New Scientist Podcasts
#122: The science of Top Gun; the 1.5°C climate goal is out of reach; return to the moon; hepatitis mystery
While it may be technically possible to keep global heating to 1.5°C it’s really not very likely - at all. So why are we clinging to it? The team asks, when do we admit that 1.5°C is dead, and what will it mean when we do?
NASA is about to launch its CAPSTONE spacecraft into lunar orbit, paving the way for its lunar space station. As a precursor to the Artemis mission to put people back on the moon, CAPSTONE is basically a test run, and the team explains its goals.
Rowan’s been to see Top Gun: Maverick, and he’s found a way of making it about science - or technology, at least. In the film we see many new applications of technology and artificial intelligence in warfare, so we chat with AI and drone expert Arthur Holland Michel to discuss the future of combat and what Top Gun 3 might look like in another thirty years.
The team brings you an incredibly exotic life form of the week… chickens! It turns out that chickens were domesticated a lot more recently than we thought. Hear some of the humorous archaeological blunders that have led to this confusion.
In recent months doctors around the world have been reporting mysterious cases of children suddenly developing liver failure. While we don’t know what’s happening, the team explores some possible explanations.
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6. Dead Planets Society #6: Make Venus Earth Again20:41Are the stresses of life getting too much? Fancy a relaxing getaway to a planet with stifling sulfuric acid clouds, choking quantities of CO2 and punishing amounts of atmospheric pressure? Yeah, neither do Chelsea and Leah. That’s why, with the help of planetary scientist Paul Byrne at Washington University in St. Louis, they’re reinventing Venus, our uninhabitable neighbour. Together, they attempt to clear the air, smash it senseless with asteroids and move it farther from the sun… all for a few quintillion dollars.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like us to figure out how to destroy, email the team at email@example.com. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, find @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth on Twitter/X.
216. Weekly: First ever RNA from an extinct animal; big news about small solar system objects; “brainless” jellyfish can still learn25:03#216For the first time ever, a team has extracted RNA from an extinct animal. Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, are carnivorous marsupials that went extinct in the early 20th century. While we’ve been extracting DNA from extinct animals for years, getting their RNA has been much more difficult. What can this breakthrough tell us about the lives they led?What is consciousness and how does it work? There’s a reason this is known as “the hard problem” of neuroscience. Everyone wants an answer but only a handful of convincing theories exist. And now, one of the more compelling theories - integrated information theory, or IIT - has come under fire. Are critics right to label it ‘pseudoscience’?Eris and Makemake are two dwarf planets that orbit in the Kuiper belt in the outer reaches of our solar system. They’re small, icy objects that receive little sunlight, so we might expect them to be pretty boring – but it seems we were wrong. Why a closer look from the James Webb Space Telescope is painting an intriguing new picture, one that may include liquid water.Despite not having brains, Caribbean box jellyfish still have the capacity to learn. How are they processing the information without a centralised brain? One team thinks it could have something to do with their 24 eye-like structures. Find out how they tested this theory.Plus: A new kind of ‘reverse vaccine’ that could help people with autoimmune diseases, the earliest evidence of human ancestors building wooden structures, and counting the number of cells in a human body. Hosts Christie Taylor and Chelsea Whyte discuss all of this with guests Clare Wilson, Leah Crane and Corryn Wetzel. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Events and Links:New Scientist Live tickets
CultureLab: Real Life Supervillains - John Scalzi on the science of volcano lairs and sentient dolphin minions22:11You’re in the volcano lair of an evil supervillain, hellbent on taking over the world. In anger, he hurls one of his minions into the molten lava bubbling beneath them, as the unfortunate lacky swiftly sinks into the river of molten rock. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond-esque film, you’ll be able to picture the scene. The problem is - the science doesn’t stack up.John Scalzi is an American science fiction author, and in his new book ‘Starter Villain’ he injects a dose of realism into many classic tropes about villains, humorously poking holes in some of the flaws of logic we see on TV - including their penchant for volcano lairs. They’re still useful, just maybe not in the way you’d think. The novel follows the journey of Charlie, who is unwittingly thrust into the dangerous world of supervillains, forced to take up his late uncle’s mantle.In this episode of CultureLab, Christie Taylor asks Scalzi what an evil mastermind would actually look like in the real world, why the genetically engineered dolphins in his book are such jerks and how he gets away with leaving some of the science unexplained.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
215. Weekly: Science that makes you laugh (and think); black holes behaving badly; drumming cockatoos28:50#215A smart toilet with a camera inside that analyses your poop, plus a study of people who are fluent in speaking backwards – these are just two recipients of this year’s Ig Nobel prize. As the satirical sister to the Nobel prize, the Ig Nobels honour scientific achievements that make people laugh…then think. Prize founder Marc Abrahams on this year’s hilarious winners - and why even robots made from reanimating dead spiders can have a more serious side.As the winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, updated versions of the covid-19 vaccine are being rolled out in many countries. Should you be lining up for your next booster? And a sneak peak at a new, more effective twist on Moderna’s mRNA vaccines.Meanwhile, in the early universe, the James Webb Space Telescope has spotted ancient supermassive black holes that are much larger, relative to their galaxies, than we see in younger galaxies. A tantalising finding for astronomers who believe these anomalies could be evidence of a new kind of black hole. And did you know that palm cockatoos are totally rock ’n’ roll? Not only do they drum, but they even craft their own drumsticks. Find out about their unique musical abilities, and what this says about their intelligence.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss all of this with guests Marc Abrahams, Michael Le Page, Alex Wilkins and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Events and Links:New Scientist Live tickets
5. Dead Planets Society #5: The Return of Pluto21:52Join Leah and Chelsea as they belatedly mourn the loss of Pluto as a planet. Back in 2006, Pluto was demoted to “dwarf planet”, sparking widespread outrage… a decision the team is still determined to reverse.Special guests are Kathryn Volk of the University of Arizona and Konstantin Batygin of the California Institute of Technology, who discuss several approaches to boosting Pluto’s status, from helping it pack on the pounds, to dragging it into the inner solar system, to sabotaging one of its neighbours…Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, tweet @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth.
214. Weekly: New type of brain cell; Alaska’s first bridge over a moving glacier; quantum batteries that never age29:23#214A multi-talented brain cell has been discovered – and it’s a hybrid of the two we already know about, neurons and glia. These glutamatergic astrocytes could provide insights into our brain health and function, and even enable treatments for conditions like Parkinsons.Building a bridge over a moving glacier is no mean feat. But rising global temperatures have thawed the permafrost in Denali National Park in Alaska, causing its only access road to sink. A bridge may be the only way to continue access to the park’s beautiful wilderness. Rather than waiting around for hours for your electric car to charge, imagine doing it near instantaneously. That’s the promise of quantum batteries. Although we’re not quite at that stage yet, researchers may have found a way to make quantum batteries that charge wirelessly and last forever.Could the armies of ancient China owe their success to their… shoes? Researchers have been studying the feet of The Terracotta Army, a massive collection of statues that depict the armies of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Humans and other great apes have incredibly flexible shoulder and elbow joints. Unusually, this is not a trait shared by our monkey cousins. Why the difference? And what are the pros and cons of this extra mobility?Plus: How to grow human kidneys in pigs without making pig-human hybrids and the mystery of a super-bright space explosion.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss all of this with guests Alec Luhn, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Chen Ly and Sam Wong. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Events and Links:New Scientist Live tickets
CultureLab: The weird ways animals sense the world – Ed Yong on his book An Immense World34:04Whether it’s the hidden colours of ultraviolet that bees can see, the complex rhythms and tones of birdsong that we’re unable to hear, or the way a dog can smell the past in incredible detail, the way humans experience the world is not the only way.Every animal has its own ‘umwelt’ – a unique sensory experience that allows it to perceive the world differently. As humans we can barely begin to understand what the world looks like to many of the other creatures that inhabit the Earth. But author Ed Yong is helping to paint a picture…In this episode of CultureLab, Christie Taylor speaks to Ed about the paperback release of his book An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, which looks at more than 100 different species and explores the amazing ways their sensory worlds are shaped by light, sound, vibrations, heat and even electrical charge.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
213. Weekly: Our ancestors nearly went extinct?; Why beer goggles aren’t real; Smelling ancient Egyptian perfume27:02#213Our ancestors may have very nearly gone extinct. Around a million years ago, there were just 1300 humans left and it stayed that way for over a hundred thousand years. This is the dramatic claim of research into the genetic diversity of our early ancestors – though some scientists disagree with the conclusions.Despite being completely paralysed and unable to speak, Rodney Gorham can still communicate… by typing messages with his mind. Rodney is one of the first people in the world to use a new type of brain computer interface. The company behind it, Synchron, is focusing on medical uses like this for brain implants, rather than more outlandish superhuman technology.Ever wondered what a 3000-year-old mummified noblewoman would’ve smelled like? Wonder no more! Scientists have recreated the exact scent of an ancient Egyptian woman’s perfume – giving them a fascinating insight into millenia-old burial traditions and early trading.Beer goggles; when you’ve drunk just enough alcohol that everyone starts to look more attractive. It’s a well-known phenomenon, but is it actually real? A study that got its participants a little tipsy has some answers.Plus: How tall people have more diverse gut microbiomes, why a meteor that crashed on Earth in 2014 may – or may not – be an interstellar visitor from outside our solar system and how pirate spiders catch their prey.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss all of this with guests Michael Le Page, Jeremy Hsu, Sofia Quaglia and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, you can subscribe to New Scientist at newscientist.com.Events and Links:Dead Planets Society Episode 4New Scientist Live tickets
4. Dead Planets Society #4: Asteroid Gong14:03In an unexpected twist of empathy, Leah and Chelsea are putting their heads together to save the Earth… yes, you read that right!Asteroid researcher and planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin of John Hopkins University joins them to discuss the myriad ways in which we could deflect, destroy or intercept asteroids headed towards Earth. Among the team’s suggestions: a humongous net (a world-wide-web?), a gigantic gong… and Bruce Willis.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.Check out Leah’s asteroid Armageddon story here.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at email@example.com. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, tweet @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth.