Science Channel - InSCIder


3 May

Dark Energy. We Know. It's Complicated!

by Cody Barr

It should come as no surprise that the trope “seeing is believing” is not always the case. In the realm of space exploration, it’s quite the opposite. The most puzzling facet of the Universe lies in the darkness. Dark matter and dark energy continue to exist without direct evidence, but their presence is very much real. We know it's complicated, so to help explain the currently unexplainable, we turned to Dr. Ian O’Neill from DNews, who holds a Ph.D in Solar Physics and an M.Phys in Astrophysics.

What is the most common misconception people have when it comes to things we can’t see in space like dark matter and dark energy?

The biggest misconception is that they don’t exist because we only have indirect evidence. People read these articles and expect a quick fix. They think we need to tune up our instruments, that we’re looking in the wrong place, that we are missing something. It’s not a conspiracy. You always have people that say it’s just something that scientists say to get research funding. That’s not the case.

There are arguments that we need to look at our understanding of gravity or space time, perhaps. As the years go on and we’ve studied gravitational waves, Einstein was pretty much spot on when it comes to general relativity. We think it’s a problem with matter.


Above: Our friends from Test Tube ponder dark spaces as well!

How do you convince the general public that research into this sector of astrophysics and space exploration is necessary?

People are used to this “Golden Age” of scientific discovery where we have answers for everything. They want us to tie all our theories together into little bows and explain the Universe and move on with our lives. Of course, it doesn’t work like that.

I would argue that the endeavor itself is worthy because of all the other things we learn along the way of any scientific discovery. The spinoff technologies from the endeavors will enrich our lives. And it’s just nice to know about our place in the Universe. It’s like a bottomless ocean. Wouldn’t you like to know what’s below you on the ocean floor instead of floating around blindly taking it for granted? What’s beyond what we can see and understand is what makes humanity tick.

What is the main piece of evidence scientists have found to confirm the presence of dark matter?

We have a good idea that perhaps the majority of our matter is made up of invisible particles that exert a gravitational force collectedly, but are very small and don’t interact via electromagnetic force, which means we can’t see them directly. You can’t look into the sky and see the radiation it exerts because it doesn’t emit any. Its presence is known by gravitational force only.

We look at galaxies. We see that galaxies spin like a wheel, not like whirlpool. Whirlpools spin the fastest motion in the center and the slowest on the outside. Galaxies don’t act like that. That’s what they would do if all of the matter in the Universe was visible. But because most is invisible (85%), the visible material of the galaxy moves virtually as a whole because it’s embedded in a massive halo of dark matter that is around it. So we’re only seeing the middle of this halo, which is actually visible. It extends very far away. The oval motion of the dark matter is like whirlpool, but we only see the visible hub of visible matter.

Are there any other pieces of evidence?

You can look at galactic clusters, the motion of gasses and stars and motion of light going through galactic clusters. We know it’s out there. 

What sort of experiments and observations are being done to advance our understanding of dark matter?

Scientists are trying to produce dark matter ourselves by using The Large Hadron Collider and are simultaneously trying to observe it in the galaxies. The most exciting is the LHC (The Large Hadron Collider). It is constantly crashing particles at nearly the speed of light, something that hadn’t happened since the Big Bang. These scientists are creating minute quantities of primordial matter and are finding strange bumps in the energy of the particles that come out of such collisions. There’s the possibility of finding a new particle found that we have never seen before. It could very well be a dark matter particle because it has a gravitational force.

Meanwhile, the ISS is trying to detect energies from the center of galaxies. WIMPs in certain conditions, may collide and annihilate. When they collide, they erupt with a sudden burst of energy. The hope is to detect that energy, to detect the annihilation of dark matter particles. Everything is inconclusive right now, but there are papers seemingly every six months saying the finger prints of dark matter has been found.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.18.06 PM
Credit: NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute

People make associations between dark matter, dark energy and black holes because the color black is dark. Are they actually connected?

They certainly can be connected. Black holes are extremely dense locations and carry a lot of gravitational weight. Are there more than we know of? Possibly. We’re realizing that all galaxies have super massive black holes in their cores. We can see our black hole because of its interaction with local matter in our galaxies. We can’t actually see our black hole because it’s black but we can detect it from radio waves and the heat it emits.

There’s a theory that there are many many black holes out there that don’t interact with any matter because they’re not near any matter. It could be a small black hole at our cosmic doorstep that doesn’t produce any radiation. They could be a very large component of dark matter. The connection is very real and logical. Hopefully we can detect more black hole collisions through gravitational waves.

What about dark energy? How do we know it exists?

The main evidence for dark energy comes really comes from Hubble’s original mission at the turn of the century. It saw that all the galaxies are essentially moving away from each other at an accelerated rate, which didn’t make sense at the time. Now, it’s almost like there’s this anti-gravity component to the Universe (dark matter) and matter energy is actually held up in this dark energy. It’s really hard to explain.

What sort of steps would a young enthusiast need to take to enter this field and be at the forefront of this research?

I went into astrophysics because of science fiction. I had to first understand all the disciplines of physics and then mathematics. You have to have a grasp on mathematics. For me, I loved the mystery of the Universe and wanted to understand it. It comes from excitement and enthusiasm. When you realize how big the Earth is and how tiny we are in relation to the rest of the Universe you feel a little bit scared, like a claustrophobia, but the desire to understand it is undeniable.

For those interested in exploring the concept of dark energy and learning Einstein's and the Hubble's role in proving its existence, you must watch tonight's episode of Space's Deepest Secrets: Dark Energy starting at 10P. Get started with the clip below!


16 Apr

A Wonderful Week of Science – and It’s Not Over Yet!

Live Q&A This Morning at 10 a.m. with Steve Spengler, "America's Science Teacher"

This week has been very special. Not only did the President preside over his sixth and final White House Science Fair on Wednesday, but the bi-annual U.S. Science and Engineering Festival closes out the week. Both events emphasize nurturing an interest in curiosity, learning and exploring the fields of science, technology, math and engineering. Obama has called it the “Mars Generation.”

This generation is being taught that innovation and research is fun and confidence building. It’s not just something you have to wait to “aspire” to one day, but science and its various tracks are things children and teenagers can embrace at any time. When looking at the programs of both events, perhaps what’s most inspiring to me and the folks here at Science Channel, are the projects on display from these teens have in large part been driven by a desire to help others.PotusSciFair

From the White House Science Fair, there was the group of middle-schoolers inspired to computer design and 3-D print more flexible prosthetic limbs allowing the wounded veterans at a neighboring Air Force base to manage uneven terrain on hikes and other everyday activities. Tackling cancer detection through identifying circulating cancer genes and studying the effects of low doses of radiation on health care workers were two other projects generated by a desire to keep people healthy.

Robots, 3-D printing and code? They’re part of our future and natural tools for the Mars Generation. We loved the team that engineered a robot to clean the New York City subway system to make commuting healthier and more efficient. The girls that created an app to connect, entertain and battle anxiety in cancer patients waiting for treatment were impressive.

The President was joined by science celebrities, astronauts, mentors and science educators to talk and listen to the young participants. As usual, the event was widely covered on social media with VIPs taking to their devices to gush over kids that knocked their socks off with bold presentations and in some, the casual attitude that science isn’t some dusty pursuit but fun and rewarding.

President Obama acknowledged the need to make STEM careers accessible and interesting pursuits among the range of choices for careers. As he put it in his remarks,

“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners.”

President Obama genuinely believes in science and the Mars Generation. Not only did he host the White House Science Fair this week, but he also hosted a week of our daily news program “Science Presents DNews at 9” covering the topics he’s passionate about – from climate change awareness and space exploration to STEM education. We are honored he took the time to stop by, and you can catch up on his segments here on


Science Channel decided to not only keep an eye on the amazing give and take at the White House, we’ve also been busy communicating that science is something that can be hands on and fun! On Wednesday, my colleague Amber and I played an impromptu game of Sink or Float” via Facebook Live. Our biggest surprise was that a pineapple floated, despite being pretty darn heavy! In our first foray into demonstrating live science experiments, we had a lot of laughs, got very messy and learned a great respect for science teachers. We were FAR from perfect in our ability to communicate the variables of density, but that just made us want to sharpen our skills for the next time.

Until that happens we’ll continue to bring you real experts, like those visiting the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival here in Washington, DC. Our fans loved the Facebook Live Q&A with Astronaut Jessica Meir with over 3,000 thousand comments/questions. Everyone at the Science Channel was overwhelmed by how smart and curious our fans are, and the wonderful questions people asked.

The Festival continues today, Saturday the 16th and tomorrow, Sunday the 17th and is open to the public free of charge starting at 10am every day. All you need is your curiosity. There will be over 3,000 hands-on activities and demonstrations covering everything from aerospace and conservation paleontology and robots, with science celebrities and communicators taking the stage all weekend long. Follow what’s going on via Twitter with #SciFest and on here on Facebook.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 9.09.10 PMWe’re even getting into the act by hosting “America’s Science Teacher,” Steve Spengler in another Facebook Live Q&A starting at 10 a.m. before he goes on stage at the event. Get your questions ready for a guy who has devoted his life to reminding us there is a lot of “wow” in science. There’s no need to be shy here at Science Channel. We’ll also be walking the floor of the Festival taking careful notes about the trends we see bubbling up in the science world so we can make sure to bring them to you.

While technically this special week of science kicked off by our President comes to an end on Sunday, we’re still your science buddy 24/7 on-air on Science Channel, online at and all over the social space via @ScienceChannel. Reach out and say hello!

14 Mar

Watch the Replay of ExoMars 2016 Lift Off

Courtesy of the European Space Agency, we have this amazing video of the joint European and Russian ExoMarS 2016 mission lift off for you to enjoy. We here at Science Channel LOVE to start the day watching some good space video, and it is even more sweet because this is PI Day AND Albert Einstein's birthday. It's fitting because quite likely humankind wouldn't be as technologically advanced as we are today, launching rockets and preparing for Mars missions, without both the understanding of the mathematical constant and the man who predicted gravitational waves as far back as 1916 as part of his theory of general relativity.

Turning back to the spectacular ExoMars 2016 liftoff on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, is on schedule to arrive at Mars in October. The ExoMars module contains two key parts, first, an entry, descent and landing module named Schiapareli and a Trace Gas Orbiter. The mission objective is to look for methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could point to potential microbial or geological activity on the surface. The Mission's findings will be a critical addition to the preparation of subsequent missions to Mars.

To learn more about the ExoMars mission explore the ESA website, and we'll keep you posted on the mission!


7 Feb

Is Your Child a Scientist or Problem Solver in The Making?


Your child always has their head in their chemistry book, or is out in the garage inventing things. They count down the days to the science fair. Or maybe your child has simply seen a problem on TV and said, “someone should fix that.” Then it’s your child who should enter the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, now accepting entries.

We can think of so many different reasons kids with an idea should enter this video competition. Sure, the $25K prize is pretty attractive to tuck away for college, but there are personal wins ALL the children take away.

The Young Science Challenge is hands-on. This isn’t some boring lecture series. The finalists get to travel to 3M and see innovation labs. They each get a 3M mentor who helps them shape their idea into an application or solution that could actually affect change in the real world. Not only will participants have the friendship of their mentor, but they meet other science minded kids and can exchange ideas, make new friends, and our favorite part - simply geek out over science!

All the participants take away a fire for science, and new friends and contacts for the future. There is more however. Kids who participate learn to present their ideas to a distinguished panel of judges, and gain confidence to put themselves out there for their passions.

WinnerHow do we know this? Looking back at past participants and winners, some have gone on to demonstrate their ideas for the President at the White House. Their ideas generate interest from the news media and many have done local press and demonstrations. Several winners have even done national news like NBC News, Fox News and Friends, Mashable, TED Talks and much more. For some the Young Scientist Challenge is a jumping off point – many have gone on to win other awards for their ideas, and even patents.

At Science Channel we’ve watched this competition grow since 1999, and we are so excited each year to see the ideas from the next generation that will change our world. We are amazed at what today’s kids are thinking about and how involved they are in global solutions.

We hope you and your child will sit down and take a look at the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Page and Entry. You’ll find all the how-to’s, the rules and even some advice on thought starters to provide inspiration.

Go have a look, get inspired and talk with your kids about science. If they’ve got an idea or a question that leads them to a potential entry all you have to do is ENTER HERE.

27 Jan

Nylon. The Fabric That Caused Riots!

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.58.24 PMDid you know the flag placed on the moon in 1969 was made of nylon? Did you know nylon is the only fabric that ever caused riots in the late 1940s as women snapped up the first consumer lots of nylons coming back to market after WWII?

From the moon to women’s legs, clearly nylon fabric is some pretty versatile stuff, but why and where did it come from anyway? Yep, we’re going to take nylon and wrap it up in a bow made out of science for you!

Nylon is the world’s first truly viable, synthetic fiber. So, it goes down in history for that too! Invented in 1935 by Wallace Carothers in DuPont’s Experimental Labs, nylon was created by taking two petroleum based chemicals and fusing them in an autoclave.

The process is called condensation polymerization. Basically by applying pressure and heat in an autoclave, scientists forced two chemical molecules (adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine) together. The heat and pressure forces the water molecules out of the chemicals (condensation) and the two bond creating a bigger and repeating molecule from the same components (polymerization).

What they had left was a sheet of nylon that could be chipped or ground up, melted and then pulled through machines that make different thicknesses of nylon strands. The strands can then be intertwined to make stronger, thicker pieces of nylon thread strong enough for industrial use, or can be spun fine for use in nylons and fine garments.

Aside from just tinkering around with chemicals and inventing new things – pretty big business in the 1930s, fashion was one of the other driving forces behind the invention of nylon. Once discovered though, alternate uses for the versatile and strong material took off.

The holy grail of fashion materials is the delicate, soft richness of silk. Until alternatives were found, silk was the go-to for high-end fabrics for high-end people. Since we had to rely on the spit of a worm found in Japan to produce it, it clearly had a demand that outpaced supply back in the day which was why it was so precious. If only there were something cheaper that could come close to the experience.

Before nylon, there was rayon, which was the man-made attempt at silk using thread created from the cellulose in wood. It just didn’t have the same appeal or surprising durability of silk. 

For a brief instant before nylon, Carothers’ team created polyester using esters (non-petroleum based chemicals). They stuffed that genie back in the bottle when it was found to have a high flammability and low solubility. Simultaneously, when the relative ease of making nylon appeared, its versatility and durability proven, the demand took off. Creating a more refined polyester that could be made into a fabric took a back seat. The 70s would have to wait for their fabric of choice.

The first nylon garment on offer was, of course, nylon stockings. After being displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, women got to see up close how sheer and silk-like the nylon stockings were but also demonstrations on their strength. The folks at DuPont were no fools. They had picked a garment worn by most women and one they could create at a price point most could afford. Nylons were adopted en-masse, replacing expensive and delicate silks.

So adored were a woman’s nylons, there was a collective gritting of teeth when nylon factories switched from producing ladies’ undergarments to parachutes and other military uses. Intriguingly, women went so far as to paint fake seams on their legs to mimic the look of wearing stockings. It comes as no surprise then that when the first limited runs of nylon stockings came out after the War, women lined up and got fired up about getting their pair.

Even though nylon stockings have fallen out of favor in the 21st century, the historic fabric lives on in other undergarments and clothing. Silk will always be a luxury fabric we love in moderation. New delicate fabrics such as bamboo and hemp fabrics are now on offer. However, we would be hard pressed NOT to find garments of all sorts made from nylon in today’s offerings.

Our love for fine garments of all shapes and sizes isn’t even enough to deter us from taking the time to tenderly care for them. The hand-washing that went out the door with the washing machine came back with clothing made of nylon and other synthetics. They may be durable fabrics, but if the cut of the garment is delicate you have to weigh the balance.

Fortunately, there is a whole new generation of washing machines that now have a delicate cycle built in. There are even twin washers where you can wash your heavy duty items up top, and pamper your delicates in a machine down below at the same time.

Given you don’t even have to spend extra time hand washing now, nylon and all the synthetics that have followed since are here to stay. From the moon and back though, nylon is the only fabric so far that has literally caused people to riot in the streets to obtain a garment made from it.

Who knows what we’ll be wearing in the future, or what the flag on Mars will be made out of, but for the meantime we’ll always have our nylon!

PHOTO CREDIT: Fashion Photo by Erik Liljeroth 1954" by Erik Liljeroth, Nordiska museet. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

26 Jan

Did The Washing Machine Change the World?

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.26.09 AMIt was around the turn of the 20th century that electricity was made available for home use. Shortly after that in 1904 or so, electric washing machines began being advertised. You can see our  problem right away. How could a washing machine be more important than electricity? Or any other huge inventions of the 20th century?

We didn’t create that headline as click bait. There really are economists and statisticians that believe the washing machine changed the world by freeing up women from their domestic labors. So it’s really a case of considering the social science along with the actual science, and adding a whole lot of context. 

In his 2010 book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang examines census data from the 1940’s that showed having a washing machine changed the time a woman did a load of laundry from four hours to 41 minutes. That time shift is nothing short of incredible. By the 1950’s, when mass production of washing machines hit its height, Chang notes a surge in the female workforce and in more advanced countries doubling the workforce – and by doing so moving their economies forward.

Statistician Hans Rosling expands on the idea in his TED talk. He illustrates the importance of the time saved by washing machine. It brought freedom from time-consuming domestic work to learn to read and write, and explore their world around them. This in turn led women to begin to push the boundaries of voting rights and gave them the time and education to work outside the home and add to their family’s purse.

There is no doubt the gift of time brought by the washing machine opened a door for women and their contribution to society and the economy. But did it change the world more than any other invention? Here’s where the context comes in.

Chang and Rosling both use the washing machine as the “poster child” for household appliances that began to appear in the early 1900’s that changed women’s lives. They also include other items that gave valuable time back to women include the electric iron, refrigerators, electric or gas stoves and vacuum cleaners in their arguments. It may be one of the devices that gave back the most time, but it was not the only invention that began to change things for women.

In his paper The Electric Washing Machine and Society, Russell Erby looked at the census data of the same time period as Chang and Rosling. He also looked at advertising of time. The mighty washing machine was absolutely marketed as a time saver, but the ads still showed washing as “women’s work” or even as a solution to the servant problem. Erby argues the washing machine did nothing to change the perception that domestic chores were still the domain of women, and the time saved could be used for pursuits outside the home. He’s not wrong.

We love science, so what would a scientist do when looking at the case for or against the statement: “the washing machine changed the world.”  A scientist would look at the evidence. Where does that leave us?

In the realm of social science, it seems the washing machine is a great metaphor for changes the industrial revolution brought to the home at the turn of the century. The time it saved then became one of the catalysts that helped women step out of the home to change the world. In science we all know how important a catalyst is – it is a stimulus that creates another reaction or change.

Other catalysts for the rise of women outside of a pre-defined domestic sphere included the need for workers demanded by a World War, Wider education. The sexual revolution. All of these things were the lighting in a bottle that brought about a fundamental change in our world – essentially the other half of society joining the economy in earning and buying. That perfect storm of events led to the profound social and economic changes of the 20th century.

So while it can’t be said the washing machine was THE device that changed the world, we’re pretty happy with the evidence it certainly was a solid contributor to it. At the very least it is proven the washer is a perfect poster child for all the domestic devices that evolved with the times in both technology and efficiency to free up everyone from extra housework.

Way to go washing machine!

25 Jan

Niagara Falls To Be Dewatered?

New York State has announced they are proposing to “shut off” Niagara Falls sometime in the next few years. You may be reacting like us. First of all, HOW do you shut off an insane amount of water flowing over a cliff, and secondly, WHY??

We’ll start by saying diverting all this water is surprisingly possible. It was done once before in 1969, to study the effects of erosion and basically to see what was underneath all that water. It was done with a cofferdam, a engineering marvel that creates a watertight enclosure around a certain area of the water to divert the flow, and in some cases pump the inside dry. The plan is the same as in 1969, to use a cofferdam to divert the water from American Falls over to the larger Horseshoe falls leaving the American Falls to go dry, or be dewatered.

Let’s just take a second and think of the size of this project. It’s estimated that 75,750 gallons of water flow over the American and Bridal Veil Falls per second. PER SECOND. We think that qualifies as an interesting engineering marvel.  

As for the why part of the proposal to dewater the falls? This time the project is for safety reasons. New York State wants to repair the two stone-faced concrete arch bridges built in 1900, that give access to Goat Island. There were temporary repairs in 2004, but the main structure continues to erode.

There are people that remember when the falls last went dry in 1969. The Buffalo News recounts the stories of what was found when the water dried up and the curiosity the falls became with NO water.

Right now the plan is only at the proposal stage, and hearings will be held about the process and plans for the bridges. There are many that oppose the plan to dewater the falls for the second time in less than 50 years. Could the cofferdam damage it’s surroundings? Would the sun on the rocks change them irreparably? Not to mention, the various opinions on the design of the bridge repairs.

We’ll be watching to see what is decided. We love nature, but we also love an epic engineering project, so we’re on the sidelines on this one. Watch some video below from the first dewatering in 1969, find out how a coffer dam is made, and get the full story via The Buffalo News.

Plus vote in our Twitter and Facebook poll as to whether you agree if Niagara Falls should be dewatered.



24 Jan

Deflategate Controvery Debunked By Science

Even us science geeks love sports. It makes sense really – there are so many statistics, physics and basic laws of nature at play in any game that even if you aren’t into the art of the game itself and science lover can find something to fixate on. It’s a great way to see science fundamentals in action and played out in a way we can see and understand.

So it’s no surprise that scientists of all sorts were captivated by the infamous “deflategate” scandal of 2015. Did the New England Patriots knowingly use a deflated ball in last year’s A.F.C. championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, as the Colts asserted? After all, science is at the very heart of the issue. Using a deflated ball – one with a lower p.s.i. (pounds per square inch) – gives the receiver a greater advantage in catching it. Why? Because a deflated ball allows for a little give, a little bit more for the receiver to grab onto.

Now, there are a lot of ways a ball can get deflated from the NFL’s standard which ranges from 12.5 to 13.5 p.s.i.. The weather that day, chilly and rainy, could make the gases inside the ball contract. Handling after a play could warm it up again, or the time waiting to be measured could cause the p.s.i. to shift again. It’s the very heart of a science fundamental – the Ideal Gas Law which sets out fundamental behaviors of gases.

It’s this law, the ensuing debate and investigation by the NFL that captured the heart and mind of John Leonard, a professor at MIT. He teaches a course called “Measurement and Instrumentation,” so you can see where this would be a natural for him.

At the same time as the NFL’s hired investigators chewed over the situation, Leonard went into action using NFL regulation balls, testing temperature variations that could have existed in the field and locker rooms, working the p.s.i. numbers and came to a conclusion:

The NFL and their investigators were wrong. The Patriots were not at fault in Deflategate.

Leonard condensed his research to a 140 slide Power Point lecture and has used this real world controversy – which has its heart in science – as material for his classes. His message for the NFL? Have your scientists check your data. Twice, next time.

For his unyielding curiosity, his search for the truth behind this epic football controversy and his ability to connect science and sports and teach us all concepts in an interesting way, we give John Leonard the unofficial Science Channel Award for excellence. We usually confer this in the form of a virtual fist bump and the cry of #GOSCIENCE!

Read the full story about John Leonard’s search for the truth here in The New York Times. Plus, you can see a 15 minute segment of his Deflategate lecture right here!


20 Jan

The Four-Foot Rocket Flight and SpaceX’s Falcon 9

Science Channel fans, we know some of you remember seeing the footage of the explosions of the rockets on both sides of the U.S. vs. Soviet Space Race in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There were explosions, the shudder and pop of the parachute, and the rocket that lifted four feet then collapsed on itself. Then of course there is the generation of us who witnessed the horrific Challenger and Columbia Shuttle disasters. The point is, we can all recognize there have been failures along the way in pursuing the road to space exploration.

Despite the inability to land its reusable rocket on the floating platform over the weekend, the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 program is no different. There will be failures to learn from and lead to success.

We live in a much different world than that of Werner Von Braun when he was developing the precursors to the Saturn V rocket design that would go on to launch successfully 13 times and carried all the Apollo lunar missions. At that time, coverage of the many failures along the road were likely minimal and controlled. Footage of the tests were likely not even shown until years later. Of course now can have a look –even set to music.


Perhaps the biggest difference in spacecraft and rocketry development – aside from technological advancement of the rocketry itself is people around the world are watching SpaceX’s every move via web cam and social media. Then there are the inevitable public discussions about what went wrong, and whether they should keep trying. We can now all be back-seat rocket scientists.

This latest attempt when the Falcon 9 booster missed the landing on the floating barge, was by what appears to be just over four feet. They also believe they know the cause – a collet (a collar that would clamp down on a shaft) on leg No. 3 failed to latch. To have that level of telemetry and understanding on just their 21st mission, and the third attempt at re-landing the booster is pretty darn good.

The other part of this mission we should remember is that it actually WAS a was a success. The rocket was able to deliver NASA’s Jason 3 oceanography satellite, which will be help document our changing oceans.


So as we watch Elon Musk and the SpaceX ready for the next mission, remember that memorable four-foot rocket flight in Werner Von Braun’s career. It didn’t stop Von Braun from doggedly pursuing his goal, and eventually being key to taking Americans to the moon. Nor should this event stop Elon Musk’s team from stopping to advance humans further into space, and perhaps one day, colonizing Mars.

In fact, we think wherever he is in the stars, Von Braun might be watching the new advancements being made in rocketry with great enthusiasm and sympathy. He perfected his Saturn V with the world watching – but in a much more controlled fashion. Musk and SpaceX has us all looking over his shoulder (even here at Science Channel) and debating every move. In fact, Von Braun and Musk would probably have been great friends. It turns out Von Braun was obsessed with colonizing Mars as much as Musk.

Perhaps in future missions – whether it’s SpaceX, Blue Origin or NASA – we will stop using the word "failure." Every rocket, every launch, every test a step further to understanding how to get it right!

After all, we had to get past the infamous four-foot flight, and spectacular explosions to get to the moon, so we perhaps we can refer to each current step as progress to get to Mars...and beyond.

What do you all think? What is a better word than failure.

20 Jan

Scientists Report Evidence for "Planet X," the New Ninth Planet Far Beyond Pluto

In a paper just published in The Astronomical Journal today, two CalTech scientists report compelling circumstantial evidence for the existence of “Planet X.” The mysterious ninth planet. Dr. Michael E. Brown and Dr. Konstantin Batygin base their evidence on extensive computer modeling focusing on the far reaches of the solar system, beyond Pluto.

The tip off comes in the form of six objects observed to be in some kind of orbital cluster. While they have wildly varying elliptical orbits, they all loop and tilt in the same direction. This kind of orbital tracking has been the tip of for the existence of other planets before. In fact, the orbit of Netpune predicted the existence of Uranus. Scientists put the odds of this type of orbital cluster happening naturally at a 1 in 14,000 to 15,000.

It is believed this ninth planet would be somewhere near the size of Neptune and somewhere around 10 times the mass of our Earth. That would dwarf poor Pluto.

The mindblowing aspect of Planet X is its distance. It would be somewhere around 20 billion miles from the sun at its closest, and in its farthest point it would be 100 billion miles. To give you context, Pluto is closest to the sun at 4.6 billion miles. With these kind of numbers it is estimated it would take an astounding 10,000 to 20,000 years to complete just ONE orbit around the sun.

Keep in mind this evidence is circumstantial, but strong. The scientists haven’t actually SEEN the ninth planet yet, but Brown and Batygin believe it could be spotted by telescope in the next five years.

No matter what happens in the next five years, we’ll still always hold a place in our hearts for Pluto. Explore these videos which explain the orbital cluster and show an animation of "Planet X."




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