This special Sunday edition of Science Saturday brings you news on rocks in space (whether they be comets, asteroids or giant space diamonds!) as well as potential ways to protect the Earth and potential ways to destroy it.
Seeking out strange, new worlds… and comets
NASA has given a team of scientists the go-ahead to send their Deep Impact spacecraft to the comet Hartley 2 on a two-and-a-half year mission that will consist of two phases. The first phase will be, quite literally, to seek out strange new worlds: during the early months of its journey towards Hartley 2, the larger of Deep Impact’s two telescopes will be used to scan a number of planets orbiting five nearby stars. The second phase will be to scan and analyze Hartley 2. The spacecraft, which is currently on its way back from its historical probing mission of Comet Tempel 1, will begin its new journey as it flies by Earth on New Year’s Eve. The spacecraft will use Earth’s gravity to direct itself in Hartley 2’s direction and then speed off towards the comet, which its expected to reach on October 11, 2010, at which time Star Trek 2: Enterprise Boogaloo should be in post-production — hopefully with a better title. See EurekaAlert! for more information.
Is it just me or does Tempel 1 look angry?
Lucy’s in the sky
Astronomers have discovered the biggest diamond ever… in space. The giant space diamond, which measures some 4,000 kilometers in diameter, is actually a crystallized white dwarf… in other words, it’s the cooled core from a star. In addition to being bloody huge, the so-called "space diamond" sings! Well, sort of… it gives off pulsations that would make it sound like a giant gong, if sound could actually travel through space. In a fit of originality, the astronomers have dubbed the giant, singing space diamond "Lucy" after the song "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds," a song infamously butchered by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. For more on Ms. Lucy, see News From Russia. Comrade.
The crystalline entity’s brother just watched "Silicon Avatar"… and it is pissed
Mars needs women… and Bruce Willis
If the original Trek series episode "The Paradise Syndrome" taught us anything, it’s that asteroid deflectors are handy devices to have. Fortunately, Earth doesn’t need one at this immediate moment… but Mars is not so lucky. Astronomers in NASA’s Near Earth Project have determined that an asteroid the size of the one that exploded over Siberia in 1908 has a 3.9 percent chance of colliding with Mars at 5:55 EST on January 30th. In other words, there’s a very good chance (1 in 25 odds) the red planet will have a big, gaping hole in it come February. If the impact does occur, it will be the first asteroid impact scientists will be able to observe. Naturally, astronomers are ecstatic about this. Everyone else is just glad it’s not us. For more, see the original reports by The Planetary Society and the LA Times and an updated report at Live Science.
This is one "What If?" I would prefer not to contemplate…
Asteroid towing service
Speaking of asteroid deflectors, astronaut Edward Lu has proposed the use of an unmanned spacecraft as a low-tech tractor beam to deviate asteroids from a collision course with Earth. Using this "asteroid tractor," the spacecraft can use the bond of gravity to deflect asteroids without disturbing their rotation or composition, which could make the problem even worse. Of course, towing an asteroid is a slow process so it’ll only work if said asteroid is detected several years in advance. As always, there is a catch. See Space.com and PopSci.com for more.
Alright, now turn right… left! I mean left! Ah, crap…
How to destroy your own planet
Who needs the Xindi? We can do the deed ourselves! Live Science has concocted a list of 10 ways to destroy Earth, in order from the least feasible to the most feasible. Among the methods one can employ are hurling the planet into (or even towards) the sun, creating a black hole to engulf the planet, or, in the most Star Trek-ish fashion on the list, blow it up with a matter/antimatter reaction similar to a photon torpedo detonation or a warp core explosion. Don’t want to wait and see if we’ll off ourselves in a nuclear war? Then give one of these planet-ending alternatives a shot (if you can). Of course, all of the methods presented are difficult and very time consuming (like, thousands of years), so plan ahead. Being an uber-genius scientist probably couldn’t hurt, either. See Live Science for the complete list.
With the right amount of resources, intelligence and patience, you can make the world go BOOM!
Gadget of the Week
A new feature within a feature, the Gadget of the Week section will present a nifty, new device that is somewhat out-there. The first Gadget of the Week is something made to make us comfortable and something which no one should go without — a ping-pong paddle-shaped cushion that lights up and doubles as an MP3 player! Branded the MPillow (music pillow, get it?), this handy, dandy device actually connects wirelessly to your computer so you can download your own songs into the cushion (in addition to the ambient sounds that come with the product). Yes, that’s right… it’s something to sit on that you will actually want to make noise. Nice, eh? Check out Gizmodo.com for more info.
Presenting the latest advancement in whoopee-cushion technology!
Special thanks to Mike Okuda for contributing items to this report!