Inverse

I am currently interning for Inverse, a popular online source for science news, that is constantly asking what's next? I will post some of my best articles for the site below. But, you can see all of them by clicking here

Women's Ridesharing Apps Are Popping Up Everywhere

Women are taking a stand and making a place for themselves in the ride-sharing community.

Cassie Kelly | Ride-Sharing | April 26, 2017

As soon as Nancy picked up the passenger for a ride to the airport, she realized something was off. He seemed drunk or high, she says, despite it being 10:30 in the morning, and he kept saying things that didn’t make sense. “I was trying to distract him, as mothers do, asking him where he was traveling to, but he kept getting more and more anxious,” she says. “I asked him where his gate was and he didn’t know. He didn’t even know who he was flying with.”

Nancy felt threatened, and it wasn’t the first time. The Boston woman, who started driving for Uber and Lyft when her three kids moved out, had often dealt with intoxicated and otherwise frightening passengers, though she was thankfully never harmed.

“I have these young women who talk to me about driving and of course I tell them how much I enjoy it,” she says. “But then I turn to them and tell them they shouldn’t do it. It’s not safe for them; they’re too young.”

Then Nancy discovered Safr, a Boston ridesharing startup that aims to help women drive and ride safely at all times. There are currently more than 100 Safr drivers on the road, Nancy being one of them, and a thousand in the pipeline. And Safr isn’t the only ridesharing app for women either. See Jane Go recently started up in California, and Shebah began in early March in Australia. What these and similar apps offer is a special emphasis on driver screening and various options for filtering drivers and passengers by gender.

The new breed of ridesharing apps is emerging at a time when industry leaders Uber and Lyft are facing frequent controversy over rider and driver safety. An online campaign backed by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) called Who’s Driving You? has been documenting these reports and posting them to their website, claiming that at least 23 deaths, 57 assaults, and 217 sexual assault incidents can be directly linked to the platforms. And in March 2016, BuzzFeed reported that the words “rape” and “sexual assault” showed up in Uber’s customer service database over 6,000 times. In response to these allegations, Uber’s Chief Safety Officer said, “Sadly, no means of transportation is 100 percent safe today. Accidents and incidents do happen. It’s why we are working to build an exceptional customer support team that can handle problems when they occur, including working with law enforcement.”

The ridesharing giants are, of course, huge, with more than 40 million Uber rides monthly and complaints on only a tiny fraction of them. Yet that risk is enough to cause some drivers and riders to look elsewhere.

“We are told all our lives as women, ‘oh you have to keep yourself safe, you shouldn’t have been jogging with your headphones on, you shouldn’t have been walking home at that hour of night, you shouldn’t have been walking through a college campus or parking lot without somebody walking you to your car, don’t get in a car with a man you don’t know,’” says Shebah founder Georgina McEncroe. “But then, nearly 100 percent of drivers at night are male, so you really don’t have a choice to get in a car with a man you don’t know. How can that be the only option?”

Shebah, thanks to Australian laws, is able to get away with having only female drivers and female passengers. U.S.-based apps like Safr and See Jane Go have to allow for some men to drive. Joanna Humphrey Flynn, Safr’s press officer, assures riders, though, that all of their drivers go through an intense screening process.

“Our background checks are deep across the board, we aren’t treating men differently,” Flynn says. “But part of our vetting process has been and always will be asking two important questions: ‘what does women empowerment mean to you?’ and ‘What does women’s safety mean to you?’ All drivers then have a session with a Safr mentor who can help new drivers get accustomed to ridesharing and engage in the community. Any concern about character will come up in our process.”

Shebah riders go on a trip.

Shebah riders go on a trip.

Female-friendly ridesharing services could also offer ways for female drivers to make more. Currently, women make 34 percent less gross driving income than men on ridesharing apps, and only around 19 percent of drivers on Uber and Lyft are women. That may have to do with the reluctance of women to drive on nights and weekends because of safety concerns. Safr, Shebah, and See Jane Go not only get around that concern but charge about 10 to 15 percent more than traditional rideshare platforms to ensure their drivers are making a living wage.

“We are seeing women stand behind each other and come to each other’s side when they need that extra support,” Flynn says. “We are also giving women going through career transitions the opportunity to find themselves without having to worry about their own personal safety.”

The Safr platform on mobile. 

The Safr platform on mobile. 

Ridesharing apps for kids are also becoming more popular, and some female-friendly platforms — like Shebah — are offering those services, too.

“Often a mother has to interrupt her day to take her child to a dental appointment,” McEnroe says. “Mothers are breaking their jobs and their career paths to do this or they’re asking their friends to take their kids to soccer practice, or football, or basketball, and never paying them for that emotional labor. But, imagine if you could outsource some of that emotional labor in a paid, structured way, to women who need that flexibility.”

McEnroe says that her Shebah drivers go that extra mile for kids. “Our drivers will put the headlights on as the 12-year-old girl gets out of the car and the mom will wave at the driver and the driver will wave back and wait for her to get to the door and off they go.”

So far at least, the female ridesharing apps appear to be taking off. Shebah is aiming to expand to the west coast of Australia next month, before going international. And Safr is spreading in its home state and hopes to expand nationally soon.

“We aren’t trying to take out the market,” McEnroe says. “But … female apps like this will hopefully put pressure on the whole industry and everyone will start saying ‘let’s look at this through a female lens.’”

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NASA Imagines What Cassini's Noble Death Will Look Like

Cassie Kelly | NASA | April 5, 2017

As the Cassini probe enters its final mission this month, NASA is reminiscing about some of the spacecraft’s greatest achievements and thinking about what its fiery death later this year will look like as it plunges into headfirst into Saturn’s atmosphere.

Cassini has been studying the Saturnian system for 13 years on a quest to understand its complex system of more than 60 moons, the structure and material makeup of its rings, and the atmosphere of the planet itself. Cassini has had quite the journey, and bidding farewell to the craft is probably going to be one big sob fest for scientists and enthusiasts alike. But, it is running out of fuel and NASA must dispose of it properly. Before we get into the gory details, let’s take a look at some its most stellar accomplishments:

On Christmas Day 2004, Cassini launched its trusted buddy, the Huygens probe, onto Titan. The probe landed quite clumsily onto the moon, three weeks later, in January 2005. Huygens survived for about 90 minutes on the surface and delivered 350 pictures back to NASA, which revealed that the moon likely has large methane bodies of water. It was the first probe to land on another word in the Saturnian system. Cassini provided a wealth of data related to Saturn’s moons, including Iapetus, EnceladusPanMimasTethys, and Daphnis.

In addition to finding methane lakes on Titan, Cassini also found icy plumes bursting from Enceladus, and discovered that Hyperion is the only satellite of a planet besides Earth’s moon that has a statically charged surface. Cassini also found evidence that the moons contribute material to the planet’s rings and play a role in the planet’s magnetosphere.

NASA is now mulling over a proposal from the New Frontiers program to send a probe to Enceladus, which is thought to have an ocean world under its icy surface which may be habitable for life.

Cassini’s grand finale will be to perform 22 weekly dives between Saturn and its rings — an intricate and dangerous mission. This final course will explore the planet’s magnetosphere and offer even more information on the rings.

On September 15, 2017, Cassini’s journey will finally come to an end. NASA’s plan is to send it straight into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will slowly burn to death. As it descends, it will struggle to keep its antenna pointed toward Earth to deliver atmospheric data about the planet’s skies and in a matter of minutes, it will burn to a crisp and become one with Saturn.

This is one of the most successful missions in the history of space exploration, and hundreds of years from now, humans will still be learning about Cassini’s bravery. So, although it may seem cruel to plunge Cassini into the very planet it has been teaching scientists about for 13 years, it will be a very noble death.

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This New 3D Map of Stardust is a Treasure Map Leading to New Stars

Cassie Kelly | Dope Space Pics | March 24, 2017

The galaxy is a filthy place. With bits and debris lingering everywhere, it is very difficult for scientists to see neighboring planets and stars. But, a new 3D map of stardust revealed in a study published in The Astrophysical Journal on Wednesday will help them navigate through the cosmic thicket and make new discoveries along the way.

Edward F. Schlafly, a Hubble Fellow in the Physics Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has created the map using data from Pan-STARRS, a pair of telescopes based in Hawaii and APOGEE, a near-infrared spectrograph based in New Mexico.

Pan-STARRS uses a high-resolution camera to photograph the northern night sky on a near-constant basis. It can see the distance between stars, based off of temperature. In 2016, four years worth of images were compiled to create a complete map of the northern night sky; like an astronomical catalog to help scientists understand our place in the Milky Way.

“If you know everything about the stars, you can see exactly what the dust is doing and effectively measure the different distances of stars in the sky and how they vary through the galaxy,” Schlafly tells Inverse.

APOGEE is different than Pan-STARRS in that it cuts through the dust with longer wavelengths of light and shows the temperature, distance, and elemental make-up of stars. With both tools, Schlafly had enough data to calculate how much dust would be in a region and could locate molecular clouds and nebulae, big dust producers.

The map covers 3,262 light-years of the outer Milky Way, offering an essential tool for Berkeley scientists working on the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which will probe billions of light years into the depths of the universe to construct the first-ever 3-D map of the cosmos. Essentially, the dust map will help DESI know how the light is scattered to more easily locate stars, kind of like its own personal GPS through the Milky Way.

“At a very rough level of approximation, the Milky Way is just a big ball of dust and from all the telescopes we use to observe the universe, we have to get through this ball of dust that we live in,” Schlafly says. “But, as soon as you get outside of it, it’s basically empty and there’s little dust to worry about. So, then, you’re safe, uninhabited all the way out to the galaxy, but you need this map to get through it first.”

DESI will become operational in 2018. In the meantime, Schlafly is racing to complete the dust map in full. As of right now, it only covers about two-thirds of the galaxy, or just the northern sky from Pan-STARRS perspective.

“All the images we have are limited to the northern sky, so if you imagine the telescope sitting on the north pole, it could never see the stars in the south because Earth would always be in the way,” said Schlafly. “So, there’s a big part of the sky we can’t observe. We’ll have to use southern telescopes to map the southern sky.”

Schlafly is hoping to use information from the GAIA orbital telescope that was launched in 2013 to fully complete the map by May.

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