Science + Technology

Playlist: Explore The Cosmos

Aug 25, 2014

We made playlists of TED Radio Hour stories that will keep you curious about big ideas throughout the summer.

Transport yourself to a galaxy far, far away with this TED Radio Hour playlist. It includes stories about the wonder and awe of journeying to space, and defending our own planet from asteroids.

Luckily, a historic magnitude-6.0 earthquake in California over the weekend has not resulted in the loss of any human life.

The wine country, however, was deeply affected. While it's still too early to tell just how much the quake will cost Napa Valley, what's clear is that some wineries lost some of their most cherished reserves, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Air pollution is clogging the skies of our planet. Now one scientist thinks Earth may be just one of many polluted worlds — and that searching for extraterrestrial smog may actually be a good way to search for alien intelligence.

"People refer to 'little green men,' but ETs that are detected by this method should not be labeled as green," says Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard University.

The idea of finding alien polluters may be a bit of a long shot, but Loeb says it's possible.

Cyclists may soon have a convenient way to discourage bike thieves, thanks to new designs that use parts of the bikes themselves as locks. Two projects — one based in Chile, another in Seattle — are promising to provide peace of mind without the fuss of carrying a separate lock.

Back in the 1990s, historical societies, museums and symphonies across the country began transferring all kinds of information onto what was thought to be a very durable medium: the compact disc.

Now, preservationists are worried that a lot of key information stored on CDs — from sound recordings to public records — is going to disappear. Some of those little silver discs are degrading, and researchers at the Library of Congress are trying to figure out why.

Scientists Test The World's Seas On Ocean Sampling Day

Aug 18, 2014
Copyright 2014 Georgia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit http://www.gpb.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Making Scripts And Science Match

Aug 18, 2014
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For City Dwellers, Stargazing Can Make For A Stellar Vacation

Aug 18, 2014

When was the last time you looked at the Milky Way? Or saw the shape of Cassiopeia? If you live in a city, you might not even remember. In the world's most populated areas, air and light pollution obscure the sight of thousands of stars once visible to the naked eye.

New Cameras Will Map Florida's Reefs

Aug 18, 2014
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Not long ago, Caren Walker, a PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, was hiking in Tilden Park with her brother Michael when they came upon what looked like wild carrots.

"Yum, yum, yum!" exclaimed Michael (with perhaps greater eloquence, but no less enthusiasm). "These will make a tasty soup!"

Everyone points to the Wright Brothers as the inventors of human flight. But centuries earlier, it was Leonardo da Vinci who imagined human flight, recognizing how birds used concepts like lift and wing shape to glide high above us.

A smoldering debate about whether researchers should ever deliberately create superflu strains and other risky germs in the interest of science has flared once again.

The Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Overnight

Aug 12, 2014

The annual Perseid meteor shower will streak the sky Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. The best time to watch is between 3 and 4 a.m., for all time zones across the world, NASA says.

"This year, light from a nearly full moon will make the meteors harder to see, but NASA says you can still expect around 30 to 40 per hour," reports NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.

Brumfiel spoke with Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office for shower-watching tips:

We've already had one "supermoon" this summer and there's another one due next month, but the one you might see Sunday night has astronomy fans running out of lunar superlatives. National Geographic is calling it an "extra-supermoon."

As NatGeo explains:

Every so often, a scientific paper just begs for a sexy headline.

Consider this study in the current issue of Science: "A Method for Building Self-folding Machines." A bit bland, you'll no doubt agree. A Real-Life, Origami-Inspired Transformer is how the journal's public affairs department referred to it. Now that's more like it.

Explore the soft, smooth-looking surface of a butterfly wing through an electron microscope and you'll see it's actually covered in rugged, textured scales that overlap like shingles on a roof.

Zoom in even more, to the nano scale, and you'll find a labyrinth of hard, transparent architecture — pillars, ridges, archways, and sometimes even spiral loop-the-loops, all made of chitin, the same material that makes crab shells so tough.

The news has been pretty depressing these last few weeks as the world seems to slip into a new kind of chaos every day. With conflicts on multiple continents, including a commercial airliner shot from the sky, it's hard to look at the ways we humans are horrible to each other and not ask: What the hell is wrong with us?

How can we inflict so much suffering on each other, always with the assertion that — on some level — it is necessary and, even, just? Is there something utterly flawed in the nature of our consciousness that repeatedly triggers such destruction?

Last week, the satirical "news" source The Onion reported that the field of psychology was disbanding as researchers realized they had been studying the mind with nothing but itself.

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