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    This Is Why Understanding Space Is So Hard

    The overwhelming success of Einstein’s theory was the final blow for Newton’s absolute space—but without absolute space, we continue to struggle to make sense of the forces evinced by Newton’s spinning bucket of water..Photograph by Comstock / Getty Images If all the matter in the universe suddenly disappeared, would space still exist? Isaac Newton thought […]

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    What Is Space?

    It’s not what you think.

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    A Visual History of Humanity’s Exploration of Pluto

    Before I could string full sentences together, I used to wander outside past my bedtime. I would push open the sliding glass door and immediately look up, searching for stars sprinkled beyond the silhouetted trees. At the time, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what I was seeing. Instead, each beacon of light represented a […]

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    Watch Water Levitate, Flow Up, & Swirl the Wrong Way in the Other Hemisphere

    The conventional wisdom is all wrong. Countless parents and teachers have gotten it twisted. The BBC and PBS aired bogus explanations. Even textbooks have botched the story. The Earth’s rotation, and the Coriolis effect that results, do not cause water to circle the drain in opposite directions in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Well, actually, […]

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    Forget “Earth-Like”—We’ll First Find Aliens on Eyeball Planets

    Imagine a habitable planet orbiting a distant star. You’re probably picturing a variation of Earth. Maybe it’s a little cloudier, or covered in oceans. Maybe the mountains are a little higher. Maybe the trees are red instead of green. Maybe there are scantily clad natives … OK, let’s stop there. That image may very well […]

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    Why Spaceflight Will Never Be as Safe as Modern Aviation

    Charles Lindbergh in 1923, four years before his trans-Atlantic flight. A light drizzle greeted Charles Lindbergh as he arrived at Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1927, at a little before three in the morning. Weeks of rain had ensured that the runway at the Long Island airport was in poor condition, soft and strewn with […]

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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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    99 Problems, and a Wild Gecko Space Orgy Is Just One

    By the time of this launch of the space shuttle Discovery in 2009, NASA knew well the dangers of lightning to spacecraft. At the launch of Apollo 12, in 1969, they were in the dark.NASA On July 19, Russia launched a satellite designed to study the effects of microgravity on, among other living beings, geckos. […]

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    The Most Symmetrical Objects in the World

    If you’ve ever tried to give yourself a haircut, you know just how hard it is to make something precisely symmetrical. We value symmetry so highly in part because it’s really hard to achieve. Here are five of the most symmetrical objects humans have ever crafted, and why they were so hard to make. 1. […]

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    Can You Identify These Cities From Their Light Signatures?

    The light that a city emits is like its glowing fingerprint. From the orderly grid of Manhattan, to the sprawling, snaking streets of Milan, to the bright contrast of Kuwait’s ring-roads, each city leaves its own pattern of tiny glowing dots. See if you can ID these cities based on the way they shine.   […]