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

How Did Hurricane Maria Affect Wildlife? Just Listen  

Hurricane Maria, it's safe to say, was devastating to Puerto Rico. More than five months ago, on September 20th, the Category 4 storm ravaged the U.S. territory, causing $90 billion worth of damage in some estimates and scores of deaths. Much of the island is still without power. As someone born and raised on the island (despite my gringo name), it's been hard to watch, and keeping in touch with family still there has been difficult, especially right after the storm. But part of what ...

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2018-02-16 16:03:05

Your Weekly Attenborough: Materpiscis attenboroughi  

I mean, really. No matter how you feel about the man, surely his mother is off-limits? Translated from the Latin, the full name of this species comes out to be "Attenborough's mother fish." Attenborough's mother — a fish! Where I come from, them's fightin' words. But the name is quite accurate. Hot takes aside, the fossil of Materpiscis attenboroughi actually turns out to contain the oldest vertebrate pregnancy we've ever found. It sets in stone the ancient roots of live birth, and t...

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2018-02-16 11:53:01

If We Discover Alien Life, Will Humanity Keep Its Cool?  

For well over 1,500 years, humanity accepted that Earth was the center of the solar system. After all, the Bible—which was the scientific authority at the time—said this was so. Then along came Nicolaus Copernicus, who in the 16th century dared to challenge the church and mathematically described a solar system with the sun at its center. After his death, Galileo Galilei's observations of heavenly bodies further supported the Copernican model. The Catholic Church, fearing such a fin...

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2018-02-16 09:55:26

So That's Why the Gate to Hell Is So Deadly  

If there's a highway to hell, there's probably a gate to hell—well, there is. It's located in what was the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, which is now in modern-day Turkey. Called Plutonium after Pluto, the gate was thought to be an opening to the underworld. It was first described by the ancient Greek geographer Strabo and Roman author Plinius. When Strabo visited, he described a thick vapor that would overtake the gate. During religious ceremonies, the castrated priests...

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2018-02-16 05:54:50

What a Fossil Revolution Reveals About the History of 'Big Data'  

In 1981, when I was nine years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it - in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford's character was based on my dad. My father was a paleontologist at the University of Chicago, and I'd gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero. That illusion was shattered some...

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2018-02-16 03:33:14

As Trump seeks climate funding cuts, new findings and the U.S. intelligence community highlight serious climate risks  

New research suggests that large parts of the world are headed for record-breaking extreme weather events. At the same time, the U.S. intelligence community has broken with President Trump on the threats posed by climate change and other environmental challenges. Meanwhile, the president is proposing to slash climate science and renewable energy research while boosting investments in oil, gas and coal — the fuels driving global warming. According to the new research, even if nati...

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2018-02-15 09:46:01

How Big Is the Andromeda Galaxy?  

Both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (M31) are giant spiral galaxies in our local universe. And in about 4 billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda will collide in a gravitational sumo match that will ultimately bind them forever. Because astronomers previously thought that Andromeda was up to three times as massive as the Milky Way, they expected that our galaxy would be easily overpowered and absorbed into our larger neighbor. But now, new research suggests we've overestima...

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2018-02-15 09:21:45

A NASA satellite spotted this strangely prominent pattern of long, sinuous clouds over the Pacific  

The conspiracy-minded will shout "chemtrails." Of course that's nonsense. But just what is creating these clouds? I have to admit that I was a little taken aback when I saw these long, sinuous cloud shapes snaking across the northeast Pacific Ocean. The image, captured by NASA's Terra satellite on Feb. 12, 2018, covers a huge amount of territory — as is evident if you look to the extreme right, where a good portion of the west coast of North America is visible. Before I get into ...

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2018-02-14 21:29:34

Cryptocurrency Mining Is Hampering the Search for E.T.  

Mining for cryptocurrencies isn't just gobbling up capacity on electrical grids around the world, it might also be slowing the search for extraterrestrial life. Mining cryptos like Bitcoin require miners to solve wickedly complex mathematical puzzles to validate each transaction. For their efforts, miners receive a small payment for each puzzle they solve, but the process requires a crapload of computing power. To reap profits, miners rely on graphics processing units (GPUs) that are hi...

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2018-02-14 09:57:37

What's the Deal With Pulsating Auroras?  

Auroras, known to many as the northern lights, are a beautiful and mysterious phenomenon. To the casual observer the streaks of colored light across the sky can seem miraculous and inexplicable. And one kind in particular, called a pulsating aurora, has indeed been mysterious to scientists, who have never been able to directly prove their hypothesis about how it's formed. Now, armed with better technology, researchers from Japan say they've finally caught the aurora in the act. Sky L...

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2018-02-14 08:01:01

Before Planning an Exotic Summer Vacation...Read This  

Are you planning an adventure vacation packed with new experiences? Thinking about doing something that few people have ever done, like climbing Mt Everest? Well, according to this study, these experiences may not be all they're cracked up to be. These researchers found that "participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling wors...

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2018-02-14 06:28:32

Photographed: The Glow from a Single, Hovering Strontium Atom  

In the photo above, you're looking at a single, positively charged strontium atom suspended by electric fields. It's an atom, visible to the naked eye. Whoa, right? David Nadlinger, a quantum physicist and PhD candidate at Oxford University, is the person who put it all together. He titled his picture "Single Atom in an Ion Trap." A blue-violet laser blasts the atom, which then absorbs and re-emits enough light particles to be photographed with conventional equipment. So, te...

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2018-02-14 05:15:34

Astonishing Ways Animals Ensure Their Sperm Win  

We all know that individuals fight over potential love interests. Just think of Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) scuffling, rather impotently, over Bridget Jones in a fountain. But you might be surprised to hear that the fierce rivalry continues behind the scenes — in the form of sperm competition. This is when the sperm of two or more males compete inside the reproductive tract of a female, to fertilize the eggs, something that is widespread in the animal king...

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2018-02-14 03:59:26

Squid Lovers Switch Sex Positions In Response To Partner's Signals  

When it comes to interesting cephalopod sex lives, squid seem to have drawn the short straw. Argonauts, their cousins, keep things interesting with swimming, detachable penises. Giant Pacific Octopus mating involves several hours of rough, squishy grabbing action that would make Toshio Maeda blush. But squid just get a quick hello, a few colorful flashes, and second or two of perfunctory sperm delivery—or so it would seem. A new study suggests that for all they lack in kink, bigfin ree...

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2018-02-14 03:46:11

Chemicals in Non-Stick Pans May Contribute to Weight Gain  

More than 38 percent of American adults and 17 percent of American children are obese. And while there are numerous ways to shed pounds, it's often difficult for many people to keep them off. It turns out some common items regularly used by people across the world could be the culprit. A study released Tuesday in PLOS Medicine suggests that perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) could be contributing to weight gain and lead to obesity. Since the 1950s, these environmental chemicals have be...

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2018-02-14 01:05:20

Following Battles, Ant Medics Treat Their Wounded Comrades  

Ants that hunt termites can risk getting grievously injured in battle, but that doesn't mean its the end of the line. In a newly published study, scientists observed ant medics caring for their wounded comrades, which may be the first scientifically documented example of such medical care in the animal kingdom outside humanity. The African ant Megaponera analis specializes in hunting termites. After scouts of this ant species find termite feeding sites, the scouts lead columns of 200 t

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2018-02-13 17:57:29

Drones Are a Greener Way to Receive Packages  

One annoyance of ordering items from the internet is waiting for delivery. That's why many companies are set on making sure you get your items as quickly as possible — like Amazon Prime's free two-day shipping. But shipping, especially fast, comes at an environmental cost. Previous studies have shown that moving goods by conventional aircraft is four times more carbon-intensive than by truck, which is 10 times more carbon-intensive than rail. Since many companies including Amazon, UPS,...

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2018-02-13 12:21:03

Step Aboard the Moa Poop Time Machine  

Coprolites, or fossilized dung, double as ecological time capsules, preserving an incredible collection of information about past ecosystems. In Middle Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) researchers from the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for DNA (ACAD) and Landcare Research NZ reconstructed a pre-civilization community using a bird dung time machine. Dung samples were amassed from numerous sites across the continent. The donors: four species of ratite birds including the extinct gi...

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2018-02-13 07:31:43

The Neural Basis of Watching "Memento"  

Memento (2000) is a complex psychological thriller about a man unable to form long-term memories. The movie is popular among neuroscientists for its accurate depiction of amnesia. Now, in a wonderfully "meta" paper, a group of neuroscientists report that they scanned the brains of people watching Memento in order to study memory processes. The paper's called Brain mechanisms underlying cue-based memorizing during free viewing of movie Memento, and it's published in Neuroimage, from Finnis

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2018-02-13 06:09:27

How Americans Really Feel About Drones  

If you're a fan of drone technology or a drone pilot yourself, it's easy to think the tech is mainstream. It's not. And it turns out drone owners are just a small sliver of Americans — just 8 percent own a flying drone, according to a December 2017 study from Pew Research Center. Even though many people don't own drones, almost 60 percent have seen someone operating one. As of January, more than 1 million people have registered as drone owners with the FAA. That includes both h...

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2018-02-13 04:46:20

Ford's Robot Police Car Is No RoboCop  

Before the RoboCop future arrives, a robot police car that pulls over speeding vehicles and issues tickets or warnings on its own could someday help ease a shortage of human officers at police departments across the United States. But the vision of a self-driving police vehicle described in a Ford patent also raises many questions about whether such technology is the right tool for law enforcement. The basic Ford patent description makes clear that this self-driving police car cann...

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2018-02-12 14:38:13

Man's Chronic Pain Disappears After Vigorous, Cold-Water Swim  

Those polar plunge nuts—you know, the people who strip to their skivvies in February and jump into freezing water—might be on to something. According to doctors from the United Kingdom, a 28-year-old man who had been complaining of persistent, post-operative pain was cured after jumping into incredibly cold water for a vigorous 60-second, intense swim. Roughly two months prior to his swim, the man had undergone an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy procedure to treat his severe facial ...

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2018-02-12 10:07:12

Huntington's Disease Reveals a New Weapon to Fight Cancer  

Scientists have found a silver lining to Huntington's disease. The malady causes nerve cells in the brain to break down; there is no cure. But if there's one redeeming quality to this fatal genetic illness it's this: Medical data has shown that people with Huntington's are 80 percent less likely to develop cancer than the general population. But why? Building off of previous experiments and related studies conducted over several years, Marcus Peter and his colleagues at Northwe...

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2018-02-12 05:20:02

Does this giant blob of warm water moving deep within the Pacific Ocean herald the end of La Niña?  

La Niña is still with us and influencing drought and other weather patterns in the United States and elsewhere. But check out the animation above. That large mass of warm water coursing through the depths of the Pacific Ocean may signal that by this spring, La Nada will be with us. The warm blob and other signs have prompted the Climate Prediction Center to peg the odds of La Niña fading to neutral conditions at 55 percent during the March through May season. La Niña — p...

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2018-02-12 03:29:53

This Is Why Some Bats Have Hairy Tongues  

Nectar-drinking bats possess hairy tongues, and now scientists reveal these hairs are designed to maximize how much sweet nectar the bats can guzzle. The South American Pallas' long-tongued bat, Glossophaga soricina, dips its long tongue in and out of flowers while hovering in mid-air, and the hairs on its tongue apparently helping it collect nectar that pools at the bottom of the blossoms. Other animals, such as honeybees and mouse-like marsupials, known as honey possums, native to Austr

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2018-02-09 16:47:42

We May Have Found Billions Of Exoplanets Outside Our Galaxy  

Discoveries of exoplanets in our galaxy exceed 3,700 to date, but if that's not enough for you, astronomers are now probing outside of the Milky Way to find exoplanets in other galaxies. A group of researchers at the University of Oklahoma has just announced the discovery of a large population of free-floating planets in a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away. Their results were published February 2 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The researchers used a method known as quasar mi...

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2018-02-09 13:41:37

Flashback Friday: How Much Cocaine Is in Your Wallet?  

Image: Flickr/Tax Credits Urban legend has it that "all" of our paper currency is tainted with cocaine. These scientists decided to test whether this is true, and if so, how much of the drug is there. By testing over four thousand bills of various denominations gathered from 90 locations over more than a decade, they estimate that the "average" bill carries only 2.34 ng of cocaine (a tiny, tiny amount), but any given bill has ~15% chance of having more than 20 ng… which is...

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2018-02-09 10:59:42

Another Reason To Save Snakes: They Disperse Seeds (Probably)  

We're about a month away from the 60th annual rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater Texas. The event proudly calls itself the world's largest—and for good reason. Last year, nearly 8,000 lbs of snakes were killed in this barbaric slaughterfest. But there are so many reasons why this all-out assault on Texas' reptiles is a terrible idea. Rattlesnakes have complex social lives, can live for decades, and are essential to their native ecosystems. As predators, they help keep populations of mic...

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2018-02-09 10:46:37

Hostile Questions at Scientific Meetings  

A brief letter in Nature got me thinking this week: Don't belittle junior researchers in meetings Anand Kumar Sharma writes to urge scientists not to grill their junior colleagues at conferences: The most interesting part of a scientific seminar, colloquium or conference for me is the question and answer session. However, I find it upsetting to witness the unnecessarily hard time that is increasingly given to junior presenters at such meetings. As inquisitive scientists, we do not ...

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2018-02-09 06:03:58

Did The Dino-Killing Asteroid Trigger Global Volcanoes?  

Earth's worst day happened 66.043 million years ago — give or take 32,000 years. Let's say it was a Monday. And if it was, then around Friday afternoon a strange new star would've begun growing brighter and brighter in the sky. Tragically, it wasn't a cool new star at all. It was a Mount Everest-sized space rock traveling 45,000 mph. Surprise! The asteroid was so gargantuan, that as its leading edge plunged into the Gulf of Mexico, you would have seen the other side was still hi...

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2018-02-09 04:48:29

When Hummingbirds Visit, This Flower Pops Open like a Jack-in-the-Box  

Most plants are sneaky. You think they're staying put, until one morning when you wake up to find your houseplant bent toward the window, or a vine that's clambered up your fence. But other plants operate more quickly. They close up their leaves at a touch, or fling their pollen onto a bee. Researchers discovered a previously unknown bit of plant acrobatics in Costa Rica. There, a flower works like a jack-in-the-box to shove its stamens into a hummingbird's face. Dusty Gannon, a ...

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2018-02-09 03:46:21

Your Weekly Attenborough: Sitana attenboroughii  

It's a lizard! It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Sitana attenboroughii, Attenborough's fan-throated lizard to the world. Measuring somewhere under three inches from snout to vent, the lizard is a welcome addition to the Agamidae family, and bears the "Attenborough" distinction proudly. In lieu of gifts, we are instead asking that you simply be nice to the environment. These little guys live in a fragile habitat. S. attenboroughii was just described in the January issue of Zootax...

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2018-02-09 01:38:06

Sea ice just set another record low—in winter—offering new evidence that the era of the 'New Arctic' is here  

And what's happening in the New Arctic is not staying there Another month, yet another record low for Arctic sea ice extent in a warming world. January's average ice extent in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 average, making it the lowest January extent in the satellite record. This is an astonishingly large loss of ice — equivalent to 80 percent of Alaska. But what happened in January was equally, if not more significant, for its timing. It happened w...

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2018-02-08 21:05:22

This Deep-Sea Fish Lays Its Eggs in the Most Hellish Nursery on the Planet  

The oceans are largely unexplored, but if you want to find something interesting, there's no better place to visit than a hydrothermal vent. Often marked by dark plumes gushing into frigid water, the vents mark spots where magma rises close to the seafloor and heats the water to temperatures that can reach over 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmth and nutrients from the vents provide the basis for a vibrant deep-sea community, populated by creatures that often never see the sun's light. And,...

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2018-02-08 12:46:11

Brain Implant Improves Memory  

When it comes to improving memory, being in the right place at the right time could be key. Scientists are figuring out how to do that. Michael Kahana, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and his team developed an experimental brain stimulation technique that improves memory by applying a pulse of electricity directly to the brain when and where it's needed most. In an early demonstration, they say their approach improved word recall in epilepsy patients by 15 pe...

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2018-02-08 12:08:03

Backpackers, Don't Listen To Slate: Science Does Support Stream Water Treatment  

While we like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, there's no doubt that human beings are actually quite awful at assessing risk. So I can understand why Ethan Linck thought to contextualize the risk of drinking from backcountry streams with data. "Life is triage, a constant series of negotiations between risks of varying severity," he wrote. "And how we talk about those risks matters." Yes, it does—which is exactly why his piece in Slate last week was so damaging. It was an...

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2018-02-08 07:53:49

Cloudy with a Chance of Virus  

I, like a lot of other people on the internet, love rain. What can be nicer than a cool, refreshing burst of liquid precipitation, a sound so soothing people can actually pay to hear during dry spells? It's good for dirty walkways, good for the plants, good for skydiving viruses…wait, what? Yes, it turns out that the rains are particularly rife with falling viruses. A new study out this week in The International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal is a census of the viral invaders f...

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2018-02-08 04:29:35

Thank Plate Tectonics for Tasty Oranges  

If you're an orange juice lover, you should be thankful for the rather bizarre behavior of the Indian tectonic plate. A new and sweeping genetic study, published Wednesday in Nature, has pinpointed the origins and evolution of citrus. The study shows how the fruit emerged at a time of geological upheaval more than 8 million years ago in Southern Asia and spread thanks to genetic mutations that produced more palatable fruit for animals — as well as our human ancestors. Within this n...

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2018-02-07 13:36:13

How to Spot the Language of Depression  

From the way you move and sleep, to how you interact with people around you, depression changes just about everything. It is even noticeable in the way you speak and express yourself in writing. Sometimes this "language of depression" can have a powerful effect on others. Just consider the impact of the poetry and song lyrics of Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain, who both killed themselves after suffering from depression. Scientists have long tried to pin down the exact relationship betwee...

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2018-02-07 06:42:44

Bombardier Beetles Refuse to Be Toad Snacks  

Bombardier beetles are the Agent Ks of the insect world. You'll recall, Men in Black's Agent K (played by Tommy Lee Jones) exacts revenge after being swallowed by a giant cockroach alien at the New York State Pavilion. Agent K went down the alien's gullet, but fired his weapon from inside the beast's stomach (if it had one) blowing the bug into smithereens and spreading gooey guts everywhere. It was a fitting grand finale to the first installment of the franchise. Though not as...

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2018-02-06 16:45:31

Peek Inside a Meerkat's Mazelike Manor  

I'm a scientist and my job is to look below the surface of the earth. One of the questions often asked of people working with what we call geophysical imaging is, "How deep can you see?" It's a difficult question to answer of course, since one person's "deep" is another person's "shallow", and what is deep to the archaeologist will barely scratch the surface for the planetary seismologist. For my own part, I'm a "near-surface geophysicist", interested in the ...

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2018-02-06 10:04:56

These Pictures Are the Same—Wait, What?  

Take a moment and let this one sink in. It sure seems like the photographer turned a bit to the left before snapping the right-hand image. It's the lines in the cobblestones — they're all tilted in the second image compared to the first. A second glance reveals some irregularities, though. Though the lines look tilted relative to each other, the rest of the image looks unchanged. The trucks are in the same place, we see the same patch of sky, and if you look closely, we see the sa...

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2018-02-06 07:56:47

Let's Watch SpaceX Launch the Falcon Heavy Rocket  

SpaceX will today attempt to launch its largest rocket yet, the Falcon Heavy. An upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket the spaceflight company has been flying for over two years now, the latest addition to the SpaceX arsenal will be capable of lifting more payload to orbit than any rocket today. The launch is set for sometime between 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. Eastern today. The payload will is a red Tesla roadster (playing David Bowie's "Space Oddity," naturally), and the SpaceX CEO says i

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2018-02-06 06:35:36

The Naked Sun — Where Have All Its Spots Gone?  

The Sun recently decided to go naked for awhile, as is evident from this image acquired by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It lost its spots. The image is from a video posted by NASA showing the Sun going naked from Jan. 26th to Jan. 30th, when a very small, lonely spot finally turns up. In fact, NASA says that with the exception of this one spot, the Sun was naked for almost two weeks. Spotless periods like this are common as the Sun approaches the low point in its 11-ye...

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2018-02-06 03:18:04

Cheetahs Are Fast; Their Inner Ear Makes Them Deadly  

Cheetahs evolved to become the fastest animals on land. Now scientists find that not only do swift limbs help cheetahs hunt down prey, but so too do tiny bony tubes within their skulls that help the cats keep their gazes locked on their targets. Cheetahs have been clocked sprinting at up to 61 miles per hour, speeds that help them chase fleet prey such as gazelles. Intriguingly, while cheetahs run, their heads barely move, helping them hold an incredibly still gaze on their prey while in

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2018-02-05 10:22:26

A Startup Mentality Gives Public Research a Lift  

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Defense became the latest agency to adopt a burgeoning start-up boot camp pioneered by the National Science Foundation's Errol Arkilic. In 2011, Arkilic reached out to Steve Blank, a Stanford University professor who would soon be one of Silicon Valley's most influential innovators. "I've been reading your blog," Arkilic told Blank. He had 10,000 scientists hoping to turn their research into tech startups. Blank's mission, should h...

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2018-02-05 09:05:16

Rats, Like (Some) People, Obey the Law of Quid Pro Quo  

Like most animals that thrive in cities, rats get a bad rap. We even use the word "rat" for nasty people, particularly those that go behind your back. But this study suggests that rat society may not be so bad after all. By placing rats in special cages that allow them to give food only to another rat (not themselves), these researchers found that rats will trade grooming for help with getting food. In fact, the more help they got, the more grooming they gave. Maybe it's time to update the ...

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2018-02-05 08:03:10

Discovered: One of the Oldest Stars in the Galaxy  

In a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a team of Spanish astronomers announced the discovery of one of the first stars to form in the Milky Way. The unevolved star, called J0815+4729, is located 7,500 light-years away in the halo of the Milky Way and likely formed just 300 million years after the Big Bang, some 13.5 billion years ago. "We know of only a few stars (which can be counted on the fingers of a hand) of this type in the halo [of the Milky Way], where...

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2018-02-05 04:21:18

TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets Might All Be Water Worlds  

A series of papers out today gives us further insights into the TRAPPIST-1 system discovered in 2016. The seven planets that make up the system orbit a dim red dwarf star much smaller and cooler than our own Sun. The planets' orbits are much tighter than in our solar system, and they're all closer to their home star than Mercury is to the Sun. Three of them are thought to be in the "habitable zone" where liquid water could exist. The TRAPPIST Seven The system is relatively close, only 4

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2018-02-05 02:36:47

Meet Your New Nightmare: Ancient Spider With A Tail Preserved in Amber  

There's a new kid in town — in Creepycrawly Town, to be exact. But there's much more to this leggy fella than nightmarishly good looks. A pair of papers out today detail how this 100-million-year-old discovery, preserved in amber, fits into the spider evolution story...and the ways it doesn't. Known from four specimens, the ancient arachnid's formal name is Chimerarachne yingi. Its genus name, from the mythic Greek Chimera, is a nod to its unusual mix of features. There's that one...

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2018-02-05 02:15:59

Warm temperatures plus a lack of precipitation have taken a very heavy toll on snowpack in most of the western U.S.  

Thanks especially to warm temperatures, plus a lack of precipitation, the snowpack in most of the Western United States is in bad shape right now — nowhere worse than in California's Sierra Nevada range. For all but the northern reaches of the region, snowpack stands at no more than about 50 percent of average, and in many places it's much worse. For California, snowpack as of today, Feb. 4, is at just 25 percent of normal. Luckily, the state's reservoirs are still brimming with ...

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2018-02-04 21:28:25

Both an F-18 fighter pilot and satellites spied this cool swirling vortex of clouds off the Southern California coast  

Check out this image captured Thursday by NASA's Aqua satellite. See that swirling vortex, complete with a clear eye? It has formed just off the coast of San Clemente Island to the west of San Diego. Here's what it looked like to an F-18 fighter pilot flying directly over the feature: This is a classic von Karman vortex, a cyclonic swirl of clouds that can develop when winds are diverted around a big obstacle such an island. T...

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2018-02-04 03:35:13

Airbus' Self-Flying Taxi Drone Takes First Flight  

Airbus first announced its plans to create a self-flying taxi service in 2016. On Jan. 31, after two years of planning and building, it proved it isn't just a pipedream — the Vahana successfully completed its first flight test. The full-scale aircraft flew fully autonomously for 53 seconds at an altitude of 16 feet (gotta start somewhere) at its testing grounds in Pendleton, Oregon. It conducted another flight the following day, which seems to have gone well, too. The FAA was in atten...

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2018-02-03 04:37:08

What Are Woodpeckers Doing to Their Brains?  

Woodpecker brains preserved in ethanol feel a bit like modeling clay. That's according to George Farah, a graduate student at Boston University School of Medicine who scooped the brains out of downy woodpecker specimens stored at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "Some were like angel food cake, it's together but can easily be broken; it can easily fracture," says Farah. "I have a lot of experience with preserved brains." Farah, along with his Boston Univer...

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2018-02-03 04:36:37

Polar bears filmed themselves while hunting seals on sea ice, revealing why they are so at risk from global warming  

As with our planet as a whole, if you want to know the fate of polar bears in a warming world, you need to follow the energy. For the planet, researchers have been doing just that by keeping track of how carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere have been tipping the climate's energy balance toward more and more warming. And the high north where polar bears live has warmed faster than any other region on Earth, resulting in shrinking sea ice and a cascade of ...

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2018-02-03 02:20:01

Your Weekly Attenborough: Hieracium attenboroughianum  

It can be hard to say "thank you." Shyness, stubbornness and the fear of opening ourselves up to another can strangle those two words to silence in our mouths. Gratitude is especially hard to convey when you're trying to thank a famous broadcaster for starting you on your scientific journey. At the core of most of these species we've featured, these "Attenboroughs," is a humble message of thanks, given in the best way a researcher knows how. Attenborough's hawkweed, Hieracium attenbo...

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2018-02-03 01:21:32

Electrical Engineer Re-Discovers Lost NASA Satellite  

We've all been there: You're already running late on some hectic morning, only to realize you've lost — sorry, misplaced — your keys. Or you realize moments before the big date you can't find your favorite sweater. It happens to all of us; even NASA has lost whole satellites before. But earlier this week, NASA confirmed the remarkable news that one of its lost satellites, the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE), had been found. And as is often the case...

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2018-02-01 21:29:26

Is Harmful Corporate Research Ever Justified?  

The recent allegations that researchers funded by the German car industry tested the effects of diesel fumes on humans and monkeys has raised serious questions about research ethics in the corporate world. These tests were carried out by scientists on behalf of the now-disbanded European Research Group of Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), which was funded by Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. The aim was to observe and record the pollutant effect of emissions from diesel cars

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2018-02-01 07:29:58

Orca Learns to Say 'Hello'  

"Hello!" says the human. "Hello!" pipes the orca right back. It's not a children's movie, but an actual orca emitting human(ish) words. An international team of researchers has taught Wikie, a 14 year-old killer whale in France, to mimic certain simple bits of speech, a discovery that gives them insight into wild orca dialects. Repeat After Me In all, Wikie learned six words, in addition to five orca sounds that she didn't know before. The phrases included "hello," "ah ha," "one, two...

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2018-01-31 13:26:25

Stone Tools From India: Another Blow To Human Evolution Model?  

A new study on stone tools from a site in India offers the latest challenge to the model of human evolution and migration that has dominated paleoanthropology, particularly in the West, for decades. The artifacts, which the researchers say were produced with a sophisticated style of tool-making, are hundreds of thousands of years older than might be expected. What does it mean? Well, that part of the story is still up for debate. At the archaeological site of Attirampakkam in south...

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2018-01-31 11:44:10

Speech Recognition Tech Falls Prey to Secret Messages  

You hear one thing, but the computer hears another. What's going on here? Two researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have exploited the technique computers use to decode human speech to hide messages inside snippets of audio. When translated by a speech recognition program like Mozilla's DeepSpeech, the computer ends up transcribing the hidden message instead of the sounds we hear. Do You Hear What I Hear? The method basically involves hiding a quiet sample of the audi...

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2018-01-31 04:35:34

The Melded Minds of Best Friends  

Good friends like to think they're on the same wavelength. They aren't wrong. Besties laugh at the same jokes, like the same movies and hate the same people. And underlying all these likes and dislikes, close friends also share strikingly similar neural activity while thinking about them. Researchers at Dartmouth College analyzed brain scans of close friends and found that their brains tend to respond to the world in similar ways. As a next step, researchers want to see if it's possibl

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2018-01-31 01:50:53

Chameleons, Already Dealt Unfair Share of Cool Traits, Also Have Fluorescent Heads  

Maybe their moms told them nobody likes a showoff. That would explain why many species of chameleon are hiding fluorescent bone bumps on their heads that scientists only just discovered. Chameleons also have independently moving eyeballs, superlative tongues and sophisticated color-changing skills. The animals might use their glowing head bumps as signals to each other. These patterns of dots are invisible to a human eye, but may light up deep blue to the eye of another chameleon in a ...

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2018-01-30 08:37:17

Birds Go Steady Before Having Kids  

 Perhaps you've heard that many bird species are monogamous, including swans and whooping cranes. But have you ever wondered how these long term lovers get together? Do they "date", or is it love (and breeding) at first sight? These scientists set out to answer these questions by studying the life history of the whooping crane. They found that "a substantial portion (62%) of breeding pairs started associating at least 12 months before first breeding, with 16 of 58 breeding pairs beginnin...

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2018-01-30 07:48:27

Fitness Tracker Data Exposes U.S. Military Bases  

Strava is a fitness app that allows users to map their jogging routes, and recently it released a heatmap of where people are getting their fat-burn on around the world—secret military bases included. Oops. Strava released the heatmaps in November, and they showed off the fun side of generating data points while you sweat. But then someone came along and ruined all the fun. An Australian student tweeted that the route maps made United States military bases across the world easily id...

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2018-01-29 19:25:21

Naked Mole Rats Defy Mortality Mathematics  

The Romantic Period of the early 1800s was marked by a morbid fascination with mortality and death. Poets, novelists and other artists tackled the eternal void head on, rather than whisking such dark topics under the proverbial rug. With death in vogue, even mathematicians took a stab on the beauty of ceasing to be. In 1825, British autodidact Benjamin Gompertz found the risk of death increases exponentially with age. After the age of 30, his depressing model shows, the risk of dying on a

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2018-01-29 17:05:02

Here's Your Lunar Eclipse Viewing Guide  

On the morning of January 31, people with clear skies across western North America will have front-row seats to the first total eclipse of the Moon since September 2015. For 76 minutes, the full moon will lie completely immersed in the darkest part of Earth's shadow, and the only light hitting the Moon will be the reddish glow from all of our planet's sunrises and sunsets. But don't fret if you live farther east — residents across the eastern half of the continent will still see an i...

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2018-01-29 14:08:38

Scientists Create a 'Princess Leia-Style Display' With Moving Light  

People think they want holograms, but they (usually) don't. These are illusions, images trapped on two-dimensional surfaces that give the impression of a three-dimensional object. What people really want are "volumetric images" — a display of free-floating light that actually takes up 3-D space, visible from all angles. (Bonus points if you can interact with it.) Many of the coolest movies have them, from Tony Stark's displays in Iron Man, to the projection table in Avatar, and ...

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2018-01-29 12:37:29

Your Weekly Attenborough: Prethopalpus attenboroughi  

These goblins don't work in banks, nor do they lurk in basements. They do, however, creep through the underbrush and conceal themselves in forest canopies in the hopes of waylaying oblivious passers-by. Goblin spiders are tiny, usually on the order of just a few millimeters long, but they can be ferocious hunters. One paper describes them leaping onto the backs of springtails and biting them into submission, despite their unfortunate steed's attempts to throw them off. There are many spec

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2018-01-26 13:35:15

What Is "Social Priming"?  

"Social priming" has recently been one of the most controversial topics in psychological science. With failures to replicate proliferating, the field has been called a train-wreck. But what exactly is it? Here's how I defined social priming in a 2016 post: "Social priming" has been the punching-bag of psychology for the past few years. The term "social priming" refers to the idea that subtle cues can exert large, unconscious influences on human behaviour. The classic examp...

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2018-01-26 13:21:55

Robots to the Rescue: Saving Lives with Unmanned Vehicles  

Last week's sea rescue of Australian swimmers by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is just the start of a robotics revolution. On January 18, an Australian lifeguard piloted a drone over the turbulent ocean off the far north coast of New South Wales to rescue two teens in distress. As thrilling as it was to watch a tiny drone drop a flotation device to the two struggling swimmers, the rescue was relatively easy, using proven robotic technology in an ideal, wide-open environment. #RESC...

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2018-01-26 03:36:27

Oldest Human Fossils Outside Africa Push Back Our Timeline...Again  

Time keeps marching on...backwards, at least when it comes to telling the story of human evolution and migration. The oldest human fossils found outside of Africa suggest our species may have left that continent 200,000 years ago. You may recall that 2017 was the year that the conventional timeline for human evolution and migration finally toppled thanks to overwhelming archaeological and paleogenetic evidence. Our species is much older, and left its ancestral continent of Africa much e

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2018-01-26 01:36:40

In Memoriam: Conversations with my Grandpa  

For several months, my grandfather—Ralph Bianchi—has been battling stage four kidney cancer. On Monday, that battle ended when he passed peacefully in his sleep. While you can read his obituary in today's Boston Globe, a few hundred words cannot wholly capture his legacy. Ralph Bianchi was an engineer and pioneer who dedicated his career to cleaning up the messes of others.  I wrote the following post in June of 2010, when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform led to...

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2018-01-26 01:18:01

Remembering the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster  

NASA is holding its annual Day of Remembrance today to honor the crew members of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA employees who have lost their lives while advancing space exploration. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Columbia's last space shuttle mission, which suffered a catastrophic and fatal end. The unfortunate event shook the science community and the public, but the lessons taken away from the incident overhauled NASA's approach ...

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2018-01-25 04:15:24

KFC Chicken Box Turns Into DIY Drone  

What pairs well with chicken wings? Maybe you're thinking buffalo sauce, beer or even celery sticks, but one company wants you to finish your wings with a fun drone flight (or crash, really depends). KFC announced Tuesday that customers can get a limited edition KFO (Kentucky Fried Object), which is a DIY drone, with select orders of Smoky Grilled Wings. Sure, it's a lovely PR stunt, but exposing people to drone tech nonetheless. The...

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2018-01-24 17:25:55

Could Personal 'Carbon Accounts' Decelerate Climate Change?  

A recent call from British Member's of Parlaiment to put a 25 pence levy on disposable coffee cups, and bans on plastic products cropping up across the country, show that the UK is getting serious about tackling collective individual behavior which threatens the environment. Large-scale programs aimed at changing people's behavior are rare - but they do happen. Take Britain's various carrier bag charges, for example, which led to plastic bag use in England falling by 80 percent in j...

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2018-01-24 17:17:06

Where are You Going in 2018 (Cosmically Speaking)?  

A while back, I wrote a column for Discover analyzing your place in space: astronomers' best look yet at where you fit into the big, crazy, cosmic scheme of things. Any discussion of where you are inevitably brings up the related question of not just where you are, but where you are going. And there's no better time to think about where you are going that at the beginning of the year--right around the time when you realize that, once again, this isn't going to be the year you keep all your Jan

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2018-01-24 15:10:51

Just Like Dolly: Scientists Clone 2 Monkeys  

The world recently welcomed a pair of monkeys that were created using the same method used to clone Dolly the sheep. In a study published Wednesday in Cell, researchers successfully produced two genetically identical, long-tailed crab-eating macaques. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born eight and six weeks ago, respectively, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai. It's a technical benchmark that could have future applications in clinical research. Spec...

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2018-01-24 08:56:42

Norwegian Flight Rides a Blustery Jet Stream to New Record  

Passengers aboard jetliners making transatlantic flights are getting from point A to B much far faster. On Thursday, a Norwegian 787 Dreamliner reached a speed of 779 mph after getting some help from a vigorous, 224 mph tailwind. The flight, DY7014, set a new subsonic transatlantic record, flying from JFK Airport in New York to London's Gatwick airport in 5 hours, 13 minutes. That's roughly 30 minutes faster than average, and three minutes faster than the record set in 2015. "The...

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2018-01-23 19:06:52

Long Before Amazon Go, There Was Keedoozle  

Maslow's motivational pyramid is but a house of cards if we don't eat. And ever since we started shoving sustenance into our gullets, our species has devised means to do it faster—lest we beleaguer our journey to transcendence. In 2011, a team of archaeologists working near Kenya's Lake Turkana unearthed several stone tools in sediment that was 3.3 million years old; they were the oldest ever found. From this starting point chiseled from stone, the parabolic arc of meal-gathering ...

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2018-01-23 14:58:59

A Tractor Beam for Human Levitation?  

Light as a feather, stiff as a board: It's a game you may have played growing up, anxiously repeating the phrase in the hopes that your friend would start levitating. Thanks to new research published Monday in Physical Review Letters you might have an alternative means to lift you and your friends' besides fingertips and witchcraft. Researchers from the University of Bristol demonstrated that it's possible to steadily trap particles larger than a wavelength in an acoustic tractor bea...

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2018-01-23 10:45:25

Sushi's to Blame for a Man's 5-Foot Tapeworm  

A Fresno, Calif. man is rethinking his diet after one of his favorite dishes came back to bite him in the butt. Dr. Kenny Banh who works in the emergency room in the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno shared a horrifyingly fascinating story about one of his patients on a recent episode of "This Won't Hurt a Bit," a podcast where experts of medicine share strange and fascinating medical stories. As Banh explained, a young man came into the emergency department complaining of b

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2018-01-23 04:20:27

The Hunt for Space Viruses  

Considering viruses are thought to be the most prevalent biological entities on Earth, you would expect that plenty of research has focused on finding them in space, right? Wrong. To date, almost no research has looked into the possibility of viruses "living" in space or on other worlds. But now, Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman wants to kick-start the search. According to an article published in the February 2018 issue of Astrobiology, Stedman and his ...

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2018-01-23 03:52:03

If We Start Geoengineering, There's No Going Back  

When it comes to climate change, speed kills. The temperature changes that are causing heat waves, intense storms and other climate aberrations are dangerous today because they're happening so fast. The climate has indeed been as warm, and warmer even, in the past, but it reached those temperature levels over the course of thousands or millions of years — long enough for the changes to occur gradually. This time around, the climate is being altered too fast for animal and plant lif...

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2018-01-23 02:31:27

Psychopaths May Be Immune to Contagious Laughter  

Having a good laugh is, among other things, a great way to bond socially. In fact, we're much more likely to crow when we're with other people than we are when we're alone. And once you hear someone start, it's hard not to crack up, too. However, a recent study in the journal Current Biology posits that this phenomenon might not be contagious for everyone, specifically for teen boys at risk of psychopathy. Elizabeth O'Nions of the University College London and her team tested...

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2018-01-23 02:01:15

Does Psychology Need SWaG? The Ethics of Naturalistic Experiments  

Diederik Stapel. Brian Wansink. Nicolas Gueguen. Anyone who's been following recent debates over research integrity in psychology will recognize these as three prolific and succesful academic psychologists who have suffered a total (Stapel) or ongoing (Wansink, Gueguen) fall from grace in the past few years. If you're not familiar with these cases, you can start by reading over Nick Brown's blog. Brown has been at the centre of the investigations into irregularities in Wansink and Gueguen,...

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2018-01-21 10:23:40

Electronic Skin Puts the World in the Palm of Your Hand  

Someday, physically touching our electronic devices will be as archaic as standing up from the recliner to change the channel. Voice recognition systems and home assistants can turn on lights, pull up podcasts and order paper towels on command. Cameras in video game systems and televisions can do our bidding with a gesture. And to the list of hands-free methods of component control, we can add electronic skin. E-skins have been garnering a lot of attention from software and material en

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2018-01-19 21:17:26

For Mars, NASA Is Thinking Nuclear  

Everyone knows NASA has a tough job. Slipping "the surly bonds of Earth" is just the beginning for them. And while getting to the moon, and even Mars, is technically possible right now, one of the biggest problems remains finding and using a decent power source. So why not use nuclear power? Nuclear Know-how No, really. A small nuclear reactor might be the perfect solution, in addition to being pretty safe and clean. Nuclear power, unlike the weaponry, is actually one of the saf...

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2018-01-19 16:26:58

Your Weekly Attenborough: Ctenocheloides attenboroughi  

Some species are so rare, so secluded or timid that they flit through our consciousness like a ghost. Perhaps they're known from no more than a single specimen, others, undoubtedly, exist only in the hazy halls of rumor. The diversity of life is too great for us, a single species, to pin every bit of biodiversity under the spotlight of science. Take as an example the ghost shrimp, Ctenocheloides attenboroughi (click through for a picture). The species is known from a single individua...

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2018-01-19 15:06:24

Why Star Wars Space Nazis Shun Killer Robots  

Star Wars films tend to dwell upon space fantasy adventures that mix starships with space wizards wielding laser swords in a galaxy far, far away. Despite that focus, a number of Star Wars films also happen to feature another staple of science fiction: killer robots. Fictional killer robots often represent either the agents of greater villains or the primary existential threat to humanity in many science fiction films. Iconic Star Wars villains such as Darth Vader and Kylo Re...

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2018-01-19 14:09:53

Flu Season Has Exposed Life-Threatening Flaws in Medical Supply Chains  

Flu season in the U.S. typically peaks in February, but this year's outbreak is already one of the worst on record. As of Jan. 6, 20 children have died from the flu, and overall mortality caused by the flu is already double that of last year's. One reason the flu is so severe this season is that the dominant strain is H3N2, which has an impressive ability to mutate and is particularly aggressive against Americans over 50. Making the threat worse is the fact that most of the IV sali...

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2018-01-19 07:48:41

Hunter-Gatherers Are Masters of Smell  

What's easier for you: identifying what color something is, or identifying a smell from a source you cannot see? If you're like most people, color comes more easily. That, however, isn't the case for all humans. According to a new study published Thursday in Current Biology, those who practice a hunter-gatherer lifestyle have an edge when it comes to naming a particular funk. Evolving at the Speed of Smell So why are people often better at describing what they see versus what th...

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2018-01-18 20:54:46

What Happened the Last Time Antarctica Melted?  

Earlier this week, an international team of geologists and climate scientists parked their ship off the coast of West Antarctica and started drilling. Their mission: To find out why glaciers here melted millions of years ago and what that can tell us about what's happening today. Over the next couple months, their ship, the International Ocean Discovery Program's JOIDES Resolution, will drill at least five core samples reaching thousands of feet below the Ross Sea. These cores will le...

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2018-01-18 18:53:55

Why 1 Second Is 1 Second  

Just what is a second, exactly? The question has been open to interpretation ever since the first long-case grandfather clocks began marking off seconds in the mid-17th century and introduced the concept to the world at large. The answer, simply, is that a second is 1/60th of a minute, or 1/360th of an hour. But that's just pushing the question down the road a bit. After all, what's an hour? That answer is related to the best means of time-keeping ancient civilizations had — the movem...

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2018-01-18 18:46:26

Crawling Robot Baby Bravely Explores Carpet Gunk  

To find out just how your relaxed vacuuming schedule is affecting your baby's airway, researchers built a slightly frightening robotic infant. This legless, metallic baby crawled across five wool rugs from real people's homes in Finland. (The grounded aluminum tape covering the robot helped to minimize static during its 25 crawling sessions of 20 minutes each.) Researchers had asked the people sharing their rugs not to vacuum for two weeks beforehand. As the robot crawled, advanced ins...

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2018-01-18 08:23:06

Droning While Drunk Is Now Illegal in New Jersey  

Alcohol affects everyone a bit differently—some people take a few sips of beer and they're stumbling all over, while others can ingest far more and still walk straight. You see, consuming alcohol affects the brain, which can impact your coordination and ability to think clearly—both of which are important to safely operating vehicles of all kinds, including drones. As of Monday, it is illegal in New Jersey for people to fly drones under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as reporte...

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2018-01-18 03:16:57

Even During Deep Sleep, Mouse Pupils Filter the Outside World  

The eye may not be the window to the soul in the conventional sense, but it is a window into the intricate workings of the mind. The pupil of the eye fluctuates and varies a lot in humans and many mammals. If tracked during the day, the pupil will not only respond to changes in external stimuli such as light, but also to internal conditions such as attention and emotional states. It is a signifier of what goes on in a person's head and is linked to brain activity. Does this revelatory b...

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2018-01-18 01:15:10

Fun Fact: Chameleon Bones Glow in the Dark  

Shine an ultraviolet light on a chameleon in the dark, and it will light up with an eerie blue glow. It's not their color-changing skin at play here, either. It's their bones. It's long been known that bones fluoresce under ultraviolet light, some researchers have even used the property to find fossils, but our bones are usually all covered up. To let the light out, chameleons have evolved rows of small bony outgrowths along their skeletons that sit just beneath the skin, making it thin ...

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2018-01-17 18:02:34

The Pain-Relieving Power of a Loving Touch  

Around 100 million adults in the United States are affected by chronic pain - pain that lasts for months or years on end. It is one of the country's most underestimated health problems. The annual cost of managing pain is greater than that of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the cost to the economy through decreased productivity reaches hundreds of billions of dollars. Chronic pain's unremitting presence can lead to a variety of mental-health issues, depression above all, which ...

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2018-01-17 17:10:30

Fart-Sniffing Pill Reveals Secrets of the Gut  

Your nose, mouth, skin pores and…other…body holes each serve their unique functions. But most of them also double as biological exhaust pipes, spewing gaseous byproducts of the myriad internal chemical reactions keeping you alive. And, just as we measure emissions form our internal-combustion vehicles, advances in medical technology make it easier to analyze the gases you leak into the atmosphere. Scientists at RMIT University in Australia developed a pill-sized sensor that measure...

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2018-01-16 18:48:31

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