Editor's note: This post is part of the¬†Overheard on CNN.com¬†series, a regular feature¬†that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
Star-struck space lovers gazed skyward Tuesday to watch space shuttle Discovery's journey to Washington after a series of nostalgic fly-bys on the back of a NASA Boeing 747. The flight departed from¬†Florida's Kennedy Space Center en route to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. It will spend its retirement at a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum facility in Chantilly, Virginia.
The photo at the top was shot by rocket technician Danny Mills of Cape Canaveral, Florida, who joined several other iReporters in documenting the shuttle's journey from point A to point B. Mills¬†went over to Cocoa Beach to see the shuttle. He used an often-mentioned word to describe his feelings.
"There's a lot of life left in the shuttles, and everyone I talked to this morning feels the same," he said. "We're really sad to see them stop flying. It was really bittersweet." FULL POST
Editor's note: This post is part of the¬†Overheard on CNN.com¬†series, a regular feature¬†that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
The following three stories are all a bit - or a lot - bizarre, but they've gotten a really interesting reader response. Check out the comments from readers.
Pandas have a reputation for being picky maters with a narrow window of opportunity. Conservationists in Scotland were hoping panda pals Sweetie and Sunshine would take their courtship to the next level, but alas, nothing came of it. Readers had lots of suggestions to improve the process.
"Throw a bottle of wine, a pair of cuffs and a copy of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' in the cage, that should get her going," said NorCalMojo.
Some suggested that pandas need to mate if they want to survive, and if they can't mate, we humans need to help them along. "Oh, just get the turkey baster already," wrote commenter Paul. CNN.com's Elizabeth Landau responded to the following reader's comment.
Harry: "Either artificially impregnate the female panda or let them go extinct. If they only have a three-day-a-year window for reproduction then it's pretty clear that they won't survive as a species with humans around. So either we save it ourselves or let it go bye-bye.
elandau: "A number of readers asked about artificial insemination in pandas. This is a common practice for captive pandas,¬†veterinarian Copper Aitken-Palmer tells us. For instance, every baby panda born at Zoo Atlanta has been the result of artificial insemination, and most groups with giant pandas in the United States, Europe and China participate in assisted reproduction techniques."
Is the panda beyond help? FULL POST
CNN's Light Years¬†blog always seems to be addressing some of life's biggest, most perplexing and indeed thorniest questions. Our readers often go there to debate grand themes and ponder the meaning of the universe.
1. Are we alone?
Astronomers have estimated that in our galaxy, there are tens of billions of rocky planets not so much bigger than Earth that could be candidates for harboring life.
It follows that many would ask whether there is life on other planets. Readers have varied views on this.
Etheras: "Life as-we-know-it is unlikely to be plentiful. ... If you keep adding-on all the vital elements to the evolution of life as-we-know-it (the only life we can say for sure exists) it becomes increasingly plausible that life (at least 'complex life') in the universe is very rare. Its just a numbers game. So why do scientists constantly talk about life on other planets? Money. They want headlines because headlines means publicity which means grants. They're telling people what those people want to hear, because if they didn't people wouldn't give them money. Now ... I'm not saying life doesn't exist on other planets. I am saying that, its more likely than not, humankind will never find another intelligent civilization, even if we could colonize half the galaxy. Sorry chums, we're alone."
Brandon T: "As an astronomer studying exoplanets, there are still too many unknowns to even consider evaluating the possibility of life on other planets. Viewed statistically, however, it is EXTREMELY unlikely that the only planet known to harbor life would ultimately involve life intelligent enough to ask this question. Therefore, it's likely that there are many planets out there with non-intelligent life, at the very least."
2. Can religion and science coexist?
Stories about research into human origins often give rise to debates over evolution, creation, science and religion. FULL POST
If response to the following story is¬†any indication, a good chunk of our CNN.com commenting population identifies themselves as introverts. Susan Cain, a¬†writer and TED2012 speaker, opined that these folks are responsible for some of humanity's greatest achievements.
Readers identified what it means to be an introvert, and how that affects their lives. This was a popular comment:
Travis211: "Score one for the introverts. Something about us introverts that extroverts don't know about us:
1.) We do not believe in artificial chit-chat (We hate small talk, because its illogical)
2.) We only believe in talking when we believe we have something to say
3.) We find happiness in solitude, extroverts find happiness in rooms with people
4.) We are constantly thinking in our heads
5.) We are quietly planning to take over the world!!"
isolate:¬†"I agree on all points but #5. A world where introversion was predominant (itself almost a contradiction in terms) would be a strange world indeed - devoid of professional sports, supermarket tabloids, mega-churches, casinos, and most of what passes for media entertainment these days. Facebook and Twitter, et al, would vanish, and anyone who proposed a television show like 'Real Housewives of New Jersey,' would be banished to an asylum. Imagine politics based on reality and not megabucks, personalities and theatrics. To you and me it would be heaven indeed, but what would happen to the millions of extroverts forced to live in a world without relentless, mindless distractions? Mass catatonia? If I might, I would replace your #5 with, 'We are self-doubting, always verifying what we think we know to be sure it's true.' "
This commenter doesn't like lots of noise.
tapeworm: "I have not been to a mall shopping in years! On top of that I hate crowds and cannot stand a lot of noise. I feel best when sitting outside or in a field where there is a breeze and only the sound of birds and the breeze. Loud music drives me insane!"
Some of our readers found kindred spirits in the comments. FULL POST
Director James Cameron,¬†known for his blockbuster hits such as "Titanic" and ‚ÄúAvatar,‚ÄĚ is aiming to take a record-breaking dive to the deepest known point in the world's oceans. He recently gave CNN a glimpse of his high-tech submersible, and the report about the project has inspired many readers to think in greater depth about the future of humanity.
Readers appeared sympathetic to the following comment.
OhGod!: "I'm just sad that all we can do is just type a whole bunch of dumb nonsense while people like Cameron and (Richard) Branson are actually out there and doing these things. I wish we would stop the BS talk and get motivated to do these things ourselves, instead of relying on a couple of billionaires to do it for us. What happened to American pioneerism? Are there any more Wright brothers out there? What a shame. You may now begin bashing me. ..."
intothemoonbeam: "No bashing here, I agree with you."
Some lamented that exploration is harder and more complicated today. FULL POST
U.S. politics had its "Super Tuesday" yesterday, and so did the sun, says Joseph Kunches from NOAA‚Äôs Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
That's because the sun had two solar flares associated with two coronal mass ejections. Coronal mass ejections involve massive amounts of energy and charged particles shooting out of the sun, and can cause problems if directed at Earth, as was the case over the last couple of days.
This event may stir up a geomagnetic storm, and lead to disruptions to high-frequency radio communications, global positioning systems and power grids, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said Wednesday. The peak of the storm is expected to hit Thursday morning; it may gradually diminish by Friday morning.FULL STORY
This could be the year of the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in all of physics. More clues about it are emerging at a U.S.-based collider whose budgetary woes shut it down last year.
The Department of Energy‚Äôs Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) has just announced that it has found hints of the ever-so-important particle, which are consistent with observations from the Large Hadron Collider.
Finding the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass, one of the open questions in physicists' current understanding of the way the universe works.FULL STORY
Did the moon and sun conspire to sink the Titanic?
In a way, yes, researchers at Texas State University say.
Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, members of the physics faculty at the university in San Marcos, teamed up with Roger Sinnott, senior contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine, to determine how the iceberg the liner struck late on April 14, 1912, came to be in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. More than 1,500 people died when the liner sank less than three hours after hitting the berg.
The researchers theorize that the berg that sank the ship originated in Greenland and was stuck on the coast on Labrador or Newfoundland in early January 1912. Icebergs that become stuck there usually experienced significant melting before regaining enough buoyancy to float away from the coast.
But on January 4, the moon was near full and at its closest distance to the Earth in 1,400 years. A day earlier, Earth was at perihelion, its closest distance to the sun all year. The alignment of Earth, sun and moon created an exceptionally strong "spring tide" which could have refloated icebergs grounded on the northwestern Atlantic coast, the researchers said.
It's leap day, a once-every-four-years bonus you can thank Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII for.
We add a day at the end of February every four years because it takes the Earth about 365.242 days to make a full orbit around the sun. So we take those .242 days, round 'em up slightly and present the world with February 29, an extra day of, well, work for me, campaigning for the GOP presidential hopefuls or, if you fancy yourself a CNN iReporter, leaping!
We thank the Roman emperor Caesar and the 16th century pontiff for putting the day into place.
In 46 B.C., Caesar decreed that under the Julian calendar, a day would be added in any year evenly divisible by four. However, accounting for the rounding up, that got the Romans a little ahead of themselves as far as time goes,¬† according to no less of an authority on things involving watches and calendars than timeanddate.com.
That little discrepancy, which amounted to 11 minutes every year, had added up to 10 whole days by 1582, when Pope Gregory said he had no time for inaccuracies and created the Gregorian calendar, under which we mark our days to this day. Gregory also designated February 29 as the official leap day and set up some rules so that we'd never end up 10 days ahead of ourselves again.
Here's how that works: Leap year occurs in every year that is evenly divisible by four and every century year that is divisible by 400. Hence, while 1200 and 2000 were leap years, 1700 and 1900 were not.
This also means that in the United States, leap years are presidential election years, which means we can always look forward to that extra day of campaigning.
Scientists have found what they say is a new family of legless amphibians in Northeast India - animals they say may have diverged from similar vertebrates in Africa when the land masses separated tens of millions of years ago.
The find, the scientists say, might foreshadow other discoveries in Northeast India and might help show the area played a more important evolutionary role than previously thought.
The creatures are part of an order of limbless, soil-dwelling amphibians called caecilians - not to be confused with snakes, which are reptiles. Caecilians were previously known to consist of nine families in Asia, Africa and South America.
But different bone structures in the head distinguish this apparent 10th family, and DNA testing links the creatures not to other caecilians in India, but to caecilians that are exclusively from Africa, the scientists report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
The new family has been dubbed Chikilidae by the scientists from India, Belgium and the United Kingdom, including lead author Rachunliu Kamei, who was pursuing her doctorate at University of Delhi. The team found them during what it believes is the first caecilian survey in Northeast India, digging at 238 sites from 2006 to 2010.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an amazing thing to find a new family, especially vertebrates, in this day in age,‚ÄĚ Global Wildlife Conservation president Don Church, who was not part of the team but knows Kamei and the team‚Äôs other scientists, told CNN on Thursday. ‚ÄúBirds, reptiles and amphibians really were thought to have been well worked out at the family level.‚ÄĚ
Russian scientists say they've grown a flowering plant from material extracted from seeds deposited in the Siberian permafrost 30,000 years ago.
The work of the scientists at the Institute of Cell Biophysics in Russia is creating a worldwide buzz after being published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.
Previously, the oldest known seed material that has been able to produce life was from about 2,000 years ago, science writer Ed Yong reports in a Discover magazine blog giving details of the work of the Russian breakthrough.
The plants, named silene stenophylla, are from a time when wooly mammoths and saber-tooth cats lived in Siberia. Their 300-century path to life began when squirrels brought the fruit of the plant and the immature seeds the fruit contained into a riverbank burrow. As the climate cooled, the burrow was covered with layers of ice and the seeds were preserved by temperatures of minus-7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Yong's report.
Russian scientists briefly pierced the two-mile-thick veil over a freshwater lake hidden beneath Antarctica's ice sheet for millions of years, polar researchers announced Wednesday.
Scientists hope samples of Lake Vostok, a body the size of Lake Ontario, will yield signs of previously undiscovered life and new clues about the history of the planet. The lake is believed to have been covered by ice for up to 30 million years.
Russian researchers completed the drilling effort Sunday, reaching the lake at a depth of 3,769 meters (2.3 miles) into the ice, the St. Petersburg-based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute reported.
When the ice above the lake was breached, lake water was sucked up into the bore and froze, the Russians said. That will allow researchers to take samples back to the surface without contaminating the lake below, they said.FULL STORY
"Oh great, next thing you know sharks will be walking on land and snapping peoples heads off."
Researchers say they've found 57 animals that are a cross between two genetically different but closely related species of shark off the coast of Australia. Scientists say it may be an indication the creatures are adapting to climate change.
Climate change is a bit controversial, and it always gets people talking. Many readers said they didn't believe that climate is the reason why hybrid sharks are being found, and some found the research flawed. There were also some who defended the study. FULL POST
Far, far away in an isolated part of the¬†Milky Way lies a star nursery housing a celestial spectacle so beautiful that the Space Telescope Science Institute has taken to calling it a ‚ÄúHoliday Snow Angel."
Spectacular images and video¬†released by the NASA-built observatory Thursday show a star-forming region in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan)¬†nearly 2,000 light years from Earth.
In official terms, Sharpless 2-106 (doesn‚Äôt have the same ring, does it?) gets its looks from an extreme confluence of heat and motion and features a ring of particles that ‚Äúacts like a belt,‚ÄĚ according to a press release.¬†The hourglass-like shape in the middle is created by gaseous particles orbiting the star.
Don't be fooled by the cute name, Hubble spokesman Ray Villard told CNN Thursday in an email.
"Though we nickname this a ‚ÄėSnow Angel‚Äô there is nothing angelic about what's happening in the picture," Villard said. "A super-hot star much larger than our sun has twin blowtorches of hot gas shooting out into space. The star is destined for a short life and will then explode as a supernova, disintegrating everything around it."
Good things abound in this world, and great comments put grins on our faces. In the spirit of the weekend that's coming, here are a few comments from today's news and feature stories that brought smiles to our faces:
A twinned rainbow happens when the primary bow splits in two. Scientists have found out more about how this rare event happens by using sophisticated computer science techniques. They say the effect would need regular raindrops as well as larger, hamburger-shaped droplets called "burgeroids." That little detail fueled our commenters' creativity.
RIcky Bobby: "If only those burgeroids were real burgers (i.e. cloudy with a chance of meatballs)! Now THAT would be something! Come on scientists, let's get to work."
Corey: "Now Im hungry for rainbows!!"
Loss of the Earth‚Äôs ozone layer above the Arctic last winter was unprecedented, scientists at NASA‚Äôs Jet Propulsion Laboratory told CNN on Monday.
In findings published in a new study in the journal Nature, scientists said a hole in the ozone was caused by an unusually long period of low temperatures in the stratosphere, the protective layer that shields the Earth‚Äôs surface from harmful radiation.
While ozone loss is a sadly common occurrence at the South Pole, recent findings document a similar event happening at the Earth‚Äôs northernmost point. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve never seen that kind of phenomenon in the Arctic before,‚ÄĚ Michelle Santee, an atmospheric scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.
Call it the rise of the robots.
Over the past decade the obsession with artificial intelligence has captivated people worldwide. You need to look no further than every other "Battlestar Galactica"-like TV show and movie being created or even¬†to NASA's Robonaut and Japan's "humanoid" robots, which can walk, talk, think for themselves, be a nurse or even pour drinks.
So perhaps it's not surprising that when two Stanford University professors came up with the idea to offer their Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class online for free, people flocked to it as it were a viral video.
But the demand for the course is more than the professors likely ever expected. As of midday Tuesday, the class, which¬†usually attracts 200 students at Stanford, has more than 64,000 people signed up - an impressive feat considering the university has less than 7,000 undergraduate students.
"We have been absolutely ecstatic about the many, many of you who are up to take this challenging class," professor Sebastian¬†Thrun said in a video posted on a website for the class.
It's unclear whether all these people will go through with taking the class, which starts in October, but¬†there are¬†a few interesting things worth noting about it.
For one, the folks behind this class aren't your regular run-of-the-mill college professors. FULL POST
A spot on the face of the sun cut loose with an impressive eruption Tuesday, but observers don't think it will amount to much on Earth.
Tuesday's coronal mass ejection spewed tons of gas and radioactive material into space in the general direction of Earth. (You can watch a video of it here.) The solar material is expected to reach Earth sometime Friday, when it may trigger spectacular polar light shows, said Dr. Tony Phillips of Spaceweather.com. Ejections of this size can also cause minor radio interruptions in polar regions, according to the site.