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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.
  • 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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    Looking for Life in Our Soggy Solar System

    Hubble Space Telescope data revealing Ganymede's ultraviolet aurorae overlays a visible-light image of the icy moon taken by NASA's Galileo orbiter. The ultraviolet aurorae are rocking back and forth in synchrony with Jupiter's magnetic field, suggesting the presence of a large ocean beneath Ganymede's surface. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Saur/JPL/The Galileo Project

    Scientists are finding liquid water, the cornerstone for life as we know it, in surprising nooks and crannies of the solar system. Following Wednesday’s news that there seem to be hydrothermal vents churning away in the warm, alkaline seas inside Saturn’s moon Enceladus, researchers announced airtight evidence yesterday that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede also has a [...]

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    Neandertals Turned Eagle Talons into Jewelry 130,000 Years Ago

    Eagle talons from Krapina, Croatia

    As longtime readers may have noticed, I have an abiding interest in Neandertals. To help me keep up with the latest scientific insights into these mysterious relatives of ours, I have a Google alert set for “Neandertal” (and the alternate spelling, “Neanderthal”). I’m always excited to see the email notification that a new story about [...]

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    American Pi: Why the Day Belongs to the U.S. (and Belize)

    Pi may be a universal constant, but only two countries can natively celebrate Pi Day: the U.S. and Belize. That’s because they are the only ones (if Wikipedia is correct) to shorthand their date format so that it can match the first few digits of pi (3.1415), or March 14, 2015. Most of the rest [...]

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    A Plea for a Scientific Worldview from An Honest Liar, on Debunker James Randi

    NEW YORK CITY—No matter how smart you are, or how educated you are, you can be deceived. That’s the wisdom from—and what I gather is the driving force behind–James “The Amazing” Randi, the renowned illusionist, escape artist and debunker of psychics, spoon benders, faith healers and other charlatans willing to prey on others. The admonition [...]

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    How Quickly Would Measles Spread If Too Few People Were Vaccinated? [Video]

    A vial of the MMR vaccine and needles in a pile

    This simulation models what 80 percent vaccination rates of school-age children would look like vs. 95 percent

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    Dawn Spacecraft Arrives at Ceres, Becomes First to Orbit a Dwarf Planet

    The dwarf planet Ceres in crescent phase as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft

    Shortly after 7:30 am Eastern time this morning, a seven-year space voyage at last reached its final destination: NASA’s Dawn mission entered orbit around Ceres, a small, icy world orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Confirmation of Dawn’s arrival came about an hour later, via the spacecraft’s radio signal to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory [...]

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    What Chappie Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Artificial Intelligence [Video]

    Chappie (Sharlto Copley) and his maker, Deon (Dev Patel). Photo credit: Sony Pictures / TNS

    I’m not a scold about scientific accuracy in film. As long as a movie is not built on a fundamentally stupid premise (“Lucy,” the Scarlet Johansson vehicle predicated on the false notion that humans use only 10 percent of their brains, comes to mind), I am happy to let myself be entertained. You might say [...]

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