Science Friday: Saturn’s New Moon, Asteroid Near Miss, Bionic Eyes, Holodeck Helmet + more

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.

Click on the image for a better look

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.

Click on the image to see the full res version

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!


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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Holodeck Romance is next?

That’s no holodeck!

I hope it will be able to connect to what ever version of the X-box is around at the time. Halo7 or so should be awesome that way- though I have no desire to smell a fragged Brute.

Wow, Cpt. Otter. I just shot milk out of my nose.


i mean…. MMMMMM lol. Gimmie the holo thingy

I give them credit for the added features, but when it comes down to it that Holo-Helmet is still just a HD TV inside a helmet. No real breakthrough there.

At the rate technology is advancing, it seems Geordi’s visor should be ready within 50 years or so…

Ok. I want that Virtual Cocoon. Not a Holodeck but will do nicely.

I dislike “Near Miss”, rather it’s a “Near Hit”.

the final frontier belongs to china.

they aren’t messing around.

when this new trek movie is dubbed into chinese, it may then be a more accurate vision future than we think.

If Saturn where a Star Trek memorabilia collector it would have quite a collection be now. ;)

Unless I’m just not seeing it Foxnews had a story about cy “borgs” being a reality in the near future. They reference Trek in the article.,2933,505159,00.html

1: Given the “tube designed to spray flavor chemicals,” I have now lost all interest in Holodeck Romances.

Resciencing . . .

wOW !! That asteroid was 1/6th the size of Saturn’s 61st moon !! Thought I felt the breeze blow back my hair.

I think I can just make out a martian giving us the finger in the hi res.

Nice to know we’ve stored our waste plutonium so “safely” all these years. Umm, ’41 have a sip; careful it’s hot.

Bionic hands, bionic eyes, Lee Majors may have a job in his future.

But, perhaps, the biggest news of the day is that the fabulous Denise DeArman has finally joined us here in Science Friday !!

And as always, thanks Kayla. }:-D>


I can only hope and pray that they don’t ever invent a real Holodeck.

Driver: Here here. “Near Miss” means you hit it.

“Medial technology is constantly reaching for Star Trek standards” – from the article


10. / 17.

if it really was a Near miss , that means they hit it! . they NEARLY missed it! …but they didnt. so it got hit! too bad.

Hurrah for china, one step closer to an all out global war over helium 3.

The article about the Chinese one country space race is disturbing. I hope this will serve as some motivation for our government to return to space on a quicker schedule. This whole recession thing should be turning around by the end of the year. Hope we can afford to be the leader in space.

16. The TOS Purist aka The Purolator – March 6, 2009
“I can only hope and pray that they don’t ever invent a real Holodeck.”

I heard a theory about that. Apparently, the invention would start wars as those that are priviledged to use them would have no recourse to leave them. They would just die inside the holoroom. The ultimate in narcissistic entertainment. It was an interesting theory. Personally, I think it could be used for good, such as for training simulations, etc.

I seriously doubt a Holodeck, if ever invented, would be any more “destructive” than your Wii video game system is now. Think about it: you’ll most likely have to download content from Holodeck Online, using HoloPoints, and then the damn thing will have limited memory anyway, so much like an online game, whatever imaginary world you create will have a max size of 5×5 kilometers or something. Objects in the distance will be low res, etc…

People have enough time memorizing the 10 Commandments attached to the numbers. So Star Trek 9 was … WHAT movie?

Again, great stuff, as always! By FAR my favorite part of this site.

What the hell, that’s not a Holodeck.

What’s going to happen if I try and make out with Linda Park while wearing one of those helmets? We’d just be bumping helmets, it’d be comical of course but not really what I’m after.

far from a holodeck… I’d much rather compare this helmet to device Captain Ransom used on the Voyager Episodes “Equinox”

The story about China creating a military space station needs to jolt our govt. into job creation in the space industry ASAP. We need to replace the shuttle immediately and by creating more jobs help boost the economy.

With the latest bad news about the future of this planet, and if colonies
on Mars is the solution for our future existence, shouldn’t we be working
allot faster toward that goal. Some systems for our survival may take
many years to develop, but I don’t hear of any developements that will
help us survive. A few little robotic scooters running around on Mars, taking soil samples is not going to advance our plight very far. If the
Earth had a deadline, that we could discern, How much time would we
have to transport everything needed for life to our new home ? If we had
to dig tunnels in the Martian surface to live in, for example, they would
never be completed in time for us. In other words, I don’t think we will
ever be organized enough to escape Earth before it goes into another
re-modeling mode.

Sure, I’ll design you a Mars base.
How much venture capital do you have?
Oh, and one more thing: you don’t mind having your DNA screwed up by a solar flare on your way there, do you?

Earth has already gone into another re-modeling mode….global warming.