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Science + Technology

People talk about a flash of inspiration. But Xavier Helgesen's eureka moment came in the dark.

A few years ago, the American entrepreneur was traveling through Malawi to meet with clients for his book-selling company, Better World Books. He stopped in Monkey Bay, a town of about 30,000 people, to spend the night. What made this place unforgettable, he says, was that it was "100 percent off-grid."

After 71 hours and 8 minutes of flight time crossing the Atlantic, Solar Impulse 2 has touched down in Seville, Spain. It's a major step toward the team's goal of circumnavigating the globe using only the sun's power.

The end of this leg means they've now completed 90 percent of that journey.

As The Two-Way has reported, the single-seater plane took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport early Monday with pilot Bertrand Piccard at the controls.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant will be shut down by 2025. The plan was announced today by the power utility operating the plant, along with labor and environmental groups.

Asthma-Free With No Hay Fever? Thank Your Older Sibling

Jun 22, 2016

Older siblings may be good for something after all. Infants whose mothers have been pregnant previously may have more active immune systems that protect them against asthma and hay fever, according to a paper in the June issue of Allergy.

A federal judge in Wyoming has struck down the Obama administration's regulations on hydraulic fracturing, ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management doesn't have the authority to establish rules over fracking on federal and Indian lands.

In the ruling on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl said Congress had not granted the BLM that power, and had instead chosen to specifically exclude fracking from federal oversight.

By now we know that Zika is dangerous for pregnant women and their future babies. The virus can cause devastating birth defects.

But what about for infections after babies are born? Or in older children? Is Zika a danger for them?

So far, all the evidence suggests probably not. But there are a few caveats.

Let's start with what we know.

When you think about fish, it's probably at dinnertime. Author Jonathan Balcombe, on the other hand, spends a lot of time pondering the emotional lives of fish. Balcombe, who serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that humans are closer to understanding fish than ever before.

"Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish," Balcombe says.

A solar-powered airplane took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport early Monday, in a bid to have the Solar Impulse 2 craft cross the Atlantic Ocean and land in Spain on Thursday.

On June 20, 1840, Samuel Morse received a patent for an early version of the electric telegraph. His ideas for transmitting and recording signals helped revolutionize long-distance communication.

This is what passes for good news about coral reefs these days: Around the world, some reefs aren't dying as quickly as scientists thought they would.

Scientists say that in a Swedish quarry, they've uncovered a meteorite unlike any other documented on the planet.

Its chemical makeup is unique among the 50,000 meteorites known on Earth, as Birger Schmitz of Sweden's Lund University tells The Two-Way. "This does not resemble anything ... even if we look at the big types that exist today and look at the broad ranges, this one falls completely outside of everything," he says.

Scientists announced Wednesday that they have once again detected ripples in space and time from two black holes colliding far away in the universe.

The discovery comes just months after the first-ever detection of such "gravitational waves," and it suggests that smaller-sized black holes might be more numerous than many had thought.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday fully upheld the so-called Open Internet rules, regulations backing the principle of net neutrality.

It's the idea that phone and cable companies should treat all of the traffic on their networks equally — no blocking or slowing their competitors, and no fast lanes for companies that can pay more.

What draws people to terrorism? What propels them to commit mass murder? We asked these questions back in December after a self-radicalized couple shot and killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in San Bernadino, California. This past weekend, the carnage continued. The rampage at The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida is the deadliest mass shooting in recent U-S history.

Millennials May Be Losing Their Grip

Jun 13, 2016

Millennials, the thoroughbreds of texting, may lag behind previous generations when it comes to old-fashioned hand strength.

In a study of Americans ages 20-34, occupational therapists found that men younger than 30 have significantly weaker hand grips than their counterparts in 1985 did. The same was true of women ages 20-24, according to the study published online by the Journal of Hand Therapy a few months back.

In a talk in Pittsburgh in 1997, the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould allegedly characterized humans as "the primates who tell stories." Psychologist Robyn Dawes went much further, suggesting humans are "the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story."

Stephon Alexander didn't always love music. When he turned 8, his grandmother, who was from Trinidad, forced him to take piano lessons in the Bronx. His teacher was, in a word, strict. "It felt like a military exercise to rob me of my childhood," Alexander recalls.

Several years went by like that. Until one day when Alexander's dad brought home an alto sax he found at a garage sale. "That became my toy. Music no longer for me was this regimented tedium," he says.

The luminous glow of light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

That's according to a new atlas of artificial night sky brightness that found our home galaxy is now hidden from more than one-third of humanity.

According to a new hypothesis put forward by an international team of geneticists and archeologists, dogs may have been domesticated in two different places from genetically distinct wolf populations in Europe and in East Asia.

This year's extra-large El Nino weather pattern is over, according to federal meteorologists.

"We're sticking a fork in this El Niño and calling it done," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists wrote on a blog tracking the 15-month-long weather event.

Sharon Belvin's nightmare with cancer began in 2004, when she was just 22.

Belvin was an avid runner but said she suddenly found she couldn't climb the stairs without "a lot of difficulty breathing."

Eventually, after months of fruitless treatments for lung ailments like bronchitis, she was diagnosed with melanoma — a very serious skin cancer. It had already spread to her lungs, and the prognosis was grim. She had about a 50-50 chance of surviving the next six months.

"Yeah, that was the turning point of life, right there," she says.

It's time to update your copy of the periodic table. Four new elements discovered in recent years have now been named, pending final approval by the international group of scientists in charge of the table.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has announced these proposed names:

  • Nihonium and symbol Nh, for the element 113
  • Moscovium and symbol Mc, for the element 115
  • Tennessine and symbol Ts, for the element 117

It's easy to think that evolution led inevitably to modern humans, the cleverest of apes. But there were some strange excursions along the way. Take, for example, the Hobbits.

That's the nickname for a 3-foot-tall human relative that once lived in what is now Indonesia. A new discovery suggests that it was island life that created this dainty creature.

Anthropologists first found the bones of the Hobbits in 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores. Their scientific name is Homo floresiensis.

A powerful new technique for changing genes in insects, animals and plants holds great promise, according to a report from an influential panel of scientists released Wednesday. But the group also says it's potentially very dangerous.

So what makes America great?

Well, we can start off with poop: human poop, horse poop, all kinds of poop. In general we don't have a lot of poop on our streets — and that is a very good thing. How we got to this enlightened, poop-free state is, however, a story that might enlighten our own angry moment.

In California, there is so much solar energy that grid operators have to switch off solar farms. One solution of dealing with the additional power generated is to share the renewable wealth across state borders – but in the West, it's sparking some not-so-neighborly opposition.

Nancy Traweek's job is to balance California's electrical grid at the California Independent System Operator, keeping the lights on for 30 million people. She relies on huge natural gas power plants that put out a steady stream of electricity.

It's an all-too-familiar practice.

Families go to see movies that feature fun, friendly animals on the big screen. Then they rush out to buy one of the very same type of animal, to keep as a pet. Before long, the cute new member of the family becomes too much trouble, or isn't cared for properly; the animal dies, is abandoned, or is surrendered to overwhelmed rescue groups.

A group of scientists say they want work toward being able to create a synthetic version of the entire human genetic code in the laboratory.

Their hope is that a complete set of synthetic human DNA, known as a genome, could someday lead to important medical breakthroughs.

Does the size of space — those zillions of stars and zillions of miles of nothing between them — freak you out?

Well, if it does, guess what?

You're not alone.

I give a lot of public talks about the universe. Really. It's in my job description:

  • Astronomer. Check.
  • Study stuff in space. Check.
  • Give talks about universe. Check.

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