Science News Archives

Every week in his Just One Thing Newsletter, Rick Hanson shares a fascinating piece of science news – from the latest neuroscience study, to awe-inspiring photos from space, to the latest updates in climate change.

Below you will find the archive of past Science News articles, with the most recent at the top. To sign up for the Just One Thing Newsletter, please click here.

As social distancing becomes the order of the day, researchers are studying how social isolation in extreme environments, such as the Antarctic, changes the structure of the brain, and can result in disorientation and post traumatic stress disorders.

Research on birds show their sensitivity to noise. While birdsong tends to get louder in noisy environment, during the pandemic global shutdown, when the world suddenly went quiet, the volume of birdsongs also decreased, with bandwidths typical of birds recorded in the 1970s.

Understanding the origins of life on our planet is an ongoing debate among scientists; it could also assist the search for life on other planets. Current research has consistently uncovered evidence of early life in hot and inhospitable places.

Need a larger view when things on planet Earth seem increasingly tense? Get a big picture view with NASA’s Live Space Station Tracking Map, or listen to one of their Curious Universe podcasts to reinspire a sense of awe and wonder for the world.

Recent studies depict alarming signs that current global ice melt is matching previously determined worst case scenarios. Many glaciers in Antarctica are tearing loose and in danger of quick destruction.

Studies of forams, fossilized tiny undersea amoebas that hold climate records for hundreds of millions of years, reveal that the current pace of anthropogenic global warming far exceeds the natural climate fluctuations seen at any other point in the past 66-million years.

The expertise of scientists, whose research relies on a standardized methodology and consensus, helps guide the path towards truth and away from mere opinions, speculation, and theorizing. This article explores why it’s important to listen to science, particularly on the critical issues of our time.

Forty years of climate research has resulted in a better understanding of “climate sensitivity” in making more accurate predictions. Current research shows an increase in warming of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C.

While the coronavirus may last for weeks in the system, lingering symptoms can extend up to months, or even years. Medical experts continue to study long-term conditions that result from COVID-19.

Getting the coronavirus under control is a necessary condition for safely sending children to schools and opening up many businesses. In public health, the three keys to that control are testing, tracing, and isolation-plus-treatment. From Mongolia to the European Union, the countries that have followed this strategy have reduced deaths-per-capita to a tiny fraction of what is happening in America, and they are now reopening their economies.

This comprehensive, first-ever model of climate refugees looks into what the future might hold for global migration as the climate crisis intensifies.

The drop in human-caused seismic noise from March to May 2020 is unprecedented, according to a London research group, who said it is the longest and most pronounced quiet period of seismic noise in recorded history.

A Recent study suggests the genetic make-up of the COVID19 virus has mutated across the world, a possible explanation for the second wave we’re now experiencing. The mutation suggests the virus may be more contagious, but won’t necessarily make people sicker.

The world population growth has fallen since the 1960s and while this may be good news for some, this article explains the potential problems, socially and economically, this could cause  including the disparity between youth and the over-80s  by the year 2100.

Other than its size, the human brain has a few idiosyncracies that set it apart from other mammals, including “connectomes,” the unique pattern of connectivity that helps the brain process information.

Prehistoric humans built sacred spaces on the land, including Neolithic henges. Archeologists have recently discovered a massive ring of trenches near Stonehenge that may have guided people toward religious sites in the area.

From pestilence to plagues to pandemics, the history of global outbreaks spans over 2 millennia of recorded history, offering insights into the similarities and uniqueness of our current epidemic.

This summary article refers to a study documenting how, 40 and 30 million years ago, rodents and monkeys migrated from Africa to South America, lived, evolved and spread. I like to imagine the consciousness of these ancient animals, their experiences as they left one home in Africa, clung to another one in the Atlantic Ocean, and found a new home in the Americas.

An epidemiologist study has determined that national shut-downs in the USA prevented over 60 million infections, due to the coronavirus, and over 295 million in China.

This article provides important data on the genome of viruses like COVID-19, how it changes over time, and how such information needs to inform our public response to the pandemic.

While our focus during the pandemic is on saving lives, it’s important to remember the devastating impact the virus has on the organs of survivors, from brains to blood vessels.

This article looks at zoonotic diseases, infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV-2 that are naturally transmitted between animals and humans, and how we can prevent them.

This cool clip gives us a view into what a fly-by of Earth might look like if we were fast-moving aliens. The short shows a nearly 10-hour  time lapse of photos taken by ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft.

The graphs on this website show which countries are doing best at beating Covid-19 and what actions must be taken to turn a critical situation into a winning one. One virologist who narrowly escaped death from the virus reflects on his experience, and the troubling after-effects, including organ dysfunction.

The National Academy of Science presented a panel of experts to provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s technical but a fascinating overview from outstanding people. The section starting at 55:00 is compelling as is the summary in the last ten minutes.

A team of Australian and U.S. scientists drill in Antarctica to discover atoms that could reveal how well the chemistry of the atmosphere has been removing problem greenhouse gases like methane.

The climate crisis may be taking a back seat in the news these days, but it has relevance to the health crisis we’re currently experiencing. To update, March was the 2nd hottest month on planet Earth in 141 years of climate records.

When we talk, cough, or even just breathe, how far can tiny droplets spread – which might contain viruses that can infect other people? This three-dimensional simulation from researchers in Kyoto, Japan is fascinating and informative.

With the “infodemic” of news related to COVID-19, it’s important to evaluate information carefully, with a measured sense of skepticism and evaluation that can help you avoid taking in sensationalized information.

The European Space Agency has posted some compelling maps, tracking pollution levels around the world before and after the current pandemic.

We don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, yet something as simple as common soap works well to break down the virus. This article explains the science behind why we should keep washing our hands.

Some of the worst viral disease outbreaks in recent years  SARS, MERS, Ebola, Marburg and now COVID-19 – originated in bats. This study shows how bats’ fierce immune systems drive viruses to higher virulence, making them deadlier in humans.

recent archeological discovery in an Iraqi cave unearthed the bones of ten Neanderthal men, women, and children surrounded by ancient pollen, suggesting the intriguing “flower burial” rights of our hominid cousins.

Long-term meditators have been routinely studied for their ability to manage emotions, depression, and chronic pain. A new study reveals that those with only a brief introduction to mindfulness can achieve similar results.

Ice cores from melting glaciers are preserving history, including global impact of the Industrial Revolution, as found in this study of the Dasuopu glacier in the Himalayas, the highest-altitude site in the world where scientists have obtained a climate record from an ice core.

A team of scientists have repurposed living tissue from frogs to create AI, tiny bots that could be used to search for radioactive contamination, clean up the oceans, and help doctors manage disease.

A thousand years ago, astronomers recorded seeing an extremely bright star lasting for two years, what modern day science now knows was a supernova explosion. Here’s what the remnants of that star look like today.

Like many areas in science, the pace of change in archeology has grown dramatically in the last two decades. Recent fossil discoveries now show that hominins existed 5-7 million years ago and homo sapiens 300,000 years ago.

The United States’ leading role in global research and development of science and technology is slipping, as the data in this article explains.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often viewed through the lens of medical science. Here’s a moving memoir of a journalist who experienced it first hand.

Nature photographs inspire us to the beauty and wonder of nature, all the more important as we face global extinction of many critical species. Check out the winners of the 2019 National Wildlife’s Photo Contest.

The European Space Agency has been investigating how human hibernation might impact space travelmaking long-duration exploration missions more feasible.

Get acquainted with the future! Scientific American teamed up with the World Economic Forum to examine the Top Ten Emerging Technologies of 2019 that will be sure to change our lives significantly in the coming years.

When Earth gets hit by a solar storm it creates an eerie symphony of sound, the result of waves that are generated in the Earth’s magnetic field. A team of scientists used 18 years of data from ESA’s Cluster mission to produce the first recording of this Earth song.

fascinating study sheds light on the unusual nature of the world’s oldest river: the Nile hasn’t changed course in its 30 million year lifetime.

I’ve put together a long list of key scientific papers which are worth exploring. Visit to learn more!

Read the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, a document signed by 11,000 scientists who regard it as their moral obligation to warn humanity of the catastrophic threats to planet Earth.

Astronomers recently found 20 new moons circling Saturn, all with a diameter of around 5 kms. With 82 known moons, the ringed planet surpasses Jupiter (with 79 moons) as the new Moon King.

Mindfulness training can enhance a person’s capacity to “unlearn fear”  to become less anxious about things you’ve been anxious about  in part through structural and functional changes involving the hippocampus.

Ancient reptilian hand muscles, thought to have disappeared from our human ancestors for 250 million years, were recently discovered in the first formations of a human embryo, which then get deleted before birth.

Climate change that caused a prolong drought in Europe has resurfaced a 7,000-year-old “Stonehenge” that disappeared 50 years ago with the damming of the Tagus River in Spain.

The awesome power of ocean waves is magnified in this short film by Chris Bryon, using state-of-the art camera work, and an artist’s eye for beauty.

It looks like some kind of weird white chocolate, but the European Space Agency took this composite photo of defrosting sand dunes on the Martian North Pole, shaped by the frosty Martian winds.

Archeologists have studied the impacts of human habitation on the earth and concluded that significant changes to the environment started nearly 10,000 years ago. This map shows how intensive agriculture developed in that time.​

There are so many reasons to take action now for our world, including recent headlines that the Amazon Rainforest could self-destruct, the climate crisis is making people sicker, and that more than half of Greenland’s ice sheet’s surface started melting for the first time since 2012.

The Skyglow Project just put out an awesome new video, using the backdrop of a changing sky to tour North America’s indigenous petroglyphs and ruins.

This video shows how our knowledge of known exoplanets has grown exponentially in the last 30 years, from 2 in 1992 to 4,003 today!

Can plants think? One neuroscientist hooked up a Venus Flytrap to an EKG to show how plants can use electrical signals to process information, stimulate movement, and even compute time. Our kinship with all living things seems clearer than ever.

Cannonballs of the cosmos? This pulsar is spinning 8.7 times per second and hurtling through space at 2.5 million miles an hour. Astronomers say it’s traveling 5x faster than other pulsars and will eventually get propelled out of our galaxy.

A vast void in our cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers have discovered that our local Milky Way galaxy lies in the boundary between the Virgo cluster and a vast void of emptiness. A new study investigates how this Local Void influences the movement of our galaxy.

For a hundred years, humans have been broadcasting radio waves into the cosmos and the bubble of reach has expanded to 200 light years distance today. But how big is that really? This image provides some insight.

A team of scientists examined 4 million years of our ancestry for clues to why our modern human faces evolved to look as they do today. Diet and climate were two major influences – and both may continue to reshape our appearance as earth’s climate warms.

Where were you 50 years ago when earthlings first stepped onto their moon? Last week was the half century milestone for this amazing event and it’s worth watching this video to reflect on how precarious the landing actually was.

Despite whatever woes currently avail us, the facts do show that humanity has made significant progress. This amazing video graph shows changes over the past 150 years in reducing child mortality worldwide.

This stunning image of Saturn 58,232 km  (36,184 miles) away and 945% the size of Earth shows a view of the gas giant not seen from our planet, with its eerie shadow slicing through its spectacular rings.

Science rests on the view that objective facts exist. But in a recent experiment with entangled photons, researchers have concluded that two people can observe existing but contradictory facts at the quantum level. Yikes! Of course, at the level of atoms and molecules, let alone mice and moons, reality seems more reassuringly knowable.

Ever seen two galaxies dancing? Check out this cool image of two mighty galaxies currently pulling each other apart after passing through each other.

In their matriarchal society, bonobo moms help their sons meet and mate with eligible females to ensure their male offspring don’t get overlooked in the intensely competitive social order. Their success rate is three times higher due to this maternal support.

Researchers have determined that trauma in childhood (including poverty and stressful events) accelerates puberty and brain maturation, with potentially greater mental health disorders into adulthood.

Some in the animal kingdom prove that art is greater than smart! This puffer fish, though dull in appearance, creates beautiful mandalas to attract his mate.

The vastness of the universe is incomprehensible to the human mind, yet that doesn’t stop astronomers from trying. This video uses a grain of sand as a measurement unit for imagining the relative size of our cosmos.

Why do days – and years – seem shorter as we get older? Research suggests this phenomenon occurs in aging human brains, which process information at a slower rate. Because older brians view fewer new images in the same amount of actual time as younger ones, time seems to pass more quickly.

This very cool virtual flyby of the Whirlpool galaxy uses data and images from the Hubble Space Telescope. It helps us visualize what a galaxy very similar to ours might look like if we could fly at the speed of light!

A team at John Hopkins have come up with a new theory to help answer one of astromony’s more puzzling questions: why the universe seems to be expanding faster than it should be. Could an early form of dark energy cause the universe to speed up from time to time? And why?

When China stopped importing trash last year, much of what used to get recycled now ends up in landfills. Until the current “recycling crisis” gets resolved, there are resources to help continue your efforts to recycle and reduce waste.

The U.S. ranking at #19 in the 2019 World Happiness Report could be related to income inequality, technology and other addictions, as well as ineffective government. Another study found that countries low on the happiness scale tend to vote against incumbent leaders, and that election results can make a nation happier.

After nearly two years and hundreds of intertwining stories, the Special Counsel’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections will be released this week. Here’s a guide to unravel the tangle of stories and subplots.

In 1925, Werner Heisenberg developed a new formulation for classical quantum physics. Fifty years later, Fritjof Capra expanded on Heisenberg’s Matrix Mechanics in The Tao of Physics, which helped to establish a profound shift in our understanding of the material world: “not a collection of separate objects, but rather appears as a network of relations between the various parts of a unified whole.” Thanks to Dale Medearis for this entry!

In a joint American/Dutch project, The Ocean Cleanup was launched in September 2018 to rid the ocean of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,200 nautical miles offshore. An update report from last week recounts both its successes and failures in the first months of operation.

One of the most mind-blowing theories in theoretical physics is the holographic principle, which posits that the universe is actually a hologram. If researchers can prove the theory, it may lead to a grand unified theory that explains all the laws and principles governing reality.

Researchers in Denmark are finding that “forest bathing”, immersing children in natural spaces, has a beneficial effect for lowering risk of mental health disorders as adults.

The 4th National Climate Assessment details not only how climate change will impact our future, but the damage already inflicted on the environment and the economy, including disproportionately negative effects on disadvantaged communities.

Neuroscience studies on attention in both birds and humans reveal a remarkable natural rhythm in which a central focus is highlighted alternating with a wider view. In effect, the brain zooms in and zooms out several times a second. While this has benefits (including for survival in Jurassic Park), it also makes us vulnerable to distractions when the brain zooms out – another good reason to develop mindfulness.

The continental United States is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was a century ago. Seas at the coasts are nine inches higher. Like a frog in a slowly heating pot, sometimes it’s hard to see the changes around us. This sobering article provides graphic evidence of how climate change is disrupting our lives.

The value of pets is well-known in helping people cope with loneliness and depression. One man has given this idea a new twist, with his “emotional support alligator.”

Many past estimates of the number of neurons in the human brain have been wildly inaccurate. The current findings are that we have about 80 billion neurons – and most of them are in the cerebellum, not the cerebral cortex. There are also another 80 billion non-neuronal “glial” cells. We keep most of these 160 billion cells over the entire lifespan: there’s hope!

You may have heard this before or something like it: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Have you ever wondered where it comes from? It is based on the pioneering work of the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb in the middle of the 20th century, who explored how the brain can be changed by our experiences: the fundamental physical basis of learning, healing, and growth. Then in a research paper in 1992, Siegrid Lowel and Wolf Singer offered this summary –  “neurons wire together if they fire together” – which became the basis for this increasingly popular saying

While getting enough sleep is important for our overall health and well-being, a new study shows that getting too much sleep can increase your risk to experience a cardiovascular disease or death.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 recently crossed the edge of the heliosphere—11 billion miles from Earth—and will provide the first-ever observations of interstellar space, using 40-year-old technology that has less data capacity than your smart phone.

The USA has the largest rate of incarceration of any OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country, over twice the rate of the second largest, Turkey, though the rate has steadily decreased since 2008.

Out past the orbit of Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has recently flown by Ultima Thule, a small planetoid. This object is the farthest from our planet that has been surveyed by a human device – so far away that it takes six hours for its radio signals traveling 186,000 miles a second to reach Earth.

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