It’s a record we didn’t want to break. The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has hit the 400 parts-per-million mark, a level at which some scientists say is a point of no return for stopping climate change. A few days later, a leading newspaper prints an op-ed essay that claims CO2 is getting a bad rap: it’s actually good for the planet. The more the better.
Skeptic Phil Plait rebuts the CO2-is-awesome idea while a paleontologist paints a picture of what Earth was like when the notorious gas last ruled the planet. Note: humans weren’t around.
Plus, our skit says NO to O2 … and a claim that climate change skeptics have borrowed from the Creationists’ playbook in challenging the teaching of established science in schools.Guests:
- Phil Plait – Astronomer, Skeptic, and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
- Peter Ward – Paleontologist and biologist, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington in Seattle
- Josh Rosenau – Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education
- Eugenie Scott – Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education
You can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow. But why is that? We consider the arrow of time and why it all traces to the Big Bang. Also, artificial blood cells and life in a deep Antarctic lake.
You’ll hear how Stephen King thinks that humankind is metaphorically living under a big dome, and what reasons Neil Tyson gives for why we really want to go into space.
And … skeptical takes on faces in cheese sandwiches and the supposedly special powers of psychics.
All this and more on this special Big Picture Science podcast.Guests:
- Jeremy Bailenson – Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University and co-author of Infinite Reality: The Hidden Blueprint of Our Virtual Lives
- Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World
- Helen Amanda Fricker – Glaciologist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego
- Jill Mikucki – Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee
- Jennifer Heldmann – Research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center
- Jonathan Coulton – Singer and songwriter
- Joseph DeSimone – Professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chemical engineering at North Carolina State University
- Stephen King – Novelist, author of Under the Dome: A Novel
- Phil Plait – Astronomer, Skeptic, and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
- Benjamin Radford – Deputy editor, Skeptical Inquirer magazine
- Steven Novella – Physician at Yale University, host of the podcast, “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”
- Neil deGrasse Tyson – Astrophysicst, American Museum of Natural History, and author of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier
- Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles
Not all conversation is appropriate for the dinner table – and that includes, strangely enough, the subject of eating. Yet what happens during the time that food enters our mouth and its grand exit is a model of efficiency and adaptation.
Author Mary Roach takes us on a tour of the alimentary canal, while a researcher describes his invention of an artificial stomach. Plus, a psychologist on why we find certain foods and smells disgusting. And, you don’t eat them but they could wiggle their way within nonetheless: surgical snakebots.Guests:
- Mary Roach – Author, most recently, of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
- Martin Wickham – Head of Nutrition, Leatherhead Food Research, U.K.
- Paul Rozin – Professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania
- Michael Gershon – Professor in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Columbia University Medical Center
- Howie Choset – Professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University
A piece of Mars. The dark circle (~170 m across) in the middle of the picture is the interior of what used to be a crater. It’s now almost completely eroded away, probably by the wind. Small dunes have formed on these former crater sediments — because the dunes seem to form mostly on this circular plateau, it’s likely that they’re made from sand derived from the former crater sediments (and thus these dunes have not traveled far). (HiRISE ESP_030622_2060, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Maybe goodbye isn’t forever. Get ready to mingle with mammoths and gaze upon a ground sloth. Scientists want to give some animals a round-trip ticket back from oblivion. Learn how we might go from scraps of extinct DNA to creating live previously-extinct animals, and the man who claims it’s his mission to repopulate the skies with passenger pigeons.
But even if we have the tools to bring vanished animals back, should we?
Plus, the extinction of our own species: are we engineering the end of humans via our technology?Guests:
- Beth Shapiro – Associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
- Ben Novak – Biologist, Revive and Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz
- Hank Greely – Lawyer working in bioethics, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University
- Melanie Challenger – Poet, writer, author of On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
- Nick Bostrom – Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
A piece of Mars: Everybody else loves this image because it shows an inverted channel — the remains of a stream that once flowed through this area. But I love it because the little dunes were also formed by a flow. The flow of the wind, that is. Here the wind is deflected by the former streambed, forming dunes that moved in the same direction (lower right to upper left). (HiRISE ESP_030609_1550, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Think back, way back. Beyond last week or last year … to what was happening on Earth 100,000 years ago. Or 100 million years ago. It’s hard to fathom such enormous stretches of time, yet to understand the evolution of the cosmos – and our place in it – your mind needs to grasp the deep meaning of eons. Discover techniques for thinking in units of billions of years, and how the events that unfold over such intervals have left their mark on you.
Plus: the slow-churning processes that turned four-footed creatures into the largest marine animals that ever graced the planet and using a new telescope to travel in time to the birth of the galaxies.Guests:
- Jim Rosenau – Artist, Berkeley, California
- Robert Hazen – Senior staff scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, executive director of the Deep Carbon Observatory and the author of The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet
- Neil Shubin – Biologist, associate dean of biological sciences at the University of Chicago, and the author of The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People
- Nicholas Pyenson – Curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.
- Alison Peck – Scientist, National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia
A piece of Mars: Is it modern art? Well maybe it looks like it from a distance. Up close, this is reality on Mars. These are dark dunes in the southern hemisphere, awaking from a long hibernation beneath bright winter frost (a touch of which can still be seen in white patches). The wind has begun to shape the dunes, leaving crayon streaks where dust devils have swept by. Maybe we’ll see those little ripples move this summer. (HiRISE ESP_030602_1080, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
ENCORE Just remember this: memory is like Swiss cheese. Even our recollection of dramatic events that seem to sear their images directly onto our brain turn out to be riddled with errors. Discover the reliability of these emotional “flashbulb” memories.
Also, a judge questions the utility of eyewitness testimony in court. And, don’t blame Google for destroying your powers of recall! Socrates thought the same thing about the written word.
Plus, Brains on Vacation!Guests:
- Phil Plait – Keeper of Discover Magazine’s badastronomy blog
- Craig Stark – Neurobiologist, Director for the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at Univeristy of California, Irvine
- Ronald Reinstein – Former judge on the Superior Court of Arizona and judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court
- Betsy Sparrow – Psychologist, Columbia University
First released May 7, 2012
There are always surprises when we sort through Seth’s wine cellar – who knows what we’ll find!
In this cramped cavern, tucked between boxes of old fuses and a priceless bottle of 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux, we discover the next generation of atomic clock … the key to how solar storms disrupt your cell phone … nano-gold particles that could make gasoline obsolete … and what NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has learned about how our solar system stacks up to others.
Tune in, find out and, help us lift these boxes, will you?Guests:
- Chris Sorensen – Physicist, Kansas State University
- Anne Curtis – Senior research scientist, National Physical Laboratory, U.K.
- Jonathan Eisen – Evolutionary biologist, University of California, Davis
- Karel Schrijver – Solar physicist, Lockheed Martin, Advanced Technology Center
- Jonathan Fortney – Astronomer, University of California, Santa Cruz
- Sanjoy Som – Astrobiologist, NASA Ames Research Center
ENCORE What’s in a name? “Holocene” defines the geologic epoch we’re in. Or were in? Goodbye to “Holocene” and hello “Anthropocene!” Yes, scientists may actually re-name our geologic era as the “Age of Man” due to the profound impact we’ve had on the planet.
We’ll examine why we’ve earned this new moniker and who votes on such a thing. Plus, discover the strongest evidence for human-caused climate change.
Also, why cities should be celebrated, not reviled… a musing over the possible fate of alien civilizations … and waste not: what an unearthed latrine – and its contents – reveal about ancient Roman habit and diet.Guests:
- William Steffen – Climate scientist and the Executive Director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, Canberra
- Simon Donner – Geographer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver
- Edward Glaeser – Economist, Harvard University, author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
- Douglas Vakoch – Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute
- Mark Robinson – Director of Environmental Archaeology at the University of Oxford
- Erica Rowan – Doctoral student, University of Oxford
First released October 24, 2011
Adapted from MESSENGER Mission News (March 26, 2013)
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 — recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities.
The newly named craters are
- Alver, for Betti Alver (1906-1989), an Estonian writer who rose to prominence in the 1930s, toward the end of Estonian independence and on the eve of World War II. She published her first novel, Mistress in the Wind, in 1927. She also wrote several short stories, poetry, and translations.
- Donelaitis, for Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780), a Lutheran pastor who was considered one of the greatest Lithuanian poets. He is best known for The Seasons, considered the first classic Lithuanian poem. It depicts the everyday life of Lithuanian peasants. His other works include six fables and a tale in verse.
- Flaiano, for Ennio Flaiano (1910-1972), an Italian screenwriter, playwright, novelist, journalist, and drama critic especially noted for his social satires. He became a leading figure of the Italian motion-picture industry after World War II, collaborating with writer Tullio Pinelli on the early films of writer and director Federico Fellini.
- Hurley, for James Francis “Frank” Hurley (1885-1962), an Australian photographer and adventurer. He participated in several expeditions to Antarctica and served as an official photographer with Australian Imperial Forces during both world wars. The troops called him “the mad photographer,” because he took considerable risks to obtain photographs.
- L’Engle, for Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007), an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the award-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.
- Lovecraft, for Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century. He popularized “cosmic horror,” the notion that some concepts, entities, or experiences are barely comprehensible to human minds, and those who delve into such topics risk their sanity.
- Petofi, for Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), a Hungarian poet and liberal revolutionary. He wrote the Nemzeti dal (National Poem), which is said to have inspired the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire.
- Pahinui, for Charles Phillip Kahahawai “Gabby” Pahinui, (1921-1980), a Hawaiian guitar player considered to be one of the most influential slack-key guitar players in the world. His music was a key part of the “Hawaiian Renaissance,” a resurgence of interest in traditional Hawaiian culture during the 1970s.
- Roerich, for Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian painter and philosopher who initiated the modern movement for the defense of cultural objects. His most notable achievement was the Roerich Pact of 1935, an international treaty signed by India, the Baltic states, and 22 nations of the Americas (including the United States), affirming that monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational, and cultural institutions and their personnel are to be considered neutral in times of war unless put to military use.
Ray Espiritu, a mission operations engineer on the MESSENGER team, submitted Pahinui’s name for consideration. “I wanted to honor the place where I grew up and still call home even after many years away,” he says. “The Pahinui crater contains a possible volcanic vent, and its name may inspire other scientists as they investigate the volcanic processes that helped to create Mercury, just as investigation of Hawaiian volcanoes helps us understand the volcanic processes that shape the Earth we know today.”
These nine newly named craters join 95 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008.
“We are delighted that the IAU has once again assigned formal names to a new set of craters on Mercury,” adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “These names will make it easier to discuss these features in the scientific literature, and they provide a fresh opportunity to honor individuals who have contributed to the cultural richness of our planet.”
More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Planetary Nomenclature Web site:http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/index.html.
MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. MESSENGER’s extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later. A possible second extended mission is currently under evaluation by NASA. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, the Director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.
A piece of Mars: There are vast plains on Mars that display criss-crossing streaks like this. These are ~5 m (~16 feet) across, give or take. Did an alien drive a dune buggy all over, leaving behind tracks? Nope. These are the distinctive trails made by the passage of dust devils, which act like huge vacuum cleaners that suck up dust from the ground. The patterns of the tracks change every year as new dust devils churn away at the surface. (HiRISE ESP_030916_1250, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
We love our family and friends, but sometimes their ideas about how the world works seem a little wacky. We asked BiPiSci listeners to share examples of what they can’t believe their loved-ones believe, no matter how much they hear rational explanations to the contrary. Then we asked some scientists about those beliefs, to get their take.
Discover whether newspaper ink causes cancer … if King Tut really did add a curse to his sarcophagus … the efficacy of examining your irises – iridology – to diagnose disease … and more!
Oh, and what about string theory? Is it falsifiable?Guests:
- Steven Novella – Physician at Yale University, host of the podcast, “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”
- Matthew Hutson – Author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane
- Brian Greene – Physicist, Columbia University, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
- Guy Harrison – Author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True and, most recently, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian
A piece of Mars: Dunes near the north and south poles get cold in the winter, just like they do on Earth. Except on Mars instead of H2O ice, it’s a mix of CO2 and H2O ice (mostly CO2). In the spring the white ice slowly disappears, revealing the dark dunes underneath. (HiRISE PSP_002033_1325, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
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A piece of Mars: Nili Patera on Mars is an ancient volcano. Some of the old volcanic material has been blown into rather striking sand dunes. It is the first place where dunes were conclusively identified as actively moving. Here’s a closeup of one of them — the steep slip face on the downwind side indicates these dunes are moving to the lower left. This dune migrates about a meter every year. (HiRISE ESP_030210_1890, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
It’s hard to get lost these days. GPS pinpoints your location to within a few feet. Discover how our need to get from A to B holds clues about what makes us human, and what we lose now that every digital map puts us at the center.
Plus, stories of animal navigation: how a cat found her way home across Florida, and the magnetic navigation systems used by salmon and sea turtles.
Also, why you’ll soon be riding in driverless cars. And, how to map our universe.Guests:
- John Bradshaw – Director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute, author of Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet and, most recently, Cat Sense
- Kenneth Lohmann – Biologist at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- Simon Garfield – Author of On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
- William “Red” Whittaker – Roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University
- James Trefil – Physicist at George Mason University, author of Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond
A piece of Mars: Here are some old dunes that look a little like vertebrae of fossils (if you think they look like dragon spines poking out of the ground then you’re playing too many video games). The white areas are stabilized and possibly lithified. The blue areas are where the dunes are being actively eroding, exposing old bedding (faint parallel stripes) within the dunes. (HiRISE ESP_030583_1610, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Imagine biting into a rich chocolate donut and not tasting it. That’s what happened to one woman when she lost her sense of smell. Discover what scientists have learned about how the brain experiences flavor, and the evolutionary intertwining of odor and taste.
Plus a chef who tricks tongues into tasting something they’re not. It’s chemical camouflage that can make crabgrass taste like basil and turn bitter crops into delicious dishes – something that could improve nutrition world-wide.
Meanwhile, are we a tasty treat for aliens? Discover whether we might be attractive snacks for E.T. And, out-of-this-world recipes from a “gAstronomy” cookbook!Guests:
- Bonnie Blodgett – Author of Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense
- Gordon Shepherd – Neurobiologist, Yale University School of Medicine, author of Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters
- Homaro Cantu – Chef and owner of restaurants Moto and iNG in Chicago, chairman and founder of Cantu Designs Firm
- Niki Parenteau – Astrobiologist, SETI Institute
- Markus Hotakainen – Astronomer, chef, author of gAstronomical Cookbook