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26 Sep

Mars Topsoil Contains Two Percent Water

Mars-rover-250-new-discoveryJust last week, data from the Mars Curiosity rover indicated that the Red Planet was missing methane — a gas that is often an indicator of microbial life. While the science community was disappointed by this news, NASA has new data to get us excited again. New findings published in the journal Science reveal that Mars topsoil contains a suprisingly high amount of water!

We've known about ancient riverbeds on the Martian surface and even ice just below the crust. Today's topsoil discovery, however, is huge for possible manned missions in the future.

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19 Sep

A Capella Science Takes on String Theory

There are many educational videos that try to make complicated topics more accessible, but Tim Blais brings this genre to another level with his rock opera cover tune, "Bohemian Gravity." It's by far the geekiest Queen cover you'll ever hear, and it's probably one of the best you'll find, too. The String Theory explainer quickly took off and even earned a nod from Queen guitarist (and astrophysicist!) Brian May.

This isn't the first viral hit for the physics graduate student. You may remember Blais from the Adele cover song "Rolling in the Higgs" he released to celebrate last year's Higgs Boson discovery. But as you'll see in the video below, this year's song was a little more complicated -- and not just the scientific theory he covers! 

Even if you don't understand the complicated physics references, you can still enjoy the special appearance by an Albert Einstein sock puppet. Check it out below!

Still confused about String Theory (or even more confused now)? Listen to the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman as he tackles the very same topic in this Through the Wormhole clip.

18 Jul

Science Channel Returns to SDCC with New Panels That Are Both Outrageous and Unexplained

Comic-con-morph-2012-350x210You heard right! We struck gold last year with the Firefly 10th Anniversary with Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion and other reunited cast members (check out videos from that panel here). Now, Science Channel returns to San Diego Comic-Con this Friday and Saturday with two brand new panels: Outrageous Acts of Science on Friday, July 19th and The Unexplained Files on Saturday, July 20th

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Check out the full press release for more info on SDCC and Science Channel panels:

THE OUTRAGEOUS AND THE UNEXPLAINED DOMINATE SCIENCE CHANNEL'S LINEUP AT THE 2013 COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL

Science Channel presents OUTRAGEOUS ACTS OF SCIENCE on Friday, July 19 and THE UNEXPLAINED FILES on Saturday, July 20

Following up on the success of last year's BROWNCOATS UNITE: THE FIREFLY 10th ANNIVERSARY reunion panel, Science Channel today announced its lineup for this year’s Comic-Con.  On Friday, the network known for smart, lean-forward content will debut its panel for the breakout series OUTRAGEOUS ACTS OF SCIENCE, where citizen scientists from around the web walk the line between genius and insanity.  A panel featuring experts in topics ranging from the worlds of astrophysics and biology will comment on the unbelievable internet videos created by crazy geniuses from around the globe.  On Saturday evening, Science Channel delves into the unknown with a look at the upcoming series THE UNEXPLAINED FILES.  Panelists will share eye-witness accounts of blood rain, alien encounters and mysterious meat eaters with Comic-Con crowds for the first time ever.

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19 Jun

Are Animal-Human Hybrids Really a Menace?

Human-animal-hybrids-250x150I got a big bump in page-views and reader comments back in 2007 when I wrote this blog post about then-President George W. Bush's call for Congress to outlaw animal-human hybrids, which made him sound worried that some real-life version of H.G. Wells' fictional Dr. Moreau might create a freakish race of furry, cloven-footed parahumans.  Actually, Bush, who banned the harvesting of stem cells from leftover embryos at fertility clinics for medical research, didn't want scientists to get around his prohibition by inserting human genes into animal egs to create human-like embryos. But the President's terminology was so tortured that it inspired a ROFL-fest across the web-o-sphere, including a Cafe Press vendor who quickly began offering t-shirts and coffee cups emblazoned with a knuckle-walking man-monkey. And indeed, British opponens of stem-cell research apparently took this idea seriously. They actually proposed requiring stem-cell researchers to implant any human-animal embryos they created into women, so they could be carried to term and born, presumably to wreak revenge upon the evil madmen who spawned them. Alas, that didn't come to pass, because it would have made a great premise for a reality TV show.  And society certainly needs more of those.

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31 May

Making Transplant Organs in a Lab

Volunteer-clinical-trial-250x150Organ transplants save lives, but due to a lack of donations and the difficulty of obtaining a suitable match, a lot of people still die while waiting for a transplant. Worldwide, the shortage has grown so dire that in Australia, the government actually has begun offering to pay potential kidney donors an upfront fee of around $3,800, just for promising to provide an organ if called upon.

That's why a lot of people are excited about the news coming out of Boston. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston say that they've successfully transplanted kidneys grown in a lab into actual rats, and that those kidneys successfully have filtered the recipients' blood and made urine, just like the rats' natural kidneys.

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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?

Outrageous-acts-of-science-250x150

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

Brain-scan-250

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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