TIME animals

Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other’s Butts? Here Comes the Science

An explainer from the American Chemical Society

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You know when you see an otherwise cute and perfect dog with his nose just straight up buried in another dog’s behind, and you’re just like, seriously, dude, why?

This new video from the American Chemical Society explains the science behind this seemingly peculiar behavior — and why the smell doesn’t overwhelm them.

TIME relationships

Sigh: Men Think Women Who Listen to Them Are Sexier

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Listening woman Image Source RF/Wonwoo Lee—Getty Images/Image Source

A new study shows that men think women who are aware of their feelings are attractive, but it didn't necessarily work the other way around

Dusty Springfield was right all those years ago when she said the best way to a man’s heart was to “show him that you care.” A new study shows that men are more sexually attracted to “responsive” women who tend to their needs, but the same can’t be said about what attracts women to men.

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that after just meeting, men were more likely to be sexually attracted to a woman who was “responsive,” which meant “aware of what I’m thinking and feeling” or “listening to me.” Men perceived responsive women as more feminine, and therefore more sexually attractive.

Dr. Gurit Birnbaum, one of the authors of the study, said that “responsiveness” could also indicate which women would be viewed as long-term partners vs. short term hookups. “A responsive partner may be perceived as a warm and caring and therefore a desirable long-term partner,” she said in an email.

Unsurprisingly, the female attitude towards male “responsiveness” was more complicated. On the one hand, some women saw responsiveness as an indication that the man would be a desirable mate, while others suspiciously viewed it as a ploy to manipulate them into sex. Still others thought that “responsiveness” was un-masculine, and therefore not sexy.

So there might be actually some science behind the whole “nice guys finish last” thing.

What a bummer.

TIME Science

2 New Holes Mysteriously Appear in Siberia

More holes are discovered in Siberia, leaving scientist puzzled

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Two new mysterious holes have appeared in the Siberian permafrost, the Siberian Times reports—just two weeks after the first crater appeared in the northern Yamal peninsula.

The second hole, some 15 meters wide, was found a few hundred kilometers away from the first, also in the Yamal peninsula. Like the first, the second hole has piles of dirt surrounding the perimeter, indicating an excavation or explosion. However, scientists have yet to confirm what’s causing the strange phenomena. Some believe they’re a result of meteorite impacts, while others look towards natural gas explosions under earth’s surface.

 

Mikhail Lapsui, a deputy of the regional parliament, inspected the second hole, reports the Siberian Times, while also gathering information from locals.

“According to local residents, the hole formed on 27 September 2013,” Lapsui told the Times. “Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially at the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”

Reindeer herders stumbled upon the third crater alongside a pasture trail in the Taymyr peninsula to the east of Yamal. Scientists estimate that hole to be 60 to 100 meters deep with a diameter of 4 meters.

The two new holes will undergo investigations. The first hole—70 meters deep—revealed an ice-covered lake at the bottom.

[Siberian Times]

TIME Science

Note to Science: The GOP’s Just Not That That Into You

Rick Scott: Not a scientist—and darn proud to say it
Rick Scott: Not a scientist—and darn proud to say it Orlando Sentinel; MCT via Getty Images

Fla. Gov. Rick Scott is the latest Republican to play the scientific ignorance card. It's a game that's gotten old

Every dysfunctional relationship proceeds though the same stages: from promise to problem to crisis and, ultimately, to repetitive farce. There is one more embarrassing public scene, one more fight that disturbs the neighbors—a lather-rinse-repeat cycle that becomes more tiresome than anything else. That final stage is where the hard right of the GOP has at last arrived in its tortured pas de deux with science.

The most recent Republican to get into an ugly dust-up with the scientific truth is Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Running for re-election against former Gov. (and former Republican) Charlie Crist—and currently trailing in polls—Scott was asked by a reporter whether he believes climate change is real. Depressingly but predictably, he went for what is becoming the go-to dodge for too many in the GOP when pressed on a scientific fact that they dare not acknowledge for fear of fallout from the base, but can no longer openly deny for fear of being called out for willful know-nothingism. “I’m not a scientist,” Scott thus began—and there he should have stopped.

The device, of course, is meant to suggest that the issue is just too complex, just too abstruse for people without advanced degrees to presume to pass judgment on. It was the bob-and-weave used by Fla. Senator Marco Rubio when GQ magazine asked him the age of the Earth. “I’m not a scientist, man,” he said—adding the “man” fillip because it presumably suggested a certain whew-this-stuff-is-hard fatigue.

It was used as well by House Speaker John Boehner when he was pressed about proposed EPA regulations intended to curb greenhouse gasses. “Well, listen,” he began, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

There’s something not just risibly dishonest about this reg’lar-folk pose, it’s flat-out unseemly too, which is why less disingenuous Republicans, whatever their views, tend to find a defter way to phrase things. Boehner, Scott, Rubio and the like are seeking to have things two incompatible ways—they deny the science, even ridicule the science, and then they seek to hide behind the skirts of the science, recusing themselves from answering questions because it’s all just too dang complicated.

Never mind that if you take them at their word—if you say, okay, let’s see what the eggheads in the labs say, and it turns out that the eggheads in the labs all but universally agree that global warming is dangerously, frighteningly real—they neatly flip the script. The scientists—the ones to whom they pretend to defer—are suddenly dismissed as “grant-grubbing” hoaxsters, conniving with liberal politicians to “expand the role of government.”

But, okay, let’s pretend the politicos are sincere. If the Speaker, by his own admission, isn’t qualified to debate climate change, fine, he’s excused from the conversation—and he should be expected not to offer further opinion on the matter. This, however, is a dangerous game to play. If being a scientist, man, is a threshold requirement for taking a thoughtful, honest position on climate change, then the same is true for being an economist or physician or astronomer if you presume to offer an opinion on the federal budget or the health care law or NASA funding.

The “both sides do it” faux equivalency game is hard to play on this one, since science denial is simply not endemic in the Democratic party the way it is in the GOP. But that hardly means all Dems have covered themselves in glory. West Va. Sen. Joe Manchin literally shot a hole in a copy of the cap and trade bill in a 2010 election ad, a crude symbolic twofer that signaled yes to guns and no to climate regulation in his rural, coal-producing state. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, locked in a tough reelection battle, has consistently blocked climate action, opposing tighter regulations on coal-fired power plants, because, she says, “Requiring [the plants] to use technology that has not been proven viable in industrial settings is completely backward,” a good argument if what she says about the technology were remotely accurate—which it isn’t.

But the hard truth is Manchin and Landrieu are outliers among the Democrats, while the counterfactual voices are among the loudest within Republican ranks. The time really has come for the GOP to fix its relationship with science—or just break up for good. Either way, they should do something soon, because the rest of us are getting sick of the fighting.

TIME Archaeology

The Bodies in the Bogs: An Eerie Gift From the Iron Age

Tollund man, victim of human sacrifice by ritual strangulation in Denmark.
Tollund man, victim of human sacrifice by ritual strangulation in Denmark. Werner Forman—UIG/Getty Images

There are cold cases and there are cold cases, but it’s hard to beat the one that came to light on May 6, 1950, in Silkeborg, Denmark. The local folks were already on edge after reports that a schoolboy from Copenhagen had recently gone missing, and when two brothers from the nearby town of Tollund went digging for peat in a Silkeborg bog, they made a gruesome discovery: a buried body with a rope around its neck showing no signs of decomposition. This was a murder — and it was clearly a fresh one.

Except it wasn’t. The body wore no clothes other than a pointed, leatherized, sheepskin cap that seemed not of this era. The rope was handwoven, not machine-made. And the face of the victim was covered with stubble — clearly not belonging to a young boy. All that, plus the noose, plus the ancient history of the site, suggested that this was not a body from the early years of the space age, but the latter years of the Iron Age. Carbon dating confirmed that — placing the man’s death somewhere between 375 B.C. and 210 B.C.

The extraordinarily well-preserved state of what became known as the Tollund Man was due to the unique chemistry of the bog, with its lack of oxygen, cool temperatures and bacteria-unfriendly acidic environment. The fact that there were remains to unearth at all suggested that, despite the noose, this man was not technically murdered or hanged as a criminal. If he had been, he would have been cremated. Rather, he was probably ritually hanged as a spiritual sacrifice.

Some parts of the man’s body did not fare as well as others. His arms and hands were reduced to little more than a thin layer of toughened tissue covering bones. But his internal organs — particularly heart, lungs and liver — were very well preserved. He is thought to have been about 40 when he died and stood no taller than about 5 ft. 3 in. (1.6 m).

The Tollund Man is by no means the only bog person to have been uncovered in recent decades. About a thousand others have been found in Ireland, England, Denmark and the Low Countries. This July 27, which is, yes, International Bog Day, is a good time to tip a hat to these unglamorous mires of mud and decayed vegetation. They provide an extraordinary look into an often mysterious past — and allow the people of the Iron Age to make themselves mutely known in the modern one.

TIME Outer Space

What’s Next For NASA? Asteroids!

NASA aims to continue their space exploration with their Asteroid Redirect Mission.

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NASA has not sent astronauts to the moon since 1972. While that remains a historic event, President Barack Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation Program back in 2010 ended hopes indefinitely of the United States returning to the moon any time soon.

Still, that program’s death did not mark the end of NASA’s work and planetary exploration overall. The agency is currently working on its next target: catching an asteroid, pulling it into the moon’s orbit and sending astronauts to its location in order to study it.

The purpose of the mission, according to NASA, is for planetary defense, as the Earth has had instances of asteroid interference in very recent history. Scientists claim that in changing the orbit of an asteroid and studying its composition, Earth could protect itself from another asteroid crashing into its atmosphere.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission, should it be successful, could also be used as a testing ground for a possible mission to Mars in the near future.

TIME Science

45 Years Later: Remembering the First Moon Landing

The mission that made space history

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Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly described which Apollo 11 crew members walked on the moon.

On July 16, 1969, a small group of astronauts took one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.

It’s been 45 years since Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to walk on the moon, leaving those back on Earth to stare at their television screens in awe. The men spent two hours collecting lunar rocks to bring back home to Earth to study.

To commemorate the milestone, the Slooh Space Camera will broadcast live footage from the moon on Sunday, July 20, at 8:30 E.T.

TIME movies

Why Movies Rely on Science to Get to Spirituality

Lucy / I Origins
Top: I Origins, Bottom: Lucy Top: Fox Searchlight; Bottom: Universal Pictures

I Origins and Lucy both use science to get to even deeper subjects

In 1985, the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph appeared on the cover of National Geographic. Her eyes captivated the world, but even the photographer, Steve McCurry, didn’t know her name. Nearly two decades later, the magazine announced that they had made a discovery: they knew her name, and they were sure. The woman’s identity had been confirmed by comparing a scan of the eyes in the photograph to an iris scan of her grown-up self; irises are as unique as fingerprints, and a “print” can be taken from a high-resolution photograph if the eye in question is not available.

“I thought this was a really beautiful story,” says filmmaker Mike Cahill, best known for Another Earth. “It felt like a great place to have the conversation between science and spirituality.”

He liked the story so much that it became the inspiration behind his new movie, I Origins, in theaters today. It’s a trippy tale of iris scans, love, genetics and — though Cahill was extremely careful never to say the word during the movie, so that viewers could draw their own conclusions — the possibility of reincarnation. In that, it’s an example of the way that movies can use science to get at the questions their creators care about.

And it’s not alone: Lucy, arriving in theaters next week, on July 25, takes a similar tack. Lucy, from writer/director Luc Besson, is an action-packed fable about a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances and a mysterious drug, able to harness the full power of her brain. Besson’s film was also born of a real-life interaction, a conversation with a young scientist he happened to sit next to at a dinner party. Besson says that he had always wanted to do a film about the concept of intelligence and that this was his chance; he could use some of the ideas from the conversation about the way cells work to say what he wanted to say about how knowledge is power.

“I like this combination, when the science leads to beauty or art or philosophy,” Besson tells TIME. “It’s something very unique and very beautiful.”

But where Cahill and Besson differ is in just how much actual science has to be in the scientific part.

Cahill stresses that the science of I Origins is all fact-based, from the particular genes mentioned to the international uses of iris biometrics to, he says, the theoretical possibility that we may have senses not yet detectable. He also wanted his scientist characters to be accurate representations, so he consulted with his brother, a molecular biologist, and brought the cast down to his brother’s lab at Johns Hopkins to do character research. Besson’s starting point, meanwhile, is famously nonfactual: the idea that humans walk around with 90% of their brains going unused so infuriates some neuroscience fans that they’ve sworn off the movie preemptively. But, though Besson says he did a lot of research before starting, he’s less concerned about those details. For him, the “scientific” part is less about facts than it is about a grounding in reality. For example, he objects to the characterization of Lucy, his heroine, as having super-strength or super powers; instead, he sees the film as a meditation on what might be possible if a person could make her mind and body do exactly what she wished. Staying away from a superhero-esque way of seeing it helps the movie make a point about something real, says Besson, who adds that at this point in his life he’s too old to make an action movie that doesn’t have a deeper meaning.

“Half of the things in the film are true. The other half is not true. But if you mix everything together, everything looks real,” he says. “It’s funny because today everybody knows that movies are fake, but in a way we’re in such a crisis that everyone is looking for a little piece of truth in it. Politicians are supposed to tell the truth and they’re lying all day long. Films are supposed to be fake and sometimes you get some truth.”

That relationship between fact and fiction explains why, even though Besson and Cahill don’t feel the same way about how factual their facts have to be, they both use science-y concepts to get at something that couldn’t be examined in a lab. For Cahill, it was that mysteriously romantic feeling of looking in someone’s eyes and feeling like you’ve known her forever. For Besson, it was the more theoretical question of what a person who can know everything should do with that power. For both, it was the idea that human beings may be capable of more than we know. That’s an end goal that may easier for audiences to swallow if it comes from a world that feels like it might be real — but, for Cahill and Besson, that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.

“It’s incredible to think about the fact that the sum total of human knowledge, everything that we know, expands every day, just like the universe,” says Cahill. “And the force behind that expansion is scientific discovery.”

TIME space

United Arab Emirates Says It Will Go To Mars By 2021

Mars
Mars Digital Vision/Getty Images

A bold announcement by the United Arab Emirates is more than just an idle boast

The big news out of the Middle East this week is mostly about war and other kinds of tribulation, as it was last week and probably will for weeks to come. War and tribulation, that is, plus a mission to Mars.

According to a report by Reuters, the United Arab Emirates announced it would be creating a space agency by 2021 and sending an umanned probe to the Red Planet—something only the U.S., the USSR/Russian Federation and the European Space Agency have done with any success, while the British, Japanese and Chinese have tried and failed. The jury is still out on an Indian probe, which is currently en route.

So can they do it, or is this just some crazy stunt the UAE hopes nobody will remember when the time comes? The answer: it’s not necessarily crazy. True, the country has no aerospace industry, but a government-backed group based in the Persian Gulf country bought nearly a third of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a private space tourism company. Moreover, says John Logsdon, a space policy expert and professor emeritus at George Washington University, “The UAE has already been active in space with communications satellites and Earth observation satellites.”

They’ve done this, he says, by purchasing both satellites and launch services from other countries, and they’d almost certainly put together a Mars probe the same way. “Most of the technical work and the launch would be contracted out,” he speculates, “but some of the components could be developed internally.” If that happened, and if UAE space agency engineers were in charge of mission control, he says, “they could appropriately claim that this mission was their own.”

Given the UAE’s deep pockets, it’s certainly possible that the country could pull off such a project, which would bring a new kind of prestige to the region. The Arab world did invent algebra and enjoyed a golden age of science for centuries leading up to the Medieval period and many Arabs dream of the return to that kind of scientific ascendancy. Recent, eye-catching projects—including the successful construction of the world’s tallest building and the world’s largest indoor ski resort—hint at inventive potential.

A Mars mission would obviously be a bit more ambitious, but in the end, it’s really just rocket science, which isn’t as complicated as we sometimes tend to think. Still, it’s one thing to say you’re going to do something like this and quite another to do it. After all, in 1969, NASA was similarly talking about our own manned mission to Mars—with astronauts aboard—in what was then the near future. It could be done, said Wernher von Braun, the rocket engineer behind that year’s successful Moon landing, by 1982.

But it never happened, and who knows if it ever will? The UAE, aided by expertise from other countries, can certainly get a probe to Mars by 2021, in theory.

Whether they’ll actually do it is whole different story.

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