by Peter Middleton

The COVID-19 pandemic has left hospitals scrambling for supplies of face masks, gloves, eye shields and aprons to protect health workers from infection; of testing kits to determine who can safely continue working and who should be in isolation; and, most importantly, of large numbers of live-saving respirators, without which worst-affected patients are likely to die.

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Over the past few decades, thousands of satellites have been launched into space to allow us to survey every point on the Earth, with sharp enough images to study building sites, road traffic, land use and so on. Now, new constellations of satellites are being launched to provide high speed broadband connectivity across the world.

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When it comes to language, it’s become accepted that cultural and regional norms inform how we use certain words. The claim that Eskimo languages have an unusually large number of words for snow, for example, has become a cliché often used to support the hypothesis that a language's structure shapes its speakers’ view of the world.

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2020 will mark the start of unprecedented space exploration by humanity. The first stage of the Artemis programme for the return to the Moon by humans will begin with the launch of Artemis I, in November 2020. The mission is designed to test the crew, the spacecraft – called Orion – and the Space Launch System, with the intention of sending crewed Artemis missions as early as 2024.

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Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with the famous quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

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Since Roman times there have been predictions about the end of the world as a result of religious, economic, astrological or environmental events. As far back as 66 CE, the Jewish Essene sect of ascetics saw the Jewish uprising against the Romans in 66–70, in Judea, as the final end-time battle that would bring about the arrival of the Messiah.

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For years, scientists have been warning us about the dangerous effects of pollution on our environment, and the harm this does to our health. Great strides have been made in the past couple of decades to reduce the most common pollutants, such as plastic and chemical residues, through recycling and improved manufacturing practices, but most of the world agrees that a lot more needs to be done.

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South Africa has seen extreme weather over the last month. Following a heatwave that registered temperatures close to record highs, much of the country has suffered from heavy rains. While the country desperately needed the rainfall, so much rain has fallen that parts of the country have been declared disaster areas as a result of flooding.

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Human beings have not only littered our planet with garbage, we have also scattered debris across space. There are currently more than 500 000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth, comprised of disused satellites, pieces of satellites that have been in collisions, as well as pieces of rockets that have been left behind.

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As our monitoring instruments become more advanced – and more effective – humanity’s discoveries in space are increasing in frequency and impact. Since the first black hole, Cygnus X-1, was discovered in 1964, we have identified and studied hundreds of black holes.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.

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