Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

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We like to think all stories are equal. But our astrophysicist thinks we did not make a big-enough deal of what he thinks is a story so important it gives him chills. So here's last week's news through the misty eyes of NPR blogger Adam Frank.

"It's just a dot of light, but it's a very special dot of light." That's how Queen guitarist Brian May describes the asteroid named for his late friend and bandmate Freddie Mercury.

Official designation: Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury.

"Happy Birthday Freddie!" May wrote on Twitter. "They already named a planet after you, but this little ROCK is a bonus! ha ha."

Most of the world didn't know anyone lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea until the 1930s, when Australian gold prospectors surveying the area realized there were about a million people there.

When researchers made their way to those villages in the 1950s, they found something disturbing. Among a tribe of about 11,000 people called the Fore, up to 200 people a year had been dying of an inexplicable illness. They called the disease kuru, which means "shivering" or "trembling."

The Perils of Power

Sep 5, 2016

It's "much safer to be feared than loved." So wrote Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, his seminal treatise on power. Many centuries later, we still see this idea in our culture – in cyber bullying and blustering politicians, in abusive CEOS and in television's antiheros. We tend to equate power with strength, and popularity with Mean Girls.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Lizards are expected to be hard hit by climate change — and a new study suggests it might be even worse for some lizards than scientists thought.

A subspecies of eastern gorilla that lives in Democratic Republic of Congo now faces "an extremely high risk of extinction," wildlife experts say. Grauer's gorilla, the largest great ape in the world, is now listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species.

The news came as another famous animal — the giant panda — was taken off the endangered list and placed on the vulnerable list.

After one of the strongest earthquakes ever to hit Oklahoma struck Saturday, state regulators ordered oil and gas companies to shut down all their wastewater disposal wells in a 725-square-mile area around the site of the quake's epicenter near Pawnee.

NASA's next Mars rover mission doesn't launch until 2020, but the process of picking a landing site is already underway. Right now, one of the leading suggestions comes from a teenager who hasn't yet finished high school.

Alex Longo, of Raleigh, N.C., has been a fan of space exploration for almost as long as he can remember.

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The hard line against marijuana is softening all across the country.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia allow some form of marijuana use, mostly for medicinal purposes, though a few allow recreational use. And more states could decriminalize marijuana this year. But if you play in the NFL and you use weed it could cost you your job.

Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan would like to change that; he would at least like the NFL to look into the health benefits of marijuana in a profession where injuries and ongoing pain is normal.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It wasn't meant for the bees.

The pesticide raining down from the sky in Dorchester County, S.C., was meant to kill mosquitoes — for the sake of safety, the county says. Mosquitoes, after all, can carry West Nile and Zika, and four cases of Zika were recently confirmed in the county.

But on Sunday morning, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., as the county conducted aerial spraying, the bees fell by the millions.

NASA has released the first close-up images ever taken of Jupiter's north pole. They were photographed by the Juno spacecraft now in orbit around the gas giant.

The north pole looks totally different from the rest of the planet. "It's bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms," Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, says in a NASA statement on Friday.

From the air, it looks like a 2,300-square-mile field of submerged doughnuts on the ocean floor.

The limestone circles amount to a second, deeper reef behind the Great Barrier Reef, researchers say. The scientists who discovered it off the coast of northern Australia say they're surprised by its vast size — and by the strange shapes.

If it were a phone call, we might call it a butt-dial: A strong radio signal that set off questions about whether it emanated from an advanced alien race earlier this week is now believed to have come from a terrestrial source, and possibly from a Russian military satellite.

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In the ferocious, sprawling brawl over genetically modified crops, one particular question seems like it should have a simple factual answer: Did those crops lead to more use of pesticides, or less?

Sadly, there's no simple answer.

In Idaho, a wildfire has burned nearly 250 square miles of forest and is growing quickly. About 157,000 acres are currently on fire in Boise National Forest in the western part of the state, northeast of Boise.

The blaze, known as the Pioneer Fire, has been burning for several weeks, but hot, dry weather this week caused the wildfire to get much larger.

Scott Graf of Boise State Public Radio reports for NPR's Newscast Unit:

Two days before SpaceX was to launch a communications satellite that would widen Internet access in Africa, an unmanned rocket and its payload were destroyed in an explosion on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Smoke billowed from the pad where the AMOS-6 satellite was to be launched Saturday morning.

Just over a month ago, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague issued two important rulings. One soundly rejected Beijing's extensive claim of sovereignty in the South China Sea. The other focused on whether China had caused environmental damage as it constructed artificial islands in the region to help prop up its claim.

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Summer is winding down, but when members of Congress return to Washington from their vacations next week, many of their constituents want them to do something about the mosquitoes — the ones carrying Zika virus, to be specific.

A new survey shows that three quarters of Americans say Congress should make the allocation of more money to deal with the Zika outbreaks in Florida and Puerto Rico an "important" or "top priority" when they return to Washington.

Against the backdrop of the picturesque Lake Tahoe, President Obama said environmental conservation is a key part of fighting the impact of global warming.

Obama spoke on the first of a two-day environmental tour at an annual summit designed to keep the health of Lake Tahoe a priority for the federal government and the states it borders, Nevada and California.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's been four years since scientists first started accusing a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short, of killing bees. These pesticides are used as seed coatings on most corn and soybean seeds.

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