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Most animals, humans included, have bodily rhythms governed by the sun. But for nocturnal critters it's the moon that matters, affecting everything from lovemaking to lion attacks. Tungara frogs (Engystomops pustulosus), which live throughout Central and South America, call and mate at night. They usually prefer to be out and about when it's really dark, since illumination increases their risk of getting eaten. Folklore says that coyotes howl at the full moon, but it turns out they're more particular than that. Coyotes (Canis latrans) use three different types of howls: lone, group and group-yip howling. For the iconic lone howl, the phase of the moon makes no difference. Hundreds of species of coral spawn once a year in a mass synchronized event, releasing millions of eggs and countless numbers of sperm into the water a few nights after a full moon. The timing of spawning varies from species to species and by location. For instance, in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, more than 100 of the 400-plus species of corals spawn simultaneously over the course of a few nights during spring or early summer.


view 7 Animals That Get Busy in the Moonlight as presented by: Discover Magazine

In his new book, Serpentine, photographer Mark Laita tackles the tricky photographic subject of snakes. Over the course of the last decade and a half he has captured these colorful, charismatic and sometimes creepy animals. DISCOVER's Breanna Draxler spoke with Laita about the project, and here we feature some of the most striking images and the stories behind them. "I’m not a specialist in snakes," Laita says. "I just think they’re beautiful." Controversy surrounds the taxonomy of the snake pictured here, and very little is known about this species in particular. But the genus is known to feed on frogs, lizards and small mammals.


view Snakes' Glamour Shots Show Off Their Curves as presented by: Discover Magazine

It’s hard to know what a sustainable building even looks like today, with a glut of different “green” classifications, LEED levels, and marketing pushes. But one criterion, the Living Building Challenge (LBC), founded in 2006, outstrips the others. And now its flagship building—a 50,000-square-foot office building in downtown Seattle called the Bullitt Center—is being called the greenest commercial building in the world. The $30 million building’s opening ceremony is today, a fitting date as the foundation’s president, Denis Hayes, is also the founder of Earth Day. Once tenants are moved in—educational facilities on the bottom and office space up top—the structure is expected to use only 23 percent of the energy typically required for a building of its size.


view Look Inside the World's Greenest Office Building as presented by: Discover Magazine

Visiting other planets is a dream that most of us alive today will have to experience vicariously through probes like the plucky NASA Mars rovers, which have sent a thousand photo albums' worth of snapshots back to Earth. But here's what most people don't realize: you can get a feel for visiting other worlds just by going to certain places on our own planet. Another extreme, but surprisingly lively, environment can be found in Antarctica's Dry Valleys, which are some of the most inhospitable places on Earth: temperatures have fallen as low as -90 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds can blow up to 200 mph. They still host hardy organisms like lichens, mosses, and nematodes that can survive the brutal conditions. Scientists believe that, like the lifeless Atacama, these valleys resemble the environment on Mars; studying how creatures nevertheless manage to survive there could give insight into how life might exist on the Red Planet. Engineering projects intended for interplanetary travel, like this six-legged rover meant to carry heavy loads across the surface of a distant moon or planet, can also be found gallivanting across Earth's deserts. The desert outside Flagstaff, Arizona, was the proving grounds for this rover, called ATHLETE--All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer--which someday might transport living quarters for astronauts. Deserts are not the only otherwordly places on Earth. Astronauts can train for space missions in underwater environments like the enormous Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, located in NASA's Johnson Space Center. But these huge bathtubs do not always accurately simulate the trials of space missions: for instance, astronauts can't live in modules at the bottom of these tubs for days on end. That's when NASA turns to the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory. Located 60 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean near Key Largo, it lets spacewalkers work with support crews and a mission control. These particular astronauts are participating in NEEMO 15, the latest NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations voyage; they are helping NASA determine the best way to send a manned crew to an asteroid.


view Where Earth Is Unearthly: Exotic Places That Resemble Alien Planets as presented by: Discover Magazine

Nathan Myhrvold earned a Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics at 23, helped Stephen Hawking research the quantum theory of gravitation as a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, served as Microsoft's chief technology officer, became a billionaire, and founded an invention-generating company that now holds more than 30,000 patents, including one for an invisibility cloak and another for a laser beam that annihilates malaria-ridden mosquitoes. But that's not all he's done with his science knowledge. In March he published a six-volume, 2,400-page, 40-pound cookbook called Modernist Cuisine that attempts to catalog every science principle known (and, until now, unknown) to cooking. To research the tome, he and a team of 50 chefs, writers, and photographers spent five years conducting detailed tests, many of them involving liquid nitrogen, rotary evaporators, centrifuges, and other industrial paraphernalia. We asked Myhrvold and Wayt Gibbs, the editor-in-chief of Modernist Cuisine, to share a few favorites among the 3,200 photos in the book, along with some of the counterintuitive insights they gained along the way. Prepare to unleash your inner Frankenchef. Essential oils like those of lemon and orange, and concentrated aromatic compounds like vanilla, are to flavor what Klaxon sirens are to sound. Thanks largely to the perfume industry, a huge variety of essences are available, from allspice to wormwood. Some chefs have begun using laboratory-style distillation equipment to derive their own concentrates as well. Smoking is usually associated with sausages, ribs, and salmon, but there's no reason you can't smoke plant foods as well. With vegetables, the goal of smoking is to flavor rather than preserve, though some preservation inevitably results from the dehydration that occurs. Traditional examples of smoked vegetables include the charred, mashed eggplant in baba ghanoush and the smoked Mexican chili peppers known as chipotles. The trick is getting flavors in the smoke to condense in a film on the vegetables without heating them so much that their texture is significantly altered. New cold-smokers allow vegetables like this onion to remain at refrigerator-like temperature while smoke is piped in from a fire.A good pork roast is as sublime as it is uncommon: Its flesh is tender and juicy, its skin delicate and crisp. But how do you get that superb crackly exterior without overcooking the meat? One solution is to cook the skin and meat separately. Vacuum seal the pork in plastic and slow-cook in a water bath until the meat reaches the same temperature throughout. Meanwhile, gelatinize and fry the detached skin and sprinkle it on the loin. Here we garnish it with edible "coals" made out of stewed prunes and caramel foam.


view Beautiful, Edible Science: Cold Smoke, Flaming Oranges and Gelatinized Skin as presented by: Discover Magazine

The U.S. Navy wants to put powerful lasers on its ships to shoot down artillery shells and even cruise missiles at the speed of light (and really, who wouldn't). But there are a few scientific details to sort out before sailors can deploy the beams. "First we want to make sure the physics is right before throwing buckets of salt water over the thing," says Ed Pogue. Pogue is the program manager for Boeing's free electron laser (FEL) program, potentially the most ambitious laser weapons program since the Pentagon's controversial airborne laser. In that program, the Missile Defense Agency spent billions of dollars and over a decade to get a laser-rigged jumbo jet to destroy a ballistic missile in its boost phase of flight. They eventually succeeded in February 2010, but the Obama administration nixed plans to develop the experiment into a battle-ready weapon. Maybe the Navy's project will meet a better fate. In 5 years, at a cost of $163 million, Boeing hopes to get the physics right and demonstrate an extremely powerful--and hopefully seaworthy--giant laser. It's no small task, in part because the laser they're using is powered by several particle accelerators. Here's an overview of how the Navy's free electron laser works. These are the guts of the high voltage power supply, which provides juice to the electron gun. When the system is fully assembled, the six-foot-high metallic coils will be sealed in a pressurized chamber filled with a gas called sulfur hexafluoride. The massive amounts of power--hundreds of kilovolts--that the coils produce can cause arc discharges, when energy is discharged into the air. The sulfur hexafluoride prevents that from happening because it doesn't conduct electricity as well as air does.


view How to Build the Ultimate Naval Defense: Uber-Powerful Lasers as presented by: Discover Magazine

It may look more like a perplexing work of avant-garde sculpture than it does a telescope, but make no mistake about it--the golden snowflake on a surfboard that is the James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier eye in the sky of the next decade. With the assistance of the Webb, astronomers hope to take a giant leap forward in understanding the origins of the cosmos. It trumps all previous space telescopes by virtue of its 18 hexagonal reflectors, which combine to form a huge mirror roughly seven times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. This will allow it to collect far more light to see with, enabling it to peer at the most distant objects in the universe. Since light travels in time as well as space, the further away the James Webb Space Telescope can see, the further back in time it can look, granting the world unparalleled glimpses of the light from the first galaxies. This next-generation space observatory will yield vital clues about every stage in the history of the cosmos, from the formation of the universe to the evolution of our own solar system. Expected to launch in 2014, NASA has allowed us sneak peeks at how one goes about building a successor for Hubble.


view How to Build a Telescope Even More Powerful Than Hubble as presented by: Discover Magazine

"It was one of those images that demanded more investigation," says photographer and film maker Andrew Zuckerman of a photo of a macaw that he had shot for his first book, CREATURE. So for his latest project, Zuckerman focused his lenses on birds. "Imagery of birds is found in all ancient art and has been repeatedly used throughout history—I was curious if I could add something to this tradition." The result is the new book BIRD from Chronicle Books, a collection of avian photographs stunning for their brilliant simplicity. Here, DISCOVER presents some high-flying highlights. From the plebeian pigeon to the rarest bird of all. The Spix's macaw, or the little blue macaw, may be the most endangered bird in the world. The last remaining member of its species known to be living in the wild, a lone male, was discovered in Brazil in 1990, but it has not been seen since 2000. Approximately 120 individuals now survive in captive breeding programs. Fifty of these are kept in the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar where Andrew captured them on film. This scarlet macaw is found in the subtropical rainforests of Central and South America. Individual birds can grow up to three feet in length, with nearly half that length consisting of long, tapered tail feathers. here's something special in a blue feather. Unlike feathers of other colors, which are pigmented, bright blue feathers, like these on the vulturine guineafowl, are the result of nanoscale structures in the feather barbs. Microscopic air cavities within the feather barbs are arranged just so to allow coherent light scattering, creating a blue hue. Green feathers are typically the result of a combination of blue structural color and yellow pigments.


view Stunning High-Speed Photos of Birds as presented by: Discover Magazine


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