A piece of Mars: It’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and dunes like these are covered in bright white CO2 frost. The sun is near the horizon (shining from the top of the image), so it creates stark shadows. That can make doing science tough, but it’s the best way to show off the beauty of the dunes. Can you tell which way is up here, which way is down, and when you’re looking at a inherent change in the surface color vs. sun and shadows? (ESP_034922_1385, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
ENCORE The machines are coming! Meet the prototypes of your future robot buddies and discover how you may come to love a hunk of hardware. From telerobots that are your mechanical avatars … to automated systems for the disabled … and artificial hands that can diffuse bombs.
Plus, the ethics of advanced robotics: should life-or-death decisions be automated?
And, a biologist uses robo-fish to understand evolution.Guests:
- Illah Nourbakhsh – Professor of robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, author of Robot Futures. Check out his Robot Futures blog.
- Marco Mascorro – Vice President of Hardware, 9th Sense Robotics, Mountain View, California
- Curt Salisbury – Mechanical engineer, senior member, technical staff, Sandia National Laboratories
- Joe Karnicky – Retired engineer, Menlo Park, California. Videos of his gadgetry can be found at the bottom of this page.
- John Long – Professor of biology and cognitive science at Vassar College and the author of Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology
First released January 21, 2013
A piece of Mars: What is this big swoosh? It’s a big dark dune. The dark/light striping across it is found in all of the dunes in this area, but what is it? We’re probably seeing the inside of the dune: the wind may so strong here that it erodes the highest point of the dune, showing off the interior structure. (HiRISE ESP_034909_1744, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: On the floor of a crater in the southern midlatitudes, there’s a field of ripples. But wait, there are big ones that are very sinuous and small ones that are not. Why? Both are ripples, but they’re different kinds of ripples. The smaller ones (~3 m, or ~10 ft) are probably made entirely of sand, while the larger ones (~15 m, or 50 ft) are older and they’re probably made of a mixture of different grain sizes. (ESP_034801_1300, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona).
Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.
Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.
Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.Guests:
- Leonard David – Space journalist, writer for SPACE.com
- Mario Juric – Astronomer working on data processing for the LSST – the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
- John Lewis – Chemist, professor emeritus of planetary sciences, University of Arizona, chief scientist, Deep Space Industries
- Philip Lubin – Professor of physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
- James Oberg – Retired NASA rocket scientist, space historian, and a self-described space nut
ENCORE It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.
Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?Guests
- Roger Penrose – Cosmologist, Oxford University
- Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist, Caltech, 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
- Simon Steel – Astronomer, Tufts University
- Andrei Linde – Physicist, Stanford University
- Jonathan Gottschall – Writer, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
- Marcus Chown – Science writer and cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine
First released December 17, 2102
A piece of Mars: Last week I wrote an image caption for Curiosity, showing both the HiRISE perspective and Curiosity’s image of the ripple crossing Dingo Gap. Read more on the HiRISE image page.
What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.
We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?
Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.
And another fad diet that has a historical root: the monastic tradition of 5:2 – five days of eating and two days of fasting.
It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it.Guests:
- Loren Cordain – Professor of health and exercise science, Colorado State University, founder of the modern-day paleo diet, author, The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat
- Andrew Jotischky – Professor of medieval history, Lancaster University
- Louise Humphrey – Archeologist, Natural History Museum in London
- Marlene Zuk – Evolutionary biologist, University of Minnesota, and author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live
David Morrison, director of the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute, has written a biographical memoir of Carl Sagan (1934-1996), founder of the modern disciplines of planetary science and exobiology.
In the biographical memoir, Morrison shares his thoughts on the life of Carl Sagan, “one of the world’s best-known scientists and a true celebrity” whose work still resonates today in the field of planetary science. Morrison, who was one of the first students of Sagan’s in the 1970s at Harvard University, reflects not only on the life of his mentor and friend, but also on his controversial “out of the box” thinking.
Carl Sagan was a founding member of the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Icarus, the foremost professional journal in planetary science. Later in the 1980s he founded the Planetary Society, a public-membership organization that supports planetary exploration, and became a supporter of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, work which became the basis of his best-selling novel, Contact (1985). In 1996, Sagan died from complications of a rare blood disease, shortly after joining the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute.
This biographical memoir will interest any fan of planetary science, astrobiology, the SETI Institute and science in general.
Let’s end with a quote by Carl Sagan which summarizes his life’s work and achievements “Even today, there are moments when what I do seems to me like an improbable, if unusually pleasant, dream: to be involved in the exploration of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; to try to duplicate the steps that led to the origin of life on an Earth very different from the one we know; to land instruments on Mars to search there for life; and perhaps to be engaged in a serious effort to communicate with other intelligent beings, if such there be, out there in the dark of the night sky.”
- Beginning Astrobiology Talk by D. Morrison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lmfGQzOIjQ
- Carl Sagan Biographical Memoire http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/sagan-carl.pdf
A piece of Mars: Yep, this is really Mars. It’s a tiny bit (600×450 m) of the southwestern side of a large dune in the southern midlatitudes. The dark lines are furrows that are thought to be carved by blocks of CO2 ice that slide down in the spring. The tiny stripes are ~4m wavelength windblown ripples that are just starting to get covered in seasonal frost. Both the furrows and ripples are likely to be active today. (ESP_034234_1255, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
ENCORE Computers and DNA have a few things in common. Both use digital codes and are prone to viruses. And, it seems, both can be hacked. From restoring the flavor of tomatoes to hacking into the president’s DNA, discover the promise and peril of gene tinkering.
Plus, computer hacking. Just how easy is it to break into your neighbor’s email account? What about the CIA’s?
Also, one man’s concern that radio telescopes might pick up an alien computer virus.Guests:
- George Weinstock – Microbiologist, geneticist, associate director at the Washington University Genome Institute, St. Louis
- Jim Giovannoni – Plant molecular biologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University campus
- Andrew Hessel – Faculty member, Singularity University, research scientist at Autodesk, and co-author of “Hacking the President’s DNA” in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic
- Dan Kaminsky – Chief scientist of security firm DHK
- Dick Carrigan – Scientist emeritus at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois
First released December 10, 2012
Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.
A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.
Plus, the Plan B that keeps astronauts from floating away forever … how animals and plants hitch rides on open sea to populate new lands … and the rise of the mapping technology that has made hiding a thing of the past.Guests:
- Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author ofYou Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves
- Andrew Luck-Baker – Producer, BBC radio science unit, London
- Alan de Queiroz – Evolutionary biologist, University of Nevada, Reno and author of The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life
- Chris Hadfield – Astronaut and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. His Space Oddity video.
A piece of Mars: Here are two craters, each of which is ~240 m across. On the right is an old, very eroded crater. It has old, eroded ripples on its floor. The crater on the left is younger, with a mostly intact rim and even ejecta surrounding it. The ripples inside this crater are also younger: more crisp, and less broken-up. (HiRISE ESP_034482_1570, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
Picture a cockroach skittering across your kitchen. Eeww! Now imagine it served as an entrée at your local restaurant. There’s good reason these diminutive arthropods give us the willies – but they may also be the key to protein-rich meals of the future. Get ready for cricket casserole, as our relationship to bugs is about to change.
Also, share in one man’s panic attack when he is swarmed by grasshoppers. And the evolutionary reason insects revolt us, but also why the cicada’s buzz and the beetle’s click may have inspired humans to make music.
Plus, the history of urban pests: why roaches love to hide out between your floorboards. And Molly adopts a boxful of mealworms.Guests:
- Jeffrey Lockwood – Professor of natural sciences and humanities, University of Wyoming, author of The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects
- David Rothenberg – Musician, author of Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise
- Dawn Day Biehler – Assistant professor of geography and environmental studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore county, author of Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books)
- Andrew Brentano, Jena Brentano and Daniel Imrie-Situnayake – Co-founders, Tiny Farms, Berkeley, California
A piece of Mars: On Oct. 15, 2013, Curiosity drove past a crater that has small dunes or ripples on its floor. In a new HiRISE image, you can see Curiosity’s tracks from that day (its 424th sol on Mars). While there, the camera took a nice panorama, so I thought I’d show what this crater and ripple field look like both from the rover and from orbit. Note the dark dunes and Mt. Sharp in the background of Curiosity’s image. (HiRISE ESP_034572_1755 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona, GigaPan)
You must not remember this. Indeed, it may be key to having a healthy brain. Our gray matter evolved to forget things; otherwise we’d have the images of every face we saw on the subway rattling around our head all day long. Yet we’re building computers with the capacity to remember everything. Everything! And we might one day hook these devices to our brains.
Find out what’s it’s like – and whether it’s desirable – to live in a world of total recall. Plus, the quest for cognitive computers, and how to shake that catchy – but annoying – jingle that plays in your head over and over and over and …Guests:
- Ramamoorthy Ramesh – Materials physicist, deputy director of science and technology, Oakridge National Lab
- Michael Anderson – Neuroscientist, Memory Control Lab, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
- Ira Hyman – Psychologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington
- James McGaugh – Neurobiologist, University of California, Irvine
- Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego; director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2)
A piece of Mars: On martian dunes it’s all about lines, lines, lines. The prominent wavy ones on the left are thought to be erosional scars left by sliding blocks of dry ice. The little fingerprint-like lines are ripples, like those found on any Earth dune. All those lines tell us that the dunes are formed as the wind, ice, and sand interact over time. (826×620 m, ESP_021838_1300, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: Where the wind blows strong and there’s a lot of sand, the surface gets scoured. Some bits of the ground, called yardangs, are more resistant and stick around: they take on shapes elongated in the direction of the wind (in this case, a wind from the lower right). Groups of them are often called “fleets”, as they sometimes look like inverted boat hulls. (993×745 m, ESP_034129_1820, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
ENCORE Zombies are making a killing in popular culture. But where did the idea behind these mythical, cerebrum-supping nasties come from? Discover why they may be a hard-wired inheritance from our Pleistocene past.
Also, how a whimsical mathematical model of a Zombie apocalypse can help us withstand earthquakes and disease outbreaks, and how the rabies virus contributed to zombie mythology.
Plus, new ideas for how doctors should respond when humans are in a limbo state between life and death: no pulse, but their brains continue to hum.
Meet the songwriter who has zombies on the brain …. and we chase spaced-out animated corpses in the annual Run-For-Your-Lives foot race.Guests:
- Guy P. Harrison – Science writer and author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True
- Jonathan Coulton – Singer and songwriter
- Robert Smith? – Mathematician and epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, in Canada
- Dick Teresi – Science writer and author of The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers—How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death
- Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy – - Respectively Senior Editor at Wired Magazine and veterinarian, and the co-authors of Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus
First released November 12, 2012