This week in Picks: skydiving, chewing tobacco is food, going beyond the solar system and synthetic meat. Let’s skydive in.


You’ve probably heard of that guy who wants to jump from 23 miles up (which is kind of like in space already—stratosphere actually). Well, his skydive has already been postponed twice already because as Colin Schultz explains in’s SmartNews blog, wind conditions have to be just right. And just right doesn’t happen very often...

What’s Up With the Winds That Keep Grounding Felix Baumgartner’s Leap From the Stratosphere?

From its initial target window this past Monday, the balloon launch meant to carry Felix Baumgartner aloft for his 23-mile skydive from the stratosphere has been postponed twice so far due to high winds near the launch site. In order for the launch to go ahead, says, wind speeds from the surface to around 800 feet in the air need to be no more than two miles per hour (or just under one meter per second). Getting the right conditions for the launch, it seems, may be one of the most challenging parts of the whole endeavor. Here’s why...

In The Economist, Akshat Rathi covers the troubling consumption of tobacco in India. 40% of India’s population consume tobacco, more than half of whom do so not by smoking but by consuming chewing tobacco. As such, the country has one of the highest rates of oral cancer in the world. In a witty attempt to force the government’s hand to take a stand, the Food Safety and Standard Authority declared that no food products should contain tobacco, indirectly classifying chewing tobacco as food.

Tobacco in India: The nut cracks

State governments in India are cracking down on chewing-tobacco products. What were once a royal delight have since become a “health menace”. On October 2nd Himachal Pradesh became the 15th state in India to ban gutka, a form of chewing tobacco made with crushed betel nuts. More than half of all states have done likewise and many others, including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, are planning to follow suit.

Laura Geggel, in The New York Times’ Green blog, reveals that Christopher Columbus probably saw glowing fireworms in the ocean which is mistook for American land. The fireworms are quite extraordinary and celebrate mating in full colour. (Rachel Nuwer has a good write-up of Laura’s piece here.)

Bioluminescent Worms Welcomed Columbus to the New World

A doctoral student at Baruch College is studying the luminescent proteins of Bermuda fireworms, glowing green creatures that may have caught Christopher Columbus’s eye 520 years ago. At 10 p.m. on Oct. 11, 1492, Christopher Columbus saw a glimmer in the distance as he stood on the deck of the Santa María. The faraway flash was “so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land,” Columbus wrote, referring to himself in the third person.

This year’s winner of the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize, Professional Scientist category, is Adam Kucharski. Adam wrote about the importance of estimates! Mark Henderson, this year’s judge had this to say about Adam’s piece: “This was a fascinating piece that explained not only why estimation is much more than just guesswork, but that also demonstrated how important it can be to science.” The piece is now online on Wellcome Trust’s blog.

In need of a number

How many piano tuners are there in London? Someone asked me that in a job interview a few years ago. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? I had no idea either. And yet, in science, similar questions crop up all over the place. How many species are there on Earth? How many neurons does the brain have? How many planets are there in our galaxy?

Shortlisted for the same prize was Kelly Oakes’ fascinating piece about Voyagers 1 and 2 going where no manmade stuff has even gone. Kelly takes us on the Voyagers’ journeys to the edge of the solar system as the spacecrafts look set to go beyond our system soon.

Beyond the edge of the solar system

Nothing manmade has ever left our solar system, but that is about to change. Two spacecraft are poised at the edge, about to break through and begin a never-ending journey among the stars. NASA’s Voyager mission, comprising Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977 and headed to Saturn and Jupiter, giving us our first glimpse of the two gas giants. We saw Saturn’s rings in unprecedented, intricate detail and witnessed for the first time active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon, Io. Voyager 2 continued on to Uranus and Neptune and took pictures of the planets whose surfaces we had never seen before, while Voyager 1 started the long journey out of the solar system.

Noby Leong, on Scitable’s Student Voices, has a post about our inevitable upcoming consumption of synthetic meat. Noby explains how synthetic meat is cellularly just like real meat with myocytes which form muscle fibres. One difference though is that synthetic meat contains no fat!

How synthetic meat is revolutionizing the food industry

Meat is one of the most satisfying and prized sources of food. The unique combination of proteins, sugars and salts triggers a mouth-watering taste explosion with huge nutritional gains. But meat production is heading down an unsustainable track and a new source of meat may be required to feed billions around the world. Synthetic meat may just be the answer.


Find more writings from early-career science writers by following this Twitter list. Happy weekend reading.