March 18th, 2013
12:55 PM ET

Stargazers capture images of comet

By Elizabeth Landau and Polina Marinova, CNN

Stargazers in North America were delighted this week to see a highly anticipated comet make an appearance in the March sky.

The comet is called Pan-STARRS, and it gets its funky name from the telescope credited with discovering it in June 2001: the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System in Hawaii.

Brian Karczewski, 24, got a great shot of the comet from a California church parking lot and submitted an iReport about it.

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Filed under: In Space
Quasars discovered 50 years ago
March 16th, 2013
07:06 AM ET

Quasars discovered 50 years ago

Breathtaking blossoms nearly the size of our solar system are strewn across the universe - hundreds of thousands of them. Quasars are, at the same time, among the most fiery monsters.

Astronomer Maarten Schmidt was the first to discover one and revealed it to the world 50 years ago Saturday in an article in the journal Nature.

His discovery was a sensation in the 1960s and made its way into pop culture. It was the age of the first manned space flights.

"It reverberated," Schmidt recalls. "It drew a lot of attention."

In the popular TV series Star Trek, the original crew of the Starship Enterprise was tasked with inspecting the newly discovered phenomenon close up.

Electronics company Motorola branded a line of televisions 'Quasar.' A decade later Marvel Comics created a superhero with the same name.

Luckily, no quasar is anywhere close to Earth, said Schmidt, who made the discovery at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Filed under: In Space
Science Seat: You could have been a furry beast
Humans were once covered in hair, just like chimpanzees, anthropologists say.
March 15th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Science Seat: You could have been a furry beast

By Kelly Murray, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many areas of scientific exploration. This is the sixth installment.

As primates, humans were once furry, much like the modern chimpanzee.  But when, and why, did we lose this fur and become "naked"?

Nina Jablonski, professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, studies primate evolution with an emphasis on human skin. Among numerous academic publications, she also wrote the book, "Skin: A Natural History."

CNN Light Years spoke with Jablonski about the evolution of human skin, from furry to naked.  Here is an edited transcript:

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth • Science Seat • Voices
March 14th, 2013
06:00 PM ET

Eatocracy: Exploring geometry in food

By Emily Smith, CNN

While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.

Flour power! March 14 is Pi Day, or if you're us, National Pi(e) Day.

Today is the day where we can celebrate the logical left brain and the creative right brain. Pi(e) Day is just that – a time when math and science folks can indulge their sensory side.

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
Have a drink on Mars
This rock shows veins of sediments that scientist believe were deposited under water and was an environment once hospitable to life.
March 14th, 2013
05:55 PM ET

Have a drink on Mars

Editor's note: Jim Bell is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and a member of the NASA Curiosity Mars rover camera team. He is the president of The Planetary Society and author of "Postcards from Mars," "Mars-3D," and "The Space Book."

(CNN) - An announcement on Tuesday marked, quite literally, a watershed moment in the history of solar system exploration. NASA scientists said an analysis of drilled rock samples collected by the Curiosity rover shows that ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

It is the first time that we've discovered actual evidence for fresh water on another planet.

We've been down this watery path before - sort of. Back in 2004, NASA's Opportunity rover found evidence of ancient water on Mars.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars • Voices
Scientists more certain that particle is Higgs boson
A proton-proton collision produced in the Large Hadron Collider shows characteristics in line with the decay of a Higgs boson particle.
March 14th, 2013
04:10 PM ET

Scientists more certain that particle is Higgs boson

Just in time for Albert Einstein's birthday Thursday, scientists delivered exciting news about how the universe works.

Last summer, physicists announced that they had identified a particle with characteristics of the elusive Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle." But, as often the case in science, they needed to do more research to be more certain.

On Thursday, scientists announced that the particle, detected at the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle-smasher, looks even more like the Higgs boson.

The news came at the Moriond Conference in La Thuile, Italy, from scientists at the Large Hadron Collider's ATLAS and Compact Muon Solenoid experiments. These two detectors are looking for unusual particles that slip into existence when subatomic particles crash into one another at high energies.

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On Pi Day, finding strength in numbers
Daniel Tammet painted this picture of how he sees the first 20 digits of pi.
March 14th, 2013
09:03 AM ET

On Pi Day, finding strength in numbers

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

In Daniel Tammet's mind, three is a dotted green crescent moon shape, one is a sort of white sunburst and four is a blue boomerang. Every number has a distinct color and shape, making the number pi, which begins with 3.14, unfold like a beautiful poem.

For math enthusiasts around the world, March 14 (3-14) is Pi Day, honoring the number pi, which is the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle. On Thursday, Tammet is promoting France's first Pi Day celebration at the Palace of Discovery science museum in Paris.

Tammet's relationship to this number is special: At age 25, he recited 22,514 digits of pi from memory in 2004, scoring the European record. For an audience at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, he said these numbers aloud for 5 hours and 9 minutes. Some people cried - not out of boredom, but from sheer emotion from his passionate delivery.

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
Pi Day: 25 years in San Francisco
Young pi fans prepare for the Exploratorium's annual parade, holding handmade signs.
March 14th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Pi Day: 25 years in San Francisco

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Happy Pi Day, everyone! Pi Day honors the number pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle, which is approximately 3.14. It is also Albert Einstein's birthday. And it sounds like "pie."

It's hard to know who was the first person who decided to bake a pie on March 14. These days, there are celebrations worldwide - on the Internet, in schools and among friends who like to eat sweets. But the San Francisco Exploratorium takes credit for the first Pi Day in 1988. The day was "founded" by Larry Shaw, who worked in the electronics group at that time.

The Exploratorium is going all out for its 25th anniversary of pi parties. It just so happens that the museum is moving to Pier 15 next month. Thursday, in front of its new location, the museum is unveiling a circular "pi shrine" where Pi Day will be celebrated. The shrine consists of a pi symbol with digits spiraling around it that will be embedded in the sidewalk.

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
March 12th, 2013
02:38 PM ET

NASA: Yes, Mars could have hosted life

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Curiosity, humanity's most powerful rover  to land on Mars, has made a startling discovery: Conditions that could have supported life once existed there.

"We have found a habitable environment that is so benign, and supportive of life, that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a Tuesday news conference.

This discovery is based on the chemical analysis of powder that the rover recovered by drilling a hole in a rock. This was the first time a robot sent from Earth had drilled on another planet.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
March 11th, 2013
04:15 PM ET

Rocket leaps 24 stories, lands intact

When it comes to building and testing reusable rockets, innovative SpaceX is hopping along with an experimental vehicle called Grasshopper.

The commercial spaceflight company demonstrated that Grasshopper could land intact as part of a test series on Thursday in McGregor, Texas, a small town southwest of Waco.

This was the fourth try for the rocket, which stands 10 stories tall, and it successfully doubled its highest leap to date, rising 24 stories or 80.1 meters.

The prototype hovered for about 34 seconds and landed safely, making it easier and easier to imagine a future where a spacecraft doesn’t burn up when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.

This is one small step for Grasshopper, one giant leap for space exploration’s pocketbook.

Check out the recently released video above to see the successful launch and landing.

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Filed under: In Space
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