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.

ligo-signal

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. (!)

kip-bet-1

 

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.

grav-wave-detectors-sources

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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Curiosity Retreats 2016

Greetings from CuriosityStream! I’m pleased to announce the speakers for our next Curiosity Retreat, to be hosted October 2-7, 2016 at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa.

Led by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Stern and David Eagleman, our Curiosity Retreat will feature eight world-class speakers leading four days of “deep dive” exploration of science, technology, civilization and the human spirit.  All lectures will be filmed so that we may share them on CuriosityStream with our community of inquisitive minds.  As well, the retreats allow participants to interact directly with the speakers in small breakout sessions in between lectures.  Our 2016 lineup includes:

Doris Kearns Goodwin
Presidential Historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author & Political Commentator
Balancing Work, Love and Play: Lessons from the Presidents

David Eagleman
Neuroscientist, PBS Host of The Brain, best-selling Author, Professor at the Baylor College of Medicine
The Future of the Brain

Alan Stern
Planetary Scientist & Principal Investigator of the New Horizons Mission
To Pluto & Beyond

Sean Carroll
Cosmologist, Physicist & Author, Winner of the Andrew Gemant Award in Physics
The Big Picture

Nonny de la Peña
Pioneer of Virtual Reality & CEO of Emblematic Group
Our Virtual Reality

Spencer Wells
Population Geneticist, Anthropologist; Former Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic
The Human Journey: A Genetic Odyssey

Roland Fryer
Economist, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics, Harvard University, 2015 Winner of the John Bates Clark Medal
The Economics of Incentives

Max Tegmark
Cosmologist, Astrophysicist, Author & Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Our Mathematical Universe

 

We hope you will consider joining us in October!  In the meantime, I encourage you to enjoy our Curiosity Retreat Lectures series featuring past luminaries including Michio Kaku, Brian Greene and Jason Silva, on CuriosityStream.

Stay curious!

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

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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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A Bronze Age Time Capsule Plus Our Exclusive New Series

The fascinating Bronze Age gave us the first glimpse of urban civilization, particularly in the Mediterranean and Near East Societies.  And now, archaeologists have discovered what are thought to be the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain… giving us a closer look at everyday life in a Bronze Age village 3,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge detailed their findings this week.  They’ve unearthed the pristine, time capsule-like site in central England, some 80 miles north of London. 2 large, circular, wooden houses, built on a series of posts sunk into a river channel below, seemed to have collapsed in a fire and sunk into the water sometime between 1000-800 BC.  The water doused the flames, and layers of mud from the riverbed covered it all, preserving the structures and their extraordinary contents. Textiles, jewelry, food storage jars, spears and daggers, even a cooking pot with traces of food inside, were found completely intact. And the first human remains have just been unearthed, as well.  The archaeologists found a skull near the doorway of one of the houses, continuing to help weave the incredible story of what exactly happened there. Experts are calling it prehistoric archaeology in 3D, and say these findings will transform our understanding of the period.

The flourishing civilizations of the the Bronze Age gave history centuries of brilliance — the first developed writing systems, centralized local governments, the roots of diplomacy, and of course, the first use of metal for tools and weapons, including the new, durable bronze.



Premiering on CuriosityStream this week – an exclusive, new original series offering a deep dive into this extraordinary time in history.  Our three-part series takes an in-depth look at the rise, the impact, and the ultimate fall of the Bronze Age, with stunning visuals and expert insight that will put you right in the middle of history.

Watch here for a glimpse into each of the episodes:

The Rise of Civilization

Masters of Trade

Conquest and Collapse

Are you intrigued by the life of an archaeologist?  Are you dreaming of being a real life Indiana Jones?  Hear more about a day in the life of an archaeologist from CuriosityStream luminary Dr. Eric Cline here.

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#CuriosityTravels


I hope you’re enjoying a great start to 2016!

This past year has been quite a busy one for CuriosityStream and our small, hardworking team.  In the nine months since our debut on March 18, 2015, we’ve launched apps across Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS.  As well, our partnership with Amazon enabled CuriosityStream’s library to become available to Amazon Prime members via Amazon’s SVOD service.  Lastly, in late September, CuriosityStream went global with our content to allow worldwide access to outstanding science, technology, history and nature documentaries.

Importantly, our global library allows CuriosityStream subscribers to watch our nonfiction programs from anywhere in the world.  I had the incredible experience of speaking in Italy recently, where I could watch CuriosityStream when my Netflix account was unavailable.  If you have upcoming travels, make sure to try us out and use the hashtag #curiositytravels to keep us informed of your experience.

In 2016, CuriosityStream looks forward to enhancing our recommendation engine, adding closed captions, offering annual plans and debuting 4K.  We can’t wait to share over 50 hours of 4K content in early spring, kicking off the launch with the premiere of our exclusive production, Big Picture Earth.  Crafted by the same filmmaker behind Discovery HD’s hit series, Sunrise Earth, CuriosityStream’s Big Picture Earth will take viewers on a 4K journey to twenty of the most spectacular locations in the world, including Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and Petra.

For now, I highly recommend our Curious Minds: The Future with Peter Diamandis as well as a few other forward-thinking programs: Catalyst: Quantum Computing, Next World: The Future with Michio Kaku, and Science Shorts.  Stay curious!

 

Best,

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

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Making Your List, Checking It Twice

For me, it’s all about my in-laws. The generous grandparents who shower family with gifts around the holidays. The grandparents who gush over every handmade ornament or craft du jour from the kids, because they really don’t need another sweater, or another delicious-smelling hand lotion set. They have everything they want, but we still search for that meaningful gift to show them how much we appreciate and love them.

Or maybe it’s your younger brother who is exploring the world, and needs something that travels light. Or your child’s favorite teacher, who will certainly get her share of mugs and baked goodies.

This year, consider giving the gift of curiosity! CuriosityStream is now offering its first ever gift cards. Your special someone will have instant, unlimited access to over 1,000 non-fiction documentaries on science, technology, history, nature, pop culture and more.

The gift cards are available in both electronic and physical gift cards, starting at $29.99 for a 12-month subscription. Electronic gift cards are available instantly at CuriosityStream.com/gift and physical gift cards can be purchased at Amazon.com, search “CuriosityStream.”

CS-GiftCard-Present

More proof a gift card is a great idea: the National Retail Federation’s annual holiday survey reports that gift cards continue to be the number 1 requested item. 58.8% of shoppers this year said they wanted a handy, convenient gift card more than anything else, making it the most requested present 9 years in a row.

So for me, the gift of curiosity is the answer to one of my toughest holiday gift-giving challenges. But shhh.. don’t tell my father-in law. I don’t want to ruin the surprise!

 

Happy Holidays,

Vanessa

 

 

 

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Honoring Our Veterans

“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”                                                                                                                                    — Abraham Lincoln

Today, November 11th, CuriosityStream would like to honor and pay respect to all the men and women who have served our country. Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, celebrated on the first anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated November 11th with the following words:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

But while Wilson’s words honored “those who died,” the holiday we now call Veterans Day honors the men and women, both living and deceased, who served in our nation’s armed forces during war or peacetime. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made that change in 1954, to honor all vets, and soon after, Congress officially changed the name of the holiday, replacing Armistice with Veterans. And it has been that way ever since.

Take some time today to honor our veterans by watching the documentary WWI: Hidden Traces, for new insight from the first World War.   A century later, archaeologists have helped bring to light the unexpected details of the daily lives of soldiers on the front line.  Here is a preview:

 

To all our veterans today… thank you.

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