It’s been only a few days since the end of the COP26 global climate conference which, with commitments that fell short of the emissions cuts scientists have urged for years, was a reminder of how hard it is for the world’s nations to agree on ways to clean up the planet. Reading our story of Russia blowing up a satellite in a weapon test helped me appreciate how these challenges extend to space as well.

As space expert Wendy Whitman Cobb writes, there is little incentive for countries to actively clean up the thousands of pieces of space junk hurtling through space at high speeds, endangering satellites and crewed space missions, including the International Space Station. “Technology to remove debris has not yet been fully developed, but even still, its deployment is a sensitive subject,” she writes. “The same technology that might be used to remove a piece of space junk could also be used for attacking a satellite.”

MRNA vaccines for COVID-19 have had a profound effect during this pandemic, and the basic mRNA vaccine technology is being explored for a number of infectious diseases. Scientist Andaleeb Sajid writes about an experiment she worked on that showed promising results in providing immunity against tick-borne diseases. In this case, the mRNA vaccine is designed to teach the immune system to recognize the saliva of ticks rather than the pathogen itself.

Finally, Rachel Kyte, the dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School and a former U.N. official, provides a smart analysis of the outcomes from COP26 and provides us with a map of what to watch for in the year ahead. “How much the world achieved at the Glasgow climate talks – and what happens now – depends in large part on where you live,” she writes.

Also in this week’s science and research news:

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If a satellite is destroyed, the debris fans out in orbit and poses serious threats to other satellites or crewed spacecraft. ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL via WikimediaCommons

Russian anti-satellite weapon test: What happened and what are the risks?

Wendy Whitman Cobb, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

Russia destroyed one of its old satellites during a successful test of an anti-satellite weapon. A space security expert explains what this weapon was and the dangers of the expanding debris field.

As the rate of tick-borne diseases rises, vaccines that stop ticks in their tracks could be an essential preventive tool. rbkomar/Moment via Getty Images

A lab-stage mRNA vaccine targeting ticks may offer protection against Lyme and other tick-borne diseases

Andaleeb Sajid, National Institutes of Health

The study found that ticks were unable to feed on guinea pigs vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine, preventing transmission of the pathogen that causes Lyme disease.

John Kerry, the U.S. presidential special envoy for climate, surrounded by other negotiators during COP26. UNFCCC

After COP26, the hard work begins on making climate promises real: 5 things to watch in 2022

Rachel Kyte, Tufts University

The world promised progress at the Glasgow climate conference. Now it has to turn those promises into reality. A former senior UN official describes what to watch for in the coming year.

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