Science + Technology

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For the holidays, I bought my science-loving 11-year-old tickets to "An evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson" at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. The big night was last Friday.

Some intellectuals bring out the immense complexity behind simple phenomena and others, like the estimable Dr. Tyson, excel at bringing complicated ideas down to earth. My son and I are both Cosmos fans but, still, we didn't really know what to expect.

Maybe El Niño isn't as bad as its reputation.

El Niño is an ocean-warming phenomenon in the Pacific that crops up every few years and alters world weather patterns. And the world is in the middle of a big El Niño that roughly began in May 2015 and will continue for at least several more months this year.

This El Niño has already been linked to a series of weather-related disasters: Massive flooding in Paraguay. Drought in Ethiopia. Another looming food crisis in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

Florida's Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was a horror tale come to life.

"There's just too many stories," Roger Kiser, who was at the school in the 1950s, told NPR in 2012. "I know of one [boy] that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death. I thought he'd been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that. There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers."

A pregnant woman with her hands and feet bound. A man with an obsidian blade embedded in his skull. Men and women with arrow wounds to the head and neck.

That's the grisly scene archaeologists describe at Nataruk, in modern-day Kenya, where they say they've uncovered unique evidence of violence in prehistoric, nomadic hunter-gatherer communities.

For nearly 150 years, a bizarre tree frog species in India was believed to be extinct.

Now, scientists have found the elusive Frankixalus jerdonii in India's West Bengal state, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Last seen in the wild in 1870, the frogs were rediscovered by accident during a 2007 expedition led by Indian biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju. "We heard a full musical orchestra coming from the tree tops. It was magical. Of course we had to investigate," he told the BBC.

When the first Mac computer came out in 1984, it cost nearly $2,500 and had a floppy drive for storage. In 2016, a spate of computers with a price as low as $5 and a lot more storage are hitting the market, and they may be opening up a new era of experimentation.

Recently, I got a look at one of these low-cost computers — the $9 CHIP, which has 4 gigabytes of storage.

It's not rare for a year to break record temperatures. But it's now happened two years in a row — and 2015 was "very, very clearly the warmest year by a long chalk," says Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The astronomer whose work helped kick Pluto out of the pantheon of planets says he has good reason to believe there's an undiscovered planet bigger than Earth lurking in the distant reaches of our solar system.

Being in Kaikoura, New Zealand, for what is allegedly the first astrobiology workshop here, it's a good time to go back to the basics and reflect on what we know of the complicated question of the origin of life on Earth — and the possibility of life elsewhere.

I will do this, here at 13.7, in installments during the next few weeks.

Lithium-ion batteries are extremely popular because they are lightweight and pack a lot of power.

In their book published this month, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker delve into the history of the good and bad intentions, sometimes wrongheaded science and shifting definitions that can cloud our understanding of what has come to be called the autism spectrum.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This week we're talking about New Year's resolutions. A little late, aren't we? Nope. We're just in time.

A good portion of you have likely already fallen off the proverbial wagon, and we thought, well, we could help you get back on. If you have stuck to your resolution so far, way to go! This episode is also for you.

So, it finally snowed for real here in Rochester last night.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: Upstate New York equals lots of snow. Well, not for us this weird winter. (Buffalo, of course, has gotten its share.)

Citing concerns over pricing and pollution, the Obama administration on Friday unveiled a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The change won't affect existing leases, which generated nearly $1.3 billion for the government last year.

The Department of the Interior says it wants to make sure the money it's charging for coal leases takes into account both market prices and what's often called the "social costs" of coal — its impact on climate change and public health.

The agency says federal lands account for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. coal production.

One day after the West Africa region that suffered a two-year Ebola epidemic was declared free of the deadly disease, Sierra Leone has confirmed another death from Ebola. The World Health Organization says there's still a risk of more flare-ups.

Officials are now trying to trace any contacts the person who died may have had, in a desperate attempt to cut short a potential new chain of transmission.

Millions of bats are dying due to a deadly disease sweeping across the United States, their tiny bodies strewn across cave floors.

A mind-boggling stellar explosion is baffling astronomers, who say this cosmic beast is so immensely powerful that no one's sure exactly what made it go boom.

The recently discovered inferno is about 200 times more powerful than a typical exploding star, or supernova, and 570 billion times brighter than our sun. It was first spotted in June by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, nicknamed the "Assassin" project, so it's called ASASSN-15lh.

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