Science Friday: Alien Planet, Orbiting Fridge, Dying Lander, Trash Plasma + more

Once again, it’s Science Friday! Get ready for the first ever images of alien worlds, happenings aboard the ISS (including how to get one in your happy meal), a final farewell to the Phoenix lander, turning trash into energy, the best inventions of 2008 and more! All this plus our gadget of the week: Honda’s robotic leg.

Hubble Captures First Images of Alien Planets
The Hubble Space Telescope and two ground based telescopes have captured the first ever visible light images of exoplanets — alien worlds orbiting the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away. The images show four likely planets that appear as specks of white that are nearly indecipherable except to the most eagle-eyed astronomers. None of the four giant gaseous planets are remotely habitable or remotely like Earth. But they raise the possibility of others more hospitable, and scientists say it’s only a matter of time before “we get a dot that’s blue and Earthlike.” More info…

Fomalhaut b, the gas giant orbiting a star far away

Extreme Makeover: Astronaut Edition
Astronauts aboard the ISS are looking forward to the new makeover they are about to receive. Astronauts will be installing an extra toilet, more sleeping compartments with individual thermostats and laptop hookups, a new fridge, and an exercise machine. They also will be delivering the essentials of NASA’s first attempt at a closed-loop environmental system in orbit, where almost everything gets recycled. Most significant is the water recovery system — it will turn urine and condensation into fresh drinking water. Astronaut Donald Pettit, a former space station resident who will help hook up the system, looks at it as one big coffee machine. “It’s going to take yesterday’s coffee and make it into today’s coffee,” Pettit said. More info…

The International Space Station gets an extreme makeover

Phoenix Lander Mission Almost Over
With its epitaph written, it looks like the Phoenix Mars Lander has dug its last hole in the Martian soil. With winter temperatures at a high of -100degrees F and the sun dipping below the horizon, the solar-powered lander-that-could made its last call back to its earthling followers via Twitter, saying 01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3 — binary for “triumph”. There’s much more in store for Mars, though. Check out this video below to hear from ASU professor Phil Christensen, aka "The Mars Guy".

Plasma Plants to Vaporize Trash Into Energy
Now here’s a system I can get behind: turning trash into energy via the magic of plasma. The first plasma plant in the country is being planned for St. Lucie County in Florida, where it’ll use 10,000 degree plasma to vaporize 1,500 tons of trash every day. The vapor will then spin turbines to create enough juice to power a whopping 50,000 homes. Plasma Gasification plants also generate less emissions than standard incineration plants, which is also good. The only X factor that could make this a bit less exciting is the cost to run it all, which may be pretty high. We’ll have to see how this setup works in the real world once our friends down in Florida have got theirs up and running.

Using plasma to turn trash into energy

Chick-Fil-A Stuffing a Space Station in Every Kids’ Meal
I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m already getting jealous looking at this space station kid’s meal toy being offered by Chick-fil-A and the Kennedy Space Center. The space station comes in four parts, and each package is accompanied by collectible cards with space trivia and stickers to decorate the modules with. Some even have a $5 coupon for admission into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Chick-fil-A is currently offering the space station in 37 states, and the promotion ends on November 22nd.

Chick-fil-A’s newest kids’ meal toy

TIME’s Best Inventions of 2008
TIME Magazine released their picks for 2008’s best inventions, and many science-related items made the list including: the Retail DNA Test at #1, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at #3, the Large Hadron Collider at #5, Mars Science Laboratory at #18, and the Aptera (the electric car rumored to be in Star Trek) at #46. Check out the video below for a preview, then head on over to TIME Magazine’s article to see all of the cool inventions!

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff on Trek in Space
In a journal entry by Greg Chamitoff written aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the ISS astronaut tells how Star Trek is even better in Earth orbit. Thanks to Jim Robertson for the tip!

Obviously, I’ve got a laptop computer. I also have some extra batteries, some food and water, extra clothes because it gets cold in here, a camera, a book, and, most importantly, I’ve got several episodes of “Star Trek” and “Star Gate I” on my computer to watch. So this is my plan…… I’m going to watch the world go by out the window and watch “Star Trek” on my laptop. That way, I can marvel at our planet and our existence, while dreaming of the future. What could be better than that!?

Greg Chamitoff looks out from the ISS (I’m sure he’d rather be watching Star Trek)

Video of the Week: Dance Off! Six-Legged Robots Dress Up and Strut Their Stuff
Think you got some moves? So do these hexapodal ‘bots, but they’ve got six legs to work with. And work they do — it’s surprising just how dexterous they can be. There are all manner of hexapods — from ones dressed like bees and humans and that scary fellow you see above — twirling, kicking and generally having more fun than most humans on the dance floor.

Gadget of the Week: Honda’s Robotic Leg
Last month, TrekMovie reported on the Iron Man-like robosuit by Cyberdyne Corp. which doubles the user’s strength. Now, it looks like Honda has gotten into the mix with a robotic leg which assists the user’s natural movement and exerts significant force to take stress off the users’ joints when walking, traveling up stairs, or “semi-crouching”. Honda claims its suit is superior to competitors as it uses advanced sensing to allow the user to move in a natural motion. The assist force is controlled in concert with the legs and directed towards the user’s center of gravity. The suit will be deployed for a real world field test at a Honda car assembly plant in Saitama. It is expected to ease stress on the workers’ bodies, reducing injury.

Honda’s robo-leg will help workers and people with disabilities

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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I don’t think “coffee” is the best mental image for “recycled water”.

you wanna see the recycled pee scene from water world?

Every drop of water we drink on earth is recycled. It’s been in supernovae, it’s been dinosaur blood, Mt. Everest snow,… and every other imaginable place water might be found. The spit in your mouth had it’s origins in the cosmos, and it will end up there in the far flung future.

We’re just trying this recycling thing in imitation of the universe. No biggie. :-)

@ 2

Well, “water from the cosmos” is a much nicer mental image than “yesterday’s coffee”. XDDD

Starbucks in Space. WE know. they’re building another one in Alpha Centauri.

Anyone else see the Eye of Sauron in that first image?

Yes for starbucks in space!!!

M-BETA — exactly. Are we sure it isn’t??

I loves me some good Trek I does, but I think just staring out the window of the ISS would be enough.

Thanks Kayla.

See, I got through a whole post without saying how perverted the Honda robo-leg / arse-grabber looks.

Star Gate 1 ?

“The spit in your mouth had it’s origins in the cosmos, and it will end up there in the far flung future.”

There are a few stops I’d like it to make along the way…

#9 – Maybe he meant the original Star Gate… or season 1. I wonder what Trek episodes he has.

Greg Chamitoff, if you’re checking out while you’re up there, please let us know what you think of the new Enterprise. ;-)

whatever happened to the rotating, spoked wheel?

tin can space station… no different from the skylab of the 70’s.

gas giant planets are indeed habitable, astrobiology is a narrow, dead end and should be rejected for xenobiology.

9,11 – Stargate SG-1 :) Or perhaps the 1 to refer to it as the first series vs Atlantis.

Ok. Im Jealous. He gets to watch Star Trek while actualy in Orbit. Thats just not fair. But pretty dam kool!. Ok. Im going to chik fila and getting me a Iss. space station. Hey the I.S.S i belive is the first of the Terran Empire Ships. We are just getting started! Long live the Terran Empire.

The dancing robots are CUTE.

Mebbe he wrote/said SG-1 and somebody who’s never watched it didn’t understand what to call it…that is so not fair, I’m jealous too. Of course, I’m jealous of anyone who gets to go to space, whether they watch my 2 favorite scifi series up there or not. Those robots were undeniably awesome.

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