Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moon

Science News, April 2017

The moon’s origin story does not add up. Most scientists think that the moon formed in the earliest days of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia whacked into the young Earth. The collision sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit, where the rubble eventually mingled and combined to form the moon.

Feature article on the mysteries surrounding the moon's formation. Adapted for Science News for Students.

Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearance

Science News, January 2017

Below the shimmering turquoise waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies the scene of a prehistoric mass murder. In a geologic instant, most animal and plant species perished. Drilling through hundreds of meters of rock, investigators have finally reached the footprint left by the accused: Earth’s most notorious space rock impact, Chicxulub. The dinosaur killer.

A feature article about new clues about the apocalyptic final days of the dinosaurs, including the first direct victims of the Chicxulub impact. Lead feature in a special issue on the K-Pg extinction. Cover story of issue. Adapted for Science News for Students. The special issue co-won the 2017 Eddie award for full-issue consumer magazine in science or technology.

Melissa Omand’s clever tech follows the fate of ocean carbon

Science News, September 2016

As chief scientist for a voyage of the research vessel Endeavor, oceanographer Melissa Omand oversaw everything from the deployment of robotic submarines to crew-member bunk assignments. The November 2015 expedition 150 kilometers off Rhode Island’s coast was collecting data for Omand’s ongoing investigations of the fate of carbon dioxide soaked up by the ocean.

New desalination tech could help quench global thirst

Science News, August 2016

The world is on the verge of a water crisis. Rainfall shifts caused by climate change plus the escalating water demands of a growing world population threaten society’s ability to meet its mounting needs. By 2025, the United Nations predicts, 2.4 billion people will live in regions of intense water scarcity, which may force as many as 700 million people from their homes in search of water by 2030. Those water woes have people thirstily eyeing the more than one sextillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans and some underground aquifers with high salt content.

A feature on emerging technologies such as graphene that could make desalination cheaper and more accessible. Cover story for issue.

How alien can a planet be and still support life?

Science News, April 2016

Just how fantastical a planet can be and still support recognizable life isn’t just a question for science fiction. Astronomers are searching the stars for otherworldly inhabitants, and they need a road map. Which planets are most likely to harbor life? That’s where geoscientists’ imaginations come in. Applying their knowledge of how our world works and what allows life to flourish, they are envisioning what kind of other planetary configurations could sustain thriving biospheres.

A feature story on how unearthly mechanisms could keep planets habitable well outside the traditional "Goldilocks" zone.

Changing climate: 10 years after An Inconvenient Truth

Science News, April 2016

More than 25 years before the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson was about as far away from the red carpet as possible. It was 1978, and high in the rugged Andes, Thompson and fellow scientists were witnessing the first glimpses of a pending worldwide disaster. Rising temperatures were melting ancient titans of ice and snow. Mammoth glaciers were disappearing at unprecedented rates and withering to the smallest sizes in millennia. The delicate balance of Earth’s climate was upset.

A feature story on a decade of climate discoveries since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Published in print edition as well as a special online package. Cover story of issue.

New fascination with Earth’s ‘Boring Billion’

Science News, October 2015

Earth’s long history starts with an epic preamble: A collision with a Mars-sized space rock rips into the young planet and jettisons debris that forms the moon. Over the next few billion years, plot twists abound. The oceans form. Life appears. Solar-powered microbes breathe oxygen into the air. Colossal environmental shifts reshape the planet’s surface and drive the evolution of early life.

A feature article on Earth's so-called boring billion, a seemingly uneventful time in the planet's history that's now the setting of a fierce debate between scientists over what delayed the rise of animals: evolution or the environment.

Shinsei Ryu: Error-free quantum calculations

Science News, September 2015

On the boundary between the quantum and everyday realms, things don’t always make a whole lot of sense. The bundles of particles that make up materials behave in ways both unexpected and unexplained. This is the weird world that theoretical physicist Shinsei Ryu hopes to bring into focus.

The magnetic mystery at the center of the Earth

Science News, September 2015

Earth’s depths are a hellish place. More than 5,000 kilometers belowground, the iron-rich core scorches at temperatures comparable to the sun’s surface and crushes at pressures akin to the weight of 20 blue whales balanced on a postage stamp.

A feature article on a baffling paradox surrounding Earth's core and magnetic field. Published in both online and print editions. Accompanied by a list of the magnetic fields around the solar system's other rocky worlds.

Together, Math and Science Foundations Fund ‘Tabletop’ Physics That Could Transform Our Understanding of the Universe

Simons Foundation, December 2023

Physics breakthroughs don’t always require city-sized particle colliders or giant radio telescope arrays. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Simons Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation have partnered to fund 11 innovative “tabletop” experiments, many of which will explore realms of physics typically probed by large-scale facilities.

Why you can hear and see meteors at the same time

Science News, June 2017

For centuries, skywatchers have reported seeing and simultaneously hearing meteors whizzing overhead, which doesn’t make sense given that light travels roughly 800,000 times as fast as sound. Now scientists say they have a potential explanation for the paradox.

Ice particles shaped like lollipops fall from clouds

Science News, May 2017

Right now, somewhere in the world, it could be raining lollies. A 2009 research flight through clouds above the British Isles gathered ice particles with an unusually sweet look. Each millimeter-sized particle consisted of a stick-shaped piece of ice with a single water droplet frozen on the end, giving it the appearance of a lollipop. Atmospheric scientist Stavros Keppas of the University of Manchester in England and colleagues report the discovery of the atmospheric confections in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf forks

Science News, May 2017

The 180-kilometer-long crack threatening one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves has branched out, new satellite observations reveal. The main rift in the Larsen C ice shelf hasn’t grown longer since February. But radar mapping shows that a second crack has split off from the main rupture like a snake’s forked tongue, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported May 1. That second branch, which stretches around 15 kilometers, didn’t exist on radar maps taken six days earlier, the scientists say.

Here’s how an asteroid impact would kill you

Science News, May 2017

It won’t be a tsunami. Nor an earthquake. Not even the crushing impact of the space rock. No, if an asteroid kills you, gusting winds and shock waves from falling and exploding space rocks will most likely be to blame. That’s one of the conclusions of a recent computer simulation effort that investigated the fatality risks of more than a million possible asteroid impacts.

‘Fossil’ groundwater is not immune to modern-day pollution

Science News, April 2017

Groundwater that has lingered in Earth’s depths for more than 12,000 years is surprisingly vulnerable to modern pollution from human activities. Once in place, that pollution could stick around for thousands of years, researchers report online April 25 in Nature Geoscience. Scientists previously assumed such deep waters were largely immune to contamination from the surface.

‘River piracy’ on a high glacier lets one waterway rob another

Science News, April 2017

Ahoy! There be liquid booty on the move in the high mountains. Since May 2016, a channel carved through one of northwestern Canada’s largest glaciers has allowed one river to pillage water from another, new observations reveal. This phenomenon, almost certainly the result of climate change, is the first modern record of river piracy caused by a melting glacier, researchers report online April 17 in Nature Geoscience. Such piracy was rampant as the colossal ice sheets of the Last Glacial Maximum began shrinking around 18,000 years ago.

Former MPS Board Member Avi Wigderson Receives Turing Award

Simons Foundation, April 2024

The Association for Computing Machinery has named Avi Wigderson the winner of the 2023 A.M. Turing Award for his “foundational contributions to the theory of computation, including reshaping our understanding of the role of randomness in computation and for his decades of intellectual leadership in theoretical computer science.”

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching event right now

Science News, April 2017

A severe coral bleaching event spurred by high ocean temperatures has struck the Great Barrier Reef for an unprecedented second time in 12 months, reveal aerial surveys released April 10 by scientists at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. While last year the northern third of the reef was hardest hit, this time around the reef’s midsection experienced the worst bleaching. The two bleaching events together span around 1,500 kilometers of the 2,300-kilometer-long reef.

Arctic sea ice hits record wintertime low

Science News, March 2017

Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for the third year in a row. It’s the paltriest maximum extent seen since recordkeeping began in 1979, scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced March 22.

Dual magma plumes fueled volcanic eruptions during final days of dinosaurs

Science News, February 2017

Not one but two rising plumes of magma from deep within the Earth fueled the titanic volcanic eruptions that marked the final days of the dinosaurs, new research suggests. The Deccan eruptions in what is now India, some scientists argue, helped wipe out most animal and plant species around 66 million years ago, including all nonbirdlike dinosaurs.

Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf nears breaking point

Science News, January 2017

One of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is nearing its breaking point, scientists warn. A colossal crack in the Larsen C ice shelf abruptly grew by 18 kilometers during the second half of December 2016, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported January 5. The crack is now only about 20 kilometers away from reaching Larsen C’s edge and snapping off a hunk of ice the size of Delaware.

CO2 emissions stay steady for third consecutive year

Science News, December 2016

Global emissions of carbon dioxide won’t increase much in 2016 despite overall economic growth, newly released bookkeeping suggests. The result marks a three-year-long plateau in the amount of CO2 released by human activities, scientists from the Global Carbon Project report November 14 in Earth System Science Data.

Solar panels are poised to be truly green

Science News, December 2016

The solar panel industry has nearly paid its climate debt. The technology will break even in terms of energy usage by 2017 and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 at the latest, if it hasn’t done so already, researchers calculate.

Graphic showing the location of two stars, Kronos and Krios. The chemical composition of Kronos suggests that the star consumed several of its rocky planets. Made in Photoshop using data from the STScI Digitized Sky Survey.

Infographic: ScienceWOW Facts

Science, February 2014

Infographics about cool science facts. Created in Adobe Photoshop.

Infographic demonstrating how the speech recognition system works on an iPad game built to help children born with cleft palates improve their speech. Created in Adobe Photoshop.