In A.D. 185, Chinese records note the appearance of a “guest star” that then faded away over the span of several months. In 1572, astronomer Tycho Brahe and many others watched as a previously unknown star in the constellation Cassiopeia blasted out gobs of light and then eventually disappeared. And 30 years ago, the world witnessed a similar blaze of light from a small galaxy that orbits the...
Almost every night that the constellation Orion is visible, physicist Mark Vagins steps outside to peer at a reddish star at the right shoulder of the mythical figure. “You can see the color of Betelgeuse with the naked eye. It’s very striking, this red, red star,” he says. “It may not be in my lifetime, but one of these days, that star is going to explode.”
With a radius about 900 times...
Ian Shelton was alone at a telescope in the remote Atacama Desert of Chile. After three hours getting a picture of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a wispy galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, he was plunged into darkness. High winds had taken hold of the rolltop door in the observatory’s roof, slamming it shut.
“This was maybe telling me I should just call it a night,” says Shelton, who was a...
Reviews & Previews
Why Time FliesAlan BurdickSimon & Schuster, $28
The topic of time is both excruciatingly complicated and slippery. The combination makes it easy to get bogged down. But instead of an exhaustive review, journalist Alan Burdick lets curiosity be his guide in Why Time Flies, an approach that leads to a light yet supremely satisfying story about time as it runs through — and is perceived...
For Daily Use
Any exercise — even the weekend warrior approach, cramming it all into Saturday and Sunday — is better than none. Compared with inactive adults, those who got the recommended amount of weekly exercise, or even substantially less, had about a one-third lower risk of death during the study period, researchers report online January 9 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Gary O’Donovan at the...
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After flying more than 10,000 kilometers from South America to the Arctic, male pectoral sandpipers should be ready to rest their weary wings. But once the compact shorebirds arrive at a breeding ground in Barrow, Alaska, each spring, most keep going — an average of about 3,000 extra kilometers.
Scientists thought males, which mate with multiple females, stayed...
Fearful, flighty chickens raised for eating can hurt themselves while trying to avoid human handlers. But there may be a simple way to hatch calmer chicks: Shine light on the eggs for at least 12 hours a day.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis bathed eggs daily in light for different time periods during their three-week incubation. When the chickens reached 3 to 6 weeks...
Reviews & Previews
CannibalismBill SchuttAlgonquin Books, $26.95
Until recently, researchers thought cannibalism took place only among a few species in the animal kingdom and only under extraordinary circumstances. But as zoologist Bill Schutt chronicles in Cannibalism, plenty of creatures inhabit their own version of a dog-eat-dog world.
Over the last few decades, scientists have observed...
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The Perpetual NowMichael LemonickDoubleday, $27.95
Generations of gurus have exhorted, “Live in the moment!” For Lonni Sue Johnson, that’s all she can do. In 2007, viral encephalitis destroyed Johnson’s hippocampus. Without that crucial brain structure, Johnson lost most of her memories of the past and can’t form new ones. She literally lives in the present.
In The Perpetual Now,...
The playground ditty “first the worst, second the best” isn’t always true when it comes to dengue fever. Some patients who contract the virus a second time can experience more severe symptoms. A rogue type of antibody may be to blame, researchers report in the Jan. 27 Science. Instead of protecting their host, the antibodies are commandeered by the dengue virus to help it spread, increasing...