In 1780, a powerful hurricane swept across the islands of the Caribbean, killing an estimated 22,000 people; 5,000 more died of starvation and disease in the aftermath. “Our planet is capable of unleashing extreme chaos,” begins the new NOVA documentary “Killer Hurricanes,” set to air November 1 on PBS.
To describe the human impact of such powerful tropical cyclones, the documentary...
Reviews & Previews
Rise of the NecrofaunaBritt WrayGreystone Books, $26.95
A theme park populated with re-created dinosaurs is fiction. But if a handful of dedicated scientists have their way, a park with woolly mammoths, passenger pigeons and other “de-extincted” animals could become reality.
In Rise of the Necrofauna, writer and radio broadcaster Britt Wray presents a comprehensive look at...
Net to halt runaway airliners
A gigantic emergency arresting gear system, capable of stopping the largest four-engined jet aircraft without discomfort to passengers, is being developed for the French Ministry of Transportation. The system consists of a nylon net … which engages the aircraft for the full width of its wingspan. Net and airplane are brought to a slow stop by energy...
From what I can tell, there’s a fair amount of friendly rivalry between folks who call themselves “scientists” and those who call themselves “engineers.” Bill Nye, educated as a mechanical engineer, had to defend himself as the “Science Guy” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this year: “It’s physics, for four years, it’s physics,” he said. Dean of the Boston University College of...
Letters to the Editor
Brain boost10/18/2017 - 12:15 Particle Physics, Animals, Neuroscience
It’s possible that therapies such as external brain stimulation and neurofeedback, as well as some drugs, may one day boost brain flexibility. A new line of research suggests flexibility is important for learning, Laura Sanders reported in “Learning takes brain acrobatics” (SN: 9/16/17, p. 22).
Online reader Glenn wondered if drugs for Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s...
Jennifer Zaspel can’t explain why she stuck her thumb in the vial with the moth. Just an after-dark, out-in-the-woods zing of curiosity.
She was catching moths on a July night in the Russian Far East and had just eased a Calyptra, with brownish forewings like a dried leaf, into a plastic collecting vial. Of the 17 or so largely tropical Calyptra species, eight were known vampires. Males...
Life’s great diversity has revealed itself in more than 600 pieces of floating tsunami debris that have landed on the western coast of North America. Of nearly 300 living animal and protist species documented on the debris, which crossed the Pacific Ocean following Japan’s destructive 2011 tsunami, researchers analyzed in detail 237 species, which include larger invertebrates and two fish. The...
One of the planet’s deadliest viruses makes an annual pass through the United States with little fanfare. It rarely generates flashy headlines or news footage of health workers in hazmat suits. There’s no sudden panic when a sick person shows up coughing and feverish in an emergency room. Yet before next spring, this season’s lethal germ will probably have infected millions of Americans,...
The Science Life
Robert Klapper has examined scores of damaged and diseased human knees, hips and shoulders. But a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum introduced the orthopedic surgeon to the suffering of an extinct cat — and a scientific mystery. In 2000, Klapper took a break from his patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to visit the nearby tar pits, where myriad mammals and other...
No other science engages human curiosity like astronomy. From antiquity onward, attempts to comprehend the architecture of the cosmos have commanded a substantial fraction of humankind’s mental budget for intellectual endeavor. Only in the last century, though, have astronomers grasped the structure of the cosmos accurately. Just a hundred years ago, a great debate raged about the fuzzy...