May 13, 2014

We Are Dead Stars

Every atom in our bodies was fused in the body of an ancient star. NASA astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller explains how the iron in our blood connects us to one of the most violent acts in the universe—a supernova explosion—and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out.

This video is a collaboration between The Atlantic and SoundVision Productions’ The Really Big Questions.  Listen to TRBQ’s one-hour radio special What is a Good Death? distributed by Public Radio International.

Read more.

May 13, 2014

A Statistically Representative Climate Change Debate

John Oliver shows a fairer representation of both sides: 97 scientists versus three climate change deniers.

Read more.

May 12, 2014
A Bionic, Mind-Controlled Arm, From the Inventor of the Segway

The Segway was supposed to change everything … until it became the preferred transportation of walking tours and shopping mall security. But now its inventor, Dean Kamen, is back with a new creation that might be slightly more revolutionary.
Enter the DEKA limb, the first FDA-approved robotic arm that’s powered by the wearer’s mind. Electrodes attached to the arm near the prosthesis detect muscle contraction, and those signals are then interpreted into specific movements by a computer, the FDA announced on Friday.
"The device is modular so that it can be fitted to people who’ve suffered any degree of limb loss, from an entire arm to a hand," Bloomberg Businessweek reported. ”Six ‘grip patterns’ allow wearers to drink a cup of water, hold a cordless drill or pick up a credit card or a grape, among other functions.”
Read more. [Image: DARPA]

A Bionic, Mind-Controlled Arm, From the Inventor of the Segway

The Segway was supposed to change everything … until it became the preferred transportation of walking tours and shopping mall security. But now its inventor, Dean Kamen, is back with a new creation that might be slightly more revolutionary.

Enter the DEKA limb, the first FDA-approved robotic arm that’s powered by the wearer’s mind. Electrodes attached to the arm near the prosthesis detect muscle contraction, and those signals are then interpreted into specific movements by a computer, the FDA announced on Friday.

"The device is modular so that it can be fitted to people who’ve suffered any degree of limb loss, from an entire arm to a hand," Bloomberg Businessweek reported. ”Six ‘grip patterns’ allow wearers to drink a cup of water, hold a cordless drill or pick up a credit card or a grape, among other functions.”

Read more. [Image: DARPA]

May 12, 2014
The Not-So-Distant Future Where We Can All Upgrade Our Brains

In a decade, cognitive enhancement may have gone mainstream. Pills can already help you stay up longer, bring more focus to your work, and who knows what else. But what might sound good on an individual level could create societal disruptions, or so Palo Alto think-tank the Institute for the Future proposes in its latest Ten-Year Forecasts. 
As a result, the Institute has proposed that the world’s citizens need a “Magna Cortica.” 
"Magna Cortica is the argument that we need to have a guidebook for both the design spec and ethical rules around the increasing power and diversity of cognitive augmentation," said IFTF distinguished fellow, Jamais Cascio. "There are a lot of pharmaceutical and digital tools that have been able to boost our ability to think. Adderall, Provigil, and extra-cortical technologies."
Back in 2008, 20 percent of scientists reported using brain-enhancing drugs. And I spoke with dozens of readers who had complex regimens, including, for example, a researcher at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. “We aren’t the teen clubbers popping uppers to get through a hard day running a cash register after binge drinking,” the researcher told me. “We are responsible humans.” Responsible humans trying to get an edge in incredibly competitive and cognitively demanding fields. 
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The Not-So-Distant Future Where We Can All Upgrade Our Brains

In a decade, cognitive enhancement may have gone mainstream. Pills can already help you stay up longer, bring more focus to your work, and who knows what else. But what might sound good on an individual level could create societal disruptions, or so Palo Alto think-tank the Institute for the Future proposes in its latest Ten-Year Forecasts. 

As a result, the Institute has proposed that the world’s citizens need a “Magna Cortica.” 

"Magna Cortica is the argument that we need to have a guidebook for both the design spec and ethical rules around the increasing power and diversity of cognitive augmentation," said IFTF distinguished fellow, Jamais Cascio. "There are a lot of pharmaceutical and digital tools that have been able to boost our ability to think. Adderall, Provigil, and extra-cortical technologies."

Back in 2008, 20 percent of scientists reported using brain-enhancing drugs. And I spoke with dozens of readers who had complex regimens, including, for example, a researcher at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. “We aren’t the teen clubbers popping uppers to get through a hard day running a cash register after binge drinking,” the researcher told me. “We are responsible humans.” Responsible humans trying to get an edge in incredibly competitive and cognitively demanding fields.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

May 12, 2014
Science and Math Don’t Have to Be Practical to Be Worthwhile

Even hard scientists and engineers sometimes care more about understanding than real-world applications.
Read more. [Image: Black Hills State University/AP Photo]

Science and Math Don’t Have to Be Practical to Be Worthwhile

Even hard scientists and engineers sometimes care more about understanding than real-world applications.

Read more. [Image: Black Hills State University/AP Photo]

May 9, 2014
How We Got Tall

Emperor Napoleon I of France lends his name to an insecurity complex that supposedly plagues some short men. But the neurosis is misnamed: At five-foot-six, Napoleon practically towered over the average Frenchman of his day.
Maybe it’s because Hollywood tends to cast strapping hunks in period dramas that we forget that, for most of human history, the world belonged to shorties. It wasn’t until well after the invention of cars and antibiotics that the average European man outgrew today’s average American teenaged girl.
Read more. [Image: Bill Chance/flickr]

How We Got Tall

Emperor Napoleon I of France lends his name to an insecurity complex that supposedly plagues some short men. But the neurosis is misnamed: At five-foot-six, Napoleon practically towered over the average Frenchman of his day.

Maybe it’s because Hollywood tends to cast strapping hunks in period dramas that we forget that, for most of human history, the world belonged to shorties. It wasn’t until well after the invention of cars and antibiotics that the average European man outgrew today’s average American teenaged girl.

Read more. [Image: Bill Chance/flickr]

4:25pm
  
Filed under: Tall Science Height Humans 
May 9, 2014
Our Sun Has a Sister

The ancient Egyptians called it Ra. The ancient Greeks called it Helios. The ancient Mayans called it Kinich Ahau. The ancient Germans called it Sól. 

Our longest-standing and most deeply held myths have so often revolved around the sun in large part because we humans have revolved around the sun. That distant sphere of glowing gas has been, to us fragile creatures, warmth and light and life itself. It has, we now know, been the center of everything we’ve known. No wonder we’ve assumed it was divine. 

Which makes news just coming out of the University of Texas at Austin—soon to be reported in The Astrophysical Journal—particularly monumental. Our familiar star, it turns out, is not unique. Our sun has a sibling—a sister-star that almost certainly originated from the same cloud of gas and dust as our own shining orb. 
That sibling? A star with the deceptively dull name of HD 162826.
Read more. [Image: NASA]

Our Sun Has a Sister

The ancient Egyptians called it Ra. The ancient Greeks called it Helios. The ancient Mayans called it Kinich Ahau. The ancient Germans called it Sól

Our longest-standing and most deeply held myths have so often revolved around the sun in large part because we humans have revolved around the sun. That distant sphere of glowing gas has been, to us fragile creatures, warmth and light and life itself. It has, we now know, been the center of everything we’ve known. No wonder we’ve assumed it was divine. 

Which makes news just coming out of the University of Texas at Austin—soon to be reported in The Astrophysical Journalparticularly monumental. Our familiar star, it turns out, is not unique. Our sun has a sibling—a sister-star that almost certainly originated from the same cloud of gas and dust as our own shining orb. 

That sibling? A star with the deceptively dull name of HD 162826.

Read more. [Image: NASA]

11:25am
  
Filed under: Science Space The Sun HD 162826 
May 8, 2014
For the First Time, We Have a Detailed Model of the Universe

It is, if you except the powers of human memory, the closest thing we have to a time machine.
Scientists have created the first realistic model of the universe, capable of recreating 13 billion years of cosmic evolution. The simulation is called “Illustris,” and it renders the universe as a cube (350 million light-years on each side) with, its creators say, unprecedented resolution: The virtual universe uses 12 billion 3-D “pixels,” or resolution elements, to create its rendering. And that rendering includes both normal matter and dark matter.
The rendering, importantly, also includes elliptical and spiral galaxies—bodies that, because of numerical inaccuracies and incomplete physical models, we’d been unable to see with such detail in previous simulations of the universe. It also does a better job than previous renderings of modeling the feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes.
Read more. [Image: Illustris Collaboration]

For the First Time, We Have a Detailed Model of the Universe

It is, if you except the powers of human memory, the closest thing we have to a time machine.

Scientists have created the first realistic model of the universe, capable of recreating 13 billion years of cosmic evolution. The simulation is called “Illustris,” and it renders the universe as a cube (350 million light-years on each side) with, its creators say, unprecedented resolution: The virtual universe uses 12 billion 3-D “pixels,” or resolution elements, to create its rendering. And that rendering includes both normal matter and dark matter.

The rendering, importantly, also includes elliptical and spiral galaxies—bodies that, because of numerical inaccuracies and incomplete physical models, we’d been unable to see with such detail in previous simulations of the universe. It also does a better job than previous renderings of modeling the feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes.

Read more. [Image: Illustris Collaboration]

May 8, 2014
All The World’s Glaciers, Mapped

There are, at the moment, nearly 200,000 glaciers on Earth. They have a volume of nearly 106,000 miles cubed, and cover an area of about 453,000 miles squared. This means they cover an area roughly equivalent to that of Germany, Poland, and Switzerland combined. 
We know this in large part because of satellite data. But we know it more specifically because of a new survey, just published by an international collection of scientists in the Journal of Glaciology, that uses sent-from-space data to provide a comprehensive view of the world’s glaciers. The new inventory is based on information compiled by the Randolph Glacier Inventory in New Hampshire. It’s the first statistical analysis of the world’s glacier distribution.
Read more. [Image Shutterstock/abonjoch]

All The World’s Glaciers, Mapped

There are, at the moment, nearly 200,000 glaciers on Earth. They have a volume of nearly 106,000 miles cubed, and cover an area of about 453,000 miles squared. This means they cover an area roughly equivalent to that of Germany, Poland, and Switzerland combined. 

We know this in large part because of satellite data. But we know it more specifically because of a new survey, just published by an international collection of scientists in the Journal of Glaciology, that uses sent-from-space data to provide a comprehensive view of the world’s glaciers. The new inventory is based on information compiled by the Randolph Glacier Inventory in New Hampshire. It’s the first statistical analysis of the world’s glacier distribution.

Read more. [Image Shutterstock/abonjoch]

May 8, 2014

skunkbear:

Scientists at MIT have developed a new simulation that traces 13 billion years of cosmic evolution. They start the simulation shortly after the big bang with a region of space much smaller than the universe (a mere 350 million light years across).  Still, it’s big enough to follow the forces that helped create the galaxies we see today, and correctly predict the gas and metal content of those galaxies.

At first, we see dark matter clustering due to the force of gravity (first two GIFs). Then we see visible matter — blue for cool clouds of gas where galaxies form, red for more violent explosive galaxies (second two GIFs).

Super massive blackholes form, superheating the material around them, causing bright white explosions that enrich the space between galaxies with warm but sparse gas (fifth GIF).

Different elements (represented by different colors in the sixth GIF) are spread through the universe.

We arrive at a distribution of dark matter that looks similar to the one we see in our universe today (seventh GIF).

The simulation is so complex it would take two thousand years to render on a single desktop. And it’s kinda beautiful.

Image Credit: MIT and Nature Video

(via npr)

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