Science News You Missed During the Holidays

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Depending where you live, school has already started – or it's close enough that you're already thinking of science classes and essays instead of Santa and holiday vacations. And after months of hard work, we can't blame you if you took some time off from following the science headlines

But we're here to get you back on track.

Science news over the holiday break spanned from kinda scary (spoiler alert: there's some bad climate news) to just plain weird (blue glow in the sky, anyone?). Here's all the science news you need to catch up on, so you can feel well-informed going into 2019.

The EPA Wants to Roll Back Air Protections – Again

We spent a lot of time in 2018 covering the federal government's rollbacks on environmental protections (check out a brief roundup in our intro here). Well, we regret to inform you that this saga has a new chapter.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changes that would loosen the restrictions on how much mercury coal plants can release into the air. While they're technically keeping the mercury laws in place, they're revising the underlying justifications for the restrictions in a way that will make it easier for coal companies to challenge the laws in court, the New York Times explains.

Making the clean air protections more vulnerable from challenges in court makes it more likely that they could, eventually, be removed from law entirely. Overall, the changes could lead to 11,000 premature deaths, according to a report released by the Obama administration. If you want your representatives in government to oppose the changes, you know what to do!

New Yorkers Saw a Bizarre Blue Light in the Sky – Which Turned Out to be a Transformer Fire

If you were near New York City on Dec. 28, you probably felt like you were in a science fiction flick. The reason? A transformer at Con Edison – a power company in NYC – caught fire, turning the night sky a brilliant blue. The explosion was so powerful, it even shook buildings nearby.

So why'd the fire look blue? As Vice's Motherboard explains, the combination of uber-high temperature and pressure inside the transformer leads to the release of a lot of energy. And since the fire burns so hot, it appears blue instead of the typical yellow or orange (kind of like how the base of a bunsen burner can burn blue).

At least no one was hurt!

Scientists Discovered a Better Way to Detect Cervical Cancer

The fight against cervical cancer is a tough one – and while advances in screening (like the Pap test or HPV test) have reduced the prevalence of cervical cancer, it still kills more than 4,000 women in the US each year.

So it's a big deal that researchers have found a better way to detect abnormal and potentially cancerous cells. The test looks at the levels of methylation of certain genes – essentially, testing whether genes are turned "on" or "off" in cervical tissue samples.

After analyzing samples from nearly 16,000 women, the new testing method was able to detect cervical cancer 100 percent of the time – nearly four times as effective as the Pap test and nearly twice as effective as an HPV test.

While more research is need, it could mean earlier cancer diagnoses – and more lives saved.

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About the Author

Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.