My father once advised me to try to learn something new every day. Fortunately, Scientific American always delivers. And even the most seemingly esoteric feature articles have down-to-earth details or surprising facts that help make them relevant and accessible. Consider this our invitation to this issue's knowledge treasure hunt.
Take our cover story, “The Emptiest Place in Space,” by István Szapudi. Our astronomer author probes the origin of an odd “cold spot” in the cosmic microwave background, the light that rippled from the big bang throughout the universe. What caused this vacant place? Szapudi outlines a theory of a giant supervoid. You will also learn the answer to this question: What household appliance can you use to detect the most ancient light in the universe, 13.8 billion years old?
The supervoid extends 1.8 billion light-years across; sometimes you need just the right vantage point to understand large-scale problems such as how the universe evolved. For people on Earth, a new, expansive perspective on the species can come from something called the macroscope, the conceptual opposite of the microscope. The “instrument,” made of software and big data, can analyze health statistics from all over the planet to create a picture of humanity's health in more detail than ever possible before. What kind of computing power do you need to create a health report card for our species? Read all about it in “Health Check for Humanity,” by contributing editor W. Wayt Gibbs.
With the return of the Summer Olympics, we take a closer look at the “The Secret to Speed” in sprinters, by staff writer Dina Fine Maron. The conventional wisdom that the key is repositioning limbs while in the air to step faster turns out to be wrong. Instead top sprinters swiftly zoom along by applying multiple times their body weight to the ground.
You can explore many more topics elsewhere in the issue: what real-life Earth-dwelling denizen gave scriptwriters the idea for chest-bursting horrors in the Alien movie series (“Zombie Neuroscience”); what species bequeathed to humans the Huntington's gene and why its normal form is beneficial (“The Huntington's Paradox”); and even (wink) why the U.S. Navy uses blue camouflage (Anti Gravity). If you unearthed a favorite new fact or insight, we'd enjoy hearing about it.