Bill Nye launches experimental satellite that runs on solar power, sails around space
Wikipedia / LightSail2

Sometimes the most advanced forms of technology are also the simplest. The LightSail 2, a satellite conceived by Bill Nye's non-profit Planetary Society, has proven that a satellite can orbit the Earth fueled completely by the sun. The concept, dreamed up 400 years ago by Johannes Kepler, has finally become a reality.

The LightSail 2 doesn't run on solar panels but instead solar sailing – an entirely different concept. It's kind of like a sailboat, but instead of using wind to make it move, it's powered by photon particles from the sun that bounce off of a sail made from a large reflective surface. The photon particles give it a "tiny push no stronger than the weight of a paperclip," Nye told CNN.


RELATED: 15 breathtaking images from space, made possible by NASA

Photons (aka light particles) have no mass, however they do provide momentum and can be used to push the satellite through space. "It's counter-intuitive, it's surprising, and to me it's very romantic to be sailing on sunbeams," Nye said.

The LightSail 2 was completely crowdfunded. Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, which raised over $1.2 million for the project. All in all, the project cost $7 million, which took 10 years to collect. 50,000 supporters from 109 countries contributed, getting the most valuable return on investment of them all.

"The type of return on investment these people get is just knowledge," Planetary Society COO Jennifer Vaughn told CNN. "It's capability. That's the kind of returns these people are looking for."

RELATED: Woman breaks down how astronauts pee and poop in space in viral thread

As of now, Nye said there are no plans to do a third light sail. However, the success of the LightSail 2 could mean the technology gets incorporated into larger projects, such as those that extend beyond the orbit of the Earth. Nye wants to see the LightSail 2 complete exploratory missions such as those that monitor the sun and provide warning of solar flare-ups.

"Solar sailing is in its infancy, but it may become a game-changer," Nye said in an interview with Digital Trends. "We'll soon be able to send our solar sail spacecraft to all sorts of destinations in our solar system, and perhaps to another star system one day."

The LightSail 2 will orbit the Earth for a year and you can track its progress via a new dashboard here.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The Matt Gaetz sex-trafficking allegations have become the biggest political scandal since Donald Trump left office. The Republican congressman from Florida is being investigated by the Justice Department for having an alleged "sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him."

Gaetz is known as one of Donald Trump's most fervent supporters and was among the Republican Congressman who fanned the conspiracy flames that many say led directly to the Capitol riot on January 6.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less