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What it means to be a front-end developer in 2020 (and beyon…


Do you ever think about what the front-end part of front-end developer really means? I once asked Eric Meyer (who has been building websites for nearly as long as there have been websites) if he knew what the term meant back in the very early days, and he said yes. So, it’s not a brand new title or position, but it’s certainly moved in scope over the years.

​​“Front-end” essentially means web browser. I consider myself a front-end developer, and I honestly wouldn’t hate it if you called me a web browser developer. But, that probably won’t  catch on (and sort of sounds like you build web browsers). As a front-end developer, you work very closely with web browsers and write the code that runs in them, specifically HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the handful of other languages that web browsers speak (for instance, media formats like SVG). Or, perhaps even more commonly explained, code that ultimately gets processed into those languages that browsers understand. That’s your territory as a front-end developer! 

Browsers don’t exist alone, they run on a wide landscape of devices. We learned that through the era of responsive design. And most importantly: users use those browsers on those devices. Nobody is closer to the user than front-end developers. So front-end developers write code for people using browsers that run on a wide variety of devices.

Image of 7 hands holding different mobile devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets.
Image from Shuttershock

​​Just dealing with this huge landscape of users, devices, and browsers is a job unto itself! I would think that it’s not every day that you think philosophically about your job title, and that’s fine; we’re just doing a little reflecting here with your ol’ grandpa Chris. 

​​If you’ve just graduated from a coding bootcamp and your experience building websites is somewhat narrow and new, you could be forgiven if you think of front-end development as “the React stuff” and back-end development as “the Node stuff” or “the Python stuff,” as are the hottest flavors these days. You aren’t wrong, either. React is generally used as a front-end framework (it’s literally JavaScript that runs in browsers). Node and Python are examples of languages that don’t really run in web browsers; they are built to run on web servers (uhh, computers). 

​​Stick around in this field for a while, and you’ll see these libraries, languages, build processes, and heck, even entire philosophies on how best to build websites come and go like a slow tide. 

​​You might witness some old-timer waving their fist from time to time, yelling that we should learn from the mistakes of the past. You could also witness some particularly boisterous youth waving their fists just as high, pronouncing the past an irrelevant context and no longer a useful talking point.

Image of one child being silly and the other looks very angry and is shaking his fist.
Image from Shuttershock

​​They’re both right, probably. As long as nobody is being nasty, it’s all part of the flow.

​​Things change. I find it to be true that many websites of today are more complex than websites of the past. Particularly the big ones. The social networks and media players. The travel booking sites. The eCommerce storefronts. The engineering tools. These sites started big and have only gotten bigger. They are economies onto themselves with massive teams supporting them. This complexity is a cause of change in web technology and a cause of friction between the new and old schools (if we can paint it that simply).

​​Many people that work in tech work for, essentially, a big website. And so we hear from these people most often. These people build tools. They write blog posts, they go on podcasts, they deliver talks. They help change technology itself, to suit their needs.

​​All the while, the “front-end” is still just the browser. The browsers languages, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are still the core technologies at play. Those languages evolve, and so do the browsers themselves, but more slowly. They do quite the opposite of Silicon Valley’s favorite slogan: move fast and break things. They move slowly and very rarely break anything.

​​Being a front-end developer is still caring about users who use those browsers on those devices. Their experience is our job. The tooling just helps us do it, hopefully. 

​​So what are you doing as a front-end developer?

  • ​​You’re executing the design such that it looks good on any screen
  • ​​You’re applying semantics to content
  • ​​You’re building UI abstractly such that you can re-use parts and styles efficiently
  • ​​You’re considering the accessibility of what renders in the browser 
  • ​​You’re concerned about the performance of the site, which means you’re dealing with how big and how many resources are being used by the browser.

​​Those things have always been true, and always will be, since they are fundamentally browser-level concerns and that’s what front-end is. 

​​What’s changing is that the browser is capable of more and more work. There are all sorts of reasons for that, like browser APIs getting more capable, libraries getting fancier, and computers getting better, in general. Offloading work from the server to the browser has made more and more sense over the years (single page apps!). Although it’s interesting to watch the pendulum swing back (pre-rendered sites!) and find a middle ground (JAMstack!). 

​​Front-end development these days might also include:

  • ​​Architecting the entire site from the tiniest component to entire pages up to the URL level
  • ​​Fetching your own data from APIs and manipulate the data as needed for display
  • ​​Dealing with the state of the site on your own
  • ​​Mutating/changing data through user interaction and input and persist that data in state and back to the servers through APIs

​​Those are all things that can be done in the browser now, much to the widening eyes of this old developer. That’s a heck of a haystack of responsibility when you consider it’s on top of all the stuff you already have to do.

An image of a few different people looking in a large haystack.
Image from Shuttershock

​​While that haystack of jobs tends to grow over the years, the guiding light we have as front-end developers hasn’t changed all that much. Our core responsibility is still taking care of users who use web browsers on devices. So we have to fetch some data. That’s cool, we’re doing it in service to building a fast, semantic, accessible page to serve our user’s needs. So we need to build a design system. That’s cool, we’re doing it to build an understandable interface for our users capable of evolving without creating an inconsistent mess. So we have to learn some new unfamiliar technology. Well, it’s our job to keep a watchful eye and make sure that new thing is ultimately there to better our site for users. 

​​Good luck! 

An image of Chris Coyier working at his desk.
Photo from Kimberly Bailey, Flywheel’s in-house photographer



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A Visual Diary of This Year’s WIRED25 Festival


Forecasting the future was the mandate during last week’s WIRED25, our second annual ideas festival. Onstage, tech executives and scientists hashed out plans for a better tomorrow, while offstage attendees discussed what those days ahead could look like. Instagram’s chief product officer told the audience it might be a good idea to stop obsessing over how many likes other people get, while scientists from Memphis Meats detailed ways people can be better stewards to the planet by eating meat grown in a laboratory from cells. Alongside these big ideas were also small moments of creativity, like young minds molding slime, building paper airplanes, and workshopping their own science-fiction worlds. When she wasn’t making portraits of the event’s luminaries, photographer Dina Litovsky roamed the Commonwealth Club and captured some of the moments that may have inspired budding geniuses to unlock the next future-bending idea. See what she saw below.

Levi Draheim, Kelsey Juliana, and Vic Barrett are three of the youth plaintiffs suing the US government for perpetuating climate change.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
Earth’s mightiest defenders both onscreen and off: Captain America (Chris Evans, right) meets Kelsey Juliana, Levi Draheim, and Vic BarrettPhotograph: Dina Litovsky
WIRED’s editor in chief Nicholas Thompson. Read his manifesto on how we can improve tech.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
What looks like a normal file cabinet actually contains American datasets in which black people are either under- or overrepresented.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
Do you like the scent on one of these fabric swatches? According to this experiment’s designers, that may mean you’d be a good match with the person who wore the shirt it came from.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
Back-to-back-to-back Hugo Award-winning author N.K. Jemisin led attendees through a workshop on how to build literary worlds.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
The sky’s the limit when it’s John M. Collins, better known as The Paper Airplane Guy, giving you tips on how to crease and tuck your creations.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
Saturday’s slime workshop proved popular with the younger set…Photograph: Dina Litovsky
… but not so much with the TSA agents who found this goo in carry-ons afterwards.Photograph: Dina Litovsky
Don’t let parents and screen-time limits hold you back, kid. Look close, it’s the future.Photograph: Dina Litovsky

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Space Photos of the Week: 2019 Transit of Mercury


Of all the planets in our solar system, Mercury might be the most underrated. It doesn’t have fancy swirling clouds or rings or plumes. It doesn’t even have an atmosphere. This little rocky body does have a history of volcanism, though, and even has water ice in its craters. Mercury is also locked into a special resonance with Jupiter (think of it like a billion-year-old dance partner), and there’s a chance that, many millions of years from now, Mercury will lose its balance and get flung out of the solar system and maybe take Mars out on its way.

Just this week, our innermost planet got its moment of glory, when it executed a rare transit, passing in front of the Sun in just the right alignment so people on Earth could view it. It won’t transit again until 2032. Only two spacecraft have ever visited li’l Mercury: Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975, and the Messenger mission—which orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015, when it was deorbited and crashed into the surface. This week we’re going to get a bit more familiar with the solar system’s innermost world.

If you take a look at the bottom left corner of this image of our Sun, you’ll see a tiny black dot. Oh hi, Mercury! On November 11, the innermost planet began to cross between Earth and the Sun for the first time in years. (Sure, it looks especially small here, but everything can look tiny compared with our star.)Photograph: Bill Ingalls/NASA
When NASA’s Messenger mission was in orbit around Mercury, it took photos of the planet in unprecedented detail, including this photo of the rim of the Rembrandt basin. At 445 miles across, Rembrandt is the largest basin on the surface, and that long seam running diagonally across the center of the image is a feature of plate tectonics.NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The bright crater at the top of the image is called Dominici crater. Whatever struck the surface hit hard enough to send ejecta material out across the planet, revealing the volcanic remnants and lighter material below. This entire basin has been filled in by lava from volcanoes, so meteorite strikes like these that stir up dirt and rocks can help scientists get some clues about what sorts of materials are below the surface.NASA Goddard
This false color image of the Caloris basin shows old lava in orange and material that has been stirred up by meteorite strikes in deeper purples. Scientists on the Messenger team planned this photo for when the Sun and the spacecraft were directly overhead. Talk about using a natural light source to get your shot: The brightness of the Sun meant that the instruments and camera on Messenger were able to collect clear, detailed data.NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
This is Messenger, our spacecraft du jour. The planet Mercury is named after the Greek messenger god, but NASA rarely does anything that is not also an acronym. Messenger stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging. During its four years in orbit, not only did Messenger discover evidence of ancient volcanism on the planet, but also found water ice in the craters as well.KSC

While you wait for the next Mercury transit, take a look at the rest of the collection of space photos here.


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Starlings Fly in Flocks So Dense They Look Like Sculptures


At sunset in winter in Spain, thousands of starlings gather in enormous flocks, named murmurations for the low fluttering thunder of their wings. The birds move in astounding unison, each mimicking its six or seven of their nearest neighbors as they whirl across the sky.

It’s breathtaking, sure. But add a hungry hawk or falcon, and your jaw will drop. When the raptor swoops in to attack, its prey bolts in the opposite direction, triggering what scientists call “waves of agitation” that pulse through the flock at speeds surpassing 50 miles per hour.

Photograph: Xavi Bou
Photograph: Xavi Bou

“The falcon is shaping this great living sculpture that is the starling cloud,” says Xavi Bou, a Catalonian photographer whose dazzling series Ornitographies visualizes the patterns birds make through the air. His images condense several seconds of movement into a single frame to better capture their flight—and fight.

“It’s maybe the most complex movement that I could show in bird flights,” he adds.

Bou’s unique focus (previously covered by WIRED) sets him apart from other bird photographers, who are often more interested in their subject’s plumage or wingspans. Since he only cares about their trajectory through the air, Bou is free to document urban birds like starlings that look more ordinary—though their aeronautics are anything but.

Spain is home to millions of spotless starlings (Sturnus unicolor), and also hosts common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) from Central and Northern Europe in the fall. When the birds gather there, they tend to flock in mixed murmurations, likely for safety. “The bigger the flock, the less likely that ‘you’ will be taken,” says ornithologist Ernest Garcia.

Photograph: Xavi Bou
Photograph: Xavi Bou

The photographer captured his first big flock back in 2011, but it took Bou until last December to find another one as big. The birds were roosting in a marsh in the Ebro Delta, a 79,000-acre wetland a couple hours south of his hometown Barcelona. Each day they fed in nearby fields and returned to sleep in the reeds at night, inevitably drawing the unwanted attention of a falcon looking to hunt.

Bou filmed their elaborate aerial stunts over several evenings, capturing 60 frames per second with a 4K video camera to produce 1 terabyte of imagery. Later, he split the footage into clips, each between five and 20 seconds long and containing 300 to 1,200 frames. He layered those in Photoshop to produce the final images. The result is wonderfully impressionistic, reminding Bou of “energetic strokes produced by charcoal or ink in the air.”

After being in the Ebro Delta a couple months, the starlings departed for a park further north. If they return next year, Bou will be waiting—and likely, so will the falcon.


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Space Photos of the Week: Terrific, Tantalizing Titan


Titan is Saturn’s largest and weirdest moon. In fact, it’s more like a planet: Titan is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere, and it has a gravity that is similar to Earth’s. It even has lakes and rivers—except on Titan, the “waterways” are actually liquid methane and ethane (liquid because the surface is very cold, minus-291 degrees Fahrenheit).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Titan is that organic compounds like hydrocarbons exist there, which means the moon contains materials that could make up life. Any life-form that might exist on Titan, though, would likely look like nothing we can imagine. To date, only one spacecraft has ever been near this special moon, and that is NASA’s Cassini mission, which ended in September 2017.

In 2024, NASA will send a mission to Titan called Dragonfly. This dual quadcopter will descend onto the moon’s surface and fly around in search of evidence of habitability.

In 2015, Cassini used one of its infrared instruments to peer through Titan’s thick atmosphere and take a gander at the surface. The darker regions are dunes, just like we have here on Earth and on Mars. And the bright areas are regions with liquid lakes surrounded by rocky material.Photograph: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho
Cassini burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere two years ago, but researchers are still processing the data it sent back. Last week, NASA revealed the first geological map of the surface of Titan. The purple areas align with the previous photo—the areas with dunes. The blue indicates lakes, and the sweeping teal areas are all flat, open plains.Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
Here we see a close up of one of Titan’s dunes, called Shangri-la. Each dark line is a sand dune, and they worm around the landscape like a wood pattern. The brighter spots in this photo are mountains and cliffs. When the wind blows, it picks up the sand and moves it through these canyons, resulting in these intricate patterns.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI
The photos Cassini sent back during its 13 years at Saturn are so stunning, they can make this already beautiful planet seem like something out of fairy tales. Here we see Titan floating next to Saturn and its rings. This edge-on view gives us some perspective not only of how large Saturn is, but also how thin its rings are.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This sliver of Titan’s surface is called Labyrinth terrain. While you won’t find David Bowie here, what you will see are remnants of the surface that have been cut away over time by rivers of liquid methane. Scientists believe the darker area on the left may have been formed by methane rain, slowly morphing the surface.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI
On September 15, 2017, before Cassini set a death course into Saturn, it took one last photo of Titan. This close-up pic is not out of focus—that is simply how hazy and thick Titan’s atmosphere is. The spacecraft gave us the first-ever view of this alien yet tantalizingly interesting world, and it discovered enough to warrant an entire mission to go back to this one single moon.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Make it your mission to see the rest of WIRED’s collection of space photos here.


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Photo Gallery: Wild Juxtapositions of Saudi Arabia Modern an…


Few countries in history have experienced as sudden a transformation as Saudi Arabia. Until the founding of the modern state by the Saud family in the early 20th century, the vast Arabian Peninsula was inhabited mainly by nomadic groups living a traditional lifestyle that hadn’t changed much in thousands of years. The discovery and exploitation of oil brought an unprecedented influx of wealth that, almost overnight, catapulted the country into the top echelon of the world’s economies. That affluence, combined with traditional values, has led to some of the country’s most compelling apparent paradoxes.

“Development happened so fast that they haven’t really had a chance to keep up with it the way other societies have,” says Peter Bogaczewicz a Canadian architect and photographer who has lived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh for the past five years. Examples of the country’s mixture of tradition and modernity are everywhere in Bogaczewicz’s new book, including its title: Kingdom of Sand and Cement. Bogaczewicz has spent the past half-decade traveling the country, initially out of a desire to document historic sites threatened by the rapid pace of development. During that time, he photographed abandoned villages disappearing back into the desert as well as 10,000-year-old petroglyphs.

“The petroglyphs are just these rocks at the side of the road,” he says. “You can drive off the highway and a couple hundred meters away you’re faced with this amazing scene. Anywhere else you’d have a museum built around it. Here, there were just a few people scratching their names into the side.” As part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to promote Saudi Arabian tourism, the country is now working to preserve some historic sites. But countless others—including some documented in Bogaczewicz’s book—have already been destroyed in the country’s rush to modernize.

Bogaczewicz got the rare opportunity to photograph the Kaaba at the Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Peter Bogaczewicz

In other ways, though, Saudis manage to hold onto their cultural past. On weekends, many young men drive their cars out to the desert to go off-roading, slaloming down the sides of sand dunes as spectators watch. Another of Bogaczewicz’s photographs captures a Saudi family having a picnic under a highway overpass, much as their bedouin ancestors might have stopped their caravansary by a desert wadi to have a meal. And, of course, Islam remains central to Saudi identity. Bogaczewicz even got the opportunity to photograph Mecca’s Great Mosque. “It was a little nerve-racking at the time, but I realized it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says.



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Space Photos of the Week: Eyes in the Sky


NASA’s new exoplanet telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, recently released a new panoramic photo of the arc of our Milky Way surrounded by an endless array of stars.

TESS—a successor to the Kepler Space Telescope, which ran out of fuel in 2018 after almost a decade in space—spends its time staring at other stars looking for other planets. We’re not the only solar system in the universe, after all! In fact, Kepler has so far identified more than 5,000 planets orbiting other stars. These planets sometimes look similar to Earth, but many look a lot like Venus or Neptune.

The discovery of exoplanets not only has shifted our way of thinking about planet formation, but also has given us an opportunity to consider other places where life might be lurking in the universe. Looking up always fills us with wonder, but so does looking down—the Earth from above inspires just as much awe.

The mission of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which launched in 2018, is to hunt for planets in other solar systems. TESS, as it’s known, finds these exoplanets by watching a star and waiting for a planet to pass in front; when that happens it can detect a slight dip in the light from the star. To create this picture, the team combined 208 images of 13 different patches of sky. Twenty-nine exoplanets are hiding in there, though we can’t see them in this image. Photograph: NASA/MIT/TESS
This dazzling nebula is called NGC 2174. The photo was taken with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer—a telescope with a very wide lens that looks at the universe in infrared light. The agency also calls WISE the Van Gogh of space: Its infrared filters reveal a painterly flurry of movement. NGC 2174 is known as the Monkey Head nebula, and scientists aren’t entirely sure how it formed. They think a nearby supernova explosion could have forced this star out of equilibrium, causing it to burp up a bunch of gas and dust.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
This cropped image was taken in 1965 from NASA’s Gemini 7 spacecraft. Inside that compact tin can were astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell. As they were floating above Earth, they captured clouds along the eastern ridge of the Andes mountains, with the thin blue haze of our atmosphere marking the blurry line between our planet and the rest of the universe.NASA
In 1975, an Apollo spacecraft encountered a Russian Soyuz, making for a rare photo of two spacecraft having a rendezvous. Not long after this photo was taken, the Soyuz docked with the Apollo spacecraft, and the Russian and American astronauts visited each other.JSC
NASA’s WISE spacecraft (aka the Van Gogh of space) snapped this stellar image of a star called Alpha Camelopardalis, seen here at dead center. The red material looks like the stroke of a paintbrush, but it’s actually a swoop of hot gas and dust from the star moving through the frame.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
The Hubble Space Telescope spotted a swarm of cosmic bees! Actually, it’s a so-called irregular galaxy named NGC 4789A. If you look closely, you’ll see little swaths of blue stars—those are massive stars that are relatively young and burn very bright and hot, while the red stars are much older.Photograph: NASA Goddard

Wise up with WIRED’s collection of space photos here.

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Society Photographer Turns His Lens on Smartphone Addiction


In 2008, Vanity Fair Italia dispatched veteran English society photographer Dafydd Jones to Miami to cover the glamorous Vogue Italia party at Art Basel. Midway through the evening, Jones noticed a single man staring down at his phone, seemingly oblivious to the beautiful people around him. Smartphones were still in their infancy—the iPhone had just debuted the previous year—but over the subsequent years, Jones began noticing the same phenomenon at events around the world. Although the pictures seldom made it into the magazines for which Jones worked (one editor complained that he wasn’t capturing enough people interacting) the photographer kept shooting these smartphone-obsessed socialites and posting the images on his website.

“Quite often the people look beautiful, transfixed or hypnotized by the light from their screens,” Jones says. “But it’s also sad that people would rather interact with their phones than with the other guests. I’ve noticed that at the end of a party, when people should be deciding who to go home with, now they just whip out their phones and go into a corner.”

Two men stare at a smartphone during a 2017 party at Spencer House in London.Photograph: Dafydd Jones
A pair shares a kiss while one holds a smartphone at a party in London in 2010.Photograph: Dafydd Jones

A book of Jones’ images taken over the past decade, Screen Time, was recently published by Circa. Among Jones’ subjects are the rich and famous—including Ronnie Wood, Damien Hirst, and Stephen Fry—as well as ordinary people captured in Jones’ street photography. Now that nearly everyone owns a smartphone, the plague of screen addiction has spread democratically throughout the world. There’s even a name for the fear of being without a phone: nomophobia. (Get it?) “I think it’s a serious problem,” says the photographer, who by carefully tracking his screen time has managed to whittle his usage down to under an hour a day, mainly email and Instagram.

Jones has major concerns about smartphones, but his photographs of the smartphone-addicted are playful rather than scolding. “I don’t want to shame people, as if I’m going around trying to catch them,” he explains. The subjects who have seen his photographs have mostly just laughed and shrugged it off; journalist Harriet Quick, whom Jones captured staring at her phone, even posted the image on Instagram.

“People look at their phones for all sorts of reasons—they might just be trying to find their way,” Jones says. “But I would say that for about three-quarters of the pictures in the book, the people should really be enjoying where they are.”


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Space Photos of the Week: What the Parker Solar Probe Will S…


Despite being the source of all life on Earth and the definitional center of the solar system, the sun is still something of an enigma. How fast does the solar wind blow? How do those particles streaming from the sun’s surface actually achieve liftoff? What’s going on in the corona, the sun’s atmosphere? Well, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is on its way to shed some light on those mysteries. This week the mission’s researchers released new results in the journal Nature—a tantalizing, preliminary look at our star. Some of the answers are there, along with a close-up look at subatomic particle events invisible from Earth. And more answers are coming in 2024, when the Parker Solar Probe enters its official “science orbit.” So in the plucky probe’s honor, here’s a journey through some of the existing stellar science. Grab your sunglasses.

Medium-sized solar flares like this burst of radiation captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory in 2013 generally don’t affect things back on Earth, but they can interfere with GPS satellites and other objects in orbit. It’s a small price to pay for beauty; these solar burps are also partially responsible for the atmospheric ionization that causes aurora events at Earth’s poles.

Photograph: NASA Goddard

The European Space Agency’s PROBA2 satellite captured this unusually detailed photo of the corona—plasma that can be millions of degrees hotter than the star’s actual surface.

Video: ESA

This sunspot, captured in ultraviolet by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory in 2017, only looks small. That dark region of plasma churning in the sun’s magnetic field is actually several times bigger than Earth.

Photograph: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

This is not Mordor; this is our very own star. Sometimes bursts of plasma like this one, called filaments, are actually visible from Earth’s surface with a good telescope. The Solar Dynamic Observatory caught this one in 2017.

Photograph: NASA Goddard

A particularly active sunspot phase in October of 2013 gave the sun this spooky jack-o-lantern look. The brighter regions get hotter and more energetic as they interact more intensely with the sun’s magnetic field.

Photograph: NASA Goddard

In 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was still under construction in a clean room near Kennedy Space Center. The probe recently came within 15 million miles of the sun, and it’s now just two weeks away from a second flyby of the planet Venus that’ll whip it back around again—which means it had to be built to withstand scorching temperatures. Its heat shield, a specially made composite of lightweight superheated carbon foam, will bear the brunt, keeping instruments on the other side at nearly room temperature.

Photograph: Leif Heimbold/NASA

Wise up with WIRED’s collection of space photos here.


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Sagara B resident Paul Jackson started a business recharging phones for less than 1 cent per charge.nbsp
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A Remote Tanzanian Village Logs Onto the Internet


The village of Sagara B sits along a red dirt road in the baobab-dotted Dodoma region of central Tanzania, where half-desert savanna meets the Rubeho mountains. It’s home to less than 5,000 people and is so remote no one ever bothered to set up an internet connection. Until four years ago.

Over a week, engineers from Copenhagen-based company Bluetown erected an 80-foot Wi-Fi tower topped with shiny solar panels and a microwave link antenna. It connected to a fiber backhaul 15 miles away, creating a half-mile-wide hot spot with download speeds up to 10 Mbps—fast enough for Netflix. Villagers rented smartphones from the company and paid 50 cents per gigabyte for the data they used, just over 1 percent of the average monthly income. And just like that, life began to change.

“You can see that something happened with the internet,” says Danish photojournalist Lars Just. “The world sort of opened up.”

As of 2018, more than half of the world’s 7.7 billion people had access to the internet. Africa has seen huge growth, with the percentage of residents online increasing from 2.1 in 2005 to 24.4 last year. In an attempt to connect the rest—not just to the web, but to its proven socio-economic benefits—the African Union and World Bank recently launched Moonshot Africa, an initiative to double broadband access on the continent by 2021, and make it universal by 2030.

Sagara B resident Paul Jackson started a business recharging phones for less than 1 cent per charge. Photograph: Lars Just

The challenges are as big as the continent itself. Those offline often can scarcely afford food, much less expensive data packages. They tend to live in rural areas without existing fiber-optic lines, cell towers, or routers. Telecoms don’t invest because of the high capital expenditure and low potential revenue. Governments sometimes lack the resources to bridge the gap and are slow to enact policies fostering growth.

“In many places, it takes public and private resources to improve connectivity,” says Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. “Areas that are extremely poor or lack sufficient population density likely will need government resources or incentives to get wired.”

Locals wash the mobile mast and solar panels in Sagara B. Photograph: Lars Just
A woman checks her smartphone, her face lit by the rectangle of light. Photograph: Lars Just

Bluetown—helmed by an ex-Nokia Denmark executive—has found an innovative way to reach this market, bringing nearly 1,000 villages in Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique, and India online since 2014. The company circumvents the cost of pricey, high-power hardware with a green energy setup it now delivers in three IKEA-like boxes. Installation costs one-tenth of a standard 3G base station, and the system runs on free, unlicensed bands like 2.4ghz, 5.8ghz, and TV White Space. The company doesn’t profit much from selling data, so instead it boosts revenue by selling content distribution services to local organizations via a local cloud, providing articles and videos about agriculture, education, government, and healthcare free to users.



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