Fifty years after humans first set foot on the moon, Earth’s only permanent natural satellite is back in the news with China’s successful landing on the moon’s as-yet-unexplored far side. This month, Horizon looks at how Europe is contributing to moon research. We hear from the European Space Agency’s director of human and robotic exploration about their plans to send a robot and then humans to the lunar surface in the 2020s, and speak to the scientists trying to fill the holes in our understanding of how the moon was formed. We also hear how we could solve the puzzle of where water on Earth originated by analysing volatile substances from the moon, and take a look at the methods and facilities being developed to protect precious extra-terrestrial samples from human contamination.
In the solar system’s early days, a first Earth is thought to have been pulverised by a planet that scientists call Theia. We don’t know what it was made of or where it came from, only that it may have been the size of Mars. The powerful collision destroyed both planets so completely that scientists can only guess what they were like.
Humans have not set foot on the moon since 1972, when the last Apollo mission came back to Earth. That could all change in the coming years, however, as entities like the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing not just to return, but to build a permanent base on the surface.
With around half a million species of insects reported to be at risk of extinction and studies already showing a large decline in abundance, this month Horizon looks at what reduced insect biodiversity means for us – and what we can do about it. We speak to rove beetle expert Dr Alexey Solodovnikov about the services insects provide, from waste disposal and pollination to monitoring climate change and providing information about a new pandemic. We find out how scientists hope to cut the use of pesticides – one of the big culprits for reducing insect diversity – with new ways of pest control. We look at how efforts to boost urban green space in Europe’s cities is impacting insect life and we ask whether people’s attitudes to insects affect conservation efforts.
The coronavirus pandemic rattled our supply chains, putting them under intense pressure and forcing many to become aware of these complex systems that bring us food, medicine and other goods. Was 2020 a wake-up call to rethink supply chains? Or have they proved more robust than we feared and should continue as business as usual? In February, we ask whether today’s supply chains are due for reconfiguration. We speak to Dr Tessa Avermaete, a bioeconomist at KU Leuven in Belgium, about why short and local is not always better – or more sustainable – when it comes to food supply. We look at how medical supply chains can be maintained or even set up during a crisis situation, and at the environmental and social impacts of Europe’s supply chains on the rest of the world. And we look at how, in the future, goods from food to furniture could be transported according to new concept called the ‘physical internet’, where logistics mimics how information travels through the internet.
Professor Johan Neyts, a virologist at the Rega Institute for Medical Research at KU Leuven in Belgium, leads a team searching for drugs that can help us in the fight against Covid-19. His laboratory is part of two projects that are screening millions of compounds to find some that block the coronavirus from replicating and so keep patients from falling sick. He told Horizon about why this search is so important and how it might keep us safe from future pandemics.
Insects are vital to the health of our planet but they can also reveal a lot about climate change and help us fight future vector-borne disease outbreaks, says Alexey Solodovnikov, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who runs the rove beetle-dedicated Solodovnikov Lab and is a curator at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
Horizon spoke to virologist Johan Neyts.
Dr Alexey Solodovnikov on why we need a less biased view of the animal kingdom.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.