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The Spill: New COVID Strains Causing Trouble

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What About the Latest COVID Discoveries?

Just as the vaccine for COVID-19 begins to be distributed, scientists have found new strains that appear to be more contagious. New variants of the virus have been found in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Brazil. But what makes them different from the virus that already hit?

All three have mutations in the spike protein – the part of the virus that attaches to human cells – making the new strains more efficient at infecting cells and spreading to other people.

Experts believe the “Kent” strain in the U.K. developed in September and could be up to 70% more transmissible or infectious. The South Africa variant was discovered in October, and it has different changes in the spike protein than the U.K. strain, which appears to make it resistant to the vaccine just approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Although scientists believe that the vaccinations will slow the spread, they also advise people keep washing their hands frequently with soap and water and social distancing.

More Security and Less Fanfare for Biden’s Inauguration

Inauguration Day is on January 20, when Joe Biden will be officially sworn-in as the new president.

Joe Biden will hold a tightly secured inauguration. Worry that the protest and raid on the Capitol that happened January 6 might see a repeat has the city on lockdown. The inauguration, themed “America United,” has been designated as a national special security event that enables law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. to oversee the day. The National Mall is closed to the people and surrounded by 21,000 National Guard troops. The Washington Monument is also closed to the public. The Virginia Department of Transportation issued road closures around the capital.

As is tradition, there will be a “pass in review” of the armed forces signaling allegiance to the new commander in chief.

President Trump will not be in attendance, but Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to attend the traditional peaceful transition of power. Unlike most inaugurations of the past, there will not be a parade nor any inaugural balls.

Just When You Think You Have Seen Everything

A new record has been set for the earliest figurative art. Found in a cave in Indonesia, a painting of pigs at least 45,500 years old has been discovered.

Researchers began working in Sulawesi, Indonesia, 70 years ago and have found 300 caves with figurative art. The latest discovery was made by Maxime Aubert, a professor of archeological science at Griffith University in Australia. “We stress that this is only a minimum age,” the professor explained. “The rock art in this region could very well be 60,000 to 65,000 years old. We just need more samples.”

The new painting is a series of three to four Sulawesi warty pigs combined with human hands.

Dating prehistory finds – especially on cave walls – can be tricky. In Sulawesi’s caves, the limestone is porous and promotes the formation of speleotherms. Speleotherms are mineral deposits formed by water precipitating through rock. Examples you might be familiar with are stalactites and stalagmites. In this case, microscale deposits have built upon the walls, including those that contain artwork.

Other types of prehistoric art dating methods include measuring thorium and uranium ratios in mineral deposits that cause decay.

Other researchers caution that there could be much older sites in the world that have yet to be discovered. Still, for now, it appears Indonesia is claiming the oldest figurative artwork.

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