This week in Science Saturday, watch the peak of tonight’s Lyrid meteor shower, watch an explosion on the sun, look forward to asteroid mining becoming a reality in the near future, and feel the volcanic tremors of Popocatépetl volcano. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the high-speed evacuated tube transport system.
Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks TONIGHT plus First-ever 3D Meteorite Imagery Attempt
About this time ever year, Earth passes through the tail of comet Thatcher, sending pieces of the comet’s debris stream into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 110,000 mph. Lucky for us here on Earth, our thick atmosphere burns them up and creates a gorgeous shooting star show, with typically 15-20 “Lyrids” streaking across the sky every hour. Well, the annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks TONIGHT, and this year is going to be an extra good time to view it, since the moon will be new, meaning skies will be darker.
Given the dark skies and particularly good viewing geometry of this meteor shower, the first-ever attempt will be made to image the shower in three glorious dimensions through a photographic collaboration between amateur photographers on the ground, cameras aboard a NASA research balloon in the stratosphere, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Typical Lyrids are very bright, and the best time to look up is during the hours after midnight when the meteors should be high in the sky. If you don’t have clear skies near you, you can still join the fun and stay up all night to chat with Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, and colleagues on a live NASA chat session.
Huge Solar Flare Erupts on Sun’s Surface
With solar activity coming out of a very long minimum, solar scientists are excited to be able to watch the sun acting out thanks to some amazing instruments, like NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, whose cameras and sensors are aimed at our star. A recent ginormous eruption on the sun’s surface was captured by SDO and turned into a movie by media specialist for the Goddard Space Flight Center Steele Hill. Note the curvature of the sun in the video and remember that the sun’s radius is more than 100x that of Earth, and you’ll quickly realize just how big this flare is. Earth would appear as a tiny dot in this image.
Read more about the event at Bad Astronomy.
Planetary Resources Inc., a Capitol Venture to Mine Asteroids?
A new company backed by two Google billionaires, sci-fi director James Cameron, a former Microsoft exec, Ross Perot Jr., and a host of space exploration enthusiasts has just released a tantalizingly mysterious press release stating that it will “overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP”. The official announcement will be made on Tuesday, but experts speculate that it will be in the form of asteroid mining. If true, this could mean sending humans to near-earth asteroids or performing robotic missions to gather material and send it back to Earth or who knows! The world of space exploration isn’t just for the government anymore!
We’ll find out Tues if asteroid mining is on the docket for Planetary Resources, Inc.
Popocatépetl Volcano, Mexico City Prepares for an Eruption, Goes on Yellow Alert
Popocatépetl, an active volcano that towers over Mexico City, has had a recent spurt of activity that has locals concerned. So far, ash emissions with a steam and ash plume as high as 10,000 feet, 12 explosions within a 2-hour period, and ongoing seismic tremors have been reported. There are even some (unconfirmed) reports of fresh lava at the summit. Explosions have been powerful enough to rattle the windows of local homes. Officials have placed the volcano on yellow alert (alert level Yellow II) and have told residents to prepare in case evacuation becomes necessary.
You can see live webcam images of Popocatépetl from the Mexican volcano observatory’s website CENAPRED here, here, and here. Images refresh each minute. If the image appears blank, it might be nighttime in Mexico, or it may be too cloudy!
Webcam image of Popocatépetl’s ashy plume on April 20th
Pic(s) of the Week: Space Shuttle Discovery on it’s way to Washington DC
Space shuttle Discovery was strapped to the back of an airplane this week and transported for its museum debut in Washington, D.C. Here are just a couple of the amazing photos of the shuttle on its route to its new home.
Gadget of the Week: Evacuated Tube Transport Gets You From NY to LA in 45 Minutes
Lunch in New York? Dinner in Paris? It may be possible, thanks to the evacuated tube transport, a high speed human transportation system, which employs a maglev-like airless, frictionless system of six-person capsules that travel in tubes. The sytem would be much cheaper and much faster than trains and plains and could get you around the world in just six hours.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
- A lake on Titan is like a salt pan here on Earth
- Weird science: Rubber chicken flies into solar storm
- Batch of dinosaur eggs found in Russia