Science Friday: Eclipse 2008 Edition

This week Science Friday serves up some hot science news including a total solar eclipse happening today, a high-powered microscope for only $10, a lake discovered on Saturn’s moon Titan, NASA ‘tasting’ water on Mars, Virgin Galactic’s space tourism program, and our gadget of the week: “World’s First Practical Jetpack”!


Total Solar Eclipse Today, 10:21 UTC
Today, a total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of Canada, northern Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia, Mongolia, and China. A partial eclipse can be seen from about a quarter of Earth’s surface, including all of Asia, most of Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Maine corner of North America. If you live in one of those areas, get ready for fun. For the rest of us not so fortunate, tune into a live broadcast of the total eclipse from China from 10:30-11:30 UTC. Also learn more about eclipses at NASA’s eclipse website.

Time-lapse of the eclipse

High Powered Microscope On A Chip for Only $10
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have turned science fiction into reality with their development of a super-compact high-resolution microscope, small enough to fit on a finger tip. This “microscopic microscope” operates without lenses but has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope, can be used in the field to analyze blood and water samples for pathogens, and can be mass-produced for around $10.

The $10 microscope on a chip

Saturn’s Moon Titan Has Liquid Surface Lake
Scientists have confirmed that at least one body in our solar system, other than Earth, has a surface liquid lake. Using an instrument on NASA’s Cassini orbiter, they discovered that a lake-like feature in the south polar region of Saturn’s moon, Titan, is truly wet. The lake is roughly 20,000 square kilometers, or 7,800 square miles, just slightly larger than North America’s Lake Ontario.

A false color image of Titan

NASA really really has found water on Mars
NASA had already announced that the Phoenix lander on Mars had found ice, but yesterday they announced that they now know for sure that it is water ice, and they have ‘tasted’ the water after melting the ice in the on board ‘oven’ and detecting H20 in the resulting vapor. This result was one of the key goals for Phoenix and it will now move on to trying to detect if other building blocks of life are also present on Mars, leading to future missions to actually detect current or past life.

NASA…we really mean it this time

Virgin Galactic Unveils Plane To Send Tourists Into Space
Monday, British entrepreneur Richard Branson unveiled the double-hulled “mother ship” built to carry six wealthy tourists high into the stratosphere, from where a smaller ship would rocket to more than 60 miles above Earth. The dual-fuselage, all-composite plane is an improvement on the plane that won the X-Prize four years ago. No one knows when Virgin Galactic will fly, but about 100 people have already paid full price for the trip, which comes to $50,000 per minute for the four minutes the travelers will spend in weightlessness.

WhiteKnightTwo, the workhorse aircraft that will launch SpaceShipTwo into suborbital space

Gadget of the Week: “World’s First Practical Jetpack”
New Zealander Glenn Martin has created a jetpack with the power of personal flight for $100,000, lifting your terrified carcass aloft for 30 minutes at a time. Looks like a thrill. Martin’s personal flyer isn’t really a jet pack; it’s more like a couple of gasoline-fueled 200-horsepower fans with a human being strapped onto them, and it’s as loud as dynamite. Never mind all that noise — Martin says it’s the safest “jetpack” ever built, partly because it’s equipped with its own parachute. He’s been working on this raucous-sounding beast for more than a decade, and says the 250-pound machines will go on sale next year.

Glenn Martin’s Jetpack, only $100,000!


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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All this eclipse talk has me psyched for season 3 of Heroes

I want a jetpack!

You might be able to strap me into that jetpack if you gave ME $100,000. I doubt you’d be able to persuade me for less, parachute notwithstanding.

As soon as I win the lottery, I plan on booking me a space flight on Virgin Galactic. 200K is a real bargain for any sci fi fan billionaire. Maybe one of the 100 that already purchased a ticket would like to buy me one too. :-)

Awesome! I want a jetpack (or whatever it should rightly be called)! I wonder what the top speed/altitude are…

Thanks for another fascinating article, Kayla.

apparently the name of the first SpaceShipTwo is Enterprise :)

a 250 pound jet pack?? Who’s back could carry such a thing once it’s left the ground and the little feet aren’t supporting it anymore??

Wow. That “jetpack” looks really comfortable. I also noticed that the pilot (?) looks to weigh about 94 pounds, so I’ll bet it’s real safe for those of us bigger than a 12 year old.

I think using the word “practical” is stretching it. When it’s the size of my kids book bag and has a 200 mile range with built in crash safeties, I’ll call it practical.

No reflection on you, Kayla. I think the designer needs to continue the tweaking process.

That jetpack looks promising. 30 minutes? That’s an eternity in jetpack time! I would want to have (besides the very smart parachute), some kind of “landing gear” to strap on my legs to absorb impact on landing that beast. Where’s video?

I’m glad we have multi-millionaires in the world, so we have someone to go up in things like Branson’s Boondoggle up there. Inspirational. :-)

The tiny microscope looks like something Batman would have in his utility belt. Cool.

Liquid lakes on Titan! Awesome! I wonder what liquid….

Water ice on Mars. Let’s go!

Great Week in Science! Thanks, Kayla!

Scott B. out.

“This microscopic microscope … can be mass-produced for around $10.”

Too bad “mass-produced for around $10” doesn’t equal “can be purchased for around $10.” I bet the Sharper Image will sell ’em for $269.99.

Question about the 250-pound jet pack:

It looks like you need a couple guys to help hold the thing up when taking off. What happens if you land and there’s no one to help hold the friggin’ thing up? Owwww! Ruptured disks! My back!! Lawsuit!

Leaving on a jet plane. Or in this case a jet pack. Ok. Time to blast off.

I just knew that water would be found on Mars. The implications surrounding this discovery are staggering. I wonder what else homo sapiens on this planet do not know about this solar system and its history…

Sounds like things will be getting pretty interesting on Mars over the next few years.

Gadget of the Week: “World’s First Practical Jetpack”!!! for only $100,000…

Oh, I have that right here in my pocket, here ya go. Tell you what, one for every poster on, two for Anthony for the fine job he does of bringing us humor like this!

Actually, Glenn Martin has been developing his jetpack for far longer than a decade; he’s been developing it since 1981.

5. nscates,
I heard a radio interview with the jetpack’s creator, Glenn Martin, and he said that in the United States, the jetpack is classified as an ultralight aircraft, so it’s restricted to a top speed of 60 m.p.h.

I want one of those jetpacks to get me to work everyday. Screw traffic.

Does it run on unleaded?

Great articles! Mars exploration in particular is a huge interest of mine. While acknowledging the major technical hurdles involved with (successfully) getting a spacecraft to the surface of Mars, lately I’m not so easily impressed by the tools being used for scientific research once they arrive. The Phoenix Lander is equipped with a microscope to study soil samples, yet according to the mission specs, that microscope isn’t powerful enough to do more than image basic soil composition. Too bad the Phoenix Lander didn’t include one of those “$10.00 chip scopes.” – Or even a lens set comparable to those we used in high school biology, that could easily magnify soil particles *or* an amoeba. I’ve been following this topic @ among other sites. If there’s a reasonable excuse for this technological impairment, I have yet to hear it.

I remember watching “Lost in Space” last century sometime and being in awe of the jet-packs – which looked nothing like this articles so-called real thing. It looks like you would do a serious injury just getting it strapped to your back! LOL

Re: Virgin Galactic: $200K sounds like a lot for 4 minutes. But just being a billionaire doesn’t necessarily make you famous. Being one of the first civilians to pay to go sub-orbital just might, especially if the achievement were posthumous. If I were a billionaire I’d gladly pay 200x more and be one of the first civilians on the moon. In, oh, 30 years or whenever.

Re: Jetpack: 400 HP in a device that weighs only 250 pounds? That’s almost like a small motorcycle with the power of a Corvette. The 60MPH top speed “restriction” is a total joke.

Best of luck to the pioneers who fly Virgin Galactic and strap on the Jetpack…

WOW!!!!! Thanks for the link to the NASA Images site Kayla. Billions and Billions ( 1 Sagan squared) of hours worth of viewing there. Thanks!


Too true…this ones got nothing on John Robinson’s jet pack! ;^D

Denise de Arman

you said:
” I wonder what else homo sapiens on this planet do not know about this solar system and its history…”

Well, it seems that there are far too many who:

1. Don’t know the three branches of government. When asked to identify them the vast majority of kids can’t name them. They are twits. But…

2. Don’t know about Harding, the Tea Pot Dome scandal or in what century the US. war between the States–most commonly called the U.S. Civil War–took place. I’m not shocked considering that one news show talked about the late–and great actor Heath Ledger appearing in The Patriot–a film they described as taking place during the U.S. Civil War….yikes.

3. Most don’t realize that Robert E. Lee was against slavery and never owned one. And Grant–who was against slavery–did own slaves at one point.

4. I had an argument with a school teacher because she insisted that while there was indeed a David Crockett, Daniel Boone was a fictional creation. I tried to point out that Boone was just as real as Crocket, but she did not seem to believe me. She’s an idiot and she teaches the kids. Whom people refer to as our future. I call them our future idiots. but hey, whose to blame the kids?

5. I saw a woman on Jay Leno insist that the president is George Washinton Bush. He asked who was the president. She said, “Bush.” He asked, what’s his first name, and she answered, “George.” Then–without him asking her she proudly said, “and his middle name is Washington.” She’s old enough to vote. Oh, yeah, she didn’t know the Vice Presidents name.

I hope that life out there is not watching life down here. Because we are raising a generation of twits, it seems.

And this is coming from soeone who is a self professed idiot.