I have way too many ideas for upcoming It’s Okay To Be Smart videos…
I suppose there are worse problems to have.
What if I let you guys vote on them?
Also, what do you want to know about?
So great, so necessary – Joe Hanson of It’s Okay To Be Smart offers some invaluable tips on how to read science news. Pair with The Baloney Detection Kit , these 11 essential rules for critical thinking, and Carl Sagan on mastering the vital balance between skepticism and openness.
Wow, definitely read the links that Maria included there too, because those people are all WAY smarter than me.
The latest It’s Okay To Be Smart video is a stunner. It’s fun to take 8 minutes to sit and think about the enormity of the Universe and what else might be out there. Also, the video ends with my very favorite piece of writing by Ray Bradbury, If Only We Had Taller Been, read by the author himself.
The other day, when I saw Joe tweet about this video, I was getting into my car to drive home. I kept thinking about it on the drive, wondering what he might have to teach us about exoplanets and ourselves, and I just couldn’t wait to watch it. So I pulled into my driveway and pushed play on my phone. By the end of it, I had goosebumps. It was my first It’s Okay To Be Smart ”driveway moment" and I’m sure it won’t be my last. This stuff just gets better and better and better. Bravo, Joe.
And this is MY first goosebump moment at having someone say such nice things about something I made :)
Thank you, thank you thank you thank you. The only greater gift than getting to wonder and create and teach for a living is the people that I get to reach: You guys! Put a bow on yourselves or something and get under my tree, the whole lot of you!
Is there intelligent life beyond Earth?
It’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? It’s also the subject of this week’s It’s Okay To Be Smart. I think you’re gonna like this one.
As we continue to tally Earth-like planets in our galaxy, we are closer than ever to being able to answer mankind’s ultimate question of existence: Are we the lone intelligent, curious, communicative life form in the universe?
I don’t know the answer to that. But here’s the other questions I tackle this week: We don’t have telescopes (yet) capable of directly imaging far-off worlds to scan them for signatures of living chemistry, but if we did, what would we look for? If we can’t see these worlds, can we listen for them? How are we advertising ourselves to the galaxy? Is the expiration date for life on Earth sooner than we think? What can we do about it?
Inside, you’ll find a heavy dose of extraterrestrial longing, some research done by Carl Sagan, a whole lot about the letter “L”, me doing my best “death metal” voice, and a really special treat from Ray Bradbury at the end.
Enjoy, and stay curious!
(If you didn’t see last week’s Exoplanets: Part 1, check it out here.)
The New York Times has created an interactive feature tallying all of the exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler Telescope. You should really check out the link, because theirs is animated, and much bigger, and completely awesome, so go check it out.
Although the Kepler telescope is currently dead in the water thanks to some broken gears (although there may be some hope for a resurrection), scientists continue to sift through its data in order to move exoplanets from the “possible” to the “confirmed” category. As of today, we have a total of 1,049 confirmed exoplanets (and counting), which is a drop in a drop in a drop in the bucket for how many are estimated to be out there. Those confirmed 1,049 represent a mere 0.00000001% of the likely 100 billion planets (or more) in just the Milky Way (which doesn’t even count free-floating rogue planets!)
Assuming we continue to fund future missions, the estimates of total planets will certainly change. And as scientists continue to dig through Kepler’s data the number of confirmed planets will definitely continue to rise. Our next steps will be to directly image them (we still don’t know what these exoplanets look like, despite what artists want you to think) in order to analyze the makeup of their atmospheres and whether they have the right chemistry for life (at least as we know it). That will take new tools, and decades of work.
Thanks to planet-hunting missions like Kepler, we are on the cusp of understanding our place in the universe more clearly than ever before in the history of our species. We may be the only living needle in the haystack of planets, or we may not. That distinction isn’t what makes us special. No … what makes us special is that we can know.
Double Bonus: Find out more about how astrobiologists calculate the odds of extraterrestrial civilizations in this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart: The Odds of Finding Life and Love.
(this is an updated version of a post from earlier this year)
I like to have something to do with my hands while I watch Christmas movies, and tonight I watched White Christmas and made this felt ornament out of the It’s Okay To Be Smart logo. The tree is looking smarter already.
Ahh! You guys! Chels made an IOTBS ornament! This is one of the most adorably smart and charming things I’ve ever seen.
Anyone else got science-y ornaments on their tree? I’d love to see them (they don’t have to be IOTBS-themed, of course). If you post them to Tumblr/Instagram/Twitter, tag them with #sciencemas and I’ll keep my eye out for a future post!
I’ve been thinking a lot about strange fruits since last week’s episode on the ghosts of evolution that reside in our produce aisle. Lots of people liked that episode. That makes me very happy. In that spirit, I present this question:
What’s the most annoying fruit ever?
The answer, of course, is the pomegranate. But this isn’t about the pomegranate. It’s about the mango. And the mango comes in a very close second on my Fruit Annoyance Scale™.
I’m pretty handy in the kitchen. I know how to cut one. I’m just left disappointed every time. So much deliciousness remains stuck to that wacky, disc-shaped seed. My only choices are to throw it away or to gnaw at it like I’m afflicted with some sort of crazed, herbivoric bloodlust, covering myself in stickiness and drawing many a raised eyebrow from my wife.
But that little trick, that hidden seed, is part of the mango’s evolutionary magic, its very key to survival and reproduction.
If you watched the video, you remember that the avocado, with its ridiculously big seed, evolved to get swallowed whole, and be pooped out later, so they could grow far away and free from big tree competition. The only problem is that the moving truck-sized ground sloths and prehistoric elephants that munched on them in central America are extinct. Yet the avocado lives on, strangely, no longer subject to that cooperation. It’s an evolutionary anachronism.
That’s the story behind the mango’s über-annoying seed. In southeast Asia, the mango’s native lands, forest rhinos and Asian elephants, who love mangos, are some of Earth’s last remaining examples of the megafauna that dispersed so many of the world’s weird fruits (including papaya, durian, avocado, and many others).
The mango has evolved a stringy flesh that clings to its seed (and whoever took the photo above clearly spent hours excavating that thing). Rhinos and elephants find that just as annoying as we do, so they swallow them after only the tiniest bit of munching. After a long, strange trip through the belly of the giant mammal, that seed gets dropped off with its great reward: A dallop of fresh fertilizer.
When you look at an elephant or rhino, you’re looking at the last giant mammals to still roam dry Earth. Sadly, nearly all of them are critically endangered. I and others have often referred to those strange fruits as “ghosts of evolution”, but those great creatures are close to becoming ghosts themselves. That’s really sad. Sure, we’ve taken over for the large mammals in the mango-growing department, but we shouldn’t save one ghost to spite another.
I hope that you’ll never look at a mango, or avocado, or papaya quite the same way again. And maybe, when you consider the mango, you’ll consider these beautiful creatures:
Let’s do what we can to keep them from becoming ghosts, too.
Behind the scenes shot from tomorrow’s IOTBS episode. It’s about space! And planets. Planets in space.
You know, for a biologist, I sure do love talking about space. That’s cool, though. “It’s okay to like every facet of science” is like my sub-motto. (Although naturally biology wins because it’s coolest … trufax, no argument, case closed).
Also, stop stop-motion, frame-by-frame animation takes forever. I now know why Pixar uses computers.
A GIFset of Ghosts of Evolution
GIF-Ghosts of Evolution
GIFts of Evolution
I don’t even know. Creative post titles are hard, okay? Just watch it or something :)
P.S. - In the third one do I look like the world’s greatest magician or what?
I'm Joe Hanson, Ph.D. biologist and host/writer of PBS Digital Studios' It's Okay To Be Smart.
Check out my "Episode Extras" here. There's a lot of amazing science out there. Let's learn something together.
"Everyone's favorite Feynman of the Tumblr era" - Maria Popova
Joe's science book recommendations, from brains to biology to space to art to physics.
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