Science Friday: Growing Galaxy, Real Levitation, Gilligan Tech, Super Sledding + more

This week in Science Friday, we deliver a bigger Milky Way, levitation science, a super neat mini-copter, coconut cars, the biggest full moon of 2009, and the latest Cassini Update. All this and much more plus our gadget of the week: Slegoon!


Milky Way ‘Bigger Than Thought’
New research results show that the Milky Way Galaxy is 15% larger than previously thought, making it about the size of the Andromeda Galaxy, the largest in our local group. Additionally, it is thought to be moving 15% faster than earlier predictions. The greater mass means that future collisions with nearby galaxies could happen sooner than thought, according to the researchers. But don’t worry, that still won’t be for a long, long time. Measurements were taken using the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA), whose resolution is equivalent to being able to read a newspaper in Cairo from an armchair in Edinburgh.

We’re no longer Andromeda’s little sister galaxy

Research Magic: The Science of Levitation
Magicians have long given us the illusion of levitation, but now scientists have levitated an actual object in the lab, suspending it without the need for external support. Working at the molecular level, the trick is in the tendencies of certain molecules to repel one another at close contact. This research could lead to future applications in nanotechnology. This recent discovery builds on previous studies of the Casimir force, long considered to be of only theoretical interest. More info…

Look, Ma! No hands!

Precision $299 R/C Helicopter Streams Video from 2000 Feet
There are plenty of new and exciting technologies coming out of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but this one stood out from all of the paper-thin big screen TVs on display (don’t get me wrong, those are awesome, too!). This R/C helicopter may look like a toy, but this baby flies steady as any $1000.00 model and goes up to 2,000 feet! On top of that, it will stream video to your laptop from way up there. So, you can see the shocked look on those skydivers’ faces. See a video of this thing in action at DVICE.

I may have to splurge on one of these babies

Researchers Play Professor, Make Coconut Cars
A research team at Baylor University has taken a page from book of the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island,” and made trunk liners, floorboards and car-door interior covers using fibers from the outer husks of coconuts, replacing the synthetic polyester fibers typically used in composite materials. This method is advantageous because coconuts are an abundant, renewable resource in all countries near the equator. The husks are typically burned or thrown away as garbage. If this method is cost-effective, it could save lots of coconut farmers lots of burning husks. More info…

Gilligan tech comes to life!

Cassini Update: Orbiter Captures Astounding Aurora
Saturn has its own unique brand of aurora that lights up the polar cap, unlike any other planetary aurora known in our solar system. This odd aurora revealed itself to one of the infrared instruments on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, headed by Trek’s science advisor Carolyn Porco. Saturn’s main aurora, detected earlier by the Hubble Space Telescope, is caused by the solar wind and changes size dramatically as the wind varies. The new infrared aurora appears in a region hidden from Hubble. This new aurora is also constantly changing, even disappearing within a 45 minute-period.

Saturn’s infrared aurora

In the Skies: Biggest Full Moon of 2009
This weekend, look for the biggest full moon of the year. Similar to the biggest full moon of 2008 which could be seen last month, this weekend’s moon should be spectacularly bright. The moon is at perigee — the point in its elliptical orbit closest to the Earth — and will appear about 14% wider and 30% brighter than “normal” full moons. Look for the full moon tomorrow: Saturday, January 10th.

Dec. 2008’s perigee moon

Gadget of the Week: Slegoon — The Ultimate Sled!
The Slegoon, touted as the ultimate sled, is designed to go twice as fast as a normal sled. Twice as fast means twice as dangerous, so it features added roll bars to protect you, making it look a bit like Trek’s ‘Work Bees.’ The roll bars aren’t just for protection, though. If you take a turn too fast and flip, they’ll act as extra runners so you can keep going. That’s right, you can be careening head-first down a snowy hill — upside down! Awesome! I never did much sledding as a kid, but this takes the fun to a whole new level! [TrendHunter]

Let’s go sledding!

Video of the week: A Tale of Two Rovers
NASA TV has a new retrospective on the lives of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars.

(HD at YouTube)

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’ve noticed the big moon today… cool to read about it now :D

Boy that helicopter sure is nice.


Hey, are we knowwn as Milkies way out there?

I hope Kirk has a Slegoon on that ice planet! 2nd?

“This research could lead to future applications in nanotechnology?” How about anti-gravity technology?!? You know, more advanced aircraft and easier access to space?!? THAT stuff which is way cooler than nanotech?!? My goodness…

Good Lord, I want to take a spill on one of those sleds!

Geez … those slegoons look like fun. Is that Johnny Quest and Hadji fleeing from some Yetis?

Nice to know that some of the larger, more bullying galaxies won’t pick on us for being so small anymore!

So it’s gonna be a huge full moon this weekend? I’ll stock up on razors and rare roast beef … er… no… raw.


Informative and entertaining as always. Next to new tidbits about the new Trek movie, this is by far my favorite segment on this site. Thanks for the heads up about the moon this Saturday. I’ll be sure to have my eye to the sky. And let’s hope President Obama sees the positive virtues of NASA’s visions for the future…once our economy has recovered, of course.

Slegoon. That would have been handy here about a two weeks ago.

The helicopter with the camera will come in handy in the summer. Lot’s of swimming pools and bikinis in my neighborhood.


Oh Kayla! You naughty girl!! You TEASED me with the Coconut Car!!! =D
(still cool tho…)

(OMG!!! I LOVE the Coconut Car!!!) =D Yay “Gilligan’s Island”!

Yay Milky Way! Bigger, Larger, Faster!!

Levitation’s possible, eh? About time. I was getting worried there; it’s only 6 more years until we’re supposed to get hoverboards.

C’mon, Zemeckis, don’t let me down…

And the dark side of the moon is 30% darker.

“The greater mass means that future collisions with nearby galaxies could happen sooner than thought”

Time to get the Fleet of Worlds moving… NOW!!!!

andromeda is a cool galaxy, but i like the milky way galaxy better, its where i keep all my stuff.

is that copter strong enough to lift a super-soaker?

that’d be sweet….

re: 11…


I normally despise any winter activity that involves leaving the house. But those sleds are so dang cool I might just get me one and go up to Cero Summit. I can see the looks on the faces of all the n00bs with their little plastic sleds now…

And I want that helicopter. If I wasn’t saving for a car I’d just spend the money and do it.

Actually, if the slegoons go twice as fast, they’re four times as dangerous – kinetic energy increases with the square of an object’s speed.

At non-relativistic velocities, the kinetic energy of an object is approximated to a high degree of accuracy by the Newtonian equation

— Ek = (1/2)mv^2

Not to mention the sleds themselves are probably quite a bit heavier…

Not to be a kill-joy, but unfortunately, I doubt popular, “managed” sled and ski parks will allow them on their slopes – they would probably be regarded as a hazard if they go so fast that people farther down the hill don’t have time to get out of the way.

Personally, though, I think they would be a LOT of fun…

I think you might want to check you moon facts again. The moon illusion is just that, an illusion. The difference in distance of the moon’s perigee and apogee is not enough to make a viable difference. Please see and the articles Mr Plait references for the actual science.

Please disregard my previous post as I misread the initial article. My bad.

4: ““This research could lead to future applications in nanotechnology?” How about anti-gravity technology?!? You know, more advanced aircraft and easier access to space?!? THAT stuff which is way cooler than nanotech?!? My goodness…”

It’s probably not something that can be scaled up like that. It’s based on quantum phenomena that only apply on the microscopic scale. It could result in frictionless bearings, though, which could lead to some pretty neat stuff.

I like the coconut car lining idea. The Professor will show us the way…

I was just telling my wife (an Alabama flatlander) that when I was a kid growing up in the Maryland mountains, I’d have given my left arm for a Slegoon if they’d have been around then. And the more I look at them, I think they could be really tricked out if you could mount some manner of an ultra-lightweight, electric motor/push propeller assembly in the read of the pod, right behind the seat. It could even be vectored to help with steering.

Oooooo. I’m getting an idea.

another fine SF Kayla

The coconut thing is cool I foresee a future when driving a new car and suddenly have a craving for a Piña colada. and if it snowed in SoCal I would so get one of those sleds.

Um, how long until we colide with other galaxies?

I have to get a Slegoon! I would so name it the Galileo.


you linked to tha “hd version” of the 5 years on mars video underneath the embedded version. therefor you used fmt=18, but you need to use fmt=22 for youtubes hd version

greets, Andreas

I want a Slegoon. And I couldn’t find anyone that sold them yet…

I know that the web is, um, worldwide, but the Cairo-to-Edinburgh reference was a little odd, particularly since it goes from the northwest to the southeast.

The exact same distance of 2,450 miles would be better said as…. “whose resolution is equivalent to being able to read a newspaper in Baltimore from an armchair in San Francisco.

Does the Gilliganmobile come with Mary Ann in the backseat? If so, I’m gettin’ me one!

I’m glad to know we now have a supersized Milky Way. Mmmmm. Milky Way…

And levitation, too. Now I’ll never have to leave the couch.

Thanks Kayla.

Ah, Kayla, you’ve done it again. Gawd I love this section.

So does this mean that VOY should have be on the air for another season?

i dont understsnd your problem w/ the NW SE direction

I like Edinburgh. It reminds me of Scotty.