A peek into the evolution of a beloved passage.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
Space, on top of everything else, is cold. Really cold. The cosmic background temperature—the temperature of the cosmic background radiation thought to be left over from the Big Bang—is 3 Kelvin, or -455 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet there’s variation within that. Solar winds can reach millions of degrees Fahrenheit. And then there’s the Boomerang Nebula, the cloud of gas puffed out by a dying star in the constellation Centaurus. The Boomerang Nebula clocks in at a slightly-more-frigid-than-average -458 degrees Fahrenheit, making it, officially, the coldest spot in the known universe.
But that’s about to change. Soon, it seems, the coldest spot in the known universe will be … the International Space Station.
Yep. Meet the Cold Atom Lab, the “atomic refrigerator” NASA has planned for launch in 2016—a device that will, it’s hoped, allow the agency to study quantum mechanics in a controlled environment. “We’re going to explore temperatures far below anything found naturally,” JPL’s Rob Thompson told ScienceatNASA.
In October of 2018, the James Webb telescope will launch into space, where it will travel beyond the moon to peer, as NASA puts it, into “the beginning of time.” The Webb, all in all, is roughly the size of a tennis court. And it is, as space telescopes generally are, packed with tools and instruments that will allow it simultaneously to orbit the sun and to seek (NASA again) “the unobserved formation of the first galaxies.”
But you can’t very well launch a telescope with all its assorted gadgetry—mirrors, solar arrays, gyroscopes—into space as-is. Instead, you have to pack it all up, strategically. And then deploy its tools once the object has made its forceful departure from Earth.
After a two-month hiatus, the Messenger spacecraft has resumed sending home images of the sun’s closest companion.
Read more. [Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington]
Science can teach you new things, or it can provide official validation for things you’ve long known to be true. And with things like love and sex, it’s sometimes nice, comforting even, to impose a structure on the chaos, to realize that every lap you take around the track falls into the well-worn groove of humanity—that a lot of the time, we do the same things, for the same reasons. Over and over again. Like having rebound sex to get back at your ex. For example.
They say to get over somebody, you need to get under somebody else. By “they,” I mostly mean “best-friend characters in romantic comedies.” Though such questionably helpful bon mots abound in our interpersonal relations and pop culture, there wasn’t much scientific evidence to back them up. Until now.
Read more. [Image: n@89go/Flickr]
The social, historical, and evolutionary signals of colors. Plus, a video that shows how Newton arbitrarily named the colors of the rainbow.
Read more. [Image: I_believe_/flickr]
What, exactly, is the color indigo? It’s not purple, it’s not blue, and it was essentially invented (if one can “invent” a color) by Isaac Newton in the 17th century.
As explained by science writer Philip Ball in the video above, Newton was the first to demonstrate through his famous prism experiments that color is intrinsic to light. As part of those experiments, he also divvied up the spectrum in his own idiosyncratic way, giving us ROYGBIV. Why indigo? Why violet? We don’t really know why Newton decided there were two distinct types of purple, but we do know he thought there should be seven fundamental colors. There wasn’t any particular scientific reason he chose the number seven; he just thought it made more sense that way.
In 2005, James Fallon’s life started to resemble the plot of a well-honed joke or big-screen thriller: A neuroscientist is working in his laboratory one day when he thinks he has stumbled upon a big mistake. He is researching Alzheimer’s and using his healthy family members’ brain scans as a control, while simultaneously reviewing the fMRIs of murderous psychopaths for a side project. It appears, though, that one of the killers’ scans has been shuffled into the wrong batch.
The scans are anonymously labeled, so the researcher has a technician break the code to identify the individual in his family, and place his or her scan in its proper place. When he sees the results, however, Fallon immediately orders the technician to double check the code. But no mistake has been made: The brain scan that mirrors those of the psychopaths is his own.
After discovering that he had the brain of a psychopath, Fallon delved into his family tree and spoke with experts, colleagues, relatives, and friends to see if his behavior matched up with the imaging in front of him. He not only learned that few people were surprised at the outcome, but that the boundary separating him from dangerous criminals was less determinate than he presumed. Fallon wrote about his research and findings in the book The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey Into the Dark Side of the Brain, and we spoke about the idea of nature versus nurture, and what—if anything—can be done for people whose biology might betray their behavior.
Fish are, in a lot of ways, like humans. They’re amazingly diverse. They have well-defined senses of taste and smell. They often travel in groups. They go really well with olive oil.
One other way fish are like us? They’re also shedding cells, constantly. But while humans’ cells generally slough off into air, the fishy ones end up in water. This leads to what one scientist refers to, accurately if somewhat horrifyingly, as ”a soup of cells” in the sea. The ingredients of said soup? “Skin, damaged tissues, and … body wastes.”
The mixture is technically called eDNA, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the “e” stands for “ewwwww.” (It actually stands for “environmental.”) And while you may prefer not to think about the stuff when planning your next beach vacation, eDNA could prove to be wonderfully useful. For science!
The University of Oregon has a remarkable specimen in its paleontology department: a rare fossil of a fish. In this case, Onchorynchus rasters, the distant ancestor of the salmon you might enjoy draped on sushi rice or served over wilted spinach. The fossil is five million years old. It is seven feet long. It is saber-toothed. And while these features must have made the proto-salmon quite terrifying in life, in death its remains are incredibly fragile. So much so that it’s hard for researchers to examine the specimen without damaging it. As for anyone else interacting with it? Out of the question.
Enter 3D printing.
Read more. [Image: University of Oregon]