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 SPACE.com.
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
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Meteor photographed through telescope
- Long duration space underwear
- How Saturn’s moon got its stripes
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.