Category: News Posts

Twitter Is Killing Its Twitter For Mac Desktop Client

On Friday, Twitter announced that it would abandon its lesser-loved Mac app, directing users to instead.

The company declared that it will refocus its efforts on “a great Twitter experience that’s consistent across platforms” rather than continuing development for Twitter for Mac, a message that doesn’t sound great for TweetDeck lovers.

The Twitter for Mac app no longer lives in the Mac App Store, though its one and a half star rating lives on in the hearts and minds of its few tenacious users, maybe.

Over the years, Twitter has often seen its own official app eclipsed by slicker, more feature-rich third-party clients, which it sometimes buys up.

Twitter bought the software that evolved into Twitter for Mac (formerly known as Tweetie for Mac) back in 2010, though it’s largely believed to have languished following the acquisition.

Many Twitter users are expressing their concerns that the company could similarly sunset TweetDeck, a well-loved client with multi-column organization, list-making tools and robust notifications that the company acquired for $40 million back in 2011.

For a normal company, ending a product that everyone feels pretty good about wouldn’t be a likely potential outcome, but Twitter isn’t exactly known for making choices in lockstep with the desires of its opinionated user base.

While most people aren’t likely to mourn the passing of Twitter for Mac, the choice does highlight the gaping hole where a solid multi-platform client should go.

Considering its resources and the lessons the company should have learned from unnecessary bickering with its development community over the years, it doesn’t seem like a big ask.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

5 Niche Social Networks To Use Instead Of Facebook

Social media takes up a massive chunk of the time we spend online, especially on our smartphones. But sometimes, the most popular social networks out there just don’t quite offer what we’re looking for.

That’s where these alternative social media networks and apps come in.

They’re places where you can meet more like-minded people and post about topics you don’t want to post on Facebook (such as fitness, or habit building).

They’re places you can continue to post updates about certain areas of your life without your current friends and family always being notified about them.

1. PumpUp (For Health and Fitness)

PumpUp is a health and fitness app used by millions, which hails to be “the world’s most positive fitness community.” There are other social media apps for fitness enthusiasts, but this is the gold standard.

It’s a fantastic place to post updates about your latest workouts, receive props from community members, and see the inspiring progress of other users too.

2. Trover (For Travel)

If you love to travel, it’s all too easy to lose track of time scrolling through the various feeds on Trover. And what’s more: this isn’t just a travel-guide app.

It’s an app overflowing with people who are visiting incredible places, sharing what they find along the way.

If you’re looking for travel inspiration, there’s no shortage of users posting images of, and tips for, the places they’ve been. It’s here that you’ll quickly come away with a terrifyingly long list of places you just have to visit.

And if you’re looking for things to do wherever you’re headed next, just search a location. You’ll soon find a ton of alternative attractions and sights that other users have found at that locale.

Often, these are things you’d be hard-pressed to find in any guidebook, making Trover a seriously valuable app for any intrepid traveler.

3. Discord (For Gamers)

Discord is an app aiming “to bring people together around games.” This is a free, cross-platform app offering impressive text and voice chat features to 14 million gamers each day.

The layout is easy to understand, and functions similarly to Slack, with chats organized by channels. You can join and customize these however you like.

Text chats act as basic chat rooms, where you can debate with other users until your heart’s content. And when it comes to gaming, setting up a server only takes a few clicks.

4. Letterboxd (For Movie Buffs)

Letterboxd is a “social network for sharing your taste in film” that’s become incredibly popular the past few years.

With an account, you can keep a film diary to rate and review movies as you work your way through your movies-to-watch list.

Keep track of what your friends, connections, and favorite writers are watching. Create your own to-watch list. Join discussions about your favorite movies.

5. Huggle (For Real-Life Friends)

Huggle is a relatively new friendship-making app (also used for dating) that helps you connect with people not based on what they look like, but rather on your location and common interests.

It may sound a little weird at first, but if you’re new to a city and struggling to make real-life friends, Huggle could be your answer.

The app works by automatically checking you into places you visit (e.g. coffee shops). If any other user has also checked into one or more of those places, you can see a limited version of their profile.

You then decide whether you want to start a conversation with them, knowing with more confidence whether they share your interests.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Here’s What’s Really Happening To Your Skin When You Get A Tattoo

Getting a tattoo is a notoriously painful process but that doesn’t stop all that many people from getting their skin inked.

Luckily for them, tattoo machines have come a long way from the tools used in the past.

Smarter Every Day grabbed their slow-motion cameras and headed into to a tattoo parlor to find out how tattoos work. Here’s what they discovered.

In order for a tattoo to be permanent, ink has to get into the dermis, the tissue just underneath the outer layer of your skin, called the epidermis.

This is done by making thousands of tiny pricks in the skin. To do that, a tattoo artist uses a handheld machine that has a needle affixed to it.

The artist dips the needle in the ink, turns on the motor that moves the needle, and applies the moving needle to the skin.

The sharp needle pricks the skin quickly and repeatedly, dragging the ink clinging to it down into the dermis.

The tattoo needle is actually one piece of metal that has several ends to it.

A needle can have three ends or as many as 25. Each type of needle can achieve different effects. Needles with fewer ends are used for outlining, while needles with more ends can be used for shading or coloring.

Tattoo artist Leah Farrow told Smarter Every Day that the two most common machines are the rotary and the coil. The two different machines work differently but do essentially the same thing — moving the needle.

The rotary machine’s motor moves a rotating circular bar, which moves the needle up and down.

The coil machine uses a direct electrical current to move the needle. The tattoo artists steps on a foot pedal, which shoots a current into the coil, turning it an electromagnet.

The now magnetized coil pulls down the metal arm that’s attached to the needle, which pushes the needle out.

But as the metal arm touches the coil, another thin piece of metal loses contact with a circuit screw, breaking the current and causing the coil to lose its electromagnetic force.

The return spring pulls the metal arm back to its original place, pulling the thin piece of metal back into contact with the circuit screw and reconnecting the current that magnetizes the coil.

This process happens over and over again as the tattoo artist holds the foot pedal down.

Seeing these tattoos in slow motion can undermine just how fast they work. According to a TED video, modern tattoo machines pierce the skin at a “frequency of 50 to 3,000 times per minute.

It wouldn’t do much good to distribute the ink just on the epidermis because these outer skin cells are continually dying and sloughing off.

The tattoo would disappear in just a few weeks. For tattoos to last a whole person’s life, the machines have to pack enough punch to get the ink down into the dermis, the tissue just below the outer epidermis.

This dermis is “composed of collagen fibers, nerves, glands, blood vessels, and more,” according to the video.

Some large ink particles are dispersed in the “gel-like matrix of the dermis,” and others will be gobbled up by fibroblasts, a type of dermal cell that plays an important part in healing wounds.

Because tattooing is essentially making thousands of tiny wounds in the skin, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, sending special blood cells called macrophages to the site of the tattoo to engulf the foreign ink particles.

This is part of the body’s attempt to clean up and it’s also the reason tattoos fade over time, but it also plays a part in making tattoos permanent.

Once a macrophage consume an ink particle, it goes back through the lymphatic highway and brings the consumed particles to the liver for excretion.

But other macrophages don’t make it back to the lymph nodes. Instead, these blood cells stay in the dermis, and the ink particles they’ve eaten continue to remain visible.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Some People Hear Color Or Taste Sounds?

Lead Researcher, ANU Research School of Psychology’s Dr Stephanie Goodhew, said the research found synesthetes had much stronger mental associations between related concepts.

For them words like ‘doctor’ and ‘nurse’ are very closely associated, where ‘doctor’ and ‘table’ are very unrelated. Much more so than for people without the condition,” she said.

The findings could help researchers better understand the mysteries of synesthesia, which Dr Goodhew said affects an estimated one in every 100 people.

Dr Goodhew said synesthetes have stronger connections between different brain areas, particularly between what we think of as the language part of the brain and the color part of the brain.

Those connections lead to a triggering effect, where a stimulus in one part of the brain would cause activity in another.

Things like hearing shapes, so a triangle will trigger an experience of a sound or a color, or they might have a specific taste sensation when they hear a particular sound,” she said.

One person reported that smells have certain shapes. For example the smell of fresh air is rectangular, coffee is a bubbly cloud shape and people could smell round or square.”

The research centered on measuring the extent that people with Synesthesia draw meaning between words.

Going in we were actually predicting that synesthetes might have a more concrete style of thinking that does not emphasize conceptual-level relations between stimuli, given that they have very rigid parings between sensory experiences.

We found exactly the opposite,” Dr Goodhew said.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Saturn’s Moon Wears The Weirdest Mountain Range In The Solar System

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

SallOf all the moons in the solar system, Iapetus has to be among the weirdest. Named after a spear-wielding Titan, the strange Saturnian satellite is less than half the size of Earth’s moon.

But it’s a cluster of enigmas: Squished at its poles, the moon is walnut-shaped, has a face as black as coal and a bright white backside, and wears a big, spiky mountain range as a belt.

Even its orbit is weird: Iapetus is roughly three times farther from Saturn than its closest neighbor, Titan.

And the path it takes around the planet is tilted, meaning it swings up and down as it orbits, rather than staying in the plane of Saturn’s rings like the rest of the “normal” satellites.

In other words, it’s kind of like the rebel of the Saturnian system, a moon who’d prefer to hang out behind the dumpster and cut class rather than play ball with the other kids.

Among the strangest of Iapetus’ unsolved mysteries is its super-chic, spiky mountain range.

Running straight as an arrow along three-quarters of the moon’s equator, the thing is huge: Roughly 20 kilometers tall and up to 200 kilometers wide.

There’s nothing else like it in the solar system.

Scientists first spotted the ridge in 2004, and since then, they’ve been trying to figure out how such a thing formed.

Early theories suggested geologic activity within the moon itself – maybe something akin to Earth’s plate tectonics or volcanism had forced the ridge to rise up along the equator.

But that didn’t make a lot of sense. The moon’s crust wasn’t spongy when the ridge formed, the evidence for active geology tepid.

Then, scientists thought maybe the ridge had formed as a result of the moon’s rotation period abruptly slowing down. Some early simulations suggest a day on the moon used to last for a mere 16 hours.

Now, though, a day on Iapetus lasts 79 Earth-days – the same amount of time it takes the little guy to shuffle once around Saturn.

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

Maybe, teams said, a giant impact had knocked Iapetus into its current rotation state, and the resulting braking action caused the crust to buckle.

But most of these theories also predict other strange geologic features (which aren’t observed), or hinge upon the crust being a certain thickness.

As the moonlet broke up, Dombard said, its pieces formed an ephemeral ring around Iapetus’ equator. The ring eventually rained down upon the satellite and deposited the giant ridge.

In 2011, another team suggested something similar, this time with a giant impact forming both a ring and a moonlet.

The ring would go on to form the mountain range, while the moonlet would smash into Iapetus and create one of its many large impact basins.

Recent evidence, gleaned from the shape of the mountain ridge itself (steep and triangular), suggests that pieces falling from on high could make total sense.

It’s kind of the same shape you get when you take a handful of sand and slowly sprinkle it into a pile. Why the ridge only runs along three-quarters of the equator isn’t explained by this scenario, though.

In short, we still don’t know how Iapetus grew its monstrous mountains. But the idea of a moon with a moon, or a moon with a ring, is strangely compelling. Too bad Iapetus had to go and tear its little friend to bits.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Laws of Physics Say Quantum Cryptography Is Unhackable. It’s Not

In the never-ending arms race between secret-keepers and code-breakers, the laws of quantum mechanics seemed to have the potential to give secret-keepers the upper hand.

A technique called quantum cryptography can, in principle, allow you to encrypt a message in such a way that it would never be read by anyone whose eyes it isn’t for.

Enter cold, hard reality. In recent years, methods that were once thought to be fundamentally unbreakable have been shown to be anything but. Because of machine errors and other quirks, even quantum cryptography has its limits.

“If you build it correctly, no hacker can hack the system. The question is what it means to build it correctly,” said physicist Renato Renner from the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Zurich.

Regular, non-quantum encryption can work in a variety of ways but generally a message is scrambled and can only be unscrambled using a secret key.

The trick is to make sure that whomever you’re trying to hide your communication from doesn’t get their hands on your secret key.

Cracking the private key in a modern crypto system would generally require figuring out the factors of a number that is the product of two insanely huge prime numbers.

The numbers are chosen to be so large that, with the given processing power of computers, it would take longer than the lifetime of the universe for an algorithm to factor their product.

But such encryption techniques have their vulnerabilities. Certain products – called weak keys – happen to be easier to factor than others.

Also, Moore’s Law continually ups the processing power of our computers. Even more importantly, mathematicians are constantly developing new algorithms that allow for easier factorization.

Quantum cryptography avoids all these issues. Here, the key is encrypted into a series of photons that get passed between two parties trying to share secret information.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle dictates that an adversary can’t look at these photons without changing or destroying them.

But in practice, quantum cryptography comes with its own load of weaknesses. It was recognized in 2010, for instance, that a hacker could blind a detector with a strong pulse, rendering it unable to see the secret-keeping photons.


Renner points to many other problems. Photons are often generated using a laser tuned to such a low intensity that it’s producing one single photon at a time.

There is a certain probability that the laser will make a photon encoded with your secret information and then a second photon with that same information.

In this case, all an enemy has to do is steal that second photon and they could gain access to your data while you’d be none the wiser.

Alternatively, noticing when a single photon has arrived can be tricky. Detectors might not register that a particle has hit them, making you think that your system has been hacked when it’s really quite secure.

Smart grids need to react to changes quickly lest some part of the system get damaged from electricity overflows.

But traditional cryptography usually requires time and processing power to encrypt and decrypt the large numbers used as keys.

The computers used in such cryptography could drive up the price of a smart grid. Quantum cryptography, on the other hand, simply requires pushing around some photons and the computations for decryption are much less complicated.

Hughes and his collaborators have worked with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to show that quantum cryptography was two orders of magnitude faster than conventional techniques in encrypting smart grid information.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Pinky-Sized Fossil Of A Vulnerable Baby Bird That Died Shortly After It Hatched 127 Million Years Ago Sheds New Light On The Evolution Of Avians

The bird fossil.

Look at the length of your pinky finger. There was once a teeth-bearing, claw-wearing bird on this planet that was just that small.

About a decade ago, scientists unearthed the fossilized remains of a baby bird at the bottom of a lake in central Spain.

With recent analysis, they have found that the nearly complete avian skeleton dates back roughly 127 million years, putting it in the Mesozoic Era, during the time of dinosaurs.

The fossil is of a young hatchling belonging to the Enantiornithes family, a group of prehistoric birds. These flyers would have looked similar to modern birds, but with teeth and clawed fingers at the ends of their wings.

The specimen is less than two inches long and would have weighed just three ounces in life, making it possibly the smallest Mesozoic avian fossil known to date.

And this immature hatchling find could provide some clues about how ancient birds developed over time. A study, published March 5 in the journal Nature Communications, outlines just that.

Baby Bird Bones

Since the bird likely died soon after it hatched, it’s difficult to identify its species, says study co-author Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the LA Natural History Museum.

It could have died in a forest nearby and then may have been brought to the lake at the Los Hoyas archaeological site in central Spain. There, it would have fallen to the bottom and been preserved for millions of years.

[Hatchling fossils are] extremely fragile and very difficult to find in the fossil record,” Chiappe says. “[This find is] really neat because it’s one of those very rare, very young individuals.”

At first, the team tried to analyze the specimen with micro-CT scanning.

After that, they used a synchrotron—a high-tech particle accelerator that studies miniscule matter using very intense light—to zoom in on the specimen at the submicron level.

There, they were able to observe the detailed microstructures of the bones.

The skeleton only lacks its feet, most of its hands, and the tip of its tail. Its partially crushed skull is large in relation to its body, and its bones are largely disarticulated.

The nearly complete specimen is smaller than others, but its wings are larger than complete isolated wing remains described from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.

The young hatchling would have been in a critical stage of skeletal formation when it died, so its bones could provide insights about the species’ bone structure and development.

Its sternum is made of cartilage, meaning it hadn’t fully developed at the time of death.

“It gives some hint as to flight ability,” says Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate paleontology at Canada’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

“It would have been a weak flyer probably, if at all.”

But being youthfully flightless didn’t necessarily mean the hatchling was dependent on its parents. Some modern birds, like love birds, are born naked with their eyes shut, so they rely heavily on their parents from birth.

But others, like chickens, are fiercely independent, born with feathers and able to move from the time they hatch.

This shows that birds in the group Enantiornithes were more diverse than archaeologists have previously thought them to be.

Our goal is to understand the deep history of the bird lineage and to get a better idea of how early some of the birds develop the same types of strategies and systems that we see among living birds,” Chiappe says.

Avian Preservation

Birds are perfect for surveying bone development because they have large, easily accessible eggs. They also have to be able to fuse their bones to strengthen their skeletons, which must withstand the stress of flight.

This isn’t the first hatchling to be discovered, but it’s certainly one of the smallest. Other fossilized samples have been found preserved in tree sap.

Last year, a 99-million-year-old hatchling from the same enantionithes family was found in a chunk of Burmese amber. Other remains of birds, along with ticks, spiders, and dinosaur feathers, have also been found.

Sometimes, recrystallization can damage the structure of fossils. But this hatchling is still well preserved.

McKellar says the preservation of the bone in this specimen appears to be just as good as it would be had it been preserved in Burmese amber.

There are spectacular finds that are coming out of many places,” Chiappe says. “We’re very fortunate to be living now, from that perspective.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Five Best Popular Science Books

With the Juno spacecraft arriving at Jupiter, a piece of amber-enclosed dinosaur tail showing up in a Burmese market, a child being born of three parents and, of course, the unprecedented detection of “ripples” in space-time, the past year has been a fruitful one in scientific achievement and discovery.

Any of us without the knowhow might be totally lost if it weren’t for the talented writer-scientists who take the time to pen popular science books about their respective fields.

Popular science is a protean genre spanning hundreds of topics, and this article tries to reflect that fact – we have books on neuroscience, books on genetics, books that blend neuroscience with memoir, books that blend genetics with memoir, books on the octopus, books on time and books on black holes.

These are the best in popular science from the past year – books that will enlighten, entertain, terrify and make you feel bad about how little you remember from school.

1. Black Hole Blues: And Other Songs From Outer Space by Janna Levin

In this book, Janna Levin – like many of the authors on this list, a writer trapped in a scientist’s body – tells the story of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (or Ligo) and the long journey that led to the detection of Einstein’s hitherto theoretical gravitational waves.

Perhaps more than any author on this list, Levin is a master of storytelling: the programme’s origins, its purpose, its eccentric architects and its wider significance for humanity all feature in this book as themes, converging to form a novel-like narrative that keeps the reader hooked in awe page after page.

Black Hole Blues is a captivating study of the process of scientific discovery.

2. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a physician, researcher, biologist, geneticist, oncologist, a few more -ists, and, importantly for us, an excellent writer.

Six years ago he published a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on cancer – The Emperor of all Maladies – in which he strove to expel the mythology around cancer, to make it less the colossal affliction we imagine it to be and instead show it as something that can and likely will be overcome by scientists.

He places the gene in a triumvirate of scientific ideas that dominated the twentieth century, alongside the atom and the byte.

Mukherjee’s immense knowledge of genetics and formidable fluency in prose shows that there are few people more suited to tackling a subject as complicated, delicate and indeed dangerous – the pseudoscience of genetics and race has often led to catastrophe – as that of the gene.

3. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

One of the most extraordinary things about this book is its sheer breadth. Rutherford, a writer and geneticist who has written previously on the subject, weaves from our genes a fascinating tapestry of human history from its most primitive origins to its sophisticated present, and beyond.

True to its title, Rutherford’s overview of genetics is brief: at 300 pages it is considerably shorter than Mukherjee’s, meaning that if you’re after just a quick though comprehensive survey of genetics, this is the book for you.

The writing is concise and often funny, and Rutherford never takes himself or his subject too seriously. It is one of those rare books that you’ll finish thinking you haven’t wasted a single second.

4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi – a neurosurgeon by profession and philosopher by temperament – died of lung cancer in 2015 at the age of thirty-seven.

At university he studied biology before completing a postgraduate degree in English literature, and only then did he decide that while literature may offer some answers to life’s big questions, it offers little in the way of practical remedies.

And so he began his career in medicine. This book was written in the months leading to Kalanithi’s death, and he writes with an eloquence that befits his love of the literary.

The memoir follows him from his birth through his youth in a desert town through medical school, his residency and, finally, through his illness.

Kalanithi often ponders the big questions that led him to medicine in the first place: the origin of personality, the nature of neuroscience, his spiritual quandaries and his rediscovery of Christianity all feature.

Perhaps for the piercing prose alone, Kalanithi’s book is one of the few must-reads of 2016.

5. The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman

Of his previous work – which includes the best-selling Incognito – Eagleman has been praised for making otherwise inaccessible topics (brain surgery and the like) accessible to lowly laymen like us.

One of the charms of his latest book on the brain is Eagleman’s casual approach to his subject.

Like a quirky tour guide in a gallery he leads us around the cranium explaining the brain’s biological mechanisms, pondering the differences between the “brain” and “mind” and discussing questions about reality and consciousness that make the reader suffer from spells of existential doubt – well, we did, at least.

Another of the book’s core attractions is its wealth of mini-facts.

As Stephen Fry has commented, memorable facts pervade every chapter of this book, whether about the magnitude of our neural networks or the power of conversation in warding off Alzheimer’s.

If you want to boost your understanding of the brain, read this book.

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Venus May Once Have Been Habitable, According To NASA

Venus – a hellish planet with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, almost no water and temperatures of more than 460 degrees Celsius – may once have been habitable, according to Nasa scientists.

Researchers used climate models to calculate that Venus might have had a shallow ocean of liquid water and temperatures that could have allowed life to exist for up to two billion years of its early history.

The atmosphere is 90 times as thick as the air on Earth and scientists had thought this was largely caused by the difference between the two planets’ rate of spin.

A day on Venus lasts 117 Earth days because it spins on its axis at a much slower rate. But recent research showed that Venus could have had an atmosphere similar to the Earth’s today.

The first signs that Venus once had an ocean were discovered by NASA’s Pioneer mission in the 1980s.

Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and receives far more sunlight.

This caused the ocean to evaporate, water-vapour molecules were broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen by ultraviolet radiation and the hydrogen escaped to space.

With no water left on the surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere and led to a runaway greenhouse gas effect that created present searing heat.

A map of Venus’s surface based on imagery collected by Magellan, Pioneer Venus, and Venera 13 and 14 .

Michael Way, a researcher at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, said: “Many of the same tools we use to model climate change on Earth can be adapted to study climates on other planets, both past and present.

Colleague Anthony Del Genio added: “In the GISS model’s simulation, Venus’ slow spin exposes its dayside to the sun for almost two months at a time.

In a statement, Nasa said it was thought that Venus may have had more land than Earth. One of the factors they had to take into consideration was the ancient sun was up to 30 per cent dimmer.

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NASA To ‘Revolutionize’ Weather Forecasting With Launch Of Billion Dollar Satellite

A billion-dollar satellite that is promised to revolutionise weather forecasting and in turn help save lives has been successfully launched by NASA.

The new GOES-R satellite will provide higher resolution images and more frequent updates of weather patterns, improving forecasts and weather warnings and in turn help save lives by giving people more time to evacuate ahead of a hurricane or storm.

Thousands of people travelled to Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch, including TV meteorologists and space programme workers.

NBC meteorologist Al Roker said: “What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution.”

“In terms of tracking tornadoes, he said that “if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being saved.

The launch of the GOES-R represents a major step forward in terms of our ability to provide more timely and accurate information that is critical for life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.

It has been built as part of an $11bn (£8.9bn) programme and will help to monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires and lightning storms in America.

The satellite itself, which has been launched by Nasa for the National Oceanic and Atmostpheric Administration (NOAA), has been valued at £1bn.

Sandra Cauffman, deputy director of Earth Sciences at Nasa, called the new satellite a “quantum leap” that will “truly revolutionise forecasting”.

In addition to providing vastly improved forecasting, the satellite’s information will also help pilots avoid bad weather and rocket scientists to know when to call off a launch.

It will also be part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system, which can detect distress signals from emergency beacons.

The billion-dollar satellite will reach its designated 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit in two weeks’ time and, after a series of checks, will become operational within a year.

It is the first to be launched since 2010 and will outstrip its predecessors, sending full images of the western hemisphere every 15 minutes, instead of the current 30-minute time frame, and will send images of the continental United States every five minutes, with images of specific regions updated every five seconds.

Its lightening mapper will hone in on storms that represent the greatest threats, Nasa said in a statement, while the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager will send scientists images of the Earth’s weather, oceans and environment.

The lightening information is kind of like going from a black and white television to a high-definition television system,” said Todd McNamara, a meteorologist with the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron at the base.

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Pass it on: Popular Science