Facebook & Google dominate the list of top best applications of 2016. Know the full list here!

Facebook And Google Dominate The List

Facebook (FB) might not be as cool as Snapchat in terms of its geo filters or YouTube in terms of watching tons of videos. However, it still on top as the most popular app in the US, according to a Nielsen report for 2016 published Wednesday.

"From new digital devices coming to the market (and grabbing headlines) to the growing interest in virtual reality thanks to new apps, 2016 was a big year for digital. As the year comes to a close, Nielsen looked at some of the top trends in digital, including the top U.S. smartphone apps and operating systems."

According to Tech Crunch, mobile applications from Facebook and Google dominated the new list of the year’s top apps released today by Nielsen. Not surprisingly, Facebook again grabbed the number one spot on the list, with more than 146 million average unique users per month, and 14 percent growth over last year.

In fact, Facebook scored several spots on the top 10 chart, thanks to its affiliates such as the Facebook Messenger and Instagram. The FB Messenger came in the second place this year. The app proves that it can have over 129 million unique monthly users. The third spot is YouTube, with over 113 monthly unique viewers.

The apps with the highest year over year change, Nielsen said, were Amazon App, which grew 43 percent and Instagram, up by 36 percent over 2015, as reported by Tech Wire. The survey conducted is a majority of smartphone owners use Android devices (53 percent), while 45 percent use IoS phones. A mere 2 percent use Windows phone, and the once mighty Blackberry now claims only 1 percent of users.

Top Mobile Apps Of 2016

Facebook took first and Facebook Messenger took second place in Nielsen's ranking. Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion in 2012, was 2016's eighth most popular app, with 74 million average monthly users. The photo-sharing app's user number grew by more than one-third from 2015.

The search engine titan, Google, claimed five spots on the Top 10 list, with a combined 508 million users across its popular apps. There five apps are YouTube, Google Maps, Google Search, Google Play and Gmail.

YouTube, the mega-popular streaming site it owns, was Google's largest contribution, with 113 million people using the app. Google Maps followed with 105 million users. Google Search, the Play Store and Gmail had 103 million, 99 million and 88 million users, respectively.


"Nielsen’s Electronic Mobile Measurement is installed with permission on panelist smartphones (approximately 9,000 panelists ages 18+ with Android and iOS handsets). The panelists are recruited online in English and include Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, Native American and Alaskan Native and other mixed racial background consumer representation.

This method provides a holistic view of all activity on a smartphone as the behavior is being tracked without interruption. Data is based on Nielsen’s monthly survey of 30,000-plus mobile subscribers aged 13 and up in the U.S. Mobile owners are asked to identify their primary mobile handset by manufacturer and model, which are weighted to be demographically representative of mobile subscribers in the U.S. Smartphone penetration reflects all models with a high-level operating system (including Apple iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry)."

Author: Monica U Santos
Source: http://www.itechpost.com/articles/69647/20161229/top-mobile-apps-2016-facebook-google-dominate-list.htm

Categorized in Others

If you're looking forward to 2017, you can stop right now. Things will only get worse.

In fact, it's no exaggeration to suggest that the welcome death of 2016 – miserable troll of a year that it was – might usher in unimagined levels of worst-ness to the world.

Over the past year, we lost Leonard Cohen and gained President Donald Trump. World markets have been less reliable than a Kanye concert. And the American election was hacked by Russian cyber-spies. Overall, 2016 was as twisted as a David Cronenberg film. But compared to what lies ahead, it will seem like a Disney musical.   

Here are just four reasons to despair about 2017.    


President Trump

Since November 8, it's been fashionable to treat Trump with the authority and deference normally owed to the incoming leader of the free world. We are told that the presidency will change him. We are asked to give him a chance. We hear that he's taking advice from Barack Obama.

Nuts to all of that.

Nothing about Trump's conduct since winning inspires the slightest confidence. His Twitter tantrums continue – only now he spends as much time badmouthing foreign capitals as he does Alec Baldwin. He regularly refuses intelligence briefings, finding the detail of keeping the world secure to be dull work.

And for a cabinet, he's selected advisors who impressively combine Bond villain mega-wealth with ideological hostility. Veteran observers insist that the institutions of government will hem Trump in and curb disastrous outbursts. But there is exactly zero reason to believe this of a man who has based his public appeal on disavowal of those same institutions. Rookies make rookie mistakes. And the world is about to be led by the most powerful, uncoachable rookie of all time.  

Global Economy

After fuelling global economic growth for years, China is experiencing the lowest GDP outlook in a generation. To help ease domestic pain, Beijing has been selling U.S. treasuries and devaluing its own yuan. But America needs Chinese buyers for its debt. Guess how much it helps when the new president-elect trash talks the yuan on social media? All I want for Christmas is a currency war.

The new year will also see Brexit's chickens come home to roost, disrupting trade, jobs and growth in the world's largest single market. Meanwhile, central banks, after eight years of quantitative easing sleight of hand, are nearly out of magic tricks and the Fed is beginning to raise rates. Here at home, Trump's plan to tear up NAFTA should nicely impact our 1.1 per cent rate of growth.

Machzikei Hadas synagogue Ottawa swastika racist Nov. 17 2016


What a bull run the bigots are having. White supremacists are coming into the mainstream in ways unseen since desegregation of the American south. In France, Marine Le Pen is a legitimate contender to be president. In America, Trump's pick for attorney general was once denied a judgeship for a history of racially charged comments.

On our side of the border, it's been suggested that we should subject newcomers to a "values test" to scorecard their patriotic purity. Here's a good rule of thumb: when David Duke, one-time Imperial Wizard of the KKK is delighted with the way of the world, the way is wrong.


You can't pick up a newspaper these days without reading about fake news and its apparent conquest of all media. Actually, you can hardly pick up a newspaper at all: they're gradually disappearing. In Canada, media organizations like Postmedia are choking on a fatal blend of falling ad revenues and rising debt charges. Professional journalists everywhere are heading for the exits, taking buyouts and leaving behind a legion of social media-inspired "citizen journalists." We're also told that we live in a post-factual world. These things are not unrelated. Sadly, 2017 will see traditional, professional media shrink more and matter less. And with it goes an enormous instrument of accountability, ethics and transparency.

It's not a very rosy outlook and human nature runs contrary to much of this analysis. We're wired to look ahead with hope, to dismiss the naysayers and expect that things will somehow work out for the best. But reason tells us that can't always be so. Now and then, the outlook is every bit as grim as it appears.  

Happy New Year.

Author: Scott Reid
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/despair-for-2017-1.3913984

Categorized in Future Trends

This year will be seen as a watershed moment for mobile, with nearly every change reflecting mobile's now-dominant contribution to search.

Aloha, here we are again — coming down from the high of holiday e-commerce, the Q4 scurry of lead gen and the calm before year-end reporting starts churning. Let’s take a breather and look back on all of the changes in PPC that came flying at us in 2016.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. In last year’s year-end roundup, I said Yahoo might be worth paying attention to in 2016 due to the renegotiated search deal with Microsoft and CEO Marissa Mayer’s stated commitment to mobile search. So long ago. It did seem like Yahoo might just be able to gain steam back then. Now, that steam is gone like the data of over a billion user accounts.

The final adieu to the Yahoo Bing Network came in February, and for many advertisers, that was the last time Yahoo entered their campaign heads. Sure, if you advertise with Bing and/or Google, your ads typically show up on Yahoo, too, but other than the water cooler talk about who was going to buy Yahoo that developed into, “Will Verizon still buy it and at what discount,” Yahoo held little relevance for search marketers in 2016.

So, moving on to all the stuff that made 2016 a giant year in PPC! We’ll start with the biggies that impact most everyone and move to more specialized updates.

Major, major changes this year

There are always changes in paid search, but 2016 were not your garden variety year. There were fundamental updates that will continue to have repercussions in the years ahead. The was a lot less frustration, however, in 2016 than in the last year of major changes — when Google unleashed Enhanced Campaigns in 2013. 2016 can be seen as the year mobile truly took hold as the primary focal point in paid search, with some reports showing mobile now accounts for 60 percent of searches in the US. Desktop results were changed to reflect mobile. That mobile-preferred check box for ads went away, and mobile bids can now be used as a foundation for campaign bidding. Enhanced campaigns did its job.

Google upped its PR finesse in 2016. It announced advertisers would have to rewrite all of their ads at the same time that it announced device bidding is coming back. Desktop and tablet were re-separated for bidding, and it’s now possible to have mobile be the base bid. Maybe you’re not even doing anything differently yet, but knowing you can set a tablet bid adjustment or make a campaign mobile-first whenever you want feels so empowering, right? Well played, Google. Bing, which was never as restrictive with device bidding as Google to begin with, is currently piloting new bid adjustment ranges, but still makes desktop the base bid.

We first reported the biggest change of the year — Expanded Text Ads — was being tested in April. ETAs went live for everyone at the end of July. The new ad format upends how advertisers have written text ads since the inception of AdWords, more than 15 years ago. The transition hasn’t been without its bumps — Google pushed the cutoff for being able to edit and add standard text ads until January 31, 2017, after seeing


adoption of the new longer text ad format. There was the headline truncation kerfuffle, which mostly seems to have been remedied with a narrower font, but for the most part, advertisers have taken the changes in stride, on the promise of better CTRs.

2017 will be the year we really see how ETAs perform. Early results have been mixed, with some advertisers seeing dramatic bumps in click-through rates and others seeing, well, meh. Bing added support for ETAs as well, and rolled them out globally in October for much-welcomed parity between the two platforms in this area.

The ushering in of ETAs was made possible, of course, by the removal of text ads in the right rail on desktop, which also made desktop echo the layout of mobile results. It was quickly pointed out that longer titles and description copy in ETAs also have a way of making text ads look even more like organic listings. And speaking of making ads blend in with their organic surroundings, let’s not forget 2016 was the year of the green ad label. Green replaced the yellow in the ad labels next to the display URLs in text ads, which also happen to be green like their organic counterparts. (Want to see how Google’s color treatment of text ads has changed over the years? Here it is.)

Now for two announcements that generated a ton of interest but essentially had zero impact this year. First, the Google AdWords redesign. Some advertisers do have alpha access, but there are still a lot of elements missing before the new look is ready for prime time. Still, that didn’t tamper interest in some of the very handy visualizations in the new design. We’ll have to wait until 2017 to get the full Material Design treatment that Google Merchant Center and AdSense got this year. Second, Microsoft is buying LinkedIn. The deal hasn’t closed yet, but Microsoft’s Lynne Kjolso told the audience at SMX Advance this year that discussions of advertising scenarios were already happening shortly after the announcement.

Shopping & retail

With Amazon being Amazon, and Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads, and even Pinterest’s Promoted Pins, gaining adoption, Google is under pressure to squeeze everything it can from product search and its product listing ads. And squeeze it did this year. Carousels of product listing ads (PLAs) are now showing up in Google Image SearchYouTube and third-party retailer sites.

Google also opened Shopping campaigns up to Customer Match, allowing advertisers to retarget customers with product listing ads with bids tailored to those audiences or excluding those audiences from Shopping campaigns.

Google started looking at ways to get more from all those broad product searches, like “cocktail attire,” this year. The most innovative but perhaps least likely to succeed of these is the shop the look format for apparel and home products that pull images from partners such as Curalate and Polyvore (owned by Yahoo, so there you go) and link to a set of product ads based on the looks. The other broad query PLA format called Showcase Ads initially showed off retailer collections. But one recent variation on this featured new and used clothing on outlet-related searches.

Oh, and Purchases on Google — aka the buy button-like feature that lets consumers shop from a PLA on their phones — is ticking along in pilot mode. Ralph Lauren, Ugg and Staples are among the brands that continued to test it this year.

Google took a big step in standardizing product data in Google Shopping by requiring GTINs for brand-name products that are sold by multiple retailers in product feeds.

Another big change for sellers was Google’s announcement that retailers and brands must have at least 150 ratings in the past 12 months for seller ratings to appear in their ads. That was up from just 30.

Also, for manufacturers, it’s worth pointing out that Manufacturer Center is still alive. Introduced last year, but flying far under the radar, Google’s Manufacturer Center is where brands and original manufacturers can provide a primary source for their product data used in Google Shopping. Manufacturers that use it can get some pretty nifty insights into how their products perform across Google in the analytics dashboard, such as clicks made on their products versus competing products. This year, Google reduced the amount of data it’s requesting in Manufacturer Center, apparently because most weren’t providing complete information anyway.

Local and Maps

Local got a shake up this year with the introduction of ads in the local pack, Promoted Places pins in Maps, exposure for local inventory ads in Maps and Knowledge panels, developments in store visits metrics, and pulling Google Maps out of the Search Partners network.

Ads started showing up in the Local Finder, the listings that appear next to the Map after a user clicks on “More places” from the search results, in April, around the same time Maps was moved into general search ad inventory. Later that month, Google started testing a purple “Ad” label on Local Finder ads and a corresponding purple pin on the map on Android and desktop. That didn’t last in the local finder, but the purple labels and pins did roll out in Google Maps.

And the big development in Maps, Promoted Places, has been in testing for a good part of the year. Retailers such as Walgreens, MAC Cosmetics and Starbucks have been testing the ads on Android that feature the brand logo in the pin and can include promotions.

Though still limited to a handful of metro markets in California, another area to keep an eye on in the local space is Google’s Home Services Ads program. This year, HSA opened up to HVAC services and electricians, and the whole program finally rolled out to mobile.

Google’s efforts to connect online campaigns with offline impact continued in 2016. Its store transactions measurement is still in beta, and there weren’t really any announcements around that this year, but Store Visits continued to gain traction in AdWords. Google announced it had measured more than one billion store visits from AdWords in 11 countries as of May (it’s now available in 14 countries). Store Visits also expanded to Display Network campaigns. Finally, Store Visits data became available in distance and location reports in Adwords. (The distance report is an unsung resource for advertisers with physical locations).

Audience targeting

Google has been steadily shifting from a focus on intent targeting to audience + intent targeting, thanks to market pressure from social networks Facebook. 2015’s Customer Match was the first big step in this area.

Big news in audience targeting is demographic targeting — age and gender — rolling out, and the ability to target similar audiences in search coming out in beta.

This fall, Google announced it would at last start to support cross-device retargeting. Google’s head of search ads, Jerry Dischler, made several announcements on audience targeting for search at SMX East in October: Cross-device retargeting was extended to Retargeting Lists for Search ads (RSLA), demographic targeting for age and gender in search ads was rolling out of beta, and similar audiences for search is now in open beta. These all add up to big possibilities for refining the way we execute search campaigs in 2017 and beyond.

Analytics & reporting

This year, Google unveiled the Analytics 360 Suite in May. The a la carte premium suite includes the rebranded versions of Google Analytics Premium, tag manager and Adometry attribution tools, as well as a new data management platform, a testing and optimization tool and a reporting and data visualization service. The nice thing is, the freeloaders got gifts, too. A free version of the reporting and visualization platform, Google Data Studio, rolled out early this summer. This fall, a free version of Google Optimize for landing page testing and optimization went into beta (sign up here).

Ad extensions

A quick rundown of what happened in extension land this year:

  • Bing launched a Social Extensions test in March that seems to have faded away.
  • Sitelinks started showing up in swipeable carousels. The new Price extensions started off as a list and then shifted to swipeable carousels.
  • Affiliate extensions didn’t get much fanfare when they rolled out, but I’m hoping to see some case studies on how these are working for manufacturers in 2017.
  • Message extensions came out of beta. There is a lot of promise in this extension, and it will be interesting to see the kind of support Message extensions receive next year.
  • Visual Sitelinks test started running in late fall. On mobile, each sitelinks displays with an image in a swipeable carousel card. (No, it’s not just you, the swipeable card carousel showed up all over the place this year.)  I’m not so sure about these, but we’ll see.
  • The Promotions extension beta launched ahead of Black Friday. From what I’ve heard so far, this also holds lots of promise.

Honorable Mentions, in no order particular order

Google added native inventory to the Display Network and introduced a responsive ad format to fill it. The responsive ads can run across the GDN, including in the newly available native ad inventory. Advertisers can convert text ads to responsive ads in Editor now. It looks like more may be in store for responsive ads soon.

Conversions became the king of measurement in AdWords, as Converted Clicks went off to into the sunset this fall.

Salesforce users can now import their lead data right into AdWords.

A whole bunch of weird stuff happened in AdWords Keyword Planner, presumably thanks to bots. And Google added forecasting and trend data for those with active AdWords campaigns.

Google banned payday loan adskinda sorta.

Here’s something I was excited about when it was first announced, but have yet to do anything with and am jealous of those who have: AdWords Campaign Groups.

Google started shutting down its Compare products in the US and UK early in the year — a big deal to the industries affected (credit cards, auto insurance, mortgages and travel insurance).

Google updated automated bidding in AdWords and introduced Portfolio bid strategies to make it possible to set distinct CPA targets at the ad group level.

In the US, those giant car ads, Model Automotive Ads (just rolls off the tongue), came out of beta on mobile, along with nearby dealer ads.

Christmas came early for Mac users with the release of Bing Ads Editor in June.

And that’s a wrap on 2016. Expect to see the trends we say this year — audiences; attribution, including online-to-offline; mobile; and automation — continuing to influence change in the year ahead.

Author: Ginny Marvin
Source: http://searchengineland.com/2016-paid-search-biggest-changes-266326

Categorized in News & Politics

The year 2016 has come to an end. Looking back, here’s a roundup of the Top 16 trending online tools of 2016 that were most appreciated and used by the brilliant people of the LabWorm community.

So without further ado, let’s see what the LabWormers picked as the top sites of 2016.

1. Protocols.io

Discover & share science protocol knowledge. An open access platform for sharing and discovering up-to-date life science methods.

[More details | Visit site]

2. Publons
Keep a record of every peer review you do for the world’s journals. Publons provides statistics about how peer review behaviour compares across individuals, disciplines, institutions and countries.

[More details | Visit site]

3. matters
Single observation publishing.  At Matters, you do not have to wait to assemble all the data to tell a story.

[More details | Visit site]

4. Figshare
Repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner.

[More details | Visit site]

5. Wellcome Open Research
Immediate & Transparent Publishing. A journal that allows researchers to rapidly publish any results they think are worth sharing.

[More details | Visit site]

6. Science disrupt
Creating a change in science. A group that records podcasts, writes editorials and runs events aimed at improving science.

[More details | Visit site]

7. sciNote
Open source electronic lab notebook, which helps you organize your scientific data and safely store it in one place.

[More details | Visit site]

Accelerate interpretation of your NGS data. A knowledgebase connecting targeted therapies to genomic variants.

[More details | Visit site]

9. MedStartr
Crowdfunding platform for biomedical & healthcare research.

[More details | Visit site]

10. Repositive
Discover a better way of searching for genomic data. Enabling easy search and access to genomic data.

[More details | Visit site]

11. Workspace
More than just a reference manager. Manage your research online and conveniently access it from any computer.

[More details | Visit site]

The co-working hub for researchers. Collaborative reading of articles & books while engaging in discussions direclty over the content.

[More details | Visit site]

13. Biovista Vizit
Visual bibliographic search tool. Search tool based on PubMed that helps biomedical scientists with their research, discovery work and collaboration.

[More details | Visit site]

Digital life sciences marketplace & comparison engine to find and buy the right biotech kits.

[More details | Visit site]

15. Bioz
Search engine to get insights from scientific papers about methods, tools, and reagents.

[More details | Visit site]

16. SCI.AI
Write semantic science. User friendly structuring of biomedical texts so that articles can be machine-readable and published in media format.

[More details | Visit site]

We would like to thank all of you for being part of the LabWorm community and making these great choices. We are already anxious to see what you LabWormers will be up to in this coming year. Have a fantastic 2017 and may the Worm be with you all!

Source : https://labworm.com/blog/top-research-tools-2016/

Categorized in Online Research

Searchmetrics has released their annual study of Google’s top search ranking factors. The “comparative benchmark” for SEOs illustrates how ranking factors are becoming more personalized, content relevance is paramount, technical factors are still as important as ever, and backlinks are seeing a downward trend in importance.

I will recap some of the top sections of the report in this post, but the exceptionally detailed 63-page report deserves to be read in full if you have the time to do so.

Content Factors

Searchmetrics has introduced a new ranking factor to this year’s report called content relevance, which measures how relevant a piece of content is to a search query. It is measured on a scale from 0–100, and data suggests a higher relevance score can equate to higher rankings.

Word count is still an important ranking factor, with content in the top positions exceeding 1000 words on average. The level of detail matters as much as the length of the content. Pages that show up in higher positions are detailed enough to rank comparably well for multiple similar keywords.

With that being said, the deliberate use of keywords is said to be of secondary importance, with only 53% of the top 20 queries having keywords in the title tag.

“This clearly demonstrates that Google evaluates content according to its relevance – and not by the inclusion of individual keywords.”

User Signals

User signals such as Click-Through Rate, Time on Site, and Bounce Rate are considered to be among the top ranking factors. These factors are so important because they’re all signals to Google as to how satisfied a user is with the content they just landed on.

  • The pages occupying positions 1–3 have an average CTR of 36%.
  • The average Bounce Rate for URLs on the first page of search results is 46%.
  • The Time on Site for the top 10 URLs is 3 minutes and 10 seconds

Technical Factors

The number of pages in the top 20 positions with an H1 or H2 is up compared to last year. The use of H2 tags has seen a particularly notable rise in the top landing pages this year. Since not all URLs make use of H2s, Searchmetrics recommends using them for a competitive advantage.

Here are some other highlights regarding technical ranking factors:

  • Over 45% of pages in the top 20 results were encrypted using HTTPS, up from 12% last year.
  • 86% of pages in the top 10 now use the .com TLD.
  • Pages ranking well on mobile are a third smaller than pages in the same positions on desktop.
  • Pages in the top 10 positions have a loading time of 7–8 seconds, on average.
  • Top ranking pages typically have longer URLs, around 53 characters on average.
  • All 100 of the top 100 domains have are mobile-friendly.

User Experience Factors

Internal links are said to be one of the most important user experience ranking factors, though they are being largely underutilized. Searchmetrics says the use of internal links has fallen dramatically this year compared to last year. Internal links help direct both users and search engines to other relevant pages throughout a website, which is why they’re so important. External links, number of images, and video integration are all factors that add to the user experience which are also important ranking factors.

Social Signals

According to Searchmetrics, there is an extremely high correlation between social signals and ranking position. Facebook is still the network with the highest weighted social signals. Signals from Google+ are apparently most prevalent in when it comes to the first and second positions, but fall off significantly after that. The same can be said for signals from Twitter and Pinterest as well.

”The top-ranked website in Google’s rankings displays vastly more social signals than all other pages, even more so than in 2015”

Backlink Signals

The days of backlinks being the main driving force behind search engine rankings are on their way out, Searchmetrics says. Backlinks are now just a contributing signal, taking a back seat to signals such as content relevance and user intention. In fact, for certain niche topics its possible to obtain a high ranking without even having a lot of high quality backlinks.


After having one of the industry’s most respected reports since 2012, Searchmetrics says the annual ranking reports study is no longer applicable as it once was. This marks the last the last time Searchmetrics will publish a study on general ranking factors. Expect to see more detailed industry studies from them beginning spring 2017.

Author:  Matt Southern

Source:  https://www.searchenginejournal.com/googles-top-search-ranking-factors-2016-according-searchmetrics-study/181157

Categorized in Search Engine

Apple's list of the 10 most downloaded free apps of 2016 is a great place to start if you just got a new iPhone or iPad, and want to make sure you've got the apps all your friends probably already have.

One note — Apple published its list in early December, so the smash hit Super Mario Run wasn't included in Apple's list.

Facebook and Google dominate Apple's own list of the most downloaded apps of 2016. If not for Snapchat and Pokémon Go, Facebook would have the three most downloaded iPhone apps. 





Free. Download from iTunes here. 

Facebook Messenge

Facebook MessengeriTunes

Free. Download from iTunes here

Pokémon GO


Pokémon GOiTunes

Free with in-app purchases. Download from iTunes here



Free. Download from iTunes here




Free. Download from iTunes here



Free. Download from iTunes here

Google Maps


Google MapsiTunes

Free. Download from iTunes here



Free with in-app purchases. Download from iTunes here. 



Free, but requires a subscription. Download from iTunes here

Spotify Music

Spotify MusiciTunes

Free, with in-app purchases. Download from iTunes here

Author : Kif Leswing

Source : http://www.businessinsider.com/top-free-apps-of-2016-according-to-apple-2016-12/#snapchat-1

Categorized in Science & Tech

In 2016, NASA drove advances in technology, science, aeronautics and space exploration that enhanced the world’s knowledge, innovation, and stewardship of Earth.

“This past year marked record-breaking progress in our exploration objectives,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We advanced the capabilities we’ll need to travel farther into the solar system while increasing observations of our home and the universe, learning more about how to continuously live and work in space, and, of course, inspiring the next generation of leaders to take up our Journey to Mars and make their own discoveries.”

Solar System and Beyond

This illustration depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter

After an almost five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet, NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit July 4. Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Returning data and images to Earth gathered by NASA’s Space Network will keep scientists busy for years to come.

The Sept. 8 launch of NASA's first asteroid sampling mission began a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system. Called the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), the spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with and study the asteroid Bennu, and then return a sample of it to Earth in 2023.

NASA Administrator Bolden with agency scientists and engineers discussed the next steps for NASA’s next great observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, while also providing a rare glimpse of the telescope’s mirrors following completion of the final primary mirror segment in February. The biggest and most powerful space telescope ever designed now is being prepared for transport to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2017 for testing prior to final assembly and launch in 2018.

After years of preparatory studies, NASA in 2016 formally started an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe. Called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), it will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system -- known as exoplanets -- and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.

This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

NASA's Kepler mission in May verified 1,284 new planets – the single largest finding of exoplanets to date -- more than doubling the number of confirmed planets from Kepler. This gave scientists hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth. Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope’s July planet candidate catalog, which identified 4,302 potential planets.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, and the moon is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system.

New research in May indicated solar explosions may have been the key to seeding life on Earth as we know it some 4 billion years ago.

Like sending sensors up into a hurricane, NASA announced in May it had successfully flown for the first time the four Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, spacecraft through an invisible maelstrom in space, called magnetic reconnection. MMS now also holds the Guinness World Record for highest altitude fix of a GPS signal at 43,500 miles above the surface.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft now is entering the final year of its epic voyage. While this historic science odyssey will conclude in September 2017, the spacecraft will first complete a daring two-part endgame. On Nov. 30, Cassini began a series of 20 weekly F-ring orbits, just past the outer edge of the main rings. Cassini's final phase -- called the grand finale -- begins in April 2017.

NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a major milestone in October when the last bits of science data from the Pluto flyby – stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since July 2015 – arrived safely on Earth.

In June, the mission received the green light to fly onward to a 2019 rendezvous with an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69. In January, NASA announced it was formalizing its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office supervises all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit. It also takes a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats. In October, a major milestone was reached with the number of discovered near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) crossing the 15,000 threshold, with an average of 30 new discoveries added each week.

International Space Station

One-year mission crew members Scott Kelly of NASA (left) and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos (right)

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth March 1 after an historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. The unprecedented mission continues as scientists continue to assess and apply the data to advance NASA’s understanding and preparations for long-duration human spaceflight on the Journey to Mars.

The International Space Station continues to be the world’s premier orbiting laboratory, where humans have been continuously conducting critical research for more than 16 years to demonstrate new technologies and provide benefits to Earth. Most recently, astronaut Peggy Whitson joined the space station crew; in February she will become the first woman to command the orbiting outpost twice. By the conclusion of her mission she is set to become the U.S. astronaut with the most cumulative time in space, surpassing Jeff Williams’ 2016 record of 534 days.

During four missions in 2016, NASA’s commercial cargo partners Orbital ATK and SpaceX launched more than 24,000 pounds of critical supplies to the International Space Station, including crew supplies and equipment to support hundreds of crucial science experiments and technology demonstrations aboard the space station.

Experiments included Saffire-I and Saffire-II, which provided a new way to study fire on an uncrewed exploration craft, and research included the sequencing of more than one billion base pairs of DNA in space for the first time.

The agency’s first test of an expandable module began with the delivery to the station of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) in April and its full expansion in May. During the two-year test mission of BEAM to determine whether astronauts could use such structures for deep space missions, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours several times each year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

Throughout 2016, hundreds of engineers and technicians with NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX worked to complete the final designs, manufacturing, and testing of commercial space transportation systems to return crewed spacecraft launches to American soil. While Commercial Crew Program development continues on Earth, important preparations are underway on the space station, including the delivery and installation of the first International Docking Adapter, which will enable future crews to arrive via Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

NASA also awarded future cargo resupply contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency’s Journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station from 2019 through 2024

Journey to Mars

Astronaut candidates who will join future deep space missions will arrive at NASA in the summer of 2017 to begin their training. Their selection follows the agency’s largest astronaut recruitment ever, in which more than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s astronaut class. That’s more than double the previous record.  

Artist Concept: Space Launch System in Flight

NASA’s Journey to Mars is moving forward with plans to send new robotic explorers to the Red Planet, while ticking off key milestones for the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft into the proving ground of deep space, set to launch in late 2018 from an upgraded 21st century spaceport at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  

Workers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility have completed welding on the fuel tank for the SLS core stage, while we’ve successfully tested both the solid rocket booster and the RS-25 engines which will power the rocket’s journeys to space.  The Orion spacecraft has been put through its paces, with multiple splashdown testsparachute tests, and a recovery test in the Pacific Ocean. In September, the heat shield which will protect Orion on that 2018 test flight arrived at Kennedy

In March, the agency wrapped up a comprehensive and successful review of modernization at the Kennedy Space Center. Workers upgraded a variety of systems on the launch pad and erected new platforms in the famed Vehicle Assembly Building this year in order to prepare SLS and Orion for flight. 

Image of two smallsats in orbit

The first flight of SLS also will launch 13 CubeSats, small satellite secondary payloads which will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration of deep space. NASA currently is seeking ideas for additional payloads for the second flight and partnership opportunities for the future Asteroid Redirect Mission. These efforts build on NASA’s success demonstrating the demand and use of such small satellites deployed via the space station and other launches for commercial, educational, technology, and science activities.

In August, NASA selected six companies to develop ground prototypes and new concepts for the deep space habitats that will be needed on long-duration journeys where humans will live and work for months or years at a time without cargo deliveries from Earth.

Also in August, NASA approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission to proceed to the next phase of design and development for its robotic segment. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, sought proposals for the robotic spacecraft design, and plans to award a contract for its development in 2017. 

The next two robotic missions to Mars passed key milestones in 2016, with the InSight lander getting the green light for a 2018 launch, and the Mars 2020 rover approved for the final design and construction phase.

In July, NASA selected five companies to study concepts for a potential future Mars orbiter, which would provide telecommunications and global high-resolution imaging.

In November, researchers using data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) determined an ice deposit beneath the cracked and pitted plains of the planet’s Utopia Planitia region contains about as much water as that in Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. MRO also is using its hi-res camera to examine potential landing sites for future robotic and human missions. Meanwhile, Mars scientists continue to investigate the seasonal dark streaks known as recurring slope lineae, looking for what they can tell us about the presence of water on the Red Planet.

The Curiosity rover found chemicals in Martian rocks that suggest the Red Planet once had more oxygen in its atmosphere than it does now. Curiosity also made the first in-place study of active sand dunes on another planet and found a distinctive ripple pattern not seen on Earth. The rover continued to send back amazing imagery, including a close-up view of an odd looking iron meteorite and stunning photos of the Murray Buttes, which evoke the National Parks of the American West. Curiosity can now choose its own rock targets for its laser spectrometer, a first for an instrument of this kind on a planetary mission.

Both Curiosity and the Opportunity rover, which has been operating since 2004, successfully tested a radio relay in November, using NASA-provided radios on the newly-arrived European Trace Gas Orbiter to send a signal to Earth, strengthening the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration.


NASA’s rich aeronautical research heritage added to its history of technical innovation in 2016 with advancements that will help make airplanes use less fuel, release fewer emissions and fly more quietly – and that includes working to return supersonic flight to the commercial marketplace. A preliminary design for a supersonic flight demonstrator called QueSST – short for Quiet Supersonic Technology – began in 2016 with the goal of showcasing new ways to shape an aircraft so that when it’s flying faster than the speed of sound it won’t generate an annoying sonic boom.


On a related note, having established a long-range research plan that’s in line with the aviation industry, NASA took steps in 2016 to resume designing, building and flying several experimental aircraft – or X-planes – as a means to demonstrate key green technologies and help accelerate their use by industry. It’s all part of New Aviation Horizons, a 10-year initiative included in President Obama’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The first NASA X-plane to receive an official number designation in a decade was unveiled this year. The X-57 Maxwell is a general aviation-sized aircraft equipped with 14 propellers, each turned by their own electric motor that is integrated into a uniquely-designed wing. The X-57 is scheduled for its first flight in March 2018.

NASA’s aeronautical innovators joined government and industry partners to unveil a new research laboratory at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The airspace technology demonstration (ATD-2) lab is part of a five-year test project aimed at streamlining the arrival and departure of aircraft and improving surface operations to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce fuel use in our nation’s aviation system.

Inroads were made on technologies that could be part of a system to safely operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called “drones,” in uncontrolled and controlled airspace. A complex flight campaign using NASA’s Ikhana UAS, along with virtual and real “intruder” aircraft, took place this summer to test sophisticated “detect and avoid” technologies in regulated national airspace.

April saw the first and largest demonstration of its kind when NASA engineers and operators from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) six UAS test sites across the country flew 22 drones simultaneously to assess rural operations of NASA’s UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform.

With an eye to considering revolutionary solutions to tomorrow’s challenges, NASA selected five green technology concepts for study that include research in alternative fuel cells, using 3-D printing to increase electric motor output, the use of lithium-air batteries for energy storage, new mechanisms for changing the shape of an aircraft wing in flight, and the use of a lightweight material called aerogel in the design and development of aircraft antenna.


The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will loft the Jason-3 oceanography satellite into orbit

This year, new Earth science missions got underway to enable studies that will unravel the complexities of our planet from the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere to its core. NASA joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and European partners in January to launch an oceanography satellite mission that will continue a nearly quarter-century record of tracking global sea level rise. Data from the Jason-3 mission will improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts, including helping NOAA’s National Weather Service and other global weather and environmental forecast agencies more accurately forecast the strength of tropical cyclones.

In November, NASA successfully launched for NOAA the first in a new series of highly advanced geostationary weather satellites called Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R. GOES-R will boost the nation’s weather observation capabilities, leading to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings.

NASA also is pushing the envelope on a new technology to advance our understanding of hurricanes worldwide. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission launched Dec. 15. It’s a unique small satellite constellation that will help improve hurricane intensity, track, and storm surge forecasts.

In 2017, NASA will launch two Earth-observing instruments to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s ongoing use of the orbiting space laboratory to study our changing planet. The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) from NASA’s Langley Research Center will give NASA a new way to monitor Earth’s protective ozone layer and document its ongoing recovery. The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) from Marshall Space Flight Center will measure both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning over much of the planet, data that will help improve our understanding of lightning’s connections to weather and related phenomena. Both instruments will continue important long-term data records of how our planet works.

NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites, launched in 2002, have since provided the first tool capable of quantifying land liquid water storage trends. New measurements announced in February from the mission allowed researchers for the first time to determine how much water is being stored on land that would otherwise have added to sea level rise as the result of climate change.

NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development expanded the SERVIR network of environmental monitoring centers they support this year in developing countries to West Africa. 


NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected three companies for in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly projects. The projects will mature systems concepts and technologies that could revolutionize the way we design and deploy spacecraft and large space structures in low-Earth orbit and beyond, such as additive manufacturing, robotics, and autonomy to enable manufacturing and assembling spacecraft structural systems in-orbit.

Solar Electric Propulsion

NASA’s Solar Electric Propulsion project is developing critical technologies to enable safer and more cost-effective space travel to destinations, such as Mars and asteroids. In April 2016, a commercial vendor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, was selected for a three-year contract to develop major components for a flight propulsion system, including delivering four units to be employed in an upcoming flight demonstration mission.

In July, NASA’s Game Changing Development program successfully launched a self-contained, wax-based heat exchanger to the International Space Station. This new exchanger could help offset heat and better regulate temperatures experienced by spacecraft, such as Orion. The goal is to provide in-space performance data on this flight-proven phase change material heat exchanger in order to be considered for use on NASA’s Exploration Mission-2, the first crewed mission on Orion and the Space Launch System rocket.

NASA’s Technology Transfer program continued in 2016 to share the agency’s technology with industry, academia and other government agencies at an unprecedented rate, making it simpler and faster for users to access the benefits of NASA’s investments in aerospace research. NASA’s patent gift initiative in May released dozens of patented agency technologies into the public domain, making its government-developed technologies freely available for unrestricted commercial use. And a searchable database now is online that catalogues thousands of formerly patented NASA technologies freely available for anyone to use.

Public Engagement

By engaging in public events, including South by Southwest; the USA Science and Engineering Festival; Essence Festival; Chicago Air and Water Show; Star Trek 50th Anniversary: Mission New York; and nationwide Earth Day activities, more than two million people this year had the chance to interact with representatives of America’s space agency. More than 400 million people were reached through NASA’s use of social media during these events.

NASA’s globally popular website, NASA.gov, was honored again in 2016 with the People’s Voice award for best government website at the Webby Awards. The popular vote was the eighth People’s Voice award for the site, and after 2015’s redesign, it was the fourth different design for which NASA has won. Traffic to the site continued to increase steadily, rising 20 percent over 2015 numbers to just more than 300,000 visits per day. The site also continues to receive customer satisfaction ratings that put it near the top of all government websites.

NASA’s social media presence continued to grow in 2016. The agency’s flagship Twitter account now has more than 20 million followers, the most in the federal government and top 100 overall on the platform. NASA also has the most followers in government on Facebook with about 18 million likes. In addition to NASA TV, the agency also broadcasted its first rocket launch on Facebook Live, reaching more than 800,000 people. While in orbit aboard the International Space Station, #YearInSpace astronaut Scott Kelly hosted NASA’s first Tweetchat, Reddit AMA, Tumblr Answer Time, and Facebook Q&A from space. After his return, he hosted a Facebook Live and the agency kicked off its official presence on Snapchat. This month, NASA officially launched Pinterest and GIPHY accounts. The agency also hosted 15 NASA Socials, bringing together more than 1,000 followers who engage with NASA via social media for unique in-person experiences of exploration and discovery.

Citizen Science, Prizes and Challenges

In 2016, NASA launched 28 challenges with almost 122,000 participants, received over 5,000 submissions, and provided a total of $1.2 million in cash awards. Eight NASA citizen scientists also were recognized as co-authors on a peer-reviewed paper. The agency launched a new GLOBE Observer app for citizen scientists to track changes in their local environment, and a way for the public to participate in the exploration of our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter. 

NASA’s partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers ran two successful Future Engineers 3-D printed design competitions for students, the Star Trek Replicator and the Think Outside the Box challenges. This summer, the winner of the 2014 Space Tool Design Future Engineers challenge saw his multipurpose tool design printed onboard the space station. NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) successfully conducted seven NASA Tournament Lab challenges and finally saw the crowd-developed ISS Food Intake Tracker successfully deployed on the space station iPads for use by astronauts.

NASA's Centennial Challenges program launched two new competitions: the Vascular Tissue challenge uses regenerative medicine to help humans survive long-term space travel, and the Space Robotics challenge is working to build robots that could help humans during the journey to Mars. NASA also awarded $750,000 to West Virginia University for winning the Sample Robot Return challenge, and the Cube Quest challenge awarded a total of $300,000 to the highest-scoring teams in two ground tournaments.

STEM Education Collaboration

NASA continued its work with other federal agencies, industry partners and academia to provide to students and teachers throughout the United States unique and compelling opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. This year, NASA awarded approximately $13 million to 12 informal education organizations to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The agency also continued its support of students through programs like NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, and awarded scholarships and fellowships to 111 students, including over $800,000 for 14 students through the Aeronautics Scholarships and Advanced STEM Training and Research Fellowships program. NASA also offered opportunities for 1734 students to intern at NASA facilities across the country. 

As part of NASA’s effort to inspire and educate the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and explorers, and to honor the story of African-American women who broke barriers at NASA and in 1960s society, the Office of Education created a Modern Figures toolkit for educators teaching grades K-12, and hosted a Digital Learning Network event Dec. 1 at NASA’s Langley Research Center to tell the story behind the story of the upcoming movie Hidden Figures

Author:  Bob Jacobs

Source:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-reveals-the-unknown-in-2016

Categorized in Science & Tech

Africa’s tweeters and Instagrammers have been busy this year, demanding political change and criticizing underperforming leaders. Government crackdowns highlight the threat social media poses to those in power, especially around election time: Yoweri Museveni’s regime blocked social media in Uganda during the February election, while Congolese authorities shut down platforms in December when President Joseph Kabila’s mandate ended.

But African social media users have also taken to Twitter, Facebook and other platforms for more light-hearted purposes—mocking the over-the-top show of deference made by one Cameroonian minister to his president, for instance.

Newsweek reviews five of the most popular hashtags and trends to sweep the continent in 2016.


November 8 heralded an event that most commentators and pollsters failed to predict: the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. But while America’s liberal establishment mourned the result, Africans took to social media to lighten the mood, parodying typical Western responses to African elections—from proposing military intervention to claiming that war-torn African countries were evacuating their citizens from “the troubled North American country.”


Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video message on YouTube in April, draped in his country’s flag. He told Newsweek he had made the video in desperate frustration at the state of the country’s economy, after struggling to pay his children’s school fees.

The video went viral and sparked the #ThisFlag social media movement—calling for an overhaul of the Zimbabwean government and the resignation of 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.

Ivory Coast Facebook

Search engine results about the new version of Facebook in the popular West African language Peul in September. Africans have used social media to engage with politics in 2016.ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY

#ThisFlag has had mixed results. Thousands of Zimbabweans heeded a call made by Mawarire and his supporters in July for a nationwide strike which left streets and businesses across the country empty. But Mawarire was forced to flee the country, while Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party confirmed over the weekend that the 92-year-old would be its sole candidate for the next presidential election in 2018.

The movement has become a rallying cry, however, for disgruntled Zimbabweans to demand change—even if they have to wait to do it via the ballot box.


In Cameroon, Paul Biya is a man that commands respect, even reverence: the 83-year-old has been president of the West African country for more than three decades. But when photos emerged in December of the country’s Sports Minister, Pierre Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt, greeting Biya, many Cameroonians decided he had gone too far. Bidoung’s deep bow and the significant distance he maintained from the president were the butt of many jokes...


Not a specific hashtag, but rather the template for many Africans when election time comes round: #UgandaDecides trended in February (despite a government-imposed partial social media shutdown), while #GhanaDecides was popular in December. Such hashtags bear witness to just how politically engaged African social media users are. An April report by U.K.-based communications firm Portland, which analyzed 1.6 billion geolocated tweets, found that one in 10 of the most popular African hashtags related to political matters, compared to just 2 percent of hashtags in the United States and United Kingdom.

In some cases, the #AfricaDecides template was tweaked, notably in Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh performed a dramatic U-turn by rejecting his election defeat, despite initially accepting the result. Gambians shared the hashtag #GambiaDecided en masse to remind Jammeh that the country had spoken and, after 22 years in power, it was time for him to move on.


2016 has been a tough year for Nigeria’s economy. Hit by the global fall in commodity prices and an insurgency in the Niger Delta which slashed the country’s precious oil production by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day, Africa’s most populous country slipped into recession in August. The value of the Nigerian currency, the naira, has also been a bit of a rollercoaster: the naira’s value was pegged at 197 to one U.S. dollar for 16 months before the country’s central bank allowed the currency to float freely in June, sending its value soaring. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently announced a 2.36 trillion naira ($7.75 billion) budget aimed at tackling the recession.

In May, Nigeria recorded its first trade deficit (when imports outweigh exports) in seven years, recording a negative balance of 184.1 billion naira ($925 million). Many Nigerians rallied on social media—some motivated by Nigerian businessman and politician Ben Murray-Bruce—in a bid to make Nigerian, or Naija, products more attractive to consumers.


Source:  http://europe.newsweek.com/five-social-media-crazes-swept-africa-2016-534342?rm=eu

Categorized in Social

From the first direct evidence for black holes, to a rocky planet circling a neighbouring star, 2016 was packed with amazing science stories. Here's a selection.

Crest of a wave

Gravitational waves

Image copyrightLIGO/T. PYLE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYImage captionArtist's impression: The existence of gravitational waves was first proposed by Albert Einstein

About a century ago, Albert Einstein proposed the existence of ripples in the fabric of space-time - as an outcome of his Theory of General Relativity. It took until February this year, however, for scientists to finally detect them, using an approach known as laser interferometry.

Quite apart from this spectacular confirmation of Einstein's ideas, the discovery also provided the first direct confirmation for the existence of black holes. It opens up a completely new branch of astronomy, offering a way to probe cosmic phenomena that are off limits to other forms of astronomical inquiry.

The hope is that this will all lead to a more complete understanding of the Universe and even shine a light on what got it all started - the Big Bang.

Shake your tail feather

Media captionProf Mike Benton explains the origins of the newly discovered dinosaur tail to Radio 4's Today

Humans have been turning amber into jewellery and trinkets since prehistoric times. And it's not uncommon to find ancient beetles, ants and other insects trapped in the fossilised tree sap. But it's unusual to find the remains of larger animals.

In June, researchers Lida Xing, Ryan McKellar and others published details of wings from baby birds trapped in 99-million-year-old amber from north-eastern Myanmar.

The finds preserved spectacular detail of the feathers and traces of colour, but the best was yet to come. In December, the same team unveiled a dinosaur tail captured in amber from the same region - a world-first discovery.

Scientists think the juvenile animal - small enough to have fitted in the palm of a hand - got trapped in sticky sap from the tropical forest that once existed there and could not wrestle free.

Peake performance

At the end of 2015, Tim Peake became the first "official" UK astronaut to launch into space since Helen Sharman visited the Soviet Mir Space Station in 1991.

His mission certainly got off to an eventful start. A few hours after launch, the flight's Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko had to manually dock the Soyuz spacecraft with the space station following the failure of its "Kurs" radar system.

Tim Peake

Image copyright NASA

Then, in January, Nasa announced that Peake would step outside the space station to help repair a failed voltage regulator. He became the first ever person to wear the Union Flag on a spacewalk.

Soyuz Capsule

Image copyrightNASA/BILL INGALLSImage captionFor sale: one Soyuz capsule, three careful owners. Slightly singed

But while the walk achieved its primary objective, it had to be called off earlywhen water began leaking into the helmet of colleague Tim Kopra's spacesuit.

Major Tim also became the first person to "run" the London Marathon from space, attached to the ISS's special microgravity treadmill, before returning to Earth in June.

Media captionSpacewalks, auroras, space invaders and a gorilla chase! Watch key moments from Esa astronaut Tim Peake's mission

The world next door

This year, astronomers confirmed the existence of a rocky exoplanet orbiting the nearest star to our Solar System - Proxima Centauri. This rocky world in a next-door system - named Proxima b - also sits within the so-called habitable zone around its star.

Artwork of Proxima b

Image copyrightESO/M.KORNMESSERImage captionArtwork: The planet's mass would suggest it is a rocky world like Earth

However, Proxima Centauri belongs to a class of small, cool stars known as M dwarfs. They are quite different to the mid-sized yellow category that our Sun belongs to. Because they are cooler, the habitable zones around M dwarfs are located further in. But this also exposes planets to the harsh radiation by these stars.

Just how suitable for life the habitable zones of these M dwarf stars are remains a matter for debate. In September, a team of researchers estimated that Proxima b could be blasted by deadly "superflares" from the host star about eight times a year.

'Game-changing' lens

structure of the lens seen under microscope

Image copyrightFEDERICO CAPASSOImage captionThis electron microscope image shows the structure of the lens (white line is 0.002mm long)

The search for a compact, thin lens that performs as well, or better, than the bulky, curved types used in cameras and telescopes got a major boost during 2016.

A flat lens made of paint whitener on a sliver of glass could be "game-changing", according to one of its US inventors.

"The quality of our images is actually better than with a state-of-the-art objective lens. I think it is no exaggeration to say that this is potentially revolutionary," said Prof Federico Capasso of Harvard University.

These "metalenses" work in the visible spectrum but avoid the shortfalls - known as aberrations - inherent in traditional glass optics. In fact, the focal spot of the flat lens was typically 30% sharper than its competition.

But just as importantly, because the lenses are flat, they could be manufactured in the same foundries that produce computer chips. This means they could be made on a large scale at a fraction of the cost of conventional lenses.

Space bonanza


Image copyrightESA/ROSETTA/MPS FOR OSIRIS TEAMImage captionAt 15.5km from the surface - the head of the duck is in full view

One of the most important robotic spacecraft missions of recent times came to an end in 2016, as the European Space Agency crashed its Rosetta spacecraft into the comet it had been orbiting for two years.

Just before that happened, mission scientists announced that they had found Philae, the little lander that had detached from Rosetta and descended to the surface of Comet 67P in 2014.

Philae had relayed pictures and science data to Earth, but bounced off the surface and fell silent 60 hours later when its battery went flat. Its resting place had been a mystery, but Rosetta's Osiris cameras spotted the probe wedged in an overhang, explaining why it couldn't get enough sunlight to power its batteries.

Europe's other big mission of the year also crashed on its target, albeit unintentionally. Schiaparelli, which was intended to test the technology for landing on Mars, suffered a glitch that caused its parachute to jettison too early.

Officials at the agency were concerned that the next stage in the Mars programme - the ExoMars rover - might not receive sufficient funding at a meeting of ministers in December. But delegates eventually decided to stump up the money.

AI comes of age?

Lee Se-dol

Image copyrightGOOGLEImage captionMr Lee won one of the five matches

Google's Deep Mind wowed observers yet again this year, with more powerful demonstrations of artificial intelligence.

In March, the lab's AlphaGo programme beat one of the world's top players of Go - the strategy board game. In fact, Le Se-dol won only one of the five matches against his silicon-based opponent, missing out on a $1m prize.

And in a study published in the journal Neuron, researchers from DeepMind collaborated with scientists from Oxford and UCL to probe how the human brain navigates underground train maps. First author Jan Balaguer said the work could help scientists "design more clever algorithms".

AI expert Prof Noel Sharkey said we shouldn't be too worried about rogue AI taking over the world. But he suggested we might do well to keep an eye on our jobs.

Source: This article was published on bbc.com by Paul Rincon

Categorized in Science & Tech

Retailers investing in new technologies during 2016 did so in many cases to keep up with the competition, often represented most specifically by Amazon — the company that influenced how many of them pursued e-commerce, and now is prompting them to consider innovations in the emerging area of conversational commerce.

Retailers also pursued new innovations this year in the name of enabling better interactions and stronger relationships with their customers. That notion is the common thread running through what we believe were the five most significant areas of retail technology innovation in 2016.

1. Artificial Intelligence

It’s very likely a lot of retail folks feel AI was the biggest and most broadly impactful innovation to shape the retail sector in 2016. And it’s not just a single innovation, but a vast field on innovation, affecting everything from chatbots (more about those little guys shortly) to other forms of virtual shopping assistants to mobile and visual search to mall directory services.

The most familiar AI-powered solution is Amazon’s Alexa, and though it arrived before this year, Amazon did a lot of work this year to build an ecosystem around its AI-based assistant — work that will inform future AI innovations all across the retail sector. Late in the year, Amazon made several key moves, including creating an accelerator program releasing some of Alexa’s core technology components to developers, that should help trigger an explosion of AI initiatives in retail for years to come.

Significantly, Amazon also teamed with a couple of other heavyweights  —  Google and Facebook  —  for an alliance intended to advance understanding of AI technology and help craft best practices for its development and use. This teaming could help ensure recent AI innovations are responsibly implemented, something that surely will affect broader retail adoption. As Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, said at the time of the announcement, “A small number of large corporations are today the powerhouses behind the development of sophisticated artificial intelligence. The inauguration of the partnership on AI is a very welcome step towards ensuring this technology is used wisely.”

Aside from Amazon, there were too many launches of AI-driven solutions in 2016 to list here, but milestones include the just-announced AI-based navigation and information apps for Mall of America and Fashion Island mall; eBay’s use of AI in creating curated marketplaces and other solutions; separate efforts by MasterCard and Stripe to deploy AI to fight fraud; and Staples' efforts to infuse its familiar Easy Button with AI.

These aren't just innovations for the sake of innovation. The chief aim with many of these efforts is to enable better customer shopping experiences, often through AI-driven conversation commerce functions. When Target teamed with startup AddStructure this fall to develop an Alexa-like assistant, a Target spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune “One of the great things about the technology is it works with customers the way they naturally talk and the way they search for things. Anything we can use to create a better experience for our guests, that’s what is most appealing to us.”

Not surprisingly, AI also was at the center of several acquisitions and executive migrations during 2016. Etsy acquired new AI talent by buying Blackbird Technologies, while eBay, another early champion of AI in retaillost a key AI exec to Amazon. As the retail’s AI revolution ramps up, there is surely more of that to come in 2017.

2. Chatbots

Some of you surely are thinking “Aren’t chatbots just one form of AI? Is Retail Dive cheating us out of hearing about other innovations?”

Gentle reader, we would never do such a thing — and also, while chatbots are indeed one form of AI-based solution, they also represent their own vast area of innovation in how retailers are helping their customers interact with them. While AI is the enabler, a number of parties are taking the concept and running with it to create useful and distinct chatbots, and no company may have done more during 2016 to the emerging retail chatbot economy than Facebook.

The social media giant back in April unveiled a suite of support functions for chatbots to run on its Messenger platform, a move the seemed to release a lot of pent-up energy, as more than 11,000 chatbots joined Messenger over the next few months. Facebook has continued to beef up its program by adding new services and making it easier for its members to find chatbots through newsfeed ad capabilities.

The new chatbots in some ways represent a re-innovation of some functions retailers have tried to offer through their mobile apps, with varying degrees of success.“All these brands have written apps and no one uses those apps,” Razorfish executive and retail blogger Jason Goldberg told Retail Dive at the time of Facebook's original chatbot announcement. “The bots don’t require any installation, so a lot of people, myself included, feel the bot is the new app."

Several retailers have aggressively moved to develop chatbots. The year began with Sephora launching its Virtual Artist chatbot, which it continued to enhance it throughout the months to follow, and activity continued right until the final days of 2016, as Nordstrom launched its first chatbot.

One of the more intriguing chatbot rollouts came from eBay, which launched a still-learning beta version of its ShopBot chatbot with the belief that could learn faster and become increasingly useful to eBay customers by interacting with them. Retail chatbots are right now where retail mobile apps were a few years ago — they’re nice-to-haves, but they soon will be must-haves.

3. Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality

Before we go any further, maybe we should talk semantics: Virtual reality has to do with the creation of immersive virtual environments, while augmented reality is intended to indicate the mixing of virtual and real elements in a hybrid environment. That said, it’s gotten pretty hard to separate the two notions, and the differences may not so much matter to all the retailers than have embraced them in the past year.

VR/AR (not be confused with AC/DC) is an overnight sensation that was at least 25 years in the making. Early VR/AR tools lacked quality and consistency, and were too costly even for adventurous early adopters. We’ve seen that change in recent years, with the development of high-end VR headsets and more affordable solutions from the likes of Google and Samsung, VR/AR technologies and startups have started to draw much more funding, and several industry experts suggested that 2016 was the start of a VR/AR boom.

In 2016, VR/AR certainly played a major role in retail on two different levels — both as a marketing and sales tool for retailers, and a viable product worth their shelf space. Home décor retailer Wayfair.com arguably led the way among individual retailers using VR/AR as a tool to help them sell and interact with customers: The company launched its Patio Playground VR app, developed by its Wayfair Next lab unit, in July, and continued to enhance and expand its VR offerings in recent months.

Wayfair co-founder and chairman Steve Conine called VR a "transformative discovery platform," and explained how Patio Playground allows the retailer to liven up its customer interactions: “By combining our advanced first-party 3-D scanning and visualization capabilities with Facebook’s virtual reality headset, the Wayfair Next team has created an interactive and entertaining way for customers to get inspired and browse items for their home.”

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s also advanced its own VR/AR strategy, expanding its HoloLens virtual design program with partner Microsoft. Meanwhile, Alibaba advanced its aims to allow VR users to pay for items while engaged in VR sessions. Elsewhere, the wildly popular Pokemon Go game helped raise the profile of VR/AR, not that it needed help.

In sales of VR gear, the year started promisingly, with AT&T committing to in-store demonstrations of new VR gear, and got even better when Best Buy expanded its own demos of VR gear to more than 500 stores. Whatever you want to call it, the VR/AR era is here.

4. Payments

Like everything else on this list, online and mobile payment technologies and payment apps didn’t just come to light in the last 12 months, but 2016 certainly was a game-changing year of innovation and new releases.

This year featured the fizzling of retail’s ambitions to have a unified payments app, as the Merchant Customer Exchange consortium’s ill-fated CurrentC gave way to new apps from individual retailers, banks and tradition payment card networks. Among the new launches were Walmart PayCVS PayCiti Pay and others.

Likewise, payments apps from mobile sector players also made strides in 2016. After some stagnant years, contactless in-store payments from mobile devices as well as mobile online and in-app payments started to pick up steam. Apple did its part when it updated Apple Pay for acceptance on retailer websites. Perhaps feeling some pressure, the powers behind Android Pay and Samsung Pay also made moves to expand the availability and utility of their payment solutions.

Finally, 2016 is ending with forecasts of a mobile payments boom unfolding in the coming years. There is some concern about how crowded the market is, but it is very likely that the broad emergence of new payment apps we started to see this year will carry into next year. There are plenty of other retailers who may feel that have something to gain — or customers to keep satisfied — if they launch their own branded payment offering.

Speaking at an industry event this fall, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Wal-Mart Services, suggested retailer-branded payment apps represent an evolution in customer loyalty and satisfaction efforts. “We’re all about engaging consumers and not based on any loyalty scheme,” he said. “Time is a currency in our customers’ lives. Saving the customer time is just as valuable as [giving them a discount]. We saw the value [in Walmart Pay] with time and convenience, versus a loyalty scheme.”

5. Personalization

This is another one that could easily have fallen into the broad spectrum of AI, and in many cases, when retailers talk about efforts to enable greater personalization, AI is the technology platform they are using to enable it. But personalization in its own right was the concept often subject to innovation as retailers rolled out new customer service features in 2016.

The recently launched My Starbucks Barista ordering feature in Starbucks’ popular mobile app was a great example of this sort of innovation: The coffeehouse goliath is enhancing the app with a voice-based ordering feature that it plans to evolve to include product recommendations and paring suggestions. It’s the type of capability that Amazon pioneered on a large scale, but other retailers are now putting their own spin on.

eBay is another company that recently has done a lot to enable more personalization within its mobile app, redesigning it with more personalization features, like product recommendations and more search filtering options. R.J. Pittman, the online marketplace’s chief product officer, explained what the company is aiming to accomplish with such efforts: "Shoppers have complex needs, which are often not fully met by traditional search engines. While offline retailers can offer human experts to help, there aren’t enough experts around to help us with everything we want and need," Pittman wrote in a blog post. "Combining AI with eBay’s breadth of inventory and unique selection will enable us to create a radically better and more personal shopping experience."

Personalization capabilities also were a key driver in IBM’s acquisition of Fluid’s personal shopper unit. IBM is intent on further integrating the personal shopping capability with its Watson AI to increase Watson’s ability to engage on a more personal level with shoppers. The desire to create a more personal bond with customers also drove Bed Bath & Beyond to buy PersonalizationMall, a company which creates literally personalized products.

Studies suggest these 2016 endeavors are a step in the right direction for retailers. Deloitte found that many shoppers prefer a personalized, self-directed shopping journey, and Experian reported that personalization efforts improve the open rate of marketing emails.

Getting personal with customers may sound like an old an obvious idea, but this year retailers have begun to put a new spin on it, bringing new capabilities to mobile and online platforms that underline the value of personal engagement in the purchasing process.

Author:  Dan O'Shea

Source:  http://www.retaildive.com/news/5-tech-trends-that-transformed-retail-in-2016/432316

Categorized in Science & Tech
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