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Are laser-powered spacecraft just a shot in the dark?

Nearly a decade ago, Leik Myrabo shared with Scientific American readers his vision for the future of space travel: a "LightCraft" pushed out to the stars by a pulsed infrared laser beam from the ground or pulled into space by a laser beamed down from a solar-powered station orbiting Earth...

February 23, 2009 — Larry Greenemeier

Outdated energy infrastructure holds back smart-grid future, report says

Despite the Obama administration's pledge of $11 billion to modernize the nation's electric grid, the implementation of so-called "smart-grid" technology that would enable energy efficiency while bringing renewable energy sources online faces a number of hurdles, including an out-dated infrastructure beset by congestion and bottlenecks that constrain the expanded use of sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power, according to a report issued Monday...

February 23, 2009 — Larry Greenemeier

Vitamin D deficiency linked to more colds and flu

Is sunshine more than just a home remedy for a cold? New research suggests it may be: In a study that will be published tomorrow, people with low levels of vitamin D — also known as the "sunshine vitamin" — were more likely to catch cold and flu than folks with adequate amounts...

February 23, 2009 — Jordan Lite

Best chance to view Comet Lulin is here!

Early this week offers skywatchers their best shot at seeing the comet Lulin as it makes its nearest approach to Earth. In some locales it may be possible to spot Lulin with the naked eye, but a small telescope or even a pair of binoculars will help to pick it out...

February 23, 2009 — John Matson

Launch of space shuttle Discovery postponed again

The next space shuttle launch has been pushed back again due to lingering safety concerns stemming from the last shuttle mission in November. NASA needs more time to analyze and possibly conduct further testing on the three flow-control valves that regulate the flow of hydrogen gas from the main engines to the external fuel tank, the space agency announced late Friday...

February 23, 2009 — John Matson

Nontoxic algae, not oil spill or pesticides, killed seabirds in Monterey Bay in 2007

A mystery came to Monterey Bay in 2007: Hundreds of seabirds washed ashore looking and even smelling as though they'd run into an oil spill. The slimy substance that covered the struggling and dead birds smelled "like linseed oil," says Raphael Kudela, an associate professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz...

February 20, 2009 — Katherine Harmon

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Scientific American Unlimited

Scientific American Unlimited