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Underground observatory to show scientists what lies beneath the Earth’s surface | Science & Tech News

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An image taken from the facility shows what scientists will see beneath the surface

An underground observatory in Glasgow will give scientists from around the world a chance to look at what lies beneath the surface of the Earth.

The Glasgow Observatory is made up of 12 boreholes beneath manhole covers within a fenced compound.

Each one is 16 to 199 metres deep and fitted with 319 state-of-the-art sensors to help better understand the subsurface.

A virtual event will mark the official opening of the site, with scientists around the world being invited to apply to use it from March 2021 – in line with coronavirus restrictions.

The team behind the facility suggest it will help decarbonise UK energy supply and achieve the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

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An image taken from the facility shows what scientists will see beneath the surface

Dr Karen Hanghoj, executive director of the British Geological Survey, said: “The Glasgow Observatory builds on the city’s industrial past.

“The data from Glasgow’s abandoned mines will help us understand the processes and impacts of a mine water heat source and potential heat store as a sustainable way of heating homes and businesses in our cities.

“Over the next 15 years, the network of boreholes will monitor any changes in the properties of the environment below the surface, and help close the knowledge gap we have on mine water heat energy and heat storage.

“While today is the official opening, the Glasgow Observatory has been supplying scientists with open access data since drilling began in 2018.

“There is no other publicly-funded observatory like this in the world, and it is very fitting that it is located in Glasgow, which will host Cop26 next year.”

A second observatory is planned for another site in Cheshire.

The equipment at the site will be available to scientists from all over the world
Image:
The equipment at the site will be available to scientists from all over the world

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, executive chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: “The Glasgow Observatory is the first of our UK observatories that will create a high-resolution understanding of the underground system, providing a breakthrough in our knowledge of what lies beneath us.

“Heat from mine water is one form of geothermal energy, and it has great potential to help the UK decarbonise its heat supply and meet net zero targets.”

Professor Dame Anne Glover, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, also said: “It makes sense that the UK’s first geoenergy observatory is in Glasgow, given Scotland’s geology is world famous.

“With the government’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, emerging low carbon technologies may offer the best solutions to shaping future energy policy.

“This observatory will be absolutely key for scientists to advance the study of renewable energy and is a great example of how Scotland is leading the way in energy innovation and investigating the viability of alternative energy sources.”

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WhatsApp delays launch of business feature after privacy backlash | Science & Tech News

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WhatsApp delays launch of business feature after privacy backlash | Science & Tech News

WhatsApp is delaying the rollout of new business features following a user backlash over the company’s data sharing practices.

The delay is a setback for its plan to generate revenue by facilitating commercial exchanges on the messaging app, which Facebook acquired for $19bn in 2014 but has been slow to monetise.

WhatsApp has said users will no longer have to review and accept its updated terms by 8 February – and no accounts will be suspended or deleted by that date.

Privacy advocates have jumped on the WhatsApp changes, pointing to what they say is Facebook’s poor track record of supporting consumer interests when handling their data.

Many have suggested users would migrate to other platforms, and rival app Signal surged up the App Store charts on iPhone and the Google Play Store on Android after WhatsApp’s plan first came to light.

WhatsApp had insisted that the planned update does not affect personal conversations, which it said will continue to have end-to-end encryption, or expand its ability to share data with Facebook.

“The update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” the company said.

WhatsApp said it had set a new target date of 15 May for the launch of the business tools and will approach users gradually to review the policy changes.

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COVID-19: How long are you protected for if you’ve already had coronavirus – and are you still a risk to others? | UK News

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The study's results come as the first pharmacies start offering vaccinations

People who’ve had COVID are likely to be protected from reinfection for at least five months and have a similar defence to someone who’s been vaccinated, according to a UK study.

But does it mean those who have recovered are no longer a risk to others? And could the protection last any longer? Here’s what you need to know.

Who did the study follow and is it reliable?

More than 20,000 healthcare workers from 102 NHS trusts across the country, including frontline staff, have been tested since June by the Public Health England (PHE) Siren study.

Some 6,614 of them tested positive for antibodies at the start of the research, suggesting they’d had the virus previously in the first wave.

It’s a big cohort of people so its results are valuable – and the study is still ongoing.

How many people contracted COVID a second time?

There were only 44 potential reinfections from the 6,000-plus found to have antibodies.

Two of them were deemed “probable” cases, while 42 were “possible”, based on the evidence available.

What does it mean for the chances of contracting the virus again?

If all 44 cases are assumed to be confirmed reinfections, the protection rate is 83% compared with those who’ve not had it before.

If only the two “probable” cases are considered, the rate would be 99%, but researchers are going with the headline figure of 83%.

However, PHE says more work is going on to clarify this range.

How long does the protection last?

It appears to be at least five months, on average, from first getting sick.

The analysis of the results was done towards the end of 2020, and the study is still following the participants to see if it lasts longer.

Image:
The study’s results come as the first pharmacies start offering vaccinations

It means people infected in the first wave last spring could now be at risk of getting coronavirus again.

The study’s lead, Professor Susan Hopkins, warned the protection “is not total and we do not yet know how long [it] lasts”.

Despite the uncertainties, Dr Julian Tang – a clinical virologist at University of Leicester – said the results were still “useful and reassuring news” for medics on the frontline.

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It’s also important to note that the study was done before the new UK variant – which transmits far more easily – had become widespread.

Scientists are therefore also looking at whether “first wave” antibodies provide protection against it.

How does this ‘natural’ protection compare with vaccines?

Vaccines being rolled out in the UK, such as the Pfizer and Oxford jab, can offer over 90% protection after two shots.

In terms of length of protection, scientists aren’t sure yet – as the vaccines haven’t been around long enough to see how long people are immune for.

The vaccines may also have to be tweaked to deal with new variants of the virus – such as the one that’s been identified recently in Brazil.

If I’ve had COVID before, can I still pass it on?

It’s very possible, and the study’s authors warn that a person with antibodies may still be a clear risk to others.

They say early evidence suggests some people with immunity could carry high levels of the virus in the nose and throat, and potentially pass it on.

Can I be more relaxed if I’ve been infected before?

No – in light of the risk of potentially still being able to spread coronavirus, people must still stick to the law and government guidelines.

PHE stresses it’s “crucial that everyone continues to follow the rules and stays at home, even if they have previously had COVID-19“.

This means continuing to stick to lockdown measures and practise safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing a face covering and regular handwashing.

Will COVID be ‘easier’ the second time, and will I show symptoms?

The two “probable” reinfection cases in the study said their symptoms were less severe the second time – but it’s too early to say for sure.

However, if it were to follow other coronaviruses, a second infection could turn out more minor.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist from Warwick Medical School, said studies on common cold coronaviruses indicate that any reinfection “is unlikely to result in severe disease”.

But one notable difference with getting COVID-19 again, appears to be the likelihood of not showing any symptoms at all.

The study found people who were reinfected were significantly more likely to be asymptomatic (66%) than those contracting COVID for the first time (22%), said Professor Paul Hunter, from the Norwich School of Medicine.

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Donald Trump banned from YouTube over concerns of ‘ongoing potential for violence’ | US News

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Donald Trump banned from YouTube over concerns of 'ongoing potential for violence' | US News

Donald Trump has been banned from uploading videos on YouTube “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence”, the platform said.

YouTube, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, said it had removed new content from the president’s channel late on Tuesday for violating its policies.

Mr Trump will be unable to upload anything “for a minimum of seven days”, a spokesperson said.

This means he will not be able to post any YouTube videos to his 2.76 million subscribers before Joe Biden replaces him on 20 January.

The president uploaded eight new videos on Tuesday, including one which saw him telling reporters that “Big Tech had made a terrible mistake” by barring him.

The YouTube ban follows similar ones by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which have all suspended Mr Trump’s accounts over fears he may incite further violence following the riots on Capitol Hill last Wednesday.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove alternative website Parler from their app stores this week over concerns the far-right friendly platform may have been used by the president to spread misinformation.

It also comes after US campaign group Stop Hate for Profit threatened to organise a boycott of 1,000 advertisers if YouTube failed to take his account offline.

“If YouTube does not agree with us and join the other platforms in banning Trump, we’re going to go to the advertisers,” organiser Jim Steyer said.

Mainstream broadcasters in the US also appear to be unwilling to give Mr Trump a platform, after many, including CNN and Fox News, failed to take his speech in Alamo, Texas on Tuesday.

They chose instead to stream the latest hearing in the investigation into the violence that swept Washington DC on 6 January.

More than 170 people are being investigated and 70 have been charged over the rioting and looting of Capitol buildings that took place as Electoral College votes were counted in Congress.

Mr Trump had told his supporters to march to the Capitol, repeating false claims that Mr Biden “stole” the November election.

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