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.
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.
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
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- New way to weigh giant black holes
- Graphene is world’s strongest material
- Ask a biogeek: "Where is my hypospray?"
- Makemake is now officially a Dwarf Planet