Science Channel - InSCIder


27 Oct

The Controversial Proposal of an Alien Megastructure

The space and science community was buzzing last week about of odd behavior of a star called KIC 8462852. More accurately, the news was about the odd behavior from something near or in transit around the star causing it to dim in irregular patterns and brightness. The buzz was about the theory whether this could be a megastructure or mass of structures created by aliens.

Science Channel will air a special news update about the theories being aired about this strange star: Alien Megastructures tonight at 9/8c. Before you tune-in or set your DVR, here's a little bit about why this odd star has scientists stumped and alien hunters guessing. Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.16.33 PM

The story about the The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy broke in The Atlantic on October 13, but as the story noted, the star’s behavior isn’t exactly breaking news. 

While going about its mission to find exoplanets Kepler Space Telescope found this star in 2009. Kepler does its job by observing far flung stars and tracking any dimming in their brightness, which could signify the presence of an exoplanet. When the dimness happens over a recognizable period and speed, it often signals there is an exoplanet and can even help astronomers estimate the size. In the case of KIC 8462852, the star had dips that followed no precise pattern and vary in intensity.

Kepler could very well be picking up some natural phenomenon such as dust rings or a debris field. After all, Kepler can pick up things other than exoplanets, like flares, said dust or debris, or perhaps even something created specifically to move around the star. Yes, created.

Watch DNews: We're Not Saying The Kepler Discovery Is Aliens, But...

Of course we expect some backlash at this point, and at least one of the meme with the wacky looking dude who has his hair standing up with the text “Aliens” on it. The comments claiming this is pseudo-science have come along with most posts and articles we've seen circulated on the topic. Some people do not believe there is alien life, and do not like mainstream science and cultural media outlets reporting on it.

Here’s why some of us are talking about it.

The source of this story and the follow up pieces are not the result of astronomers just grabbing at straws. The data on this star goes back to 2009 and has been carefully documented; a paper reporting on the data and all plausible theories was just submitted by a Yale post-doctorate researcher to the September 2015 edition of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The paper also includes the names and interpretation of several citizen scientists from The Planet Hunters, an expert group who regularly studies certain parts of the galaxy to help scientists wade through the massive amount of data the telescopes send back. The combined efforts of the lead at Yale, Tabetha Boyajian, and the Planet Hunters confirmed at least two basic things: the irregular data is NOT coming from flawed data or instrumental error and the behavior was notable, with dips “in flux down to below the 20 percent level.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.18.11 PM

Boyajian and the Planet Hunters offer up several theories, most of which raise additional questions given that none of them are an exact fit with the behavior being observed.

Read More: DNews Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure?

As Dr. Ian O’Neill notes in his DNews report on the story, Boyajian’s paper focuses only on “…natural and known possible causes of the mystery transit events around KIC 8462852. A second paper is currently being drafted to investigate a completely different transit scenario that focuses around the possibility of a mega-engineering project created by an advanced alien civilization.”

This does NOT mean anyone is immediately suggesting it IS an alien megastructure. What this second paper and some scientists believe is that every possible theory must be explored. Even if it the most remote chance it is something created by an advanced civilization, in the spirit of scientific exploration it must be explored and proven or dis-proven. So we’ll wait for the paper and see.

So what happens next? Well, the scientists at the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute are joining in the search for an explanation in a significant way. They’ve turned their Allen Telescope Array – a field of 42 smaller and highly targeted satellite dishes – off its normal schedule and have focused it on KIC 8462852. They will work day and night looking for transmissions that fall into a specific range of wavelengths.

According to Universe Today, the team is gathering results they hope to publish soon in a scientific journal.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) has also joined in, issuing an alert to its members on October 20th to focus on KIC 8462852, with specific parameters to help target their observations. This continues to be a working investigation to find the cause of the erratic dips.

At Science Channel we believe in “questioning everything,” and we’re excited by the depth of research going into confirming a theory, regardless the side of the debate. We’ll be presenting the latest news about the story tonight in a special news report: Alien Megastructures at 9/8c. We hope you’ll join us in exploring the story of this strange signal and the science going into solving this mystery.


Interested in these kinds of space mysteries? You might enjoy these related videos:



15 Oct

Meet The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge Winner!

Here at Science Channel we are always completely blown away by the ideas generated by younger kids today. Teenagers are sending things into space, developing apps, and questioning everything about the future. This year’s winner of the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is no different. She created an energy probe prototype.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.39.23 PMYou read that correctly. 15 year-old Hannah Herbst from Florida Atlantic University High School, in Boca Raton, FL captured the title this year with her prototype that seeks to offer a stable power source to developing countries by using untapped energy from ocean currents. It’s a simple idea that could be revolutionary in the years to come.

Hannah’s inspiration for the project came from her desire to help her nine-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia. Her friend lacks reliable power and electricity; nor is her friend alone in this plight. According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity.

It makes you think how a teenager’s desire to help a friend could be the seed of an idea that helps people worldwide. We think her choice of project is pretty impressive – one that has personal relevance but also casts an eye to “How can I change the future?”

She’s wasn’t alone in her journey to becoming a winner. Herbst and nine other finalists from around the country had the chance over the past three months to work directly with a 3M scientist on their invention as part of a summer internship. Herbst was paired with Jeffrey Emslander, a 3M corporate scientist whose research and patents have helped 3M reduce emissions to the environment and use less energy in the making of products.

We love the ideas that come out of the competition, but we also love the underlying genesis of the competition, which was creating a structure filled with adults passionate about science who could mentor the next generation who are equally as passionate.

During the collaboration the students looked to their 3M expert mentors to help guide them through the scientific method of advancing their ideas from a theoretical concept into an actual prototype. Together they reviewed the scientific process and worked virtually through pre-assigned objectives, with resources and support provided by Discovery Education and 3M.

[149975] HannahHerbstand2014winner2.JPG_lowDuring the final competition hosted by Discovery Education's Lance Rougeux, the finalists shared their completed inventions with a panel of judges, including Hakeem Oluseyi, astrophysicist and star of our own hit show Outrageous Acts of Science.

Along with the title and the knowledge gained, Herbst took home a $25,000 prize. It’s a just reward for the serious challenge that she and her fellow competitors and finalists faced.

All of us here at Science Channel just wanted to say: “You Go Hannah!”

About The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge:

Since its inception, the Young Scientist Challenge has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in student scholarships and prizes, paired students with world-renowned scientists to give them real-world insights and delivered much-needed science resources to millions of students, teachers and families across the country. Previous winners have met the President of the United States, addressed members of Congress, worked with the nation's top scientists and been featured in Forbes magazine's annual "30 Under 30" list.

Want to Make A Difference In A Young Person's Life? Get Involved In Support Our Science

Science is everywhere. It’s the DNA for progress and possibility.  Support Our Science is committed to igniting students’ passion for science, technology, engineering and math on-air, online, in the classroom and in local communities.  Science Channel and Discovery Education, together with partners, The Planetary Society, Girls Inc, and Maker Ed will ensure our kids are the next generation of innovators, problem solvers, and game changers.

14 Oct

Hubble’s Images of Jupiter Bring Surprises

Using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, planetary scientists at NASA’s have captured Jupiter in an annual photo, and this year the very high-res images are showing some interesting new things.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 9.39.04 AMPlanetary scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created two global maps on the planet to essentially show back-to-back rotations. This helps them calculate the speed of the movement they see occurring on the surface.

Focusing first on the famous Red Spot, actually a giant storm, the team confirmed the spot is still shrinking and becoming more circular. It’s also more orange than red. These changes have been occurring in previous photos, but what they did uncover that was different is a “filament” or streamer stretching for most of the width of the Spot, which rotates and is blown about by the high winds.

Additionally, when looking at the North Equatorial Belt, the team found a wave that had only previously been spotted long ago by Voyager 2. This image confirms the rare wave’s existence. It is found in a region noted for cyclones and anti-cyclones, and appears to be similar to baroclinic waves which are found in the Earth’s atmosphere prior to cyclones forming.

The reasons for its elusive behavior may be due to the wave beginning in the layers beneath the visible clouds and only becoming visible when surfacing to the cloud layer.

The annual photos contain a wealth of other information the scientists are still exploring. The yearly photos are invaluable and will continue as they provide a way to show how the planet changes over time and provide clues as to what they might mean about the weather, geology, chemistry and more of this giant planet.

Be sure to visit NASA’s Press Release about images to get more in-depth information and incredible video and photography.

For more story on The Red Spot, check out this in-depth look from HOW THE UNIVERSE WORKS:


9 Oct

Giant Lakes On Mars?

Imagine standing on the shore of Lake Michigan. You see nothing but a vast expanse of water, deep and alive with currents. Now imagine that isn’t Lake Michigan, but the shore of the Gale Crater on Mars. Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.01.15 PM

New pictures, taken by NASA's Curiosity Rover show thick slabs of dried sediment that look familiar to anyone who has seen a long dried up patch of water like a creek bed or a lake. Only this patch is on a massive scale. This is exciting to scientists who are looking forward to studying the sediment to find out just what happened to the water.

“You don’t need magic new science to understand the geology of Mars,” notes Janok Bhattacharya, a sedimentary geologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, as quoted in Science Magazine. Basically, geologists here on Earth can study the pictures and sample analysis sent back and make strong assumptions about the Martian climate based on how it matches up with what they’ve modeled here on Earth.

So far they do believe the water was in large bodies, with currents powerful enough to move the larger, more rounded rock sediment they've seen. They can also see how the sediment piled up over what could be millions of years, and possibly decipher what the layers meant about the changing climate on Mars’ surface and if there were different climates like here on Earth.

It goes without saying that scientists, geologists, and astronomy buffs are beyond excited about what the Curiosity Rover has been able to show us. This is big news and a big step in understanding other worlds. The geology discovery that lies ahead is going to be rich in data thanks to the Rover, and we can't wait to see what comes next!

As we ponder a now mostly dry planet and what it will tell us about life on Mars, or perhaps if we are seeing the future of our own planet, we should also stop and appreciate the tremendous feat of technology and engineering the is the Curiosity Mars Rover.

If you want to understand what an achievement it is to have these pictures and data coming back from Mars you won’t want to miss Red Planet Rover Tuesday night at 9P on Science Channel. You’ll get to follow the build and the journey to Mars from the eyes of the mission control team. This is their baby and they’ve invested their time, theories, and hope in this amazing spacecraft.

It’s all part of a night of intense space exploration. There is truly something for everyone who is wondering about the universe.

What’s On Tuesday:

8P - How the Universe Works: Forces of Mass Construction

9P – Red Planet Rover: See the Mars Curiosity Rover as You Never Have Before

10P – Space’s Darkest Secret: Can Scientists Crack the Mystery of Dark Matter?

Want to learn more about the geology of Mars? Turn to Science Magazine's in-depth feature.


29 Sep

Mars Mystery Solved: A Special Report

Tonight at 9p EST, Science Channel will be airing a special segment, including post-analysis from the confirmation there is liquid water on Mars. Mars: A Special Report discussing how they made the discovery and what it means for future Mars exploration.

I can’t wait to hear what the #NASA experts have to say. After viewing the NASA press conference and Q&A yesterday, it seems like at a basic level the mission is to keep moving forward and exploring just what liquid water on Mars means. In short, the discovery opens up more questions than there are answers.

The 900 lb. gorilla of a question in the room, on our website, and on our social media pages is: if there is water, is there life?

BlueMarsAliens. It seems to always comes back to that concept for many of us. My parents read comics about canals on Mars being made by a powerful civilization. I’m of the generation that has seen Hubble open up the vastness of the universe where the sheer odds point to the fact there must be some kind of life out there. Now scientists have done studies that show microbial life doesn’t always have to have oxygen and water to live. Still, if you’ve got water you are likely one step closer to finding something that could be defined as life.

That’s what had the scientists so excited about the future. Now they have been able to secure enough information to confirm the liquid water, they can focus on its composition, its activity, and how we might use it on future missions. There are just so many things to find out about our own life and planet as we start understanding Mars more. There are also new hopes of colonizing the planet in a different way than we might have before. Of course, even many scientists whoooped over the possibility of finding new life - even microbes to start!

I’m going to pump the brakes on speculating about the future for a minute and go back to the mystery and beauty of what we have just found out simply about the topography and nature of Mars.

They finally understand these dark streaks – called recurring slope lineae (RSL) – as being indicators of liquid water that drip down the sides of craters and slopes. This is something scientists had begun to observe and discuss for a few years with data from the Phoenix Lander and pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showing the RSL over various sites.


Add the Curiosity Rover into the mix and you have the perfect scientific storm for confirmation of liquid water. As the pictures got clearer, and the Curiosity Rover could take soil samples the story started to take shape. The NASA team mineral mapped the site from the MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). This data revealed hydrated salts and that brings us to the press conference yesterday and the beautiful photos we have been seeing.

So for all of you who in our forums who have said we’ve known about water on Mars for years, you are right in some ways. We HAVE known about ancient frozen water – not liquid. It is also true NASA has also been studying this current phenomenon since 2010. The announcement was not held for any other reason than it is only now when the perfect mix of technology and research allowed the scientists to put the pieces together. They like being right. They're funny like that.

As I saw how the pieces came together for them I took a moment to look out my window into the sky. I am so incredibly proud of NASA and the science community. The collective work of hundreds of people (likely a lot more) went into to this discovery and a few of the others I picked up yesterday. This is the information that will one day allow the next generation to explore Mars and beyond.

  • There is a water cycle on Mars; it doesn’t rain but it does snow
  • Mars has seasons, just like Earth. The RSL change dependent on the seasons, which was another clue.
  • The water probably pretty shallow more like trickles and drips rather than rolling streams – but we don’t know that didn’t happen in the past or what is happening under the surface.

That's what wowed little old me; what wowed you?

As you'd expect, we were all smiles here at Science Channel yesterday during the live broadcast because we loved seeing the scientists be able to share this breakthrough, and we loved being a part of sharing it. We can't resist sharing the faces of of those who produce such exciting live events and those who stand watch in our broadcast center to make sure everything is beautiful on our air!   Image1

We also love being able to bring you the update at 9P, will explain more about how they found the water, why is is so important to the future, what are they going to do next?

It’s also exciting we could share this experience with our colleagues around the globe. We have video from our colleagues at Discovery News. We’ve seen people in our worldwide divisions talk about it on social media. Here are a few posts for you to enjoy, and we hope to see you for a night of Mars programming, with our special update at 9P.

Discovery News Video

Discovery Networks International:

Discovery Science France:



Discovery Channel Turkey:


Discovery Channel South Africa: Photos

Discovery Channel Arabia: Photos


28 Sep

TestTube: Definitive Signs of Liquid Water Found on Mars

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.41.19 AMOur colleagues from TestTube hit the nail on the head in their blog when they commented it might be the best marketing promotion ever dreamed up if this announcement from NASA was to promote The Martian. We were saying the same thing as the #NASA panel slowly built up to the big reveal: there is evidence of flowing water on Mars. It wasn't a movie; it's what #NASA has been searching for for years, finally confirmed after careful study of the surface geology and samples from the #CuriosityRover.

Get the full TestTube blog, and stick with us as we will be checking in with them throughout the day for more of their thoughts and perhaps some video.


TestTube on Facebook

TestTube on Twitter

TestTube on YouTube



26 Sep

Evolving Technology and the Art of Being Human

Mark Burstiner at TechnoBuffalo is always getting his hands on the latest and greatest tech stuff. Whether it’s the latest smartphone or TV, he examines every aspect of a product and fills us in on what puts them at the cutting edge. In the video below, gets up close with the new LG OLED TV and explains what the technology means both on phones and on the new smart TV from LG. 

A short way of describing the difference is the OLED TVs do not require the backlighting that LCD panels do. The “organic light emitting diodes” are so efficient they are only activated when they need to be; when not in use they dim or turn themselves off. What that means for you and me is the black is a true black, and when you have that you have a picture with amazing contrast and clarity.

When I (Science Channel's Geek in Residence) first saw it my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. I couldn’t look away when I saw scenes where stars and galaxies popped. That got me to thinking, if I can’t look away, it’s likely others will have the same reaction and will be glued to this new TV.


Being the science geek I am, I remembered the debate that has been raging for a few years now. It’s about the sociology around adopting new technology; the root of the debate is the question of dehumanization.

Will we become so tethered to our devices and technology, that we will become less sociable and less personally invested in each other and our communities? As we stare at our screens – whether it’s our phones or our TV’s, will we no longer be able to relate to each other in real life? Will our only connections be in the virtual world – and can you really call those human relationships?

It almost goes without saying there are many people on the other side of the debate over the latest technology in phones, devices, and TVs. Rather than being the death of human interaction, they argue the new social platforms that develop with technology takes our connection to others to another level. It’s easier to keep up with people, be a part of shared world experiences like watching and tweeting the World Cup, or finding relevant communities and causes that drive us to action in real life.

It’s an interesting question, so I set out to find some answers. What I found were observations and studies that had numbers to back up BOTH sides of the debate.

Not surprisingly I’m not the only one stymied by the lack of clarity. In July 2015, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “Is Technology Making People Less Sociable?” They had researchers from both sides make their case for the growth of technology and its effect on our relationships.

In a widely circulated, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Is technology making people less sociable?” professors Dr. Larry Rosen and Dr. Keith Hampton argue the pros and cons of technology and its effect on our relationships.

In the ‘cons’ corner, Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University who says, “Technology is distracting us from our real world relationships.” Rosen argues there is a big difference between connecting or checking in with someone on social media than there is an actually communicating face to face. 

Backing that up, Dr. Rosen pointed to a study they conducted, which showed even though we can communicate emotions in the virtual world, it’s just a virtual sentiment. The study showed offering empathy online “is only one-sixth as effective in making the recipient feel socially supported compared with that empathy which was proffered in the real world. A hug feels six times more supportive than an emoji.”

In the ‘pros’ corner. Dr. Keith Hampton, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, worked with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project in 2011. Their study indicated we are not losing our ability to truly communicate and share with each other it’s just that we are doing it differently as a natural adaptation to rapidly growing technology.  Hacking-the-universe-homepage

The Life Project found that people who used Facebook regularly throughout the day were 43% more likely than other Internet users to trust others and 9% said they had close relationships with others on Facebook. 43% said they would be more likely to vote.

The ability for technology to get us talking and connecting, also seems to have the long tail effect of encouraging us to take action, which is pretty amazing.

The Pew Center followed up with another study in July 2015, which addressed the gaming aspects of online social interaction. The research found that 83% of teen gamers played with others in person. 75% also played with others online. That indicates these heavy technology consumers don’t feel alone or isolated at all.

Plus it’s not just gaming technology that pulls people together. The growth of technology and social platforms has fundamentally changed the way we receive our news and information, and what we do with it. 

People can tweet or take video of a random event and it could become worldwide news. Anyone can stream an event live and we can talk to them in real time about what’s happening on the other side of the world. In doing so it could be said we become part of a group making history, via an online conversation.

Many would argue our being able to use our technology to become part of world events is what helps us actually become more human.

A good example is the Syrian Refugee Crisis. We watch footage on TV of the desperate people with nowhere to go on the news as we eat our breakfast. Or while sitting on the bus on the way to work you get an email on your phone from a friend who has sent another video with a link on how to help. At work, you head to a news website which has additional stories about the crisis, curated by a human behind the scenes who knows it’s a trending topic. You read about a few charities and reach out to one of your social media groups to confirm they do good work. Then you donate through an app or hashtag.

At the end of the day however, looking strictly at the research, it becomes a he said/she said story. Looking just at the science we can only say that each side has its numbers and studies that are very real for those who participated. 

Until the official journal is called for and published, one can honestly to come to the conclusion that technology is taking our attention away from humanity and making us less sociable. What we can say is it likely a question of perspective.

We keep creating new technology and we use it in myriad of different ways. In the end, the choice of how to engage with new platforms and new devices is up to the individual and likely how they interact their peer group, and their influencers.  

You know what? Sometimes it’s ok to not have a definitive answer to a complex question like whether a new phone or TV will make you less sociable. If you want to watch your OLED with some friends because the football game looks amazing on it, that’s fine. If you just want to use your smartphone to check in on your parents, that’s fine too. You don't have to live tweet the game just because you can, nor do you need to insist your parents get Skype. Trust me.

In my humble opinion, it’s having the ability to make a choice on how we use our technology that defines us a human and how we choose to socialize in the first place.

For me, my choice is to keep leaning in to new technology and learning everything I can about it. I’ve found friends, support groups, and entertainment I would never have expected to find even five years ago.

So when I first saw the new LG OLED, and Mark was remarking it was a gamer's dream, my very first thought was it would be amazing to binge watch The West Wing on it with a few friends.

Mark and I are two people who by the nature of our jobs use a lot of technology every day, but when we thought about what we'd do with a new TV you got two different ideas. Even if you have two people on the same side of the debate that technology makes us more social, you still see the human side come out as we made choices.

Fortunately, the new LG OLED does what new technology should do best, and delivers for many different desires.


Business Insider

Digital Trends

The New York Times

Pew Institute

Smithsonian Magazine

The Wall Street Journal





30 Jul

Secret Space Escapes

What’s it like to leave earth to explore the unknown? How does it feel to be in space? What happens when you’re in space and something goes terribly wrong? Science Channel’s SECRET SPACE ESCAPES reveals terrifying accidents, fights for survival, and stories of close calls and near misses by the astronauts who survived them. This all-new series offers chilling accounts of the challenges of space exploration as told only by the explorers who lived them and the men and women in mission control who helped each team avert disaster. SECRET SPACE ESCAPES premieres on Science Channel Nov. 10 at 10 PM.

Recounting missions as recent as 2013, SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will draw viewers into the emotional experience of space exploration. Through first-hand accounts by the astronauts who relied upon science, training, colleagues on earth and, most importantly, their wits, in order to survive launches, space walks, landings, collisions, outages and other dangerous situations that occurred during their missions.  This is the first time that these near-disasters-turned-triumphs have been told solely from the point of view of the men and women who problem-solved each event – there is no narration in the series, and the stories unfold solely in the words of the people who were there. S98e5276

“The personal stories of the astronauts in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES have never been seen like this before on television,” said Rita Mullin, General Manager of Science Channel.   “These men and women have pushed space exploration forward with each mission, and their stories will haunt, entertain, educate and inspire.”

Featuring rare and never before seen footage, the astronauts and stories featured in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will include:

  • Robert Curbeam and Thomas Jones trained for years to install a new American module on the International Space Station (ISS). During their long-anticipated spacewalk, a valve malfunctions and toxic ammonia flakes from the cooling system pour all over Curbeam. He struggles desperately to stop the leak before the vital cooling system fails. Covered like a snowman with ammonia flakes, Curbeam cannot risk re-entering the spacecraft, where the toxic ammonia could sicken or blind the crew. His only option is to stay outside, zooming at 17,000 miles per hour, 225 miles above the earth, and wait for the sun to melt away the contaminants.
  • When a new solar panel on the ISS tears, Scott Parazynski ventures out on a 90-foot arm to make improvised repairs. The solar panels carry enough voltage to fry Dr. Parazynski in his oxygen-filled suit -- but if he fails in his task, the ISS is doomed.
  • In 1997, Mike Foale is on an extended mission aboard the Russian Mir space station when it is struck by a resupply vessel. The station springs a leak, losing power rapidly and launching into an out of control spin. Under extreme pressure, Foale makes an ad hoc calculation using the position of the stars to determine the speed and direction of the spin. He and his Russian colleagues Vasily Tsibliyev and Aleksandr “Sasha” Lazutkin are able to use the rockets inside the attached Soyuz capsule to stop the roll, save the ship -- and their lives.
  • Hoot Gibson and Mike Mullane are on the second shuttle to launch after the Challenger disaster. It’s 1986 and STS-27 is a classified mission to launch a spy satellite. During liftoff, a video of the launch reveals a fragment of the booster rocket’s insulation breaking off and striking the underbelly of the space shuttle, Atlantis, damaging many of the protective heat shield tiles that leave parts of the shuttle exposed to 5,000 degree heat upon re-entry. Gibson thinks he’s going to die and Mullane suspects they may be facing certain disaster. They have no alternatives – there are no stations to dock to, there is no time to send another Shuttle to aid them and no way to conduct a spacewalk to fix the issue. Miraculously, even with vulnerable unshielded spots on her, Atlantis withstands the heat of reentry because a steel plate just happens to protect the aluminum hull where it is most exposed.
  • In 1969, the Soyuz 5 capsule tumbles to earth in a fireball because a malfunction does not jettison an extra equipment module. It’s like a car dragging a U-Haul trailer. When the capsule finally rights itself and the extra modules are jettisoned, its parachutes only partially deploy and the rockets that aid a soft landing barely function. Cosmonaut Boris Volynov lands way off target. Covered in blood from his broken teeth sustained in the crash landing, he manages to climb out of the wreckage and find his way to the door of a very surprised peasant.

SECRET SPACE ESCAPES is produced for Science Channel by ITV Studios America where Vincent Kralyevich and Patrice Andrews serve as executive producers. For Science Channel Neil Laird and Rocky Collins serve as executive producers and Lindsey Foster Blumberg is producer. Bernadette McDaid is vice president of production for Science Channel.

4 Jul

Could Technology Reverse Aging?

The fountain of youth. The idea of retaining or returning to one’s healthy youthful state indefinitely is a concept that has been studied in one form or another since the dawn of humankind. The ‘fountain of youth’ idea is based on the idea there is some product – a cream or a pill that will somehow turn the effects of aging around. Billions of dollars are spent each year on products that claim to in some way mask or slow the effects of aging, but what if we’re looking in the wrong place? What if the fountain of youth has really been inside us the whole time and we just need the technology to find it?

By asking whether technology can reverse aging we have to split the current research into two groups. The first is the group of researchers like Randal Koene who want to preserve life by turning our intellect and emotions into digital copies. This could mean purely a digital experience, and not just reversing aging but creating a limitless one.

Other scientists are tackling aging at the cellular level. The generally accepted idea with this theory is aging is caused by breakdowns or gradual mutation of the mitochondria in our cells. Mitochondrial DNA control cellular respiration and energy – key to keeping our cells young. Gradual breakdown of the mitochondria sequences over time lead to the signs we associate with aging and eventual shutting down of the cells.

Teams of scientists in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. have recently made the discovery that it may not be as simple as the sequencing of our DNA breaking down. The Japanese team studied the cells from a range of fetal to 12-year old young people and 80 to 97 year-olds. It turns out the actual sequences, or capacity of the DNA between the two groups was largely the same.

What they theorized is the breakdown or misfiring at the cellular level is really caused by turning on or off of genes, which can be done by adding the proteins or chemical structures like amino acids that enable them. If you can control delivery of chemicals and proteins you can reprogram genes to reverse the breakdowns.

The Japanese team proved they could successfully turn the genes off that affect cellular respiration. Then they turned them back on by adding the amino acid glycine. The combined team from Australia and the U.S. restored the functionality or ‘communication’ between mitochondria and the nuclei of cells by injecting mice with a natural compound called NMN. It accelerates the levels of molecule NAD that repairs the functionality. In the study, the results of the injection had some of the same effects as those mice that were fed the equivalent of a low calorie diet. The younger the mice were, the more dramatic the effect; so could it be possible that if we start taking or injecting ourselves early enough we could stall aging altogether?

With these new breakthroughs in understanding how we might treat our cells we could be looking at prolonged and healthier future. But where does the technology come in?

It’s a given that to accomplish this research scientists are working with advanced medical equipment to create, deliver, and document gene therapy. We are talking about microsurgery at an advanced level as scientists look to bind healthy, treated cells to other cells and replace them in the body to grow and help regenerate damaged cells.


But beyond microsurgery, there are already technologies hitting the market in the near future that could help us prevent and treat malfunctions in the body earlier. As the team from Discovery News documents in their video there are wearable wristbands that already track our fitness and diet; in addition to be preventative health care to slow down aging, these devices could one day also alert us to more serious medical problems.

The Discovery News team also highlights magnetic pills we could ingest to directly target the source of cellular breakdown with the appropriate amino acid. Imagine 3-D printers are creating these pills or vaccines on a mass scale.

The fountain of youth is an ephemeral concept. Will we live forever as intellect inside a computer, or will we use computers and advanced technology to tap and fix what is already inside us? The race is on.

Which avenue of anti-aging would you pursue?



Sydney Morning Herald


23 Jun

The Very Real Project To Upload A Human Brain

Understanding how our brain works is the holy grail of neuroscience. Our brains are estimated to be made of 85 to 100 billion neurons with electrochemical signals jumping between them, creating thought, decisions, bodily functions, and the essence of who we are. If we understand how these neurons and synapses operate then we could cure diseases, prolong our health and memory, and maybe – just maybe – we could copy those patterns to a computer or to host bodies.

The creation of a “substrate independent minds” sounds like science fiction or the subject of fringe science. The fact is, the project to upload a human mind to a computer is happening right now with neuroscientist Randal Koene as a chief advocate.

For Koene, the idea is very simple. If you map the brain and identify the patterns by which the neurons fire, you could effectively copy them as basic binary computer code. If you do this correctly you would copy those unique synapses that make up our emotions, skills, and personalities. Koene believes that if all the basic functions of the brain are copied and the complexities of how the neurons communicate are rendered accurately, then the computerized version of your brain would be self-aware.

Are you freaked out? Do you have questions? Of course you do.

This is a big idea that raises a lot of unknowns. While something may be possible, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how it will work. That’s much like the story in the movie Self/Less – just because we could upload our brains to another, younger body doesn’t mean we know what would happen.


Koene has theorized that we could potentially live in host bodies – human, or even human ones that our computerized brains have adapted to different living environments. Koene also thinks we could simply live in a digital environment much like the “Cloud.” While we know how our brains react to each other as humans, we don’t know how our brains would act towards each other in bodies we don’t recognize now or even just as a digital brain occupying space in the Cloud. Our synapses for memories and behavior would probably have to evolve.

This evolution or expansion of our consciousness is exactly why Randal Koene believes uploading the human brain is a good thing. As a species we need to find a way to evolve to meet the rapidly changing future and infrastructure around us, and this could be the answer. After all, many prominent minds like Stephen Hawking haven’t been shy about stating they believe the very artificial intelligence and robots we’ve created will one day evolve themselves beyond our intelligence and eventually take over. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like science fiction any more, but perhaps a necessity to keep our species – or at least the intelligence and essence of it alive.

In fact, it isn’t science fiction it’s science fact that Koene’s research and those of others’ are real. There is an open source movement called “The Open Worm Project” that has already created a virtual brain of a roundworm and uploaded it into a Lego robot. YOU can even participate in refining that project to begin to get comfortable with creating virtual intelligence.

There is also the research being done at USC and Wake Forest where in 2011 scientists created the world’s first artificial neural implant which works in a rat. They targeted the rat’s hippocampus where neurons and electrical signals create the memory to perform tasks. The scientists copied the patterns of the signals and placed them on a chip. Next, they removed the rat’s hippocampus and the rat couldn’t do the tasks. Adding in the chip? The memory to complete tasks was restored.

It’s cutting edge science, but no longer science considered on the fringes. In 2013 the EU and US announced initiatives to boost the field of brain research and hopefully move the goals into the mainstream.

We’ve come a long way, but we all know worm and rat brains are far from the beautiful, complex machine that is the human brain. Koene’s continued work on mapping the brain with the goal of creating a “whole brain emulation” could take years and years to complete. So each neural pathway Koene and other neuroscientists explore is critical in achieving a full understanding of the brain and how to replicate it.

That time may be just what we need to wrap our minds around the enormous consequences of creating our own virtual intelligence means. How long would we be able to live? Would we redefine what it means to be human by programming out undesirable traits? Would we be able to have relationships?

In short, would the rush of being “immortal” be replaced by a reality that brings on more questions than answers? One can theorize, but we can’t yet answer that question. As we find out in the movie Self/Less, it will likely be a very personal question.

Would YOU upload your brain? Let us know!




Randal Koene

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