Light is slow, actually

This video depicts light speed in contexts where it appears to be slow. The moon is 1.2 light seconds from Earth; Mars several light minutes. This is, of course, why humans aren't moving out of this solar system any time soon. Read the rest

Randall "XKCD" Munroe has a New York Times column where he answers weird science questions

Randall Munroe's "Good Question" column in the New York Times is in the vein of his How To and What If books, in which he answers weird science questions with equally weird thoroughness. Read the rest

How to (maybe) see the Leonid meteor shower before dawn on Monday

This year's episode of the grand meteor shower the Leonids will peak on Monday morning before dawn. The meteors are bits of debris dropping off the comet Tempel-Tuttle that intersects Earth's orbit every November. Unfortunately, it may be tough to see many shooting stars because activity this year will be low and the waning gibbous moon will shine brightly. Still, it's always fun and meditative to watch the skies. From EarthSky:

In 2019, no matter where you are on Earth – and no matter when you watch, on the morning of the peak itself, or on the morning leading up to the peak – the best hours of the night for meteor-watching will be hindered by the bright moon. Those hours are between midnight and dawn, when Earth’s forward motion through space has carried your part of Earth head-on into the meteor stream.

Also in 2019, there’s really no way to avoid the moon. You’ll have to find a way to work around it. Try observing in a shadow of a large structure (like a barn), or in a mountain shadow. Just try to keep the moon out of view. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for a period, say, 15 minutes to half an hour. Just wait and watch, don’t expect too much, and see what you see.

We hear lots of reports from people who see meteors from yards, decks, streets and especially highways in and around cities. But the best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country.

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Rats' nests are rich with unrecorded history and urgent scientific data

Pack rats, aka woodrats, build their nests, called middens, from plant debris, rocks, animal parts, paper, and almost any other bits of detritus nearby. Frequently, they urinate on their middens. The urine crystalizes and encases the nest material, preserving it for as long as 50,000 years by some estimates. For paleobotanists, middens are a great source of information about how flora has changed over time. Zoologists study the animal remains and poop. And climatologists analyze the material for insight into past climates, even the most recent ice age that ended more than 11,000 years ago. In Smithsonian, Sadie Witkowski digs into the topic, including a story about what historians learned excavating rats' nests in the walls of the 1808 Charleston, South Carolina home of slave trader Nathaniel Russel:

Among the mass of organic matter, they found sewing pins, buttons, marbles, part of a uniform waistcoat, and even fragments of printed paper that could be dated to November 1833. The paper was darkened and curled but still legible once it was gently opened.

“It was protected from rain and moisture, and even though it’s sooty, it didn’t burn,” (University of Delaware art conservator Susan) Buck says. “So we just have all these fragile materials that normally wouldn’t survive.” Among the material, the team recovered scraps of an early writing primer, suggesting some of the enslaved workers living in the kitchen house has been learning to read and write.

To move beyond the written record, historians and conservators have looked for new clues in unlikely places.

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WAIT FOR IT: Surprising new 'Coke and Mentos' video

I have long thought of 'Coke and Mentos' as a less fun 'liquid plumber and aluminum foil' science fair trick, no longer...

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The Life Cycle podcast meets neurologist Dr. Phil Kennedy, who had a brain-computer interface implanted in his head

In Episode 5 of this podcast on the future of humanity, co-host Eva Kelley travels to meet transhumanist pioneer and neurologist Dr. Phil Kennedy, who recently had a brain-computer interface installed in his own head. Dr. Kennedy tells Eva all about that experience (including gory footage from the operation), compares his approach to brain-computer interfaces with those being developed by people like Elon Musk ("they forgot the brain doesn't like electrodes"), and discusses the implications of this technology on human evolution. Eva and co-host John Holten close by reading an excerpt from Dr. Kennedy's self-published novel, which features a sex scene between a life support robot and his longtime wife.

The Life Cycle is a production of Klang Games, creator of Seed, the planet colonization MMO -- watch the new trailer here.  Subscribe to The Life Cycle on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, and Spotify. Follow The Life Cycle on Twitter and Instagram. Read the rest

There is finally an approved vaccine for Ebola

The European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine for the deadly Ebola Virus Disease. The vaccine has already been administered to hundreds of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saving countless lives during an ongoing epidemic there. From Nature:

The decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to allow US pharmaceutical company Merck to market its vaccine means that the product can now be stockpiled and, potentially, distributed more widely, in particular in Africa. In 2015, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a global health partnership that funds vaccine supplies in low-income countries — told Ebola-vaccine manufacturers that it would commit to purchasing vaccines once they had been approved by a “stringent health authority” such as the EMA...

“This is a vaccine with huge potential,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi in Geneva, Switzerland, in a press release after the EMA decision. “It has already been used to protect more than 250,000 people in the DRC and could well make major Ebola outbreaks a thing of the past.”

Image: "Ebola virus virion" by CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith (Public Domain) Read the rest

Simulation of a sub implosion

The Argentine sub San Juan vanished in 2017 and its wreckage was found only months later, but from the search mission's outset rescuers suspected what had happened. The sound of an implosion—"a singular, anomalous, violent, non-nuclear event"—was picked up hours after the vessel's last transmission. If you are horrified by the idea of a huge metal can being suddenly crushed by water pressure, this computer simulation of the San Juan's demise may well rationalize and deepen your conviction never to set foot on a sub. Read the rest

Voyager 2's new messages home illuminate the mysteries of interstellar space

In 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Famously attached to each of these probes is the Voyager Golden Record containing a message for any extraterrestrial intelligence that might encounter it, perhaps billions of years from now. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012. Last year, Voyager 2 joined its twin beyond the heliosphere, described by NASA as "the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by our Sun." Today sees the publication of several scientific papers analyzing the data that Voyager 2 has sent back since its crossing. Congratulations to the inspiring scientists and engineers behind these latest papers and the incredible Voyager mission, still going strong 40+ years later! From NASA:

Each paper details the findings from one of Voyager 2's five operating science instruments: a magnetic field sensor, two instruments to detect energetic particles in different energy ranges and two instruments for studying plasma (a gas composed of charged particles). Taken together, the findings help paint a picture of this cosmic shoreline, where the environment created by our Sun ends and the vast ocean of interstellar space begins.

The Sun's heliosphere is like a ship sailing through interstellar space. Both the heliosphere and interstellar space are filled with plasma, a gas that has had some of its atoms stripped of their electrons. The plasma inside the heliosphere is hot and sparse, while the plasma in interstellar space is colder and denser.

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Teen uses external cameras and projection-mapping onto the a-pillar to "solve" blind-spots

"Improving Automobile Safety by Removing Blind Spots" is 14 year old Alaina Gassler's prizewinning science-fair project, which uses cameras mounted to the exterior of the car and feeding their video to internal projectors, which projection-map them onto the a-pillars that otherwise obscure the driver's view. Read the rest

Decades of antigravity research went nowhere

Brett Tingley writes about 70 years' research into anti-gravity and similar fields of science fiction, an effort to harness nature's weakest force to military needs. It's gone nowhere, obviously—or has it?

keep in mind that all of this information comes from unclassified sources, and there is definitely more of it than just what is represented here. We can only wonder how much work has been done in the classified realm on what was once openly considered the next massive revolution in aerospace technology.

The Truth Is The Military Has Been Researching "Anti-Gravity" For Nearly 70 Years [The Drive] Read the rest

The 2019 Halloween Candy Hierarchy

A HISTORY

It began, as all things do, with a geology joke. We ranked candy based on their location in various geological strata, both real and imagined. The strata, not the ranking. In 2006, we compiled years of lived experience into a hierarchy of candy preference for Halloween. Not all candy. Not all times. But for trick or treating purposes. 

Let’s talk candy rankings, then, which have become a kind of cottage industry in the last decade’s social-media age of the internet. In fact, candy rankings and arguments over their perceived accuracy might be the perfect distillation of what a certain kind of internet is good for. It lets people argue over opinion; its conclusions thus have to be constantly modified and adjusted; also there are no conclusions, of course, because it is a fickle game of idle speculation; it’s low stakes fun; and reasonable people can disagree with unreasonable arguments. These are great things for hashing out the enjoyment of various shapes of sugar. Good on you, social media. They are not necessarily great things that go beyond idle speculation, for actual democratic society, for governance or policy or the protection of human dignity. 

Candy, though. And Halloween. There will be rankings (immediately below), then deliberations on history (further below) and a beautiful chart (furthest below). There is a hierarchy. We are making our priority claim.

 

The Candy Hierarchy (2019)

Any full-sized candy barReese’s Peanut Butter CupsKit KatTwixSnickersCash, or other forms of legal tenderPeanut M&M’sRegular M&MsNestle CrunchTolberone something or otherMilky WayLindt TruffleRolosThree MusketeersHershey's Dark ChocolateYork Peppermint Patties100 Grand BarSkittlesStarburstHershey’s Milk ChocolateHeath BarJunior MintsCaramellosNerdsMilk DudsHershey's KissesJolly Ranchers (good flavor)Cadbury Creme EggsSwedish FishGummy Bears straight upSmarties (American)LemonHeadsGlow sticksMint JulepsVicodinPixy StixLicorice (not black)LaffyTaffyLollipopsMint KissesMinibags of chipsBottle CapsSmarties (Commonwealth)

Candy Corn

Now'n'LatersDotsKinder Happy HippoGoo Goo ClustersFuzzy PeachesHard CandyGood N' PlentyLicorice (yes black)Reggie Jackson BarChicletsTrail MixHugs (actual physical hugs)Bonkers (the candy)MaynardsSweetums (a friend to diabetes)Healthy FruitBlack JacksPencilsThose odd marshmallow circus peanut thingsJolly Rancher (bad flavor)Spotted DickGeneric Brand AcetaminophenBox'o'RaisinsWhole Wheat anythingAnonymous brown globs that come in black & orange wrappers (Mary Janes)Creepy Religious comics/Chick TractsKale smoothieWhite BreadDental paraphenaliaGum from baseball cardsCandy that is clearly just the stuff given out for free at restaurantsBroken glow stick

 

We revised the original hierarchy each year between 2006 and 2009 to include feedback from readers and onlookers back at our blog The World’s Fair. Read the rest

A cloud weighs as much as 300 cars so why doesn't it fall on our heads?

This fascinating video from the American Chemical Society answers that question but unfortunately provides no answers about why so many clouds look like bunnies.

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Researchers' budget blown when a migrating eagle's tracker chip connects to an Iranian cellular tower and sends expensive SMSes

Volunteers at Novosibirsk's Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre put trackers on 13 wild eagles to track their migration patterns; the trackers connected to cellular towers and message the researchers with the birds' location. Read the rest

Russia building nuclear science center in Rwanda

Russia's state nuclear company Rosatom announced on Twitter today they have signed a deal with The Republic of Rwanda to build a center for nuclear science and technology. Read the rest

US Air Force has developed unusual liquid metal conductor

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has developed a new form of liquid metal with very strange conductive properties. Usually, when a flexible, conductive material is stressed or stretched, its electrical conductivity drops and resistance increases when it's stress or stretched. Just the opposite, Air Force's novel "Polymerized Liquid Metal Networks... can be strained up to 700%, autonomously respond to that strain to keep the resistance between those two states virtually the same, and still return to their original state." The researchers published their results in the scientific journal Advanced Materials. From the Air Force:

It is all due to the self-organized nanostructure within the material that performs these responses automatically.

“This response to stretching is the exact opposite of what you would expect,” said Dr. Christopher Tabor, AFRL lead research scientist on the project. “Typically a material will increase in resistance as it is stretched simply because the current has to pass through more material. Experimenting with these liquid metal systems and seeing the opposite response was completely unexpected and frankly unbelievable until we understood what was going on.”

Wires maintaining their properties under these different kinds of mechanical conditions have many applications, such as next-generation wearable electronics. For instance, the material could be integrated into a long-sleeve garment and used for transferring power through the shirt and across the body in a way that bending an elbow or rotating a shoulder won’t change the power transferred.

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Rats trained to drive tiny cars in pursuit of Froot Loops

Researchers successfully taught rats how to drive small cars in the pursuit of Froot Loops cereal. Video below. Psychologist Kelly Lambert and her colleagues at the University of Richmond conducted the experiment to gain insight into animal cognition. Learning to drive also lowered the rats' stress as measured by hormone levels. From New Scientist:

They constructed a tiny car out of a clear plastic food container on wheels, with an aluminium floor and three copper bars functioning as a steering wheel. When a rat stood on the aluminium floor and gripped the copper bars with their paws, they completed an electrical circuit that propelled the car forward. Touching the left, centre or right bar steered the car in different directions.

The ability of rats to drive these cars demonstrates the “neuroplasticity” of their brains, says Lambert. This refers to their ability to respond flexibly to novel challenges. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,” she says.

Researchers could potentially replace traditional maze tests with more complex driving tasks when using rat models to study neuropsychiatric conditions, says Lambert. For example, driving tests could be used to probe the effects of Parkinson’s disease on motor skills and spatial awareness, or the effects of depression on motivation, she says. “If we use more realistic and challenging models, it may provide more meaningful data,” she says.

"Enriched Environment Exposure Accelerates Rodent Driving Skills" (Behavioral Brain Research)

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