August 3rd, 2015

Why Your Brain Thinks This Picture Shows a Giant, Martian Crab Monster TIME


It’s definitely not a giant crab lurking in a cave. In fact, it’s just one more example of the sometimes whimsical, always spooky phenomenon known as pareidolia, or the tendency of the brain to see familiar shapes—especially faces—emerging from random patterns.

In fairness to the folks freaked out by the current image, a crab is not a face and the brain has to work a little harder to force that image out of the background shapes, but it does the job all the same—just as it will interpret a branch in the underbrush as a snake or a shadow in the closet as a monster. Your pattern recognition regions are not the smartest part of your brain, but they’re not designed to be. They only have to be right once, and on the off chance you ever do run across a bear in the woods or a crab monster on Mars, you’ll have your fusiform gyri to thank for keeping you alive.

February 17th, 2015

Towering Plume Spotted on Mars Remains a Mystery TIME

It’s not often astronomers are completely stumped—especially when it comes to Mars. The planet that once held nothing but mysteries has been yielding up more and more of its secrets, thanks to the storm of probes we’ve sent its way over the decades, including the seven that are now orbiting it or trundling about on its surface. But something’s up with Mars at the moment—or at least something was up not long ago—and nobody seems able to explain it. That’s the beats-me conclusion a team of investigators reached in a new paper in Nature, when they attempted to explain a freakish plume that appeared in the Martian atmosphere in March and April of 2012, and might have occurred in 1997 as well.

March 20th, 2013

Mars Rover Curiosity Stands Down After New Problem TIME

After recovering from a computer problem, the Mars rover Curiosity is sidelined again, further delaying the restart of science experiments.
The latest complication occurred over the weekend when the six-wheel rover entered safe mode after experiencing a software file error.
Curiosity remained in contact with ground controllers, but it can’t zap rocks, snap pictures or roam around until the problem is fixed. Rover team members had expected to resume activities Monday, but they now have to wait a bit longer — perhaps until the end of the week.

October 9th, 2012

Cosmic Old Faithful: Are There Geysers on Mars? TIME

Dramatic images going wide for the first time tell a surprising tale of Martian eruptions. The pictures doing the dazzling today were shot by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in 2010 and show the predictable — if beautiful — rusty dunes of the Martian surface, sculpted like snowdrifts from the planet’s tenuous but persistent wind. The scene is broken up, however, buy strange, black, spidery blemishes scattered randomly about. From orbit they look tiny, but on the ground they’d be huge — surely larger than a football field. It’s partly their very ugliness that makes them eye-catching and partly the mystery of what causes them. Actually, however, that last part is likely no mystery at all — and the source of the features is one more indication of how complex a planet Mars is turning out to be.

December 12th, 2008

Does Obama Want to Ground NASA’s Next Moon Mission? TIME

Getting into a shouting match with the HR rep is not exactly the best way to land a job. But according to the Orlando Sentinel, that’s just what happened last week between NASA administrator Mike Griffin and Lori Garver, a member of Barack Obama’s transition team who will help decide if Griffin keeps his post once the President-elect takes office. If the contretemps did occur, it could help doom not only the NASA chief’s chances, but the space agency’s ambitious plans to get Americans back to the moon.

May 28th, 2004

The Moisture Merchant TIME

Hyflux, one of the hottest firms in the Asian water market, in association with a U.S. group, began manufacturing a condensing device called the Dragonfly, which produces potable water by extracting moisture from air

March 11th, 2004

The Blueberries of Mars TIME

Photographs of Mars shot from orbit show vast plains that resemble ancient sea floors, steep gorges that would dwarf the Grand Canyon and sinuous surface scars that look an awful lot like dry riverbeds. Given all that, why were NASA scientists so excited last week to announce that one of their Mars rovers, having crawled across the planet for five weeks, finally determined that Mars, at some point in its deep past, was indeed “drenched”–to use NASA’s term

January 13th, 2004

Return To Mars TIME

It’s a safe bet the herd of deer that wandered onto the grounds of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (J.P.L.) in Pasadena, Calif., last week had no idea what was going on when a team of scientists burst into a courtyard, cheering and high-fiving over the successful landing of the Spirit rover on the surface of Mars.

October 27th, 2003

Taking the High Ground TIME

China’s great leap skyward

August 3rd, 2003

How Cities Make Their Own Weather TIME

When Houston is hit by a sudden storm, the city may be partly to blame. Increasingly, urban centers don’t merely endure bad weather; they help create it. Researchers believe the phenomenon may be more common now than ever before. Scientists have known for 200 years that the temperature in a city can be higher than that in its environs

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