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Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
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    From the editors and reporters of Scientific American , this blog delivers commentary, opinion and analysis on the latest developments in science and technology and their influence on society and policy. From reasoned arguments and cultural critiques to personal and skeptical takes on interesting science news, you'll find a wide range of scientifically relevant insights here. Follow on Twitter @sciam.
  • MESSENGER’s Mercurial Swan Song and Other Interplanetary Smashups

    A close-up view of Mercury's cratered surface taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft

    On April 30, if all goes well, after running out of fuel to fight off orbital decay NASA’s long-running MESSENGER spacecraft will end its mission to Mercury by crashing into the planet’s surface at nearly 4 kilometers per second. Over the past four years, MESSENGER radically changed our view of the closest planet to the [...]

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    Hubble’s Repairman Reflects on the Telescope’s Legacy

    Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino

    Twenty-five years ago, on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope soared into orbit. Since then, its great discoveries have been legion, and the story of how it became the most successful and productive astronomical observatory in human history is destined to become legendary. To help commemorate Hubble’s 25th anniversary, Scientific American collaborated with Nature [...]

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    Can the U.S. Go All-Electric?

    mueller-home

    New homes wired with the latest smart gadgets cluster together around shared park spaces. Blue-black panels that transform sunshine into electricity grace a majority of roofs. Electric cars or hybrids glide silently to rest in garages. This is not some distant future; this is life today in Mueller—an innovative suburb of Austin, Tex., and just [...]

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    Archaeologists Take Wrong Turn, Find World’s Oldest Stone Tools

    SAN FRANCISCO—Archaeologists working in the Kenyan Rift Valley have discovered the oldest known stone tools in the world. Dated to around 3.3 million years ago, the implements are some 700,000 years older than stone tools from Ethiopia that previously held this distinction. They are so old, in fact, that they predate the earliest fossils representing [...]

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    Supermassive Black Holes Make Merging Galaxies Green

    The galaxy NGC 5972 is wreathed in glowing green bands of ionized oxygen

    Green as a color can mean animal, vegetable or mineral. It is the stuff of crocodiles, chlorophyll and copper patina, the essence of serpentine or of snakes in the grass, the hue of a glacial lake, a stagnant pond and the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. Green seems to be everywhere you look—everywhere, that [...]

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    Against April Fools’ in Science Journalism

    A slumbering dragon atop a hoard of gold

    My lowest point as a science journalist came before I even knew what a science journalist was. I was a young punk in an eighth-grade science class at Northwood Middle School in Greenville, South Carolina. For homework, our teacher told us to summarize an article about a recent scientific discovery. I knew instantly what I’d [...]

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    When Your Co-Author Is a Monstrous Ass

    journal article title page with authors stronzo bestiale, william hoover

    Who hasn’t worked with a disagreeable person—and in the world of science publishing, authored a paper with one?  That wasn’t exactly what went through the mind of William Hoover, a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, when he included an Italian co-author to his 1987 paper. But certainly, frustration and a little juvenilia can [...]

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    After Enduring a Martian Marathon, NASA’s Opportunity Rover Faces an Uncertain Future

    The path of NASA's Opportunity rover during its marathon journey on Mars

    It’s been a long time coming, but this week NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover completed the first-ever Martian marathon. After landing on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to only last 90 days, Opportunity has instead endured for more than a decade, and has taken eleven years and two months to [...]

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    What Are Black Hole Firewalls? [Video]

    Black Hole

    Black holes break theories. These sites of extremely large masses in extremely small spaces invoke both of the behemoths of modern physics—general relativity (which rules over large masses) and quantum mechanics (which reigns in small spaces). But the two theories do not get along, and they break down in situations where both apply. For physicists, [...]

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    The Science of TED 2015

    What I love about the annual TED gathering in Vancouver is the way science coexists along with art, social justice, popular song and the rest of TED’s eclectic mix. Singers and celebrities may have bigger Twitter followings, but the scientists who come to TED—as newly minted TED Fellows or longtime attendees—do a pretty good job [...]

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