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  • Reviews & Previews

    My Brief History

    If all physicists could explain their work as well as Stephen Hawking explained black holes in his 1988 best seller A Brief History of Time, science writers would have to find other work. The British theorist’s new book proves that he is nearly as adept at writing about himself.

    Still going strong at age 71 despite amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Hawking can write only three words a...

    10/25/2013 - 14:00 Cosmology
  • Reviews & Previews

    Humans’ living creations put on display

    Some might say Freckles the goat was a freak. Others would say she was a modern wonder. She was genetically engineered by a Canadian company to produce milk that could be spun into spider silk. The superstrong fibers were intended for high-tech uses like bulletproof vests or artificial tendons, but in 2009 the company went bankrupt. A taxidermied Freckles now greets visitors to a tiny...

    10/23/2013 - 09:00 Science & Society, Animals
  • Reviews & Previews

    Our Final Invention

    Computers already make all sorts of decisions for you. With little or no human guidance, they deduce what books you would like to buy, trade your stocks and distribute electrical power. They do all this quickly and efficiently using a simple form of artificial intelligence. Now, imagine if computers controlled even more aspects of life and could truly think for themselves.

    Barrat...

    10/22/2013 - 16:00 Human Evolution, Technology
  • The –est

    Oldest pitch-drop experiment

    Grass grows quicker. Paint dries faster. Yet there’s something irresistible about watching the glacial flow of pitch.

    And now a long-forgotten experiment with pitch has come to light, probably the oldest known of its kind. In a small display case at Aberystwyth University in Wales sits a glass funnel filled with a heap of ultra-viscous pitch, dated April 23, 1914. That’s 13 years older...

    10/22/2013 - 08:00 Physics
  • It's Alive

    The colorful lives of squid

    Your calamari, it turns out, may have come from a temporary transvestite with rainbows in its armpits.

    Well, not armpits, but spots just below where the fins flare out. “Finpits,” cell biologist Daniel DeMartini nicknamed them. He and his colleagues have documented unusual color-change displays in female California market squid, popular in restaurants.

    Squids, octopuses and...

    10/21/2013 - 09:15 Animals
  • Science Visualized

    A grander canyon on Mars

    Hebes Chasma, a huge trough on Mars, reflects the Red Planet’s tumultuous and varied past. During the planet’s first billion years, the nearby Tharsis Region bulged with magma, then burst apart, forming enormous chasms such as Hebes (a majority of its 315-kilometer length shown above). More than four times as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon, Hebes may have once been filled with water; some...

    10/20/2013 - 13:50 Planetary Science
  • Feature

    Quiet maximum

    Matt Penn is grateful for whatever the sun will give him. These days, that isn’t much. Penn’s job, as a solar astronomer, is to track the waxing and waning of sunspots on the solar surface. These dark blots mottle the face of the sun, increasing in number to a peak every 11 years and then falling off again in a rhythmic march choreographed by magnetic activity inside the star.

    2013 marks...

    10/18/2013 - 14:00 Astronomy
  • Feature

    The bright side of sadness

    Thomas Jefferson defended the right to pursue happiness in the Declaration of Independence. But that’s so 237 years ago. Many modern societies champion everyone’s right to be happy pretty much all the time.

    Good luck with that, says psychologist Joseph Forgas of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. A lack of close friends, unfulfilled financial dreams and other harsh realities...

    10/18/2013 - 13:45 Psychology, Anthropology
  • People

    Nobel’s sharp cuts

    On July 4, 2012, Gerald Guralnik was in a packed room at CERN savoring the discovery of the Higgs boson, which confirmed a theory he proposed nearly 50 years ago. 

    No such celebration occurred Oct. 8. Guralnik was home when he learned online that physicists François Englert and Peter Higgs had won the Nobel Prize in physics for formulating the same theory. “I’m happy for Englert and...

    10/16/2013 - 13:38 Particle Physics
  • News in Brief

    Water seen in rubble around star

    For the first time, astronomers have discovered the watery building blocks of Earthlike planets whirling around a star outside our solar system.

    The star, GD 61, is a white dwarf: a dying star with a gravitational pull strong enough to suck in surrounding asteroids and planets. As GD 61 gobbles up orbiting bodies, it shreds them into a dusty cloud of rubble, says astronomer Jay Farihi of...

    10/10/2013 - 14:15 Astronomy, Planetary Science