This week: What’s that thing up in the sky? The LHC has created a mini-big bang. Why aren’t we all dead yet? What can cause gigantic gamma-ray bubbles in our galaxy? How can you become an amateur astronaut? All these questions and more answered in this week’s edition of Science Friday!
California’s Mystery Plume: Missile? Airplane?
An unusual plume was spotted off of California’s coast this Monday that appeared to be some kind of projectile moving west. The sighting sparked several conspiracy theories, the most popular being that the object was a missile. All government agencies denied launching anything at that time, which prompted more fantastical theories including Iron Man and the Charlie Chaplin time traveler. According to NASA and the Pentagon, however, the truth is not so interesting. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Department of Defense, told the Associated Press the billowing contrail probably came from a plane, and that the image was contorted via camera angles, winds and a setting sun. Michio Kaku, PhD physicist agrees that the plume was probably made by a plane. Watch the video below for his explanation of how he arrived at this hypothesis.
Large Hadron Collider Creates a Mini-Big Bang, Earth Not Destroyed
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has successfully created a mini-big bang by smashing together lead ions at close to the speed of light. Amazingly enough, the Earth was not consumed by an unstoppable black hole (phew! dodged that bullet!). Collisions of the lead ions in the latest experiment created temperatures a million times hotter than that of the center of our sun. “At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma,” said David Evans of the University of Birmingham, UK. Quarks and gluons are sub-atomic particles – some of the building blocks of matter. In the state known as quark-gluon plasma, they are freed of their attraction to one another. Evans explained that by studying the plasma, physicists hoped to learn more about the so-called strong force – the force that binds the nuclei of atoms together and that is responsible for 98% of their mass.
Click to watch at the BBC
Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope Finds Giant Structure in Our Galaxy
Scientists have discovered a massive, mysterious new structure in our galaxy using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope. The features looks like a pair of bubbles extending above and below the Milky Way’s center, perpendicular to the galactic midplane. Each lobe is 25,000 light years tall, and the whole structure may only be a few million years old (that may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the age of the Milky Way galaxy, 13.6 billion years!). Astronomers have been studying gamma-rays in our galaxy for a while now. The reason they have not seen this gigantic feature until now is due in part to the fog of gamma rays that pollutes the sky. By using various estimates of this fog, Doug Finkbeiner and his colleagues were able to isolate it from the data and reveal the giant bubbles. Scientists now are conducting more analyses to better understand how the never-before-seen structure was formed. The bubble emissions are much more energetic than the gamma-ray fog seen elsewhere in the Milky Way. The bubbles also appear to have well-defined edges. The structure’s shape and emissions suggest it was formed as a result of a large and relatively rapid energy release – the source of which remains a mystery. More at NASA.
Become an Amateur Astronaut, Send Stuff into “Space”
Videos of amateur enthusiasts sending their stuff into space are becoming suddenly popular. Last month, we reported the home-made iphone-bearing spacecraft sent nearly 20 miles up by a father and son team. Just this week, a handful of similar videos have popped up, including a team from north Texas known as the Brothers Gromm that sent Star Trek action figures 20 miles high and a group of Brits that launched a paper airplane 17 miles up. Many of you have commented that 20 miles is not by anyone’s definition the boundary of space, but I say sending something high enough to see the curvature of the Earth is pretty darned impressive. While there is no official definition of the height where “space” begins, NASA designates anyone who travels above an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) to be an astronaut. A widely accepted international definition of space is the Kármán line at 100km (62 mi) or the altitude at which a vehicle must travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself. Wikipedia has a good article on the limits and definitions of outer space.
Click to watch at the BBC
Picture of the Week: Flank eruption of Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island
This week’s incredible photo comes from Volcano Picture of the Week (VPOW). The image is of a flank eruption of Pitun de la Fournaise (“Peak of the furnace” in French) volcano on Reunion Island, a small island near Madagascar. The eruption began October 14th at 19h10, and this image was taken 30 hours later. This is the first activity outside the summit zone of this volcano since 2007. I imagine that some places on the surface of Io must look like this. Incredible.
Gadget of the Week: The Jetman’s Jet-powered Wing Suit
The Jetman has become somewhat famous for his incredibly scary looking feats of flying with his jet-powered wing suit over famous landmarks such as the Alps and the English Channel. Last Friday, the 51-year-old Yves Rossy became the first person to ever do an aerial loop in a jet-powered wing suit. Check out the video below of him making his record setting flight.
If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists, techies, and trekkies to follow on Twitter. This week…
- @nytimesscience: Science, Environment, Space and Cosmos News From NYTimes.com/Science
- @IceBridge: NASA Earth Science’s multi-year airborne campaign to track changes in Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets & sea ice.
- @guardianscience: News, comment, all that stuff from the Guardian’s science, health and environment team
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Take a flight over the South Pole with NASA’s IceBridge Antarctic science mission earlier this week
- Scientists at work: On the trail of green rocks
- Who are the hardest, bravest men and women in the history of science?
Editor’s Note: On Traveling to Antarctica
Next week, your humble science editor will be leaving England and heading for Antarctica. Thursday, I hop on a plane to New Zealand where I will be issued gear by the United States Antarctic Program. A few days later I will fly out to the US-run McMurdo Antarctic base. I will have uninterrupted internet access, so ScienceFriday will continue! As I will be spending the next two months on the flanks of Mt. Erebus volcano, I may dedicate one or two ScienceFriday’s to life in the Great White South. If anyone has any questions, photo requests, or anything of that nature, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at kayla[AT]trekmovie[DOT]com.
TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.