Researchers on April 7 said that they have produced the most accurate measurement to date of how fast the universe was flying apart when it was 3 billion years old. At the rate of 68 km/s, the universe was growing at a rate of 1% every 44 million years at the time, which is actually slower than expected.
On March 14, 2014, in a wildlife preserve near the Denver airport, firefighters started a fire. It was a “controlled burn,” a practice typically made during cooler times of year—meant to prevent the buildup of weeds and other plants that can serve as tinder for wildfires in warmer months.
March 14, 2014 was a weird day, though. The winds over the preserve shifted, suddenly. So suddenly, in fact, that they began sucking the fire’s debris—glowing embers, singed tumbleweeds—into the air. Finally, the fire itself got sucked into the vortex, creating a phenomenon that you cannot help but think of as … a fire tornado.
Or as, more accurately: A FIRE TORNADO.
Read more. [Image: Chris Tangey/Vimeo]
No one in the contiguous United States has ever felt shaking like what’s going on in Chile right now.
Read more. [Image: USGS]
When human space travel made its transition from pipe dream to reality, one of the unknowns humans contended with concerned not just the physics of space, but the psychology of it. How would the human mind react to the final frontier? Would microgravity, combined with the isolation of a spaceship, cause a kind of claustrophobia? Would propulsion outside of Earth’s bounds, in the end, cause astronauts to experience a psychic break? Was there such thing, as science fiction writers had long feared, as “space madness”?
Space, fortunately, does not drive us crazy. But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring about the effects its new environments will have on our psychology. The new version of the old “space madness” question is how time away from our home planet will affect us—in the long term. What could life on Mars do to that that other cosmic mystery: the human emotional state?
NASA is hoping to find out. This week, in partnership with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the agency launched the latest version of its Mars simulation experiment, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission. On Hawaii’s Big Island, 8,200 feet above sea level, conditions are as Martian as they can be on Earth: Mauna Loa’s volcanic soil is quite similar to the volcanic regolith that can be found on Mars. HI-SEAS in general aims to replicate, as closely as is possible on Earth, what life would be like on Mars—and its latest iteration will put human emotions to the test.
Read more. [Image: NASA/HI-SEAS]
The United Nations’ latest report on climate change contains plenty of dire warnings about the adverse impact “human interference with the climate system” is having on everything from sea levels to crop yields to violent conflicts. But the primary message of the study isn’t, as John Kerry suggested on Sunday, for countries to collectively reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, the subtext appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet—to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures—rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place. And it’s businesses and local governments, rather than the international community, that can lead the way.
“The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” Chris Field, the co-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study, said this week, adding that governments, companies, and communities are already experimenting with “climate-change adaptation.”
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Instead of following traditional paths, women are using their science, technology, engineering, and math degrees to create new careers.
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Here’s the thing. One-piece bathing suits, when wet, are very annoying to take off. And when you’re swimming three hours a day, as I did for practice on my high school swim team, climbing out of the pool, taking it off, and putting it back on every time you have to use the bathroom starts to feel burdensome. So maybe you just… go…somewhere in between the one millionth and one millionth and first lap you’ve swum that day.
Urine is sterile, and chlorine is sterilizing, right? This is the justification we offered ourselves, to counter our shame. Plus, decorated Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte do it.
Turns out that was a pretty bad idea, for more reasons than just the ick factor. A new study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology, looked at the chemistry of what happens when urine meets chlorine, and it isn’t pretty.
Read more. [Image: Matt Dunham/AP]
Big scientific discoveries—the kind that shift our view of the world and our place within it—don’t come along very often.
This week, though, one did.
New data seem to offer, for the first time, direct evidence of the entities Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity: gravitational waves. Which is a finding that, if it holds up, sheds new light on nothing less than the origins of the universe. The discovery is, according to one expert, “an amazing achievement.” It is also, according to another, “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science”—“a sensational breakthrough involving not only our cosmic origins, but also the nature of space.”
So, basically: This is big, you guys! Einstein big! Nature-of-space big! Big Bang-big!
There’s just one small thing, though. The findings shared this week also share a significant caveat: They haven’t yet been peer-reviewed. They are discoveries that are, as far as scientific institutionalism is concerned, provisional. They’re stuck in a kind of epistemological limbo—as information that has not yet been converted into fact, and data that have not yet been codified into knowledge. Official status: truthy.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Everyone knows that the United States has long suffered from widespread shortages in its science and engineering workforce, and that if continued these shortages will cause it to fall behind its major economic competitors. Everyone knows that these workforce shortages are due mainly to the myriad weaknesses of American K-12 education in science and mathematics, which international comparisons of student performance rank as average at best.
Such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom. There is almost no debate in the mainstream. They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?
The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce. How can the conventional wisdom be so different from the empirical evidence?
Read more. [Image: Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.]
Imagine that you have spent 30 years of your career working on a single project, dedicated to a single idea. Imagine that there have been doubters along the way. Imagine that you, yourself, have occasionally been unsure about whether it’s all worth it.
Imagine what it would feel like to find out that it is.
Now we know what that’s like—or, at least, we have a good idea. Yesterday, as part of the big announcement that the Big Bang’s “smoking gun” has been found, Stanford posted a video to YouTube. The brief production features the physicist Chao-Lin Kuo paying a visit to the home of his colleague, the fellow physicist Andrei Linde, to tell him that all his work had paid off: New evidence supports the cosmic inflation theory that Linde has been championing for decades. The theories he has honed and advocated are likely correct. He has, to be scientific about it, hit the jackpot.