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Science and Technology News, Science Articles | Discover Magazine

Science news, articles, current events and future views on technology, space, environment, health, and medicine.

First Ancient Syphilis Genomes Reveal New History Of The Disease  

The bacterium Treponema pallidum is a nasty critter. It can lead to a number of conditions, collectively called treponemal diseases, that you definitely don't want to have. They include syphilis, a typically sexually transmitted disease that still infects millions annually. The origins of the disease have long been the subject of controversy, attempts to find its roots hampered by a lack of ancient genetic material. Today, researchers announce the first successful reconstruction of a...

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2018-06-22 04:16:58

This Video Game Lets You Explore Mars' Actual Surface  

Alan Chan grew up thinking humans would be living in space and exploring Mars by now. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Instead, he decided to explore space on his own by creating a video game that allows people to drive around the Red Planet's actual terrain in a souped-up rover. "Red Rover," a new video game, recreates Mars' surface using satellite and terrain data from NASA's HiRISE Mars orbiter. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) has a lens that's ph...

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2018-06-22 03:52:53

China's Done Recycling Our Plastics. Where Do We Put 250 Billion Pounds Of Waste?  

The world is truly awful at recycling. Less than 10 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled — the rest goes to landfills and litter. And of that sliver of plastic that we do recycle, about half of it is shipped from wealthy nations to developing ones — especially China. Together with Hong Kong, China has imported nearly three-quarters of all global plastic waste in recent decades. And that's how we ended up in this current mess. End Of Recycling Last year, China...

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2018-06-22 01:50:13

A Lot Of Dinosaurs Couldn't Stick Out Their Tongues  

When it comes to fleshing out dinosaurs, so to speak, based on their nearest living relatives, paleontologists can look to birds or the crocodilians. But a new study says depicting most dinosaur tongues like those of birds with particularly mobile mouthpieces, well, that's just a crock. Tongues aren't much more than a hunk of mouth muscle without the hyoid apparatus, a group of bones that varies significantly between species and provides your mouthmeat with both an anchor and a kind o...

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2018-06-21 02:06:42

Blood At A Crime Scene Can Reveal Age of Suspect or Victim  

There's a significant gap between the information that real-world forensics teams can glean from a crime scene and what turns up in glamorized tv shows such as "CSI." Today, however, that gap gets a little smaller: Researchers reveal it's possible to determine the age of the person based on their blood. Let's face it, as impressive as forensic DNA analysis is, it takes weeks or even months to process and even then can't tell investigators everything about an individual. Other methods o...

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2018-06-20 07:11:27

Dating Do-Over For Anzick-1, Famous First Americans Burial  

He is arguably the most famous ancient American baby: an infant First American whose partial remains were found 50 years ago on a Montana ranch. But while Anzick-1, as the child is known, changed our understanding of the human history of the Americas, critics have complained the dates around the burial are messy, and throw the significance of the site into question. Today, researchers announce the results of a second look at the dating discrepancy that's caused controversy over the famou...

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2018-06-18 14:03:20

Last month was the fourth warmest May on record, two reports out today agree  

In their monthly climate reports released today, both NASA and NOAA agree that last month was fourth warmest among all Mays dating back to 1800. This means that the period 2014 through 2018 has brought the five warmest Mays in 138 years of record-keeping, according to NOAA's report. The warmest was May 2016. "May 2018 also marks the 42nd consecutive May and the 401st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average," according to NOAA. ...

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2018-06-18 12:38:36

Dazzling satellite video reveals lightning dancing inside a mega-complex of thunderstorms  

As a giant complex of thunderstorms blew across Iowa and into Illinois and Missouri on June 14, the GOES-16 weather satellite was watching — and mapping the crackling lightning discharges. The result is the video above, originally posted to the terrific GOES-16 Loop of the Day site. I found it so compelling that I wanted to share it here at ImaGeo. You're looking at a "mesoscale convective system" — a group of thunderstorms that organize into a large complex. And this MCS is in...

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2018-06-18 11:38:43

22,000-year-old Panda Skull Shows New Family Line  

When Qiaomei Fu got her hands on a 22,000-year-old panda skull in 2014, she was both surprised and elated. An expert in paleogenomics, Fu had done most of her past work on the DNA of ancient humans, but she has a personal interest in pandas. Now, in 2018, she and her team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences are the first to have sequenced the entire mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome of an ancient giant panda. The work is outlined in Current Biology. The skull was discovered by her collea

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2018-06-18 01:41:19

Ayahuasca, the Psychedelic Antidepressant?  

A traditional Amazonian psychedelic brew is an effective and rapid-acting antidepressant, according to a paper just published. But the new study revives some long-standing questions. Ayahuasca is a mixture of herbs, traditionally used for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. The main active ingredients are N,N-DMT, a potent psychedelic, and several molecules that inhibit the enzyme MAO. The MAO inhibitors serve to prevent the N,N-DMT from being broken down by the digestive system, allowing

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2018-06-17 03:20:01

What Does God Look Like?  

What would you say if you saw this stranger on a bus? Well, if you're Christian, you might say he's God. Psychologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 511 Christians in the U.S. and, based on the participants' combined perceptions, this is roughly what they thought God should look like. The team, led by Joshua Conrad Jackson, showed the volunteers 300 pairs of random faces. For each pair, people were instructed to flag the face they thought look...

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2018-06-16 04:44:34

To Avoid Humans, More Wildlife Now Work the Night Shift  

For their first 100 million years on planet Earth, our mammal ancestors relied on the cover of darkness to escape their dinosaur predators and competitors. Only after the meteor-induced mass extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago could these nocturnal mammals explore the many wondrous opportunities available in the light of day. Fast forward to the present, and the honeymoon in the sun may be over for mammals. They're increasingly returning to the protection of night to avoid the ...

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2018-06-15 13:05:29

El Niño is gestating in the Pacific, possibly heralding warmer global temps and extreme weather in 2019  

While 2019 is still a long way off, we've now got some strong hints that the coming year could bring even warmer global temperatures, plus droughts in some regions, and floods in others. These climatic and weather effects would come from an El Niño that seems to be gestating in the tropical Pacific. A warming of tropical Pacific waters beneath the surface, along with the output of computer and statistical modeling, have prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to ...

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2018-06-15 10:28:01

How Can a Baby Have 3 Parents?  

It seems impossible, right? We have been taught from the time we were young that babies are made when a sperm and an egg come together, and the DNA from these two cells combine to make a unique individual with half the DNA from the mother and half from the father. So how can there be a third person involved in this process? To understand the idea of three-parent babies, we have to talk about DNA. Most people are familiar with the double helix-style DNA which make up the 23 pairs of chromo

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2018-06-15 08:20:55

Earliest Rainforest Frogs Preserved in Amber  

Frogs in a rainforest? Sure, rainforests are home to tons of them. Nothing new there — except that researchers just found four, preserved in amber and nearly 100 million years old, that suggest frogs have been hanging out in that environment much longer than previously shown. Anura, the amphibian order that includes frogs and toads, has been around for at least 200 million years. But the frog fossil record is spotty, and the earliest examples of the animals appear to have lived in ...

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2018-06-14 12:12:15

The Milky Way Just Got Larger  

Despite residing in it, it's hard for us to know exactly how big the Milky Way is. But new research has found that our galaxy is bigger than previously thought. Using a large survey of stars instead of just models (as previous researchers did), astronomers have now determined the disk of our galaxy to be 200,000 light-years across — twice as large as was believed a decade ago. Astronomers know the Milky Way to be a spiral galaxy with a flat central disk composed of spiraling arms and ...

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2018-06-14 08:34:08

Astronomers Catch Black Hole Devouring Star  

Astronomers Seppo Mattila and Miguel Perez-Torres usually study the natural deaths of stars, but they weren't going to pass up the chance to investigate a stellar murder. A new paper in Science describes how they nabbed photographic evidence that a supermassive black hole in a relatively nearby galaxy tore apart and consumed part of a star in a phenomenon called a tidal disruption event (TDE), spewing jets of material in the process. Scientists have observed these cosmic crime scenes ...

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2018-06-14 07:16:25

Watch a Magnetic Material Skitter Around  

We're around magnets so much, it's easy to forget they're kind of magic. Not only do magnets make for fun toys, they can attract or repel objects from a distance through an invisible force, they can create electricity (and vice versa) and they can make cool new tools and materials possible. A team of mechanical engineers from MIT and the New Jersey Institute of Technology has gone down that last path, publishing in Nature today a new method of producing soft, programmable materials...

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2018-06-13 16:55:29

Sobering Finds in Most Comprehensive Study Ever on Antarctic Ice Loss  

Some 3 trillion tons of ice has melted from Antarctica since 1992, and there's not much time to change course. That's according to a sweeping group of studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature that looks at the past, present and future of Antarctic ice sheets. Scientists are calling it the most complete picture ever of ice loss on the southern continent. "Scientists are really speaking with one voice and we hope that it will help the public understand the problem," says...

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2018-06-13 14:46:56

Dirt Could Help Fight Superbugs  

About 23,000 Americans die each year due to a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics. Since 2010, the number of children who have become resistant has increased sevenfold. In recent years, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics led to the superbug phenomenon, in which bacteria that cause illness and disease become resistant to medicines. That makes it harder to treat conditions like pneumonia and food-related illnesses. Now, a group of researchers are looking for the next antibiot

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2018-06-13 09:06:19

Faster Rewards Mean More Motivation  

It's just after lunch. You've got an assignment due soon, but you're sleepy and would rather mindlessly browse the internet. How will you find the motivation to get going and actually finish the thing? A new study suggests getting a reward for your work sooner rather than later can help boost your interest in and enjoyment of the task at hand. The paper, published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consists of a series of experiments. They wer...

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2018-06-13 01:10:34

When Does Hungry Become Hangry?  

Have you ever been grumpy, only to realize that you're hungry? Many people feel more irritable, annoyed, or negative when hungry - an experience colloquially called being "hangry." The idea that hunger affects our feelings and behaviors is widespread - from advertisements to memes and merchandise. But surprisingly little research investigates how feeling hungry transforms into feeling hangry. Psychologists have traditionally thought of hunger and emotions as separate, with hu...

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2018-06-12 11:32:17

Nearly two decades of revealing satellite images now available at your fingertips  

Bear witness to the changing face of our planet using an easy-to-use tool for accessing a trove of satellite data The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse. All you need is access to a computer. Multiple instruments aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the en...

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2018-06-10 13:45:07

"The Love of Neuroscience" and the Neuroscience of Love  

There is a growing research literature on the 'Neuroscience of Love'. But what exactly is this 'love' that is being studied? Sociologist Gabriel Abend asks these questions in a new paper called The Love of Neuroscience published in Sociological Theory. Last year I discussed one of Abend's previous papers which asked more general questions about how neuroscientists define the objects they study. In the new paper, Abend looks specifically at 'love' and how this word has been understood

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2018-06-09 07:52:57

Carbon dioxide at highest level ever directly measured  

Rather than declining, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising thanks to continuing growth in emissions of the climate-altering gas The Paris Agreement was intended to turn the world onto a new path, one that would limit the risks and impacts from climate change through lowered emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But according to the latest indication, we're still on the old path. In May, CO2 levels in the atmosphere exceeded 411 parts per million, as meas...

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2018-06-08 03:12:37

Real 'Westworld' Haptic Vests Better Than Fiction  

Most of the HBO show "Westworld" focuses on artificial intelligence and android robots that seem indistinguishable from humans. But the show has also occasionally snuck in some real-world technology that seems futuristic enough to blend in with the science fiction setting. One example of such real technology in "Westworld" comes in the form of haptic vests that made their debut in the show's second season. Freeze all motor functions and turn back now if you want to avoid spoilers abou...

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2018-06-08 01:40:21

'Westworld' Science Advisor Talks Brains and AI  

One of many hats that neuroscientist David Eagleman wears in real life is science advisor for HBO's science fiction show "Westworld." The show takes place in a futuristic theme park staffed by robotic hosts who seemingly exist only to fulfill the dark and violent fantasies of wealthy human guests who want to indulge adventure and vice in a Western-style playground for adults. But as the show hints from the very first episode, the robotic hosts are not necessarily content to remain subservi...

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2018-06-08 01:19:02

Holy Polar 'Pods, Batman! Tetrapods In The Strangest Places  

An artist's reconstruction of the 360 million-year-old Late Devonian world in which the first known polar tetrapods lived. Tutusius, right, eyes potential prey while Umzantsia, left, dives deeper into the brackish estuary the animals called home. All animals and plants shown have been found as fossils at the same South African site. (Credit: Maggie Newman) Hey, tetrapod! Yeah, I'm talking to you. There's a big update to the story of the earliest tetrapods — the first four-limbed vertebrat...

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2018-06-07 20:12:12

Human Cancer Treatment Helps Sea Turtles  

Hard shells. Tails. Flippers. Sea turtles differ from humans in many ways, but scientists recently discovered a genetic vulnerability shared by humans and these marine dwelling animals. Wild animals are increasingly seeing new forms of disease emerge, further threatening vulnerable species like the sea turtle. And now it's hit our flippered, shelly friends. First documented in Florida, potentially fatal tumors called fibropapillomatosis are threatening sea turtles worldwide. But a recent

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2018-06-07 10:03:48

Striking imagery shows American Airlines Flight 1897 flying through a hellish storm as it's battered by hail  

Satellite imagery and flight tracking show the plane trying to evade a storm that ultimately destroyed its nose and smashed the windshield After I watched the animation of satellite imagery above a few times, the words "bob and weave" came to me as a way to describe the evasive maneuvers American Airlines Flight 1897 seemed to be taking to avoid the worst parts of vicious thunderstorms that were boiling up everywhere along its flight path. Unfortunately, the twin-engine Airbus 319 c...

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2018-06-07 02:51:21

Google Decides Not to Renew a Military AI Contract  

Google recently bowed to employee protests by deciding to wind down involvement in a U.S. military initiative called Project Maven next year. The Pentagon project focuses on harnessing deep learning algorithms--specialized machine learning technologies often described as "artificial intelligence"--to automatically detect and identify people or objects in military drone surveillance videos. Company emails and internal documents obtained by the New York Times show Google's at...

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2018-06-07 01:16:13

Earliest Pneumonia Case Older Than Dinosaurs  

Researchers have found evidence of pneumonia and a tuberculosis-like infection in a marine reptile, similar to the nothosaur shown here, that lived 245 million years ago. (Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons) One of the oldest diseases to haunt our species — the lung infection known as pneumonia — is actually a lot older. Evidence of pneumonia, and possible tuberculosis, has turned up in a marine reptile that's 245 million years old. Researchers analyzed a fragmentary specimen of...

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2018-06-05 08:21:38

Here's the Answer That Will Finally Settle the "Is Pluto a Planet?" Debate for Good (Yeah, Right)  

I love Pluto. I grew up entranced by this strange little world: What could you be, you rebel that doesn't seem to follow any of the rules? I even wrote a childhood letter to a local astronomer, offering my homespun hypothesis that Pluto might be a captured fragment of an exploded star. When the New Horizons spacecraft finally revealed the true face of Pluto, I was right there at mission control in Langley, Maryland, to watch the images as they came in. So I have a lot of sympathy for th...

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2018-06-05 03:44:17

This Poisonous Frogs' Bright Colors Weirdly Help Camouflage It  

The conspicuous colors of poison frogs are presumed to be a warning. Indeed, vibrant patterns so often signal toxicity that biologists even have a special term for them: aposematic coloration. But, weird as it might sound, new research suggests that radiant skin patterns might help these frogs stay hidden, too. Poison frogs are armed with some of the planet's most potent toxins. The most deadly is the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis)—one frog's worth of toxin is roughl...

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2018-06-04 07:15:18

NASA Hacked a Fix For Mars Rover's Broken Drill  

After suffering more than a year with a broken drill, NASA's 5-year-old Mars rover Curiosity is now collecting and analyzing samples once again. The drill sits at the end of Curiosity's LeBron James-sized robotic arm and is vital for grabbing and dropping dirt into the spacecraft's onboard laboratory. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) put many months of effort into hacking a new way to drill after the rover's tool broke way back in December of 2016. Drill Baby D...

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2018-06-04 07:06:29

How Pluto Formed Its Mysterious Dunes  

When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft zipped by Pluto at 31,000 mph in July 2015, it captured a plethora of breathtaking photos of the distant dwarf planet's surface. Within these highly detailed images, researchers noticed what looked to be an extensive system of strange dunes stretching 75 miles along the boundary of Pluto's massive Al-Idrisi Montes mountain range and Sputnik Planitia — a nitrogen-ice plain that forms the left lobe of the planet's famous "heart." "We kn...

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2018-06-04 03:06:07

The Philosophy of Roseanne's Ambien Tweet  

As everyone knows, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet. She claimed that the sleeping medication Ambien affected her behavior, but her show got cancelled anyway. Now, I think this scandal raises some surprisingly interesting philosophical questions about moral responsibility and the nature of self-control. What follows is a dialogue between two hypothetical speakers exploring some of these questions. To be clear, this is a post about philosophy, not about Roseanne. I don't know or care if

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2018-06-02 10:20:13

State-of-the-art NOAA-20 satellite is operational, promising better weather forecasts  

Check out this imagery from the next generation, polar-orbiting NOAA-20 spacecraft, which also heralds improved environmental monitoring A constellation of satellites that monitor the vital signs of our planet just got a new, official member: the next-generation NOAA-20 satellite. It was declared fully operational yesterday after undergoing months of rigorous testing. Launched last November as part of NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, NOAA-20 is designed to observe Earth's atmos...

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2018-06-01 04:51:18

Friendly Monkeys Have More Cuddle Buddies  

A kind word or gesture from a friend can give you the warm fuzzies. But a warm, fuzzy friend can give a macaque a better chance of surviving the winter. After following dozens of macaques through snowy woods for months, scientists found that friendlier monkeys earned themselves more cuddle buddies on cold nights. Earlier studies in macaques, baboons and even wild horses have shown that animals who are more social may live longer and have more offspring. In other words, "friends w...

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2018-06-01 04:10:58

Take A Look At This Wee Spinosaurus Fossil!  

Big paleontological news can come in teensy packages, as shown by a new study on a fragment of a very young Spinosaurus, one of the most fascinating flesh-eating (in this case, fish-eating) dinosaurs. You remember Spinosaurus, right? And I'm not talking about its cheesy guest role in the worst of the Jurassic Park sequels. I'm talking about the animal believed to be the largest carnivorous dinosaur, lost to science in WWII and then rediscovered with a whirl of controversy over whet...

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2018-06-01 02:54:29

Found: The Genes Behind Big Human Brains  

With a new pair of studies on a handful of genes unique to the genus Homo, researchers took a big step toward solving one of the most important questions about our evolution — why and how human brains got so big. Understanding why the Homo brain became significantly larger than the gray matter of any other primate has been a dominant question in the field ever since we first turned our big human brains toward the topic of evolution. In just the last week, separate teams of r...

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2018-05-31 10:38:53

New closeup video shows flares sputtering and gargantuan glowing loops dancing at the Sun's surface  

Although the Sun is in a singularly serene state right now, that doesn't mean it's asleep. The video above is proof of that. Captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, it shows an active region on the Sun's surface rotating into view between May 23 and 25. Here's how NASA describes what we're looking at: An active region rotated into view and sputtered with numerous small flares and towering magnetic field lines that stretched out many times the diameter of Earth . . . Ac...

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2018-05-30 05:54:55

What Would an Alien Language Sound Like?  

Projects like SETI and Breakthrough Listen are dedicated to spotting the signals extraterrestrials may be sending out into the universe. But there's an additional side to the story — if E.T. did contact us, would we even be able to understand him? That was the topic of a recent gathering of linguists that took place in Los Angeles, California, over the Memorial Day weekend. The daylong workshop, "Language in the Cosmos," was organized by METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence)...

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2018-05-30 04:50:55

Cloud porn: Watch as a swirl of clouds materializes into a beautiful, nearly perfect circle  

A striking circle of clouds with a bullseye center is seen over Asia in a high-resolution satellite image, and an animation of multiple images We're accustomed to seeing satellite images of clouds organized in big swirly circles. They are, of course, called cyclones. And, in fact, as I'm writing this post, one of these — Subtropical Depression Alberto — is looking quite impressive in all its swirly glory as it spins over Alabama. But until I spotted the satellite image above in ...

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2018-05-29 15:13:57

No Eyes? No Problem. Sea Urchins See with Their Feet  

Threaten a sea urchin, and you may see it point its spines at you. This defensive response is pretty unremarkable—except for the fact that, if you look closer, you will not see the sea urchin's eyes. It doesn't have any. Sea urchins are the only animals that have vision despite "conspicuously lacking eyes," write Dan-Eric Nilsson, a biologist at the University of Lund in Sweden who studies animal vision, and his colleagues. In a new study, the researchers gave the spiny sea creatures a...

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2018-05-29 05:42:26

Power Doesn't Cause Brain Damage  

An Atlantic article from July 2017 has been widely discussed on Twitter over the past few days. It's called Power Causes Brain Damage and I remember that it was fairly popular at the time of publication. Its recent revival was prompted I think by Harvey Weinstein's arrest and more generally the abuses of power revealed by the #MeToo movement. The article itself, of course, dating to the pre-Fall of Weinstein era, isn't specifically about this. In my view, while power is certainly all too

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2018-05-28 18:58:16

665 Days in Space and 47 minutes on TV: A Conversation with NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson  

Life is all about bubbles. Every cell in your body is a bubble, a membrane holding together a miniature world of organelles, ribosomes, and genetic material. Your body itself is another bubble, a skin wrapped around a wet, salty interior that carries a distant memory of the oceans in which our ancestors lived hundreds of millions of years ago. And our entire planet is a bubble, a thin membrane of oxygen-rich air wrapped around a spinning rock warmed by a nearby Sun. Being able to perceive

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2018-05-28 08:07:26

Your Weekly Attenborough: Epeolus attenboroughi  

When I watch Planet Earth, what often comes to mind is the power of framing. As the program jumps from species to species, I find myself siding with whichever creature currently holds the spotlight. I remember cringing as a horde of snakes overcame a newly hatched iguana in the Galapagos, and then cheering as a Komodo dragon tore limbs from its prey in Indonesia, all within the span of 20 minutes. To veer so suddenly from abhorring violence to rooting for it wholesale feels a bit h...

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2018-05-25 01:43:31

Dinosaur Doom Almost Wiped Birds Out, Too  

It's the most common caveat you'll hear about the End-Cretaceous mass extinction: It wiped out the dinosaurs, except for birds which are, you know, dinosaurs. A new study suggests that the global die-off nearly took birds out as well. About 66 million years ago, a mass extinction offed a huge percentage of life on Earth — about three-quarters of all species that had been going about their business. Researchers still debate whether an asteroid or massive volcanic activity was the ...

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2018-05-24 18:24:05

This Is the Oldest Tree in Europe  

This tree is not dead, despite appearances. It's alive and happy, and it's been clinging to this cliff in southern Italy since the eighth century A.D. Researchers invented a new dating method to figure out that the pine is the oldest known tree in Europe. Gianluca Piovesan of Università della Tuscia in Italy and colleagues spent three years taking samples from trees to try to find some really old ones. On mountain cliffs within Pollino National Park, they found a few trees that seemed...

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2018-05-24 01:33:51

Debunking the Biggest Myths About 'Technology Addiction'  

How concerned should people be about the psychological effects of screen time? Balancing technology use with other aspects of daily life seems reasonable, but there is a lot of conflicting advice about where that balance should be. Much of the discussion is framed around fighting "addiction" to technology. But to me, that resembles a moral panic, giving voice to scary claims based on weak data. For example, in April 2018, television journalist Katie Couric's "America Inside Out"...

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2018-05-23 14:21:40

Why Are Our Brains So Big, Anyway?  

Not to give us a collective swelled head or anything, but the Homo sapiens brain is big. Really big. For years, researchers have puzzled over why our noggin-embiggening occurred: Big brains are, after all, costly to feed. One leading theory held that our brains increased in size to manage the cognitive demands of ever-more complex communications and other social processes. New research suggests, however, that interactions with each other played only a small role compared with the big dr...

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2018-05-23 10:31:03

Very Bad Wizards Cite Neuroskeptic  

I was honored yesterday to learn that I've been featured on popular philosophy and psychology podcast Very Bad Wizards. You can listen to the episode here. In this episode, hosts Tamler Sommers and David Pizarro discuss this blog, but they mainly focus on my tweets. In particular, Sommers and Pizarro pay tribute to some of what I like to think of as my 'wtf' tweets, in which I link to a new scientific paper which is just, well, bizarre or remarkable. Here's a relatively mild exampl

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2018-05-23 05:26:55

Coprolites Give The Straight Poop On Cretaceous Carnivores  

Rosary, fir tree and bump-headed lace... you might think those classifications refer to different shapes of seeds or butterfly wing color patterns, or something else that inspires a touch of poetry. Nope. We're talking excrement. Researchers working with hundreds of samples of fossilized feces — coprolites — from a site in Spain were able to reconstruct a rare picture of biodiversity within a freshwater wetlands system more than 125 million years ago. Coprolites are not uncommo...

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2018-05-23 03:37:40

Every-day wonders: the edges of a giant Colorado thunderstorm cell, captured in photo mosaics  

The summer monsoon season in Colorado is still probably weeks away, but we got a spectacular preview today As I was leaving Boulder, Colorado this afternoon, heading for home out on the plains at the foot of the Rockies, I looked up and was stopped short by a giant, glowing thunderstorm cell that was building fast, in all dimensions. I've long been enamored of Western skies. That's true in all seasons, each of which brings its own wonders. But there's something particularly special abo...

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2018-05-23 02:50:45

Another remarkable time-lapse video shows Hawaii's volcanic activity from a unique perspective  

A 'cloud camera' 40 miles away and high on a mountain captured the eerie glow emanating from continuing volcanic activity Last week I featured time-lapse video capturing the ash plume from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano exploding skyward higher than Mt. Everest. Now, the same camera, located on the Gemini North telescope atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, has captured yet another remarkable video. The new time-lapse shows the intense glow from an extensive region of volcanic fissures on Hawaii's B...

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2018-05-23 01:47:18

Epic Flight Fail? Pterosaur Models Are Wrong, Says Study  

Have paleontologists just been winging it? Up to 95 percent of the hip joint reconstructions of pterosaurs and their distant relatives, the most birdlike of dinosaurs, are anatomically impossible, according to new research that used a surprising source. But the study's conclusions, counters a pterosaur expert, should be grounded. Fleshing out an extinct animal from bones alone has always been paleontology's greatest challenge, and mistakes have been made. But a paper published today mak

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2018-05-23 01:46:30

Jupiter as seen from a uniquely beautiful perspective  

Citizen scientists used raw images from the Juno spacecraft to produce this southerly view of Jupiter This marvelous view of Jupiter shows the planet from a different perspective than we're used to: from the south. It was acquired by NASA's Juno spacecraft during a close flyby of the giant gaseous planet on April 1. During the encounter, Juno swooped as close as 10,768 miles above the cloud tops of the southern hemisphere. As NASA notes in a release, this color-enhanced view is unique

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2018-05-22 10:59:01

Giant Flatworms Invade France  

Worms have a way of appearing in strange, unwanted places: inside feet, eyeballs and stomachs. Turns out some are even invading countries. Giant predatory flatworms have inched their way into France and its overseas territories on four continents, according to a study released Tuesday in PeerJ. The invasive flatworms were documented by citizen scientists and managed to stay under the radar for more than two decades. This is the first study to cover the invasion. Wormy Worm The study...

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2018-05-22 05:35:05

Astronomers Find First Interstellar Immigrant  

Less than a year ago, astronomers discovered 'Oumuamua, the first known object from another star system to pass through our own. Now, in a new study published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, astronomers announced the discovery of the first interstellar object known to have taken up permanent residence around the Sun. A Perfect Fit Astronomers first discovered the asteroid in question, which has the succinct name (413107) 2015 BZ509 (or Bee-Zed for...

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2018-05-21 14:44:52

New Round In The East-West Sweet Potato Kerfuffle  

What's the story, morning glory? Well, let me tell you: the sweet potato and other morning glory family members may have been around millions of years earlier than believed — after first sprouting thousands of miles from where many paleobotanists thought they evolved. Much like last year's discovery that nightshades (which include both the delicious, like tomatoes, and the deadly, such as belladonna) are much older than previously thought, researchers believe they have evidence ...

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2018-05-21 08:54:30

A Master Teller of Fish Stories  

It has been called "the world's most dangerous meal," a fish whose internal organs are laced with one of the deadliest toxins on Earth. Specialized restaurants in Japan and a few other places serve carefully prepared fugu flesh as an expensive delicacy, in part because of this risky thrill. But Byrappa Venkatesh was drawn to the fugu for an entirely different reason: It has the smallest genome of any vertebrate. That quality was gold back in the 1990s, when geneticists were still ...

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2018-05-21 04:17:41

Physicists See Quantum Effects in Photosynthesis  

We all probably learned about photosynthesis, how plants turn sunlight into energy, in school. It might seem, therefore, that we figured out this bit of the world. But scientists are still learning new things about even the most basic stuff (see also the sun and moon), and photosynthesis is no different. In particular, according to a study released Monday in Nature Chemistry, an international team of scientists showed that molecules involved in photosynthesis display quantum mechanical b...

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2018-05-21 02:01:39

Slug Life: About That Injectable Memory Study  

A study claiming that a "memory" could be transferred from one animal to another in form of an injection has caused a lot of excitement. The Futurist said that Scientists Transferred Memories From One Snail to Another. Someday, They Could Do The Same in Humans. But I have to say I'm not convinced. In the paper, published in eNeuro, UCLA researchers Alexis Bedecarrats and collagues report that they extracted RNA from the neurons of sea slugs (Aplysia) after training them to be sensitive ...

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2018-05-18 11:07:04

Time-lapse video captures the ash plume from Hawaii's volcano exploding higher than Mt. Everest  

The biggest explosion yet from the Kilauea volcano propelled 1,000-pound rocks into the air, and sent ash rocketing 30,000 feet high The eruption of Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii's Big Island this morning sent an ash plume exploding about 30,000 feet high into the atmosphere. And as luck would have it, a camera was watching. The camera is located about 40 miles away on the Gemini North telescope atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea. It's ordinarily is used to monitor the sky so that telescope ope...

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2018-05-18 03:49:07

Autonomous Flatcars Could Help Drones Deliver Goods  

A research company is seeking funding to build a prototype autonomous, battery-powered flatcar that would serve as a platform for package-delivery drones. Cambridge Research & Development in New Hampshire has applied for a patent for the concept. The vehicle, Cambridge founder and CEO Ken Steinberg says, could carry and deliver freight or serve as a moving platform for autonomous package-delivery drones. The idea is to take advantage of railroad capacity that goes unused on commut...

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2018-05-17 20:48:22

The Story Of Southeast Asia Through Ancient DNA  

Southeast Asia is home to scores of different languages and cultures, but the story of how such diversity blossomed in the region has always been unclear. A new study out today turns to ancient DNA — a rare find in hot and humid environments — to track waves of human migration over the past 4,000 years. Ancient DNA  (aDNA) is a rare thing. It requires a narrow range of conditions — essentially, cold and dry — to be preserved more than a few centuries. To have found enough gene...

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2018-05-17 19:20:08

Your Emergency Contact Does More Than You Think  

You know when you're filling out your medical paperwork and it asks for your emergency contact? Sure, the process might be annoying, but that emergency contact could actually be put to good use by researchers. Since many of us use a family member, those contacts can help scientists create family trees. And they can also be used for genetics and disease research, according to a study released Thursday in Cell. Discovering what diseases are inheritable can be a laborious and expensive pr...

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2018-05-17 16:04:13

Robotic Insect Finally Flies Wirelessly  

We've seen robot insects fly, land and even swim. But they weren't doing that all by themselves. Until now, a tether of wires held them back. A group of researchers from the University of Washington made the first wirelessly powered robotic insect. The bot, called RoboFly, weighs just 190 mg — it's barely heavier than a toothpick and just slightly larger than a real fly. How RoboFly Flies The idea for these bioinspired robots was fir...

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2018-05-16 13:20:58

A tiny spacecraft nicknamed 'Wall-E' shot this pale-blue-dot shot of Earth from more than 600,000 miles away  

'Wall-E' is one of a pair of CubeSats that's following a lander spacecraft as it cruises toward Mars In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was cruising outward in the solar system, heading toward interstellar space. The late Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team, had the idea of pointing the spacecraft back toward home for one last look. The result was an image that Sagan made famous in his 1994 book "Pale Blue Dot" — an image showing Earth as a barely visible bluish dot....

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2018-05-16 12:23:25

US Program Aims to Open Airspace to More Drones  

Many stories about drones are sensationalized. It's easy to use broad language that gives the impression that drones will soon be zooming over us delivering goods. That's not true. Now that I've beaten down your dreams, let me build you up just a little bit. A new program in the United States could actually lead to a life where drones drop medicine at your doorstep and are border patrol agents. Just not in the next year or two, or three, for that matter. The U.S. Department of T...

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2018-05-15 10:04:58

Beautiful bergs!: Arctic overflights yield inspiring images  

NASA's Operation IceBridge is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown During my very first visit to the Arctic, the Sun did a lazy 360 above Tromsø, Norway each day. It was summer, and I was simply entranced by the midnight sun. But I wasn't really bitten by the Arctic bug until a visit the next winter. And what really got me was the light. Yes, the Arctic light in winter. Although the Sun doesn't rise for months at a time at that time of year, before it com...

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2018-05-14 05:02:34

Getting Inside The Head Of Homo Naledi  

Maybe size doesn't matter that much after all. Ever since its discovery in 2013, Homo naledi — the newest addition to our family tree — has been a source of speculation and surprise. The South African hominin's latest mind-bending revelation: Its brain, though notably small, had several structural details similar to those of bigger-brained members of the genus Homo, including us. The new research hints that these structures developed early in the story of Homo, and may have permitte...

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2018-05-14 02:45:27

Human-caused climate change is "supercharging" hurricanes, raising the risk of major damage  

A new study shows that record-breaking ocean heat pumped up Hurricane Harvey, contributing to catastrophic flooding The North Atlantic hurricane season last year was extraordinary for a number reasons, but none more memorable than these: Irma, Maria and Harvey. These three hurricanes brought enormous devastation to portions of the continental United States, the Caribbean islands, and other parts of the tropical more than 100 trillion kilograms o...

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2018-05-13 01:45:36

Is "Dendritic Learning" How The Brain Works?  

A new paper in ACS Chemical Neuroscience pulls no punches in claiming that most of what we know about the neuroscience of learning is wrong: Dendritic Learning as a Paradigm Shift in Brain Learning According to authors Shira Sardi and colleagues, the prevailing view which is that learning takes place in the synapses is mistaken. Instead, they say, 'dendritic learning' is how brain cells really store information. If a neuron is a tree, the dendrites are the branches, while the synapses

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2018-05-11 15:23:24

Ancient Genomes Revise The Origins Of Leprosy  

One of the most dreaded diseases for millennia, leprosy is still with us — though it has lost much of its menace. But some of its mystery remains, particularly its origins. In a study out today, researchers turned to ancient DNA to discover leprosy's roots, and the path they followed took them to a surprising place. Leprosy results from a chronic bacterial infection, almost always of Mycobacterium leprae. It typically takes five years after initial infection for symptoms to show up...

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2018-05-10 06:10:44

Ancient DNA Reveals New Human History Of Eurasian Steppes  

A trio of new studies, two in Nature and the third in Science, analyzed genetic material from scores of ancient humans to create a new map of human movement, as well as the spread of language, the hepatitis B virus and horse domestication, across the sprawling Eurasian steppes. The ancient genomes sequenced for the papers — with more findings to follow, promise the authors — represent the largest collection of ancient human DNA ever studied. Stretching nearly unbroken from Hungary t...

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2018-05-09 15:48:52

Even as an unusual chill enveloped most of North America, the rest of the planet was plenty warm in April  

Some regions of the world shivered last month. But as was the case in March, most of the planet continued to be unusually warm. You can see the pattern in the map above showing temperature anomalies for April, produced by Europe's Copernicus Climate Change Service. The chill was particularly pronounced over North America, as evidenced by the blue tones on the map. (This probably comes as no surprise to those of you from Canada or the eastern two-thirds of the United States!) Meanwhile...

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2018-05-07 17:40:56

Boycott Threat Terminated 'Killer Robot' Project  

Notable tech leaders and scientists have signed open letter petitions calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons powered by artificial intelligence technologies. But a group of AI researchers recently went a step farther by using the threat of boycott to discourage a university from developing so-called killer robot technologies. It all began in late February when a Korea Times article reported on a leading South Korean defense company teaming up with a public research univers...

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2018-05-07 03:14:24

Sternberg-er And Fries  

A new scandal hit the world of psychology last week when it emerged that Robert J. Sternberg, an eminent experimental psychologist and former President of the American Psychological Association (APA), has been engaging in text recycling aka self-plagiarism. It has emerged that Sternberg re-used large chunks of previously published text in several publications without any acknowledgement that this done. This discovery came after Sternberg was already under scrutiny for a very high rate

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2018-05-07 01:11:40

Future Wear  

If one MIT researcher has his way, our fabric could be the next great technological frontier.

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2018-05-05 01:11:41

NASA says the Sun is "tangled up in blue"  

A bright tangle of magnetic field lines has appeared on its surface. But otherwise the Sun is singularly serene. What's going on? The other day, NASA posted this closeup view of the Sun under the headline: "Tangled Up in Blue." The reference to the Bob Dylan tune aside, I found the video particularly intriguing. That's because the Sun's surface, as imaged here by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, is actually quite placid. But there's one exception: a very bright active re...

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2018-05-04 10:44:30

Alan Stern on the Pluto Revolution, the Psychology of Persistence, and "Chasing New Horizons"  

On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft swept past Pluto, returning eye-popping images of the dwarf planet and its huge (relatively speaking) moon, Charon. At the time, the best existing images of Pluto showed nothing more than an enigmatic blur. New Horizons revealed a world of astonishing diversity: organics-coated dark patches, ice mountains, nitrogen glaciers, and methane snows, all in a state of astonishing activity considering the temperatures there are only about 40 degrees abov

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2018-05-04 04:51:45

What Gorilla Poop Reveals About Our Own Lousy Diets  

Researchers analyzing the gut microbes of gorillas and other primates found seasonal shifts that underscore just how much is missing from the modern human diet — and why it matters. Right now, you're hosting your own special ecosystem. Millions of microbes live out their lives on your skin and in every nook and cranny, especially in your gut, where they perform a multitude of essential tasks. Sort of like tiny houseguests who actually cook and clean. The microbiome — particularly th...

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2018-05-03 18:39:41

Drones Defy Commands During Light Show, Still Break Record  

Drones have flown over blowholes and detected heartbeats from the sky. They're also good entertainers. Ehang, Chinese drone manufacturer known for its autonomous flying taxi, flew 1,374 drones over the Xi'an City Wall. The company reclaimed the Guinness World Record for the "most number of unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously." The drones danced into 16 formations, including the Xi'an City Wall, the Silk Road and the number 1374. But the performance wasn't per...

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2018-05-03 11:54:02

As summer looms, western U.S. snowpack is very thin  

What's happening in the West over the long run is less about reduced snowfall and more the result of warming temperatures In the western United States, the most important reservoirs are not the manmade ones along rivers, but the natural ones high up in our mountains: the snowpack that accumulates all winter, peaking in April. As the animation of satellite images above shows, this crucial source of water is looking significantly depleted as we head toward the hot and dry conditions of su...

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2018-05-03 11:24:33

Hominin Head-Scratcher: Who Butchered This Rhino 709,000 Years Ago?  

More than 700,000 years ago, in what's now the north end of the Philippines, a hominin (or a whole bunch of them) butchered a rhino, systematically cracking open its bones to access the nutritious marrow within, according to a new study. There's just one problem: The find is more than ten times older than any human fossil recovered from the islands, and our species hadn't even evolved that early. Okay, so, maybe it was an archaic hominin, you're thinking, maybe Homo erectus or some...

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2018-05-02 11:05:56

We May Have Put the Wrong Whales on Our Albums  

Songs of the Humpback Whale was a 1970 album consisting of about 35 minutes of mellow blooping. It was extremely popular. But as a vocal star, the humpback may have unfairly overshadowed another whale—the bowhead. Recordings high in the Arctic have revealed that these animals have a far more extensive repertoire than the humpbacks do. Researchers lowered microphones into the Fram Strait, a chilly strip of sea east of Greenland, for three years between 2010 and 2014. On the reco...

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2018-05-01 04:54:14

Man's Best Friends Don't Share Our Fear Of Snakes  

If you feel your stomach flutter uncomfortably at the mere image of a slithering serpent, you're not alone. It's thought that snakes make about half of us anxious, and 2-3% of people are Ophidiophobic—that is, they're deeply afraid of snakes. Such fear is thought to have deep roots; over the course of our evolutionary history, snakes are thought to have had such an influence on our risk of dying that we've evolved an innate fear of them, which has even influenced our visual acuity—an...

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2018-05-01 02:09:36

Earth's Magnetic Field   

The Earth's magnetic field has been declining about 5 percent every 100 years since at least 1840, and possibly even earlier. The dip in strength has spurred worries of an imminent "flip," a reversal of magnetic polarity that could be catastrophic to our modern technological networks. But a study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences brings some good news. A reversal is not likely in the near future, say European researchers, and the decrease in the f...

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2018-04-30 20:15:29

Why I Became a Neuroscientist  

I've been thinking lately about the question of what leads scientists to choose a discipline. Why does someone end up as a chemist rather than a biologist? A geneticist as opposed to a cognitive neuroscientist? We might hope that people choose their discipline based on an understanding of what doing research in each discipline involves, but I don't think this often happens. I know it didn't happen in my case. Here, then, is how I became a neuroscientist. As far back as I can remember...

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2018-04-29 10:11:49

With Parasites, Nothing is Sacred: Study Finds Lungworms Alter How Their Host Toads Poop  

Parasites are nature's master puppeteers. Jewel wasps can make cockroaches into docile, edible nannies for their young with just a sting, for example. Some nematodes convince the insects they infect to commit watery suicide because their larvae are aquatic. It's even thought that Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that usually infects rats and cats, can alter our brains when we accidentally host them instead, subtly altering our personalities and maybe even making us more likely to commit s...

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2018-04-28 09:16:21

At the Bottom of the Ocean, Octopus Moms Cling to Their Bad Decisions  

Parents may feel guilty when they use television to keep their kids quiet, or give in to a demand for cookies. But most of us are doing a better job than these octopus mothers. Scientists found them clustered on the sea floor, trying to grow their young in a warm bath that will certainly kill babies and moms alike. The mothers were doomed to begin with. After mating, most female octopuses choose a spot to glue down a batch of eggs. Then they park themselves on top of those eggs and gi...

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2018-04-27 01:53:59

College AI Courses Get an Ethics Makeover  

Years after it became a running gag on HBO's show "Silicon Valley," the idea of the world a better place" through profit-driven technological development has lost much of its shine. The next generation of computer engineers and tech entrepreneurs may benefit from a more socially conscious education that combines training in artificial intelligence with teachings on societal issues and ethics. A growing number of universities such as Harvard and Stanf...

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2018-04-26 06:42:38

Dinosaur Teeth Show Which Species Preferred Squishier Prey  

What did dinos munch for lunch? A new two-pronged approach to analyzing dinosaur teeth reveals that, while all of the dinosaurs in the study were meat-eaters, when sidling up to The Old Cretaceous Country Buffet some went for the soft-serve prey and others gravitated toward the hard stuff. Eyes may be the window to the soul, but teeth are the record-keepers of an individual. Earlier this month, a team of researchers determined whether meat or fish was on the menu for assorted apex pre...

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2018-04-26 03:39:54

Extraordinary satellite imagery captures the ferocity of wildfires that recently roared through the High Plains  

The Rhea Fire in Oklahoma, seen in this image, grew to megafire size. And it wasn't the only blaze to scorch the High Plains in April. That's right — this image of the roaring Rhea Fire in Oklahoma was captured not from an aircraft but by a satellite about 500 miles above Earth's surface. At the time, on April 13th, the blaze was just getting going. Pushed by strong winds and exacerbated by high temperatures and bone-dry humidity of just 3 percent at one point, the blaze turned into Ok...

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2018-04-25 16:30:15

Your Behavior in Starbucks, and the Link to Your Ancestors  

Do the lives of our ancestors still determine how we act today? That's the question at hand in a new study by U.S. and Chinese researchers, and they come up with an interesting means of testing the question. To test whether individualistic and cooperative tendencies learned centuries ago live on in descendants of Chinese farmers today, the scientists looked to a common denominator of modern life today: Starbucks. And they set up a situation that anyone who's visited a crowded coffee shop...

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2018-04-25 14:03:19

Supercomputers Tackle Antibiotic-Resistant 'Superbugs'  

Acne, bronchitis, pink eye, ear infections, and sexually transmitted diseases are just a few of the illnesses treatable by antibiotics — assuming that the bacteria that cause these illnesses are not resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to public health, occurs when antibiotics are unable to kill the bacteria causing an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States at least 2 million people become infect...

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2018-04-25 09:08:26

Children Are Basically Endurance Athletes  

If you've ever tried to keep up with a child on the playground, only to collapse in a panting heap, take heart. You might as well be trying to compete with a triathlete. Researchers from France and Australia conducted a physiological test comparing 8- to 12-year-old boys with both untrained adult men and endurance athletes. The children, despite having no special training, were more comparable to the runners and triathlon competitors, the scientists say. Their bodies were better at produc

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2018-04-25 02:05:38

Drone Spies Crocodile Eating Dead Whale Alongside Tiger Sharks, Much To The Sharks' Dismay  

Last fall, a tour company in Australia stumbled upon a rare find: a dead whale. But what they had spotted turned out to be even rarer than that, as the video footage captured both sharks and a large saltwater crocodile tearing at the carcass—something no one had ever seen before. It was an exciting enough observation to catch the attention of Austin Gallagher, chief scientist and CEO of Beneath the Waves. "I saw the post online on Facebook...

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2018-04-25 01:07:24

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