Science news


It might seem like a space-age fantasy, but there will be a lot of a serious talk in Seattle this weekend about a “space elevator.”

You might think of it as a space railroad. In theory, the technology could make going into orbit as cheap and easy as buying a first-class airline ticket.

The idea calls for a cable that stretches from a spot on the equator out to an anchor orbiting thousands of miles in space. On that cable, a remote-controlled cabin or elevator zips up and down.

Twitter wasn't built to give voice to Curiosity, the rover currently exploring Mars, but it's awfully well-suited for the purpose.

One of public radios most creative storytelling teams is in Seattle this weekend – turning radio into a live theater performance.

Radiolab calls itself a show about curiosity. KPLU science reporter Keith Seinfeld talked with the show’s two hosts about how they make science come alive, and then turn it into live theater.

(Listen to the interview ... and for serious Jad & Robert fans, we've added an extra 3 minute excerpt that didn't fit into the edited interview.)

(For information about the shows on Friday and Saturday, visit the KPLU calendar page.)

Leaves are falling in the summertime. School starts in early August in many places. Politicos are already talking about the presidential election — of 2016.

Everything is happening earlier.

When astronomers survey the universe, the landmarks are galaxies, those gigantic agglomerates of stars and interstellar gas spread across the immensity of space. A typical spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way, boasts hundreds of billions of stars grouped along hundreds of thousands of light-years. That means that it takes a beam of light all that time to go from one extreme of the galaxy to the other, traveling, as light does in a vacuum, at 186,282 miles per second.

John McNeill, via UW News

By Todd Bishop of Geekwire

A group of scientists, including a University of Washington atmospheric physicist, wants to test the theory that pumping sea salt into the sky over the ocean would combat global warming by creating clouds that reflect more sunlight back into space.

Six years ago, we told you about a woman, identified as A.J., who could remember the details of nearly every day of her life. At the time, researchers thought she was unique. But since then, a handful of such individuals have been identified. And now, researchers are trying to understand how their extraordinary memories work.

Courtesy of Washington State University

It turns out humans and cattle have some of the same fertility issues.

Researchers at Washington State University have received more than a million dollars from the National Institutes of Health to look into what causes lost pregnancies in beef cattle - and also what that can teach us about miscarriages in humans.

The recent outbreak of West Nile virus in the Dallas area has led to a new round of large-scale spraying for mosquitoes — a method of treating outbreaks that has generations of success, and even nostalgia, behind it.

Although the overall mosquito-killing strategy has changed little since the days when it was pioneered during construction of the Panama Canal a century ago, the chemicals used have become much safer for everything and everyone involved, save the mosquitoes, experts say.

An experimental aircraft that designers hoped would hit 3,600 mph in a test flight over the Pacific on Tuesday "suffered a control failure" and failed in its attempt to go hypersonic, The Associated Press writes.

Its report follows earlier word from Wired magazine's Danger Room blog that it had been told by an "insider familiar with the test" that:

From Curiosity, another Martian landscape

Aug 13, 2012

NASA has released two more pictures from the Curiosity Mars rover.

One is a color image that shows that wall of the Gale Crater and the other is a close up shot of the area excavated by the rover's descent stage rocket engines.

We've posted the white-balanced version of the photos. In theory those should appear more like what Mars would look like if you were using your eyes.

When Michael Phelps came to London for the 2012 Summer Games, he had 14 Olympic gold medals. He's leaving with 18 and a record 22 overall. And now he's retiring at 27, leaving the sport in which he always said he wanted to do things that had never been done before.

At Olympics' End, USA Finishes First In Medal Race

Aug 13, 2012

The last medals of the London Games were just presented at the end of the women's modern pentathlon.

Like it did in the last three Olympics, the United States dominated. Last time around in Beijing, China outdid the States in total gold medals but this year, the U.S. climbed back proving itself in pretty much every category.

Here's a look at the final medal tally:

USA: 46 gold; 29 silver; 29 bronze; 104 total.

China: 38 gold; 27 silver; 22 bronze; 87 total.

Russia: 24 gold; 25 silver; 33 bronze; 82 total

Imagine being able to fly from Los Angeles to New York City in less time than it takes to commute from most of Long Island into Manhattan.


You might have trouble finding any attractive vegetables or fruits if you shop in the wrong stores. It’s especially challenging in poor neighborhoods, where mini-marts packed with beer, cigarettes and junk food may be all you can find.

One solution to be tested in Seattle this month will be in the form of a healthy corner store. Call it a mini-grocery.


PASADENA, Calif. — The mysterious Mars photo has been solved.

A NASA engineer said Friday he's pretty sure a Curiosity rover camera caught the rocket stage crashing in the distance after it landed in Gale Crater Sunday night.

How many calories have I consumed this week? How well did I sleep last night?

What about this thing on my leg — is it infected? What does an ECG for ventricular tachycardia look like again?

Yes, you guessed it. There is an app for that.


The Mars rover Curiosity has landed ... on Mars! And it's having a pretty lonely but humorous time of it, according to the rover's mock Twitter feed

SarcasticRover: "HEY EVERYONE! Hope you kids have fun writing shitty memes on my HI-RES PICS! After all, THAT'S WHAT I'M HERE FOR!"

First of a two-part series. Read Part 2.

Modern architecture loves glass. Glass makes interiors brighter and adds sparkle to cityscapes. But glass also kills millions of birds every year when they collide with windows. Biologists say as more glass buildings go up, more birds are dying.

Center for Whale Research

BREMERTON, Wash. — A newborn orca calf has been reported off the west side of San Juan Island in the Puget Sound.

The Center for Whale Research reports the new calf was first spotted midday Monday among the adults of J pod, one of three killer whale pods that frequent Puget Sound.

The Mars rover Curiosity safely landed on the Red Planet and NASA has received its first dispatches: A stunning full resolution look at Mount Sharp and a dramatic low-resolution video of its landing.

Seattle’s a hub for cancer research, and usually that means scientists are looking for cures or new treatments. Now a new project will try to tell us if those treatments are worth the price-tag.

It's Saturday night at the Metropolitan Room, a comedy club in New York City. Host Jimmy Failla is warming up the crowd.

"Where you guys from?" he asks one group in the audience. "Boston? Home of the Red Sox. Personally, we'd prefer you rooted for the Taliban!"

There are 50 or 60 people in the audience, sipping cocktails. Failla has a system. He asks people where they're from. Most are locals. He then hits them with something they can relate to.

One of the things the Mars rover will look for is organic molecules that could at least indicate whether there was once life on the Red Planet. But if searching for life in outer space is the goal, many scientists now say we might have better luck elsewhere — specifically one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus.

The best place to stand in the entire solar system at 1:14 a.m. ET Monday was about 150 million miles away, at the bottom of Gale Crater near the equator of the Red Planet.

Looking west around mid-afternoon local time, a Martian bystander would have seen a rocket-powered alien spacecraft approach and then hover about 60 feet over the rock-strewn plain between the crater walls and the towering slopes of nearby Mount Sharp.

NASA has sent rovers to explore Mars before. But three words explain what makes this latest mission to Mars so different: location, location, location.

The rover Curiosity is slated to land late Sunday in Gale Crater, near the base of a 3-mile-high mountain with layers like the Grand Canyon. Scientists think those rocks could harbor secrets about the history of water — and life — on the Red Planet.

Most mornings, space engineer Adam Steltzner wakes up at about 3 a.m., and before he can coax his tired body back to sleep, his mind takes over. And he starts to worry.

Eventually Steltzner gives up on sleep and heads into his garden where, just as first light reveals the sky, all that thinking can turn into doing. And finally, a little peace.

It's called the seven minutes of terror. In just seven minutes, NASA's latest mission to Mars, a new six-wheeled rover called Curiosity, must go from 13,000 mph as it enters the Martian atmosphere to a dead stop on the surface.

Breastfeeding is already a civil right in Seattle, and now it’s getting financial support everywhere. Under new health rules taking effect today, as part of President Obama’s health law, women will get a number of new "preventive" services covered for free (no co-pays). 

The most talked-about new benefit has been contraceptives – and how some Catholic groups prefer not to pay for birth control. 

But seven other provisions now must be covered by nearly all health insurance plans. One of them is breastfeeding supplies and counseling. 

Distracted driving is a problem for all drivers, but teens are at higher risk.

Yes, it's true that drivers under 25 are up to three times more likely to send text messages or emails while behind the wheel than older drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But there's a deeper problem: Teenagers are also at a developmental stage where getting distracted is more problematic than it is for older drivers.