NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce http://weku.fm en The Little Spacecraft That Couldn't http://weku.fm/post/little-spacecraft-couldnt An audacious quest to reconnect with a vintage NASA spacecraft has suffered a serious setback and is now pretty much over.<p>The satellite launched in 1978 and has been in a long, looping orbit around the sun for about three decades. Thu, 10 Jul 2014 07:28:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 62206 at http://weku.fm The Little Spacecraft That Couldn't A Shocking Fish Tale Surprises Evolutionary Biologists http://weku.fm/post/shocking-fish-tale-surprises-evolutionary-biologists The electric eel's powerful ability to deliver deadly shocks — up to 600 volts — makes it the most famous electric fish, but hundreds of other species produce weaker electric fields. Now, a new genetic study of electric fish has revealed the surprising way they got electrified.<p>Consider a 6-foot-long electric eel: It is basically a 6-inch fish attached to a 5-1/2-foot cattle prod, says <a href="http://www.biochem.wisc.edu/faculty/sussman/">Michael Sussman</a>, who directs the biotechnology center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thu, 26 Jun 2014 18:03:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 61604 at http://weku.fm A Shocking Fish Tale Surprises Evolutionary Biologists How To Become A Neanderthal: Chew Before Thinking http://weku.fm/post/how-build-neanderthal Scientists have long puzzled over the origin and evolution of our closest relative, the Neanderthal. Thu, 19 Jun 2014 18:03:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 61263 at http://weku.fm How To Become A Neanderthal: Chew Before Thinking Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat? http://weku.fm/post/collecting-animals-science-noble-mission-or-threat Behind the scenes at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, there's a vast, warehouse-like room that's filled with metal cabinets painted a drab institutional green. Inside the cabinets are more than a half-million birds — and these birds are not drab. Wed, 18 Jun 2014 07:25:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 61177 at http://weku.fm Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat? Big Flightless Birds Come From High-Flying Ancestors http://weku.fm/post/big-flightless-birds-come-high-flying-ancestors Big, flightless birds like the <a href="http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/ostrich">ostrich</a>, the <a href="http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/emu">emu</a> and the <a href="http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/greater-rhea/">rhea</a> are scattered around the Southern Hemisphere because their ancestors once flew around the world, a new study suggests.<p>That's a surprise, because it means birds in Australia, Africa and South America independently evolved in ways that made them all lose the ability to fly.<p>These related birds — known as <a href="http://sciencewise.anu. Thu, 22 May 2014 20:34:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 59994 at http://weku.fm Big Flightless Birds Come From High-Flying Ancestors Why This Octopus Isn't Stuck-Up http://weku.fm/post/why-octopus-isnt-stuck Octopus arms keep from getting all tangled up in part because some kind of chemical in octopus skin prevents the tentacles' suckers from grabbing on.<p>That was the surprise discovery of scientists who were trying to understand how octopuses manage to move all their weird appendages without getting tied in knots.<p>Unlike humans, octopuses don't have a constant awareness of their arms' locations. It's kind of like the eight arms have minds of their own. Thu, 15 May 2014 16:18:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 59636 at http://weku.fm 'Past The Point Of No Return:' An Antarctic Ice Sheet's Slow Collapse http://weku.fm/post/past-point-no-return-antarctic-ice-sheets-slow-collapse Transcript <p>MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: <p>Antarctica is covered with the biggest mass of ice on earth. The part of the ice sheath that's over West Antarctica is thought to be especially vulnerable to climate change. Scientists now say a slow collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is both underway and irreversible. Mon, 12 May 2014 20:02:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 59492 at http://weku.fm Chemists Expand Nature's Genetic Alphabet http://weku.fm/post/chemists-expand-natures-genetic-alphabet For the first time, scientists have expanded life's genetic alphabet, by inserting two unnatural, man-made "letters" into a bacterium's DNA, and by showing that the cell's machinery can copy them.<p>The advance means that scientists have a new tool for exploring how life encodes information, which could help them understand life's origins.<p>What's more, this is a step towards giving living cells new abilities, like being able to make more and better medicines, cheaper and faster.<p>The instructions in DNA really are written in a kind of code. Wed, 07 May 2014 18:18:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 59273 at http://weku.fm Chemists Expand Nature's Genetic Alphabet Scientists Spot A Planet That Looks Like 'Earth's Cousin' http://weku.fm/post/scientists-spot-planet-looks-earths-cousin Scientists who have been hunting for another Earth beyond our solar system have come across a planet that's remarkably similar to our world.<p>It's almost the same size as Earth, and it orbits in its star's "Goldilocks zone" — where temperatures are not too hot, not too cold, and maybe just right for life.<p>But a lot about this planet is going to remain a mystery, because it's 500 light-years away.<p>Researchers detected the planet while poring over data collected by <a href="http://kepler.nasa.gov/">NASA's Kepler Space Telescope</a>. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:02:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 58358 at http://weku.fm Scientists Spot A Planet That Looks Like 'Earth's Cousin' Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says http://weku.fm/post/climate-change-adjustments-must-be-fast-and-large-un-panel-says A new report from the United Nations' panel on climate change says major action is needed, and fast, if policymakers want to limit global warming to acceptable levels.<p>There's an international target to control climate change: keeping the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — that's 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The <a href="http://mitigation2014.org/">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a> now says it's technically possible to meet that goal. Sun, 13 Apr 2014 13:40:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 58162 at http://weku.fm Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says Scientists Publish Recipe For Making Bird Flu More Contagious http://weku.fm/post/scientists-publish-recipe-making-bird-flu-more-contagious The Dutch virologist accused of engineering a dangerous superflu a few years ago is back with more contentious research.<p>In 2011, <a href="http://www.erasmusmc.nl/MScMM/faculty/CVs/fouchier_cv?lang=en">Ron Fouchier</a> and his team at Erasmus Medical Center took the H5N1 flu virus and made it more contagious. Now the team has published another study with more details on the exact genetic changes needed to do the trick.<p>The <a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/146924995/h5n1">H5N1</a> bird flu is known to have sickened 650 people worldwide, and of those, 386 died. Thu, 10 Apr 2014 19:06:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 58045 at http://weku.fm Scientists Publish Recipe For Making Bird Flu More Contagious Smithsonian's Air And Space Museum To Get $30 Million Spiffier http://weku.fm/post/smithsonians-air-and-space-museum-get-30-million-spiffier Throngs of museum-goers mill through the grand entrance hall of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., every day, gawking at such treasures as the Apollo 11 capsule that carried Neil Armstrong's crew to the moon and back, as well as Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Thu, 03 Apr 2014 17:45:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 57724 at http://weku.fm Smithsonian's Air And Space Museum To Get $30 Million Spiffier Ethicists Tell NASA How To Weigh Hazards Of Space Travel http://weku.fm/post/ethicists-tell-nasa-how-weigh-hazards-space-travel NASA is hoping to soon venture out farther into space than ever before. Wed, 02 Apr 2014 15:23:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 57669 at http://weku.fm Ethicists Tell NASA How To Weigh Hazards Of Space Travel New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System's Outer Limits http://weku.fm/post/new-dwarf-planet-found-solar-systems-outer-limits Scientists have spotted a new dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system. It's a kind of pink ice ball that's way out there, far beyond Pluto.<p>Astronomers used to think this region of space was a no man's land. But the <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/dwarf-planet-stretches-solar-system-s-edge-1.14921#/ref-link-1">new findings</a> suggest that it holds many small worlds — and there are even hints of an unseen planet bigger than Earth.<p>"We used to think there's just not much out there. Wed, 26 Mar 2014 19:01:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 57359 at http://weku.fm New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System's Outer Limits Space Thief Or Hero? One Man's Quest To Reawaken An Old Friend http://weku.fm/post/space-thief-or-hero-one-mans-quest-reawaken-old-friend More than 30 years ago, Robert Farquhar stole a spacecraft.<p>Now he's trying to give it back.<p>The green satellite, covered with solar panels, is hurtling back toward the general vicinity of Earth, after nearly three decades of traveling in a large, looping orbit around the sun.<p>If Farquhar, a former mission design specialist for NASA, gets his way, the agency will command the spacecraft to fire its thrusters, veer close to the moon, and slip back into the spot where it was intended to be when it was launched in 1978 — and where it was when Farquhar and his accomplices "borrowed" it.<p>Bac Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:44:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 56957 at http://weku.fm Space Thief Or Hero? One Man's Quest To Reawaken An Old Friend At 4.4 Billion Years Old, Oz Crystals Confirmed As World's Oldest http://weku.fm/post/44-billion-years-old-oz-crystals-confirmed-worlds-oldest Scientists have used a powerful new technique to prove that some tiny crystals found in Western Australia are indeed the oldest known materials formed on Earth.<p>Back in 2001, scientists reported that one of the zircon crystals was about 4.4 billion years old — so old that not everyone believed it.<p>"There have been challenges, because nothing in science goes without being questioned. Mon, 24 Feb 2014 08:27:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 56013 at http://weku.fm At 4.4 Billion Years Old, Oz Crystals Confirmed As World's Oldest If Yellowstone Could Talk, It Might Squeak. Blame The Helium http://weku.fm/post/if-yellowstone-could-talk-it-might-squeak-blame-helium A huge amount of ancient helium is rising up from the rocks beneath Yellowstone National Park — about enough to fill up a Goodyear blimp every week.<p>The gas comes from a vast store of helium that's accumulated in the Earth's crust for hundreds of millions of years, scientists report in the journal <a href="http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v506/n7488/full/nature12992.html">Nature</a> this week.<p>The helium is being released because in the past couple of million years — very recently, in geologic time — that old part of the crust has been feeling the heat from a huge volcano that is now s Wed, 19 Feb 2014 20:39:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 55819 at http://weku.fm If Yellowstone Could Talk, It Might Squeak. Blame The Helium Drugmakers And NIH Band Together To Speed Up Research http://weku.fm/post/drugmakers-and-nih-band-together-speed-research The National Institutes of Health is teaming up with major drug companies in a new effort to identify disease-related molecules and biological processes that could lead to future medicines.<p>The public-private partnership is called <a href="http://www.nih.gov/science/amp/index.htm">AMP</a>, for the "Accelerating Medicines Partnership," and it will focus first on Alzheimer's disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two autoimmune disorders: rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.<p>This is a five-year, $230 million venture. NIH is splitting the cost with industry. Tue, 04 Feb 2014 20:30:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 55184 at http://weku.fm Drugmakers And NIH Band Together To Speed Up Research Ancient Plague's DNA Revived From A 1,500-Year-Old Tooth http://weku.fm/post/ancient-plagues-dna-revived-1500-year-old-tooth Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of a strain of bacteria that caused one of the most deadly pandemics in history nearly 1,500 years ago.<p>They did it by finding the skeletons of people killed by the plague and extracting DNA from traces of blood inside their teeth.<p>This plague struck in the year 541, under the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, so it's usually called the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22767313">Justinian plague</a>. The emperor actually got sick himself but recovered. Wed, 29 Jan 2014 07:59:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 54904 at http://weku.fm Ancient Plague's DNA Revived From A 1,500-Year-Old Tooth Grand Canyon May Be Older (And Younger) Than You Think http://weku.fm/post/grand-canyon-may-be-older-and-younger-you-think In recent years geologists have hotly debated the age of the Grand Canyon. Some think it's young (just 6 million years old), while others argue that it dates back 70 million years — to the days of dinosaurs.<p>Now one group says the Grand Canyon is neither young nor old. Instead, these geologists say, it's both.<p>In the journal <em>Nature Geoscience</em>, <a href="http://epswww.unm.edu/facstaff/kek1/">Karl Karlstrom</a>, of the University of New Mexico, and some colleagues describe a new creation story for the Grand Canyon. Mon, 27 Jan 2014 08:33:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 54809 at http://weku.fm Grand Canyon May Be Older (And Younger) Than You Think There She Blew! Volcanic Evidence Of The World's First Map http://weku.fm/post/there-she-blew-volcanic-evidence-worlds-first-map A new study of volcanic rocks suggests that an ancient mural may indeed depict an erupting volcano, adding new weight to a theory that this image is a contender for the world's oldest known landscape painting or map.<p>The mural was found at a vast archaeological site in central Turkey known as <a href="http://www.catalhoyuk.com/">Catalhoyuk</a>. This Neolithic town goes back 9,000 years and was a huge settlement for a time when people were first transitioning from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. Thu, 09 Jan 2014 08:38:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 54137 at http://weku.fm There She Blew! Volcanic Evidence Of The World's First Map Bon Voyage, Voyager: Old Friends Take Stock http://weku.fm/post/bon-voyage-voyager-old-friends-take-stock For the scientists who have emotionally traveled with NASA's Voyager mission for decades, 2013 will be remembered as the year they knew Voyager 1 had finally become the first explorer from Earth to enter the mysterious realm of interstellar space.<p>Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, both blasted off in 1977, more than 35 years ago. Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, then Saturn — and then on toward the unknown region that lies between stars.<p><a href="http://cassini-mimi.jhuapl.edu/SMK_BriefBiography_19-051.htm">Tom Krimigis</a>, 75, works at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab. Tue, 31 Dec 2013 08:26:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 53789 at http://weku.fm Bon Voyage, Voyager: Old Friends Take Stock Screening Newborns For Disease Can Leave Families In Limbo http://weku.fm/post/screening-newborns-disease-can-leave-families-limbo For Matthew and Brianne Wojtesta, it all started about a week after the birth of their daughter Vera. Matthew was picking up his son from kindergarten when he got a phone call.<p>It was their pediatrician, with some shocking news. Vera had been flagged by New York's <a href="http://www.wadsworth.org/newborn/krabbe.htm">newborn screening program</a> as possibly having a potentially deadly disease, and would need to go see a neurologist the next day.<p>Like every state, New York requires that newborns get a small heel prick so that a few drops of blood can be sent to a lab for testing. Mon, 23 Dec 2013 09:20:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 53517 at http://weku.fm Screening Newborns For Disease Can Leave Families In Limbo Polar Bear Researcher Gets $100,000 In Settlement With Feds http://weku.fm/post/polar-bear-researcher-gets-100000-settlement-feds A scientist whose observations of drowned polar bears raised alarms about climate change has received $100,000 to settle a whistle-blower complaint against an agency of the Department of the Interior.<p>Under the settlement, wildlife researcher Charles Monnett retired from his job at the federal <a href="http://www.boem.gov/">Bureau of Ocean Energy Management</a> on Nov. 15, and the agency agreed to remove a letter of reprimand that officials had placed in his file.<p>"Well, it's over, in the sense that my relationship with the department and the federal government is over," says Monnett. Wed, 04 Dec 2013 05:03:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 52697 at http://weku.fm Polar Bear Researcher Gets $100,000 In Settlement With Feds Bacterial Competition In Lab Shows Evolution Never Stops http://weku.fm/post/bacterial-competition-lab-shows-evolution-never-stops Evolution is relentless process that seems to keep going and going, even when creatures live in a stable, unchanging world.<p>That's the latest surprise from a unique experiment that's been underway for more than a quarter-century.<p>Evolution is so important for biology, medicine and a general understanding of our world that scientists want to understand it as fully as possible. That's why, in 1988, biologist <a href="http://myxo.css.msu.edu/BioSketch.html">Richard Lenski</a> took a dozen glass flasks and added identical bacteria to each of them. Thu, 14 Nov 2013 19:44:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 51906 at http://weku.fm Bacterial Competition In Lab Shows Evolution Never Stops Old Dogs, New Data: Canines May Have Been Domesticated In Europe http://weku.fm/post/old-dogs-new-data-canines-may-have-been-domesticated-europe Scientists have used some new tricks and old dogs to show that thousands of years ago, wolves may have first become man's best friend in Europe.<p>Researchers extracted DNA from ancient wolf or dog fossils and compared it with DNA from modern dog breeds and wolves. Until recently, labs didn't have the kind of genetic tools they'd need to work with such old dog DNA and do this kind of detailed comparison.<p>One surprise is that most domestic dogs are more closely related to ancient wolves than modern wolves. Thu, 14 Nov 2013 19:35:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 51883 at http://weku.fm Old Dogs, New Data: Canines May Have Been Domesticated In Europe Why Scientists Held Back Details On A Unique Botulinum Toxin http://weku.fm/post/why-scientists-held-back-details-unique-botulinum-toxin Scientists have discovered the first new form of botulinum toxin in over 40 years, but they're taking the unusual step of keeping key details about it secret.<p>That's because <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/botulism.html">botulinum toxin</a> is one of the most poisonous substances known. Wed, 09 Oct 2013 21:52:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 51192 at http://weku.fm Why Scientists Held Back Details On A Unique Botulinum Toxin Shutdown Forces Antarctic Research Into 'Caretaker Status' http://weku.fm/post/shutdown-forces-antarctic-research-caretaker-status Earlier this week we told you that scientists who do research in Antarctica have been on pins and needles, worried that the government shutdown <a href="http://www.npr.org/2013/10/07/230170093/even-antarctica-feels-the-effects-of-the-government-shutdown">would effectively cancel all of their planned field work</a> this year.<p>Well, those scientists just got the news they didn't want to hear.<p>Today, officials at the U.S. Antarctic Program <a href="http://www.usap.gov/usapgov/">posted a statement online</a> saying they are moving to "caretaker" status at the three U.S. Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:20:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 51140 at http://weku.fm Shutdown Forces Antarctic Research Into 'Caretaker Status' Even Antarctica Feels Effects Of The Government Shutdown http://weku.fm/post/even-antarctica-feels-effects-government-shutdown It looks like even Antarctica isn't far away enough to avoid getting caught up in the government shutdown.<p>That's because it's currently springtime there, and scientists who study this remote, rugged continent are poised to take advantage of the few months when there's enough daylight and it's warm enough to work. Mon, 07 Oct 2013 21:56:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 51097 at http://weku.fm Even Antarctica Feels Effects Of The Government Shutdown Want To Read Others' Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction http://weku.fm/post/want-read-others-thoughts-try-reading-literary-fiction Your ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others could be affected by the kind of fiction you read.<p>That's the conclusion of a <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/10/02/science.1239918.abstract">study</a> in the journal <em>Science</em> that gave tests of social perception to people who were randomly assigned to read excerpts from literary fiction, popular fiction or nonfiction.<p>On average, people who read parts of more literary books like <em>The Round House</em> by Louise Erdrich did better on those tests than people who read either nothing, read nonfiction or Fri, 04 Oct 2013 20:35:00 +0000 NPR: Nell Greenfieldboyce 50984 at http://weku.fm Want To Read Others' Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction