Science Friday: Transparent Aluminum + WhiteKnightTwo Preview + Enterprise v Nuke + Killer Comets + more

This week in Science Friday, discover a new state of matter with transparent aluminum, preview a trip into space with the WhiteKnightTwo, bet all in on the USS Enterprise in a fire fight, and avoid Earth-ending cometary impacts. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: Panasonic’s capsule hotel.


Transparent Aluminum is New State of Matter
Oxford scientists have created what they are hailing as a “new state of matter”. That’s right, transparent aluminum. But, it’s not exactly the stuff we see in Star Trek IV. By bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser, FLASH, scientists managed to ‘knock out’ a core electron from every aluminum atom in the sample without disturbing the crystalline structure. This rendered the aluminum nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation. The effect was brief, only about 40 femtoseconds, and only affected an area about 5 microns wide (For scale, a human hair is about 100 microns thick). The really exciting part of this story is that an entirely new state of matter that nobody has seen before has been created. Professor Justin Wark, an author of the paper, said this about the discovery:

‘Transparent aluminum is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of ‘miniature stars’ created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth.’

In January, TrekMovie reported on a new transparent aluminum ceramic alloy, which was made by combining aluminum, oxygen, and nitrogen. But, this new discovery is done purely with aluminum atoms. Of course, neither of them are quite as advanced as Scotty’s formula, which happens to be perfect for transporting whales across time and space. More from Science Daily.

Is it worth something to ya laddie? Or should I just punch up clear?

WhiteKnightTwo Makes First Public Appearance
Attendees at the AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin were treated with watching Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo take flight. On board the mothership — which will launch paying customers into space — was none other than Virgin’s founder Richard Branson. “This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Branson said after the flight. “It’s a beautiful aircraft to fly and its incredibly light carbon construction and efficient design points the way to a much brighter future for commercial aviation as well as the industrial revolution in space which I believe our entire space launch system heralds.” Branson says the spaceship should be finished in December, when they will do extensive testing. In about 18 months from now, the company hopes to be sending people into space. More from Universe Today.

Photon Torpedoes vs. Nukes: Scientists Agree – Star Trek Wins
DVICE, SyFy’s gadget website, recently put the question out to the world of which would win in a fire fight: The USS Enterprise or Battlestar Galactica. They turned to scientists Dr. Lawrence Krauss (author of The Physics of Star Trek) and Dr. Geoffrey Landis, a former professor of astronautics at MIT for the answer.

“Antimatter weapons are always more effective, in that they give the biggest bang for the buck,” says Krauss. “They turn 100% of the matter energy to radiation, and thus extract all the energy possible for an explosion. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, extracts about 1% of the available energy.”

One thing the two scientists agree on is who would win in a ship-to-ship battle between the Galactica and the Enterprise. Landis says, “Overall, I still think I’d bet on the Enterprise. If nothing else works, you can count on Captain Kirk to do something illogical to save the day!”

Krauss concludes simply: “Enterprise — it always wins.”

Game. Set. Match.

Killer Comets Not Likely to Hit Earth
The black eye that Jupiter suffered this month has sparked a host of questions for astronomers as well as for the rest of us: What exactly hit the giant planet, and why didn’t we see it coming? Why is Jupiter’s bruise expanding? How often do these things happen, and how vulnerable are we to a similar cosmic pummeling? Astronomers are closing in on the answers – and helping the public get a better sense of perspective. New modeling data suggests that comets that come from the outer reaches of the solar system (as did Jupiter’s impacter) likely follow a different path than previously thought, and should rarely cross Earth orbit. Additionally, Jupiter’s massive gravitational pull attracts cosmic debris before it can get to us. More from

The cometary apocalypse looking less likely. Don’t discount Romulan drills, though

Gadget of the Week: Capsule Hotel
This week, we have another installment of, “Gadgets that scare the crap out of me!” Why do people keep making things into coffin-sized capsules of death? First dolphin submarines, then micro spacecraft, and now hotels. Apparently, the capsule hotel is pretty popular in Japan. And, I admit, it does seem like a great low cost way to spend the night if you’re a stranded traveler on a long lay-over. But, seriously, this thing is inviting you to stay in a coffin. A shiny, sleek, HDTV coffin with lights, yes. But, a coffin none-the-less. Panasonic has created this futuristic looking capsule hotel that will be displayed in the Axis Gallery in Tokyo next month.

Not recommended for the claustrophobic


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…

  • @AsteroidWatch: JPL’s Near Earth Object Office coordinates NASA’s efforts to detect, track & characterize potentially hazardous asteroids & comets that could approach Earth.
  • @digitalelev: Digital Elevation. A blog on GIS, Remote Sensing, Science and everything else.
  • @MeteoriteMen: Meteorite hunters Geoffrey Notkin and Steve Arnold star in a new adventure show only on Science Channel

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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Always bet on the Enterprise. Double down if one James T. Kirk is in command.

I submitted the transparent aluminum article! Cool huh? I work at the University of Chicago where they also discovered another form of matter in a vacuum.

” Of course, neither of them are quite as advanced as Scotty’s formula, which happens to be perfect for transporting whales across time and space.”

It’s a popular misconception that the whale tank was made out of transparent aluminum. I thought that myself until recently, but actually it was made of 6-inch Plexiglas (as you can see in the shots where it’s being lowered from the helicopter). Scotty gave Nichols the formula for transparent aluminum as payment for the Plexiglas. As Nichols said in the film, “it would take years just to figure out the dynamics of this matrix!” And of course a Plexiglas company would not have the equipment to synthesize a radically different type of material like transparent aluminum in the first place, let alone get it built, tested, and running within a day or two. So it’s simply impossible that they could’ve actually made transparent aluminum in the timeframe of the film.

And Japan has had “coffin” hotels for decades. It’s crowded there.

#3 – I never knew that to be a popular misconception, nor do I think this article intends it to be. As Scotty says earlier in the film, “normally I’d do with a piece of transparent aluminum.” When Sulu remarks that they are a number of years too early for that, Scotty says that they’ll have to find a 20th century equivelant, thus the bargaining with Dr. Nichols takes place.

So transparent aluminum is Scotty’s perfect solution for transporting whales, but we all know he was unable to do it.

In other words… duh.

Hear, hear! Roger.

Do the Galactica even have shields? I mean… the Enterprise wouldn’t even need to spend a Torpedo a pair of precise Phasersalvos would do the thing :)

anyone know where the original image of the Enterprise firing torpedoes that’s being photoshopped comes from?

I think that’s also a reason why the Enterprise (any of them after the NX) would win against pretty much any ship from Star Wars (except maybe the Death Star itself) Everything in Star Wars is powered by a fusion reactor, their weapons are lasers, and thus their shields are designed to take damage from lasers. I read a fan fic once about Starfleet facing off against the Empire and the guy did his science research and one ship, even an old Connie, could take out a few Star Destroyers just because of how weakly shielded and armed they were. Cant do much with the force when youre floating in space.

well said there #8 i’d wonder how short of a battle it would of been if the enterprise E was put into star wars

#3 Christopher L. Bennett

re: Transparent aluminum vs. Plexiglass

You’re an incredible nitpicker. Thanks for pointing out the confusion before *I* did. (grin)

#4 Admiral Archer’s Prize Winning Beagle

Your analysis is also correct. But I do know that a lot of people *have* made the mistake #3 pointed out.

So – Rather than speculate…

Kayla? Which was YOUR meaning?

That capsule hotel looks at least a bit more comfortable than K’Ehleyr’s Class 8 Probe “shuttle”…

I’d pick the Galactica- all those Vipers could easily overwhelm the “E”‘s shields and defenses……Once the shields are down you launch a nuke and kablooey……..

We all remember what damage the nuke did to the “E” in Balance of Terror……….

“their weapons are lasers…”

Another misconception… SW “lasers” are clearly not what we know as lasers, even the Death Star super weapon doesn´t behave like one. Laser blasts in SW look much more like some kind of explosive shell. While I tend to agree that ST tech has advantage over SW, I also agree that the punch a large ship like a Star Destroyer or Calamari Cruiser (which are supposed to have dozens of large gun emplacements…) cann inflict to a Trek vessel is much bigger than some want us to believe.

“We all remember what damage the nuke did to the “E” in Balance of Terror”

Not much as far as I know… ;)

“Not now, Madeline!!!”

The Big E can’t be beat.
And for the record, I’ve been performing expirements in my underwear for years. But, I guess no one wants to boldly go there….

Thanks, Kayla!

# 8
Nothing from Galactica or Star Wars could harm the Enterprise. Remember the Doomsday Machine? It could destroy planets – even solar systems (!), but the Enterprise take two full hits and was not destroyed, just a bit damaged.

So, look at the Death Star… It could destroy planets, but will it able to destroy the Enterprise? I vote for NEVER.

# 12
No chance! The Enterprise will shoot down every single Viper before they could reach weapon-range. And please, what should be the weapon, that could weaken the Enterprise’s shields? Rockets? Lasers? Kamikazes? No way! Galactica will loose.

On a Trek convention some years ago I saw a piece of fan art where a Defiant-class vessel succesfully defended a planet against a fleet of Star Destroyers and Heavy Star Destroyers.

The Trek weapons tech is far for advanced. How did Quark advertise in 1947: “We can equip you with Phasers, Disruptors and Photon Torpedoes. And even Quantum Torpedoes – costing quite more – but worth the effect”.

And what about Shields? In Star Wars they often TALK about shields but you can see that they can’t be powerful – and in Galactica they don’t even have any. In “Balance Of Terror” the Enterprise survived a blast from a fusion warhead at point-blank range a little shaken but intact with the shields DOWN. And how about Star Wars using Lasers? Worf called them “glob-flies” – disturbing but not even able to penetrate the field generated by the Main Deflector Dish. Which brings up: Why even wasting ressources in a fight when you can simply beam an armed torpedo into the enemy vessel…(-;

But Galactica and Wars vessels have ONE advantage – they’re faster in faster-than-light travel as they don’t travel by warping normal space but taking a shortcut thru hyperspace. At lest they can take a swift run when a Trek vessel arrives….(-;

On a second thought: I would’ve love to see the end of Galactica beeing that the Galactica fleet encountered Federation space….

And then a fleet of a dozen Starfleet ships taking out the Cylons for good….(-;

THAT would have been the surprise ending of the century… even better than ‘Newhart’.

Pish, Galactica Would win hands down. All need happen is Adama staring Kirk in the face, then Kirk would wet his little space boots. :P

Did #2 mean to say that they make their discoveries in a vacuum? Say it ain’t so!

#2 form of matter, phase of matter, or state of matter?

Last I checked we really have five categories:

BE condensate & other low energy states – solid – liquid – gas – plasma & degenerate states

This form of aluminium seems to be peculiar in it’s a uniformly ionized crystalline solid. More energy in it than a solid, but it maintains its crystalline structure? Strange combination, for sure!

Will a large comet or asteroid strike Earth in our lifetime? The odds are exactly 50-50; it either will or it won’t.

Great news about Virgin Galactic. Very sad that Walter Cronkite won’t be here to take the first flight into space.

Galactica v. Enterprise? Not to rain on any parades or anything but isn’t this a slightly pointless debate? BSG intentionally had technology that was closer to real world technology, it’s apples and oranges…that said, and at the risk of waking sleeping dogs, I’ll wade in anyway ;)

I love Galactica as I love the Big E but I do have to concede the point — the technological edge has to go to the Enterprise. Though if it weren’t for shields I’d like to think Galactica might have a chance…maybe not a big one but a volley of nukes might pose more of a problem than one…plus we don’t know the yield of the Romulan nuke in BoT…or Galactica’s for that matter but it’s certainly plausible that the Romulan one wasn’t a front line weapon and consequently of (relatively) low yield. Galactica’s point defense systems might be able to take out some torpedoes, phasers would be more problematic.

If you could jump a Raptor inside the E’s shields with a couple of nukes…it might pose a problem…but it’s all a moot point anyway unless Galactica were facing the mirror E — the Federation would welcome refugees.

Anyhow, Dr. Landis should give Galactica’s CO a little more credit – “If nothing else works, you can count on Captain Kirk to do something illogical to save the day!”

True, but the Old Man might have a trick or two up his sleeve as well…

As for Star Wars…
#13 – Right, I belive they are called “turbolasers” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) which implies they are supposed to be something altogether different from what we know as lasers. Additionally, Star Destroyers are of course warships, huge and armed to the teeth, even with her shields, the Enterprise might have some trouble with volume of fire a Star Destroyer could produce. I’d give the E the edge in manuverability, photon torpedoes might outclass Star Wars weaponry…maybe. I think the Big E could take a Star Destroyer but I doubt it’d be easy.