Facial Recognition Software: The Next Big Thing in Species Conservation?

By Carl Engelking | February 17, 2017 12:35 pm

(Credit: Stacey Tecot)

How do you care for the creatures you love? You shoot them with tranquilizer darts, capture them in cages, embed microchips, pierce their ears or make them wear funny collars.

For scientists who monitor endangered species, these are tried-and-true methods to count and track individuals in a given population—along with photography and experts’ sharp eyes. But capturing or sedating an animal can be stressing (and could cause physical harm), and boots-on-the-ground counts can be inconsistent and costly. Sometimes, getting up close and personal with animals isn’t feasible.

So researchers asked a question that’s come to define a generation: Can a computer do this? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, computers

How a Classic Audio Illusion Messes With Our Brains

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 16, 2017 4:38 pm

(Credit: ra2studio/Shutterstock)

When we hold a conversation, it’s not just our ears that are paying attention. We may not realize it, but our eyes are picking up on visual information as well to give us a better idea of what we should be hearing. It’s not necessary, of course, we can easily carry on a conversation in the dark, but it’s a form of redundancy that helps to make up for any aural lapses.

Our brains integrate information from both senses to compile a complete picture of what we should be hearing. For this to work, the information coming from both our eyes and ears has to line up, otherwise we’re left with a skewed version of what’s really going on. Our eyes hold significant sway over what we hear — for proof, we need only observe the McGurk effect in action. Read More


NASA’s New Solutions for Problems 1 and 2

By Amy Klinkhammer | February 16, 2017 4:02 pm

Astronaut Ron Garan has no time to come back in for a bathroom break during a spacewalk in 2011. (Credit: NASA)

When you’ve gotta’ go you’ve gotta’ go. But what if you’re on a space walk when nature calls?

“Spaceflight is not always glamorous,” said NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio in a video released on the HeroX crowdsourcing site in October which introduced NASA’s Space Poop Challenge—yup, space poop. Read More

MORE ABOUT: space exploration

The High Stakes of Handshakes

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 15, 2017 4:01 pm

(Credit: Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock)

What’s in a handshake? If the widespread scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s characteristic “yank and grab” is any indication, a lot.

If anything, however, the recent spate of armchair psychology surrounding his handshakes says as much about us as it does about him. A handshake, done well, sets a precedent for collaboration and trust. Executed incorrectly, a sloppy handshake is a cringeworthy affair to witness. Why do we invest so much emotional capital into a simple gesture?  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

El Niño Dramatically Reshaped Western Coastlines

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 14, 2017 4:16 pm

Large storm waves crashing on the rocks near Santa Cruz, California. (Credit: Christine Hegermiller, U.S. Geological Survey)

Beaches and shorelines are locked in an eternal battle between land and sea.

The struggle usually comes out to a draw — the rate of erosion is offset by the amount of new sediment deposited. But as weather patterns grow more erratic and storms intensify, our shores could begin yielding ground to the waves.

The most recent El Niño event was one of the most energetic in years and brought powerful storms and punishing waves to the Pacific Northwest. While this may have been good news for a drought-stricken region, it also pounded beaches that protect coastal communities from erosion and flooding. A new study, led by researchers from the United States Geological Survey, assessed the work of the 2015-2016 El Niño and found erosion was 76 percent higher than normal levels.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Look Closely, This Ant Is Carrying a Passenger

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 10, 2017 3:27 pm

Can you spot the hitchhiker? (Credit: M. Maruyama)

Sometimes even experienced entomologists need a double-take to fully grasp what they’re seeing. And upon closer examination, they found a new species hiding in plain sight.

A new kind of beetle discovered in the Costa Rican rainforest almost passed by unnoticed, because it hides so well on the army ants it uses for transportation. It was only after the researchers tried to puzzle out the mystery of the ants with two abdomens that they spotted the squat beetle, named Nymphista kronaeuri after Daniel Kronauer, the biologist who first found the species. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, ecology

Part Turtle, Part Pig, Bulbasaurus Was a Stout Survivor

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | February 10, 2017 11:33 am

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron (Courtesy of Matt Celeskey)

You may have seen the story: Last week scientists decided to name a recently discovered mammalian ancestor after the Pokémon, Bulbasaur. But in this case, fiction is stranger than truth.

Indeed, the new species goes by the name Bulbasaurus phylloxyron, but its association with pocket monsters is coincidental. In taxonomy, it’s common to name a new species after its prominent features, and Bulbasaurus (bulbous lizard ) phylloxyron (leaf cutter) is simply a nod to its unique nasal protuberance and beak. Therefore, the German and South African researchers who unearthed it are, in fact, not weaboos.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology

Lava Waterfall the Latest in Hawaiian Volcano’s 30-Year Show

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 9, 2017 2:45 pm

Lava flows into the ocean near Kilauea. (Credit: USGS)

For over a month, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has been spewing molten rock into the Pacific Ocean, creating what was until recently a glowing waterfall of lava.

The most active of the main island’s five volcanos, Kilauea has been erupting since 1983. While the outflows usually pose no risk to human settlements, they have occasionally washed over houses and consumed roadways on the island. The most recent event began on New Year’s Day when 21 acres of the Kamokuna lava delta collapsed into the ocean, opening up an underground lava tube and allowing its contents to spill into the ocean. Read More

MORE ABOUT: earth science

Elusive Blue Lightning Filmed Dancing Above a Thunderstorm

By Carl Engelking | February 8, 2017 4:41 pm
A blue jet caught on camera over the Bay of Bengal. (Credit: ESO)

A blue jet caught on camera over the Bay of Bengal. (Credit: ESA)

In Earth’s upper atmosphere, blue jets, red sprites, pixies, halos, trolls and elves streak toward space, rarely caught in the act by human eyes.

This mixed-bag of quasi-mythological terms are all names for transient luminous events, or, quite simply, forms of lightning that dance atop thunderstorm clouds. Airplane pilots have reported seeing them, but their elusive nature makes them hard to study. But ESA astronaut Andreas Morgensen, while aboard the International Space Station in September 2015, filmed hundreds of blue jets flashing over a thunderstorm that was pounding the Bay of Bengal, confirming a mysterious atmospheric phenomenon. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: physics

Solar Flares May Lead Whales to Peril

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 8, 2017 2:33 pm

A whale stranded on shore. (Credit: littleny/Shutterstock)

The solar storms that fling waves of charged particles toward the Earth may be to blame for the stranding events that leave whales dying on shore for unknown reasons.

It’s not a new hypothesis, but now researchers from NASA, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) plan to combine datasets on these seemingly disparate events to see if a statistical link between solar flares and stranding events exists. If there’s a connection, it’s a discovery that could help to protect many species of endangered whales. Read More



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