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Scientists Identify Moon-Forming Disk Around Planet Outside Solar System

  Scientists say they have clearly identified for the first time a moon-forming area around a planet beyond our solar system. The ring-shaped area surrounds an exoplanet called PDS 70c. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system. The identified region is known as a circumplanetary disk. This is an area surrounding a planet where moons and other satellite objects can form. The disk is made up of gas and dust. Researchers from the ALMA observatory, which operates from Chile’s Atacama desert, made the discovery. ALMA is the largest radio telescope in the world. Astronomers had previously found signs of moon-forming disks around this exoplanet and others. They say, however, that in the past they were not able to clearly differentiate the disk from the surrounding environment.   The team says the new finding may help scientists better understand how moons and planets form in young star systems. The results were recently published in a study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Myriam Benisty is a researcher who helped lead the study for the University of Grenoble in France and the University of Chile. “Our work presents a clear detection of a disk in which satellites could be forming,” she said in a statement. Benisty added that the ALMA observations provided results of such high quality “that we could clearly identify that the disk is associated with the planet.” PDS 70c is a gas giant discovered in 2019, the U.S. space agency NASA says. It is one of two exoplanets orbiting the orange-colored star PDS 70. The exoplanets sit about 370 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion kilometers. Both planets are similar to Jupiter, a gas giant and the biggest planet in our solar system.   The disk’s diameter is comparable to the sun-to-Earth distance and has enough mass to form up to three satellites the size of the moon that orbits Earth, the researchers said in a statement. Scientists say stars are born within clouds of interstellar gas and dust spread throughout galaxies. Leftover material circling a new star can then form a planet. Circumplanetary disks surrounding some planets can similarly form moons. Scientists have discovered more than 4,400 exoplanets. But no circumplanetary disks had been clearly identified until now because all known exoplanets were contained in "mature," or fully developed, solar systems. The PDS 70 star -- which has about the same mass as our sun -- is about 5 million years old. The researchers say that is considered very young in cosmic terms. The two exoplanets orbiting the star are even younger.   Both exoplanets are "still in their youth," said study co-writer Stefano Facchini of the European Southern Observatory. He added that the planets were going through a period where their atmospheres are still being built. The researchers said there could be other planets in the system that have not yet been discovered. Benisty said the long-awaited discovery is important “in order to test the theory of planet formation and directly observe the birth of planets and of their satellites." I’m Bryan Lynn.   Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, the European Southern Observatory and the Center for Astrophysics.  Susan Shand was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.     _________________________________________________________   Words in This Story   disk – n. a flat, round shape or object detect – v. to discover or notice something associate – v. to relate two things, people, etc. together diameter – n. the distance through the center of something from one side to the other interstellar – adj. between the stars cosmic – adj. relating to the whole universe  

Study: Just 7 Percent of Our DNA Is Special to Modern Humans

  A new study finds that just seven percent of the genome, or all genes, of modern humans is special to that group. It suggests today’s humans are extremely similar genetically to their ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago. The research appeared in the publication Science Advances. “That’s a pretty small percentage,” says Nathan Schaefer, a biologist, or life scientist, at the University of California, and a leader of the research. “This kind of finding is why scientists are turning away from thinking that we humans are so vastly different from Neanderthals,” he said. The Neanderthal human group died out around 40,000 years ago. The research used DNA taken from the remains of Neanderthals and other early human groups called Denisovans. The scientists compared the DNA to that from 279 living people from around the world. Scientists already knew that modern people share some DNA with Neanderthals, but different people share different parts of that genome. One goal of the new research was to identify the genes that only modern humans have.   John Hawks is a paleoanthropologist, a scientist that researches human origin and development, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was not involved in the study. He said establishing the genes shared by the groups is mathematically difficult. He praised the researchers for their work. They “developed a valuable tool that takes account of missing data in the ancient genomes,” Hawks said. The research also showed that an even smaller percentage of the modern human genome, 1.5 percent, is singularly shared among humans of today. Those few genes could answer what truly makes modern human beings different. Richard Green is a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and one of the writers of the paper. He said the genome areas shared only among today’s humans are “highly enriched” for genes dealing with brain development and function. In 2010, Green helped produce the first outline of a Neanderthal genome. Four years later, geneticist Joshua Akey co-wrote a paper showing that modern humans carry some Neanderthal DNA. Since then, scientists have continued to develop ways to take and study genetic material from fossils. Akey is now at Princeton and was not involved in the new research. But he also praised the study. Better tools, he said, permit scientists to “ask increasingly more detailed questions about human history and evolution.” Alan Templeton is a geneticist at Washington University, St. Louis. He questioned one of the findings reported by the investigators. The scientists assume, he said, that human genome changes are randomly spread. Instead, Akey argues the findings show “that we’re actually a very young species,” said Akey. “Not that long ago, we shared the planet with other human lineages.” I’m Gregory Stachel.   Christina Larson reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor. ___________________________________________________________   Words in This Story   pretty –adv. to a great degree or extent vast –adj. very great in size, amount, or extent function –n. the special purpose or activity for which a thing exists or is used​ evolution –n. a theory that the differences between modern plants and animals are because of changes that happened by a natural process over a very long time assume –v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true​ lineage –n. the people who were in someone's family in past times

Sailors Stuck at Sea, Supply Threatened During Pandemic

  Captain Tejinder Singh has not set foot on dry land in more than seven months. He is not sure when he will go home. Singh is among tens of thousands of ship workers stuck at sea as the coronavirus spreads on land. He said sailors like him are not valued. He added, "We are forgotten...” Singh and most of his 20-person crew have traveled from India to the United States then on to China. He spoke to the Reuters news service from the Pacific Ocean as his ship now heads to Australia. They are among about 100,000 ship workers stuck at sea, says the International Chamber of Shipping, or ICS. Many sailors have been on their boats much longer than their usual 3 to 9 month work periods. Another 100,000 workers are stuck on land and unable to work and earn a living. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading very quickly in parts of Asia— home to many of the world’s 1.7 million ship workers. That has led many countries to restrict land access to visiting workers. Some workers have even been barred from medical treatment. The ICS estimates that just 2.5 percent of ship workers have been vaccinated. The United Nations calls the situation a crisis at sea. The organization says governments should consider commercial sailors essential workers. Ships deliver around 90 percent of the world's trade. The crisis threatens worldwide supply for everything from oil and metal to food and electronics. Guy Platten is the head of the ICS. He said more than one-third of the world’s ship workers are from India and the Philippines. Those countries are recovering from terrible waves of COVID-19. In normal times, around 50,000 sailors get on and 50,000 get off ships per month on average. The numbers are now much less than that. Industry experts say that is largely because of virus restrictions put in place by countries with major ports in Asia. Nations like South Korea, Taiwan and China require testing for workers who come from or have visited certain countries. Some nations ban crew changes. Rajesh Unni is head of Synergy Marine Group which represents 14,000 ship workers. He said the only countries that permit regular crew changes are Japan and Singapore. "The issue is that we have one set of people who desperately want to go home because they have finished their tenure, and another set of people onshore that are desperate to get back onboard to earn a living."   Threats to supply of goods The crisis has led to almost half of ship workers considering leaving the industry, says the International Transport Workers' Federation, or ITF. A labor shortage would threaten the industry which has already faced delays at many of the world’s ports. It has also increased the cost of shipping products. And, in turn, the prices people pay for goods. Stephen Cotton leads the ITF. He said many vessels have lost up to 25 percent of their workforce during the pandemic. And the remaining sailors are now being pushed to their physical and mental limits. Shots for sailors Most sailors come from developing nations that have low vaccination supplies. That has left many ship workers unable to get shots. A total of 55 member countries of the U.N. shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization or IMO, have named ship workers essential. David Hammond is the head of the organization Human Rights at Sea. He said being considered essential permits the workers to travel more easily and return to their homes. It also gives them better access to vaccines. The ICF’s Platten said governments with large vaccine supplies have a "moral responsibility" towards ship workers. "They must follow the lead of the U.S. and the Netherlands and vaccinate non-native crews delivering goods to their ports,” he added. I’m Dan Novak.   Jonathan Saul and Roslan Khasawneh reported this story for Reuters.  Dan Novak adapted for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. ____________________________________________________   Words in This Story   variant — n.  something that is different in some way from others of the same kind access — n. a way of being able to use or get something essential— adj. a way of being able to use or get something desperate — adj. a way of being able to use or get something tenure — n. a way of being able to use or get something

Russia Tests Way to Disconnect from Worldwide Internet

  Russia disconnected from the worldwide internet during tests in June and July, a Russian news service, RBC, reported on Thursday. The information for the report came from documents from a Russian internet security working group.  Russia passed a law in late 2019 that aims to protect the Russian part of the internet from outside threats. The "sovereign internet" law was in answer to what Russia called the "aggressive nature" of the United States' national cyber security policies. The law increased Moscow's control over connections within Russia to the worldwide network and caused concern among free speech activists. They feared the move would strengthen government power over the country's cyberspace, which is called "Runet" because the country's internet addresses end in "ru."  Four major companies tested Held from June 15 to July 15, the tests involved all four of Russia's major telecoms companies. RBC reported that someone in the working group said early results showed they were successful and added, "The purpose of the tests is to determine the ability of the Runet to work in case of external distortions, blocks and other threats." RBC also said the capability of physically disconnecting the Russian part of the internet was tested. It was not immediately clear how long the disconnection lasted or whether there were any noticeable breaks in internet traffic. The law says that tests should be carried out every year, but RBC said operations were called off in 2020 due to problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  'Ready for anything' The central government of Russia was aware of the tests, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. He said they were timely and that Russia had to be ready for anything.  The legislation also seeks to pass Russian web traffic and data through state-controlled points. It also called for a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue working even if Russia is cut off.  A domain name system, or DNS, is like a phone book organizing the internet locations of each website. In June 2019, President Vladimir Putin said the government had to be certain that the Runet could work in a safe and steady way. The goal is to guard against problems caused if networks outside of Russia's control in other countries were turned off or infected with computer viruses.    State communications agency Roskomnadzor said the tests aim to improve the security of Russia's internet systems and keep them whole. It said Roskomnadzor had used the equipment installed for the test to slow down the speed of social network Twitter since March. That action came after Twitter refused to remove content Moscow says is illegal. I’m Jill Robbins.   Alexander Marrow and Dmitry Antonov reported on this story for Reuters. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor. __________________________________________________   Words in This Story   sovereign – adj. having independent authority and the right to govern itself cyber – adj. dealing with computer software and networks determine – v. to learn or find out (something) by getting information distort – v. to change (something) so that it is no longer true or accurate   What do you think of Russia disconnecting itself from the internet? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

Experts: Southwest China’s Wild Elephants Need Protection

  A female elephant makes a rare appearance on the edge of a thick forest in southwest China's Yunnan Province. She eats and cleans up in the water as a large crowd gathers.  Usually, visitors hoping to see the animals should wait until February or March, Qin Ganglin said, adding that the elephants “don’t come out very often right now.” Qin is a protection officer at Wild Elephant Valley in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna area. It is near China’s border with Laos and Myanmar.    How Xishuangbanna protects its elephants and natural environment will be important for China's efforts to change its relationship with nature.  Xishuangbanna is a center for biodiversity. But large building projects and increased farming have reduced the elephants' feeding area and their roaming paths.  One building project is the Jinghong Hydropower Plant.  The dam and reservoir have made the Mekong River impossible for elephants to cross, said Zhou Jinfeng.  He is Secretary-General of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation or CBCGDF, a non-government environmental group.  State power company Huaneng, which built the plant, did not answer requests from Reuters for comment.  People living in Xishuangbanna told Reuters that elephant sightings have decreased since 2007, when the plant was completed.  Zhou Hongbing lives on a farm close to the dam.  "They used to roam here when my parents set up home," he said about the elephants. "Since the hydropower plant was built they haven't been able to cross the river."  Qin from Wild Elephant Valley said it was "hard to say" what effect the hydropower center has had on elephant movements. But, he said it must have been a consideration when the plant was built.  Qin noted that tea farms have cut into some parts of the elephant protection area. Large amounts of rubber planting throughout the area have also changed feeding and roaming habits.  Experts also point to Xishuangbanna's efforts to replant forests that have reduced the grassland where elephants eat.  China's National Forestry and Grassland Commission is responsible for habitat protection. It also did not answer Reuters’ requests for comment.  But state news agency Xinhua said that "preparatory work" has begun to establish a national park in Yunnan. The goal is to improve conditions for the elephants.  Experts say that should have been done a long time ago.  Zhou of CBCGDF said any new national park would have to connect all the existing elephant habitats. It would need to give elephants the room to move and the ability to find enough food.  "If the numbers double again within the next 50 years, we need to have plenty of room in Yunnan," he said.  I’m John Russell.    David Stanway reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.  _______________________________________________________________   Words in This Story    biodiversity – n. the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment  reservoir – n. a usually artificial lake that is used to store a large supply of water for use in people's homes, in businesses, etc.  roam – v . to go to different places without having a particular purpose or plan  habitat – n. the place or type of place where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives or grows  double –v. to increase by two times  plenty –n. the state of having enough of something   

Learning English Broadcast

Learning English use a limited vocabulary and are read at a slower pace than VOA's other English broadcasts. Previously known as Special English.

Renewed Attention on Historically Black Colleges, Universities

  Would you turn down a top national university for a historically black college and university, or HBCU, in the United States? Nikole Hannah-Jones did. Hannah-Jones is the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who created The New York Times’ 1619 Project. She was recently offered a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC. The school is one of the top national universities. The offer came without tenure, a lifetime appointment for a professor. The decision brought criticism and protests.   In early July, UNC leaders changed their minds and voted to award tenure to Hannah-Jones. But instead, she accepted a teaching position at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C. On the same day, Howard also announced the appointment of best-selling writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates wrote about his experience as a young Black man growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. His 2015 book Between the World and Me won a National Book Award. HBCUs Howard is one of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. HBCUs started as a place to educate African-Americans as they continued to be barred from most universities after the Civil War. The late U.S. President George H.W. Bush once said, "At a time when many schools barred their doors to Black Americans, these colleges offered the best, and often the only, opportunity for a higher education."   In the southern state of Louisiana, the state’s university, Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, opened in 1860. But the school did not accept Black students until the early 1950s. So Blacks could only continue their higher education at Southern University, also in Baton Rouge, which opened in 1880. Most HBCUs lie in the area from southern Texas to eastern Pennsylvania. While most students are Black, anyone can go to an HBCU. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that non-Blacks made up 24 percent of the students at HBCUs in 2018. Mark Ballard writes for The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge. At the beginning of 2021, Ballard wrote an article called “Historically Black Colleges come into prominence with Joe Biden.” Ballard wrote about Vice President Kamala Harris, who went to Howard in the 1980s. He also noted Raphael Warnock, a new U.S. Senator from Georgia, who attended Morehouse College, another HBCU in Atlanta. Ballard observed: “Never before have so many HBCU graduates been tapped to serve in the highest levels of government.”   It is not as hard to get into HBCUs as other universities. As a result, the schools do not rank highly on lists of top universities. The publication U.S. News and World Report is known for its college rankings. It considers Howard University as one of the best HBCUs. Among top national universities, however, Howard is rated as the 80th best as compared to 28th for UNC. “So Morehouse and Howard, I think, are kind of discriminated against because of what their mission is, but I also think they have a first-class education and have attracted major, major faculty to their colleges.” Well-known Black Americans who went to HBCUs include civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison, and movie director Spike Lee. Changing times for HBCUs For some time, financial support from government and wealthy donors was not widely available for HBCUs and their students. A 2016 paper about the state of Black education noted that in 2014, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore received $1.6 billion from the government and others, more than received by all HBCUs in the country.   But that is changing, too. When Hannah-Jones and Coates joined Howard University, their positions were supported with a $20 million donation from the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and a donor who did not want to be named. MacKenzie Scott’s recent donation is another important marker. Scott, one of the world’s richest women, is the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In 2020, she gave away about $4 billion to several organizations, including about 20 HBCUs. That amount came on top of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to add over $2.6 billion to HBCUs. Jolorie Williams is an executive with the beauty products company Revlon. She came up with a plan to offer $5,000 to 20 students at HBCUs. She said it was a way to invest in young African-Americans after the killing of George Floyd and the social justice protests of 2020.   Williams went to Florida A&M, an HBCU, in the 1980s. She said she wanted to be sure Revlon’s donation did not get lost at schools that already have plenty of money. “I did not want to be one of many, I wanted to be one that was really making a difference, that could break through.” Jabari Johnson is a 19-year-old from the state of Maryland. He will start his second year at North Carolina A&T in August. He wants to be an engineer. Like other Black students, Johnson could have gone to other colleges but his first two choices were HBCUs. “Going around, seeing people who have the same background as me, that grounded me. And seeing people like me that want to do well in their life and want to strive for greatness at this school, really makes me feel at home.” “I felt like I was home,” he added. “I felt like this was the place for me.” I’m Dan Friedell. And I’m Caty Weaver.   Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. Would you consider going to an HBCU if you came to study in the U.S.? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.     _____________________________________________________________   Words in This Story   tenure – n. the right to keep a job (especially the job of being a professor at a college or university) for as long as you want to have it opportunity– n. a chance to do something​ article – n. a piece of writing about a particular subject that is included in a magazine, newspaper, etc.​ prominence – n. the state of being important, well-known, or noticeable : the state of being prominent​ tap – v. to choose (someone) for a particular job, honor, etc. — often + for​ ranking – n. a list of people or things that are ordered according to their quality, ability, size, etc.​ faculty – n. the group of teachers in a school or college donor – n. a person or group that gives something (such as money, food, or clothes) in order to help a person or organization​ background – n. the experiences, knowledge, education, etc., in a person's past​ strive – v. to try very hard to do or achieve something    

Summer Fun with Family Expressions

And now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English. On this program, we explore words and expressions in the English language. And we often explain where they come from and how to use them. In the summer months, we often get together with our family members who live far away. If you listen in as people talk with and about their families, you might hear some interesting expressions. Like many idioms, it is often difficult to understand these expressions simply by knowing the meaning of individual words and the grammar of the sentence in which they appear. This week we will explore a few of these expressions, so you will understand them better when you hear them. While watching television with your family in a crowded room, you might hear, "Your father was not a glass blower."   Of course, it is impossible for a person to be made of glass. That expression really means you are blocking the view of someone else, and they want you to move. A similar expression is, "You make a better door than a window." It also means, "Please move out of the way." When a child starts to act just like the parent, we say, "He's a chip off the old block." This suggests the image of an artist making a statue of someone from a block of stone. It can mean that the child is made of the same material as the parent. In a similar way, we may think that a child's action can show how they will act as an adult. To express this idea, we use the phrase, "The child is father to the man."   Lighting a fire for a family barbecue is a job that can be easy, with the right tools. After she lit the barbecue grill, I heard my sister say, "… and Bob's your uncle, there's the fire." This expression means something is easy. It describes how those in high positions may sometimes give jobs to family members, making their lives easier. There are other expressions that have to do with money in the family. Someone who starts out life in a wealthy family was "born with a silver spoon in their mouth." And an adult may warn a child, "A fool and his money are soon parted." In other words, do not make a bad investment or spend money unwisely. And a child who is not given an inheritance is said to be "cut off without a penny." My younger brother liked to play with the boys on our street who always caused trouble. Mom told him to stay away from the troublemakers with this expression: "Birds of a feather flock together." She meant that, if he does not want people to think he is one of the troublemakers, he should not spend time with them. That is good advice. The child who does not listen to mother's words is in danger of becoming the "black sheep of the family." That expression describes a family member whose behavior gives them a bad reputation.   Speaking of animals, our cat is going to have kittens soon. A friend who saw her said she was "in a family way." Soon, the cat will have her own family to care for. Finally, when a group of people live or work closely together, they might say, "We are like one big happy family – we argue all the time!" This expression could mean that the group is happy to be so close; or, if said with irony, it means the group is not happy to work together. And that’s all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories. I’m Jill Robbins.   Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor. __________________________________________________________________________   Words in This Story   view –n. the things that can be seen for a particular place statue – n. a figure usually of a person or animal that is made from stone, metal, or wood grill –n. a device used to cook over an open fire or hot coals inheritance – n. money, property, or the like that is received from someone when that person dies reputation –n. the common opinion that people have about someone; the way people think about someone irony – n. the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially to be funny   What expressions do you have in your language about family members? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.