Science Friday: Martian Snow, ‘Dark Flow’, Bionic Hand & Fusion Man!

This week’s Science Friday is full of goodies including snow falling on the Phoenix Lander, what Mars sounds like, new views of Mercury, “Fusion Man” and his jet pack, new bionic finger tips, and a mysterious dark flow in space. All this plus our gadget of the week: The ExoFly — Mars’ first tour guide.



Phoenix Lander Sees Falling Snow, Finds New Minerals, and Listens to Mars
NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds. The lander’s lidar produced this graph of H2O snow falling about 4 km (2.5 miles) above the landing site. “Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said a scientist for the Meteorological Station on Phoenix. “We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.” Currently, researchers are only seeing snow that vaporizes before it reaches the surface. In addition to this, spacecraft soil experiments have found clues pointing to calcium carbonate, the main composition of chalk, and particles that could be clay. Most carbonates and clays on Earth form only in the presence of liquid water.
Another exciting venture being undertaken by the Phoenix team is the start up of Phoenix’s onboard microphone. The mic was originally intended for use during the lander’s decent onto Mars, but that plan was scrapped as it posed an unsafe risk to the spacecraft’s successful landing. Now, Phoenix researchers have gotten the go-ahead to turn the microphone on and listen to what Mars sounds like for the first time ever. Scientists admit that it is not a “professional microphone” but more akin to something on a cell phone. However, this will provide a unique glimpse into the red planet that no one has witnessed before. Think we’ll hear the Martians? More info…

Mars lander sees falling snow

MESSENGER Spacecraft Returns to Mercury
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft is returning to Mercury on Monday, Oct. 6. The probe will conduct the second of three planned flybys and photograph most of Mercury’s remaining unseen surface. Last time, MESSENGER brought back some extraordinary images never before seen of Mercury’s surface, and scientists were able to learn a lot about this small rocky planet. The spacecraft spotted ancient volcanoes ringing Mercury’s Caloris Basin, found that Mercury’s magnetic field is “alive”, and discovered a surprisingly rich plasma nebula trapped in Mercury’s magnetic field. And those were just a few of the surprises. Scientists are excited about the chance to learn even more this time around. More info…

One of the awesome pictures taken by MESSENGER during the last flyby

Fusion Man Flies Over English Channel With Jetpack
Yves Rossy made the first solo flight across the English Channel using a single, jet-propelled wing. The daredevil pilot had been forced to abandon his attempt on Wednesday and Thursday due to poor weather. On Friday Rossy was finally able to fulfill his ambition. This Iron Man-like stunt started with a leap from a plane flying 8000 feet over Calais, France, and 22 miles and 15 minutes later, he was parachuting safely to earth just beyond the White Cliffs of Dover in England. He’s the first person to ever do such an insane thing. Amazing.

Video footage of Rossy’s record setting flight

Gel-based Fingertips Could Give Prosthetic Hands a Sense of Touch
Researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have found that adding gelled fingertips to a prosthetic hand can enable the wearer to instinctively react to the weight and fragility of an object he is touching — a quality most limbs lack as they completely cut off a real sense of feel. This is thanks to the way the gel-tips vibrate against an object. These subtle hints offer enough tactile feedback that help an artificial hand act as a bridge between user and object, not a barrier. Building a prosthetic limb that’s shaped like the human appendage it’s supposed to mimic is only the start of restoring functionality to an individual. An artificial hand that can grip is one thing, but a prosthetic one that ? That’s giving them back a piece of themselves. More info…

New advances in prosthetics are happening all the time

Mysterious New “Dark Flow” Discovered in Space
Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can’t be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon “dark flow.” Researchers have concluded that the force pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe. A theory called inflation posits that the universe we see is just a small bubble of space-time that got rapidly expanded after the Big Bang. There could be other parts of the cosmos beyond this bubble that we cannot see. In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn’t contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow. More info…

The Bullet Cluster is one of hundreds that appear to be carried along by a mysterious cosmic flow

Gadget of the Week: ExoFly — Mars’ first tour guide
The ExoFly is a camera equipped insect-like micro air vehicle (MAV) gearing up for a trip to Mars – maybe even Titan or Venus. Turns out flapping-wing flight is perfect for the low-density viscous Martian atmosphere. The current prototype — weighing 17g with a wingspan of 350mm and flight time of twelve minutes — is being tweaked for use in future missions to Mars. Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University, who’ve teamed up with Ursa Minor Space & Navigation, plan on increasing the weight to 20g and adding an on-board solar cell, which should extend the flight distance to 15km. More info…

ExoFly Promo Video


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

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

That NASA shot of Mercury is pretty cool.

Next week: Martian Snowboarding!

The “Dark Flow” concept is really a trip.

It’s going to be difficult to extend the range of the jet pack or the jet wing due to fuel load and thrust to weight ratios, unfortunate.

However, as Jimi Hendrix once POSITED that we may travel by exo-Dragon Fly!

The next whip around Mercury should be fascinating.

How far can you throw a snowball on Mars?

Great stuff!!!
Notice no one post much on “Science Non-Fiction.” ;-)

Bionic Hands,,landers on Mars, spacecrafts to Mercury and a weather report on Mars,,

gee , things have changed abit since I was a kid


As always, cool stuff Kayla.

So, Dark Flow means our entire frakkin universe is just a zit on God’s heiney? Humbling indeed.

The NUVU looks like my 1975 AMC Pacer. (Lord what a lousy car that was — ate its own electrical system, and the emergency brake cable snapped — DURING AN EMERGENCY!) I also had the Kiyora in my HotWheels collection I think.

Now, everyone grab a beer and start singing: “There’ll be loonies over… the white cliffs of Dover…”

Mongo want to hear what Mars sound like. Also think jet pack pretty cool, but think feet might get hot or burn fur. Maybe make bigger version of dragonfly machine to put on Mongo back. Mongo look like he from Kasshyyk.

Great photo of mercury! Love the news about snow on Mars and the clay thing was very educational.

Concept cars! I bet they’ll show up in Europe and Asia first as the real thing.

My Astronomy teacher is going to be at mission control for the next Mercury flyby. How cool is that?!?

#9 – That’s nothing… I’m going to be ON Mercury. :)

Very nice sci non fi . thanks Kayla.

I look forward to this column every week…thanks.

a tal shia on whoever linked these stories to FOX news.

Of these stories, I am the most impressed with the ExoFly. For over a hundred years, humans have been attempting to duplicate the natural movements of the dragonfly. They finally did it, and it looks fantastic. Kudos to the design team.

#9 – boJac: Have you or your astronomy class seen the program in Google Earth where you can locate objects in the galaxy — and other galaxies? Go into G.E. and click on the Saturn-like planet icon. Then you can type in terms such as “Neptune,” “Polaris,” “Andromeda Galaxy,” and so forth, and it will zoom you along through the heavens to satellite-snapped photos of these objects. Check out “Horsehead Nebula” — there are some pretty cool shots.

The program has its bugs. Just like the G.E. program of our own beloved Mother Earth, for example, where if you type in “North Pole” it take you to shots of a location in Alaska instead of into Santa’s back yard. For example, it doesn’t recognize the names of any of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, but it’s still a quite amazing little program.

I just thought that you, or your teacher and class, or any other visitors to this weekly post, might like to check it out if you haven’t already done so.

Have a pleasant weekend, all.

Oh, and in the G.E. program, if you want to get back to finding locations on Earth rather than in the heavens, just click on the planet icon once again.

Once again, cool sci-news round-up, Kayla.

– I want to know when Jet Man is going to start fighting crime.

– Is is just me or does “Tsunami invisibility cloak unfortunately only invisible to tsunamis.” sound like a headline from The Onion?

– It’s pretty sad how boring concept cars have gotten. Now, in the 1950s — THOSE guys knew what a concept car should look like:

Scott B. out.