ability to invest in Europe and to provide good services, products and experiences. Bringing in expertise from the ground up would facilitate the growth of European champions at global, national and regional level.

Smart rules for a stronger Europe

The digital world is a fully-regulated sector with a wide range of new and updated rules. It is essential to give these rules time to play out before assessing their efficiency and impact on EU tech companies.

For instance, the EU’s consumer protection framework was recently updated with the ‘Omnibus Directive’. These new rules started applying from May 2022 onward only, yet they were up for another partial revision less than a year later. Businesses need time to put rules into practice, and lawmakers need time to analyze their effects in the real world, before amending the rulebook once again.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts. The ink of the Digital Services Act (DSA) was not even dry when some EU countries added extra layers of regulation at national level, such as the French law for online influencers and the proposed bill to secure and regulate the digital space. There must be a strong focus on avoiding national fragmentation where EU laws exist. Otherwise we are moving further away from a truly single market that is the cornerstone of European competitiveness.      

Where EU rules are needed, lawmakers should focus on concrete problems and be mindful of different tech business models, for example, retailers vs. marketplaces; new vs. second-hand goods, streaming vs. social media. Rules should address problems with specific business models instead of a one-size-fits-all approach or dictating specific product designs. Any proposed solution should also be proportionate to the problem identified.

Better enforcement for fairer competition

One of the big problems we face in Europe is ensuring a level playing field for all businesses, to achieve fair competition. The EU has enshrined these values in the Digital Markets Act (DMA). We must not lose sight of this ambition as we turn to the all-important task of enforcement of the DMA.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts.

Better cooperation should be encouraged between regulatory authorities at national level (for example, consumer, competition and data protection) but also among European countries and with the EU to ensure coherent application.

Now that the European Commission takes on the new role of rule enforcer, it’s of paramount importance to place a strong focus on independence, separate from political interests. This will ensure a robust and impartial enforcement mechanism that upholds the integrity of the regulatory framework.

What’s next?

European tech companies in the EUTA believe the EU can take two crucial steps for our competitiveness, so we can continue to invest in Europe’s technological innovation and European consumers.

First, the EU digital single market is incomplete, we need to avoid 27 different interpretations of the same EU rules. A strong harmonization push is needed for EU companies to grow faster across the Continent.

Second, we look toward the EU, national governments and authorities to bring economic competitiveness and innovation to the core of regulation, and then to enforce these rules fairly and equally.

EUTA members are companies born and bred in Europe. The EU is a crucial market and we are deeply committed to European citizens and European values. With our EUTA manifesto, we propose a vision so Europe can succeed, and our own European champions can grow and become global leaders.



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The scariest sci-fi horror movies for Halloween, chosen by an expert

“David Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror has never been put to better use” … Jeff Goldblum in The Fly

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I’m a horror nerd by trade. I completed a PhD on the subject and now I am the creator of Talking Scared, a podcast of conversations with the biggest names in the field. To settle on a concise list of science fiction horror films for spooky season, I had to winnow down the cross-pollinating history of the two genres. After all, horror and science fiction have had their tentacles entwined since Frankenstein’s monster first opened his yellowed eyes. My solution is to focus on films in which science and technology are the most substantial source of terror. That excludes a lot of amazing movies – there is no Alien, The Thing or Nope on this list – but here, in reverse order, are my choices for the greatest science fiction horror movies of recent decades.

Science may seek answers, but this adaption of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is more interested in ambiguity. The film follows an all-female group of scientists on an expedition into the “Shimmer”, a zone of high strangeness colonising Florida after a meteorite impact. The interior of the Shimmer is far more alien than any simple extraterrestrial encounter: there are fungal humanoids, mutated animals and a final confrontation that will leave viewers bewildered and bouncing between awe and despair. Alex Garland’s film aims for the psychedelia of Kubrick’s 2001, but it also contains a bear attack that will scare you in far more earthly ways.

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Natalie Portman and Gina Rodriguez in Annihilation

Peter Mountain

As mentioned above, sci-fi horror began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the character of the mad professor has been a staple of the genre ever since. In this schlocky, technicolour adaptation of a H. P. Lovecraft story, the sinister Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is busy perfecting his technique for reinvigorating the dead. However, they come back wrong, leading to both violence and a squirmy, oh-so-80s sleaze. Everything about the film is lurid, from the Day-Glo colours of the chemicals to the copious glistening innards, but Re-Animator is not a film that could ever be accused of taking itself too seriously.

If Re-Animator is a fun offspring of Frankenstein, Splice is the truly monstrous progeny. Vincenzo Natali’s film is another take on laboratory hubris, but what begins as a cautionary tale about genetic engineering becomes something wholly more disturbing. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a pair of scientists in love, whose attempt to splice animal and human DNA births the humanoid Dren. She’s cute to begin with, but we all know this act of godlike creation isn’t going to have a happy ending. Dren’s development provides some quite stunning creature design, as well as a shocking series of events that may constitute the most violent puberty of all time.

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“Monstrous progeny” … Splice

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It’s hard to say too much about The Endless without spoiling the intricacies that make it tick so perfectly. Let’s just say that time travel is an under-exploited source of terror in sci-fi horror and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are perhaps the first to plumb the sheer existential dread of temporal displacement. The film begins with two brothers paying a visit to the cult they were members of as children. That set-up is creepy enough, but the truth they discover is frightening in that 3am way, when thoughts of eternal torment rise to your mind. (Or is that just me?)

Leigh Whannel transmuted the familiar Invisible Man into a tech-driven tale of domestic torment. Elisabeth Moss plays Cee, wife of wealthy “optics engineer” Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is abusing her. When Griffin appears to die, it seems that Cee is finally free, but soon she comes to realise her husband is very much alive and is using his own tech to remain invisible. It’s a kind of technological haunting, a genuine white-knuckle piece of cinema, in which every dark corner contains potential menace. The Invisible Man was released on the cusp of the pandemic, meaning most people saw this at home. If anything, that makes the viewing all the more effective. You think your living room is empty… but is it?


Japanese film-makers were well ahead of the techno-horror curve around the turn of the millennium. From the cursed videotape in Ring (1998) to the, erm, cursed mobile phone in One Missed Call (2003), J-horror captured the anxieties of our newly digital culture. Pulse, however, offers the scariest proposition of all: the internet is sending ghosts to kill us! In the decades since, the web has become a more commonplace site of torment (see 2020’s pandemic-defining Zoom horror Host), but Pulse was the first to really tap into the way that online spaces can make humanity disappear, both literally and figuratively.

In good hands, the social sciences can be every bit as frightening as the most malign technology. The Spanish-language thought-experiment, The Platform, is set in an absurdist many-tiered prison, through which a descending platform carries a daily feast. There is enough for everyone if the prisoners take only what they need. If they don’t, those at the bottom starve. Cue an astonishingly vicious satire of personal greed versus community good. It may be my favourite film of recent years and I only wish more people could see it. The Platform could change the way we think about our consumption and our responsibilities, but it also has an awesome swordfight.

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“An astonishingly vicious satire of personal greed versus community good” … The Platform

Brandon Cronenberg is the son of body horror maestro David Cronenberg. In Possessor, the inheritance is clear. This is a gnarly movie, full of blood splatter, eye trauma and gore of the highest calibre. The technological premise is ripe for nightmares: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an assassin able to commandeer the bodies of others to carry out her hits. When Vos ports herself into Colin (Christopher Abbott), he won’t submit easily, leading to most brutal identity crisis ever seen on screen. Possessor resembles a Black Mirror episode on amphetamines: not for the faint-stomached, but brimming with ideas.

What the son can do so well, the father can do even better. The Fly is a B-movie elevated to tragedy, when Jeff Goldblum’s handsomely mad scientist inadvertently mingles his DNA with that of a common housefly. His slow, transformative deterioration into “Brundlefly” is chronicled in hideous detail, but it’s his loss of inner self that hurts. David Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror has never been put to better use, but by injecting some warmth into his typically frigid film-making, he created a masterpiece of mad science.

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“A haunted-house-in-space movie” … Event Horizon

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After nine movies, we finally get off our planet with a true cult classic. Maligned on release, Event Horizon rivals Alien as the best film ever set on a terrifyingly Gothic spaceship. Science is more central to Paul W. S. Anderson’s movie, though, with wormholes, hyperdrives and “folded space” playing their part in the titular ship’s mysterious reappearance. The question is: where has the Event Horizon been? And what has it brought back with it? This is a haunted-house-in-space movie, in which a rag-tag rescue crew is killed and/or psychologically unravelled by the demonic spaceship, but it is the few seconds of video footage revealing the horrific fate of the original crew that will really stay with you beyond Halloween.


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Why we need to improve heart health in Europe

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one killer in Europe. They cost the EU an estimated €282 billion in 2021, larger than the entire EU budget itself.[1] Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.[2]

Behind this data are individual stories of suffering and loss, of lives limited and horizons lowered by, for example, heart attack and stroke. These diseases directly affect every community in every country. And they strain our health services which must respond to cardiac emergencies as well as the ongoing care needs of chronic CVD patients.

Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.

Cardiovascular health is a priority not just because of the scale of its impact, but because of the scope we see for significant advances in outcomes for patients. We should take inspiration from the past: between 2000 and 2012, the death rate from CVDs fell by 37 percent in the five largest western European countries (France, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Italy).[2] This progress was achieved through a combination of medical innovations, and supported by a mix of health care policies and guidelines that propelled progress and improved patients’ lives.

New treatments can now help prevent strokes or treat pulmonary embolisms. Others can delay kidney disease progression, while at the same time preventing cardiovascular events.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.

And the research continues. Precision medicines are in development for inherited CVD-risk factors like elevated lipoprotein(a), which affects up to 20 percent of the population.[3] A new class of anti-thrombotics promises to bring better treatments for the prevention of clotting, without increasing the risk of bleeding. New precision cardiology approaches, such as gene therapy in congestive heart failure, are being investigated as potential cures.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.[4]

Getting the definitions right

This year’s World Heart Day, spearheaded by the World Heart Federation, comes amid the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation. The European Commission’s proposal of a narrow definition of unmet medical need, which could hamper innovation is causing deep concern across stakeholders.

Instead, a patient-centered definition of unmet medical need taking the full spectrum of patient needs into consideration, would incentivize more avenues of research addressing the needs of people living with chronic conditions. It would provide a basis for drafting the next chapter in the history of cardiovascular medicines — one that we hope will be written in Europe and benefit people in the EU and beyond. Not only would this inspire advances that help people to live longer, but it would also improve quality of life for those at risk of, and affected by, cardiovascular events.

Unmet medical need criteria currently included in the draft Pharmaceutical Legislation would do a disservice to patients by downplaying the chronic nature of many CVDs, and the importance of patient-reported outcomes and experience.[5] And many of the advances seen in recent decades would fall short of the narrow definition under consideration. This limited approach disregards incremental innovation, which might otherwise reduce pain, slow disease progression, or improve treatment adherence by taking account of patient preferences for how therapies are administered.

Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.

At this moment it is unclear how the unmet medical need criteria in the legislation will apply to these and other situations. Policymakers should create a multistakeholder platform with the space to discuss patients’ needs, getting expert views from medical societies, patients and industry to better understand the innovation environment. The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), a multistakeholder network comprised of 17 organizations in the CVD space in Europe, stands ready to inform policymakers about the CVD burden and the pressing needs of patients. [6] EACH not only supports the EU´s endeavor to develop more policies on CVD, it also supports and promotes the idea of an EU Cardiovascular Health Plan to work towards better patients’ health care across the EU and more equal health standards. So far, structured discussions with such stakeholders do not sufficiently take place, and we risk missing those opportunities, and lose in both patient access as well as R&D attractiveness of the EU.

Primary and secondary prevention

As well as driving future innovation, Europe must also make the best possible use of the tools we have now. We must do what works — everywhere.

At the heart of this approach is prevention. Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.[7] Primary prevention can dramatically reduce rates of heart attack, stroke and other CVDs. Secondary prevention, which includes screening and disease management, such as simple blood tests and urine tests, as well as blood pressure and BMI monitoring, has a key role to play in containing the burden of disease. [8]

Joint cardiovascular and diabetes health checks at primary care level, taking an evidence-based approach, would help diagnose and treat CVD before the onset of acute symptoms.[9] By following current treatment guidelines and protocols, health care professionals across Europe can help to prevent complications, improve health outcomes for patients and save health care costs. Also here, a multistakeholder approach is key. Policymakers should not miss out on listening to the CVD multistakeholder alliances that have already formed — at EU and at EU member countries level, as for example EACH. These partnerships are great ways for policymakers to better understand the needs of patients and to get the experts’ views.

Research-driven companies exist to meet the needs of patients in Europe and around the world. We need to create an environment that enables companies to embark on complex and unpredictable trials. That means having the rights incentives and clarity on the regulatory pathway for future treatments.


[1] https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Price-tag-on-cardiovascular-disease-in-Europe-higher-than-entire-EU-budget

[2] https://iris.unibocconi.it/retrieve/handle/11565/4023471/115818/Torbica%20EHJ%202019.pdf

[3] https://www.acc.org/Latest-in-Cardiology/Articles/2019/07/02/08/05/Lipoproteina-in-Clinical-Practice

[4] https://www.efpia.eu/about-medicines/use-of-medicines/disease-specific-groups/transforming-the-lives-of-people-living-with-cardiovascular-diseases/cvd-dashboards

[5] https://health.ec.europa.eu/medicinal-products/pharmaceutical-strategy-europe/reform-eu-pharmaceutical-legislation_en

[6] https://www.cardiovascular-alliance.eu/

[7] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.024154

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331469/

[9] https://www.efpia.eu/news-events/the-efpia-view/statements-press-releases/because-we-can-t-afford-not-to-let-s-make-a-joint-health-check-for-cardiovascular-disease-cvd-and-diabetes-happen/



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Beyond forgetfulness: Why we must act on Alzheimer’s disease now

In the face of an increasingly aging population, today’s reality reveals a harsh truth: health systems in the EU and beyond are ill-equipped to provide early and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and embrace innovative treatments that could help to preserve memory and, with it, independence.  

Recent advances suggest that timely intervention may hold the promise to slow the memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, making early diagnosis more critical than ever before. Yet without the necessary health care infrastructure in place to diagnose and provide treatment, we risk missing the crucial early window and the opportunity to delay — and hopefully in the near future prevent — distressing symptoms for patients and heartbreaking experiences for families.  

The EU and its member countries have the opportunity to be remembered for leading in this space by increasing funding for research, improving health care infrastructure to support accurate diagnosis and timely intervention, and enhancing support services at a national and regional level. The forthcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are the ideal moments to make that pledge. For individuals, families and health care systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb unless we invest in our future health today.  

The EU is not prepared for Alzheimer’s disease  

In Europe, approximately 7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a number set to double to 14 million by 2050.1 On top of the physical and emotional distress this will cause, there are direct financial and social implications on families and communities, with Alzheimer’s costs expected to reach a staggering €250 billion by 20302 — bigger than the GDP of Portugal3 — placing an additional and substantial weight on global health care systems that are already struggling under cost and capacity burdens.4 

Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

That’s why MEP Deirdre Clune is leading the call for a European Parliament hearing to discuss a focused EU strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients,” argues Clune. “Therefore, the EU must create a strategic framework which lays out clear recommendations for national governments and recognises the toll of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on societies across Europe, encourage innovation and take on board best practices to develop effective and efficient approaches. Together, with a unified approach and firm commitment, the EU can pave the way for better Alzheimer’s care.”

In the next EU political mandate, policymakers must answer the call by developing a comprehensive EU Beating Dementia Plan that specifically addresses the unique challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and building on established coordinated action plans for other significant health burdens, such as the EU Beating Cancer Plan. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s, RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper is a useful resource, calling for policymakers to rethink Alzheimer’s and offering policy recommendations to make tangible changes to improve the lives of people living with the disease.  

EU member countries must commit to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology and integrated care that can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage and ensure timely intervention resulting in the preservation of memory and, thereof, independent living and normal social functioning.  

Laying the foundations at national level  

While action is certainly needed at the EU level, huge opportunity lies at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the chance to apply well-funded national dementia plans that tailor their strategies and responses to address the distinct needs of their populations, making a real and meaningful impact on the people and health systems in their country.  

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Italian MP Annarita Patriarca, co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, affirms: “Primary responsibility of a member state is to ensure to all citizens the greatest standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. Thus, it is necessary to put in place a strong collaboration between the public and private sector to strengthen investments in neurological diseases. Improving patients’ diagnostic and care pathways, especially in a disease area like AD with such a high unmet medical need and societal impact will be the core focus of the intergroup.” 

Additionally, during the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference: a priority for the country in July, members of the Italian Parliament importantly put forward legislative and regulatory solutions to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis. 

Leading the conversation on the international stage   

Amid the growing burden of Alzheimer’s disease globally, this is a moment for policymakers to hold each other accountable. Member countries are uniquely placed to do this within the EU but also across the wider health care ecosystem, calling on countries and leaders to honor prior commitments that prioritized investment in relieving major health burdens, including Alzheimer’s.  

Encouragingly, the May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué specifically recognized and supported dementia as a freestanding issue, breaking away from the typical categorization with NCDs. Moreover, the G7 health ministers published a joint Communiqué spotlighting the priority to “enhance early detection, diagnosis and interventions, including developing care pathways and capability and capacity building of health and primary care providers by strengthening primary health care (PHC)”.  

These promising steps mean that Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves but also acts as a line in the sand to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in. Collectively, EU countries must assume a leading voice within the international fora, ensuring that Alzheimer’s disease remains a global health care priority and receives the investment it warrants. 

Time to commit to action in Alzheimer’s disease  

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month, and its theme Never Too Early, Never Too Late, reiterates the importance of early diagnosis. It presents a valuable foundation to initiate discussions on country- and regional-level strategies to drive and strengthen diagnostic infrastructure and services for the prevention, diagnosis, case management, monitoring and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories.

“Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories,” shares Frédéric Destrebecq, executive director of The European Brain Council. “By recognizing the urgency of the situation and making concerted investments, we can forge a path toward a more compassionate, empowered future for individuals, families and communities impacted by Alzheimer’s, and remember all those who’ve been lost to this devastating disease.”

It is never too early, never too late, to be remembered for taking action against this debilitating disease.  

References:  

1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

2 – Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, Kuca K. Predictions of Alzheimer’s disease treatment and care costs in European countries. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210958. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210958 

3 – Published by Statista Research Department, 20 J. GDP of European countries 2022. Statista. June 20, 2023. Accessed August 1, 2023. https://www.statista.com/statistics/685925/gdp-of-european-countries/. 

4 – The Economist. Why health-care services are in chaos everywhere. Available at:  https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2023/01/15/why-health-care-services-are-in-chaos-everywhere. Accessed: July 2023.  



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Is it possible to drill a hole straight through a planet?

It is the mission of children on beaches around the world: to dig through the centre of the planet and come out the other side. But such an endeavour is far from simple. Earth isn’t just sand and rocks all the way through – it holds a sea of molten iron, and the temperature and pressure near the middle would be enough to melt any ambitious digger, along with any tools they might use to make their hole.

In the second episode of the Dead Planets Society podcast, our intrepid hosts Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte dig into the question of what might happen if we were to bore a hole through a planet. Gas giants are probably a no-go, because the temperatures and pressures below their clouds are too intense for any material humans have ever made to stay intact, let alone for actual humans to survive.

For an indestructible vessel, though, the journey would be interesting, with strange gravitational effects and phases of matter we have never seen before. Maybe on a smaller world, like Pluto, you wouldn’t need an indestructible vessel – in fact, Pluto’s surface is so cold that a person’s body heat would be enough to start a borehole. Planetary scientists Konstantin Batygin and Baptiste Journaux join our hosts this week to talk about the logistics of drilling through an entire world, and what would happen if we could actually pull that off.

Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.

To listen, subscribe to New Scientist Weekly or visit our podcast page here.

Transcript

Chelsea Whyte: Now I want to skateboard with intention through Mars and do a sick flip on the way out.

Konstantin Batygin: There you go. There you go. Yes.

Chelsea Whyte: The X Games goes galactic.

Leah Crane: Welcome to the Galactic X Games, also known as Dead Planets Society.

Chelsea Whyte: This is a podcast where we imagine what would happen if we were given cosmic powers to rearrange the universe. I’m Chelsea Whyte, senior news editor at New Scientist.

Leah Crane: And I’m Leah Crane, physics and space reporter at New Scientist.

Chelsea Whyte: And today, we’re talking about destroying a planet. But only mostly destroying it. And we’re not discriminating, any planet will do.

Leah Crane: And we don’t necessarily want to wreck it entirely. We just want to bore a hole straight through the middle.

Chelsea Whyte: Yes. So big, small, doesn’t matter. Rocky, gas giant, who cares? Let’s go get one of these suckers.

Leah Crane: Yeah. We’ve got to figure out which planets it would be possible to drill through.

Chelsea Whyte: And that’s probably not going to be Earth, right? For a lot of reasons.

Leah Crane: Yeah, almost definitely not Earth. But we’ll get into that in a little bit when we talk about what it would be like to drill this big ol’ tunnel and how we could get it to stay open. But the planets are all different and this is really complicated, so we got some expert help.

Chelsea Whyte: Right. So we spoke with Baptiste Journaux from the University of Washington, and we’ll bring him in a little bit later.

Leah Crane: Yes but right now, we’ve got some information from Konstantin Batygin from Caltech who talked a bit about what the best planet to drill through might be.

Konstantin Batygin: You’d have the best chance of actually drilling a hole through Mars. Because, like, if you think about the Earth, right, eventually you’ll reach the liquid iron core and then you’re going to have to worry about the fact that it’s liquid, so it’s hard to drill a hole through liquid.

Leah Crane: Okay. So we want to pick the smallest one without a magnetic field.

Konstantin Batygin: Yes.

Leah Crane: Because no magnetic field means no moving liquid metal in the middle.

Konstantin Batygin: That’s right. So Mercury’s magnetic field is much more complicated, so we’ll see. But I think Mars is a good bet for this.

Chelsea Whyte: I mean, I’m on board, I’ve always wanted to shoot, Mars but it seems like we might have a hell of a time trying to get through the rock.

Leah Crane: Yes, that’s why Baptiste said we might want to aim for something a little bit smaller.

Baptiste Journaux: Digging a hole through a planet is incredibly hard, or near impossible if you think really, you know, about the physics of it. So literally the smaller the better, you know, as you might expect.

Chelsea Whyte: Is the smaller the better simply because there’s less distance to go? Or less gravity? Or all of it?

Baptiste Journaux: Actually, none of the above.

Chelsea Whyte: Oh.

Baptiste Journaux: The main problem is temperature. Because as soon as you start to go below the surface of a planet, there’s going to be remnant heat from the formation of that planet. Very quickly, you’re going to rise to temperatures that are way above the melting temperature of metals so you would just literally melt, like, the boring bits that you use. So that’s the main issue.

Chelsea Whyte: Okay. So our machinery would melt.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. I mean, before it would melt it would probably act like play dough, in a way. You would start to dig in but eventually you would get, like, so hot that even metals would start to become soft and they will just like, yes, become like very, almost gooey.

Chelsea Whyte: Okay.

Leah Crane: Okay, so if we’re using anything metal to drill this hole it’s going to become gumby and then melt.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. I mean, just to get things, like, if you actually look at real things that happened, we actually tried to dig a hole, the deepest possible hole in Siberia.

Leah Crane: The Kola Superdeep Borehole?

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, that’s right. The Kola Superdeep Borehole. And they went all the way down to roughly twelve kilometres. So twelve kilometres, that might seem a lot but it’s so small compared to the entire thickness of the Earth – that’s closer to 6,300 kilometres. So we didn’t even pass the crust. We were still inside the crust, we didn’t even punch through the first very thin layer of the Earth, we didn’t even enter the mantle, because the crust is roughly 30 kilometres in that area. And they had to stop mostly because of temperature because, like, the drill bits would just get destroyed.

Leah Crane: I wonder, I mean, I guess you have the same problem, but as much as smaller is better seems like the obvious choice, it also seems like gas is easier to get through than rocks. Would a gas planet be easier for a little bit, and then much worse, or…

Baptiste Journaux: Pretty much, I mean, the problem with gas is that it doesn’t stay in place so if you dig a hole then the gas that are next to it are just going to replace the gas that you just removed. But if you are to imagine that you would be able to apply a force field that just keeps the gas from going in-

Leah Crane: Yeah, or we just leave a tunnel behind us.

Baptiste Journaux: Here you go. We have this magic power and we can just keep whatever we remove from the hole from being replaced by the gas that is next to it, very quickly you’re going to run into the exact same type of problems, which is mostly temperature. Because on planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, even though the surface is really cold and, you know, you have the cloud deck and then you get to a higher pressure, the main problem is that the temperature is rising very quickly so very fast you’re going to past the melting point of lead or aluminium, all the other metals-

Chelsea Whyte: Humans. Yes. (Laughter).

Baptiste Journaux: And humans. And humans. That’s actually one of the things I tell in my class is that, what happens if you just drop someone in Jupiter? First they would probably suffocate because, you know, you can’t really breathe the atmosphere. But after this, while you fall, yeah, you’re going to literally get cooked and eventually you will dissolve in what we call metallic hydrogen. So it’s, like, hydrogen that is so compressed that it becomes metallic and it’s so hot that it can dissolve pretty much everything. And so you would just, like, dissolve things in the planet before you’d even reach even halfway through the planet you will get totally dissolved before that.

Chelsea Whyte: You become the gas planet.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. So gas and ice planets they are, kind of, it’s not a realistic description for what most of the volume is. Okay, there is gas at the exterior, but very quickly you become fluid because you pass this point, the thermodynamic point that we call the critical point where you cannot make the distinction between gas and liquids because you’re too high pressures and too high temperatures. And most of, Jupiter and Saturn for example, are mostly in this, like, super high pressure, super high temperature fluid state so they’re more like fluid planets rather than gas planets. So the temperature we’re talking about, I mean, very quickly you get into the thousands of kelvin but at the centre you can get to, yeah, tens of thousands of kelvin. I think it’s around, like, 30,000 kelvin or something like that.

Leah Crane: So even if we were able to dig through and leave a, sort of, slide behind us, of openness, the tunnel would be a really unpleasant place to hang out.

Baptiste Journaux: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It would be a terrible place. Actually if you have a tunnel, very quickly you will reach a place with this type of temperature and they would actually glow because, you know, anything that is hot emits a blackbody radiation. But because it’s hotter than the surface of the sun it would shine brighter than the surface of the sun so you would have, like, a hole that is emitting a bunch of light probably.

Leah Crane: Ooh.

Chelsea Whyte: Okay, but would the light come out either end?

Baptiste Journaux: Possibly, yes.

Leah Crane: It’s sounding more fun now.

Baptiste Journaux: You would have, like, a very, very expensive torchlight.

Leah Crane: So it would be blindingly bright.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, very impractical.

Leah Crane: Thousands of degrees.

Baptiste Journaux: Yeah. I mean, at 30,000 kelvin which is the temperature of the centre, yeah, most of the light coming from it would probably be in the ultraviolet but you will still have a lot of light coming from the visible spectrum so it will be very, very bright. So you have this extra bright spot coming from the tunnel, probably.

Chelsea Whyte: So you’d be blind and cooked. But let’s say I jumped in-

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, and dissolved.

Chelsea Whyte: And dissolved.

Leah Crane: You’d be soup.

Chelsea Whyte: If I wasn’t soup and I jumped in, would I also get stuck in that bad, awful middle place? Like, would the gravity, sort of, pull me in? Even if I got going pretty fast and overshot it wouldn’t it, kind of, yank me back and I would end up stuck?

Baptiste Journaux: So let’s take the idea of, like, we have a hole through a planet and you’re not cooked, you’re not burned or whatever, but you drop from the same altitude as the surface and just fall through the entire planet. So every planet is different and the evolution of the gravitational pull with distance to the centre can either increase or decrease when you get closer. So for example, on Earth, the gravitational attraction is pretty much the same until you reach, like, the core of the Earth. And then it starts to decrease. For planets like Jupiter or Saturn, the gravity actually increases as you go down because you get closer to the high density areas of the planet. So if you have, like, super high density areas it will actually attract you more. So if you were to just fall through that thing, what’s going to happen is you’re going to happen is you’re going to accelerate and the more you fall, you know, the more acceleration you get and so you arrive at the centre with an incredible speed.

Chelsea Whyte: So Konstantin had thoughts about this too. I asked him if I would go through all the way through and, sort of, pop out the other side and land on the surface or if I would get caught in the middle by gravity and fling back and forth forever.

Konstantin Batygin: At the centre, there’s zero gravitational acceleration because there’s no mass interior to you. But what would happen is you would fall in, you’d accelerate, you’d reach maximum speed as you go through the centre, and you’d come out the other side. I mean, it’s just like half pipe, right? Like, if you’re going down a half pipe on a skateboard, you’re going fastest at the bottom where it’s flat. Right? And then you come up to the other side of the half pipe and you’re not going very fast at all which is why you can do whatever you guys like to do on the half pipe.

Leah Crane: And if I’m not jumping through with intention then I’m just going to end up, sort of, wobbling back and forth, just like I would if I didn’t drop into the half pipe with intention.

Konstantin Batygin: Right.

Chelsea Whyte: Okay but now I want to skateboard with intention through Mars and do a sick flip on the way out.

Konstantin Batygin: There you go. There you go. Yes.

Chelsea Whyte: The X Games goes galactic.

Leah Crane: I love it. This would be the worst slide ever.

Chelsea Whyte: Yeah. It would be very unpleasant.

Baptiste Journaux: I mean, that would be really fun for the first five minutes. Maybe.

Leah Crane: That’s longer than I expected.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. After that it becomes very unpleasant but it’s going to be very unpleasant for a very short amount of time, so.

Leah Crane: Right. And then you’re dead.

Baptiste Journaux: It’s not going to be a very long torture. You’ll be cooked very quickly. I mean, the temperature in Earth for example, in the crust, increases by 30 Celsius per kilometre so, you know, after two or three kilometres you will already be above the boiling part of water so you’ll literally boil out and cook out after the first three kilometres, so. And that’s really close to the surface.

Chelsea Whyte: I think even just the first kilometre sounds like enough for me. That’s a lot of heat.

Leah Crane: Okay, so let’s say we’re not jumping in because of, we don’t want to die.

Chelsea Whyte: Fair enough.

Leah Crane: Then we don’t have to keep the tunnel open so it seems like a gas giant might be an easier target, because I can imagine myself burrowing through gas more easily than the liquid iron core of a planet.

Konstantin Batygin: I mean, you’d be burrowing through metallic hydrogen so it would be not too different after all. Right? Like, the moment you go down, I think it was 0.82 Jupiter radii or 0.92 but if you started going inside Jupiter, pretty quickly you reach a situation where hydrogen becomes a metal. And the interior pressure, of course in Jupiter, is larger than inside the Earth at, sort of, at the tens of megabars level.

Chelsea Whyte: Just to interject here, a megabar is a unit of pressure that’s about a million times the atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth.

Leah Crane: Every once in a while you get a reminder that a gas giant is maybe a bit of a misnomer.

Konstantin Batygin: Yes, I mean, it’s made out of hydrogen but hydrogen goes metallic under high pressure.

Chelsea Whyte: But what if you didn’t go straight through the centre? What if you, like, did a glancing blow? Sort of through the upper parts of Jupiter? I’m having a hard time picturing punching a hole through gas, in general, but would it be possible to keep something open?

Konstantin Batygin: I mean, it’s like being in an aeroplane. Right? And also Galileo had a probe that, sort of, did this. Galileo, not the person, but Galileo the spacecraft dropped in a probe into Jupiter and, you know, that’s how we know some of the abundances in the atmosphere. So yes, it’s a lot like being in an aeroplane.

Leah Crane: Yeah, I feel like the glancing blow is really, like, if we were to do a glancing blow through the centre of Earth, that’s just, like, a water line. Those exist, we’ve got tunnels. You’ve been on a train? That’s a glancing blow through Earth.

Chelsea Whyte: Yeah, yeah.

Konstantin Batygin: I think from now on we should rename all tunnels to glancing blows through the Earth.

Chelsea Whyte: Yes, correct.

Konstantin Batygin: It’s like, imagine you’re driving, right? And whatever your Siri or your Google Maps is like, ‘And now, execute a glancing blow to the Earth for point one miles.’

Leah Crane: Yeah. It’s like, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, I’m just travelling through the centre of the Earth.”

Chelsea Whyte: I like it.

Leah Crane: ‘Like, the centre?’ ‘No, just a little bit below the surface.’

Konstantin Batygin: Yes. I like it. I like it, this is good.

Leah Crane: So, my other thought if we’re not maintaining this bore hole is that I could just burrow through something icy like Pluto, like, inside of a heated drill bit or something.

Baptiste Journaux: Probably. Yeah, on Pluto-

Chelsea Whyte: But could a person live inside something hot enough to burrow through Pluto but not too hot to cook you?

Baptiste Journaux: So the main advantage of Pluto is that it is so cold, the surface is around 30 kelvin, you know, even a human at the surface, by just the body heat that we produce, would actually sink through.

Chelsea Whyte: You, yourself are the drill bit.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes.

Leah Crane: Yeah.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, you, yourself are the drill bit. Until you actually emit enough heat that your body temperature starts to cool down and then you just, like, freeze in place. I mean, that would be a very terrible way to die actually, like, drop someone on the surface of Pluto and-

Leah Crane: Just watch them melt.

Baptiste Journaux: See them, like, slowly sink. Yes, like, slowly sink through the surface and eventually disappear and being re-covered by nitrogen ice for example.

Leah Crane: Be just buried alive inside Pluto.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes because on Pluto we have different types of ice because it’s so cold that, you know, we’ve all heard that liquid nitrogen is really cold and we probably have seen liquid nitrogen, solid nitrogen is even colder and so if you were to put just a human- even in a spacesuit, the temperature of it will be enough to sublimate the nitrogen so you would just, like, literally sublimate yourself through until a certain depth and then, yes, you will get cool enough and you would probably get stuck there.

Chelsea Whyte: But Pluto is an interesting test case because we were talking about how other planets would get too hot, do we think Pluto would get very hot at its centre as well?

Baptiste Journaux: I mean, the temperature eventually will get too hot, that’s guaranteed. But it’s like, at what depth? That’s the main question I have. So yes, probably the first 300 kilometres would be okay, you know, at 300 kilometres we could be close to room temperature.

Chelsea Whyte: Oh.

Leah Crane: We can build a little house 300 kilometres under the surface of Pluto.

Baptiste Journaux: I mean, you would still be at a super high pressure so it would be better for, like, deep sea fishes. They would be very comfortable there.

Chelsea Whyte: Oh, okay.

Leah Crane: Okay.

Baptiste Journaux: It would be temperate for them.

Chelsea Whyte: So we just need a whale on this. Yes.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, like, a sperm whale would be very happy there probably.

Chelsea Whyte: Okay, heat up the sperm whale, send him to Pluto.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes, exactly. It’s super cheap. Small rockets.

Chelsea Whyte: Yes, just a tiny project.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. Yes, like, the sperm whale space programme.

Leah Crane: You could just build a really big catapult. Big trebuchet. Chuck a whale to Pluto.

Chelsea Whyte: In, like, a little water capsule that’s warm. See how far we can get it into the planet.

Baptiste Journaux: I mean, there’s not that many left so many we should leave the sperm whales alone.

Chelsea Whyte: Yes, I mean, we should be nice to them. But I think that would be, like, the most historic sperm whale. They would go down in sperm whale history.

Leah Crane: Yes, they could repopulate.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. I guess, yes. But, like, so when you go through Pluto you get to a possible ocean and at the bottom of the ocean it’s probably going to be around room temperature, but after you go below this you’ll probably hit, kind of, a rocky core probably, and this rocky core, actually the temperature will rise much faster. So once you get to the rocky core then it actually starts to become too high to be comfortable.

Leah Crane: You know how, like, fishing lakes are repopulated with fish? They basically have, like, the big cannon that they shoot salmon out of. It feels like we could do that in this situation.

Chelsea Whyte: With large whales?

Leah Crane: Just shoot a bunch of fish. If they’re not living at the bottom then they don’t even necessarily need to be whales, right? If they’re in that ocean, at the top of it.

Baptiste Journaux: Yes. I mean, the greater problem there is that you’re going to have to convince NASA that it’s a good idea in terms of what we call planetary protection. Have you heard of that?

Leah Crane: Mm. To turn Pluto into a big fish tank.

Chelsea Whyte: Yes, I don’t think they’re going to go for it.

Baptiste Journaux: It’s a little far. You know, it took us nine years with one of the fastest spacecrafts ever made, with New Horizons. That was launched in 2006 and it arrived in 2015, so it took us nine years and it was too fast to actually stop, so I’m not a huge believer in inter-planetary fishing.

Leah Crane: I think they’d all be dead by the time they got there. We’d have to create a salmon inter-generational spacecraft.

Chelsea Whyte: An inter-generational fish spaceship? What are you talking about? That sounds great.

Leah Crane: Go along then. You can be the fish queen.

Chelsea Whyte: My lifelong dream.

Leah Crane: You might just be a glorified aquarium technician.

Chelsea Whyte: Yeah okay, less good.

Leah Crane: And that’s our show, folks. Thank you to Konstantin and Baptiste for joining us today and, as always, a special thanks to our listeners.

Chelsea Whyte: And finally, if you have any cosmic object you want us to figure out how to destroy, let us know and it could be featured in a later episode of the podcast. Our email is [email protected].

Leah Crane: And if you enjoy our podcast, you might also enjoy my free monthly space newsletter, Launchpad. Check it out at newscientist.com/launchpad.

Chelsea Whyte: And if you just want to chat about this episode, or wrecking the cosmos in general, you can find us in Twitter @chelswhyte or @DownHereOnEarth.

Leah Crane: Thanks for joining us.

Chelsea Whyte: Bye.

Baptiste Journaux: First, we don’t know if there is an ocean so these poor salmons are going to get thrown onto a frozen surface, you’re going to end up with a bunch of frozen salmon. And we know how to do that, you know, it’s already something we know how to do.

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Explained | Artemis Accords – India-US space collaboration; How will it affect ISRO’s mission?

‘Even the sky is not the limit,’ declared Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 25, Thursday, while announcing that India has decided to join the Artemis Accords, marking a leap in Indo-US space cooperation.

“By taking the decision to join the Artemis Accords, we have taken a big leap forward in our space cooperation,” said Mr. Modi at a news conference at the White House with US President Joe Biden. India joins 26 other countries who have signed the non-binding treaty for space exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond.

As per the joint statement released by the White House, the two nations’ space agencies — National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) — will jointly send Indian astronauts, trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024. The statement also mentions India’s signing of the Artemis Accords to advance a common vision of space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.

What are the Artemis Accords?

Based on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST), the Artemis Accords were established by the U.S. State Department and NASA with seven other founding members — Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom— in 2020 for setting common principles to govern civil exploration and use of outer space, the moon, Mars, comets, and asteroids, for peaceful purposes.

The 27 signatories to the Artemis Accords are the US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K,. Ukraine, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Bahrain, Singapore, Colombia, France, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Czech Republic, Spain, Ecuador, and now, India.

Commitments under the Accords

Under the Artemis Accords, the signatories will implement memorandum of understanding (MOUs) between governments or agencies to conduct space activities for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law. They are committed to share national space policies transparently with one another and scientific information resulting from their activities with the public and the international scientific community on a good-faith basis.

The signatories recognise common exploration infrastructure including fuel storage and delivery systems, landing structures, communications systems, and power systems to enhance scientific discovery and commercial utilisation. The members will have to render necessary assistance to personnel in outer space who are in distress.

All relevant space objects must be registered by the signatories and they must openly share scientific data in a timely fashion. Private sectors are exempted from sharing scientific data unless they are performing space activities on behalf of a signatory. The members are expected to preserve outer space heritage, including historic human or robotic landing sites, artefacts and evidence of activity on celestial bodies.

The utilisation of space resources, including recoveries from the surface of the moon, Mars, comets, or asteroid should be done in support of safe and sustainable space activities. The usage of such resources by a signatory must not interfere with that of another signatory and information regarding the location and nature of space-based activities must be shared to avoid this. Signatories must notify and coordinate with one another to create a ‘safety zone’ to avoid any such interference.

Members must plan for mitigation of orbital debri, including safe and timely disposal of spacecraft at the end of missions. They must also limit the generation of new, long-lived harmful debris to a minimum.

The principles under these Accords must be periodically reviewed and potential areas of future cooperation must be discussed.

What are the activities under Artemis programme?

The initial three missions of the programme are Artemis-I, II and III.

Under Artemis-I, NASA launched its spacecraft ‘Orion’ on its indigenously built super heavy-lift launch vehicle (SLS) directly to the moon on a single mission. On November 16, 2022, the SLS carrying Orion commenced its first uncrewed integrated flight test from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The Orion completed a lunar flyby, performing a half revolution around the moon before returning to the earth’s orbit and splashing down on December 11, 2022, in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2024, NASA’s Artemis-2 programme will commence, with a crew of four astronauts onboard the SLS performing multiple manoeuvres on an expanding orbit around the Earth on the Orion, conducting a lunar flyby and returning to the earth. The crew will perform tests on systems like communication, life support, and navigation and perform a proximity operations demonstration which will help in docking and undocking for Artemis-III.

ASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Hammock Koch, and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen are the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon on Artemis II

ASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Hammock Koch, and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen are the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon on Artemis II
| Photo Credit:
JAMES M BLAIR

The four member crew finalised by NASA are Reid Wiseman (commander) from Canada, Victor Glover (pilot), Christina Hammock Koch (mission specialist) and Jeremy Hansen (mission specialist) from the US. The mission will create history by sending the first woman and person of colour to land on the moon. Currently, the crew is undergoing training while different modules of Orion are undergoing tests.

Under Artemis-III, humans will return to the moon in 2025. This mission will witness the four-member crew land on the moon, conduct a week-long lunar exploration, perform a lunar flyby, and return to earth.

Gateway - An orbital outpost around the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface

Gateway – An orbital outpost around the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface

In future missions under the Artemis programme, NASA aims to land a second crew on the moon in 2028 and establish a Lunar Gateway station where astronauts will land in 2029. NASA also aims to set up a permanent base on the lunar surface and then proceed to send astronauts to Mars.

India’s space/moon mission & role in Artemis

India’s space agency ISRO already had two programmes — Chandrayaan and Gaganyaan — before the country signed the Artemis Accords. Under Gaganyaan, ISRO will demonstrate its capability for human spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and a safe return to the earth. The mission has two unmanned flights and one manned flight planned to the ISS.

ISRO tests recovery procedures for the Gaganyaan astronaut mission targeted to launch in 2024

ISRO tests recovery procedures for the Gaganyaan astronaut mission targeted to launch in 2024

While the first unmanned mission was to be launched in 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the schedule by a year. Now, the first unmanned flight will happen at the beginning of next year and the crewed mission is projected to be done by the end of 2024. The four astronauts selected for the mission completed their generic space flight training at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Russia, and since then have been in India undergoing tests and physical training. They will be sent for final training to the Kennedy Space Centre, US, in 2024.

India’s second attempt to ‘soft land’ on the moon — Chandrayaan-3 — is set to launch in mid-July this year. ISRO chief S. Somnath said that the Chandrayaan-3 vessel has been moved from U.R. Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru to Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The initial operation checks of the satellites, launch vehicle, orbiter, lander and rover are ongoing. Similar to Chandrayaan-2, India will attempt to launch an orbiter to the lunar orbit and land a rover on the south pole of the lunar surface.

Image of Chandrayaan-2 rocket lift-off

Image of Chandrayaan-2 rocket lift-off

With India signing the Artemis Accords, it will be a part of the US’ attempt to land humans on the moon by 2025. Moreover, ISRO is likely to collaborate on further Artemis missions including the Lunar Gateway, Mars landing and establishing a permanent lunar base. India also aims to establish its own space station similar to the ISS and China’s Tiangong space station.

Hailing India’s decision to sign the Artemis Accords, Ashok GV, Director, Legal Affairs of Spaceport Sarabhai, an Indian space think tank, said that it could provide a foundation for more streamlined and liberal exchange of technology and a flow of capital for India’s space program. “It provides impetus to India’s aspirations to be a key influencer in humankind’s efforts to mark its presence in the moon and beyond,” he said.



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Rise in space tourism, rocket launches pose new threat to ozone layer, researchers warn

New research shows that increased space travel could undo efforts to repair the hole in the ozone layer. Successful global coordination to ban harmful chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gasses and restore the ozone was a rare climate triumph – but can it be replicated in the face of a potential new threat? 

Researchers in New Zealand have warned that expected increases in space travel are likely to damage the Earth’s ozone layer if coordinated action is not taken. 

Although emissions from rocket launches are currently relatively small compared to other human activities, they could grow to rival emissions from the aviation industry in coming decades, researchers from the University of Canterbury wrote in a new article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 

“Many emissions products from rocket launches are ozone-depleting, and the threat to the ozone layer could be significant,” they wrote. 

The ozone is a protective layer of the atmosphere that sits 15 to 50km above the Earth’s surface and absorbs almost all of the sun’s UV light, which can be harmful to humans and wildlife. 

CFCs and other harmful chemicals have depleted the ozone layer, notably over both the Arctic and Antarctic. But the degradation is most pronounced in the southern hemisphere, where a significant hole in the ozone layer has formed every spring since 1979.      

A billion-dollar industry 

Rocket launches pose a danger to the Earth’s protective layer as they emit damaging gasses and particles “directly into the middle and upper atmosphere, where the protective ozone layer resides”, the researchers wrote. 

In addition to harmful substances released by burning rocket fuel, space debris from parts that burn up upon their return to Earth also disperses damaging particles into the atmosphere.    

Without developments in rocket and fuel technologies, these emissions are set to increase as the space sector grows rapidly in every region of the world.  

Around 70 nations now have space agencies and private space companies are also becoming more common. The “billionaire space race” – led by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – is pushing satellite and space tourism initiatives that “suggest an upwards trend in global launch totals”, the researchers wrote.     

“We’ve seen rocket launches almost doubling in three years and there are missions aiming towards launching up to as many as three rockets a day, which is just unprecedented,” said Dr. Eloise Marais, associate professor in physical geography at University College London.  

“With the potential for growth in the space sector, there is reason to be concerned; the pollution coming from rocket launchers and disposal of space junk isn’t regulated under any framework.”

Globally, smaller companies are also proliferating. India alone had a total of total of 368 space tech businesses as of May 2021, due to heavy investment in its own commercial space industry. 

The global space launch market was valued at almost $14.5 billion in 2022 and is expected to almost triple, to close to $43 billion, by 2030. 

An environmental success story 

There is strong precedent for introducing regulatory framework to protect the atmosphere.  

In 1987, the international Montreal Protocol aimed to reduce damage to the ozone layer by phasing out harmful CFCs, which were widely used for refrigeration, solvents, in aerosols and for industrial activities. 

“It’s been quoted as the most successful global environmental treaty there’s ever been,” says Martyn Chipperfield, professor at the University of Leeds and senior researcher at the UK’s National Centre for Earth Observation. Adoption of the treaty has avoided “catastrophic ozone depletion”, he said.  

UN report in January confirmed the global phase-out of nearly 99 percent of banned ozone-depleting substances. As a result, the hole in the ozone is shrinking and is on track to recover within four decades.   

Without the protocol it is estimated that two-thirds of the ozone layer would have been destroyed by 2065, and the amount of damaging solar radiation reaching the Earth would have more than doubled. 

This rare success story has been touted as an example for other environmental progress. “Ozone action sets a precedent for climate action,” said the World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, Petteri Taalas. “Our success in phasing out ozone-eating chemicals shows us what can and must be done – as a matter of urgency – to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases and so limit temperature increase.” 

Goodwill and action? 

However, the circumstances of the Montreal treaty made it uniquely poised for widespread adoption and success. “Industry was on board with the controls, because they could see there was a move to control CFCs and they had alternatives, and there was a multilateral fund which enabled non-developed countries to transition to other alternatives without financial penalties,” Chipperfield said. 

“And the initial protocol was very modest in its aims; it said, as the science becomes clearer, we can have amendments to make it stronger. And in due course, there were these amendments.”  

By contrast, there is no obvious clean replacement for rocket fuels currently in use and little impetus to regulate a small – but rapidly expanding ­– sector, even though there are pressing environmental concerns to consider. 

One of these is the black carbon that is released into the atmosphere in the form of soot particles as a result of each rocket launch. These particles can linger in the higher levels of the atmosphere, where there is no rain to wash them out, for two and a half years before they settle back to earth.  

“They are very, very efficient at absorbing the sun’s rays, so they warm up the local atmosphere and they offset the energy balance of the earth and impact climate,” said Marais. 

As the space industry grows, researchers in New Zealand are calling for coordinated global action to measure emissions from launch vehicles and share data to build a picture of the environmental risk rocket launches may pose.  

They also suggest that effects on ozone should be incorporated into industry best-practices for rocket design and development. 

“Ozone recovery has been a global success story. We want to ensure that future rocket launches continue that sustainable recovery,” said a co-author of the research, Dr. Laura Revell, an associate professor in environmental physics. 

There is hope among experts that more steps can be taken. “People do care about the ozone layer,” said Chipperfield. “You’d hope there would be some goodwill and action taken like there was last time it was threatened.” 

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