Deborah Blum’s Poison Pen

Congratulations to Deborah Blum of Wired Science:

Deborah BlumAs readers of this blog know, I have an endless fascination—perhaps an overflowing fascination—with the chemicals, often poisonous, that are part of our everyday lives.

So I am happy to tell you that in addition to writing Elemental here at Wired, I will also be writing a monthly column on environmental chemistry at The New York Times.

The new column is called “Poison Pen” (which suits me perfectly!) and the first topic is metals in lipstick. You might be surprised to know that the latest research found nine different metals in lipstick, from lead to cadmium, aluminum to titanium.

And, yes, Poison Pen is up and running with that first story on lipstick is, indeed, up today:

A soft pink, a glowing red, even a cyanotic purple — millions of women and girls apply lipstick every day. And not just once: some style-conscious users touch up their color more than 20 times a day, according to a recent study. But are they also exposing themselves to toxic metals?

Most lipsticks contain at least a trace of lead, researchers have shown. But a new study finds a wide range of brands contain as many as eight other metals, from cadmium to aluminum. Now experts are raising questions about what happens if these metals are swallowed or otherwise absorbed on a daily basis.

“It matters because this is a chronic long-term issue, not a short-term exposure,” said Katharine Hammond, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California at Berkeley and the lead author of the new analysis. “We’re not saying that anyone needs to panic. We’re saying let’s not be complacent, that these are metals known to affect health.”

Go get ’em, Deborah!

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So tell me this isn’t embarrassing: I actually took my daughter outside to wave at Cassini last month, praising the almighty coincidences of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, psychiatry, and psychology that brought me to remember, just in time, that this was happening. The young lady, of course, was less than impressed.

So I didn’t mention anything to her, later, about how I went back down to my desk, after tucking her into bed, congratulating myself and feeling all self-satisfied, and then looking again and realizing that while JPL and I share a time zone, the shoot was planned for that hour UTC.

Damn.

Earth and Moon, as seen from Saturn; July 19, 2013Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft on July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet.

In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots—Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.

It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.

“We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth.”

Explorer Down: Kepler Ends Extended Mission

Sad news, even though NASA is looking to engineer some lemonade:

Kepler TelescopeFollowing months of analysis and testing, the Kepler Space Telescope team is ending its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and now is considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition.

Two of Kepler’s four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, have failed. The first was lost in July 2012, and the second in May [2013]. Engineers’ efforts to restore at least one of the wheels have been unsuccessful. … the spacecraft needs three functioning wheels to continue its search for Earth-sized exoplanets ….

…. Informed by contributions from the broader science community in response to the call for scientific white papers announced Aug. 2, the Kepler project team will perform a study to identify possible science opportunities for a two-wheel Kepler mission.

Depending on the outcome of these studies, which are expected to be completed later this year, NASA will assess the scientific priority of a two-wheel Kepler mission. Such an assessment may include prioritization relative to other NASA astrophysics missions competing for operational funding at the NASA Senior Review board early next year.

Explorer down.

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