Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Horror fans everywhere already know that "A Haunting in Connecticut" starring Virginia Madsen opens Friday. The "true" story centers around the unsuspecting Snedeker family who moves into a charming five-bedroom house that seems too good to be true. Is there any other type of family, house or story in the horror genre? No way!

Internet users know what they want and today, when they're not searching for info on celebrities and magazines about celebrities, they're doing Internet searches for "ovipositors." What's an ovipositor? The simple answer is that it's an egg-laying organ generally located on the tail end of an insect's abdomen. But ovipositors are far more than mere insect reproductive organs. Ovipositors have evolved to keep pace with the needs of their owners to place eggs in ever-more-secure or beneficial locations. For this reason, cicadas and grasshoppers developed spiked ovipositors to better deposit their young in the ground or in the stems of plants. Wasps took this concept even further, as their ovipositors are tailor-made to pierce the carapaces of other living creatures, thus laying their precious offspring inside their first meal. They even evolved to offer a venomous punch, so as to subdue their victim for this brutal surgery.

Let's say you're a female giant panda in captivity and you're experiencing physiological and behavioral changes that might indicate you're pregnant. Come on, just roll with me on this one. You'd be a pretty excited panda mom, given the prospect of impending parenthood and of helping to boost the population of an endangered species. But after lying listlessly on your side through a bunch of inconclusive ultrasounds and waiting fruitlessly for that bundle of black-and-white joy, you learn that you're not really pregnant. What you just went through was pseudopregnancy. Bummer. Panda pregnancy, it turns out, often isn't the real deal, according to Dr. Megan Wilson, the assistant curator of carnivores at Zoo Atlanta. Wilson gave an eye-opening staff enrichment lecture to a bunch of HowStuffWorks folks this morning. Pseudopregnancy isn't limited to pandas, Wilson says. Other animals, like tigers, mice and humans, too, face it.

This just in: Greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. That probably sounds like old news to most folks. After all, we've known about global warming and its dangerous effects for years now (everything from pollution-related asthma to temperature-related outbreaks of disease). But the obvious just became official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed "endangerment finding," a document sent to the White House Friday. According to Reuters, labeling greenhouse gases a threat to human well-being could be the first step to regulating U.S. emissions. The potential to do so, however, has been there for a while. Back in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases -- if it determined the pollutants threatened human health. While the agency's scientists concluded that the gases did pose a risk, it kept mum with official findings until now.

Director Installs Camera in Own Eye Socket

Yesterday I blogged about Iran's ongoing concerns over squirrel and pigeon secret agents and the CIA's efforts to install a radio in a cat. I can't believe I forgot to mention a recent NPR story about a Canadian documentary director who is putting a video camera inside his skull.

Do you ever feel like animals are spying on you? Is that bird in the window listening to your conversations? Does the cat snoop through your e-mail while you're at work? Perhaps, in your calmer moments, you chalk it all up to paranoia and move on with your day, but I've got news for you: That squirrel may be wearing a wire. Don't believe me? Well, you need look no further than Iran. According to the Associated Foreign Press, authorities "arrested" two suspected spy pigeons near a uranium enrichment facility in October of 2008. And no, that's not intelligence slang -- they arrested actual birds, each with suspicious "metal rings and invisible strings." What's more, this was hardly an isolated incident. In 2007, Iranian authorities reportedly captured 14 squirrels armed with state-of-the-art espionage equipment along their borders.

Usually schools aren't too keen on cell phone use. And while most schools no longer take as hard of a line as outright confiscation, you'd be hard pressed to find many that actually hand out phones to their students -- fancy phones, too. But according to a recent All Things Considered, San Francisco's Urban School is doing just that, distributing 25 new phones to its students in collaboration with the Go Green Foundation, Nokia and AT&T. The phones are equipped with GPS technology that tracks the students' movements, logging their location every 30 seconds and compiling the information into a route map when hooked up to a laptop. By seeing the actual trail of that quarter-mile jaunt to a friend's house -- and the carbon footprint attached to it -- Go Green hopes kids will be moved to cut back on their driving.

The Mars Odyssey spacecraft has discovered a curious sight on the red planet's northern planes: mud volcanoes spurting methane gas and sediment up to the icy surface. Think about that for a second. What do you need to have mud? And what produces methane gas? That's right, water and animals. This is not to say the Martian underworld is overrun with jersey cows or giant sand worms. Animals aren't the only source of methane, but scientists theorize that the gas could indeed be due to thriving microbes several miles beneath the Martian surface. Down there, warmer temperatures could theoretically permit things like mud and life to exist. This news, reported in a New Scientist article, comes on the heels of a recent geological study on Earth supporting the notion that ancient, subterranean extremophiles might have survived the catastrophic celestial bombardment of the Earths' crust 3.9 billion years ago.

What would Sully do? Volcanic Eruptions in the Sky

After stewing quietly for years, an undersea volcano off the coast of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean burst angrily onto the scene, according to AP. A truly impressive eruption plume shot through the sea's surface, and another rocketed 15,000 to 25,000 feet straight up to mingle with meteorological clouds on Wednesday.

We're Going to Venus -- With Balloons

NASA is currently formulating a plan to send several missions to Earth's other sister world, Venus, according to an article today in New Scientist. Numerous U.S. and Soviet spacecraft have made the journey in the past, including both unmanned satellites and unmanned surface probes. What sets this proposed Venus mission apart is the use of high-altitude balloons to study the planet's upper atmosphere.

Not to alarm any readers out there in the U.K., but according to a recent Telegraph article, there's a chance Satan may have walked through your backyard earlier this month. On March 5, 2009, a woman in Devon woke to find the bipedal cloven hoof marks in the snow. Check out the video from CFZTV to see actual footage. According to local legend, a very similar set of tracks appeared in the snow 150 years ago, in an incident known as "the devil's footprints." The February 1855 incident reportedly involved a 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of tracks, which even crossed 14-foot (4-meter) walls. While the devil explanation certainly captured the popular imagination, skeptics aplenty attributed the tracks to everything from electrical disturbances to runaway kangaroos and a rope-trailing hot air balloon. The cloven appearance, in turn, could have been due to a freeze-thaw action.

In fall 2008, the Minnesota Department of Health began reaching out to the sizable Somali community about the number of preschool children diagnosed with autism in the state's public school system. The numbers seemed a little high -- high enough to warrant calling in federal epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate whether the numbers represented a bona fide outbreak or a weird anomaly. What are those numbers? They're not in yet. A summary report analyzing available data on young Somali children in the Minneapolis Autism Program is due by April 1, 2009, according to the Minnesota public health Web site dealing with autism in the Somali community, which numbers about 30,000 people. But that didn't stop the New York Times from sounding the alarm this morning in the related story.

Get psyched International Space Station. Here comes the Discovery shuttle, ready or not. Once it's done executing the necessary acrobatics, namely a back flip and some tricky backing in, it will start closing the gap between the shuttle and the station. Right now, docking is expected at 5:12:46 p.m. EDT, according to NASA. Watch the live feed at MSNBC. Right now it's a bunch of boring desk folks (sorry mission control) waiting for the action, but things are bound to get interesting in minutes. Actually, who am I kidding? It's really exciting right now.

Norwegians Unearth 'Predator X' Fossils

A Norwegian expedition recently discovered fossils from a previously undiscovered Jurassic-era sea monster, according to the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum. As if attempting to test the very limits of awesomeness, researchers from the expedition have dubbed the 49-foot (15-meter) beast "Predator X."

Yes, according to BBC News, not only are monkeys in Thailand flossing their teeth, they seem to be passing this knowledge onto their children. What really impresses biologists about this behavior is that teaching proper tool use to a third party tends to be a humans-only affair. But the females appear to spend twice as much time cleaning their teeth when the little ones are watching. Is this dental hygiene boom a sign of evolution at work? A team of Japanese researchers intends to get to the bottom of this. Meanwhile, what are the chimps in America up to? They're calmly arming their zoo enclosures with stones to later throw against humans. Far from running in terror from the possibilities of a chimpanzee uprising, biologists have moved in for a closer look. The chimp's' actions indicate that the animals may have a far more complicated understanding of the future than previously thought.

With NASA's self-described "picture-perfect" launch of the Discovery shuttle last night, space just got infinitesimally more crowded. I don't know about you, but when I think about interplanetary space, I don't think of premium real estate or routes being issues. It's not like we're fighting over an affordably priced studio apartment in New York City. As it turns out, that's a pretty simple view of space traffic. Think about it. Thursday afternoon, astronauts on the International Space Station hit the deck as space debris zoomed close. In case you missed it, here's my fellow science blogger Robert Lamb's post about it. Now NASA is reporting that another piece of junk is heading toward the station and may alter the course of the inbound Discovery shuttle. These collisions or close calls aren't even counting satellites crashing into one another, as a Russian and U.S. satellite did back in February, or the threat (albeit remote) that near-Earth objects present.

This past summer, my toddler developed an MRSA boil on the back of her chubby leg. The pediatrician explained that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections were common in schools and daycare facilities. She was remarkably blase about it. I, on the other hand, wasn't -- and neither was my husband a few months later when he developed (and recovered from) an MRSA infection in the lining of his eye. It was pretty scary. Bacteria are wily, as a host of big-time bacterial diseases like tuberculosis increasingly demonstrate. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) or extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB), anyone? But here's the good news. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York are developing a new line of antibiotic compounds that don't spark bacterial resistance, according to a related press release. Instead of using antibiotics to kill the microbes that cause cholera and E. coli-related illnesses, these trial compounds permanently disable the nasty microorganisms.

Before you get busy tracking down the McDonald's Shamrock Shake or drinking green beer on Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day, take a moment tomorrow to celebrate Pi (?) Day. It's the only Greek letter that gets it very own annual celebration -- by math enthusiasts.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station briefly evacuated to their Russian Soyuz escape pod today when NASA spotted space debris in the vicinity. Luckily for all concerned, 11 minutes and numerous panicky headlines later, everything was fine. The space junk passed within three miles of the station. Given the amount of damage that an orbital collision could inflict on the station, evacuations of this sort are standard operating procedure in space. In this case, the potential shrapnel was reportedly a small piece of an old spacecraft motor, but the amount of space garbage surrounding our planet is a growing problem. Some of these pieces travel at speeds as high as 17,500 miles per hour (28,164 kilometers per hour), and experts predict that there are as many as 40 million of them zooming around up there -- several thousand metric tons of cosmic litter. These bits range from abandoned launch vehicle stages to tiny flecks of paint.

Newton's Pseudonym: Jehovah Sanctus Unus

Lots of us have nicknames. My fellow science blogger apparently goes by Rob, although at work, he's strictly Robert. Some of you may even have a pet name for your partner that you'd rather not cop to. But do you have a private name for yourself? According to an interview with historian Bill Newman, Isaac Newton did, and it was awesome -- Jehovah Sanctus Unus, or Jehovah, the Great One. It turns out the man better known for his universal law of gravitation, three laws of motion and mind-blowing intellect was a bit of an oddity. Aren't we all, Newton? In his spare time, and he didn't have much because the guy worked way too hard, he pursued alchemy and Arianism. (I'm going to have to save the Arianism stuff for another post). Alchemy is the idea that you can transform something ordinary into something special, like lead into gold, say.