The most amazing and inspiring vision of the future you have ever seen: Video

The most amazing and inspiring vision of the future I've ever seen

I’ve seen countless science fiction movies and documentaries about the future of humanity. Nothing I’ve ever seen is as inspiring and beautiful and realistic as this extraordinary short film by Erik Wernquist, narrated by Carl Sagan. Watch it and get ready for goosebumps.

For maximum effect, I highly recommend that you use headphones, turn off the lights, and make sure the video is playing back in HD:

Here’s the original text narrated by Sagan, from his book The Pale Blue Dot—a book that, if you haven’t yet, you must read.

For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.

Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”

Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.

Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.

After I saw it on my phone, I couldn’t resist opening my computer at 2:40AM—when Gawker’s J.K. Trotter sent it to me in the middle of the night—to share it with you as soon as possible.

This is our solar system, not fantasy worlds

As Wernquist says at the beginning, these are all real places from our solar system, recreated using NASA’s photographs and data. Here is a list of all the locations you can see in his film, with descriptions from Wernquist:

Earth, 10,000BC

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The opening shot is a montage showing a band of nomads walking westward across a valley somewhere in the north Middle East, just after sunset and around 10000 BC. In the emerging night sky, the planets are shining clearly. From the horizon in the lower right to the top left they are as follows: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Earth, near future

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Sometime in the future, a large spacecraft is taking off from Earths orbit, filled with passengers on a long journey to somewhere else in the Solar System. This may be the first large colony to permanently settle another world.

The background is a classic photo of the Earth from space, with the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, taken from the International Space Station on July 21, 2003. I mapped the photo on a curved plane and replaced the optical flare from the sun with a digital flare to be able to create some motion. The original photo can be seen here.

Great Red Spot, Jupiter

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This is the view from a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter, looking down at the huge anticyclonic storm known as the Great Red Spot.

The texture of the planet comes from a mosaic of photos from NASAs Voyager 1 flyby in 1979, assembled and processed by Björn Jonsson (as seen here).

Enceladus, moon of Saturn

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Shown here is a spacecraft floating through the amazing cryo geysers on the south pole of Saturn´s moon Enceladus.

These geysers (discovered by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005) are formed along cracks in the moons icy surface and shoot powerful jets of – amongst other stuff – water vapor and ice particles into space. Some of the plumes reach heights of several hundreds of kilometers, and while most of it falls back as “snow” on the surface, some particles are shot into space and become part of the famous Rings of the parent planet of Saturn. The geysers are one of many hints that there are large bodies of liquid water under the surface of the moon, making Enceladus a prime target for the search for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System.

The photo I used for the background was taken by NASA with the Cassini spacecraft in 2005 and can be seen in its original form here. For the texture of the moon I took some liberties and tweaked parts of this beautiful composite of the full body of the moon, also by NASAs Cassini spacecraft.

Saturn’s rings

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This shot shows a person floating just above the plane of the famous Rings of Saturn. The Rings themselves are seen here only as a mess of tumbling blocks of ice, as the camera is in the middle of them, but their full shape is hinted in the shadow they cast on the northern hemisphere of Saturn, far in the distance.

The Rings of Saturn are immense! They main ring system have a radial width of about 65000 kilometers, from the edge of the inner D Ring to the outer F Ring. That means you could line up 5 Earths next to each other, starting from the edge of the inner ring and still have room to spare before you reach the outer edge. Yet they are remarkably thin. Observations vary from about a kilometer down to only ten meters or so. From a far distance they appear as an opaque disc, but from closer observation they are clearly a system of thousands upon thousands of stripes and gaps of varying widths. On an even closer look, it is revealed that all those stripes are made up of countless individual particles, ranging in size from smaller than a grain of sand to something like a basket ball. Some are large as a small bus. All of them made from clear water ice, constantly shattering and rebounding with each other, making the rings highly reflective in sunlight and so clearly visible to us.

There are, as of yet, no real photos from within the Rings, so this is my best guess of what it may look like. This shot is created from scratch (as in no photos used), but I was very inspired by this photo by NASAs Cassini Spacecraft from 2004.

Elevator over Terra Cimmeria, Mars

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The most amazing and inspiring vision of the future I've ever seenEXPAND

This shot follows the cabin of a space elevator descending on a cable towards the northern parts of the Terra Cimmeria highlands on Mars. A large settlement, hinted as glowing lights in the dark, can be seen far below on the ground. One of Mars’ two moons – Phobos – is seen above the cabin to the left of the cable in the beginning of the shot.

The space elevator is an idea that has been around for a long time, not only as science fiction but a serious suggestion of how to efficiently transfer large amounts of mass on and off a planet. The idea in short consists of a very long cable, along which cabins can climb up and down like an elevator. One end of the cable is attached to the ground at the planets equator, and the other to a counterweight beyond geostationary orbit. Geostationary orbit is an altitude where an object can stay stable in orbit over the exact same place above the ground and follow along as the planet revolves. In the case of the Earth that is at an altitude of about 36 thousand kilometers, so we are talking about a very long cable.

The texture for Mars in the shot comes from a tremendously high resolution assembly of NASA (and ESA?) orbital photographs made by John Van Vliet for the virtual space simulator Celestia.

A small side note: As far as I have understood it, the ideal place to attach a space elevator on Mars would not be where I have done it in this shot, but on the top of the volcano Pavonis Mons. With a peak reaching 14 kilometers above Mars’s mean surface level, and location almost exactly at the equator it would be the perfect spot – as it would cut a few kilometers from the length of the cable. However, the area around that mountain did not look as neat, so for purely artistic reasons I chose the Terra Cimmeria highlands instead.

Victoria Crater, Mars

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A group of people await the arrival of a few dirigibles at the edge of the Victoria Crater on Mars.

There is nothing really amazing about this landscape in itself, other than it being on Mars, but it is one of many high resolution panoramas photographed by the exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity during their fantastic journeys across the red planet since 2003. With this picture, taken by Opportunity in 2006, I could map the landscape onto a 3D-model I built to match the terrain and create a very accurate tracking shot of the place, and then add a few human elements to make the scene alive.

The name “Cape Verde” refer to the vantage point from where the picture was taken. The cliff on which the people are standing is called “Cape St. Mary”. As it turns out it seems I may have exaggerated the height of that cliff somewhat as I recently read it is about 15 meters tall. It’s tricky getting these things right when there is no point of reference!

Mars sunset

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This shot shows a group of hikers on top of the eastern rim of “Gusey Crater”, looking at the fantastic and truly unearthly spectacle of a sunset on Mars.

During the day, the Martian sky is a mixture of a grayish yellow and green (like in the previous shot). But when the sun sets, fine dust particles in the atmosphere gives it a rusty reddish shade, and around the sun – where we on Earth are used to see a fiery red – the Martian sky glows blue.

For the background environment of this shot I used this amazing photo taken by NASAs exploration rover Spirit in 2005. Due to the not so high resolution I had to rebuild the rocks in the foreground in CG, which in turn made me able to do the tracking movement towards the rim.

Iapetus ridge, Iapetus, moon of Saturn

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This scene simulates a shot taken in low orbit over Saturn’s moon Iapetus, looking down at a string of domed settlements built along the mighty equatorial ridge that runs along a large part of the moon’s circumference.

This mysterious feature was only discovered as late as 2004 by the Cassini spacecraft, taking photos of the moon from orbit, and it is as of yet unknown how it came to be. It is about 1,3 thousand kilometers long, 20 kilometers wide and at places has peaks rising more than 20 kilometers above the surrounding plains. The area shown in this shot is however, not one of the tallest parts of the ridge, as I wanted to show the moon from a place from where Saturn is visible. As is the case with most moons, Iapetus is tidally locked to its parent planet, resulting in Saturn always being in the same place in the sky.

This was the first shot I made for the film, inspired by Kim Stanley Robinssons novel “2312” in which he describes a large urban area built along the ridge of Iapetus. The shot is almost built entirely in CG using various maps and photos from the NASA JPL photojournal as reference. Saturn in the background is a photo from the Cassini spacecraft but I don’t know exactly when it was taken.

Again, I may have taken some artistic liberties here in making the city domes nearly unbelievably huge. The dome on the large city in the distance would be over 1 kilometer tall compared to the scale of the landscape. Now, the gravity on Iapetus is only a fraction of the Earths, so such structures like these would indeed be possible. It’s just that there might take some time before we see such interest in living on Iapetus that there is need to build cities for millions and millions of people.

However, as a final note, Iapetus is one of very few moons around Saturn that has an orbit not entirely aligned to the plane of the rings, so, while on most other moons you would only see the rings as a mere stripe, from Iapetus you would see them in their full glory. So when it comes to amazing views, Iapetus would make for some highly valuable real estate.

I recommend turning to the wikipedia site for more reading on Iapetus, for example about its unique “yin/yang” coloring, being almost entirely white on one side, and dark brown on the other…

Asteroid in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt

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The most amazing and inspiring vision of the future I've ever seenEXPAND

These shots show one of the many asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. A small fleet of spacecrafts are lined up and approaching a docking area seen as glowing lights in the “center” of the large rock. The dust surrounding the asteroid is the remains of an extensive excavation of its interior.

This, along with the next scene, is by far the most speculative part of this short film. For one thing, this particular asteroid is fictional and although I suspect there are many like it out there, it is built from scratch without any specific object as reference. But also, these scenes, rather than showing the nature of an actual place, are there to visualize the possibilities of human engineering and construction.

The concept is that this asteroid has been hollowed out on the inside, pressurized and filled with a breathable atmosphere. Then it has been put into a revolving spin, creating artificial gravity on the inside by centripetal force. It works sort of like inside a spinning washing machine, only much larger.

A famous construction like this is presented in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Rendezvous with Rama” but again, I have Kim Stanley Robinson to thank for inspiration here. His novel “2312” takes place in many of these inverted worlds which he calls “terraria”. In the next scene, I show what a “terrarium” might look like from the inside.

This whole scene is built in CG, with no particular reference used.

Inside asteroid in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt

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This shot shows the inside of the asteroid from the previous scene. Just as I wrote about that scene, this is a highly speculative vision of an impressive piece of human engineering – a concept that science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson calls a “terraruim” in his novel “2312”. It is also not unlike what Arthur C. Clarke described in his novel “Rendezvous with Rama”.

What we see here is the inside of a hollowed out asteroid, pressurized and filled with a breathable atmosphere. Like I described in the previous scene, the whole structure is put into a revolving rotation, simulating the effect of gravity toward the inside “walls” of the cylinder shape we see. The structure in this scene has a diameter of about 7 kilometers and revolves with a speed of 1 rotation every 2 minutes, simulating the effect of 1g (the gravity pull we feel on Earth) at the surface of the inside.

This place is also filled with water, creating lakes and seas wrapped along with the landscape. An artificial sun is running along a rail in the middle of the space, simulating a daylight cycle.

This scene is of course built from scratch, but I used countless satellite photos of the Earth to texture the landscape. I actually used a slightly warped world map to create the outlines between land and water, as some may notice a couple of familiar shorelines.

Europa, moon of Jupiter

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This scene shows a group of people hiking across the icy plains of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jupiter itself as well as another moon – Io – is seen beyond the horizon. The scene takes place on the night side of Europa so the landscape is lit entirely by reflected sunlight off Jupiter (and to a small extent off Io). The shot is designed to look as if it would have been filmed from a moving vehicle and with a very long lens so that the bulk of Jupiter fills the entire field of view, like a huge wall in the background.

The inspiration for this shot comes from this amazing photo from January 1, 2001, taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it flew by Jupiter on its way to Saturn. It shows the moon Io passing in front of Jupiter and ever since I first saw it, I have tried to imagine what it would feel like to be standing on the night side of that moon, looking up at huge Jupiter, glowing in the sky. Now, this photo is also taken with a very long lens, so Jupiter, although huge, would not appear anything like this to a human standing on the moon.

For a person standing on Io, Jupiter would take up about 20 degrees of the sky, that is 38 times the size in the sky of our Moon as seen from Earth. That must still be an impressive sight. And from Europa, which is in an orbit further out from Io, and where this particular shot takes place, Jupiter would take up nearly 12 degrees of the sky, about 24 times larger than our Moon appears to us from Earth.

The ground in this shot is all CG with a mapping of different ice textures merged with colors from satellite photos of Europa, like this, presumably taken by NASAs Galileo spacecraft. For Jupiter I used the highest resolution texture I could find, an assembly (of what I presume is photos from NASAs Cassini or Galileo spacecrafts) made by John Van Vliet for the virtual space simulator Celestia. For Io, I used a tweaked version ofthis photo taken by NASAs Galileo spacecraft.

Ligeia Mare, Titan, moon of Saturn

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In orbit around Saturn is the giant moon Titan. It is the second largest moon in the Solar System (after Jupiter’s Ganymede), even larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only known moon with a dense atmosphere. There are countless of fantastic features to be amazed at in this place, but I have chosen two to illustrate in this scene.

With an average temperature of -180 C all water here is frozen hard as rock. In fact, the surface landscape of Titan is indeed mostly mad of frozen water ice. But Titan’s atmosphere is rich in hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, and the low temperature is perfect for these elements to occur naturally in three states; frozen, liquid and gas. So, just as on Earth where we have a water cycle (ice melts, becomes water, water evaporates into clouds, turning into liquid and becomes rain and so forth), Titan has a methane cycle. Methane evaporates and rises to form clouds, eventually turning into rain, falling over the surface. And this is the most amazing part; the rain in some places is enough to fill entire lakes. Lakes of methane!

Titan is the only place in the Solar System, other than Earth, known to have large bodies of liquid on its surface. And they are really there, huge lakes, with shorelines, islands and small archipelagos. This scene takes place over a lake know as Ligeia Mare, the second largest on Titan, about 500 kilometers in diameter, located in the north polar region of the moon.

The second fantastic feature I wanted to illustrate is the combination of Titan’s very dense atmosphere and its relatively low gravity. As a human on Titan you would weigh about 14% of what you do on Earth, and in the dense atmosphere it would be enough to strap wings on your arms to make you able to fly like a bird. On Titan you could fly like a bird, over lakes of methane! (If you wore some really warm clothes of course.)

This scene is built entirely in CG, but I used this radar map mosaic of the lake as reference for the shape of the landscape. And I also got a lot of inspiration for the coloring from this mindblowing video. It shows real video footage from ESAs Huygens Probe as it descends through Titans atmosphere in a parachute and lands on the surface. There are no lakes in this particular region, but if you allow some speculation, the rounded rocks on the ground, seen at the end are similar to the ones you’d find at the bottom of a dried out river bed.

There is plenty of information about Titan and its lakes available online (Wikipedia is a good place to start), and as the Cassini spacecraft is still operational in the Saturn system, news are currently being updated.

Verona Rupes, Miranda, moon of Uranus

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The most amazing and inspiring vision of the future I've ever seenEXPAND

Base jumping off the tallest cliff in the Solar System, located on Uranus’ moon Miranda. Uranus itself, along with a few other moons (from the top left to bottom right: Ariel (here on the far side of Uranus), Belinda, Puck and Portia) are seen in the background of the last shot.

On Uranus´small moon Miranda lies a monumental cliff wall believed to be the tallest in the Solar System. It is called Verona Rupes. Observations are limited but it is certain that the cliffs rise at least 5 kilometers above the ground below. Maybe even twice as much. This extreme height combined with Miranda´s low gravity (0,018g) would make for a spectacular base-jump. After taking the leap from the top edge you could fall for at least 12 minutes and, with the help of a small rocket to brake your fall toward the bottom, end up landing safely on your feet. Miranda´s close orbit around giant Uranus also makes a magnificent huge cyan ball in the sky.

The scene is built mostly in CG, except for the people who are shot live action and composited into the environment, and the foreground cliffs in the first shot which are made from several photos of a place in Norway known as “The Pulpit Rock“. For building the landscape I used (amongst others) this satellite photo of Verona Rupes, taken by NASAs Voyager 2 during the flyby of Uranus in 1986. For the color and texture of Uranus I used this photo as reference. Also by Voyager 2, NASA.

Saturn rings, view from Saturn’s top clouds

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This is one of the most awesome views I can imagine experiencing in the Solar System; floating in a light breeze above Saturn’s cloud tops at night, looking up at the glorious swaths of the Rings in the sky, and witness how they wash the cloudscape with the light they reflect from the Sun. The ringshine.

Saturn is a huge ball of gas with no surface to stand on (apart from a small rocky core that may hide in its very center), so any human visit there would have to be suspended in balloons or dirigibles, like seen here. The atmospheric pressure at the upper layers of clouds ranges between 0,5 and 2 times the pressure at sea level on Earth, so in theory you could “hang around” under the open sky there without the need of pressurized a space suit. You would, however, need to bring along oxygen to breathe and it would be very cold – temperatures at this altitude range between -170 and -110 C.

So, I have taken some liberties with realism here but I wanted to show a person without a space suit for this final shot, and just hope the future might bring along some incredibly insulating material to make it possible to take a stroll on a balcony beneath the sky of Saturn wearing just a jacket and a face mask.

The winds on Saturn also blow pretty hard. The highest speeds are around the equator, where they can reach 500 meters per second, and slow down towards the poles. However, when suspended in a balloon or dirigible like here, you would be floating along with the wind, hardly feeling anything more than a light breeze.

There is obviously no photographic reference for a shot like this and I have used my imagination to guess what a spectacle like this would look like. I did have a lot of inspiration from Björn Jonsson’s renderings of what Saturn’s skies may look like. More of Björns space renderings can be seen here. For the shape of the Rings I used a texture created by John Van Vliet for the virtual space simulator Celestia and for the clouds I used a wide range of photos I found online to create this 3-dimensional composite. Unfortunately I don’t know the names of the photographers for these images.

The clearest video of Earth from space I’ve ever seen

The clearest video of Earth from space I've ever seen

Guillaume Juin took 80GB of photos from the International Space Station crew members from 2011 to 2014 and made this stunning film. Without a doubt, it’s the most formidable video of the views from the ISS I’ve ever seen. Watching it makes me extra-jealous of the people up there.

Play it huge on your TV or projection screen for maximum effect.

All the footage (around 80GB of pictures) was processed throught after effects/premiere, denoised for some shots, removal of dead pixels for some shots, deflickering, and simple color grading (didnt want to change the already incredible look! just curves, saturation, and some blue crushing).

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Most Astounding Fact About The Universe’ May Bring You To Tears

neil degrasse tyson planets cosmos fox

Time magazine offers its readers a great series called “10 Questions” where some of the most interesting people in the world answer questions about their careers, beliefs, experiences, and more.

In 2012, Time interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

But you might know him best for his role in last year’s TV series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”

Tyson is renowned for his efforts to communicate the wonders of the universe to the public. He does this best through his staggering social-media following and also on the popular radio program he hosts called StarTalk.

With 2.58 million Twitter followers, he is by far the most followed astronomer on Twitter, and perhaps the most famous astrophysicist in the world.

Perhaps the most profound statement Tyson has ever made was during his interview with Time in 2012. When he was asked, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe?” Tyson responded with something that will not only inspire you but bring you closer to the cosmos.

One of the many inspirational quotes from the clip starts with Tyson looking up:

“When I look up at the night sky and I know that yes we are a part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us,” Tyson said. “When I reflect on that fact, I look up, many people feel small cause they’re small and the universe is big, but I feel big because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity.”

In the spirit of the upcoming film “Interstellar” we encourage you to listen to his whole response, set to music and mind-blowing universe imagery by YouTuber Max Schlickenmeyer:


What happens when you submerge GoPro in water…while in orbit?

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had some fun with a GoPro video camera and a blob of water, learning something about how cameras perform in space along the way.

During Expedition 40 in the summer of 2014, NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman — along with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst — explored the phenomenon of water surface tension in microgravity on the International Space Station. The crew “submerged” a sealed GoPro camera into a floating ball of water the size of a softball and recorded the activity with a 3-D camera.

A video of a GoPro camera inside a free-floating bubble of water in outer space looks as cool as it sounds. And exploring the phenomenon of water surface tension in microgravity is actually more fun than it sounds.

In a video posted on NASA‘s YouTube account this week, astronauts aboard the International Space Station during this summer submerged a sealed GoPro camera into a floating ball of water roughly the size of a volleyball and recorded the activity .

It gets better: They uploaded the video again, in 3D.

NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman, and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, appear just as thrilled as their Earthbound audience  – practically squealing as the camera floats around in the globulous H2 O.

“That’s wild,” one observes before they all wave to the GoPro staring out from the bubble at them.

When one astronaut’s hand gets stuck in the bubble – it appears to move like an amoeba (or silly putty?) up his hand – another exclaims: “You’re being assimilated!”

Without Earth’s gravity to pull water down into the shape of whatever container it’s in, surface tension will shape water into spheres. Magnetic-like molecules on water’s surface make like an elastic skin as each molecule is pulled with equal tension by its neighbors.

The video is part of NASA’s effort to bring a realistic representation of living and working on the International Space Station “and other fascinating images from the nation’s space program” to the home computer, says a NASA statement.

“Delivering images from these new and exciting locations is how we share our accomplishments with the world,” said Rodney Grubbs, program manager for NASA’s Imagery Experts Program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “As the industry made advances in technology, from film to digital cameras and then cameras with better resolutions, we all benefited by seeing sharper and cleaner images from space.”

Decades of recording and documenting the astronaut experience have led to unexpected scientific discovery, as during long-duration flights there is a degradation of the cameras.

“Increased radiation is part of the space environment and, while the hull of the station protects the astronauts, small radiation particles can still penetrate,” said Grubbs, who is also the principal investigator for the 3D camera study on orbit. “They may not do any detectable harm to the crew, but these same particles will damage the camera’s sensors resulting in ‘hot’ or white pixels on the video.”

These pixels show up as white dots on images beamed back to Earth and station cameras had to be replaced every eight to 12 months. But when Grubbs and his team sent up the new 3-D camera, the number of burned out pixels they could see in footage dropped from the thousands in the standard cameras to virtually zero, leaving a much cleaner image.

The camera was sent back to Earth on the first SpaceX-Dragon splashdown in 2012 for investigation, where scientists found the overlay of the two stereo images forming the 3D picture may have helped lessen the appearance of damaged pixels, Grubbs said.

More importantly, NASA said, the camera performed better because it used a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor sensor, and not the more traditional charge-coupled device imaging sensor in previous cameras.

“Both are ways to turn light into electrical signals that eventually are saved to a memory card, but it seems like the CMOS is less susceptible to radiation and can therefore create a clearer image,” according to the statement.

Scientists and engineers are interested in this 3D camera investigation for possible future use to determine proximity in space and for rendezvous and docking operations.

In the meantime, Grubbs’s team plans to send up a camera that can shoot nearly six times the resolution of an HD camera, encouraging the crew to record more video to share with the public.

And NASA has a request for that public: “Make sure to have your popcorn and 3D glasses ready because it can get topsy-turvy working on an orbiting laboratory with no floor or ceiling.”

The birth of a planet: Astronomers hail unprecented

‘Baby picture’ that could reveal the origin of the solar system’

You’d be forgiven for thinking this incredible picture is an artist’s impression of a planet forming around a star.

But it is in fact the most detailed real image of a planet’s birth ever taken, revealing a phenomenon astronomers could only theorise about a few decades ago – and one that could help explain how the solar system formed.

The planet-forming disc surrounds HL Tau, a sun-like star around 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

Pictured is the best image ever of planet formation revealing multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas

Pictured is the best image ever of planet formation revealing multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas

The image was taken as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (Alma) new high-resolution capabilities.

Alma, located in Chile, uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps.

An artist's impression of a planet-forming disc. Newly formed planets can be seen traveling around the central host star, sweeping their orbits clear of dust and gas. These same ring-link structures were observed recently by ALMA around the young star HL Tau

An artist’s impression of a planet-forming disc. Newly formed planets can be seen traveling around the central host star, sweeping their orbits clear of dust and gas. These same ring-link structures were observed recently by ALMA around the young star HL Tau

All stars are believed to form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity.

Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger-size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin protoplanetary disk where asteroids, comets, and planets form.

Once these planetary bodies have enough mass, they dramatically reshape the structure of their natal disk.


Alma's highest receivers sit on a plateau some 16,500ft (5,000 metres) above sea level.

Alma’s highest receivers sit on a plateau some 16,500ft (5,000 metres) above sea level.

The secret to Alma’s incredible resolution comes from two factors: height and distance.

The observatory’s highest receivers sit on a plateau some 16,500ft (5,000 metres) above sea level.

This is far above most of Earth’s atmosphere and water vapour, which obscures observations. Astronomers working in Alma’s facility at 9,500 feet (2,900 meters) must use supplemental oxygen for extended stays.

The system currently comprises about 50 functional antennas. When the array is finished, there will be 66 of these receivers that can be moved as far as 16km (9.9m) apart.

The antennae capture astronomical signals from the sky individually, then combine their results in a supercomputer to get precise information about where the signals come from.

Researchers say it is similar to how we use our two ears to locate sounds around us, but on a universe-size scale.

This high-resolution not only lets Alma observe young planetary systems, but also pin down hydrogen and life-building blocks in gas clouds. The array can also track the evolution of galaxies.

They fashion rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.

The new Alma image reveals these striking features in exquisite detail, providing the clearest picture to date of planet formation.

Its new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 9.3 miles (15km) apart.

HL Tau’s surroundings, as seen by Hubble. HL Tau is a sun-like star around 450 light-years from Earth 

HL Tau’s surroundings, as seen by Hubble. HL Tau is a sun-like star around 450 light-years from Earth

Final antenna is added to Alma array to help explore the cosmos

Images with this level of detail were previously only seen in computer models and artist concepts.

‘This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation,’ said Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

HL Tau is hidden in visible light behind a massive envelope of dust and gas. Since Alma observes at much longer wavelengths, it is able to peer through the intervening dust to study the processes right at the core of this cloud.

This is an artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disc in which planets are forming

This is an artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disc in which planets are forming

‘This is truly one of the most remarkable images ever seen at these wavelengths,’ said NRAO astronomer Crystal Brogan.

‘The level of detail is so exquisite that it’s even more impressive than many optical images.

‘The fact that we can see planets being born will help us understand not only how planets form around other stars but also the origin of our own solar system.’

Dark Matter May Have Been Discovered — Could Be ‘Historic’ Breakthrough


Dark matter seems to be almost a thing of science fiction rather than science. It cannot be seen, but it’s thought to make up around 85 percent of all matter in the entire universe. It’s a web that, stretching throughout space, is believed to give the actual cosmos its very structure… and yet, so far, its detection has eluded science. But a European space observatory has found a very unusual signal that astronomers believe may be the very first detection of dark matter.

The recent findings are still seen as very tentative, and will probably take several years to check… but if the current theory to the new findings remain true, the breakthrough would be seen as historic, as it could shape the way we currently understand the universe.

Researchers at Leicester University based their dark matter theory on a signal that they have identified using measurements taken by the XMM-Newton observatory, which belongs to the European Space Agency. They realized that, throughout 15 years of measurements, the intensity of x-rays recorded rose by around 10 percent whenever observing the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field that faces the sun.

Andy Read, an astronomer on the research team, says that any conventional thought fails to explain the phenomenon. He claims that, once galaxies, stars, and other bright sources have been filtered out, the intensity of x-rays taken in space should remain the same, whenever measurements are taken.

After being forced to reject all other theories in more traditional physics to explain the rise in x-ray intensity, researchers explored theories that were more outlandish… and one in particular seemed to answer the question the phenomenon posed: Why were the x-rays intensifying in certain areas?

The researchers believe that theoretical particles of dark matter, called axions, are streaming from the core of the sun and producing x-rays as they hit Earth’s magnetic field.

“If the model is right then it could well be axions that we are seeing and they could explain a component of the dark matter that everyone thinks exists,” Read said. “The variation in background x-rays is solid and really interesting. What could it be down to? Well, we tried all the traditional explanations, but none of those worked, so we went to these more exotic ideas.”

Little is known about dark matter, although NASA’s website does contain a definition of dark matter, although it seems more a description of what dark matter is not, rather than what it actually may be.

“We are much more certain what dark matter is not than we are what it is. First, it is dark, meaning that it is not in the form of stars and planets that we see. Observations show that there is far too little visible matter in the Universe to make up the 27% required by the observations. Second, it is not in the form of dark clouds of normal matter, matter made up of particles called baryons. We know this because we would be able to detect baryonic clouds by their absorption of radiation passing through them. Third, dark matter is not antimatter, because we do not see the unique gamma rays that are produced when antimatter annihilates with matter. Finally, we can rule out large galaxy-sized black holes on the basis of how many gravitational lenses we see. High concentrations of matter bend light passing near them from objects further away, but we do not see enough lensing events to suggest that such objects to make up the required 25% dark matter contribution.”

These new findings could bring the scientific community a lot closer to understanding what dark matter actually is, and its impact on the universe.

For more articles on the mysteries of space, read about how space actually makes noise— and listen to it yourself.

[Image via]

The Largest Black Holes in the Universe

Our Milky Way may harbor millions of black holes… the ultra dense remnants of dead stars. But now, in the universe far beyond our galaxy, there’s evidence of something far more ominous. A breed of black holes that has reached incomprehensible size and destructive power. Just how large, and violent, and strange can they get?

A new era in astronomy has revealed a universe long hidden to us. High-tech instruments sent into space have been tuned to sense high-energy forms of light — x-rays and gamma rays — that are invisible to our eyes and do not penetrate our atmosphere. On the ground, precision telescopes are equipped with technologies that allow them to cancel out the blurring effects of the atmosphere. They are peering into the far reaches of the universe, and into distant caldrons of light and energy. In some distant galaxies, astronomers are now finding evidence that space and time are being shattered by eruptions so vast they boggle the mind.

We are just beginning to understand the impact these outbursts have had on the universe: On the shapes of galaxies, the spread of elements that make up stars and planets, and ultimately the very existence of Earth. The discovery of what causes these eruptions has led to a new understanding of cosmic history. Back in 1995, the Hubble space telescope was enlisted to begin filling in the details of that history. Astronomers selected tiny regions in the sky, between the stars. For days at a time, they focused Hubble’s gaze on remote regions of the universe.

These hubble Deep Field images offered incredibly clear views of the cosmos in its infancy. What drew astronomers’ attention were the tiniest galaxies, covering only a few pixels on Hubble’s detector. Most of them do not have the grand spiral or elliptical shapes of large galaxies we see close to us today.

Instead, they are irregular, scrappy collections of stars. The Hubble Deep Field confirmed a long-standing idea that the universe must have evolved in a series of building blocks, with small galaxies gradually merging and assembling into larger ones.

Interstellar molecules are branching out

This image shows dust and molecules in the central region of our galaxy. The background image shows the dust emission in a combination of data obtained with the APEX telescope and the Planck space observatory at a wavelength around 860 micrometers. The organic molecule iso-propyl cyanide with a branched carbon backbone (i-C3H7CN, left) as well as its straight-chain isomer normal-propyl cyanide (n-C3H7CN, right) were both detected with the Atacama large millimeter/submillimeter array in the star-forming region Sgr B2, about 300 light years away from the Galactic center Sgr A*. Image courtesy MPIfR/A. Weiss (background image), University of Cologne/M. Koerber (molecular models), MPIfR/A. Belloche (montage).

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Bonn, Germany), Cornell University (USA), and the University of Cologne (Germany) have for the first time detected a carbon-bearing molecule with a “branched” structure in interstellar space.

The molecule, iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN), was discovered in a giant gas cloud called Sagittarius B2, a region of ongoing star formation close to the center of our galaxy that is a hot-spot for molecule-hunting astronomers. The branched structure of the carbon atoms within the iso-propyl cyanide molecule is unlike the straight-chain carbon backbone of other molecules that have been detected so far, including its sister molecule normal-propyl cyanide.

The discovery of iso-propyl cyanide opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules found in regions of star formation, and bodes well for the presence of amino acids, for which this branched structure is a key characteristic. The results are published in this week’s issue of Science.

While various types of molecules have been detected in space, the kind of hydrogen-rich, carbon-bearing (organic) molecules that are most closely related to the ones necessary for life on Earth appear to be most plentiful in the gas clouds from which new stars are being formed.

“Understanding the production of organic material at the early stages of star formation is critical to piecing together the gradual progression from simple molecules to potentially life-bearing chemistry,” says Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, the lead author of the paper.

The search for molecules in interstellar space began in the 1960’s, and around 180 different molecular species have been discovered so far. Each type of molecule emits light at particular wavelengths, in its own characteristic pattern, or spectrum, acting like a fingerprint that allows it to be detected in space using radio telescopes.

Until now, the organic molecules discovered in star-forming regions have shared one major structural characteristic: they each consist of a “backbone” of carbon atoms that are arranged in a single and more or less straight chain. The new molecule discovered by the team, iso-propyl cyanide, is unique in that its underlying carbon structure branches off in a separate strand.

“This is the first ever interstellar detection of a molecule with a branched carbon backbone,” says Holger Muller, a spectroscopist at the University of Cologne and co-author on the paper, who measured the spectral fingerprint of the molecule in the laboratory, allowing it to be detected in space.

But it is not just the structure of the molecule that surprised the team – it is also plentiful, at almost half the abundance of its straight-chain sister molecule, normal-propyl cyanide (n-C3H7CN), which the team had already detected using the single-dish radio telescope of the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) a few years ago.

“The enormous abundance of iso-propyl cyanide suggests that branched molecules may in fact be the rule, rather than the exception, in the interstellar medium,” says Robin Garrod, an astrochemist at Cornell University and a co-author of the paper.

The team used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in Chile, to probe the molecular content of the star-forming region Sagittarius B2 (Sgr B2). This region is located close to the Galactic Center, at a distance of about 27,000 light years from the Sun, and is uniquely rich in emission from complex interstellar organic molecules.

“Thanks to the new capabilities offered by ALMA, we were able to perform a full spectral survey toward Sgr B2 at wavelengths between 2.7 and 3.6 mm, with sensitivity and spatial resolution ten times greater than our previous survey,” explains Belloche. “But this took only a tenth of the time.” The team used this spectral survey to search systematically for the fingerprints of new interstellar molecules.

“By employing predictions from the Cologne Database for Molecular Spectroscopy, we could identify emission features from both varieties of propyl cyanide,” says Muller. As many as 50 individual features for i-propyl cyanide and even 120 for n-propyl cyanide were unambiguously identified in the ALMA spectrum of Sgr B2. The two molecules, each consisting of 12 atoms, are also the joint-largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.

The team constructed computational models that simulate the chemistry of formation of the molecules detected in Sgr B2. In common with many other complex organics, both forms of propyl cyanide were found to be efficiently formed on the surfaces of interstellar dust grains.

“But,” says Garrod, “the models indicate that for molecules large enough to produce branched side-chain structure, these may be the prevalent forms. The detection of the next member of the alkyl cyanide series, n-butyl cyanide (n-C4H9CN), and its three branched isomers would allow us to test this idea”.

“Amino acids identified in meteorites have a composition that suggests they originate in the interstellar medium,” adds Belloche. “Although no interstellar amino acids have yet been found, interstellar chemistry may be responsible for the production of a wide range of important complex molecules that eventually find their way to planetary surfaces.”

“The detection of iso-propyl cyanide tells us that amino acids could indeed be present in the interstellar medium because the side-chain structure is a key characteristic of these molecules”, says Karl Menten, director at MPIfR and head of its Millimeter and Submillimeter Astronomy research department. “Amino acids have already been identified in meteorites and we hope to detect them in the interstellar medium in the future”, he concludes.

Detection of a branched alkyl molecule in the interstellar medium: iso-propyl cyanide, by Arnaud Belloche, Robin T. Garrod, Holger S. P. Muller, Karl M. Menten, 2014 Science

8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn’t Get Technology

As we have previously mentioned, hilarious things happen when writers try to write characters who are smarter than themselves. For instance, I don’t doubt that some research goes into writing the medical jargon on House, but we all know that at some point they fake it. And that’s fine, because what percentage of the audience is composed of not only doctors, but genius doctors? It’s probably not even half.

But that’s why it’s so baffling when Hollywood fucks up every scene involving computers or video games. They not only get everything wrong, but give us the most insulting bullshit imaginable on details it would have taken two minutes to Google. So we wind up with scenes like this …

(Note: Credit goes to the tech savvy gang at the NeoGAF forums for hunting down many of these clips, and countless others).

#8. NCIS — Two People Sharing a Keyboard

Let’s assume you know absolutely nothing about computers. Let’s say you’ve never even touched one, but only know them based on what others have relayed to you second-hand. You would still find this scene impossibly stupid.

So it’s the navy cop show NCIS, and they’re under a hacker attack!

The hot goth chick starts hammering away at her keyboard as dozens of windows erupt on her screen, looking like she’s trying to close all of the porn popups before her mom walks in and catches her.

“Be out in a minute, mom! I’m just … combing my hair!”

Another agent enters the lab, and something so stupid happens that I can’t even understand how the actors didn’t put a stop to it in mid-shoot: Both people start feverishly typing on the same keyboard.

Man, that hacker was so good, he beat BOTH of us!

One character takes all of the letters from G to the left. And the other from H to the right. I’m guessing that they just worked so well together that he just knew when she needed him to hit the A; and she just felt it when he needed to hit Enter? Who got the space bar? As fast as they were hammering that keyboard, it would have had the same exact effect if one of them had just started slamming their entire palm across it and screaming like a frightened chimp.

Man, we are off to a fucking horrible start here — what can we expect from an industry that doesn’t understand how keyboards work despite using them on a daily basis to type the scripts?

#7. Hackers — Hacking is Kind of Like a Video Game

The 1995, Hackers starred a young Angelina Jolie in a period of her career when it was clearly between this movie and porn. Ironically, the porn parody version of Hackers probably handled the technical details of hacking with the exact same level of accuracy:

We’re going to skip right past the fact that they depict all hackers as ultra-cool, vinyl wearing leaders of a cutting edge subculture because that’s a stylistic choice on the part of the director. Yes, hackers wear sunglasses while they’re hacking. Fine. It’s a movie.

So when we get to the hacking scenes, we’re treated to a flyover shot of a Tron city, with information appearing in the form of CGI buildings. It’s kind of a neat, artsy way to visualize the hacking that doesn’t just force us to look at Linux command lines for the duration of a montage.

But then you realize that this isn’t just the filmmaker’s artistic representation of the idea of hacking … it’s actually on the person’s monitor, and this is in fact the act of hacking. This is the actual user interface of the system they’re trying to get into.

Wait, what the fuck are you typing?

We’re expected to believe that searching for a file in this system involves flying a camera through a virtual city until we find our target: a room filled with mathematical equations chaotically swarming over a background of fire.

It’s why most hackers are prone to seizures.

I’m not sure which is more hilarious: imagining the IT staff of this organization who labors around the clock to dress up their server’s folders in a 1980s music video, or thinking about the everyday staff of that organization who has to go careening through this system every time they need to bring up that month’s payroll spreadsheet.

Ah, who am I kidding? I will pay good money to anyone in the comments who can teach me how to set up my computer so that the act of navigating my C drive looks exactly like that.

#6. Masterminds — Hacking Actually is a Video Game

But at least that movie only made their hacking “like” a video game. 1997’s Masterminds boasted a scene in which the hacking actually was a video game, complete with a first person shooter setup and… a joystick.

That’s right.

So this “hack” is executed by the kid navigating his character around a cartoon castle, complete with animated gates, hallways, torches and scary video game skeletons:

It really is an impenetrable fortress of a system — after the program recognized the hacker as “an illegal intruder,” it says it’s only going to allow him two minutes to find the “valid entrance.”

Above: Hacking.

Instead of, you know, killing his connection or something.

To be fair, the system does try to track the hacker’s location. Unfortunately, the system also informs the hacker of this, and notifies him of their progress in doing it.

Then it throws all the tracing and blocking out the window when the hacker finds the “valid entrance” inside the two minute time limit. Really, every firewall should respect the idea of fair competition and bow to anyone who bests it.

… but turning you in would be dishonoring your victory. Well played.

#5. NCIS — 16-Core with a Ten Meg Pipe

As we’re about to find out, absolutely no one is worse with this subject than network cop shows. Let us present this NCIS clip that is medically proven to make you stupider:

So a guy enters a girl’s living room, looks at her monitor and asks, “Is that a 12-core?”

Now, we’re not going to get technical with this because none of us here at Cracked are qualified enough to give a shit, but we’re not going to let it slide that he just made an educated guess about the size of her processor by glancing at her fucking desktop wallpaper.

“Is that a 12-core? Wait, why did you photoshop that title onto World of Warcaft‘s login screen?”

But the real “go fuck yourself” message to every gamer watching is when they start talking about her holding “the high score in virtually every massively multiplayer online role-playing game.”

The high score. You know, because these newfangled “online role-playing games” the kids are talking about are basically Pac-Man, right? And it wasn’t enough to say she had the high score in oneMMORPG, oh no. She holds the high score in virtually all of them. In a world where becoming even an average player in one game takes the same amount of time as a full-time job.

The thing is, I can almost understand the ridiculous portrayal of hacking earlier — most people haven’t hacked a computer. But there aren’t many places you can go in America where someone in the roomhasn’t played an MMORPG. If you’re confused, fucking ask somebody, Mr. TV Writer. Because unless you’re performing your cop show live in the cafeteria of a nursing home, lots of your viewers are going to know you pulled a whole scene straight out of your ass.

#4. CSI — GUI Interface Using Visual Bullshit

Staying in the acronym-cop-show family, CSI writes a dialogue exchange using what sounds like a Random Computer Term Generator:

A couple of cops stare at an online chat, when one of them realizes that “this is in real time.” A third cop in the background announces, “I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic. See if I can track an IP address.”

Odds are that some of you reading this don’t know what a GUI is, and that’s fine. Do an experiment for me — Google it. See how long it takes to find out.

Answer: one tenth of one second. That’s how much work the writer of this script didn’t bother to do.

And now you know more than they do, which is that a GUI is the part of the program you see and interact with, the buttons and shit you click with your mouse. It’s a thing that basically every piece of software you use already has. You don’t need to run out and build one every time some task needs done on your PC. This line of dialogue is exactly like saying, “The suspect is getting away! I’ll go build an internal combustion engine and mount it on a four-wheeled vehicle to see if I can converge on his location.”

Oh, and she’s going to build her GUI so she can track the guy’s IP address. And really, how else could you ever do that?

Gotcha covered, chief.

#3. Numb3rs — IRC is Drug Dealing Boats in the Ocean

So at this point, it’s almost a challenge to see how simple a piece of computer software has to be before they won’t treat it like an arcane subject that only engineers understand. I fully expect to one day see a TV character strap on a full radiation suit and climb into a duct to “hashtag the Twitter.”

Actually, it’s almost that bad. This clip is from Numb3rs, a cop show that features a freaking math genius. Here they are talking about the rock-simple chat program, IRC:

In the world of Numb3rs, this simple text chat program used by millions is actually a secret place where “hackers talk when they don’t want to be overheard.” They follow this with a meaningless, ridiculous analogy comparing the program to drug dealing ships on the ocean, with a helpful CGI animation in case that’s too complicated for us.

Above: IRC.

She then sets up an alarm to go off when anyone logs in with the names “The_Fist” and “Oozemeister.” OK, well, that will work as long as nobody thinks to change their username. Oh, and there are a few thousand IRC servers and hundreds of thousands of channels and millions of users, so I’m thinking somebody logs in as “The_Fist” once every 10 minutes or so, which would mean their alarm would be going off every few minutes. Just like the sirens of two cop boats in the ocean.

But there’s another problem. The cops worry that once the two guys meet and start discussing whatever it is they’re supposed to discuss — dealing drugs from their ships or whatever — nobody will be able to understand them because they’ll be speaking in leet. But wait! The retarded boat girl tells us that luckily she speaks leet. Ah, cool. g0 phuX0r uR$3Lph.

#2. CSISecond Life Chase Scene

Sigh. It’s CSI again.

So the cops on CSI are tracking down a character in the online game Second Life that they believed was no longer active in the game.

They find her in-game avatar. Clueless Dipshit #1 tells Clueless Dipshit #2, “I’ll distract her. You ping her IP.” Because if she isn’t distracted, you wouldn’t be able to do that? Wait, why would you need to ping her IP address in the first place? To see if she’s online? Because that’s actually what you’re doing there: seeing if there’s a response from- oh, fuck it.

So out of the blue, some fox looking avatar comes up to them in the game and says, “Hey you, stop pretending you’re Venus!” The character of Venus disappears, and the cop starts asking the fox questions — but the fox doesn’t want to answer them.

So does the guy who doesn’t want to be questioned just, you know, disconnect from the game? Does he shut down his computer? Does he put the cop on ignore or disable voice chat? Nope. He runs away. In the game.

Because if someone tries to talk to you in an online game, running is your only option.

The cop grabs a portable remote control keyboard thing, stands in front of a TV the size of your living room wall and gives chase. The resulting scene is among the top five stupidest things I’ve ever seen on television.

#1. Life — Gamers are Losers, Also We Don’t Know How Games Work

And all of that leads us to the most infamous of these clips, and the one that answers the key question here: Why doesn’t Hollywood care about getting these simple details right?

The answer, as this clip demonstrates, is that they think if you’re the type of person who cares, you’re a worthless loser. This is from the blandly-titled cop show Life on NBC (since canceled), which had this plot point about a secret file hidden on a suspect’s XBox:

So the cop leading this investigation first has to ask another cop what a video game console is. “It’s like a computer, isn’t it?”

They figure out that the only way to access that hidden file is to play Prince of Persia: The Two Thronesto level 10, at which point the secret files will be opened and displayed onscreen. Because evidently, the game console comes installed with Windows, Microsoft Office and the hacker has the ability to rewrite the actual game code to trigger that file.

“He must have had at least three people on that keyboard!”

But anyway, to get to it they have to actually play the game. But where will they find someone with that obscure, geek ability known as “playing video games”? I mean, this is back when games were purely the hobby of a select group of underground hackers living in dark basements (that is, 2007). Fortunately, they have a video game expert in-house. They ask another cop, “Do you think you can get to Level 10?” His response?

“Detective, I’m 30-years old, I live with my mother and I have a Captain Kirk costume in my closet.”

That is what Hollywood writers think of you. That is why they don’t give a shit about taking an extra minute to make sure their tech jargon isn’t a bunch of random bullshit they vaguely remember fromThe Wizard.

Of course we’re skipping right over the “Level 10″ bullshit (“All games have numbered levels like Mario, right?”) which again could have been resolved with a brief glance at Google. Anyway, the gamer cop tries to hack the game by winning at it, and he fails because he must have had sex with a girl at some point. But as he’s failing, the main cop notices a female police officer doing that thing gamers always do when watching other people play games: mimic the controller movements with your thumbs while holding your hands in mid-air …

You know how you do.

Knowing that this means this woman is clearly a member of the highly exclusive club of Video Game Players, the cop walks over and, without a word, pulls her over to the XBox. She takes the controls, and beats the game even though she’s a girl.

Somehow that ending is even more insulting than the “Captain Kirk uniform” bullshit. They actually think they’re reaching out to you with that message of, “See, even video game players can accomplish things like regular human beings!” To them, normal people lowering themselves to interact with gamers is like that movie where Dennis Rodman teaches a team of dwarfs to play basketball.

Only not as well acted.


NVIDIA’s new GPU proves moon landing truthers wrong

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there still exist some people on planet Earth who believe it’s the only celestial body humanity has ever walked upon. You’ve heard it before — the moon landing was a hoax, a mere TV drama produced by Stanley Kubrick presented as fact to dupe the Soviet Union into giving up the space race. This deliciously ludicrous conspiracy theory has been debunked countless times, but now its advocates have one more refutation to deny: NVIDIA’s Voxel Global Illumination tech demo. It’s a GPU-powered recreation of the Apollo 11 landing site that uses dynamic lighting technology to address common claims of moon-deniers, and it’s pretty neat.


NVIDIA’s Apollo 11 lighting demo

Mark Daly, NVIDIA’s senior director of content development told Engadget its Apollo 11 demo was created as an answer to Sponza — a popular global illumination model frequently used in by the academic crowd. It’s a good model, he says, but it’s not very interesting to watch. “Jen-Hsun [Huang], our CEO, looked at it and said ‘Isn’t there something better?’ Anyway, one of our research engineers happened to put this slide up of Buzz Aldrin on the moon in a meeting and said ‘this speaks global illumination to me because of all the hoaxers and deniers of the moon landing.” Conspiracy theorists say that Aldrin simply couldn’t have been lit up the way he is in the picture. NVIDIA took it as a challenge.

Buzz Aldrin (right) next to his computer-generated doppelganger (left)

NVIDIA chose to create a 3D rendition of a photograph showing Buzz Aldrin descending a ladder to the moon’s surface. Folks that insist the landing was a hoax claim that without the light-diffusing effect of an atmosphere, the shadow of the lander should cast Aldrin in almost complete darkness. “You can explain it,” Daly says, “and say light bounces around even on the moon… or you can show it. We decided to take the approach to show it, but it turns out that it’s not that easy — there isn’t a lot of light on [Aldrin].” Daly’s challenge was not in placing lights around a computer simulated scene of the Apollo 11 landing, but in using NVIDA’s Voxel Global Illumination to make a single light source, the simulated sun, correctly reflect off of every material in the scene. To do this, he had to research the materials of NASA’s lander, the brightness of our local star and even the reflectivity of the moon’s surface.

“It turns out there is a lot of information about the astronomical bodies floating out there in space,” he explains. “Starting with the sun. The sun itself is 128,500 lux — that’s lumens per square meter – but it turns out the moon is a crappy reflector of light.” Daly discovered that the moon is only 12-percent reflective, and absorbs most of the sunlight hitting it. On the other hand, 12-percent of 128,500 lux is quite a lot. “It’s the equivalent to ten 100-watt lightbulbs per square meter of light bouncing off the moon.” More than enough make Aldrin visible under the lander’s shadow.

While this exercise showed that the moon was reflective enough to highlight Aldrin, something was still wrong. Daly noticed that the astronaut’s side wasn’t lit the same in NVIDIA’s simulation as it was in NASA’s photograph, but he wasn’t sure why. “A couple of people really into the moon landing told me, ‘by the way, you should take into account Neil Armstrong and the light coming off of him.’ At first I was like, yeah, whatever — the sun is doing all the work — something the size of a guy in a space suit isn’t going to contribute much light.” He quickly learned his assumption was wrong: the material on the outside of the astronaut’s suits is 85-percent reflective. “Sure enough, we put him in there, adjusted the reflectivity of his suit, put him in the position where the camera would be… and it contributed another 10% or so of light to the side of Buzz Aldrin.”

Daly found that his own doubt mirrored the claims of some landing-deniers. Some claim that because Aldrin is in shadow, there would need to be some sort of auxiliary lighting behind the camera; supposed proof that the image was taken in a studio. “As it turns out, yes! They’re right — there was a light there, it was the sun reflecting off of Neil Armstrong’s suit. I really didn’t believe it would contribute that much.”

It’s the dynamic nature of Voxel Global Illumination that allows NVIDIA to poke fun at these hoax claims: the entire scene renders light reflection on the fly, based solely on the illumination provided by the simulated sun. “We learned a heck of a lot about how all these materials reflect light and put them into the material descriptions, the BRDF (bidirectional reflectance distribution function),” Daly said, explaining how developers create a VXGI lighting environment. “The VXGI we’ve integrated into Unreal Engine 4 reads all those materials you’ve given it and, based on the reflectivity of those materials, constructs a lighting module.” It’s a lot of work to set up, but it makes adjusting the light easy after the fact. NVIDIA is able to drag the sun to new positions, add new elements to the scene or even remove the moon’s natural reflectivity to create the false conditions moon-truthers think represent the lunar surface.

This versatility allowed NVIDIA to address one more hoax-claim before our demo ended: the stars. If NASA really landed on the moon, why can’t we see the stars in any of the Apollo 11 photographs? Well, that’s more of a matter of film exposure than lighting trickery. Because the unfiltered sun is so ridiculously bright (128,500 lux, remember?), the astronauts’ cameras were set to use a small aperture, letting in only a fraction of the available light in order to keep the picture from blowing out. NVIDIA was able to simulate this too, and widened the virtual camera’s aperture to reveal the demo’s simulated stars. It worked, but at the expense of the camera’s true subject matter: Aldrin’s descent to the lunar surface became a blown out, over-exposed mess.

Science has been able to debunk these moon hoax theories for decades, but it’s nice to see a simulation that can help illustrate those explanations in real time. Better still, Daly says NVIDIA is currently building a consumer UI for the demo, and will release it to the public sometime in the next several weeks. It’s also a project that has become important to him. “Because I got to see a lot of this live when I was a kid, it has a special meaning to me. I know in Apollo 1 three men died, and other men risked their lives to get into these crazy contraptions to actually do this. It’s kind of offensive to me when people say this didn’t happen,” he explains. “I want to show that it really happened and these people risked their lives. They actually did go to the moon.”