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Yesterday the MESSENGER spacecraft circled behind Mercury one last time, where no one on Earth could see it, and slammed into the surface of the intemperate planet at an estimated 8750 miles per hour. It was the second probe to visit Mercury—Mariner 10 completed three fly-bys of the planet in 1974, and according to NASA, still orbits…

In the wake of the Willie Soon scandal, scientists are taking a hard look at the Smithsonian and other institutions at the forefront of research and public outreach. Should these organizations really be supported by industrialists who deny that industrial emissions continue to warm the planet, disrupt the climate, amplify extreme weather, and threaten to…

Anti-Vaxx Loses its Edge

It’s getting harder and harder to hate vaccines in America. The trend will only continue as diseases like measles re-emerge because of some parents’ paranoia. Much of the anti-vaccine sentiment of the last twenty years resulted directly from scientific fraud—and most anti-vaccine propaganda likewise employs scientific terminology to sound credible. But more people are waking…

Out of the Earth, Out of the Blue

Greg Laden reports on a hominid fossil “recovered from the seabed near Taiwan” which reveals new levels of dental diversity among proto-humans and may qualify as a new species. Greg says the specimen known as Penghu “is yet another indicator that multiple different hominids lived on the Earth at the same time after the rise…

Physics vs. Fishy Footballs

When it was reported that many of the footballs in the AFC Championship game were inflated below the required minimum pressure, the triumphant New England Patriots were accused of cheating. Looking for an explanation, Chad Orzel whipped out some footballs, a freezer, and the Ideal Gas Law to do some delving. Physically, air pressure depends…

Chance Cancer Mutations

This new year, researchers concluded that 2/3 of the difference in cancer risk between different parts of the body can be attributed to the number of stem cell divisions those parts undergo. More cell divisions reflect a higher risk as errors that occur naturally during the DNA replication process can contribute to the development of cancer. In…

More Than One Right Answer

On Life Lines, Dr. Dolittle examines the fascinating parallels between hummingbird and insect flight. He and/or she writes: “The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously.” Despite being far removed from insects on…

Supernova Flashes and Silver Linings

New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science reveals that “cells in our brain form little hexagonal grids that keep us oriented, map-like, in our surroundings.” Weizmann’s resident blogger describes this finding as “a pyrotechnic flash of insight that changes how we understand the brain to work.” Game developers delight; this discovery shows “that you…

Corny Science (It’s Good for You)

Modern science stands on the shoulders of giants, as well as average humans, dwarves and elves, ancient civilizations, and all the bones of the dead—forgotten and otherwise. But sometimes you have to start a new branch of science from scratch. On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel continues his count-up to Dec. 25, the birthday of Sir…

Genetic Drifters

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers criticizes the stubborn obfuscations of Michael Behe, who refuses to yield his illogical calculations. Behe says (rightly) that a certain mutation necessary for drug resistance in the malaria parasite has about a 1 in 1020 chance of occurring. But the mutation is also detected in 96% of malaria patients who respond…