Popular Science

Popular Science

Summer 2021

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4 Números

en este número

2 min.
another scorcher

AROUND THE 100TH BIRTHDAY of a close friend’s grandmother, we asked her to name the single greatest invention she’d seen in her lifetime. She’d been around when the first cars rolled off Ford’s assembly line, when commercial airliners made flying across the country or around the globe an everyday occurrence, and as person-to-person communication moved from copper lines to cell towers. Despite how much change she’d lived through, her reply came quickly and without hesitation: air conditioning. An artificial oasis cooled to a brisk 68 degrees on a blazing summer afternoon? Nothing could compare. For all the comfort it’s brought, though, AC is the quintessential example of the complicated relationship modern humans have with heat. Our desire for indoor chill in the steamy months feeds into the very problem it was conceived…

3 min.
how do you study a volcano when your office is in its path?

SINCE ITS FORMATION IN 1983, Kīlauea’s Pu‘u‘ō‘ō cone had risen and fallen as magma fluctuated throughout the volcano’s vibrant East Rift Zone. But on April 30, 2018, Pu‘u‘ō‘ō announced its retirement with a rumble. The once-brimming basin drained down into the earth like an unclogged sink. Newly liberated lava crept from the summit toward the Big Island’s eastern tip. Soon Leilani Estates, a community of around 2,000, would confront the eruption firsthand. Fissures exploded with ash, noxious gas, and molten lava across roads and into backyards. Pu‘u‘ō‘ō’s swan song ultimately destroyed some 700 homes. Then the foundation of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO)—​established by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 1912—began to crack. On May 16 the staff was forced to evacuate. “We scattered to the winds and took what we could…

2 min.
what does the hottest day at the north pole mean for the world?

ON DAYS WHEN ARCTIC temperatures soar above their usual summer peak of 40-something degrees Fahrenheit, the tundra turns into an unrecognizable mess. The dissolving permafrost releases mudslides, and wildfire smoke chokes the air. Such was the case on June 20, 2020, when the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk—known for being one of the coldest inhabited areas on the planet—hit 100.4ºF. Las Vegas recorded the same temperature that day. Being so far from human pollution, the top of the Earth was once considered safe from climate change, says Rob Huebert, a circumpolar-security researcher and professor at the University of Calgary in Canada. But as ocean and air currents pulled in contaminants from more populated places and cargo ships ventured north, the region slowly grew warmer. Between 1970 and 2019, temperatures rose about 5.6ºF—triple…

2 min.
why did everyone’s favorite burn-proof material backfire?

WHEN YOU’VE BEEN publishing for a century and a half, some off-base ideas are going to creep into your pages. We’re diving into the archives to give you a fresher take on “popular science.” Macedonians shrouded their dead with it. The Greeks spun fabrics from it. Inuits shaped wicks out of it. And by the early 1900s, asbestos became the do-it-all material in modern goods like soundproof tiles, automobile brakes, and firefighting suits. Its flame resistance made the bedrock silicate the stuff of lore, drawing praise from builders, manufacturers, and even Popular Science. “With asbestos armor and tools men can fight the fiercest fires known since first the disgruntled Prometheus stole the pyric secret from the gods,” contributor Orville H. Kneen wrote in the December 1927 issue. “That is why when oil…

1 min.
skin savers

Kiss cooler Ingesting sunblock is gross, but your lips can sear too. With flavors like pineapple and Key lime, the Sun Bum Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30 makes it more likely that you’ll cover your kisser. Face filters Maui Jim Onshore Sunglasses sport glare-killing lenses and a frame that curves to meet the contours of your face. The close fit prevents reflected light from roasting your eyeballs—which, yes, can burn. Cool cover-up A tight weave of recycled polyester gives the Patagonia SunshadeTechnical Hoody the best possible ultraviolet protection, stopping more than 98 percent of harmful rays. The hood offers plenty of room for a cap. Hoops goop Sweat obliterates sunscreen, but ThinkSport Safe Sunscreen can endure more than 60 minutes of hard exercise before wearing off because it contains 20 percent ray-deflecting zinc oxide. Nice cream Lotions labeled “broad-spectrum”…

1 min.
keep the ice in your device

GADGETS, LIKE PEOPLE, don’t like overheating. Running at excessive temps can decrease performance, damage components, and shorten a device’s life span. That’s why laptops use heat sinks, fans, and vents to modulate temperature, and most computers, phones, and tablets shut down when they begin to swelter. That said, prevention is the best strategy for avoiding long-term problems. On scorching days, keep your electronics off the ground and out of direct sunlight. Better yet, tuck them into the folds of a towel or stash them in a tote bag to block relentless rays. Juggling fewer tasks helps processors chill out, so shutting down power-hungry apps, disabling location tracking, and nixing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can help. A temperature-monitoring app can keep tabs on things. You should start worrying when a gadget exceeds 158°F, at…