Will your calendar entry for November 19th be your last? Some people say yes, predicting a catastrophic collision between Earth and planet Nibiru on that date and the end of the world. But it won’t happen, because this hypothesized rogue world doesn’t exist. Nibiru’s malevolent disruptions have been foretold many times, most dramatically in 2012 and three times so far in 2017. But this year NASA issued a rare public assurance that doomsday was not in the offing.
The biotech tool CRISPR lets us do more than shuffle genes. Researchers have embedded an animated GIF into a living organism’s DNA, proving that the molecule is a great repository for information. This has encouraged speculation that DNA could be used by aliens to send messages.
Meanwhile, nature has seized on this powerful storage system in surprising ways. Scientists have learned that the 98% of our genome – once dismissed as “junk” – contains valuable genetic treasure. Find out what project ENCODE is learning about the “dark genome.”
ENCORE We all get defensive sometimes. For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”. A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely.
But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure. Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs.
Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease.
ENCORE Birds do it, bees do it, but humans may not do it for much longer. At least not for having children. Relying on sex to reproduce could be supplanted by making babies in the lab, where parents-to-be can select genomes that will ensure ideal physical and behavioral traits.
Men hoping to be fathers should act sooner rather than later. These same advancements in biotechnology could allow women to fertilize their own eggs, making the need for male sperm obsolete.
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.
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.