Science Saturday: Rogue Planets + Pope Phones ISS + Saturn Super Storm + LCARS-like Laptop + more May 21, 2011by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback
This week in Science Saturday: It’s getting crowded in here! Galaxy may contain billions of starless wandering planets; Hear the first ever papal call to the ISS; Track tornado destruction from space; and witness the growth of Saturn’s super storm. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: LCARS-style laptop concept.
Our Galaxy is Teeming With Billions of “Wandering Planets”, Says New Study
A new study published in Nature has detected the presence of billions of planets simply floating around in space, not bound to any host star, wandering through interstellar space. However, unlike the habitable rogue planet encountered by the crew of the NX-01 in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode of the same name, these are all Jupiter sized bodies. The study uses a technique known as “gravitational microlensing” (something that Bad Astronomer explains quite well on his blog), which basically scans the skies for changes in the brightness of stars that can indicate the presence of a planet and allow for the calculation of that planet’s mass. Scientists have found that there may be twice as many “wandering” planets as there are stars in our galaxy!
The current theory is that these “wanderers” are formed just like normal planets. That is, they form from the collapse of gas and dust in accretionary disks around stars. Then, for some reason, they are sent into unstable orbits where they fling themselves out of their solar systems. So long, star! It’s middle-of-nowhere or bust!
A note to science fiction writers, if I may: this does not mean that we are at risk for gas giant planets to collide with Earth, nor does it mean future space ships will have to navigate mine fields of random planets (I always laugh at the movies that depict the asteroid belt as some cosmic asteroid superhighway at rush hour). Space? It’s still just as vast an expanse as ever. So vast, in fact, that the addition of billions of giant planets doesn’t make it any more crowded. It just makes it more awesome.
*Writer’s note: The fact that the word “planet” comes from a Greek term meaning “wanderer” is just too fitting not to mention.
Billions of giant planets wander through interstellar space
Pope Benedict Phones Up the International Space Station
This morning, Pope Benedict made the first papal call to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. He gave his blessing to shuttle commander Mark Kelly and his wife Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona politician who is currently recovering after being shot in the head last January. He also asked the astronauts their thoughts about world peace and science from their unique vantage point floating so high above the Earth’s surface. Check out the video below, which plays at the BBC website.
Tornado Tracks Imaged From Space
NASA has released a new and unique satellite image showing the damage caused by the big EF-4 tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27th. The image is a combination of visible and infrared light, and reveals a remarkably visible track left by the tornado that cannot be seen in conventional photographs. This is the first time that data from the ASTER instrument aboard the Earth-orbiting Terra satellite has been used to track this super-outbreak of tornadoes.
Cassini Tracks Super Storm on Saturn
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and the European Southern Observatory ground-based telescope are tracking the growth of Saturn’s giant super-storm first spotted earlier this year. The rare storm has been churning away for months and has created the strongest disturbances ever detected in Saturn’s stratosphere. This is the first major Saturnian storm observed by an orbiting spacecraft and the first to be imaged in infrared. With the data, scientists can tell a great deal about the storm including temperatures, winds, and atmospheric conditions. The false color infrared image below shows clouds of large ammonia ice particles being dredged up into the upper atmosphere by the powerful storm. Cassini scientists are studying the evolving storm and, they say, a more extensive picture will emerge soon.
Cassini image of ammonia particles dredged up by Saturn’s super storm
Gadget of the Week: Concept notebook UI reminiscent of Trek-style LCARS interface
During the Next Generation run in the late 80’s and 90’s, the LCARS style of black glass touch screens with colored lights and buttons may have seemed like the way of the future. But, today it looks outdated next to an iPad or tablet. Despite that, German designer Philipp Schaake of Sensid Studio has created a rather LCARS-like touch screen notebook concept. The computer is basically two iPad-esque touch screen tablets that can be connected at a hinge to act like a laptop. The design was a runner-up prize winner in Fujitsu’s Design Award 2011 competition.
LCARS-esque notebook UI
This day in Science history
Replacing my previous #FollowFriday section, which is no longer timely after our permanent move to Science Saturday, is a list of fun facts for you about the famous people, places, and things linked with this day in history. Years ago today, these things happened:
- Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, French engineer and mathematician who first described the Coriolis effect, was born in 1972
- The first bicycle was seen in the US in 1819
- World’s first public aquarium opened in Regent’s Park, London in 1853
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
- New 10-year study to uncover secrets of brain conditions. Nephew of Pres. John F. Kennedy uses metaphor of uncle’s call-to-action for going to the moon within a decade.
- More on TrekMovie: Nichelle Nichols (& Star Trek) part of NASA’s musical celebration of human spaceflight next week