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Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

 Kepler: Don't Count Your Exoplanets Before They Hatch

As the countdown to the Kepler launch tonight nears its final hours, it's hard not to let your mind run wild with what the planet-seeking satellite will find. But don't. Kepler is just one, albeit awesome, step in a multiphase, multigenerational journey to discover if Earth is the only spot in the universe capable of supporting, well, life like us. See more »

 Green Bullets to Help Environment; Deer Still Out of Luck

If you have trouble deciding whether your perfect day is spent stalking and slaying wild animals or recycling and reducing your carbon footprint, then there's a weapon you need to get your camo-clad hands on: "green" bullets. Green bullets are made of copper or other less toxic materials -- and they're starting to make in-roads with the lead ammo crowd. Take, for instance, the U.S. Army. According to a Kansas City Star story, the biggest producer of small-arms ammo just sent 600,000 rounds of green bullets for U.S. troops to test in fall 2008. The cartridges in question were made with brass casings and bismuth slugs, as opposed to lead. It's hard not to chuckle at the idea of hunters mingling with the granola crowd, but maybe it's not so crazy. Hunters, after all, tend to support the idea of land conservation. See more »

 When Black Holes Dance

Do you remember the part in Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video where the two rival gangs square up for battle, only for the situation to escalate into a full-blown dance number? Well, astronomers have long predicted that a vaguely similar relationship emerges when black holes meet in a cosmic standoff, and now they even have compelling evidence. See more »

 What the heck is a moonlet?

Why it's a diminutive moon -- a small natural or artificial satellite -- of course. Thanks to NASA's Cassini spacecraft, we know now there's one circling Saturn in its G ring. In the picture, it's that microscopic bright spot that NASA helpfully points out within the square. It truly is tiny, clocking in at about a third of mile across. See more »

 Toilet-Trained Cats vs. Sea Otters: Part II

In yesterday's blog, I looked into allegations that efforts to toilet train cats were decimating the California sea otter population. A parasite called Toxoplasma gondii frequently shows up in cat feces (this is also the reason you shouldn't mess with litter boxes if you're pregnant) and, if flushed, can infect sea snails that the otters depend on -- with fatal results. Yet, according to a 2007 post on The Daily Green, flushing your cat's litter down the toilet can also save the planet. They argue that more than 4 billion pounds (almost 2 billion kilograms) of litter winds up in landfills every year and that the clay that it's made from originates in environmentally destructive strip mines -- all this on top of the potential stink. See more »

 GigaPan Robots Replace Paparazzi

Watch out "Us Weekly." Later camera-slinging, ambulance-chasing, privacy-invading paparazzi. A new robotic camera mount made by GigaPan Systems is allowing regular people and their point-and-shoot-cameras to capture some amazing panoramic shots. Instead of immortalizing one small split-second slice of life, you get the whole scene, whether it's the swearing in of a president, the Oscars or a lazy beach scene curving into the sunset. Photogs set their camera onto the mount, indicate the parameters of the panorama they're bent on snapping and then the unit figures out how many photos it needs to take to capture the gigapixel scene, be it ten or a thousand. The GigaPan Epic mount costs $379 and works with most point-and-shoot cameras. The best part? If you have a secure setup, you don't have to snarl at all the other people jostling to take the same shot you desperately want. See more »

 Toilet-Trained Cats Threaten Environment

Sure, the idea of cats using the toilet may sound efficient, but California sea otters and other marine animals could be paying the price for your scoop-free lifestyle. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii shows up in cat feces and, sadly enough, an alarming number of sea otter corpses as well. See more »

 Science and Hip-Hop Join Forces

Science is a subject that, for all its awesomeness, often turns off students. That's tragic because pretty much everything in life that's worth obsessing about has some science at its core. So it's always encouraging to see someone reaching out to students with new and exciting methods of fostering scientific zeal. As she recounts in a recent LiveScience article, Nalini M. Nadkarni happened on the notion of combining science with hip-hop while teaching a forest ecology class at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. During a field trip through the state's temperate rain forests, she overheard a student's eco-inspired freestyle rap and decided music might be a great way of connecting with urban schoolchildren. See more »

 U.S. Lawmakers Get the Lead Out

Like many of my fellow obsessive-compulsive types, I routinely rifle through drawers and closets for unwelcome hangers-on. Once the offending garments have been found, it's off to the Salvation Army -- where it's hard not to do a little browsing. However, the selection at your local thrift store just got a whole lot slimmer, thanks to a new U.S. lead law that went into effect in February. Called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the federal law aims to limit the amount of lead and other harmful chemicals, like phthalates, in products geared at children under 12. But the law has been generated an angry uproar and landed lead in the headlines yet again. You don't need me to tell you that the U.S. economy is in the toilet. The Dow just dipped below 7,000 today for the first time in more than 10 years, and the global economy isn't far behind. See more »

 Hunt Ghosts with Your iPhone!

Among the many, many things your snazzy iPhone can accomplish, add one more: It can sniff out ghosts. Or pretend to. A company called Moderati Inc. released a simulated paranormal state EMF meter that you can download free on iTunes. It turns out the app is more of a promo for the A&E show "Paranormal State" than anything that will help you detect beings suspended between our world and the hereafter. It did get me curious about EMF meters and if I could buy one if were so inclined. Yeah, yeah, I'm the science editor, but I will admit to being fascinated by ghosts. Berate me if you will. An EMF meter or reader measures the electromagnetic fields in your immediate surroundings, be they haunted house or humdrum household. Ghosts supposedly have strong electromagnetic fields that will register on your handheld meter and confirm or deny your paranormal suspicions. See more »

 Scientists Test Galactic Hop-ons

Might ancient microbes have traveled to Earth aboard meteorites? Russian scientists plan to put this theory to the test by sending a canister of Earth life on a round trip to the Martian moon of Phobos. Will these life forms come back alive or potentially contaminate other worlds? See more »

 Battle of the Beetle Sexes

Human sexuality tends to provide us with enough complexity on its own, but the occasional glance at the rest of the animal kingdom helps put everything in perspective. Yep, according to a new study, the beetles with the "longest and spiniest genitalia" experience the most success in passing on their genes. National Geographic even provides a photo gallery of "bizarre beetle genitalia" if your boss isn't watching over your shoulder. Scientists believe these spines help to anchor the male in place for the duration of the coupling, internally injuring the female in the process. Don't drag all your anthropomorphic baggage into this, though. I think doomed mad scientist Seth Brundle put it best in "The Fly." "Have you ever heard of insect politics?" he asks. "Neither have I. Insects don't have politics. They're very brutal. No compassion, no compromise." See more »

 TV Forensic Science Good; Real Forensic Science Not So Good

If our TV-watching habits are any indication, people love forensic science. I'm not sure how many "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" shows have been spawned, but people undoubtedly dig a diet of grisly crime-scene dramas and cheesy David Caruso one-liners. Nothing like a fortuitously obtained DNA sample to right the miscarriage of justice and send a show straight to successful syndication. See more »

 Can geographers help U.S. find bin Laden?

I hope someone over at the National Security Agency is slacking off and reading the MIT International Review because several geography professors have developed some interesting ideas on how to find one of the most-hunted men on the planet. Yup. Osama bin Laden. Typically, the study's main authors, Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew, are more preoccupied with "theories that predict how plants and animals distribute themselves over space and over time." But combine those theories with some intelligence gathered by trusty spy satellites and you may be on to something. The professors think that their work represents the first scientific approach to establishing bin Laden's current location. Really? Given the time and money the U.S. intelligence community has devoted to the manhunt, that seems a bold claim. But why not give the authors' methods a shot? It's not like anything else has worked. To see a map of one of bin Laden's proposed locations, read this New Yorker article. See more »

 Scientists Unlock the Tooth Garden

Our bodies possess remarkable natural healing capabilities. Throw in a little modern medical science and our ability to bounce back from an injury looks even better. Broken bones fuse back together. Ageing eyes return to 20/20 vision. With a few snips, a doctor can even re-string a major-league pitcher's throwing arm. When it comes to our teeth, however, our options are far more limited. Lose an adult tooth and there's no growing it back. But is there another way? According to a BBC science article, a team of U.S. scientists at Oregon State University may have discovered the key to growing new teeth in a laboratory. They successfully pinpointed a gene in mice responsible for the production of the hard, enamel coating that give our chompers their bite. In addition to playing a role in nerve and skin development, the Ctip2 gene plays a key role in the production of ameloblasts, the cells that secrete enamel. See more »

 NASA Unsuccessful with OCO; North Korea Not Deterred

Ah geez. After all that, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to launch this morning after its scheduled 4:55 a.m. liftoff. Instead of tracking your carbon footprint from on high as we wrote about here last week, it's probably watching fish swim by somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA official John Brunschwyler. See more »

 Global Warming Vs. Nuclear Winter

In writing a recent article about nuclear winter, I ran across this outrageous statement quite a bit: "Couldn't we just cancel out global warming with nuclear winter?" The short answer? Yes. And you can also cure a hangnail with a meat cleaver, though it's probably not quite the fix you're looking for. To be fair, no one is seriously advocating the use of thermonuclear weapons to save the environment. Most of the time, the suggestion is either a thoughtless joke or a shot at the theoretic (and therefore fallible) aspects of both global warming and nuclear winter. When it comes to understanding our atmosphere, there's a whole lot of room to wind up getting it wrong. See more »

 Oscars Snub Science, Again

sci-tech awardsEd CatmullPixarThat was it. There's no time in primetime for the geekier side of filmmaking. And there hasn't been since 1975. As usual, the academy shunted the scientific and technical awards ceremony to its own separate event and ven ... See more »

Safe Sex Not Just for the Living

 Safe Sex Not Just for the Living

Thanks to Marc Abrahams over at Improbable Research, we now know that the safe-sex message has reached even the darkest corners of human desire. Yes, necrophiliacs are making sure to pack a few condoms when heading off to the cemetery. According to Channel 3000 out of Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court just decided in November 2008 that state laws forbid copulating with the deceased. A lower court had previously ruled that the state laws didn't take a stance on necrophilia, which according to "Stiff" author Mary Roach, isn't that uncommon. I mean, really, how often does this come up? As a result of the new ruling, the three men accused in a 2006 attempted grave robbing entered "not guilty" pleas. According to the original reports, the suspects were apprehended just before they could pry open the casket. They'd brought with them a crowbar, three shovels and -- most remarkably -- a box of condoms. See more »

 Did anyone feel that silent earthquake?

If you've ever woken up to find your house moving with a mind of its own and your breakables leaping off the shelves, then you probably wouldn't describe an earthquake as slow and silent. But some earthquakes don't like to make waves. See more »