Science: Pluto’s Giant Ice Patterns, Pamplona’s Bull-Running Crowd Dynamics

An explanation for giant ice structures on Pluto, and dismantling the mestizo myth in Latin American genetics.

In this episode:

00:46 The frozen root of Pluto’s polygonal patterns

In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons probe sent back some intriguing images of Pluto. Huge polygonal patterns could be seen on the surface of a nitrogen-ice ice filled basin known as Sputnik Planitia. This week, a team put forward a new theory to explain these perplexing patterns.

Research article: Morison et al.

06:15 Research Highlights

How Pamplona’s bull-running defies the dynamics of crowd motion, and self-healing microbial bio-bricks.

Research Highlight: Running of the bulls tramples the laws of crowd dynamics

Research Highlight: It’s alive! Bio-bricks can signal to others of their kind

09:06 How the mixed-race ‘mestizo’ myth has fostered discrimination

The term ‘mestizo’ emerged during the colonial period in Latin America to describe a blend of ethnicities – especially between Indigenous peoples and the Spanish colonizers. But this label is a social construct not a well-defined scientific category. Now researchers are challenging the mestizo myth, which they say is harmful and has a troubling influence on science.

Feature: How the mixed-race mestizo myth warped science in Latin America

17:22 Briefing Chat

We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, how interrupted sleep could be a route to creativity, and the development of vaccines to target respiratory syncytial virus.

New Scientist: Interrupting sleep after a few minutes can boost creativity


Cover Previews: Scientific American – January 2022

Home Renovations: 18th C. Colonial In Longmeadow, Massachusetts (Video)

Today on Architectural Digest we visit Longmeadow, Massachusetts to tour a colonial-era home with a ton of potential but needing lots of work. Contractor Nick Schiffer from NS Builders takes us through this 18th century relic room by room – laying out the possibilities for restoring the historic flourishes while bringing the property into the present day.

Travel Views: Budapest – Capital Of Hungary (4K)

Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views.

Wildfires: The Alder Creek Giant Sequoia Graveyard

On a dead still November morning in the Sierra Nevada, two researchers walk through a graveyard of giants. Below their feet: a layer of ash and coal. Above their heads: a charnel house of endangered trees.

This is Alder Creek Grove, a once idyllic environment for a majestic and massive specimen: the giant sequoia. It is now a blackened monument to a massive wildfire—and humankind’s far-reaching impact on the environment. But these two researchers have come to do more than pay their respects.

Linnea Hardlund and Alexis Bernal, both of the University of California, Berkeley, are studying the effects of record-breaking fires such as the one that destroyed large swaths of Alder Creek Grove in the hopes that their findings will inform forest management that might preserve giant sequoias for future generations.

So far, those findings are grim: mortality in Alder Creek Grove is near 100 percent. Of the mighty trees that stood watch for thousands of years, only charred skeletons remain. About a century of aggressive fire suppression and a warming, drier climate have created a perfect environment for unprecedented fire.

On August 19, 2020, it came to the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The SQF Complex was two fires—the Castle and Shotgun fires—that burned for more than four months, affecting nearly 175,000 acres. And a preliminary report on the Castle Fire estimated that 10 to 14 percent of all living giant sequoias were destroyed.

Hardlund, who is also at the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League, and Bernal fear that, without scientifically informed intervention, such fires will continue to return to the Sierra Nevada—leaving the once proud guardians of the forest a memory and another casualty of our ecological failure.

Previews: Times Literary Supplement – December 17

Morning News: Ethiopia Rebellion, Reining Crypto In, North Korean Wives

More than a year after a rebellion Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised to put down in weeks, the balance of power keeps shifting—and neighbouring states may soon be drawn in.

To the chagrin of libertarian crypto types, regulators are weighing in on an industry now worth trillions. And the fed-up North Korean wives earning more than their husbands.

Tilt-Shift Views: Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a German ski resort in Bavaria, formed when 2 towns united in 1935. It’s a prominent destination for skiing and ice skating as well as hiking. The town lies near the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, with a 2,962m summit accessed by cogwheel train and cable car. Garmisch is considered the more fashionable section, while Partenkirchen’s cobblestone streets retain a traditional Bavarian feel.