Sunday, October 29, 2017

Big Picture Science for October 30, 2017 - Venom Diagram

Big Picture Science - Venom Diagram

We all get defensive sometimes.  For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”.  A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely.

But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure.  Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs.

Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease.

Plus, the King of Pain - a scientist who has been stung by more than 80 species of insects in his pursuit of a better understanding of venom’s biochemistry.  Find out which winged stinger scored the highest on his pain index.

And, why the drug we need most may come from the quietest members of the biosphere: turning to plants for a new generation of antibiotics.


This encore podcast was first released on 10/03/2016

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You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Geomagnetic Storms Likely This Week

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 23, 2017:

GEOMAGNETIC STORMS PREDICTED (G2-CLASS): A large hole has opened in the sun's atmosphere, and it is spewing a stream of solar wind toward Earth. Estimated time of arrival: Oct. 24th. First contact with the gaseous material is expected to produce minor G1-class geomagnetic storms, intensifying to moderately strong G2-class storms on Oct. 25th as Earth moves deeper into the stream. Arctic sky watchers can expect to witness bright auroras. The lights could descend to lower latitudes as well, with sightings in northern-tier US states along a line from Maine to Washington.

Visit for more information and updates

Above: A gaseous canyon more than 700,000 km long cleaves the face of the sun. This image, based on data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows the jagged structure directly facing Earth on Oct. 22nd.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Big Picture Science for October 23, 2017 - Sex Post Facto

Big Picture Science - Sex Post Facto

ENCORE: Birds do it, bees do it, but humans may not do it for much longer.  At least not for having children.  Relying on sex to reproduce could be supplanted by making babies in the lab, where parents-to-be can select genomes that will ensure ideal physical and behavioral traits.

Men hoping to be fathers should act sooner rather than later.  These same advancements in biotechnology could allow women to fertilize their own eggs, making the need for male sperm obsolete.

Meanwhile, some animals already reproduce asexually.  Find out how female African bees can opt to shut out male bees intent on expanding the hive.

Will engineering our offspring have a down side?  Sex creates vital genetic diversity, as demonstrated by evolution of wild animals in urban areas.  Find out how birds, rodents and insects use sex in the city to adapt and thrive.

Menno Schilthuizen  – Biologist and ecologist, at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University in The Netherlands.   His New York Times op-ed, “Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought,” is here
Matthew Webster –  Evolutionary biologist, Uppsala University, Sweden
Hank Greely – Law professor and ethicist, Stanford University, who specializes in the ethical, legal and social implications of biomedical technologies.  His book is “The End of Sex and The Future of Reproduction.”

This encore podcast was first released on 09/19/2017

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You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Weekend Meteors from Halley's Comet

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 20, 2017:

METEORS FROM HALLEY'S COMET: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Last night, NASA's network of all-sky meteor cameras detected 23 Orionid fireballs over the USA--a result of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at speeds exceeding 65 km/s (145,000 mph). Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Oct. 21-22 with as many as 25 meteors per hour.

Visit for observing tips and sky maps.

Above: An Orionid fireball streaks over the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh on Oct. 20, 2017. Photo credit: NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network. More images may be found in the Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Spotless Sun Sparks Bright Auroras

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 16, 2017:

SPOTLESS SUN SPARKS BRIGHT AURORAS: The sun is sliding into a deep Solar Minimum that continues to defy some expectations. For much of the past week, the sun was absolutely blank--no sunspots--and solar activity was deemed "very low." Nevertheless, space weather was stormy. From Oct. 11th through 15th, not a single day went by without a geomagnetic storm. Bright auroras were sighted not only around the poles, but also in a number of US states. The reason for these counterintuitive space storms is explained on today's edition of with expectations for more in the days ahead.

Above: On Oct. 12, 2017, the sky above Tromsø, Norway, exploded in a spray of geomagnetic light. Colin Palmer photographed these bright green auroras from the island of Kvaloya. More images may be found in the Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Big Picture Science for October 16, 2017 - Too Big To Prove

Big Picture Science - Too Big To Prove

Celebrations are in order for the physicists who won the 2017 Nobel Prize, for the detection of gravitational waves.  But the road to Stockholm was not easy.  Unfolding over a century, it went from doubtful theory to daring experiments and even disrepute.  100 years is a major lag between a theory and its confirmation, and new ideas in physics may take even longer to prove.

Why it may be your great, great grandchildren who witness the confirmation of string theory.  Plus, the exciting insights that gravitational waves provide into the phenomena of our universe, beginning with black holes.

And, physics has evolved - shouldn’t its rewards?  A case for why the Nobel committee should honor collaborative groups rather than individuals, and the scientific breakthroughs it’s missed.

  • Janna Levin - Physicist and astronomer at Barnard College at Columbia University, and the author of the story of LIGO, “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.”
  • Roland Pease - BBC reporter, producer, and host of “Science in Action.”
  • David Gross - Theoretical physicist, string theorist, University of California, Santa Barbara, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, winner, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Geomagnetic Storm in Progress (G1-class)

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 11, 2017:

POLAR GEOMAGNETIC STORMS: A hole in the sun's atmosphere is spewing solar wind toward Earth, and this is sparking bright auroras around the poles on Oct. 11th. At the time of this alert, a G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway. NOAA forecasters estimate a 70% chance of continued storms at high latitudes on Oct. 12th and 13th as Earth moves deeper into the solar wind stream.

Visit for pictures and updated forecasts.

Above: During the early hours of Oct. 11th, bright auroras wowed air travelers flying near the Arctic Circle. Marc Swanson photographed the display from the window seat of a commercial flight from Denver to Reykavik. More images may be found in the Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Asteroid to Buzz Earth this Week

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 10, 2017:

ASTEROID TO BUZZ EARTH THIS WEEK: Four years ago, a house-sized asteroid tore through the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and exploded.  Shock waves shattered windows and knocked down onlookers as fragments of the disintegrating space rock peppered the Ural countryside. This week an asteroid about the same size is approaching Earth. It will not hit our planet, but it's coming very close. On Oct. 12, 2017, the speeding space rock, named "2012 TC4," will skim just above the zone of Earth's geosynchronous communications satellites and briefly become a target for amateur telescopes.

Learn more about the flyby on today's edition of

Above: An artist's concept of asteroid 2012 TC4 flying past Earth on Oct. 12, 2017 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Big Picture Science for October 09, 2017 - On Defense

Big Picture Science - On Defense

ENCORE:  The military is a dangerous calling.  But technology can help out, so researchers are constantly trying to make soldiers safer.  Writer Mary Roach investigates how scientists studying so-called human factors are protecting troops from such aggressive foes as heat, noise, and fatigue.  She also learns how bad odors were once considered a secret weapon.

And while soldiers have long used camouflage to help them blend in, insects may be the original masters of disguise.  A discovery in fossilized amber shows that a variety of bugs employed D.I.Y. camouflaging tricks 100 million years ago.

But where is the defense race headed?  The top-secret branch of the Pentagon whose job is to make tomorrow happen today has some ideas.  A reporter shares DARPA’s plan for augmented super-soldiers.

Plus, do we always need a technological boost to stay safe?  Find out how your innate chemical defense system protects you.  It’s an adrenaline rush!


This encore podcast was first released on 08/01/2016

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You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Major Space Weather Event on Mars

Source - Space Weather News for Oct. 4, 2017:

MAJOR SPACE WEATHER EVENT ON MARS: Last month, a human astronaut standing on the surface of Mars could have seen something amazing. The night sky of the Red Planet turned green in a global display of Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the same astronaut would have been irradiated by high energy particles from the sun. For three days in mid-September a solar storm enveloped Mars, crossing thresholds of ground-level radiation and auroras that orbiters and rovers had never seen before. Such global events on Mars may be more common than previously thought--a topic explored on today's edition of

Above: This artist's concept shows a solar coronal mass ejection (CME) bearing down on NASA's MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Big Picture Science for October 02, 2017 - It's In Material

Big Picture Science - It's In Material

Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits? NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space. Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit.

Meanwhile, strange new materials are in the pipeline for use on terra firma: spider silk is kicking off the development of biological materials that are inspiring ultra-strong, economical, and entirely new fabrics.  And, while flesh-eating bacteria may seem like an unlikely ally in materials science, your doctor might reach for them one day.  The bacterium’s proteins are the inspiration for a medical molecular superglue.

Plus, an overview of more innovative materials to come, from those that are 3D printed to self-healing concrete.


Download podcast at -

You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.