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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.

Thylacines: Getting Inside the Head of an Extinct Predator  

While I have mixed feelings about de-extinction, particularly for animals that have been out of the picture for thousands of years (I'm looking at you, woolly mammoth), I'd argue the species with the strongest case for giving it a shot would be Thylacinus cynocephalus, better known as the Tasmanian Tiger or thylacine. This fascinating marsupial, once found in much of Australia (particularly the island of Tasmania, as its name suggests), went extinct in the 20th century — though reports...

2017-01-19 02:50:21

Lasers Could Generate Shields Out Of Thin Air  

Lasers could turn Earth's atmosphere into a defensive, or offensive, tool in the future of warfare. Proposed by BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace company founded in the United Kingdom, the conceptual Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL) would use lasers to ionize and heat the atmosphere in a way that temporarily endows small pockets of it with useful characteristics. This could take the form of an aerial lens used to magnify objects far away, or even a kind of refractive shield to ...

2017-01-19 02:13:11

Chromosomes Aren't the Only Determiners of a Baby's Sex  

The concept of being able to predict the sex of a baby during early pregnancy or even influence it by eating or doing certain things when trying to conceive has been the subject of public fascination and debate for many centuries. But surely the sex of a fetus is exclusively determined by the father's sperm, carrying an X chromosome for girls and a Y chromosome for boys? It turns out this is not the full story. Since the 17th century, it has been recognized that slightly more boys are b...

2017-01-18 15:37:02

After a Cave Turns Deadly, Scientists Seek Answers  

A deadly mystery lingers in a cave in northern Spain. A sign at the entrance warns visitors not to enter. For decades, speleologists have trained inside CJ-3, a 164-foot-deep cave in Cañon del Río Lobos Natural Park in the Soria province. But in 2014, visitors to the cave experienced something new at the bottom: they nearly suffocated, and one person fainted. The oxygen levels had suddenly, and inexplicably, dropped. The unusual incident prompted park officials to contact geologist...

2017-01-16 08:48:52

Op, Op, Op. The Neuroscience of Gangnam Style?  

"Our results revealed characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with Gangnam Style". So say the authors of a new paper called Neural correlates of the popular music phenomenon. The authors, Qiaozhen Chen et al. from Zhejiang in China, used fMRI to record brain activity while 15 volunteers listened to two musical pieces: Psy's 'Gangnam Style' and a "light music" control, Richard Clayderman's piano piece 'A Comme Amour'. Chen et al. say that Gangnam Style was associated with "

2017-01-16 08:22:41

What Can fMRI Tell Us About Mental Illness?  

A remarkable and troubling new paper: Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta-analyses of task-related brain activation in common mental disorders Icahn School of Medicine researchers Emma Sprooten and colleagues carried out an ambitious task: to pull together the results of every fMRI study which has compared task-related brain activation in people with a mental illness and healthy controls. Sprooten et al.'s analysis included 537 studies with a total of 21,427

2017-01-14 08:58:45

A wimpy La Niña is on the way toward La Nada status  

La Niña typically cools the Pacific. But this time, large swathes of warmer-than-average sea temperatures have muted the cooling. The surface waters of the Pacific Ocean have been considerably warmer than average lately — with one exception: a small spear of coolness along the equator that's characteristic of La Niña. Apparently, all that warmth has prevented the current La Niña — a cool phase in the Pacific that influences weather worldwide — from gaining much strength. In ...

2017-01-14 02:34:37

NASA Has the Asteroid Protection Plan, But Where's the Money?  

Asteroid impacts have the distinction of being one of the few sci-fi concepts that will definitely happen at some point. But despite the clear and present (although potentially far off) danger of getting smacked by an asteroid, we've devoted few resources to averting such a catastrophe. As Discover reported in 2013, NASA's budget for such operations is barebones, and it's unclear how that might change under the Trump Administration. NASA in 2015 cut funding to the Sentinel, and simi...

2017-01-13 21:28:19

With the Flip of a Switch, These Mice Attack  

With a flash of light, researchers have induced mice to pounce on anything in their line of sight. Researchers from Yale University and the University of São Paulo isolated the regions of the mouse brain that control both hunting and biting, and say they can activate the neurons involved on command. The research should help illuminate another small part of the neural pathways that connect the outside world to our internal computations. Between the Action and the Reaction In this case...

2017-01-12 15:25:53

In Search of a Universal Flu Vaccine  

No one wants to catch the flu, and the best line of defense is the seasonal influenza vaccine. But producing an effective annual flu shot relies on accurately predicting which flu strains are most likely to infect the population in any given season. It requires the coordination of multiple health centers around the globe as the virus travels from region to region. Once epidemiologists settle on target flu strains, vaccine production shifts into high gear; it takes approximately six months to

2017-01-12 06:38:23

Two Manifestos for Better Science  

Two new papers urge scientists to make research more reproducible. First off, Russ Poldrack and colleagues writing in Nature Reviews Neuroscience discuss how to achieve transparent and reproducible neuroimaging research. Neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, are enormously powerful tools for neuroscientists but, Poldrack et al. say, they are at risk of "a 'perfect storm' of irreproducible results", driven by the "high dimensionality of fMRI data, the relatively low power of most...

2017-01-11 03:59:25

In the Brain, Binge-Drinking and Binge-Eating May Go Hand in Hand  

After bartenders announce last call, like clockwork, pizza joints and 24-hour diners fill to the brim with drunk revelers. It seems counter-intuitive: Alcohol contains ample calories and the body should recognize it as a source of energy, adjusting our appetites accordingly. This predilection for imbibing and pigging out has been a scientific curiosity for some time now, and researchers have attributed the "drunchies" to our sense of smell, our taste buds or our deactivated social inh...

2017-01-10 08:29:25

Mammals: Is It Better To Be Horny or Brainy?  

The arms race between prey and predator has been around since the first time one microbe evaded another; it's a never-ending spiral of adaptations to be faster, stronger or better-defended. Now a new study looking at antipredator defenses across 647 species of mammals has found animals seem to have taken a couple different evolutionary paths to avoid being eaten. Each path came with a trade-off, however. According to the paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biolo...

2017-01-10 08:20:37

For Rhinos, Social Media Is a Heaping Dung Pile  

To get the latest news and notes, white rhinos visit the local dung heap. Although it's well known that mammals use scents in urine to convey information about fertility and demarcate territory, the way dung is used to communicate is less established. White rhinos defecate in communal mounds, called middens, and researchers believe these troves of waste serve as important information hubs about their community. And test their hypothesis, an international team of scientists pulled a...

2017-01-10 03:41:05

Teaching Our Teeth to Heal Themselves  

Instead of filling our cavity-ridden teeth with putties and cements, a new method that kicks stem cells into action could help teeth repair themselves. Researchers from King's College London implanted collagen sponges soaked with three inhibitor,s including a drug which has been tested as a therapeutic for Alzheimer's, in damaged mouse teeth. Once in place, the drug-infused sponges catalyzed stem cells inside of the dentin — the bony material beneath hard enamel — filling cavities w...

2017-01-09 16:58:43

Here's what Earth and the Moon look like to a telescope on a Mars orbiter that's 127 million miles from home  

Just two days ago, I posted a spectacular picture from the most powerful telescope orbiting Mars showing a fresh blast zone and crater gouged into the surface of Mars by an impacting space rock. Now, comes this spectacular composite image, acquired around the same time. You're looking at Earth and the Moon, as seen on Nov. 20, 2016 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Mars orbiter was 127 million miles from our home p...

2017-01-09 12:58:13

A new "hole" in the Sun's atmosphere has sparked stunning displays of the northern lights here on Earth  

As the coronal hole rotated into view of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the spacecraft captured a video of what it looked like Ok, let's say it straight away: A "hole" in the Sun's corona is completely natural. It's just one of those things that happens from time to time. Even so, when it occurs, the results can be spectacular — on the Sun itself, as well as here on Earth. And it just happened. Again. The video above shows the Sun spinning on its axis and carrying an elonga...

2017-01-09 10:53:13

New analysis: global sea ice suffered major losses in 2016  

The extent of sea ice globally took major hits during 2016, according to an analysis released yesterday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. At both poles, "a wave of new record lows were set for both daily and monthly extent," according to the analysis. In recent years, Arctic sea ice has been hit particularly hard. "It has been so crazy up there, not just this autumn and winter, but it's a repeat of last autumn and winter too," says Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC. ...

2017-01-09 10:25:49

Experience with Traffic Makes Pigeons Reckless  

You might expect city-dwelling birds to be savvy about traffic. Birds didn't evolve around giant, motorized predators made of metal—but once they realize how quickly a cab or bus can bear down on them, they should take heed. A recent study, though, found that pigeons do just the opposite. Travis DeVault is a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center. Based in Ohio, he looks for ways to keep birds, bats, deer and other animals fro...

2017-01-09 05:15:06

In 2022, We Might Witness the Explosive End to a Stellar Death Spiral  

In five years, you could have a front row seat to an explosive event that occurred 1,700 years ago. And all you'll have to do is look skyward. Larry Molnar, an astronomer at Michigan's Calvin College has been studying the behavior of an odd object located in the Cygnus constellation, named KIC 9832227. Discovered a bit over a decade ago, it was recently shown to be a contact binary star — two stars orbiting each other so tightly that their atmospheres are conjoined in a stellar embrace....

2017-01-06 14:02:08

What's the Universe Made Of?  

How much of you lies among the stars? How are the elements that make up life distributed among stars and planets? As trippy as the questions seem, astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) announced today at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society that they knew the answers — or, at least, were starting to learn them. SDSS, "the energizer bunny of sky surveys," according to spokesperson Karen Masters, is a massive data collection project that's been going...

2017-01-06 13:33:01

We Got The Mesentery News All Wrong  

Earlier this week, a story begging to go viral fell onto writers' laps: We have a new organ called the mesentery, which is a broad, fan-shaped fold that lines the guts. Here at Discover we pounced on the story, and so did CNN, the Washington Post, LiveScience, Smithsonian, Vice News Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel and many, many more. We got it all wrong, and it's time for us to spill our guts. In our reporting, one burning question we wanted answered was who, or what, determines when a hu...

2017-01-06 12:49:26

Top 10 Citizen Science Projects of 2016: From Microbes to Meteors  

Top 10 Projects of 2016 Happy New Year! Looking for opportunities to make the world a better place this year? Start with these popular projects, which had the most traffic on SciStarter in 2016. Find more on SciStarter then simply bookmark your favorites to receive seasonal reminders! Cheers! The SciStarter Team Photo: LLNL American Gut There a

2017-01-06 10:23:38

The first of several climate verdicts is in: 2016 was the warmest year on record — as widely expected  

On the heels of a study confirming that there had been no slowdown in global warming, there is now this news: 2016 was indeed the warmest year on record. The analysis was announced Thursday by the the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service. Scientists have been predicting for quite some time that 2016 would achieve this dubious distinction. SEE ALSO: "Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records" The announcemen...

2017-01-06 03:23:30

NASA Plans to Peer Inside a Black Hole  

Neutron stars, black holes and other remnants of stellar explosions are some of the universe's most intriguing objects - and some of the hardest to study. But when NASA's newest Explorers Program mission, IXPE, launches, we'll see them like never before. Stellar remnants such as black holes and neutron stars are difficult to see. Because of their tiny size and oftentimes obscuring disks of dust and gas, direct measurements of these objects have long eluded astronomers. However, such e...

2017-01-05 20:33:57

Deadly (And Delicious!) Nightshades Much Older Than Thought  

Preserved for more than 50 million years, a pair of fossilized tomatillos from Argentina are rewriting the story of nightshades, those sometimes deadly, sometimes delicious, sometimes hallucinogenic plants common the world over. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, belladonna, petunias and tobacco, a few of which are commonly used as plant models in scientific research, and several of which probably landed on your dinner plate recently (though hopefully not the po...

2017-01-05 12:50:28

3,000 Ride-Sharing Vehicles Could Replace 13,500 Taxis in NYC  

New York City taxis, they ain't so smart — yet. A new study from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) estimates that just 3,000 ride-sharing cars guided by an algorithm could serve the needs of busy New Yorkers. That's compared to the roughly 13,500 taxis currently in operation in the city, famous for its frenzied rush hours. May I Have This Ride? The researchers used taxi data from the University of Illinois spanning 2010-2013 for their analysis, an...

2017-01-05 11:58:22

A chunk of interplanetary debris recently slammed into Mars and left this fresh crater and spray of ejecta  

Small asteroids and chunks of cometary debris frequently slam into the surface of Mars, gouging out new craters. Thanks to a high resolution camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists can often spot such impacts relatively soon after they occur. The image above, acquired by the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is a compelling example. It shows a crater and blast zone from an impact that likely occurred as recently as this past August, and no la...

2017-01-05 08:48:59

21st Century Camouflage Confuses Face Detectors  

When it comes to disguises, silly mustaches and fake noses won't cut it anymore. As facial recognition capabilities grow more sophisticated, cameras and algorithms can to do more with less. Even grainy images, like those you might find on a gas station surveillance camera, can hold enough information to match a face to a database. But there are ways to hide.  Gathering Knowledge Your face is garnering a lot of interest these days. Police departments use facial recognition systems t...

2017-01-05 08:20:51

Dad Turns Newborn Daughter's Sleeping Patterns Into Stunning Graphic  

Life for a rookie parent can be utterly terrifying. For the first time they're 100 percent responsible for another human being's survival. One freshly minted dad, fully comprehending the gravity of the situation, left no stone unturned when it came to caring for his newborn daughter. In addition to feedings and diaper changes, Andrew Elliot, an industrial designer by day, recorded his daughter's sleeping patterns to make sure all systems were normal. And after manually collecting ...

2017-01-05 03:44:19

Fast Radio Bursts Now a Bit Less Mysterious  

For as long as astronomers have known about Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), they've been stumped. About a decade ago, researchers discovered in archived 2001 data an extremely fast — just a few milliseconds — burst of radio emissions. They'd never seen anything like it before, and didn't know where it came from or what could cause it. Finally, we're starting to get a few answers. Astronomers announced today at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society that, for the first...

2017-01-04 14:44:39

Prepare for the Future or Grow While You Can? Biology's Central Dilemma  

Natural selection is a rigorous master, demanding tough choices and efficiency of all living organisms. Even when things are good and the living is easy, trade-offs are required. For example, as a microbe is enjoying a nutritionally replete buffet, it begins to grow, laying the groundwork for proteins that will build biomolecular scaffolds and ultimately generate a new cell through replication. But as quickly as this process begins - as DNA is transcribed into the RNA that will serve as...

2017-01-04 10:03:58

This Map Shows Ecosystems Most Affected by U.S. Consumption  

For all the talk of American manufacturing, it's pretty difficult to find products that come solely from the U.S. anymore. In the quest for new markets and resources, the global economy has stretched its tentacles to far-flung corners of the globe, pulling in resources and harnessing the power of cheap labor. Unfortunately, many of the most economically lucrative regions are also hotspots of biodiversity, harboring species close to the brink of extinction. It's the classic division bet...

2017-01-04 07:38:20

Now You Can Own the NASA-Certified Space Coffee Cup  

If you're planning a trip to space, or for some reason find yourself craving espresso while free falling, you can sip your favorite beverage like an astronaut. IRPI, an Oregon-based firm that specializes in spacecraft fluid systems, developed a uniquely shaped mug that let astronauts drink coffee like they would on earth. Recently, they've spun the feat of engineering into a side hustle, called Spaceware, to sell them. It all started back in 2008, when NASA astronaut Don Pettit had...

2017-01-04 03:35:37

What Happens to Rejected Papers?  

The pain of rejection is one that every scientist has felt: but what happens to papers after they're declined by a journal? In a new study, researchers Earnshaw et al. traced the fate of almost 1,000 manuscripts which had been submitted to and rejected by ear, nose and throat journal Clinical Otolaryngology between 2011 to 2013. To find out if the rejected papers had eventually appeared elsewhere, Earnshaw et al. searched PubMed and Google Scholar for published papers with titles a

2017-01-03 13:08:54

The Human Body Has Another Organ: The Mesentery  

To the 78 organs that make up the human body, we can add one more: the mesentery. Located in our abdominal cavity, the mesentery is a belt of tissue that holds our intestines in place. While anatomists knew it was there, it was always thought to be composed of several different segments, as opposed to being one single structure. This knocked it out of contention for organ status, as our bodily organs must be continuous, as well as provide some vital function to our anatomy. A new stud...

2017-01-03 04:05:54

Did Dinosaur Eggs Lead To Their Doom?  

For the first time, researchers have been able to peer into fossilized dinosaur eggs at such a crazyfine resolution that they've spotted growth lines on the embryo-dino teeth. The marks, called von Ebner lines, tell a surprising story that may help to explain why non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out some 66 million years ago. Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research focused on well-preserved fossilized eggs from two species of dinosaur: Proto...

2017-01-02 18:50:43

Human brain and teeth evolution not linked — Surprise!  

Sure, the human brain is a big deal, literally. But if you put the average human in a primate family reunion photo op that included our nearest living relatives, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, and told all of them to smile wide for the camera, one thing would be very apparent: when it comes to teeth, man, we puny humans are total lightweights. For a long time, it's been assumed that as our brains got bigger and more bodacious, our teeth shrank proportionately. Who needs a gia...

2017-01-02 13:28:27

January 1, 1925: The Day We Discovered the Universe  

What's in a date? Strictly speaking, New Year's Day is just an arbitrary flip of the calendar, but it can also be a cathartic time of reflection and renewal. So it is with one of the most extraordinary dates in the history of science, January 1, 1925. You could describe it as a day when nothing remarkable happened, just the routine reading of a paper at a scientific conference. Or you could recognize it as the birthday of modern cosmology--the moment when humankind discovered the universe as

2017-01-02 02:16:02

Science Sushi: 2016 in Review  

It's that time of the year again where I look back and see what has happened over the past 365 days in the life of this blog. So far in 2016... ...I have posted 26 posts ...that received over five hundred ten thousand views ...from 225 countries/territories ...with 1129 comments My most viewed post of the year (#5 site-wide!) was my personal favorite: Expedition Ecstasy: Sniffing Out The Truth About Hawai'i's Orgasm-Inducing Mushroom (does it work? There's one way to...

2017-01-01 01:28:05

No Need To Worry About False Positives in fMRI?  

Earlier this year, neuroscience was shaken by the publication in PNAS of Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates. In this paper, Anders Eklund, Thomas E. Nichols and Hans Knutsson reported that commonly used software for analysing fMRI data produces many false-positives. But now, Boston College neuroscientist Scott D. Slotnick has criticized Eklund et al.'s alarming conclusions in a new piece in Cognitive Neuroscience. In my view,...

2016-12-31 15:52:35

Why Amazon Dreams of Flying Warehouses  

Amazon gets to play full-time Santa Claus by delivering almost any imaginable item to customers around the world. But the tech giant does not have a magical sleigh pulled by flying reindeer to carry out its delivery orders. Instead, a recent Amazon patent has revealed the breathtaking idea of using giant airships as flying warehouses that could deploy swarms of delivery drones to customers below. Many patent filings related to new technology often indulge in fantastical flights of fa...

2016-12-31 06:52:53

7-Eleven Drone Deliveries to Rise in 2017  

A dozen lucky 7-Eleven customers have already gotten to taste the possibilities of drone food delivery in Reno, Nevada. In November 2016, these customers experienced the futuristic thrill of placing 7-Eleven orders through an app and then watching a hovering delivery drone drop off their order within 10 minutes. Next year, 7-Eleven plans to expand on such drone deliveries in partnership with a company calling itself the "Uber of drone delivery." That self-proclaimed "Uber of dr...

2016-12-30 23:46:59

Sampling the Slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro to Tackle one of Biology's Biggest Questions  

Take a look outside your window. How many species do you see? This question of how geography influences biodiversity has bedeviled biologists for centuries. But according to a new study led by Marcell Peters from the University of Wurzburg, the number of distinct species you're seeing - or, more accurately, the number you would see in the nearest natural environment - depends most strongly on temperature. Several hypotheses have percolated through the scientific literature over t...

2016-12-30 22:59:40

The top 10 best-clicked posts of 2016: from infidelity to poop-eating sloths, and some moist places in between!  

2016 is (finally) ending, and that can only mean one thing: the Seriously, Science? Top 10 of 2016, as voted on by you, our dear readers (and by "voted," we mean "clicked"). Here are your top 10 favorite posts from 2016: apparently, y'all love sex, cute animals, and disgusting things... as do we! (Yes, these are exactly the same topics as last year--some things never change.) Happy New Year! 11. Why do so many people hate the word "moist"? "People associate "moist" with sex...

2016-12-30 20:04:12

On New Year's Eve, this comet and the crescent moon will rendezvous in the sky to bid farewell to 2016  

If you have binocs, clear, dark skies, and some luck, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušakova may be just the way to ring in the New Year Maybe you've seen stories about the comet that will supposedly provide some fireworks on New Year's Eve, as it appears low on the western horizon? As USA Today put it: Apart from the traditional fireworks and illuminated ball in Times Square, look for a blazing comet to light the night sky on New Year's Eve. "Light the night sky"? Uhm, no. Not even r...

2016-12-30 18:43:15

As seen from space: the sacred lands of Bears Ears — now protected as a national monument  

As far as I can tell, this is the first published satellite image of the newly created Bears Ears National Monument Speaking of the wild western side of the Bears Ears buttes in Utah, Wallace Stegner wrote in 1969: To start a trip at Mexican Hat, Utah, is to start off into empty space from the end of the world. And now, 47 years later, a huge chunk of of this empty space — some 1.35 million acres of it, an area nearly as large as Delaware — has been set aside by President Barack Obam...

2016-12-30 04:00:53

The Best of 2016  

This was a strange and uncertain year. Given the tumultuous nature of 2016, it is probably no surprise that I found myself asking some strange questions that my readers seemed only too grateful to have answered. Why does everyone have herpes? What's going to happen to the chickenpox virus if everyone gets vaccinated? What daring eccentric devised the concept of jamming a hollow needle in a vein and then flushing the body with fluid? Are we all going to die because anthrax-ridden reindeer...

2016-12-29 23:43:18

Amazon Has Patented Some Wild Drone Technologies  

In its quest to streamline consumption, Amazon has wholeheartedly embraced the promise of drones. Earlier this month, a fully autonomous Amazon drone delivered its first package in the United Kingdom — an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn — in just 13 minutes. The company says it hopes to expand the program in coming months, allowing select customers to have their packages brought to them via drone, weather permitting of course. Any such implementation in the U.S. will have to w...

2016-12-29 21:25:58

The Myth of "Darwin's Body-Snatchers"  

Did Charles Darwin's thirst for skulls contribute to the near-extinction of the Aboriginal Tasmanian people? If you believe certain creationists, Darwin sought examples of Tasmanian skulls in order to prove that this unfortunate race was a 'missing link' between humans and apes. However, according to John van Wyhe in a new paper called Darwin's body-snatchers?, this story has zero basis in fact. As a Darwin scholar, I thought I had heard all the myths concerning Charles Darwin but on

2016-12-29 10:57:05

South Korean Mech Takes Its First, Earth-Shaking Steps  

In the popular video game MechWarrior, towering robots called BattleMechs dominate 31st-century battlefields. Back here in the 21st century, Yang Jin-Ho, CEO of South Korean robotics firm Hankook Mirae Technology, took the first baby steps inside his 13-foot-tall, 1.5-ton, manned bipedal robot called Method-2. According to reports, the thing shakes the ground with every step. The 31st century doesn't seem so far away. Back in 2014, Jin-Ho did what any millionaire sci-fi devotee wo...

2016-12-28 18:11:56

Here's what the the northern lights look like from 512 miles up in space: glowing swirls of diaphanous fog  

Just hours after the winter sosltice this month, particles blowing in the solar wind slammed into Earth's magnetic field and kicked up quite the auroral ruckus. The Suomi NPP spacecraft, orbiting 512 miles overhead — more than twice as high as the International Space Station — recorded all the action over Canada on December 22. The image above is based on the data that the spacecraft's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRs, gathered that night. Click on the t...

2016-12-28 16:31:13

Peace * שָׁלוֹם * Pacem * سلام * Paix * शान्ति * Paz * Hodéezyéél * мир * 和平 * Keamanan * Uxolo . . .  

May this luminously beautiful image of the War and Peace Nebula inspire us to work for the latter — peace — in the coming year There are more than 6,900 distinct languages, and thus at least that many ways for us humans to express freedom from war, violence, and disturbance, and the presence of quiet, tranquility and serenity. The headline expresses these ideas in ten different languages: English, of course, plus Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, French, Hindi, Spanish, Navajo, Russian, Chine...

2016-12-25 20:01:25

The Christmas Worm  

Christmas is an occasion for celebration, a private moment of inclusivity at the end of the year to celebrate the birth of Christ with food, family, and festivity. It would be a real shame to ruin the event with, say, a community-wide outbreak of a parasitic pork worm. In 1995, a small Christian community in the south of Lebanon encountered the curious little worm Trichinella when 200 people fell ill with trichinosis during the Christmas holidays. It would be one of the largest outbreaks of tric

2016-12-25 11:02:05

Have yourself a toxic berry Christmas  

It's evening on Christmas Eve, and it's cold. The early sunset was hours ago, and the insulating clouds have vanished, leaving every surface frozen and glittering like the inside of a geode wherever the light from the street lamps touch. A couple braces as they leave their car and step out into the winter air, their ears filled with the sound of the snow creaking and crunching beneath each fall of their boots, each breath precipitating into thin, gray tendrils that slide past their chilled c

2016-12-25 03:19:25

What Scientists Think About Scientists  

Most people believe that scientists have high levels of objectivity and integrity - and scientists themselves share these positive views of their own profession. But according to scientists, not all researchers are equally upstanding, with male and early-career scientists being seen as somewhat less trustworthy than others. That's according to a new paper from Dutch researchers Coosje Veldkamp et al.: Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist? Based on a series of studies in

2016-12-23 18:47:26

Shhhh...the Real Stars of "Passengers" are a Robot and a Spaceship  

By now you've probably seen those soulful faces staring out at you from the ads for the new movie Passengers: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt playing Aurora Land and Jim Preston, two would-be interplanetary colonists who wake up from hibernation way, way too early. They drive the film's plot and bestow the whole project with a glowy, Hollywood-blockbuster sheen. But the film's real stars are less familiar, less visible, and distinctly more intriguing. One of the standout characters is A

2016-12-23 18:16:59

Why Giant Salamanders Make Great Dads  

Seeking a role model for fatherhood? Look no further than an enormous, secretive salamander who only sometimes eats his babies. You're not likely to stumble across a  Japanese giant salamander in the wild, and if you did you might wish you hadn't. These oversized amphibians are the golems of the animal world: bloated and tiny-eyed, they lurk in stream banks like animated sacks of mud. Andrias japonicus can grow almost 5 feet long, making it smaller than its Chinese cousin but larger...

2016-12-22 21:50:25

Trillions of Insects Pass Over the U.K. Each Year  

Look up into the clear blue sky in the spring or fall and you may not see them, but oh boy, are they there. Trillions of them, in fact, riding the high air currents to breeding grounds and back again. Insects ranging from microscopic to splatter-worthy fill the skies around the world each year as they migrate seasonally. A recent study from researchers in the United Kingdom found that in southern England alone, more than three trillion insects passed by each season. That's more than 400 ...

2016-12-22 21:43:01

When Astronauts 'Saved' the Worst Year in American History (Not 2016)  

You know it's been tough times when a Dumpster fire is the meme of the year. Indeed, 2016 has been rough: pop culture icons died, police and activists squared off in major cities, we survived a cutthroat presidential election, Syria burned, terrorists attacked around the globe. And, like today, most people were eager to tack a new calendar on the wall by the time Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell launched for the moon on December 21, 1968 — the unofficial worst year ever in the...

2016-12-21 21:46:41

How Ancient Cultures Commemorated the Darkest Day  

On Dec. 21, the northern hemisphere celebrates the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, or the longest night. While it's the darkest time of the year, the day also marks a turning point. From here on out, the the sun shines a little longer each day, and we begin the slow march toward spring. Fittingly, the winter solstice is celebrated by cultures the world over as a day of hope and resilience, and has figured prominently in religious rituals. For the ancient Romans, the wint

2016-12-21 21:03:06

Welcome to the Hotel Automata  

The train ride from Nagasaki to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Japan takes about two hours. Along the way, I pass rice paddies and sleepy towns; this is not the place you'd expect to find the country's first hotel staffed by robots. When I arrive at the Huis Ten Bosch station, I'm surrounded by iconic Dutch architecture and buildings. The theme park was designed to give people in Japan a taste of Europe. I take a shuttle bus to robot hotel Henn-na, located minutes from the the...

2016-12-21 18:22:06

Casper, Octopod and Internet Darling, Is Already Threatened  

Less than a year after being discovered, Casper the octopod could be in mortal danger. Researchers say the ghostly, eight-armed sea creature is likely threatened by deep-sea mining operations that excavate metallic protrusions it relies on to reproduce. Found in March by an NOAA deep-sea expedition off the coast of Hawaii, Casper is believed to be a new, fin-less octopod species, and the deepest ever discovered, at around 2.5 miles beneath the ocean's surface. With button eyes, stubby

2016-12-20 21:09:58

New Insights Into Antimatter, 20 Years In the Making  

Antimatter is more than a science fiction concept that allows engineers to power the Enterprise. It's an actual — albeit small — constituent of our universe. While antimatter is rare, it can exist under the right conditions. Information about the way antimatter behaves provides a powerful tool for testing the Standard Model of particle physics we currently use to understand the forces that govern the way particles behave. For Every Particle, An Anti- Antimatter was first predicted by...

2016-12-20 20:58:46

Pew! Pew! Paleontologists Harness the Power of Lasers  

When in possession of a priceless dinosaur skeleton, it's always a good idea to fire a super-charged photon beam at it. That's Thomas G. Kaye's philosophy: if you can fossilize it, you can fire a laser at it. Kaye, of the Foundation of Scientific Advancement, Sierra Vista, developed a laser-scanning technique that reveals stunning new details buried within dinosaur fossils — so meta. Now he's traveling the world placing new specimens in his crosshairs. Kaye is joined by Mike...

2016-12-20 18:38:19

Roads Have Sliced the World Into 600,000 Pieces  

Ever since our ancestors cut rough paths through the wilderness, humanity has been laying down trails. From footpaths to highways, a global network of roads binds communities and facilitates the exchange of goods and ideas. But there is a flip side to this creeping tangle of pathways: The roads that bring us closer also serve divide ecosystems into smaller parcels, turning vast expanses into a jigsaw of human mobility. In a study published last week in Science, an international team...

2016-12-19 21:28:47

Neuroscience Spots Potential Criminals In Pre-School?  

A new post at Quartz discusses The disturbingly accurate brain science that identifies potential criminals while they're still toddlers... scientists are able to use brain tests on three-year-olds to determine which children are more likely to grow up to become criminals. Hmmm. Not really. The research in question is from from North Carolina researchers Avshalom Caspi et al.: Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden. It's based on a long-te...

2016-12-19 09:52:13

Drone Video Captures Killer Whales Snacking on Shark  

To killer whales, sharks aren't all that fearsome. They're more of a snack. A drone pilot recently captured this video of four killer whales — two adults and two juveniles — chowing down on a still-living shark off the coast of California. They appear to be offshore killer whales, a sub-species that usually spends time far from land, making any glimpses of their behavior a rare treat. Photographer Slater Moore shot the video as part of a whale-watching trip in Monterey Bay. He se...

2016-12-16 22:14:42

"Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records"  

The quote in the headline is from a Tweet this morning from Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, following release of his institute's monthly climate analysis. It found that November was the second warmest such month in 136 years of modern record-keeping. It was edged out only by November of 2015, which was 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.126 degrees F) warmer. As Schmidt's Tweet suggests, despite November's second-place status, and today's frigid cold, the full

2016-12-15 20:01:21

Why Are You Awake Right Now?: Protein Modifications and Circadian Rhythm  

After waking up this morning, your body began a well-established set of procedures to prepare for the day: heart rate ramped up, body temperature increased, and hormone levels shifted. And tonight, you'll probably start to feel sleepy around the same time you did last night, as other physiological changes start to take place. This predictable cycle, of course, is your circadian rhythm, the hard-wired biological changes that help your body achieve its full set of diurnal activities, from sl...

2016-12-15 14:42:46

Doomsday Preview: Supercomputer Simulates Asteroid Impacts  

If, or perhaps when, an asteroid strikes the Earth, it will likely end up in Davy Jones' locker. Our planet's surface is 70 percent water by area, and an aquatic impact would create a sizable tidal wave that could do some serious damage if it hits a populated area. But apocalyptic visions of the devastation resulting from an asteroid strike may be slightly overblown, say scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The team used a supercomputer-assisted model to simulate the ou...

2016-12-14 20:34:59

Real-Life Rogue One: How the Soviets Stole NASA's Shuttle Plans  

In the decrepit ruins of a Cold War-era Kazakhstani hangar, buried beneath decades of detritus, there's a spaceship that was once the last hope of the Soviet space empire. And you'd be forgiven for confusing the Buran shuttles (Russian for "snowstorm") with say, America's iconic Space Shuttle Enterprise, which is proudly displayed in a Manhattan museum. Their shapes, sizes and technology are almost identical, apart from the sickle and hammer. But unlike the American shuttle, ...

2016-12-14 17:54:54

Soupy Mix of Minerals a 'Jackpot' on Mars  

Today, the Red Planet is a dry, dusty landscape devoid of hospitable environments, but the Mars of yesteryear, evidence suggests, was a far more forgiving place. Recent findings from the Curiosity rover indicate that the clay and mineral deposits on the higher regions of Mount Sharp were ideal for hosting life. The rover regularly takes samples of the soil as it traverses the mountain and also uses its Chem-Cam laser to analyze the composition of rocks that are of particular interest. ...

2016-12-14 17:11:56

When Nausea During Pregnancy Is Life-Threatening  

Most women experience some type of morning sickness during pregnancy, but some women develop a far more serious condition. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which causes severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, affects as many as 3 percent of pregnancies, leading to over 167,000 emergency department visits each year in the U.S. Until intravenous hydration was introduced in the 1950s, it was the leading cause of maternal death. Now, it is the second leading cause, after preterm labor, of

2016-12-13 19:57:42

A Brave New World of Human Reproduction  

Advances in reproductive technology may radically change the options we have for starting a family. We're not too far from fundamentally redefining what it means to start a family. Do you want to have children, but don't have a partner? Do you want children with your partner, but it's a same-sex relationship? Or perhaps you're a woman who wants children without the burden of a 9-month pregnancy. You might opt for ectogenesis, or moving gestation to an artificial womb. Here's a ...

2016-12-13 19:37:42

Why "Pick-Your-Own" Peer Review Is A Bad Idea  

Retraction Watch reports on an initiative by the microbiology journal mSphere. Under the new system, the editors no longer take responsibility for inviting peer reviewers to evaluate each manuscript. Instead, the would-be authors are expected to find two reviewers themselves, and to submit the reviews along with their paper. mSphere call this approach 'author-initiated peer review', but I like to think of it as the "Pick-Your-Own" system. The new system, we're told, will make for a fas

2016-12-13 09:47:44

Bacteria Help Pitcher Plants Trap Prey  

Pity the insect that tumbles into a pitcher plant's trap. The slippery walls and waiting pool of water ensure it won't clamber back out. There's nothing left to do but wait to be digested. The California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica) is also called the cobra lily for its curled-over shape that hides its exit from its victims. Unlike other pitcher plants, it doesn't fill its trap from above with rainwater but from below, drawing water up with its roots. But like others, it se...

2016-12-12 20:16:59

Understanding Pluto's Icy 'Heart'  

When NASA's New Horizons mission flew by Pluto last year, it sent back images that recalled a past era - a time when a few photos of initial reconnaissance could drastically change our sense of an entire celestial body. For The Moon and Mars, these initial glimpses happened decades ago; satellites of the gas giants, like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan were ready for their close-ups next. And after that? Well, it seemed as if the geologically active, charistmatic targets in our Solar System...

2016-12-12 13:51:05

Google Dreams of Drone Food Delivery for Six Dollars  

Google has been dreaming of hot pizzas and freshly-made coffee descending from the sky to your doorstep. The Google X technologies lab has already begun delivering burritos to Virginia Tech students using its Project Wing drones. But the truly bold part of the Google X plan may be the goal of offering drone food delivery for just a $6 fee. Google's delivery drone vision includes an online website called Wing Marketplace where customers could place orders with retailers and restaurant...

2016-12-11 00:52:17

A NASA spacecraft watches as a huge 'hole' in the Sun's atmosphere rotates into view  

The solar wind, blowing at 2 million miles per hour from the hole, just caused a geomagnetic storm here on Earth Over the past week, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft watched a massive coronal hole rotate into view as the Sun spun on its axis. Click on the screenshot above to bring up a video I posted to my Youtube channel showing all the action as seen by SDO between December 2nd and 9th. Such holes occur in areas of the solar atmosphere, called the corona, where the Sun'...

2016-12-10 18:37:13

John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth: 1921-2016  

Godspeed, John Glenn.

2016-12-09 16:41:07

Do We All Have Split Brains?  

When you're doing two things at once - like listening to the radio while driving - your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That's according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues. It's called Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm In referring to 'split brains' in their title, Sasai et al. are linking their work to the litera

2016-12-08 22:12:28

John Glenn, the Last Remaining Mercury Astronaut, Dies at Age 95  

John Glenn, a military vet turned space pioneer, has died at the age of 95. After flying 59 combat missions in World War II, Glenn became an early recruit into NASA's Mercury program. In 1962, he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Years later, in 1998, he became the oldest person to fly in space when he joined the STS-95 crew aboard Discovery.  After leaving NASA in 1964, Glenn rejoined the military before being sidelined by an injury in 1965. He then went into th...

2016-12-08 21:04:17

Child Mummy Could Rewrite Smallpox Timeline  

The oldest genetic sample of smallpox ever studied could rewrite the timeline for this deadly disease, which ravaged Europe and much of the world beginning in the eighteenth century. Using tissue samples taken from the mummy of a Lithuanian child dating back to the 1600s, an international team of researchers reconstructed the full RNA sequence of the smallpox virus strain that likely killed her. By comparing this genetic information to more recent samples, the team pieced together a ...

2016-12-08 19:55:58

Deform to Perform: A Different Take On Programmable Matter  

Crowning the plethora of issues with the last Transformers movie, Michael Bay notwithstanding, was the programmable matter — matter that can change its physical properties autonomously, or based on instructions from a designer. Bay's take on it, transformium, is a new pop-culture reference point for programmable material (when, on the spectrum of fantastic self-assembling robot bodies, Terminator was objectively more realistic). Bay also overlooked the wide array of applications the...

2016-12-08 19:32:57

Check Out This Feathered Dinosaur Tail Preserved in Amber!  

Pretty. So pretty. Pretty to look at and pretty significant: for the first time, researchers have got their hands on the tail of a non-avian feathered dinosaur preserved inside a piece of amber for almost 100 million years. Unlike dinosaur fossils found in sedimentary rock layers, this little beauty isn't squished flat, which allows paleontologists to study the tail as it was in life. Another bonus: the amber appears to have preserved components usually lost to the ages, including what ma...

2016-12-08 17:00:58

The tropical Pacific Ocean keeps it's cool as La Niña persists  

Last month's forecast of a continuing La Niña has panned out, with cool sea surface temperatures persisting across most of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. It's a weak La Niña, and in all likelihood it will peter out by March, if not sooner, according to the just-released monthly update from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service. But even though it is relatively puny, La Niña is already tipping the odds toward above average warmth and below...

2016-12-08 16:21:37

Flickering Light Could — Key Word Could — Treat Alzheimer's  

Staring into a flickering light could help treat Alzheimer's disease. Using a mouse model, researchers from MIT have demonstrated that flashing light at a specific frequency can alter patterns of brain activity in a way that reduces levels of amyloid-beta plaque in the brain. While human trials haven't begun, this approach to treating the neurodegenerative disease is quite novel, the method could treat a range of diseases in the brain. Proteins Turn Toxic While we have made little prog...

2016-12-07 18:12:59

A History Recalled, One Symbol at a Time  

(This post originally appeared in the online anthropology magazine SAPIENS. Follow @SAPIENS_org on Twitter to discover more of their work.)  Time. Astronomers, philosophers, physicists, anthropologists, politicians, geographers, and theologians have all pondered the nature and meaning of time. Is it linear or cyclical? Is it reversible? (Put another way, can we go back in time?) Is time absolute and measurable, as it seemed to be to Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei, or is it relative,...

2016-12-07 17:46:53

Sea ice globally is at a shocking low extent, thanks to record declines in both the Arctic and Antarctic  

Dramatic losses in both the Arctic and Antarctic drove sea ice extent to record lows in both regions during November, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has announced. In the Arctic, sea ice extent averaged 753,000 square miles below the long-term average for November. This set a new record low for the month, which extends back 38 years to 1979. That makes it seven record lows in the Arctic this year. And we've still got one more month left. Meanwhile, the deficit in Antarctica...

2016-12-07 04:13:25

Aviation Research, for the Birds  

Sometimes, it takes a goggle-wearing parrot to show us where we went wrong. A study from researchers at Stanford University suggests that our previous models of lift, as they pertain to animals, are all incomplete, based on observations of an intrepid parrotlet in their laboratory. Flying through a sheet of illuminated aerosol particles, the avian aviator pushed through the boundaries of our current understanding of wake dynamics, hinting that there is new ground yet to be broken. Wings

2016-12-06 20:12:20

Fun With Non-Ionizing Radiation  

Does non-ionizing radiation pose a health risk? Everyone knows that ionizing radiation, like gamma rays, can cause cancer by damaging DNA. But the scientific consensus is that there is no such risk from non-ionizing radiation such as radiowaves or Wi-Fi. Yet according to a remarkable new paper from Magda Havas, the risk is real: it's called When theory and observation collide: Can non-ionizing radiation cause cancer? There are a few remarkable things about this paper but chief among th

2016-12-06 19:29:11

Electric-blue ice clouds seeded by meteor dust have been spied over Antarctica by a NASA spacecraft  

Not to worry, this is normal. But climate change may be playing a role. As summer gets under way in the Southern Hemisphere, electric blue clouds seeded by meteor dust begin to glow high in the sky over Antarctica's vast icy reaches. This year, according to NASA, these night-shining, or "noctilucent," clouds turned up much earlier than usual. This corresponds to an early seasonal shift into into the warmer season at lower altitudes over Antarctica. Here's how the space agency de...

2016-12-06 16:53:46

Massive fracture in Antarctic ice shelf is 70 miles long, a football field wide, and a third of a mile deep  

A massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf has been growing steadily, threatening to cut all the way across. If it does, an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware — and perhaps even bigger — will float off. New observations by scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission, an airborne survey of polar ice, reveal that the rift is now about 70 miles long. And it cuts down about 1,700 feet, all the way through the floating shelf of ice. Should Larsen C thro...

2016-12-05 18:22:13

Tetrapod Triumph! Solving Mystery Of First Land Vertebrates  

Let's talk about Romer's Gap, not to be confused with the Gap of Rohan (though I would love to talk about that, too, as I am always up for a bit of Tolkien). Romer's Gap is an intriguing question mark in the fossil record that today loses a little of its mystery. On the far side of the gap, about 360 million years ago, we've got aquatic tetrapods — vertebrates with four limbs — which were at that point still pretty fishy (note: not actual scientific term). On the near side of the ga...

2016-12-05 16:00:44

Breakthrough Prize-Winning Scientists Share $25 Million  

During the 5th Annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony, an affair with all the trappings of the Oscars, a handful of scientists in the fields of life sciences, physics, and mathematics became millionaires. Never before has more cash been placed in the hands of the world's brightest minds. The event is the brainchild of Yuri Milner, a Russian-born internet entrepreneur who is now based (as might be expected) in Silicon Valley. Other founders of the Breakthrough Prize attended as well, incl...

2016-12-05 01:00:15

Do Synapses Really Store Memories?  

Most neuroscientists will tell you that long-term memories are stored in the brain in the form of synapses, the connections between neurons. On this view, memory formation occurs when synaptic connections are strengthened, or entirely new synapses are formed. However, in a new piece in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Austrian researcher Patrick C. Trettenbrein critiques the synapse-memory theory: The Demise of the Synapse As the Locus of Memory. Trettenbrein acknowledges that "t

2016-12-04 20:34:27

Parkour Athletes Teach Scientists about Swinging Apes  

"I was at a conference, and a colleague was talking about the locomotion of great apes in the trees," says Lewis Halsey, a physiologist at the University of Roehampton in London. The colleague mentioned that it's tough to measure how these animals use energy. That's when Halsey had an epiphany. "I was working with parkour athletes on another project," he says, studying how much energy the athletes used while jumping and climbing around a city. Why not use these human athletes to stand ...

2016-12-02 18:40:35

For Cancer Patients, Psilocybin Brings Much-needed Relief  

Two recent studies of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in so-called magic mushrooms, contend that the chemical can act as a powerful remedy for cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety. The two studies, one from New York University and one from Johns Hopkins University, are the largest and most rigorous studies of psilocybin and depression in decades, and they report that the anti-depressant effects of the drug can last for months, offering relief to chronically ill pat...

2016-12-01 21:18:37

Found: A Missing Link in Whale Evolution  

Whales are some of largest animals to ever exist on Earth, and they have an incredible evolutionary history. Modern species can be divided into two major groups depending on their feeding style: the toothed carnivores, such as the killer whale, and those such as the blue whale that use comb-like 'baleen' to filter enormous amounts of plankton from seawater. Baleen is formed from a series of plates made from keratin that hang suspended from the upper jaw, and provide a distinct filte...

2016-12-01 20:03:26

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