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06 Nov 14:01

Why Thousands Of People Are Willing To Die On Mars

by Daniel Engber

Bas Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One
Brenda de Vries

I.

Early on a Saturday morning, about 60 planetary malcontents gathered in a narrow auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. They’d come to hear about a plan to build a self-sustaining colony in space, and they hoped to be among its first settlers, leaving the rest of us to live and die on Earth. 

“How many of you would like to take a one-way mission to Mars?” asked the balding engineer on stage. His face was a peachy monochrome, with sharp, craggy features set like a mini moonscape, and he had slightly pointed ears. On his lapel, a sticker read: “GREETINGS! MY NAME IS: Bas.”

When nearly everybody raised their hands, Bas Lansdorp’s lips curled into a grin. These were his constituents, the folks who had pledged to serve as guinea pigs for a bold and strange experiment. Just the day before, he had been on CBS This Morning, patiently explaining his idea. “I just want to make sure I understand that correctly,” the dumbfounded host had said. “If you go on this mission, you are going and not coming back.” But here at the first-ever Million Martian Meeting, in August 2013, Lansdorp saw only believers. “Wow, this is a really easy crowd!” he beamed.

Most of the armchair aliens shared a demographic, the young-man Marsophile: guys with tattoos across their necks and arms, goatees and mustaches, variations on the Weird Al look. But there were also older women in the room, and kids too young to drive. What brought them together was an abiding belief in Lansdorp’s central message, that humans should be expanding onto other planets, and they should do so now. A few years ago, President Obama announced that the U.S. would put astronauts in orbit around Mars by the mid-2030s, but budget cuts and sequestration have slowed the project down, if not killed it outright. Even if NASA gets the mission back on track, the agency has said it will only send humans to Mars if it can also bring them back—a maddening bit of bureaucratic circumspection for the crowd assembled in Washington, D.C. “The technology to get you back from Mars simply doesn’t exist,” Lansdorp said, stirring up his audience, and it may not exist even 20 years from now. “We need to do this with the stuff that we have today, and the only way we can do that is by going there to stay.”

“The technology to get you back from Mars simply doesn’t exist. We need to do this with the stuff that we have today, and the only way we can do that is by going there to stay.”

Until three years ago, Lansdorp had little to do with Mars. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he co-owned a wind-energy startup that aims to generate power using tethered gliders. But in 2011, the Dutch entrepreneur sold some of his stake in the business and started working on a grand idea: If governments are too stingy for a trip to Mars, or too risk-averse, then private business should take over. “I realized that if it’s going to happen, I’d have to do it myself,” he said to the crowd. Along with his Mars One co-founder, Arno Wielders, Lansdorp devised a plan to fund the trip primarily by selling it as entertainment. In studying the Olympics, Lansdorp found that the broadcast rights yield upward of a billion dollars. A reality television show about the first extraplanetary town in history, he figures, could be worth much more—at least the $6 or 7 billion necessary to build and launch the payloads.

The show would need a cast, of course, and that’s where the meeting’s would-be Martians sought to do their part. Since April 2013, Lansdorp’s team has been screening résumés sent in from around the world by anyone who cares to pay a modest application fee (the amount varied by country). The first phase of this stunt ended last December, when they narrowed down the pool to 1,058. These hopefuls will be interviewed and the group further whittled down this year. In the end, just four will be selected for the first mission—two men and two women, each from a different continent on Earth. Their trip to Mars is scheduled to land in 2025.

The people in the auditorium knew they faced long odds of being chosen, and that even if they were selected, the project might not make it off the ground. Still, Mars One has given hope to hordes of folks who have so far harbored their peculiar dreams in private. During the casting process, some 200,000 people checked in at the Mars One website, and a related interest group on Facebook accumulated 10,000 members. One tattooed young man in D.C. wore a T-shirt with a message that summed up the spirit of those assembled: “Bas is sending me to Mars,” it said across the front; on the back it read, “Thanks, Bas, you’re a good dude.”

For someone who doesn’t share the dream—an Earth-bound journalist, perhaps—that spirit seems quixotic at best and suicidal at worst. If Lansdorp sends four people to their living ends on a harsh and empty world, what will have been the point? Is Bas a good dude, or a dangerous megalomaniac? Lansdorp has a ready answer for any doubters: “People can’t imagine that there are people who would like to do this,” he said, as he wrapped up his presentation. “They say we’re going to Mars to die. But of course we’re not going to Mars to die. We’re going to Mars to live.”

II.

Meet The Mars One Candidates.
(From left to right) Bea Henington, Leila Zucker, Karen Cumming, Max Fagin, and Anastasiya Stepanova are 1,058 applicants who made the first cut to win a one-way trip to Mars. Here's why they're willing to leave Earth behind forever.
In January, NASA scientists announced they’d found a jelly doughnut on Mars. Or at least, a rock that looked a little like a pastry, with white around its edges and a strawberry-colored center. That such a find should have been the subject of global news reports says less about its own significance—it was just a rock, after all—than it does about the barren world on which it settled. 

It’s been 10 years since Spirit and Opportunity, the twin rovers, landed on the Red Planet. In that time they’ve rolled around for almost 30 miles, taking stock of a terrain that reaches out in all directions as a pock-marked plain of dusty, murky brown. They’ve weathered temperatures that range from 70° in the summertime to -225° in Martian winter, frequent and ferocious dust storms, an unbreathable atmosphere consisting mainly of carbon dioxide, and enough radiation from cosmic rays and solar flares to riddle a person’s DNA with cancerous mutations. Who would choose to spend a life in such a nasty, brutish place?

At the conference lunch, I put this question to a young man named Max Fagin. Forget your likely death on the mission, I said. Pretend that there will be no computer glitch or landing failure, and that your ship won’t end up inside a giant fireball. Imagine that you won’t get sick or break a limb and have no doctor to help you. Let’s say that technically it all goes right. What, then, about the stuff that you’ll have left behind forever? What about the feel of falling snow, the gentle breeze, or swimming on a scorching day?

“I would feel incredibly sad about missing all those things,” said Fagin, a master’s student in aerospace engineering at Purdue University. “But the whole point of going to Mars is that you’d have better substitutes. Any human being can visit the ocean. Anyone can visit the forest. These are beautiful things, but they are commonplace. I will get the chance to experience a sunrise on Mars. I will get the chance to stand at the foot of Olympus Mons, one of the tallest mountains in the solar system. I will get the chance to see two moons in the sky. I just can’t imagine being nostalgic for a life that 6 or 7 billion people are experiencing right now.”

"Any human being can visit the ocean. Anyone can visit the forest. These are beautiful things, but they are commonplace. I will get the chance to experience a sunrise on Mars. I will get the chance to stand at the foot of Olympus Mons."

There were a few more Martians at the table with us; we were eating sandwiches and sushi, foods an astronaut could only dream of. I asked Fagin, Won’t the novelty wear thin? What happens when you’ve seen that sun rise and set a hundred times, and when you’ve walked around Olympus Mons? What happens when you’re in your cramped habitat with nothing much to do except the grim work of staving off an early death? And what about the food? I jabbed my chopstick at a Whole Foods tuna maki. What happens when you’re forced to live on undressed mini lettuce from your agri-pod? 

Fagin waited for me to finish my speech, his face a quiet picture of condescension. “You’re seeing things from a narrow point of view,” he said. “It only seems weird to you because of when and where you live. I mean, would you ask an Inuit how he can stand the boredom of all the snow and rock?”

I stuttered for a second and fell silent. Why indeed should I take my pampered life on Earth as a baseline? Maybe life on Mars wouldn’t be so different from the lives that humans led for thousands of generations. Later on I’ll find rebuttals to his argument: The Arctic teems with wild animals and plants, hardly like the lifeless wasteland one would find on Mars. And, as it happens, the Inuit do suffer dire rates of suicide and depression. But I’m sure these facts wouldn’t matter much to Fagin. In 2010, he spent two weeks crammed into a tiny research station in the empty Utah desert, where students tried to simulate a stay on Mars and put on space suits every time they went out for a walk. “I didn’t have as much time there as I wanted,” he told me.

But what about your family? I sounded desperate now, as if I needed to make him see that Mars One would only lead to misery and death. Yet Max Fagin would not be swayed. The colonists will be more in touch with home than soldiers were in Vietnam, he said, and certainly more so than the migrants who came to America before the first transatlantic cable. The first settlers on Mars will trade video-mail with their families. “My parents have been comfortable with the notion for quite a while now,” Fagin said. “They know that they’re going to lose me eventually, because the planet is going to lose me.”

Meet The Mars One Candidates.
(From left to right) Kellie Gerardi, Ryan MacDonald, Dianne McGrath, and Andrew Rader are among the 1,058 applicants who made the first cut to win a one-way trip to Mars. Learn more about each of them, and why they're willing to leave Earth behind forever, here.

III.

Late in the afternoon, once the presentations had wrapped up and the Martians were gathering for a postconference trip to the National Air and Space Museum, I found Lansdorp near the stage. He had just finished an interview and the camera crew was packing up. He seemed wearied by his publicity tour; his grins appeared forced when replying to questions that he had been asked again and again since the project was announced. “Saving humanity is not anywhere on my list of reasons to do this,” he told a small ring of reporters. “I started this because I wanted to go myself.”

Though he calls himself a lifelong Mars enthusiast, Lansdorp didn’t have the expertise to plan the mission alone. As a graduate student at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, he designed systems for a hypothetical space station, and that’s how he connected with Wielders, a payload study manager at the European Space Agency. “He knows about space, and I don’t,” Lansdorp said. Wielders told him that a one-way mission would be feasible, if they could raise a lot of money. That’s when the pair devised their plan to sell the broadcast rights and show the journey on TV.

Their concept has some flaws. Big-event programs make a lot of money, but they’re often brief and action-packed. (Lansdorp’s model, the Olympics, is a good example.) Mars One wants to run a show for decades, with most of the airtime in the next 10 years dedicated to the arduous process of crew training. What happens if networks aren’t interested in a multiyear commitment? What if no one likes the show? Or what if everything is going well, and then the colonists decide they want some privacy, and turn off the cameras?

“Saving humanity is not anywhere on my list of reasons to do this. I started this because I wanted to go myself.”

To work out the details, Lansdorp recruited the help of one of the biggest names in European reality TV: Paul Römer, the co-creator of the Netherlands’ Big Brother. He emailed the producer blind, and heard back right away. (“What are the odds?” Lansdorp says. “You contact some media expert and he turns out to be a science-fiction fan!”) In June, Mars One signed a contract with Darlow Smithson Productions, a subsidiary to a company where Römer once served as chief creative officer. The show will document the candidate-selection process and could potentially air in early 2015.

As for the space technology, Mars One says nothing will be built in-house; Lansdorp wants to purchase all equipment off the shelf or develop it with private vendors. He expects to use an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket produced by SpaceX, and a landing capsule from SpaceX or Lockheed Martin. He’ll need a pair of rovers, too, not built for science like the NASA bots, but for moving Martian soil and laying sheets of thin-film solar panels, in preparation for the settlers’ arrival. 

The Mars One timeline is ambitious—perhaps too ambitious. It’s not clear that Lansdorp’s contractors will be able to tweak their technologies (for rovers, life-support units, space suits, and so on) to fit the needs of the mission at the necessary pace. And given the expense of recent, much more modest missions to the Red Planet—Mars Science Laboratory, which involved landing only the Curiosity rover, cost $2.5 billion—Lansdorp’s projected price tag seems rather low. While Mars One won’t say how much money it has in the bank, the company does not appear to have raised more than a tiny fraction of what it needs. “At this moment, the weakest link is really the fund-raising,” Lansdorp said at the meeting. “If we had the $6 billion in the bank right now, I’m very convinced that we could pull this off. But to convince the people who have to give the money upfront to finance the hardware—that’s our biggest challenge.”  

Even the attendees in D.C. had some doubts about Mars One. “We know this could fail. We know it’s a long shot,” one told me. But that’s not really the point. Lansdorp has shown that their path to Mars need not be blocked by budget-cutting bureaucrats. They don’t need to wait for guys like Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, or Dennis Tito, the millionaire who plans to mount a Mars flyby in 2021. Earlier this year, more than 8,000 people pledged $300,000 to Mars One on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. A few years ago, all these dreamers would have been alone in their frustration. Now they’re meeting up online and organizing conferences. The Martians have a movement, and it’s growing.

IV.

When I describe Mars One to friends, many seem to take it personally; they call the Martians lunatics or worse. They’re not unusual. On the Aspiring Martians Facebook group, knee-jerk hostility has been the subject of many long discussions. As one user wrote in January, “I’m sure I’m not the first one to have noticed that anywhere anything Mars One–related is posted, we’re told (in the comments) that we are crazy, wannabes, psychologically deviant, on a suicide mission, in for a rude awakening, the mission is a hoax, technology needed doesn’t exist, and, in some cases, that we deserve to die for participating.” 

Lansdorp sees this too. There are some people who want to go to Mars, he said during the conference, and lots who don’t. “These people will never really understand each other.” But a simple lack of understanding does not explain the anger that emerges when the Martians share their dream in public. It’s not just that their trip seems difficult or crazy. It’s that they seem to be running from Earth. What’s wrong with our planet?, we want to ask. Life here isn’t good enough for you? Or perhaps it’s something personal: I’m not good enough for you? 

“It has nothing to do with anything rational,” Lansdorp told me, when explaining why anyone would want to go to Mars. “It’s almost the same as love. You want it for some reason you cannot really explain, and sometimes one love is more powerful than other loves that you have.” Lansdorp began his project because he wanted to go to Mars himself, but now that he and his girlfriend are expecting a child, he says he has given up the idea of going first. He doesn’t want to miss seeing his child grow up. “But I do understand there are people who would do that,” he said.

The desire to go to Mars is "almost the same as love. You want it for some reason you cannot really explain."

I wouldn’t leave my girlfriend, either. When I look into the sky, I feel only wonder—a movement of the mind, not of the heart. But as we spoke, I thought back to a Q&A I’d once attended with the astronaut Michael J. Massimino. Someone asked him what it’s like to take a spacewalk and see the Earth from far away. He said it was the most amazing sight he’d ever seen, but that it also made him deeply sad. Why? Because he knew that he’d never have the chance to share the vision with the people he loved the most.

In that light, a one-way trip to Mars made a peculiar sort of sense. An astronaut doesn’t abandon his family, and choose another, greater love to take its place. Instead he ventures into outer space on their behalf, on behalf of everyone he leaves behind, no matter the physical or emotional cost. The would-be Martians talk of sleeping under double-moon-lit skies, but they also know that they’ll be as alone as any human beings in the history of time. And that’s precisely why their journey matters, for us as well as them: They’ll live on Mars, so the rest of us don’t have to. 

Just before I left the conference, I met another Martian, Leila Zucker. She’s a physician in her 40s, happily married, yet inclined to set it all aside. “I can work to make things better on Earth while I’m here,” she told me, “but I could work to make things better on Earth while I’m on Mars. The idea that I’m running away or something . . . no, I’m not. People who think that are small-minded and scared. The whole idea is to expand the human race.”

Earlier she’d spoken on a panel, taking questions from the crowd. “None of us are planning to die, but all of us recognize that we could,” she said at one point. “You don’t get my life for nothing, but I will give it up because this is my dream.” Then, as the session drew to a close, she abruptly began to sing: “I wanted to go to the Red Planet Mars/but I didn’t get picked by Bas/I wanted to go to the Red Planet Mars/now I gaze longingly at the stars/But I don’t care I wasn’t picked for space/I’m cheering for the future of the human race/Someday we’ll all go to the Red Planet Mars/’Cause Mars One leads the way to the stars!”

When she sang the last two lines a second time, all the other Martians joined in.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science under the title "Bas Lansdorp Has A Posse."

13 Nov 15:15

Can You Fix A Machine By Smacking It?

by Daniel Engber

The Fonz.
Jason Schneider
On Happy Days, one of the Fonz’s signature moves was to pound the jukebox to make it work. There’s a certain logic there, says Mack Blakely, executive director of the National Electronics Service Dealers Association. “In the old days, devices had a lot of mechanical stuff in ’em, and you could jar something back in place,” he says. “A solder connection might reconnect, but it probably wouldn’t be long before it would be acting up again.”

That logic still holds with today’s machines. A good smack can temporarily fix an intermittent connection, but it’s risky. Whacking a platter-based hard drive, for example, could damage the head. That’s why “percussive maintenance” is best left to professionals. A few well-placed taps may identify a weak connection on a printed circuit board, says Blakely, who has been an electrical technician for almost 50 years. “The word ‘tap’ is important,” he adds. “It’s not ‘hit;’ it’s ‘tap.’”

The same approach is used in emergency medicine, too. When paramedics apply the “precordial thump” to the chest of a person in cardiac arrest, they’re not unlike old-school repairmen, smacking the heart to start it up. But, as with electronics, many studies say the thump can often do more harm than good.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science under the title, "Can you fix a machine by smacking it?"

28 Oct 20:30

Crowdfunded Clothing of the Day: Suitsy

Hopefullyoblivious

Is Paranatural real or what?

Pajama Jeans may have paved the way for articles of clothing that blur the line between fashion and comfort, but now there's Suitsy, the "Business-Suit Onesie."

According to their crowdfunding page:

The Suitsy is a jacket connected to a shirt connected to pants — like the lovechild of a business suit and a onesie! False shirt-cuff material extends from the end of the jacket sleeves to give the impression of a complete dress shirt worn underneath. A zipper is hidden behind the shirt-button placket (with false buttons).
The project is just a little over halfway to their goal with 16 days left, and the Suitsy is selling at a discounted price of $302.40. Act fast, or you'll be stuck wearing fancy, tailored suits the rest of your life, and won't look anywhere near as relaxed as this guy!

Submitted by: (via Betabrand)

03 Nov 16:30

Antarctic Scientists Infiltrate Penguin Huddles With Adorable Remote-Controlled Car

by Francie Diep

photo of a remote-controlled car disguised as a penguin chick, among penguins
RFID Car Approaches an Emperor Penguin and Chick
Nature Methods, Le Maho, et. al.

Oh, hello. What have we here? I'm intrigued and I'm not even a penguin.

So this little chick on wheels is actually a remote-controlled RFID reader. A team of researchers from Europe and Australia developed the machine to keep track of the birds they study. The birds themselves are implanted with radio-frequency identification chips, similar to the microchips that pet owners can have implanted in their cats and dogs to identify them, in case Fluffy gets lost one day. When the Antarctic researchers want to identify which microchipped birds are in a group they're observing, they simply drive their disguised tag-reader into the group.

The researchers used to just walk into penguin groups carrying handheld RFID readers, they wrote in a paper, published yesterday in the journal Nature Methods. The scientists noticed, however, that their presence disturbed the ground-bound flocks. The penguins' levels of stress hormones would rise, which researchers worried was bad for their health. A remote-controlled car causes less stressed-out reactions, the team demonstrated in a series of experiments.

There are tagging technologies that don't require a nearby scanner at all. For example, satellite tags send signals into space, then back down to researchers, all without requiring a person—or a stuffed animal-wearing, remote-controlled car—to get close to the tag. However, such tags are larger and can perturb animals in other ways, such as slowing down their swimming. The penguin car lets researchers have the best of both worlds.

To test whether the car really was less disturbing than a scanner-wielding human, the research team tried both methods with a population of king penguins, a species that's closely related to, and looks similar to, the emperor penguin. The king penguins' heart rates didn't increase as much when the car approached them, compared to when a human approached them. The birds attacked both humans and undisguised cars, however, so it's not as if the car doesn't bother them at all.

Emperor penguins seemed less affected by the car than king penguins, perhaps because they're less territorial. Forty-seven percent of the emperor penguins researchers drove the car at didn't react. The other birds either increased their alertness, or investigated the car. When researchers decked the car out in an emperor chick costume, both emperor adults and chicks let it come close to them. The incognito car was even able to join a crèche, or a huddle of penguin chicks, without disturbance.

photo of penguin car buried in a penguin chick huddle
RFID Car Joins Emperor Penguin Chick Huddle
Nature Methods, Le Maho, et. al.

The Nature Methods paper lists some of the penguin car's specs. (You know, in case you're thinking of getting one.) It's able to read three tags' signals a second, coming from all directions. It records tags' identification numbers as well as their GPS coordinates. It's not perfect for all situations. Colin Southwell, an ecologist with the Australian Antarctic Division who didn't work on the car, told Popular Science it wouldn't be feasible for the Adélie penguins he studies because they nest on rockier ground. But it could work beyond penguins: The car's developers tested it in elephant seals and found the seals aren't bothered by the car approaching their heads and tails, which is where elephant seals are normally tagged. I don't think the researchers disguised the car for that job, but I'd certainly like to see that.

16 Oct 16:55

Suspended Animation In Space Travel: What Scientists Still Need To Learn

by Mary Beth Griggs

Human stasis, as portrayed in the movie Prometheus.
NASA wants to know whether it's really possible to put astronauts into 'suspended animation' for long-distance space travel.
Prometheus/Twentieth Century Fox
The first astronauts who head off to Mars might make the entire 180-day journey while they’re fast asleep. In a NASA-commissioned study on human stasis, aerospace engineers at SpaceWorks have found that the benefits of placing a crew in suspended animation for the duration of the journey could be legion. Without living spaces or kitchen facilities, the ship carrying the crew could be lighter and smaller. With everyone basically in hibernation, with a lower metabolic rate, future missions can reduce consumables like food and water by up to 70 percent. And having an unconscious crew also reduces the grueling boredom and chances of personality clashes before humanity can complete the small step/giant leap onto the Red Planet. 

It sounds practically perfect in every way, but there’s still a considerable amount of time and research that needs to happen before we send astronauts off to Mars via the shores of sleep. The technology that SpaceWorks is looking at is a form of therapeutic hypothermia that will drop the temperature of the astronauts’ bodies by just 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing their metabolism and putting them in a kind of hibernation. “It doesn’t take much to get the body to start slowing down,” says John Bradford, President of SpaceWorks Enterprises. 

Though it involves chilly temperatures, therapeutic hypothermia is a hot topic in the medical world, with numerous published studies and trials in the works, all trying to buy trauma patients an increased chance of recovery on the surgeon’s table.  Bradford says that SpaceWorks has been paying close attention to the studies coming out of the medical world, and that they think therapeutic hypothermia could be used safely on interplanetary flight, once some of the medical concerns of such an endeavor are studied and addressed.   

One of the biggest issues facing human stasis using therapeutic hypothermia involve the simple fact that the method has only been tested in people who have been severely injured. “Nobody has done this on a healthy person,” Bradford says, making it hard to isolate what benefits or problems the method could pose for astronauts in peak condition. Not only that, but the longest medical trials of therapeutic hypothermia have only lasted for 14 days, and a mission to Mars will take at least 180 days for a one-way journey. 

Some of the other medical questions that therapeutic hypothermia faces:

  • Cognitive function—How will being unconscious for six months affect the human brain, and how long will recovery take? “Is it going to be a couple hours, a couple days?” Bradford says, adding: “We’d like to measure how well you can perform when you get there.” A recovery time on the scale of months would obviously be problematic. Bradford says that initial results from case studies showed that some patients who underwent therapeutic hypothermia actually preformed better cognitively after the procedure than before. Then again, before the procedure, those patients were severely injured, so it’s hard to say how astronauts would react. 
  • Muscle atrophy and bone loss—Staying in shape is hard enough for astronauts and cosmonauts who are awake. But add being completely sedentary to a weightless environment and the threats of muscle atrophy and bone loss become much more severe. To counter the physiological effects, Bradford says that astronauts in stasis will be treated with drugs to counter the bone loss, and their muscles will be given an electrical workout, stimulated by small electrical impulses. “We can envision that you’re constantly being exercised in this manner,” Bradford says.
  • Intracranial pressure—One of the more enigmatic challenges faced by long-term spaceflight projects is the effect of intracranial pressure on astronauts. Researchers have noticed that without gravity, fluids in the body tend to move towards the upper body, raising pressure in the skull, and affecting vision. Bradford says that some medical studies have found that induced hypothermia can reduce cranial pressure in situations here on earth, which gives him hope that it could have a beneficial impact on astronauts. 
  • Radiation—Exposure to radiation is a huge challenge to long distance spaceflight, but Bradford hopes that stasis using hypothermia could reduce the risk. A summary of the proposed method from SpaceWorks says: “Testing in animals has shown that cancerous tumor growth and the effects of radiation are significantly reduced and slowed during the torpor-state (on par with metabolic rate reduction).” In addition, the savings on mass (no living quarters, less food, etc) mean that a transport vessel using stasis could theoretically be heavily armored against radiation in a way that a larger vessel could not.  

Bradford says that the next phases of research will involve longer term testing on animals, then humans, and eventually, humans in space-- likely on the ISS. He’s optimistic that with all the ongoing medical tests on therapeutic hypothermia, a viable solution for the Mars mission will be available well before any Mars projects get off the ground. “A space application is just part of it. Instead of developing some niche technology, we’re going to leverage something that’s existing,” Bradford says.  

And, just for the record, unlike many science fiction plots where something goes wrong and the capsule containing the astronauts is left to float in space for centuries, if something were to go wrong on a Mars mission using stasis, the hibernation system would automatically shut off, waking the crew and allowing them to make necessary repairs. 

20 Oct 22:08

What To Wear When You're On The Run From The NSA

by Kelsey D. Atherton

CV Dazzle Makeup
They may look like high fashion, but these styles are actually designed to fool facial recognition software.
Adam Harvey

In the documentary film "Citizenfour" by Laura Poitras, it’s revealed that Edward Snowden’s longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills also left the United States and joined Snowden in Russia. Cheekily, Vogue suggests a trio of outfits for Mills, to match both the climate and the need for discretion that comes with proximity to the source of a major intelligence leak.

Here are Vogue’s recommendations:

For a discreet stroll around Moscow, we think Mills would do best to embrace her adopted countrymen’s fondness for fur—and a touch of Bonnie Parker panache—in a camouflage look from Valentino. (A fur-lined coat will fit the bill as a closet staple for more casual occasions.) And should she ever feel homesick? A bold pop of color from Missoni and Matthew Williamson paired with a hibiscus dial watch from Versace should have Mills feeling right at home, regardless of the terrain ahead.

The outfits are pricey; this story is as much about high-end winter fashions as it is spycraft. Listed prices for the items cost, combined $13,563, and there are several other items with prices available upon request. That’s a lot of money for anyone, particularly someone who's trying to avoid detection while living in exile abroad.

Here are some alternate suggestions:

Instead of: Valentino camouflage coat (price available upon request)

Try: Anti-Surveillance Hoodie And Scarf, by Adam Harvey

Adam Harvey has a whole line of stealth wear, designed as both a comment on and protection from modern surveillance. Many of the designs mask a person's thermal signature, so they blend into the background when seen through infrared cameras. The designs are pretty conspicuous when seen through the normal visual spectrum, though, so probably best to wear a jacket over a stealth hoodie.

Instead of: Pierre Hardy mixed media fur-front sneakers

Try: CV Dazzle face makeup, by Adam Harvey

Fur-covered sneakers will stand out in a crowd while failing to conceal anything about a person's identity. If one is going to hide in plain sight while looking like a peacock, there are better ways to do that. Also by Adam Harvey, Computer Vision (CV) Dazzle is a whole category of makeup application that confuses facial recognition software by using sharp contrasting shapes. CV Dazzle draws its inspiration from World War One battleship camouflage, designed to confuse enemies and especially submarines about exactly how far away their target was. Dazzle paint looks nothing like the background environment yet still obscures the appearance of the wearer. 

It’s not without limitations. Atlantic technology writer Robinson Meyer tried wearing CV Dazzle in public in DC for multiple days, and found it very, very conspicuous:

The first thing to know about wearing the dazzle is that everyone looks at you. You can never forget you have it on. People glance at your face, their eyes lingering as you wait on escalators, pass on sidewalks, sit in museums or restaurants. It’s more than a quick double-take or turn of the head: Their eyes lock, and they stare. For a while. You’re in costume, basically, as out of place as a mascot walking down the street. You are anything but invisible.

Instead of: Versace Mystique watch

Try: Masking one’s presence online

Vogue recommends the watch, paired with a print dress and spring-colored coat, as a “Memories of Hawaii” ensemble, nodding both to the fact that Snowden and Mills left Hawaii and that Russia can be very, very cold. Dressing with nostalgia for an old home is fine, but anonymity-protecting apps can make it look like a person is still accessing the internet from their old haunts. When writer Kevin Roose tried to spend a day online hiding in plain sight in San Francisco, he used HideMyAss, a secure virtual personal network that allowed him get online in the Bay Area but “make it look like I'm logging on from Brazil or Bangladesh.”

Instead of: Moncler Gamme Rouge lapin fur ushanka hat

Try: Full Face Visor

In October 2007, Popular Science writer Catherine Price tried living for a week while masking her identity from surveillance technologies. Using cash, Price bought and activated a pre-paid phone under an alias: “Mike Smith”. Many of her steps would be repeated by other writers trying out anonymity, and she herself got help from security researchers to figure out how exactly to keep information private in a world that wants it at every turn. Most of the time Price just wore a cap and sunglasses to obscure her face in surveillance cameras. A trip from the East Bay into San Francisco for the International Association of Privacy Professionals required snagging a ride from an informal carpool network, and for the trip Price wore a face visor. As she describes it:

Let me be clear: This was no ordinary face visor. Designed to provide complete sun protection, it was more of a mask, with a wraparound piece of dark plastic that extended from my forehead all the way down to my chin. It made me look like a welder. It also made it difficult to see. But I still managed to find a car, and surprisingly, no one commented on the visor. In fact, they didn't talk to me at all.
21 Oct 17:30

Kickstarter of the Day: The Back to the Future Hoverboard is Now a Reality

Hendo is introducing the world's first real working hoverboard.

So where does the HENDO hoverboard stand today? Well, about 1 inch off the ground. As you can see from the video above, the prototype is real and it works! But to see it hover in person, and better yet, to defy gravity by riding it, is something you need to experience as well.

With the support of the Kickstarter community, we all can. We need your help to put the finishing touches on the Hendo Hoverboard, to help us produce them, and to create places to ride them.

Hendo is looking for $250,000 in funding to refine the working technology from the prototype and start production. Pledges start at $5, but if you want your childhood dream to come true $10,000 will get you a real working Hendo Hoverboard.

Submitted by: (via Hendo Hover)

22 Oct 17:15

Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack to Release as Cassette

Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack to Release as Cassette

The Awesome Mix Volume 1, is set to hit store shelves on November 28, but it's a limited release only at Independent Record Stores participating in Record Store Day. No word on how many copies will be made, but make sure to be there early, just in case.

Submitted by: (via Billboard)

24 Oct 19:45

This Paper Ticket Holds A Tiny Biological Machine

by Francie Diep

photo showing fingers holding up a paper slip with an array of small circles on it
Gene Circuit on a Paper Ticket

The paper ticket you see pictured above is actually a little biology machine. It's a gene circuit stored on a slip of paper. To turn the gene circuit on, you simply wet the paper with a dropper and all of its microscopic components will come to life. Depending on what circuit scientists freeze-dry onto the paper, these slips could be used to detect disease-causing microbes or medically important molecules, such as glucose. They could even produce molecules scientists want.

As a demonstration, the development team made two types of sensors on paper tickets. One sensor had circles that changed colors when they were wetted with a solution that contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The other had circles that changed into one of two colors when it was wetted with samples of the Sudan versus the Zaire strains of Ebola virus. The sensors still aren't able to detect low amounts of bacteria and viruses, so they won't be used to detect outbreaks anytime soon. But their makers are hoping they're a first step toward cheap, easy-to-use field sensors. The paper slips might also show up sooner in labs, for other scientists looking to perform quick experiments, and for scenarios in which the stakes aren't life-or-death.

A gene circuit works a bit like an electronic one, only all its components are biological. Gene circuits include dozens of genes, plus the proteins needed to read those genes. Together, the genes and proteins perform a task. There are natural gene circuits, such as the genes and proteins that work together to perform photosynthesis in plants. On these paper tickets, however, scientists are able to design any circuits they like, not just naturally-occurring ones. They might mix together genes from different species, for example, to get the paper to react how they want. The team that developed the paper slips, including biologists and engineers from Boston and Chevy Chase, Maryland, came up with a circuit that triggers color changes after detecting specific genetic material—such as genes from certain bacteria, or those Ebola viruses.

The tickets' makers freeze-dry their circuit components onto the paper slips, which users can store for up to a year at room temperature. They published an article describing their work yesterday in the journal Cell.

07 Oct 19:00

Why Orange Juice Tastes Disgusting After You Brush Your Teeth

by Sarah Fecht

In a handy video, the American Chemical Society has explained why orange juice (and food in general) tastes like soap after you brush your teeth. The basic gist is that a detergent called sodium lauryl sulfate, found within your toothpaste, blocks the sweet receptors on your tongue and ramps up your bitterness receptors. The ACS has a more detailed explanation below:

Next, hopefully they'll tackle the question of why toothpaste makes water taste extra cold. (...Or is that just me?) 

Other gustatory questions you can chew on:

06 Oct 18:00

'Twin Peaks' is Returning in 2016 as a Limited Series on Showtime

One of the top cult series of all time is coming back more than 25 years after the show first premiered on ABC. The original creators, David Lynch and Mark Frost, confirmed they are returning for the project. The nine-episode series will go into production in 2015 for a premiere in 2016.

Submitted by: (via Showtime)

Tagged: showtime , Video , Twin Peaks
01 Oct 21:15

Weird Crystal Can Absorb All The Oxygen In A Room -- And Then Release It Later

by Sarah Fecht

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark say they’ve invented a crystal that pulls oxygen out of the air and even water. Apparently, just a spoonful of the stuff can suck up all the oxygen in a room. 

The Oxygen-Absorbing Material.
U. of Southern Denmark
The crystal is a salt made from cobalt*, and it appears to be capable of holding oxygen at a concentration that is 160 times higher than the air we breathe. The paper notes that "an excess" of the substance would bind up to 99 percent of the oxygen in a room.  

But what’s more remarkable is that the crystal can later release the oxygen when exposed to heat or low-oxygen conditions. In a press release, study author Christine McKenzie likens it to the hemoglobin in our blood, which uses iron to bind and release oxygen in the human body. 

If the substance lives up to its promises, it could have a lot of really cool applications—for example, feeding high concentrations of oxygen into hydrogen fuel cells, and lightening the load for lung patients who have to lug around heavy oxygen supplies. Also, scuba divers could potentially leave their tanks at home, says McKenzie. “A few grains contain enough oxygen for one breath, and as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it, the diver will not need to bring more than these few grains."

The study was published in Chemical Science.

*If you must know, the chemical name of the salt is written out as [{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O, where “bpbp” stands for 2,6-bis(N,N-bis(2-pyridylmethyl)-aminomethyl)-4-tert-butylphenolato, and “NH2bdc2” stands for 2-amino-1,4-benzenedicarboxylato). Don’t ask us how to pronounce all that.

19 Sep 14:21

How To Survive A Hurricane With Household Items

by Allie Wilkinson

Hurricane Survival.
Everything you need is right here in the kitchen.
Chris Philpott
It’s been a decade since the historic 2004 hurricane season, one of the Atlantic basin’s most active years ever. Four major storms wreaked havoc along the East Coast, causing more than $51 billion in damage. Since then, other record-setting hurricanes, including Katrina, Ike, and Sandy, have walloped the U.S. This season, fight back. If a powerful storm knocks out the electricity, these household hacks can supply your most essential needs.

Light

Dead flashlight? Score an orange along its equator, deep enough to slit the rind but not the flesh. Carefully detach the peel and its central column of pith. Next, fill the hemisphere halfway with olive oil, coating the pith to make a wick. The orange lamp will burn for about six hours.

 

Food

Keep your perishables cool with a zeer pot. Nestle one porous vessel, such as a flowerpot, into another and fill the space between them with an absorbent material like sand. Keep this layer moist and the inner pot covered. As the water evaporates, it draws away heat.

 

Water

For a water filter, twist cotton cloth or paper towels into a rope. Insert one end into dirty water and feed the other into an empty container. Capillary action will draw the liquid through the fabric, leaving dirt—but not microbes—behind. Be sure to boil or disinfect the clear water.

WARNING: Be careful! If you set your house on fire, drink tainted water, or eat spoiled food, a storm could be the least of your worries.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science. 

29 Sep 13:00

Science On Ice: 7 Antarctic Experiments To Keep An Eye On

by Elbert Chu

Since the 1950s, a small but growing number of international scientists have spent months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. This year, 29 countries will host research programs there, meaning about 800 scientists and support staff will venture south for the summer season, from October to March. The U.S. Antarctic Program alone will field more than 100 projects, many of which will be making up for lost time; sequestration kept some expeditions off the ice in 2013. The U.S.-led projects will investigate a number of critical questions, including how climate change is unfolding and what the earliest moments of the universe were like. Here are seven experiments to keep an eye on. 

Antarctica map
Seven experiments to watch this year on the Antarctic continent
Katie Peek

 Marine Food Chain

The Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 281-foot icebreaker-equipped vessel, carries the AMLR team across the sea in search of a two-inch crustacean called krill. Penguins and whales—and humans, too—rely on krill as a food source. After three decades of study, ecologists knew little about their winter patterns. The AMLR team is in the third year of a five-year survey to map the distribution of krill—which like to hide under the sea ice—with acoustic sounding equipment. The work will help the U.S. manage the Antarctic krill fisheries.

 Global Ice Melt

GPS and seismic sensors embedded in the Antarctic ice make up PoleNet—the Polar Ice Observing Network—together with sensors in Greenland. This year, the team will add three new stations—each with about 3,000 pounds of monitoring equipment. The data help geoscientists predict how the Earth’s crust will rebound as the Western Antarctic ice sheet melts. The project might confirm whether the melting is a runaway process—as other researchers found earlier this year—and if the rebound could lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

 Evasive Particles

Astronomers have been trying to detect neutrinos, the elusive particles whose signatures help them understand mysteries like how supernovae work and what dark matter is, for decades. Traditional neutrino detectors, like Super-Kamiokande in Japan, are water tanks built into abandoned mines. But researchers on the IceCube team figured out how to make a detector 20,000 times bigger than Super-Kamiokande, for just twice the price. Instead of tanks, they use a cubic mile of near-perfectly-transparent ice of Antarctica, with 5,160 optical sensors drilled more than a mile deep. More than 30 neutrinos have been picked up since the detector started operation in 2010. This year, the team will be testing the computers they installed last year in an effort to make the detector more autonomous, and hope to find evidence for where in the universe neutrinos originate.

 The Infant Universe

In March, cosmologists reported a major result from the BICEP2 telescope: evidence of the once-speculative theory of inflation, the violent expansion of the universe the instant after the Big Bang. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and other astronomers have called for more research to repeat—or disprove—the experiment. This season, BICEP3 deploys. With five times more sensors than its predecessor and triple the field of view, it should help confirm or deny the BICEP2 finding. 

 Microbes In The Dark

Biologists know little about how microorganisms that rely on the sun for energy also survive dark polar winters. So the ALPS team has set up sensor stations in two ice-covered lakes, each equipped with algae detectors, phytoplankton samplers, and water chemistry analyzers for year-round data collection. This season, the team gets a first look at over-winter data. The results could help astrobiologists predict whether similar microbes might survive on other ice-covered bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

 Hidden Stars

Because Antarctica sits right at the pole, Earth’s otherwise chaotic atmosphere is stable and predictable there. That means giant balloons—some are wider than a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument—can circle the continent but still land close to their launch point. This season, the Long-Duration Ballooning team’s payload is a 1,700-pound gamma-ray telescope, sent up to watch stars that the atmosphere conceals from the ground. The technique yields spacecraft-quality research trips for a fraction of the space-launch price tag. 

 Penguin Evolution

Because penguins are a key predator, they indicate how the Southern Ocean ecosystem is adapting to climate change. The Penguin Science team is using a 45,000-year record of bones and eggshells preserved in the Antarctic ice—along with data from 15 years of banding live Adélies—to decipher how the species is adapting today. This year, the team will focus on whether birds’ foraging prowess is a learned skill or inherited trait—and whether the ability will survive as sea ice melts.

Plus, McMurdo Station Gets A Makeover

The National Science Foundation is planning a multiyear upgrade to McMurdo Station, the largest and most active base on the continent. Potential overhauls include replacing many of its 100-plus structures, adding new wind turbines, increasing bandwidth, and upgrading instruments for Crary Lab, the main research facility. Technicians may even receive a DARPA-style research wing—dedicated to the development of advanced gliders, robotic field stations, and automated traverse vehicles, all purpose-built for polar expeditions.

Map data courtesy U.S. Antarctic Program; Penguin colony locations courtesy H.J. Lynch and M.A. LaRue; Sunrise data courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory.

Correction (9/22/2014, 7:30 p.m. ET): The original version of this map mislabeled the two Autonomous Lake Profiling and Sampling stations as being in Blood Falls and Lake Whillans. Both are at Lake Bonney, near McMurdo Station. The map has been corrected. We regret the error.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title "The Lab At The Bottom Of The World".

22 Aug 13:45

Gamers Reveal The Inner Workings Of The Eye

by Neel V. Patel

The human retina at 480x magnification.
A player's map in EyeWire is 4.1 micrometers wide -- 1/20 the width of a human hair.
Louise Hughes/Science Photo Library

The human retina allows the eye to follow the path of a moving object, such as a Ping-Pong ball in play. Neuroscientists have been toiling for 50 years to explain how, but they lack the processing power to map the eye’s neural network. (With today’s cutting-edge modeling software, 100 people would have to work 24/7 for half a million years.)

An online game called EyeWire, developed at MIT, harnesses the power of gamers instead. Each player navigates a single nerve’s path across a tiny section of mouse retina. “It’s actually extremely challenging,” says Amy Robinson, EyeWire’s creative director. “No computer program can do it automatically.”

Some 135,000 gamers have spent a year and a half connecting retinal dots, which scientists then used to reconstruct the neural wiring in 3-D and hypothesize how the retina processes observed motion. They published their findings in Nature in May. 

Now the team is working on a game that traces nerves in the olfactory cortex to find out how the brain associates emotions with particular smells. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Popular Science.








27 Aug 20:35

Sneaky Panda Fakes Pregnancy For Extra Treats And Attention

by Loren Grush

Giant Panda

Ai Hin was all set to be a star. The 6-year-old giant panda had shown signs of pregnancy last month, and staff at the Chengdu Breeding Research Centre in China had planned to film her labor in the first ever live broadcast of a panda giving birth.

Now that momentous occasion has been cancelled, as it turns out Ai Hin’s pregnancy was all just a clever ruse. Chengdu staff revealed that the panda had experienced a “phantom pregnancy” and had likely faked symptoms to get extra attention and food.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo,” Wu Kongju, an expert at Chengdu, tells Xinhua.

Signs of pregnancy for pandas include a reduced appetite, less mobility and an increase in progestational hormone. However, after a two-month observation, Ai Hin’s “behaviors and physiological indexes returned to normal.”

According to Kongju, phantom pregnancy is somewhat common among endangered bears, as they notice the special treatment other bears receive when they exhibit signs of pregnancy. Many other animals, such as dogs, cats and mice, also can suffer phantom pregnancy after they've been in heat (or "estrus").

The incident is also reminiscent of Münchausen syndrome, in which individuals fake certain health issues for attention or sympathy. Perhaps Ai Hin just needed somebody to care.

[Xinhua]








05 Aug 17:37

Who Knows What Glows?

by Alexandra Ossola

Like a collection of oddly-shaped glow-sticks

On warm evenings in late summer, some of us may recall quaint memories of catching lightning bugs, rushing to put them in hole-riddled jars. What our childhood selves may not have known is that fireflies glow at night because they are bioluminescent, meaning they are able to produce and emit light on their own. 

Even though fireflies may present the most famous example of bioluminescence, the biological ability to light up is shared across different kingdoms. An enormous diversity of organisms luminesce using various biological tactics. For example, glowing sucker octopi twinkle a blue-green color due to special structures called photophores, or light-up suckers. And minuscule sea snails glow a faint green, because they contain the enzyme luciferase (as does the firefly).

Seattle-based biologist-turned-artist Eleanor Lutz created a chart of select bioluminescent species, detailing the different compounds that make them glow. Even if the chart isn't exhaustive, you can get a pretty good sense of the huge range of organisms that are bioluminescent just by taking a peek. 








29 Jul 15:27

Amazon's New Store For 3-D-Printed Products Omits The Best Parts Of 3-D Printing

by Alexandra Ossola

The site isn't quite there yet, even though I think this product is pretty cool.
Screenshot of amazon.com by A. Ossola

This week, Amazon announced its new 3-D printing store. We were immediately giddy, imagining the endless possibilities of being able to upload any design and, in Amazon fashion, have it shipped to us in solid form overnight. But the online book purveyor that has diversified to sell basically everything on the planet seems to have squandered its opportunity to transform the 3-D printing movement; the products in its new online marketplace are not customizable, fairly expensive, and slow to be delivered. 

The new 3-D printed store allows “customers [to] become designers” with a variety of goods ranging from home décor to jewelry to electronics accessories. “The introduction of our 3-D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail - that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience,” said Petra Schindler-Carter, Director for Amazon Marketplace Sales, in a press release. This may represent a shift towards the future of online retail, but Amazon isn't doing it right. At least, not yet.

The first issue is with how customizable these products really are. Some have nearly infinite varieties, like this super cool quark pendant (Mom, note this one for my Christmas list), and really do grant the customer a fair amount of creative control. But many other products, including most of the electronics accessories and some décor, simply aren’t customizable at all. Why do I want these things 3-D printed, anyway?

Price, you say? Maybe these 3-D printed items are cheaper than their conventionally manufactured counterparts. That would be a great argument, except that it’s wrong. Take, for example, this 3-D Printed Nexus 7 Stand. The 3-D printed version sells for $52.59. A slightly more sophisticated version, on sale in another corner of Amazon’s infinite marketplace, would run you $20.48, including shipping. You can attest that price difference to “the coolness factor” of 3-D printing.

The amount of time the products need to ship, too, is long for those of us who have been spoiled by Amazon’s inhuman delivery speeds, requiring a tortoise-like 6-10 days in most cases. That’s too long for me to wait to get my “hanging ‘dawg’” sculpture.

As it stands now, the site is missing out on the best feature of 3-D printing: its infinite capacity for invention. In an ideal world, customers would be able to design something, based on their own plans or ones provided by an external company, and Amazon would print and ship with its trademark alacrity. That would make this new marketplace into a truly exciting gamechanger, bringing the power and ease of 3-D printing to people who have never had it before.








04 Aug 17:30

Pic of the Day: Jupiter Cake

Pic of the Day: Jupiter Cake

Submitted by: (via cakecrumbs)

Tagged: pics , jupiter , cakes , food
30 Jul 19:35

Octopus Broods Its Eggs For 4.5 Years, Longest For Any Animal

by Douglas Main

Octo-mom
Bruce Robison et al / PLOS ONE
In April 2007, Bruce Robison and colleagues happened upon a deep-sea octopus more than 4,500 feet below the sea off California. When they came back about a month later it was guarding a clutch of eggs that appeared quite new and small. So Robison, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and colleagues decided to take this opportunity to see how long these animals take to brood their eggs, as this hadn't been investigated before. They came back shortly thereafter to find it was still holding onto the eggs – then back, and back again, a total of 18 times. Every time, the octo-mom was still faithfully clutching her offspring-to-be.

The octopus went about brooding her eggs for a total of 53 months (aka 4.5 years), which is by far the longest on record for any animal and more than twice the lifespan of many shallow-dwelling species. The longest any octopus had previously been known to brood was 14 months. But deep-sea creatures live in much colder waters, and it was previously unknown how long they might take to "raise" their offspring. The authors of the study, published today (July 30) in PLOS ONE, compare it to other known brooding records:

The longest guarded incubation known for fish eggs is 4–5 months, by the Magellan Plunder Fish in Antarctic waters. For birds, the longest uninterrupted egg brooding is 2 months, by the Emperor Penguin. Among live-bearing species, elephants gestate for 20 to 21 months, frilled sharks carry their embryos internally for about 42 months, and the internal gestation period of alpine salamanders can reach 48 months before birth.

One of the craziest things about this: Octopus mothers aren't thought to eat when they are raising their young. So how did it survive? The scientists don't know, but the cold temperatures and slow metabolic rate of deep-sea animals may have helped. But it seemed to take a toll on the octopus, a member of the species Graneledone boreopacifica; over the course of brooding, the scientists observed her turn from a pallid purple to a much paler white, and they noticed the "diminishing size and tumescence [or swollenness] of the mantle, loss of skin texture, cloudy eyes, slack skin, and a loss of pigmentation."

One advantage to investing so much maternal care is that when these species' eggs hatch, they emerge like miniature adults and can therefore skip the juvenile stage that other octopuses have to pass through. Scientists think this gives them a better chance of surviving in the dark, mysterious world of the deep sea. 

The octopus and the eggs.
Bruce Robison et al / PLOS ONE







31 Jul 13:00

A Lick Of The Tongue Changes This Ice Cream’s Color

Xamaleón as it changes.

At first, it’s a delightful shade of periwinkle blue.  Then, it turns into a lilac purple before settling on a vibrant magenta.

No, these aren’t the stages of your old mood ring.  Believe it or not, this is the colorful transformation of the new ice cream Xamaleón, which is designed to change colors as you lick it.

The evolving dessert is the brainchild of Spanish physicist, engineer and professor Manuel Linares, who can now add “modern day Willy Wonka” to his resume.  Inspired by the likes of Charlie Francis, creator of fluorescent ice, Linares said he wanted to create a kind of ice cream that had never been seen before.

The result was Xamaleón, which is Spanish for “chameleon.” With a patent pending, Linares is staying tight-lipped on the recipe, but apparently there’s a special ingredient dubbed the “love elixir,” which must be spritzed on the ice cream before it’s eaten.  The mysterious concoction somehow reacts to your saliva and changes in temperature to transform the cream into its different delightful colors.

Linares claims the ice cream, which tastes like tutti-frutti, contains natural ingredients, such as strawberries, cocoa, almonds, bananas and more.  At his ice cream parlor in Calella de Mar in Barcelona, business is through the roof, according to the Mirror.

And the former physicist isn’t stopping there.  Phys.org notes he’s planning on making another ice cream called Xamán, which contains medicinal plants from Peru and Africa that produce an aphrodisiac effect.  I think I’ll hold out for that flavor instead.








24 Jul 13:00

"Night's Slow Poison": An Excerpt From Our Sci-Fi Special Issue

by Ann Leckie

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
Illustration by Lisa Kay

This is an excerpt from Popular Science's special issue, Dispatches From The Future. Visit iTunes to download the edition onto your iPad, or return to our list of excerpts.

The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

The man approached, striding as though the confined space did not constrain him. He wore a kilt and embroidered blouse. His skin was light brown, his hair dark and straight, cut short. And his eyes . . . Inarakhat Kels felt abashed. He had thought that in his years of dealing with outsiders he had lost his squeamishness at looking strangers in the face.

The man glanced over his shoulder, and cocked an eyebrow. “She was angry.” The corners of his mouth twitched in a suppressed grin.

“One regrets.” Inarakhat Kels frowned behind his mask. “Who?”

“The woman in line before me. I take it you refused to let her board?”

“She carried undeclared communication implants.” Privately, Kels suspected her of being a spy for the Radchaai, but he did not say this. “One is, of course, most sorry for her inconvenience, but . . . ”

“I’m not,” the man interrupted. “She nearly ruined my supper last night insisting that I give up my seat, since she was certain she was of a higher caste than I.”

“Did you?”

“I did not,” said the man. “I am not from Xum, nor are we anywhere near it, so why should I bow to their customs? And then this morning she shoved herself in front of me as we waited outside.” He grinned fully. “I confess myself relieved at not having to spend six months with her as a fellow passenger.”

“Ah,” Kels said, his voice noncommittal. The grin, the angle of the man’s jaw—now he understood why the eyes had affected him. But he had no time for old memories. He consulted his list. “You are Awt Emnys, from the Gerentate.” The man acknowledged this. “Your reason for visiting Ghaon?”

“My grandmother was Ghaonish,” Awt Emnys said, eyes sober that had previously been amused. “I never knew her, and no one can tell me much about her. I hope to learn more in Athat.”

Whoever she was, she had been from the Ghem agnate, Kels was certain. His eyes, his mouth, the line of his chin . . . With just a little more information, Kels could tell Awt which house his grandmother had been born in. “One wishes you good fortune in your search, Honored Awt,” he said, with a small bow he could not suppress.

Awt Emnys smiled in return, and bowed respectfully. “I thank you, Honored,” he said. “I understand I must disable any communications implants.”

“If they are re-activated during the voyage, we will take any steps necessary to preserve the safety of the ship.”

Awt’s glanced at the gun at Kels’ waist. “Of course. But is it really so dangerous?”

“About three months in,” said Kels, in his blandest voice, “we will pass the last ship that attempted to traverse the Crawl with live communications. It will be visible from the passengers’ lounge.”

Awt grinned. “I have an abiding wish to die old, in my bed. Preferably after a long and boring life tracking warehouse inventories.”

Kels allowed himself a small smile. “One wishes you success,” he said, and stepped aside, pressing against the wall so that Awt could pass him. “Your belongings will be delivered to your cabin.”

“I thank you, Honored.” Awt brushed Kels as he passed, awakening some unfamiliar emotion in him.

“Good voyage,” Kels murmured to the other man’s back, but there was no sign Awt had heard.

#

Ghaon is a moonless blue and white jewel orbiting a yellow sun. Its three continents provide every sort of terrain, from the great deserts of southern Lysire, and the rivers and gentle farmlands of the north and west of that same continent, to the mountains of Aneng, still fitfully smoking. Arim, the third continent, is arctic and uninhabited. Aside from the sorts of industry and agriculture that support the population of any world, Ghaon produces pearls and ingeniously carved corals, which, when they find their way outside the Crawl, are highly valued. Flutes carved from the wood of Aneng’s western forests are prized by Gerentate musicians.

According to legend, the first inhabitants of Ghaon came from a world called Walkaway, the location of which is unknown. There were thirteen original settlers, three agnates of four people each plus one eunuch priest of Iraon. The three agnates parceled out the world among themselves: Lysire, Aneng, and the surface of the sea. The priest blessed the division, and each agnate prospered and filled the world.

The legend is only that, of course. It is impossible that thirteen people would possess the genetic diversity required to populate a planet, and in any case studies show that the first human inhabitants of Ghaon, whose descendants now populate Lysire and Aneng, derived largely from the same populations that eventually made up much of the Gerentate. The ancestors of the sea-going agnates arrived several thousand years later, and their origins are obscure.

In any case, the first colonists must have either known about the Crawl before they arrived, or constructed it themselves. The latter seems staggeringly unlikely.

Gerentate explorers found Ghaon some years after that entity’s expansionist phase had run itself out, and so the only threat they presented was a trickle of ill-bred, bare-faced tourists.

But the Radch was another matter. Every soul on Ghaon, from the smallest infant at the breast to the most ancient Lysire matriarch in her tent on the edge of the drylands, believed that the nefarious Anaander Mianaai, overlord of the Radch, had cast a covetous eye on Ghaon and contemplated how he might make it his own.

To keep reading, visit iTunes and download our Dispatches From The Future special issue onto your iPad.








23 Jul 17:30

Introducing Our First Sci-Fi Special Issue For The iPad

by Popular Science Staff

Popular Science's special sci-fi digital issue
Dispatches from the Future
Popular Science

We love science fiction here at Popular Science. Many of the real-life innovations and advances that fill our pages every month, in fact, started as pie-in-the-sky ideas born by people thinking creatively about a better future. These visions only get more vivid, the stories more stimulating and innovative, as we craft each new issue.

So today we present something extra-special, called Dispatches From The Future: an entire digital issue packed with more than 100 pages of awesome science fiction and designed for the iPad. You can download a copy from iTunes here.

Our crown jewel in this edition is the first-ever graphic novel adaptation of the Isaac Asimov classic Nightfall, complete with animations. Also included are amazing short stories by award-winning sci-fi authors Will McIntosh, Ann Leckie, and Seanan McGuire. Finally, we've folded in collections of original science fiction we produced in 2013 and 2014, which feature some of the brightest minds in the field musing how we will live—on Earth and beyond—in the decades and centuries to come.

We're publishing excerpts of Dispatches From The Future here, one per day, to give you a taste of the issue. (Each cover image will stay grayed-out until that excerpt is posted.) So keep checking back throughout the week—if you can wait that long!

"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh

"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh
"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Twenty-eight years ago, humanity was almost wiped out by invaders called Luyten. But human-created artificial intelligence saved humans in the nick of time. Now, after decades of self-imposed exile in Australia, the A.I. defenders are allowing a few humans to visit. The human ambassadors have no idea what is in store. [Click to read an excerpt]

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Many worlds away, Inarakhat Kels paces the halls and corridors aboard an interstellar cargo ship on a six-month journey between planets. He and the other members of his security watch keep on the lookout for treacherous spies, harmful technology, and anything else that might put the ship and its inhabitants at risk of destruction. On this particular trip, a meeting with a peculiar traveller forces him to confront the memories of the home-planet he abandoned long ago, and of a lost-love he was forced to leave behind. [Click to read an excerpt]

"The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire

"The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Dr. Diana Weston is a virologist and a bestselling author, with a penchant for writing medical thrillers about catastrophic disease outbreaks. But underneath her attractive smile and sharp wit lies a troubled psyche. When the fictional plots she pens start showing up in the real world, the dark side to her life begins to come out of the shadows. [Excerpt coming soon]

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov
Illustration by Ryan Inzana

The scientists of Saro University have predicted civilization's impending doom, caused by the extinguishing of the planet's last light-giving star in just four hours. But some are skeptical that the Darkness will have the effect that the scientists anticipate, so a young journalist has come to seek the truth. His shocking discovery is a story for the ages. [Excerpt coming soon]

Download our entire Dispatches From The Future special issue for the iPad from iTunes.








23 Jul 02:26

Photo



16 Jul 14:21

Friends Who Are Unrelated Share A Surprising Amount Of DNA

by Alexandra Ossola

They may share more than just their lunch.
Fernando de Sousa via Wikimedia Commons

You and your best friend have a lot in common: your favorite food, your taste in music, maybe your hometown. But a new study finds that your similarities may even extend to a genetic level.

The researchers, James Fowler of University of California San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, used data collected during the famous Framingham Heart Study, running since 1948 in the small town in Massachusetts. When participants shared their DNA with researchers for the study, they shared lots of other information, too, including who they hang out with. "Because the study started in a small community, many people that were named as friends, also happened to be involved in the study," Fowler explained to the BBC. He and Christakis looked at almost 2,000 participants and identified about 1,400 pairs of friends. 

The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that people share 0.1 percent more DNA with their friends than with perfect strangers. That’s about the same genetic similarity you share with your fourth cousin.

So why might this be the case? The study authors had a few theories. Maybe people with similar genes seek out similar environments and then meet others like them. Or, people who share DNA could have comparable skill sets, so they work together better over long periods of evolutionary time.

The study has a few limitations. For one, Fowler's team didn't look across the entire human genome--they compared only about 500,000 of each person's three billion DNA base-pairs. Even though the researchers excluded anyone who was related in any way, Framingham’s population is made up mostly of descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants, so the genetic variation may not be large enough to make a broader conclusion. Evan Charney, a professor of public policy at Duke University, said that, to maintain the study’s integrity, the researchers could only study a population in which individuals are completely unrelated to one another, which is admittedly very difficult to find. Rory Bowden, a statistician at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, also had reservations about how countries of origin could affect the communities that people seek out, such as church groups and cultural associations, which would align people with similar genetics.

But others, including the researchers, stand by the conclusions. Findings such as this, Fowler notes, could influence theories about how altruism has developed over evolutionary time.

Of course, Fowler and Christakis don’t have all the information yet. Interestingly, they found that the biggest genetic similarities were found in friends’ sense of smell. They’re not quite sure why that would be the case, but future studies may help them sniff out the answers.








16 Jul 18:00

Does 'The Ocean Cleanup' Stand Up To Peer Review?

by Emily Gertz

Dozens of small pieces of plastic found in stomach of dead sea bird
Ocean Plastic Debris
All of these pieces of plastic were removed from the stomach of a single north fulmar, a seabird, during a necropsy at the National Wildlife Health Lab.
Carol Meteyer, USGS

Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat has a plan to cull millions of tons of animal-killing, economy-hurting plastic debris out of the world's oceans. Called “The Ocean Cleanup”, the plan involves putting specially-designed V-shaped booms in the world's major marine gyres. As the water flows under the booms, specially designed filters hanging beneath them would collect the plastic.

According to its website, Slat believes his device could clean a given gyre of plastic bits in 7-10 years, at costs 33 times lower than current cleanup methods, and that “a major part of these costs” could be recouped by selling the collected plastic for re-use.

Slat came out of nowhere when he proposed this idea a couple years ago at age 17, and has become global sensation on the new-thinking, TED-talk, social enterprise circuit: The notion of using the ocean's own energy and motion to clean up our mess seems elegant. The possibility that a kid might invent something that solves a serious and all but intractable pollution problem seems Hollywood-ready.

The plan itself also has an entrepreneurial, this-can-pay-for-itself angle that flies well during a rocky economy, and the guy making it happen is a soulful, optimistic young man with the best of intentions. The project has raised over $1.16 million of a $2 million crowdfunding goal with 59 days to go, and has just released a first feasibility study.

But whether or not it can really work still seems uncertain. According to two marine scientists at Deep Sea News, the feasibility study has fundamental scientific shortcomings that include:

  • An “overarching use of average rather than extreme current speeds to estimate operational limits in the design process”
  • No real solutions for how biofouling – the growth of marine life on the boom assembly – would affect its durability and functions. “As currently designed, the moored array is under-engineered and likely to fail.”
  • Inadequate sampling of plastic pollution at depth
  • No substantial plans on how to address environmental issues, snaring unwanted critters, or “high seas law”

Deep Sea News apparently knew they were taking a tiger by the tail with this review, the first time they've covered The Ocean Cleanup since March 2013. “Originally, we had decided not to engage with this project again, since being a naysayer is neither fun nor professionally rewarding,” they note. But with the amount of approval, attention and money flowing into the project, it warrants the same kind of scrutiny that scientific work in similar fields regularly receives.

“We believe in the peer review process, both before publication and post-publication,” writes DSN. “Science is built on criticism. While peer review is by no means perfect, we have both found that a robust peer review process has greatly improved our own science. Since crowdfunding sidesteps the formal grant review process and makes funding requests public, it is appropriate that the review be public as well.”

The plastic debris problem may also be more complex than The Ocean Cleanup's initial feasibility study accounted for. A new, first-of-its-kind map of ocean plastic debris has revealed a surprising absence of the stuff on the water's surface. Scientists involved are not yet sure where the plastic is going, or which organisms may be affected. It's research that Slat probably needs to consider as he continues to develop and promote his project.








17 Jul 20:22

The Comet We've Targeted To Land On Turns Out To Be Duck-Shaped

by Sarah Fecht

At this moment, the Rosetta spacecraft is about 250,000,000 miles away from Earth and quickly approaching the (not-so-poetically named) comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency launched Rosetta in 2004 with a plan to send it to 67P and drop a robotic lander onto a comet's surface for the first time ever. But as Rosetta flies nearer and nearer to the comet, it has made an unexpected discovery.

When Hubble imaged 67P back in 2003, scientists concluded the comet was a giant three-by-two mile football-shaped rock. So, this is apparently what ESA expected to see once Rosetta got there:

An artist’s impression of Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, back when ESA thought the comet was normal-shaped.
ESA, image by AOES Medialab

Scientists began noticing something weird in the photos Rosetta sent back about a week ago. As the spacecraft approached within 23,000 miles of 67P, it started to look like the comet had three big bumps on its surface

Now Rosetta is less than 8,000 miles from the comet, and it looks like 67P actually is composed of two distinct structures. “This is unlike any other comet we have ever seen before”, Carsten Güttler, who manages Rosetta's imaging system, said in a press release. “The images faintly remind me of a rubber ducky with a body and a head.” 

So far scientists aren't sure where 67P got its irregular structure from, but an ESA blogger came up with four possibilities:

1) Two comets slowly collided together

2) A single comet was pulled into the weird shape by the gravity of the Sun or Jupiter. "Perhaps the two parts of comet 67P/C-G will one day separate completely," the writer speculates.

3) A single comet deformed as the ice in its nucleus evaporated

4) A huge chunk of something slammed into the comet and ripped off big pieces of it. 

Scientists hope to find out more about the mysterious rubber ducky's composition when Rosetta's lander touches down on the comet's surface in November. 








15 Jul 06:00

Photo



10 Jul 16:40

Climate Change Likely To Lead To More Kidney Stones

by Douglas Main

A (large) kidney stone, measuring about 0.3 inches in diameter.
Robert R. Wal via Wikimedia Commons

The hotter weather expected with climate change is likely to cause a litany of figurative aches for humanity (and already is), but some of those pains may be quite literal. A new study found that higher temperatures significantly increase the risk of developing kidney stones, hard crystals that are painful to pass and which can cause damage to the organs. The idea is that hotter weather leads people to become more dehydrated, which allows minerals to concentrate and crystalize within the body.

"We found that as daily temperatures rise, there is a rapid increase in the probability of patients presenting over the next 20 days with kidney stones," said study lead author Dr. Gregory Tasian, a pediatric urologist and epidemiologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the health records of more than 60,000 people in several American cities, along with weather records. People were most likely to show up at the hospital with kidney stones three days after high temperatures. In Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas (the winner of the dubious prize for most stones), people were nearly 40 percent more likely to seek medical help for the condition at temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit compared to when it was only 50°F  outside.

Kidney stones have become more common in the recent past, as temperatures have risen, a trend that is likely to continue, the scientists wrote.  About one in 11 people have had kidney stones, whereas they were only found in about one in 20 people in 1994. Interestingly, the really hot days seem to make a difference, as opposed to the average conditions, as CBS News noted: 

The investigators noted that the number of hot days in a year may be a better predictor of kidney stone risk than the average annual temperature. While Atlanta and Los Angeles have the same average annual temperature -- 63 degrees Fahrenheit -- Atlanta has five times more days topping 80 degrees than Los Angeles, and almost twice the prevalence of kidney stones.

Kidney stones usually do not cause permanent damage, and can be dealt with by drinking a lot of water and taking pain medication. But they sometimes do require surgery to treat, and tend to recur in a significant percentage of people who get them.








10 Jul 20:00

Gif of the Day: Airplane Drops Fish to Repopulate Lake

Gif of the Day: Airplane Drops Fish to Repopulate Lake

It doesn't seem like this works too well, but it must...

Submitted by: (via Ted Hallows)

Tagged: nature , gifs , lakes , fish , airplanes