Intermediate

New planets discovered

Scientists have recently discovered two exoplanets, Kepler-62f and Kepler 186f, which are located within the habitable zones of their respective stars, and the best part is that the planets probably have stable climates and regular seasons. The astronomers also believe that one of them is similar in size to our home planet. 

Researchers from the Georgia Tech and Harvard University found out that both Kepler-186f and Kepler-62f seem to be steadily tilted on their axis, just like Earth, giving them stable climates and seasons. "Our calculations show that their spin would have remained constant over tens of millions of years," said Georgia Tech's Assistant Professor Gongjie Li. According to the scientists, these exoplanets are capable of harboring life.

Discussion: 
How likely do you think it is that there is life on other planets?
Astronomy research is very expensive, with increasingly sophisticated telescopes, spaceships, and the International Space Station. Do you believe it is worth the cost? Why or why not?

Good news for coffee drinkers

Coffee is among the most commonly consumed beverages on earth. Because of its popularity, it has attracted a great deal of research over the years.

Scientists have now stacked up a fair amount of evidence proving that coffee can protect against certain diseases and may even extend lifespan. Studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption might protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, to name but three.

But the findings to date leave some unanswered questions. For instance, certain people have genetic variations that alter the way in which they metabolize, or break down, caffeine. How are they affected? Similarly, does the type of coffee — ground, instant, or decaffeinated — make a difference?

Discussion: 
Can you summarize the article in two sentences?
Are you a coffee drinker? If so, would scientific findings alter your consumption habits?
Why would so much time and money be spent on research about the health benefits of coffee?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are now experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a period of rapid change driven by progress in science and technology. The main drivers of 4IR are AI, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Japan will play a leading role in global innovation with a new World Economic Forum (WEF) center devoted to maximizing the potential of the 4IR, says Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman.

“Japan is not sufficiently recognized for its innovative capabilities,” Schwab said in a recent interview with Forbes Japan. “The world is speaking about what’s happening in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, but it is not aware that Japan has created a very successful startup community.”

Discussion: 
How does the Fourth Industrial Revolution differ from the Third?
Do you agree that Japan will lead the way in 4IR? Why or why not?
What are the benefits of 4IR? What are the risks?

Blockchain technology in space

Future spacecraft could think for themselves using the same technology that powers Bitcoin.

A new $330,000 NASA grant supports work to develop autonomous spacecraft that could make more decisions without human intervention. One example could be enabling spacecraft to dodge space debris faster than a human on Earth could help out the far-away probe.

"I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically," principal investigator Jin Wei Kocsis, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Akron in Ohio, said in the statement. 

If proven, Wei Kocsis' early-stage research would be especially useful in deep-space environments, where spacecraft communicating back to Earth must currently wait for hours for a response.

Discussion: 
There is a lot of excitement about blockchain technology today. Do you think it deserves the attention it's getting?
What uses do you see for blockchain technology in Japan?
What do you think about deep space exploration? Is it worth the cost?

Luxury space hotel

Well-heeled space tourists will have a new orbital destination four years from now, if one company's plans come to fruition. The California-based startup Orion Span aims to loft its "Aurora Station" in late 2021 and begin accommodating guests in 2022.

"We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel," said Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger. A 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million, which is quite a bit less than orbital tourists have paid in the past. From 2001 through 2009, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station, paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each time.

Aurora Station will be about the size of a large private jet's cabin and will accommodate four paying guests and two crewmembers. Orion Span plans to add more modules onto the original Aurora Station core over time as demand grows.

Discussion: 
Do you think the start-up company Orion Span will be successful? Why or why not?
In your opinion, is the cost of LEO industries a good investment for the future?
Discuss the pros and cons of exploiting low Earth orbit space.
How much would you pay for a space holiday?

Let workers sleep

Many business leaders still believe that time on-task equates to productivity. However, studies have shown that shorter amounts of sleep lead to both lower efficiency and slower completion of basic tasks. That is, sleepy employees are unproductive employees, and they generate fewer and less accurate solutions to problems.

Many people don't understand that when you are not getting enough sleep, you work less productively and thus need to work longer hours to accomplish a goal, creating a negative feedback loop.

The effects of sleep deficiency on CEOs and supervisors are equally powerful. On days when the supervisor was under-slept, the employees rated them as having worse self-control and being more abusive to others.

Allowing and encouraging employees, supervisors, and executives to arrive at work well rested makes them productive individuals who inspire and support one another. Ounces of sleep offer pounds of business in return.

Discussion: 
How much sleep do you need to be productive on the job? Are you able to get that much sleep regularly?
If you talked to your CEO, what would your argument be for reducing work hours to get more sleep?
Why is getting enough sleep important?
Do you think an afternoon "siesta" is a possible solution?

Japan asks China for pandas

The Japanese government has asked the Chinese government to loan Japan more giant pandas. Amid the growing popularity of the giant panda cub Xiang Xiang, who is on public view at Ueno Zoo in Taito Ward, Tokyo, the Japanese government hopes to realize the loan as soon as possible as a symbol of improved relations between Japan and China.

The Japanese government is considering Oji Zoo and Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai as possible breeding facilities for new pandas. Oji Zoo has only one female, Tan Tan, meaning they need a male for breeding. Yagiyama Zoological Park has petitioned for pandas, to cheer up people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Giant pandas are extremely popular in each country for their cute appearance and rarity; they have become an important diplomatic tool for the Chinese government. China is likely to decide whether to loan more pandas after carefully examining developments in China-Japan relationships.

Discussion: 
In what way does China loaning pandas to Japan symbolize improved relationships between the two countries?
In your opinion, is spending ¥100 million per year for a panda worth the money?
Why do people love pandas so much?

Video: why Japan has no gun deaths

Watch the explainer video "Why Japan has no mass shootings," then discuss it with your teacher.

Discussion: 
Japan has fewer than 10 shooting deaths per year, compared to 33,000 in the U.S. What are some of the reasons for this?
What can Japan teach the United States about gun ownership?
What do you think about the "infotainment" video? Would you like to watch more in your own time?

Virtual reality holidays

Fasten your seatbelts for a flight departing to Paris-–and never leave the ground.

That’s exactly what 12 passengers did at First Airlines in central Tokyo this week, where they relaxed in first and business-class seats and were served four-course dinners, before immersing themselves in 360-degree virtual reality (VR) tours of the City of Light’s sights.

“A real trip is a hassle to prepare for, and expensive, and takes time. So I think it is good that we can enjoy all this hassle-free,” said Takashi Sakano, 39, who was on his first VR trip, adding that he wanted to try Rome next time.

At 6,600 yen ($62), a fraction of the cost of an actual trip overseas, it’s easy to see why First Airline’s two-hour “flights” to Paris, Rome, Hawaii and New York have been fully booked since the company opened in 2016.

Discussion: 
What is your opinion of virtual reality travel? Do you think First Airlines will be successful in the long term?
Would you take a virtual reality trip? Where would you choose to go?
How do you think virtual reality technology will develop in the next 10 years? 25 years?

Norway proposes electric aircraft

All of Norway’s short-haul airliners should be entirely electric by 2040, the country’s airport operator said on Wednesday, cementing the Nordic nation’s role as a pioneer in the field of electric transport.

“We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric,” chief executive Dag Falk-Petersen said, noting that would cover all domestic flights and those to neighbouring Scandinavian capitals.

By market share, Norway has more electric cars on the road than any other country in the world and also has several projects underway for electric ships.

According to official statistics, air transport accounts for 2.4% of Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions for domestic traffic, and more than double that when international routes are included.

Electric air travel will also at least halve noise levels and the operating cost of aircraft, Falk-Petersen said.

Discussion: 
Do you think this technology will be viable by 2040?
Should governments subsidize renewable energy technology?
Transportation only accounts for 14% of global carbon emissions worldwide. Besides electric vehicles, what else can be done to reduce carbon emissions?