Category Archives: News

Savage cyclone Winston churns over the Pacific's warmest waters, heads for Fiji's two most populous islands

As I am writing this on Friday evening in Colorado, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is bearing down on the most populous islands of Fiji, posing a dire threat to the South Pacific island nation with winds that could eventually reach a mind boggling 224 miles per hour.

The cyclone has already made landfall on the small Fijian island of Vanua Balavu — at about 1 pm EST today. This means the storm will go into the record books as the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the nation of Fiji.

Humans have special nerves that respond to gentle stroking.

Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than loved one’s caress. And, in fact, our bodies are built to respond to touch: we have special nerves in our skin (C-tactile afferents, or “CT”) that fire when we are gently stroked. In this study, the authors wanted to test how specific these CT nerves are. To do so, they measured how the nerves responded to strokes from robot hands at different temperatures and speeds. It turns out that CTs respond best to slow caresses, and, just like Goldilocks

The Myth of "Mind-Altering Parasite" Toxoplasma Gondii?

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny organism that lives inside cells. It may well live inside your cells – the parasite up to 50% of the world’s population, along with cats and many other animal species.

This is worrying, because many researchers believe that T. gondii infection, or toxoplasmosis, can alter human behavior. Among other organs, the parasite infects the brain, and it has been blamed for making people more impulsive, and more prone to mental illness, including schizophrenia. The

Words with (Citizen Science) Friends

Language is a critical component of our lives and so our editors are excited to share their favorite “word” projects from the SciStarter Project Finder! Check out these top notch word projects in need of your help!


The SciStarter Team

Smithsonian Transcription Center

The Smithsonian and the National Museum of Natural History need your help to transcribe online text from historical notebooks and specimen records, from the comfort of your home. Get started!


How Winston became Earth's strongest Southern Hemisphere storm in recorded history

Winston has killed at least 21 people and caused great damage in Fiji. Here are the roles played by El Niño, climate change, and other factors in the evolution of this fierce — and very strange – storm.

| See update at the end of this post concerning Winston’s ranking among tropical cyclones |

Winston was born as a tropical storm a little east of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, way back on February 10th. Little did we know then just how strange — and strong — this storm would become, thank

Unemployment hurts…literally.

Both economic insecurity and the use of painkillers are on the rise, and, according to these scientists, it’s more than a mere correlation. They propose that experiencing economic insecurity (like unemployment) can actually reduce people’s pain tolerance. To test this hypothesis, they conducted a number of experiments, including having undergraduate student participants from the University of Virginia read paragraphs describing how the ranking of one’s college affects their future financial

Synesthesia Mask Lets You Wake Up and Smell the Colors

What does a Picasso painting smell like?

For individuals with synesthesia, catching the odor of, say, plum, while scrutinizing a painting from Picasso’s blue period is just part of experiencing the world. A small percentage of the population are synesthetes, or people who interpret sensual stimuli with more than one sense — smelling colors, or tasting sounds for example. While very few people have access to this unique perspective on the world, there is now a way for the rest of us to get

Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place

A new study suggests that there are around 700 quintillion planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. It’s a revelation that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden arrived at this staggering figure — a 7 followed by 20 zeros  — with the aid of a computer model that simulated the universe’s evolution following the Big Bang. Zackrisson’s model combined information about known exoplanets with our understanding

Barnacles Plus Plastic Trash Make Rafts for Ocean Animals

If you wanted to travel from Japan to California, you could do worse than to hitch a ride on a barnacle-covered buoy. Or maybe a barnacle-covered refrigerator or chunk of foam. Barnacles are turning all kinds of ocean trash into cozy habitats for animals at sea. They might even help some of those animals reach distant shores and become dangerous invasive species.

Flora and fauna have always sailed the sea on rafts such as pieces of wood or pumice, or matted plants. Without flotation devices,

The Other Astronomical Breakthrough That Took 100 Years to Achieve

Well, here we are two weeks into the era of gravitational wave astronomy. I trust that by now you have read and heard all about the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves from two black holes merging and what it means for astronomy.

These are indeed exciting times and it is worth pausing to think about this announcement in the context of other big astronomical discoveries that were generations in the making. Perhaps the best historical analog for the gravitational wave search and detection