What to Do About CO2? Try Stuffing It Into the Gulf of Mexico

What if Texas oilmen (oilfolks?) could save the planet from climate change? Hardy-har-har. Given that the Lone Star State ranks sixth in heat-trapping carbon emissions worldwide, just behind Germany and ahead of South Korea, the idea sounds pretty far-fetched. But some recent developments have made the prospect a bit more conceivable. Texas is all about oil and gas. Its petroleum refineries and other energy industries lead the nation in carbon emissions with 653 million metric tons, more than California (number two) and Pennsylvania (number three) combined. Texas’ oil industry continues to find new places to drill offshore, where methane and carbon dioxide that escape during the drilling process also boost greenhouse gases that are wreaking havoc on Earth’s climate. At …

The Secret to Soap Bubbles’ Iridescent Rainbows

If you pay attention, you can see some pretty cool stuff that you might otherwise miss. Have you really looked at a soap bubble? Notice how you can see a bunch of different colors? What about that tiny drop of gasoline in a puddle at the gas station—see the rainbow of colors? Oh, there is that weird car too. It appears to have paint that changes colors. These optical effects are all classified as "thin film interference." You need several physics ideas to really appreciate this optical phenomenon—so let's get to it. Light Is a Wave Everything we see is due to visible light, the very narrow spectrum of electromagnetic waves that our eyes can detect. Since it's difficult to …

The Best Speed Climbers Dash up Walls With a Time-Saving Move

At the base of an indoor climbing route he has scaled hundreds of times, Jordan Fishman clips a carabiner to his climbing harness, dusts his hands with chalk, and readies himself for liftoff. With all 10 fingers he clutches the first hold and leans back to extend his arms, twists his torso to bring his right hip against the wall, plants the ball of his left foot on a pedal on the floor behind him, and cranes his neck to stare at his target: a circular button nearly 50 feet overhead. A bystander counts him down: "Three … two … one … go!" Fishman launches his body up and to the left. As his foot leaves the pedal, a giant, …

A Blazing Hot Coal Seam Shows How Microbes Can Spring to Life

Just past the intersection of Centre and Locust in Centralia, Pennsylvania, the microbiologist Tammy Tobin turned the wheel of her aging Prius sharply to the right. As the windshield wipers whipped furiously back and forth to fend off the driving sleet—a reminder that winter had yet to bid farewell—Tobin announced, “We’re here.” We were at the base of a grassy slope nestled behind the SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery. It looked like any of the other countless knolls tucked in the anthracite hills of eastern Pennsylvania. But almost 50 meters beneath our feet lurked a hidden menace. Centralia was burning. Or rather, the coal seam under what used to be the town of Centralia was burning. The coal has burned …

China Finds Phone-Wielding Tourists and Telescopes Don’t Mesh

If a giant telescope observes the universe, and no one around can take a picture of it, does it really exist? The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope—located in Guizhou, China—will have to find out. New regulations, put into effect in early April, ban (among other things) cell phones, smart wearables, drones, and digital cameras within 5 kilometers of the dish and impose uncomfortably large fines on those who break the rules. Officials ratified the restrictions because tourists flocked to the once-remote area after the government built science-centric attractions nearby and promoted the telescope as a vacation destination. But with tourists come electronics, and electronics emit radio waves. Those earthly waves can easily shout down the whispers from the cosmos. As …

Ancestry.coms Racist Ad Tumbles Into a Cultural Minefield

On Thursday, the world’s largest DNA testing company, Ancestry.com, pulled a video advertisement amid a cascade of criticism on social media. The ad, titled “Inseparable” and cinematically shot to portray a gauzy, gothic moment on the streets of the antebellum South, depicted a white man offering a black woman a ring and imploring her to “escape to the North” with him. In the captions, they are referred to as “lovers.” As the video ends, a stylized Canadian marriage certificate for the two characters dated 1857 appears and the voiceover urges the viewer to “uncover the lost chapters of your family history with Ancestry.” The ad appeared online earlier this month, but as BuzzFeed first reported, it didn’t draw much attention …

SpaceX Lands All 3 Boosters of the World’s Most Powerful Rocket

The Falcon Heavy rocket is many things, but “timely” is not one of them. Delay after delay have plagued its development. And this week, the same fate befell its launch schedule. Originally slated to lift off last Sunday, the Falcon Heavy’s first commercial launch was thrice delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions before it finally left launchpad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center today. But it was worth the wait. The minute the launch window opened on Thursday, the rocket boosted its payload, a Saudi Arabian telecommunications satellite, toward geostationary orbit. Even from across several miles of water, the power of 5 million pounds of thrust was enough to rattle your ribcage. One nearly had to shout to be heard over …

Could alcosynth provide all the joy of booze without the dangers?

Scientist David Nutt memorably said alcohol is more dangerous than crack. Now, he is trying to invent a healthy synthetic alternative, and the race is on to get it to market This is what my brain looks like, says David Nutt, showing me an intense abstract painting by a friend of his that is sitting on the windowsill in his office. Nutts base at Hammersmith hospital has a cosy, lived-in feel a stark contrast to the gleaming white laboratory he oversees as director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London. Lab coats hang on a hook by the door, an ancient kettle sits in the corner and next to the painting is an unruly collection of objects that offer …

Ricky Gervais offers proof, if needed, that there is life after The Office | Rebecca Nicholson

His new show, After Life, divides opinion, except in my household I kept walking in on my partner last week quietly crying over the laptop. Not, as might be reasonable to expect, because she is stuck in an infinite current affairs loop, never knowing when she might be freed from the horrors, but because she has been watching Ricky Gervaiss new sitcom, Us. Theyre very cuddly but they also have a sociopathic expression and they kind of look past you in a creepy way. He elaborated on the same theme in an Guardian. Theyre an animal of duality, he said. And they got those scissor-like ears that creep me out. He also told EW that rabbits are both scary and …

A Teen Started a Global Climate Protest. What Are You Doing?

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Greta Thunberg cut a frail and lonely figure when she started a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish parliament building last August. Her parents tried to dissuade her. Classmates declined to join. Passersby expressed pity and bemusement at the sight of the then unknown 15-year-old sitting on the cobblestones with a hand-painted banner. Eight months on, the picture could not be more different. The pigtailed teenager is feted across the world as a model of determination, inspiration, and positive action. National presidents and corporate executives line up to be criticized by her, face to face. Her Skolstrejk för Klimatet …

DNA Crime-Solving Is Still New, Yet It May Have Gone Too Far

DNA is one of the most powerful substances in the universe. In the same structure it can encode the instructions to make uranium-munching microbes, giant flying lizards, or a stand of quaking aspens five miles wide. It can store every movie ever made in a single test tube. And it can stick around for tens of thousands of years. Just this week, Japanese scientists revealed they’d awakened some ancient wooly mammoth DNA by sticking it into mice embryos. What is dead may never die, indeed. It’s DNA’s ability to resurrect more recent history, though, that delivers the biggest emotional punch. In the last week alone, investigators in two separate cold cases from the 1970s and ’80s revealed how DNA helped …