Welcome to another exciting edition of Science Friday! This week: see the Space Shuttle program into 2011, solve a century-old math problem, evolve faster than ever in Tibet, and take the sharpest images ever of Jupiter from a 747. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: the Terrafugia flying car!
End of Shuttle Program Pushed Back to 2011
The Space Shuttle Endeavor was scheduled to be the last space shuttle to ever launch this November, but NASA has just announced that it has pushed back the launch date to February 26th, 2011. Space Shuttle Discovery, which was set to launch this September, will now launch in November. The target dates were changed because the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer instrument, heading for installation on the International Space Station won’t be ready by the time of the previously planned Sept. 16 launch for STS-133. The decision to cancel the shuttle program was made under the administration of the former president George W. Bush, in part due to the Columbia disaster that killed 7 astronauts, and the Obama administration has decided to stick with that cancellation. Want more? Check out this article with some great photos by Ken Kremer on the construction of the last two space shuttle external tanks.
Discovery on the launch pad March, 2010
Math Genius Solves Century-old Problem, Declines $1 Million Prize
Grisha Perelman, the reclusive Russian mathematician, has finally spoken. After solving the Poincaré Conjecture, a math problem that has been plaguing mathematicians for a century, Perelman declined a $1 million prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass. “I have refused,” Interfax, a Russian news agency, quoted him as saying. “You know, I had quite a lot of reasons both for and against. That is why I took so long to make up my mind.” The problem, named for the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré, hypothesizes that any three-dimensional space without holes is essentially a sphere. Perelman’s solution was over a thousand pages long, and it took some of the world’s top mathematicians years to poor over in order to come to the conclusion that Perelman had actually solved the problem. Read more about the original solving of the problem at NYTimes.
To a topologist, a rabbit is the same as a sphere. Neither has a hole. Longitude and latitude lines on the rabbit allow mathematicians to map it onto different forms while preserving information.
Scientists Say Tibetans are Fastest Example of Human Evolution
Tibetans, who live at an elevation of 13,000 feet, have been cited by scientists as the fastest example of human evolution. This rapid evolution is seen as the reason for the fact that Tibetans suffer very little altitude sickness, despite living where there is 40% less oxygen than at sea level. Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science. (via NYTimes). See some great photos of Tibet.
Living at 13,000 feet has helped Tibetans to evolve at warp speed
NASA’s Flying Telescope an Early Success
In late May, NASA’s flying telescope made its first scientific flight when it captured images of Jupiter and a nearby galaxy. The engineering marvel, which takes to the skies on a 747, is named the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. Just a few years ago, SOFIA’s future looked bleak, and many thought the experiment would never make it off the ground. But, after being nearly cancelled, SOFIA got her big debut, and the results are in and better than anyone expected. Already, the telescope has captured some of the sharpest images ever of Jupiter and the nearby galaxy M82.
SOFIA and scientists aboard a 747
Gadget of the Week: Terrafugia Flying Car
Over a year ago, we reported on the first successful test flight of the Terrafugia flying car. Now, the FAA has approved this winged marvel for flight. The car/plane, which can transform by folding up its wings for garage storage, is set to be on the market next year with a price tag of $200,000.
Learn more at the Terrafugia website
Upcoming Events: SETIcon
To mark the 50th anniversary of SETI research and the 25th anniversary of the SETI Institute, SETI (or the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) is hosting the first SETIcon in Santa Clara, CA August 13-15, 2010. Astronauts, scientists, and sci-fi stars are all on the docket as speakers at the event, which takes place in the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency hotel. Representing Star Trek is John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox) and Tim Russ (Tuvok). Learn more about the event at the official website.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Stem cells reverse blindness caused by burns
- Your genes tell if you’ll live to 100
- Learn all about the science of fireworks
- Russian unmanned cargo craft missed docking with ISS (see video below)
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