Category: Science

First Man and the Sci-Fi–Science Feedback Loop

Friday’s release of First Man, in which Ryan Gosling reenacts the true story of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, is in some ways a classic example of art imitating life. But many viewers may not realize that Armstrong’s real-life journey to the moon also imitated art. The figure-eight trajectory flown by the Apollo moon missions was the very…

The Maya Kept Jaguar Zoos For Centuries

In the Maya city of Copán, at the base of a 30-meter-tall pyramid, there’s a beautiful stone slab known as Altar Q. The altar is square, and each of its meter-wide faces preserve carvings of 4 of the city’s 16 rulers, including its final king Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat, who commissioned the structure in 776. It was as much propaganda…

Puppy Cuteness Is Perfectly Timed to Manipulate Humans

“All puppies are cute,” explains Clive Wynne, the head of Arizona State University’s canine-science laboratory. “But not all puppies are equally cute.” Indeed, breeders have long found that puppies become their cutest selves at the eight-week mark; any older, and some breeders offer a discount to bolster would-be owners’ weakened desire. Such fine-tuned preferences might seem arbitrary, even cruel. But…

A Controversial Virus Study Reveals a Critical Flaw in How Science Is Done

Last year, the world learned that researchers led by David Evans from the University of Alberta had resurrected a virus called horsepox. The virus hasn’t been seen in nature for decades, but Evans’s team assembled it using genetic material that they ordered from a company that synthesizes DNA. The work caused a huge stir. Horsepox is harmless to people, but…

Is There an Ancient Human in This Bag Full of Bones?

In 2014, two archeologists, Katerina Douka and Tom Higham, paid a visit to Denisova Cave—a site high up in Siberia’s Altai Mountains that has become something of a magnet for scientists interested in humanity’s past. A decade ago, researchers found a pinky bone in the cave. After analyzing its DNA, they realized it represented a previously unknown group of ancient…