Science Friday is back to bring you the most exciting news happening in the sci/tech world. This week, spacewalk to save the Hubble, get yourself a flying penguin blimp, push for better science in forensics, and drive some real life Star Trek cars. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: SkyMap for Google Android.
Spacewalkers Save the Day for Hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope was in trouble. The newest Wide Field Planetary Camera 3 had to be installed, but the old camera was stuck on by a faulty bolt. If the bolt had snapped–and that was a possibility–the astronauts would have been unable to remove the 16-year-old Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. In that case, the new $132 million Camera 3 would have been returned to Earth aboard Atlantis in a major disappointment for the science community. But after removing a torque limiter from his wrench and applying extra muscle power, spacewalker Andrew Feustel was able to loosen the stuck bolt and had no problems installing the new equipment. “It’s been in there for 16 years, Drew, and it didn’t want to come out,” said spacewalker John Grunsfeld.
Astronauts Andrew Feustel (right) and John Grunsfeld remove the Wide Field Planetary Camera 3
Robots of the Week: Festo Bionics
Festo Bionics creates a variety of hardware and software solutions, from electromechanical control systems to valves and actuators. But, flying penguin blimps, hydrodynamic "aqua-penguins", and crazy dancing walls? This stuff is pretty amazing. And some of it is so realistic, you won’t be sure if it’s nature or machine. For the record, I want my own aqua-penguin. It’s still cute — even with creepy glowing eyes.
A Push for Better Science in Forensics
A report in February by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences found “serious problems” with much of the work performed by crime laboratories in the United States. One conclusion by the committee was that many forensic disciplines — including analysis of fingerprints, bite marks and the striations and indentations left by a pry bar or a gun’s firing mechanism — were not grounded in the kind of rigorous, peer-reviewed research that is the hallmark of classic science. DNA analysis was an exception, the report noted, in that it had been studied extensively. But many other investigative tests, the report said, “have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny.” While some forensic experts took issue with that conclusion, many welcomed it. And some scientists are working on research necessary to improve the field.
But, they’re wearing lab coats!
The Aptera Electric Car Featured in Star Trek
Back in March of 2008, TrekMovie reported on some leaked photos from the Star Trek movie, some of which contained a “wacky futuristic car”. It turns out that said wacky car is a real modern electric car by the name of Aptera (Greek for “wingless flight”). If you remember reading the article, some of you just may have spotted the Aptera in the film. We sure did! In a scene on the lawn of Starfleet Academy, you can see the Aptera drive across the background. Did you miss it? Have a look next time you see the movie. Check out the video below to find out more about the real Aptera 2e.
Pic of the Week: A Shuttle at Dawn
Pictured below, the Space Shuttle Atlantis sat on Launch Pad 39A before dawn last month as it was prepared for the launch. The shuttle has now launched to space bringing with it several astronauts and a brand spanking new Wide Field Camera 3 for the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle orbiter is visible on the image right, attached to a brown liquid fuel tank and two white solid rocket boosters. In the image center is the Fixed Service Structure that stands just over 100 meters tall, including the white lightning rod at the top.
Gadget of the Week: SkyMap for Google Android-powered Phones
It’s an advanced planetarium in your pocket! Wondering what that bright star is up in the sky? With the SkyMap program, you can just whip out your phone, open SkyMap, and point your phone in the direction of the star and voi la! SkyMap uses GPS and compass data as well as the date and time to tell you what stars or night sky objects you are pointing at. This is the perfect way to learn more about your local astronomy. The application is made by Google and is currently only available for the Android mobile phone platform. Check out the video below for a visual demo.
If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists and techies to follow on Twitter. This week…
- @Astro_Mike: NASA astronaut, mission specialist for STS-125. This week, Mike is in space fixing up the old Hubble Space Telescope. Read his tweets from orbit!
- @HubbleTelescope: News from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble has been all over the news this week. Stay up to date with our favorite orbiting space photographer.
- @MarsRovers: Roaming the Red Planet on six wheels. The official mission Twitter of Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit and Oppy are rovin’ around, and making new discoveries all the time. You’ll never want to miss a beat!
- @Aptera: Who said an efficient vehicle (or the company that makes it) couldn’t be fun? Follow that “wacky futuristic car” seen in the new Star Trek film!
- @BadAstronomer: Phil Plait, astronomer, author, blogger-in-chief of Discovery’s Bad Astronomy Blog. Last week Phil share his Star Trek review with us here at TrekMovie.com.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.