Sunday's science stories

Sep 19, 2021 - Science

California wildfire has, so far, missed group of giant sequoias

A Sequoia tree wrapped in fire-resistant foil as the KNP Complex Fire reached Sequoia National Park. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The KNP Complex Fire, which reached the western edge of Sequoia National Park Saturday night, has so far spared a group of giant sequoias, local authorities said on Sunday.

Why it matters: The forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including one that is considered the largest tree on Earth by volume. The giant trees are considered "national treasures," and protective measures, such as wrapping portions of the trees in fire-resistant foil, are in place to curb damage.

Sep 19, 2021 - Science

Elon Musk pledges $50 million toward Inspiration4 fundraiser for St. Jude

Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pledged $50 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital hours after the Inspiration4 crew splashed down on Saturday.

Why it matters: The all-civilian spaceflight was created, in part, as a fundraiser for St. Jude to raise $200 million. The mission had received $100 million from billionaire Jared Isaacman, who purchased the flight, and raised an additional $60.2 million before Musk's contribution, according to CNBC.

Updated Sep 19, 2021 - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rises in the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest on Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 18, 2021 - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.

Formerly redlined areas now are often urban heat islands

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Heat is typically the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S. — but depending on the neighborhood, some city residents experience cooler, more manageable temperatures than others.

Why it matters: All cities trap heat, with their darkly colored asphalt and energy absorbent buildings — a phenomenon known as the Urban Heat Island effect. However, within these heat islands, some areas are consistently hotter.

Public health mapping key to saving lives in disasters

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The increasing number of extreme weather incidents is spurring calls from emergency services workers and state and local officials for better public health mapping to identify and assist people at risk from environmental disasters.

Why it matters: People of color, especially Black Americans, have been disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are more likely to die of environmental causes now and in the future.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Sep 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Climate change could hit people of color especially hard

Data: EPA; Note: Relative effects at 2°C warming above 1986-2005 average and 50 centimeters of sea level rise;  Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

A growing environmental threat to communities of color — particularly Black Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans — is the damage some are likely to suffer because of climate change in the coming years.

The big picture: This visual is based on an EPA analysis released this month that explores how warming and rising seas could make life especially miserable for people of color based on where they currently live in the lower 48 states.

Communities of color bear disproportionate flood risk

Data: First Street Foundation; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

A national study out earlier this year from the nonprofit First Street Foundation supports what experts have long believed: The National Flood Insurance Program undercharges for flood insurance in certain areas, making it cheaper and easier for people to live in dangerous places if they’re willing to take the risk.

The big picture: The group found 4.2 million properties across the country face major flood risk and pay too little in flood insurance; a quarter of those were in Florida. And the data show the risk is racially lopsided.

Henry Herrera and the legacy of the Trinity Test

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer. Photos: Russell Contreras/Axios, Fotosearch/Getty Images

On a cool July dawn, 11-year-old Henry Herrera and his father were outside their home in Tularosa, New Mexico, when they saw a bright light and heard the boom of what turned out to be the world's first atomic bomb test.

  • Hours later, their home was covered in ash.

Why it matters: Three-quarters of a century later, Hispanic and Mescalero Apache families and descendants of those living near the Trinity Test are dealing with rare cancers that have devastated nearly four generations, while the federal government ignored, dismissed and forgot them.

Race and the environment in America

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Most of us take the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink for granted. But for people of color, the environment is often the cause of chronic, sometimes fatal health issues.

Sep 18, 2021 - Science

Inspiration4's all-civilian crew calls Tom Cruise from space

Photo: Neil Mockford/GC Images via Getty Images

The all-civilian SpaceX crew called actor Tom Cruise on Friday, giving him a glimpse into their experience in orbit two days after the successful Inspiration4 launch.

Don't forget: NASA announced last year that it would work with Cruise on a film aboard the International Space Station — though it's unclear where that currently stands.