Joe Palca

NOEL KING, HOST:

If astronauts are going to walk on Mars someday, they will, of course, need to breathe, so they'll either need to bring oxygen or make it there. On NASA's next robotic mission, they plan to bring an instrument that can do that - that can make oxygen. Here's NPR's Joe Palca.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: There's an obvious reason you need oxygen once you get to Mars.

JEFF HOFFMAN: You need oxygen to breathe.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

2020 could be a banner year for the U.S. space program. If all goes well, two commercial companies may be able to send astronauts into space. This country hasn't been able to do that since the shuttle program ended in 2011. Also next year, a new six-wheeled rover is supposed to head off to Mars. And hundreds of small satellites are scheduled to go into orbit. And that will provide global Internet coverage. Here to talk about the year ahead in space is NPR science correspondent Joe Palca. Hey, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This next story is about the anchovy and the whale - specifically about why an agile anchovy can't escape from a ponderous whale. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca reports that as with so many things in life, the answer is timing.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Whale biologist David Cade, who recently graduated from Stanford University, says there's no question humpback whales enjoy a tasty meal of anchovies, but they're not always successful at getting one.

The Year In Science News

Dec 26, 2019

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right, astronomers have known about black holes for a long time, but they never had a picture of one until this year. We asked NPR science correspondent Joe Palca what were the three biggest science stories of the year, and here's what he said.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There are rare chemical elements, and then there is tennessine. Only a couple dozen atoms of the stuff have ever existed. For the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has the convoluted story of one of the latest elements to be added.

There's a mole on Mars that's making NASA engineers tear their hair out.

No, they haven't discovered a small, insectivorous mammal on the red planet.

The mole vexing engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is a scientific instrument known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3 — or just "the mole" — carried on NASA's InSight probe that landed on Mars a year ago.

It's not easy to treat viral infections. Just ask anyone with a bad cold or a case of the flu.

But scientists in Massachusetts think they may have a new way to stop viruses from making people sick by using what amounts to a pair of molecular scissors, known as CRISPR.

It's a gene editing tool based on a molecule that occurs naturally in microorganisms.

A New Way To Stop Viruses

Nov 13, 2019

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is not easy to treat viral infections, but scientists in Massachusetts think they may have found a new way to stop viruses from making people sick by using what amounts to a pair of molecular scissors. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca explains.

When Morning Edition first went on the air on Nov. 5, 1979, AIDS was an unknown acronym. And the ideas of a cloned mammal or a map of human DNA may as well have been science fiction.

But much has changed in the past four decades. During that time, spectacular advances across the scientific disciplines have had a major impact on the way we live today.

In 1981, Morning Edition aired a story about a strange set of cancers called Kaposi's sarcoma.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tiny satellites are taking on a big-time role in space exploration.

CubeSats are small, only about twice the size of a Rubik's Cube. As the name suggests, they're cube-shaped, 4 inches on each side, and weigh in at about 3 pounds. But with the miniaturization of electronics, it's become possible to pack a sophisticated mission into a tiny package.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A rescue appears to have taken place on the surface of Mars. NASA engineers announced today that they have salvaged - for now - a key part of one of their probes. NPR's Joe Palca has more.

It's hard for doctors to do a thorough eye exam on infants. They tend to wiggle around — the babies, that is, not the doctors.

But a new smartphone app takes advantage of parents' fondness for snapping pictures of their children to look for signs that a child might be developing a serious eye disease.

The app is the culmination of one father's five-year quest to find a way to catch the earliest signs of eye disease, and prevent devastating loss of vision.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Locusts are not just a biblical plague. They're swarming around the world. Still. Again.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the desert locust situation is serious in Yemen and at the Indo-Pakistan border.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many medical tests require blood drawn with a needle. But as NPR's Joe Palca reports, some engineers in California have turned to another bodily fluid for doing these tests - sweat.

What To Feed Locusts

Aug 9, 2019

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here at NPR, we've been trying to do more stories that answer people's questions about issues they face in their daily lives. NPR's Joe Palca apparently didn't get the memo because he's got a story with the answer to a question almost nobody has - what to feed a colony of captive locusts.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: To answer that question, it helps to go to Tempe, Ariz.

RICK OVERSON: We are inside one of the two main rooms of the locust lab here at Arizona State University. We affectionately refer to it as Hopper Town.

On July 2, the path of a total solar eclipse took it over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Even though that observatory is designed to study the night sky, it nonetheless made an idea spot to watch the Moon's shadow sweep east across the nearby Pacific Ocean.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A telescope now under construction promises to revolutionize astronomy. It's being built atop a mountain in Chile, in the Andes. It's called the LSST. It is a survey telescope taking wide-angle views of the sky. And this telescope is expected to spot rare events that previously have been hard or impossible to find. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca toured the telescope's construction site.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's a telescope high up in the mountains of Chile that's looking for signals from the earliest moments of the universe. Finding these signals would be key to explaining how the universe began. NPR's Joe Palca has just returned from a visit to the telescope, and he has this report on a remarkable facility in a remarkable location.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The telescope is called CLASS. It's located on top of Cerro Toco in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. And at 17,000 feet, it's one of the highest telescopes in the world.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 50 years ago, it was an inspiring moment for people around the world.

But another kind of explorer is responsible for much of the modern enthusiasm for space exploration.

"Since the days of Apollo, the greatest adventures in space have been these robots that have gone all over the solar system," says Emily Lakdawalla, a self-described planetary evangelist at the Planetary Society.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Much of South America experienced a solar eclipse this week. NPR's Joe Palca went to Chile to see it in its totality. And because half of the world's major telescopes are in Chile, he decided to stick around and see what researchers are studying. And Joe Palca is with us now from 17,000 feet.

Hi, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey, Michel. How are you doing?

MARTIN: OK. So where are you right now, exactly?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The path of a total solar eclipse passed over a major observatory in Chile this afternoon. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca was there. He saw the eclipse from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory from where he joins us now live.

Hey, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise. How are you doing?

KELLY: I'm well. Thank you. And I'm thinking, I have actually - I have seen a couple of total solar eclipses. I have never seen one from an observatory, which I'm guessing is a pretty darn good place to see one.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Later today, an eclipse will sweep across the Pacific Ocean and then pass over parts of Chile and Argentina. One thing that makes this eclipse special is that it's going to pass directly over a major observatory in Chile. And you know who is there right now at that observatory? Our own Joe Palca.

Hi, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hi there, Rachel. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm well. I'm going to try to pronounce this - the observatory is called Cerro Tololo, correct?

PALCA: That's right. It's the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are human cancer genes in plants. Scientists didn't put them there. They were there to begin with. NPR's Joe Palca recently went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where he spoke with a scientist who's exploring those genes.

Updated July 2 at 9 a.m. ET

Billions of fish in the Pacific Ocean will be treated to an awe-inspiring celestial event today. That's because a total solar eclipse will be visible over a huge swath of the southern Pacific.

Land animals including humans in Chile and Argentina will also get to observe the total spectacle, as will anybody connected to the Internet. And most parts of South America will be able to see a partial eclipse.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a mole stuck in the ground on Mars - not the small, furry animal but a probe on NASA's Mars InSight lander called the mole. It's a probe that was supposed to go 15 feet beneath the Martian surface, but it got stuck after only going one.

NPR's Joe Palca has more.

A scientist walks up to a cottonwood tree, sticks a hollow tube in the middle and then takes a lighter and flicks it. A jet of flame shoots out from the tube.

It seems like a magician's trick. Turns out, there's methane trapped in certain cottonwood trees. Methane is the gas in natural gas. It's also a powerful greenhouse gas.

So how does it get inside towering trees like the ones on the campus of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee?

It's easy to take corned beef sandwiches for granted. There's no mystery about them. They simply exist.

But corned beef sandwiches, along with everything else in the universe, raise a critical question in the minds of physicists: Why do they exist?

In the earliest moments of the universe, energy turned into matter. But matter comes in two forms, matter and antimatter. And when a particle of matter encounters a particle of antimatter, they annihilate each other — and all you're left with is light.

Pages