ENCORE The military is a dangerous calling. But technology can help out, so researchers are constantly trying to make soldiers safer. Writer Mary Roach investigates how scientists studying so-called human factors are protecting troops from such aggressive foes as heat, noise, and fatigue. She also learns how bad odors were once considered a secret weapon.
Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits? NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space. Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example. Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit.
ENCORE Once again the aliens have landed … in theaters. It’s no spoiler to say that the latest cinematic sci-fi, Arrival, involves extraterrestrials visiting Earth.
But for some folks, the film’s premise is hardly shocking. They’re convinced that the aliens have already come. But is there any proof that aliens are here now or that they landed long ago to, for example, help build the Egyptian pyramids?
Meanwhile, SETI scientists are deploying their big antennas in an effort to establish that extraterrestrials exist far beyond Earth.
Changed your computer password recently? We all try to stay one step ahead of the hackers, but the fear factor is increasing. The risks can range from stolen social security numbers to sabotaging a national power grid.
Long before cyber criminals were stealing ATM passwords, phone phreaks were tapping into the telephone system. Their motivation was not monetary, but the thrill of defeating a complex, invisible network. Today “hacking” can apply to cyberwarfare, biological tinkering, or even geoengineering. Often it has negative connotations, but the original definition of “hacking” was something else.
ENCORE We know how the stars shine, but how do you make a star? We take an all-night ride on a high-flying jet – an airborne NASA observatory called SOFIA – to watch astronomers investigate how a star is born. (Listen to the show in the player above, and read our reporter Emma Bentley's account of her adventure here.)
ENCORE It’s elementary, Watson. Things are in flux – from the elements in the air you breathe to party balloons. We investigate the massive, historic loss of nitrogen from the atmosphere and meet the culprits behind a modern-day helium shortage.
But it’s not all a disappearing act: be thankful that oxygen showed up in our atmosphere a few billion years ago. Meanwhile, atom smashers have recently produced some new elements. Their appearance was brief, but long enough to fill out the periodic table.
ENCORE In space, no one can hear you scream, but, using the right instruments, scientists can pick up all types of cosmic vibrations – the sort we can turn into sound. After a decade of listening, LIGO, a billion-dollar physics experiment, has detected gravitational waves caused by the collision of massive black holes, a brief shaking of spacetime that can be translated into a short squeal.
We listen to the chirp of black holes crashing into each other and wonder: could the universe contain more than individual sounds, but have actual musical structure?
ENCORE Can an opera singer’s voice really shatter glass? Can you give your car a rocket-assisted boost and survive the test drive? How do you protect yourself from a shark attack? Those are among the many intriguing questions and urban legends tested by the MythBusters team in front of the camera.
Now that the series has ended after a 16 year run, co-host Adam Savage tells us how it all began, how he and Jamie Hyneman walked the line between science and entertainment, and why he considers himself a scientist but not a “skeptic.”
ENCORE “Locked and loaded” is how one scientist recently described the San Andreas fault. Find out when this famous west-coast rift might cause “the big one;” also, the state of early earthquake warning systems.
Plus, another sign of our planet’s unceasing turmoil: volcanos! Could the eruption that produced the Deccan Traps, and not a rock from space, have been the nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs? One seismologist shares new evidence about some suspicious timing.
They say that the experience of watching a total eclipse is so profound, you’re not the same afterward. If life-changing events are your thing and you’re in the lower 48 states on August 21st, let us help you make the most of viewing the Great American Solar Eclipse.
Learn the basics of where to be and what to bring, even on short notice. No eclipse glasses? Find out why a kitchen colander is an excellent Plan B.
Also, the strange behavior of animals and private jet pilots during an eclipse. The latter is making the FAA sweat.
Two heads may be better than one. But what about three or more? A new study shows that chimpanzees excel at complex tasks when they work in groups, and their accumulated knowledge can even be passed from one generation to the next.
But group-think also can be maladaptive. When humans rely on knowledge that they assume other people possess, they can become less than rational.
Find out why one cognitive scientist says that individual thinking is a myth. Most of your decisions are made in groups, and most derive from emotion, not rationality.
ENCORE Baby, it’s cold outside… but you still might want to be there. Some people claim that chilly temperatures are good for your health, and proponents of cryotherapy suggest you have a blast – of sub-zero air – to stave off wrinkles and perhaps halt aging altogether.
Meanwhile the field of cryonics offers the ultimate benefit by suggesting that you put future plans – and your body – on ice when you die. That way you might be revived when the technology to do so is developed.
ENCORE No one knows what the future will bring, but science fiction authors are willing to take a stab at imagining it. We take our own stab at imagining them imagining it. Find out why the genre of science fiction is more than a trippy ride through a bizarre, hi-tech world, but a way to assess and vote on our possible shared future.
ENCORE You can’t pick your parents. But soon you may be able to change the DNA they gave you. CRISPR technology is poised to take DNA editing to new levels of precision and speed. Imagine deleting genes from your body that you don’t like and inserting the ones you want. The swap might not even require a fancy lab. Biohackers are already tinkering with genes in their homes.
Find out how CRISPR technology might change everything when the genetic lottery is no longer destiny.
ENCORE It was “one giant leap for mankind,” but the next step forward may require going back. Yes, back to the moon. Only this time the hardware may come from China. Or perhaps Europe. In fact, it seems that the only developed nation not going lunar is the U.S.
Find out why our pockmarked satellite is such hot real estate, and whether it has the raw materials we’d need to colonize it. A new theory of how the moon formed may tell us what’s below its dusty surface.
The scientific method is tried and true. It has led us to a reliable understanding of things from basic physics to biomedicine. So yes, we can rely on the scientific method. The fallible humans behind the research, not so much. And politicians? Don’t get us started. Remember when one brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” that global warming was a hoax? Oy vey.
ENCORE In astronomy, the rule of thumb was simple: If you can’t see it with a telescope, it’s not real. Seeing is believing. Well, tell that to the astronomers who discovered dark energy, or dark matter … or, more recently, Planet 9. And yet we have evidence that all these things exist (although skepticism about the ninth – or is it tenth? – planet still lingers).
Find out how we know what we know about the latest cosmic discoveries – even if we can’t see them directly. The astronomer who found Planet 9 – and killed Pluto – offers his evidence.
ENCORE Only two of the following three creations have had lasting scientific or cultural impact: The telescope … the Sistine Chapel ceiling … the electric banana. Find out why one didn’t make the cut as a game-changer, and why certain eras and places produce a remarkable flowering of creativity (we’re looking at you, Athens).
Exploration: It’s exciting, it’s novel, and you can’t always count on a round-trip ticket. You can boldly go, but you might not come back. That’s no showstopper for robotic explorers, though. Spacecraft go everywhere.
While humans have traveled no farther than the moon, our mechanical proxies are climbing a mountain on Mars, visiting an ice ball far beyond Pluto, plunging through the rings of Saturn, and landing on a comet. Oh, and did we mention they’re also bringing rock and roll to the denizens of deep space, in case they wish to listen.