Put on your thinking caps, because it’s time for Science Friday! This week, we bring you a new Cassini Watch and Saturn’s southern cyclone, why “following the water” may not be enough for ET life, how a glass of shark’s blood a day keeps the doctor away, and mission status updates from the Mars Science Laboratory. All this plus our gadget of the week: the Objet Alaris30 3D printer makes like a Star Trek replicator.
Cassini Watch: Inner Workings of the Saturn Cyclone
Star Trek‘s own Carolyn Porco and her team of imaging scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission have gotten a new glimpse of the monstrous vortex swirling over Saturn’s south pole. The new images sent back by the spacecraft are ten times more detailed than any seen before and are offering insights into the mechanisms that power the planet’s atmosphere. “What looked like puffy clouds in lower resolution images are turning out to be deep convective structures seen through the atmospheric haze,” said imaging team member Tony DelGenio. Further observations are planned between now and southern fall equinox in August 2009 to see how the features evolve as the seasons change from summer to fall. See the new images at http://ciclops.org.
A new Cassini image of Saturn’s southern cyclone
For Space, Water is Not Enough
NASA’s Astrobiology Institute has been using the mantra “follow the water” in its search for extraterrestrial life, but scientists are beginning to think that this may not be enough. Those taking a new approach plan to refine the criteria by characterizing life’s elemental requirements. “Water and energy are necessary but not sufficient,” says Ariel Anbar of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “Look at Earth. Nearly half the planet’s surface is covered by ocean regions in which life is scarce. The reason is that these regions don’t have high enough concentrations of the chemical elements necessary for life. So the next step in the search for life is to ‘follow the elements’.” The team will pursue a three-pronged research initiative to explore the relationship between the elemental composition of organisms and their environments, the impact of planetary processes on the abundance of bioessential elements, and the effects of astrophysical processes on the abundance of life-supporting elements.
Water alone is not enough for extraterrestrial life
Newest Cancer Treatment: Shark’s Blood!
Here’s an unorthodox way to help slow down the effects of cancer: a nice tall glass of shark’s blood. Sound gross? It is! But it also might just be effective. Sharks have immune systems similar to humans, but their antibodies – the molecules which actually fight disease – are exceptionally resilient. This means they would potentially be able to survive in the harsh environment of the human gut, which is crucial to the development of a cancer-fighting pill. Sharks were chosen for the project because they have robust immune systems and rarely succumb to infections. There is already evidence that their antibodies can slow the spread of breast cancer. But it is also hoped that they could eventually be used to treat other conditions, such as malaria and rheumatoid arthritis. More info…
Shark’s blood shows the potential to help fight cancer
NASA Moving Forward with Mars Science Laboratory
Following weeks of doubts about the future of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) — the one-ton, nuclear powered, laser-shooting next generation of Martian explorers — Lockheed Martin has shipped the vital “backshell” for the landing module, confirming that building is still under way. They also produced a video detailing the amazing landing procedure for the craft, during which a hovering “skycrane” lowers the rover to the ground before dutifully smashing itself into the surface a safe distance away.
New video of the future MSL at work on Mars
Gadget of the Week: Objet Alaris30 3D Printer Puts a Star Trek Replicator On Your Desk
3D printers are currently in use by industrial designers, many of whom have been happily using ultra-expensive real-life Star Trek replicators for years now. Yeah, cool, good for them, but when can we expect this technology in our homes? Considering the recent announcement of Objet’s Alaris30 3D desktop printer, that may not be so far off. The printer is no bigger than a regular printer/scanner combo, plugs into a regular power source, connects to any office network and ships with simple drivers and software that let your send CAD files to be produced from modeling plastic in dimensions up to 11.57 x 7.72 x 5.9 in. No price has been announced yet, but I’m not guessing this thing’ll be cheap. The video below shows some awesome results from the printer.
A plastic car made by the Alaris30 printer
Picture of the Week: An Odd Hill on Mars
An odd, solitary hill rising part-way down an eroding slope in Mars’ north polar layered terrain may be the remnant of a buried impact crater, suggests a University of Arizona planetary scientist who studied the feature in a new, detailed image from the HiRISE camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. See more images at the HiRISE website.
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- Tech meets nature: microchips guard against cactus theft
- Einstein’s Relativity survives neutrino test
- Why Googling is good for your brain
- Phoenix Mars lander weathers Martian dust storm