Excerpts from science, technology, environment and health reports from around the web.

Former physicist Angela Merkel seeks third term as German chancellor

On Sunday millions of Germans will cast their votes in a federal election that will determine Germany's chancellor for the next four years. First elected chancellor in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, physicist Angela Merkel will be expecting strong support from scientists and educators, feeling that she has done plenty during the past eight years to keep them happy. Recent polls put Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU union in the lead with around 40% of the vote.

4 climate myths you'll hear this week

Leading into Friday's upcoming release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report, climate skeptics have gone into overdrive. They're doing anything they can to undermine public acceptance of the dangers posed by global warming, which, at least according to a leaked draft of the report, is "extremely likely" (or, 95 percent certain) to be caused by human activities.

Unfortunately, much of this glut of misinformation is likely to make its way to people in your life—whether it's your congressman, your favorite talk radio host, or even your family. Heck, this stuff might even pop up in a heated conversation over your dinner table with your Uncle Larry (who always seems to be dying to argue about climate change).

Learning to expect less from the war on cancer

When the American Association for Cancer Research released its 2013 progress report last week, it was faced with a familiar dilemma: how to emphasize the good news and the bad news both at the same time. To keep government funding flowing in, the leaders of the research establishment bring out statistics suggesting that tax money isn’t being wasted — that progress is really being made. But lest we become too complacent they are ready with numbers emphasizing how badly we are losing the fight. Sometimes they want to assuage and sometimes they want to frighten, and so they keep two sets of books.

According to ledger number 1, we are winning or at least keeping up. The overall likelihood of an individual getting cancer and dying from it has been holding steady and even decreasing a little every year. But ledger number 2 clearly shows that more people than ever are dying of the disease.

NASA’s plutonium problem could end deep-space exploration

In 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft left Earth on a five-year mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Thirty-six years later, the car-size probe is still exploring, still sending its findings home. It has now put more than 19 billion kilometers between itself and the sun. Last week NASA announced that Voyager 1 had become the first man-made object to reach interstellar space.

The distance this craft has covered is almost incomprehensible. It’s so far away that it takes more than 17 hours for its signals to reach Earth. Along the way, Voyager 1 gave scientists their first close-up looks at Saturn, took the first images of Jupiter’s rings, discovered many of the moons circling those planets and revealed that Jupiter’s moon Io has active volcanoes. Now the spacecraft is discovering what the edge of the solar system is like, piercing the heliosheath where the last vestiges of the sun’s influence are felt and traversing the heliopause where cosmic currents overcome the solar wind. Voyager 1 is expected to keep working until 2025 when it will finally run out of power.

None of this would be possible without the spacecraft’s three batteries filled with plutonium-238.

What, exactly, does China want from outer space?

The Soviet Union in 1961. The United States in 1962. China in 2003. It took a long time for a taikonaut to join the list of cosmonauts and astronauts who have gone into orbit around Earth and (in a few cases) ventured beyond that, to the Moon. But China has now arrived as a space power, and one mark of this has been the International Astronautical Federation’s decision to hold its 64th congress in Beijing.

The congress, which is attended by representatives of all the world’s space agencies, from America and Russia to Nigeria and Syria, is a place where eager boffins can discuss everything from the latest in rocket design and the effects of microgravity on the thyroid to how best an asteroid might be mined and how to weld metal for fuel tanks.

Google Street View images: Deep inside the CERN particle physics lab

Back in 2011, Google's Street View cameras went deep inside the huge, amazing physics laboratories and research areas at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland, capturing spectacular photographic images of the massive facility.

Now, those images have finally been revealed in the latest Google Street View collection, Pascale Milite of the Google Street View operations team, wrote in a Sept. 26 post on the Google Europe Blog.

Scientists develop human-on-a-chip to research chemical warfare agent exposure

There was a time when the thought of manufacturing organs in the laboratory was science fiction, but now that science is a reality.

Scientists at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) and academia collaborators have been conducting research of “organs” on microchips. ECBC is one of a few laboratories in the world conducting this research effort, but what sets ECBC apart is that its research will directly impact the warfighter.

In search of the next boom, developers cram their apps into smart watches

The age of wearable computing is upon us. Forget the debate over how capable or fashionable the first devices are, how popular they may eventually become, or even whether we fully understand what we’re getting into with these devices. The big question is simply: what will they do? And the answer will have much to do with the apps that emerge.

Kepler Space Telescope's broken wheel could aid stellar physics

NASA’s exoplanet-hunting telescope has always had an unsung talent for star physics on the side. Now that Kepler’s primary mission is compromised by broken reaction wheels on the spacecraft, some scientists hope to refocus it on an unprecedented study of the most massive stars in our galaxy, whose inner workings are the least well understood of all star classes.

During the four years since its launch, Kepler has discovered more than 3,000 exoplanet candidates, multiplying many times over the tally of known worlds beyond our solar system. But in July 2012 one of its four stabilizing reaction wheels failed, and then in May 2013 a second one gave up the ghost, leaving the spacecraft without the ability to point itself precisely toward a single spot in the sky.


This Week in ScienceAugust 21, 2013

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