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The number glitch that can lead to catastrophe

A surprisingly simple bug afflicts computers controlling planes, spacecraft and more – they get confused by big numbers. As Chris Baraniuk discovers, the glitch has led to explosions, missing space probes and more.

Tuesday, 4 June 1996 will forever be remembered as a dark day for the European Space …

Catastrophe

What would you see in a black hole?

What would it be like to fly a spacecraft into a black hole? Marcus Woo investigates.

Something about a black hole just pulls you in. Sure, its gravity is so strong that not even light can elude its grasp. But, there's something else, something harder to pinpoint. Maybe it's a black hole's absolute …

Physics

The weird way Lenin’s body is kept fresh

The best reads in science and technology this week, including an ambitious plan for flying cars and the macabre body preservation of Lenin.

Sport

| Stat cast – The new moneyball

A video platform called Statcast takes baseball analytics to the next level by recording every movement on the pitch from …

Vladimir Lenin

The dawn of the plastic car?

Printing the parts of a car and building it yourself sounds like pure fantasy. But one US lab has done just that. Jack Stewart investigates.

The Shelby Cobra recently unveiled by the US Department of Energy’s Oakridge National Laboratory is no ordinary sports car. It wasn’t so much built as …

Plastic

How to learn with zero effort

What is the easiest way to learn? David Robson meets a group of scientists and memory champions competing to find techniques that make facts stick... fast.

Face to face with the world’s leading memory experts, my mind is beginning to feel very humble. Ben Whately, for instance, tells me about the …

Psychology

Why do we get sleep in our eyes?

Our eyes fill up with gunk as we sleep, but what is it? As Jason G Goldman discovers, the stuff has a more important job than it seems.

This first thing I do when I wake up each morning is look at the long list of notifications that have silently accumulated on my phone as I slept. The second thing …

Sleep

The mind-bending cuts in every movie you watch

The best recent long reads in science and technology, including dolphin conversation, death in space and the discombobulating effects of cinema.

Vision

| What it’s like to go blind

A blind person explains. “To many sighted people, the prospect of going blind is terrifying. They think about what they …

Game Theory

The subtle science of selling – a six-step guide

Salespeople can lure you into buying their products with simple psychological tricks. Tiffanie Wen explores how they work.

If I told you this is the most important article you’ll read this week, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But what if I could say that 75% of your friends agreed? Or if I could …

Scientific Research

Why we want food so much it hurts

Be it chocolate, cheese or chip shop curry, craving a favorite food is something we’ve all experienced. Why do our bodies suffer such serious pangs? Veronique Greenwood investigates.

There's nothing like the salty tang of beef-flavored Top Ramen broth and a mouthful of slightly overdone instant …

Food

The spacewalk that saved Hubble

Hubble celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. However, the Nasa space telescope that has transformed our view of the Universe was launched with a major defect. Richard Hollingham talks to the man who had to don his spacesuit and make it work.

Story Musgrave had worked on the development of the …

NASA

The people who are lost in time

What is it like to lose your memory after brain injury, drug abuse – or energetic sex? Christian Jarrett reports on the strange causes and consequences of amnesia.

One morning in 2008, Naomi Jacobs, then 32, woke up with no recollection of her previous 17 years. It’s as if the memories of drug …

The Brain

A five-step guide to not being stupid

Even the smartest people can be fools. David Robson explains how to avoid the most common traps of sloppy thinking.

If you ever doubt the idea that the very clever can also be very silly, just remember the time the smartest man in America tried to electrocute a turkey. Benjamin Franklin had been …

IQ

Will we ever… live in underground homes?

As cities get more crowded, why not build down? Kieran Nash profiles some of the world’s most unusual underground constructions, from Australian rock homes to Beijing’s subterranean spaces.

In many respects, Bernadette Roberts’ three-bedroom house is like any other. “Lounge, dining area, kitchen – …

Urbanism

The strangest sounds in the world

Do you hear the same things as me? Probably not. As these weird audio illusions show, people have radically different opinions about what reaches their ears, says David Robson.

“You know you were told to be nice and not to heckle?” Sophie Meekings asks her audience in the dingy cellar of the North …

Illusion

The odd thing that happens when injustice benefits you

It stings when life’s not fair – but what happens if it means we profit? As Tom Stafford writes, some people may perform unexpected self-sabotage.

Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behaviour at Emory University, is the unlikely star of a viral video. His academic's physique, grey jumper and …

Psychology

Does your head explode at night?

Our article about “exploding head syndrome” prompted many of you to share your strange and intriguing stories, says William Park.

In our recent article about living with exploding head syndrome, we talked to Niels Nielsen about his experiences with the condition. Despite being relatively unheard of …

Sleep Paralysis

Press me! The buttons that lie to you

Does it help to push the buttons on pedestrian crossings, train doors and thermostats? Often the answer is “no”, as Chris Baraniuk discovers.

The tube pulls in to a busy station along the London Underground’s Central Line. It is early evening on a Thursday. A gaggle of commuters assembles inside and …

Psychology

The plane that can fly backwards

The Soviet Antonov An-2, which has been generating headlines from North Korea, can perform a feat that seems impossible, says Stephen Dowling.

In early April, North Korean media unveiled a new camouflage scheme for one of its most important military aircraft. The supreme leader himself, Kim Jong-Un, …

Aviation

‘I rule my own ocean micronation’

Many dream of living in an ocean city, but what is it actually like? Rose Eveleth asks the ruler of Sealand, the unusual settlement off the coast of England.

Michael Bates grew up seven nautical miles off the coast of England, on a platform made of concrete and metal. Michael, the son of Roy Bates, …

Oceans

How the worst things about bus travel are changing

Buses have never been regarded as a particularly comfortable or cutting-edge way to travel. But that could all be about to change, writes Katia Moskvitch.

Central bus stations are rarely nice places to hang around. It’s no different for Buenos Aires’s jam-packed and noisy Retiro. Travelling through …

Transportation (UK)

The surprising downsides of being clever

Can high intelligence be a burden rather than a boon? David Robson investigates.

If ignorance is bliss, does a high IQ equal misery? Popular opinion would have it so. We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan …

IQ

Nine psychological reasons why we love lists

The internet is awash with information that’s been sliced and diced into bite-sized chunks. But why do we find it so appealing? Claudia Hammond explores the canny mind tricks behind the buzz.

1. We know exactly what we’re getting

Whether it’s the 10 ways your body is disgusting or the 100 greatest …

Psychology

The invisible world viewed by drones

Drones are poised to reveal hidden facets of our cities and everyday behaviour. See the world from their point-of-view in this intriguing near-future vision.

A few metres above the ground, a drone glides through London’s streets. It sees a man, scans his face, and quickly looks up his criminal …

Drones

Amazon’s ultimate product? Monopoly

The best of the week’s long reads in science and technology, including why Amazon launches new products, the benefits of religion and the threat of a potentially catastrophic volcano.

Environment

| Volcanoes and climate

If aliens were watching the Earth through telescopes during 1815, they would …

Amazon

‘I have exploding head syndrome’

It’s strange, unpleasant and surprisingly common. Helen Thomson talks to a man whose head regularly ‘explodes’, and discovers how the condition might explain some unexpected experiences, perhaps even alien abductions.

“There’s this sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of …

Psychology

Why do we have allergies?

Allergic reactions to everything from pollen to peanuts make life a misery for millions. But why does our body over-react to seemingly benign intruders? Carl Zimmer reports.

For me, it was hornets.

One summer afternoon when I was 12, I ran into an overgrown field near a friend’s house and kicked a …

Evidence-Based Medicine

Are you nicer than a child?

It’s commonly held that young children are, well, selfish, but as Caroline Williams discovers, they are often kinder than adults.

Last Christmas I took my young son to the theatre. The show, called Antarctica, was for 4-7 year olds and, from an adult perspective, it was all a bit surreal. The actors …

Child Psychology

The science behind the perfect chip

How – and where – should you fry the ultimate chips? Veronique Greenwood takes a piping-hot plunge into the secret ways to create fried potato perfection.

The very best chips combine a crisp crust with a piping-hot, snowy-white interior – a delicious combination that arises when potatoes descend …

Scientific Research

Everything you need to know about Virgin Galactic

The best of this week’s science and technology long reads, including the ultimate guide to Virgin Galactic, medicine’s flaws, and the ‘FedEx problem’.

Medicine

| Faith, hope and chemistry

Medicine is full of mystery, because the human body is full of mystery – the mystery of life. A doctor can never …

Virgin Galactic

Inside the Interstellar spaceship factory

Director Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to make the spaceships in sci-fi epic Interstellar as realistic as possible. Jack Stewart takes a peek to learn their cosmic secrets.

Interstellar tells the story of four astronauts who must survive the journey through a wormhole to a distant solar …

Christopher Nolan