If you're a student at the halfway point of the academic year, and you've just taken stock of your performance, perhaps you have reason to feel proud of yourself.
But a recent study suggests some of the pride you feel at having done well — especially in science — may be unfounded. Or at least your sense of your performance may not be a very accurate picture of how good you actually are.
Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 1:40 pm
It was three, maybe four o'clock in the morning when he first saw them. Grad student Jeff Bowman was on the deck of a ship; he and a University of Washington biology team were on their way back from the North Pole. It was cold outside, the temperature had just dropped, and as the dawn broke, he could see a few, then more, then even more of these little flowery things, growing on the frozen sea.
At about 5:30 p.m. on Monday, two washing machine-sized space probes crashed into the surface of the moon. It was all by design and marked the end of NASA's GRAIL mission. The two probes had been orbiting the moon for almost a year, and they've sent back data that have given scientists an unprecedented look inside our nearest solar system neighbor.
Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 8:57 am
What do Jesuit priests, gin and tonics, and ancient Chinese scrolls have in common? They all show up in our animated history of malaria.
It's a story of geopolitical struggles, traditional medicine, and above all, a war of escalation between scientists and a tiny parasite. Malaria has proved to be a wily foe: Every time we think we have it backed into a corner, it somehow escapes.
The Mariner 2 probe at an assembly facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 29, 1962.
Radio signals from the Mariner spacecraft were received on three 85-foot antennas like this one, which were built in California's Mojave desert, near Johannesburg in South Africa, and near Woomera in southern Australia.
In the California receiver control room, personnel await confirmation that Mariner has begun to scan the planet Venus.
Data from the receivers were teletyped in a coded format to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
There, the data was routed to the digital computer at JPL.
Printouts of the data were made available to the experimenters.
At the operations center at JPL, the spacecraft's status was posted on the wall.
A model of JPL's Mariner 2 spacecraft above a floral "Venus" moved down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Calif., in the 1963 Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1.
Scientists show off reams of data collected by Mariner 2 as it passed by Venus. The probe flew by the planet on Dec. 14, 1962, and scanned the surface for 42 minutes.
A technician wears a hood and protective goggles while working with a full-scale model of the Mariner spacecraft in a space simulator chamber at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in 1962.
Fifty years ago, on Dec. 14, 1962, reporters gathered for a press briefing at NASA headquarters and heard an unearthly sound: radio signals being beamed back by a spacecraft flying within 22,000 miles of Venus.
The Mariner 2 mission to Venus was the first time any spacecraft had ever gone to another planet.
These days, vivid photographs showing scenes from all around the solar system are so ubiquitous that people might easily forget how mysterious our planetary neighbors used to be.
A helicopter placed this inflatable tree raft in the forest canopy in Panama.
Credit Roger Le Guen / Panacoco
Jurgen Schmidl fogs the forest understory with insecticide to help in the collection of specimens.
Credit Courtesy of Maurice Leponce / Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Here, researcher Maurice Leponce hangs from the "canopy bubble."
Credit Jurgen Schmidl / University of Erlangen
Here, Dawn Frame and Alexey Tishechkin in the crane's gondola net insects attracted to the flowers of Nectandra purpurascens.
Credit Courtesy of Roger Le Guen
Researchers also used a hot air balloon-style system to collect arthropods from thie top of the forest canopy.
Credit Courtesy of Maurice Leponce
A construction crane was also built in the forest to allow access to different levels of the forest.
Credit Courtesy of Maurice Leponce
Researchers used the canopy, which in some places was as much as 13 stories above the forest floor, to collect insects.
Credit Courtesy of Noui Baiben
Researchers used this inflatable tree raft that sits atop the forest canopy to help them collect almost 130,000 arthropod specimens from a section of Panamanian rainforest about the size of a football field.
Credit Courtesy of Yves Roisin
This large moth, a Thysania agrippina, sometimes called the great gray witch, is one of the more than 6,000 species identified in a multi-year census of a section of Panamanian rainforest.
There are more species of insects than pretty much anything else in the world. And scientists know there are millions they haven't even identified yet. Now, in a tropical rainforest in Panama, a multinational team of scientists has just completed the first ever insect census.
Scott Miller, an entomologist at the Smithsonian who worked on the Panama, shows off one of the species from the survey that's at the National Museum of Natural History's insect zoo in Washington, D.C.
This picture received from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday shows an orbit image of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, being monitored on a large screen at a satellite control center in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province in North Korea.
Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 4:51 pm
Sputnik 1 just beeped. China's first satellite, launched more than a decade later, simply radioed a communist anthem back to Earth. So far, North Korea's first satellite appears to be less accomplished.
And that shouldn't be a surprise.
Given the history of first orbital space shots, North Korea's apparent struggle with its mission is fairly typical, says David Akin, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland.
Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 5:50 pm
Want to be more creative? Drop that iPad and head to the great outdoors.
That's the word from David Strayer, a cognitive neuroscientist who studies multitasking at the University of Utah. He knew that every time he went into the southern Utah desert, far from cellular service, he started to think more clearly.
But he wanted to know if others had the same experience.
Cartoonists have found many clever ways to depict the conventional wisdom that complex life evolved in the sea and then crawled up onto land. But a provocative new study suggests that the procession might be drawn in the wrong direction. The earliest large life forms may have appeared on land long before the oceans filled with creatures that swam and crawled and burrowed in the mud.
This photograph from 1934 shows the Carnegie Museum's Apatosaurus skeleton on the right — wearing the wrong skull.
Credit Joshua Franzos / Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Apatosaurus (right, opposite a Diplodocus skeleton at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh), is what paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh actually found when he thought he'd discovered the Brontosaurus.
Credit Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Othniel Charles Marsh was a professor of paleontology at Yale who made many dinosaur fossil discoveries, including the Apatosaurus — and the fictional Brontosaurus.
It may have something to do with all those Brontosaurus burgers everyone's favorite modern stone-age family ate, but when you think of a giant dinosaur with a tiny head and long, swooping tail, the Brontosaurus is probably what you're seeing in your mind.
Well hold on: Scientifically speaking, there's no such thing as a Brontosaurus.
Even if you knew that, you may not know how the fictional dinosaur came to star in the prehistoric landscape of popular imagination for so long.
Brad Hines is a building contractor in Los Angeles who spends a good eight hours a day in his 2008 Dodge Ram. He talked to us from his truck — hands-free, of course.
"I do everything in my truck. I drive from job site to job site. I take calls. I try to get on the computer and clean up daily reports. I answer emails on my phone. I use my truck as a mobile office," Hines says.
The idea of the mobile office is far from new — Willy Loman; the Avon Lady; plumbers; electricians. Now, technology is taking the idea of working from the road to a whole new level.
Have you ever wondered whether music conductors actually influence their orchestras?
They seem important. After all, they're standing in the middle of the stage and waving their hands. But the musicians all have scores before them that tell them what to play. If you took the conductor away, could the orchestra manage on its own?