Wonder on the Web

Issue 48: Links to amazing stuff.

Sailing the Stars

Scientists behind the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative (including physicist Stephen Hawking) now think “interstellar travel is a realistic and achievable aspiration, and not just the playground of science fiction,” Monica Grady writes for The Conversation. And they’re planning to make it happen via technology that already exists and works: solar sails. This kind of sailing would involve using sunlight to propel small spacecraft beyond our solar system and into the realm of neighboring stars. For now, the only passenger on such a sailing vessel would be a single, tiny microchip (“a ‘spacechip’ that is a spaceship,” as Grady puts it). It makes us want to marvel at the powerful starlight that surrounds us, as Steven Bailey does in this short film.

Genetic Superheroes

Just in time for summer blockbuster season and a new X-Men movie, The Economist on takes a look at “genetic superheroes.” Like Wolverine and Professor X, these rare individuals carry a mutation in their DNA. But their special powers involve overcoming that mutation. A massive project analyzing the DNA of more than half a million people singled out just 13 adults who, despite having the genetic setup for severe childhood diseases like cystic fibrosis, seem to be perfectly healthy. Unfortunately, researchers only have partial DNA sequences and there seems to be no way to follow up with the test subjects (the consent forms didn’t include contact permission). So for now, not only are these “genetic superheroes” living with secret identities, but they’re still early in the “origin story” template, unaware that they may hold the key to saving thousands.

The Secret Life of Bees?

Bees pollinate about a third of our food crops, but bee colonies face a growing threat—a parasitic mite that plagues young bees. To investigate possible solutions to the problem, National Geographic photographer Anand Varna decided to become a beekeeper himself: “I teamed up with a bee lab at UC Davis and figured out how to raise bees in front of a camera.” His incredible (if a bit creepy-crawly) footage shows the first 21 days of a bee’s life, timelapsed into 60 seconds and set to live orchestral music.

A. A. Milne Reads from Winnie-the-Pooh

Naturally, bees mean honey. And honey means Winnie-the-Pooh, right? So to end on a sweet note, here’s an enchanting little recording of A. A. Milne reading aloud from his classic children’s book. We’re sure glad the Dominion Gramophone Company recorded this in the summer of 1929. Brain Pickings suggests you read “A. A. Milne on Happiness and How Winnie-the-Pooh Was Born” when you’re done. Enjoy!

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Also in this Issue

Issue 48 / May 12, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from May 12, 2016

    Issue 48: A spiraling world of numbers, a revealing stone, and our distinct differences. /

  2. How Plants Count

    The language of the universe starts “1, 1, 2.” /

  3. Two Towns’ Eureka Moments

    How a fishing village and an old lumber station are revealing mysteries about the galaxy and ancient Jewish worship. /

  4. A Peculiar People

    We’re made different from each other to be different together. /

  5. The Bat

    “The bat is dun, with wrinkled wings” /

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