The new Star Trek Trailer promises us the future begins this May, but thanks to science — the future is now. This week, Science Friday lets you discover Saturn’s 61st moon, get up close and personal with a near-Earth asteroid, uncovers some ’44 vintage plutonium, and witness a blind man see again. All this and much more, plus our gadget of the week: The Virtual Cocoon!
Cassini Watch: Moon Number 61 for Saturn!
TrekMovie’s favorite little spacecraft, Cassini, whose imaging team is headed up by ST09 Science Advisor Carolyn Porco, has made the most recent discovery in the Solar System: Saturn’s 61st moon! The tiny “moonlet”, as it is called, is about half a kilometer (1/3 mile) in diameter, and is embedded in Saturn’s tenuous G ring. Scientists believe that the pin prick of light in the picture below may be responsible for the creation of the G ring itself, whose origin was previously unknown.
Asteroid Gives Earth a Close Shave
If you thought you felt something whiz by your head last Monday, that just might have been 2009 DD45, an asteroid estimated to be between 21 and 47 meters (68 and 152 feet) across. It came just 72,000 kilometers (44,750 miles), or a fifth of the distance between Earth and the Moon and only twice the height of satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The asteroid is similar in size to a rock that exploded above Siberia in 1908, flattening 80 million trees across an 800 square mile area. Astronomers knew it was coming after it was spotted last Saturday as a faint dot showing up in pictures at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. There was never any risk of collision, experts said, but anything flying within 50,000 miles of the Earth is taken very seriously.
Phwew, that was close!
Found in the Trash: A Jug of Plutonium (Vintage ’44, Sleuths Say)
An old safe buried in a waste trench at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State has yielded an artifact from the birth of the atomic age: a batch of plutonium that is among the first ever made. The plutonium was found in a glass jug and was a bi product from spent uranium fuel. It was the product of test runs of a plant built for separating plutonium for use in the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Apart from the historical significance of the discovery — the only earlier sample of man-made plutonium known to exist was produced in 1941 in an accelerator and is stored at the Smithsonian Institution — this has given nuclear forensic scientists an opportunity to show off their stuff. Their findings and methods have been published in Analytical Chemistry.
I hear ’44 was a good year for plutonium
Bionic Eye Gives Blind Man Sight
Ron, 73, who lost his sight 30 years ago says he can now see flashes of light after being fitted with a bionic eye at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital. He can now follow white lines on the road and even sort socks. The bionic eye, known as Argus II, uses a camera and video processor mounted on sunglasses to send captured images wirelessly to a tiny receiver on the outside of the eye. The bionic eye has been developed by US company Second Sight. So far 18 patients across the world, including three at Moorfields, have been fitted with the device. The hope is that patients will learn to interpret the visual patterns produced into meaningful images. See more info and videos at BBC.
Medial technology is constantly reaching for Star Trek standards
Pic of the Week: HiRISE Cam Shoots Opportunity Mars Rover
These are the kinds of images that can really put the Mars program into perspective. The image below, about 400 meters across, shows the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (circled) as seen from a the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The HiRISE camera can take extremely hi-resolution images, and we’ve seen some similar images of Spirit. The detail is truly incredible. You can even make out rover tracks from the transit across the dark ripples to the upper right of the rover. Simply amazing. I’d love to see the red planet in person some day! See more info about the image at HiRISE.
Gadget of the Week: Virtual Cocoon lets you see, taste, and smell your sci-fi dreams
A group of UK scientists from the Universities of York and Warwick are attempting to bring us one step closer to a true Star Trek holodeck experience with the invention of the Virtual Cocoon. The helmet features a high-definition screen, surround sound, tubes connected to a mixture of chemicals that emit certain scents depending upon the program, as well as a tube designed to spray flavor chemicals into the wearer’s mouth depending upon the visual experience. Temperature is also controlled, mimicking heat and humidity, using a small fan and heating unit situated at the back of the helmet. The creators expect the device to sell for around 1,500 pounds ($2,675) when it’s ready for public consumption in about five years. Via DVICE.
One step closer to a real holodeck!
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter safe and unharmed after previous glitch
- The Kepler Spacecraft in the hunt for worlds like ours
- China readies military space station just in time for US space shuttle phase out