Me, Myself and Microbes: the relationship between microbes, brains and behaviors

Leon Hong writes, "I made this science-y animation for my wife Elaine Hsiao's research — with the hopes that people will learn something new about how all the microbes that live in and on us affect our brains and behavior." Read the rest

Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space!

NASA's Voyager 2 space probe has officially left our solar system and entered interstellar space. Now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft has crossed the boundary of the bubble-like heliosphere around the planets and is no longer touched by the plasma wind from our sun. Voyager 2's twin Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012 and continues to send back valuable scientific data via the Deep Space Network.

From NASA:

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth's culture, including film, art and music.

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US governmental conservationists really hope that young endangered seals will stop getting eels stuck in their nostrils

Hawaiian monk seals are endangered and closely monitored by NOAA scientists who are alarmed that the seals keep getting eels stuck really deep in their nostrils. Read the rest

Listen to the "sounds" of wind on Mars for the first time ever

For the first time, we can hear the "sounds" of wind on Mars as captured by the scientific instruments on NASA's InSight robotic lander. From NASA:

"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California...

Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander's deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft's solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.

image: "One of two Mars InSight's 7-foot (2.2 meter) wide solar panels was imaged by the lander's Instrument Deployment Camera, which is fixed to the elbow of its robotic arm." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Striking new selfies from the InSight lander on Mars

Since the InSight robotic lander touched down on Mars last week, engineers have been putting its scientific instruments through their paces. This included extending the lander's 6 foot (2 meter) robotic arm that will be used to deploy instruments and take images of the Martian surface.

"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said mission principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

People, these images are from the surface of Mars! MARS!

NASA's Mars InSight Flexes Its Arm (NASA)

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Mice given an experimental gene therapy don't get fat, regardless of caloric intake

Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesizing that this would increase "non-shivering thermogenesis," which "expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat" -- the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight. Read the rest

Far out t-shirts that celebrate the SETI Institute!

Is there life out there? That's one of the mind-boggling questions that the SETI Institute explores through its scientific research, all the while inspiring our own curiosity and sense of wonder about our place in the universe. SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the official mission of the organization, founded in 1984, "is to explore, understand and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence." Support their efforts with these far out new t-shirts from the SETI Institute's Chop Shop Store.

Above, the iconic SETI Logo tee. Below, a graphic expression of SETI pioneer Frank Drake's "Drake Equation" used to estimate the number of technological civilizations that could have developed in our galaxy. And lastly, a design honoring the scientists whose pioneering work underpins the search for extraterrestrial intelligence: Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, and Jill Tarter.

SETI Institute t-shirts (Chop Shop Store)

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson accused of rape and sexual harassment by 4 women

Tchiya Amet says Neil DeGrasse Tyson raped her in the 1980s. As his star rose, no one believed her. Three additional women, one for the first time, now say Neil sexually harassed them. This isn't looking good for the popular science entertainment personality. Read the rest

He Jiankui, scientist who gene-edited 'Crispr babies', detained in China

He Jiankui, the scientist who claimed to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies using CRISPR technology, is missing. Reports indicate he has been detained by Chinese authorities. Read the rest

China launching lunar spacecraft to test growing plants on the dark side of the Moon

Later this week, China plans to launch its Chang'e-4 spacecraft to the far side of the lunar surface. The aim is to land a rover on the dark side of the moon for the first time. Blocked from direct communication with the Earth, the lander and rover will depend on China's Queqiao communication satellite launched in May. From Scientific American:

The lander will also conduct the first radio astronomy experiments from the far side of the Moon—and the first investigations to see whether plants will grow in the low-gravity lunar environment...

The ultimate goal of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is to create a Moon base for future human exploration there, although it has not announced when that might happen.

One of (the experiments) will test whether potato and thale-cress (Arabidopsis) seeds sprout and photosynthesize in a sealed, climate-controlled environment in the low gravity on the lunar surface.

“When we take the step towards long-term human habitation on the Moon or Mars, we will need greenhouse facilities to support us, and will need to live in something like a biosphere,” says Anna-Lisa Paul, a horticultural scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

(image: CNSA rendering of Chang'e 4 Rover on the Moon) Read the rest

Incredible images of NASA spacecraft's arrival at asteroid this morning

After traveling two billion miles over more than two years, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has arrived at asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft will survey the asteroid, collect a sample, and bring it back home in 2023. From NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona:

This series of images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles (80 km). The spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 minutes.

Below is a set of images compiled during OSIRIS-REx's approach. Learn more at: ISIRIS-REx: Asteroid Sample Return Mission.

From NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona:

From Aug. 17 through Nov. 27 the spacecraft’s PolyCam camera imaged Bennu almost daily as the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) toward the asteroid. The final images were obtained from a distance of around 40 miles (65 km). During this period, OSIRIS-REx completed four maneuvers slowing the spacecraft’s velocity from approximately 1,100 mph (491 m/sec) to 0.10 mph (0.04 m/sec) relative to Bennu, which resulted in the slower approach speed at the end of the video.

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Earth defenseless: former astronaut seeks to stop 'city killer' asteroids

"For God's sake, fund it as a mainline program. Don't put it in yet another competition with science," Russell "Rusty" Schweickart insisted. "This is a public safety program." Read the rest

Video: why flipping a coin is completely deterministic

If you knew what all the initial conditions were before you flipped a coin, you could predict with 100% accuracy whether it would land heads or tails. In this video the Action Lab Man conducts a number of interesting demonstrations to show the difference between chaos and randomness. In short, random events are unpredictable, and chaotic events seem random because we can't calculate them. Read the rest

Watch Carl Sagan's classic lecture series for kids and adults

In 1977, just a few months after Voyager 1 and 2 began their grand tour of the solar system, Carl Sagan gave the esteemed Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. You can watch them below via YouTube or at the Read the rest

New Scientist calls for the end of the scholarly publishing industry: "more profitable than oil," "indefensible"

In a stirring unsigned editorial, the New Scientist calls the scholarly publishing industry "indefensible," noting that the business of publishing tax-funded research and then selling it to tax-funded institutions has produced the most profitable industry in the world, where 40% margins dwarf those commanded by oil or finance. Read the rest

the International Space Station has been in orbit for 20 years!

You read that headline right: the ISS has been bopping around our planet for two long decades. How do you celebrate one of the greatest collaborative scientific undertakings in human history? If you're the European Space Agency, you plop out the longest spacebound timelapse video ever taken for the world to enjoy. Read the rest

A most incredible NASA promotional video

"We Are NASA" thrills me more than any science fiction movie trailer, and it's real.

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