Physics Today’s online staff summarize the most important and interesting news about science from the world's top media outlets.
Science: On Thursday, the House of Representatives' science committee approved legislation that would increase the committee's oversight of the NSF grant approval process. The bill is a shortened version of a bill that passed the full House in May but has not been taken up by the Senate. Both bills require NSF to explain why all approved grants are "in the national interest." According to committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), he has reviewed several past grants that don't meet that definition. The support for the bills has been mostly partisan, with many Democrats believing that Smith just wants to suppress certain types of research. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) thinks that the bill "substitutes the political process for the scientific process."
New York Times: On Thursday, California governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that bans plastic microbeads in consumer products. Microbeads are often included as exfoliants in face and body cleansers. However, when washed down sinks and showers, the beads pollute water supplies and can harm wildlife. Several other states have passed similar legislation, but California's law goes the furthest by also banning biodegradable alternatives.
New Scientist: Volcanoes can release large amounts of aerosol particles into the stratosphere. That can significantly alter rainfall, but the extent and impact of the change is still unclear. To get a better picture of the effects, Carly Iles and Gabriele Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh in the UK looked at historical flow volumes for 50 major rivers around the world. They found that for two years after major eruptions, rivers experienced significant changes in flow rate. In wet, tropical areas such as the Amazon, Nile, and Congo, river flow rates decreased by up to 10% of their average flow. In drier, subtropical regions, the river flows increased by as much as 25%. This difference emphasizes the potent effects of volcanic aerosols: By blocking sunlight, they allow less heat to reach the atmosphere, which alters circulation patterns and the distribution of rainfall.
BBC: SpaceIL, the Israeli team competing for Google's Lunar X Prize, is the first group in the competition to file a verified launch contract with the X Prize organization. The group has reserved a space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch in 2017. The Lunar X Prize, established in 2007, offers a $20 million award to the spaceflight team that can build a probe able to land on the Moon, travel at least 500 m, and return high-resolution images and video to Earth. Originally, the deadline for claiming the prize was the end of 2012, but it was extended to 2015. Earlier this year the foundation said it would extend the deadline to the end of 2017 if one of the competing teams filed a verified launch contract. Now that SpaceIL has done so, the other teams have until the end of 2016 to file their own launch contracts.