What to Read, View and Visit in June

North America as you've never seen it, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin talks space, Simon Pegg wants a transporter and a vacation destination that demands (radio) silence.

By Gemma Tarlach|Tuesday, October 22, 2013
RELATED TAGS: TV, BOOKS, MUSEUMS, TECHNOLOGY
northern-lights
northern-lights
Nick Lyon/Wild Horizons Ltd; Discovery Channel

TV

North America
Discovery Channel, 9 p.m. EDT May 19

Grizzly bears become aquatic ballerinas as they dive deep into Alaskan waters for salmon. Thousands of miles to the south, the rare desert jaguar moves ghostlike through a Mexican landscape. And across the breadth of the continent, massive severe weather systems gather strength, their destructive power captured in HDR time-lapse sequences. The production crew for the Discovery Channel’s North America series spent more than three years filming the show, shivering in Canada’s frozen Yukon territory and sweltering in the rainforests of Belize. All you have to do is sit back, watch and be awed.

Brilliant-Blunders
Brilliant-Blunders

Books

Brilliant Blunders
by Mario Livio

Everyone makes mistakes, even supergeniuses. Our greatest minds’ biggest errors often reveal insights into their personalities and fields of study, from Darwin’s incomplete understanding of his theory of evolution to Einstein’s rejection of the cosmological constant, a concept that foreshadowed the discovery of dark energy. Overeager to provide context, astrophysicist and author Livio pads the book with too much history and basic science irrelevant to the topics at hand. But he has an engaging style that entertains even as it revisits much of high-school science class. —Bill Andrews

Wild-Ones
Wild-Ones

Wild Ones
by Jon Mooallem

Dismayed by the disconnect between reality and the cartoonish animals populating his young daughter’s pajamas, books and view of the natural world, journalist Mooallem sets off to explore often circuitous human-animal relationships: The once-feared polar bear has become the cherished mascot of climate change, and whales, once hunted without restraint, now attract near-fanatical rescue efforts. Mooallem argues conservation is and always has been about fulfilling people’s need for nostalgic wildness, however contrived and fictitious it may be. Every generation strives to return the Earth to some idealized former state. Although his journey is sobering, Mooallem’s conclusion is upbeat: Even small conservation victories matter. —Breanna Draxler

LA-natural-history-museum
LA-natural-history-museum
Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging/NHM

Museum

Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

In the middle of a yearlong centennial celebration, NHM is unveiling a new Nature Lab and officially opening the nearby Nature Gardens, a 3-acre outdoor space designed to attract furred and feathered Angelenos. The open exhibit is an active field monitoring site for the city’s unique biodiversity. Both the Gardens and Lab will be hot spots for citizen science projects scheduled throughout the year. Opens June 9.

Technology

Necomimi Cat Ears

cat-ears
cat-ears
Dan Bishop/DISCOVER
Our feline friends’ ear movements can tell us a lot with a twitch or two. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true for humans, too? NeuroSky’s Necomimi cat ears are the latest consumer gadget to use electroencephalography (EEG), in this case to reveal a wearer’s degrees of relaxation and focus. Unlike old-school mood rings that change color based on body temperature, the ears reportedly react to the wearer’s brain waves. No word if extended wear causes unnatural interest in balls of yarn.
cat-ears-demo
cat-ears-demo

The ears perk up when you’re focused and attentive, indicating beta brain-wave dominance (left). The ears droop down when you’re calm and relaxed, indicating alpha brain-wave dominance (center). The ears wiggle, indicating high alpha and high beta wave activity, when you are both highly focused and highly relaxed (right).

James Forbes/DISCOVER
buzz-aldrin
buzz-aldrin
NASA

Interviews

Buzz Aldrin: From spaceman to Axe pitchman

In his newest book, Mission to Mars, Buzz Aldrin outlines his vision for exploring the Red Planet. He writes that “Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar examined, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked and even blasted. Still to come: Mars being stepped on.” 

DISCOVER staff writer Breanna Draxler spoke with Aldrin about Mars colonization and the moonwalker’s new role as a spokesman for the Axe Apollo fragrance.

Why should we go to Mars?

I believe it’s sort of a destiny of humanity to move outward and not turn around and come back. 

What is your motivation for making it a permanent settlement?

We may find the Earth uninhabitable for varieties of reasons in the future — some of our own making and some of asteroidal impact.

How do you justify sending people to colonize another planet instead of cleaning up the one we’re already on?

We can continue to sweep the streets here and allow China, Russia, India and Japan to reap the benefits of advanced technology, along with economic growth and superiority over a nation that is sitting back and trying to live on past achievements. [But] it’s the American spirit, to “go west young man.” And now it’s to “go outward, young people, middle-aged people and old guys.” 

Buzz-Aldrin-today
Buzz-Aldrin-today
Rebecca Hale/National Geographic Society

What are the practical advantages of living on Mars versus Earth?

There are just tremendous opportunities for science, to discover what the early solar system was like, whereas on Earth, the wind and the oceans have pretty much washed away most of the evidence. Most important, however, is the progress of technology, of expanding life beyond what we have here on Earth. It is a challenge to humanity.

Do you agree with Axe Apollo’s tagline, “Nothing beats an astronaut”? 

My divorce became final at the end of December, and I’m finding that single life does attract a number of people. (Chuckles.) You get the idea?

Want to hear more? Check out the extended audio version of Breanna's conversation with Buzz below. 

Simon-Pegg
Simon-Pegg
Sarah Dunn/Paramount Pictures
Simon (Pegg) Says: Beam Me Up, Please

Before he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise as the beloved chief engineer Montgomery Scott in 2009’s Star Trek and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness (in theaters May 17), actor and writer Simon Pegg earned a devoted fan base with such quirky hits as Shaun of the Dead and the British series Spaced. A lifelong sci-fi and science fan, his comments about the joys of being a geek have been embraced, reposted and retweeted into perpetual online orbit. Pegg phoned DISCOVER Associate Editor Gemma Tarlach from his home in London to talk about his iconic status.

A popular meme circulating online attributes to you the quote “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy...Being a geek is extremely liberating.” Were you surprised those words resonated with so many people?

It’s a peculiar wonder of the modern age that it’s become this big thing. I wasn’t making some MLK speech, standing on the balcony addressing the masses. I was sitting in a dirty little room at the BBC doing a radio program. But I think the person who turned it into a meme should be commended more than me.

How aggressively did you pursue the role of Scotty in Star Trek?

Star Trek just came up. I got a one-line email from J.J. [Abrams, the director]: Do you want to play Scotty? It was that forward. I was almost angry with him. It was like I’d gone on a date and the person had asked to have sex immediately. Wait a minute, I need a meal first.

Why do you love science fiction?

I love the huge potential it presents in terms of the unknown. When I was growing up, I would watch The Clangers on TV. It was very British, with little knitted pink elephants for aliens, but even at age 3 I would close the curtains and watch. It was so tantalizing to think about the vastness of space. I love that there’s so much that’s unknown still, and yet so much we’re discovering. And a lot of time what we discover is that there’s still so much we don’t yet know.

Favorite field of science?

Quantum physics is so fascinating. I went to a lecture Brian Cox gave, and I had to really concentrate on what he was saying, but I love the idea that we are mainly space, that the distance between particles is so vast. Physics is the theoretical blueprint of everything. 

Which sci-fi gadget would you give your eyeteeth for and why?

Transporter, without a doubt, though I fear for its introduction. The travel industry would collapse, and a lot of people would be out of work. There’s an element of romance to travel that the transporter would kill, but sometimes you just want to get somewhere straight away. I travel to LA a lot, and I would love for it to just be “Ping! You’re there!” But it will never happen.

You see so much potential in scientific discovery, how can you say a transporter will never happen? 

It’s way beyond even theory at this point. But never say never. Especially to a scientist.

Destinations

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Green Bank, West Virginia
38d-25"-48.2"N 79d-49'-03.93"W

Nestled in the allegheny mountains that border Virginia, a 2,700-acre complex of radio telescopes has served as a portal to deep space for more than 50 years. Visitors to the NRAO can see the scopes, stroll the parklike grounds and learn about the pioneers of radio astronomy, but they can’t use a cell phone — 13,000 square miles around the installation are a designated National Radio Quiet Zone to minimize interference with ongoing data collection.

national-radio-astronomy-observatory
national-radio-astronomy-observatory
B.Bird/NRAO/AUI/NSF
  • No-Dome Zone: Although the word “telescope” may conjure images of domed observatories, the GBT and its neighbors are radio telescopes that resemble satellite dishes. The scopes collect data on cosmic objects that aren’t visible to the eye but have properties, such as movement and temperature, that transmit radio waves. Black holes, for example, don’t emit light, but the GBT and other radio telescopes can detect their high-speed swirling. 

  • Hunting E.T.: The oldest of the eight scopes on site is the Howard Tatel Telescope, erected at Green Bank in 1958. The Tatel was the birthplace of SETI – the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – when astronomer Frank Drake used it to hunt for possible alien communications.

  • Tour It: From Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, the NRAO Science Center is open daily 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and runs hourly tours. Outside the summer season, the center’s opening times and tour schedule vary. Tours are $6 for adults, $3.50 for children 7-12 and free for children 6 and younger. 

  • De-Tech: The area around Green Bank is full of outdoor opportunities, including hiking through the Monongahela National Forest and visiting Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, an ecosystem more typical of Arctic tundra. The Cass Scenic Railroad, a popular summer outing, is less than 10 miles from the NRAO. In winter, strap on your skis at the Snowshoe Mountain resort, just 30 minutes west of the facility, for downhill fun.

  • Good to Know: Only simple film cameras are allowed at the NRAO. Digital cameras and 35 mm film cameras with advanced electronics are prohibited to prevent disruption of the scopes’ supersensitive data collection.

  • Go: Unless you’re a serious cyclist, the best way to visit Green Bank is with a car. The nearest major airport is in Charlottesville, Va., a university town with a Revolutionary-era historic district, about three hours’ drive east of Green Bank.

  • Go Deeper: Throughout the year, the center runs a number of special events, including a monthly behind-the-scenes tour hosted by an engineer, overnight field trips and a two-week summer science camp for high school students.
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