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Helping the blind 'see' the solar eclipse

Aug 11, 2017
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Carolyn Beeler/PRI

It sounds like the beginning of a riddle. How can someone who’s blind “see” the upcoming eclipse on Aug. 21?

It’s a question solar astrophysicist Henry “Trae” Winter started thinking about several months ago after a blind colleague asked him to describe what an eclipse was like.

“I was caught completely flat-footed,” Winter said. “I had no idea how to communicate what goes on during an eclipse to someone who has never seen before in their entire life.”

Think about the last time you were bored — seriously and persistently bored.

Maybe you had to carry out some mind-numbing repetitive task for hours on end, or maybe you were just trapped at the airport or train station, waiting out a lengthy delay without a good conversational partner, book, or movie. You look at a clock and it seems to move at a surreal, glacial pace.

Seventeen thousand years ago, a massive glacier the height of five Space Needles covered what is now Seattle and a large part of western Washington.
Courtesy of the Burke Museum

Seattle was carved by ice.

Gray wolf
Flickr Photo/USFWS Pacific Region (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Bill Radke talks to Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times environment reporter, about Robert Wielgus, the Washington State University researcher whose work on cougars and wolves in Washington state angered lawmakers and ranchers and led to a loss of funding for his research and a lack of support from his employer.

The time is almost here. On the morning of Monday, Aug. 21, many in America will collectively raise their heads to the sky to witness the first total solar eclipse in the region in 38 years. This time around, Oregon is ground zero and the state is preparing for a phenomenon that has been embraced by people from all over the world. Here are some key things to know before the solar eclipse completely covers our lives.

This month's total solar eclipse might be the most-studied disappearance of the sun ever, thanks in part to legions of citizen scientists from the Northwest and beyond.

I admit it. I have a "mummy tummy," also known as "mommy pooch." You know, that soft jelly belly you retain after having a baby — it makes you look a few months pregnant.

I've tried to convince myself that the pooch is a valiant badge of motherhood, but who am I kidding? The pooch bothers me. And it turns out it has been causing back pain.

So when I hear that a fitness coach and doctor have come up with a technique that can flatten the pooch quickly and easily, I think, "Why not?"

It has become a rite of summer. Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. It's an area where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive. And every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissions scientists to venture out into the Gulf to measure it.

If you're lucky enough to be in the path of totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse over North America, you will get at best about 2 ½ minutes to view "totality" – when the moon almost completely covers the disc of the Sun.

Oregon State University researcher John Chapman is knee-deep in mud and sinking deeper by the minute. The mudflat surrounding him in Newport’s Yaquina Bay is pocked with holes – some snaking down more than 6 feet underground.

These are the burrows of the burrowing mud shrimp.

“This is the last, biggest population in the world," he said. "In San Francisco Bay, they’re extinct. In most of California, they’re extinct."

Why We All Scream When We Get Ice Cream Brain Freeze

Jul 31, 2017

Ah, the brain freeze — the signature pain of summer experienced by anyone who has eaten an ice cream cone with too much enthusiasm or slurped down a slushie a little too quickly.

But have you ever stopped mid-freeze to think about why our bodies react like this?

Well, researchers who study pain have, and some, like Dr. Kris Rau of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, say it's a good way to understand the basics of how we process damaging stimuli.

But first, a lesson in terminology.

If Northwest fish were stand-up comics, the salmon would be the headliner. And the fish that gets “no respect” would be the lamprey, an eel-like creature that has been plying the Northwest’s rivers for 400 million years. 

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Yes, you were promised a jet pack. Your disappointment around that may still sting, or you may be more concerned about global warming, or a robot taking your job, or finding affordable housing. Or you might be reasonably concerned that the digital revolution will leave you somewhere on the global trash heap of history.

A new book will help you find out what’s happening now and next in technology and maybe how to stay ahead of the curve.

Ellie and Emma are toddlers. They spend a lot of time with their dad Tim Billo in Seward Park, a fragment of old-growth forest on the edge of Lake Washington. Billo’s a lecturer at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.

The grove Billo and his daughters are exploring today used to have sword ferns that had grown taller than Ellie and Emma. But, now, the ground is bare and dusty. There are no plants growing beneath the towering trees.

Courtesy of Rick Fienberg TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

Bill Radke talks to former NPR reporter David Baron about why he believes everyone should witness a full solar eclipse in their lifetime. Baron also talks about his new book "American Eclipse" that tells the story of the 1878 full solar eclipse that stretched across the American West and drew the nation's scientists and eclipse chasers. 

Normally by late June, wasps are a common nuisance at summer barbecues. But this year, entomologists have noticed a drop-off in Washington state and wasp populations are lower than usual.

Crumbs may seem harmless here on Earth, but they can be a hazard in microgravity — they could get in an astronaut's eye, or get inhaled, causing someone to choke. Crumbs could even float into an electrical panel, burn up or cause a fire.

That's part of the reason why it was a very big deal in 1965 when John Young pulled a corned beef sandwich out of his pocket as he was orbiting the earth with Gus Grissom.

"Where did that come from?" Grissom asked Young.

"I brought it with me," Young said.

Gina Mazany grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. And that's where she had her first fight.

"It was right after I turned 18," she recalls.

A local bar had a boxing ring, and Mazany decided to give it a shot. Her opponent was an older woman with a "mom haircut."

"She beat the crap out of me," Mazany says. "Like she didn't knock me out, she didn't finish me. But she just knocked me around for three rounds. And I remember, later that night I was very, very nauseous. I was throwing up that night."

It was her first concussion.

This summer, scientists in California are releasing 20 million mosquitoes in an effort to shrink the population of mosquitoes that can carry diseases.

It sounds counterintuitive. But the plan is to release millions of sterile male mosquitoes, which will then mate with wild female mosquitoes. The eggs the females lay won't hatch, researchers say.

Mathematical physicist and educator Robbert Dijkgraaf on the importance of the 'pursuit of useless knowledge' in both the sciences and the humanities.
Courtesy of Andrea Kane/Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ USA

In 1939 the influential American education reformer Abraham Flexner published an essay in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.” In it he promoted the well-funded, free pursuit of scientific inquiry, arguing that great scientists were “driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.”

The final scramble is on to see the total eclipse on Aug. 21 in the Northwest. Most hotels and campgrounds in the path of totality are booked.

But for those willing to do some research, or pay handsomely, there are still eclipse adventures to be had.

Few inventions in modern history have been as successful as plastic. It's in vehicles and building materials and most of our electronic devices. We wrap stuff in it and even wear it.

Now a research team has tallied up how much plastic has been produced and where much of it has gone. Turns out, it's literally almost everywhere.

Elon Musk is warning that artificial intelligence is a "fundamental existential risk for human civilization," and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is looking into how states can respond.

Workers and labor activists demonstrate outside the U.S. District Courthouse in support of the city's $15 an hour minimum wage
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Bill Radke talks to Paul Basken, science policy reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, about how we should consume news that reports on scientific research. 

It would be nice to believe that the reason humanity has taken next to no action to halt the destruction of the world's oceans is because we simply haven't seen the damage report. That argument held more water (sorry) back in 2004, when Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore made An Inconvenient Truth, a film that sought to raise awareness of man-made climate change in the hopes that a momentum would build to reverse the tide and slow the warming of the planet.

An update from the Wild Wild West of fake news technologies: A team of computer scientists have figured out how to make words come out of the mouth of former President Barack Obama — on video — by using artificial intelligence.

As recently as 10 years ago, humans were thought to be the only species with the ability to plan.

Recent studies on great apes showed the ability is not uniquely human. Now, scientists in Sweden have come to the surprising conclusion that ravens can also deliberately prepare for future events.

"It is conservative to conclude that ravens perform similarly to great apes and young children," the researchers write. However, monkeys have failed similar experiments.

Editor's note: This story is for mature bees only.

Seducing a honeybee drone – one of the males in a colony whose only job is to mate with the queen – is not too difficult. They don't have stingers, so you just pick one up. Apply a little pressure to the abdomen and the drone gets randy, blood rushing to his endophallus, bringing him to climax.

"They're really accommodating," says Susan Cobey, a honeybee breeder on Whidbey Island, Wash. "One ejaculate is about 1 microliter, and it takes 10 microliters to artificially inseminate a queen."

A massive iceberg the size of Delaware has broken free from Antarctica and is floating in the sea.

Earlier Wednesday, scientists announced that the 6,000-square-kilometer (about 2,300 square miles) iceberg had come loose, after satellites detected it had calved off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Octavia Butler used to say she remembers exactly when she decided to become a science fiction writer. She was 9 years old and saw a 1954 B-movie called Devil Girl from Mars, and two things struck her. First: "Geez, I can write a better story than that!" And second: "Somebody got paid for writing that story!" If they could, she decided, then she could, too.

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