Seismologist Explains Mexico's Back-To-Back Earthquakes ( 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The second major earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks has caused catastrophic damage in the country's capital. The magnitude 7.1 temblor started at around 1:15PM -- cracking highways, collapsing buildings, and, so far, killing more than 200 people. Less than two weeks ago on September 7th (local time), a magnitude 8.1 quake struck roughly 400 miles southeast from today's. It's not common to hear of such strong earthquakes happening back-to-back so close to one another, says John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Usually you don't have large ones in the same general region right away," Bellini says. "But in highly [seismically] active regions of the world, it can happen."

Mexico qualifies as highly active. The country sits at the boundary of three pieces of the Earth's crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle -- called tectonic plates. Today's quake originated on a fault within the Cocos plate, which is on Mexico's western edge. "Whether or not faults rupture depends on the kind of stress that builds up," Bellini says. The Cocos plate scoots rapidly under the continental crust of the North American plate, which "builds up the stress and strain at a faster rate," Bellini says. "So you're liable to have more frequent earthquakes because of that." Mexico City is especially prone to severe damage because of the ground it sits on -- an ancient lakebed that quivers like jello, Bellini says. When earthquake waves pass through it, it jiggles, magnifying the vibrations. "So the reason that Mexico City seems susceptible to more damage is because of this amplification effect of the lake bed," Bellini says.


Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 ( 374

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.

What's Causing The Hurricanes? ( 440

An anonymous reader quotes AFP: Hurricane Irma, now taking aim at Florida, has stunned experts with its sheer size and strength, churning across the ocean with sustained Category 5 winds of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded. Meanwhile Jose, a Category 4 on the Saffir Simpson scale of 1 to 5, is fast on the heels of Irma, pummeling the Caribbean for the second time in the span of a few days. Many have wondered what is contributing to the power and frequency of these extreme storms. "Atlantic hurricane seasons over the years have been shaped by many complex factors," said Jim Kossin, a NOAA hurricane scientist at the University of Wisconsin. "Those include large scale ocean currents, air pollution -- which tends to cool the ocean down -- and climate change"...

Some think a surge in industrial pollution after World War II may have produced more pollutant particles that blocked the Sun's energy and exerted a cooling effect on the oceans. "The pollution reduced a lot of hurricane activity," said Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences at Princeton University's Environmental Institute. Pollution began to wane in the 1980s due to regulations such as the Clean Air Act, allowing more of the Sun's rays to penetrate the ocean and provide warming fuel for storms. Vecchi said the "big debate" among scientists is over which plays a larger role -- variations in ocean currents or pollution cuts. There is evidence for both, but there isn't enough data to answer a key question...

The burning of fossil fuels, which spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warm the Earth, can also be linked to a rise in extreme storms in recent years. Warmer ocean temperatures yield more moisture, more rainfall, and greater intensity storms. "It is not a coincidence that we're seeing more devastating hurricanes," climatologist Michael Mann of Penn State University told AFP in an email. "Over the past few years, as global sea surface temperatures have been the warmest on record, we've seen the strongest hurricanes -- as measured by peak sustained winds -- globally, in both Southern and Northern Hemisphere, in both Pacific and now, with Irma, the open Atlantic," he added. "The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We're seeing them play out in real time, and the past two weeks have been a sadly vivid example."


Could 'Re-Engineering' Earth Help Ease the Hurricane Threat? ( 262

As hurricanes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a $10-billion-a-year project proposes injecting sulfate into the atmosphere to cool down the Earth and reduce the number of hurricanes by 50% for a staggering 50 years. From a report: In an attempt to combat climate change, a multinational team of scientists are working on a plan to literally re-engineer the Earth in order to cool it down and reduce the impact of storm systems. For example, a team led by John Moore, who is the head of China's geoengineering research program, is studying how shading sulfate aerosols that are dispersed into the stratosphere could help cool the planet and reduce the number of hurricane occurrences. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, outlining how the plan works, Moore asserts, "We're basically mimicking a volcano and saying we're going to put 5 billion tons of sulfates a year into the atmosphere 20 kilometers high, and we'll do that for 50 years." In their current research model, in which the scientists tested a senario where the sulfate injection is doubled over time, the team found that incidences of Katrina-level hurricanes could be maintained (they would be kept at the same rate that we currently see) and that storm surges, which is the rise in seawater level that is caused solely by a storm, could be mitigated by half. The researchers noted that the volcanic eruption in 1912 of Katmai in Alaska "loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol [sulfates], and [was] followed by the least active hurricane season on record." Moore explains that warmer waters can spark and fuel hurricanes, and cooling them with shading sulfates reduces the size and intensity of these hurricanes.

Are We Being Watched? Tens of Other Worlds Could Spot the Earth ( 94

A group of scientists from Queen's University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods. From a report: They find that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Thanks to facilities and missions such as SuperWASP and Kepler, we have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun, worlds known as 'exoplanets.' The vast majority of these are found when the planets cross in front of their host stars in what are known as 'transits,' which allow astronomers to see light from the host star dim slightly at regular intervals every time the planet passes between us and the distant star. In the new study, the authors reverse this concept and ask, "How would an alien observer see the Solar System?" They identified parts of the distant sky from where various planets in our Solar System could be seen to pass in front of the Sun - so-called 'transit zones' -- concluding that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are actually much more likely to be spotted than the more distant 'Jovian' planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), despite their much larger size. To look for worlds where civilisations would have the best chance of spotting our Solar System, the astronomers looked for parts of the sky from which more than one planet could be seen crossing the face of the Sun. They found that three planets at most could be observed from anywhere outside of the Solar System, and that not all combinations of three planets are possible.

A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening To Topple Taxonomy ( 79

From a report: To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus's two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library's Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years. But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians -- and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they're referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others' original research in order to justify their so-called "discoveries." "It's unethical name creation based on other people's work," says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. "It's that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem." The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward -- and with them, the temptation to misbehave. "If you name a new species, there's some notoriety to it," Thomson says. "You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species." The problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. "Now there's a hesitation to present our data publically, and that's how scientists communicate," Thomson says. "The problem that causes is that you don't know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other's toes."

SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing ( 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off today (Sept. 7) at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage maneuvered its way back to Earth, eventually pulling off a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing. Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.

A Powerful Solar Storm Is Bringing Hazards and Rare Auroras Our Way ( 72

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: The Space Weather Prediction Center has upgraded a geomagnetic storm watch for September 6 and 7 to a level only occasionally seen, but scientists say it's nothing to be too alarmed about. They do recommend looking for an unusual display of the aurora -- the northern lights caused by a disturbance of the magnetosphere -- in areas of the U.S. not used to seeing them: "really in the upper tier of the United States," says Robert Rutledge, lead of operations at the center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm could pose an "elevated radiation risk to passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at far north or south latitudes," a NOAA warning says, and intermittently impact high frequency RF communications, which may require some transpolar flight routes to divert to lower geomagnetic latitudes (a shift that would cost the airlines more). There's a slim chance of isolated interfere with high-precision GPS readings, but those issues usually only tend to arise with stronger storms.

The so-called G3 level storm is the result of what's called a coronal mass ejection, where magnetic interactions on the sun launch part of its outer atmosphere of superheated plasma into space. When that burst of radiation gets near earth -- barreling toward us at a million miles per hour, it takes about two days to make the journey -- its magnetic field interacts with Earth's, Rutledge says. Northern U.S. and Canadian residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora will get their best shot on Wednesday night and early Thursday, and the Space Weather Prediction Center posts 30-minute forecasts of the colorful sky phenomenon's intensity.


Hurricane Irma Reaches 185 MPH, Trailing Only Allen As Strongest Atlantic Storm On Record ( 318

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We are quickly running out of adjectives to describe the destructive potential of Hurricane Irma. As of 2pm ET on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm's sustained winds to 185mph. This is near-record speed for a storm in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Such high, sustained winds tie Irma for the second-strongest storm on record in the Atlantic, along with Hurricane Wilma (2005), Hurricane Gilbert (1998), and the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane. Only Hurricane Allen, which reached 190 mph in 1980 before striking a relatively unpopulated area of Texas, reached a higher wind speed. Globally, the all-time record for hurricanes is held by Patricia, which reached a staggering 215 mph in the Pacific Ocean in 2015. Although sustained winds capture the most public attention, meteorologists generally measure the intensity of a storm based upon central pressures, which are considerably lower than sea-level pressure on Earth, 1,013 millibars. Typhoon Tip, in 1979, holds this record at 870 millibars. For now, at least, Irma has a relatively high central pressure of 927 millibars. Why the storm has such an odd wind-speed-pressure relationship isn't entirely clear. According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma is expected to bring catastrophic winds and potential storm surges to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the UK territory of Turks and Caicos this week. The Florida Keys could get hit by late Saturday night or Sunday.

Near Earth Asteroid 'Florence' Makes a Close Pass ( 105

kbahey writes: A big, bright, near-Earth asteroid, known as 3122 Florence, made a safe fly by Friday night. Florence is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Object. At its closest, it was about 7 million km (4.4 million miles) away from earth. It is still visible in amateur telescopes over the next few days where it would be seen to move over several minutes against the background stars. It can be located using this map. According to NASA officials, the asteroid hasn't been this close to Earth since 1890, and it won't be this close again until 2500. "Asteroid 3122 Florence was discovered in 1981 by astronomer Schelte 'Bobby' Bus at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia," reports "The asteroid is named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who pioneered modern nursing, NASA officials said in a separate statement."

Germany Unveils World's Most Powerful X-Ray Laser ( 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The world's most powerful X-ray laser has begun operating at a facility where scientists will attempt to recreate the conditions deep inside the sun and produce film-like sequences of viruses and cells. The machine, called the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL), acts as a high-speed camera that can capture images of individual atoms in a few millionths of a billionth of a second. Unlike a conventional camera, though, everything imaged by the X-ray laser is obliterated -- its beam is 100 times more intense than if all the sunlight hitting the Earth's surface were focused onto a single thumbnail. The facility near Hamburg, housed in a series of tunnels up to 38 meters underground, will allow scientists to explore the architecture of viruses and cells, create jittery films of chemical reactions as they unfold and replicate conditions deep within stars and planets.

XFEL is the world's third major X-ray laser facility -- projects in Japan and the U.S. have already spawned major advances in structural biology and materials science. The European beam is more powerful, but most significantly has a far higher pulse rate than either of its predecessors. "They can send 100 pulses out per second, we can send 27,000," said Robert Feidenhan'l, chairman of the European XFEL management board. This matters because to study chemical reactions or biological processes, the X-ray strobe is used to capture flickering snapshots of the same system at different time-points that can be stitched together into a film sequence.


Facebook Has Mapped the Entire Human Population of Earth ( 160

Facebook doesn't only know what its 2 billion users "Like." It now knows where 7.5 billion humans live, everywhere on earth, to within 15 feet. From a report: The company has created a data map of the planet's entire human population by combining government census numbers with information it's obtained from space satellites, according to Janna Lewis, Facebook's head of strategic innovation partnerships and sourcing. The mapping technology, which Facebook says it developed itself, can pinpoint any man-made structures in any country on earth to a resolution of five meters. Facebook is using the data to understand the precise distribution of humans around the planet.

NASA's Plan To Stop A Supervolcano from Destroying The Earth's Climate ( 153

Long-time walterbyrd shared a new article about NASA's contingency plan for "vast quantities of searing magma and clouds of fumes" erupting from a Wyoming supervolcano and slowly "burying much of the United States under a thick coat of ash and lava...enough to change the climate of the world for several centuries." NASA believes the Yellowstone supervolcano is a greater threat to life on Earth than any asteroid. So it's come up with a plan to defuse its explosive potential... NASA scientists propose, a 10km [6.2 miles] deep hole into the hydrothermal water below and to the sides of the magma chamber. These fluids, which form Yellowstone's famous heat pools and geysers, already drain some 60-70 per cent of the heat from the magma chamber below. NASA proposes that, in an emergency, this enormous body of heated water can be injected with cooler water, extracting yet more heat. This could prevent the super volcano's magma from reaching the temperature at which it would erupt.
A member of NASA's Advisory Council on Planetary Defense told the BBC he'd concluded "the super volcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat."

Elon Musk Posts First Photo of SpaceX's New Spacesuit ( 142

Early Wednesday morning, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a photo of the spacesuit that will be used by astronauts flying aboard the company's Dragon spacecraft, perhaps as early as next year. Ars Technica reports: In his Instagram post, Musk added that this suit was not a mock-up but rather a fully functional unit. "Already tested to double vacuum pressure," he wrote. "Was incredibly hard to balance aesthetics and function. Easy to do either separately." (Double vacuum pressure simply means the suit was probably inflated to twice the pressure of sea level and then put into a vacuum chamber.) Musk gave no other technical information about the suit. Most strikingly, it is white, in contrast to the very blue spacesuits unveiled by Boeing in January. These are not, strictly speaking, "space suits." Rather, they are more properly flight suits designed to be worn during the ride to space and again on the ride back down to Earth. They have a limited time in which they can operate in a full vacuum and are not intended for spacewalks.

NASA's Cassini Probe Begins Its 'Grand Finale' Through Saturn's Atmosphere ( 44

An anonymous reader quotes After orbiting Saturn for more than 13 years, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is getting ready to say goodbye. On Monday (August 14), Cassini made the first of five passes through Saturn's upper atmosphere, kicking off the last phase of the mission's "Grand Finale." After completing those five dives, Cassini will come back around again one last time, plunging into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. This will be a suicide maneuver: Cassini will burn up in the ringed planet's thick air, turning into a meteor in the Saturn sky...

Cassini's radar will be able to look into the atmosphere and see features as small as 16 miles (25 km) wide, about 100 times smaller than what it could see from its usual orbital positions. The Grand Finale will include one final swing by Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on Sept. 11. Titan's gravity will slow Cassini's orbit around Saturn and bend its path to send the spacecraft toward its September 15 encounter with the planet... Cassini will keep sending back data on September 15 until it gets to an altitude where atmospheric density is about twice what it encountered during its final five passes, NASA officials said. At that point, mission controllers will lose contact with the probe because its thrusters won't be able to keep Cassini's antenna pointed toward Earth; there will simply be too much air to push against.

The second dip happens this weekend, and NASA has created a special web page tracking Cassini's current location for its final 28 days.

Atlas 5 Rocket Launches $400 Million NASA Satellite Into Space ( 51

A new communications hub has been successfully deployed in space today thanks to the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. "TDRS is a critical national asset have because of its importance to the space station and all of our science missions, primarily the Hubble Space Telescope and Earth science missions that use TDRS," said Tim Dunn, NASA's TDRS-M launch director. Spaceflight Now reports: With its main engine running at full throttle, the Atlas 5 booster lifted off at 8:29 a.m. EDT (1229 GMT) from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The 191-foot-tall rocket, generating 860,000 pounds of thrust, aimed eastward and accelerated out of the atmosphere with NASA's TDRS-M spacecraft. Within just five minutes, the rocket had shed 92 percent of its liftoff weight and transitioned to the high-energy Centaur upper stage. An elliptical parking orbit was achieved within 18 minutes of takeoff, beginning a 90-minute quiescent coast higher through space to reach the optimum conditions for the second burn by Centaur. That minute-long boost over the Indian Ocean propelled the 7,610-pound payload into a customized high-perigee geosynchronous transfer orbit. The spacecraft was deployed by the launcher at T+plus 1 hour, 53 minutes to cheers and handshakes all around.

The $408 million TDRS-M was built and launched with the sole purpose to extend the useful life of NASA's constant communications infrastructure, supporting the astronauts around-the-clock aboard the International Space Station, supplying contact with the Hubble Space Telescope and transmitting the data from almost 40 science spacecraft studying Earth's environment and space.


Self-sufficient Eclipse Chasers Hit the Road To 'Totality' ( 42

An anonymous reader shares a report: Michael Zeiler packed his portable toilet then headed out on a 10-hour drive from New Mexico to Wyoming where, on Monday, he intends to mark the ninth time he has seen the moon pass in front of the sun in a total solar eclipse. Zeiler is a self-described "eclipse chaser," part of a group of avid astronomy buffs, telescope hobbyists and amateur photographers whose passion for such celestial events takes them to the far corners of the earth. For the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States in almost a century, and the first visible anywhere in the Lower 48 states since 1979, Zeiler had only to drive some 650 miles (1,046 km) from the desert Southwest to the Rockies. He showed up prepared and early on Wednesday at his destination in Casper, Wyoming, within the "path of totality," the corridor over which the moon's 70-mile-wide shadow will be cast as it crosses the United States over 93 minutes. Along that path at the height of the eclipse on Aug. 21, the sun will be completely blotted out except for its outer atmosphere, known as the corona.

New MH370 Analysis Again Suggests Plane Came Down Outside Search Area ( 88

An anonymous reader shares a report: New analysis of images thought to depict wreckage from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 suggest the Boeing 777 came down to the north of the area searched during efforts to find the plane. A new document [PDF] released yesterday by Geoscience Australia (GA) detailed analysis of four images captured by the PLEIADES 1A Earth-imaging satellite on March 23rd, 2014, not long after the March 8th disappearance of the plane. The images were provided to GA by the French Ministry of Defence. The images depict an area to the north and east of the area searched by underwater survey, and in-between areas where search and rescue operations were conducted in the wake of the plane's disappearance. The image displays the areas covered by underwater survey in yellow and the search and rescue zones in red. Extensive manual analysis of the images -- there was not enough data to use machine learning -- yielded a dozen objects that researchers were happy to classify as "probably not natural." Several of those objects were clustered in the northern parts of the areas depicted in the photos. The document is at pains to point out that it is not possible to identify the objects as airplane debris. The new analysis referred back to drift pattern analysis made on debris known to have come from MH370 and released in December 2016. That analysis suggested the search area be extended by 25,000km2. More detailed drift analysis released in April 2017 also called for a new search to the north, as did a July talk by scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Australian Scientists Figure Out How Zinc-Air Batteries Can Replace Lithium-Ion Batteries ( 118

Researchers at the University of Sydney has figured out how to solve one of the biggest problems standing in the way for zinc-air batteries to replace lithium-ion batteries. The reason zinc batteries are so sought after is because they're powered by zinc metal -- the 24th most abundant element in Earth's crust. Not only are they cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries, they can theoretically store five times more energy, are much safer and environmentally friendly. The problem with zinc batteries stems around them being difficult to charge because of the lack of electrocatalysts needed to reduce and generate oxygen during the discharging and charging of a battery. labnet shares a report from Gizmodo: "Up until now, rechargeable zinc-air batteries have been made with expensive precious metal catalysts, such as platinum and iridium oxide. In contrast, our method produces a family of new high-performance and low-cost catalysts." These new catalysts are produced through the simultaneous control of the composition, size and crystallinity of metal oxides of earth-abundant elements like iron, cobalt and nickel. They can then be applied to build rechargeable zinc-air batteries. Researcher Dr Li Wei, also from the University's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, said trials of zinc-air batteries developed with the new catalysts had demonstrated "excellent rechargeability" -- including less than a 10 percent battery efficacy drop over 60 discharging/charging cycles of 120 hours. The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

NASA is Sending Bacteria Into the Sky on Balloons During the Eclipse ( 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: As the Moon blocks the Sun's light completely next week in a total solar eclipse, more than 50 high-altitude balloons in over 20 locations across the US will soar up to 100,000 feet in the sky. On board will be Raspberry Pi cameras, weather sensors, and modems to stream live eclipse footage. They'll also have metal tags coated with very hardy bacteria, because NASA wants to know whether they will survive on Mars. Every time we send a rover to the Red Planet, our own microorganisms latch on to them and hitch a ride across space. What happens to these bacteria once they're on Mars? Do they mutate? Do they die? Or can they continue living undisturbed, colonizing worlds other than our own? To answer these questions we need to run experiments here on Earth, and the eclipse on August 21st provides the perfect opportunity. The balloons are being sent up by teams of high school and college students from across the US as part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, led by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University. When Jim Greene, the director of planetary science at NASA, first heard that over 50 balloons were being flown to the stratosphere to live stream the eclipse, he couldn't believe his ears. "I said, oh my god, that's like being on Mars!" Greene tells The Verge. NASA couldn't pass on the opportunity.

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