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 http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair)
- @Astro_127: Astronaut Mark Polansky tweets about his upcoming STS127 mission to the ISS, recently delayed.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
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