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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Scientists working on NASA's six-wheeled rover on Mars have a problem. But it's a good problem.
They have some exciting new results from one of the rover's instruments. On the one hand, they'd like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument.
In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.
The same brain system that controls our muscles also helps us remember music, scientists say.
When we listen to a new musical phrase, it is the brain's motor system — not areas involved in hearing — that helps us remember what we've heard, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans last month.
Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 3:10 pm
It was not a good year for people, weather and climate. The winter was strangely warm in many places and the summer ridiculously hot. As a large fraction of the country suffered through extreme or even extraordinary drought many folks naturally wondered, "Is this climate change?" Then along came a presidential election in which the words "climate change" disappeared from the dialogue. Now, just a week or so before voting day, the convergence of westbound Hurricane Sandy with a eastbound cold front is creating a massive storm, a Frankenstorm even, that is threatening millions of Americans.
Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 3:07 pm
These are baby bats — embryos actually. They remind me of those See No Evil, Say No Evil, Hear No Evil monkey pictures I saw growing up, but these little guys are much, much cuter. And, of course, being bats, the hearing thing doesn't apply. Bats don't hear with our kind of ears, so of course, there's no covering-ears-up picture. That wouldn't make bat sense.