Author Archives: Vanessa Gillon

A Rendezvous With The King Of Planets

NASA’s Juno orbiter is speeding toward Jupiter with a flyby expected on July 4th.  Leading up to that rendezvous, CuriosityStream is giving viewers an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the story behind the mission to the gas giant.  Destination: Jupiter is a new, short-form documentary available now on CuriosityStream, in ultra HD 4K, as well as HD and standard definition.

The Juno Mission is one of the most highly anticipated planetary explorations to date.  Scientists hope it will help reveal the mysteries of Jupiter’s violent storms, its composition and formation, as well as uncover some secrets about our own planet Earth.

Destination: Jupiter chronicles the inside story behind the ground-breaking mission, featuring interviews with its chief scientists, as well as captivating CGI produced by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.  Also, get a sneak peek at some of the state-of-the-art technology on board the spacecraft that will help it power through and survive Jupiter’s severe high-radiation environment—the harshest in the solar system.



 

And stay tuned in with CuriosityStream.  On July 4th, Juno is expected to officially catch up to Jupiter and enter its orbit.  Mission scientists will be anxiously awaiting the first signal of success… a communication that will take 48 minutes to travel back to Earth.  And in the coming days, CuriosityStream and Destination: Jupiter will bring you the nail-biting action from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

If we’ve peaked your curiosity about other destinations in our solar system and you’re ready to dive deep into the mysteries of the galaxy, you’ll enjoy CuriosityStream’s Destination: Pluto, an original, 13-part series following the New Horizons mission from its inception to its close encounter with the dwarf planet, as well as Destination: Mars, a 5-part series chronicling a bold plan to land humans on the red planet.

Enjoy the adventure, and stay curious!

 

 

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Celebrating the Planet and the Parks

More than 1 billion people around the globe take part in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.  And on this Earth Day, join CuriosityStream for a tour of some of the majesties of our planet.

Dive deep and start with the BBC’s 3-part series, Great Barrier Reef… a stunning and vivid look at the complex structure of the coral reef and the wildlife that lives on and around it.  Here’s a preview:

For more on this Earth Day: Curiosity Retreat Luminary and renown explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle shares her take on the The Health Of Our Oceans, in a Curiosity Studios original production.  Also, watch the BBC’s 3-part series How To Grow A Planet on the powerful force of plants in our past, present and future.  And learn more about the connection with severe weather in the Curious Minds: Climate Change collection.

This week also marks National Parks Week – a chance to highlight the vibrant culture, rich history and diverse wildlife of America’s treasured landscapes.

CuriosityStream board member David Shaw is also a director the National Park Foundation – the charitable nonprofit supporting the National Park Service. He shared his thoughts about the Find Your Park campaign and this year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Created in 1916, our national park system now includes more than 400 parks attracting nearly 300 million visits annually across all 50 states.  At this historic moment, the centennial campaign will seek to strengthen public engagement in these national treasures  –  both for those who already know and love the parks, and for the next generation of park enthusiasts. As a director of the National Park Foundation, I feel fortunate to be working with the National Park Service and others in the design of a campaign to communicate the many ways that parks benefit those who experience these special places.  In parks that range from historic and cultural monuments, to majestic landscapes and marine ecosystems, experiences can be deeply moving and inspirational.  An important goal of the Find Your Park campaign is to share these experiences, via social media, with wide ranging audiences and diverse communities. My own experiences in national parks in America and across the world have been both very meaningful and long lasting. — CuriosityStream Advisory Board Member David Shaw

Shaw shared a few snapshots of some of his favorite national parks: Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and the Petrified Forest National Park.

And for one more stop on your national parks tour, travel to one of America’s most iconic landscapes – Yellowstone — in all its stunning glory in each of the seasons.  The 3-part series is available to watch only on CuriosityStream. Here’s a preview of summer:

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Lincoln’s Last Night

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.  President Abraham Lincoln

Strong and impactful words from the 16th President of the United States, in a message to Congress in 1862.  The country was in the middle of its deadliest war ever.

Less than 3 years later, the Civil War was drawing to a close.  General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army on April 9th, 1865. And just 5 days later, on April 14th, President and Mrs. Lincoln attended the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.  It was there that the course of history changed forever.

John Wilkes booth, a southern sympathizer, slipped into the President’s box and assassinated him… part of a larger, failed plan to revive the Confederate cause. The nation turned from relief at the end of the war, to mourning.

Abraham Lincoln’s vision of a free America was an uphill battle from the start, and ultimately put him directly in the line of fire.

Watch more of the documentary Lincoln’s Last Night on CuriosityStream. And don’t miss The Gettysburg Story, bringing to life the history of the greatest battle fought in the Western Hemisphere, with innovative imagery that captures the battleground as never seen before. And in our Curious Minds: American History collection, learn more about Lincoln’s fascinating relationship with abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

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And in October of this year, guests at the annual Curiosity Retreat will have the chance to talk directly to renowned Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Goodwin, a Pulitzer prize-winner, is the author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincolnand she is a 2016 Curiosity Retreat Luminary.  You can learn more about the event, and all of our Curiosity Retreat Luminaries from the worlds of science, technology, civilization and the human spirit, here.

 

 

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CuriosityStream now on Apple TV

Enjoying your new 4th-gen Apple TV?  Make sure to look for CuriosityStream in the brand new app store!

All of your favorite science, tech, history and nature documentaries from CuriosityStream are now available on the device, which features a touch and Siri-enabled remote and a revamped user interface.

When Apple unveiled the new Apple TV last year, CEO Tim Cook talked about how the logistics of the television experience hadn’t changed that much in decades.  He said, “We believe the future of television is apps.”  We couldn’t agree more!

Of course, you can also find the CuriosityStream app on the other top streaming devices, including Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.

And of course, we still support earlier model Apple TV devices via AirPlay.

Check in with our CuriosityStream help center with any questions, and as always, stay curious!

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Fighting Zika

In the headlines this week, a major development in the fight against Zika — a first look at the virus itself.  Scientists have determined the 3D structure of the virus, revealing critical insights that will likely help the race to develop effective treatments and vaccines.

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Image courtesy of Purdue University/Kuhn and Rossmann Research Groups

Details of the new findings are published in the journal Science.

A team of researchers from Purdue University and the National Institutes of Health used cryo-electron microscopy to determine the virus’ structure at very close range – “near atomic resolution.”  They used a strain isolated from a patient infected during the French Polynesia epidemic 2 years ago, but with new technology, their work now took just one month.

They found several similarities to other flaviviruses – including Dengue and West Nile — and that wasn’t surprising.  But, they also discovered a variation on the virus’ surface, which could help explain how the virus works to attack cells and cause infection.

Also this week – news from the CDC that the type of mosquito that transmits the virus has spread further north in the United States.  Federal health officials thought the Aedes aegypti mosquito was concentrated mostly in the south.  But now, new maps show the insect’s range has broadened to the Midwest and as far north as New York City.

We learn more about this small but mighty vector in CuriosityStream’s new, original production — Viruses: Destruction and Creation.

Viruses: Destruction and Creation takes a closer look at these simple, but incredibly powerful organisms — that can sometimes be to our benefit, but oftentimes not.

Andrew Pekosz, PhD, is the director of the Center for Emerging Viruses and Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In an interview with CuriosityStream Studios, he helped to explain the evolution of the virus and what makes it so powerful.

Dr. Pekosz:  Stealth is one word that often comes in because a virus is able to find a cell, find a host. It’s able to get in and it’s able to cross-wire, disconnect, some of the alarm systems that a body has so that it can get a head start in terms of replicating itself and moving itself forward in terms of making enough copies of itself so it can spread to the next host. It can do a lot of this before a host even knows it’s infected. By the time you start responding and getting symptoms to an infection, oftentimes the virus is already well along its pathway of spreading to the next host and moving forward and propagating itself.

CuriosityStream: And how fast can that virus replicate?

Dr. Pekosz: A virus infected cell can make dozens, if not hundreds, of virus particles. From one infected cell you can easily get 20 infected cells. Each of those infected cells can then make another 20 infected cells. Before the host really has a way to respond to the infection with its immune system, you can have hundreds of thousands of cells, each of which are making hundreds and thousands of virus particles and that creates a huge bolus of viruses, in the case of Zika, in the blood, which now a mosquito coming to feed on that individual will pick up a blood meal that not just has the blood but also has the virus in it. That’s how the mosquito then becomes infected and can spread the infection on to other mosquitoes and, presumably, to other humans.

CuriosityStream: The Mosquito is the key here?

Dr. Pekosz: Mosquitoes are really fantastic little syringes… particularly female mosquitoes because it’s the female mosquitoes that need to bite and it’s the blood that the female mosquito ingests that she needs in order to lay an effective clutch of eggs. What a mosquito does is it not only bites but it also has to inject some of its saliva into that bite site in order to make sure that it can obtain a blood meal. Mosquitoes oftentimes bite several times before they actually will take their blood meal. Each time they bite they try to expel a little bit of saliva into that site to see if the blood will flow.

Where arboviruses have become exquisitely good at is finding ways to get into that saliva at very, very high concentrations. The virus has found a way to concentrate itself in that saliva so when the mosquito goes through its normal processes of trying to get a blood meal it inadvertently is introducing the virus into the host along with everything that it needs to try to pull that blood meal out.  It is an incredibly effective way for the virus to replicate, get into a host, get multiple injections into a host, and start its process.

CuriosityStream: The National Institutes of Health has called the Zika outbreak an explosive pandemic that is truly remarkable.

Dr. Pekosz: Once Zika virus entered South America it seems to have just exploded in terms of the number of human cases. In an incredibly short period of time we’ve gone from Zika not being present in a continent to having close to a million cases, probably, of infection. That explosiveness and how quickly the virus has spread and caused so many infections is one of the main reasons why national public health agencies and the World Health Organization are so concerned about this spread.

You can hear more from Dr. Pekosz, in Viruses: Destruction and Creation, premiering this week on CuriosityStream.

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A Rocket Man back on Earth

NASA has a lot to celebrate this week.   First, a birthday of sorts. On March 3rd, 1915, the United States Government created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics… an agency to spearhead aeronautical research.  Over 40 years later, in 1958, that agency officially became NASA.

And today, one of NASA’s most well known ambassadors is back on Earth.  Astronaut Scott Kelly returned this week from his nearly year-long post on the International Space Station… making him the U.S. astronaut holding the record for both consecutive days in space (340) as well as total number of days (520.)

His journey was well documented on social media.  With the hashtag #YearInSpace, Kelly regularly posted pictures of his extraordinary view – from stunning sunrises to the ultimate aerial shot of an epic snowstorm.

Kelly’s mission was part of a groundbreaking study on the long term physical and psychological effects of living in outer space, in anticipation of NASA’s goal to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035.  That roundtrip journey would take more than 2 years.  While in space, Kelly self-administered a battery of tests. The results of those, and of the testing now being done back on Earth, are being compared to the same tests run on his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

Scott Kelly is a true Rocket Man, like many of the pioneers who came before him, who left this Earth to explore the unknown.  Their inspirational stories are told in Rocket Men, featured on CuriosityStream now.  Here’s a preview.

 

And, congratulations to modern day Rocket Man Scott Kelly, for a successful mission and his safe return home.

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A Powerful New Tool Set for Humanity

“In the near future, every object on Earth will be generating data including our homes, our cars, even our bodies. Almost everything we do today leaves a trail of digital exhaust, a perpetual stream of text, location data and other information that will live on well after each of us is long gone. We are now being exposed to as much information in a single day as our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in their entire lifetimes.

But we need to be very careful because in this vast ocean of data there is a frighteningly complete picture of us—where we live, where we go, what we buy, what we say. It’s all being recorded and stored forever. This is the story of an extraordinary revolution that’s sweeping almost invisibly through our lives.”

That powerful opening statement sets the stage for a fascinating in depth look at the dramatic new era of “big data.”

The Human Face of Big Data, a critically acclaimed documentary based on the best-selling book of the same name by executive producer Rick Smolan, is premiering this week on CuriosityStream.

Smolan is an award-winning photojournalist and creator of the epic Day in the Life series. He was also a 2015 Curiosity Retreat Luminary, engaging our audience with real life stories about how the explosion of big data is affecting all our lives.

Smolan says healthcare is likely to be the area of this revolution that impacts people’s lives first.  Who hasn’t gone to the Web to diagnose their own illness?  Those searches, and the data behind them, have a dramatic impact.



 

Other stories include a fascinating experiment by an MIT researcher, revealing a breakthrough theory about how children acquire language.  And a story about how the explosion of digital information shared on social media is transforming how we respond to disasters like the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Sandy.

But is all this for better or for worse?  Every new technology raises that question.  And big data certainly has a dramatic impact on our privacy and our future, as we each evolve into virtual human sensors.

Smolan says, at the beginning of this project, he was skeptical.  Could the big data revolution really be more transformative than the Internet?  He says he is now a convert, convinced that big data could turn out to be the most powerful tool set we have to address the widespread challenges facing our species and our planet.

The documentary has already toured several film festivals, and was honored with the Jury Prize for “Best Cinematography” at the Boston International Film Festival.  And the U.S. Department of State selected the film to be shown at embassies and consulates around the world as part of the American Film Showcase.

The Human Face of Big Data is now premiering on CuriosityStream for our subscribers. And you can hear about Smolan’s own quest to learn more about the big data revolution in his 2015 Curiosity Retreat lecture here, and in a ‘behind the scenes’ look at The Human Face of Big Data here.

And then you can begin to decide for yourself about the impact of this new set of technologies on humanity and on you.

 

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“Einstein Would Be Beaming…”

It’s a stunning breakthrough in physics, proving once again that Albert Einstein was right. Scientists have announced they’ve detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space and time that Einstein predicted 100 years ago.  And the proof was captured in audio form, so we can now actually listen in on the sounds of the universe, hearing two black holes collide more than a billion light years from Earth.

Dr. Sean Carroll is a physicist and a professor at Cal Tech, who describes himself as a theorist who thinks about the fundamental laws of nature, especially as they connect to cosmology.  And, Dr. Carroll is a 2016 Curiosity Retreat Luminary.  He wants to make sure we all truly understand the magnitude of this new discovery.

The following was originally published on Dr. Carroll’s blog, PreposterousUniverse.

ONCE upon a time, there lived a man who was fascinated by the phenomenon of gravity. In his mind he imagined experiments in rocket ships and elevators, eventually concluding that gravity isn’t a conventional “force” at all — it’s a manifestation of the curvature of spacetime. He threw himself into the study of differential geometry, the abstruse mathematics of arbitrarily curved manifolds. At the end of his investigations he had a new way of thinking about space and time, culminating in a marvelous equation that quantified how gravity responds to matter and energy in the universe.

Not being one to rest on his laurels, this man worked out a number of consequences of his new theory.  One was that changes in gravity didn’t spread instantly throughout the universe; they traveled at the speed of light, in the form of gravitational waves.  In later years he would change his mind about this prediction, only to later change it back. Eventually more and more scientists became convinced that this prediction was valid, and worth testing. They launched a spectacularly ambitious program to build a technological marvel of an observatory that would be sensitive to the faint traces left by a passing gravitational wave. Eventually, a century after the prediction was made — a press conference was called.

Chances are that everyone reading this blog post has heard that LIGO, the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory, officially announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves. Two black holes, caught in a close orbit, gradually lost energy and spiraled toward each other as they emitted gravitational waves, which zipped through space at the speed of light before eventually being detected by our observatories here on Earth. Plenty of other places will give you details on this specific discovery, or tutorials on the nature of gravitational waves, including in user-friendly comic/video form.

 

What I want to do here is to make sure, in case there was any danger, that nobody loses sight of the extraordinary magnitude of what has been accomplished here. We’ve become a bit blasé about such things: physics makes a prediction, it comes true, yay. But we shouldn’t take it for granted; successes like this reveal something profound about the core nature of reality.

Some guy scribbles down some symbols in an esoteric mixture of Latin, Greek, and mathematical notation. Scribbles originating in his tiny, squishy human brain. (Here are what some of those scribbles look like, in my own incredibly sloppy handwriting.) Other people (notably Rainer Weiss, Ronald Drever, and Kip Thorne), on the basis of taking those scribbles extremely seriously, launch a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of decades. They concoct an audacious scheme to shoot laser beams at mirrors to look for modulated displacements of less than a millionth of a billionth of a centimeter — smaller than the diameter of an atomic nucleus. Meanwhile other people looked at the sky and tried to figure out what kind of signals they might be able to see, for example from the death spiral of black holes a billion light-years away. You know, black holes: universal regions of death where, again according to elaborate theoretical calculations, the curvature of spacetime has become so pronounced that anything entering can never possibly escape. And still other people built the lasers and the mirrors and the kilometers-long evacuated tubes and the interferometers and the electronics and the hydraulic actuators and so much more, all because they believed in those equations. And then they ran LIGO (and other related observatories) for several years, then took it apart and upgraded to Advanced LIGO, finally reaching a sensitivity where you would expect to see real gravitational waves if all that fancy theorizing was on the right track.

And there they were. On the frikkin’ money.

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Our universe is mind-bogglingly vast, complex, and subtle. It is also fantastically, indisputably knowable.

I got a hard time a few years ago for predicting that we would detect gravitational waves within five years. And indeed, the track record of such predictions has been somewhat spotty. Outside Kip Thorne’s office you can find this record of a lost bet — after he predicted that we would see them before 1988. (!)

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But this time around I was pretty confident. The existence of overly-optimistic predictions in the past doesn’t invalidate the much-better predictions we can make with vastly updated knowledge. Advanced LIGO represents the first time when we would have been more surprised not to see gravitational waves than to have seen them. And I believed in those equations.

I don’t want to be complacent about it, however. The fact that Einstein’s prediction has turned out to be right is an enormously strong testimony to the power of science in general, and physics in particular, to describe our natural world. Einstein didn’t know about black holes; he didn’t even know about lasers, although it was his work that laid the theoretical foundations for both ideas. He was working at a level of abstraction that reached as far as he could (at the time) to the fundamental basis of things, how our universe works at the deepest of levels. And his theoretical insights were sufficiently powerful and predictive that we could be confident in testing them a century later. This seemingly effortless insight that physics gives us into the behavior of the universe far away and under utterly unfamiliar conditions should never cease to be a source of wonder.

We’re nowhere near done yet, of course. We have never observed the universe in gravitational waves before, so we can’t tell for sure what we will see, but plausible estimates predict between one-half and several hundred events per year. Hopefully, the success of LIGO will invigorate interest in other ways of looking for gravitational waves, including at very different wavelengths. Here’s a plot focusing on three regimes: LIGO and its cousins on the right, the proposed space-based observatory LISA in the middle, and pulsar-timing arrays (using neutron stars throughout the galaxy as a giant gravitational-wave detector) on the left. Colorful boxes are predicted sources; solid lines are the sensitivities of different experiments. Gravitational-wave astrophysics has just begun; asking us what we will find is like walking up to Galileo and asking him what else you could discover with telescopes other than moons around Jupiter.

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For me, the decade of the 2010’s opened with five big targets in particle physics/gravitation/cosmology:

  1. Discover the Higgs boson.
  2. Directly detect gravitational waves.
  3. Directly observe dark matter.
  4. Find evidence of inflation (e.g. tensor modes) in the CMB.
  5. Discover a particle not in the Standard Model.

The decade is about half over, and we’ve done two of them! Keep up the good work, observers and experimentalists, and the 2010’s will go down as a truly historic decade in physics.

This blog was originally published at PreposterousUniverse.com.

You can explore more about the origins of the universe on CuriosityStream.  Our 2 part series, The Ultimate Formula, details the journey as physicists search for a blueprint of the universe in the form of a single mathematical formula.  And, go inside Monster Black Holesin an episode from our Cosmic Front series.

And, our original, short form series A Curious World explores the reality of black holes:

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Or, translated in Mandarin: Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Today marks the start of the Chinese New Year, the Asian country’s most important holiday. The first day of the year is determined by the lunar Chinese calendar, so the date changes, but it always falls between the end of January and mid-February.  The celebration is centered around the home and family, and its traditions are honored in the hopes of good health and fortune for the coming year.

Each Chinese New Year is characterized by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  2016 is the year of the red monkey, the ninth animal in the cycle. If you are born in the year of the red “fire” monkey, you are said to be ambitious and adventurous, intelligent and clever.  But there’s also your mischievous side, and your quick temper, too, much like your namesake.

You might also be wise to keep in mind a few of the Chinese New Year beliefs.

-Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will be sick for the entire year.

-Make sure you ignore the urge to clean house today.  Sweeping on the first day means your wealth will be swept away, too.

-And be sure to keep the kids happy today. The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family.

Dive deep into the rich history of the world’s most populous country and learn more about its distinct culture with CuriosityStream.  Explore China’s greatest monument with our 2 part series China’s Great Wall.  And travel back in time to meet the rulers, rebels and renegades who laid the foundation of China’s preeminent city in Beijing: Biography of an Imperial Capital.  Here’s a preview of our 3 part series:

 

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Remembering the Challenger

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted.”   –President Ronald Reagan

It’s one of those few moments in history that is burned into the memories of most people alive at the time.  30 years ago on a clear but cold Florida morning, the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off with 6 NASA astronauts and one special crew member on board. The shuttle missions were fascinating on their own, but this mission carried Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire, who had become all our teacher.

As people paused their days and watched on television screens around the world, including school children from all over the country, millions witnessed what is still today one of the worst tragedies of the American Space Program.



 

The nation was stunned and horrified.  That day in January was also scheduled to be the President’s State of the Union address.  For the only time in modern history, the speech was cancelled.  Instead, then President Ronald Reagan spoke to a grieving nation, and closed his remarks with powerful words that will live on forever:

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives.  We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

The President’s speech also issued a clear message to NASA, to the country, and to the world.  We would continue the important journey of space exploration.  There would be more shuttle flights, more missions, and indeed, there were.

The Space Shuttle fleet helped to broaden humankind’s exploration of space for three decades.  Cosmic Front: Space Shuttle on CuriosityStream has the dramatic story of all the triumphs and tragedies until the fleet’s final flight in 2011.

The U.S. Space Program is in a new phase, working to stay on the leading edge of scientific discovery.  CuriosityStream offers a substantial selection of programming about the past, present and future of space exploration.  Check out Curiosity Studios’ original documentary Mars: The Journey for an in depth look at efforts to land humans on the red planet.  And watch our original 13-part series Destination: Pluto about the New Horizons mission to explore the dwarf planet and the outer edges of deep space.

And as we look forward, we will always remember that clear but cold morning in Florida.

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