Category : Science

Moments Before the Eclipse

An eclipse is far and away the most powerful and stunning of all the celestial phenomena.  Seeing the sun’s corona is a life-changing experience.  But in the seconds leading up to totality, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.  In anticipation on the August 21st solar eclipse, I sat down with Mark Bender – filmmaker, eclipse chaser, and director of our original series, Eclipse Across America – and asked what advice he would give to our readers before the event.

Mark Bender, Eclipse Chaser

Train your eyes for darkness

It may sound crazy, but if you are looking to heighten the experience even more, blindfold yourself for an hour before totality.  Remember, the totality only lasts for just over 2 minutes.  It would take your eyes more than that to really adjust to the darkness.  Think of walking into a dark movie theater: at first, you can’t see a thing, but as your eyes adjust, the steps and seats become more clear.  Imagine having your eyes fully adjusted to darkness for the entire time of totality.  What you see will be even more stunning!

Look out for shadow bands

Right before totality, some very lucky eclipse watchers may see the shadow bands.  I thought they were just a myth, until I got lucky one time.  Right before a total eclipse, little snake-like shadows from the moon crossing the sun appear to be slithering and shimmering across the ground.  But they are so faint, the contrast has to be just right to see them.  Some people will lay down a large white sheet to try to catch sight of them.  In 2015, I saw the eclipse in Svalbard, Norway, just 800 miles from the North Pole.  I was standing on a landscape covered with ice – just like an enormous white sheet.  And there they were!  It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.

Keep an eye on the forecast

Some of the biggest surprises are often weather-related.  During the eclipse of 1999, I was watching in Cornwall, England.  It was a completely overcast and rainy day.  Leading up to the eclipse, you couldn’t see the sun at all.  Three minutes before totality, the sun started to peak though, and with one minute to go, clouds dissipated and the entire sky opened up.  We lucked out, but the best was yet to come.  Even though the rain had stopped, there was still so much water vapor in the air.  When the sun eclipsed, the corona was full of tiny rainbows!  Imaging seeing the stunning corona in full color!  I have never seen that since, but anything is possible.  You just don’t know how it will play out.

Stay aware of wild animals

Animals in the wild take their behavioral cues from the Sun and the Moon, and the eclipse will affect that for sure.  Watching the 2012 annular eclipse in West Texas, wolves started howling as darkness fell…and I won’t admit to joining in!  Just remember, if they think it is nightfall, then you’re a visitor in their space until the Sun re-emerges.

It may get emotional

Above all, I am most fascinated by human behavior during a total eclipse.  Tears, shouts of joy, stunned silence, experienced astronomers and scientists stuttering with a total loss of words.  There is truly no way to describe it.

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Beyond the Black Disk

On August 21st, 2017, the United States will be treated to an event that hasn’t been seen in 99 years: a coast to coast total solar eclipse.  By that night, photographs of the blackened sun and its extraordinary corona will fill the Internet, but for those looking for something a little different, there are more eclipse day wonders to look out for ‘beyond the black disk.’

Enter our exclusive, original 4-part series, Eclipse Across America In anticipation of the once-in-a-lifetime event, our film crew teamed up with leading eclipse chasers, astronomers, and NASA scientists to travel and explore the path of the August eclipse.  What they returned with is a preview of the different eclipse phenomena that
will be on display that day and an inside look at how scientists are using this event to help us understand not only our home star, but the countless others in our Universe.

Inside an approximately 70-mile wide track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina (known as the path of totality), millions of lucky people will have a chance to witness the fully-eclipsed sun and its corona glowing around its edge.  This view of the sun’s outer atmosphere is truly one of a kind in our Solar System, making this August’s eclipse a “can’t miss” event for citizen scientists and astronomers alike.  But in the seconds leading up to the corona coming out, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.

The experience of a total solar eclipse is really the experience of being in the shadow of the moon.  As serene as those moments of totality may appear, this shadow is actually traveling more than 1000 mph!  That motion may be difficult to sense from ground-level, but from a high point within the path of totality–a mountaintop, a butte, or even a hill with a clear, wide view of its surroundings–you will have a chance to look down and witness that shadow racing across the surface…weather permitting, of course!

As that shadow speeds toward you on the ground, the so-called ‘diamond ring’ phenomenon will be revealed up in the sky.  The moon’s cratered surface yields a bumpy, uneven silhouette so when it passes in front of the sun on August 21st there will be a moment when one final beam of light finds its way through one of these imperfections on the moon’s edge.  From Earth, this beam will glow like a sparkling gem on
the edge of a dimly lit ring.  But even this tiny fraction of the sun’s light will be far too bright to observe with bare eyes.  Make sure you’re still wearing your eclipse glasses for this one.

While the diamond ring will only be visible from inside the path of totality, Baily’s beads will be best experienced just along the edge of that path.  One example–at the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri, the alignment between the observer, the moon, and the sun will be ever so slightly shifted off center.  Looking up from the base of the Arch, the moon will cover more than 99.95% of the sun’s surface, and similar to the diamond ring effect, trickles of light will find their way through the moon’s canyons and imperfections.  But instead of a single gem of light, the result here will be the appearance of a luminous, beaded edge that you will be able to see through your eclipse glasses far longer than anyone stationed near the center of the path of totality.

And then, for those in the path of totality, comes the corona.  It will be stunning, guaranteed.  Even seasoned eclipse chasers don’t always have the words to describe the power of the experience. Will you?

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

 

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Creating ‘First Man’

June 8, 2017 marks the premiere of our latest original film, First Man, created in partnership with Nilaya Productions.  First Man is an epic special that takes viewers on an exceptional journey back through 25 million years of human evolution.

Part of what makes First Man so special is that it has something to please every viewer, spanning history, science, drama and even special effects.  Not only are the storyline and scenic backdrops jaw-dropping, but the special effects make-up takes center stage, as our team worked diligently to accurately portray four species of early hominids.  Curious about the process of turning modern-day actors into species dating back millions of years?  Read on to learn more about the fascinating process.

Team

Our biggest challenge was the actual look of the characters.  With the influence of movies like Planet of The Apes, aesthetic standards have indeed dramatically changed, while the expectations of the audience have increased.  With the arrival of new technology in make-up and prosthetics, after a few tests, we decided to work with the Academy Award-nominated Adrien Morot FX Studio in Canada.  Renowned for their incredible masks and make-up, they had just wrapped work on The Revenant.

Design

Our protagonists were initially drawn by character designers.  Based on scientific assumptions of what they could look like, we decided to give each species an identity: noses, eyes, mouth, foreheads, fur and hair.

Casting

Casting the right actors for this film was a particularly extensive process.  In order to find the actors who could perform difficult primate movements (walking on all fours, jumping, climbing trees, etc.), the process was much more involved than usual, but we ended up with a stellar group of actors who would help embody the traits and behaviors of extinct hominids.  Once our cast was in place, it was off to Canada, where they would be entirely moulded – face and body.

Sculpting 

Once the actors arrived in Canada, Adrien Morot FX studio created the facial masks and the costumes inspired by the character designs, custom adapted to each individual character.  Those masks and costumes were accompanied by special eye lenses to accurately portray how the size of the iris changed throughout time.

Shooting 

In the end, we received the masks and costumes in South Africa for the shoot.  We were shocked by how heavy everything was – weighing in at a few tons of equipment because, in order to keep the costumes fresh, each actor would wear a replicate of the same costume every day they were on set!  Each day would mean five hours of preparation and two hours of getting rid of make up at the end of the day for an actor.  Furthermore, it takes an army!  Each actor had three make-up and costume artists assigned to them.

 

Watch the First Man trailer here:

First Man is available to stream in its entirety starting on June 8, only on CuriosityStream.

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A day in the life of a filmmaker: Working with Commander Chris Hadfield

We are just one week away from the premiere of one of our most exciting original documentaries to date, Miniverse.  The film features the always wonderful CuriosityStream advisory board member Michio Kaku, as well as astronomers Derrick Pitts and Laura Danly, and is hosted by former astronaut Chris Hadfield.  All of you space fans out there may remember Commander Hadfield as a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station.  Well, it turns out he’s just as fun and creative to work with as you might imagine.  We sat down with Doug Cohen, executive producer of Flight 33, to live vicariously through him about working with one of the world’s greatest astronauts.

Q: What was Chris Hadfield (CH) like to work with?

A: Chris is a former fighter pilot and an astronaut, so the things that felt like challenges to the rest of us were no sweat to him.  To quote one member of our crew, “Chris Hadfield is the best human being I’ve ever met.”  It’s not just that he’s charming, curious and tireless; it’s also that he sings, plays guitar, tells great stories and, of course, he’s been to space!

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened while shooting Miniverse?

A: Chris had spent the whole day driving at about 40 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert while chatting with astronomer Laura Danly.  We kept his speed down to reduce the amount of road noise during the conversation.  As the sun set, we prepped to shoot beauty shots of the car driving down the lonely desert highway.  I radioed to Chris that he should drive past the camera, and since we weren’t rolling sound he was now free to go as fast as he wanted.  When I called “action”, he put the pedal to the metal and whipped past us at 122 miles per hour with poor Laura Danly holding on for dear life!  That’s the last time I tell a former fighter pilot to drive as fast as he wants!

Q: Describe the dynamic between CH and Michio Kaku.

A: They were excited to meet each other!  It was fun to watch the contrast between astrophysicist and astronaut. Michio made it clear that despite his fascination with space, he had no interest in doing something risky like traveling to Mars.  Chris, on the other hand, said that the danger is precisely what makes him want to do it.

 

Q: Between CH and Derrick Pitts?

A: Derrick would have liked to be an astronaut himself, so he was thrilled to be Chris’ guide for the outer planets.  The two of them bonded over some packets of freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream.”

 

Q: Between CH and Laura Danly?

A: When we asked Laura if she wanted to participate in the program, she said “you had me at Chris Hadfield”.  They had a lot of time to talk as we drove from the mountains to the desert, and it was amazing how many things they saw reminded them of Star Trek episodes.

 

Q: What’s the hardest part of shooting so much inside of a car?

A: We had five cameras rolling inside the car at all times, plus cameras affixed to the exterior and to a chase car.  That’s a lot of cameras that need a lot of tending.  You are constantly stopping to troubleshoot misbehaving gear.  We studied how James Corden does it for Carpool Karaoke and how Seinfeld’s team does it for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and took the best ideas from both.  The difference with our show is that we were really traveling from place to place, so we couldn’t just stake out a route on a local road and keep circling.  The entire country was our “set”.

Q: Why did the cops keep pulling CH over?

A: We had no problems in most of the country, but in New York and Washington, D.C. the police were extremely “curious” about this car with cameras all over the windows.  Sometimes, we would neglect to remove our prop license plate that said “ROCKET”.  That also drew the attention of the police on a couple occasions.  One officer removed the license plate and cut in half!  Luckily, we had made an extra one.  In general, when we would tell the cops that we were making a science documentary with an astronaut and a bunch of astrophysicists, they let us go with nothing more than a confused look.

Q: Are there any funny stories from shooting in NYC near the Freedom Tower?

A: We shot at the Brooklyn Bridge across the river from Freedom Tower just before sunset, and as we were shooting, people were lining up to meet Chris and Michio.  This actually happened almost everywhere–hotel lobbies, the steps of the Washington Monument–people from all over the world would show up and ask for an autograph or a selfie.

Miniverse premieres the week of April 17, only on CuriosityStream, and will be available in standard, HD and Ultra HD 4K resolution.

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Travel back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the land

Ancient Earth is available now in Ultra HD 4k, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream.  This 3-part original series awakens the magnificent prehistoric creatures that previously roamed Earth through extraordinary animation, produced in collaboration with 12-time Emmy Award winning Pixeldust Studios.

Who isn’t curious about the creatures that roamed the Earth long before mankind?  The success of blockbuster films about dinosaurs, history museums, children’s books and more prove that the prehistoric age is as much a part of modern day pop culture and interest than ever before.

Over here at CuriosityStream, we’ve heard from several of you (and your kiddos!) that you just can’t get enough content about all things prehistoric.  Today, we’re delivering on that request with our new original, exclusive series Ancient Earth, which will take you on an extraordinary journey back in time to an era when ferocious saber-toothed carnivores, terrifying 40-foot sharks and massive dinosaurs dominated our planet.  The series couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as scientists are gathering growing evidence that we’re now in the middle of our planet’s sixth mass extinction, with dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world.

Everyone will find something for them in Ancient Earth.  Animation lovers will nerd out over incredibly realistic animations that bring to life some of the fascinating and almost otherworldly creatures that once lived, but were wiped out during the worst mass extinction events.  History buffs will be equally tantalized, as the series is based on the newest resources and research from experts at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.  Kids of all ages will love that watching a show featuring fight scenes and stories of dinosaur survival and extinction is approved by their parents.  And those parents can be happy knowing that the series is not only a lesson in prehistoric creatures, but nature as well, since each episode offers an immersive experience with period-accurate environmental and landscape elements.

Ancient Earth features the extraordinary lifeforms that evolved during three of Earth’s most significant geologic periods, and the cataclysmic events that resulted in their demise:

  • Episode 1 – The Permian Period introduces viewers to the life that sprung forth on land and sea more than 252 million years ago, including terrifying creatures like the saber-toothed Gorgonopsid and shark-like Helicoprion.
  • Episode 2 – The Triassic Period reveals how the power of evolution ushered in the first era of early dinosaurs, most of which were ultimately annihilated by waves of lava and toxic gas from extreme volcanic activity.
  • Episode 3 – The Cretaceous Period highlights magnificent dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and massive pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatius—one of the largest flying creatures of all time.

 

Watch the series trailer here:

All three episodes of Ancient Earth are available now, only on CuriosityStream.

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Love is a curious thing

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are featuring a wide variety of content that looks at intimate relationships, both human and animal, from scientific and historical perspectives.  Sit back and share these touching programs with someone special tonight!

Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love

Episode two of our three-part series Leaps in Evolution examines the unique bond between mother and child, across all species, and how it has evolved.
Most human mothers raise fetuses inside their wombs and breast feed their babies for a long time after birth.  Have you ever stopped to wonder what made humans evolve so that we raise our children so affectionately?  The latest research reveals an unexpected origin of mothers’ affection toward their children.  Scientists believe that our ancestors experienced unforeseen dramatic changes in DNA under threats of extinction.  These DNA changes caused humans to be devoted to raising children.

Learn about the scientific interpretation of the evolutionary roots of our affectionate bonds with our kids in this heartwarming documentary, Leaps in Evolution: Creation of Motherly Love.

 

Additional Featured Content

Curious Minds: Sexual Selection – Explore why males and females behave the way they do across the animal kingdom when they select their mates.

 

JFK: Fact & Fable – The world is captivated by the love story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Our original film outlines how she cemented his legacy in the name of love.

 

Science Shorts: The Love Hormone – Oxytocin is believed to be responsible for human intimate relationships. But how exactly does it affect the body and mind?

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Destination: Jupiter + The Year of the Rooster

February 2nd will mark one of NASA’s Juno space probe’s closest flybys to Jupiter.  We are celebrating by sharing what we’ve learned along the way since Juno first set out to Jupiter with a newly released episode in our original series Destination: Jupiter!  Then, travel to China during the peak of this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations with our newly curated content collection, China.  It’s a busy week for curious minds and we’ve got you covered with content spanning the globe and the Universe.

Destination: Jupiter

Seven months since the Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4th, 2016, the mission has started to lift the veil on the largest and most mysterious planet in our solar system.  Since its initial approach, the craft has been on a 53-day orbit around the gas giant.  Thus far, there have been three close flybys in August, October, and December of 2016.  During that time, Juno has flown a mere 2600 miles above the Jovian clouds, employing eight cutting-edge space exploration instruments to collect images and peer below the thick atmosphere of the planet, hoping to reveal its inner most secrets.

As the next flyby approaches on February 2nd, the Juno team will be tasked with making an unexpected and critical trajectory decision, impacting the future of the carefully-planned mission.  Review what has been uncovered so far in Mission Update, the second episode in our exclusive, original Destination: Jupiter series, and learn how you can become an active participant in the Juno Mission to Jupiter!

 

Chinese New Year

The most anticipated global event in China’s calendar is in full swing, when people take to the streets to ring in another year.  Unlike the festivities of many countries, which always take place at midnight between December 31 and January 1, Chinese New Year is a moveable festivity.  This year, the celebration began on January 27 (New Year’s Eve) and continue for around two weeks (ending on February 2) and the year will last until February 15, 2018.  This year is the “Year of the Rooster” – those born in 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 and 2005 are known as Roosters.

To honor the occasion, we have created a new content collection, full of our most fascinating and informative documentaries about China.  The collection contains 11 programs and spans over 12 hours, guaranteeing that you can become an expert on all things China by the time this year’s New Year celebrations come to a close.

Find the collection in its entirety here.  Happy New Year!

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Mars: The Red Planet

If you have been following NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, then you know it has had quite an eventful couple of months!  It has recently discovered an odd-shaped iron meteorite that some likened to “an alien egg,” viewed spectacularly layered rock formations and, just last week, slabs of rock cross-hatched with shallow ridges were discovered that likely originated as cracks in drying mud.  This makes it a perfect time to explore our new collection, Mars: The Red Planet.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury.  Named after the Roman God of War, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance.  50 years of space exploration have brought us closer to understanding Mars, but is it as hospitable as many experts think?

This newly curated collection is made up of eight programs, totaling just over six hours of content all about Mars.  Perfect for all age ranges, the content covers everything from whether or not there is water on Mars to the likelihood of life on Mars to what it would take for humans to colonize Mars.

So, why not make it a night of star gazing and dreaming of far away galaxies?  Grab some popcorn and get ready to binge on facts and speculations about the Red Planet.  Find the full collection here, only on CuriosityStream.

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Prescription: Nutrition

As we settle into the routines of the new year, many of you (like me) might be striving to improve upon everyday habits, including diet and exercise.  Inspiration and motivation — difficult to find in dreary winter weather — are there for you on CuriosityStream starting today, with our new January feature, Prescription: Nutrition.  In this original and exclusive CuriosityStream series, Dr. Michael Greger (bestselling author and world-renowned public health expert) shares the latest scientific research behind the prevention of most chronic diseases, based on his and his team’s ongoing review of thousands of medical studies each year.  His wealth of knowledge is distilled into practical advice on his non-profit website NutritionFacts.org, as well as in this captivating CuriosityStream original series.

The impetus behind this exclusive program came from my personal struggle at the beginning of last year to contend with some unnerving health scares.  After attending a book reading for The Humane Economy written by our CuriosityStream Advisory Board member and my friend, Wayne Pacelle, I gave the vegan diet a try.  Soon after, the nearly immediate benefits of my new fruit and vegetable diet unleashed my curiosity.  I realized astounding improvements in my health (and surprisingly, my fitness) from eating so many fresh fruits and vegetables.  Not only did I start consuming mass quantities of plant-based foods, but I also began consuming books, from The China Study to Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die.   The authors had differing perspectives on diet, but all experts agreed that adding more fresh fruits and vegetables is the first step to improving your nutrition and your overall health.


When we polled our subscribers for their thoughts on potential CuriosityStream series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Prescription: Nutrition had support from our member base.  I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the power of plants.  So I must thank our subscribers for their enthusiasm in bringing this series to fruition.

 

Broccoli Floating on a Shiitake Dashi – get the recipe and learn more about the series by clicking on the image!

 

While we might be searching to understand the complex physics underlying our Universe with dark matter, we have dark matter (or unknowns) in the form of the nutritional make-up of our food as well.  Scientists have only identified (at most) 10% of the vitamins, phytonutrients and micronutrients bio-available in our food.  When we opt for orange juice instead of a whole orange, we may think we are getting nutritional excellence with Vitamin C, but that Vitamin C may have been much more bio-available if it came with the glucose-slowing properties of pulp fiber and the other 90% unknown nutrients readily available in the unprocessed orange.  There are many questions to be asked and more to be answered in Prescription: Nutrition.

Watch the trailer below and tune in bi-weekly for new episodes of Prescription: Nutritiononly on CuriosityStream.

 

To your health and unbridled curiosity…

Elizabeth Hendricks North

President & CEO, CuriosityStream

Elizabeth Hendricks North is President and CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.

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Stay curious in 2017

Happy New Year!

Part and parcel with a new year arrives both reflection on the past and excitement (hopefully) toward the future.  Here at CuriosityStream, we are very much looking forward to 2017 and to helping you become more curious about the many wonders in science, technology, history and nature.  Our team has been hard at work over the holidays putting together a release schedule of original and exclusive titles debuting on CuriosityStream over the next few months.  Take a look at some highlights below and stay tuned for their official premiere dates.

 

January 2017

New year, new you!  Hosted by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, author of the New York Times best-seller How Not to Die and editor of the world renowned website NutritionFacts.org, explore the dramatic health benefits of plant-based diets and the amazing revolution in how we approach our relationship with food.  New episodes will be released bi-weekly beginning in early January.

February 2017

Travel back in time to visit the three most powerful extinction events in Earth’s history.  This original series explores the major events that wiped out between 70-90% of Earth’s species developed during the Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous periods.

March 2017

Join former astronaut Chris Hadfield – a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station – along with hitchhikers Michio Kaku and more on a joyride across our Solar System, scaled down to the size of the continental United States.

April 2017

You will be captivated by this epic story of our origins told through the story of one extended family.  This group of men, women, and children are your guide to over 15 million years of human history, including the trials, drama and joys of being human across the ages.

May 2017

Can a team of scientists reveal unknown chambers in the Great Pyramid using special muon detector plates beneath the pyramid?  In this expedition, experts use high-tech drones, thermal cameras, laser scanning to create a 3D map of inside and out of the famous Giza plateau tombs.

Stay curious!

Cheers,

Elizabeth Hendricks North
President & CEO, CuriosityStream

Elizabeth Hendricks North is President and CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.

 

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