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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.

Your Weekly Attenborough: Epeolus attenboroughi  

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

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2018-05-25 01:43:31

Dinosaur Doom Almost Wiped Birds Out, Too  

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

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2018-05-24 18:24:05

This Is the Oldest Tree in Europe  

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

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2018-05-24 01:33:51

Debunking the Biggest Myths About 'Technology Addiction'  

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

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2018-05-23 14:21:40

Why Are Our Brains So Big, Anyway?  

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

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2018-05-23 10:31:03

Very Bad Wizards Cite Neuroskeptic  

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

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2018-05-23 05:26:55

Coprolites Give The Straight Poop On Cretaceous Carnivores  

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

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2018-05-23 03:37:40

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

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

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2018-05-23 02:50:45

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

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

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2018-05-23 01:47:18

Epic Flight Fail? Pterosaur Models Are Wrong, Says Study  

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

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2018-05-23 01:46:30

Jupiter as seen from a uniquely beautiful perspective  

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

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2018-05-22 10:59:01

Giant Flatworms Invade France  

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

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2018-05-22 05:35:05

Astronomers Find First Interstellar Immigrant  

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

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2018-05-21 14:44:52

New Round In The East-West Sweet Potato Kerfuffle  

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

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2018-05-21 08:54:30

A Master Teller of Fish Stories  

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

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2018-05-21 04:17:41

Physicists See Quantum Effects in Photosynthesis  

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

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2018-05-21 02:01:39

Slug Life: About That Injectable Memory Study  

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

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2018-05-18 11:07:04

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

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

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2018-05-18 03:49:07

Autonomous Flatcars Could Help Drones Deliver Goods  

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

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2018-05-17 20:48:22

The Story Of Southeast Asia Through Ancient DNA  

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

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2018-05-17 19:20:08

Your Emergency Contact Does More Than You Think  

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

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2018-05-17 16:04:13

Robotic Insect Finally Flies Wirelessly  

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

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2018-05-16 13:20:58

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

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

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2018-05-16 12:23:25

US Program Aims to Open Airspace to More Drones  

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

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2018-05-15 10:04:58

Beautiful bergs!: Arctic overflights yield inspiring images  

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

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2018-05-14 05:02:34

Getting Inside The Head Of Homo Naledi  

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

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2018-05-14 02:45:27

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

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

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2018-05-13 01:45:36

Is "Dendritic Learning" How The Brain Works?  

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

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2018-05-11 15:23:24

Ancient Genomes Revise The Origins Of Leprosy  

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

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2018-05-10 06:10:44

Ancient DNA Reveals New Human History Of Eurasian Steppes  

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

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2018-05-09 15:48:52

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

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

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2018-05-07 17:40:56

Boycott Threat Terminated 'Killer Robot' Project  

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

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2018-05-07 03:14:24

Sternberg-er And Fries  

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

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2018-05-07 01:11:40

Future Wear  

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

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2018-05-05 01:11:41

NASA says the Sun is "tangled up in blue"  

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

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2018-05-04 10:44:30

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

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

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2018-05-04 04:51:45

What Gorilla Poop Reveals About Our Own Lousy Diets  

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

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2018-05-03 18:39:41

Drones Defy Commands During Light Show, Still Break Record  

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

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2018-05-03 11:54:02

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

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

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2018-05-03 11:24:33

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

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

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2018-05-02 11:05:56

We May Have Put the Wrong Whales on Our Albums  

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

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2018-05-01 04:54:14

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

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

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2018-05-01 02:09:36

Earth's Magnetic Field   

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

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2018-04-30 20:15:29

Why I Became a Neuroscientist  

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

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2018-04-29 10:11:49

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

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

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2018-04-28 09:16:21

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

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

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2018-04-27 01:53:59

College AI Courses Get an Ethics Makeover  

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

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2018-04-26 06:42:38

Dinosaur Teeth Show Which Species Preferred Squishier Prey  

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

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2018-04-26 03:39:54

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

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

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2018-04-25 16:30:15

Your Behavior in Starbucks, and the Link to Your Ancestors  

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

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2018-04-25 14:03:19

Supercomputers Tackle Antibiotic-Resistant 'Superbugs'  

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

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2018-04-25 09:08:26

Children Are Basically Endurance Athletes  

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

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2018-04-25 02:05:38

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

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

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2018-04-25 01:07:24

A stirring photo shot by an astronaut on the space station shows the West with a beautiful mantle of snowy white  

But looks are deceiving: the West has seen too little of the white stuff Views of Earth like this once seemed almost profound — at least I always thought so. That's because we weren't accustomed to seeing our home from a planetary perspective. Now, of course, views of Earth from space are commonplace. So maybe some of us have become a bit jaded. And that's one reason why I'm sharing this photograph taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station last month. ...

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2018-04-24 19:26:31

We're Good At Recognizing Distorted Faces  

A new paper from MIT neuroscientists Sharon Gilad-Gutnick and colleagues reveals that we are remarkably good at recognizing faces even if they are highly distorted. Not only is this scientifically interesting, the deformed images used in this study are rather hilarious. Here's an example of a face being distorted by horizontal and vertical compression (also known as thinning and flattening). The unfortunate victim of these distortions is Bill Clinton: Gilad-Gutnick et al. found tha

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2018-04-22 11:14:42

Hans Asperger and the Nazis  

Big news this week as Hans Asperger, autism pioneer and namesake of Asperger's syndrome, is accused of having collaborated in the murder of children during the Nazi rule in Austria. The accusations come in the form of a long paper by historian Herwig Czech in the journal Molecular Autism. Czech presents an analysis of Asperger's activities as head of the Heilpädagogik Ward of the Pediatric Clinic at the University of Vienna, from 1935 to 1943. Here, Asperger was responsible for the evalu...

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2018-04-20 11:09:18

Fruit Flies Sure Enjoy Ejaculating  

Throughout history we've blushed and called it la petite mort, the sting of pleasure, the balsamic injection, the flood of bliss—the list continues. But let's cut to the chase: I'm talking about ejaculation. It's almost seems as if some deep-seated Puritanical modesty compels us to semantically sidestep addressing this perfectly natural function. Perhaps we're just a bit bashful that it feels really, really good. It's not polite to discuss such scrumptious pleasures publicly...

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2018-04-19 21:39:19

This Organ Helps Sea Nomads Dive Deeper for Longer  

When we think of the organs that help humans stay alive under the water, the heart and lungs top the list. But there's another organ that deserves recognition as well, though few of us would think to name it. It's the spleen. Mammals have a unique response to having our faces engulfed by water. Our heart rate slows and peripheral blood vessels constrict, shunting blood to vital organs where it's needed most. At the same time, our spleens release a cache of red blood vessels held for thi...

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2018-04-19 14:13:08

Hole-y Cow! Earliest Evidence of Cranial Surgery On Animals  

The average cow needs cranial surgery like it needs a hole in the head, but for one ancient bovine, it appears that's exactly what the doctor ordered. Researchers describing a hole in the skull of a Neolithic cow say it's possibly the earliest example of veterinary surgery — though it may have also been mere practice for performing the procedure on a human patient. Trepanation, or the act of intentionally making a hole in the skull, has a long history in our species (and it's sti...

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2018-04-19 08:28:39

A shark-shaped, climate-shifting blob of warm water — as wide as the Pacific Ocean — is rising from the depths  

The 'shark' will soon gobble up La Niña's cool surface waters. What might this mean for the climate later this year? It's not every day that you see an animated graphic like the one above hosted on the website of an ordinarily staid U.S. government agency. And yes, that is indeed an illustration comparing a complex Earth system phenomenon to, well, a shark. The comparison comes from the fabulous folks at the ENSO Blog, published under the aegis of the National Oceanic and Atmos...

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2018-04-19 01:05:01

One Simple Trick To Improve Credibility  

It's intuitive: We hear a message, think about it, and decide whether or not we believe it. We have to do it whenever we get a new piece of information in our lives, from politics to the news to gossip, so you'd think we'd be good at it by now. But studies constantly show that our squishy human brains don't make it quite so easy. Presenting information in different ways — whether there's a photo included, or changing the colors of the words — affects our interpretation of it, ...

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2018-04-18 11:21:17

Earth's climate went kind of schizo in March  

Earth has been taking a very slight breather this year from the seemingly unrelenting record-setting global temperatures observed in the previous two years. And this past month was no exception. By NASA's accounting, March 2018 was the sixth warmest such month in records dating back to 1880. In an independent analysis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pegged March as fifth warmest. And for the first quarter of the year (January through March), NOAA shows the period a...

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2018-04-18 07:49:06

At the Bottom of the Ocean, a Surprising, Gloomy Discovery  

Almost two miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, on a lonely outcrop of bare rock 100 miles from Costa Rica, researchers on a geological expedition found something odd. As their remotely controlled submersible sunk through the black waters toward the seafloor, they saw a collection of purple lumps dotting the rocky bottom. As they got closer, they resolved themselves into something resembling a bowling ball with suckers. It was a group of female octopuses, of the genus Muusoctop...

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2018-04-18 03:01:42

Your Next Pilot Could Be Drone Software  

Would you get on a plane that didn't have a human pilot in the cockpit? Half of air travelers surveyed in 2017 said they would not, even if the ticket was cheaper. Modern pilots do such a good job that almost any air accident is big news, such as the Southwest engine disintegration on Tuesday. But stories of pilot drunkenness, rants, fights and distraction, however rare, are reminders that pilots are only human. Not every plane can be flown by a disaster-averting pilot, like Southwest C...

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2018-04-18 01:44:41

No One Knows How Long the U.S. Coastline Is  

How long is the U.S. coastline? It's a straightforward question, and one that's important for scientists and government agencies alike. The U.S. Geological Survey could give you an answer, too, but I'm going to tell you right now that it's wrong. In fact, no one could give you the right answer, and if you look around, you'll find a number of estimations that differ by seemingly improbable amounts. One government report lists the number as 12,383 miles. The same report admits that a diffe...

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2018-04-17 17:40:57

This Flower May Make Multicolored Pollen Just to Please Bugs  

The trout lily is a North American spring wildflower that's cuter than its name suggests. Dappled leaves frame a little yellow blossom that keeps its face shyly toward the ground. Inside the bloom, the flower's anthers and pollen vary from bright yellow to dark red. Researchers could find no purpose for the different colors—except, maybe, to satisfy the whims of pollinating insects. Plenty of flowers come in multiple petal colors, and other research has explored the reasons, write...

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2018-04-17 03:01:27

100 Years Later: The Lessons of Encephalitis Lethargica  

In 1917, at the height of the Great War, a new and mysterious disease emerged into the world, before vanishing a few years later. Although it was to prove less destructive than the 1918 influenza pandemic which occured at around the same time, the new outbreak had a persistent legacy: some of the victims of the disease remained disabled decades later. The new syndrome was first reported by Constantin von Economo, a neurologist in Vienna. He dubbed the disease 'encephalitis lethargica', after

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2018-04-17 01:34:16

Drugs from Bugs: Bioprospecting Insects to Fight Superbugs  

Somewhat like looking down the barrel of a gun, antibiotic resistance is a looming threat to modern medicine. The rise of MRSA, super drug-resistant gonorrhea and other "nightmare" bacteria risk rendering our microscopic defenses useless. What to do when your last-last-last resort fails to kill these pathogens? Someday, perhaps sooner than later, we're going to need new antibiotics, not to mention medicines for cancer, depression, and other conditions that aren't readily treatable...

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2018-04-13 21:10:51

Your Weekly Attenborough: Electrotettix attenboroughi  

Last week I waxed mildly poetic on the ephemeral nature of living beings and the inorganic reality of a fossil. Fossils are just shadows, I said, or memories ... or something like that. Well, this week I've got something much more exciting and less poetic. It's an ancient pygmy grasshopper, Electrotettix attenboroughi, and it's no rocky fossil, no sir. This is a genuine, mint condition, honest-to-God organic grasshopper, encased in a shiny amber shell and preserved for something like 20 m

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2018-04-13 14:27:16

Yes, You Can Sweat Blood  

We've all heard of sweating bullets, but this is something else entirely. A medical case report from Italian researchers last year details a 21-year-old patient who began mysteriously sweating blood from her face and palms. The condition had been ongoing for about three years, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports, when she decided to check herself into a hospital — needless to say, the doctors were perplexed. Bloody, But Fine Strangely, the young woman was otherwise totally...

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2018-04-12 19:34:12

Climate Change Is Weakening a Crucial Ocean Current  

When you picture the rugged coastlines of Norway, tropical heat probably doesn't come to mind, but it should. Even in the country's Arctic reaches, the coast is typically free from ice and snow, and the weather is often more Seattle than Anchorage. How can that be? Residents can thank the Gulf Stream, an ocean conveyor belt that pushes warm water their way from the tropics. And Northern Europeans aren't the only ones who should be thankful, either. Much of Europe and the east coast...

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2018-04-11 19:20:05

Subglacial Lakes Could Offer Extraterrestrial Life Preview  

These days it's hard to find a place on Earth where humans haven't interfered in some way. Venture to the most remote jungle or the depths of the Mariana Trench and you've likely been preceded by some emissary of humanity, whether that's chemicals carried on the wind or something more tangible. But there are places where our long shadow has never reached, where the events of the past 100,000 years might as well have never happened. Locked deep below gargantuan sheets of ice thousands o...

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2018-04-11 16:04:01

Fossil From Arabian Desert, 85,000 Years Old, Challenges Our Timeline  

Well, well, could say a new and highly significant fossil is really giving the finger to the human evolution and migration timeline once considered all but carved in stone. A discovery in the Arabian desert confirms Homo sapiens had wandered far beyond our ancestral African homeland thousands of years earlier than previously thought. Over the past few years, a number of separate research teams have been turning up evidence, including fossils, artifacts and genetic data...

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2018-04-11 01:48:02

Our Ancestors Got High, Too  

The tales we tell — from Homer and Genesis to your friend's ninth recounting of that epic rave last summer — are rich with drug use. But studies show our ancestors were chewing, brewing and blazing long before they started to record their intoxicated escapades. Virtually all human societies use mind-altering substances. What's more, about 90 percent give drug-induced altered states of consciousness a role in their fundamental belief systems, according to a survey of 488 modern so...

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2018-04-11 01:46:30

Double Dose Of Ichthyosaur Updates: Big Daddy and Octomom  

Dinosaurs may hog the Mesozoic spotlight, but some of the neatest finds of recent note in paleontology come from under the sea: a very pregnant ichthyosaur and the partial remains of another that was a supersized specimen (think blue whale territory). A quick ichthyosaur refresher: these marine reptiles show up in the fossil record and explode in size and number during the Triassic, get smaller but are still plentiful in the Jurassic (201-145 million years ago) and then die out during...

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2018-04-11 01:40:16

Tiny Alcohol Monitor Sits Just Beneath the Skin  

A tiny chip implanted just under the skin could be the Breathalyzer of the future. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego reported today that they had created a tiny chip that can read levels of alcohol in the body and relay that information to a smartwatch. It could be an alternative to traditional means of detecting whether someone has been drinking, and offers users the ability to monitor their blood-alcohol levels in real-time. The chip, which hasn't been tested ...

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2018-04-11 01:34:10

Can CRISPR Feed the World?  

Biologists have a new tool to save oranges and other crops — if the public can stomach it.

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2018-04-11 01:29:29

Brains or Biofilm? Doubts Over Famous "Soft Tissue" Fossils  

Few things get armchair paleontologists as excited as the phrase "soft tissue preservation." But a new study is casting doubt on some of the most stunning of these finds: Researchers argue that claims of brains, nerves and blood vessels preserved in animals for 520 million years are just a bunch of microbial goo called biofilm. For the last decade, researchers working in Southern China have described a number of fossils from Stage 3 of the Cambrian Period, more than 500 million year...

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2018-04-11 01:16:12

Dinosaur Diet Tips: Surf OR Turf For Apex Predators  

You are what you eat. And if you're one of the apex predators that populated an unusual ecosystem 100 million years ago, researchers can determine both your meal plan and how your local food chain got so top heavy with giant carnivores, including dinosaurs and crocs. Paleontologists have long puzzled over why the ancient river systems of North Africa were home to multiple apex predators. A new study provides a meaty answer, though there's something fishy about its data on Spinosaurus,...

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2018-04-11 01:12:12

Half A Degree Celsius Could Make A Big Difference For Arctic Sea Ice  

Two independent studies show how much we need to limit warming to preserve the ice. But we're currently headed on a very different path. Almost every month now we get news of dramatic losses of Arctic sea ice due to human-caused warming — and last month was no exception. The ice extent in March 2018 turned out to be the second lowest for the month in the satellite record. The best estimates are that unless we significantly reduce our emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide, th...

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2018-04-11 01:02:49

Bad Science of the Havana Embassy "Sonic Attack"  

In late 2016, staff at the US embassy in Havana, Cuba, began to report hearing unusual sounds. Over the coming months, some staff were struck down by hearing loss and concussion-like symptoms. The strange sounds were interpreted as the cause, perhaps even reflecting a sonic weapon of an unknown nature. The story of the 'Havana embassy attack' has been told in detail but, until recently, there were no scientific studies of the event or its aftermath. That changed on February 15th, w

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2018-04-07 13:47:57

How the USB Taught North Korea to Love K-Pop  

A seemingly cheap and ordinary technology may have paved the way for a cultural exchange breakthrough that saw South Korean K-pop idols receive an unprecedented welcome from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It was not the first time that democratic South Korea has sent music acts to North Korea as part of diplomatic overtures to the authoritarian regime. In 1999, two pioneering K-pop groups, including the girl group Fin.K.L. and the boy band Sechskies, performed in the North Korean cap...

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2018-04-06 09:38:55

This compelling visualization shows the inexorable buildup of climate-altering CO2 in the atmosphere, week by week  

CO₂ averaged about 410 parts per million in the atmosphere during the last week of March. Ten years ago, it averaged ~387 ppm in that week. I spotted the animation above on Twitter the other day. It illustrates the growth of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in a novel and particularly compelling way, so I thought I'd share it here. The animation shows how the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has changed week-by-week and year-by-year starting at the beginning of...

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2018-04-06 05:46:52

Phew! Researchers Aren't Torturing Octopuses  

Some cephalopod researchers have another job title: Octopus anesthesiologist. It sounds far-fetched, but it's an important task. Octopuses, and cephalopods in general, are the smartest invertebrates, and their complex, unique central nervous systems are studied by researchers interested in everything from motor control to visual processing to cognition itself. But that kind of research often involves invasive techniques that could cause the creatures significant pain. Can You Feel It? ...

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2018-04-05 18:44:11

Advertisers, Beware the Trendsetter  

Science isn't all about curing cancer and traveling to black holes. The big questions are important, but the scientific method is also useful for figuring out the best way to approach, and even solve, specific problems. Sometimes those specific issues involve engineering the perfect material for the job, or finding out which paint absorbs radar waves the best. Sometimes it's about making better ads. As you can imagine, a lot of money rides on knowing the answers, so it's a very b...

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2018-04-05 14:47:59

Do Older Brains Make New Neurons or Not?  

One of the most basic things our bodies do is make new cells. It's what allows tissues to grow and heal, and allows our bodies to continually rejuvenate themselves. When it comes to cellular replenishment, one of the places researchers are most interested in is the brain. The formation of new brain cells is of critical interest to researchers studying everything from brain injuries to aging to mental illnesses like depression. New Neurons Or No? But researchers might be experiencing a ...

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2018-04-05 12:51:34

You've Seen This Letter Everywhere, But Can You Write It?  

Most of us learn the ABCs in our youth. We see and say the letters so many times they eventually become etched in our minds. But researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered that many people don't know what the most common lowercase print version of the sixth letter of the alphabet really is. Heck, some didn't even know there were two types. Can You Guess the Correct Version? There are two ways people write the lowercase letter G. The looptail, which we tend to read becaus...

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2018-04-04 12:39:40

Don't Blame Me, Blame My Brain Implant  

Mr. B loves Johnny Cash, except when he doesn't. Mr. X has watched his doctors morph into Italian chefs right before his eyes. The link between the two? Both Mr. B and Mr. X received deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure involving an implant that sends electric impulses to specific targets in the brain to alter neural activity. While brain implants aim to treat neural dysfunction, cases like these demonstrate that they may influence an individual's perception of the world and...

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2018-04-04 08:50:08

Space Metal Has Captivated Humanity for Ages  

Legions of metal nuggets swirl about our solar system. Metallic asteroids number in the millions, but they're relatively quite rare—bits and pieces of lonely matter that never became planets. Occasionally, they find a home. A tiny fraction of these dull, misshapen hunks of metal have rained onto our planet for millennia, sparking briefly alight as they kiss the atmosphere before biting deep into the planet's surface—if they aren't incinerated first. An even smaller fraction make ...

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2018-04-04 02:59:45

Fastest Delivery Drone Starts Lifesaving Flights  

Delivery drones can be game changers if they go beyond merely offering convenience to becoming lifesaving technologies on a daily basis. That has already become reality in Rwanda, where a Silicon Valley startup called Zipline uses delivery drones to make timely drop-offs to hospitals and clinics across the country. Now Zipline has begun flying what it describes as the world's fastest commercial delivery drones in its expanding operations that could include the United States by th...

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2018-04-03 05:55:49

What Does It All Ketamine?  

Regular readers will know of my interest in the theory that ketamine is a rapid-acting antidepressant. I've blogged about developments in ketamine-depression research for several years now, my interest being spurred partly by my own struggles with depression. As I've said previously, the research on ketamine as an antidepressant is promising, but I do not think it is possible to say yet how ketamine works in depression. I think it is possible that ketamine's apparently powerful effects ar

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2018-04-03 02:02:50

From the Overview Effect to "One Strange Rock": A Conversation with Leland Melvin  

It's hard to think of any modern human activity that has had more of a multiplicative impact on the imagination than space exploration. To date, a grand total of 562 humans have left the Earth—a trivial fraction compared to the 7.6 billion people currently staying put. Yet the image of astronauts voyaging away from their home planet has transformed popular culture, education, even business and politics. Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin is a lead agent helping to advance that transforma...

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2018-04-02 21:38:10

The Fantastic Bionic Flying Fox  

Flying foxes — also known as fruit bats — have an elastic membrane that stretches from their fingers (they also have thumbs) to their toes, making them incredibly aerodynamic and agile while flying. For the engineers at Festo, a German automation company, bats are the perfect specimen for bioinspired drones. The Bionic Flying Fox has a wingspan of more than 7 feet, is almost 3 feet long and weighs a little more than 1 pound, according Festo's website. For comparison, living, breathi...

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2018-04-02 20:16:26

What If Your Blood Could Kill Mosquitoes?  

A commonly used anti-parasite drug could be the next weapon in the fight against malaria. Researchers from Kenya and the United Kingdom report that dosing people with ivermectin, commonly used in heartworm pills, makes them deadly targets for the mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Nearly all of the mosquitoes in the experiment died after drinking ivermectin-laced blood, they say. Deadly Blood While malaria rates have been dropping historically, the disease still afflicts over 200 million

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2018-04-02 10:38:46

Let's Ditch the Boring Bunny! The Scientific Case for the Easter Echidna or Pasch Platypus  

It's time to have a serious talk about the Easter Bunny. I know, the long ears and twitchy nose are super cute. But it makes no sense for them to bring eggs for Easter. As members of the family Leporidae—which includes all hares and rabbits—bunnies bear live young. In fact, having lots of squirming babies is one of their most quintessential traits. We don't have the saying "breed like rabbits" for no reason. They're so prolific that over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle suggested th...

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2018-04-01 05:28:36

This may be as close as you can come to going on a spacewalk 240-ish miles above Earth  

The vertiginous video also offers an opportunity to consider theories posited by two of the giants of science While on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station over Mexico, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik captured this spectacular, vertiginous video with a GoPro camera. I spotted it in a NASA Tweet yesterday, and when I watched it, I really did have the sensation that this would be as close as I'll ever come to experiencing free-falling around the Ear...

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2018-04-01 04:19:41

Pigment of Our Imagination  

The story of human evolution is written in ochre.

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2018-04-01 03:43:01

Your Weekly Attenborough: Euptychia attenboroughi  

Small, spotted and dun flash of wings in the Amazon sun. Cloaked in mystery until 2015 Euptychia attenboroughi does not mean to be seen. Plucked from tangles of jungle undergrowth to a pin-speckled board, the lepidopterist's oath. Attenborough's black-eyed satyr, a forest god, a butterfly, it doesn't really matter. Black spots spark fear when danger's near or just sow confusion, it's not quite clear. Its range is limited, the numbers may be low so keep an ...

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2018-03-31 10:01:49

Dramatic satellite images reveal thick palls of dust choking Beijing and blowing across 2,000 miles of Asia  

About a week ago, dust sweeping north from the Sahara blanketed parts of Eastern Europe, turning snow-covered ski slopes a strange shade of orange. Now, another far-ranging pall of dust — exacerbated by nasty air pollution — is in the news, this time in northeast Asia. Starting on March 26th, China's northern regions were hit with their fourth round of sandstorms this year, according to the Xinhua news agency. By the 28th, Beijing was choking on heavy dust mixed with air polluta...

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2018-03-31 02:41:39

What Happens When a Blind Person Takes LSD?  

How do blind people experience psychedelic drugs? This is the topic of an interesting, but unusual, paper just out in Consciousness and Cognition. The paper's authors are University of Bath researchers Sara Dell'Erba, David J.Brown, and Michael J.Proulx. However, the real star contributor is a man referred to only as "Mr Blue Pentagon". Blue Pentagon ("BP") is the pseudonym for a 70 year old blind man who reports taking large quantities of LSD and other drugs during his career as a roc

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2018-03-31 01:02:30

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