Kayla, your TrekMovie science gal here bringing you your weekly dose of Science Friday! We have Cassini headed for the geyser-filled moon Enceladus, new developments in material science from cloaking technology to something (allegedly) resembling a Klingon disruptor, a meteor caught on video and a “Spock’s Brain” themed gadget of the week. Yes, something good came of “Spock’s Brain”! Don’t believe me? Read on!
Cassini Watch: Enceladus and Saturn’s Giant Sponge
We continue this week’s Cassini Watch featuring Trek’s new science advisor with a look at Enceladus, the moon that just keeps on giving. Back in November of 2005, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn discovered majestic water ice geysers erupting from the surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Since then, the geysers have continued providing new insights to Saturn. First, they were found to be responsible for the content of the E-ring. Next, the whole magnetic environment of Saturn was found to be weighed down by the material spewing from the geysers, which becomes plasma – a gas of electrically charged particles. Now, scientists confirm that Saturn’s A-ring is absorbing the plasma like a sponge. The plasma particles shoot from Enceladus’ interior, become charged (ionized) by sunlight, and in turn, feel Saturn’s magnetic field. After bouncing around from pole-to-pole, the fun ends if their bouncing path carries the particles inward towards Saturn’s A-ring. There they stick and become, in essence, part of the ring. This discovery was made during the closest ever A-ring fly-by from Cassini. On March 12th, Cassini will make its next fly-by of Enceladus, and scientists hope to learn even more about this wondrous moon.
Stay tuned for our next Cassini Watch update. But, until then, be sure to check out the CICLOPS website for images and more!
A false color image of Enceladus’ water ice jets
Cloaking Devices Here Soon?
Imagine a black so black you can’t even see it. That’s the idea being utilized by researchers who are attempting to create Harry Potter-like cloaks from a newly created paper-thin material that absorbs 99.955 percent of the light that hits it. This would be, by far, the darkest substance ever made – about 30 times as dark as the government’s current standard for the blackest black. The material is made of hollow carbon fibers which absorb all surrounding illumination giving those who gaze on it a dizzying sensation of nothingness. Another trick in transformation optics is using material which can bend light rays “backward,” a weird phenomenon thought to be impossible just a few years ago. This technique is identical to that used in Star Trek’s cloaking devices. Not only can this technology render an object (or star ship) invisible to the human eye, but it can deflect other kinds of radiation (microwave, x-ray, gamma ray, etc.). It also makes it impossible for enemy vessels to triangulate your position on their sensors. The US Military realizes this potential, too, and is funding the project in order to reap the inevitable benefits; making objects invisible to laser beams used for weapons targeting, for example, or rendering an enemy’s night goggles useless because objects would be invisible to the infrared rays those devices use. Read more at WaPo.
This is all well and good for fruit, but what about Romulans?
Camera Catches Meteor Flash
A meteor that streaked across the skies over the Pacific Northwest sparked a flood of calls to police, the FAA and television stations early Tuesday morning. “It looked like 100 transformers blew up in front of me and all the Cascades lit up, my barn lit up and everything around me lit up and then it was gone,” said one Washington resident. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Seattle, Mike Fergus, told The Associated Press that a Horizon Airlines pilot saw the meteorite hit earth about 5:45 a.m. Of course, we all know it was probably a Borg sphere, so be on the look out and make sure to set your phaser to a rotating frequency modulation.
Super Bright Laser Beam Sets Intensity Record
If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory. The HERCULES laser system creates a beam with 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter, and contains a total of 300 terawatts of power. That’s 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid. The laser beam’s power is concentrated to a 1.3-micron speck about 100th the diameter of a human hair. Not only is this a record for man-made laser beams, but this is believed to have set the record for the most intense light known to exist anywhere in the universe. “We can get such high power by putting a moderate amount of energy into a very, very short time period,” Yanovsky said. “We’re storing energy and releasing it in a microscopic fraction of a second.” Perhaps this is one more step toward futuristic close combat weaponry? Of course, we all know that phasers are based on the rapid nadion effect, whereby energy is passed through a special phaser crystal resulting in a discharge of short-lived nadion particles (I dare you to try and school me on this). But, a “laser phaser” would be more analogous to a directed energy weapon like a Klingon or Romulan disruptor.
TrekMovie.com asks the question, “What if I get caught in the beam?” Karl Krushelnick, a member of the team running the experiment says, “You’d get a bad burn,” But it wouldn’t be horrific, he adds — the pulse lasts for only 30 femtoseconds, and you’ll have ten seconds to move the 1.3 micrometres needed to get out of the way before the next pulse comes along. Read More.
It’s even green like a disruptor weapon!
Gadget of the Week: Spock’s Brain in Real Life
This week’s gadget looks like something straight out of Spock’s Brain, a third season episode of Star Trek TOS. Emotiv’s brain reading headset allows you to interact with video games like never before. It serves as a controller and actually allows you to control elements of the game with your mind and facial expressions. The ultra-modern minimalist design is a nice touch, too. Emotiv reps are reporting that it will be on the shelves before the end of 2008 with a price tag of $299. See IGN for more.
An astonishing resemblance!