Welcome back to Science Friday! I missed you all so much last week. So, to make up for it, this week we’ve got a double dose of awesome. Discover 32 new exoplanets, go or no-go for NASA’s new rocket, save the polar bears, and help redefine the shape of our solar system. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: $1 Million Batmobile!
32 New Exoplanets Discovered
Astronomers announced Monday the discovery of 32 new exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system. The discovery puts the number of known exoplanets beyond 400. The instrument to make the discovery is the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS. Over the past five years HARPS has spotted more than 75 of the roughly 400 or so exoplanets now known, and this new finding solidifies its place as the foremost planet finder. We haven’t quite yet answered the question as to whether or not we are alone in the universe, but perhaps we are inching ever closer. In another exoplanet discovery this week, NASA researchers have detected organic molecules around a gas planet. Read more on that at Science Daily.
Artist’s conception of an exoplanet
NASA rolls out Ares
This week at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA literally rolled out its new Ares I rocket, the first rocket other than the space shuttle to stand at Launch Pad 39-B in the last 34 years. Next Tuesday the Ares I X will have its first test flight. The current plan is for the Ares to carry astronauts into orbit by 2015, which means that NASA will be without any capability to launch humans into orbit for five years, after the Shuttle fleet retires next year.
Should NASA Scrap its New Rocket?
A blue ribbon panel said Thursday that NASA should consider scrapping the rocket that it has been developing to replace the space shuttle and bypassing the moon for now. Most of the options for an overhaul of the US human space flight program turned to private companies to provide astronauts with a ride into low-Earth orbit and replace moon landings with the “flexible path approach” (aka flybys). Carolyn Porco, science advisor for Star Trek 2009 and leader of the Cassini Imaging Team, had this to say about the suggestion in a tweet:
So we are supposed to fly by the Moon/Mars/asteroids and not land? What if Columbus sailed past America & didn’t land? …Is THAT a ‘Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation?’ I think NOT!
The panel’s findings do not differ much from the series of hearings over the summer and the report released last month, but they conclude that NASA will not be able to push beyond low-Earth orbit without a $3 billion budget increase. The Obama administration has given little evidence to which option will be adopted.
Will we ever get to see the Ares carry men and women into space?
Polar Bear Habitat Proposed for Alaska Coast
The Interior Department proposed Thursday to allocate more than 200,000 square miles of land, sea, and ice along the northern coast of Alaska to a polar bear habitat. The area, the largest single designation of protected habitat for any species, encompasses the entire range of the two polar bear populations that exist on American land and territorial waters. Government scientists estimate that there are roughly 3,500 bears in the two groups, known the Chukchi Sea and the Southern Beaufort Sea populations. Officials said the bears’ range was shrinking because of the disappearance of sea ice linked to global warming. “Proposing critical habitat for this iconic species is one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of sea ice caused by climate change,” said one government official.
They’re so cute, how can you NOT give them 200,000 square miles?!
Cassini Helps Redraw Shape of the Solar System
In a recent paper published in the journal Science, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) present a new view of the region of the sun’s influence, or heliosphere, and the forces that shape it. New findings suggest that the Sun travels through the galaxy like a giant bubble as apposed to a comet, as suggested by existing models. “These images have revolutionized what we thought we knew for the past fifty years; the sun travels through the galaxy not like a comet but more like a big, round bubble” said Stamatios Krimigis, principal investigator for the MIMI instrument aboard Cassini, which is orbiting Saturn. “It’s amazing how a single new observation can change an entire concept that most scientists had taken as true for nearly fifty years.”
The heliosphere may be shaped differently than previously thought
Video of the Week: How Dyson’s Bladeless Fan Works
Many of you speculated last week at how the Science Friday gadget, the Dyson bladeless fan, actually works. It’s not witchcraft. It’s science! Watch the video below for an explanation by NewScientist Video.
Bonus Video: Meteorite Caught on Camera
Three golf ball-sized fragments have been found from a meteorite that created a brilliant fireball seen over Ontario, Canada on September 25, 2009. The first meteorite fragment recovered did some damage to the windshield of a Nissan Pathfinder, and now two other fragments have been found on nearby properties. The meteor made headlines initially because it was captured on video by Western’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network (SOMN) on seven of its ‘all-sky’ cameras. The brightness was estimated to be approximately 100 times brighter than a full moon. (Via Universe Today)
Gadget of the Week: $1 million Batmobile Rocks the Bat Tech
An industrious Swede spent 20,000 hours putting together this full-sized Batmobile replica. Built on a 1973 Lincoln Continental chassis, it’s loaded with gadgetry, including machine guns, video cameras to see behind you, height-adjustable bodywork, and there’s even a plasma TV stuffed in there somewhere. Want one? If you crave this piece of bat-tech today, you’ll have to build it yourself, and you’ll need to be rich as Bruce Wayne. The 700-horsepower techno-sportster is a one-of-a-kind creation, three-and-a-half years in the making. Oh yeah, and it cost over $1 million to construct. (Via DVICE)
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…
- @dvice: We love technology. We live for shiny new gadgets, momentous breakthroughs, and cutting-edge design. Basically anything that looks like it came from the future.
- @spacefuture: Space is the future! Cool news about space stuff.
- @levarburton: Actor, Director, Educator. Cool recent tweet from Levar: “RT @Chris_Doohan: @levarburton My dad loved working with you. – He was THE best damned Engineer I ever worked with! Also a great guy!”
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Last visit home for ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta
- Bionic Eye may make the blind see
- New study shows that butterflies have ears on their wings
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.