Science Saturday: New Pluto Moon + Dawn Orbits Vesta + Shuttle Refurb + Gale Crater Next Mars Target July 23, 2011by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback
Welcome back to Science Saturday! This week, discover Pluto’s new moon thanks to Hubble, see the first ever close-up view of asteroid Vesta, learn how the space shuttles will become museum pieces, and explore Gale Crater with the next Mars rover! All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: bionic glasses!
Hubble discovers new moon around Pluto
The not-a-planet-anymore Pluto now has four, count ’em, four moons orbiting it’s distant icy body. The Hubble Space Telescope pointed its lens toward Pluto recently, and made the discovery of the moon, currently known as P4, orbiting somewhere between the orbits of Nix and Hydra. P4 sizes up to a mere 8-21 miles (13-34 km) in diameter. Compare that to Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, at 648 miles (1,043 km). More than 3 billion miles (5 billion km) away and we’re discovering things as small as 8 miles in diameter. Just imagine what we’ll see when New Horizons arrives in a few years!
Pluto’s tiny new moon, P4, orbiting between Nix and Hydra
Dawn spacecraft 1st ever to orbit main asteroid, takes some photos
On Friday, July 15, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft has now returned the first ever close-up image of the giant asteroid Vesta. This is the most detailed view ever seen of the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Earth and space telescopes have imaged Vesta before, but never in such detail. “We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell told NASA Science News. “This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta’s history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons.”
End of an Era: How Space Shuttles become museum pieces
It’s official. Space shuttle Atlantis and the crew of STS-135, the final ever space shuttle mission, safely landed back on Earth last Thursday. Now, the future home of the shuttles will be here on Earth, in museums. National Public Radio got a rare look at how a space shuttle becomes a museum piece, including all that is being done to preserve the vehicles for future generations.
Gale Crater announced as target for next Mars rover
After years of debate and study, NASA has finally announced the official landing site chosen for Mars Curiosity, aka Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the next rover headed to the red planet later this year. The target crater spans 96 miles (154 km) in diameter (about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island) and contains a central mountain that rises higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. “Mars is firmly in our sights,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet.”
Pic of the Week: Hydrothermal worm viewed under an electron microscope
You thought some of the aliens in Star Trek were scary? Check out this microscopic marvel, the hydrothermal worm at 525x zoom! Terrifying. (via HuffPo)
525x zoom on a hydrothermal worm
Gadget of the Week: Geordi’s VISOR is the real deal
New hi-tech bionic glasses, akin to Geordi LaForge’s VISOR, could help those with poor vision to see. Developed at Oxford University, the new glasses use an array of tech such as video cameras, face recognition, position detectors, and tracking software to help those with impaired vision to see objects in front of them. The concept is the same idea behind video games and smart phones, and the glasses will only be able to help those with limited vision to find objects. Perhaps in the future, we will see a VISOR that will restore vision to the blind. More at HuffPo.
Closer and closer to a real VISOR
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
- Exoplanet aurora: an out-of-this-world sight
- Quasars powered by black hole movements
- 3D printers make anything out of resin or glass