It’s Friday and you know what that means! Time to put your thinking caps on and dive into another exciting week in science news. This week, take a look at up and coming real-life phasers, debate the state of blobs on Mars, take a never before seen look inside a glacier, make like Scotty with transparent metals, and try your hand at NASA’s Mission Madness. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: Terrafugia Transition flying car!
Real-Life Phasers Coming Soon to a Battlefield Near You
It looks like science has advanced to the point where our soldiers will be heading out onto the battlefield with real phasers, or at least something approaching that. In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser — past the 100kW threshold that has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for ‘weapons grade’ power levels for high-energy lasers. The Army recently gave Boeing a $36 million contract to build a laser-equipped truck, and a laser-fitted tactical aircraft is in the works as well. The next step, though, is to test the laser outside of the lab. The Army is planning to move the device to its High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range. Testing is supposed to begin by this time, next year.
As long as someone gets me a freaking shark with a laser beam
Blobs on Phoenix Lander Cause Debate: Are they water?
Several photographs taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander show what appear as small white blobs which resemble water droplets on the spacecraft’s landing struts. Scientists have been debating whether or not these could in fact be liquid water drops, or ice. The northern plains of Mars never got above minus 15° Fahrenheit during Phoenix’s operations last year. Liquid water usually turns to its solid state at 32°F , but some scientists are asserting that the perchlorate salts discovered in the soil by Phoenix could lower the freezing point of water to around minus 90°. Other scientists argue that this assertion is flat out wrong, and that the blobs are nothing more than frost. The core facts are not in dispute. There were blobs on the strut. The blobs changed and moved over time before disappearing later in the mission. What do you think? Water or ice?
What do you think? Water or ice?
Extreme Ice, a Time-Lapse View of Climate Change
Nature photographer James Balog has ventured into ice-bound regions with 26 time-lapse cameras, which he programmed to shoot a frame every daylight hour for three years. The resulting images — which make up Balog’s “Extreme Ice Survey” project — show ice sheets and glaciers breaking apart and disappearing. Balog calls the melting of glaciers “the most visible, tangible manifestations of climate change on the planet today.” A documentary film crew accompanied Balog, and their footage along with Balog’s work will be featured in the Mar. 24 NOVA and National Geographic special Extreme Ice. Balog’s photographs are also on display in his new book Extreme Ice Now: Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate: A Progress Report. Check out the promo video below, and for air times check your local listings.
Transparent Metals Discovered at High Pressures
An international team of scientists have discovered a transparent form of the element sodium (Na). Now, I know what you’re all thinking: transparent aluminum! Well, I really can’t see any practical applications for windows which need to be at pressures as high as 2 million atmospheres. That’s what it takes to get this stuff to go see-through. It is well known that at high pressures normal materials turn metallic. We’ve seen this in metallization of hydrogen at high pressures inside planets like Jupiter and Saturn. What was unexpected was that sodium — a metal at standard temperature and pressure — would become black, and then transparent.
Metallic Na (left) to black (middle) to transparent (right)
These results are important in understanding properties of highly compressed matter, particularly within stars and giant planets.
NASA Mission Madness
Countdown to the greatest mission of all time with NASA’s Mission Madness game going on right now at nasa.gov/missionmadness. NASA is taking a page from the NCAA this March by pitting its missions head to head and letting the public decide who wins. You can vote on your favorite mission in each game for each round on the Mission Madness bracket. The winners will advance to the next round of voting. Finally, it will come down to the championship game, the winner of which will be announced April 8th. To play, click on a mission and click on “info” to learn more about it. If you want that mission to win, click on the blue arrow. When you’ve made all of your mission winner selections, click the basketball to submit. And, don’t forget to check back for the next round!
Pic of the Week: Mauna Kea Milky Way Panorama
The dramatic panoramic view of the picture below looks out from the 4,200 meter volcanic summit of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, across a layer of clouds toward a starry night sky and the rising Milky Way. Anchoring the scene on the far left is the dome of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), with north star Polaris shining beyond the Gemini North dome on the far right.
Gadget of the Week: Terrafugia Transition Flying Car
The Terrafugia Transition has been in the works for some time now, but recently the inventors have literally gotten the thing off the ground during its successful first flight. The vehicle is designed to transition from plane to car (or visa versa) in 30 seconds flat, and it will be available commercially. It’s even small enough to fit in your garage, and stylish enough to park on the front lawn of your mansion (see below video). The company hasn’t confirmed their recently hopeful end-of-2009 ship date, so don’t get your hopes up. But, this thing is for real, and will be available for around $194,000.00. If you have an extra few hundred thousand lying around, I’d say more power to you. But, does the world really need a carplane? I just can’t rationalize the concept.
This will look great in between my Porsche and my Ferrari
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Space shuttle arrives at space station
- Predicting scientific innovations with first ever Map of Science
- Tracking tigers in 3D
- New microorganisms discovered in Earth’s atmosphere