Science Friday: Thinking Phoenix, Rogue Engineers, Fighting Red Spots, Nerd Girls + more

This week Science Friday has loaded up some of the best science news for you including an update on Mars’s Phoenix Lander, plans of some rogue NASA engineers, cannibalistic red spots on Jupiter, our galaxies hottest spot, and a lunar transit caught on tape. All this plus our video of the week: Revenge of the Nerd Girls and gadget of the week: Top 5 real Trek gadgets.

Phoenix Computer Has Mind Of Its Own, Collects Martian Ice
The computer aboard the Phoenix Lander exhibited some quick thinking last week by shutting down its robotic arm after receiving a command that could have permanently damaged it. The lander apparently did it’s best to find a workaround first, however, but ultimately determined that any further movement would have bent its wrist out of shape. That left NASA engineers scrambling yesterday to come up with some new instructions to send to the lander, and they’re now simply waiting to see if they meet with the robot’s approval. The lander has used its arm in recent days to clear away loose soil from a subsurface layer of hard-frozen material and create a large enough area to use the motorized rasp in a trench informally named “Snow White.” Now, a powered rasp on the back of the robotic arm scoop successfully drilled into the frozen soil and loosened material that was collected in the lander’s scoop. Soon, scientists will have results of the first samples of this Martian ice.

Phoenix’s robotic arm rasps the ice

Rogue NASA Engineers Team Up With Retirees to Secretly Develop Alternative Moon Rocket
A handful of rogue NASA engineers have gone underground and spent their spare time working on a rocket dubbed “Jupiter”—an alternative that they believe will be “safer, cheaper and easier to build” than the two Ares spacecraft currently slated for upcoming lunar missions. The NASA establishment dismisses the new design, saying it won’t work. It seems unlikely that the Jupiter plan is going to fly this late in the game. Now, if something goes wrong with the Ares flights, those anonymous designers will be muttering to themselves, “I told you so.”

NASA’s design (left) and Jupiter (right)

Three Red Spots Mix It Up On Jupiter
A new sequence of Hubble images offers a planetary game of Pac-Man among three red spots clustered in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The time series shows the passage of the “Red Spot Jr.” in a band of clouds below the Great Red Spot. This is the second time, since turning red, it has skirted past its big brother apparently unscathed. “Baby red spot,” which is in the same latitudinal band as the Great Red Spot, gets ever closer to the Great Red Spot until it is caught up in its anticyclonic spin. See a time lapse video of this event.

Three red spots on Jupiter eat each other

The New Hottest Spot in the Milky Way
Two days ago, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope revealed an image of what could be the brightest star in our galaxy: Wolf-Rayet star WR 102ka or, more fondly, the “Peony nebula” star. Astronomers say that it burns with the light intensity of 3.2 million suns — but that’s a rough estimate, and one that might even stretch to 4 or 5 million suns.

Wolf-Rayet star as bright as 3.2 million suns

Lunar Transit of Earth Caught on Tape
On May 29th NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft was wandering around space at 23,000 miles per hour, taking a time-lapse photo of the moon passing in front of the earth. We don’t have many cameras like this in space, so this is a unique view of the Earth-Moon system. The video was captured during Deep Impact’s mission called EPOXI, whose first adventure was to bury a probe into a comet.
Though 31 million miles sounds like a long way away, in the grand scheme of things, that spacecraft was right next to us.

Gadget of the Week: CNET’s Top 5 Real Trek Gadgets
Instead of bring you one gadget, this week we’ve got five! CNET TV counts down today’s 5 best real technologies from Star Trek and demonstrates another example of life emulating science fiction.

Video of the Week: Revenge of the Nerd Girls

Science Quickies
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.


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Gotta get me one of those nerd girls. HOT!


Go nerd girls.

the girls in risque agency on are so much hotter

The nerdgirls are hot, but the video of the moon orbiting the earth was much cooler.

I have a dress that looks like Wolf-Rayet…

The moon orbiting the Earth – the best space footage in quite a while. Someone on the Official NASA board ( ) once told me that if Earth were an 8-foot ball, the Moon would be a 2-foot ball. IN THIS SCALE 22-foot imaginary strings lead to geosynchronous sattelites parked over Earth’s equator. The Shuttle and International Space Station never get beyond 3 inches from this 8-foot ball. The 8-foot Earth and 2-foot Moon are 240 feet apart, and in that scale, this picture was taken 5,870 miles away. Think about it … taking this picture of a 2 foot ball 240 feet over an 8 foot ball from that many miles away! It’s a stunning achievement. Tonight in the night sky you can see Jupiter near the Moon. The light left the Moon 1.28 seconds ago, and left Jupiter about 36 MINUTES ago.

Welcome to Star Trek.

First, it’s positively painful how the hosts on that NBC nerd girl segment are at pains to call themselves stupid — “It’s hard for me to spell math and science!” — as if they need to demonstrate low intelligence to keep themselves acceptable to their viewers. And would they ever have women engineers on who aren’t hotties? The real message of this segment isn’t that it’s okay for women to be engineers — which should be a given, anyway. The message is, women should be young and sexy, no matter their occupation.

I hate Kathy Lee so very much. This clip is no exception (and in fact reinforces my feelings all the more.)

I totally agree with #5 and #7, that movie of the earth and moon was stunning. What was I doing on the 29th of May 08′ early morning…. it’s facinating to think that all viewers of this site were on that earth that we see in the video footage, spining together in the same direction, if you see what I mean….

It’s worth noing that NASA’s response to the Jupiter proposal includes the points that it is underpowered compared to the Ares and that it would require man-rating a new engine. However, it’s also worth noting that NASA fears that the first manned flight of the Ares I will be delayed because of technical and, especially, budgetary concerns.

Those of us who support Barack Obama should probably write to his campaign expressing dismay that he has been the least supportive of the manned space program and especially of NASA’s main goal to return astronauts to the Moon. The alternative may be that the Ares V will never get off the ground before quite a few of us are looking forward to retirement.

In other words, as far as space exploration is concerned, BO is certainly no JFK.
Not good.

Brains are beautiful, indeed.

You go, Nerd Girls.

Girls in lab coats are HOT, BTW.

Oh. and yeah, that space stuff is cool too.

Actually, the Jupiter vehicle has been around at least since the early 1990’s and was known as Direct, check it out on Wikipedia.

Also, most of the parts and engines are in use on the current Space shuttle.

NASA is just being foolish by sticking with Ares without giving a possible alternative a good review. NASA is also being foolish by retiring the Space Shuttle before a replacement is available. Didn’t we go thru this in the 1970’s with the long period of time between Saturn launches and the first Shuttle launch?

Yes the Shuttle is aging, but with proper maintenance the remaining Shuttles can keep flying for a few more years. Also, NASA is fixing all of the problems with the Shuttle, does it make sense to cancel it once all of the bugs are worked out. It’s like fixing the barn door after the horses have run away.

I’m afraid Klingons would laugh at PHSR, but I likes me them nerd girls.

Thanks Kayla.

God, I love Nerd girls, all Nerd girls, not just the ones shown . . . sigh.

The Lunar Transit of Earth was pretty amazing.

Even having never seen a pic of her…Kayla is still my favorite “nerd girl”. Always enjoy these weekly articles.

Hah..okay, since no one else has said it..

Ground Controller: “Phoenix, dig this area.”

Phoenix: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that Dave.”