Science + Technology

As we reported yesterday, the leaking gas well near a Los Angeles neighborhood has been temporarily plugged, ending four months of uncontrolled amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere.

Find your binoculars and fill up the bird feeders, because the Great Backyard Bird Count starts today.

The annual event invites bird-watchers of all levels to count the birds in their backyards, wherever that may be, and submit the data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, which launched the project in 1998.

On Thursday, researchers announced the discovery of gravitational waves --wrinkles in the very fabric of space-time.

But behind the headlines and news conferences were decades of hard work, hundreds of scientists and more than a billion dollars in taxpayer funds.

Exactly 15 months after it completed a seemingly impossible journey to land on the surface of a comet, the Philae lander now faces "eternal hibernation," as officials at the European Space Agency say the craft doesn't get enough sunlight to power its batteries.

One of the world's most famous and oldest spacecraft is revealing some of its past. Apollo 11 was the first mission to land humans on the moon. As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, Michael Collins circled above in the command module called Columbia.

The answer as to whether a DNA test can tell you your ethnic identity? Yes — and no.

If you've ever seen what a Neanderthal is supposed to have looked like, it might be hard to imagine mating with one. But modern humans did. We know because, a few years ago, scientists found stretches of Neanderthal DNA in living humans.

And now there's evidence, from a study published Thursday in Science, that some of that DNA might help shape our health.

Far from our galaxy, in the vast darkness of space, two massive black holes merged into a single, larger hole.

And now researchers say they have detected rumblings from that cataclysmic collision as ripples in the very fabric of space-time itself. The discovery comes a century after Albert Einstein first predicted such ripples should exist.

Tiny eggs have started hatching this week at the San Diego Zoo, and scientists there are celebrating the arrival of baby tree lobsters.

It's all part of a conservation effort for the Lord Howe Island stick insect. The huge, black, shiny creature, also known as a tree lobster, is a superstar of the entomological world, because its history is such a strange saga of passion and commitment.

The heart of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan is now on hold, after the Supreme Court granted a stay request that blocks the EPA from moving ahead with rules that would lower carbon emissions from the nation's power plants.

The case is scheduled to be argued in June, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But a decision could be long in coming, particularly if the case winds up in the Supreme Court — meaning that the rules' fate might not be determined before a new presidential administration comes into power in 2017.

Researchers may have detected gravitational ripples from the collision of two black holes, according to rumors circulating in emails and on blogs.

When Carolyn Coyne's lab at the University of Pittsburgh recently tried to order a sample of Zika virus from a major laboratory supplier, they were told it was out of stock.

"They are actually back-ordered until July for the virus," Coyne says. "At least that's what we were told." She ended up obtaining Zika from another source, and it arrived at her lab Tuesday.

Fans of author Yann Martel's immensely popular Life of Pi, or of the film adapted from the novel 11 years later, will understand my eager anticipation of his new novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, released last week.

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2016 Valley Public Radio. To see more, visit Valley Public Radio.

It is one of the great ironies of biology that sometimes breakthroughs seem to come when it is supposed that its problems have less to do with the body, which is pulsing, hot, and wet, and more to do with information processing, which is dry and computational.

To give an example, vision is widely believed to be the process of extracting information about an environment from an image. There is nothing distinctively biological about this. A machine can do it, in principle at least.

A major natural gas storage well in Southern California is still leaking, though less so than back in late October, when the giant gas leak was first reported. More than 5,000 families and two schools have been relocated since then, and the local utility that operates the facility is now facing several legal actions.

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

"What they would do is they would start Googling the question, 'How does a novel represent humanity?' " Heick says. "That was a real eye-opener to me."

Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development, such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races, which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.

Florida is one of several U.S. states now reporting a few isolated cases of people infected with the Zika virus. In response, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency in five counties in hopes of getting ahead of the virus's spread.

So far, just 12 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been reported to health authorities in Florida, all of them among travelers who contracted the disease outside the U.S. But Scott figures it's only a matter of time before the virus starts showing up among mosquitoes in some regions of the state, too.

Pages