Category Archives: science

How to Survive Being Swallowed by Another Animal

In the 1997 movie Anaconda, there are, to put it mildly, a few scientific inaccuracies. Chief among them: Anacondas do not regurgitate their still-living prey to experience the thrill of a second kill, as the movie’s snake does with Jon Voight. They will sometimes puke up a meal, but since they constrict their victims before swallowing, the expelled individual would be very much dead.

But some animals can travel down a predator’s gullet and return to tell the tale. Consider the bombardier beetles. There are 500 species of them, named for their ability to spray scalding, caustic liquid from their backsides. They do so by mixing chemicals housed in two separate glands. Separately, these substances are inert. Together, they react with explosive results. … Read the rest

What Question Will You Be Remembered For? – Facts So Romantic

Last week, John Brockman announced this year’s “Annual Question” to be the last, and it has an appropriately culminating feel to it: “What is the last question?”Illustration by Sascha Grusche / Wikicommons

John Brockman has run out of questions, and it’s a shame. For 20 years, as a sort of homage to his late friend, the conceptual artist James Lee Byars, who in 1968 started “The World Question Center,” Brockman has been posing an “Annual Question” to some of the sharpest minds in the world, many of them scientists. Reviewing what might be a representative sample—“What is the most important invention in the past 2,000 years?”, “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”, and “What scientific Read the rest

A Triumphant First Launch for Elon Musk’s Giant Rocket

Updated on February 6 at 7:29 p.m. ET

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Seven years ago, the Falcon Heavy was a model rocket, sitting on a table in a conference room in Washington, D.C., in front of some reporters and a couple empty seats.

On Tuesday, the rocket dreamed up by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stood 230 feet tall, on the famed launchpad at Kennedy Space Center where the Saturn V flew the first humans to the moon. An estimated 100,000 people traveled here to watch the Falcon Heavy power up and rise into the sky.

At about 3:45 p.m., the rocket’s 27 engines roared into life and thick plumes of white smoke unfurled from the pad. Within seconds, it was airborne and climbing against the backdrop of a … Read the rest

The Symbolism of Elon Musk Sending a Car Into Space

Updated on February 6 at 6:39 p.m. ET

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Decades ago, the business of launching stuff beyond Earth’s orbit fell solely under the purview of governments. When the stuff being sent wasn’t robotic hardware or scientific instruments, the people who chose what it would be approached the decision-making with a certain amount of seriousness about what it would say about the senders, what it would all mean. This stuff, after all, would be speaking not just for one spacefaring nation, but for the entire human species.

In the 1970s, a small group of people led by the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan spent weeks deliberating the contents of a message they would eventually send flying into the cosmos on board the Voyager spacecraft on their … Read the rest

I Spent Two Years Trying to Fix the Gender Imbalance in My Stories

In December 2015, I wrote a story about the potential uses of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. That piece, based on a conference that I attended in Washington, D.C., quoted six men and one woman. The six men included five scientists and one historian, all quoted for their professional expertise. The one woman was a communications director at a tissue bank organization, and her quote was about her experience as the mother of a child with a genetic disease.

These disparities, both in the absolute numbers of men and women, and the ways in which their quotes were used, leapt out at me, but only after the piece was published. They felt all the more egregious because the CRISPR field is hardly short of excellent, … Read the rest