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:



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



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.

19 Apr

The Best Investment

Guest post by: Max Erik Tegmark

At a cost of about $30 per American, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the best investments humanity has ever made. Its spectacular images have shed light on our cosmic origins and destiny and they have inspired us all, showing us that we’d underestimated the beauty and diversity of our cosmos.


Max Erik Tegmark is a Swedish-American cosmologist. Tegmark is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

Below: PIA08097

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19 Apr

The Space Telescope That Transformed How We Do Science

Guest post by David Spergel

I got my PhD just before the Hubble Telescope launched so have followed its trajectory from disappointment to scientific triumph. I have been most impressed by how clever astronomers have used the telescope in ways that were not anticipated by its builders.Astronomers have used HST to discover stars stripping the atmospheres off of their planetary companions and to use supernova to trace the deceleration of the universe.   

While future space telescopes  will look even further back in time (James Webb Space Telescope, will survey much larger volumes of our universe  and begin the detailed study of exoplanets (Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope), Hubble will always be the space telescope that transformed how we do science.


David Nathaniel Spergel, is an American theoretical astrophysicist and Princeton University professor known for his work on the WMAP mission. Professor Spergel is a MacArthur Fellow

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19 Apr

The End of the Hubble Era?

Guest post by David Brin

The Hubble space telescope achieved genuine wonders, that others have certainly noted.  Among my many favorites were the arrival of space images -- such as the famous Eagle Nebula -- that gave us all a truly three-dimensional feel. You could clearly see and envision that this column of brilliantly illuminated gas and dust stands glowing in front of that proto- planetary system being-born... and then somehow you would manage to wrap your mind around the multi-parsec scale of it all.

Helping to determine the age and destiny of the universe, that's a lot to get for our tax dollars. But again, others will talk about that.

What I find almost equally fascinating is the back story of this prodigious scientific instrument, revealed when the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) suddenly handed over to NASA two more Hubbles!  Well, two space-ready telescopes with identical structure and mirrors, but lacking many components and any scientific instruments.  The surprise gift revealed to us taxpayers an interesting truth -- that Hubble was based on U.S. spy satellites. Should we be surprised, then, that a mirror originally designed to look downward at Earth suffered some problems, when it was repurposed to stare into deep space?

What kinds of synergies and conflicts are thus revealed? Was Hubble meant, all the time, to serve as a cover story for intelligence R&D?  Did this design overlap serve to reduce Hubble's original cost, in economies of scale? Or was NASA, instead, subsidizing the NRO?  I don't expect to ever learn the answer. But it does suggest that we keep our eyes open for other coincidences, in the future.

NASA officials view these "added Hubbles" as mixed blessings. They fret that these telescopes might draw vigor away from the next great leap -- the James Webb Space Telescope.  While the new pair are worth hundreds and millions of dollars and will let us expand astronomy, properly equipping them and launching them will cost hundreds more. And of course, there are tussles over what kinds of science they should be applied-to. Such as, for example, keeping one in reserve, in case the Webb fails?

Bottom line, this "problem" is our fault, for allowing science to be "warred-upon," instead of shrugging off the dismal cynics... and electing Congresses that see value in the future.

No, we aren't leaving the Hubble Era. Even after the original is allowed to plummet Earthward -- (I'd rather use electrodynamic tethers to send it outward, in a parking orbit, for late-21st Century hobbyists to refurbish) -- it seems that Hubble's sisters will still be working for us. Obsolete? Never heard of the word. We can move forward on many fronts, at the same time. We can be larger than we are. That was the dream... and it will be, again.

David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age - The Transparent Society - won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.  (


Below: Pillars of Creation, part of the Eagle Nebula

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NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

19 Apr


Guest post by Sara Seager

Happy 25th! The “first ever” exoplanet atmosphere discovery in 2002 is your legacy for all time #HappyBirthdayHubble #ScienceChannel


Sara Seager
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Planetary Science

Below: Formalhaut A and Formalhaut B

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