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Weddell seals are not only adorable, but they can tell scientists a lot about how climate change and conservation efforts are affecting the planet. Over the years, Weddell seal researchers have refined their research methods to better explore their hypotheses about the Weddell seal population. Listen to hear how and why scientists are counting Weddell seals, and why they invited people around the world to join the project from their own homes.
What happens if two objects of different masses are dropped at the same time? The object with greater mass appears to drop faster to Earth, pulled by gravity. However, in the 1500s, scientist Galileo Galilei theorized that the Earth’s gravity should actually cause these objects to fall at the same time. Listen to learn about gravity, differences in the Earth’s and the moon’s atmospheres, and how Galileo’s theory was proven true on the moon 400 years after he proposed it.
Foods have a wide variety of flavors. But, how does the brain know if the mouth is tasting spicy nachos, rich chocolate cake, crunchy broccoli, or a sour lemon? What if the food is spoiled or rotten? The brain needs to have this information in order to tell the hands to put it down! Luckily, taste buds on the tongue send the brain information so the brain knows how to react. Listen to hear a fun story that illustrates what happens after the first bite of food is taken.
Recently NASA launched a large, powerful telescope into space, where scientists hope it will help them learn more about the origins of the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope is designed to study invisible light waves, which will allow scientists to see into the past. Launching this giant telescope into space presented scientists with some challenges—beginning with how to fit it into the rocket. This audio story explores how engineers solved that problem and what makes this massive telescope so powerful.
The life of an astronaut sounds incredible. Feeling weightless and being able to get a closer look at the stars are just two unique aspects of the job. But, what does it take to be an astronaut? Astronauts go through a lot of training, and not all of it has to do with learning about the shuttles they will be flying in. They must also learn how to be a part of a team and complete important checklists quickly and flawlessly. Listen to hear about life as an astronaut.
The 10,000 different species of birds found on the planet all have a few things in common: they have feathers and wings, lay eggs, and are warm blooded. What special adaptations have they developed to help them fly fast, hatch their young, and eliminate waste? Listen to hear a biologist and an ornithologist share fascinating facts about birds, including why their poop is white.
Oceans are home to millions of sea creatures, but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to take a trip to the ocean to see these creatures up close. This is where aquariums come in. Aquariums allow people to connect with nature and learn about many different species of ocean animals. But aquariums may not always be the best place for those animals to live. Listen to the president of Baltimore’s National Aquarium discuss some of the amazing animals in his care and the challenges of providing them with everything they need.
Comedian Lewis Black and fruit flies have something in common -- they are both good at acting angry. Scientists say that aggressive behavior and biological responses across species look more similar than people might think. Listen to hear about the animal roots of a powerful emotion with a bad reputation—anger.
What kind of legacy do scientists want for their discoveries? For Congolese doctor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who in 1976 collected the first samples of Ebola and eventually pioneered the first effective treatment for it, the answer is not what most people would expect. Western scientists have received most of the credit for his achievements. Listen to hear Dr. Muyembe’s story and find out what legacy he hopes to leave.
Can humans and wildlife coexist peacefully? Local farmers in Malawi have witnessed how living near wild elephants can result in violent human-animal encounters. Poachers feed on these circumstances and seize the opportunity to profit. An artificial intelligence solution called EarthRanger has been introduced that can protect the local communities and elephants and bring poachers to justice. Listen to discover how this life-changing solution has impacted elephants and farmers alike.
Plastic waste gets a lot of attention. But solid waste is only part of the problem; plastics also fuel global warming. With plastic production expected to quadruple by 2050, finding a way to minimize its overall impact on the environment is critical. Listen to learn how plastics contribute to global warming and why replacing them with renewable alternatives may not be the best solution.
In his book, The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina uncovers the truth about the crimes that occur daily on the high seas due to lack of laws and regulations. Trafficking, illegal fishing, pollution, and modern slavery are a few examples of the serious problems Urbina explores. Listen to learn why these crimes occur, how they impact the ocean’s health, and what consumers can do to help reduce these illegal acts.
Less than a third of Americans believe that scientists and other STEM-related professionals communicate well. Why is this the case, and how can science communication be improved? Alan Alda, an acclaimed actor and comedian, has devoted the second half of his career to answering these questions. He created the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, focused on helping scientists communicate effectively with the public. Listen to hear what inspired Alda to take on the project and what he believes are the keys – and obstacles – to successful science communication.
Imagine a large asteroid on a collision course with Earth. How would scientists know, and what could they do about it? An international group of scientists, engineers, and emergency managers recently held a planetary defense exercise, including the simulation of an asteroid predicted to hit near Denver, Colorado. Listen to learn more about how these experts plan to defend Earth from devastating impacts, and how they might respond if those defenses fail.
Are humans alone in the universe? This question has endured since people first looked to the heavens. NASA is getting closer than ever before to answering that question. Thousands of planets outside of our solar system have already been discovered, and a recently launched NASA satellite called TESS may discover even more. Will any of the thousands of newly discovered exoplanets be like Earth, able to sustain life? Listen to this story to learn how NASA is searching for Earth’s twin.
Many people have a negative reaction to the sound of a buzzing insect. Past experience or an allergic reaction may inspire a person to run from or even swat at a bee. However, bumblebees actually help humans, and right now they need the help of humans to maintain their survival. Listen to learn more about bees and hear a conservationist talk about what can be done to keep the population thriving.
Pets are an important part of many people’s lives. Different types of animals have different needs, and some are more difficult to care for than others. It is important that pet owners know the appropriate way to care for their pet to ensure they are living a healthy and well-balanced life. Listen to an interview with a veterinarian as he talks about his passion for animals, answers questions about pet care, and discusses how he feels the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the animals living in people's homes.
Weather is constantly changing, and it affects peoples’ lives every day. Meteorologists study the weather and help people prepare for what is coming by giving weather forecasts. In this audio story, a meteorologist describes his fascination with weather from a young age and how his fear of extreme weather inspired him to learn more about it. Listen to a meteorologist discuss his job and why he loves it, and hear him answer questions about extreme weather, waves, and climate.
Fall in North America, the start of flu season, is when many people receive their yearly flu vaccine. The flu shot differs from other vaccines, such as measles or mumps, which are generally given only once during a person’s lifetime. The flu shot is given every year because the flu virus is constantly changing, and vaccines must keep up with new forms of the virus. Listen to learn more about the flu, including how cold weather helps it spread, which animals can get the flu, and why it’s important to get a flu vaccine each year.
Microscopic creatures have always lived around, on, and inside of us. While some of these tiny bugs can cause illness, others do us no harm, or may even help us. In this audio story, an entomologist discusses her study of Demodex mites, the tiny bugs that live on just about everyone’s faces. Listen to hear what scientists know--and don’t know--about these microscopic critters and how studying them could reveal truths about ancient humans.
Dinosaurs have long fascinated humans. Surprisingly, there are still dinosaurs on Earth today, but they look different from their multi-ton ancestors that went extinct millions of years ago. The dinosaurs that exist today are small, have feathers, and can fly. That’s right, they’re birds! Listen to learn more about extinct dinosaurs and how they are related to the ones that are still flying around the planet today.
A recent birth at the National Zoo has delighted millions of people. At age 22, the panda mom was rather old to successfully give birth to offspring, but she defied the odds and now has a beautiful cub that keeps growing and growing. Listen to the director of the National Zoo answer questions about pandas, an endangered species, and learn how the U.S. is working with China to continue bringing baby pandas into the world.
Is scientific discovery always a force for good? Marie Curie’s quest to introduce radioactivity to the world, for which she won two Nobel Prizes, sparked that question. Curie's discoveries of radium and polonium led to therapeutic and diagnostic breakthroughs, but they were also weaponized – into horrific bombs and lethal poison. Listen to the actress who played Curie in the 2020 movie “Radioactive,” released during the COVID-19 pandemic, discuss what she learned about the pioneering scientist’s unusual life and complicated legacy.
The world is filled with many living things of all shapes and sizes. From plants and animals to fungi and bacteria, every living thing is important and plays a role on our Earth. The variety of living things in a habitat is known as biodiversity. Having biodiversity in a habitat allows for many different species to thrive. Listen to hear more about how all living things within a habitat depend on one another for survival, making it crucial to find a way to protect each of them.
Forests provide much more than public spaces for exercise, relaxation, and enjoying nature. They are complex ecosystems characterized by biodiversity. Forests are vital to Earth’s water cycle and ensure the survival of all living things by absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen. However, forests also provide valuable resources, especially wood and paper, that people need. Listen to an interview with a forestry expert to discover how forests are being managed to provide both resources for consumers and lasting benefits to the environment.
Landscapes evolve very slowly, over thousands of years, which makes them both fascinating and a little difficult to study. Mathematicians have looked at landscape features, including mountains and big rock formations, and wondered where their interesting shapes come from. To find answers they began experimenting, except they didn’t use rocks - they used candy! The process allowed them to speed up their investigation and find the answers they were looking for. Listen to learn how hard candy helped mathematicians study and understand landscapes.
Wolves often get a bad rap, especially in fairytales. But are they really as bad as they seem? Yes, wolves are top predators, but there is much more to these awesome animals than simply their hunting habits. Listen to an expert explain fascinating details about wolves, from the complexity of their packs to how the dogs and wolves of today stem from the same extinct species.
A biologist was curious to know what he could learn about the bacteria living inside of us, so he decided to collect his poop every day for a year. The focus of his study was the microbiome, or collection of microorganisms, found in our bodies. An experiment he thought would be simple turned out to be quite complex. Listen to learn about the challenges the scientist faced and what his study revealed about the human microbiome.
A whale inhales and exhales air through the blowhole at the top of its head. The plume that rises when the whale exhales is made up of blow, a scientific term for whale snot. Whale snot can reveal important information about whale stress, but collecting the snot can be challenging. Listen to hear a scientist describe how she collects whale snot and what it can tell us about how whales are coping with the effects of climate change.
Picture this: a gardener hears a humming sound in a garden full of flowers. What is the source of the noise? It might be a hummingbird! These tiny creatures fly so fast that they can be hard to see. Listen to hear a scientist describe the unique features of a hummingbird, including extra fast wing speed and a quick metabolism, that make them expert flyers, and learn how to attract them to a garden.
Alaska is home to 54 active volcanoes. Scientists, called volcanologists, watch and study these volcanoes to try and predict when they are going to erupt and so they can give warnings to the nearby communities. In 2008, Mount Redoubt, one of Alaska’s most famous volcanoes that is known to be active and dangerous, began to show signs of erupting. Listen as a volcanologist explains how taking a closer look at what goes on deep down below the surface of a volcano like Mount Redoubt can reveal warning signs that indicate a possible eruption.
Wolverines are fierce predators and scavengers that live in the remote forests near the Arctic Circle. As these solitary animals need at least 500 square kilometers of space each and can travel vast distances each day, they are very difficult to spot in the wild. Wolverines play an important role in the ecosystem as they scavenge the carrion left behind by other predators. Listen to hear more about this elusive mammal, including why people walking through the forest shouldn’t worry about being attacked by one.
A new threat to human health, a disease called COVID-19, is spreading rapidly around the globe. The cause of COVID-19 is a coronavirus, named for the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus particles. In this audio story, an infectious disease doctor describes COVID-19 and its symptoms, compares the novel (or new) coronavirus to the better-known coronavirus that causes the common cold, and explains why being novel helps the virus to spread. Listen to learn what scientists want people to do in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the health of individuals, families, and communities.
Wildlife in the city? It may seem odd to hear the word “wildlife” linked to the word “city.” However, animals live wherever they can find food and shelter. Cities can provide both for many types of wildlife. Animals use their survival skills to turn just about any environment into their home. Listen to hear a scientist explain which animals can be found in suburbs and cities and how they adapt to these environments.
The bowhead whale lives its entire life - which amazingly can span over 200 years - in the frigid Arctic waters near the North Pole. The bowhead whale is unlike most other whales as it doesn’t seasonally migrate in search of warmer waters. A thick layer of blubber and the ability to hold its breath for up to 30 minutes makes it possible for bowhead whales to live in the deep, freezing water. Listen to hear even more incredible facts about this unique ocean mammal.
What is artificial intelligence? How does it differ from other computer programs? Currently, artificial intelligence is being used to help people in many ways, such as detecting when and where earthquakes will occur before they happen, determining how to slow down the spread of disease, and outlining the best way to get relief to people after a disaster. However, artificial intelligence is a developing field with ever-expanding applications. Listen to hear more about what artificial intelligence is, how it has developed over time, and how it can be used to help people.
Arctic foxes may be small, but they undergo powerful adaptations that help them survive in the snowy tundra, one of the planet’s most unforgiving biomes. One of their most important adaptations is the gift of camouflage: Arctic foxes’ fur changes color depending on the season. In winter, these animals grow dense white fur that keeps them warm and camouflages them in their snowy surroundings. In spring, they molt to reveal thinner, gray-brown fur to better blend in after the snow has melted away. Listen to hear more about this and other incredible adaptations of the Arctic fox.
Animals communicate through sounds, touch, visual signals, and scent, and each species has its distinct communication methods. In this audio story, Earth Ranger Emma presents examples of communication among various species, including elephants, and explains the messages and emotions that are being communicated. Listen to learn how and why animals communicate, how animal sounds reflect an environment’s health, and how people can safely respond to communications from animals.
Across the globe, people consume many different types of foods, but some food choices are better for the environment than others. This audio story introduces cricket protein, a different food source than many of us are used to eating and a more sustainable option than animal proteins such as beef or lamb. Listen to learn more about cricket protein and why it is a good protein choice for the planet.
When a person lays their head down to sleep, their brain does not stop thinking. The thoughts they have while they sleep are their dreams. Sleep allows the brain to recover from the work it does during the day. While the brain recovers, the logical part of the brain takes a break, which means during dreams anything can happen. Listen to a psychiatrist explain more about how dreaming works and how someone can have the ability to influence their dreams.