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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from guest experts and from the editors of Scientific American

First Prehistoric Snake Slithered Out on Land-Not at Sea

Lizard jaw, Coniophis jaw and a snake jaw; courtesy of Nick Longrich Sorry, sea serpents. Snakes, it seems, slithered off their lizard legs on land. A new analysis of a primitive snake fossil suggests that these animals emerged from a line of burrowing reptiles.Snakes are in the same reptilian order that includes lizards, but just how and where they split off to live their legless lives has been a bit of a mystery.

July 25, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

Massive Genomics Center Set to Open in Lower Manhattan

An artist's rendition of the New York Genome Center exterior at 101 Avenue of the Americas, Manhattan. Credit: NYGC NEW YORK—For a spot news junkie, the sight of a podium-studded dais surrounded by people holding up recording devices is irresistible, especially on a hot summer day.

July 24, 2012 — Robin Lloyd

Want to Understand Climate Change? Try This Simple Book

You know what climate change is, right? Well, most of us think we do, until we find ourselves having to explain some aspect of it concisely. Help will come from a new book released today, Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future (Pantheon Books; $22.95).The 200-page, small format book is a collection of 60 very short chapters—two to three pages each—that explain in straightforward terms a litany of typical questions, statements and misunderstandings about climate change that we hear again and again.

July 24, 2012 — Mark Fischetti

American Astronaut Sally Ride Dies at 61

Sally Ride during the STS-7 mission in 1983. Credit: NASA Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, died today at age 61, according to the Web site of her science-education company, Sally Ride Science.

July 23, 2012 — John Matson

Yes, Government Researchers Really Did Invent the Internet

"It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet," writes Gordon Crovitz in an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal . Most histories cite the Pentagon-backed ARPANet as the Internet's immediate predecessor, but that view undersells the importance of research conducted at Xerox PARC labs in the 1970s, claims Crovitz.

July 23, 2012 — Michael Moyer

Push Comes to Pull: What's the Best Freestyle Swimming Stroke? [Video]

This summer's Olympic games in London feature 14 different freestyle swimming competitions, by far the most races for any type of stroke. The world's elite swimmers can traverse a 50-meter pool in 22 to 26 seconds, yet they are divided over which of two variations of the stroke are more effective: the more powerful "deep catch" approach or the more streamlined "scull." And the physics behind the debate is fascinating.In the deep catch approach, a swimmer puts his or her arm straight forward, then down as deep as possible into the water, and pushes that arm back as hard as possible, keeping the palms perpendicular to the direction the swimmer wants to move.

July 23, 2012 — Larry Greenemeier

How Much Pi Do You Need?

A variety of pies celebrating the number pi. Pi Approximation Day is July 22. Source: flickr/djwtwo I hope you're ready for your big Pi Approximation Day party tomorrow.

July 21, 2012 — Evelyn Lamb

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