30th September 2020

In_pictures Africa’s week in pictures: 4-10 September 2020

In_pictures Africa’s week in pictures: 4-10 September 2020



A selection of the week’s best photos from across the continent and beyond:

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Tuesday members of the Tigray circus rehearse in the Ethiopian city of Mekeele…

image copyrightGetty Images

image caption… the circus provides training for disadvantaged young people.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Friday former Congolese wrestler Maitre Satonge pays tribute to his former colleague and friend, Alphonse Mwimba Makiease, a champion of albino rights, who died after a year-long illness.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionActivists from the South African opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters protest outside the shop Clicks in Polokwane on Monday over a shampoo advert which described black hair as dull and white hair as normal.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Wednesday a school acts as a polling station for the Tigray regional parliamentary election in northern Ethiopia…

image copyrightGetty Images

image caption… Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government postponed all elections because of the coronavirus pandemic and has deemed this election illegal…

image copyrightGetty Images

image caption… the election represents the latest challege to Mr Abiy’s authority.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Tuesday people in Sudan’s capital Khartoum continue to struggle with floods…

image copyrightGetty Images

image caption… countrywide, floods have killed nearly 100 people and made thousands homeless.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionMeanwhile, on the other side of the continent, floods also hit Senegal’s capital Dakar.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Monday this scene is captured in the alleyways of the Kibera neighbourhood of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOn Tuesday protesters in London demand reparations for those affected by oil spills in the Niger Delta in Nigeria.

Pictures from AFP, Getty Images, EPA and Reuters.

30th September 2020

In_pictures Africa’s week in pictures: 11 – 17 September 2020

In_pictures Africa’s week in pictures: 11 – 17 September 2020



A selection of the week’s best photos from across the continent and beyond:

image copyrightEPA

image captionThree men head out for an early morning paddle on Tuesday on the Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg, South Africa…

image copyrightReuters

image captionDays earlier in the neighbourhood of Soweto, a customer visits a hair salon…

image copyrightReuters

image captionSeen from the outside here, also on Friday.

image copyrightAFP

image captionOn Sunday Hyvin Kiyeng, Mercy Chepkurui and Beatrice Chepkoech – all Kenyan – compete at the Istaf athletics event in Germany.

image copyrightEPA

image captionA sleepy student yawns on Tuesday as Tunisia’s schools reopen for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began in March.

image copyrightEPA

image captionOn Saturday thousands of supporters attend a rally in Ivory Coast’s capital for former President Henri Konan Bédié, who is standing for election once again at next month’s polls. His long-time rival Alassane Ouattara is seeking a third term in office following the sudden death of his protégé Amadou Gon Coulibaly.

image copyrightAFP

image captionSerious flooding in parts of Sudan’s capital Khatoum is seen from the air on Monday.

image copyrightEPA

image captionLeaders of West Africa’s regional bloc Ecowas lead talks with Mali’s military on Tuesday, as they seek a transition to civilian rule following last month’s coup.

image copyrightEPA

image captionAnd South Africans wait to pay tribute to the passing funeral procession of anti-apartheid activist George Bizos. The human rights lawyer, who represented Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial, died last week aged 92.

Pictures from Reuters, EPA and AFP.

30th September 2020

In_pictures Ruth Bader Ginsburg in pictures and her own words

In_pictures Ruth Bader Ginsburg in pictures and her own words


in_pictures US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participates in an annual Women's History Month reception hosted by Pelosi in Washington DC, in 2015Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg: “When contemplated in its extreme, almost any power looks dangerous”

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has died of cancer at the age of 87, was a passionate, astute and outspoken advocate of women’s rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.

As serious as she was about these subjects, she also had a way of highlighting critical issues with humour, embracing her nickname “Notorious RBG” and commenting that she and rapper Notorious BIG had something in common: “We were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York.”

Here, we look back at some of Ginsburg’s most memorable quotes on gender equality, law and being remembered.

In_pictures On gender equality and sex discrimination:

The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.

in_pictures Former President Bill Clinton reacts to a remark made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 3 August 1993Image copyright

Image caption

Ginsburg speaks alongside then-President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn after being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993

I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women judges on the US Supreme Court bench] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.

in_pictures Members of the US Supreme Court, 1993Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg (top right) said she just wanted to do her job on the bench at the Supreme Court “to the best of my ability”

– Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.

– Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.

in_pictures Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives for President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Washington, 24 February 2009Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg is greeted with applause as she arrives for a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Washington in 2009

– As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.

– I pray that I may be all that [my mother] would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons.

In_pictures On law and her career:

– I became a lawyer for selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other.

– When contemplated in its extreme, almost any power looks dangerous.

in_pictures US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington DC, 7 August 2002Image copyright
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington DC in 2002

– A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.

– Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.

in_pictures Ruth Bader Ginsburg smiles as she receives an honorary degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the institution's 40th anniversary, in New YorkImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg receives an honorary degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004

– Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view.

In_pictures On being an inspiration and on being remembered:

– Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

in_pictures Alyson Cambridge wipes away a tear as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiates her wedding to Timothy Eloe in the garden of Anderson House in Washington DC, 30 May 2015Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ginsburg, an opera lover, officiates the wedding of American operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge, in 2015

– I just try to do the good job that I have to the best of my ability and I really don’t think about whether I’m inspirational. I just do the best I can.

– Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.

in_pictures US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robesImage copyright

Image caption

Ginsburg shows off one of her many collars that became a symbol for dissents

– [I would like to be remembered as] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.

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In_pictures You might also be interested in:

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Media captionJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remembered

All images are subject to copyright.

30th September 2020

In_pictures How photographers track down stolen pictures

In_pictures How photographers track down stolen pictures


in_pictures Sean Heavey stands in front of his picture, Image copyright
Sean R. Heavey

Image caption

Sean Heavey with his picture, The Mothership

Sean Heavey recognised his photo the moment he saw it on Stranger Things.

“God, that storm looks familiar,” he said, as he and his son watched the hit Netflix show.

When he watched a documentary about the making of the series, he became certain.

“They saved it off of Google, added a foreground to it and used it as a piece of concept art,” Mr Heavey says.

No-one else had photographed this supercell thunderstorm; no other cars drove down the road that day, to chase it across the Montana prairie.

He called the four panoramic shots he had stitched together The Mothership.

Image copyright
Sean R. Heavey

Image caption

Four panoramic shots were stitched together to form The Mothership

“I should have got credit and paid for it,” says Mr Heavey.

He tried to contact Netflix, but the company told him, “You can’t copyright Mother Nature.” His case stalled.

Chasing storms is no hobby for Mr Heavey.

Getting that perfect shot costs him thousands of dollars in petrol every year. He braves “golf ball-sized hail”, winds raging over 100mph and rescues stranded people.

He complained on social media and his remarks were read by executives at Pixsy, a firm that helps photographers fight copyright infringement. They contacted Mr Heavey and, eager for the help, he agreed to work with them.

Image copyright
Sean R. Heavey

Image caption

Mr Heavey chases dangerous storms across the US to get his pictures

Pixsy appointed Mr Heavey a lawyer, David Deal, and together they found six more occasions where Netflix used The Mothership. Netflix settled the lawsuit in December 2018, according to records seen by the BBC.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

In the UK, if convicted in a magistrates’ court of copyright infringement you could face six months in jail or a fine of up to £50,000. Conviction in a Crown Court could carry a penalty of 10 years in jail and/or an unlimited fine.

In the United States, fines can reach $150,000 (£115,000) every time a picture is used the wrong way.

When a case is successful, firms like Pixsy collect 50% of the settlement or award at court.

“They all settle,” says Mr Deal, of copyright cases.

He says this is because the law is clear cut.

More Technology of Business

Pixsy is one of a handful of companies that has developed image look-up technology to monitor and pursue copyright infringement on behalf of photographers.

Its service incorporates artificial intelligence that has been trained to match an artist’s work with instances on the web.

It can also identify alterations including crops, re-colouring and layers added or removed.

The moment a picture is taken, as long as it was taken by a human being, it is protected by intellectual property laws.

More than 2.5 billion images are stolen daily, according to a 2019 study by Copytrack, a copyright search and enforcement firm. Many of these are found using a technology called reverse image look-up.

This works like Bing or Google, but rather than using words to find related information, the search matches pictures.

Some of the free image search engines, like TinEye and Google, will also verify when and where a picture was taken and if it was altered.

Copyright infringement firms use this same technology but will also hire a lawyer and cover the costs of filing a lawsuit.

Image copyright

Image caption

“We’re happy to be the bad guy,” says Kain Jones, the chief executive of Pixsy

Pixsy is close to filing its 100,000th case of copyright infringement in five years. It currently monitors close to 100 million images.

“Keeping on top of all of this is impossible for any individual. For us, we see this as a very big problem for photo owners and photo creators,” says Kain Jones, the chief executive of Pixsy.

He argues that licence fees are “bread and butter” to many photographers.

“That’s where we come in, where we’re happy to be the bad guy,” Mr Jones says.

However, Chip Stewart, a media law professor at Texas Christian University in the US, says that because so many of these cases settle out of court, the system is ripe for abuse.

Recently, a student of his used an image from a Creative Commons website for the school newspaper. Though she did not have to pay a licence fee, she did not follow the requirements listed under the photo, to credit the photographer or add a link to his website.

Image copyright
Jeffrey McWhorter

Image caption

Law professor Chip Stewart says the system favours copyright owners

Through Pixsy, the photographer found the student and issued her a letter asking for a $750 licence fee.

“The 20-year-old student was pretty terrified getting a demand letter and she said, ‘I thought we did everything right.’ And I said, ‘I can tell you right now that you didn’t, but it’s an easy mistake to make.'”

A search through public records revealed that the photographer had filed more than 40 similar cases that year. They negotiated him down and agreed to pay a fee of $500.

Fighting over such a small fee in court would cost a fortune.

“It is not worth two years and tens of thousands of dollars of litigation on the off-chance we might win. And if you lose, you might pay the lawyer fees. That’s what these copyright troll firms realise – is that the system is so heavily weighted in favour of copyright owners,” says Mr Stewart.

In response Pixsy said: “One of our key criteria [for Pixsy to work on the case] is that it is a commercial usage of the photo. In your example of the private university, they are a revenue-generating organisation and are not exempt from copyright law. A case would be with the university itself and not an individual student.”

Some actors have given those who pursue copyright claims a bad reputation. One particularly prolific lawyer, Richard Liebowitz, has been dubbed a “copyright troll”, having filed about 1,280 cases in the Southern District of New York since 2017.

As well as the sheer number of cases he’s filed, his behaviour has not endeared him to the courts and a judge recently fined him $103,500 for misconduct, which included “repeated violations of court orders and outright dishonesty, sometimes under oath”.

Image copyright
Nile Hawver

Image caption

Joe Naylor’s company helps defend the copyright of professional photographers

Joe Naylor is the chief executive of ImageRights International, another company like Pixsy that uses technology to help photographers pursue copyright infringement.

He says lawyers like Liebowitz are bad for the industry.

“It does profound and fundamental damage to copyright holders who are trying to protect their rights,” says Mr Naylor.

Pursuing licence fees must always be the photographer’s choice. However, Mr Naylor says his company does not recommend photographers go after non-profit blogs or student newspapers.

While he understands this happens, he says ImageRights International is more interested in defending professional photographers like Sean Heavey.

“There’s literally no word that can be spoken to me that makes me more angry than photographers being called trolls for trying to pursue their own claims.”

Image copyright
Sean R. Heavey

Image caption

Mr Heavey says photographers have to protect their images

Sean Heavey still sees instances of The Mothership used without permission.

If people credit the picture he “lets it slide”, especially if there is no profit involved.

Recently he found a lady who was selling prints of the photo claiming it was her picture. Another Instagram influencer often claims The Mothership is his.

He says: “Being able to stand up and know your rights – it’s good, because it keeps food on the table for my family.”

30th September 2020

In_pictures PSG offer ‘strong support’ to Neymar after racism allegation

In_pictures PSG offer ‘strong support’ to Neymar after racism allegation


in_pictures Neymar is sent off
Neymar was dismissed for making contact with the back of Gonzalez’s head, after the incident was viewed by VAR replay

Paris St-Germain will “strongly support” their Brazilian playmaker Neymar after he said he was racially abused by Marseille defender Alvaro Gonzalez.

Neymar was the last of five red cards in Sunday’s bad-tempered Ligue 1 match, sent off for hitting Gonzalez.

On Twitter, Neymar accused his opponent of racism and urged the authorities to use VAR to clarify matters.

Marseille have made a statement saying Gonzalez is not racist.

PSG said there was “no place for racism in society, football or in our lives”.

In a short statement issued on Monday, the French champions said the club “looks forward to [French governing body] the LFP’s disciplinary commission investigating and ascertaining the facts”.

“The club remains at the LFP’s disposal for any assistance required,” the statement added.

Marseille’s statement said: “Alvaro Gonzalez is not racist; he demonstrated it to us by his daily behaviour since joining the club, as his team-mates have already testified.”

The statement warned of the “serious consequences” of the private telephone numbers of Gonzalez and his relatives being released on Brazilian media and social networks, which had led to “constant harassment, consisting in particular of death threats”.

It added Marseille were “the very symbol of anti-racism in French professional sport, given its history and that of the city of Marseille, the diversity of its stands and the relentless struggle it leads always to eradicate this scourge”.

The statement continued: “Its players demonstrate it in their daily commitment on and off the pitch.”

Neymar and team-mates Leandro Paredes and Layvin Kurzawa, plus Marseille pair Jordan Amavi and Dario Benedetto, were dismissed after trouble broke out in added time following a shove by Paredes on Benedetto.

After his dismissal, Neymar informed the fourth official he had been subjected to racial abuse by Gonzalez and later wrote of the Spaniard: “Insulting and bringing racism into our lives no, I don’t agree. I don’t respect you, you have no character.”

Gonzalez denied racism and accused Neymar of being a bad loser.

The LFP disciplinary committee will meet on Wednesday to examine all five red cards and will use reports from officials and match pictures to decide whether further disciplinary action is taken.

30th September 2020

In_pictures Sydney blue whale: Rare sighting was ‘possibly third in 100 years’

In_pictures Sydney blue whale: Rare sighting was ‘possibly third in 100 years’


in_pictures A blue whaleImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The sighting of the blue whale has been described as “extremely rare” (file photo)

A blue whale has been spotted off the coast of Sydney in Australia for possibly only the third time in almost 100 years, wildlife authorities say.

The whale was seen last month in waters near the beachside suburb of Maroubra in New South Wales.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) confirmed the “extremely rare” sighting on Friday.

Blue whales – the largest animals on Earth – are rarely seen so close to the shore, it said.

“The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet yet despite its size it could have easily slipped by Sydney’s coast unnoticed,” Andrew Marshall of the NPWS said in a news release.

Mr Marshall said the sea creature may have been more than 25m (82ft) in length and weighed more than 100 tonnes (100,000kg).

Yet despite their size, blue whales are “largely ‘invisible’ even to the most avid whale watchers”, Mr Marshall said.

“They are not often seen because they tend to live very far out to sea, their populations are widely dispersed and we have very limited data on its migration and critical habitat,” he said.

The rarity of the sighting was not lost on one photographer, who managed to take pictures of the whale as it swam along the coast near Maroubra.

“I’m speechless but could blurt out a million things at the same time,” the photographer said of the sighting in an Instagram post.

“Yesterday watching a lot of humpbacks travel south in my usual spot at Maroubra, one of the great wonders of the magical ocean appeared in-front of me: a blue whale.”

The photographer said he was “completely mesmerised” by the whale, adding: “I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.”

Mr Marshall said the sighting was “the first verified record of this species off our coast”.

Unlike the humpback whale, which is showing signs of an annual population recovery of about 10-11%, the blue whale population in NSW’s waters remains elusive.

“That’s why opportunistic sightings like this one are so incredibly valuable,” said Mr Marshall.

“They improve our understanding of where these species live and suggest if there are measures we need to consider to try to protect them.”

In_pictures You may also be interested in:

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Media captionA blue whale has washed up dead on a beach in Japan – the first time one has been sighted there

30th September 2020

Technology Is there life floating in the clouds of Venus?

Technology Is there life floating in the clouds of Venus?


Technology VenusImage copyright
JAXA/ISAS/Akatsuki Project Team

Image caption

Planet Venus: The phosphine is detected at mid-latitudes

It’s an extraordinary possibility – the idea that living organisms are floating in the clouds of Planet Venus.

But this is what astronomers are now considering after detecting a gas in the atmosphere they can’t explain.

That gas is phosphine – a molecule made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms.

On Earth, phosphine is associated with life, with microbes living in the guts of animals like penguins, or in oxygen-poor environments such as swamps.

For sure, you can make it industrially, but there are no factories on Venus; and there are certainly no penguins.

So why is this gas there, 50km up from the planet’s surface? Prof Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University, UK and colleagues are asking just this question.

They’ve published a paper in the journal Nature Astronomy detailing their observations of phosphine at Venus, as well as the investigations they’ve made to try to show this molecule could have a natural, non-biological origin.

But for the moment, they’re stumped – as they tell the BBC’s Sky At Night programme, which has talked at length to the team. You can see the show on BBC Four tonight (Monday) at 22:30 BST.

Given everything we know about Venus and the conditions that exist there, no-one has yet been able to describe an abiotic pathway to phosphine, not in the quantities that have been detected. This means a life source deserves consideration.

“Through my whole career I have been interested in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe, so I’m just blown away that this is even possible,” Prof Greaves said. “But, yes, we are genuinely encouraging other people to tell us what we might have missed. Our paper and data are open access; this is how science works.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow corrosive is sulphuric acid? Dr William Bains shows Sky At Night’s Chris Lintott

Technology What exactly has the team detected?

Prof Greaves’ team first identified phosphine at Venus using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, and then confirmed its presence using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.

Phosphine has a distinctive “absorption line” that these radio telescopes discern at a wavelength of about 1mm. The gas is observed at mid-latitudes on the planet at roughly 50-60km in altitude. The concentration is small – making up only 10-20 parts in every billion atmospheric molecules – but in this context, that’s a lot.

Image copyright

Image caption

The phosphine molecule is made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms

Technology Why is this so interesting?

Venus is not at the top of the list when thinking of life elsewhere in our Solar System. Compared to Earth, it’s a hellhole. With 96% of the atmosphere made up of carbon dioxide, it has experienced a runaway greenhouse effect. Surface temperatures are like those in a pizza oven – over 400C.

Space probes that have landed on the planet have survived just minutes before breaking down. And yet, go 50km up and it’s actually “shirtsleeves conditions”. So, if there really is life on Venus, this is exactly where we might expect to find it.

Image copyright

Image caption

Artwork: Venus is envisioned as a hellish world, an unlikely candidate to host life

Technology Why should we be sceptical?

The clouds. They’re thick and they’re mainly composed (75-95%) of sulphuric acid, which is catastrophic for the cellular structures that make up living organisms on Earth.

Dr William Bains, who’s affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, is a biochemist on the team. He’s studied various combinations of different compounds expected to be on Venus; he’s examined whether volcanoes, lightning and even meteorites could play a role in making PH3 – and all of the chemical reactions he’s investigated, he says, are 10,000 times too weak to produce the amount of phosphine that’s been observed.

To survive the sulphuric acid, Dr Bains believes, airborne Venusian microbes would either have to use some unknown, radically different biochemistry, or evolve a kind of armour.

“In principle, a more water-loving life could hide itself away inside a protective shell of some sorts inside the sulphuric acid droplets,” he told Sky At Night. “We’re talking bacteria surrounding themselves by something tougher than Teflon and completely sealing themselves in. But then how do they eat? How do they exchange gases? It’s a real paradox.”

Image caption

The Soviet probes that landed survived just long enough to radio back a handful of pictures

Technology What’s been the reaction?

Cautious and intrigued. The team emphatically is not claiming to have found life on Venus, only that the idea needs to be further explored as scientists also hunt down any overlooked geological or abiotic chemical pathways to phosphine.

Oxford University’s Dr Colin Wilson worked on the European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe (2006-2014), and is a leading figure in the development of a new mission concept called EnVision. He said Prof Greaves’ observations would spur a new wave of research at the planet.

“It’s really exciting and will lead to new discoveries – even if the original phosphine detection were to turn out to be a spectroscopic misinterpretation, which I don’t think it will. I think that life in Venus’ clouds today is so unlikely that we’ll find other chemical pathways of creating phosphine in the atmosphere – but we’ll discover lots of interesting things about Venus in this search,” he told BBC News.

Prof Lewis Dartnell from the University of Westminster is similarly cautious. He’s an astrobiologist – someone who studies the possibilities of life beyond Earth. He thinks Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are a better bet to find life.

“If life can survive in the upper cloud-decks of Venus – that’s very illuminating, because it means maybe life is very common in our galaxy as a whole. Maybe life doesn’t need very Earth-like planets and could survive on other, hellishly-hot, Venus-like planets across the Milky Way.”

Image copyright

Image caption

The phosphine signal was confirmed by the ALMA telescope facility in Chile

Technology How can the question be resolved?

By sending a probe to investigate specifically the atmosphere of Venus.

The US space agency (Nasa) asked scientists recently to sketch the design for a potential flagship mission in the 2030s. Flagships are the most capable – and most expensive – ventures undertaken by Nasa. This particular concept proposed an aerobot, or instrumented balloon, to travel through the clouds of Venus.

“The Russians did this with their Vega balloon (in 1985),” said team-member Prof Sara Seager from MIT. “It was coated with Teflon to protect it from sulphuric acid and floated around for a couple of days, making measurements.

“We could definitely go make some in-situ measurements. We could concentrate the droplets and measure their properties. We could even bring a microscope along and try to look for life itself.”

Image copyright

Image caption

Artwork: One of the best ways to resolve the uncertainty would be with instrumented balloons

The Sky At Night special on this story can be seen at 22:30 on BBC Four, and afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

30th September 2020

Technology Hundreds of trains to benefit from £55m upgrades

Technology Hundreds of trains to benefit from £55m upgrades



image copyrightPeter Alvey

image captionHundreds of trains are set to be upgraded in the refurbishments

A fleet of 270 trains will undergo a £55m modernisation to improve travel for passengers.

The five-year project will see upgrades to Southern, Gatwick Express and Great Northern trains including real-time passenger information screens.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Porterbrook, the owner of the trains, will also equip carriages with environmentally friendly LED lighting.

The improvements will give “a better on-board experience”, GTR said.

Trains to benefit from “Project Aurora” include 214 on the Southern network between London, Surrey, Sussex and the south coast, and 56 on Great Northern or Gatwick Express routes.

While parts of the fleet are just five years old, most trains have been in service for between 15 and 20 years.

GTR’s engineers will install features including on-board real-time information through media screens, USB and power points and passenger counting technology.

The trains will also be fitted with an upgraded data recorder that will help predict and diagnose faults and streamline maintenance.

New forward-facing CCTV cameras will also help GTR and Network Rail investigate incidents that have delayed services.

GTR’s engineering director, Steve Lammin, said: “Taking on board our passengers’ feedback, this multi-faceted upgrade by our own team at Selhurst Depot will provide a better on-board experience and more reliability.”

Mary Grant, Porterbrook chief executive, said: “We are committed to helping GTR meet the needs of its travelling customers.”

The first completed upgrade is scheduled for autumn.

30th September 2020

Technology Coronavirus testing: Simple test gives results in 90 minutes

Technology Coronavirus testing: Simple test gives results in 90 minutes


Technology DNA Nudge kitImage copyright
Imperial College London

A rapid test can accurately diagnose a coronavirus infection within 90 minutes without needing a specialist laboratory, say scientists.

The study by Imperial College London showed the “lab-on-a-chip” gave comparable results to current tests.

The device is already being used in eight NHS hospitals to quickly identify patients who are carrying the virus.

However, experts warn that the kit will not be a solution to the beleaguered Test and Trace programme.

The device, developed by the company DnaNudge, can be used by anyone capable of taking a swab of the nose or throat.

The swab is placed inside a disposable blue cartridge which contains the chemicals needed for the test.

This in turn is slotted into a shoebox-sized machine to perform the analysis.

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Media caption“A device this small is effectively a laboratory” – Prof Chris Toumazou, of DnaNudge, explains how the new test works

The study, published in the Lancet Microbe, compared results when samples from 386 people were given both the DnaNudge and standard laboratory tests.

“The performance was comparable, which is very reassuring when you’re trying to bring in a new technology,” said Prof Graham Cooke, from Imperial College London.

“Many tests involve a trade-off between speed and accuracy, but this test manages to achieve both.”

If the lab tests said the patient was free of the virus, so did the rapid test. If the lab tests said the patient had the virus, the rapid test agreed 94% of the time.

The UK has already ordered 5,000 of the Nudgebox machines and 5.8 million of the disposable cartridges.

However, there is a major drawback as each box can handle only one test at a time. So during a day, one box could perform around 16 tests.

Prof Cooke said: “They are useful in clinical settings when you are trying to make a rapid decision.”

He described a patient last week who was rapidly identified as having Covid and started on the drugs dexamethasone and remdesivir.

The tests could become even more useful for hospitals in the future as it is theoretically possible to test for coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (a major reason young children are admitted to hospital) at the same time.

However, the capacity issue means the test cannot solve the problems with NHS Test and Trace or help with Operation Moonshot and the plans for 10 million tests per day.

Testing 60,000 people at a stadium ahead of a football match would require 60,000 boxes, but it may be useful at smaller venues.

Prof Lawrence Young, who was not part of the research and from the University of Warwick, said the technology was “innovative”.

He added: “The CovidNudge test could have an important role where near-patient, real-time decision-making is necessary, such as screening patients for admission to hospital or for surgery.

“[However,] this is not the answer to universal mass testing. “

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30th September 2020

Technology Covid: Scottish courts backlog ‘could last 10 years’

Technology Covid: Scottish courts backlog ‘could last 10 years’


Technology Bewigged lawyers in court

Image caption

The committee said delays were not acceptable to victims, witnesses or those accused of crimes

Scottish courts could take up to a decade to return to normal after Covid, a Holyrood committee has warned.

The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee said “unpalatable” steps were needed to address the lengthy delays in the criminal justice system.

MSPs have been looking at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the courts.

The justice committee described the current level of delays faced by those involved in criminal cases as “not acceptable”.

The Scottish government said it welcomed the committee’s report and would respond in detail “in due course”.

It said the situation was one that was mirrored across the world.

Technology Cinema juries

Committee convener Adam Tomkins said: “The scale of the challenge faced by our courts is not to be underestimated. Current delays are not acceptable for the victims, witnesses or those accused of crimes.

“While that point may not be controversial, we need to ensure changes to improve the situation, whether long or short term, have the widest possible backing.

“To that end, we want the Scottish government to convene a meeting of all interested parties to agree a way forward. Time is of the essence.”

The committee’s report praised the use of remote jury centres based in cinemas and said more digital technology was needed.

It also recommended the consideration of extending court sitting hours and sentencing discounts for those pleading guilty at an early stage on criminal proceedings.

But it came out against the idea of holding trials without juries in serious criminal cases.

Mr Tomkins added: “Although the problems are at their worst in the criminal courts, there is still a mismatch in our civil courts, which are largely functioning, and other services linked to them, such as family contact centres, which are at best partially open.”

Technology Digital technology

The Scottish government said it understood the impact trial delays had on victims, witnesses and accused, and said it had pledged £5.5m to establish the remote jury centres.

A spokeswoman said :”The impact of Covid-19 is being felt by jurisdictions across the world. We continue to work with partners, including victims groups, the Scottish courts and prosecution services, and the legal profession, to identify the best possible way to deal with the backlog.

“This includes consideration of remote jury centres in sheriff and jury cases, optimising the use of the physical court estate within the prevailing public health requirements, increased use of digital technology where appropriate and additional support to organisations supporting victims.”

She added that a new structure, led by a criminal justice board, had been established to co-ordinate recovery activity, including in the criminal courts and that this board would meet every two weeks to direct and monitor progress.

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