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"Think back over the soundtrack to your life. Those songs you heard in grade school and church, on first dates and at dances, in college dorms and convertibles, at weddings and graduations — it's all part of your musical makeup."

"And today, the mysterious power of music seems to be even more personal and pervasive. With help from iPods, downloads, clouds and smartphones, we can literally "soundtrack" our lives any time, anywhere."

"But why do we like what we like? What makes us choose Kanye over ColtraneMahler over Madonna, or Youssou N'Dour over Yeasayer? And what does it say about us, personally?"


"The Olympic Games seem to celebrate the extremes of athletic physique — from tiny gymnasts to impossibly huge shot-putters. But why are they shaped that way?"

"We've put together an infographic that explores how athletes' bodies have changed over the last century, and the role physics plays in each event. Here on Shots, we're taking a look at some of the athletes featured in the graphic."

"For decades, sprinters have been getting taller, propelled upward by a simple law of physics. Sprinting is basically a controlled forward fall. Runners with higher centers of gravity can fall forward faster — and the taller you are, the higher your center of gravity."

"The last couple of years have certainly felt unusually hot in many parts of the U.S., but are they really all that unusual?"

"Many people wonder whether a warming climate is turning up the temperature or whether it's all just part of the normal variation in the weather. Among scientists, there's a growing view that these latest heat waves are indeed a result of climate change."

"NASA climate scientist James Hansen has looked at the past century's temperatures all over the world. He has measured hot spells with what you might call a "unit of weirdness" — a standard deviation. It's a measure of abnormality."

"One standard deviation from what's normal might be throwing snake eyes three times in a row. The more snake eyes you roll in a row, the more standard deviations away from normal you are."


"Let's take a picture of America in the latter months of an election year. We want to sense what's on this country's mind. So Morning Edition begins a series of reports from First and Main. Several times in the next few months, we'll travel to a battleground state, then to a vital county in each state. In that county we find a starting point for our visit — an iconic American corner — First and Main streets."

"We begin in the swing state of Florida, in hotly contested Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. The county voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2004, then for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008."

"Here, First and Main are two gravel roads that meet in a trailer park in a suburban area called Lutz. The trailers have grown over the years, residents say, into full-sized homes — some have permanent rooms or carports."


"NASA has sent rovers to explore Mars before. But three words explain what makes this latest mission to Mars so different: location, location, location."

"The rover Curiosity is slated to land late Sunday in Gale Crater, near the base of a 3-mile-high mountain with layers like the Grand Canyon. Scientists think those rocks could harbor secrets about the history of water — and life — on the Red Planet."

"'It's got a giant mountain in the middle of the crater. There are lots of exposed layers [of clay and minerals],' says Samuel Kounaves, a chemistry professor at Tufts University who will analyze data from the mission. 'Instruments aboard the orbiters have told us that a lot of the minerals in that area are minerals that would be formed with water present, so it's a very interesting area.'"


"It's called the seven minutes of terror. In just seven minutes, NASA's latest mission to Mars, a new six-wheeled rover called Curiosity, must go from 13,000 mph as it enters the Martian atmosphere to a dead stop on the surface."

"During those seven minutes, the rover is on its own. Earth is too far away for radio signals to make it to Mars in time for ground controllers to do anything. Everything in the system known as EDL — for Entry, Descent and Landing — must work perfectly, or Curiosity will not so much land as go splat."

"The team that invented the EDL system has spent nearly 10 years together, designing, building, testing, tweaking, retesting and retweaking. Now all they can do is sit and wait to see if their design works."


"Drones transformed the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. But their use has been extremely limited in U.S. skies. The Federal Aviation Administration essentially bans the commercial use of drones, and government use is still highly restricted."

"But that's changing."

"For a long time, drones, which are formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, were exotic, expensive and out of reach for all but military users. Today, however, a clever hobbyist can have his own eye in the sky."

"That's the case for Andreas Oesterer and Mark Harrison. On a recent weekend, the two hobbyists are flying their collection of hi-tech toys over Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, Calif."


"NASA's newest space telescope will start searching the universe for black holes on Wednesday. Scientists hope the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, which launched about six weeks ago and is now flying about 350 miles above the Earth, will help shed some light on the mysteries of these space oddities."

"Mission control for the telescope is a small room on the University of California, Berkeley, campus, where about a dozen people with headsets rarely look up from their screens."

"Fiona Harrison, a professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, is the principal scientist for the mission. If there's one word that describes her past few weeks, it's "nail-biting," she says."


"Something is happening when it comes to religion in America."

"Though more Americans go to church or believe in God than their counterparts in virtually every other Western country, fewer Americans now trust religious institutions. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 44 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in "the church or organized religion."

"Ten years from now ... will [Christianity] look like it does today? Probably not. But I think it will thrive and I think it will be strong."

"It's unclear if this is a permanent shift or just a sign of the times, but NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty says it doesn't mean that America is less religious."


"When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I was amazed at how many people had the same landscaping complaint. "I spent all weekend cutting down the blackberries," some co-worker would groan on Monday morning, looking for sympathy for the lost hours and aching back. However, as someone who didn't grow up in such Edenic surroundings, I was totally dumbfounded. Cutting back blackberries? Why would you cut back blackberries? Don't they, you know, give you blackberries?"

"After spending more than a decade in Oregon, I can better understand the complaint. Sort of. Yes, blackberries are an invasive species, decreasing your backyard's square footage with the perennial canes that poke up everywhere. And yes, if left unkempt they turn into a big thorny thicket, hard to penetrate beyond a few feet. But let me repeat: They give you blackberries."

Using Hubble Astronomers Spot Oldest Spiral Galaxy Ever Seen

"Astronomers made a surprising announcement today: They have found a spiral galaxy that existed very early in the universe — the oldest spiral galaxy ever seen."

"The galaxy is special because such a well-formed spiral wasn't thought to have existed this early on, when the universe was tumultuous."

"'As you go back in time to the early universe, galaxies look really strange, clumpy and irregular, not symmetric,' Alice Shapley, a UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy, and co-author of the study, said in statement. 'The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks. Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?'"


"A huge iceberg that's about twice the size of Manhattan has broken off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland — the same sheet of ice that just two years ago "calved" another massive berg."

"'It's dramatic. It's disturbing,' University of Delaware professor Andreas Muenchow, tells The Associated Press. 'We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before. ... It's one of the manifestations that Greenland is changing very fast.'"

"Satellite images taken by NASA on Monday and Tuesday confirm the news. We've taken three to show the break. Look to the area inside the small squares we've drawn on the images."

"There's no magic elixir for healthy aging, but here's one more thing to add to the list: good gut health."

"A study published in the latest issue of Nature finds diet may be key to promoting diverse communities of beneficial bacteria in the guts of older people."

"To evaluate this, researchers analyzed the microbiota, or gut bacteria, of 178 older folks, mostly in their 70s and 80s."

"Some of the people were living in their own homes, and their diets were rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry and fish."


"When you look at Batman with a coldly analytical eye — and he's hard to avoid these days, with The Dark Knight Rises set to come out Friday — a few things stand out as potential red flags: the secrecy, the lair, the attraction to danger, the blithe self-sacrifice, the ... cape."

"It's unusual, all of it, you have to admit. Sure, he's handy to have around in an emergency, and you can't beat a fella who can be summoned with a giant light in the sky in the event you've got no cellphone reception."

"But is he entirely ... well?"


Winston Churchill's Way With Words

"Winston Churchill is best remembered as the British prime minister whose speeches rallied a nation under a relentless Nazi onslaught in World War II. But few people know that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature — in part for his mastery of speechmaking."

"Now, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, Churchill: The Power of Words, holds a megaphone to Churchill's extraordinary oratory."

"On May 13, 1940, three days after Germany invaded France, Churchill gave his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons, a speech that was later broadcast to the public. "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," he said, as he helped the country brace for hard times."


"Some of the most interesting discoveries in archaeology come from sifting through ancient garbage dumps. Scientists working in Oregon have found one that has yielded what they say are the oldest human remains in the Americas and a puzzle about the earliest American tools."

"Early Americans used Oregon's Paisley Caves for, among other things, a toilet. Little did they know that scientists would be picking through what they left behind."

"The scientists extracted DNA from dried-up feces in the cave, known politely as 'coprolites.' And they've got something more — four projectile points, flaked from stone and presumably used for weapons. They're broken; their makers probably trashed them."


"Jennifer Larr has the itch to go abroad. She's 24 years old and has already spent a year studying in France and two years in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, and she is headed to Uganda this summer for an internship. She's also a graduate student, studying international relations at UCLA."

"Larr is part of a growing number of 20- and early 30-somethings whose American dream has moved beyond suburban homes and traditional nuclear families, and it's one that now goes even beyond U.S. borders."

"Larr and others like her are more likely than previous generations to live, study and work abroad. As they travel the world, they're now abandoning some of the traditional tenets of the American dream that their parents held dear."


"We could hit 105 degrees on Saturday here in the nation's capital, the National  Weather Service says. Washington, D.C., has already tied its record for most consecutive days (eight) with temperatures of 95 degrees or more."

"And as writes, 'more record-breaking triple-digit heat is expected Friday and Saturday across much of the Midwest and Tennessee Valley'"

"The good news is that things could start to cool in just a few days. "Early next week and even this weekend we'll see rain in Kansas and Nebraska and parts of Texas," forecaster Bruce Sullivan of the National Weather Service, tells USA Today."


"The summer of 2012 marks the centennial of the birth of American folk icon Woody Guthrie, on July 14, 1912. A poet of the people, Guthrie wrote some of America's most important songs, including "This Land Is Your Land." He penned ballads that captured the heart of hard economic times and war."

"While Guthrie left a lasting mark on music, culture and politics, he struggled with family poverty, tragedies and personal demons."

"Jeff Place, head archivist of the Smithsonian Folklife Collection, and Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, joined NPR's Neal Conan on the National Mall to celebrate the Guthrie centennial. Smithsonian Folkways recording artist Elizabeth Mitchell joined them there to play some of Guthrie's most memorable songs."


"In 1835, Washington, D.C., was a city in transition: Newly freed African-Americans were coming north and for the first time beginning to outnumber the city's slaves. That demographic shift led to a violent upheaval — all but forgotten today."

"Few of the city's buildings from that time remain, but you can still sense what it was like, if you sit in a park by the White House, as NPR's Steve Inskeep did with writer Jefferson Morley."

"'The White House was very much as it is today,' Morley says. 'In the summer of 1835 it was a little shabby because they were constructing a new driveway, and there were workmen's materials all over the place, and people thought that was a little not quite appropriate, but that's the way it was for a year or two.'"