Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Maybe it was a meteor? Or space junk? People on the West Coast weren't sure what the bright object was that streaked across the sky Wednesday night, but they knew it was spectacular. Now comes word that the object — which separated into bright fragments — was a stage of China's large new rocket.

After Hinckley, States Tightened Use Of The Insanity Plea

Jul 28, 2016

The insanity ruling that sent President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr., to a government psychiatric hospital rather than prison was handed down 34 years ago, but its repercussions still affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people who commit a crime and also have mental illness.

A group of nano-scientists has discovered a way to arrange individual atoms to store and rewrite data 500 times more efficiently than the best hard drives on the market.

Times are tough for Chesapeake oysters.

For one thing, they used to be bigger. "If you look at what people were saying back in the 1600s and 1700s about oysters, people had to cut them in half before they could even eat them," says Denise Breitburg, an ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

What Women Need In A Checkup: Test Less, Talk More

Jul 28, 2016

Healthy young women can be forgiven for being confused about how often they're supposed to be getting into see their primary care doctor.

For decades, Japanese fishermen have told stories about the existence of a dark, rare beaked whale that they called karasu — the "raven."

But now, scientists say they have genetic proof to back up these tales. Long mistaken for its relative, the Baird's beaked whale, scientists say it represents an entirely new species.

As he takes the stage Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine is firmly in Hillary Clinton's camp — and his party's — on the big health care issues. Now a U.S. senator from Virginia, Kaine supports the Affordable Care Act and pushed its Medicaid expansion. He also worked to overhaul the mental health system when he was governor of Virginia.

Here are highlights and a few flashpoints of controversy from Kaine's health policy record:

Mental health

The federal government released its first overall hospital quality rating on Wednesday, slapping average or below average scores on many of the nation's best-known hospitals while awarding top scores to many unheralded ones.

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With antibiotic-resistant super bugs on the rise, researchers are on an urgent hunt for other bacteria that might yield chemicals we can harness as powerful drugs. Scientists once found most of these helpful bacteria in soil, but in recent decades this go-to search location hasn't delivered.

Now, researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany say that to find at least one promising candidate, we need look no further than our own noses.

Dead men tell no tales, but their phones might.

Early last month, two detectives walked into the lab of Anil Jain, a professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University. They had heard of Jain's cutting-edge work in fingerprint recognition and wanted his help in a murder investigation.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is such a crazy, turbulent storm that it creates sound waves that travel hundreds of miles up and actually heat the planet's upper atmosphere.

That's the conclusion of scientists who found a striking hotspot right above the Great Red Spot. They describe their finding Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Whatever South Korean women are eating, pass it around!

The country is having a massive growth spurt. And it doesn't look like it's slowing down anytime soon.

Women in South Korea have gained a whopping 8 inches in height, on average, in the past century — the biggest jump of any other population in the world, researchers report Tuesday.

For men, Iranians are the big winners, gaining 6.5 inches in the past hundred years.

The 2,200-year-old mummy of an Egyptian man who spent a lot of time sitting and eating carbs went on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday and will be open to the public beginning Wednesday.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Two studies released at an international Alzheimer's meeting Tuesday suggest doctors may eventually be able to screen people for this form of dementia by testing the ability to identify familiar odors, like smoke, coffee and raspberry.

In both studies, people who were in their 60s and older took a standard odor detection test. And in both cases, those who did poorly on the test were more likely to already have — or go on to develop — problems with memory and thinking.

'Clone Sisters' Of Dolly The Sheep Are Alive And Kicking

Jul 26, 2016

About four years ago, Kevin Sinclair inherited an army of clones. Very fluffy clones.

"Daisy, Debbie, Denise and Diana," says Sinclair, a developmental biologist at the University of Nottingham in England.

The sheep are just four of 13 clones Sinclair shepherds, but they're the most famous because of their relation to Dolly, the sheep that made headlines two decades ago as the first successfully cloned mammal.

The trip had mechanical setbacks, and the plane's average speed would be legal on many American streets. But when the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi in the early morning darkness Tuesday, it successfully completed a round-the-world voyage using only solar power.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg took turns flying the single-seat aircraft that began its trip on March 9 of 2015, flying more than 26,700 miles in a total of 17 stages (23 days) as they soared under the sun's power and then glided through the night.

The water supply for communities in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is threatened by an oil spill that dumped an estimated 66,000 gallons of heavy oil, along with natural gas used to dilute it, into a major river.

The pipeline that broke is owned by Husky Energy Inc. The site of last Thursday's leak is within 1,000 feet of the North Saskatchewan River.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from communities north of Los Angeles because a wildfire is burning out of control in dry, hot canyons. More than a dozen homes have already been destroyed and a man was found dead in a car inside the fire zone on Saturday.

The man's home was one of those burned when the fire swept through Iron Canyon in Santa Clarita, Danielle Karson reports for NPR.

The table is set for dinner. Small cooked crabs and shrimp are laid out on the thick wooden tabletop next to succulent figs, grapes, pears and types of produce you can't even name. There's a citrus with a long coiling peel draped around it, and an entire roast of some animal's leg that's been cut down the middle — so you can see the thick layer of fat running around the edge. Just for good measure, a red lobster and ornate goblet of wine stand on a pedestal above it.

The Uppermost Aristocracy of the Hoverfly Society

Jul 23, 2016

You may have seen a hoverfly before. You also may have mistaken it for something else — a bee, or a wasp. They are masters of mimicry, imitating more dangerous insects to avoid predators.

Fredrik Sjöberg is not fooled by these disguises. He's spent the last thirty years hunting for hoverflies, and can distinguish between species based on tiny differences in antennae color or wing shape.

Sjöberg is an amateur entomologist, but a committed one.

"You want to know something that no one else knows," he explains, "you want to become the real expert."

Helping Transgender People Find Their Voice

Jul 23, 2016

When they make a transition to publicly presenting themselves as a different gender, transgender people face many challenges. Possible surgeries and hormone treatments are some of them.

When you're pregnant, going to the doctors can be exciting. You get to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Maybe hear the baby's heart beat.

But in southern Africa, many women find out something else.

Allison Groves at American University recently ran a study in a town outside Durban, South Africa. They followed about 1,500 pregnant women. The results left her speechless.

"My name is Becki," says a young woman standing in a convention center turned comic book bazaar. Then she flips a mane of orange hair and launches into Scottish accent. "And today, I am Merida from Brave."

At Green House Data in Cheyenne, Wyo., energy efficiency is an obsession.

When someone enters one of the company's secured data vaults, they're asked to pause in the entryway and stomp their shoes on a clear rubber mat with a sticky, glue-like finish.

"Dust is a huge concern of ours," says Art Salazar, the director of operations.

That's because dust makes electronics run hotter, which then means using more electricity to cool them down. For data centers, the goal is to use as little electricity as possible, because it's typically companies' biggest expense.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

Walking among the California redwoods, drifting blank-brained on a break from college, I got to thinking about shoes. I can't say why, exactly. Perhaps it was because they were touching my feet.

Facebook just announced the first full-scale test flight of its unmanned, high-altitude airplane, Aquila. The plane isn't finished yet — the 90-minute test flight assessed only its takeoff and low-altitude flying capabilities — but its ultimate goal is to provide wireless Internet to the ground as it flies.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shared a video of the test flight.

It's really hot in most of the mainland United States right now. The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the triple digits through the weekend in much of the South, Midwest and along the East Coast.

The culprit: a "heat dome."

It's a real meteorological event — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even took the time to define it in the agency's warning this week:

You probably know Neil deGrasse Tyson as an astrophysicist with a seemingly endless stream of science fun facts at his command. You might not be aware that he is also a great oenophile and lover of food.

Some 16 years ago, before I was a journalist and illustrator, I worked with Neil at the American Museum of Natural History. He would sometimes carry around a small canvas tote bag. As I recall, the bag would contain one of two things: either a weighty, mango-sized meteorite to show to guests of the museum, or a bottle of wine to gift to a colleague.