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UNDARK
Undark Magazine is a non-profit, editorially independent digital magazine exploring the intersection of science and society.
NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite deployed into space by the ISS
Ideas
Thomas Lewton

Artificial Satellite Pollution, Perils For Biodiversity In Space And On Earth

Exploiting space resources and littering it with satellite and other anthropogenic objects is endangering the ecosystem of space, which also damages the earth and its creatures below.

Outer space isn’t what most people would think of as an ecosystem. Its barren and frigid void isn’t exactly akin to the verdant canopies of a rainforest or to the iridescent shoals that swim among coral cities. But if we are to become better stewards of the increasingly frenzied band of orbital space above our atmosphere, a shift to thinking of it as an ecosystem — as part of an interconnected system of living things interacting with their physical environment — may be just what we need.

Last month, in the journal Nature Astronomy, a collective of 11 astrophysicists and space scientists proposed we do just that, citing the proliferation of anthropogenic space objects. Thousands of satellites currently orbit the Earth, with commercial internet providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink launching new ones at a dizzying pace. Based on proposals for projects in the future, the authors note, the number could reach more than a hundred thousand within the decade. Artificial satellites, long a vital part of the space ecosystem, have arguably become an invasive species.

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Woman sweeping her house in India.​
Society
Qadri Inzamam and Haziq Qadri

The Digital Tracking Of India's Sanitation Workers Is An Extra Dirty Deal

Lower-caste cleaners must wear GPS-enabled smartwatches, raising questions about their privacy and data protection.

Munesh sits by the roadside near a crowded market in Chandigarh, a city in India’s north, on a January day. She is flanked by several other women, all of them sweepers hired by the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. She shows the smartwatch she is wearing and says, “See, I didn't even touch it, but the camera has turned on."

Munesh, who estimates she is in her 40s and, like many Indians, goes by just one name, is one of around 4,000 such sanitation workers. The corporation makes it mandatory for them to wear smartwatches — called Human Efficiency Tracking Systems — fitted with GPS trackers. Each one has a microphone, a SIM embedded for calling workers, and a camera, so that the workers can send photos to their supervisors as proof of attendance.

In Chandigarh, this project is run by Imtac India, an IT services company, at a cost of an estimated $278,000 per year. Meanwhile, sanitation workers say that the government has not invested in personal protective gear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and that they have long worked without medical care and other vital social services.

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How A Dutch Clinic Pioneered Pediatric Transgender Healthcare, Through 40 Years Of Criticism
LGBTQ Plus
Frieda Klotz

How A Dutch Clinic Pioneered Pediatric Transgender Healthcare, Through 40 Years Of Criticism

Since its founding in the 1970s, the Amsterdam-based Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria has been working with often very young children and their parents to address gender identity issues. Their model has been both adopted and widely criticized around the world.

AMSTERDAM — Relationships between patients and physicians last a long time at Amsterdam’s Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria. Some of today’s adult patients have been visiting the clinic since the age of 5, when their parents first noticed signs of gender dysphoria — the experience of distress that can occur when a person’s gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For some very young children, the negative feelings subside with the passage of time and they no longer identify as transgender. But for other children, the distress persists into the years leading up to puberty.

These youth can come to the clinic to discuss embarking on a treatment protocol that begins with a diagnostic phase that lasts around six months. During this time, the young people speak with clinicians, fill out questionnaires, and receive mental health support. After that, youth who are interested in a medical transition will be prescribed puberty blockers. From there, they may need to wait a couple of years until becoming eligible for hormones that initiate the development of secondary sex characteristics aligned with their gender identity. At 16, individuals assigned female at birth can get mastectomies. At 18, patients can meet with their physicians to discuss other gender-affirming surgeries, such as hysterectomies, vaginectomies, and phalloplasties (the surgical construction of a penis) for trans men, and vaginoplasties (the surgical construction of a vagina) for trans women.

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Photo of commemorative flowers on the former grounds of St. Joseph's Mission Residential School, in Williams Lake, B.C.
Society
Diane Peters

Indigenous Tribes Use High-Tech Tools To Unearth Buried Crimes Of The Past

Indigenous groups in the U.S. and Canada are using ground-penetrating radar to look for burial sites at former schools. The technology has the potential to help a reckoning with a dark chapter in the countries' histories.

Over four days last May, members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc — a First Nations community in the interior of British Columbia — oversaw a site survey of around two acres of land surrounding the province’s former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Using an electromagnetic technology called ground penetrating radar (GPR), an archeology professor charted what appeared to be the grave shafts of 215 children lying below the ground. The technology furthered the long-held suspicion that there were remains of missing children hidden on the land of the school.

Former students at the school recall being woken at night to dig graves, for example, and a child’s rib bone and a juvenile tooth had surfaced in the area. Kamloops was the largest of the 139 government-sanctioned residential schools in the country that operated between the 1880s and 1990s. The facilities separated 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and educated them in English or French while banning native languages and indoctrinating them into Christianity.

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Born In COVID: Measuring Long-Term Effects Of Pandemic Pregnancy
Coronavirus
Paul Tullis

Born In COVID: Measuring Long-Term Effects Of Pandemic Pregnancy

The in utero impact of high stress during pandemic conditions may last for decades in some babies.

Erin Bascom's job in HIV prevention training shifted to work-from-home in mid-March 2020, around the same time that she and her husband decided to keep their daughter, then two, home from daycare out of concern over COVID-19. Initially, the plan was for the parents to take turns, one caring for the toddler while the other worked. But then Bascom’s husband, who serves in Maryland’s National Guard in the U.S., was called to active duty for pandemic response.

He was gone 12 hours a day at first. Then, to prevent disease transmission between soldiers and their families, his unit was assigned to stay at an area hotel. By that time, the daycare had closed its doors. Sending their daughter was no longer an option, even if the couple had wanted to risk it.

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