World's oldest experiment ready for a drop of excitement
Professor John Mainstone with the eighth drop in late 1990, about 2-1/2 years after the seventh drop fell.
April 30th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

World's oldest experiment ready for a drop of excitement

By Katie Hunt, for CNN

At some point in the next few months, a tendril of black tar-like substance will drop from a glass funnel and land in a beaker under a bell jar in what is thought to be the world's oldest scientific experiment.

The "pitch drop" at the University of Queensland in Australia began in 1927 and is designed to show that the brittle pitch - which was once used to waterproof boats and can be shattered by a hammer - is in fact, a liquid.

But the progress of the pitch through the funnel stem is so slow that now, 86 years later, only the ninth drop is forming.

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Filed under: On Earth
April 30th, 2013
12:43 PM ET

Saturn shows off spectacular storm

By Sophia Dengo, CNN

NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned a stunning image of a hurricane on Saturn's northern pole. The shot (pictured above) was taken on November 27 and is one of the first views of Saturn's north pole lit by the sun.

The colors in the image are not the real ones.  They represent projections of various wavelengths of near-infrared light. Red is used to represent low clouds, and green indicates high clouds.

Scientists don't know how long this storm, which has an eye that measures 1,250 miles across, with cloud speeds as fast as 330 mph, has been active. The last time the planet's north pole was imaged in 2004, it was in darkness.

According to NASA, images were taken with a narrow-angle camera on Cassini, "using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light."

Studying this storm may lead scientists to new insights about hurricanes on Earth.

Cassini is one part of the Cassini-Huygens mission operated by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Read more about it here, here and here.

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Filed under: Light up the screen
Glowing lambs born in Uruguay
April 30th, 2013
09:33 AM ET

Glowing lambs born in Uruguay

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Scientists in Uruguay announced that they had genetically modified sheep such that the animals glow green in ultraviolet light. Click through the gallery above to learn more!

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Filed under: News
April 30th, 2013
09:20 AM ET

Virgin Galactic one flight closer to space tourism

Virgin Galactic is one flight closer to becoming a commercial "spaceline." The company's passenger spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, completed its first rocket-powered flight Monday morning above the Mojave Desert in California.

About 45 minutes into the flight, SpaceShipTwo was released from its carrier craft, WhiteKnightTwo. Ignition of the rocket motor was triggered, carrying SpaceShipTwo to a maximum altitude of 56,000 feet. During the 16-second engine burn, the spaceship broke the sound barrier, according to a statement from Virgin Galactic.

The rocket-powered portion of the flight lasted a little more than 10 minutes, and the entire flight took about an hour. The flight was not a space flight. Virgin Galactic said it will continue testing this year and plans to reach full space flight by the end of 2013.

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Filed under: On Earth
Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days
Cady Coleman poses with Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, aboard in the International Space Station in 2011.
April 26th, 2013
05:36 PM ET

Science Seat: Living in space for 159 days

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

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

NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman has logged more than 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station.

Coleman was a flight engineer on a Russian Soyuz rocket that took her to the space station in December 2010, and came back to Earth in May 2011, having spent 159 days in space. CNN followed her on this journey - called Expedition 26/27 - to get ready for the expedition, and showed segments every month of what life was like for her and her family in the year before the launch.

This month, CNN Light Years caught up with Coleman to reflect on her spaceflight experiences. Here is an edited transcript.

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Filed under: In Space • Science Seat • Voices
April 25th, 2013
12:20 PM ET

Can scientists improve evolution?

Video producer's note: To some, it may seem like Caltech professor Frances Arnold is playing God. But to hear her say it, she is improving upon what nature started and solving some real-world issues in the process.

CNN caught up with the presidentially honored professor at her Caltech lab. In the video above she explains just how her theory and process of "directed evolution" works - and what problems her research could help solve.

Do you think "directed evolution" is overstepping the bounds of science? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: On Earth
April 22nd, 2013
04:25 PM ET

A one-way ticket to Mars, apply now

Step right up and prove why you should get a one-way ticket to Mars! But wait - you might want to know a little more about this venture first.

A Dutch company called Mars One is looking for volunteer astronauts to fly to Mars. The search began Monday. Departure for the Red Planet is scheduled for 2022, landing seven months later in 2023.

The space travelers will return ... never. They will finish out their lives on Mars and die there, representatives from the nonprofit organization said.

"It's likely that there will be a crematorium," said CEO Bas Lansdorp. "It's up to the people on Mars to decide what to do with their dead."

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3 more homes for life in the universe?
This illustration depicts Kepler 62f, a planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, in the same system as Kepler 62e.
April 22nd, 2013
10:22 AM ET

3 more homes for life in the universe?

Is anybody out there?

For millennia, humans have gazed at the night sky, asking this question. That's why scientists and NASA are eagerly searching for "exoplanets" - that is, planets that orbit around stars other than our sun.

Last week NASA's Kepler satellite reported the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets within the so-called "habitable zone," defined as the neighborhood of a star where liquid water - essential for life as we know it - can exist.

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Filed under: Commentary • Kepler • Voices
April 19th, 2013
04:51 PM ET

What happens to a wet washcloth in space?

By Matt Dellinger, CNN

Astronauts on the International Space Station get to do the coolest experiments. And sometimes the simplest ones can be the most impressive.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates what happens when you wring out a soaking wet washcloth in zero gravity. The idea came from two high school students in Nova Scotia who won a contest to design a simple science experiment to be conducted on the ISS. The experiment had to use materials that were already available on the space station and was selected out of almost 100 entries.

Watch the video above to see the incredible effect of weightlessness on the water absorbed by the washcloth.

What are some simple experiments you would like to see conducted in space? Let us know in the comments below!

(The Science Seat will resume next Friday)

April 18th, 2013
10:14 PM ET

Space harpoon plan to nail orbital garbage

By Dave Gilbert, CNN

What do you do with 6,000 tons of space junk traveling at thousands of miles an hour? Harpoon it of course.

It might sound like a scenario straight off the pages of a science fiction novel but it is a suggested solution to an increasing and potentially costly problem in space - that of debris littering low earth orbit.

The harpoon plan is one of a range of options being discussed by scientists at a forum in Germany next week, and aimed at finding a way of tackling space debris that threatens commercial operations.

Engineer Jaime Reed, who is leading the harpoon project for the space technology company Astrium, explains that if a rogue satellite hits another, not only does it ruin the mission but it creates more debris and propagates the problem. This run-away scenario is often called the Kessler Syndrome, named after NASA's Don Kessler who first highlighted the risk.

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Filed under: In Space
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