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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!


5 Jan

What’s Next In Tech? Five CES Predictions

The annual Consumer Electronic Show is officially scheduled to open tomorrow, but of course the big players in new technology have been leaking their latest products to the press to start the “wow factor.” Fortunately, our expert friends at TechnoBuffalo and AndroidAuthority are there on the show floor to capture the news and decipher the gamechangers from the hype.

Their first report gives us five great predictions of categories where we’ll see the most action. From VR to wired cars, TechnoBuffalo will take us up close to what’s trending. We’ll also be taking a look at some of the standouts so watch this space and let us know what YOU think will take off!

Our DNews Minute at 9 will have a wrap up on Friday at 9PM, so you’ll be covered from start to finish so update your calendars!


28 Dec

Did Santa Bring You A Drone? The FAA Wants to Know About It

We're willing to bet a few people out there received drones for the holiday. They're cheap, lightweight and can do some pretty amazing things. The problem is, they can also do some pretty stupid or dangerous things. Like potentially strike a power line or even worse, an aircraft.

In an effort to exert some control of drones hitting the skies, on December 14th the FAA issued new rules that mandate everyone must register their drone with their office. So do you have to register the toy drone that sits on your desk, or what exactly about your drone do they want to know?

It turns out they classify the drone by weight and not the general size. If your drone is more .55 lbs and less than 55lbs you can register on the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Site. If it's heavier, then you've got some paperwork ahead of you.

If you have a drone, checking out this site is a must do by February 19, 2016; that's the cut off before the FAA begins the threat of fines and "civil and criminal penalties."

The FAA site provides a list of standard drones that might be in circulation or part of the latest haul from Santa, including weights with GoPro and other camera attachments.

Given the amount of drones out there, both for hobbyists and for professional purposes like film crews, surveyors or even proposed deliveries, it seems like the FAA may have a big task at hand. Registering your drone is one thing, but the rules for flight are sketchy; for example, how do you avoid hitting other drones or steering it into an airline route? We think there will be much more to come from the FAA on the daily creep of drones into our everyday lives.

In addition to the FAA's Official Site, here's a video from the Epic Review Guys giving us the scoop. Scroll down further and see a video from Outrageous Acts of Science showing tiny, synchronized drones performing all sorts of tricks.

Plus, tune in tomorrow as Science Channel presents the DNews Minute at 9 to get the latest scoop on drone deliveries!


 Don't forget to set your DVR for an all new season of Outrageous Acts of Science starting Sat. 1/9 at 9/8c.


18 Dec

Survival Kit Tips From Les Stroud

Editor's Note: Les has very kindly put together a blog on basics on what should go into a survival kit. It couldn't be more timely as we get ready for the season finale tomorrow night @ 10p in Patagonia. We'll be giving away three of Les' Survival Kits for those who use the hashtag #SurvivormanKitSweeps - but only during his show tomorrow night! We have other content popping up as well so key an eye out on social media. We can't wait to talk to you there and hope you enjoy the finale. Now on to Les' tips: Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.10.36 PM

It is so very tempting, when faced with the concept of surviving in the wilderness, to want to carry with you the ultimate survival item. Is it a lighter? A knife? Food? No…..ok it must be water? Nope wrong again. Actual victims of survival have been asked time and again what they felt was the number one thing you need to survive in the wilderness. The answer: (and you can’t buy it at the outdoor store) the will to live.

There are documented cases of lost victims found dead beside a backpack of supplies. They lost their will to live. There are also fantastic stories of people suffering horrendous ordeals with nothing and they survived. Their will to live was strong.

But ok let’s get beyond the psychology of it all. I still just want to head out camping and carry with me a few items that, just in case I need them, will better my chances for survival. But now it all depends doesn’t it? Are you going to Africa? Costa Rica? The Arctic? Northern Ontario? And what time of year is it?

Suffice it to say – there is no one item that will ensure you make it back with great photos, all your limbs and the movie rights to your story up for grabs.

So I can only relate this personally now: If you are sending me off on a winter trek in Canada and you are giving me three choices, I will likely take a sharp axe, a water proof butane lighter and assuming I am dressed properly, a small pot to boil water in.

So you see, assuming I’m not injured, I have a way to split wood, make a huge fire and boil up some spruce tea. In the summer I will trade in the axe for a good tarp. This is the minimalist approach however. The ideal is as follows:

Firstly let’s get these items in your pockets…you can’t leave your pockets at the last camp site. If you really must, a fanny pack can carry the larger items but remember: if it is too big and heavy you will just not want to carry it around with you. Oh and couples – one other thing – DO NOT have a joint survival kit – keep It personal – if they’ve got the kit and you lose them – you lose the kit.

(Leaving out first aid for the time being) - Here’s my minimum kit - FOR SURVIVAL ONLY – (keep separate from your camping supplies):

In pockets or hanging from your belt;

·      High quality (sharp) knife
·      Compass
·      Solid matches with striker in a waterproof container
·      Butane lighter
·      Magnesium flint striker (hey – I like fires!)
·      One or two large ORANGE garbage bags
·      Metal cup (for boiling)
·      Rope (Parachute cord is great)
·      Whistle

In a small kit or fanny pack (try a coffee tin with a lid – you can use it for boiling);

·      Dried foods
·      Insect screen (seasonal)
·      Signal mirror
·      Small flashlight with batteries
·      Snare wire
·      Fishing lures (3), hooks, sinkers and line
·      Some two inch nails
·      Candle
·      Flares

You must!!!! – Know how to use everything in your kit!

BUT!!!!;  No single item is as important as some real survival training….kits can be lost and give a false sense of security. Survival should depend on your ability to adapt…your will to live….not on a single item you left back on the portage trail. ~ Les Stroud

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.


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.

29 Apr

Through The Wormhole: Studying "Us vs. Them"

Guest Post By: Mina Chikara, Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. (Full bio below)

The human brain is specialized for group living. People who accurately identify, value, and cooperate with in-group members enjoy numerous material and psychological benefits (e.g., protection, belonging, emotional support). However, group life is also a source of social strife and destruction. Conflict between groups, in particular, has been described as one of the greatest problems facing the world today. For example, it has been estimated that over 200 million people were killed in the last century in acts of genocide, war, and other forms of group conflict.

What my lab finds fascinating is how easily people form groups. Sometimes when we’re interested in studying group dynamics and we want to control for factors such as stereotypes or a history of rivalry, we’ll assign people to new groups. For example, we have run studies online with thousands of people and randomly assigned them to either the Eagles team or the Rattlers team. We tell people that they are going to play against each other in a problem solving challenge in order to get them in a competitive mindset. In the end they never actually compete, they just tell us how they feel about teammates’ and competitors’ experiences (which are, by design, irrelevant to the competition they think will happen later on).


Even though they’ve only just been assigned to these teams and they never lay eyes on teammates or competitors, the majority of people say they feel worse about negative events when they befall teammates rather than competitors. Moreover, people also say they feel better about negative events when they befall competitors rather than teammates. Some people even leave messages such as, “This was an awesome study! F*#! EAGLES, GO RATTLERS!”

On another occasion, I asked a participant to come back to the lab after she was assigned to a team a few weeks prior. When I asked her if she remembered which team she was on she replied, “Of course!” This was puzzling to me because she had been randomly assigned to the Eagles. When I asked her why she said “of course,” she replied, “My family is a military family so the Eagle is a very important totem to us.”

Groups are important. Even when we haven’t been members for long we make meaning out of them so that they become important. Groups change the way we see the world and ourselves. This why I will never grow tired of studying how people change when they move from thinking about “me and you” to “us and them.”

Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Policy from Princeton University and completed a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Professor Cikara studies how the mind, brain, and behavior change when the social context shifts from “me and you” to “us and them.” She focuses primarily on how group membership, competition, and prejudice disrupt the processes that allow people to see others as human and to empathize with others. She uses a wide range of tools—standard laboratory experiments, implicit and explicit behavioral measures, fMRI and psychophysiology—to examine failures of empathy, dehumanization, and misunderstanding between groups. She is equally interested in the behavioral consequences of these processes: discrimination, conflict, and harm. Most recently, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology selected her as a Dissertation Award Finalist. She has published articles in Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and NeuroImage. She tweets about psychology and neuroscience @profcikara.

9 Apr

Unique Problem Solvers

Sometimes HOW IT’S MADE covers some pretty unique items. They range from the often every day item that makes our life easier, to the out of this world items that fascinate us. The of items all do one thing – solve some of life’s problems.

Humans have always faced problems, but from the start we figured out ways around them. In the beginning, our most immediate problems were finding food and shelter, and thus manufacturing began. Creating flint arrows and stone axes were the solution, and clusters of humanity began the refining the quality and speed with which the items were made.

As humankind has progressed, so have the incredible challenges and needs we’ve faced. How do we build villages and communities? How do we create more food to feed the population? How do we create items that signify value of things we possess? The answer is simple – look for the basic tools and resources around you and then build upon them to make them fit the ever-changing needs of society. The inspiration to create has always been there, but in the early days the scale of mass manufacturing was simply not possible.

With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s it slowly became possible to move from creating bespoke items that met our needs to producing on a grand scale. The invention of the steam engine and eventually harnessing electricity allowed for us to create massive factories and to move the products and resources around in a way that changed our lives forever. The bigger problem of how do you actually make the things that make our lives better was finally able to go wide.

If you’ve grown up in the 20th century you have the confidence of having most products that solve your problems at your fingertips. Hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, cell phones, ATMs, Wi-Fi – they are all things we take for granted and yet we shouldn’t forget that these great ideas needed to be perfected and executed to make it into our homes. We’ve come a long way from the manufacturing technology of the 1700’s; we have robotic production lines, computers, advanced equipment, easier access to resources, and advanced transportation that are entirely focused on the logistics of making things and making them for the masses.

In this world we have the luxury of looking a little problem like “How can I avoiding hauling my heavy luggage through the airport?” and solutions like rolling luggage is invented and now produced on a mass level. We have the ability to take problems like how to create energy when our primary sources go down? Stand-by generators are now a given in places like hospitals where loss of electricity could literally be life or death for patients. And there are the problems we never thought we’d face, like “How do you write in zero gravity where the ink can’t flow? Even in 1920, the idea of going to space, much less living in it was a fantasy and yet humans have advanced and adapted to make their ideas happen, and on a big scale.

Around here at Science Channel we love seeing behind that curtain of how items are made, parts upon parts, pieced together to make something we take for granted or can’t live without. We can look back to the foundation of how items are made into the future as makers, manufacturers and big ideas keep creating amazing items that take us to the next level.

Who among us wouldn’t want to know how a bionic arm is made? Or space planes? Or 3-D printed cars? These lists of challenges we have to overcome will never end, nor will the process and logistics of making items. We can’t wait to see technology advance and future play out in HOW IT'S MADE!

HOW IT'S MADE airs Thursdays, 9p.

24 Feb

The Mysteries of WHAT ON EARTH?

I’m Neil Laird, Executive Producer of WHAT ON EARTH?  Science Channel’s motto has long been to “Question Everything” no matter how bizarre or strange, and put it under the bright glare of modern science to see what might be revealed. Your guesses about the mysterious satellite photos fit right into that philosophy—they are informed, thoughtful, surprising, and just as importantly, entertaining. We’re thrilled you love the mysteries we are able to bring you here on the web and even better, leave you questioning some of these provocative images along with the experts. Many of the world’s top archeologists, meteorologist, geologist and other experts are as stumped as you are! And there are many more to come—so please keep chiming in. We’d love to hear more about what you think of the pictures and what you think of our show.

As a special sneak peak for our blog fans, here is a particularly eye-catching image that has captured everyone full attention---including the US State Department. It was glimpsed during a flyby over North Korea. It may seem like just a huge cloud, or the effects of a forest fire---but satellites reveal its neither--- now people wonder, could it be a man-made smoke screen? And if so, what on earth are they hiding? See scientists and military analysts probe the evidence next week at 9p on WHAT ON EARTH?


7 Nov

Get Ready For Space Week

Get ready: Space Week starts Monday on Science Channel. From new series 'Strip the Cosmos' to a live event from the Rosetta comet, Space Week is a truly out-of-this-world experience.

Here's a sneak peek:

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