Science Friday: Saturnian Jets, Rat-Brained Robot, Space Ghosts + more

This week in Science Friday we have an eclectic group of stories for you. First off, Carolyn Porco (Star Trek‘s science advisor) and Cassini have found the source of Enceladus’s icy jets. Next, meet the robot with a real brain. Then see the amateur discovered “cosmic ghost”, and take a tour of the Earth through geology via OneGeology’s Google-Earth-like interactive map. All of this plus our gadget of the week: The Lotus Concept Ice Vehicle.


Cassini Watch: Source of Jets On Saturn’s Moon Enceladus Pinpointed
New carefully targeted pictures reveal exquisite details in the south polar “tiger stripe” fractures from which Enceladus’s icy jets erupt. The images show the fractures are about 300 meters (980 feet) deep, with V-shaped inner walls. “This is the mother lode for us,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader and Star Trek Science Advisor. “A place that may ultimately reveal just exactly what kind of environment — habitable or not — we have within this tortured little moon.”

The Tiger Stripes on the South polar region of Enceladus

The Robot With a Real Brain
Meet Gordon, probably the world’s first robot controlled exclusively by living brain tissue. Stitched together from cultured rat neurons, Gordon’s primitive grey matter was designed at the University of Reading by scientists who unveiled the neuron-powered machine on Wednesday. “The purpose is to figure out how memories are actually stored in a biological brain,” said Kevin Warwick, a professor at the University of Reading. Their experiments, which bridge the gap between human and artificial intelligence, are just the thing to lead to bio-neural circuitry.

Gordon, the robot with rat brain, an AI with a desire for cheese

Volunteer Astronomer Finds “Cosmic Ghost”
Hanny van Arkel, a volunteer in the Galaxy Zoo project that allows members of the public to take part in astronomy research online, discovered a mysterious and unique object some observers are calling a “cosmic ghost.” The Dutch school teacher came across the image of a gaseous object with a hole in the center while using the website to classify images of galaxies. When she posted about the image on the Galaxy Zoo forum, astronomers who run the site began to investigate and soon realized van Arkel might have found a new class of astronomical object.

The green “cosmic ghost” found by van Arkel

OneGeology Has Created Geological Equivalent of Google Maps
Earth and computer scientists from 79 nations are working together on a global project called OneGeology to produce the first digital geological map of the world. This project is doing the same for the rocks beneath our feet that Google does for maps of the Earth’s surface. Beyond OneGeology’s eye-popping palette, the new effort may have much to say about how the world views what lies below our cities, forests and even oceans. Try it yourself at

Try it out at

Gadget of the Week: Lotus Concept Ice Vehicle
Planning an expedition to the uninhabitable continent soon? Didn’t think so. But still, this biofuel-powered Concept Ice Vehicle is pretty cool, with a prop in the back and three ski feet to ride on; it even has a spiked front foot for braking action and an ice radar for navigation. The CIV is 4.5 meters by 4.5 meters and is light enough to be pulled, if necessary. Even if you never plan to visit the great, white wonder, you can dream of navigating acre after acre of dreary, depressing, lifeless Antarctic wilderness. Can you feel the fun?

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

Thanks to J&G for the tips!

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rat robot? hmm will this one day work for the human brain lol anybody see phantasms…interesting

Am I the only one troubled just the teensy eensy weensiest bit about using actual brain matter, albeit rat, to act as a computer storage study device? Some science fiction concepts don’t necessarily need to be realized.

Space flight at Warp Speed?
This article fails to mention that the type of propulsion theorized is exactly how Star Trek’s “Warp Field Envelope” is supposed to operate. The term warp refers to an envelope that surrounds the ship and propels it forward. This I believe was an idea that was developed for STTNG. TOS never really got into much detail about warp drive and in the original pilot Capt. Pike refers to the Enterprises speed as a Time Warp Factor. I am sure someone out there knows the details about how these ideas came about.

A robot with a rat brain? That’s kind of creepy…

If it wasn’t for Science Friday, here, and on NPR, I’m afraid my intellect would collapse into a black hole.

I have cheese cravings. Does that make me a Rat-brained intellect or an AI with rat-like tendencies?

I’d love to take the Lotus for a spin on the ice.

Cracks me up, scientists think they’ve come up with a new idea, a “faster than light bubble to fold space-time.” They need to talk to Andre Boramis and Naran Shankar about TNG from 1987.

I’ve catelogued 200 galaxies on It’s easy, everyone should give it a go. Plenty of galaxies to go around.

Kayla, step up to the plate and do some real science. Like Mr. Rogers used to say: “I have confidence in you.”

I wonder how the robot works with un-cultured rat nurons – maybe just sit infront of the TV all day picking it’s nose?

Oh, and Kevin Warwick is the same Kevin Warwick in the “How WS changed the world” Discovery Channel program talking about Borg implants … ( also did a very good Royal Society Xmas Lecture a few years back )

#4: Warp drive is a very powerful type of artificial electro magnetic field, called a subspace field, that warps the space time continuum and allows the ship to slip into a section of space called subspace, where normal propulsion can result in speeds faster than light. The more pwerful and tighter the field around the ship, the faster it’s normal propulsion can move it. In this subspace zone the time that passes while inside the field is the same as outside the field in normal space, that equals faster than light travel with no time dialation effect.

I wrote this before reading the article. The article describes something pretty close to warp drive. We’ll just have to wait and see and at the rate M-theory is progressing it may be a long time before we can even test such a theory.
My money is on MOND (modified newtonian dnamics) it basically says that newton didn’t have the whole equation when it comes to gravity on the galactic scale. Which is why we came up with string theory to begin with. After all we can’t even do theroetical test using string theory or m-theory. And if you think about it which is more likely that there are 7 or 8 new dimensions or that we orginally had the math wrong?

The ice vehicle looks like something i put together with a combination of Lego and Lego Technique.

@6 Ah, thanks for the vote of confidence, but I actually already do real science. I am a experimental petrologist at Arizona State University. I recently presented at a symposium about my latest project, which was about how water affects andesite lavas.

But, hey, I love backyard astronomy as much as the next guy! And, is really neat! My boyfriend is in the School of Earth and Space Exploration here at ASU, and he does lots of space stuff.

Not a very good photo of Space Ghost. Where’s his cape and his little monkey pal? ;)


I’ve managed to find some cleaned up video for you. You can clearly make out the scientific phenomenon and a leading scientist even explains what you’re looking at:


Thanks! I was just kiddin’ about the cartoon that was on when I was a kid. Didn’t he have two side-kick kids and didn’t they have a monkey?

Thanks for the link.

I just try make a the funny.

BTW the side kicks were Jan and Jace.

Great stories as always Kayla.


That’s right. Man, you’ve got a good memory. I haven’t seen the cartoon since the ’60’s.

I htink the space ghost is a Slitheen.
and the cat brain robot is creepy.

It’s just Slimer taking a stroll around the Galaxy…

Discord With Russia a Worry for NASA, …… i know they are trying to make this a diplomatic thing . but well i dont care screw Nasa , they dont want to work with others Agencys on new projects anyway, and i get the feeling they wished they never should have brothered with the ISS.

The green ghost looks like Murasaki 312, the quasar-like phenomenon in “The Galileo Seven” — BEFORE the remastering job!


Scott B. out.

And the ice vehicle — straight from Jonny Quest!

There really is nothing new under the sun … or on the ice! :-)

Scott B. out.

believe it or not, I actualy take part in the galaxy zoo project, and have known about the object for some time. I thik another name for it is ‘hanny’s voorwerp’.

The “new astronomical object” if it is confirmed as new, will have a great name for the person who discovered it….

A Van Arkel


I don’t know why NASA bothered with Low Earth orbit after the moon program. I have yet to see anything at least in my memory that has been worth it. They talk about new manufacturing methods for this and that and how they are carrying out medical experiments for long space flight. Everybody knows that you just rotate the living quarters and control modules for artificial gravity for these long flights. Isn’t that is how it is done in the movies????


I LOL’ed at the Space Ghost joke. Good one!

SpaCCCCCCCee GHostttttt…

Actually looks like Kermit the Frog through a frosted lens…

At least they called it a Space Ghost and didn’t claim to see Jesus up there. (He was busy that day, appearing on a Cheeto.)

We ran the rat-brained robot story on the air a few nights ago. Cool. I know they’re not aiming for androids, but … Data’s great-great-great uncle, ya think?

Thanks Kayla for slippin’ us the robotic tongue.

26 – Thanks. Glad you got a chuckle.

THX-1138 – Funny SGCTC clip! Didn’t really get a chance to watch it until I got home from work. Like any other productive member of our American workforce on Fridays, there’s only a certain amount of time I can piss away writing Star Trek posts at the office.

27 – Or a Gorn that jumped ship on a binge weekend …

The NASA article linked from these pages is beyond belief. With the re-emergence of the Russian “bear”, it’s time to face facts and keep the shuttles running for the next 5-10 years.. NASA MUST re-activate the shuttle program until the next vehicle is ready to go.

and now fur various uninteresting musings:

Lurker, as ye’ catalogue galaxies, can ye’ give ’em names…like Ned, Ted, Fred, Zed, Jed, Judge Dredd, Johnny Red, and K-Fed?

ahhhh… usin’ tha’ google-earth-like Geological site, maybe I can pinpoint whar’ I buried me treasure chest o’ Matt Mason figures… oh, and tha’ rum!

I always enjoyed Space Ghost… even if he looks like he could work at tha’ tower o’ London…

and lastly… should I be worried me job can be taken by rat-bot? Geez, already I gots this ambituous monkey NCO ta’ worry aboot… he hurls his waste at the correct buttons… unlike me…


32 – Huh! They sold Major Matt Mason in Britain? Dinna know that, laddie!

11 Kayla,
No offense intended, all in good fun don’t you know.

Why don’t you do a segment on: “Kayla Iacovino: Experimental Petrologist. ” I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to read a synopsis (written for us layman types) about your symposium findings.

I’m genuinely intrigued.

I got my B.A. in Multi-Disciplinary Studies, which means in studied a broad variety of subjects to feed my theoretically vast intellect (joke). But, I’ve never heard of an “experimental petrologist .” I took a Geology class and I’m very interested in Vulcanism (theTerrestrial kind).

Sincerely, please, tell us more. It seems to fit nicely with everything that’s currently going on in the robotic exploration of the solar system.

Also, I asked many moons ago about your comment that: “the atmosphere is a fluid.” Meterology is also one of my interests (weather geek here), but I’ve never heard that before. Please explain.

Your column doesn’t always have to be “Science News.” Don’t be afraid to do a little explaining to us Hu-mons. I think we’d all appreciate it.

As you know I really dig your column.

As always, many thanks.

32 BND,

Unfortunately, Galaxy Zoo will not allow naming galaxies. Or else I would already have proclaimed one “Brittish Naval Dude,” in your honour. I always like the double TT’s in Brit and the “u” in honor is just for you mi amigo. aaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …………………..