Here is the latest Science News from Discovery Magazine.

Some Surprising Authors of Psychology Papers

In a fascinating new paper, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Steven Jay Lynn discuss 78 Surprising Authors of Psychological Publications. The paper is a list of celebrities and other notable figures who, at one time or another, have published an academic paper in psychology. Did you know that Lisa Kudrow, aka Phoebe from Friends, was co-author on a 1994 paper about ‘Handedness and Headache’ published in the journal Cephalalgia? Well, thanks to Lilienfeld and Lynn, now you do. Other actors who have a

Jack White’s Label Spins Carl Sagan Vinyl in Near-space

Jack White and Third Man Records have set a record for the highest record ever played. Along with Students and Teachers in Near Space, the former White Stripes rocker and his label sent a specially-pressed recording of the Carl Sagan-sampling “A Glorious Dawn” nearly 100,000 feet into the stratosphere via a weather balloon. A bespoke turntable on the Icarus Craft kept the record spinning the whole time, allowing White and his collaborators to claim the title for high altitude listening se

How Astronomers Plan to Solve the Mystery of the “Alien Megastructure Star”

If you look in enough places, eventually you’ll find something profoundly strange. That’s been a reliable rule of thumb through the history of science, and last year it proved dramatically true again for astronomer Tabetha Boyajian. While digging through data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has been monitoring 150,000 stars for signs of orbiting planets, she realized that one of these things is not like the others. A single star in that set, formally catalogued as KIC 8462852 but i

The Bad Sausage & The Discovery of Botulism

“A lot kills, a little cures,” wrote the father of toxicology, and botulinum toxin is the poster child for this important pharmaceutical concept. Depending on the dosage and route, this potent bacterial toxin is either a devastating foodborne poison – one of the most deadly toxins known to man, capable of causing paralyzing death – or a wildly popular wrinkle antidote, harnessed and wielded in the pursuit of clearer skin. Yes, botulinum toxin, or Botox, is best known for its use in cosmet

The End of Ego-Depletion Theory?

It’s not been a good month for the theory of ego-depletion – the idea that self-control is a limited resource that can be depleted by overuse. Two weeks ago, researchers reported evidence of bias in the published literature examinig the question of whether glucose can reverse ego-depletion. Now, the very existence of the ego-depletion phenomenon has been questioned by an international collaboration of psychologists who conducted a preregistered replication attempt (RRR). The results have just

Seen from space: eight days of a blazing California wildfire

The Soberanes Fire has scorched an area twice as large as Manhattan. Watch nearly its full duration so far in this animation of satellite images. Since it started on July 22, the Soberanes Fire along California’s Big Sur coast has scorched at least 33,668 acres — an area nearly two and third times the size of Manhattan. Along the way it has destroyed 68 structures and resulted in the death of one bulldozer operator. More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, equipped with 511 f

Americans Fear Enhanced Humans Will Worsen Inequality

Americans have long celebrated fictional superheroes with extraordinary powers such as flight, superhuman strength and incredible speed. In real life, a survey shows Americans seem wary of technologies leading to enhanced humans with better brainpower or greater athletic abilities. Many Americans worry that biomedical technologies such as gene editing, brain chip implants, and synthetic blood will increase the wealth inequality that already exists between “haves” and “have nots,” accordin

Atlantic hurricanes: Is the calm before the storms ending?

High sea surface temperatures fuel hurricanes — and right now, the tank is brimming. When will the season really get rolling? There are no Atlantic hurricanes on the eastern horizon just yet, but far across the sea from the United States, something is definitely beginning to stir. More and more weather disturbances are arising over Africa, and propagating westward into the tropical Atlantic Ocean. “As anticipated, we are seeing a bit more activity appear now over the tropical [Atlanti

Lost or Found? A Stick Chart From the Marshall Islands

This post originally appeared in the online anthropology magazine SAPIENS. Follow @SAPIENS_org on Twitter to discover more of their work. In a recent blog post, I focused on the Global Positioning System (GPS) and mused on how we ever got along without high-tech navigational aids. GPS units became common in cars and phones only in the last 15 years or so. I remember when a road trip required a stop at the local American Automobile Association office to gather free maps of the planned r

Whollydooleya, Batman! The Tasmanian Devil’s Bigger, Badder Cousin

Thank you, Australia. One of your many contributions to the world is an amazing collection of unique animals past and present that, let’s be honest, are just fun. Adorable echidnas, sweet little pademelons (you cannot be angry when you say their name…try it), koalas, wombats and, of course, the Tasmanian devils, what I like to think of as lapdogs of Mordor. The devils, often misunderstood and now tragically imperiled by disease, are cousins to the latest fossil find out of the island na

Why Sticker Price Matters for Self-Driving Cars

Many Americans expect self-driving cars to become more popular than regular cars in the next few decades. But much of that optimistic assumption depends on the sticker price of driverless vehicles and how much drivers would be willing to pay to replace their old rides with robot car chauffeurs. Under some circumstances, a recent study found that not even half of U.S. passenger cars would be self-driving cars within thirty years. Many attempts to predict the popularity of driverless vehicl

Talkative Orangutan Shows Scientists How Language Evolved

An orangutan named Rocky is using “wookies” to reveal new insights into the origins of language. In experiments conducted by a researcher at Amsterdam University, Rocky learned and recited a basic vocabulary of sounds, producing vocalizations no orangutan is known to make. By learning to mimic his human instructor, this talkative primate is lending support to one of the leading theories of language evolution. Repeat After Me Adriano Lameira, now a professor in the department of anthropo

Did Traveling to the Moon Take a Toll on Astronauts’ Hearts?

Astronauts who explore deep space may be more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease later in their lives. That’s the implication of a new study, which found that Apollo astronauts, who had flown to the moon in their 30s, were more likely to die of cardiovascular problems in their 50s and 60s than astronauts who flew missions in low Earth orbit. In low Earth orbit—the domain of ISS and the former Space Shuttle flights—Earth’s magnetic field blocks radiation from further out in sp

Your Nose May Have Drugs in It, the Antibiotic Kind

The human nose is a battleground for bacteria and some of them could prove to be our allies. Researchers have discovered a new antibiotic, produced by nose-dwelling bacteria, that kills antibiotic-resistant superbugs, including MRSA. The study, published in Nature, shows that the human microbiome — the microorganisms living on and within us — could be an important source for new antibiotics, desperately needed as infectious bacteria become resistant to our current antibiotic drugs.

These Ants Would Definitely Win a Sword Fight

What do you get if you take an ant and add a couple of scimitars to its back? You’d get an ant that fits nicely into Pheidole cervicornis, a diverse group of ants in Indonesia with wicked-looking spikes adorning their bodies. Looking something like the ninja warriors of the ant world, these guys have another unique feature as well: giant heads and jaws that they use to break apart and transport large portions of food. Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

Deer Line Up North-South, Whether Relaxing or Running

If you’re ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they’re standing still or fleeing danger. Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth’s mag

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is Big, Bad and Really Hot

Talk about extreme weather. The solar system’s biggest and baddest storm, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, is so loud and violent that it heats up the giant planet’s atmosphere. Above the storm, which has been raging for at least 300 years, the atmosphere is hundreds of degrees hotter than anywhere else on Jupiter. The warmth comes from within, according to a paper published in Nature today. So Hot in Here Orbiting hundreds of millions of miles from the sun, Jupiter is about three times toasti

The Myth of Human Adult Neurogenesis?

In a new paper that could prove explosive, Australian neuropathologists C. V. Dennis and colleagues report that they found very little evidence for adult neurogenesis in humans. In recent years, the idea that neurogenesis – the production of new neurons – occurs in specific regions of the adult brain has become widely accepted, and much discussed. Disruptions to neurogenesis have been proposed to play a role in stress, depression, and other disorders. However, Dennis et al. say that ne

From Jet Fuel to Medicine, Tobacco Growers Turn a New Leaf

It is notorious for its role in the expansion and continuation of American slavery, and for its adverse health effects. The latter includes cardiovascular disease and various cancers, including lung cancer, the most common malignancy, underlying millions of deaths each year. Health officials, attorneys, and activists have spent decades targeting its industrial cultivators in an effort to limit its advertising and sale, particularly to minors. We are talking about tobacco. If at a frust

Dolly’s Clones Are Living Long, Healthy Lives

Twenty years ago, Dolly the sheep proved to the world that cloning was possible, but her poor health didn’t exactly engender much confidence in the process. However, her siblings, cloned from the same cell line, are serving as living proof that cloning is perhaps a viable, safe technology. They’re the equivalent of sheep senior citizens, and they’re still in good health. These four sheep cloned from Dolly’s cell line, as well as nearly a dozen other clones, are part of an ongoing study at

Ceres Should Have More Craters. So What Wiped Them Away?

Most dwarf planets and solar system bodies similar to Ceres’ size possess many large impact craters from billions of years of being bashed into by other space debris during the formation of the solar system. But one place where this isn’t the case? Ceres, the largest object in a field full of formation debris. In a new study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) found that Ceres lacks the size and distribution of large crate

Close-up videos capture big, beautiful explosion on the Sun

A buildup of intensely tangled magnetic energy on the Sun suddenly let go two days ago, unleashing a massive explosion of radiation and super-hot plasma. The radiation explosion was the most powerful solar flare of 2016 so far. You can watch all the action close up in the video above, based on data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, or SDO. When the video starts, keep your eye on the bright active region toward the middle of the frame. It’s seething with energy. Abov

New Zealand Declares War on Rats, Weasels and Possums

New Zealand today announced an ambitious plan to rid the island nation of all invasive predators by 2050. The targeted creatures include rats, weasels, possums and ferrets, all introduced to the island by native settlers and Europeans. If successful, the proposal would eradicate every member of those species on the island in an attempt to restore a more natural ecosystem. It is estimated that some 25 million native birds are killed each year by invasive species, including New Zealand’s ic

Confessions of a Martian Rock

I look at rocks on Mars for a living—a lot of rocks. Because of this, I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what to expect and what not to expect when analyzing the chemical make-up of a Martian rock. You expect to find lots of basalt, the building block of all planets. What I didn’t expect were large amounts of manganese. So when my colleagues and I found exactly that on a Martian rock called “Caribou” back in 2013, we thought, “This has to be a mistake.” Caribou Conundrum Trace amounts o

The Sand Fire near L.A. has doubled in size, and with dry, gusty winds, extreme fire behavior is forecast today

With temperatures up to 97 degrees, humidity down at just 10 percent, and winds gusting as high as 30 miles per hour, the weather forecast today is not what firefighters battling the Sand Fire near Los Angeles might have hoped for. As the graphic above from the National Weather Service in L.A. shows, extremely dangerous fire behavior is in the offing today. SEE ALSO: Amazing time-lapse video of the Sand Fire now blazing in northern Los Angeles County Make sure to click on the link a

Satellite images capture California’s Sand Fire, blazing north of Los Angeles, and the Sobranes Fire near the Big Sur coast

Hot, dry and windy weather is fanning the flames of two California wildfires this evening, one just north of Los Angeles and the other near Carmel. The Sand Fire north of Los Angeles in the Santa Clarita area, seen in the animation above, has consumed at least 11,000 acres. That number will almost certainly grow in the coming hours. Earlier today I posted an astonishing timelaspe video of the Sand Fire, shot last night by Mo Sabawi. Check it out here: Amazing time-lapse video of the

Amazing time-lapse video of the Sand Fire now blazing in northern Los Angeles County

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h1gEDHX5N0 The Sand Fire started yesterday at about 2 p.m. near Santa Clarita, California and has since exploded to 11,000 acres in hot and dry conditions, according to the latest report on InciWeb. Once some imagery of the area from the Terra and Aqua satellites is available, my plan now is to come back later with a new, more detailed post. For now, check out this absolutely stunning timelapse video of the blaze shot last night by Mo Sabawi and posted

A New Map of the Brain: What Does It Mean?

A new Nature paper has earned a lot of media attention, unusually given that it’s a fairly technical and ‘basic’ piece of neuroscience. In the paper, researchers Matthew F. Glasser and colleagues present a new parcellation (or map) of the human cerebral cortex, breaking the cortex down into 180 areas per hemisphere – many more than conventional maps. But is this, as Nature dubbed it, “the ultimate brain map”? To generate their map, Glasser et al. first downloaded 210 people’s data from

A blanket of smoke from fires in Siberia is so huge it can be seen from nearly 1 million miles away in space

It’s a tad faint, but a smudge of smoke is clearly visible in the image below, captured by a spacecraft in deep space The Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft hovers between the Earth and Sun, keeping a constant eye on our planet’s sunlit side from about a million miles away. Yet even from that extremely distant vantage point (called Lagrange Point 1), DSCOVR’S camera was able to discern a broad blanket of smoke from wildfires raging in Siberia. Look for the smoke within the circ

Grassy Trampolines Are Appearing in Siberia’s Tundra

There’s  trouble brewing in Siberia. Or, should we say, bubbling. As the Siberian Times reports, researchers working on a remote island off the coast of Siberia stumbled upon an unusual sight: In some places, the normally solid tundra is turning into a grassy trampoline. The cause of the wobbly patches is likely due to climate change. Permafrost Unleashed Much of the ground in Siberia is permafrost — soil that remains frozen year-round, except for a small layer on the surface. This also

Video of Evaporating Booze Droplet Looks Like a Tiny Planet

Most of us don’t give much thought to drops of liquid that end up outside our drinking glasses. But physicists care a lot about liquid droplets, and study their whole lifespans—from the first splash or drip to the moment a drop disappears. Liquids that contain three different substances, though, haven’t been studied as much. Detlef Lohse, a physicist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and his colleagues took a deep dive into one such liquid: ouzo. Ouzo is a mixture of wate

Venus Is Messing With Halley’s Comet

If you’re waiting for Halley’s comet to show up exactly 75 years after its 1986 appearance, you may be disappointed. The ball of ice has an orbit that varies by months or even years. And new research suggests that Venus is responsible for the comet’s variations today, rather than the more massive planet Jupiter. “Comet Halley has been observed throughout history, all the way back to 240 BC by the Chinese,” Tjarda Boekholt, an astrophysicist at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, tol

What We’re Learning from the World’s Oldest Calculator

When we talk of the history of computers, most of us will refer to the evolution of the modern digital desktop PC, charting the decades-long developments by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. What many don’t consider, however, is that computers have been around much longer. In fact, they date back millennia, to a time when they were analogue creations. Today, the world’s oldest known “computer” is the Antikythera mechanism, a severely corroded bronze artifact which was found at the beginni

How Birds and Honey Hunters Stick Together

When members of the Yao tribe in Mozambique set off to search for wild honey, they don’t go alone. To find hidden bee hives, the tribesmen enlist the help of expert guides, birds native to the African savanna appropriately named “honeyguides” (Indicator indicator). At the outset of a hunt, the Yao will call out with a distinctive vocalization consisting of a sustained trill followed by an emphatic grunt, best described as a “brrr-hm” sound. If they’re lucky, one of the small, brown bir

After Rare Event, 2 Earth-sized Exoplanets Are Looking More Habitable

TRAPPIST-1 may well be one of the closest stars to look for life in our own backyard, thanks to three planets in its habitable zone. Now, we’re one step closer to understanding if those planets could hold life, thanks to a new study published today in Nature. Using data gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers at MIT witnessed two occultation events from the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b and 1c. The two had near-simultaneous transit events on May 4, 2016 just 12 minutes a

Meet Murusraptor: The Supermodel of Megaraptors

Want to find some awesome dinosaur species new to science? Head south. South America is clearly the place to be these days, with Patagonian predator Murusraptor barrosaensis the latest intriguingly odd animal to stomp onto the paleoscene. Like fellow Argentine Gualicho shinyae, announced last week, Murusraptor is known from the partial skeleton of a single specimen. And while Gualicho made headlines for its shorty-short forelimbs, Murusraptor is like those models in perfume ads: a leggy myst

When Republicans and Democrats Started Speaking a Different Language

If someone proposed a “death tax”, how likely would you be to vote for it? What if we called it an “estate tax”? The words used to frame arguments can play an important role in shaping opinions of important issues — “death” and “estate” can yield two different interpretations of the same concept. That the kinds of words we use to build an argument is important has long been known, but a new study led by a researcher at Stanford University suggests that politicians are playing word games a

The Eye Can Spy a Single Photon

The human eye is sensitive enough pick out a single photon of light in otherwise complete darkness. Light-sensitive cells called rods, located in the back of your eye, can react to single photons, but that’s not the same as actually seeing the light. Sight, in the way that we think of consciously perceiving a visual, requires the retina and the brain to process those signals. For decades, researchers have wondered how little light the human eye could actually detect. Now, it turns out tha

The first half of 2016 was the warmest such period by far in a record dating back 137 years

Global warming continues, but with El Niño’s passing, Earth’s fever has moderated a bit This past month nudged out June 2015 as the warmest on record, according to data just released by NASA. That makes the first six months of 2016 the warmest first half of any year since 1880. June’s record warmth also means we’ve experienced nine months in a row of record setting temperatures. A separate analysis released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also shows that t

Can Ultrasound Diagnose Autism?

A paper makes the remarkable claim that autism could be detected through the use of ultrasound to peer beneath the skull. This paper is from 2014, but it just came to my attention. The authors of the piece, James Jeffrey Bradstreet, Stefania Pacini and Marco Ruggiero, studied 23 children with autism and 15 control children, who were unaffected siblings of the autistic group. Using ultrasound, the authors looked under the skull overlaying the brain’s temporal cortex. The ultrasound reveale

With Robotic Rectum, Doctors Practicing Prostate Exams Are No Longer In the Dark

The rectal exam is a delicate art to learn. Doctors perform this procedure entirely by feel, with just one finger. Students who are learning how to do such an exam have no way of showing their work to their teachers. And volunteer subjects are—unsurprisingly—rare. In the entire United Kingdom there’s only one person registered as a test subject for rectal exams, says Fernando Bello, who works on surgical computing and simulations at Imperial College London. Rectum models made of plastic e

Extinction Looms for Easter Island’s Only Remaining Native Species

On Easter Island, isolated in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, ten species of near microscopic insects are all that remain of the island’s native species — at least for now. Hidden in volcanic caves that dot the island, the endemic insects of Rapa Nui eke out an existence in an increasingly imperiled habitat. Their ancestral homes, fragile gardens of moss and ferns, are endangered by tourists flooding into the tiny island, and hordes of invasive species threaten to crowd them out. Th

T minus 3 weeks until <i>Venomous</i>, my first book, is out!

In just three weeks, my debut book—Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry—hits shelves in the U.S. The book is my tribute to the most notorious animals on the planet and the awesome weaponry they wield. I talk about the diversity of venomous animals, from the serpents, spiders and scorpions on land to the ocean’s snails, octopus and jellies. It’s a trip around the world and down to the molecular level to reveal how venoms work, and how they might hold the cures to our mo

Zika Virus Case in Utah Raises New Questions for Scientists

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are scrambling to figure out how a Utah caregiver became ill with Zika. The virus is overwhelmingly transmitted via bites from infected mosquitoes, but can also spread through sexual contact. The case in Utah seems to be the result of something completely different, however, say state officials. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the person became infected, but they working to figure what’s behind this latest twist in th

Illuminating Earth’s Largest Ecosystem

The following is one article in a series of dispatches from the E/V Nautilus. I served as a participating scientist on the Central California leg of the 2016 expedition; live footage of the Nautilus’ continuing exploration on the seafloor can be found at www.nautiluslive.org. During the Central California leg of the Exploration Vessel Nautilus’ 2016 season, our team of scientists and engineers explored previously unseen portions of the ocean, streaming the video live around the world. It’s pr

Everything Worth Knowing About … Dinosaurs

How to identify one in the wild. (Hey, it could happen.)

Flame broiled Alaska: With soaring temperatures and crackling lightning, wildfires erupt across the state

After months of record-setting warmth culminating in extremely high temperatures last week, much of Alaska was primed for wildfire. Things had been quiet until then, despite the warmest January through June period in Alaska since 1895. Then the lightning came — with a sudden vengeance: some 45,570 strikes between July 13 and 16th. The result: Flames finally exploded through Alaskan landscapes, with 114 new wildfires resulting in a more-than-100,000-acre increase in the total number

How Trucks Can Make Delivery Drones a Reality

Delivery drones may still seem a ways off because of new U.S. commercial drone regulations requiring drones to stay within sight of their human operators on the ground. But such rules pose no problem for a U.S. startup that developed a drone capable of launching from delivery trucks and dropping off packages within the driver’s line of sight. The HorseFly drone developed by Workhorse Group, an electric vehicle company in Cincinnati, Ohio, is an octocopter designed to ride aboard a deliver

In case you missed it: Juno’s first view of Jupiter from orbit

The image above is the Juno spacecraft’s first view of Jupiter and some of its moons after it entered orbit around the gas giant on July 4th. Published by NASA on July 12, it consists of data acquired by the JunoCam when the spacecraft was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter. Juno was heading away from the planet on its first 53.5-day “capture orbit” — the beginning of its orbital mission. On Oct. 19, the spacecraft will execute its final engine burn of the mission, placing Juno into a 14-d

Blogs, Papers, Plagiarism and Bitcoin

Retraction Watch reports on a strange case of alleged plagiarism. In February 2016, F1000Research published a paper called How blockchain-timestamped protocols could improve the trustworthiness of medical science. The authors, Greg Irving and John Holden, demonstrated the use of the bitcoin blockchain as a way of publicly verifying the existence of a certain document at a certain point in time. This approach, they say, could be used to make preregistered research protocols more secure. A prob

We Won’t Finish Discovering New Trees in the Amazon for 300 Years

While millions of people are out hunting Pokémon, biologists are conducting an equally fervent hunt for new and rare species. And instead of 151 species, they estimate that they need to find another 4,000 or so before they become the very best. A new study builds a compendium of all the tree species collected from the Amazon over past three centuries, and concludes that we won’t find them all until 2316. In total, researchers from the Field Museum say researchers have, so far, collected 1

Ask Professor Wil<strike>low</strike>cox: Are Poison-type Pokémon Really “Poisonous”?

I was born in 1985, which is a bit of an awkward year, culturally. I’m technically a millennial, but I was a bit too old for most of the fads that swept through the millennial generation. I never owned a Bratz doll. I missed the brief yo-yo boom. And I never played Pokémon, in game or card form. That’s not to say I was too cool for that sort of thing as a kid; I was a total geek. Heck, I had a dragon deck before the Onslaught block made tribal decks cool (that would be Magic the Gathering, for t

The Psychology of Pokémon Go Haters

When Psy’s “Gangnam Style” broke YouTube, they refused to give it a single view. When people soaked themselves during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, they called it a waste of water. When Pokémon Go took the United States by storm after its release July 6, they went out of their way to tell friends, family and social network followers they would never play the game. They encouraged pocket monster trainers to grow up, pursue gainful employment or just get off their lawns. One writer, Matt

Why is the Sun spinning like a pinwheel?

First the Sun develops a big hole, and now it’s flipping end over end. But once again, not to worry — all is well. A few days ago, I posted a video showing a gigantic hole in the Sun’s atmosphere. Now, NASA has published an animation showing the Sun spinning end over end like a pinwheel. What’s going on? For a detailed explanation of the hole in the Sun, go here: What’s up with that huge dark hole in the Sun? And now, what’s up with the pinwheeling Sun?  In the animation at t

Earth’s Biodiversity Has Fallen Below ‘Safe’ Levels? Ecologists Disagree

A new paper reports that over half of Earth’s land area has suffered biodiversity loss beyond “safe limits.” The study, released today in Science, compiles a global dataset of biodiversity change and compares it to human land use patterns. The analysis shows that 58 percent of Earth’s land, which is home to 71 percent of the human population, has surpassed a recently proposed safe limit for biodiversity loss, beyond which ecosystems may no longer support human societies. While the news

Latest forecast is less bullshish on La Niña

Even so, there’s still better than a 50/50 chance that this weather-influencing phenomenon will emerge during fall and winter In the latest forecast, La Niña — the cool opposite to El Niño — is still favored to develop by winter. But the odds have dropped over the past month. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center now pegs La Niña’s chances of developing at 55 to 60 percent. That’s down from odds of 75 percent just a month ago. If it does develop, it is likely to be a relatively modest on

Viruses Have Guided the Path of Human Evolution

The struggle between humans and viruses stretches back far into the dusty depths of history, and it appears that we wear the scars of this epic battle in that most personal of places: our genome. Whenever a viral epidemic tears through a community, there are those lucky enough to possess mutations rendering them immune to the disease. If the epidemic is large enough, this mutation can become embedded in our genome, both because of its protective powers, and because those with it will be o

Does Sugar Really Fuel Willpower?

Another prominent psychology theory has come under scrutiny by researchers who say the published results look unrealistic. In a new paper, Miguel A. Vadillo et al. take aim at the idea that the body’s reserves of willpower rely on glucose. The background here is the ‘ego depletion’ model, a psychological theory which holds that self-control is effortful and draws on a limited resource, which can eventually be depleted if it’s overused. Many researchers have proposed that glucose is thi

Why Flying Eastward Worsens Jet Lag Symptoms

When you step off a plane in another country, the first thing you usually want to do is hit the hay. It’s the sleepy side effect of travel known as jet lag. Experienced travelers power through fatigue and wait until nighttime to get some shut-eye in an attempt to match the natural cycles of their new locale. While some people acclimate to time-zone jumping better than others, most agree that traveling eastward is a more daunting challenge to our sleep cycle, but it’s not clear why that is

Juno Sends Back Its First Image of Jupiter

On July 4, space enthusiasts awaited word that the Juno probe had entered orbit around Jupiter. The journey was perilous, as the craft was going incredibly fast. Once that was done, it turned its solar panels towards the sun and began its first orbit. Now, a safe distance from Jupiter has been attained and the system is slowly coming online, giving NASA its first photo opportunity since it made its own jovian fireworks. NASA says high resolution images are still a few weeks away, but this

Convergent Evolution: A Theropod’s Right To Bear Silly Arms

If you thought T. rex and its close relatives were the only dinosaurs that had a tough time brushing their teeth, making the bed or completing any other task that required forelimbs of useful length, think again. In a prime example of convergent evolution — unrelated animals evolving the same trait — a new theropod dinosaur from South America was also doing the short arm shuffle. Both tyrannosaurids and the newly described dinosaur, Gualicho shinyae, were theropods, but don’t think th

A New Tool for Studying Gorilla Health: Half-Chewed Food

In the mountains of Central Africa, scientists who study critically endangered gorillas have a new tool. They’ve discovered that they can learn what viruses gorillas are carrying by stealthily collecting half-chewed plants the apes leave behind. If this sounds reminiscent of that class clown at the third-grade lunch table who would ask if you liked seafood and then say “See? Food!” and open his mouth wide to display his sloppy Joe slurry, don’t worry—mountain gorillas are vegetarians. And

Blame Your Subpar Fitness on That Neanderthal DNA

Most of us harbor about 2 percent Neanderthal DNA, inherited when our ancestors bred with Neanderthals more than 50,000 years ago. This was revealed back in 2010, when geneticists salvaged enough fragments of ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones to piece together a full genome. The discovery squelched a longstanding debate over whether Neanderthals and modern humans met — they did — and mated — oh yeah. But why do we only have 2 percent Neanderthal ancestry? And what are the effects of that

WATCH: Wild Corals Caught ‘Kissing’ on Camera

A first-of-its-kind underwater microscopic imaging system is giving scientists an up-close perspective on the frenzied daily lives of corals. Corals appear fairly sedate when viewed from on high, but they’re abuzz with activity that occurs on scales too small for us to see with the naked eye. Fully zoomed in, scientists observed coral polyps engaging in the “three Fs” of existence: fighting, feasting and…making love within their vast colonies. Spying on the way coral engage in these ess

Outer solar system survey strikes, well, ice: New dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune is discovered

It all began with a small dot moving across a computer screen. That dot has now turned out to be a new dwarf planet, temporarily dubbed “RR245.” It’s a chunk of rock and ice about two thirds the size of California (north to south) orbiting amidst other small, icy worlds in the nether reaches of the solar system beyond Neptune. Its discovery was announced today by an international team of astronomers. The dwarf planet is roughly 435 miles across (700 kilometers). And it’s orbit is one o

Everything Worth Knowing About … Medical Imaging

Getting inside your head (and other parts).

Thumb Suckers Boost Controversial, Unproven Theory

A new study on the possible health benefits of thumb sucking bolsters the decades-old, controversial “hygiene hypothesis,” which claims that exposure to some bacteria early in life could improve health down the road. The latest results come from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study, which has followed more than 1,000 people in New Zealand over four decades. Researchers from the University of Otago used the data to see if thumb-sucking and nail biting, both common childhood behaviors, were

What’s up with that huge dark hole in the Sun?

Not to worry, everything’s under control Every once in awhile, the Sun develops a huge “hole” — a dark patch in its outer atmosphere, or corona, like the one visible above. This is the Sun, as seen today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. I’ve posted about these coronal holes before, but I really like this animation, as well as the one below offering a visualization of what’s actually going on. SEE ALSO: The Sun blows its top — again  A coronal hole is a place where where the

Everything Worth Knowing About … Animal Intelligence

Humans aren’t the only brainiacs.

Can Psychologists Learn More by Studying Fewer People?

In a brief new Frontiers in Psychology paper, Matthew P. Normand argues that Less Is More: Psychologists Can Learn More by Studying Fewer People. Normand writes that the conventional wisdom – that a bigger sample size is better – is wrong. Repeated measurements of a few subjects, or even just one individual, can be more informative than casting the net widely, he says Psychologists tend to view the population of interest to be people, with the number of individuals studied taking pre

Arctic sea ice: yet another record falls

June’s extent of sea ice was the lowest on record for the month With the exception of March, every month so far this year has set a record low for the extent of Arctic sea ice. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that in June, the extent of floating ice in the region was 525,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average. That’s an area equivalent to California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho combined. And it means June saw the lowest amount of sea ice for t

Massive Exoplanet Exists in Triple-star System

There are plenty of weird planets in the Milky Way, but HD 131399Ab may be one of the weirdest. Discovered in a survey of 100 young stars, the 16 million-year-old planet still glows hot enough for astronomers to image it directly. Somehow in those short few million years, it migrated out 80 astronomical units (AU; one AU is the average Earth-Sun distance) from its parent star. But also accompanying the parent star, which is a little bit bigger than the Sun, are two companion stars in o

Could Goats or Cows Claim the Title of ‘Man’s Best Friend’?

Since the evolution of dogs from wolves tens of thousands of years ago, they have been selectively bred for various roles as guards, hunters, workers and companions. But dogs are not the only animal humans have domesticated, which suggests that although dogs get all the attention, there’s reason to argue other species could also deserve the title of “man’s best friend”. Anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships, has established that dogs demonstrate complex communication with

Super Typhoon Nepartak storms ashore in Taiwan

The potentially devastating cyclone threatens flooding and landslides As I’m writing this at 2:30 pm on Thursday in Colorado, Super Typhoon Nepartak is reported to be storming ashore on the southeastern coast of Taiwan with wind gusts up to about 180 miles per hour. I’m not sure of the storm’s sustained wind speed at landfall; we’ll have to wait for that. But as of earlier today, Nepartak had managed to hold on to Category 5 strength, which it has sustained for almost two days. On Wed

Designer ‘Super-Smeller’ Mice Could Detect Explosives, Disease

Researchers have genetically engineered mice to be super smellers, and they could one day be used to help detect land mines, diagnosis diseases or make perfume with just the right amount of musk. A team led by biologist Paul Feinstein of Hunter College in New York modified the genetic code of mouse embryos to produce mice with more neurons tuned to detect specific odors. Apart from homing in on targeted scents, the so-called MouSensor mice could also help answer basic questions about how

How Alcohol Affects the ‘No-Go’ Neurons in Your Brain

Drinking alcohol doesn’t only lower our inhibitions on the dance floor, it also directly affects the structures in our brains that inhibit our desire to drink. Specifically, alcohol influences the dopamine receptors that convince us to start drinking and tell us when its time to stop. The more often we drink, the greater the effect, proving something that even casual drinkers are well aware of: nothing gets you in the mood for another beer like having a beer. Alcohol prompts the releas

False-Positive fMRI Hits The Mainstream

A new paper in PNAS has made waves. The article, called Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates, comes from neuroscientists Swedish neuroscientists Anders Eklund, Tom Nichols, and Hans Knutsson. According to many of the headlines that greeted “Cluster failure”, the paper is a devastating bombshell that could demolish the whole field of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): Bug in fMRI software calls 15 years of research into ques

Everything Worth Knowing About … Microbiomes

Invisible worlds, ultimate partners.

A Smashing New Theory About Mars’ Moons

For years, astronomers have been trying to determine the origin of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos. The long-standing argument that they were captured asteroids may fall by the wayside in lieu of a new theory. The biggest factor working against the asteroid theory is that the shape and trajectory of both moons’ orbits contradict the asteroid theory, but in two new studies it is shown that they may have been created from a giant collision. Researchers from the National Center for Scientific

As Nepartak takes dead aim on Taiwan, amazing satellite videos show the super typhoon swirling in the Pacific Ocean

Feasting on unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters, fearsome Super Typhoon Nepartak is churning directly toward Taiwan, where it is forecast to make landfall tomorrow. In just 24 hours spanning Monday and Tuesday, Nepartak exploded from a tropical storm with winds of about 70 miles per hour to a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. Over 88-degree waters (31 degrees C), which is up to 3.6 degrees above normal, Nepartak has now strengthened to a Category 5 storm. Its maximum sustained w

6 Story Arcs Define Western Literature, Data-Mining Study Reveals

Almost the entirety of Western literature can be fit neatly into just six story arcs, according to a new data-mining study. From the panoply of novels that Western society has produced, distinct narrative patterns emerge, and many attempts have been made to pin down the shape of a story and categorize a protagonist’s journey. French writer Georges Polti claims there are 36 different types dramatic stories, while others have counted seven narrative arcs or 20. But new research from the

Why Is Florida’s ‘Unprecedented’ Algae Bloom Toxic?

Massive blooms of potentially toxic cyanobacteria are washing onto beaches in Florida, keeping beach goers at home and raising concerns about possible impacts on public health. The bacteria belong to the genus microcystis, meaning they are not technically algae, and are known to appear in areas with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Both compounds leach into Florida’s Lake Okeechobee from industrial farming activities in the area. And when conditions are right, the blooms pr

Fish May Lose Their Jelly Friends in a Changing Ocean

In the open ocean, it’s good to have friends. Some young fish like to buddy up with stinging jellies to stay safe from predators. Hiding under the shelter of a jellyfish’s bell, they can grow up unharmed (as long as they dodge its tentacles). These fish include some species that humans rely on for food. But in a warming ocean, that buddy system may fall apart. Many types of fish take advantage of hop-on jelly trolleys. Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in

Dinosaurs Got Tumors, Too

New analysis of a sub-adult duck-billed dinosaur unearthed in Transylvania revealed the l’il fella had more than predation and a looming mass extinction to deal with: the young Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus had the same kind of non-cancerous tumor found today on mammals (including humans) and some reptiles. The lower jaw bones belonging to the 67-69 million-year-old herbivore were found several years ago. Researchers at the time noted the bone’s abnormal appearance, but no one took a good

Everything Worth Knowing About … Entanglement

The “spooky action” really exists.

The Chicken-hearted Origins of the ‘Pecking Order’

At the turn of the twentieth century, a young Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe began vacationing with his wealthy parents, both sculptors, at a country retreat outside Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway, where he immersed himself in the lives of birds in the barnyard. He gave them names, closely watched how they behaved, and learned how to recognize one from the other. He “became terribly interested in chickens, terribly interested,” Schjelderup-Ebbe’s son Dag recounted in 1986 in an interview publis

The 1-2 Punch of the End-Cretaceous Extinction

To paraphrase Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, it takes two to make a thing go horribly, awfully wrong. And so it was with the tag team of terror — asteroid impact and volcanism — that ended the Age of Dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. But new research suggests that prevailing theories may have gotten the story wrong. To recap: the fossil record tells us that 66 million years ago, dinosaurs were living large and in charge. Recent research suggests the diversity of species had been in decli

New Survey of 10,000-foot Seamount Reveals Coral Wonderland

The following is one article in a series of dispatches from the E/V Nautilus. I am serving as a participating scientist on the Central California leg of the 2016 expedition; live footage of our exploration on the seafloor can be found at www.nautiluslive.org. About two million years ago, a small archipelago off the coast of modern-day California slipped beneath the waves, receding into the ocean. Its birth had been a violent one, as volcanic eruptions piled basalt upward, pyramid-like, throug

Everything Worth Knowing About … Moons of Our Solar System

There are more than you think.

These Spacecraft Will Visit Jupiter After Juno

Juno (JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter) is the sixth spacecraft to study Jupiter (give or take a few gravity assists), but will be the second to fall into orbit around the gas giant following the Galileo probe in 1995. It is part of NASA’s New Frontiers space exploration program that specialize in researching the celestial bodies of the solar system. Juno was launched on August 5th, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with the intent to be placed in a polar orbit around Jupite

Book Review: “Patient H.M.”

Review of: “Patient H.M.” by Luke Dittrich (Random House), August 2016 Patient H.M. – real name Henry Gustav Molaison (1926-2008) – is probably the most famous neurological case study in history. The outlines of his story are familiar to every neuroscience student: H.M. was an epileptic man who underwent a radical surgery intended to cure his disorder in 1953. A surgeon removed his medial temporal lobes on both sides of his brain, including brain structures called the hippocampi. After the su

Why Juno’s Journey Will End with a Death Plunge

NASA’s Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter on the Fourth of July, after traveling some 1.7 billion miles through the solar system, and prepare to insert itself into orbit around the gas giant. If everything goes smoothly, it will orbit the planet pole-to-pole 37 times, gathering data on Jupiter’s composition, magnetic field, core, poles and much more. And then, with its mission over, it will point itself at the planet and dive to a fiery death within the churning maelstrom that is Jupiter

Honeybees Have Personalities (Sort Of)

Honeybees may seem like nature’s perfect little automatons: organized, efficient, self-sacrificing. But in reality the insects are imperfect individuals. Their dance language is sloppy and imprecise. They lose self-control when they’re hungry. And, a new study has found, worker bees have distinct personalities. Iowa State University ecologists Alexander Walton and Amy Toth explain that animals need to meet three requirements before you can say they have “personalities.” First, individuals

Baby Cadavers Were Prized by Victorian Anatomists

A study of 54 dead babies was not all bad news. In the Journal of Anatomy, University of Cambridge biological anthropologists reported on fetal and infant cadavers, dissected by anatomists between 1768-1913 and now stored in the university’s collections. The study found that child cadavers were both more common than previously thought and handled differently than adults, reflecting their importance in medical education. In order to understand childhood health and development, “at some

5 Things to Know About Juno’s Rendezvous with Jupiter

On Monday, after a five year journey, NASA’s Juno probe will finally enter orbit around Jupiter, becoming the first orbiter to Jupiter since 2003. The craft will study the planet for two years in a very eccentric orbit to protect it from Jupiter’s harsh radiation, swooping by the planet every 14 days. With the start of the mission nearly underway, here’s what you need to know. 1) This will become fastest human-made craft ever. A combination of the gravitational tug of Jupiter, an orbit jus

Americans Doubt Future Popularity of Virtual Lovers

In Japan, the seaside resort town of Atami has served as a vacation spot for couples consisting of real men and their virtual girlfriends from the video game series “Love Plus.” But a recent survey of future predictions for the year 2036 shows that a majority of American respondents doubt virtual lovers such avatar girlfriends and boyfriends will become commonplace within two decades. Americans seem especially skeptical about the 2036 predictions involving robots, virtual lovers and artif

Are Some Paper Titles “Clickbait”?

A new article over at The Winnower looks at the phenomenon of Academic clickbait: articles with positively-framed titles, interesting phrasing, and no wordplay get more attention online. Author Gwilym Lockwood of Nijmegen considered all of the papers published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 and 2014. Several “clickbait” characteristics (as Lockwood calls them) of the paper titles were assessed by three raters, and the outcome measure was the Altmetrics score, which summarizes the volu

The Hole in the Antarctic Ozone Layer is Starting to Heal

There may finally be some good climate news. A paper published today in Science details the the first strong evidence that the hole in the ozone layer is beginning to heal. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol banned the class of ozone-gobbling chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in developed countries around the world, and it appears that the policy is, perhaps, starting to pay off. Since 2000, the hole has shrunk by some 2.5 million square miles and could close completely by the middl

Ceres Isn’t the Icy Dwarf Planet We Thought It Was

The asteroid belt hides lots of mysteries of the solar system’s past, but perhaps no place holds more mysteries than Ceres. It’s an oddball place — a dwarf planet in the midst of our solar system’s belt of smaller debris. And it’s an ancient world possibly left over from the era when the planets first came together. New findings from the NASA Dawn Vesta/Ceres probe published today in Nature and Nature Geosciences only make it more intriguing. Cosmic Traveler The paper published in Nature

This AI Can Beat a Top Fighter Pilot

Move over Maverick, there’s a new Top Gun in town. A new program developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati could give real-life fighter pilots a run for their money. Called ALPHA, the artificial intelligence has proven itself by repeatedly besting an experienced fighter pilot in a dogfight simulator without once being shot down. And, instead of a requiring a room-sized supercomputer, the program ran on a laptop. Ice Cold, No Mistakes The system is based on a type of pro

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