Australian Popular Science News news from, 27 Feb 2017 10:32:22 +100010Will drones pull rain from desert clouds?Dr. Adam Watts of the Desert Research Institute is standing by the side of the road near Donner Pass, shouting over the wind into his phone to talk about a recent test flight. &#8220;We built a robot that can fly itself and bring more water out of clouds,&#8221; he says, capturing the technological promise at hand in just a few words. Together with Nevada's Drone America, the team flew a cloud-seeding drone beyond the pilot's line of sight. It's the next step in a gradual and ambitious process, aimed at solving a decades-old problem: can the desert pull more water from the sky, and can it do so without injuring anyone along the way?,452471Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:43 +1000Watch scientists train bees to play with tiny soccer balls Here's the buzz: bees are brilliant. And not just because they are a vital part of our ecosystem. Bees are also very clever&#8212;and apparently capable of learning one of the fundamentals of football.,452470Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:43 +1000McDonalds' fancy new straw, the STRAWThe phrase "reinventing the wheel" usually means someone is wasting time and effort trying to fix something that isn't broken. The same could be said for reinventing straws, which is something that McDonald's has half-jokingly tried to do with its new STRAW (Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal).,452469Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:42 +1000NASA wants the internet to get hype about these new exoplanets Have you heard the good news? On Wednesday, scientists announced a fleet of new planets. And not just any old exoplanets: they unveiled a solar system seemingly jam-packed with Earth-sized worlds. Those seven probably-rocky bodies could be an excellent place to search for life. And the good folks at NASA have created a whole new website devoted to the TRAPPIST-1 system. There's a lot to unpack here.,452468Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:41 +1000Meet China's triple-hulled warship of the futureAt the Dubai IDEX defense exposition, arms makers from around the world show off their latest wares. A notable debut at the recent 2017 show: a new, triple hulled Chinese warship design.,452467Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:41 +1000That giant crack in Antarctica just keeps getting bigger A crack along an Antarctic glacier has grown roughly 50 kilometres in a matter of months, leaving NASA researchers to believe that the resulting iceberg&#8212;known as Larsen C&#8212;may make it to the open ocean in as little as a weeks or months. The 9 km added to the rift since early January has brought it to a staggering 160 km (give or take) in length.,452466Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:41 +1000Taking manatees off the endangered species list doesn't mean we should stop protecting themThe fightin' sea cows are making a comeback. Manatees have been on the endangered species list since 1972, but in the last few years they've been more abundant than ever. So abundant that they may have their status downgraded to 'threatened.',452465Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:41 +1000This tiny camera could give drones predator vision From body parts to supercars, the family of 3D printed products just keeps expanding. But in a study published last week in <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, scientists think small: German researchers 3D printed different lenses&#8212;each smaller than the width of a human hair&#8212;onto a chip. Such micro-cameras could be perfect for tiny drones and other pint-sized robots.,452464Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:41 +1000Will artificial intelligence ever actually match up to the human brain? Today's artificial intelligence is certainly formidable. It can beat world champions at intricate games like chess and Go, or dominate at Jeopardy!. It can interpret heaps of data for us, guide driverless cars, respond to spoken commands, and track down the answers to your internet search queries.,452463Fri, 24 Feb 2017 10:50:40 +1000This one simple trick predicts when an ice age will pause It all started with an e-mail. Three years ago, University College London professor Chronis Tzedakis had just explained the basic cycles of an ice age to an undergraduate geology class; how the Earth goes through periods of glaciation followed by warmer periods when glaciers melt. Sometimes, the timing between those periods varies dramatically.,452321Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:46 +1000What pregnant women actually need to know about herpesWhen I saw the press release for a new study linking the risk of autism to maternal infection with genital herpes, my heart sunk. Because you can't put two scary buzzwords like "autism" and "herpes" into a press release without creating this kind of media response:,452320Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:45 +1000A whopping seven Earth-size planets were just found orbiting a nearby starPlanet-hunters are always on the lookout for worlds that look like Earth&#8212;rocky planets that are not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to flow on the surface. Now scientists have hit the jackpot, discovering seven Earth-size exoplanets orbiting a single star just 39 light-years away.,452319Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:45 +1000Cat poop parasites don't actually make you psychotic Cat owners can sleep easy tonight. Well, maybe they can't if their cat likes to wake them up at 4am by gently clawing their cheeks, but they can at least put their minds at ease: owning a cat isn't actually bad for your mental health.,452318Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:44 +1000Middle Eastern seed bank re-deposits backups into Svalbard's doomsday vaultToday, the seeds of 49,000 varieties of crops&#8212;including cabbages, wheat, lentils, sweet peas, and many others&#8212;will be wheeled into a vault in a mountainside. There they will lay in in sturdy black plastic boxes in a frigid underground vault high above the Arctic Circle, an insurance policy for the entire world's food supply.,452317Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:44 +1000Audio engineering is making call center robots more 'human' and less annoyingSay you're on the phone with a company and the automated virtual assistant needs a few seconds to &#8220;look up&#8221; your information. And then you hear it. The sound is unmistakable. It's familiar. It's the clickity-clack of a keyboard. You know it's just a sound effect, but unlike hold music or a stream of company information, it's not annoying. In fact, it's kind of comforting.,452316Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:43 +1000This ancient society passed power down from woman to woman In a colossal 650-room structure built over a millennia ago in present-day New Mexico, women ruled.,452315Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:43 +1000Why can whale nerves stretch and turn like bungee cords?Nerves are extremely delicate structures. They don't tend to be very flexible and can get injured if they are stretched even the slightest bit too much. At the same time, nerves are needed in areas of the body that put up with a lot of lengthening and straining. Here's an extreme example: When it opens its massive mouth to feed, the rorqual whale's nerves stretch to more than double their resting length and back&#8212;all while making extremely sharp 'hairpin'-like turns&#8212;without being strained or broken. But how do they get away with treating their delicate nerves like a bunch of bungee cords?,452314Thu, 23 Feb 2017 10:35:43 +1000Can we blame climate change for February's record-breaking heat?Think Eastern Australian got blasted by a record-breaking heatwave in the last couple of weeks? Spare a thought for the US. They're supposed to be in Winter. And yet...,452186Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:13:27 +1000Should we mine the deep ocean?You've probably heard of peak oil&#8212;the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and begins to decline&#8212;but what about peak copper? Copper helps send the electrical signals that make modern electronics like cellphones and tablets work. But there's growing concern that the prevalence of key minerals like copper is on the decline.,452185Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:13:27 +1000Pluto might be a planet again. Let's talk about why this matters. Prepare yourself&#8212;the Pluto debate has returned, and people are not going to be able to shut up about it. Pluto might be about to regain its planethood.,452184Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:13:26 +1000Juno spacecraft gives up, decides to take the long way around Jupiter The Juno spacecraft has been stuck in the wrong orbit around Jupiter for months, and today NASA announced that they're just going to leave it there. The team has given up on finding a way into a more ideal orbit.,451906Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:31 +1000A quadcopter pocket drone 72 percent off? I'd buy it.I never understood the fascination with drones&#8212;until I received my first one over the holidays. It was a small green quadcopter that looked more like a toy you'd pull out of a McDonald's Happy Meal. I wasn't too excited, but the second I turned it on, I was hooked. If you <em>didn't</em> get a drone for the holidays, buy one for yourself. This <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">Metakoo Bee Mini Quadcopter</a> is on sale for $28.,451905Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:31 +1000Watch a snake robot wriggle through a Norwegian fjordA snake is a tube that eats, a wriggling cylinder that carries a stomach and not much else. So it was a natural inspiration for <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">Eelume AS</a>, a Norwegian underwater robotics company, when they needed to design an efficient, minimalist robot. They decided to replicate a snake's bendy body, creating a compact form adorned only with small sideboard motors and cameras.,451904Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:31 +1000The world's largest solar farm, an overflowing dam, and other amazing images of the weekThe week that was, science-wise, in pictures. Scroll down and be amazed!,451903Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:30 +1000We might have an eighth continent. Here's why that matters: I get it&#8212;we're all still bitter about Pluto. We wanted it to stay a planet, so we'll cling to our righteous anger until the day we die. Scientists are always changing their minds about all these categories and designations, and it sometimes seems totally unnecessary. Does it really matter if Pluto is a planet, or if there are eight continents instead of seven?,451902Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:29 +1000The Chinese Air Force is about to get a swarm of fighter jets for training pilotsOne of the largest aerospace contracts in the world right now is T-X program, an effort to replace all of the United States' T-38 trainer jets&#8212;a.k.a. the aircraft used to train fighter pilots. When counting the potential buys on the foreign export market, some 1,000 new jets are planned for this program.,451901Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:29 +1000No, the wooly mammoth won't actually be resurrected by 2019If you had dreams of riding a wooly mammoth through 2019 after reading headlines this week that <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">'Wooly mammoth will be back from extinction within two years'</a>, you might want to change your plans. It's not going to happen.,451900Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:28 +1000What are the ethics of creating new life in a simulated universe? <em>The following is an adapted excerpt from <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes</a> by Zeeya Merali, <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">available in stores now</a>. In the book, Merali explores the possibilities of creating an infant universe in a laboratory. In this excerpt, she meets with noted futurist Anders Sandberg to discuss the ethics of potentially creating new intelligent life in a baby universe, or the possibility of sentience evolving in a computer simulation.</em>,451899Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:28 +1000Who should be allowed to use CRISPR?This week saw a resolution to the grueling legal battle between the University of California at Berkeley and the Broad Institute over the discovery of the novel, cheap, and easy-to-use gene-editing technique known as CRISPR. The technique's original discoverers, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, lost a patent battle to the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang over who first discovered that the technique could be used to edit human and animal DNA&#8212;a feat that has massive potential to treat and cure diseases.,451898Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:28 +1000The dwarf planet Ceres may be capable of supporting lifeThe Dawn spacecraft has detected organic compounds on Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The findings are <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">reported today</a> in <em>Science.</em>,451897Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:27 +1000What's next for the drone war?On Jan. 20, the drone war entered its third Administration. Over the inaugural weekend, American drones fired missiles at suspected Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, killing <a href=";utm_term=.827daf4d1568&amp;dom=pscau&amp;src=syn" target="_blank">five people</a>. The drone war, that is, the popular, unmanned-vehicle term for America's strategy of targeted killing, is an outgrowth of President George W. Bush's war on terror, a vestigial organ that became the centerpiece for the Obama administration's eight years of low-intensity warfare. With much of American national security strategy poised to change under the new Trump administration, it's worth taking a step back to examine what, exactly, the United States hoped to do with its drones.,451896Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:27 +1000Remember that time Yosemite's firefall was actual fire? There's something magical about nature coming together to create a spectacle like Yosemite's firefall. It only happens in mid- to late February, when the skies are clear, the snow is melted, and the proverbial stars align. But just a few years before the firefall became a well-known visual phenomenon, visitors were treated a different firefall every single night&#8212;one made of actual fire.,451895Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:26 +1000Here are the teams competing to map the ocean for $7 million in prizesWe've mapped the surface of the Earth in excruciating detail, with images of individual streets and rivers and canyons photographed and catalogued. But one area of the Earth remains a mystery: the ocean floor.,451894Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:25 +1000Our mother's exposure to BPA might lead us to binge as adultsIf you've bought a bottle of water in the past few years, you've probably spotted a &#8220;BPA-free&#8221; label or twenty. A chemical that leaks out of polycarbonate plastics, bisphenol A is determined <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">&#8220;safe at the current levels occurring in food&#8221;</a> by the Food and Drug Administration, but there's evidence that it can <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">disrupt our brain and endocrine systems</a> at higher doses.,451893Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:25 +1000Chinese passenger drones are coming to DubaiWhile the Ehang 184 is quite pricey, Ehang hopes that a mass production run of its successors will bring down the price.,451892Mon, 20 Feb 2017 12:30:25 +1000Here are the winners of NASA's space poop challengePoopin' ain't easy in space&#8212;especially if you're stuck in a space suit for extended periods of time. Today's astronauts wear diapers when they need to don a space suit, but on future Martian getaways, mishaps could leave astronauts stuck in their suits for six days at a time. That's a long time to move around in a poopy diaper. And in a low gravity environment, the stuff in your diaper could float out and cover everything else in your space suit. Not good.,451416Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:37 +1000Scientists may have just made a malaria vaccine breakthroughFever, chills, vomiting, headache, mental confusion, and occasionally death: That's the prognosis for more than <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">200 million people infected with malaria each year</a>. Preventative measures aimed at reducing risk exposure&#8212;that is, avoiding mosquito bites&#8212;have had some success. But the ultimate solution, a vaccine, has remained elusive for decades. In fact, the 2009 book <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">The Elusive Malaria Vaccine: Miracle or Mirage?</a> tracks the long history of scientific effort in that arena. Now, however, a study published Wednesday in the journal <a href=";src=syn" target="_blank">Nature</a> suggests scientists may have cracked the code.,451415Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:36 +1000Aliens are probably out there, according to Winston ChurchillIn 1939, the year World War II broke out, Winston Churchill was thinking about aliens. Not illegal aliens, actual extraterrestrial aliens. Although the looming Nazi threat surely commanded most of Churchill's attention, the renowned statesman still found time to formally ponder one of humanity's greatest mysteries in the aptly titled essay, &#8220;Are We Alone in the Universe?&#8221;,451414Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:36 +1000You can fake a healthy skin tone to look more attractive (without actually being healthier)&#160;In a shocking twist to anyone who wears makeup, you don't actually have to be healthier to seem attractive to people&#8212;you just have to look healthier. And apparently warm skin tones are where it's at.,451413Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:35 +1000NASA wants to put astronauts on the very first launch of its new mega-rocketRumors are circulating on Twitter that NASA is shaking up its schedule for the Space Launch System. According to the scuttlebutt, the rocket's maiden launch may carry astronauts onboard. <em>Popular Science</em> has confirmed with Stuart McClung, an engineer on the Orion capsule that's designed to ride on SLS, that NASA is indeed considering these changes.,451412Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:35 +1000A small city in Iowa is devoting 1,000 acres of land to America's vanishing beesRestoring native wildflowers and prairies grasses will help Iowa's bees and butterflies, as well as other native animals.,451411Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:34 +1000El Ni&#241;o swept away huge chunks of the US west coast last winterIn January of last year, drones captured video of houses perched perilously on rapidly-eroding cliffs along California's coast. Those houses in Pacifica, California weren't alone, as waves driven by El Ni&#241;o tore away huge chunks of the shoreline over the winter of 2015-2016.,451410Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:34 +1000US science advisory committee supports genetic modification of human embryosEver since CRISPR&#8212;the relatively cheap and easy-to-use genome editing technique&#8212;made its way to the scientific stage, researchers have grappled with one of its biggest ethical quagmires: Its ability to edit human embryos, thereby potentially altering the DNA of subsequent generations. The question of whether to allow such a drastic and permanent change has been discussed ad nauseum since it became clear that CRISPR would make this (relatively) easy to do. This week, a panel of experts from the National Academy of Science released a report endorsing this type of research&#8212;though a long list of caveats and precautions come in tow.,451409Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:34 +1000The United Arab Emirates wants to build a city on MarsA little more than 40 years ago, Dubai was a tiny pearl-fishing village lined with dirt roads. Now it's the largest and most futuristic city in the world, the jewel of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). From manmade, palm tree-shaped archipelagos to jetpack-wearing firefighters and the world's tallest building, the city has a reputation for taking on insanely ambitious projects and executing them with swiftness and expertise. Now, the UAE has a vision to build an even crazier city&#8212;on Mars.,451408Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:33 +1000We may finally know how Rorschach tests trick us into seeing things that aren't thereIn China, the famed man in the moon is a bunny. Confused? So, it seems, are our eyes, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. The study looks at why people see so many different images when we stare at Rorschach inkblots.,451407Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:33 +1000How NASA is planning to touch the sun Our sun might not seem as enigmatic as more exotic, distant stars, but it's still a marvelously mysterious miasma of incandescent plasma. And it's certainly worthy of our scientific attention: Curiosity aside, a violent solar event could disrupt satellites and cause $2 trillion in damages for the U.S. alone. Yet, despite living in its atmosphere, we don't understand some of its defining phenomena. For sixty years, we haven't understood why the surface is a cozy 5,500 Celsius, while the halo called the corona&#8212;several million kilometers away from the star's surface and 12 orders of magnitude less dense&#8212;boasts a positively sizzling 1-2 million Celsius.,451406Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:14:32 +1000Delightful pictures of zoo animals playing in the snowWhile NSW burns, a snowstorm hammered the Northeast US yesterday, dumping as much as a foot of snow in some places. And while the storm closed schools, grounded flights, and inconvenienced a lot of humans, the animals at the Bronx Zoo couldn't be happier about it. These photos of animals playing in the snow were taken today by zoo staff, and they're the perfect ending to a long week.,450938Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:29 +100013 gardening buys for the horticulturally hopeless A lot of things can go wrong in the garden. Some seeds just won't sprout. A plant's leaves droop and turn colors they shouldn't. Thankfully, inventive people are starting to tackle this problem, manipulating hot tech to help you keep things...less dead. Don't fret about the color of your thumb; this stuff will bring you a few steps closer to becoming the 21st century's Frederick Law Olmsted (or whatever landscape architect inspires you).,450937Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:28 +1000A scale-stripping gecko, an intergalactic bridge, and other amazing images of the weekThis has been the week that was and these were/are/could be the images that define it, scientifically. What is time? Who knows. All I know is there isn't enough of it.,450936Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:28 +1000Not just cockroaches: Here are other crazy objects found in people's skulls This week, The Times of India reported on a 42-year-old Indian woman who went to the emergency room complaining of a severely painful &#8220;tingling, crawling sensation&#8221; in her head. Two sets of doctors couldn't figure out the cause of her pain, but the third set finally made a breakthrough: They determined it was a &#8220;foreign body that seemed to be mobile,&#8221; ordered a scan, and found a living, fully-grown cockroach lodged inside her nasal cavity. Doctors quickly guided a flexible tube called an endoscope up the woman's nose to remove the bug. Luckily, everything turned out okay for both the woman and sneaky pest, which doctors noted was crawling around a petri dish after it had been removed.,450935Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:28 +1000