This week, astronomers revealed the first image ever of a black hole—the gargantuan mass at the heart of nearby galaxy Messier 87. The image, a ring of fire surrounding the blackest of shadows, is a powerful confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, or general relativity, which was used to predict black holes 80 years ago. It is also a feat for the team of more than 200 scientists who toiled for years to produce the image by combining signals from eight separate radio observatories spanning the globe.
Archaeologists alarmed by the rise of what they call “pseudoarchaeology” are taking to Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube to debunk false claims about ancient civilizations, including claims that aliens helped build the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, refugees from Atlantis brought advanced technology to cultures around the world, and European immigrants were the original inhabitants of North America. Researchers say almost all such claims depend on the racist assumption that ancient non-European societies weren’t capable of inventing sophisticated architecture, calendars, math, and astronomy on their own.
For decades, scientists have searched in vain for a human pheromone—a chemical signal in human body odor. Now, atmospheric chemists are using techniques for parsing atmospheric particles to breathe new life into the stalled field of inquiry. Tools of their trade, such as proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry, could aid in the hunt for pheromones—measuring the changing concentrations of compounds in real time as people react to different situations.
Investigating lost historical sites, like those destroyed by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, is a major challenge for archaeologists. Now, researchers are using declassified high-resolution photos taken by U.S. spy planes to reconstruct archaeological sites lost to development and war in recent decades. Declassified in 1997, the photos were taken by U-2 spy planes that flew over the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, South America, and Cuba during the 1950s and 1960s.
Physicist Danielle Bassett catapulted herself into a life of research in a largely uncharted scientific field now known as network neuroscience. A Ph.D. physicist and a MacArthur fellow by age 32, she has pioneered the use of concepts from physics and math to describe the dynamic connections in the human brain. Bassett’s lab tackles a whiplash-inducing variety of questions: Do our brains navigate words in written text the way they navigate physical space? Does the structure of college students’ brains and the structure of their social networks make it hard for them to abstain from alcohol? Bassett is now pushing to take network science beyond describing the brain to offering ways to change it.