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Jennifer Cutraro's Articles

  • Fakes in the museum

    New research indicates that this crystal skull, housed at the Smithsonian Institution, was made in the 1950s, not by Aztecs more than 500 years ago as some have thought.

    New research indicates that this crystal skull, housed at the Smithsonian Institution, was made in the 1950s, not by Aztecs more than 500 years ago as some have thought.

  • Gut microbes and weight

    Health experts have long worried about the increasing rate of obesity in kids. It's an important concern: Being very overweight or obese during childhood can lead to serious problems normally seen in adults, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Poor diets and a lack of exercise are usually the culprits. But would you ever have imagined there might be a connection between the bacteria that lived in your gut when you were a baby and the chance that you would become overweight?

    Scientists in Finland recently found just such a link. In a recent study, they showed that as infants overweight children had different species of bacteria living in their guts, or intestines, than did normal-weight kids.

  • Salty, old and, perhaps, a sign of early life

    It's hard to believe today, but millions of years ago the dusty New Mexico desert was covered by a shimmering ocean. That ocean water evaporated long ago. But it left behind huge deposits of salt. Some of those salt deposits contain tiny pockets of trapped ancient ocean water—super salty time capsules of an era before dinosaurs ever walked on Earth.

  • Undercover detectives

    It sounds like the beginning of a mystery movie: Last month, researchers traveled to the French countryside in search of hidden works of art.

    But this is no Hollywood blockbuster—at least not yet. It's a real-life mystery being tackled by a team of engineers, art historians, and computer scientists.

    They've come to a centuries-old church to look at sections of an old and valuable picture painted onto the church's stone walls. Local residents uncovered this painted mural in the church of St. Jean the Baptist in Vif, France. It had been hiding beneath layers of painted plaster for hundreds of years.

  • Diving, rolling and floating, alligator style

    Try to wrestle an alligator underwater, and you'll probably lose. It's not just that the average gator—at 11 feet long and close to 1,000 pounds—is a whole lot bigger than you are. It turns out alligators have a secret weapon when it comes to moving up, down, and around in the water. Nobody recognized it until now, but alligators actually move their lungs to help them dive, surface, and roll.

  • Mind-reading machine

    Winning at "I spy" would be a whole lot easier if there were just some way to know what your opponent was looking at. It's not too far-fetched an idea. A team of researchers in California has developed a way to predict what kinds of objects people are looking at by scanning what's happening in their brains.

    When you look at something, whether it's a tomato or your backpack or your best friend, your eyes send a signal about that object to your brain. Different regions of the brain process the information your eyes send. Cells in your brain called neurons are responsible for this processing.

  • Fear Matters

    Halloween is a spooky time of year. After hearing all the scary stories and seeing all the scary costumes, you might start to imagine ghosts lurking in the shadows, witches flying across the sky, and skeletons dancing in graveyards. You probably wouldn't be surprised if a goblin jumped out from the bushes during recess and shouted, "Boo!"

    Even kids who know that ghosts aren't real can get scared on Halloween.

    Even kids who know that ghosts aren't real can get scared on Halloween.

  • Sun Got Your Tail?

    An amateur astronomer made a surprising discovery last spring. He discovered that a comet orbiting the sun appeared to have lost one of its two tails. Scientists are now studying this comet and others in greater detail.

    Comets are balls of ice, rock, and dust that make long, noncircular orbits around the sun. When a comet gets near the sun, part of it melts, creating what looks like a tail.

    In fact, two tails normally stream behind a comet's main body. One tail, made of dust, shines brilliantly as it reflects sunlight. The other tail, called an ion tail, is much dimmer. It forms when something called the solar wind blows past a comet.

  • A Dangerous Meal

    It's impolite to spit out the first bite of your dinner. But to a type of Australian snake, this rude behavior is a matter of life and death.

    The snake, called a floodplain death adder, eats two types of frogs that are hard to stomach. The frogs produce chemicals meant to defend them from predators.

    This Dahl's frog carries enough poison to kill a snake, but only if the snake eats it immediately.

    This Dahl's frog carries enough poison to kill a snake, but only if the snake eats it immediately.

  • Where Have All the Bees Gone?

    Entomologists—scientists who study insects—have a real mystery on their hands. All across the country, honeybees are leaving their hives and never returning.

    It doesn't take long before a hive is nearly empty. Researchers call this phenomenon colony-collapse disorder. According to surveys of beekeepers across the country, 25 to 40 percent of the honeybees in the United States have vanished from their hives since last fall. So far, no one can explain why.

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