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issue_16

  • Nothingness

    Nothingness is a category that stands apart from all others, defying description and tracing the boundaries of our knowledge. Forever trying to banish it and explain it away, we are also endlessly fascinated with it. From virtual particles filling the vacuum, to the invention of zero, to Sartre’s claim that nothingness lies at the heart […]

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    The Few Tough Species That Survive the Rigors of Nothingness

    The Expose-R module attaches to the ISS and holds samples in the harsh conditions of space.NASA In the 1800s, scientists imagined that life was brought to Earth by a rock that had been knocked off of a distant, life-filled planet. Now, over 100 years later, we are able to test this idea of “panspermia”—by sending […]

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    Why “Hawking Radiation” Was Almost “Feynman Radiation”

    Nautilus’ Ingenious this month, Alan Lightman, is a successful writer and physicist, and one of the very rare people to receive an appointment in both science and humanities at MIT*. He did his doctoral research at Caltech while Richard Feynman was a professor there. One day, Lightman was on hand to see the brilliant and […]

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    If Half of All Species Go Extinct, Will One of Them Be Us?

    Biodiversity JengaMartin Sharman How many animal species do you think go extinct every year? Last week I conducted a highly unscientific polling of around 20 of my Facebook and Google Chat contacts, asking that same question. I’m not trying to brag, but I have some really smart friends, many of them with degrees in biology. […]

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    Iran’s Great, Dying Salt Lake

    As Urmia dries up, it leaves huge salt beaches behind.Giulio M via Flickr The last time my cousin Houman traveled to Lake Urmia was 10 years ago. He and four of his friends piled into his car and drove for roughly 12 hours, snaking west from the capital of Tehran. Iran is shaped like a […]

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    How a Mental Disorder Can Disappear from the World Overnight

    The dinosaur long ago renamed “Apatosaurus” is still often called “Brontosaurus.” stevegeer via iStock Over the past few decades, autism and Asperger syndrome have become prominent in the public consciousness, and that prominence has been reflected in popular art and entertainment. Autism, a mental illness characterized by repetitive behaviors and impaired social interactions, was brought […]

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    A Material So Dark That It Looks Like a Black Hole

    Even when applied to a highly reflective surface like aluminum foil, Vantablack renders the entire surface, including creases, all but invisible.Surrey Nanosystems via Wikipedia Color is such a powerful and evocative sensation—one of the first that we learn to describe as children—that we don’t often think about what it really is. In a sense, color […]

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    The Woods That Time Forgot

    In the Mist, a film about a Canary Island forest, opens the archives of Earth’s history.

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    The Pufferfish’s Lethal Poison Shows Up Right Under Our Feet

    A flatworm that lives in soil and uses TTX to hunt down much larger earthwormsPeter Ducey Lurking in the soil, even under a most peaceful and well-nurtured garden, is a surprisingly fierce predator: Bipalium adventitium, an invasive flatworm that began appearing in the United States about 100 years ago, likely hitching a ride in potted […]

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    Traffic Ghost Hunting

    When the biggest problem with traffic is nothing at all.