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Popular Science

Popular Science

Fall 2020

This is the most exciting time to be alive in history. Get Popular Science digital magazine subscription today and see why. By taking an upbeat, solutions-oriented look at today's most audacious science and revolutionary technology, we forecast what tomorrow will be like. We deliver the future now.

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4 Edities

in deze editie

2 min.
methods, not madness

YEARS BEFORE TRUE-CRIME podcasts sent hordes of listeners-​turned-​internet-​sleuths onto message boards, my brother and I spent our weeknights cross-​legged on the living room floor, glued to Unsolved Mysteries. Host Robert Stack narrated real-life tales of cold cases, hauntings, and UFO sightings set against archival images, interviews, and re-​creations of the events. At its peak, nearly 17 million people tuned in. NBC canceled the show in 1997 after a 10-year run. But it keeps coming back; networks have reincarnated the series four times. Despite host changes (the recent Netflix reboot eschews one altogether) and production upgrades, much has remained the same—most importantly a request that viewers call in with any information that might help solve cases. There are a lot of scientific notions, mostly psychological, that explain the true crime genre’s longevity and…

2 min.
contributors

1. Riley Black • Megalodon, a 50-foot shark known as the T. rex of the seas, almost certainly ceased to exist around 3 million years ago. But on page 46, writer and amateurpaleontologist Riley Black poses the question: What if this toothy beast is still around? It’s the kind of topic she’s been considering since middle school, when she became obsessed with dinosaurs. In college Black poured that passion into a blog and eventually a career reporting magazine articles and books, the latest of which is Skeleton Keys. She now spends her summers wandering the desert, digging up fossils: “It’s a way to time travel,” she reflects. 2. Tomi Um • It took four years for the career of Brooklyn-​based illustrator Tomi Um to take off, but when it did, it was as…

2 min.
where we've 'found' atlantis

PLATO FIRST DESCRIBED THElost kingdom of Atlantis in 360 BCE. He wrote of a mountainous island crafted by Poseidon, filled with elephants and gold. But around 9,000 years prior, he claimed, earthquakes and floods sank the city into the sea. He probably made the whole thing up. Still, that hasn’t stopped Atlantologists from gathering “evidence” of its existence. Inspiration abounds: Coastal towns collapse and islands submerge, whether from rising oceans or sinking shorelines. These lost lands offer a setting for theories on where the city may once have stood. 1/Bimini Road In the mid-’60s, divers encountered a remarkably straight half mile of evenly spaced, uniform stones. Carbon dating and a lack of tool marks suggest natural erosion is responsible, but some believe it’s from a sunken civilization. 2/Souss-Massa plain A 2008 analysis of…

1 min.
visions in the night

YOU DREAM FOR TWO HOURS every night, but for something so common, it’s a remarkably enigmatic process. Only in the past few decades, with the advance of technology like fMRIs that lets us record and visualize activity in the brain, have neuroscientists begun to figure out how and why we experience these reveries. While sleepy interludes seem to rely on many of the same mental processes we use while awake, researchers are still trying to understand the way they work together during slumber. Here’s how we think our brains drive our nocturnal hallucinations. A/Remember Dreams tap memories stored in connections between brain cells, which the hippocampus tracks as they form. At night it directs neurons to replay recollections, facilitating long-​term storage. That could be why reality seeps into our visions—​but not why…

1 min.
how life began

WE KNOW LIFE GOT ITS START around 4 billion years ago, when a drop in the Earth’s temperature produced conditions that allowed the first organisms to thrive. Beyond that, the details of our origin story are still fuzzy. Most researchers agree that the key to the emergence of living things lies in DNA’s single-stranded cousin, RNA. At some point this molecule, along with a handful of proteins, found itself surrounded by a membrane of fatty acids. This was the first protocell, which over time would develop the ability to generate its own energy, allowing it to grow and reproduce. Every single plant, animal, and itty-bitty bacterium on the planet is descended from that incredibly simple original organism. The exact trajectory very early life took isn’t entirely clear. This flowchart shows what we…

1 min.
alien art?

IF YOU FLY OVER THE DESERT on the southern coast of Peru, you’ll spot dozens of line drawings, stretching hundreds of feet across the arid landscape. The Nazca people created these images—​depicting such characters as a whale, a hummingbird, and an astronaut-​esque man—nearly 2,000 years ago. The etchings may have ​served as a massive astronomical calendar or offered tribute to the gods, though their actual purpose still eludes historians. While some suspect alien interference, the methods the Nazca used probably aren’t quite so far-fetched. 1/Planning One theory holds that artists first painted these designs on canvas. They could sketch an image, then scale it up proportionally with some type of grid system, as today’s architects do with blueprints. They’d use poles and rope to map the lines across the desert. 2/Creation To create straight…