Science Friday: Lunar Trip + Warp Theory + Super Laser + Missing Sunspots + NASA’s COLBERT + more

Science Friday is back after a three week hiatus, and we sure do have a lot of science news to catch up on. From spacecraft launches to new warp drive theory to helioseismology, get your thinking caps on and dive into the latest science news. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: COLBERT!


Lunar Spacecraft now On Route to the Moon

Yesterday, The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) launched from Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 17:32 local time. After reaching Earth orbit, the two spacecraft split up and are now taking separate paths to the moon. In four to five days they will both arrive and begin their missions, taking the first steps in NASA’s return to the moon!

LRO will remain in orbit around the moon for a mapping mission, while LCROSS will swing into an elongated orbit sending it on a crash coarse near the moon’s south pole. The impact, scheduled for October, should be visible from the US. The impact will serve to excavate this part of the moon for study. “How do you get something that’s been in the dark for maybe a billion or 2 billion years out to study it?” said Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator. Answer: Impact the bottom of the shadowed crater with the satellite’s spent upper-stage Centaur rocket, more than 5,000 pounds of dead weight careening in at 5,600 mph.

Lift off of LRO/LCROSS on a NASA Atlas V Rocket!

Could Warp Drive Engines Suck Earth into a Black Hole?
We’ve all learned in our high school physics class that you can’t go faster than the speed of light. So, how can warp drive a la Star Trek ever be a reality? Well, there is one thing that CAN go faster than the speed of light: nothingness, aka “space”. That is the principal upon which Star Trek warp drives are theoretically based. Instead of propelling a starship at faster than light speeds, you move space-time around the ship at faster than light speeds. This is, of course, a simplified explanation, but the theory holds to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Now, it seems that Italian scientists have done some tinkering with the math and have come to the conclusion that the amount of energy needed to sustain a “warp bubble” would be so great as to eventually run out causing the bubble to rupture with catastrophic effects. Inside the bubble the temperature would rise to about 10^32 degrees Kelvin, destroying almost anything on the bubble. Additionally, a black hole would be created that would suck anything near it right in. The results are highly theoretical, and scientists are still debating the implications.

Prof. Lawrence Krauss, author of “The Physics of Star Trek” explains warp drive theory

Navy/Raytheon Working on 100kW Weaponized Laser
Raytheon has just been granted a one-year contract from the Navy for the preliminary design of a 100-kiloWatt FEL (Fee Electron Laser) for warships. The laser beams, which a produced by superconducting electron accelerators, could be used against missiles, airplanes, or even boats. Once designed, the naval operators could adjust the wavelength of the laser, which wasn’t possible with conventional lasers. This helps compensate for the varying humidity associated with ship-borne situations. The prototype will be created within 12 months and is the first step in the $150 million three-step project.

Testing for the Navy’s new laser weapons

Mystery of the Missing Sunspots, Solved?
The sun is in the middle of a century-class minimum for solar activity, and sun spots have been oddly scarce for the past two years. Now, solar physicists may have the answer to why. Recently, at an American Astronomical Society press conference in Colorado, researchers announced that a jet stream deep inside the sun is migrating slower than usual through the star’s interior, giving rise to the current lack of sunspots. The sun generates new jet streams near its poles every 11 years. The streams migrate slowly from the poles to the equator and when a jet stream reaches the critical latitude of 22 degrees, new-cycle sunspots begin to appear. Scientists have used a technique called helioseismology to detect and track a jet stream down to depths of 7,000 km below the surface of the sun. The jet stream is now, finally, reaching the critical latitude, heralding a return of solar activity in the months and years ahead. NASA plans to launch the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) later this year to probe the solar interior better than ever before.

A helioseismic map of the sun’s interior

Gadget of the Week: COLBERT – The ISS Treadmill
You may remember back in March when “COLBERT” was the winning name for the newest International Space Station module as voted on by the public (of course, named for comedian Stephen Colbert). But, NASA wasn’t too fond of the name, and decided to choose their own. Well, now it looks like they’ve thrown Colbert a bone and are naming the ISS’s new treadmill after him. The name is COLBERT, or Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill. “I tried a COLBERT mockup at Johnson Space Center,” says astronaut Suni Williams. “It’s broader than [the previous treadmill], so you don’t have to watch out where your feet go. It allows a wider, more natural gait.” So there you have it. Colbert is endorsed by NASA astronauts. Now allowing for a wider, more natural gait! There’s a tag line for ya.

The COLBERT and official patch


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…

  • @LCROSS_NASA: NASA mission to explore the Moon and see if there is water ice near one of the lunar poles!
  • @sciencescout: THE SCIENCE SCOUT DRINKING GAME: Every time the science jargon tweet is mentioned, everyone must drink… (tweets covered at
  • @Astro_127: Astronaut Mark Polansky tweets about his upcoming STS127 mission to the ISS, recently delayed.

Science Quickies
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.

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First? Any idea if tha impact will be visible with the naked eye?

Ok. I want the colbert. thta looks so kool. Ok on the Warp Drive. Get Scotty and he will teach them all a lesson. Back to the moon. Hey Nasa. What took you so long. Martian Lake. Duh!!!!!

I think warp drive being theoretically impossible is not cannon……..

Destroy Twitter.

Atlas V not Saturn V rocket : )

Glad Science Friday is back

Ya know, I really am not fond of a laser weapon being used for offensive purposes. The thought of developing and using higher technology for the purpose of killing human beings is just primitive. Now I’m not a tree hugger, all we need is love type. I do understand that the world we live in is a nasty one. Super lasers for the purposes of defending people does make sense. But do you really think that they won’t ever be pointed at another target in order to make an offensive strike?

I know that there is much more to the issue than I am addressing. I just got that bad feeling in my gut. And to paraphrase captain Kirk and his distaste for mysteries, this super laser thing gives me a whopper of a belly-ache.

Thanks for bringing back Science Friday.

Helioseismology sounds like a course at the Academy.

I have been waiting 24 years for a “Real Genius” type laser. Now all I need is a s—load of popcorn.

Welcome Back :-)

#1 – You’ll need at least a 10″ scope to see the impact. Or you can watch it live on NASA TV in October.

7 … Maybe if the Navy lets Jiffy-Pop put their logo on the weapon, you’ll get your wish.

Maybe that laser could cook my frozen lunch in under 3 minutes, rather than this piece of junk microwave at the office…

#11. They could be one and the same. Lol

Actually, Einstein’s theory stated that nothing can travel at the speed of light. The therorized particles called Tachyons are proposed to be able to go faster than light but can’t slow down to the speed of light.

Sorry, Einstein’s theory stated nothing with mass can travel at the speed of light.


Space does not have mass. And moving space is not the same as moving through space.

Nanook… No, you’ll need a decent-sized telescope to see the impact.

14 Einsteins theory is relegted to “normal space-time” not the area of subs[ace theorized in Quantum realities. The ship doesn’t actually fly through space as it goes thru a sort of tunnel not unlike a wormhole. This tunnel is called subspace. What you would see is the ship, “winking out” in one location , only to “wink in” at it’s destination. Einstein never considered this as quantum physics was still in it’s infancy at the time.
Warp drive is possible, the energies involved would be enormous, but no one says we are going to have a ship in twenty years. Look at history for the answer. When Columbus sailed acroos the ocean, his ship was little more than 150 feet in size. 500 years later, we have giant tankers, weighing 100’s of thousands of tons plying the oceans, we have nuclear propelled Aircraft carriers and subs. Who is to say that a breakthrough won’t come in the next 500 years? Our missions to space have consisted of probes, and small manned vehicles, much like the pioneers all those years ago. Perhaps in 500 years there will be warp powered starships explorig space and seeking out new life, etc.. The only way that will happen is if people say “NO” to the established theories, and develop others.
Look at the transporter for another example. The heisenburg uncertainty principle basically says it’s impossible, yet we have ransported a photon from a location to another. Who is to say that in 500 years, that won’t become a reality as well?
Keep your mind open to the possibilities and don’t let yourself be negative.

Welcome back, S.F. It’s great to have you back!

I forgot to go out in the backyard to see the launch of the rocket, argh!!!!!!!
Probably wouldn’t have seen it anyway, I’m surprised it went since it’s been raining non stop.

Anyone else look at the “C.O.L.B.E.R.T.” patch and think that looks like a PIP BOY with Colberts face plastered onto it?

Untied shoelace on the COLBERT logo is a nice touch.

Warp Drive and breaking the speed of light and Einstein’s speed limit.

#17 you are correct, and it apears the speed of light can not be exceeded, but there is limit on the velocity that space can travel at, why do you think it’s called WARP drive, Light may only go 186,282.93 Miles per second but space can go any speed. If you look at the details of the transported particles where a rotating electron changed to the same rotating direction as the new transported electron it proves the Quantum Mechanics of traveling faster than light. The only flaw is the detectors used electricity that is it’s self limited to the speed of light.

I do believe that after we are done being fixated with genetics (growned with the 1997 total mapping of the Human Genome) Science will start playing with the 93/95 now known subatomic particles live the Graviton(Gravity), Gluon(Density of Matter) and Tachyon(apears to travel faster than light).

Then as computers develop with the Trinary logic(0,1,maybe) the Quantum Computers will let Humanity do almost any thing our Gray Matter between our Ears can imagine.

After Sub-atomics, Warp drive and Transporters are mastered we can then master multi dimensional space continuum’s. And who knows what we will discover in the mean time.

The last question/problem is as it appears now our time/space existance will end in a vast empty null space and the big bang/big crunch cycle will not happen. If we solve this then we may be able to become GOD’s equal.

Spokish: All right … create a whole universe out of NOTHING and you might be God’s equal. Not even close.

Re: paucity of sunspots decoded … uh huh. So … does that mean global cooling is on the back burner (!!) again and global warming is back in vogue? Has anyone other than me noticed that the sunlight is white, lately?

#22 Your post is best read with Data’s voice in mind.

When we now land on the Moon they’ll get video back and the scientists will say,”That doesn’t look like the Apollo footage!” Hence we didn’t land on the moon back in the 60’s. :p

Well Dr. Image, if I had not meet Lenard Nimoy in person he’d be my favorite Trek character. I watched the first half of the first year of TNG from my hospital room that I was in from a DUI driver nearly killing me. My memory was forgotten by the head injury. So I like Data had a blank mind and had to learn everything over.

Dan of #25, If we did not land on the moon, then why was there video and still images of the 1966 Lunar Survayer done my the Apollo 14 Lunar landing crew. And how come they brought back parts of the space craft with micro meteor damage and solar cells with radioactive solar wind damage. I forget the Colorado astronaut that was on the mission but meet him in person when I was in Colorado Boyscout Troop 272 and he only lived 5 miles away on Green Mountain in Denver.

And for another Conspiracy Theory, are you going to say the Mars Landers were fake, and all the 1996 Pathfinder and the two 2002 Mars MER Rovers were fake with computer generated video.

You’ll have fun convincing my brother who was one of the Electrical engineers who built them at the Martin Merrietta now Lockheed Martin Denver plant.

In fact they do have a part of the Lunar Surveyor solar cell brought back in there lobby display area. I’ve looked at it but could not touch it because of the Display case.

opps… their not there. need grammar checking along with my auto spell checking.

#23, since I came out of my ten week coma back in 1989, it has always seemed that the weather patterned here in Denver has been delayed around 12 weeks. It seems that fall that use to end after Trick or Treat time now ends around Christmas. And our late March April winds now happen around my birthday which is a week before Memorial Day.

It almost seems that my Coma froze the weather cycle. Impossible but an oddity I’ve noticed since my mind went bank with the Head Injury.

Someone always has to rain on our warp drive parade!

Warp Drive – Cool! But where are the inertial dampeners?

Thanks Rick and Thorny, I’ll check it out on NASA TV. Wow, first comment (and first comment EVER) and I have Rick respond to my post? I’ve gone to Star Trek heaven! :)

Nanook, it is nice to be the first in the topic to comment, the negative part is it seems some just post garbage to get the pride of saying that they were first. Actually it is a great honor to be able to post anything of valid content. The idea is to be able to express your views to possible effect and strenghten others views.

I’ve posted some first but they have been removed and I’ve been 86ed for a time because my comments were of political aspect, and this site like The Great Bird of the Galaxy’s is not meant to be political, or sexist or that religious.

There have even been a few that have educated me in the science aspect.

And there have been an more than once a day NEWS facts that have educated me, that is why I enjoy browsing this Web Site, and think Anthony or Tony (still do not know which he likes better, but does it matter) and rank TrekMovie.Com in the top five of all the World Wide Web sites. It has not been alive longer than StarTrek.Com but it seems to have a better Mastery of the Trek Universe.

Also Im pretty sure that Alcubierre has done math that showed warp drive could be possible with less then one solar mass, so alll we needed is a fusion reactor, which since the NIF was completed this year we could be pretty close

I think I’d take that warp speed = black hole theory with a grain of sand. As of right now, I’m placing that with the atom smasher = black hole theory and well, we know where that went.

Speculation about warp theory, when — even in the fictional Trek universe — we are decades away from being able to understand it — is a little like speculation about atomic fission before the first atomic bomb was exploded. Some thought that a nuclear explosion would set the entire atmosphere on fire.

Well, it didn’t.

Glad to see your return to us Kayla; we all missed you.

I hope ScienceFriday Inc. enjoys its Homage and free advertising, although I am an addicted NPR Science Friday listener.

Although I generally agree with my friend THX-1138 about lasers, it seems to me the development of high powered laser weapons is inevitable. And I don’t particularly have a problem lasering Pirates who kidnap people and hold them for ransom.

So we’re dropping a none explosive bomb on the moon. How long before the radical environmental Lunar Preservationists file a lawsuit to stop us from further Moon Pollution????

So if the Sun has a massive mega-Sun Quake, do we get fried?

As always, thanks Kayla! }:-D>

In several of the early [non-canon] novels [might have been as far back as the Bantam series], it was stated that for a starship to go to warp too close to any planet or a sun would have the effect of destroying said planetary body or sun.

It’s easy to understand why that point never stuck. Every Starship would be a potential planet killer. Who’d need Genesis?