All posts by Daniel

Mars Landing Broadcast on Ustream Outperforms Cable TV, Company Says


New stats from Ustream suggest that more people are forgoing television for online sources when it comes to getting news, the company says.

More than 3.2 million people tuned in to the live streaming platform to see Sunday night’s landing of the Mars Curiosity rover, according to spokesman Tony Riggins.

“More people tuned in to watch the NASA Mars landing coverage on Ustream than many of the top cable news networks during Sunday primetime,” he told Mashable in an email.

Riggins said that at its peak, Ustream had 500,000 concurrent viewers across all streams watching live. The platform had broadcasts spanning NASA HDTV, NASA JPL and NASA JPL 2

While there’s no specific statistics for network coverage of the landing, Nielsen television ratings for Sunday’s primetime slot shows that among viewers over age 2, CNN had an audience of 426,000. Other major networks such as MSNBC had 365,000 viewers, while CNBC received 109,000. Only Fox had higher numbers, clocking in at 803,000.

“This speaks to how much more sophisticated social media tools are getting on the web, even from just a year ago, and how consumers are adapting technologies to get news now from sources like Ustream,” Riggins said.

Ustream also lets viewers interact in real-time over its “social stream,” via mobile phones, tablets, streaming players and smart TV. Aggregating multiple social networks, this feature integrates audiences across Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. More than 102,000 social stream messages were sent on Sunday, according to Ustream.

The New York Times reported on television’s downward trend in April.

“Across the television landscape, network and cable, public television and Spanish, viewing for all sorts of prime-time programming is down this spring — chiefly among the most important audience for the business, younger adults,” said reporter Bill Carter.

In contrast, Ustream’s viewership has soared in recent years. From a reported 10 million unique viewers in June 2008, the platform said it now has 51 million viewers “every month” (though it’s unclear whether this number refers to unique viewers).

Do you watch news online or on television more often? Tell us in the comments below.

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Curiosity Rover Makes First Foursquare Check-in on Mars


Curiosity is NASA’s most digitally savvy rover yet. She tweets regularly, posts her pictures and now she is the first Foursquare user to ever check in on Mars.

Curiosity’s first check-in was today at the Gale Crater, where she made her first landing on the night of Aug. 5. Located on the equator of Mars, the Gale Crater is home to the 3-mile high Mount Sharp and is Curiosity’s primary target as it holds billions of years of Martian history.

Curiosity will continue to check in and share updates throughout her 23-month expedition.

“Like any great trip, you want to share with your friends back home, so that is why the rover is sharing check-ins and tips from her amazing trip,” says Stephanie L. Smith, who is part of the three-woman team that runs Curiosity’s social media.

Since Curiosity is the first to post from the Red Planet, she will regularly give travel tips for future space tourists.

“Mars is cold, dry and rocky. Extra moisturizer and sturdy shoes would be a good idea, plus oxygen for those of you who breathe,” she posted along with a snapshot of the desert-like landscape.

Curiosity’s next check-in will be from Rocknest, another point within the Gale Crater where the rover will be parked for the next two weeks to conduct various experiments.

“We’ll start getting to more specific locations within the crater,” says Veronica McGregor, social media manager at NASA. “We may not do daily check-ins for each drive, but we will be able to do check-ins and tips for locations after we name them.”

Curiosity’s Foursquare tips will be a mix of science and humor. “We’re having fun with these tips,” says NASA social media specialist Courtney O’Connor. “We have to consider things like atmosphere, temperature and things we don’t normally think about on Earth. We have to put ourselves into her point of view. You have to get into character.”

So far, the rover has checked in two times today. She only has one more check-in until she becomes mayor of Gale Crater — an honor that, McGregor says, is well-deserved.

“If anyone should be mayor, it’s that rover.”

Bonus: Mars Curiosity’s First Tracks

Could Russian Sanctions Restrict US Access To The International Space Station?

The U.S. has made it very clear that it does not agree with the way that Russia has behaved towards Ukraine, and last month NASA cut-off contact with Russia except for ISS related matters. This week, the U.S. went one step further and imposed sanctions that deny export licenses for any high-tech items that might be used to aid Russian military capabilities. Since Russia is reliant on imports from the West, this could jeopardize Russia’s plan to launch five commercial satellites this year.  

This has royally ticked off the Russian government, to say the least, and they have now started to retaliate by threatening to prevent the U.S. from utilizing Russian space shuttles. In a Twitter rant, Rogozin wrote “The United States introduced sanctions against our space industry… We warned them, we will reply to statements with statements, to actions with actions.” He then added that the U.S. should start to use a trampoline to deliver astronauts to the ISS.

Jokes aside- is this a serious threat toward the astronauts that are currently on board the ISS? Unfortunately the U.S. is dependent on Russian shuttles to get astronauts to the ISS, but given that it pays Russia a whopping $60 million per astronaut and Russia are lacking in funds at the moment, it seems likely that this is an empty threat. They’re shortly due a pay-out of $457.9 million from the U.S. for their services so far, which is an incredible amount of money to throw down the drain.

Two private American companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, are also hoping to be able to send astronauts to the ISS soon; therefore it seems unwise to make rash decisions that could badly backfire on Russia later down the line.

It’s incredibly unlikely that these threats will lead to the astronauts currently on board the ISS becoming “stranded” in space as some newspapers have suggested, so there is no need for panic just yet. 

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NASA’s Record-Breaking Astronaut Returns From Space

Peggy Whitson, NASA’s record-breaking astronaut who has spent the most time in space of any American, has returned to Earth.

Whitson, 57, landed in Kazakhstan at 9.21pm EDT on Saturday, September 2, along with Jack Fischer (43), also of NASA, and Fyodor Yurchikhin (58) of Roscosmos. They traveled back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS).

Whitson had spent 288 days aboard the ISS on her third mission there, giving her a total of 665 days in space – the most for any US astronaut, and the eighth most of any nationality. She was the commander of Expedition 51, which began on April 10 and ended on June 2, 2017.

Fischer and Yurchikhin had both spent 136 days on board. This was the former’s first foray into space, while the latter has 673 days in space, placing him just above Whitson at seventh on the all-time list.

From left to right, Whitson, Yurchikhin, and Fischer in their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft shortly after landing. NASA/Bil Ingalls

“We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration,” said NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, the new commander of the station following Whitson’s departure. He also somewhat oddly called Whitston an “American space ninja”.

Whitson, for her part, tends to shy away from the attention. In an interview with the Associated Press, she said she was “not overly comfortable with the praise about the records,” noting that we should always be striving to do more.

“I feel lucky to have been in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that I have had, and yet I do acknowledge that my dedication and work ethic helped put me in those positions,” she said.

Touch down. NASA/Bill Ingalls

During their time on the station, the three saw the arrival of seven cargo spacecraft, including SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Russia’s Progress vehicle. They performed plenty of research, including investigating changes to astronaut’s eyes while in microgravity, studying lung tissue, and installing a new detector on the outside of the station to detect cosmic rays.

Whitson said she was most looking forward to pizza and flushing toilets (“you don’t want to know the details”) on her return to Earth. But she noted she would miss the stunning views of Earth from space, and also the freedom of floating (“gravity will especially SUCK”).

There are now just three people aboard the ISS: Bresnik, Russian Sergey Ryazansky, and Italian Paolo Nespoli. They will be joined by Russian Alexander Misurkin and Americans Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba after they launch on September 12.

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Chile Wants To Build A Hydroelectric Plant In The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on our planet; it is a 128,000 square kilometers (49,000 square miles) plateau that in some places sees less than threemillimeters (0.12inches) of rain in an entire year. With this in mind, it may seem peculiar that the Chilean company Valhalla are planning to build a huge hydroelectric power plant right on the edge of it.

This hydroelectric plant will be fairly similar in design to many others around the world. Water from a great height will be dropped down through steep slopes, causing turbines to spin and generate energy; the water eventually flows out to a river or into the sea. The Valhalla project isnt technically too different from this basic design.

The $400 million (260 million) project will take advantage of two of the deserts other prominent features, other than its distinct lack of rain. The first is the deserts effective border with the Pacific Ocean to the west: the Andes mountains, the longest continental mountain range in the world at 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles) in length.

At an average height of 4,000meters (13,000feet), they provide plenty of sufficient elevation for a hydroelectric dam. Seawater will be pumped up into the mountains, allowed to rest there for very long periods of time, and released downstream through the turbines when electricity is required to be generated.

The two mountaintop reservoirs can contain 22,000 Olympic swimming pools of water, roughly equivalent to 55 million cubic meters (1.9 billion cubic feet). This impressive storage capacity means that electricity can be generated 24 hours a day.

Image credit: The location of the proposed hydroelectric power plant. Valhalla/Google Maps

The entire complex will have a capacity of 300 megawatts, comparable to the advanced solar power plant currently being built in Morocco. This will be enough to power three of Chiles provinces ones that rely heavily on the import of fossil fuels.

Of course, pumping the water up into the mountains will still require energy, and this is where the second characteristic of the Atacama Desert comes in: its reliably sunny skies. According to the companys website, they will use reversible turbines within a cave of machines, powered by solar energy, to pump the water up into the mountain reservoirs at a rate of 45 cubic meters (1,590 cubic feet) each day.

The project has been given the go ahead by environmental agencies, but they are still looking for investors in the project. Valhalla hope to complete the construction in three and a half years time, starting late next year.

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If There’s Life Elsewhere In Our Solar System Where Will It Be?

After the momentous discovery of hydrothermal vents in the ocean of Enceladus, the Saturnine moon has become the prime candidate to host life beyond Earth. The chemical blocks are all there and the conditions seem to be just right for simple organisms to form.

Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth, Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

If you were a betting person, yourmoney should be on Enceladus. But theres no planned mission to go back and confirm if theres life or not on Enceladus, so before thats tested, life could be spotted elsewhere.

Strong on the Enceladus discovery, Europa seems to be the second most likely place to find life in the Solar System. Europa is an icy moon of Jupiter known for its stripy, cracked surface. Researchers are confident Europa has plumes, and it’s even possibleits ocean is just as rich in heat and chemicals as Enceladus’.

NASA is planning an important mission, called Europa Clipper, thatwill do a more detailed analysis of the plumes than Cassini (which was designed and launched in the 1990s) could do on Enceladus.

If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them, added Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters.

content-1492184358-pia19048-0.jpgEuropa in all its glory. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The ocean worlds are clearly intriguing. Life, in our current understanding, cant thrive without water. But maybe life can survive in incredibly salty water under the soil of a frigid, deserted worldMars.

Mars used to look a lot different than it does today. At one time, it wasa water-rich planet with volcanos and an atmosphere just as dense as our own. Sure it was almost exclusively carbon dioxide, but that might not have mattered to microbial life. They had heat, they had the building blocks of life, and they had water.

They could have had it all, but they didnt have a magnetic field. Over billions of years, the solar wind has blown Mars’ atmosphere into space, turning a wet and warm world into a dry, cold wasteland. Could life have evolved during those epochs? Quite likely, yes. Theres evidence of localized surface water up to 650 million years ago. Plenty of time for life to form. Could life have evolved rapidly enough to survive the more extreme conditions of the modern Mars? We dont know.

We have been sending probes to look for life since the 1970s, but we are still wondering if theres life on Mars. Some believe that we have already found the evidence, butthe smoking gun is still buried on the Red Planet. Thats for future missions to uncover.

Enceladus, Europa, and Mars are clearly the contenders for life beyond Earth. But if money wasnt a problem, where else should we go looking for life?

Top of the list of the weirdest places is Pluto. The dwarf planet is the furthest world we have studied and has a treasure trove of unique and unusual features. There are some suggestions of an under-ice ocean on Pluto as well, but while Europa and Enceladus are heated by the gravitational dance between the gas giants and their Moon, poor Pluto is stuck with a syrupy ammonia ocean.

Life can tolerate a lot of stuff: It can tolerate a lot of salt, extreme cold, extreme heat, etc. But I dont think it can tolerate the amount of ammonia Pluto needs to prevent its ocean from freezing ammonia is a superb antifreeze, Professor William McKinnon said when discussing the possibility of life on Pluto.

Its no place for germs, much less fish or squid, or any life as we know it. But as with the methane seas on Titan Saturns main moon raises the question of whether some truly novel life forms could exist in these exotic, cold liquids.

Its not surprising that McKinnon mentioned Titan. It has rivers, lakes, clouds, winds, and rain. Yes, it has an average surface temperature of -179C (-290F) and all hydrological phenomena are made of liquid methane, not water. Still, some weird lifeforms might have found an ideal cozy niche on Titan.

content-1492184631-pia18432-main.jpgSunlight glints off of Titan’s northern seas in this near-infrared, color mosaic from Cassini.NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

If Titan is a bit too chilled, then life might prefer a warmer place such as Io, the volcanic moon of Jupiter. Life on the surface of Io is unlikely. Its surface temperaturegoes from thousands of degrees above zero to hundreds below. You can find lakes of molten rock and snowfields of frozen sulfur. Also, Jupiter blasts so much radiation at it that life would have a hard time surviving.

But underneath its yellowish exterior, things might be different. We know life can survive underground on Earth. Life on Io might have evolved underground,not thinking twice about its precarious position.

For the true extremophiles, theres Venus. Once upon a time, it was a temperate planet, butnow it’s a hellish world where you will be crushed, burned, and melted. Literally. The pressure on the surface is the equivalent to being 1kilometer (0.6 miles) underwater, the temperature is high enough to melt lead, and its atmosphere is rich in sulfuric acid.

Researchers think that Venus was oncesuitable for life and mayeven have had a shallow ocean. It is in the habitable zone, which provides the planet with the right amount of energy to kickstart life. But while Venus might have been habitable, its changes havebeen so dramatic that anything thatmight have been there is likely long gone. Unless the standard course of life is finding refuge underground.

All life on Earth, from the most resilient to the most delicate, is believed to have originated from a single ancestor in a warm water environment or some similar conditions. This might be the only way for life to form, or it might be one of many ways. We can only find out by actually going out there and looking for it.

Until then, we can speculate and imagine, balancing skepticism and excitement about whats out there. After all, life, uh, finds a way.

Digital terrain model of the observation of brine water flowing on Mars. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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ExoMars Lander Crash Site Found

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has found Schiaparelli EDM, the European Space Agencys lander, but unfortunately the image is consistent with a high-velocity crash landing.

There was little hope for the probe since ESA lost contact with it last Wednesday and as data from its fully operational orbiting counterpart ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) indicated that something went wrong as the lander flew through the atmosphere.

The low-resolution camera on boardNASAs MRO took a picture of the landing site, known as Meridiani Planum, on October 20 and discovered two previously unseen features that are likely related to Schiaparelli.

In the image, which has a resolution of 6meters (20 feet) per pixel, there is a bright spot 12 meters (40 feet) across thatis believed to be the landers parachute. One kilometer (0.62 miles) north, theres a 40-by-15-meter (130-by-50-foot) fuzzy dark patch thatis believed to be the impact crater left over by the probe. It is possible that the probe exploded on impact.


The Meridiani Planum before and after Schiaparelli landed.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

During a press conference last Thursday, ESA explained that the preliminary data suggests that several factors might have played a role in the demise of the lander. It appears that the parachute was jettisoned too soon and the thrusters fired only for three or four seconds instead of the supposed 30.

The probe might have met a fiery death, but its unplanned sacrifice was not in vain. Schiaparelliwas an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module that collected heaps of crucial data on its way down, even ifdidnt stick itslanding. ESAs engineers are currently analyzing this data, whichfuture missions will likely be able to benefit from.

Schiaparelli might begone, but the mission continues for the TGO. The orbiters mission is to study indirect traces of life, like methane, in the Martian atmosphere. The spacecraft will begin the calibration of its scientific instruments in November, and in March it will be moved toa lower orbit to begin itsfull scientific mission.

TGO will also be used as a relay for the ExoMars 2020 rover, although changes will be necessaryfor it to safely reach the ground. Landing on Mars remains a difficult affair, with about half of allmissions successfully touching down on the Red Planet.

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