This week in Science Friday, watch the final night launch of the Space Shuttle program, discover a stunning 165-million-year-old spider, tell time more accurately than ever (with lasers!), probe the sun inside and out, and find a really good excuse for missing your boring math class. All this and much more, plus our gadget of the week: Robonaut2.
Space Shuttle’s Final Night Launch a Success
As the era of the Space Shuttle begins to come to a close, onlookers got a great show Monday at the last ever night launch. On board Endeavor (STS-130) is Cupola, a relatively huge bay window to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) that will give astronauts the most magnificent view ever seen from space (short of taking a spacewalk). The astronauts will also deliver the most advanced life-support system ever flown into space for recycling wastewater and generating oxygen. More at the official NASA space shuttle website.
Stunningly Preserved 165-Million-Year-Old Spider Fossil Discovered
Scientists have unearthed an incredibly well-preserved spider fossil in China, which as been dated to an age of about 165 million years old, part of the Jurassic era. The fossilized spiders, Eoplectreurys gertschi, are older than the only two other specimens known by around 120 million years. The level of detail preserved in the fossils is amazing, said paleontologist Paul Selden of the University of Kansas and lead author of the study appearing Feb. 6 in Naturwissenschaften. “You go in with a microscope, and bingo! It’s fantastic.” Fossils of spiders are very rare because their soft bodies do not preserve well, making this find that much more interesting. See more at WIRED, or read the publication on SpringerLink.
Ultra-Precise Quantum-Logic Clock More Accurate than Atomic Clocks
Teams of scientists are racing to build an atomic clock that can replace the current international standard, the cesium fountain clock. The cesium clock loses one second every 100 million years, but Chin-wen Chou of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder has developed the quantum logic clock, which is 37 times more precise than the international standard. The quantum-logic clock, which detects the energy state of a single aluminum ion, keeps time to within a second every 3.7 billion years. The new timekeeper could one day improve GPS or detect the slowing of time predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. To keep time, quantum-logic clocks measure the vibration frequency of UV lasers, which are anchored to the vibration of an electrically charged aluminum atom. Crazy stuff. Read more at WIRED.
The quantum-logic clock
Satellite Launched to Probe the Sun Inside and Out
Yesterday, NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V rocket. The mission is the first of its kind, as it will study the sun’s inner workings with unprecedented detail. NASA says that SDO will return 150 million bits of data ever second, or about 1.5 terabytes per day. This data stream is so broad, that it will be utilizing a dedicated pair of ground-based 18-meter radio dishes in New Mexico to send back torrents of data. The SDO will help predict solar activity and space weather, and it will study the sun’s interior by watching wave-like movements on its surface with its onboard Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager. Read more at the official NASA SDO website.
You Really Can Be Bored to Death, Study Shows
A boring life may lead to an early death, scientists have discovered. Researchers say that people who complain of boredom are more likely to die young, and that those who experienced ‘high levels’ of tedium are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those satisfied with their lot. More than 7,000 civil servants were studied over 25 years – and those who said they were bored were nearly 40 per cent more likely to have died by the end of study than those who did not. The scientists said this could be a result of those unhappy with their lives turning to such unhealthy habits as smoking or drinking, which would cut their life expectancy. So next time you skip class, tell your professor it was for health reasons.
Bored to death!
Picture of the Week: Volcanic Lightning
Did you know that volcanoes can sometimes produce lightning? Pictured below is the Sakurajima volcano in southern Japan, which was caught erupting early last month. Why lightning occurs in volcanoes is something of a mystery amongst scientists. One hypothesis is that the explosive magma and ash particles are themselves electrically charged, and by their motion they create separated areas where a bolt of lightning will arc. Check out the full sized image in all its glory from APOD.
Gadget of the Week: Robonaut2
Engineers from NASA and General Motors have jointly developed what they are calling “the world’s most dextrous robot.” Robonaut2 will be able to assist and supplement human activity in space and in the factory. The robot was built with a human form so that it could work and fit in the same spaces that humans do. The R2, as it is called for short, is being advertised as a human helper robot, but I just hope this thing doesn’t have plans to take over and do all of the work itself. I hear robots will work for cheap.
NASA and GM’s Robonaut2
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…
- @Polar_Gal: Research Assistant at International Arctic Research Center, worked on NABOS expedition in Arctic, love to share passion for poles with kids and the public
- @aprilherbert: Actress who will paint herself blue for money…also might do pointy ears if you’re really nice…
- @Televixen: DVDGeeks’s wonderful and talented Televixen! Actress, writer, TV and radio host, sushi eater, and all-around animal lover extraordinaire.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Airborne laser zaps in-flight missile
- New 3D map of interstellar gas around the sun
- Saturn’s most habitable moon offers ice, water, killer views
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.