New Scientist Podcasts
#148 Climate action from COP27; world population reaches 8 billion
Warnings over the world’s mad dash to create new supplies of fossil fuels, discussions about climate loss and damage, and talk about nature-based solutions. COP27 in Egypt is in full swing. Our reporter Madeleine Cuff brings us the latest, direct from Sharm el Sheikh.
This week’s Sci-fi alert is the unusual discovery of a star with a solid surface. The team explains how on this magnetar (the dense corpse of an exploded star), gravity would be immense and time would behave really weirdly - that’s if you’d be able to land on the thing. They also discuss how the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica has been able to plot the course of cosmic neutrinos back to their home galaxy.
The 15th of November has been chosen by the UN to mark the point that the number of people on the planet passes 8 billion. Despite this, the team explains how the world’s population isn’t accelerating, and is expected to peak sometime this century - sharing surprising statistics from Japan and China.
Birds that migrate long distances are more likely to break up with their partners. Usually bird species are pretty much monogamous, so the team finds out why travelling species find it harder to stay together.
“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” The team shares news of the discovery of the oldest readable sentence written using the first alphabet.
On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet, Madeleine Cuff, Leah Crane and Michael Le Page. To read about these subjects and much more, you can subscribe to New Scientist magazine at newscientist.com.
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CultureLab: Surviving the climate crisis – Michael Mann’s hopeful lessons from Earth’s deep history26:09Our planet has gone through a lot. If we peer into the deep history of Earth’s climate, we see ice ages, rapid warming events and mass extinctions. All of which led to the advent of humankind. But as today’s climate warms at a pace we’ve never seen before, can these past climate events tell us anything about our future?University of Pennsylvania climate scientist and activist Michael Mann explores this in his new book Our Fragile Moment, which looks at how climate change has shaped our planet and human societies for better and for worse. The big take home message is that it’s not too late to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.In this episode of CultureLab, environment reporter James Dinneen speaks to Mann about the climate extremes we’ve seen this year, what we can learn from ancient rapid warming events like the P.E.T.M (Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum) and why climate doom is now a bigger threat than denial to taking action.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
217. Weekly: Antimatter falls down; Virtual healthcare comes with a price; What’s causing Europe’s insect apocalypse?24:30#217Antimatter is the counterpart to regular matter, but with an opposite electric charge, as well as other differences. So if it’s the opposite of normal matter, does it fall up instead of down? Studying antimatter is notoriously difficult, but scientists at CERN have scraped together just enough to take a closer look at its behaviour under gravity – their results are consistent with Albert Einstein’s predictions. With remote school and work during the covid-19 pandemic, it’s no wonder telehealth startups popped up all over the US. With telemedicine, you don’t even need to leave your house to get a prescription – medicine can be delivered straight to your door, a boon for people who live in remote areas or have other difficulties in accessing a doctor’s office. But does this convenience come at a price?An “apocalypse” of declining insect populations was first reported in 2017 . But what is to blame? New research finds a culprit that’s neither habitat loss nor pesticides, but something potentially more fickle.Move over cows, there’s a new ‘moo’ in town. It turns out crocodiles can moo too – African dwarf crocodiles to be exact. In an effort to monitor their populations remotely, scientists have been recording the surprising noises they make.Plus: The best crater to set up a base on the Moon, why classroom therapy dogs are so helpful and how carrots became orange.Hosts Christie Taylor and Chelsea Whyte discuss all of this with guests Alex Wilkins, Grace Wade, James Dinneen and Sofia Quaglia. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Events and Links:The Royal Institution’s exciting autumn season of public science talks is on. To book, visit www.rigb.org/New Scientist Live tickets
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 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, 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 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.
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.