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The Priceless Potty, the Jiffy Boob Job and the Squid/Octopus Hybrid

The $19 million toilet

ISS_Toilet_2.jpgOkay, we never really expect the government to be too fiscally responsible, but it's still hard to fathom this. NASA announced last week that they're shelling out $19 million to buy a Russian toilet system to use in space. And that was a bargain. They explain that a toilet in space is like a water treatment plant on earth, so they saved big by buying the Russian model instead of building their own. The toilet, to be installed on the American side of the International Space Station, will look your standard airplane lavatory, except for the leg straps and thigh bar (see right). Plus, it's got the ability to transfer urine to a device that purifies drinking water. Even though the toilet does sound high-tech, it's sobering to think that for the same price NASA could have bought Curt Schilling and the cast of Friends.

Perfecting the Brewski

In a classic case of potential over-analyzation, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have revealed a procedure to use ultrasound equipment to test the quality of a fermented beverage. By strapping sensors to the outside of a container, they can bounce sound waves off of the particles in the brew to check for hung fermentation or bacteria. They haven't announced plans to market the equipment yet, but if it's available commercially, frat boys won't be able to get away with watering down their kegs anymore.

Even Rats Have a Golden Rule

Turns out calling someone a rat isn't as much of an insult as we always thought. Scientists showed that rats are actually pretty nice, especially when shown kindness. The rats were trained to pull a lever that fed food pellets to other rats. In turn, the rats receiving the food were more likely to pull the giving lever for other rats. Scientists are puzzled since this seems to run counter to evolutionary theory, but really it just shows that rats believe in karma as much as we do.

Tongue controlled wheelchairs, Really good vibrations and the Amazing Octosquid all after the jump!

The Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair:

KISS---Gene-Simmons--C11751295.jpegAdmit it: As an inexperienced prepubescent, you once practiced French kissing by yourself. Little did you know, that may have been practice for the future of transportation. The American company Think-a-Move has announced their development of an earplug that can detect movements of the tongue to control a wheelchair or computer. The movement in the tongue sends air through the Eustachian tube, which leads to the ear. Tests showed that the device has a 97 percent success rate with the commands for up, down, left and right. In addition to helping quadraplegics, the company says the device could be useful for soldiers and rescue workers. And Gene Simmons will just get a kick out of it.

The Amazing Octosquid

While cleaning the filters at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority water pipelines, scientists found a creature with the eight legs, the head of an octopus and the mantle of a squid. What to call this apparent hybrid-from-the-deep? Why, octosquid, of course! The specimen was about a foot long and doesn't appear to be of a known species. Octosquid is the temporary name until scientists can identify it further.

Pickin' up good vibrations

_42465828_power-sbeeby203.jpgScientists in Britain have developed a tiny generator that picks up its power from vibrations in its surroundings. They say the unique power system could be use in places where batteries are difficult to replace such as, say, a human heart. There are plans to use the device to power pacemakers since the vibrations from a beating heart would be enough to keep the generator going. I think if they could make the generator a little bigger, rock concerts might be able to power themselves.

Bigger Breasts in Just an Hour

From the land of 8-minute abs and 30-minute meals comes the 1-hour boob job. A California biotech company has announced a process, known as Celution, that takes just over an hour to enhance a patient's breasts. Using a minor liposuction, they draw fat from either the stomach or buttocks, then quickly remove the useful stem cells and inject the cells back into the patient's breasts, which gradually expand over six months. Sounds like becoming a pop star just became easier- you can process your headshots, burn a sample CD and get a bigger bra-size all in one afternoon.

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Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Look Up! The Lyrid Meteor Shower Arrives Saturday Night
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but this weekend, look up and you might see several of them. Between 11:59 p.m. on April 21 and dawn on Sunday, April 22, the Lyrid meteor shower will peak over the Northern Hemisphere. Make some time for the celestial show and you'll see a shooting star streaking across the night sky every few minutes. Here is everything you need to know.

WHAT IS THE LYRID METEOR SHOWER?

Every 415.5 years, the comet Thatcher circles the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit shaped almost like a cat's eye. At its farthest from the Sun, it's billions of miles from Pluto; at its nearest, it swings between the Earth and Mars. (The last time it was near the Earth was in 1861, and it won't be that close again until 2280.) That's quite a journey, and more pressingly, quite a variation in temperature. The closer it gets to the Sun, the more debris it sheds. That debris is what you're seeing when you see a meteor shower: dust-sized particles slamming into the Earth's atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. In a competition between the two, the Earth is going to win, and "shooting stars" are the result of energy released as the particles are vaporized.

The comet was spotted on April 4, 1861 by A.E. Thatcher, an amateur skywatcher in New York City, earning him kudos from the noted astronomer Sir John Herschel. Clues to the comet's discovery are in its astronomical designation, C/1861 G1. The "C" means it's a long-period comet with an orbit of more than 200 years; "G" stands for the first half of April, and the "1" indicates it was the first comet discovered in that timeframe.

Sightings of the Lyrid meteor shower—named after Lyra, the constellation it appears to originate from—are much older; the first record dates to 7th-century BCE China.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?

Saturday night marks a first quarter Moon (visually half the Moon), which by midnight will have set below the horizon, so it won't wash out the night sky. That's great news—you can expect to see 20 meteors per hour. You're going to need to get away from local light pollution and find truly dark skies, and to completely avoid smartphones, flashlights, car headlights, or dome lights. The goal is to let your eyes adjust totally to the darkness: Find your viewing area, lay out your blanket, lay down, look up, and wait. In an hour, you'll be able to see the night sky with great—and if you've never done this before, surprising—clarity. Don't touch the smartphone or you'll undo all your hard ocular work.

Where is the nearest dark sky to where you live? You can find out on the Dark Site Finder map. And because the shower peaks on a Saturday night, your local astronomy club is very likely going to have an event to celebrate the Lyrids. Looking for a local club? Sky & Telescope has you covered.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON UP THERE?

You don't need a telescope to see a meteor shower, but if you bring one, aim it south to find Jupiter. It's the bright, unblinking spot in the sky. With a telescope, you should be able to make out its stripes. Those five stars surrounding it are the constellation Libra. You'll notice also four tiny points of light nearby. Those are the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. When Galileo discovered those moons in 1610, he was able to prove the Copernican model of heliocentricity: that the Earth goes around the Sun.

THERE'S BAD WEATHER HERE! WHAT DO I DO?

First: Don't panic. The shower peaks on the early morning of the 22nd. But it doesn't end that day. You can try again on the 23rd and 24th, though the numbers of meteors will likely diminish. The Lyrids will be back next year, and the year after, and so on. But if you are eager for another show, on May 6, the Eta Aquariids will be at their strongest. The night sky always delivers.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
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GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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