Science + Technology

It's easy to think that evolution led inevitably to modern humans, the cleverest of apes. But there were some strange excursions along the way. Take, for example, the Hobbits.

That's the nickname for a 3-foot-tall human relative that once lived in what is now Indonesia. A new discovery suggests that it was island life that created this dainty creature.

Anthropologists first found the bones of the Hobbits in 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores. Their scientific name is Homo floresiensis.

A powerful new technique for changing genes in insects, animals and plants holds great promise, according to a report from an influential panel of scientists released Wednesday. But the group also says it's potentially very dangerous.

So what makes America great?

Well, we can start off with poop: human poop, horse poop, all kinds of poop. In general we don't have a lot of poop on our streets — and that is a very good thing. How we got to this enlightened, poop-free state is, however, a story that might enlighten our own angry moment.

In California, there is so much solar energy that grid operators have to switch off solar farms. One solution of dealing with the additional power generated is to share the renewable wealth across state borders – but in the West, it's sparking some not-so-neighborly opposition.

Nancy Traweek's job is to balance California's electrical grid at the California Independent System Operator, keeping the lights on for 30 million people. She relies on huge natural gas power plants that put out a steady stream of electricity.

It's an all-too-familiar practice.

Families go to see movies that feature fun, friendly animals on the big screen. Then they rush out to buy one of the very same type of animal, to keep as a pet. Before long, the cute new member of the family becomes too much trouble, or isn't cared for properly; the animal dies, is abandoned, or is surrendered to overwhelmed rescue groups.

A group of scientists say they want work toward being able to create a synthetic version of the entire human genetic code in the laboratory.

Their hope is that a complete set of synthetic human DNA, known as a genome, could someday lead to important medical breakthroughs.

Does the size of space — those zillions of stars and zillions of miles of nothing between them — freak you out?

Well, if it does, guess what?

You're not alone.

I give a lot of public talks about the universe. Really. It's in my job description:

  • Astronomer. Check.
  • Study stuff in space. Check.
  • Give talks about universe. Check.

You read it everywhere, you watch it on TV and in sci-fi movies: Science is dangerous, it can create terrible weapons, it can control our lives, it can create new diseases, machines that will take over the world, that will wipe out the human race and redefine life as we know it.

The last time, we heard about a "mysterious hemorrhagic fever" in a country, it was February 2014. The outbreak was in Guinea. And by the time doctors had pinpointed the culprit, Ebola was spiraling out of control in West Africa.

The situation in South Sudan today is a far cry from that in West Africa a few years ago. But it's still concerning, the World Health Organization said.

Government officials in charge of energy policy from around the world are scheduled to gather in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday for the seventh Clean Energy Ministerial. It's a conference to serve as a follow-up to December's climate change talks in Paris.

Researchers are developing a system to teach robots how to feel pain.

This year's Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be "near-normal," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. The season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

She sails by the memory of the stars.

Her bones are lashed together with 6 miles of rope. Her twin wooden masts are lowered and outstretched only by the power of muscled arms. And once fully extended, the red, V-shaped sails announce who she is.

She is the Hokule'a, Hawaii's famous voyaging canoe, built in the double-hulled style used by Polynesian navigators thousands of years ago to cross the Pacific.

The deep-sea researchers were surveying an ocean ridge off the coast of Hawaii in 2015 and amid ordinary ocean floor fare — a bit of coral, some volcanic rock — they came across something surprising.

"Where did this guy come from? Holy cow!" one researcher said to his colleague.

Andrew Herrington slips on a battered green backpack, stashes a .308 bolt-action rifle under his arm and steps off a boat onto the steep, rocky shores of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"It's about a half-mile that we're going to walk up to for those traps," he says.

In almost every circumstance, hunting is strictly forbidden at national parks. But there's an exception to that rule. Herrington's job is to hunt at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an invasive and hugely destructive species: feral hogs.

NASA called off today's effort to inflate an expandable module attached to the International Space Station after its first attempt fell flat.

The National Park Service turns 100 this summer, and I've been thinking about how all of us might celebrate this milestone.

Why We Love Aliens

May 25, 2016

There is an interesting convergence going on these days, whereby aliens are back as the focus of attention.

All sorts of health information is now a few taps away on your smartphone, from how many steps you take — to how well you sleep at night. But what if you could use your phone and a computer to test your vision? A company is doing just that — and eye care professionals are upset. Some states have even banned it.

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