WASP-19b is an exoplanet whose atmosphere is probably super hot and super poisonous — filled with methane and hydrogen cyanide instead of water. This video explains how astronomers can even begin to guess at the composition of the atmospheres of far away worlds. (Bonus: A soothing elevator music soundtrack!)
How can a mild-mannered grasshopper turn into a ferocious locust? Why are humans humans when we have share 80 percent of the same genetic material with a cow?
In a fascinating long read at Aeon, David Dobbs delves into the differences between genetic change (evolution as you probably learned it in school) and genetic expression (the amazing powers of natural selection that scientists are only now starting to really understand). — Maggie
KQED created this video of the 2013 Science Hack Day San Francisco organized by BB pal Ariel Waldman! More than 200 people -- makers, scientists, artists, designers, etc. -- spent the night at the California Academy of Sciences and hacked on a fantastically diverse and compelling assortment of prototypes, demos, and experiments. Ariel says "Here's how you can organize a Science Hack Day in your own city!"
I like this Smithsonian story that plays with the Edison/Tesla mythology, wherein Edison was the guy who made business-savvy decisions and Tesla was the financial failure. Set your schadenfreude to stun and enjoy this list of 7 Edison ideas that fell flat
, including a supremely creepy talking baby doll. — Maggie
Popular Science has a great slideshow of tools
used to make the sort of fancy, $15 cocktails that are served to you by gentlemen wearing handlebar mustaches. From CNC routers that carve ice, to drinks aged in sous-vide machines, to repurposed lab equipment like centrifuges and rotary evaporators, it's a cool behind-the-scenes view of the gadgets used by the modernist bartender. (Random shout-out to Peder at Marvel Bar!) — Maggie
An animal rights group has filed the first of three lawsuits aimed at securing legal personhood for chimpanzees. If all goes well, they hope to extend the definition to other great apes, whales, and dolphins, as well. This story by David Grimm at Science
is an interesting look at both the reasoning behind these specific lawsuits and the behind-the-scenes planning that goes into any potentially groundbreaking legal action. — Maggie
Mother Jones has an interesting story about several start-ups trying to create fake meat, dairy, and eggs
that are not only sustainable, but appetizing ... even to people who aren't already committed vegans. It's a story about business and ethics, but it's also a story about chemistry and food engineering. As a meat eater who does enjoy seitan, I'm intrigued. — Maggie
Libyan Desert Glass is opaque, greenish glass formed when the desert sands fused in some sort of extremely hot incident. (Alternately, Sandman Volume 2 Number 9 proposes that the glass is the remains of an ancient city.) What, exactly, created the heat that made the glass is a source of scientific debate, but a new paper suggests it might have been the result of a comet impact. Why a comet and not, say, an asteroid? Scientists studied a stone found in conjunction with the glass and discovered that it contained a mixture of elements that you'd be unlikely to get from an asteroid impact. Instead, the elements suggest an origin outside our solar system's asteroid belt.
Image: H. Raab, used via CC license.
Alas, poor ISON. The comet that flew too close to the Sun on Thanksgiving Day appears to have suffered the fate of Icarus — if Icarus had been ripped apart by a solar flare. The video above, taken by space probes on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, provides a great view of the comet hurtling toward the Sun and then disintegrating. Although there's still some discussion over whether or not ISON still survives as a much smaller ball of rock, ice, and dust, NASA has officially declared the comet dead. Astrophysicist Karl Battams wrote a very nice eulogy.
Taxonomist Kipling Will tracked a rare beetle through the jungles of the south Pacific ... and almost lost his life in the process. — Maggie
In 2005, scientists found some soft tissue in the fossilized leg of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Now, they can confirm that, yes, that is T. Rex collagen. What's more, there's preserved collagen in lots of other T. Rex fossil specimens. How'd it survive? Stephanie Pappas at NBC News explains
. — Maggie
Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience is a smart and sometimes devastating critique of "neurobollocks" -- the propensity for using brain-science (and, particularly, brain imaging) to reductively explain human motivation. The authors, Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, are a psychiatrist and a psychologist (respectively) and so it's hard not to suspect that there's a little professional rivalry at play here, but they present a compelling argument nonetheless -- a picture of promising science oversold in the name of winning grants, winning court cases, and, at the worst, duping the gullible.
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Distributed today to all users of the 23andMe home genetic testing service, after the FDA ordered the firm to halt sales of new kits:
Dear 23andMe Customers,
I wanted to reach out to you about the FDA letter that was sent to 23andMe last Friday.
It is absolutely critical that our consumers get high quality genetic data that they can trust. We have worked extensively with our lab partner to make sure that the results we return are accurate. We stand behind the data that we return to customers - but we recognize that the FDA needs to be convinced of the quality of our data as well.
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What happens when a solar storm collides with a comet? Back in 2007, a coronal mass ejection ripped the tail off of Comet Encke. (You can watch that happen in an awesome NASA gif
.) Tomorrow, Comet ISON is due to fly closer to the Sun than Encke, during a much more active time in the solar cycle. Scientists are anticipating an awesome collision
, like spectators at a demolition derby. — Maggie
Fungus can fight. Using poisons and flesh-dissolving enzymes (think: mycological "meat" tenderizers), they can defend their turf from incursions by other fungi. Here, a sulfur tuft mushroom (top right) and Phanerochaete velutina (bottom left) hash it out.