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Scientists have answered a burning question central to the charm of sunflowers: Why do young flowers move their blooms to always face the sun over the course of a day?

And then: Once sunflowers reach maturity, why do they stop tracking the sun and only face east?

The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.

It's a warm, sunny morning at the Homestead National Monument of America in southeastern Nebraska. A burn crew dressed in yellow and green flame-resistant clothing is about to set a patch of tall-grass prairie on fire — on purpose.

Maybe it was a meteor? Or space junk? People on the West Coast weren't sure what the bright object was that streaked across the sky Wednesday night, but they knew it was spectacular. Now comes word that the object — which separated into bright fragments — was a stage of China's large new rocket.

For decades, Japanese fishermen have told stories about the existence of a dark, rare beaked whale that they called karasu — the "raven."

But now, scientists say they have genetic proof to back up these tales. Long mistaken for its relative, the Baird's beaked whale, scientists say it represents an entirely new species.

football
Flickr Photo/Alexander Schimmeck (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ah3uJL

Kim Malcolm talks with ESPN's Steve Fainaru about allegations made against Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington. In May, a Congressional report alleged that Ellenbogen attempted to influence a federal study on football and brain disease. 

The trip had mechanical setbacks, and the plane's average speed would be legal on many American streets. But when the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi in the early morning darkness Tuesday, it successfully completed a round-the-world voyage using only solar power.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg took turns flying the single-seat aircraft that began its trip on March 9 of 2015, flying more than 26,700 miles in a total of 17 stages (23 days) as they soared under the sun's power and then glided through the night.

More than 2 tons of supplies and gear are speeding toward the International Space Station, after a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched early Monday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The cargo includes a new port that will standardize how spacecraft connect to the station.

COASST / Cliff Brown

Seabirds have been washing up dead on beaches in Washington and British Columbia this summer, and scientists can't say why.

Adult stem cells may skirt the pesky theological issues raised by embryonic stem cell research, but their unregulated marketplace is raising ethical issues of its own.

A study released at the end of last month found hundreds of clinics across the country that are marketing “unapproved” stem-cell therapies directly to patients.


Neanderthal Dinner: Reindeer With A Side Of Cannibalism

Jul 14, 2016

They were Neanderthals living roughly 40,000 years ago in a cave in Goyet, Belgium — and they were eaten by their own kind. That's the finding of a recent study published in Scientific Reports. The authors report that Neanderthal bones found in this cave show signs of being butchered, cracked to extract marrow, then used to shape tools.

These are undeniable signs of cannibalism, says anthropologist and study author Hélène Rougier of California State University, Northridge.

Letting mice watch Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

Bill Radke speaks with Luke Timmerman about what went wrong during Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics' clinical trial of an immunotherapy treatment for leukemia and what it might mean for the company.

Will DNA molecules replace DVDs and flash drives?
Flickr Photo/Tom Woodward (CC BY-NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/7hTafL

In a  lab test tube at the University of Washington, scientists stored an HD video of the song “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go on DNA molecules. They also stored the text of 100 books and the Declaration of Human Rights in multiple languages.

Now, they've broken their own record for the amount of media rich data they've encoded onto DNA.


Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker made a life together gazing at the stars. For 17 years, the couple worked side by side — Gene, as a renowned astrogeologist, studying planets and other celestial bodies, and Carolyn, who had turned to astronomy later in life yet discovered more comets than most pros.

"When I was 50 years old and my kids were grown, Gene suggested, well, maybe I would like to try my hand at astronomy a little bit," Carolyn tells her son-in-law Phred Salazar, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

To the average pedestrian, it was just a curb. To an observant one, perhaps, it was an oddly misaligned curb.

To geologists, it was a snapshot of the earth's shifting tectonic plates — an accidental experiment, a field trip destination for decades.

But to the town of Hayward, Calif., it was just a bit of subpar infrastructure.

The Los Angeles Times sums up what happened next:

Updated 1:40 a.m. ET with Juno orbit maneuver

After a nearly five-year journey, NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter on Monday night. Juno navigated a tricky maneuver — including slowing by around 1,212 mph — to insert itself into orbit in what NASA calls "the king of our solar system."

At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.

Dr. Michael Katze of the University of Washington microbiology department.
University of Washington

Kim Malcolm talks with Buzzfeed News reporter Azeen Ghorayshi about the sexual harassment allegations against University of Washington microbiology professor Dr. Michael Katze.


Frigatebirds, seagoing fliers with a 6-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for weeks at a time, a new study has found. The results paint an astonishing picture of the bird's life, much of which is spent soaring inside the clouds.

The latest episode of the podcast Invisibilia explores the idea that personality — something a lot of us think of as immutable — can change over time.

During his daily bus commute in the bustling Indian city of Hyderabad, there was something that really bothered Narayana Peesapaty.

"Everybody was eating something on their way to work," says Peesapaty, who was working as a sustainable farming researcher for a nonprofit organization at the time. But it wasn't his fellow bus riders' snacking habits that troubled him. It was their plastic cutlery.

Why do onions make us cry?

Many a poet has pondered. Is it because their beautiful, multilayered complexity moves us to weep? Are we mourning the majestic bulb as we cut it up and consume it?

Or are these tears induced by the tragic tedium of chopping, chopping, chopping?

Yes, yes. All of the above.

An image from the Hubble space telescope.
Flickr Photo/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/EhQBf2

Kim Malcolm talks with Geekwire's Alan Boyle about how the Seattle area became a major hub for the entrepreneurial space industry. This week, Seattle is hosting NewSpace 2016, the industry's largest annual conference.

Sixgill shark in the waters around Seattle.
Screenshot from YouTube

Emily Fox talks with filmmaker Michael Werner about his new documentary, "Mystery Sharks of Seattle." It airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m. on KCTS.

When you think about fish, it's probably at dinnertime. Author Jonathan Balcombe, on the other hand, spends a lot of time pondering the emotional lives of fish. Balcombe, who serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that humans are closer to understanding fish than ever before.

"Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish," Balcombe says.

This is what a concussion sounds like

Jun 20, 2016
Despite missing much of her freshman year of high school because of a concussion, Daisy Emminger will be attending the New School in New York this fall.
KUOW Photo/Conor Gormally

A school assembly on the first day at Garfield High School sounds like this:

But to Daisy Emminger, a Seattle freshman suffering from a concussion, it sounded like this:

"It was just overwhelming," Emminger said. "And painful." 


Will Genetic Advances Make Sex Obsolete?

Jun 16, 2016

Stanford law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely predicts that in the future most people in developed countries won't have sex to make babies. Instead they'll choose to control their child's genetics by making embryos in a lab.

Scientists announced Wednesday that they have once again detected ripples in space and time from two black holes colliding far away in the universe.

The discovery comes just months after the first-ever detection of such "gravitational waves," and it suggests that smaller-sized black holes might be more numerous than many had thought.

The luminous glow of light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

That's according to a new atlas of artificial night sky brightness that found our home galaxy is now hidden from more than one-third of humanity.

Despite Rise Of Superbugs, Syphilis Still Has A Kryptonite

Jun 10, 2016

Lola Stamm fell in love with the bacterium that causes syphilis when she was in grad school.

Other bacteria are rod-shaped or blobby. Treponema pallidum, the syphilis culprit, is a long, skinny corkscrew — and it slithers.

"Under the dark-field microscope they look like little snakes," says Lola Stamm, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It's really rather creepy, but they're just fascinating organisms."

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