Space Is the Place to View Meteor Showers


Here is the latest Science News from Discover Magazine.

WATCH: Space Is the Place to View Meteor Showers
For many people the finest Perseid meteor shower in 20 years was obscured by clouds — curse you atmosphere! But for the lucky crew aboard the International Space Station, viewing conditions are always perfect — they just look down instead of up. Given this excellent view, it was a no-brainer for scientists set up a super-sensitive, high-definition camera in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility to record meteors as they zip through Earth’s atmosphere. The project’s camer

Tabletop Black Hole Yields Evidence of Hawking Radiation
Black holes aren’t perfectly black. For the first time, using a model of a black hole that traps sound instead of light, scientists have seen spontaneous evidence of what comes out of them. These particles are so few and faint that it’s not feasible to observe them for an astrophysical black hole, so Jeff Steinhauer at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology made a tabletop version of a black hole that sucks in sound instead of light. Using this, he’s the first to see evidence for p

Sound Science: Researchers Take Acoustic Levitation to a New Level
Acoustic levitation conjures images of Star Trek­-style tractor beams and ultrasonic hover boards, but in reality floating objects on a cushion of sound occurs on far smaller scales. That’s in part due to one challenge: objects typically won’t float if they’re larger than the sound wave used to lift them. Marco Andrade and Julio Adamowski at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, along with Anne Bernassau at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom, proved it’s possible to surmount th

The Slow Growth Movement – Or Why Microbiologists May Have Been Doing it All Wrong
For decades, thousands of researchers around the world have spent their professional careers studying the inner workings of microorganisms – their genetic predispositions, their responses to different conditions, their rates of growth and activity. But what if the premise was all wrong? Lab-based work almost always involves single species studies done in rich medium that enables exponential growth, where doubling rates are limited not by food or specific nutrients but by the organism’s inner

An Earth-like Planet Might Be Orbiting Proxima Centauri
Microsoft added the “Start” button to Windows in 1995, which was the same year scientists discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a star like ours – technically, astronomers found several terrestrial planets orbiting a pulsar in 1992. But in 20 years, give or take, we’ve grown spoiled by the abundance of exoplanets in the universe. Kepler, the planet-hunter, has confirmed over 2,200 of them. Today, it’s safe to assume nearly every star has its companions. The ante for hyping a new exo

Long Ago, Venus Looked Strikingly Similar to Earth
It’s hard to imagine now, but hellish Venus may once have had balmy temperatures and shallow seas. Even with Venus’ much slower rotation rate, it may have even looked a whole lot like Earth. Of course, that’s gone now. In a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers were able to make the Venus of old come alive by using climate modelling software to reconstruct the Venus of the past. Instead of a world surrounded by a thick, toxic fog that inhibits the planet with scorch

Scientists ‘Reprogram’ Mouse Cortical Neurons With Light
In 1949 psychologist Donald Hebb built a theory for how neurons in the brain behave during the learning process — basically, neurons that fire together wire together. Hebbs theorized that stimulating a group of neurons together causes these cells to then stick together and form a group — a neuronal ensemble. Repeatedly activating the ensemble, he believed, strengthened the connections between them, allowing them to all fire more efficiently. Today, Hebbian theory underlies biological expl

How Humans Can Pave the Way for Robot Taxis
Driverless cars and robot taxis are the ultimate hands-off dream for many Americans who have grown weary of long commutes and road trips. But human policymakers and individual car owners still have hands-on roles to play in removing possible speed bumps from the future path of self-driving cars. Plenty of human factors and policy decisions will determine the fate of driverless vehicles even if human drivers no longer sit behind the wheel. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin h

As a giant cruise ship prepares to set sail, the fabled — and treacherous — Northwest Passage is nearly ice free
The 1,070 passengers scheduled to sail aboard the Crystal Serenity have global warming to thank for shrinking Arctic sea ice The largest cruise ship ever to attempt a complete transit of the usually ice-choked waters of the famed Northwest Passage is just days away from weighing anchor. And at least for now, it looks like the coast is almost clear for the Crystal Serenity with its 1,070 passengers and 655 crew members. As of Aug. 11, 2016, sea ice is nearly gone from the southern route o

More on “Patient H.M.” – Interview with Luke Dittrich
Last month, I reviewed an advance copy of “Patient H.M.”, the new book by journalist Luke Dittrich that looks at the story of the amnesia patient Henry Molaison, perhaps the most famous case study in neuroscience. (“Patient H.M.” has now been published.) Shortly after posting my review I interviewed Dittrich and this post presents this interview. Note: this interview took place on July 20th, before the controversy arose over an August 3rd New York Times article containing extracts from “Patie

Why Does Time Seem to Fly as We Get Older?
When we were children, the summer holidays seemed to last forever, and the wait between Christmases felt like an eternity. So why is that when we get older, the time just seems to zip by, with weeks, months and entire seasons disappearing from a blurred calendar at dizzying speed? This apparently accelerated time travel is not a result of filling our adult lives with grown-up responsibilities and worries. Research does in fact seem to show that perceived time moves more quickly for older

Yes, Some Greenland Sharks Are Old, but 400 Years Old?!
Never ask a female her age — unless, of course, she’s a 16-foot-long Greenland shark and it’s for science. The shark species was shown to have remarkable longevity, living up to 400 years and reaching sexual maturity around 150 years, according to a paper published Thursday in Science. The researchers estimated the ages of 28 female Greenland sharks by radiocarbon dating proteins in their eye lenses and relying on the bomb pulse — a spike in radioactivity released globally by nuclear weap

How Humans Could Go Interstellar, Without Warp Drive
The field equations of Einstein’s General Relativity theory say that faster-than-light (FTL) travel is possible, so a handful of researchers are working to see whether a Star Trek-style warp drive, or perhaps a kind of artificial wormhole, could be created through our technology. But even if shown feasible tomorrow, it’s possible that designs for an FTL system could be as far ahead of a functional starship as Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century drawings of flying machines were ahead of the W

Titan Is Home to Canyons Flooded with Methane
Titan is a strange, strange world — a frigid moon of Saturn larger than Mercury where water is frozen rock solid and lakes of liquid methane permeate the surface. But now there’s a new weird fold in the story of Titan: it’s got canyons flooded with more liquid hydrocarbons. The find, announced today by NASA and published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal, details “channels” of hydrocarbons — in other words, streams of methane and other organic compounds that flow like water at l

One Man Is to Blame for the Infamous Piltdown Man Hoax
A new study identifies the perpetrator of one of the most famous scientific hoaxes of all time. The hoax involved the purported discovery of the long sought-after missing link between apes and humans in a gravel pit near Piltdown, England. Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist hungry for fame, claimed to have found fragments of a skull that was part human and part primate. The find neatly filled a hole in the theory of human evolution—a little too neatly. The skull featured human an

A Single Mutation Made It Easier to Ride Horses
Horses normally move about in one of three ways: they walk, trot or gallop. The middle gait, the trot, is a horse’s Goldilocks stride — not so fast that it gets tired, but not so slow that it gets left in the dust. Unfortunately for the humans that like to ride on horses’ backs, the trot is a pretty uncomfortable gait. During a trot, a horse will lift two legs at a time in diagonal pairs, alternating sets as it goes. This is a very economical motion for the horse, as it requires little ex

Prehistoric Stone Tools: Where’s the Beef (Or At Least the Rhino)?
You’ve heard of the Paleo diet (MEAT GOOOOOOOD) but what about the Pleisto diet? Specifically, what members of the genus Homo were noshing on some 250,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene. For years we’ve assumed it was pretty much whatever they could get their hands on, but researchers can now narrow the definitive menu to horse, rhinoceros, duck, wild bovine and the occasional camel. While new research has nailed the array of Middle Pleistocene meat du Jour selections at a site

Prominent global warming doubter says there was a “hit list” apparently targeting climate scientists
In a comment on an August 3rd post at the Wattsupwiththat website, Patrick J. Michaels of the conservative Cato Institute said that there has been a “hit list” apparently targeting climate scientists, and that he had influence over who was on it. At this point, it is unclear exactly what this list was about. But from what Michaels said, it looks like it consisted of scientists being targeted for termination from their jobs. |Note: See the update below about an effort by ExxonMobil in 2

Perseid Meteor Shower, the Best in 20 Years, Peaks This Week
If you ask most skygazers to name their favorite meteor shower, the odds are good that “Perseid” will be the first word out of their mouths. This annual shower seemingly has it all: It offers a consistently high rate of meteors year after year; it produces a higher percentage of bright ones than most other showers; it occurs in August when many people take summer vacation; and it happens at a time when nice weather and reasonable nighttime temperatures are common north of the equator. No oth

First, a big chunk of the Sun seemingly goes missing; then a satellite sees a Sun-grazing comet plunge to its death
All the action was captured live and in color by spacecraft. Here’s what it looked like — and what’s going on. Check out the image above, acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. It almost seems like something took a big bite out of the Sun, right? And if that weren’t enough, here’s what happened a day later: That bright streaking object is a comet plunging toward the Sun at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour before getting torn to shreds and vaporized, as witnesse

“I Just Don’t Believe Those Results”
Are some scientific results so unexpected that we should just reject them? This is something I’ve been wondering recently. It’s one thing to disbelieve a study because there are problems with the methods used. But is it scientifically valid to judge a study by its results alone, even if you don’t know of any methodological flaws? I’ll admit it – I do judge studies by their results. The most recent example of this was this study which I read about yesterday. Briefly, the study repor

Drone Racing’s Search for Mainstream Sport Status
Tiny drones capable of fitting in the palm of a human hand zoomed around skateboarders doing ramp tricks inside a converted Brooklyn warehouse. The scene might have been mistaken for an underground gathering except for the club-style lighting, large Mountain Dew logos projected on the walls, and a DJ pumping music throughout the cavernous space. The “Day of Drones” promotional event was advertising an upcoming drone race hosted by DR1 Racing, one of several organizations hoping to make drone

LHC Didn’t Break Physics, New Particle Vanishes Upon Further Review
What began as a bump has turned out to be nothing more than a statistical ghost. Physicists at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Chicago announced today that the much-discussed 750 GeV aberration in their data discovered by the Large Hadron Collider at the end of last year disappeared upon further testing. “There is no excess seen in the 2016 data particularly around 750 GeV, confirms Bruno Lenzi, a physicist at CERN. “All over the mass range the data is consistent

Geologists Find Evidence of China’s Great Flood
According to legend, Chinese civilization began with a Great Flood. The floodwaters covered the plains of northern and central China for 22 years, until a ruler named Yu led a great dredging project that returned the river to its original channels. As a reward, the gods supposedly granted Yu a divine mandate to rule China and found its first imperial dynasty, the Xia. For 1,000 years, the story of the Great Flood and Yu’s founding of Chinese civilization were handed down as oral histor

Can Virtual Reality Help Astronauts Keep Their Cool?
While astronaut Scott Kelly spent his year on the International Space Station, he expressed frustration with the ho-hum accommodations inside the ISS — it’s dullsville. The temperature remains exactly the same day in and day out. The décor is a sterile mix of machines and wires. Astronauts are isolated, confined to small spaces and under a considerable amount of stress. While the vistas outside their window are no doubt spectacular, humans need a hint of nature’s greens and blues to stay

Degas’ Hidden Woman Shines With Help of Particle Accelerator
With the help of a particle accelerator, a 19th-century painting is finally giving up its secrets. Famed French impressionist Edgar Degas painted “Portrait of a Woman” sometime in the late 1870s, but since 1922, degraded oils on the canvas have revealed tantalizing hints of another woman concealed beneath the visible image. The outlines are too faint to make out clearly with the naked eye, however. Particle Physics Meets Art Using a synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator similar to

These Baby Fish Are Born Knowing How to Kill
Some babies are born totally useless (I’m looking at you, Homo sapiens). Others can wobble upright shortly after birth and start teetering around. And still other animals are almost frighteningly precocious. For example, the metallic livebearer, a little golden fish native to Cuba, hatches from an egg while still inside its mother. That means the mom gives birth to live young. The more traditional fish-y way is to lay eggs. But some other fish also bear live young, including guppies and m

Here’s What You’ll Find in 3 Teaspoons of Rio’s Water

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