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Skeptic Check: Mummy Dearest

ENCORE  Shh …mummy’s the word! We don’t want to provoke the curse of King Tut. Except that there are many curses associated with this fossilized pharaoh – from evil spirits to alien malevolence. So it’s hard to know which one we’d face.

We’ll unravel secrets about the famous young pharaoh, including the bizarre events that transpired after the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and learn what modern imaging reveals about life 3,000 years ago.

Plus, we dispel myths about how to make a mummy, while learning the origin of that notorious mummy curse. Also, discover why superstitions have survival value.

Guests:

•   Jo Marchant – Author of The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy

•   Andrew Wade – Physical anthropologist, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

•   Salim Ikram – Professor of Egyptology, American University, Cairo

•   Stuart Vyse – Professor of psychology, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

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•   F. DeWolfe Miller – Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

 

First released June 24, 2013.

Wind eroded mantle

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 21, 2015

A piece of Mars: The curving ridge of a mountain has signs of many small landslides. Mantled on top of these is an older set of landslides that has been partially eroded away. The rippled edge of this older deposit suggests that it is wind that has done the erosion. So the history here goes: mountains, then landslides, then wind erosion, then new smaller landslides. (HiRISE ESP_039195_1755 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Big Questions Somewhat Answered

Here are questions that give a cosmologist – and maybe even you – insomnia: What happened after the Big Bang? What is dark matter? Will dark energy tear the universe apart?

Let us help you catch those zzzzs. We’re going to provide answers to the biggest cosmic puzzlers of our time. Somewhat. Each question is the focus of new experiments that are either underway or in the queue.

Hear the latest results in the search for gravitational waves that would be evidence for cosmic inflation, as well as the hunt for dark matter and dark energy. And because these questions are bigger than big, we’ve enlisted cosmologist Sean Carroll as our guide to what these experiments might reveal and what it all means.

Guests:

•   Sean Carroll – Cosmologist, California Institute of Technology

•   Jamie Bock – Experimental cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the BICEP team

•   Brendan Crill – Cosmologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and member of the Planck collaboration

•   Jeff Filippini – Post-doctoral Fellow, California Institute of Technology, assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois and member of the Spider team

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•   Neil Gehrels – Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, project scientist for WFIRST

Bearded craters and dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 12, 2015


A piece of Mars: This 600×450 m (1969×1476 ft) scene has a complex sedimentary history. How are bearded craters and dunes formed? They weren’t always bearded. At some point, a deposit of bright material accumulated on this surface, and was then eroded so that all that remains of it is what is protected by topography (anything that pokes up like dunes or crater rims). Can you find the boulder that has tumbled downslope (it too has a beard!). (HiRISE ESP_038826_1700, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

How to Talk to Aliens

"Dear E.T. …” So far, so good. But now what? Writing is never easy, but what if your task was to craft a message to aliens living elsewhere in the universe, and your prose would represent all humankind? Got writer’s block yet?

What to say to the aliens was the focus of a recent conference in which participants shifted their attentions away from listening for extraterrestrial signals to transmitting some. In this show, we report on the “Communicating Across the Cosmos” conference held at the SETI Institute in December 2014.

Find out what scientists think we should say. Also, how archeology could help us craft messages to an unfamiliar culture. Plus, why journalists might be well-suited to writing the message. And, a response to Stephen Hawking’s warning that attempting to contact aliens is too dangerous.

Guests:

•   Douglas Vakoch – Director of interstellar message composition, SETI Institute

•   Paul Wason – Archaeologist, anthropologist and vice president for the life sciences and genetics program at the Templeton Foundation

•   Al Harrison – Emeritus professor of psychology, University of California, Davis

•   Morris Jones – Journalist and space analyst in Sydney, Australia

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

Happy New Year to the planet!

Cosmic Diary Marchis - January 05, 2015

I decided to do something new to start the New Year. I translated a podcast from a program called Geopolitics on France Inter written by Anthony Bellanger. You can listen to the original French version here.

I like the text since it is quite optimistic and it summarizes the progresses that we have made over the past 50 years. The world is not perfect yet, but it is indeed a better place.

Are there any reasons to wish people a Happy New Year 2015?

I believe there are many and would like to explain why.

First: our health. Never have so many people all over the world been so healthy and well cared for.

It may seem strange to say that when nearly 8,000 people have died of Ebola in West Africa in recent months, and when the epidemic is far from defeated—yet it’s true.

Over the last half century , the infant mortality rate has fallen by two-thirds” and the average human lifespan has increased by twenty years and continues to grow. Better yet, the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries is narrowing year by year.

Thanks to modern medicine, diseases that decimated entire populations throughout history are almost eradicated. The number of polio cases, for example, has fallen by 99% since 1988.

Between 2000 and 2015, the number of global malaria cases has dropped in half thanks to a global mobilization against the disease. Even AIDS, which appeared only 30 years ago, is now tested for and treated all over the world.

What about hunger and education?

Here, too, things are looking up. Hunger around the world declines annually. Since the early 90s — only 25 ago! — the percentage of undernourished people around the world has fallen by half.

The great famines that killed tens of thousands of people in the 1980s — in Ethiopia, for example —have disappeared. The world is better organized than ever and extremely efficient at delivering emergency medical and food aid when and where it is needed.

On the education front, results are even more impressive: In only 10 years, school enrollment for boys and girls has increased from 84 to 89% in primary grades and 60 to 73% in secondary grades. Around the world, three out of four children go to school until they are at least 14 years old!

We see similar improvements in the area of extreme poverty, which has fallen by 50 percent since 1990. This is unheard of in human history.

What is the source of this improvement?

We all are! Despite what we may hear or say, international institutions — the UN, NGOs and many others —work effectively: they treat, train, vaccinate, feed and intervene anywhere in the world where they are needed.

Even freedom is rising: in the last half century, the number of democratic states has tripled, and half the world’s population now lives under this type of government which — though often imperfect — is a unique achievement in human history.

So yes, one may wish people a Happy New Year, knowing that there will be wars, massacres, and many other disasters but also knowing that we have never been better educated, cared for and nurtured than we are in 2015.

The long, low dune

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 05, 2015

A piece of Mars: A long, low dune covered in long, linear ripples stretches across the scene (600×450 m; 1969×1476 ft). Dark gray areas on the dune show where sand has most recently moved. A small slip face has formed on the southeast side of the dune, but ripples have formed on it, so there haven’t been any recent avalanches here. (ESP_038615_1665, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Meet Your Replacements

ENCORE There’s no one like you. At least, not yet. But in some visions of the future, androids can do just about everything, computers will hook directly into your brain, and genetic human-hybrids with exotic traits will be walking the streets. So could humans become an endangered species?

Be prepared to meet the new-and-improved you. But how much human would actually remain in the humanoids of the future?

Plus, tips for preventing our own extinction in the face of inevitable natural catastrophes.

Guests:

•   Robin Hanson – Associate professor of economics, George Mason University

•   Luke Muehlhauser – Executive director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute

•   Stuart Newman – Professor of cell biology and anatomy, New York Medical College

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•   Annalee Newitz – Editor of io9.com, and author of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

 

First released July 1, 2013.

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