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  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Making Contact’ chronicles an astronomer’s struggle to find E.T.

    Making ContactSarah ScolesPegasus Books, $27.95

    In Carl Sagan’s 1985 sci-fi novel Contact, a radio astronomer battles naysayers and funding setbacks to persist in her audacious plan — scanning the skies for signals from aliens. Sagan had real-life inspiration for his book (and the 1997 movie of the same name): astronomer Jill Tarter, who spearheaded the search for extraterrestrial...

    07/24/2017 - 16:33 Astronomy, History of Science, Science & Society
  • News

    Fewer big rogue planets roam the galaxy, recount shows

    Big, rogue planets — ones without parent stars — are rare.

    A new census of free-floating Jupiter-mass planets determined that these worlds are a tenth as common as previous estimates suggested. The results appear online July 24 in Nature.

    Planets can go rogue in two ways: They can get kicked out of their parent planetary systems or form when a ball of gas and dust collapses (SN: 4/...

    07/24/2017 - 11:00 Exoplanets, Planetary Science
  • News

    Radioactive substances leave electron ‘fingerprints’ behind

    Walls can’t talk, but scientists can now read stories written in their subatomic particles. And that could make it harder to store radioactive material in secret.

    Nuclear radiation rearranges the electrons in insulators such as brick, glass and porcelain. So comparing the positions of electrons in atoms at different spots on walls, windows and floors could provide a rough snapshot of...

    07/24/2017 - 07:00 Chemistry, Science & Society
  • Reviews & Previews

    This history book offers excellent images but skimps on modern science

    The Oxford Illustrated History of ScienceIwan Rhys Morus, ed.Oxford Univ., $39.95

    Books about the history of science, like many other histories, must contend with the realization that others have come before. Their tales have already been told. So such a book is worth reading, or buying, only if it offers something more than the same old stories.

    In this case, The Oxford...

    07/23/2017 - 08:00 History of Science
  • Wild Things

    Fire ants build towers with three simple rules

    View video

    When faced with rushing floodwaters, fire ants are known to build two types of structures. A quickly formed raft lets the insects float to safety. And once they find a branch or tree to hold on to, the ants might form a tower up to 30 ants high, with eggs, brood and queen tucked safely inside. Neither structure requires a set of plans or a foreman ant leading the construction...

    07/21/2017 - 14:54 Animals
  • Say What?

    Earth might once have resembled a hot, steamy doughnut

    Synestia\sin-es-ti-ə \ n.

    A large spinning hunk of hot, vaporized rock that forms when rocky, planet-sized objects collide

    Earth may have taken on a jelly doughnut shape early in its history. The rocky planet was spinning through space about 4.5 billion years ago when it smacked into a Mars-sized hunk of rotating rock called Theia, according to one theory (SN: 4/15/17, p. 18). That hit...

    07/21/2017 - 09:00 Planetary Science
  • Growth Curve

    Baby-led weaning won’t necessarily ward off extra weight

    When my younger daughter was around 6 months old, we gave her mashed up prune. She grimaced and shivered a little, appearing to be absolutely disgusted. But then she grunted and reached for more.

    Most babies are ready for solid food around 6 months of age, and feeding them can be fun. One of the more entertaining approaches does not involve a spoon. Called baby-led weaning, it involves...

    07/21/2017 - 07:00 Child Development, Health
  • News

    Resistance to CRISPR gene drives may arise easily

    A genetic-engineering tool designed to spread through a population like wildfire — eradicating disease and even whole invasive species — might be more easily thwarted than thought.

    Resistance to the tools, called CRISPR gene drives, arose at high rates in experiments with Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies, researchers at Cornell University report July 20 in PLOS Genetics. Rates of...

    07/20/2017 - 16:35 Genetics, Science & Society, Animals
  • News

    Majorana fermion detected in a quantum layer cake

    A particle that is its own antiparticle seems to have left its calling card within a solid material.

    To observe the signature of that particle, a Majorana fermion, scientists coupled a thin film of a topological insulator — which conducts electricity on its edges but is insulating within — with a layer of a superconductor, in which electrons can flow without resistance. In this layer...

    07/20/2017 - 15:58 Condensed Matter
  • News

    Cows produce powerful HIV antibodies

    An unlikely hero has emerged in the quest to fight HIV: the cow. In a first for any animal, including humans, four cows injected with a type of HIV protein rapidly produced powerful antibodies against the virus, researchers report. Learning how to induce similar antibodies in humans may be key to a successful HIV vaccine.

    The antibodies, called broadly neutralizing antibodies, can stop...

    07/20/2017 - 14:46 Biomedicine, Health, Immune Science