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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.

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

Pulsars Could Guide Autonomous Spacecraft of the Future  

Although it's possible for space missions to communicate data with Earth, the process is anything but fast. Voyager 1, for example, takes about 19 hours to send a signal back to Earth, and that lag only increases as the spacecraft gets further away.  For truly long-term, deep space missions, the significant amount of time it takes to send a signal isn't going to cut it. The spacecraft will need to adjust its own trajectory without relying on ground navigation. That's where pulsars com...

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2018-01-16 11:39:49

A Black Hole 'Double Burps'  

Supermassive black holes reside at the center of most, if not all, massive (and possibly low-mass) galaxies. They range in size from millions to billions of solar masses, and they can eat voraciously or not at all, depending on their surroundings. But one thing is clear: Black holes don't have very good table manners, as a team led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder confirmed last week at the 231st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. The t...

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2018-01-16 11:11:29

Marine Life Can Buffer Ocean Acidity, Study Finds  

One of the many consequences of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is ocean acidification—the lowering of seawater pH as CO2 chemically reacts with dissolved ions in seawater. Scientists have found that more acidic waters are dangerous to many species, especially structure-builders like corals, and thus the potential drop in pH predicted in the future would be devastating to marine habitats. So it's not surprising that many scientists are actively looking for ways to mitigate this for ...

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2018-01-16 03:04:59

Waneta Hoyt: The Serial Killer Paper  

I just learned about a truly remarkable case in which a doctor apparently wrote a paper about a serial killer who murdered her five children - without realizing what had happened. It's an old case, but it doesn't seem to be widely known today. The paper is called Prolonged apnea and the sudden infant death syndrome: clinical and laboratory observations and it was written in 1972 by Dr Alfred Steinschneider of Syracuse, New York. In this paper, Steinschneider described the case of a woman, "Mr

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2018-01-16 03:04:56

Suppressing a Sneeze Could Rupture Your Throat  

Attempting to contain a sneeze could be a recipe for disaster. A 34-year-old patient visited a hospital in the United Kingdom complaining of an extremely sore throat and a dramatic voice change after attempting to suppress a sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He told doctors he felt a popping sensation in his neck and noticed immediate swelling after trying to contain the sneeze. When doctors examined him, they could hear crackling sounds—known as crepitus in medical ...

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2018-01-15 21:48:11

Last year was downright biblical when it came to weather and climate disasters — particularly in the United States  

I'm a bit late to this story, but it's significant enough that I didn't want to let it pass by without posting something about it. The long and short of it is this: 2017 truly was a horrific year for weather and climate disasters, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires and freezes in the United States claimed at least 362 lives and injured many more in 2017. In total, the nation experienced 16 weather and climate disasters with...

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2018-01-15 19:18:57

Google App Matches Your Face With Famous Art  

People are matching their faces with famous art — and some of the results are hilarious. They're using the Google Arts & Culture app, which uses image recognition to scour art collections from more than 1,200 museums, galleries and institutions across the world. The app has been around since 2016, but recently updated to include a selfie feature that made it take off. Tapping into the curiosity of people and the love of selfies and sharing was a smart move on Google's part. Use...

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2018-01-15 11:56:13

Machines Best Humans in Stanford's Grueling Reading Test  

The ability to read and understand a passage of text underpins the pursuit of knowledge, and was once a uniquely human cognitive activity. But 2018 marks the year that, by one measure, machines surpassed humans' reading comprehension abilities. Both Alibaba and Microsoft recently tested their respective artificial neural networks with The Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), which is an arduous test of a machine's natural language processing skills. It's a dataset that consi...

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2018-01-15 11:12:33

This Tycoon's Secret Radar Lab Helped Win WWII  

Scientists and engineers who worked for MIT's Radiation Laboratory had a saying about World War II: The atomic bomb may have ended the war, but radar won it. A new PBS documentary makes the case for that bold statement by telling the story of Alfred Lee Loomis, a founder of the Radiation Lab and a millionaire Wall Street tycoon who directed the U.S. government's wartime effort to develop radar technologies into effective weapons. But even before the war, Loomis had built up his sc...

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2018-01-15 07:42:43

Alert Raised as Explosions Rock Mayon in the Philippines  

Mayon in the Philippines hasn't erupted since 2014, but it appears that it is waking up from its brief slumber. PHIVOLCS raised the alert status at Mayon to Level 3 (on a scale of 0-5) after a weekend of steam-driven (phreatic) eruptions and hundreds of earthquakes. This change in alert level came with a mandatory evacuation of people living within six kilometers of the volcano and seven kilometers from the southern side because of the potential for rock falls and pyroclastic flows. Schools...

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2018-01-15 06:03:32

Meet Caihong Juji: The Shimmering Show-Off Feathered Dinosaur  

Ooh, shiny! The newest dinosaur on the paleoscene is more than a little eye-catching: Researchers believe the duck-sized Caihong juji was rocking iridescent feathers on its head, wings and tail. If it was indeed so fancy, it's the earliest example in the fossil record of such shimmering finery. Formally described today, C. juji was discovered in northeastern China, home to many feathered dinosaur finds (but not any tyrannosaurs!). Its name translates from Mandarin as "rainbow with a big

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2018-01-15 05:20:03

Your Weekly Attenborough: Nepenthes attenboroughii  

Oh, to be a pitcher plant. Unlike most of the animal kingdom, who run around chasing money, antelopes, Twitter mentions and whatnot, pitcher plants just sit there and let it all come to them. It's like being inside one of those money booth things with dollar bills flying around and just letting them stick to your face. It's not a lifestyle for everyone, of course, but if these guys can make it work, there's hope for the rest of us. I mean, they live on a freaking mountain for Chrissakes.

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2018-01-12 11:45:16

The Wall of Westeros Would Be Its Own Worst Enemy  

The Wall that defends the Game of Thrones universe would need to be made of more than pure ice if it had stood for over 8,000 years. According to the plot of George R. R. Martin's famous book and television series, the massive wall of ice protects humanity from the blue-eyed White Walkers, an ancient race of ice zombies that threaten all living things. But if the wall that shields the realm was made of pure water ice, it would not remain a wall for long; instead, it would quickly become a

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2018-01-12 10:03:50

Massive Deposits of Water Ice Found on Mars  

Despite the fact that Mars has an atmosphere just 1 percent as dense as Earth's, the surface of the Red Planet still has to deal with plenty of weathering and erosion. In 2008, researchers even captured a full-scale avalanche on Mars as it plunged down a 2,300-foot slope into a valley. These types of geological events often expose the structures beneath the martian surface, revealing layers of rock, dry ice and even water ice. In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, resea...

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2018-01-12 09:12:08

Make a List; Fall Asleep Faster  

About 40 percent of Americans have problems falling asleep and they spend billions every year on sleep aids and remedies. Instead of spending hard earned cash, falling asleep could be as simple as writing a to-do list. Previous research has shown writing about worries can help someone quickly get to sleep, but is there a specific type of writing that's more effective? A group of researchers from Baylor University set out to answer that question. Using polysomnography (the "gold stan...

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2018-01-12 08:15:15

Flashback Friday: Playing the Lottery on a Rainy Day Could Pay Off  

When it comes to playing the odds, there are times when gambling feels more enticing than others. But is there a pattern to when people indulge in games of luck and when they abstain? Well, according to this study, there is! Apparently, when other circumstances dictated by "luck" are going well, people are more likely to play the lottery. Specifically, they found that people are more likely to play the lottery during a long string of sunny days, or when a local sports team is playing well. S

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2018-01-12 07:49:08

Like to Hold Your Baby on Your Left? So Do Walruses  

Human moms prefer to hold their babies on their left sides. Although this does make it easier for right-handed parents to feed themselves and do other necessary tasks, scientists think the true explanation is deeper. Now, a study of walruses and bats has shown that mothers and babies in these species also cuddle on the left—even when the baby is the one choosing the side. Repeated studies have shown a bias among human mothers, as well as chimps and gorillas, for holding their inf...

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2018-01-12 05:05:44

Mudflows Devastate Parts of Southern California  

This week has been a tragic one for parts of Southern California. Heavy rains have triggered landslides and mudflows that have killed over 17 people with dozens more missing. Now, this tragedy is a sequel to an earlier disaster: Wildfires ravaged the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara. However, they are two events that tend to go together because the effects of one prompt the other. The wildfires that burned forests and homes in 2017 have the net impact of destabilizing rugged terrain l

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2018-01-12 03:59:36

Baby Fat Is Far More Than Cute  

"Aw, you still have your baby fat!" This refrain plagued me throughout my childhood. No matter what I did, I couldn't shake my "baby fat." I was not a particularly overweight child. I just seemed to maintain the round cheeks and pudgy tummy that most of my friends shed early on. "Oh, sweetheart, don't worry," my mother would say, "it will keep you warm. Just a little added insulation." She wasn't even half right. In the years since, I've become an anthropologist who st...

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2018-01-12 02:30:21

Meet Vulcanops, Giant Burrowing Bat and Ghost of Gondwana  

Where might you expect to find fossils of a giant burrowing bat, three times bigger than today's average bat? Why, in St. Bathans, New Zealand, of course. Vulcanops jennyworthyae, which lived more than 15 million years ago, tells a fascinating story of a lost world. No offense to Jenny Worthy, the team member honored in the new fossil bat's species name, but I'm going to call this little beauty by its genus name, Vulcanops, coincidentally the first new bat genus discovered in New Zeala...

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2018-01-11 20:53:45

Crying Elephants, Giggling Rats and Other Surprisingly Sentient Animals  

Years ago, we believed that we weren't animals and that animals were here solely for our use. Indeed, a cow was just a walking burger, a of Sunday roast, keeping itself fresh and tasty ready for when we were hungry. Luckily, for their sake, things have progressed significantly from then and now we recognize that animals (including our "superior" human selves in that category) can experience emotions from more simple ones such as happiness and sadness to more complex ones such a...

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2018-01-11 12:37:26

Horses and Humans, Bonded Through Botulism  

Last month, a 1,400-pound horse named John competed with speed and style at the World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas. Fourteen months earlier, John couldn't even stand without the help of six handlers and a sling. After qualifying for a 2016 competition, John was found down at his owner's ranch near Sacramento, felled by botulism. Despite receiving an antidote, he battled paralysis for 26 days. For most of his stay in an intensive care unit, he lay on the floor of his stall. He...

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2018-01-11 05:30:53

Boeing's Cargo Drone Prototype Is Huge  

Boeing this week showcased its new unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing cargo air vehicle that can carry a payload of up to 500 pounds. In simpler terms: it's a huge flying drone. A team of engineers and technicians for the worldwide aerospace company moved fast to build it, creating a flying prototype in less than three months. The octocopter weighs more than 700 pounds and is powered custom batteries. It comes in at 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It's big...r...

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2018-01-11 02:09:27

Butterflies and Moths May Have Predated Flowers  

Think of some scaly animals. Odds are butterflies didn't come to mind. But butterflies and moths have scales on their wings, legs and bodies. Thanks to those scales, researchers have found the oldest known fossils of butterflies and moths, both in the order Lepidoptera, according to a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances. While the Lepidoptera order is highly studied, scientists know little about its evolutionary history. But understanding how these primitive butterflies and...

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2018-01-10 22:03:14

Robotic Implants Could Help Remedy a Rare Birth Defect  

Robots are finding new ways to get under our skin, and that's a good thing. Lab-grown organs are carving their place in medicine, as scientists can today grow miniature brains, kidneys and more in the lab to conduct research or even treat patients. In fact, in 2011, doctors successfully transplanted the first lab-grown organ—a trachea— into a cancer patient who needed theirs removed. But growing custom organs from a patient's stem cells is neither cheap nor simple, and it may not...

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2018-01-10 18:56:23

Japanese Astronaut Grew In Space, But Not THAT Much  

A Japanese astronaut grew three and a half inches during the course of his trip to the International Space Station. If that sounds too incredible to be true, you're right. It's not. But some people evidently believed Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai when he tweeted out a mistaken measurement from aboard the ISS Monday. He quickly re-measured himself after a Russian colleague questioned the measurement and found that the growth spurt was actually less than an inch — well within th...

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2018-01-10 18:55:19

It's So Cold, You Might Be Allergic to It  

On a freezing morning in January, my boyfriend had just emerged from the icy waters of Lake Michigan along with hundreds of others who had just participated in the annual Polar Plunge. He was frozen to the bone, but so was everyone else. There was, however, something distinct about my boyfriend's experience — the extreme cold triggered a new, mysterious allergy that would linger for years. That summer, he took a dive into a cool lake for a swim. Afterwards, he began to break out into ...

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2018-01-10 06:54:12

Astronauts Are Hotter in Space  

A great amount of time and effort is spent ensuring the mental and physical well-being of astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and new research shows that increased body temperature is another factor to consider when evaluating astronauts' health. In the study, published January 5 in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at Charite — Universitätsmedizin Berlin found that the resting body temperatures of astronauts aboard the ISS increased to about 100.4...

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2018-01-10 04:51:23

The Extreme Origins of a Fast Radio Burst  

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are one of the few truly mysterious phenomena in the universe. Astronomers first noticed the milliseconds-long intense pulses of radio waves in 2006, and we've slowly but steadily been learning more about the extragalactic signals ever since. We still don't really know exactly what they are, but thanks to a study published Wednesday in Nature (in fact it's the cover story), we're finally starting to understand these strange signals. Do the Twist Now,...

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2018-01-10 03:24:38

Why Do We Even Wear Pants?  

From far above, the area around Yanghai cemetery looks like a collection of ground-dwelling wasp dens, drilled into a gravelly desert. It gets hot in this region of remote western China — up to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and dry. That's a hard-knock climate, but it's perfect for preserving ancient artifacts. And if you zoom in on the region, and dig in, as archaeologists have, you'll find tombs with well-kept secrets. Inside two of them, scientists found not just human remains bu...

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2018-01-09 21:35:57

Floral Hackers: Plant Parasites Use MicroRNAs to Shut Down Host Genes  

Organisms' immune systems are constantly trying to detect and boot freeloaders. No living thing is particularly willing to give up its hard earned resources to just any moocher that comes along, so all parasites must find a way past their hosts' defenses and survive incessant attacks. Some constantly disguise themselves to move about undetected, while others mysteriously slip under the radar. Now, in a paper published this month in Nature, researchers have discovered one parasitic plant h...

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2018-01-09 01:13:03

While parts of the U.S. are wet and frigid, the Southwest is bone dry and still waiting for winter to arrive  

A wide area around the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest is now in severe drought — and the three-month outlook is grim While downtown Boston streets were flooding and then freezing as a result of the powerful bomb cyclone that pummeled the U.S. East Cost, folks in the U.S. Southwest were no doubt wondering when they might get even just a little taste of winter. From October 1 to January 5, an almost non-existent 0.01 inches of precipitation was recorded in Flagstaff, Ar...

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2018-01-08 18:35:28

A Romantic Partner's Scent Can Alleviate Stress  

The human sense of smell is perhaps our most underrated ability. The power of scent may not get the credit it deserves because we experience it differently than our other senses. Rather than proceeding directly to the thalamus—the seat of consciousness—like other sensory signals, scent information travels to parts of the brain associated with emotions and memory. Therefore, much of the information we receive through our noses is experienced subconsciously. Consider this: It has rec...

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2018-01-08 16:13:49

Witch: A Label That Still Shapes Social Networks  

Being labeled a witch can do great harm; it did during the Salem witch trials and continues to today in many places in Africa and Papua New Guinea. Now, researchers investigating villages in China have analyzed the effects the reputation of witchcraft could have on everything from recruiting workers to getting married. It's data that could shed light on why this belief persists in societies. Scientists examined farming villages in southwestern China headed by a group known as the Mosuo

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2018-01-08 12:30:56

Is It a Human or Computer Talking? Google Blurs the Lines  

Siri and Alexa are good, but no one would mistake them for a human being. Google's newest project, however, could change that. Called Tacotron 2, the latest attempt to make computers talk like people builds on two of the company's most recent text-to-speech projects, the original Tacotron and WaveNet. Repeat After Me Tacotron 2 pairs the text-mapping abilities of its predecessor with the speaking prowess of WaveNet for an end result that is, frankly, a bit unsettling. It works by takin...

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2018-01-08 12:22:10

Blockchain Technologies Could Help You Profit from Green Energy  

Imagine buying a solar panel from a hardware store, mounting it on your roof, then selling the green electricity you produce at a price you set. Is this even possible? Some companies certainly think so. These startups are harnessing the power of blockchains to democratize green power. Before you can understand how blockchains are part of the solution, you first need to know a few things about the green electricity market. Today, independent auditors assess renewable-energy prod

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2018-01-08 11:06:53

Debunking Phrenology with 21st Century Methods  

Modern neuroscience has been accused of being a 'new phrenology' but now neuroscientists have conducted a modern evaluation of phrenological claims using neuroscience methods. In an enjoyable new preprint called An empirical, 21st century evaluation of phrenology, Oxford researchers Oiwi Parker Jones and colleagues say that they've rigorously tested, and debunked, phrenology for the first time. Notoriously, the phrenologists believed that the shape of an individual's skull provided clu

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2018-01-07 09:21:39

Your Weekly Attenborough: Trigonopterus attenboroughi  

Today I'm going to tell you about a weevil. There are a lot of weevils, and beetles in general, out there, but this one is special. Plucked from anonymity, this little guy was blessed, or cursed perhaps, with the mantle of greatness. Trigonopterus attenboroughi hails from the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Lombok, and it was discovered in 2014 by German researcher Alex Riedel. Discovering new species can take a lot of hard work, but it seems that all Riedel had to do was walk into th...

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2018-01-05 17:09:23

Robots Are Flexing Stronger, More Flexible 'Muscles'  

Humanoid robots like Sophia, granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia, and Atlas, which backflips like a boss, are rigid, strong and rather bulky. They're made to look like us; they're not designed after us. But researchers are working hard to give robots a softer touch without losing strength. Two new studies released Thursday in Science and Science Robotics showcase new moving robotic parts, called actuators, that are advancing soft robots, making them more adaptable, flexible and strong...

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2018-01-05 11:58:23

Blue for Boys, Pink for Girls...That's Child's Play  

Anyone who has kids, or has been to a toy store, is familiar with the gender color code: blue is for boys, pink is for girls. But actually, it looks like associating a gender with a particular color is a fairly recent development and, like so much these days, is actually the fault of society, man. And according to a study that came out yesterday, gender-based colors are a social preference we can actually manipulate in little kids — and it can actually have real consequences. Go Green ...

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2018-01-05 11:16:51

An Unknown Microbe Sequenced in Space for the First Time  

In July 2016, while aboard the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Kate Rubins successfully sequenced mouse DNA that was delivered to her from Earth. This made Rubins the first person ever to identify an organism's DNA while working entirely in space. However, last month, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson one-upped her. On December 18, NASA released a statement which announced that Whitson is officially the only person to take DNA samples from unknown microbes found aboard ...

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2018-01-05 10:24:35

Seeing Red: Biologist Stares Down Predator in the Backcountry  

Squirrels are a passion for Sarah Westrick, a biology researcher at the University of Michigan. Last summer she attended the Kluane Red Squirrel Project in the Shakwak Trench near Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada's southwest Yukon Territory. Researchers congregate there each summer to study the North American red squirrel. Westrick was studying the squirrel's maternal behavior, specifically how the moms prepare their pups for nature's realities. The biologist ended up ...

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2018-01-05 05:51:14

The view from space as the so-called 'bomb cyclone' exploded into a dangerous winter storm  

Last night, my daughter called me from New York City to ask worriedly about the so-called bomb cyclone that was threatening the northeastern United States. "What is this about a bomb?," she asked. I explained that the term comes from a meteorological process called "bombogenesis." It happens when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping in pressure by at least 24 millibars over 24 hours. A millibar is a measure of atmospheric pressure. This can happen when warm, moist air s...

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2018-01-04 16:01:48

Are You Sapiosexual?  

When turns you on? When responding to the question, most people turn to physical attributes, and we can probably all guess what the answers might be. But for some, sexual attraction stems not from the assemblage of flesh and bone that carries us through life, but from what resides within. No, it's not the soul — it's the mind. Or so they say. So-called sapiosexuals claim to be attracted to intellect, and many say that it overrules the physical characteristics that underpin sexuali...

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2018-01-04 07:51:16

On the very day the bomb cyclone exploded, we learned that 2017 was one of the very warmest on record  

One verdict on global warming in 2017 is in: Warmest year with no temperature boost from El Niño, and second warmest overall Today brought another lesson about the difference between weather and climate. While winds were howling, snow was blowing, and temperatures were plummeting thanks to the bomb cyclone off the U.S. East Coast, a European science agency announced that 2017 was the second warmest year in records dating back to the 1800s. Only 2016 was warmer, according to the Cop...

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2018-01-04 01:40:16

Aliens Aren't Responsible For The 'Alien Megastructure' Star  

We can probably put our hopes of meeting aliens on hold just a little bit longer. A team of researchers studying "Tabby's star," a stellar object whose mysterious dips in brightness have puzzled scientists and enthralled space enthusiasts, has announced that the most likely explanation for the behavior is a cloud of fine dust circling the star—wah, wah. That conclusion is the result of a crowdfunded observational campaign that ran from March 2016 to December 2017, and which caught ...

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2018-01-03 21:37:13

You're Sick, We Can See It All Over Your Face  

Humans seem to possess an uncanny ability to read sickness on others' faces, even in the earliest stages of an infection. No kidding, you might say. Who couldn't pick out a poor soul who's been in the throes of the flu, red nose and all? But our ability to detect sickness is far more sensitive than that, according to a study by John Axelsson and his team from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Our face-assessing abilities are, perhaps, so sensitive, that we might even ...

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2018-01-03 07:48:05

'The Last Jedi' Revealed the Dark Side of BB-8  

Robots can provide comic relief and cuteness overload for longtime fans of the Star Wars films that take place in a galaxy far, far away. The latest example in Disney's Star Wars films is the adorable BB-8 droid that has a dome head riding atop a spherical body and mostly communicates through beeps and electronic warbles. But something dark and ominous may be lurking beneath the bubbly droid's exterior. Turn back now to avoid spoilers on "The Last Jedi" or any of the Star Wars films. ...

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2018-01-03 04:18:56

Is Reproducibility Really Central to Science?  

In a new paper in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, Chris Drummond takes aim at the 'reproducibility movement' which has lately risen to prominence in science. As one of the early advocates for this movement, I was interested to see what Drummond had to say. While I don't find his argument wholly convincing, he does raise some good points. Drummond begins by summarizing the case for reproducible research as it sees it. The claim is that reproducibil

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2018-01-03 02:39:17

Roosters Have Special Ears So They Don't Crow Themselves To Deaf  

If you've spent any time around roosters, you know that their "morning" crowing can be... loud. That distinctive cock-a-doodle-doo is piercing: if you happen to be standing near a rooster sounding off, you're hit with a sound wave that's about 100 decibels. That's unpleasantly loud, like the whir of chainsaw. If one cock-a-doodled right in your ear, the sound is even louder—over 140 decibels. Sounds that loud can cause damage in less than a second, and are just shy of shattering your ea...

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2017-12-31 17:00:41

Curiously aligned cloud formations stream across the Atlantic as Arctic air blows above warm ocean waters  

Baby, it's cold outside! If you live pretty much anywhere in Canada, or in the United States east of the Rockies, that wonderful song from the 1940s pretty much sums up the conditions as 2017 draws to a close. And when revelers watch the ball drop in New York City's Times Square on New Years Eve, they will have to endure forecast temperatures of 10°F - with a wind chill of -5°F. The brisk northwesterly winds that have carried the bitterly cold Arctic air have given rise t...

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2017-12-30 20:40:22

'Predator' Vision Drones Get AI to Spot Poachers  

Poachers illegally hunting elephants and rhinoceroses under the supposed cover of darkness may soon find themselves being tracked by "Predator" vision drones armed with artificial intelligence. The new AI system that enables surveillance drones to automatically detect both humans and animals could help conservation experts and rangers protect endangered wildlife starting in 2018. A wildlife conservation group called Air Shepherd has already tested the AI system in a field demonstr...

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2017-12-30 04:12:52

Twelve Months, Eight Arms, Three Butts  

It's the end of the year and we're still swimming! So Inkfish is taking a moment to reflect on 2017 and enumerate some noteworthy posts. Don't worry—it won't take long, since octopuses can only count to eight. Most unexpectedly popular post: Agar Art Contest Winners Grow Masterpieces with Microbes. People like microbial art? Noted. Does anyone want to come scrub my shower? Most popular post: Beluga Living with Dolphins Swaps Her Call for Theirs. Relatedly, the ACTUAL most-po...

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2017-12-29 17:11:38

Could a Lunar Fuel Depot Jump-Start Human Exploration of Deep Space?  

In my previous post I started a conversation with spaceflight entrepreneur Charles Miller, who shared his insights about how NASA's human spaceflight program got been stuck in low-Earth orbit and how we could enter a new era of deep-space adventure. Part one of the interview focused on the role of private industry in radically lowering the cost of getting back to the Moon. But it left many topics unexplored. In particular, I wanted to hear more about the economics of what some people are

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2017-12-29 15:46:28

Right before Christmas, a gargantuan black fissure opened on the Sun. It was shaped like a question mark.  

It doesn't really take much imagination to see the dark question mark forming and dissipating across most of the Sun's surface in the animation above. The images that make up the animation were acquired by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft between Dec. 18 and 22, 2017. And if you're thinking that the question mark is some sort of optical illusion, guess again. The feature is very real: an unimaginably large fissure in the Sun's atmosphere. There's nothing to be alarmed abou...

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2017-12-29 00:44:28

This Is Your Brain on Mixed Martial Arts  

Michael Bisping has fought professionally in mixed martial arts since 2004. Last year, the journeyman won his first title. He knocked out Luke Rockhold in the first round to win the middleweight belt in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, the most popular of several MMA organizations. On Nov. 4 of this year, at age 38, Bisping defended his title for a second time. His opponent was the Canadian Georges St. Pierre, a former UFC champ. The fight, held in New York's Madison Square Gard...

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2017-12-28 18:38:46

The Banana As We Know It Is Dying...Again  

The bananas your grandparents ate were different than the ones you eat today. And the bananas your grandchildren know will probably be entirely different as well. For the moment, we are in the age of the Cavendish, a banana cultivar that accounts for 99 percent of imports to the Western world. But the Cavendish is in trouble. Like its predecessor the Gros Michel, the Cavendish may soon pass from our lives, potentially taking with it an entire industry. At the heart of the conflict ...

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2017-12-27 21:24:13

Solar Eclipses Make Waves in the Atmosphere  

When the solar eclipse swept across the continental U.S. in August, it carved a subtle, but noticeable path through our atmosphere. For the first time, researchers confirmed that that moon's shadow generates a pair of bow waves in Earth's ionosphere, similar to the wake a boat leaves as it travels through the water. The waves are caused by the sudden drop and rebound in incoming energy from the sun, and they ripple through the atmosphere ahead of and behind the shadow. Bow waves are actu...

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2017-12-27 20:52:53

Donny the Drone Desires World Domination...For Its Own Good  

If you give a drone a voice, it might as well be Guy Pearce's. In the sci-fi short film "Donny The Drone," a sentient drone receives World Time magazine's Person of the Year award (akin to the real award given by TIME magazine). We see Donny accept the award in a TED-esque style speech — one that will build you up, tear you down, then build you up again. Donny is a conscious drone, which some experts believe may deserve a limited set of rights in the future. Donny says, "People an...

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2017-12-27 17:11:25

Are You a Directionally Biased Kisser?  

Your brain is an organ of two halves - the left side and the right side. And there are many brain functions, such as language skills or which hand you write with, which are organized mostly in one side of the brain or the other. Simple behavioral tests have now allowed us to see how this organization is revealed through biases in how we see and interact with the world - and each other - often without us being aware of it. Examining how people perceive a diagram of variously orien...

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2017-12-27 16:58:22

Dozens—Perhaps Even   

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped it's way across the southern US. Southern Florida, where Andrew made landfall, was one of the hardest hit areas. It's estimated that over 100,000 homes were damaged, and 63,000 were destroyed—among them an expensive beachfront house with a very large and memorable aquarium. That aquarium contained six lionfish, and when it broke, they were swept into Biscayne Bay. And so began the lionfish invasion into the Atlantic. ... at least, that's what many peop...

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2017-12-27 14:00:21

Back to the Moon for Real: A Conversation with Private-Spaceflight Evangelist Charles Miller  

NASA's human spaceflight program has been in a state of uncertainty pretty much from the moment the Apollo 17 crew left the surface of the Moon 45 years ago this month. The Space Shuttle never became the hoped-for workhorse that would makes space access cheap and routine; the International Space Station never became a glorious gateway to deep-space exploration. Now NASA faces yet another U-turn as President Trump has directed the agency's administrator to send astronauts back to the moon.

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2017-12-24 12:56:21

Your Weekly Attenborough: Attenborougharion rubicundus  

If you're like me, your family's Christmas tree is dripping with poorly-made ornaments you and your siblings slapped together in kindergarten. Seriously, one is just a picture of me with some spray-painted puzzle pieces around it. If you're lucky enough to live in a small part of Australia, though, you could probably gussy your tree up this year with a festive snail. (Disclaimer: This is a bad idea and will get you in a lot of trouble.) Attenborougharion rubicundus is a snail from th...

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2017-12-22 19:47:59

Dead Squid Moms Are a Gift to the Ocean Floor  

Animals living on the ocean floor, where it's too dark for anything to grow, have to wait for food to fall on them. Mostly this means they eat "marine snow," a steady drift of tiny life forms and detritus from the ocean's surface. But robotic expeditions off the coast of Mexico have revealed what might be another major dining option on the ocean floor: dead squid moms. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) sent one of its remotely operated vehicles to explore deep b...

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2017-12-22 17:29:35

Under Review: A Male Contraceptive Topical Gel  

A new male contraceptive is set to begin testing next year. Beginning in April, about 420 men will begin rubbing a hormonal gel onto their shoulders every morning, with the goal of lowering sperm counts below what's needed to cause a pregnancy. If all goes to plan, they and their partners will spend a year relying only on the gel for birth control. Another Try The study is receiving joint funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Population Council, a non-profit orga...

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2017-12-21 21:42:44

A Day Isn't Actually 24 Hours And Other Weird Solstice Facts  

Those of us brave souls who inhabit America's northern climes know that it's not the cold that brings on the winter blues. You go to work and it's dark. You leave work and it's dark. The sun? What's that? Indeed, as I post this at 3:30 p.m., the sun is already nearing the horizon. The sky above is dark. Today — the Winter Solstice — the sun will set at 4:20 p.m. here in Milwaukee. But that's actually pretty weird. It's the shortest day of the year, yet the sun was setting...

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2017-12-21 21:21:40

Life in the Universe Is Common, Oldest Fossils on Earth Suggest  

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists confirmed that the oldest fossils ever discovered — found in a nearly 3.5-billion-year-old rock from western Australia — contain 11 complex microbes that are members of five distinct species. The findings not only suggest that life on our planet originated some 4 billion years ago, but also help support the increasingly widespread theory that life in the universe is much more common th...

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2017-12-21 19:59:10

Even Near Pulsars, Life May Find a Way  

Exoplanets have dominated astronomy news so much in recent years, some people are getting sick of them. It's funny to think that their existence has only been confirmed for 25 years. Before astronomers announced in 1992 that pulsar B1257+12 had a couple of planets in tow, the idea of planets existing beyond our solar system was just that, an idea. It made sense, but no one had ever seen any. The not-so-secret motivation behind exoplanet research nowadays is the hope of one day finding a...

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2017-12-21 18:15:14

Heads Up: Female Soccer Players More Prone to Brain Damage Than Males  

Ladies, looks like we might have another thing to worry about — well, at least for those of us who play soccer. New, unpublished research, presented in November at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C., suggests female soccer players experience greater brain damage from heading the ball than men do. The injury occurs in white matter tracts — the long, branch-like nerve fibers, or axons, that extend from neurons, crisscross the brain and connect different r...

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2017-12-21 17:47:15

NASA's New Frontiersmen  

A little over once a decade, through its New Frontiers program, NASA hosts a battle-royale lottery that sets the tone for the agency's focus on the future of exploration throughout the solar system. This year, in terms of planetary exploration, NASA decided on sending drones to Titan and a claw-machine to a familiar asteroid. NASA's missions are largely split into three camps: the inexpensive missions, a wide assortment of  $600- to $700-million missions like the Discovery endeavors,...

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2017-12-21 17:13:03

NIH to Resume Funding Controversial 'Gain-of-Function' Research  

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced yesterday that it would be removing a three-year funding pause on so-called "gain-of-function" research. The type of research in question involves engineering viruses to give them capabilities not found in nature in order to facilitate research. This can be as simple as producing a higher yield for a certain vaccine strain, but has also involved giving viruses potentially dangerous traits. One of the most popular examples of the potential...

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2017-12-20 21:33:36

A Better Catheter, Brought to You by the Beetle Penis  

Male beetles often have thin penises longer than their bodies. Now scientists are discovering how these insects can have sex without breaking their narrow, lengthy penises, findings that could help lead to longer, stronger catheters for use in medicine. Scientists experimented with thistle tortoise beetles, Cassida rubiginosa. The insects are about 8 millimeters long, and the penises of the males are roughly 10 millimeters long but less than 0.01 millimeters wide, or about 10 times thinne

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2017-12-20 19:05:22

Is Your Computer Being 'Cryptojacked'?  

Nothing comes for free, especially online. Websites and apps that don't charge you for their services are often collecting your data or bombarding you with advertising. Now some sites have found a new way to make money from you: using your computer to generate virtual currencies. Several video streaming sites and the popular file sharing network The Pirate Bay have allegedly been "cryptojacking" their users' computers in this way, as has the free WiFi provider in a Starbucks ...

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2017-12-20 18:42:25

How Bad Is It to Hold in a Poop?  

You know the feeling when you have to poop, but there's no toilet in reach or you're too scared to stink up the stall at work? Then, instead of listening to Mother Nature, you end up holding in your poop? Let's face it, no matter how many times we hear "everybody poops," it doesn't make the endeavor any less awkward in public settings. In honor of Constipation Awareness Month, we wanted to ask the big question: How bad is it, really, to hold in your poop? Constipation Stat...

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2017-12-20 18:26:33

A Semi-Autonomous Cricket Farm to Feed the World  

When Gabe Mott, Shobhita Soor and Mohammed Ashour proposed building a commercial-scale cricket farm optimized with robots and data, the idea earned the McGill University students the $1 million Hult Prize, the largest student competition for social good, in 2013. But when it came to launching the concept, they needed to leave convention behind, including most of what had been written in science journals about rearing billions of crickets. Apparently, people hadn't been thinking big e...

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2017-12-19 22:12:54

What Keeps an Astronaut Awake at Night? Cosmic Rays  

In space, astronauts see stars in more than one way. Ever since the 1960s, space travelers have reported seeing bright flashes of light even with their eyes closed. They're usually described as either bursts or streaks, and are most often white. They seem to be frequent, too, many astronauts complained of trouble sleeping because of the disruptive scintillations. The culprit seems to be cosmic rays, highly energetic particles emanating from far-off sources that are normally blocked by our

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2017-12-19 21:42:54

Science Under Siege But Surviving — a Trump Timeline  

For many who value science, 2017 will be remembered as the dawn of a new era. January saw the inauguration of Donald Trump, a president who has denied climate change and filled his inner circle with anti-science activists. But the year was as much an awakening as an annus horribilis: Researchers and citizens alike, in the U.S. and beyond, chose to speak out at rallies, on social media and even in the political arena — unprecedented numbers of scientists are considering a run for office. ...

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2017-12-19 19:42:19

Secrets of a "Zombie" Fungus Revealed  

A parasitic fungus that controls the behaviour of fruit flies has, for the first time, been studied in the lab. In a fascinating preprint posted on Biorxiv, researchers Carolyn Elya et al. report how they discovered the pathogen in the wild near Berkeley, California. The fungus belongs to the species Entomophthora muscae, which is already known to prey on various species of wild flies. But Elya et al. found a way to infect laboratory flies with the disease, thus allowing them to study the fun

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2017-12-19 08:57:09

Forget Bans: UN Stuck on Defining Killer Robots  

A United Nations meeting on lethal autonomous weapons ended in disappointment for advocates hoping that the world would make progress on regulating or banning "killer robot" technologies. The UN group of governmental experts barely even scratched the surface of defining what counts as a lethal autonomous weapon. But instead of trying to create a catch-all killer robots definition, they might have better luck next time focusing on the role of humans in controlling such autonomous weap...

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2017-12-19 04:28:17

Say hi to the GOES-East satellite—already a 'game changer' for tracking threats like wildfires and extreme weather  

A brand spanking new advanced U.S. satellite is now fully operational and monitoring weather, wildfires, lightning and other phenomena. Okay, technically speaking it's not really brand new. It was launched on Nov. 19, 2016. But until today it has been on something of a shakedown cruise. Now the testing is over. And so today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made it official: After a final shift in its orbit, the spacecraft is in what's known as the "GOES-East"...

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2017-12-19 00:44:24

Mind-Controlling Parasites Find a Home in the Lab  

Mind-controlling parasites are the stuff of nightmares and blockbuster horror movies, yet organisms that turn normally sensible creatures into zombies are all too real. Most of the microbes and fungi that do this are restricted to the insect world, luckily, though those cases are gruesome enough. Ants with fungal spores growing from their heads, cockroaches eaten from the inside by parasitic wasp larva, fish driven to suicide-by-bird — the list goes on, and it's a veritable treasure tr...

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2017-12-18 22:41:04

Breaking the Sound Barrier, Quietly  

NASA wants to make sonic booms a little less…boom-y. When a jet breaks the sound barrier, it generates shockwaves that are eventually heard—and felt—on the ground as sonic booms. The boisterous nature of supersonic flight is one of the primary driving forces behind the Federal Aviation Administration's ban on supersonic flights over land. But NASA scientists are working to design an aircraft that can smash the sound barrier quietly, and that could cut travel times in the United Stat...

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2017-12-18 22:11:58

Evolutionary Quirks Helped Poinsettias Rule the Holidays  

Poinsettias are a holiday icon. Their crimson colors are so commonplace this time of year that they practically blend into the background. And once the holidays are over, they'll disappear like so many Christmas trees. But these seemingly boring flowers actually hide a fascinating history. Poinsettias owe their holiday prevalence to some weird quirks of evolution — and one clever Southern California entrepreneur. Christmas Colors The poinsettia has been tied to Christmas for centuries...

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2017-12-18 20:52:13

Satellite 'License Plates' Could Prevent a Disaster in Low Earth Orbit  

Space may look vast, but it's actually pretty crowded near Earth. As of a couple of years ago, more than 1,300 active satellites orbited Earth, in addition to tens of thousands of dead satellites, discarded rockets and other bits and pieces that have accumulated in space in the 60 years since Sputnik, ranging in size from softballs to school buses. When we turn on a new radar in a few years that can see even smaller pieces, we are going to see millions of them. And it's going to cont...

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2017-12-18 19:44:03

Watch California's Thomas Fire metastasize into a monster likely made more ferocious by climate change  

An animation of satellite imagery offers a revealing perspective on the day-by-day growth of the Thomas Fire "Firefighters achieved huge successes yesterday during a BIG firefight to hold their line & SAVED hundreds of homes in Montecito." That was the news this morning about the horrific Thomas Fire burning in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, as described by the Public Information Officer of the Ventura County Fire Department. Unfortunately, many of the heroic firefighter...

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2017-12-17 20:48:47

The Sad World of Uncited Papers  

A Nature News feature examines academic papers that have never been cited. According to author Richard Van Noorden, by some estimates up to half of all papers have yet to receive their first citation 5 years after publication, and even 10% of Nobel Prizewinners' papers go uncited. However, Van Noorden reports that these estimates are far too high. For recent papers indexed on Web of Science (WoS), "records suggest that fewer than 10%" remain uncited, and even this is likely an overesti

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2017-12-17 12:02:06

Your Weekly Attenborough: Pristimantis attenboroughi  

Sir David Frederick is the best. That sounds like an opinion, but it's pretty much objective fact at this point. The British broadcaster and naturalist has been narrating the wonders of the natural world for over 50 years now, traveling to almost every country on Earth to do so. His crowning achievement is a massive documentary series known simply as the Life collection. Thirteen separate series filmed over the course of 20 years...

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2017-12-15 22:18:53

Ötzi the Iceman Stars in a New Feature Film  

From a block of ice to the silver screen; Ötzi the Iceman, an archaeological star, is getting his own feature film. From German director Felix Randau, the movie is a fictionalized account of Ötzi's life and eventual death at the hands of an unknown archer in the Alps. Though the story is mostly fictional, the clothing, props and setting were all recreated with the help of researchers from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, with the goal of creating a story that could have potenti...

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2017-12-15 20:13:59

Climate Change, Disease and the Fall of Rome  

At some time or another, every historian of Rome has been asked to say where we are, today, on Rome's cycle of decline. Historians might squirm at such attempts to use the past but, even if history does not repeat itself, nor come packaged into moral lessons, it can deepen our sense of what it means to be human and how fragile our societies are. In the middle of the second century, the Romans controlled a huge, geographically diverse part of the globe, from northern Britain to the edges...

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2017-12-15 17:01:54

Saturn's Rings Alter Its Ionosphere  

In April of this year, NASA nudged the Cassini spacecraft into an orbit that took it through a narrow gap between Saturn's innermost ring (the D-ring) and the gas giant itself. Over the next few months, Cassini skimmed the upper atmosphere of the ringed planet nearly two dozen times. During 11 of those orbits, Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument took unprecedented measurements of Saturn's ionosphere — a shell of charged particles that surrounds the planet and...

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2017-12-15 16:34:42

The Roller Coaster Designed to Kill  

I have a friend who loves roller coasters. He once told me, a fellow coaster-head, "You ever get the feeling that most people say they like roller coasters, but then when they're in a park they just ride one or two of them and call it a day?" I nodded in the shared sentiment. All of that said, there's at least one roller coaster that I, or my friend, am not interested in trying out: the "Euthanasia Coaster." Truth in Advertising It's exactly what it sounds: A roller coaste...

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2017-12-14 17:16:43

Virtual Reality Can Help Convict Nazi War Criminals  

During World War II, Reinhold Hanning served as a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people were killed by Nazi Germany. More than 70 years later, a virtual recreation of Auschwitz helped German prosecutors convict Hanning of being an accessory to the murder of 170,000 people. Now a new documentary film explores how the virtual model of Auschwitz can be viewed through virtual reality headsets in future court cases involving the last surviving Nazi war...

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2017-12-14 06:04:37

A Geoengineered Future Is Downright Scary  

Climate change seems inevitable. Between the still-accelerating pace of greenhouse gas emissions and the voices of global warming deniers, hitting the targets laid out in the Paris Accord to slow the pace of a warming climate feels increasingly elusive. To hit even the 2 degree Celsius cap on a global temperature increase, emissions would need to peak in 2020, or less than three years from now, and keep going down after that. We could do it, but will we? If we can't change our beh...

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2017-12-13 20:06:29

A major federal report finds that the speed of Arctic warming is unprecedented in 2,000 years  

The peer-reviewed report involving 85 scientists finds that the Arctic environmental system has reached a "new normal" It's a common refrain doubters of human-caused global warming: Temperatures now are no higher than they were during the Medieval Warm Period from about 800 to 1400 AD. Never mind that a major paper put this idea to rest in 2013. I still have this flawed argument thrown at me when I write about climate issues. And I would not be surprised if that happens again ...

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2017-12-13 17:58:22

The Mysterious Asteroid Behind the Year's Best Meteor Shower  

Step outside after dark this week and you can watch chunks of an asteroid burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Behold, the Geminid meteor shower, which is renowned as the year's best. At peak Geminids, you could catch a shooting star every minute, and this year the moon won't be bright enough to foul the show. That main action arrives just past 9 p.m. local time Wednesday and lasts until dawn. "The Geminids are rich in fireballs and bright meteors so that makes them very good to observe,...

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2017-12-13 16:35:53

The Driverless Car Era Began More Than 90 Years Ago  

Depending on the vehicle manufacturer, you'll get a different year for the big roll-out of fully autonomous vehicles. General Motors plans to launch them in big cities by 2019. Ford says it will have a fully autonomous vehicle in commercial operation by 2021. Google's self-driving operation, Waymo, announced last month that its autonomous vehicles are ready to fly solo—sans a test driver babysitter—in an area of the Phoenix metro region. Numerous other technology and automotive...

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2017-12-13 16:22:28

Why Do Meteoroids Explode in the Atmosphere?  

On February 15, 2013, a near-Earth asteroid with a diameter of 66 feet (20 meters) entered Earth's atmosphere traveling at around 40,000 miles per hour (60,0000 km/h). Within a few seconds, the cosmic projectile detonated 12 miles above the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, releasing as much energy as about 30 Hiroshima atomic bombs. This created a gigantic fireball — known as a superbolide — that caused shock waves to propagate outward for dozens of miles, damaging several thousand b...

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2017-12-12 19:35:49

Amber Preserves Tick On Dinosaur Feather  

Turns out even dinosaurs got ticked off. A nearly 100 million-year-old piece of amber has preserved a tick latched onto a dinosaur feather, the oldest such preserved specimen of the parasite everyone loves to hate. Additional ticks found in related pieces of amber provide more evidence that the nasty critters were feasting on feathered dinos back in the day. Disease-spreading, blood-sucking and just generally repulsive ticks are a modern scourge of wildlife and mildlife (humans, pets and li

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2017-12-12 16:00:05

Star Wars Droids Top Sci-Fi Robots Survey  

Disney seems to have a lock on many of the more popular science fiction robots between owning Lucasfilm's Star Wars franchise and the beloved animation studio Pixar. A recent survey of Americans found that the Star Wars robot duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO topped the choices of people's favorite sci-fi robots driven by artificial intelligence, followed closely by Pixar's trash-compacting robot WALL-E. Commander Data, a pasty-looking android with a much more humanlike appearance from "Star Trek: ...

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2017-12-12 03:11:17

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