Second: Astronomers have located the nearest alien world to ours, a tidally locked rocky planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri B, only four light years away. The planet’s discovery is a crowning triumph of the search for expolanets, as Rebecca Boyle writes in a barnstorming story for this very publication:
No one will ever find a closer alien world than this. This is it. No other faint, cool stars lurk in the abyss between the Alpha Centauri system and our solar system. In a way, the first discovery of a possibly habitable planet in our backyard is also a final discovery. In the hunt for our cosmic neighbors, this planet is as good as it gets.
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In the week beginning August 14, 2016, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded an average atmospheric carbon level of 401.85 parts per million. At this time last year, atmospheric levels stood at 399.10 ppm. Ten years ago, Mauna Loa measured atmospheric CO₂ at 380.83 ppm. Levels of 350 ppm or lower are considered safe.
In much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the final week of meteorological summer. The temperate Southern Hemisphere—in the continents, that means South America, South Africa, and much of Australia—will lapse into meteorological spring next week as well.
A new paper in Nature proposes that global warming in the Northern Hemisphere began in the 1830s—much earlier than previously thought—and that it was also caused by anthropogenic carbon emissions.
The American pioneer of the global campaign to eradicate small pox has died. I didn’t know that the USSR pushed WHO to embark on the global eradication campaign, nor that the small pox campaign didn’t work by vaccinating everyone but, rather, by vaccinating only people who had contact with small pox patients and the people who had contact with them. Small pox is still the only disease successfully eradicated from general circulation.
In U.S. politics, the Bakken pipeline, a 1,712-mile project that would funnel oil from oil fields in North Dakota to a river port in Illinois, was approved by the federal government. And more than 1,000 protesters—many from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation straddles land otherwise in North and South Dakota—succeeded in halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pass beneath the Missouri River.
Bernie Sanders announced that restricting fracking and ensuring climate justice would be policy focuses of his new political group, Our Revolution.
In U.S. policy, President Obama has declared that a privately preserved area near Maine’s Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, is a national monument. It is likely the last large expanse of preserved land on the East Coast that will receive national protection. (Why isn’t it a national park? A president can summarily declare a national monument into existence via executive authority, but would require Congressional approval for a national park.)