NPR Picks

Thursday
Jul192018

Photographer Captures The Contradictions Of Otherworldly Antarctica

"When WAMU photographer Tyrone Turner got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica, he thought he would be fascinated with the continent's wildlife."

"But instead, it was the ice — in its myriad shapes and textures, "bathed in polar light that morphed from powerfully sharp and blue, to gentle and pink" — that Turner says mesmerized him."

"'Antarctica just seemed to me absolutely 'the other world,'" Turner says. 'There is no other landscape like it.'"

"Turner's trip to Antarctica last November began in the Falkland Islands, where he boarded the National Geographic Explorer for a three-week journey."

Tuesday
Jul172018

Galileo Would Be Stunned: Jupiter Now Has 79 Moons

"More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered the first of Jupiter's moons, astronomers have found a dozen more — including one they've dubbed 'oddball' — orbiting the planet. That brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79."

"The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science says he and his colleagues had been trying to track down a giant planet they think may be lurking at the outer reaches of our solar system."

"As part of that search, Sheppard was using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile in March of last year and realized that Jupiter was right near the part of the sky he wanted to search."

"'So we could also search for Jupiter moons while looking for things that are well beyond Pluto,' Sheppard says."

"One thing that helped was the especially large camera attached to the Blanco telescope. '[That camera] allows us to search the whole area around Jupiter in a very few images,' he says."

 

Saturday
Jul142018

A 4 Billion Light-Year Journey Ends At The South Pole

"Scientists for the first time have been able to pinpoint the source of an extremely powerful version of a neutrino, a ghostly particle that can travel virtually unimpeded through space."

"It's an achievement that opens a whole new way of looking at the universe."

"The neutrino was detected by a South Pole observatory called IceCube that was specifically designed to catch the particles. It consists of a cubic kilometer of ice festooned with more than 5,000 detectors."

"Neutrinos don't interact with much, but occasionally one will strike another particle, giving off a kind of light known as Cherenkov radiation that IceCube's detectors can pick up."

"When a particularly high-energy neutrino is captured, IceCube sends out an alert."

"'We had this neutrino alert in September 2017,' says Olga Botner, a particle physicist at Uppsala University in Sweden and a member of the National Science Foundation-funded IceCube scientific team. On Sept. 22, to be precise."

 

Tuesday
Jul102018

Scientists Find New Tricks For Old Drugs

"Most drugs have side effects, but sometimes they're actually good news."

"Researchers are now exploring whether some cheap and common drugs have side effects that could help people fight off the flu and other lung infections."

"This idea has a passionate advocate: Dr. David Fedson. About 10 years ago, this infectious disease specialist had a disturbing thought. He was working in the vaccine industry in France, and he started to wonder what would happen if, all of a sudden, the world was gripped with a flu pandemic."

"One hundred years ago, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic swept the globe, killing 50 million people, or maybe more. Scientists fear a similar pandemic is only a matter of time. What then? Fedson wondered."

"'No company had a strategy for dealing with the pandemic,' he says. 'And also when you just looked at the arithmetic about how quickly they'd need literally billions of doses of the vaccine, which they couldn't make in time, it became very clear the you simply can't get there from here.'"

 

Monday
Jul092018

Starbucks: Goodbye Plastic Straws

"Starbucks announced on Monday it plans to eliminate plastic straws from its 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020."

"The company will broaden the manufacture and use of what some in social media have dubbed the "adult sippy cup." It's a plastic strawless lid that will come to replace single-use plastic straws that now inundate its coffee shops."

"The company says the move when fully implemented could mean a billion fewer plastic straws across its stores each year. And it's a part of Starbucks' $10 million investment in creating recyclable and compostable cups around the world."

"The strawless lid has already been in use at many of the company's stores for certain kinds of cold drinks like cold foam and 'draft nitro,' the coffee drink that comes out of a keg, mixed with nitrogen. Unlike straws, the new lid can be recycled, the company said."

"'For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways,' Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer for Starbucks, said in a statement."

 


Sunday
Jul082018

Searching For The Past In The World War II Wrecks Of Papua New Guinea

"Lloyd Woo eases a motorboat through the clear blue waters of the Bismarck Sea in the southwestern Pacific, to the edge of a coral reef. When he sights a specific cluster of coconut palms on the shore of one of Papua New Guinea's smattering of northern islands, he cuts off the engine. He turns to a couple of visiting scuba divers, tugging on fins and fiddling with their masks, and explains how to find the World War II-era airplane below."

"'Everything's still intact, the propeller's still there, the double wings,' he explains. 'You get to about 25, 26 meters [85 feet], you'll meet the plane.'"

"The Second World War ended 73 years ago, but history can feel very much alive in this corner of the South Pacific. Invaded and used as a Japanese military base in 1942, the Bay of Rabaul, on the northern end of Papua New Guinea's New Britain island, saw one of the most intense, sustained Allied bombing campaigns of the war in the years that followed. That legacy now helps fuel a modest tourism industry, as visitors from all over the world come to scuba dive around the wrecks."

"Underground tunnels, hewn into the ground, were used for shelter in the war years. Husks of downed planes are still being discovered in farmers' fields and deep underwater, prompting efforts to match the aircraft with the names of soldiers missing in action."

Saturday
Jul072018

Many Look To Buddhism For Sanctuary From An Over-Connected World

"On the floor of a Zen Buddhist worship space in an apartment building in Washington, D.C., about 15 people recently sat on meditation cushions. They chant sutras and meditate, in complete silence, for a full 30 minutes."

"And then one of the lay leaders of the All Beings Zen Sangha, or congregation, conducted a 'little exercise.'"

"'It's very simple,' said Mark Stone. 'If you could take out your screens, stay on them for 12 minutes, doing what you usually do.'"

"The 'Zen Practice and Screen Use' workshop is one of a series that have been held at this zendo, or meditation hall, with the aim of helping participants have a more mindful experience online."

"It's a response to growing concern over the amount of time people devote to their screens. One recent study estimated that Americans are spending nearly six hours a day on their connected devices. Add television to that and the total rises to nearly 10 hours."

 

Friday
Jul062018

London Mayor Says 'Trump Baby' Blimp Can Fly In Protest Of President Trump's Visit

"The 'Trump Baby' blimp is nearly 20 feet tall, wearing nothing but a diaper and a grimace. A tuft of yellow hair tops his orange head. He is armed with a cellphone, ready to tweet."

"And now he is nearly ready to fly over Parliament in London."

"Mayor Sadiq Khan's Greater London Authority has given activists permission to launch the bouncing behemoth from Parliament Square Garden on July 13, when President Trump is set to arrive in London for a three-day visit to the U.K."

"'The Mayor supports the right to peaceful protest and understands that this can take many different forms. ... However the organisers will also need to receive the necessary approvals from the Metropolitan Police and national air traffic service in order for it to fly,' a spokesperson for Khan tells NPR."

"The blimp, which will be tethered to the ground, will be allowed to fly for two hours at a maximum height of about 100 feet, says organizer Leo Murray, who conceived of the idea of a Trump Baby blimp."

"Another protest organizer, Max Wakefield, says the London authority initially objected to the idea."

 

Thursday
Jul052018

Scientists Hope Lab-Grown Embryos Can Save Rhino Species From Extinction

"Rhino embryos created in a lab are raising hopes that high-tech assisted reproduction may help save the northern white rhino, the most endangered mammal in the world."

"Only two of these rhinos are still alive, both females living in a sanctuary in Kenya and protected around the clock by armed guards."

"The last male, a rhino named Sudan, died in March. But before the males died off, wildlife experts collected and froze sperm. Now, in the journal Nature Communicationsscientists say they successfully have used this stored sperm to fertilize eggs taken from a closely related subspecies, the southern white rhinoceros."

"The resulting hybrid embryos started to develop in a lab dish. Two were frozen for later implantation into a surrogate rhino, although the researchers note in their paper that 'the embryo transfer procedure has yet to be developed and validated in rhinoceroses.'"

"Still, the researchers are hopeful that once they get this working with hybrid embryos, they can use the same techniques to produce pure northern white rhino embryos."

"To make those, they'll need eggs from the two remaining northern white rhinos. Jan Stejskal, of the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic — where rhinos Najin and Fatu were born — says the team has requested permission to obtain the eggs, 'but it's not granted yet.' Still, he hopes the research team can go to Kenya to collect them by the end of the year."

 

Wednesday
Jul042018

One Song Glory

"There's an episode of The Johnny Cash Show from 1969 where the man himself makes a little speech with a pretty big error. 'Here's a song that was reportedly sung by both sides in the Civil War,' Cash says, guitar in hand, to kick off a performance of 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'"

"The real history on that point is clear: Julia Ward Howe wrote the song as a pro-Union, anti-slavery anthem. But then Cash goes on to say, ' .... which proves to me that a song can belong to all of us.' And about that, he's right."

"I should go easy on Cash for flubbing the history; I had it wrong, too. I didn't even know the "Battle Hymn" had ties to the Civil War up until recently, because I — and maybe you, if you grew up with a similar flavor of Christianity — only sang it in church. Little did I know the song, with its refrain of 'Glory, glory, hallelujah,' had been used to root for college football teams, or as an anthem for labor unions. Evangelist Billy Graham, who helped popularize the song among Christians, even took it to the Russian army chorus in 1992."

"'It's a good march,' says Sparky Rucker. A folk singer and historian who performs a show of Civil War music with his wife, Rucker says the 'Battle Hymn' rallies with its rhythm: 'It's just the right cadence to march along, if you're marching at a picket line or marching down the street carrying signs. ... It really gets your blood going [so] that you can slay dragons.'"

"Dragons are relative, however. Anita Bryant, the singer and conservative activist, used to perform the song at anti-gay rallies. During the 1964 presidential race, Republican nominee Barry Goldwater had to disown a campaign film that posed the election as a choice between two Americas — an "ideal" America, where the tune of the 'Battle Hymn' scored images of the founders and the Constitution, and a 'nightmare' America, featuring black people protesting and kids dancing to rock music."

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul032018

Scientists Capture First Birth Of A Planet

"An international team of scientists has discovered a young planet — just 5 or 6 million years old — forging its own path through space and likely growing along the way."

"The scientists captured a photograph, which they say is the very first direct image of the birth of a planet still forming around a star."

"It's a major finding for those of us on Earth, a 4.5-billion-year-old planet."

"The newly discovered planet may be young, but it's huge: many times the size of Jupiter, which could fit 1,300 planet Earths inside."

"The images provide useful information about how planets, including those in our own solar system, form."

"A team of about 120 scientists worked on the research, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics."

"'It's a long-lasting and careful process,' to characterize a young planet, says André Muller, who worked at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. 'We worked for at least a year on it on a daily basis.'"

"The planet's name? PDS 70 b. That's based on the name of the star it orbits, PDS 70."

Monday
Jul022018

Many Common Sunscreens May Harm Coral. Here's What To Use Instead

"Hawaii Gov. David Ige is expected this week to sign the world's first ban on the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The state is banning the products because of concerns they may be harming one of the state's biggest attractions — coral reefs."

"While it doesn't kick in until 2021, the move is already prompting a public health pushback."

"That's because up to 70 percent of sunscreens on the U.S. market contain oxybenzone. Up to 8 percent contain octinoxate, which often shows up on labels as octyl methoxycinnamate."

"'We're taking away a product, or products ... that have been shown over the course of time to be safe and effective' against skin cancer and sun damage, says Jay Sirois director of regulatory affairs for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents sunscreen-makers."

"Indeed, both chemicals have had the Food and Drug Administration's OK for decades, but in recent years, some environmental research has suggested octinoxate can contribute to coral bleaching and that oxybenzone exposure leads to the death of baby coral."

 

Sunday
Jul012018

Japan's Hayabusa2 Spacecraft Arrives At Its Asteroid Destination

"The Hayabusa2 spacecraft has made a successful rendezvous with the asteroid Ryugu, 177 million miles from Earth. Japan's JAXA space agency confirmed on Wednesday that the craft has taken up a position 12 miles off Ryugu. Up next for Hayabusa2: exploring the surface — and bringing a sample back to Earth."

"Hayabusa2 reached its destination 3 1/2 years after launching from Earth in late 2014. JAXA says the meetup went according to plan, as the craft used its thrusters to establish a constant distance from Ryugu, which can currently be seen zipping across the Gemini constellation."

"Japanese researchers will use Hayabusa2's current vantage point to study the asteroid and evaluate possible sites for collecting samples."

"'From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a beautiful shape similar to fluorite [known as the 'firefly stone' in Japanese],' said project manager Yuichi Tsuda. 'Now, craters are visible, rocks are visible and the geographical features are seen to vary from place to place. This form of Ryugu is scientifically surprising and also poses a few engineering challenges.'"

 

Saturday
Jun302018

A Guide To Mosquito Repellents, From DEET To ... Gin And Tonic?

"People do the darnedest things in hopes of avoiding mosquito bites. They burn cow dung, coconut shells or coffee. They drink gin and tonic. They eat bananas. They spray themselves with mouthwash or slather themselves in clove/alcohol solution. And they rub themselves with Bounce. "You know, those heavily perfumed sheets you put in your dryer," says Dr. Immo Hansen, professor at the Institute of Applied Biosciences at New Mexico State University."

"None of those techniques have been tested to see if they actually keep mosquitoes away. But that doesn't stop people from trying them, according to a study that will be published this summer by Hansen and colleague, Stacey Rodriguez, lab manager at the Hansen Lab at NMSU, which studies ways to prevent mosquito-borne diseases. They and colleagues asked 5,000 people what they did to protect themselves against mosquitoes. Most used conventional mosquito repellents."

"Then researchers asked about their traditional home remedies. That's when the cow dung and dryer sheets came out. In interviews, Hansen and Rodriguez shared some of the responses they received. Their paper will be published this summer in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ."


Friday
Jun292018

Red Meat Allergies Caused By Tick Bites Are On The Rise

"Tick bites can cause all sorts of nasty afflictions. And if you're bitten by a Lone Star tick, here's one more to add to the list: a red meat allergy."

"Laura Stirling, 51, a Realtor who lives in Severna Park, Md., was diagnosed with the allergy last year. She got a tick bite while walking on a trail with her dog, Gunner, near her home."

"'I found [the tick] 3 or 4 inches to the left of my hip bone,' Stirling recalls. At the time, she say, she didn't think much of it. "'I just took it off and threw it away.'"

"Then, three weeks later, after she ate an Italian-style pork sausage for dinner, she had a horrible reaction. The reaction began about six hours after her meal, which is typical of this allergy."

"'It was the middle of the night. I woke up covered in hives,' Stirling recalls. She woke her husband with all her itching and scratching. She felt lightheaded, and she experienced stomachaches and other gastrointestinal troubles."

 

Thursday
Jun282018

Tropical Forests Suffered 2nd-Worst Loss Of Trees On Record Last Year

"Last year marked another record year of loss for tropical forests."

"About 39 million acres of tree cover disappeared in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh – according to data released Wednesday by the World Resources Institute. That amounts to 40 football fields every minute for a whole year, making it the second-worst year of tree loss on record. The worst was just a year earlier, in 2016."

"To gauge the amount of loss, thousands of NASA satellite images from 2001 to 2017 were analyzed through artificial intelligence at the University of Maryland. Then, researchers at the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch assessed the changes in tree cover."

"'In some ways [our research] is not noteworthy,' Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst at WRI, told NPR. 'Things have been continuing as they have been. What's depressing is that there has been a lot of international and national commitments to reduce deforestation, and we are hoping this will have an impact, but the data is showing that it's not having as much of an impact as we hope.'"

"The report presents a bleak picture: Some areas are experiencing prolonged loss of lush forest, while new areas are becoming hot spots. "Places that haven't been on our radar so much are all of a sudden going through this major transformation," Weisse said."

 

Wednesday
Jun272018

How To Find The Summer Constellations (360° Video)

"Once, the sky was full of stories. Ancient cultures filled the heavens with heroes and monsters, and spent nights telling epics and memorizing patterns in the stars."

"These days, the stars are a little less familiar. Our skies are full of light pollution and, usually, obscured by a sturdy roof. But if you can get away from the city lights, you can still find a handful of the 88 officially recognized constellations with the help of this video guide, which allows you to look around in 360 degrees, mimicking the actual experience of stargazing."

"If 360-degree video isn't your thing, here are a few star-spotting tricks in written form."

 

Sunday
Jun172018

Fear And Frustration Over EPA Move To Kill Chemical-Disaster Protections

"The Environmental Protection Agency intends to block an Obama-era proposal and effectively shield companies from scrutiny about how they prevent and respond to chemical disasters. At a hearing Thursday, agency officials got an earful from dozens of people who live and work near refineries and chemical facilities across the country."

"Grandmothers, teachers, firefighters and community activists traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge the agency to block the proposal. Representatives from industry groups countered that they're already doing enough to keep people safe and that companies don't need more oversight."

"Obama-era rules require companies to routinely disclose which hazardous chemicals they use, share information with emergency planners, submit to outside audits and publish reports on the root causes of explosions and leaks. The regulations were supposed to take effect in March 2017, but earlier that year, groups representing the chemical and petroleum industries petitioned the EPA to reconsider."

"Last month, after delaying the rules, the agency announced that it intends to block most of them from ever taking effect. But that decision isn't final pending public comment."

 

Saturday
Jun162018

Stephen Hawking's Voice Is Being Broadcast Into Space

"The voice of legendary physicist Stephen Hawking is to be broadcast into space after his memorial service on Friday, according to British media outlets."

"Specifically, it will be directed toward the nearest black hole. Hawking, who died in March, revolutionized the scientific understanding of black holes — and won the hearts of people across the world with his tireless scientific advocacy."

"Hawking is being interred at Westminster Abbey on Friday, with a thousand members of the public (selected through a lottery system) present for the ceremony. The physicist's remains will be placed between those of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin."

"His voice will be broadcast into space after the service honoring his life."

"Hawking's words 'have been set to an original score by composer Vangelis, most famous for his Chariots of Fire film theme,' the BBC reports."

Thursday
Jun142018

Antarctica Has Lost More Than 3 Trillion Tons Of Ice In 25 Years

"Scientists have completed the most exhaustive assessment of changes in Antarctica's ice sheet to date. And they found that it's melting faster than they thought."

"Ice losses totaling 3 trillion tonnes (or more than 3.3 trillion tons) since 1992 have caused global sea levels to rise by 7.6 mm, nearly one third of an inch, according to a study published in Nature on Wednesday."

"Before 2010, Antarctica was contributing a relatively small proportion of the melting that is causing global sea levels to rise, says study co-leader Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds."

"But that has changed. 'Since around 2010, 2012, we can see that there's been a sharp increase in the rate of ice loss from Antarctica. And the ice sheet is now losing three times as much ice,' Shepherd adds."

"The annual sea level rise that's attributed to Antarctica has tripled, from 0.2mm to 0.6mm, he says."

"'That's a big jump, and it did catch us all by surprise,' Shepherd says."