Physics Today Daily Edition
USA Today: The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, said in a radio interview that because "Farmers' Almanac is calling for a very nasty winter, particularly in Chicago ... our operating team is hard at work as to how are we going to accommodate passengers." Company spokesperson Charles Hobart said that United did not actually consult Farmers' Almanac and that Munoz was quoted out of context, but that has not stopped the company from receiving significant criticism. Several meteorologists have pointed out that the almanac does not have a good track record for its seasonal weather predictions; others compared consulting the almanac with consulting an astrologer. Hobart says the company actually has several aviation meteorologists on staff.
Science: Cosmologists have long held that the universe is isotropic—fundamentally the same in all directions. A new study of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation as mapped by the Planck spacecraft supports that assumption in the most stringent test yet. Daniela Saadeh and Andrew Pontzen of University College London and their colleagues used a supercomputer to look for CMB temperature and polarization patterns that would indicate a special direction in space. Based on their findings, the researchers estimate there is only a 1 in 121 000 chance that the universe is anisotropic. Their work increases the confidence in isotropism by an order of magnitude over previous analyses.
New York Times: At the start of President Obama's first term, he pledged to make progress toward a world without nuclear weapons. However, his administration has overseen the establishment of a nuclear weapons modernization plan that is expected to cost $1 trillion over the next two decades. In response to criticisms by nuclear-reduction advocates, Obama has been considering adopting a no-first-use policy whereby the US would promise not to be the first to escalate from conventional war to nuclear war. Doing so would formalize what has been the government's unofficial position for decades. However, it now appears that Obama's advisers have persuaded him to drop the proposal, arguing that it would undermine US allies and embolden nations such as Russia and China.
Science: Congress returned to session on 6 September after its two-month summer break. Atop the agenda is passing a spending bill for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. However, it is more likely that Congress will approve a continuing resolution to extend 2016 spending levels until late December, which will provide extra time for finalizing the 2017 spending bill. A continuing resolution effectively freezes the budgets of government agencies and prevents them from starting new projects or taking advantage of planned budget increases. Major funding increases were slated for a range of National Institutes of Health research programs, Zika research, a NASA mission to Jupiter's moons, two new NSF research vessels, fusion research, and much more.
New York Times: On 3 September a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck central Oklahoma, tying the record for the strongest quake in the state's history. The region near the quake's epicenter experienced moderate damage and a few non-life-threatening injuries. In recent years, Oklahoma has seen a significant increase in seismic activity. In 2009 only three earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or above occurred. In 2015 there were 907. Many seismologists believe that the increase in activity is tied to the high-pressure injection of wastewater from oil and gas wells into Earth's crust. Oklahoma has thousands of such disposal wells throughout the state. The pressurized water finds its way through the surrounding rock and alters stresses along old fault lines, which allows them to slip. The US Geological Survey said that although there is a connection between wastewater injection and the rise in number of earthquakes, it can't yet directly tie the recent quake to the practice. Nonetheless, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees drilling activity in the state, ordered the shutdown of about 36 wastewater wells in a 1295 km2 area around the quake's epicenter.