BBC Science Focus Magazine February 2020

With accessible features illustrated with the world’s best photography, BBC Focus Magazine explains the theory behind scientific phenomena and really brings science to life. In every issue you’ll find news of the latest major scientific developments, a lively Q&A section plus exclusive and astonishing photographic reports that range from the breathtaking to the downright odd.

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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from the editor

Where does consciousness come from? It’s the big, unanswered question at the heart of psychology. We have a picture of how our brain senses the world around it, how it creates and recalls memories and how emotions take shape. But ask a psychologist what makes us self-aware, and you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. Some say it’s an illusion, others say it’s a by-product of our brain’s mechanics, and some even think consciousness could be the result of quantum physics. The wide-ranging nature of these theories, and indeed the slippery nature of consciousness itself, makes things tricky. That’s why one institution has created what, from the outside, looks like a science Battle Royale. A dozen or so theories will go head-to-head, in what’s called adversarial collaboration. In this…

on the bbc this month...

The Touch Test Launched last month by Claudia Hammond (pictured) on BBC Radio 4, The Touch Test is a survey commissioned by the Wellcome Collection that will explore attitudes towards physical touch and help researchers understand the role that the sense plays in health and wellbeing. To join in, take the online questionnaire at The Curious Cases Of Rutherford & Fry Back for their 15th series, geneticist Adam Rutherford and mathematician Hannah Fry answer questions from curious listeners. In episode one, they find out the origin of gold. BBC Radio Four, Wednesdays at 9:30am and 8:45pm Nature Table A comedic celebration of all things natural history, featuring staff, stories and animals from London Zoo. Sue Perkins adds fun and frivolity to flora and fauna. BBC Radio Four, Mondays at 6:30pm COVER: VICTOR SOMA THIS PAGE:…


STUART CLARK Last year a mysterious object visited us from another solar system. Astronomy journalist Stuart investigates the mission that could get us a closer look if such an object passes by again. p68 DR ELISA RAFFAELLA FERRÈ With commercial spaceflight on the horizon, researchers are racing to discover what living off-Earth might do to our brains. Psychologist Elisa explains what her experiments on the Vomit Comet reveal about the impact of gravity on our cognition. p58 HAYLEY BENNETT Commercial fishing is bad for the environment, so what would happen if we banned it entirely? Science writer Hayley investigates. p75 ROB BANINO How do you prepare for space exploration? Simple: you recreate the conditions on Earth, as science journalist Rob finds out. p44…

eye opener

Quest for camel-lot RUMAH,SAUDI ARABIA Eager buyers surround a herd of camels in the Ad-Dahna desert of Saudi Arabia, during the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rumah. Camel racing and the ‘Miss Camel’ beauty competition are highlights of the festival. A long neck, delicate ears, full lips and a shapely hump are all criteria for the most beautiful camel. The festival was rocked with scandal in 2018 when a dozen camels were disqualified from the beauty contest due to the discovery of cosmetic enhancement – owners had injected botox into the camels’ lips, to make the animals’ pouts look more alluring. Camels are a proud symbol of Saudi Arabia and the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival is the world’s largest, and richest, camel festival. It’s a sprawling six-week event for the country’s elite, with prize-winning…

letter of the month

In the first issue of 2010, we made predictions about what life in 10 years’ time would be like. You can read the article at Freya Whiteford was 12 when she stashed away a copy of the magazine, and in January 2020 she took to Twitter to reveal how accurate we were. “Customised travel data isn’t at all a bad shout, but in the real 2020 I just get push notifications on my phone about Glasgow traffic to me, noted pedestrian.” “Admittedly pretty spot on – if you told 12-year-old me that the Freya of today has never owned a TV, she’d wonder where I went wrong.” Freya Whiteford (@rooksoup), via Twitter…


“WE SPOT THE MOON FROM EARTH ALMOST EVERY NIGHT. CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW BEAUTIFUL IT MIGHT BE SEEING OUR PLANET FROM THERE?” DR ELISA RAFFAELLA FERRÈ , p58 Old hat? Reading ‘Why positivity is overrated’ (December, p77) I was suddenly reminded of the poem IFby Rudyard Kipling written in 1895. The second verse goes: “If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim.” There you have, in a couple of lines, what has taken Dr Gabrielle Oettingen 20 years of research to discover. Perhaps the good doctor should read more poetry? Kipling was well aware of this 125 years ago. Makes you think, doesn’t it? George Ford, Durham, via email Live fast I’ve been reading Dr Michael Mosley’s column for some time…