Popular Science Fall 2019

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4 Numeri

in questo numero

1 min
a case for the edge

I’LL BE REAL HONEST WITH you; we cooked up this issue as an excuse to talk about UFOs. Here are some names we considered: The UFO Issue. Invasions. Aliens. Weird Science. We soon hit some snags. Or one big snag, really. PopSci writes about things that exist, and it got really clear really quick that we couldn’t fill 100 pages with verifiable stories of unidentified flying objects and alien incursions. We drifted toward Invasions, but that quickly skewed biological and pushed out a lot of the cool space stuff we wanted to cover. Aliens gave us the same problem (ironic!), and Weird Science seemed too judgmental. Eventually, we settled on what you have in front of you: Out There. And whoa, was that ever a good choice. Keep reading, and you’ll soon be…

1 min

Josh Dean “I like interesting people taking big swings in worlds we don’t know about,” writer Josh Dean says. The subject of his PopSci feature is certainly swinging big: a man on a quest to be the first person to reach the deepest points in each of Earth’s five oceans. This type of story drives Dean as a journalist. In books like The Taking of K-129 and magazine articles, he takes readers along to esoteric settings such as a deep-sea wreck in the Pacific, or an elephant polo field in Nepal. But he’s most intrigued by the determined humans he finds in those places. Tom McNamara How should we communicate with civilizations living as far off as 10,000 years from now? Tom McNamara’s feature explores the answers to that question; they include a…

2 min
the casual observers

BASE READING One data-analytics researcher found that 61 percent of NUFORC sighting reports occurred within 24 miles of a military installation, suggesting government aircraft as likely culprits. But the concentration may have more to do with population density than topsecret jets. Many sites are mostly bases for outfits like the Air and Army national guards, which tend to be near human-dense areas and which probably aren’t hosting futuristic flight testing (and are likely not of particular interest to alien visitors). THEY COME AT NIGHT Nearly three-quarters of saucer reports with a timestamp happen in the dark, but not necessarily because aliens hide in shadows. Humans are simply more likely to stare at the sky between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Temperate weather, leisure time, longer nights, and higher populations are the biggest factors…

2 min
aliens among us

THE MORE WE LEARN ABOUT OTHER species, the less impressive even our sharpest sensory powers become. Take sight: Pit vipers have infrared vision, bees can view ultraviolet light, and electric eels use their zaps to “see” through the murky waters of the Amazon. These ani mals and others have evolved to experience aspects of the world that sit beyond the borders of our perception. And some of their superpowers would be downright awful if ported over to a human: Imagine having taste receptors all over your body, as is the case for a catfish. (Public restrooms? No, thank you.) Still, it’s easy to envy the fantastic abilities of some of these critters.…

3 min
staring into a cosmic abyss

IT’S HARD TO SNEAK A PEEK OF A BLACK HOLE.Not even light—the fastest known thing in the universe—can escape its gargantuan gravitational pull. “You’ve got something that is just designed not to give up its secrets,” says Shep Doeleman, senior research fellow at Harvard University and director of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In April 2019, Doeleman and his colleagues spilled the beans, revealing to the world the first image of a supermassive black hole. The behemoth in question sits 55 million light-years away in the M87 galaxy in the constellation Virgo. This big reveal could help answer some of our heftiest questions about the universe. Astrophysicists coined the term “black hole” in 1967, and there’s a reason the elusive beasts have fascinated us for the…

1 min
whomst’d’ve thought?

THE INTERNET LOVES TO CREATE words, but it can also bring aged terms back from the fringes—with a twist. Take “whomst’d’ve” (that’s whom+did+have). It sounds like a joke (and it is), but it’s also an example of how language is living and growing before our screen-gazing eyes. Originally, “whom” indicated when “who” was an object (“they saw whom?”) instead of a subject (“who saw them?”). But we don’t use such “-m” forms elsewhere—youm and whichm, anyone?—so people use “whom” less and less. Now it often just serves to make a phrase sound fancier, which the net is stretching to new extremes. Where will it all end? Whomst knows! “Whom” has played a smaller and smaller role in literature, as shown here. But any grumbling about the shift is liable to look…