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Discover

Discover

December 2020

Discover Magazine will amaze you, enlighten you, and open your eyes to the awe and wonder of science and technology. Discover reveals secrets, solves mysteries, and debunks old myths. Discover shares new findings and shows you what makes our universe tick.

Land:
United States
Sprache:
English
Verlag:
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
Erscheinungsweise:
Monthly
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3 Min.
is the universe infinite?

When Galileo Galilei pointed his first telescope to the heavens in 1610, he discovered “congeries of innumerable stars” hidden in the band of light called the Milky Way. Our cosmos grew exponentially that day. Roughly three centuries later, the cosmic bounds exploded once again when astronomers built telescopes big enough to show the Milky Way is just one of many “island universes.” Soon they learned the universe was expanding, too, with galaxies retreating from each other at ever-accelerating speeds. Since then, ever-larger telescopes have shown the observable universe spans an incomprehensible 92 billion light-years across and contains perhaps 2 trillion galaxies. And yet, astronomers are still left wondering how much more universe is out there, beyond what they observe. “The universe has always been slightly larger than what we can see,” says…

6 Min.
anything but predictable

Curled up in misery, the 50-year-old man croaked out a few words. “Still bad, doc.” The man’s chief complaint had been nausea and vomiting. His condition prompted my favorite doctor trick: Take someone sick as the proverbial dog — retching, defecating, cramping — pump in IV anti-nausea meds and a few bags of saline, steep a few hours, and voila! New person. Given the ubiquity of stomach viruses and food poisoning, we see these unfortunate cases every day. Admittedly, bad things like sepsis and bowel obstruction can trigger vomiting. But for such a dramatic symptom, it’s considered benign until proven otherwise. So when Brian didn’t get better, I took it personally. His blood pressure also had spiked and wasn’t coming down as expected. “I couldn’t take my blood pressure meds,” he explained, still…

2 Min.
are we alone?

HUMANS HAVE, FOR MILLENNIA, LOOKED TO THE NIGHT SKIES AND SEEN THEMSELVES, THEIR GODS, THEIR PAST AND THEIR FUTURE. But they have not yet seen their neighbors. It’s not for a lack of trying. Sixty years ago, the official quest for such answers, aptly named the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), launched in Green Bank, West Virginia. Young astronomer Frank Drake trained a radio telescope on two sunlike stars, looking for hints of intelligent life. Drake’s pilot survey of a few months, called Project Ozma, had been inspired by physicists Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison, who published an article in 1959 in the journal Nature suggesting that if alien civilizations communicated long distance, they’d probably use radio waves, arguably the most efficient method of sending communications between stars at the time. Drake’s instruments…

13 Min.
looking for signs

LIMITS DON’T SIT WELL WITH AVI LOEB. The Harvard University astrophysicist doesn’t like being told that a problem is too difficult to solve or not worth pursuing. Nor does he like hearing that the search for intelligent life beyond Earth is pointless, since, as some argue, we’re clearly alone in the universe. The numbers suggest otherwise. Loeb quickly reels some off to me over the phone (handsfree) during a drive home from work: About 25 billion stars, roughly one-quarter of those that reside in the Milky Way, lie in a habitable zone. He rounds that down to an even 10 billion to keep the calculations simple. “And then there are about a trillion galaxies like the Milky Way,” he says, “which means there are about 1022 [10 billion trillion] planets in the…

13 Min.
science … or just fiction?

WHEN PHYSICIST AND AUTHOR STEPHEN WEBB WAS A KID in the 1960s, humans were finally reaching beyond Earth. Satellites orbited the planet. Rockets blasted people into space. Astronauts walked on the moon. And in the distance, Mars, with its red soil and hints of ancient water, titillated imaginations and beckoned Earthlings onward. “I grew up — I guess you’d say — in a science fictional world,” says Webb, a bald British man whose alternately arched and furrowed eyebrows can tell a story of excitement and confusion almost as well as words do. During that same childhood period, he was immersing himself in actual science fiction, in addition to this nonfictional reality that was so cool it seemed fake. He devoured books by canonical authors like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. In the…

9 Min.
talk to the hand

TAKE A MOMENT TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR HANDS. IT WILL BE TIME WELL SPENT, BECAUSE THEY ARE EVOLUTIONARY MARVELS. HOLD ONE UP AND EXAMINE IT. OPEN AND CLOSE IT. PLAY WITH YOUR FINGERS. TOUCH THE TIPS OF YOUR FOUR FINGERS WITH YOUR THUMB. ROTATE YOUR WRIST. YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO TURN IT 180 DEGREES WITH EASE. BALL YOUR HAND UP INTO A FIST UNTIL YOUR THUMB LIES ON TOP OF AND LENDS SUPPORT TO YOUR INDEX, MIDDLE AND RING FINGERS. THAT IS SOMETHING NO APE CAN DO. WE CAN DETECT UNEVEN SURFACES WITH OUR FINGERS THAT WE CANNOT SEE WITH OUR NAKED EYE. It is not only the flexibility granted by the fully opposable thumb that makes the human hand so special, but also its extraordinary ability to feel and…