This Week in Science 2017–10–16

Astronomers see gravitational waves in visible light for 1st time

A never-before-seen explosion from the merger of two dense astral bodies known as neutron stars has been viewed with telescopes for the first time.
“We did it again,” National Science Foundation’s director France Cordova said in a press conference on Monday.
The explosion occurred in a galaxy 130 million light years from Earth.
When these two small, but densely packed, stars merged, it triggered a cataclysmic explosion that was first seen by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile. It was followed up by 70 observatories — including the Hubble Space Telescope — and thousands of astronomers around the world.
The source brightened and then faded.


Trump’s UNESCO exit draws critics, but will have little immediate impact

To the dismay of many researchers, the U.S. government announced last week that it would formally withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) based in Paris. The decision — which is not expected to cause major disruptions in UNESCO’s science programs — comes roughly 6 years after the United States stopped contributing funds to the organization because of its recognition of Palestine, and 4 years after the United States lost its UNESCO voting rights.
In a statement issued on 12 October, the U.S. Department of State cited three reasons for its decision: UNESCO has an “anti-Israel bias,” needs “fundamental reform,” and the United States has a mounting financial debt to the organization that, under U.S. law, it cannot pay.
UNESCO expressed “profound regret” at the decision, which will take effect on 31 December 2018. The organization’s director-general, Irina Bokova, highlighted UNESCO’s “interaction with the United States Geological Survey, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with United States professional societies, to advance research for the sustainable management of water resources, agriculture,” as examples of valuable joint work.


Some faiths more likely to turn to religion for answers to science

When it comes to seeking answers to questions about science, evangelical and black Protestants and Mormons are more likely than the general population to turn to religion, according to a new study by researchers from Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, the University of Nevada-Reno and West Virginia University.
The study, which is slated to appear in an upcoming edition of the journal Public Understanding of Science, is the first to measure whether people would actively consult a religious authority or source of information with a question about science, said lead researcher Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, a professor of sociology at Rice and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program.
“Our findings suggest that religion does not necessarily push individuals away from science sources, but religion might lead people to turn to religious sources in addition to scientific sources,” Ecklund said.


5 Questions That Science Can’t Answer Yet

Science is one of the greatest tools for expanding understanding that mankind ever devised. While it’s reasonable to trust that science will eventually answer our unsolved questions, assuming that it has all of the answers right now is not. Here, we look at five of the biggest unanswered questions in science. There is no reason to think that we won’t get the answers to these questions eventually, but right now these are the issues on the cutting edge of science.

What are the boundaries of the Universe?

The universe is expanding, which we’ve known for a while. But where is, or what is, the boundary? We can only see a part of the universe, the so called “observable universe”, which goes on for 46.5 billion light years in all directions. However, we can only interact with things inside of 16 billion light years. But how far does it go past that?


Women in science ask fewer questions than men, according to new research

Stereotypes suggest that women love to talk, with some studies even finding that women say three times as much as men. But, new research from a team from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, shows there is an exception to this rule: professional STEM events, which could be indicative of the wider problem of gender inequality in the field.
In new research published in PLOS ONE, the scientists studied question-asking behaviour at a large international conference. The conference, the 2015 International Congress for Conservation Biology, had a clear code of conduct for its 2000 attendees, which promoted equality and prohibited any form of discrimination.
The team observed 31 sessions across the four day conference, counting how many questions were asked and whether men or women were asking them. Accounting for the number of men and women in the audience, the findings show that male attendees asked 80% more questions than female attendees. The same pattern was also found in younger researchers, suggesting that it is not simply due to senior researchers, a large proportion of whom are men, asking all of the questions.