Virgin Orbit fails on first rocket launch attempt, 'next big test ASAP' for Richard Branson’s spaceflight firm

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit failed on its first rocket launch attempt, which took place out of the Mojave Spaceport in Southern California. Read the rest

Scientists: Saying "fuck" and other bad words really can decrease your feeling of pain

Repeating the word "fuck" actually can reduce your experience of pain, according to a new study by Keele University researchers. The psychologists ran an experiment in which subjects underwent a cold pressor test, a common method to pain threshold and tolerance by immersing your hand in freezing cold water for a minute. (See above video for actor Brian Blessed's demonstration, unrelated to this current research.)

According to the researchers' scientific paper, their data "replicate previous findings that repeating a swear word at a steady pace and volume benefits pain tolerance, extending this finding to pain threshold."

Don't think any old word will help though. They found no benefit when their subjects exclaimed made-up words like “fouch” and “twizpipe."

"Swearing as a Response to Pain: Assessing Hypoalgesic Effects of Novel 'Swear” Words" (Frontiers in Psychology) Read the rest

What near-death experiences can tell scientists about how the brain works

Floating out of your body and looking down on it. The story of your life flashing by before your eyes. Seeing a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel. These are just two of the most common experiences that people report after a near-death experience (NDE). For some people, NDEs are a transformative spiritual or mystical experience. But what's the source of the phenomena? That's a question that fascinates Dr. Christof Koch is president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science who studies the neuroscience of consciousness. In Scientific American, Koch surveys the science of near-death experiences and what they can tell us about how our brains work under extreme duress. From Scientific American:

Modern death requires irreversible loss of brain function. When the brain is starved of blood flow (ischemia) and oxygen (anoxia), the patient faints in a fraction of a minute and his or her electroencephalogram, or EEG, becomes isoelectric—in other words, flat. This implies that large-scale, spatially distributed electrical activity within the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline one after another. The mind, whose substrate is whichever neurons remain capable of generating electrical activity, does what it always does: it tells a story shaped by the person’s experience, memory and cultural expectations.

Given these power outages, this experience may produce the rather strange and idiosyncratic stories that make up the corpus of NDE reports.

Read the rest

Firing off 31 cans of Silly String at the same time with Han Solo

I enjoy the fun science stunts on ScienceBob's YouTube Channel. Read the rest

The Lancet fact-checks Trump's letter to WHO and Dr. Tedros

The Lancet says Trump's letter contains 'factually incorrect' details. Read the rest

When you put Alka Seltzer, oil and water in a glass, here's what happens

Want to try an interesting little science experiment at home?

This looks fun. Read the rest

How to improve your fried rice using physics

Apparently a high percentage of chefs at Chinese restaurants suffer shoulder plane from wok tossing. They must rapidly move the heavy pan to launch the food into the air so it cooks but doesn't burn, even though the temperatures may hit 1200°C. Recently, Georgia Tech mechanical engineers studied the kinematics of Chinese restaurant chefs to understand how they actually move and the "optimal regime for making fried rice." According to their scientific paper, they hope their study can not only lead to better fried rice for all but also "inspire the design of stir-fry robotics and exoskeletons to reduce the rate of muscle strain injury among professional chefs." From their scientific paper:

Tossing is a combination of two independent motions, a side to side motion and a see-saw motion, allowing rice grains to slide around the wok as well as to jump off the surface. We identify two critical parameters that chefs can vary: the frequency of tossing and the phase lag between the two motions applied. By filming professional chefs, we found that, at the frequency chosen by chefs, the phase difference performed is optimal for mixing. We suggest that future chefs increase the frequency of motion, which may enable rice to jump further, and promote cooling and mixing.

"The physics of tossing fried rice" (Journal of the Royal Society Interface via Science News) Read the rest

Today (Thursday): Sasha Sagan and Ann Druyan in conversation with David Pescovitz

Today, Thursday (5/14), I'm honored to be moderating a free online conversation with two brilliant women whose work is a light in the darkness during these uncertain times. My friend Ann Druyan is the executive producer, writer, and director of Cosmos, the iconic TV show she co-created with her late husband and collaborator, astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan. From her work as creative director of the Voyager Golden Record to her numerous books, most recently Cosmos: Possible Worlds, Ann has spent her life sparking curiosity and wonder about the universe and our place in it.

Ann and Carl's daughter, Sasha Sagan, is the author of the new book For Small Creatures Such As We, a lovely, inspiring memoir exploring the intersection of science and spirituality in a secular home. The title is from a quote found in the pages of Contact, a novel written by Ann and Carl: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." Like her parents, Sasha has the passion, wisdom, and talent to simultaneously instill awe, hope, and skepticism through her creative work.

The conversation, hosted by the Jewish arts and culture organization Reboot, takes place at 2:30pm PT / 5:30pm PT. Pre-register on Zoom and Facebook Live. From the event description:

The Interplay of Science and Ritual in a Time of Flux

Over the eons, our relationship to science and ritual has been inextricably linked to our understanding of our place in the universe. Join Emmy Award-winning writer, director, producer Ann Druyan and her daughter, author Sasha Sagan, in conversation with Boing Boing co-founder David Pescovitz to talk about emerging philosophies that can provide hope as we struggle to adjust to our new normal on Earth.

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Look at this photo printed on algae in a petri dish

Okay, now THAT is a selfie.

This is such a cool photography/biology experiment. Read the rest

Brazil's Bolsonaro deploys military to Amazon region

Brazil's Trump, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, formally authorized deployment of military forces in the Amazon rainforest region, purportedly to fight deforestation and fires. Surely the massive influx of armed troops to the region populated by indigenous people won't result in coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths. The decree was published in the government gazette today. Read the rest

Trump administration drafts legal pact for mining the moon

They want to drill the Moon. Read the rest

Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott has advice for us about social distancing

Nicole Stott is a talented artist and retired astronaut who spent more than 100 days living in space on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Stott is one of several astronauts who in recent days has been asked to share their advice on isolation and social distancing.

"Nothing beats that first hug after landing," Stott says.

From the New York Times:

[In the video above, Stott] reflects on the three months she spent on the International Space Station, far from her husband and 7-year-old son. Living on the space station, being alone on a spacewalk, watching lightning storms crisscross the planet — all these experiences taught her that we’re all inherently connected, even when we’re physically far away.

Read the rest

Comparing COVID-19 to other causes of death

As the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States blows past 60,000 faster than officials predicted, STAT [statnews.com] compares the 2020 coronavirus outbreak to other causes of death for which we have historical data. Read the rest

Why all scientists must fight the "infodemic" of bullshit claims and quackery

Bleach injections and tanning beds as treatments. The false link between 5G and COVID-19. This onslaught of bullshit claims and quackery around COVID-19 is an "infodemic," as the World Health Organization says. In the science journal Nature, University of Alberta law professor Timothy Caulfield, the Canada research chair in health law and policy, explains why "all scientists — not just a few of us — must stand up for quality information." From Nature:

There is some evidence that alternative treatments and placebo effects can relieve distress — a common justification for tolerating unproven alternative treatments. But it’s inappropriate to deceive people (even for their benefit) with magical thinking, and it is inappropriate for scientists to let such misinformation go unremarked.

Second, more researchers should become active participants in the public fight against misinformation. Those pushing unproven ideas use the language of real science — a phenomenon I call ‘scienceploitation’ — to legitimize their products. It is, alas, all too effective. Homeopathy and energy therapies, proponents argue, depend on quantum physics. Colonic hydrotherapy is justified using phrases borrowed from microbiome studies. And the language of stem-cell research is used to promote a spray claiming to have immune-boosting properties.

We need physicists, microbiologists, immunologists, gastroenterologists and all scientists from relevant disciplines to provide simple and shareable content explaining why this hijacking of real research is inaccurate and scientifically dishonest.

"Pseudoscience and COVID-19 — we’ve had enough already" (Nature) Read the rest

Drone disguised as hummingbird infiltrates a swarm of monarch butterflies

PBS Nature's "Spy in the Wild" series employs spy cameras outfitted with animatronic animal disguises to capture intimate imagery of wildlife. In this clip, a drone wearing a hummingbird costume infiltrates a swarm of monarch butterflies in the mountains of Mexico.

Read the rest

Enormous and “potentially hazardous" asteroid will fly by Earth tomorrow

Tomorrow, an asteroid that's at least a mile wide will pass by Earth. While NASA considers the object, named 1998 Or2, to be "potentially hazardous," it won't hit us. This time. It won't get closer than around four million miles away. Above is a time lapse of the asteroid captured through a telescope by amateur astronomer Ingvars Tomsons in Riga, Latvia. As the asteroid and Earth continue to orbit our sun, it'll continue to be a risk. And this rock is not the only one that could someday sock it to us. At National Geographic, Nadia Drake explains the risk of a catastrophic astronaut impact and NASA's fascinating planetary defense plan, including their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) planned for next year. From National Geographic:

“[The object that will pass us tomorrow] just a whopping big asteroid,” says Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, one of the planet’s leading scientists in asteroid detection and planetary defense. “It’s smaller than the thing thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it is easily capable of causing a lot of damage.”

An asteroid passing relatively close to Earth is more common than most people realize. Every year, dozens of asteroids that are big enough to cause regional devastation pass within five million miles of Earth—the cutoff for potentially hazardous asteroids. On average, one or two space rocks large enough to cataclysmically impact a continent pass by each year.

Earth will almost certainly confront a space rock large enough to obliterate a city, or worse, at some point in its future.

Read the rest

Coronavirus 'acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen,' say doctors

COVID-19 damage (yellow) on lungs of 59-year-old man who died at George Washington University Hospital. 3D model based on computerized tomography scans, courtesy George Washington Hospital and Surgical Theater

How exactly is coronavirus killing us?

This New York Magazine piece on what we do and do not yet know about the novel coronavirus is really good. It's weird seeing everyone compare COVID-19 to the flu, when there are reports coming in of patients dying of exploding hearts and glitching cytokines. Read the rest

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