Rebecca Boyle

Inside Sofia, NASA's Airplane-Mounted Telescope

After a slew of successful of space telescope repair missions and launches in recent months, NASA is taking it easy these days. To use the newest powerful telescope, scientists will take a ride in a convertible. Sort of. The space agency's new telescope is situated inside a 747 with a hole in its side.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or Sofia, has an open hatch so a telescope can watch the sky while the plane flies at 500 mph.

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Two Major Geothermal Projects Abandoned Due to Induced Quake Risk

Two high-profile geothermal projects in the U.S. and Europe were both permanently halted late last week, after federal officials in both countries questioned their safety and propensity to cause earthquakes. Projects in Basel, Switzerland, and in northern California were both abandoned, raising questions about the danger of purposefully cracking open the Earth to extract its heat.

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Impressive First Images From VISTA Infrared Telescope

A powerful new telescope called VISTA — the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy — just started work at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in the Chilean desert.

In its first five years, the telescope will be used for six major sky surveys, including one of the entire southern sky. Other studies will examine smaller regions in greater detail.

The telescope can detect faint sources and cover wide areas of sky quickly. Each image captures a section of sky about 10 times the area of the full moon.

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Video: Wild Grouses Enticed into Mating With Sexy Fembot

It could happen to you

Oh, behave!:  Science Nation/National Science Foundation
One of America's strangest mating rituals, the chest-puffing, squeaking dance of the sage grouse, is getting closer attention, thanks to a pretty little fembot.

The sage grouse, which is sort of like a more interesting type of chicken, has long captivated scientists as well as tourists because, of its elaborate mating habits. A group of researchers have infiltrated the grouse world using a custom-designed "fembot" -- a robotic bird on wheels with a camera nestled in her breast.

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Switching a Gene in Adult Mice Easily Transforms Females Into Males

The technology might allow for mid-life human sex changes with no surgery

Apparently men and women are not that different after all. In fact, the sexes are so similar that women have to fight their entire lives just to remain women -- at least on the genetic level.

A new study finds that turning off just one gene, shared by all mammals, turns ovarian cells into testosterone-producing cells found only in the testes -- and this is in adults.

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WISE Telescope, Launching Friday, Will Scope Out Universe's Darkest Objects

The wide-field telescope is intended to create a catalog of interesting items for Spitzer, Hubble, and company to inspect more closely

If the weather holds, NASA's newest space telescope will lift off Friday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on a mission to map the cosmos.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, is unlikely to see the fanfare granted to the more famous orbiting observatories, especially Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra. But the small satellite is expressly designed to make each of them smarter.

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After Earth-Based Sandbox Tests, NASA Trying One More Time to Get Spirit Rover Unstuck

The Mars rover has been helplessly mired in sand since April, but lately it's been able to wiggle a little

Fans of the intrepid Mars rovers got some bittersweet news today.

The good news: Starting Monday, NASA will try to drive the Spirit rover out of a sandy spot where it has been mired since April.

The bad: It will not be easy, and in announcing their plans today, NASA scientists sounded like they were preparing to say goodbye.

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Mutant Bacteria Are Likely to Threaten Future Space Travelers

When humans eventually travel to Mars and beyond, they'll have plenty to worry about along with the discomforts of eating freeze-dried food and drinking their own urine. A new report says they will probably be really sick, to boot -- from flare-ups of E. coli, chicken pox or staph infections.

A host of microscopic stowaways could make interplanetary voyagers sick, especially because human immune systems are compromised in space, and because bacteria seem to thrive in micro- or zero-gravity environments.

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20 Teams Build High-Tech Houses in "Solar Village" Competition

The National Mall was transformed into a futuristic commune for the past two weeks as 20 teams from four countries erected solar-powered homes

The bright future of green living has been on display for the past two weeks at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the Department of Energy's 2009 Solar Decathlon. The biennial contest, which wraps up this weekend, brings hundreds of university students from around the world to a temporary solar village for two weeks, where spectators can walk through student-designed houses and marvel at the latest green tech.

These solar homes have it all, including things that aren't commercially available yet -- like self-activating curled-metal shades; walls made of plants, both living and recycled; and roofs that tilt at the sun, making them efficient sun-catchers from Phoenix to Fargo. Worried about efficiency while you're away? How about an iPhone app that controls your entire house?

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How To Watch NASA Smash a Rocket Into the Moon Tomorrow Morning

The harvest moon--which came a couple weeks late this year, on Oct. 4--has long allowed farmers to gather their crops late into the night, using moonlight as a beacon.

Someday, the moon might yield a harvest of its own, thanks to a natural supply of water. A NASA probe is set to crash into the moon this week in search of that potential bounty. Here's how you can watch it from here on Earth.

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The State of the Art of Electronic Noses

Three new e-noses use three different methods to sniff out everything from freon to fatty acids

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; we all know that. But what about a rose smelled by a non-human nose? What would it smell like?

Well, an electronic nose is no Shakespeare, so you'd lose some of the poetry. But a new generation of e-noses is is poised to give a whole new meaning to the sense of smell.

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Algorithm Generates a Virtual Rome in 3D from 150,000 Flickr Users' Photos

Dubrovnik in 3-D:  University of Washington
They came, they saw, they took pictures. And thanks to them -- about 150,000 Flickr users -- a team of computer scientists built Rome in a day.

Using nearly half a million Flickr photos of Rome, Venice, and the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, a team of computer scientists at the University of Washington's Graphics and Imaging Laboratory assembled digital models of the three cities in 3-D.

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Better Tomatoes Via a Fertilizer of...Human Urine?

You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

You say Miracle-Gro, I say ... pee.

Apparently, human urine works remarkably well as a fertilizer for tomatoes, according to a new study out of Finland.

Plants fertilized with a mixture of stored human urine and wood ash produced 4.2 times more fruit than plants without the pee, the study found. The urine-fertilized tomatoes had more beta-carotene than unfertilized ones, and much more protein than traditionally fertilized plants.

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iPhones for the Blind

Blind Man with Touch Interface:  courtesy of Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea

Quick, get out your iPhone. Unlock it and slide over to that game you've been playing when your boss isn't looking. Now mute it, put the phone to sleep, close your eyes, and try to do that again. Can you do it? Didn't think so.

There's not a simple way to use touchscreens when you can't see what you're doing, which means 10 million blind and low-vision Americans can't use this ubiquitous technology. But what if you could feel it? What if the "slide to unlock" key was an actual slide? Even better, what if you could have a Braille iPhone?

Led by a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an international group of researchers is hoping the same technology that could provide amputees an artificial arm could help blind people access the wireless world.

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Ball Aerospace: Where Satellites Come From

PopSci visits the Colorado facility of the company that makes satellites, advanced instruments, and mason jars

When it comes to space, what goes up must be sturdy, safe and secure if it's to live very long. Satellites must survive the bone-rattling jostle and pressure of launch, and once they reach orbit, they've got to weather the vast temperature changes they experience with every sunrise and sunset. Their skins must be thick enough to survive pummeling by micro-debris, and they'd better have trusty gyroscopes to be able to change directions or keep their balance.

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