Science Saturday: Earthquake Axis + Body Computer + Kamikaze Comet + Jetpacks!

Welcome back with a late edition of this week’s Science Saturday! Learn about how earthquakes in Chile can changed the world, turn your body into a touchscreen, introduce an icy comet to a fiery sun, see the most detailed views ever of our home planet, and much much more! All this plus our gadget of the week: The Personal Jetpack!



Chilean Earthquake Shifts Earth’s Axis, Shortens Length of Day
There’s no doubt that last month’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile was strong. But, exactly how strong? NASA scientists have run their calculations and have discovered that the massive earth-shaking event actually caused a shift in the Earth’s figure axis by about 8 cm (3 inches). This does not mean, however, that the Earth suddenly tilted 8 cm. The Earth’s “figure axis” is a measure of how wobbly the planet is during its rotation. Consider this: The Earth is asymmetrical (there is more land in the North, and more sea in the South). These asymmetries cause our planet to wobble as it spins. The offset in the figure axis is a change in the Earth’s mass balance. This shift is nothing new, though. The figure axis moves on its own about 10 cm per year.

Recent news reports have focused on Earth’s length of day, noting that the Chilean earthquake might have shortened days by as much as 1.26 microseconds out of 24 hours. That’s true. But it’s also negligible compared to the normal effect of wind and tides, which can lengthen or shorten days a thousand times more than earthquakes can. Read more from Science@NASA, and learn more about the science behind the earthquake from USGS.

Chilean EQ changes Earth’s wobble, length of day

“Skinput” Turns Your Body Into a Touchscreen
Everyone’s talking about larger screens these days. Why not take advantage of some of the most portable surface area around: your skin! Microsoft Research Labs along with Carnegie Mellon University are developing a technology called “skinput”, a system that uses microchip-sized “pico” projectors and the ability to detect ultra-low frequency sounds produced by tapping the skin with a finger. The system beams a keyboard or menu onto the user’s forearm and hand from a projector housed in an armband. An acoustic detector, also in the armband, then calculates which part of the display you want to activate. Researchers have modeled the characteristic acoustic patterns that are created when different parts of the forearm are tapped, and have programmed those patterns into the skinput device, which recognized the input and makes your selection. Check out the video below to see this tech in action!

Icy Comet, Meet Hot Sun. New Video from STEREO Captures Kamikaze Comet
A small, newly discovered comet will not get to enjoy its new fame for long. The twin STEREO satellites currently orbiting the sun and gathering loads of data have captured the below video of a comet headed straight for the sun. Of course, all comets orbit the sun, usually in an extremely ovoid orbit. But this new comet has gotten a bit to close. It is believed to be a Kreutz Sungraser, a class of objects that are fragments from a supercomet that broke up some 2,000 years ago. The solar images in the video also show a coronal mass ejection (CME) in the upper left of the frame. Enjoy!

NASA Reveals Most Detailed Images of Earth to Date
Using a collection of satellite images, scientists painstakingly stitched together months of observations to create these montages which show the surface of the continents and oceans in stunning detail.Much of the imagery came from a space camera onboard the Nasa satellite Terra, which is orbiting 435miles above the Earth’s surface. A spokesman from the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, which released the pictures, said: ‘These are spectacular “blue marble” images, which show the beauty of our small planet.’ See all the gorgeous images at The Daily Mail

Check out that big blue marble

Picture of the Week: Horsetail Firefall

This photo was made by Rob Kroenert on February 18th 2010 in the Yosemite National Park. Every year during the month of February, the Horsetail Falls turn golden around sunset. Amazing. (Via TodayandTomorrow)

Click on the image for the full version

Video of the Week: Experience Planetary Data with BELLA GAIA

BELLA GAIA is an immersive theater experience for viewing planetary data created and performed by Kenji Williams. The project is realized in collaboration with the NASA and strives to engage and delight the audience with the beauty of our earth. The official project description reads:

BELLA GAIA (Beautiful Earth) is an audio visual “Living Atlas” journey of our world, expressing the deeply moving beauty of planet Earth as seen through the eyes of astronauts.

The vision of BELLA GAIA is to bring the power of art, technology, space science, and real scientific data visualizations together, into a context that is both entertaining and educational, fused with a common goal of raising the awareness and appreciation of our home plane

Gadget of the Week: Personal Jetpack Going Into Mass Production
If you’re a gadget guru, you’ve certainly heard claims by companies in the past saying they were going to produce commercially available jetpacks. About a year ago, reports came out about the Martin Jetpack company who wanted to produce about 10 units for $100,000 a piece; Not all that practical for the typical buyer. Now, they’ve teamed up with an unnamed aircraft company, and the new partnership has secured enough capital to churn out 500 jetpacks a year at $75,000 a pop. Sure, it’s still a bit pricey, but a bit more reasonable, especially when you consider the details: No pilots license required, runs on premium gas from a gas station, 30 mile range at 60mph with an 8,000 ft ceiling, and it includes a low altitude ballistic parachute for safety.


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…

  • @TrekTrivia: Delicious Star Trek trivia. Always use the hashtag #TrekTrivia with your answers. Only you know if you cheat. Have fun!
  • @flyingjenny: Space Shuttle technician at KSC. Founder of the Space Tweep Society. Inventor, A&P, artist. My tweets are mine & don’t represent my contractor employer or NASA.
  • @nieltyson: Niel deGrasse Tyson. Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History. Author: The Pluto Files, Death By Black Hole. Host: PBS NOVA scienceNOW

And, for those of you who can’t seem to find any use for Twitter (or for those of you who can!) here is a video showing off some of the great work that can be done with Twitter. The service has been overlooked by many skeptics as another way to disconnect people from one another. But, it’s really just the opposite. Twitter has created a great new way to communicate with one another, and people out there are using the service in new ways that even the developers could never have imagined. Check out the video below!

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.

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JET PACK! Cool! But is it street legal?

The skin control thing was incredible. The twitter thing was interesting, but I still hate Twitter and refuse to use it.

The techno stuff is interesting, but that waterfall is just spectacular. Goes to show that nature is the most amazing thing of all.

Something for Bob and Alex to ponder for 2.0?

Some great videos this week. The jetpack is cool, but I wonder if it will actually “take off” this time. Seems to be a good concept that just hasn’t caught on with the masses. The skin control is an interesting concept.

That firefall picture is spectacular.

Once again, thanks to Kayla for another wonderful article.

Is there a higher-res image of the earth pics?

I wonder about the jetpack’s practicality. What fuel does it use and how expensive is it in terms of MPG? Can it be used in everyday situations–commuting to work, etc? And I wonder what it’s like for the poor folks on the ground as it passes overhead. I’ll bet the thrust from those fans would blow a few hats off!

Practicality notwithstanding, though, I’ll bet it’s a heck of a lot of fun!

Jetpack? One hell of a lot more practical than the Segway turned out to be!

Funny, the clouds on the earth pictures are duplicated in some places. Odd side affect from the stitching process or actual cloning?

The jetpack seems great…now if only they could make it run on an alternative fuel thats clean. I mean I’ll bet that thing spews out more CFC’s than a Hummer

As impressive as they are in concept, these “soon to be available” Jetpacks are always shown hovering just a few feet off the ground, in a controlled environment, with safety lines and human “spotters” at the ready. I’ll be much more inspired to see footage of these devices actually “flying” within the upper ranges of their operating specs.

What an amazing world we live in! To God be the glory!

Can I get one of those skin computers… for her?

and that Bella Gaia video- just spectacular. Its mesmerizing.
Kayla, thank you so much for bringing it to our attention.

I refuse on twitter! I almost didn’t do facebook either….. but, that one got me in it’s choke hold.

Great photo of the Firefall. But is that little dot on the far left side the Shat’s stunt-double?

(And can we get a sufficiently hi-res pocture of Earth to be able to pick out Miri’s hometown?)

Now, thanks to that lost/star trek youtube parody, this has officially become the best science Saturday article ever!

The thing that bugs be about that earth video is that they don’t show Antarctica, and most of the time when climatologists talk about climate change or melting ice caps, they always talk about the North Pole and never talk about Antarctica. I know I’ve seen studies showing that the ice pack in parts of Antarctica are actually getting thicker, so perhaps that is why no one wants to talk about it…

That picture of the waterfall is beautiful. I know it says it happens at sunset, but what exactly causes the water to turn golden like that? Is it simply the reflection of yellow light from the sunset facing the other direction? It looks so vivid, like it’s a lava flow, not a river….

Skinpad technology looks cool, they just need to find a way to miniaturize the projector mechanism a bit more.

I love that jetpack. With some electronic cars designed to only have a range of 40 miles, I’d much rather have a jetpack of the same range that lets me shoot over the traffic and land on the roof of my choosing! :-)

Oh, and where was that Twitter professor when I went to college?

My attendance to her class would have been 100 percent! I even would have tried for extra credit!

She gets an apple for hotness! :-D

The story about bats and white nose syndrome is intense. That many bats lost is going to impact everyone. As if we needed something else!

oh great…this thread got a spamming attack:( Anthony…wanna help here?:(

on a separate note, that skinput thing…WTF?? are corporations trying to turn us into the Borg Collective? :O

The Blue Marble images are beautiful, but they’re not new. The ones shown in recent articles became available in 2002. I’ve had the western hemisphere on as my desktop background fro several years. Go here:

Suck it, Romulans–Earth has its own firefalls now! Oh, but sorry about your planet being destroyed.

@ #1

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…

I farted once and shifted the earths axis. Maybe the earthquake actually corrected it.


keep it in church pal.

That jetpack looks way too bulky; I like the one John Robinson flew back in the ’60s better :-)

the some of the paragraphs here, especially the one about the “skinput”, reminds me a lot of the Uglies books/triology. Has anyone read them?[great futuristic science fiction/drama] Makes me think of skintenna…….

this sounds completely ridiculous and unreal but:

25. I have to say, that’s a pretty sad comment. I have been on here for quite some time, almost since this website opened, and I constantly see people taking offense at anything even approaching a controversial or political comment. But, when someone makes the slightest remark with religious overtones, they get jumped on? Give me a break.

By the way, outstanding column this week, Kayla.


Freedom of speech is a two way street yo.