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Dust devils and wind scours on ripples on dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - July 27, 2015

A piece of Mars: So much wind. There are dark swirly tracks of dust devils that have passed by, ripples covering dunes, wind scours around rocks, and of course dunes. Dune crests have a different color than other regions: are they less covered in dust? made of a more grayish sand that is more easily blown up the dune by the wind? or both? (HiRISE ESP_040885_1295, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Frosty dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - July 06, 2015

A piece of Mars: In this image (0.96×0.54 km or 0.6×0.33 mi), it’s late winter and the sun is barely above the horizon here near the north pole. The dunes are covered in winter frost, most of which is CO2 ice (also known as dry ice). The dark regions are those facing the sun, where the ice has started to sublimate, revealing the dark sand below. (HiRISE ESP_041433_2650, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

What the Hack

ENCORE  A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.

The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.

Guests:

•   Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California

•   Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec

•   Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm

•   Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST

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•   Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

 

First released November 11, 2013.

Skeptic Check: Evolutionary Arms Race

ENCORE It’s hard to imagine the twists and turns of evolution that gave rise to Homo Sapiens. After all, it required geologic time, and the existence of many long-gone species that were once close relatives. That may be one reason why – according to a recent poll – one-third of all Americans reject the theory of evolution. They prefer to believe that humans and other living organisms have existed in their current form since the beginning of time.

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But if you’ve ever been sick, you’ve been the victim of evolution on a very observable time scale. Nasty viruses and bacteria take full advantage of evolutionary forces to adapt to new hosts. And they can do it quickly.

Discover how comparing the deadly 1918 flu virus with variants today may help us prevent the next pandemic. Also, while antibiotic resistance is threatening to become a major health crisis, better understanding of how bacteria evolve their defenses against our drugs may help us out.

And the geneticist who sequenced the Neanderthal genome says yes, our hirsute neighbors co-mingled with humans.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

•   Svante Pääbo – Evolutionary geneticist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

•   Ann Reid – – Molecular biologist, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California

•   Martin Blaser – Microbiologist, New York University School of Medicine, member of the National Academy of Sciences, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

•   Gautam Dantas – Pathologist, immunologist, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis

First released March 31, 2014.

It's All Relative

A century ago, Albert Einstein rewrote our understanding of physics with his Theory of General Relativity. Our intuitive ideas about space, time, mass, and gravity turned out to be wrong.

Find out how this masterwork changed our understanding of how the universe works and why you can thank Einstein whenever you turn on your GPS.

Also, high-profile experiments looking for gravitational waves and for black holes will put the theories of the German genius to the test – will they pass?

And why the story of a box, a Geiger counter, and a zombie cat made Einstein and his friend Erwin Schrödinger uneasy about the quantum physics revolution.

Guests:

•   Jeffrey Bennett – Astronomer, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

•   Beverly Berger – Theoretical physicist and the Secretary for the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation

•   Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves

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•  Paul Halpern – Physicist at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, author of Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics

And To Space We Return

Earth may be the cradle of life, but our bodies are filled with materials cooked up billions of years ago in the scorching centers of stars. As Carl Sagan said, “We are all stardust.” We came from space, and some say it is to space we will return.

Discover an astronomer’s quest to track down remains of these ancient chemical kitchens. Plus, a scientist who says that it’s in our DNA to explore – and not just the nearby worlds of the solar system, but perhaps far beyond.

But would be still be human when we arrive? Hear what biological and cultural changes we might undergo in a multi-generational interstellar voyage.

Guests:

 •   Timothy Beers – Astronomer, University of Notre Dame

•   Chris Impey – Astronomer, University of Arizona, author of Beyond: Our Future in Space

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•   Cameron Smith – Archaeologist, Portland State University

Small dunes on Mars

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - June 01, 2015

A piece of Mars: These dunes are some of the smallest on Mars. The smallest in this frame is ~150 m long (492 ft). But the smallest Earth dunes are ~20 m across. Why are they so much bigger on Mars? The air is thinner, so the wind has to blow stronger to lift sand grains. So once the sand is moving, it goes fast – and therefore goes farther before it lands. This makes for a bigger dune. (HiRISE ESP_41809_1890, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Math's Days Are Numbered

ENCORE  Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.

But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.

An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.

Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.

And why mathematics = love.

Guests:

•   Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.

•   Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet , and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.

•   Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

•   Rob ManningFlight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover

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•   Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality . His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.

 

First released December 2, 2015.

The looming dune

A piece of Mars: this 0.96×0.54 km (0.6×0.33 mi) scene shows a large, rippled dune that is slowly marching towards the upper right. The smooth striped band running from upper left to lower right is the slip face, where sand pushed by the wind eventually avalanches. Smaller scars show where slope failures (little landslides) have formed. (HiRISE ESP_027432_1350, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Skeptic Check: After the Hereafter

There are few enduring truths, but one is that no one gets out of life alive. What’s less certain is what comes next. Does everything stop with death, or are we transported to another plane of existence? First-hand accounts of people who claim to have visited heaven are offered as proof of an afterlife. Now the author of one bestseller admits that his story was fabricated.

We’ll look at the genre of “heaven tourism” to see if it has anything to say about the possible existence of the hereafter, and why the idea of an afterlife seriously influences how we live our lives on Earth.

Also, a neurologist describes what is going on in the brain during near-death and other out-of-body experiences.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

•   Ben Radford – Paranormal investigator, research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author of the Discovery News article, “Why People Believed Boy’s ‘Visit to Heaven’ Story”

•   Greg Garrett – Professor of English at Baylor University, writer on books, culture and religion for the Huffington Post, and author of Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination

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•   Steven Novella – Professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine and host of the “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast

They Know Who You Are

You’re a private person. But as long as you’re on-line and have skin and hair, you’re shedding little bits of data and DNA everywhere you go. Find out how that personal information – whether or not it’s used against you – is no longer solely your own. Are your private thoughts next?

A security expert shares stories of ingenious computer hacking … a forensic scientist develops tools to create a mug shot based on a snippet of DNA … and from the frontiers of neuroscience: mind reading may no longer be the stuff of sketchy psychics.

Guests:

•   Marc Goodman – Global security advisor, founder, Future Crimes Institute, author of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

•   Susan Walsh – Forensic geneticist, Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis

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•   Marvin Chun – Psychologist, Yale University

A Fundy Thing Happened

Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews from the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way. 

What’s for dinner? Maybe Soylent. Made by … people! We do a taste test. Then meet your gut microbes. They control your health and even your mood.

Get tips on how to talk to aliens, why you should keep an eye on government surveillance, and the future of 3D printing human tissue. Also, why extraordinary beliefs persist – including Holocaust denial – despite the persistence of evidence to the contrary.

And, global perspective: why Ebola won’t be the next big pandemic but sea level rise could wipe out coasts along Florida and Thailand.

Plus, we imagine life hundreds of years ago for the renegades on the rough seas, and what the world would be like had the dinosaurs not gone extinct.

All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast!

Guests:

•   Bill Miller – Physician and author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome

•   Rob Rhinehart – CEO and founder of Soylent

•   Brian Fagan – Emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels

•   David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic . His Op Ed article about Ebola appeared in the New York Times.

•   Shari Wells-Jensen – Professor of English, Bowling Green State University

•   Susan Landau – Mathematician and engineer who works on cybersecurity, privacy and public policy at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute, author most recently of Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies

•   Will Storr – Journalist, author of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

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•   Ali Khademhosseini – Bioengineer, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital

Windblown or not?

A piece of Mars: The surface in this 960×540 m (0.6×0.34 mi) scene has a distinct fabric to it that runs from the upper left to lower right. Are these old lithified dunes? And what makes the tiny filamentary lines that run from upper right to lower left, are those ripples? I’m not convinced either way, but I suspect the wind has had a hand in shaping them, one way or another. (HiRISE ESP_040297_1605, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

The Evolution of Evolution

Darwinian evolution is adaptive and slow … millennia can go by before a species changes very much. But with the tools of genetic engineering we can now make radical changes in just one generation. By removing genes or inserting new ones, we can give an organism radically different traits and behaviors. We are taking evolution into our own hands.

It all began with the domestication of plants and animals, which one science writer says created civilization. Today, as humans tinker with their own genome, is it possible we will produce Homo sapiens 2.0?

Also, what happens to those species who can’t control their destiny? How climate change is forcing the biggest genetic reshuffling in recorded history.

Guests:

•   Richard Francis – Science writer, author of Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

•   Juan Enriquez – Academic, businessman, author, founding director of the Life Sciences Project, Harvard Business School, managing director, Excel Venture Management, and author of Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth

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•   Jessica Hellmann – Biologist, University of Notre Dame

Wind stripes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 29, 2015

A piece of Mars: Yes, I post a lot of pictures of martian dunes with striped patterns. They’re all distinct and beautiful. So here’s another one, 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) in size. These beasts moved from right to left across the scene, some of them leaving behind some stripey deposits in their wake. (HiRISE ESP_039581_1520, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Invisible Worlds

ENCORE  You can’t see it, but it’s there, whether an atom, a gravity wave, or the bottom of the ocean … but we have technology that allows us to detect what eludes our sight. When we do, whole worlds open up.

Without telescopes, asteroids become visible only three seconds before they slam into the Earth. Find out how we track them long before that happens. Also, could pulsars help us detect the gravity waves that Einstein’s theory predicts?

Plus, why string theory and parallel universes may remain just interesting ideas … the story of the woman who mapped the ocean floor … and why the disappearance of honeybees may change what you eat.

Guests:

•   David Morrison – NASA space scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute

•   May Berenbaum – Entomologist, University of Illinois

•   Scott Ransom – Astronomer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

•   Lee Smolin – Theoretical physicist, Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Canada, author of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

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•   Hali Felt – Author of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

 

First released September 23, 2013.

Life in Space

Discovering bacteria on Mars would be big news. But nothing would scratch our alien itch like making contact with intelligent life. Hear why one man is impatient for the discovery, and also about the new tools that may speed up the “eureka” moment. One novel telescope may help us find E.T. at home, by detecting the heat of his cities.

Also, the father of modern SETI research and how decoding the squeals of dolphins could teach us how to communicate with aliens.

Guests:

•   Lee Billings – Journalist and author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars

•   Oliver Guyon – Optical physicist, astronomer, University of Arizona and Suburu telescope; 2012 McArthur Genius award winner

•   Jeff Kuhn – Physicist, Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Colossus Telescope

•   Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute

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•   Denise Herzing – Behavioral biologist and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project

Martian lace

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 19, 2015

A piece of Mars: This 300×300 m (984×984 ft) scene shows bright windblown dunes or ripples arrayed in a lacy pattern (the biggest ones are about 5 m, or 16 ft, across). This is near the landing site of Ares 3, a science fiction book called “The Martian”, by Andy Weir that’s being made into a movie. I’m betting these beauties won’t make an appearance in the movie, though… (HiRISE ESP_040776_2115, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup

ENCORE  Monsters don’t exist. Except when they do. And extinction is forever, except when it isn’t. So, which animals are mythical and which are in hiding?

Bigfoot sightings are plentiful, but real evidence for the hirsute creature is a big zilch. Yet, the coelacanth, a predatory fish thought extinct, actually lives. Today, its genome is offering clues as to how and when our fishy ancestors first flopped onto land.

Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker assumes mythic status as it flutters between existence and extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.

Guests:

•   Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, former professor at Occidental College, co-author of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids

•   Chris Amemiya – Biologist and geneticist at the University of Washington and the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle

•   John Fitzpatrick – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University

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•   Ben Novak – Visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead coordinating scientist of “The Great Comeback” at the Revive and Restore project, Long Now Foundation

 

First released December 9, 2013.

Flow

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 10, 2015

A piece of Mars: Below this ~550 m (0.3 mi) wide crater lies a ~1.3 km (0.8 mi) long “beard”, the wake of an ancient flow around the crater. Based on its location on Mars, I’m guessing the fluid flowing was lava. Inside the (interestingly dual) crater are bedforms, the remnants of more recent fluid flow – but in this case, the fluid is air. (HiRISE ESP_039902_1965, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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