The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Yes, Cats Know How To Fall On Their Feet. But These Guys Do It Better

Feb 9, 2013

The champ has met its challenger.

Drop a cat and it will swing its head to a horizontal, rearrange its rear, arch its back, splay its legs, and — amazingly often — land on its feet.

This is what cats do. They're famous for it. But now they have a rival.

This is an aphid.

Aphids spend their days sucking sap from leaves. Those leaves can be high off the ground. "High" of course, being a relative term, but think of it this way: Five feet high up is 381 aphids tall. Which is why things get so dicey when a ladybug comes by.

Ladybugs eat aphids, or try to, and when one approaches, an aphid has no choice. It can't stay on the leaf; that's a death sentence. It can't fly away. Usually, it has no wings. All it can do is tumble off the leaf into a freefall. Which is what it does. And the astonishing thing, say scientists Gal Ribak, Moshe Gish, Daniel Weihs and Moshe Inbar is that while the falling aphid is very often topsy-turvy, 95 percent of the time, a falling aphid won't land on its head, or its back, or sideways. Aphids, like cats, land on their feet, like this:

They're incredibly good at it. This animation appears in Current Biology; it was produced by scientists at Israel's Technion and the University of Haifa. It describes the typical descent of a falling aphid. "What puzzled us was that the aphids did not seem to do much in order to right themselves," Gal Ribak said. "Their body posture remained fairly constant during the entire fall." So how come they always land on their feet?

Spherical Is Safer, Said The Aphid To The Cat

It's an achievement that should make cats envious. Aphids, after all, are much, much smaller than cats, so they plummet proportionally much more dramatic distances and yet seem uncannily able to survive their falls.

Obviously, body shape has a lot to do with it. An aphid looks like a lopsided sphere — much more so than a cat — and almost every time aphids fall, whether they start heads down or heads up, they will rotate into a horizontal position. It seems built in. But shape isn't everything. Give these aphids a little credit, say the scientists. Let's review the animation.

The 'Superman' Posture

Notice at the top of the fall, the aphid is heads up, bottom down, dropping in a vertical. Its underbelly is on the left. If it landed now, it would squish its rear ...

Now we're a quarter of the way down, and the aphid is beginning rotate, so its underside is starting to line up with the ground below. Meantime, look to the left, and see it's got a forelimb extended, in a sort of "Superman" posture, limb thrust forward. It's about to freeze into position, like this ...

At the halfway point, the aphid is still turning, its body rotating into a horizontal; it's keeping that forelimb stiff. Its "hind tibiae," those two rear leg-like extensions, are moving back along its topside.

As we approach the ground, the aphid is now like a descending helicopter, holding its position, it takes its "Superman" forelimb, bends it into a landing device so its legs are ready to hit first and spread the shock through the whole animal ...

And that's how it lands, legs first, "just like a defenestrated cat" (that's a cat that jumped out a window), say the authors.


How do aphids do it right 95 percent of the time? Is it simply because they've got these spherical torsos? Are they natural parachutes?

No. Because when the scientists took tweezers and dropped dead aphids, about half landed cockeyed, on their heads or backs. Living aphids, however, fell like professional trapeze artists, so it takes some living aphid-action, willful or reflexive, to achieve this level of performance.

Probably, as with cats, this happens automatically. The formula — you leap, you fall, you stretch, you freeze, you rotate, you land — was discovered using high speed photography and mathematical modeling. "I was surprised and impressed by the simplicity of the right mechanism," said scientist Gal Ribak. For aphids it's no big thing.

For scientists, it's pure elegance.

If you want to see Ribak & Co.'s paper, it's here, and it includes a few videos. Elizabeth Preston, over at Inkfish, did a nice job describing the various trials (including some aphid amputations), so if you want a fuller account, you can find her story here.

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