Happy Halloween and welcome to a very spooky edition of Science Friday! Learn about a new artificial heart fit for a starship captain, how mini robots will build homes on Mars, portals from the Sun to the Earth, and a special Halloween sky show in the heavens. Also, don’t miss the top science Halloween costumes! All this and more plus our gadget of the week: Microsoft Second Light.
Robotic Ants Building Homes on Mars?
Recent discoveries of water and Earth-like soil on Mars have set imaginations running wild that human beings may one day colonize the Red Planet. However, the first inhabitants might not be human in form at all, but rather swarms of tiny robots. “Small robots that are able to work together could explore the planet. We now know there is water and dust so all they would need is some sort of glue to start building structures, such as homes for human scientists,” says one researcher. Scientists have since gone on to work on creating swarms of robots that are able to reconfigure themselves and assemble autonomously into larger robots in order to perform different tasks.
New Artificial Heart Beats Like the Real Thing
An artificial heart that beats almost exactly like the real thing is to be implanted in patients within three years in a trial that may offer hope to heart disease sufferers unable to receive a transplant (not to mention rowdy cadets who get into it with a Nausicaan). Presented yesterday, it was described by its inventors as the closest thing yet to the human heart. “If you show the graphs to a cardiac surgeon, he will say it’s a human heart.” Two artificial hearts have been invented in the US, but both have drawbacks: the first has wires that protrude through the skin, and the second can produce blood clots that can lead to strokes. If successful, this new heart will be available as an alternative to transplant in 2013. More info…
New artificial heart designed in France
New Chevy to use Star Trek sounds?
The world is headed to a future with more and more electric cars (and plug-in hybrids). In the 2010 model year, Chevrolet will be introducing the Volt, a four-dour electric car with a back-up gas engine for long distances. When the car runs solely on its electric engine (which it can do for ranges of 40 miles at a charge) it makes almost no noise, which throws off some drivers and is considered dangerous for visually impaired pedestrians. A solution being considered by GM is to give the Volt some Trek sound effects….really. GM Executive Frank Weber was quoted this week saying "The sound of the car should be highly technical, but should have no relation at all to a combustion engine, it should be highly pleasing, almost imperceptible as to what’s (actually) happening. I always compare the sound you would expect from the Volt is like when on spaceship enterprise you hear the doors close, or use the transporter."
A car that sounds like the Enterprise–Chevy may corner the Trekkie market
Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth
Researchers have long known that the Earth and Sun are connected. The Earth’s magnetosphere is always collecting high-energy particles from the Sun’s solar wind. Now it has been found that this stream of particles is not constant, but in fact magnetic portals open up in brief dynamic connections about every 8 minutes allowing particles to flow from Sun to Earth. It now seems that these “flux transfer events” or FTE’s are happening twice as often as ever before predicted. Satellites in Earth’s orbit have been mapping and studying the FTE’s in order to better understand their behavior. “Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn’t exist,” says space physicist David Sibeck, “but now the evidence is incontrovertible.”
Artist’s conception of an FTE with a spacecraft on hand to measure it
Halloween Sky Show
While you’re out trick-or-treating, you may want to take a minute to look up into the sky, as the heavens have been kind enough to put on a spectacular sky show this Halloween. On Oct. 31st, the crescent Moon will sneak up on Venus for a close encounter of startling beauty. The gathering is best seen just after sunset when the twilight is pumpkin-orange. Venus hovers just above the southwestern horizon, the brightest light in the sky, while the exquisitely slender Moon approaches just a few degrees below: Sky Map.
On Nov. 1st, look carefully at the moon. Can you see a ghostly image of the full Moon inside the bright horns of the crescent? That’s called “Earthshine” or sometimes “the da Vinci glow” because Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to explain it: Sunlight hits Earth and ricochets to the Moon, casting a sheen of light across the dark lunar terrain. A crescent Moon with Earthshine is one of the loveliest sights in the heavens. Sky Map.
Venus & Moon in 2007. The scene will be similar this Halloween
Gadget of the Week: Microsoft Second Light
We’ve seen Microsoft Surface in action, but now check out the newest edition to the family: Second Light. It takes the tabletop, multi-touch display concept and adds the ability to project images into the air thanks to a liquid crystal screen timed to be transparent on alternate frames, enabling a projector below to beam an image right through it. Your eye doesn’t notice unless you hold something opaque up to scatter the light (like tracing paper, for instance), meaning the device can show a picture of the night sky on the surface while highlighting the constellations on paper. The must-see video below shows how the thing can also track objects above the glass, turning a sheet held aloft into a second multi-touch display.
Picture of the Week: Fireball Over Ontario
For the second time this year, The University of Western Ontario Meteor Group has captured incredibly rare video footage of a meteor falling to Earth. The team of astronomers suspects the fireball dropped meteorites in a region north of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, that may total as much as a few hundred grams in mass.
Video of the Week: Mars Rover Special Preview
They were sent to Mars on a 90-day mission, but almost five years later the rovers Spirit and Opportunity have traveled farther, seen more, and survived longer than anyone imagined possible, earning a place among the most prolific explorers in history. Watch the rovers on National Geographic’s special, “Five Years on Mars,” this Sunday, Nov. 2 at 8pm PT and ET. Check the preview video below!
Top Science Halloween Costumes!
We’ve rounded up DISCOVER’s list of the top science-themed Halloween costumes. Are you dressing up tonight? Send us pictures of your Star Trek/Science/Anything costumes to Kayla@trekmovie.com and you could be featured!
5) RecycleBot: Today’s high-tech robots can walk, talk, and put away groceries. This one’s no Wall-E, but there’s a certain old fashioned charm to a giant robot made from recycled laundry detergent bottles. With a bit of tweaking, this could also work for either Ironman or Tin Man.
4) Biohazard Suit: The sky is falling, and we don’t mean the stock market. Protect yourself from harmful radiation and slobbering-drunk partygoers with this outfit, complete with Geiger counter, gas mask, and Level B chem suit.
3) Cat-ahedron: Here’s one for quilters and cat lovers—although the cat in this picture is probably wishing he could escape into a fourth dimension. What’s next? Knitted hyperbolic shapes? Oh, wait.
2) Anglerfish Head: After the male anglerfish attaches itself by the jaws to a female, its body atrophies into little more than a pair of testes. Remind you of anyone you know?
1) LED Jellyfish: (Not to be confused with the Remote-Controlled Flying Jellyfish) Great minds think alike: Our winning costume also happens to be a Nobel laureate. This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to the discoverers of the green fluorescence protein (GFP), extracted from glowing jellyfish. GFP is now used to track all sorts of biological processes, and make freaky glow-in-the-dark animals. Without actually genetically engineering yourself, you can glow like a jellyfish with a plastic basin and flashing LED lights.
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- Phoenix Mars Landers heaters to be turned off
- Searching for primordial anti-matter
- World’s smallest mass spectrometer