Nasa has just rejected missions to moons of Jupiter and Neptune – here’s what we would have found out

A volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io. NASA/JPL/DLR It’s been 30 years since Nasa last visited Venus, with the Magellan orbiter in 1990. Now, two new missions have been selected to explore the deadly atmosphere, crushing pressures and volcanic landscape. The process dates back to February 2020, when Nasa announced that four missions were to undergo a nine-month peer-review process for feasibility. They were all part of the Discovery program, started by Nasa in 1992 to bring together scientists and engineers to create exciting, groundbreaking missions. Set aside from the flagship missions – such as Curiosity and Perseverance – the…

It’s far too easy for abusers to exploit smart toys and trackers

JpegPhotographer/Shutterstock The wearable technology market is booming, with half a billion wearables sold globally in 2020. Apps on these devices, or the devices themselves, often claim to monitor our health to spot illnesses, track our workouts to help us reach our fitness goals, or keep an eye on our children’s whereabouts to enhance their safety. But they’re also divisive. Supporters of wearable technology claim that health trackers should be prescribed by the NHS and could even deliver an early warning of a possible COVID-19 infection. GPS tracking devices designed to be worn by children, meanwhile, are seen as a safety…

Nasa has announced two missions to Venus by 2030 – here’s why that’s exciting

NASA/JPL For decades, the exploration of our solar system left one of our neighbouring planets, Venus, largely unexplored. Now, things are about to change. In the latest announcement from Nasa’s solar system exploration program, two missions have been given the go-ahead – and they’re both bound for Venus. The two ambitious missions will launch between 2028 and 2030. This marks a considerable change in direction for Nasa’s planetary science division, which hasn’t sent a mission to the planet since 1990. It’s exciting news for space scientists like me. Venus is a hostile world. Its atmosphere contains sulphuric acid and the…

Is it time to give up on consciousness as ‘the ghost in the machine’?

ImagesRouges/Shutterstock As individuals, we feel that we know what consciousness is because we experience it daily. It’s that intimate sense of personal awareness we carry around with us, and the accompanying feeling of ownership and control over our thoughts, emotions and memories. But science has not yet reached a consensus on the nature of consciousness – which has important implications for our belief in free will and our approach to the study of the human mind. Beliefs about consciousness can be roughly divided into two camps. There are those who believe consciousness is like a ghost in the machinery of…

Mental health: pressure to return to the office could be making employees more anxious

Shutterstock/GoodStudio After a year of social distancing, mask wearing and – for millions – working from home, many employers are eager to bring their staff back to the office. But for many, the prospect of readjusting to in-person work is a daunting one. A recent survey found that out of 4,553 office workers in five different countries, every single person reported feeling anxious about the idea of returning to in-person work. Employers face a conflict of interest. On the one hand, they want to look after their employees’ health and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. While on the other,…

Geometrically baffling ‘quasicrystals’ found in the debris of the first-ever nuclear blast

The heat and pressure generated by a nuclear explosion can produce unusual chemical curiosities. United States Department of Energy/wikimedia Nuclear detonations unleash an astonishing amount of destructive force. But the extreme pressure and temperature that they generate also makes nuclear blasts a cauldron of chemical creation, capable of delivering new and surprising scientific discoveries. In the 1950s, for instance, scientists examining debris from US hydrogen bomb tests found two new elements, which now occupy numbers 99 and 100 in the periodic table. They named them after prominent nuclear scientists: einsteinium for Albert Einstein, and fermium for Enrico Fermi. Now, scientists…

We performed magic tricks on birds to see how they perceive the world

Shutterstock/Piotr Krzeslak Magic tricks can teach us about how the brain works. Magic capitalises on very specific blind spots in people’s attention and perception so the techniques that magicians use to trick audiences are particularly interesting to psychologists like me. Misdirection, for example, relies on the control of the audience’s attention to fool them. A magician will divert the audience’s attention away from things that show how the trick is done, towards the effect they want them to see. This and other magic techniques can reveal important characteristics of how our minds work. But magic tricks might also be a…

Stressed pets: how to keep your dogs relaxed when leaving them alone

Shutterstock/James Kirkikis People around the world have been spending more time at home since the start of 2020. For many of these people, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a pet. In the UK alone, an estimated 3.2 million households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. Dogs were the most popular new acquisition (57%) with cats a close second (38%). This sudden increase in pet ownership raises concerns about pet welfare. Puppies acquired during lockdown have been missing out on critical socialisation experiences and training, which is known to be associated with stress-induced behaviours…

How we discovered a giant new crustacean scavenging on the deepest depths of the ocean floor

_Eurythenes atacamensis_, a giant scavenging amphipod from hadal depths of the Peru-Chile Trench. Alan Jamieson, Author provided Discovering a new species and placing it on the tree of life is a big responsibility. I have been fortunate to name four species from some of the deepest, most remote and least sampled parts of the ocean. Each new species helps us uncover how life thrives in the hadal zone (anywhere deeper than 6,000 metres or 3.7 miles). Now, let me introduce you to Eurythenes atacamensis. Eurythenes atacamensis is an amphipod, a type of crustacean closely related to a shrimp, endemic to…

Growing human embryos in the lab and why scientists just tweaked the rules – podcast

Illustration of an early stage human embryo. nobeastsofierce via Shutterstock In this week’s episode of The Conversation Weekly, as new scientific guidelines are released on embryo research and the use of stem cells, we talk to experts about what’s changed – including a recommendation to relax the 14-day time limit for human embryo research. And we hear about a wave of romantic comedy films emerging from South Africa that are re-imagining the city of Johannesburg. It’s been five years since the last set of guidelines from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) were published. Since then, scientists have…

Robots have grasped and manipulated the imagination since 1839

Science fiction was prescient about many aspects of grasping and manipulation, but can it keep up with new advances? Source: Science Mag: Robots have grasped and manipulated the imagination since 1839

Getting a grip on reality

The ability to reliably grasp and manipulate novel objects is a grand challenge for robotics. Source: Science Mag: Getting a grip on reality