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29 May

Submit Your Questions: Google+ Hangout on Asteroids

Asteroid-belt-1This Friday, an asteroid one and a half miles long will pass by our planet. Officially titled Asteroid 1998 QE2 (named after the oversized ocean liner), the asteroid will stay a comfortable 3.6 million miles from Earth but will be close enough to give astronomers a good look at its surface.

To mark this event, the White House is hosting a Google+ Hangout to talk about asteroids as part of its We the Geeks discussion series. Participants include Lori Garver, Bill Nye, Ed Lu, Peter Diamandis, and Jose Luis Galache, and the event will be moderated by White House staffer Cristin Dorgelo. The discussion kicks off on Friday, May 31st at 2PM EDT and will cover a range of topics, including asteroid identification, characterization, resource utilization, and hazard mitigation.

Do you have a question about asteroids? Now is your chance to ask experts! After the meteor shower in Russia and the 2012 DA14 asteroid fly-by, we all have an increased awareness of these objects. If you have a question for the experts, leave your question in the comments below. Make sure to check out the Hangout on Friday at 2PM EDT to watch the discussion live!

23 May

Would you want to go to Mars, if you couldn't come back?

Mars-a-250x150Fortunately, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who were the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969, made it back to Earth alive. That spared us the horror of listening to the speech that then-President Richard Nixon was prepared to deliver, in the event that the Lunar Module had failed to lift off from the lunar surface--a catastrophe for which NASA had no rescue plan. 

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon in explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

I mention this, because thinking about that what-if still gives me the creeps. It's frightening to imagine being one of those astronauts, stranded on an alien orb with no chance of returning home.  Of course, they wouldn't have been the first brave explorers to set out on a mission and never return. Ferdinand de Magellan, who was hacked and stabbed to death in 1521 while trying to circumnavigate the globe, and Sir John Franklin, who failed to find a passageway through the Arctic ice and instead perished in 1847, are only two of the more grisly examples.

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25 Apr

Doing Experiments on Yourself?


This Saturday at 10PM, Outrageous Acts of Science features people who've used themselves as guinea pigs as strange experiments -- including a man who volunteered to be tickled excessively, to the point where he appeared to pass out. As biologist Carin Bondar explains on the show, the subject appears to have suffered overstimulation of the vagus nerve, which can divert blood away from the brain and into the digestive system.

As unadvisable as this particular little stunt may seem, you might be surprised to know that bona fide scientists at times actually have performed much more dangerous experiments upon themselves. Back in 1933, for example, Dr. Allen Walker Blair an assistant professor at the University of Alabama school of medicine, became curious about the potency of the black widow spider's poisonous bite.

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15 Apr

Having a Clear Head--Literally


You've probably heard self-help gurus talk about the importance of clearing your mind, but Stanford University researchers have figured out a way to do that, literally. In a just-published paper in the scientific journal Nature, they describe a new process that they've invented for making a cadaver mouse brain transparent, so that scientists can get a three-dimensional look inside it without a computer simulation. To greatly simplify, the CLARITY process, as they've named it, involves washing away the fat that normally blocks the view of the brain's cells and replacing it with a see-through gel that holds the brain's structures in place so that they can be studied.

As a Stanford press release explains, neuroscientists no longer will have to make do with slices of brain tissue. Instead, they can examine brain's fine wiring of nerves and molecular structures, and measure and probe them at will with both visible light and chemical tests. So far, they've only tried the process on slivers of human brain tissue, but it's only a matter of time before they render a cadaver human brain transparent as well. 

A Los Angeles Times story on the research predicts that it will have a massive, transformational effect on neuroscience, generating mountains of data what will enable researchers to understand the brain's anatomy and how it is altered by diseases such as Alzheimer's or schizophrenia. Already, researchers have used CLARITY to peruse a tissue sample from the brain of a person with autism, and discovered a deeply buried neuron that "looped back on itself," in the words of Karl Deisseroth, the Stanford bioengineer who led the team. Though it will take a lot more work to figure out whether that abnormality has genuine significance, there's at least a glimmer of hope that it might turn out to provide an explanation for the disorder.

Here's a video from Nature's YouTube channel that illustrates how it all works.  

 Pretty amazing, huh? Probably the only thing that would be cooler would be if we could peer into a living brain. I'm waiting for transhumanist body hackers to come up with a clear plastic replacement for the skull and the skin that covers it, so that some adverturous soul can transform himself into something akin to the Revell Visible Man model that I had when I was a lad.

21 Mar

What If Extraterrestrials Are Just Ignoring Us?

Extraterrestrials-ignoring-us-400x328Back in 1924, when Mars made its closest approach to the Earth in two centuries, scientists in the U.S. and Europe eagerly tried to establish contact with the extraterrestrial civilization that many thought might exist there. In Switzerland, astronomers used a heliograph--a giant mirror--to flash Morse code translated into light flashes, in hopes that Martians would notice it and respond. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Chief of Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberly, sent a telegram to Navy radio operators, asking them to monitor the airwaves for "any electrical phenomenon (of) unusual character" that might be a sign of the Red Planet's inhabitants trying to communicate with us by radio. A New York Times article excitedly pondered what the aliens' opinion of their human cousins might be:

...They are of an order of intelligence much superior to ours...It is reasonable to suppose that the Martian knows much more about us than we know about him or his world, and it is interesting to speculate what he thinks of us, of our feverish struggle for a living, our vanities, our suicidal World War, our little gardens and our big deserts. Perhaps he thinks our deserts are pygmies and envies our gardens, for Mars has deserts far more cruel than we can imagine.

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15 Mar

Weekly Roundup: Dead Pigs, Junk Food & Brain Scans

Welcome to our weekly roundup of fascinating scientific facts and figures. Each week we'll share some of our favorite stories from our colleagues at Discovery News. You probably didn't hear these stories on the late-night news. Catch up on the latest science happenings and impress your friends this weekend with all your science knowledge!


Brain Scan Knows Who You're Thinking About
For the first time, scientists can scan a person's brain and deduce whom a person is thinking of. With further research, such a technique could help diagnose and treat autism and other social interaction disorders.

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14 Mar

Happy Pi Day!

Pi-quiz-250March 14th commemorates everyone's favorite irrational number and mathematical constant. Of course, pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, and this ratio plays an important part in geometry, physics, engineering and more. Read on to see a few ways you can join in the fun — the possibilities are infinite!

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18 Nov

Inside the Twists and Turns of Albert Einstein's Brain

Scientists have long been looking at the brains of geniuses to determine what makes them so smart, but until now, they could never examine the brain of America’s greatest thinker—Albert Einstein. For a long while, that was thought to be almost impossible as the photographs Dr. Thomas Harvey took of Einstein’s brain shortly after his death in 1955 went missing for more than 55 years.

The brain itself was cut up into 240 chunks and while some remained preserved at the University Medical Center in Princeton, the whereabouts of the others have long become an unfortunate mystery. That means his brain as has never been analyzed in its entirety.


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24 Oct

Never Underestimate The Power Of Hot Dogs

Darren-cyrusI'm honored to represent your choice for Master Control Takes Control on Friday, October 26 at 8pm.  How It's Made is a great show, but I'd like to believe my passionate pitch, coupled with the imagery of, what I like to call, the Hot Dog Meat Fire Hose-Waterfall, struck a cord with you, the viewing public.

I was up against some of the biggest names in entertainment, armed with only animal parts, salt, and casings.  In the end, this truth became apparent; Idiots get smacked and Wormholes collapse when placed next to the universe's most powerful force; Hot Dogs!

Treat yourself and bask in the glory of the #hotdogmeatfirehosewaterfall one more time!


17 Oct

Master Control: The Last Line of Defense

David Matias and the Shark Week MascotIt all comes down to me. My eyes and my ears. I don't just watch and listen — I monitor. My name is David Matias and I am a Master Control Operator.

Every day I stay focused on maintaining and ensuring quality control and accuracy of the all of the scheduled programming that originates from our facility and is transmitted to tens of millions of televisions across America.  It's the last chance to spot any mistakes before the viewers at home tune in to enjoy their favorite shows. If it sounds like a lot is on the line — it is.  Millions of dollars and hundreds of peoples hard work and the reputation of a global media leader are at stake.

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