Security researchers working in Google’s Project Zero team say they have discovered a number of hacked websites which used previously undisclosed security flaws to indiscriminately attack any iPhone that visited them. Motherboard reports that the attack could be one of the largest ever conducted against iPhone users. If a user visited one of the malicious websites using a vulnerable device, then their personal files, messages, and real time location data could be compromised. After reporting their findings to Apple, the iPhone manufacturer patched the vulnerabilities earlier this year.

Motherboard notes that the attack could have allowed the sites to install an implant with access to an iPhone’s keychain. This would have given the attackers access to any credentials or certificates contained within it, and could also allow them to access the databases of seemingly secure messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage. Despite these apps using end-to-end encryption for the transfer of messages, if an end device was compromised by this attack, then an attacker could access previously encrypted messages in plain text.
The attack is notable because of how indiscriminate it is. Motherboard notes that other attacks are typically more targeted, with individual links being sent to targets. In this case, simply visiting a malicious site could be enough to be attacked, and for an implant to be installed on a device. The researchers estimate that the compromised sites were visited by thousands of visitors each week.

The implant installed by the malicious sites would be deleted if a user rebooted their phone. However, the researchers say that since the attack compromises a device’s keychain, then the attackers could gain access to any authentication tokens it contains, and these could be used to maintain access to accounts and services long after the implant has disappeared from a compromised device.

In total, the researchers say they discovered 14 vulnerabilities across five different exploit chains, including one which was unpatched at the time the researchers discovered it. iOS versions 10 through 12 were all affected by the vulnerabilities, which the researchers say indicates that the attackers were attempting to hack users over at least two years.

The team says they contacted Apple to report the vulnerability back in February, and gave the company just seven days to patch it. TechCrunch notes that this is a far shorter deadline than the typical 90-day window usually given by researchers, and likely reflects how serious the vulnerabilities are. Apple patched the vulnerabilities with iOS 12.1.4, the same update that fixed a major FaceTime security flaw.

Although the vulnerabilities have now been patched, the researchers note that there are likely to be more out there that they’re yet to discover. “For this one campaign that we’ve seen, there are almost certainly others that are yet to be seen,” they write. You can find full details of the exploits in the researcher’s blog post.

“Breaking Bad”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks and the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, had a radical idea for the final season of “Breaking Bad.” The New York Times carpetbagger Kyle Buchanan shared on social media some outtake quotes from his interview with Katzenberg in which the film executive reveals he once offered the team behind “Breaking Bad” a whopping $75 million to produce three additional episodes of the series.

“I met with them maybe four or five months before the final season aired,” Katzenberg said. “I made a proposal to them that I would buy from them three additional episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ for $25 million an episode. At the time, they were producing these shows for $3.5 million an episode, so to literally buy three new episodes for that amount of money meant they would have made more profit from the purchase of those three episodes than they’d made from five years.”

Katzenberg’s plan for the three episodes was not far off from what he’s now envisioning for his new short-form streaming platform Quibi. The executive wanted to break up each “Breaking Bad” episode into chapters that would each run 5 to 10 minutes long. One chapter would be released each day for a dollar. The “Breaking Bad” team turned down Katzenberg’s offer, mainly because the final episodes did not lend themselves to additional installments. (Just look at where Bryan Cranston’s Walter White ended up in the series finale.) Looking back, Katzenberg maintains releasing “Breaking Bad” episodes this way would’ve been a huge financial win.

“I was convinced there were 10 million people who would have paid a dollar a day for 30 days to do this, and it would have been of the great financial scores of all time,” Katzenberg told Buchanan. “I do want to say that if I had been even ten percent right, I would have made money! Someday, somebody’s going to do this. They’re going to make a ‘Star Wars” and say, “Hey, anybody want to see this? $25 on demand.’ And 500 million people are going to watch it, and it’ll be the biggest box office score of all time!”

On Katzenberg’s streaming platform Quibi, shows will be released in short-form chunks similar to his idea for “Breaking Bad.” The service debuts in April 2020.
Although humans didn't really reach the Moon until a half century ago, we've ventured there in our minds for millennia.

This iconic shot from the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon shows the fabled Man in the Moon embedded with a massive, bullet-like spacecraft that was launched from Earth by a giant cannon.

It’s been 50 years since humans first landed on the Moon. But for how long have we rehearsed those first steps in our imaginations? This we do know: We’ve been telling each other tales about our Moon-landing dreams for nearly 2,000 years.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Lucian of Samosata wrote a tale about a boat that was blasted all the way to the Moon by a powerful waterspout.
Ruth Cobb from Chatterbox Children’s Annual, 1926 (Image from Lady Meerkat)

The earliest known written story about people traveling to the Moon was by Lucian of Samosata, a Syrian-Greek writer born around 125 AD. His travels throughout the Mediterranean world were the basis for the fictional tales in his True Stories, an often bawdy satire of Homer’s revered epic the Odyssey.

One such story tells of the journey Lucian and 50 companions take on a boat carried to the Moon by a giant waterspout. When they arrive on the lunar surface, they’re greeted by a race of three-headed vultures and soon find themselves in the middle of a war with another species. Eventually they make their way back to Earth and experience more fantastic adventures. Lucian’s lunar tale is the earliest known piece of fiction that depicts space travel, a Moon landing, aliens, and interplanetary war.

Some 15 centuries later, three people changed our view of our place in the universe forever. Nicolas Copernicus published his heliocentric theory of the universe, which replaced the Earth with the Sun at the center of the solar system; Galileo Galilei spotted sunspots, the phases of Venus, and moons circling Jupiter; and Johannes Kepler showed us that the planets circle the Sun in ellipses.

But Kepler also wrote a novel about landing on the Moon. Entitled Somnium (A Dream), he began writing it when he was still a teenager. Although it took him about two decades to complete, he eventually finished it in 1608. However, it wasn’t published until 1634 — four years after his death.

The title page from a reproduction of Kepler's Somnium (A Dream).
Wikimedia Commons

The story is framed as Kepler’s dream. The main character, the young son of an Icelandic woman who might be a witch, is fascinated by astronomy and serves as a stand-in for Kepler himself. Much of the book is a riveting (and in some ways accurate) account of the boy’s journey through space to the Moon, including whom he encounters and what he observes.

In the tale, there exists an omnipresent aether that fills the void between Earth and the Moon. It's very cold, so humans must rely on summoned demons to keep them warm. The human travelers must also plug their noses with damp sponges to help them breathe. The trip is so stressful that they must be put in suspended animation. Kepler’s descriptions of how the Earth would look from the Moon are surprisingly accurate, even by today’s standards. Overall, the science in Somnium is remarkable for its time.

Most subsequent stories about lunar journeys were satires, like George Tucker’s 1827 work: A Voyage to the Moon. But writers also began treating tales of lunar voyages a bit more seriously. Edgar Allan Poe’s 1835 story, "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall," was a mix of satire and serious speculative fiction. The imaginative breakthrough came three decades later from the pen of French writer Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon (1865), followed by Around the Moon (1870).

In Verne's work, members of the post-Civil War Baltimore Gun Club use an arguably scientific method — a giant cannon — to shoot their travelers around the Moon. But they don’t land. Instead, they experience a series of misadventures while in orbit around the Moon before eventually making their way back to Earth.

On the other hand, the two protagonists of H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon use a “hand-waving science” method of travel. But they actually land on the Moon, explore it, and return. In the story, an eccentric physicist named Cavor plans to land on the Moon in a ship of his own design powered by a metal he invented with antigravity properties called “cavorite.” After enlisting the reluctant help of an English businessman named Bedford, they build a steel sphere with glass windows and sliding cavorite shutters. Sliding these open and closed allows them to “steer” the ship to the Moon.

Off they go, weightlessness on the way. They land safely on the Moon (which has a breathable atmosphere) and explore its surface. They then drunkenly enter the Moon’s underground caverns, where they are promptly captured by insectoid extraterrestrials called Selenites. After more harrowing experiences, the two men escape and make their way back to the lunar surface. They split up, looking for their ship, but Cavor is injured. Bedford reluctantly leaves the Moon, alone. Later, home and safe, Bedford learns that scientists are receiving radio transmissions from Cavor, who is still alive and still trapped in the Moon.

For nearly two millennia, storytellers have devised some ingenious methods to get their characters to the Moon. Here are just a few highlights:
Giant waterspout: True History, Lucian of Samosata, ca. 2nd century AD
A “shadow bridge”: Somnium, Johannes Kepler, 1634
Multi-stage rocket*: Histoire Comique de la Lune, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1657
Lunarium**: A Voyage to the Moon, George Tucker, 1827
Balloon: “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall,” Edgar Allan Poe, 1835
Giant Cannon: From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne, 1865
Antigravity metal: First Men in the Moon, H.G. Wells, 1901
*This is the first mention of a multi-stage rocket in literature.
**A metal that is only partially antigravitational: it is repelled by the Earth but attracted by the Moon.

Approaching the Apollo era

Films had been around in one form or another since the 1880s, but public screenings where people paid admission fees first started in 1895. In 1902, French filmmaker Georges Méliès made his landmark 21-minute film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). In it, the spaceship is a bullet-like projectile a la Verne, but the plot is based on the Wells novel. Le Voyage dans la Lune is often regarded as the first science-fiction film.

By the 1920s, the art of filmmaking had advanced far beyond Méliès. In 1929, Austrian director Fritz Lang released his follow-up to his futuristic flick Metropolis (1927). Entitled Woman in the Moon, it’s about six people (five men and a women) who travel to the Moon in search of gold. The plotline and acting resemble a TV soap opera, and the Moon has normal gravity and a breathable atmosphere on its far side. But the special effects are remarkable. Especially impressive are the rocket launch and the scenes as the ship slips around behind the Moon.

A magazine advertisement for the 1950 movie Destination Moon.

From the 1930’s through the end of World War II, sci-fi stories with lunar themes were mostly about exploration, aliens, and the Moon’s desolate environment, not about first landings. That began to change at the end of the war. One story that stands out is the 1950 Robert A. Heinlein novella “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

Heinlein’s tale is about a wealthy American businessman named D.D. Harriman who is obsessed with being the first man to set foot on the Moon. At a time when neither the technology nor public interest exists for a Moon landing, Harriman has the money, the PR savvy, and the con-man sensibilities to make it happen. And he does. The science is well-crafted, the characters are believable, and the ending? Ah, the ending. Harriman’s billionaire buddy backers won’t let him in the spaceship to become the first man to set foot on the Moon; he’s too valuable as the front-man selling the dream of spaceflight-for-all back on Earth.

Heinlein also played a role in another first Moon landing story. Except this one was a movie — and also a classic. Produced by George Pal and Irving Pichel, Destination Moon was released in 1950. Heinlein was approached to help write the script. He drew in part on the plot of his juvenile novel Rocket Ship Galileo, but he also clearly incorporated plot lines from “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

The movie itself is a well-plotted, reasonably well-acted story of corporations rather than governments providing the money and know-how to put a man on the Moon. There’s drama a-plenty, with dangerous situations solved by smart use of science and engineering. The movie accurately depicts weightlessness, the landing itself, and the lunar environment. The “cold equations” climax — where one of the crew must be left behind in order for the rest to make it home — is solved as only engineers could.

Many more imagined Moon landings appeared in both print and film before those first “small steps” in July 1969 turned imagination into reality. And they remain as reminders of how wide and deep we dream, and of how fierce our desire is to explore what waits out there beyond Earth's thin atmosphere.

Sagittal MRI slice with highlighting indicating location of the anterior cingulate cortex. (Photo credit: Geoff B. Hall)

Cannabis use is associated with reduced brain volumes in a region involved in facial emotion processing, according to a new study in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

“There is a high rate of overlap between regular (at least weekly) cannabis use and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety,” said study author Kristin E. Maple, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“People with depression and anxiety often have differences in brain structure in regions that process facial emotions. The current study was designed to investigate whether cannabis users (without mood or other psychiatric disorders) have similar differences in brain structure, and whether those abnormalities are related to problems processing facial emotions.”

For their study, the researchers used MRI scans to compare the brain structure of 20 cannabis users to 35 non-users. (Cannabis users were required to have at least 40 uses in the past year.) The participants also completed computerized psychological tests of facial emotion recognition.

Cannabis use was associated with smaller left rostral anterior cingulate cortex volumes, which in turn was associated with poorer accuracy on an emotion discrimination task.

“Adolescents and young adults who use cannabis weekly have abnormal brain structure in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a region involved in processing and regulating emotions,” Maple told PsyPost.

“These rACC structural abnormalities are related to difficulty noticing subtle differences in facial emotions, even after three weeks of abstinence from cannabis. This emotion processing deficit could be one reason why many people who regularly use cannabis also have mood disorders (e.g., depression or anxiety).”

The design of the study, however, prevents the researchers from determining the direction of causality.

“The study was cross-sectional, which means we don’t know whether abnormalities in the rACC make someone more likely to use cannabis, or whether regular cannabis use leads to abnormal rACC structure,” Maple explained.

“Longitudinal studies such as the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study are needed to determine whether regular cannabis use actually changes rACC structure, leading to problems with emotional processing.”

The study, “Anterior cingulate volume reductions in abstinent adolescent and young adult cannabis users: Association with affective processing deficits“, was authored by Kristin E. Maple, Alicia M. Thomas, Megan M. Kangiser, and Krista M. Lisdahl.
Iron particles released by industrial activities are falling into the seas in greater quantities than previously thought

Phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz NASA and MODIS Rapid Response Team

As the saying goes, what goes up must come down—and, as it turns out, a lot of what goes up comes down into the world’s oceans.

Iron particles, released by human industrial activities, are one example of a pollutant that goes into the atmosphere and eventually settles into the sea. Now, new research suggests that human-emitted iron is accumulating in the ocean in much greater quantities than scientists previously estimated. And it may also be dissolving into the water more easily than suspected.

The consequences are still unclear, but they’re worth investigating, scientists say. Iron is one of the key nutrients that tiny phytoplankton organisms in the ocean need to thrive. In regions where its levels are limited, adding more iron to the water can give plankton a boost, potentially altering both marine food webs and the ocean’s carbon uptake.

In fact, this phenomenon is the basis for a controversial geoengineering concept that some scientists have proposed to tackle climate change. Known as “iron fertilization,” the idea involves adding iron to certain remote regions of the ocean where iron nutrients tend to be limited. Doing so could promote the growth of phytoplankton, which naturally suck up carbon dioxide.

When the phytoplankton die, those that don’t get eaten by other animals fall through the water column and become trapped at the bottom of the sea, effectively locking away the stored-up carbon for good.

To date, various research groups have conducted more than a dozen small-scale iron fertilization experiments, with somewhat mixed results. Some studies suggest that the carbon-storing effects are more significant than others. At the same time, some experts have expressed concern that iron fertilization could have unforeseen consequences on marine ecosystems. Others say more research is needed.

Now, the new study would seem to suggest that humans may already be engaging in a kind of inadvertent iron fertilization campaign. But whether it’s having any significant effect on marine ecosystems or carbon storage is still unknown.

The study, led by Tim Conway of the University of South Florida, set out to investigate the difference between iron inputs from natural sources and iron from human activities.

Scientists have long known that dust from the Sahara, swept by winds into the sea, tends to be rich in iron and accounts for a great deal of the iron particles that wind up in the Atlantic Ocean. Iron input from anthropogenic sources, like the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities, is believed to be comparatively much lower.

The new study investigated the issue by chemically analyzing iron samples from the North Atlantic. Aerosols from dust and from human sources tend to have slightly different chemical fingerprints, related to the ratio of iron isotopes they contain.

The analyses suggested that human sources of iron are probably significantly higher than previous studies have estimated. The study also found that these human iron inputs likely dissolve into the water much more easily than iron from natural sources, making them more readily accessible to hungry phytoplankton.

The researchers used their observations to tweak certain model simulations of the entire global ocean. The adjusted simulations seem to suggest that the findings don’t apply only to the North Atlantic: Human iron inputs may be higher in other regions of the world, as well, including iron-limited parts of the Pacific Ocean.

That’s important because some parts of the ocean are likely more sensitive to iron fertilization than others. In the North Atlantic, for instance, the growth of phytoplankton tends to be limited by nutrients other than iron, meaning that adding more iron to the water probably won’t give them that much of a boost.

In places like the equatorial Pacific, the North Pacific and the remote Southern Ocean, on the other hand, iron is more likely to be the limiting factor. If iron inputs are on the rise in these places—especially if they’re easily dissolvable in the water—then plankton communities could theoretically increase in growth.

These effects could become even more pronounced in the future, as increased industrialization across the Asian continent and parts of the Southern Hemisphere produces more air pollution, said Douglas Hamilton, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and a co-author on the new study.

For the time being, though, it’s unclear what effect human iron inputs are actually having. The first step would be to actually verify, with on-site observations, that human iron inputs are higher than expected in places besides the North Atlantic. The new study now provides a framework for doing that kind of work, Hamilton noted.

Afterward, extended monitoring could determine whether these regions are experiencing any ecological changes, like an increase in phytoplankton.

Still, it might be difficult to tease out whether those kinds of changes are being caused by increased iron fertilization or by other environmental disturbances, like ocean warming driven by climate change. In other words, even if humans are indeed engaging in an accidental iron fertilization experiment, scientists may find it challenging to determine just what effect it’s having on the Earth.

But Hamilton is hopeful that there may be ways to start addressing that question in the future. He’s working on improving model simulations of plankton productivity in the ocean, which may help scientists get a better handle on how changes to ocean chemistry may affect marine systems.


Scientists have been exploring the possible effects of iron fertilization as a form of geoengineering for at least 15 years. In that time, various research groups have conducted at least 13 experiments in both natural and controlled environments, according to a 2016 review paper.

Scientists are still debating how useful the process could be for climate mitigation.

As the review paper notes, studies have generally demonstrated that iron fertilization does boost the growth of plankton in iron-limited waters. The remote Southern Ocean is the region that most researchers suggest would be best suited for iron fertilization.

But just how much carbon is actually getting stored away at the bottom of the ocean is less clear. Some research has suggested that the carbon-sequestering effects are minimal, while other experiments suggest a stronger impact.

Even in the best-case scenario, the overall climate impact of iron fertilization would likely be small, according to Christine Klaas, a researcher with the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research who has participated in past iron fertilization experiments.

“The rough estimates of how much carbon we could take away by fertilizing most of the Southern Ocean are around 1 gigaton per year, and our current emissions are around 11 gigatons per year,” she pointed out. “So it would be around 10% of what we’re emitting today.”

That means that iron fertilization, like other forms of geoengineering, isn’t a solution to the climate problem, she added. It’s one potential tool that could help bring emissions down faster, but it’s not a substitute for the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

The concept hasn’t been without its controversies.

Some experts have cautioned that inducing phytoplankton blooms could lead to unintended consequences for marine ecosystems, either by inadvertently triggering toxic algae blooms or by altering marine food webs in unexpected ways. Other scientists, including Klaas, point out that the ideal fertilization sites in places like the Southern Ocean don’t support many toxic species in the first place.

The idea of iron fertilization has become somewhat more contentious in recent years, after U.S. entrepreneur Russ George conducted a fertilization experiment that dumped about 100 tons of iron dust off the coast of British Columbia. The project was aimed at boosting salmon populations through its effects on the marine food web.

Iron fertilization experiments today are subject to certain regulations under the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution. Whether scientists should continue with them is still a matter of debate among experts.

Klaas is an advocate of continued research. Current efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions are not proceeding quickly enough to meet the Paris climate agreement’s targets, meaning it’s increasingly likely that some form of geoengineering will be necessary to keep warming in check, she said.

Among the geoengineering options that have been proposed so far, she considers iron fertilization “one of the best” and a relatively simple process.

Hamilton, on the other hand, said that “it’s better not to even go there.”

“I think history has shown us that when we start tinkering with the environment, invariably things that we have not considered crop up,” he said. “There’s unknown unknowns in the system. This would be absolutely the case with any of the geoengineering options being talked about at the moment.”

But as long as industrial activity is causing inadvertent iron fertilization anyway, he noted, the new study may be a good starting point for understanding the effects that it’s already having on the global oceans.

“Before this study, we had no way to be able to measure the anthropogenic component in situ,” he said. “To be able to understand the anthropogenic perturbations to the system, we need to be able to measure it.

“Moving forward now, the idea, ideally, is that we measure this in locations that we know are going to be sensitive to the changes in the iron emissions due to anthropogenic activity in the future, so that we can have a handle on how much we’re perturbing that system.”

Via: scientificamerican

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a peer-reviewed report released today, researchers have identified more than 100 million hectares of lost lowland tropical rain forests—restoration hotspots—spread out across Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia that present the most compelling opportunities for restoration to overcome rising global temperatures, water pollution and shortages, and the extinction of plant and animal life. Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar, India and Colombia have the largest accumulated area of restoration hotspots; six African countries—Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan, and Madagascar—are home to the areas presenting the best restoration opportunities on average.

"Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet's health, now and for generations to come," said lead author Pedro Brancalion, from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. "For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must do—and it's doable."

The 12 authors of the study "Global restoration opportunities in tropical rainforest landscapes," published today in the journal Science Advances, used high-resolution satellite imagery and the latest peer-reviewed research on four forest benefits (biodiversity, climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation, and water security) and three aspects of restoration effort (cost, investment risk and the likelihood of restored forests surviving into the future) to assess and "score" all tropical lands worldwide in 1 kilometer square blocks that retained less than 90 percent of their forest cover.

Restoration hotspots are those lands that scored in the top 10 percent, meaning that restoring them would be the most beneficial and the least costly and risky.

  • The top 15 countries with the largest restoration hotspots were found across all the tropical forest biomes, or zones: three in the Neotropics, five in the Afrotropics, and seven in Indo-Malaysia and Australasia.
  • The five countries with the largest restoration hotspot by area are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia.
  • The six countries with the highest mean score were found in Africa: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan and Madagascar. "We were surprised to find such a concentration of highly ranked countries in a single continent," co-author Robin Chazdon said. "The study really highlights the high potential for successful rainforest restoration outcomes in these African countries."
  • Nearly 87 percent of the restoration hotspots were found within biodiversity conservation hotspots, areas that hold high concentrations of species found nowhere else, but are at high risk for deforestation.
  • Seventy-three percent of the restoration hotspots were found in countries that have made restoration commitments as part of the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world's deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. "It's encouraging that so many hotspots are located in countries where restoring forests and landscapes is already a priority," said Brancalion.

In most cases, restoration hotspots overlap with fields and pastures currently in use by farmers. As a result, the study shows, restoring forests is most feasible on lands of low value for agricultural production. Alternatively, the researchers argue, restoration could be coupled with income-generating forms of production through, for example, enriching pastures with trees, harvesting forest-based products like rattan and growing coffee or cocoa beneath a forest canopy. Any decisions about changing land use must fully engage local communities, as restoration should complement rather than compete with food security and land rights. In other cases, these hotspots include abandoned, degraded farmlands or government lands.

"Restoration involves far more than simply planting trees," said Chazdon. "It starts with the need for mutually beneficial agreements with those currently using the land and doesn't end until forests host the rich diversity of plant and animal life that make them so awe-inspiring and valuable. But, fortunately, studies show it doesn't take long for the benefits of new forests to kick-in."

Consensus is emerging that forest restoration—together with the protection of natural, old-growth forests—is one of the most cost-effective and readily available solutions to current climate and environment woes. A statement signed by 40 scientists last year laid out the "five often overlooked reasons why limiting global warming requires protecting and sustainably managing the forests we have, and restoring the forests we've lost." The scientists stress that the world must focus on rapidly decreasing fossil fuel use and stopping deforestation, while seeking ways to increase carbon sinks. Ramping up restoration, they caution, will help meet climate goals, but it cannot supplant the urgent need to reduce emissions.

While some countries, most notably China and India, have already launched large-scale tree planting efforts with some success, these efforts are getting mixed reviews in terms of the quality of plantation cover and its value for protecting native species. In some cases, countries are establishing monoculture tree plantations—one species of tree planted over and over again—to meet restoration commitments. Experts caution, however, that a focus on protecting and restoring natural forests, not planting monoculture plantations is essential to meeting climate and other co-benefits of restoration.

Brancalion added, "Pledges and agreements like the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests show that there is will to restore and protect forests. With the tools we have developed, countries, companies and other actors who have pledged to restore forests have the precise information they need to roll up their sleeves and dive into the difficult work of bringing our forests back. There are no shortcuts when it comes to forest restoration, but there is low-hanging fruit that we need to seize now, before it's too late."

A fake video of Mark Zuckerberg giving a sinister speech about the power of Facebook has been posted to Instagram. The company previously said it would not remove this type of video.


Two artists and an advertising company created a deepfake of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg saying things he never said, and uploaded it to Instagram.

The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook's power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say "We're increasing transparency on ads," to make it look like it's part of a news segment.

(On Tuesday evening, CBS requested that Facebook take down the video, as it displays "an unauthorized use of the CBSN trademark,” a spokesperson said.)

"Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people's stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures," Zuckerberg's likeness says, in the video. "I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future."

The original, real video is from a September 2017 address Zuckerberg gave about Russian election interference on Facebook. The caption of the Instagram post says it's created using CannyAI's video dialogue replacement (VDR) technology.

This deepfake of Zuckerberg is one of several made by Canny in collaboration with Posters, including ones of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump, as part of Spectre, an exhibition that took place as part of the Sheffield Doc Fest in the UK.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram," a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. "If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

Following the viral spread of a manipulated Facebook video of House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Facebook has been forced to take a stance on whether fake or altered images are allowed to stay up on the site. Instead of deleting the video, the company chose to de-prioritize it, so that it appeared less frequently in users' feeds, and placed the video alongside third party fact-checker information.

At the time, Neil Potts, Facebook’s director of public policy, said that if someone posted a manipulated video of Zuckerberg like the one of Pelosi, it would stay up. Now that there's a deepfake of Zuckerberg implying he's in total control of billions of people's stolen data and ready to control the future, on Facebook-owned Instagram, that stance will be put to the test.

Canny's founders, Omer Ben-Ami and Jonathan Heimann, told special effects blog FXGuide that their work comes after algorithms developed by University of Washington researchers, which turned audio clips of people speaking into realistic videos of people made to look like they're speaking those words. The UW researchers demonstrated this, at the time, using Barack Obama's face. They said they're also inspired by Stanford's Face2Face program, which enabled real-time facial reenactment.

Ben-Ami told Motherboard that to create the fake videos, Canny used a proprietary AI algorithm, trained on 20 to 45 second scenes of the target face for between 12-24 hours. That doesn't seem like much, but we've already seen deepfakes made from as little as one image of a face.

For the Zuckerberg deepfake, Canny engineers arbitrarily clipped a 21-second segment out of the original seven minute video, trained the algorithm on this clip as well as videos of the voice actor speaking, and then reconstructed the frames in Zuckerberg's video to match the facial movements of the voice actor.

The result is fairly realistic—if you leave the video muted. The voice superimposed on the video is clearly not Zuckerberg, but someone attempting an impression. But this deepfake blinks, moves seamlessly, and gestures like Zuckerberg would.

Ben-Ami said that Canny saw this as both an opportunity to educate the public on the uses of AI today, but also to imagine what's next. "The true potential we see for this tech lies in the ability of creating a photo realistic model of a human being," he said. "For us it is the next step in our digital evolution where eventually each one of us could have a digital copy, a Universal Everlasting human. This will change the way we share and tell stories, remember our loved ones and create content."
Apparently moon visitors are subject to the same procedures as others who leave the country.

A copy of the U.S. Customs form filled out by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins after their return to Earth on July 24, 1969.

(Image credit: NASA/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.)

Before the ticker tape parades and the inevitable world tour, the triumphant Apollo 11 astronauts were greeted with a more mundane aspect of life on Earth when they splashed down 50 years ago today (July 24) — going through customs.

Just what did Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins have to declare? Moon rocks, moon dust and other lunar samples, according to the customs form filed at the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii on July 24, 1969 — the day the Apollo 11 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean to end their historic moon landing mission.

The customs form is signed by all three Apollo 11 astronauts. They declared their cargo and listed their flight route as starting Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) in Florida with a stopover on the moon.

The form was posted to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website in 2009 to mark the Apollo 11 mission's 40th anniversary. A copy was obtained by at the time and verified by NASA.

"Yes, it's authentic," NASA spokesperson John Yembrick told "It was a little joke at the time."

It's more humor than fact, because Apollo 11 splashed down 920 miles (1,480 km) southwest of Hawaii and 13 miles (21 km) from the USS Hornet, a Navy ship sent to recover the crew. It took two more days for the astronauts to actually return to Hawaii on July 26, where they were welcomed with a July 27 ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

The catch? The astronauts were trapped inside a NASA trailer as part of a quarantine effort just in case they brought back any germs or diseases from the moon. They even wore special biological containment suits when they walked out on the deck of the USS Hornet after being retrieved.

NASA transported them to Houston, quarantine trailer and all, and they emerged from isolation three weeks later. (Nowadays, astronauts returning from space exit their spacecraft almost immediately, though some long-duration astronauts receive medical checks after spending months in weightlessness.)

President Richard Nixon welcomes the quarantined Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet after they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. 

(Image credit: NASA)

Today, NASA astronauts still have to go through customs, but for more conventional reasons.

Astronauts on missions headed for the International Space Station must train not only in the U.S., but also in Japan, Canada, Europe and Russia in order practice with the different systems, modules and tools they'll use while visiting the outpost, which is the product of 20 years of space construction by 16 different countries.

Two Russian Soyuz crew vehicles, a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft are currently docked at the International Space Station. Space station crews launching on Russian Soyuz spacecraft have to make their way to the Central Asian spaceport of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

No matter what the mission, even astronauts have to go through customs, NASA officials said. As part of their routine airline flights to other countries and back, they of course encounter airport customs.

"They do have a government passport, but they do have to go through customs," NASA spokesperson Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters told "Just like the rest of us."

Water has been discovered inside the summit crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, a development which could make future explosive eruptions more likely.

Researchers confirmed the presence of water on Thursday.

“The question is what does this mean in the evolution of the volcano?”said Don Swanson, a scientist emeritus at the US Geological Survey.

When water reacts with lava it can cause explosive eruptions.

Scientists are unsure exactly how the water’s appearance will change the volcano’s behaviour.

It is possible that the lava could heat up the water, eventually leading to a lava lake.

Smaller explosions are also possible.

A group of Native Hawaiians stand next to the collapsed crater floor of the volcano

“The other possibility is that magma rises rapidly,” Mr Swanson said. “That could produce a larger explosion.”

USGS officials stressed that there is currently “no reason to think hazards at the summit have increased or decreased” because of the discovery of water.

Kilauea has a history of alternating between long periods of explosive eruptions and times of slower, so-called effusive phases.

Scientists believe the next explosive period will come before a massive collapse of Kilauea’s crater floor.

Mr Swanson said none of this will happen overnight.

“I’ve been stressing that the current activity at Kilauea, or lack thereof, can go either way,” he said.

“We can either return to what was going on before, or this could be the preamble to some more significant change in the volcano that leads to explosive activity.”
Calgary YouTuber Ben Perrin decided to have some fun after fraudster reached out

Ben Perrin of Calgary says he recently tricked someone who was trying to bilk him out of his cryptocurrency, and donated the results to charity. (Ben Perrin/BTC Sessions, YouTube)

Financial fraudsters often try to target the elderly or otherwise vulnerable — but one recently picked the worst possible target.

Calgarian Ben Perrin runs an educational YouTube channel focused on teaching people about bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and is the marketing director for a bitcoin exchange.

Working in the cryptocurrency industry means he's been targeted by hopeful scammers before. But when one slid into his Instagram inbox on Monday, offering to double his investment if he'd just send thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin, Perrin says he decided to have some fun.

"I've come across a lot of these people before, they make ridiculous claims," Perrin told CBC News. "In this case, every 24 hours, they guaranteed me a doubling of my bitcoin, and said that if I would just send them some bitcoin I could start seeing returns."

"So, I played along and pretended to be a newcomer to bitcoin, not understanding what was going on."

Perrin didn't just play along — he faked a bitcoin wallet statement, and even pretended he had been contacted by someone else with a better offer.

Then, he went all in.

"I said that I would gladly invest $20,000 with them if they would simply send me $100 back, I could then return it to them, just to ensure that everything was legit."

The scammer met Perrin halfway and sent $50 US.

Perrin then dropped the bluff, called the fraudster out, and let them know he donated their money to charity. He sent the money to Bitcoin Venezuela, which helps people there buy food using the cryptocurrency, as the Venezuelan bolivar has collapsed.

CBC News has seen documentation for the $50 transfer and the donation that followed. The Instagram account the scammer was using has since been deleted.

When Perrin received this message that seemed too good to be true, he decided to play ignorant and string the scammer along. (Ben Perrin/BTC Sessions)

Transfers irreversible

Perrin hopes this acts as a good reminder to not send money over the internet, especially to a stranger, unless you know what you're doing.

"A good rule of thumb is your investment, the amount of capital that you are allocating to something like this, should directly reflect your understanding of the asset you're investing in," he said.

Scammers, he says, take advantage of the fact that bitcoin transfers, like money, are irreversible.

"Once you send it, you cannot reverse that. Much like when you give someone a stack of $20 bills. You can't get that back unless you ask nicely and odds are if you're dealing with a scammer, they're not going to do that," he said.

Perrin convinced the scammer to send him money, by promising he would send it back and invest even more. (Ben Perrin/BTC Sessions)

Police would not comment on the case, and they don't recommend trying the same response.

"We don't encourage anyone to engage, talk with, try and rile up these scammers or fraudsters. You could potentially be creating a target for yourself, where they may become frustrated with you and they already know your phone number or they already know your email," said Sgt. Matt Frederiksen of the Calgary police economic crime unit fraud team.

"Once you recognize that it's a scam … don't respond."

People who believe they've been scammed should contact the non-emergency number for the local police, Frederiksen said. Those who have received a suspicious message can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Cryptocurrency fraud can be tricky to investigate, as the operations are often international. But police say they are having a big impact in Calgary.

Frederiksen said police receive about 13 to 14 reports every day from fraud victims, adding that in 2019 there have been 21 occurrences of fraud through cryptocurrency payments, totalling just under $1 million in losses.

Perrin said while this instance worked out, he doesn't plan on becoming the Robin Hood of avenging bitcoin fraudsters.

"I definitely am not going to be, you know, dedicating full time to scamming the scammers or anything like that. But there is value in letting newcomers know how this technology works and advising them to exercise caution."

Store-bought tomatoes taste horrifically disgusting — err, bland. Now scientists have discovered a version of a gene that helps give tomatoes their flavor is actually missing in about 93 percent of modern, domesticated varieties. The discovery may help bring flavor back to tomatoes you can pick up in the produce section.

“How many times do you hear someone say that tomatoes from the store just don’t quite measure up to heirloom varieties?” Clifford Weil, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program that supported the work, asked in a press announcement. “This study gets to why that might be the case and shows that better tasting tomatoes appear to be on their way back.”

Domestication Doom

An international team of researchers collected genomic information from 725 cultivated and wild tomatoes and assembled them into a pan-genome — a genome that captures the genetic information of all the varieties. Then they compared the pan-genome to the genome of a domesticated tomato called Heinz 1706. Until now, this tomato genome has served as the representative example of all tomato genomes.

The side-by-side comparison showed that the Heinz 1706 reference genome was missing nearly 5,000 genes that the other tomato varieties have. Many of these lost genes also equipped the plants with defenses against pathogens.

Tomatoes lost these genes through good old-fashioned breeding — not via genetic modifications — when breeders selected for traits that made tomatoes robust.

“During the domestication and improvement of the tomato, people mostly focused on traits that would increase production, like fruit size and shelf-life,” Zhangjun Fei, a plant geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who led the new research, said in a statement. “Some genes involved in other important fruit quality traits and stress tolerance were lost during this process.”

The identification of the previously unknown genes could help breeders create better tomatoes. “These new genes could enable plant breeders to develop elite varieties of tomatoes that have genetic resistance to diseases that we currently address by treating the plants with pesticides or other cost-intensive and environmentally unfriendly measures,” James Giovannoni, a molecular biologist at Cornell and USDA scientist, who co-led the work with Fei, said in a statement.

Taste Turnaround

The analysis also revealed a rare form of a gene that imparts tomato flavor to the fruit is missing in most modern, domesticated tomatoes. Yet, more than 90 percent of wild tomatoes have the flavor-punching version of the gene, the researchers report today in the journal Nature Genetics. Their analysis also shows that this flavor gene, called TomLoxC, uses carotenoids — the pigments that make tomatoes red — to make tomatoes tasty.

But there’s also good news for tomato-ravenous Americans, who each eat an average of nearly 100 pounds of the vegetables every year. The flavor gene is making a comeback. The rare version of TomLoxCused used to only be present in about 2 percent of tomato varieties. But in recent years, as breeders have begun to focus more on flavor, more and more modern tomato varieties have the gene. Nowadays, about 7 percent of tomatoes have it, meaning breeders have started selecting for it, Giovannoni explained, a trend that will hopefully keep growing.

The short article previews provided by Facebook can make users think they know more than they actually do about an issue, according to new research published in Research & Politics.

“Social media are so different from traditional types of media. In decades past, audiences had to choose to turn on the TV or open a newspaper to receive political information. Today, we receive that information inadvertently while scrolling through our Facebook and Twitter feeds. What’s more, that information can come from our friends and family members. I find these new dynamics fascinating,” said study author Nicolas Anspach, an assistant professor of political science at York College of Pennsylvania.

In the study, a group of 320 participants read an article from The Washington Post about the safety of genetically modified foods. Another group of 319 participants read a mock Facebook News Feed containing four article previews, where one preview was about genetically modified foods. A third group of 351 participants, which was used as a control, did not read anything.

To test their knowledge of the subject, the participants were then asked six factual questions about genetically modified foods. To test their confidence, they were also asked to estimate the number of questions they believed they answered correctly.

Participants who read the full article answered the most questions correctly, while those who read the News Feed correctly answered only one question more often than the control group on average. But participants who read the News Feed were more likely to overestimate their knowledge, especially among those motivated to experience strong emotions.

“Social media can inform audiences, even the little article previews that appear in Facebook’s News Feed. However, with this learning comes a false confidence; some individuals (particularly those motivated by their gut reactions) think they learn more the issue than they actually do,” Anspach said.

“This overconfidence might translate to increased political participation, but concern remains over whether social media provide enough information for voters to make fully informed choices.”

“In our experiment, we used factual information to test learning. But it’s important to recognize there is a lot of garbage shared via social media. Before we get too excited about social media’s ability to inform audiences, we should also consider its potential to misinform,” Anspach explained.

In a similar study, Anspach and his colleagues found that people are more likely to believe misinformed social media comments over factual information embedded in article previews.

“I suspect future research will consider factors such as age or digital literacy to better understand how audiences react to facts and misinformation differently,” Anspach said.

The study, “A little bit of knowledge: Facebook’s News Feed and self-perceptions of knowledge“, was authored by Nicolas M. Anspach, Jay T. Jennings, and Kevin Arceneaux.

Coca-Cola has poured millions of dollars into scientific research at universities. But if the beverage giant doesn’t like what scientists find, the company has the power to make sure that their research never sees the light of day.

That’s according to an analysis published in the Journal of Public Health Policy that explains how Coca-Cola uses contract agreements to influence the public health research it financially supports.

The paper explains that Coca-Cola uses carefully-constructed contracts to ensure that the company gets early access to research findings, as well as the ability to terminate studies for any reason. Researchers say this gives the beverage company the ability to squash unfavorable research findings, such as studies that connect the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity.

The study’s authors are affiliated with the University of Cambridge, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Bocconi, and U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater transparency in the food system. They based their report on Coca-Cola research contracts obtained through numerous Freedom of Information requests, which uncovered over 87,000 pages of documents. In the stack, the study’s authors found five Coca-Cola research agreements with four universities: Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, University of Toronto and the University of Washington.

Much of the research Coca-Cola supports is related to nutrition and physical activity.

While their analysis focused on Coca-Cola, the researchers say that these types of contracts aren’t unique in the world of corporate-sponsored science. As the U.S. government spends less on research, corporate sponsors are kicking in — but not always for the common good. POM, Monsanto and PepsiCo have sponsored health studies related to their products. But by revealing how just one company can influence and even kill studies without reason, the study’s authors make the case for greater transparency in corporate-sponsored scientific research.

The Fine Print

In parsing the fine print of these contracts, researchers found that Coca-Cola is entitled to review studies before they’re published, can provide comments on the research, and has the right to terminate research projects at any time, without reason. Contractual provisions also ensured that Coca-Cola maintained intellectual property rights connected to the research.

Although the researchers didn’t uncover concrete examples of Coca-Cola concealing research findings that could be harmful to the company, the researchers say it’s telling that these restrictive contractual clauses exist in the first place.

“Coca-Cola is writing into some of its research agreements the ability to influence — and even kill — its research projects. This is very significant,” said study author Gary Ruskin, who is also co-director of U.S. Right to Know, in an email. “One of the tenets of the scientific method is that the outcomes of experiments are not predetermined. But in some cases, Coca-Cola had the power to predetermine scientific outcomes, in that it could kill the studies if they turned out badly for Coca-Cola and its profits. That’s not science. It’s public relations.”

The study’s authors uncovered email exchanges showing scientists and university officials discussing Coca-Cola contract agreements.

In one such email, a scientist expressed uncertainty over a study termination and expressed concerns over intellectual property ownership. In another email exchange, a scientist at another university remarked that their contract was “very restrictive for an unrestricted grant.”

Corporate Interests

It’s not the first time the public is hearing about Coca-Cola’s questionable involvement in scientific research. A few years ago, Coca-Cola disbanded its Global Energy Balance Network, a group led by scientists and created by Coca-Cola. The group was criticized by the public health community for promoting the idea that lack of exercise, not poor diet, was primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic.

The paper’s authors say the findings call into question the company’s motivations for funding health research. They are calling on Coca-Cola and other corporate backers of scientific research to publish lists of terminated studies. Ruskin said that journals should require scientists to share any research agreements with corporate funders and make them accessible.

In a statement from the company, Coca-Cola said “we agree research transparency and integrity are important,” but did not comment on specifics for this story. 
The super energetic gamma rays originated thousands of light-years away, and scientists still aren't exactly sure what generated them.

This image of the Crab Nebula in x-rays shows the pulsar clearly spinning at the nebula’s center.
NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.

Astronomers using the Tibet AS-gamma Experiment have discovered the highest-energy light ever measured from an astrophysical source. Photons streaming from the Crab Nebula were recently measured at energies well over 100 tera-electronvolts (TeV). That’s a trillion electron volts, or some 10 times the maximum energy that the Large Hadron Collider sees when it slams particles together.

Scientists think the key is a pulsar lurking deep inside the heart of the Crab Nebula, the dense, rapidly spinning core left when a star exploded in a supernova almost a thousand years ago. Actually, since the nebula is located over 6,500 light-years away, the explosion occurred about 7,500 years ago, but the light from that explosion didn’t reach Earth until 1054 CE, when it exploded in our night skies as a bright new star, spotted by astronomers around the globe.

The supernova’s light faded after just weeks, but since then, the detritus has grown and spread, and it now glows wonderfully in the night sky at nearly every wavelength. It crackles in low-energy radio waves, blasts out high-energy gamma and x-rays, and shines at visible wavelengths in between.

But this ultra-high-energy light is new even for the Crab Nebula. Researchers from China and Japan published their findings in Physical Review Letters on July 29.

Record breaker

It’s difficult for high-energy photons like gamma rays to actually make it past Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, when gamma rays slam into air particles, they usually scatter into a shower of other particles. But astronomers have learned to search for these showers, usually with arrays spanning miles, since by the time these showers reach the ground, they may be spread out over a large area. Tibet AS-gamma combines 597 detectors scattered across 65,700 square meters on the surface. About 8 feet under this array sit 64 concrete barrels filled with water that serve as complementary detectors.

The larger array on the ground lets scientists trace the direction and energy of a high-energy event. The water detectors complement these observations by tracking the specific signature of such events. This allows researchers to distinguish gamma-rays from high-energy cosmic rays, which can produce similar showers of particles, even though cosmic rays are made of particles like protons and electrons, instead of photons.

Researchers collected data from both detectors in tandem from February 2014 until May 2017, and found a total of 24 events greater than 100 TeV that they could trace to the Crab Nebula. Some of the events reached a whopping 450 TeV. Separating the gamma ray events from the cosmic ray events isn’t a perfect science, so the researchers estimate that five or six of their observations were actually background cosmic rays. But the rest should be real, a sign of the powerhouse that lurks inside the Crab Nebula.

Star light, star bright

Very high-energy particles wouldn’t be good for humans if they actually struck us, but since they splinter into a cascade of other particles, there’s no danger from the Crab Nebula’s radiation on Earth.

It’s not totally clear how the Crab Nebula manages to charge up these gamma rays to such high energies. The pulsar at the nebula’s heart spins and sends out a powerful stellar wind, as well as generating powerful magnetic fields, which can accelerate these particles to high speeds, increasing their energy.

It’s not clear whether there’s a maximum energy scientists can expect. The new observations hint at the next challenge: finding petaelectronvolt gamma rays, those with 1,000 TeV worth of energy.

Tibet AS-gamma will keep looking. But considering it takes a few years to analyze the massive amounts of data the array collects, it’s possible such a signal has already been recorded, and is simply waiting to be sifted out of the noise.

What was once a conspiracy theory is now the subject of congressional debate, peer-reviewed studies, and now a Harvard experiment. Harvard scientists will attempt to replicate the climate-cooling effect of volcanic eruptions with a world-first solar geoengineering experiment. The university announced this month that it has created an external advisory panel to examine the potential ethical, environmental and geopolitical impacts of this geoengineering project, which has been developed by the university’s researchers.

According to Nature Magazine, Louise Bedsworth, executive director of the California Strategic Growth Council, a state agency that promotes sustainability and economic prosperity, will lead the Harvard advisory panel, the university said on 29 July. The other seven members include Earth-science researchers and specialists in environmental and climate law and policy.

What was once a conspiracy theory will soon be a reality—any day now.

Known as the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), the experiment will spray calcium carbonate particles high above the earth to mimic the effects of volcanic ash blocking out the sun to produce a cooling effect.

The experiment was announced in Nature magazine last year, who was one of few outlets to look into this unprecedented step toward geoengineering the planet.

If all goes as planned, the Harvard team will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab and into the stratosphere, with a project called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx). The first phase — a US$3-million test involving two flights of a steerable balloon 20 kilometres above the southwest United States — could launch as early as the first half of 2019. Once in place, the experiment would release small plumes of calcium carbonate, each of around 100 grams, roughly equivalent to the amount found in an average bottle of off-the-shelf antacid. The balloon would then turn around to observe how the particles disperse.

Naturally, the experiment is concerning to many people, including environmental groups, who, according to Nature, say such efforts are a dangerous distraction from addressing the only permanent solution to climate change: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

The idea of injecting particles into the atmosphere to cool the earth also seems outright futile considering what scientists are trying to mimic—volcanic eruptions. If we look at the second largest eruption of the 20th century, Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it injected 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide aerosols into the stratosphere. Scientists from the USGS estimated that this 20 million tons only lowered the temperature of the planet by about 1°F (0.5°C) and this only lasted a year because the particles eventually fell to back to Earth.

The Harvard team, led by scientists Frank Keutsch and David Keith, has been working on the SCoPEx project for several years but they haven’t always been in total agreement. In fact, as Nature reported, Keutsch—who is not a climate scientist—previously thought the idea to be “totally insane.” But he’s since changed his mind. As Nature reports:

When he saw Keith talk about the SCoPEx idea at a conference after starting at Harvard in 2015, he says his initial reaction was that the idea was “totally insane”. Then he decided it was time to engage. “I asked myself, an atmospheric chemist, what can I do?” He joined forces with Keith and Anderson, and has since taken the lead on the experimental work.

Adding to the questionable nature of this experiment is the fact that it is largely funded by none other than Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates. Gates is no stranger to funding controversial experiments as he’s publicly funded many of them including one that would implant devices into babies to automatically give them vaccines.

While the Harvard team’s experiment may sound like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie, the reality is that it has long been on the table of governments and think tanks from around the world. In fact, just last November, a study published in Environmental Research Letters, talked about doing the exact same thing—geoengineering and planes spraying particulates into the atmosphere to curb global warming.

Again, this is not some conspiracy theory. Watch him say all of this in the video below starting at the 12:05 marker.

Although we are hearing more and more talk about geoengineering, it has been around for a very long time and not just in the realm of conspiracy theories. In fact, scientists have already suggested that it could be going on right now, unintentionally.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are suggesting contrails from airplanes may be inadvertently geoengineering the skies.

Chuck Long is a researcher with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory at the University of Colorado in Boulder. At the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in 2015, Long and his team released their paper, “Evidence of Clear-Sky Daylight Whitening: Are we already conducting geoengineering?” The analysis found that vapor from airplanes may be altering the climate through accidental geoengineering.