Science Friday

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion with host Ira Flatow.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015 Permalink

Science Friday: General Relativity, Your Health, And Interstellar Tourism

One Hundred Years of General Relativity

Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity 100 years ago. The theory has shaped the idea of black holes, pulsars, and modern cosmology. Science historian David Kaiser guides us through the history of Einstein’s insight, and physicists Michael Turner and Alex Filippenko discuss where the theory might take us in the future.

Dawn Arrives at Ceres

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft slips into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres this week after a seven-and-a-half year journey. Over the coming months, the craft is slated to observe Ceres from closer and closer orbits, finishing at an orbit similar to that of the International Space Station around Earth. Mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman gives an update on the mission, and tells us what to expect from the upcoming observations.

Avoid the Doctor—for Your Health

How much medical care is too much medical care? It's a personal decision, of course. But as physician H. Gilbert Welch writes in his new book, Less Medicine, More Health, the more scans, biopsies, and genetic tests you get, the higher the odds that doctors will discover something abnormal about you. After all, Welch says, "We can always find something wrong with patients. The natural part of being human is abnormality." And chances are, there's a pharmaceutical or surgical fix to your abnormality—a fix that may ultimately harm you more than the aberrant condition itself. The key, Welch says, is striking the right balance between too much health care and too little.

The Interstellar Tourist’s Guide to Exoplanets

With more than a thousand exoplanets now in our sights, PRI’s The Takeawayasks: “What would it be like to visit them?” Host John Hockenberry joins Ira to share some of the educated guesses that astronomers Sarah Ballard and Natalie Batalha have made about what it might be like to vacation on Kepler-438b or KOI 314.02. You can hear all The Takeaway's stories from their week exploring exoplanets here

Fossil Jaw Turns Back Clock on Human Evolution

The fossil record linking Australopithecus specimens like Lucy to Homo, the genus to which humans belong, is spotty. But a newly discovered fossil jaw provides a glimpse at that little-known time period between two and three million years ago, and pushes the date of Homo's appearance to 2.8 million years ago—400,000 years earlier than previous estimates. Brian Villmoare and colleagues describe the fossil in Science Express.

Balancing Surveillance: Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

The NSA, Facebook, and Google are constantly mining our personal information for surveillance and advertising purposes, among other goals. Is it possible to keep our data secure in the digital age? Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert and author of Data and Goliath, says, “We need to examine our own fears and decide how much of our privacy we are really willing to sacrifice for convenience.” Read an excerpt from his book here

Mysteries of the Mars Plume

Wayne Jaescke, a patent attorney and amateur astronomer, captured a photo of a wispy cloud rising 120 miles into the Martian atmosphere. The plume has baffled scientists, because clouds are usually confined to an altitude of 60 miles. Jaescke describes how he discovered the plume and how it might have occurred.