Laser Sails Could Reach Alpha Centauri in 20 Years

by Devika Pal, age 14

Using new technology created by researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, a spacecraft would be able to be launched to the closest star, Alpha Centauri, which is 437 light-years away.

Chemical reactions are used to propel standard rockets. However, the bigger the rocket is, the more propellant it needs, making the spacecraft heavy and inefficient. For long trips, this is a waste of money and resources. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 Spacecraft into interstellar space, which it reached 25 years later. If Voyager 1 had been launched to Alpha Centauri, it would have arrived there in 75,000 years. 

In 2016, a $100 million Breakthrough Starshot initiative was announced. The plan is to reach Alpha Centauri in a human lifetime by launching swarms of microchip-size spacecraft. The researchers say that they are able to make this invention through “light sailing” using the most powerful lasers ever built. This is most likely the only way to reach a star in a human lifetime.  [read more]

Scientists Scramble to Develop Faster COVID-19 Test

by Christy Zheng, age 17

As states gradually loosen stay-at-home orders, public health officials caution that widespread testing will be critical to safely relaxing social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately, this has been difficult to achieve with the tests available at present. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that antigen tests might be “the breakthrough innovation in testing” that the public needs.

Currently, the most common coronavirus tests are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which detect the virus’ RNA. A health care worker swabs a patient’s nose or throat, and the sample is sent to a lab, where it is mixed with certain chemical reagents to replicate the RNA before the sample is analyzed for genetic materials. PCR tests are the most accurate tests available, but there have been numerous obstacles that limit its efficiency.

When the C.D.C. released its first batch of PCR tests early on in the pandemic, many public health labs reported the tests were faulty and provided inconclusive results. Fixing this error resulted in a three-week delay in the national testing program, which hampered early response efforts. [read more]

Should Humans Colonize Titan?

by Hanna Eyobed, age 15

The thought of living on another planet may seem like something out of a science fiction book. But what if we could sustainably live on another planet that contains similar qualities and could host life, like Earth? What if I told you a small moon revolving around Saturn could do just that?

Titan is the only place in our solar system that has characteristics most like Earth’s. Water in the atmosphere shelters Earth from galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). These rays are energetic particles that, if it weren’t for Earth’s atmosphere, would make the Earth uninhabitable. GCRs can cause cancer because of their radiation. Exposing mice to GCR radiation results in brain damage and a loss of simple activity within the mice, according to a study performed by Vipan K. Prihar and colleagues in Science Advances. The methane and ethane in the atmosphere of Titan is similar to the water in the Earth’s atmosphere, and could potentially allow Titan to maintain human life. [read more]

Langston Hughes: A Poet of the Harlem Renaissance

by Yoanna Hoskins, age 14

Langston Hughes was an African American poet, playwright and novelist. He became an early cultural icon, and his writing became part of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. He focused on the failed dreams and bright hopes of his world.

Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents separated when he was just a child. His father moved to Mexico, and Hughes was mainly raised by his grandmother. When he became a teen, he lived with his mother in Cleveland, Ohio. He started writing poetry around this time because of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, and he was involved in the literary magazine in school.

In 1920, Hughes graduated from high school. During this time Hughes created a poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which was published in the Crisis Magazine, and received positive public feedback. He studied at Columbia University where he became heavily involved in the Harlem Renaissance. There, he created empowering works of art. However, he dropped out in 1922 and the next year he signed up as a steward on a freighter. Through this experience he visited Africa and Spain.  [Read More]

Landmark Court Decision Recognizes Access to Literacy Is Fundamental Right

by Kadjata Bah age 15, and Leila Fletcher age 18

In a groundbreaking decision, a federal court has recognized “access to literacy” as a fundamental right.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to "a basic minimum education," which lawyers claim starts with basic literacy.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Court acknowledged that it was breaking new legal ground. According to The Detroit Free Press, Associated Press, The Washington Post, and other national news outlets, the lawsuit has been closely watched by education advocates, legal scholars, and civil rights experts, many of whom say the case is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Read More]

The Massive Meteor Explosion that Scientists Almost Missed

by Kara Nichols, age 16

In 2018, a meteor, crossed the sky before exploding with ten times the power of an atomic bomb.

On December 18th 2018, a space rock going 71,500 miles per hour passed into the earth’s atmosphere before exploding. The explosion occurred between Russia and Alaska right over the Bering Sea. The meteor was 16 miles above the ocean and, unfortunately, it discharged 173 kilotons of energy after the explosion.

Before all of this information was released, the U.S. Air Force had to make sure it was a natural event, one that wasn’t caused by a weapon. Though the Air Force knew about the meteor explosion, it was Peter Brown of Western University in Ontario who tipped off the public. Brown studied infrasound data gathered by Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) stations. Many stations had detected sounds from the meteor even though it was out at sea. The meteor was 20-25 seconds and amounted to 100-200 kilotons, according to the infrasound. Brown says there are half a dozen earth-based events having to do with the atmosphere every day, but this was more unlikely to be one of them considering the meteor was not near land. [Read More]

Space Economy is Threatened by Orbiting Junkyard

by Mariama Bah, age 13

When you see images of Earth from outer space, you don’t notice the 500,000 pieces of debris floating around in low-earth orbit. All of that debris is affecting the satellite business, threatening the future commercialization of space, and jeopardizing the growth of the space economy.

The space economy includes both public and private sector developers of space-enabled products and services. In the space economy, there are three main industries. One industry is focused more on Earth, which includes things that deliver something to space, or something that is in space, but benefits the people on Earth. Another industry is focused on space itself, including space travel and tourism in space. The last main industry is under development and includes the process of mining asteroids and exporting resources from space. Even though the industries are developing, the space economy is already helping businesses on Earth.

Business in space is fairly new dating back to 1962. Telstar 1 was the first communications satellite, developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories, and was launched on July 10, 1962, by American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Since then, more businesses have been commercializing space. However, debris in low-earth orbit threatens the space economy. In 2007, the Chinese government destroyed a defunct weather satellite, creating another 2,500 pieces of junk. Even more debris followed in the 2009 collision of a 1,900 pound Russian Cosmos with a 1,200 pound Iridium Communications Inc satellite. [Read More]

Autonomous Vehicles Raise Big Ethical Questions

by Moises Hernandez, age 15

Without a doubt, autonomous vehicles are set to be life-changing. Also known as self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles have a market that is set to reach approximately $42 billion by 2025, and have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) predicted at 21% until 2030. This change will be great, bringing new types of businesses, services, and business models; but the introduction of autonomous vehicles will also spark ethical implications just as big.

About 1.35 million people around the globe die every year in traffic accidents, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with most caused by human error. The goal autonomous vehicles aim to achieve is to eliminate 90 percent of those accidents. And even though the benefits of self-driving cars are clear, there are still challenges that--if not addressed--could ruin the promise that technology gives.

How human life is valued is one of the key challenges for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. Who makes the decision of who lives and who dies in a split-second, or decides the value of one human life over another? And, most importantly, how is that decision calculated? Being on the road is naturally dangerous, and with danger comes unavoidable compromises that will be made as autonomous cars confront life-or-death situations. For these situations, ethical guidelines are necessary because if an autonomous vehicle makes a mistake, it could lead to a person’s death. [Read More]

The Tragedy of the Potomac River

by Giovanni Tecautl, age 14

On January 13, 1982, a flight attendant named Kelly Duncan was seen trying to grasp a lifeline from a helicopter. The cold river made her fingers go numb, and she was unable to hold on any longer. As she slipped under the cold river, the helicopter crew frantically risked their lives to save her.

Earlier that afternoon, the Air Florida flight 90 that Duncan was on had been delayed for two hours at Washington D.C.’s National airport due to snowstorms. Soon after the plane took off, it started to shake and move, and passengers could hear the captain saying, “Come on, forward, forward, just barely climb.“ The other officer shouted, “Larry, we‘re going down!“ “I know it,“ yelled back the captain. [Read More]

Thawing Permafrost Releases ‘Giant Viruses’
Frozen for Millennia

by Valeria Moreno Lopez, age 13

Permafrost that has been untouched for thousands of years is being melted due to climate change. This could revive ancient viruses and bacteria that were buried deep in the permanently frozen subsoil. The latest discovery of an ancient virus was when French and Russian scientists investigated a 30,000 year old piece of Siberian permafrost.

In 2014, a group of scientists led by Jean-Michel Claverie discovered a new ‘giant virus’. ‘Giant viruses’ are referred to as bigger than average viruses. For example, Pithovirus sibercum is the biggest ‘giant virus’ ever found in permafrost. Measuring 1,500 nanometers across, this virus is ten times bigger than the HIV virus. [Read More]