Explore the Moon Using Augmented Reality

For a brief, non-shining moment on Monday, August 21, the moon will be the most important object in the daytime sky. Not that you’ll get a good look at much besides its backlit outline. And sure, it is uncanny and cool that the moon sits at just the right distance from the Earth to blot out the sun. But real lunatics—er, luna-philes? Let’s go with moon fans—know the moon’s real calling card is its wild topography, visible almost nightly with the right telescope.

But maybe you’re not a fan of hunched-over squinting into a telescope’s eyepiece amid swarms of nipping insects, while taking brief breaks to shine your red-filtered flashlight down at a reference guide. And most moon maps kind of suck—the lunar features get distorted by flattened projections, and it’s really hard to orient yourself without familiar continents or other landmarks to guide your eye.

Or, you could buy a 3-D printed moonlet from AstroReality, and hold the moon in your hand. read more

The Robots Will Be Soft and Cuddly and Heal Their Own Wounds

Poke a hole in a human and something remarkable happens. First of all, you go to jail. But meanwhile, the wound heals itself, filling in the missing tissue and protecting itself from infection. Poke a hole in a robot, however, and prepare for a long night of repairs. The machines may be stronger than us, but they’re missing out on a vital superpower.

Until now. Researchers at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel report this week in Science Robotics that they’ve developed a squishy, self-healing robot. Cut it open, apply heat, let it cool down again, and the wound heals itself. While self-healing materials are nothing new, their application in so-called soft robotics—a relatively new kind of pliable machine that uses pneumatics or hydraulics to move—could be big. Think Terminator-style robots that automatically heal bullet wounds. OK, maybe don’t think of that.

Seppe Terryn, Science Robotics

To build their squishbot, the researchers crafted an elastomer, a read more

What a Border Collie Taught a Linguist About Language

Tansy was not into sports. The little border collie, a rescue, didn’t care for agility trials or flyball. But her adopted family—with two other border collies already in the house—did them all the time.

Border collies are working dogs, the elite athletes of the canine universe. They go a little nuts without something to do. After a little consternation, Tansy’s new owner Robin Queen, a linguist at the University of Michigan, got some advice: sheep. And why not? Border collies are, after all, sheepdogs. As soon as Tansy caught sight of some livestock, “it was the first time she showed evidence of understanding something about the world,” Queen says.

That’s how Tansy got into competitive sheepdog trials, a sport in which a handler and dog manage a half-dozen sheep through various tasks. Sheep, despite what you might infer, are not sheepish, and often act on their own closely held ideas about where to go. Keeping a flock on track can require dogged read more

NASA’s Rocket to Nowhere Finally Has a Destination

On a Thursday afternoon in June, a 17-foot-tall rocket motor—looking like something a dedicated amateur might fire off—stood fire-side-up on the salty desert of Promontory, Utah. Over the loudspeakers, an announcer counted down. And with the command to fire, quad cones of flame flew from the four inverted nozzles and grew toward the sky. As the smoke rose, it cast a four-leaf clover of shadow across the ground.

This was a test of the launch abort motor, a gadget built to carry NASA astronauts away from a rocket gone wrong. Made in Utah by a company called Orbital ATK, it’s part of the Space Launch System: the agency’s next generation space vehicle, meant to ferry humans and cargo into deep space. NASA has tasked read more

How Will California’s Solar Grid React to the Eclipse?

Like many thrifty business owners, officials at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, were banking on reducing their carbon footprint and saving money when they installed rooftop solar panels during a big expansion in 2015. In fact, since the panels went up, the zoo has saved more than $8,500 on its electric bill by using less energy from South Carolina’s fossil fuel power plants.

But at 2:41 pm on Monday, August 21, their solar panels will go dark as the shadow of the moon blots out the sun’s energy-producing rays. The zoo is in the path of the solar eclipse’s totality, but the lack of solar power won’t lead to any Jurassic Park-like escape scenarios.

“We do not expect any glitches as far as things shutting down,” says zoo spokeswoman Susan O’Kane. The zoo—like millions of other solar power users in the eclipse’s path—will simply switch to electricity generated from coal, gas, and nuclear.

Sure, the eclipse won’t cause any major service read more

Plankton ‘Mucus Houses’ Could Pull Microplastics From the Sea

Each year, the world throws 8 billion metric tons of plastic into the ocean, about a dump truck every minute. Some washes up on beaches, some sinks, and the rest floats to the surface, where currents sweep it into giant rafts of garbage. Over time, chopping waves and beating sunlight break those plastics down into microscopic particles—which conservation groups worry pose a real threat to marine life and the people who eat it.

But there are ways to pull those plastics out of the sea. California researchers have found a unique creature that spins a three-dimensional undersea net—one that can capture these tiny floating bits of plastic, enabling the pinkie-sized critter to eliminate the plastic as waste that falls to the seafloor. While it won’t remove plastic from the ocean once and for all, moving plastics to the bottom could support some of the big, expensive geoengineering fixes that are now underway.

The jellyfish-like animal, called a larvacean, helps remove read more

The Best Way to Test Students? Make Them Explain It On Video

As a physics professor, I have two jobs. The first, obviously, is to help students understand physics. That makes me something of a coach. But I want to talk about my second job: evaluating what students understand about physics. You might call this grading them.

Evaluating a student’s understanding of a topic is like taking a measurement. However, it requires measuring something that is difficult to see. It’s not like I can stick a ruler into a student’s brain to determine the size of their physics stuff. Now, most teachers use indirect means, usually a multiple-choice test or an exam in which students work through a problem. These are poor measures of student understanding. Someone could simply guess, or flub the answer through a silly mistake.

So how can I accurately assess a student’s understanding of physics? Until someone invents a way of reading a student’s mind, I must do something else. I use a combination of written tests and video assessments.

What read more

How Solar Eclipses Illuminate the Marvel of Science

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the world will go under, or so it might well feel like if you position yourself along a 70-mile-wide swath of the US from South Carolina to Oregon. From here you can witness the moon move in front of the sun in the middle of the day and darken the skies above you. A total solar eclipse is a spectacular event that has struck fear into people throughout history, and at the same time has enlightened us in our quest to understand the cosmos. Our ability to predict this year’s event with such specificity is thanks to scientific inquiries dating back thousands of years.



Henrik Schoeneberg (@henriksch) is a published philosopher in Copenhagen. He is the founder of Thales Day, an annual event to celebrate the birth of the tradition of philosophy and science.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us that as the Medes and Lydians were fighting by the Halys River, day suddenly turned to night. They took it as a sign that the gods were angry, read more

What Is Quantum Internet?

A year ago this week, Chinese physicists launched the world’s first quantum satellite. Unlike the dishes that deliver your Howard Stern and cricket tournaments, this 1,400-pound behemoth doesn’t beam radio waves. Instead, the physicists designed it to send and receive bits of information encoded in delicate photons of infrared light. It’s a test of a budding technology known as quantum communications, which experts say could be far more secure than any existing info relay system.

They’ve kept the satellite busy. This summer, the group has published several papers in Science and Nature in which they sent so-called entangled photons between the satellite—nicknamed Micius, after an ancient Chinese philosopher—and multiple ground stations. If quantum communications were like mailing a letter, read more

Sex, Drugs, and the Inside Lane: Recapping the 2017 World Championships of Track

Nicholas Thompson: Malcolm, hello! Welcome back from vacation. And also welcome to WIRED.com! We’ve been chatting about Olympic and World Championship track for five years now, but this is the first time we’re doing it here.

Let’s start with the moment when one of your favorite runners got defeated. Sir Mo Farah is perhaps the greatest distance racer in history, and he opened the meet by winning the 10,000 in a blazing 26:49. But he closed the meet on the track, in agony, and in second place after losing the 5,000 meters to Muktar Edris. What happened?

Malcolm Gladwell: I feel like Farah has been so good for so long that we’ve lost some perspective. What happened? What happened is that he ran a brutally fast 10,000, then a 5,000 heat, and then a 5,000 final in the space of a week. He ran out of gas. Do you have any doubt that he would have won the 5,000 if he had not run the 10K earlier in the week? My friend read more