Science Friday: Alien Life Soon + Universe Expanding Forever + Shrinking Moon + Shark Sub + more

This week, Science Friday brings you alien life in the next 25 years, the infinite expansion of our universe, a map of a gigantic oceanic garbage patch, and shrinking planets (and moons!). All this and more plus our gadget of the week: terrifying shark-shaped submarine.



We Will Find ET Within 25 Years, Say Scientists
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, made a grand claim at the recent SETIcon convention in Mountain View, Calif. “I actually think the chances that we’ll find ET are pretty good,” said Shostak, who added that humans will likely find proof of extraterrestrial intelligence in the next 25 years. Shostak bases his claim partly on the Drake Equation, an equation for determining the likelihood of contacting ET developed by SETI pioneer Frank Drake. And, although Drake Equation estimates are generally taken with a grain of salt, Shostak was confident enough in his assertion to announce it publicly (with a time limit).

SETI pioneer, Seth Shostak

The Universe Will Expand Forever
According to a new NASA study on the ever elusive dark energy, the universe will continue to expand forever. NASA researchers have been using the Hubble Space Telescope and European Space Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to observe how light from distant stars becomes distorted around nearby galaxy clusters. Dark energy, which makes up 72% of our universe, along with dark matter, another 24%, can’t be seen, but their effects on other matter in the universe can be observed. The recent determination of the distribution of dark energy in the universe have led the scientists to conclude that the universe will continue to expand forever and will eventually become a dead and cold wasteland.

Gravitational force from dark energy (shown in blue) affects light around nearby galaxy cluster Abell 1689

Scientists Map Massive North Atlantic Garbage Patch
Thousands of undergraduates aboard the Sea Education Association (SEA) sailing semester hand-picked, counted, and measured more than 64,000 pieces of plastic from the North Atlantic Ocean over the course of 22 years, from 1986 to 2008. “As far as I’m aware this is the most complete and long term data set for little bits of trash floating in the ocean,” said oceanographer Miriam Goldstein of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It is hard to get long term data sets of the ocean, there aren’t many programs that, and measure it the same way from year to year so you can compare the changes over time.” Millions of pieces of plastic smaller than half an inch floating through the ocean are invisible to satellites or even from the deck of a ship unless waters are exceptionally calm. The only way to track them is by towing a very fine net through the water. No one knows how long plastic stays in the ocean or where most of it ultimately will end up. Sea animals such as birds and turtles often consume plastic, sometimes carrying it to land. Some likely will sink over time or wash up on shore.

Distribution of tiny plastic pieces in the Atlantic Ocean

The Moon is Shrinking! Seriously!
I suppose I should say the moon shrank. Scientists recently announced that as the moon’s core cooled and contracted, the entire moon shrank, possibly over the time span of a billion years. The scientists were quick to note, of course, that the moon did not shrink by much and that the moon will not shrink out of view in the future. “The kind of radius change and shrinking we’re describing here is so small that you would never notice it,” said one of the scientists. This same kind of shrinking occurs within all planetary bodies. Scientists were able to constrain the shrinkage by viewing images of fractures, faults, and ridges on the lunar surface. The largest of the Moon ridges is about 300 feet high and stretches for several miles, and some had been seen during the Apollo Moon missions. Speaking of planetary shrinkage, it was also recently announced that mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan were caused by the same process.

Click to embiggen

Video of the Week: Rocket Booster Falling From Space

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this video was directed by JJ Abrams. Could there possibly be any more lens flares??

Gadget of the Week: Terrifying Shark-Shaped Submarine
In our most recent edition of “Coffin-Shaped Death Trap Vehicles,” we bring you the shark-shaped submarine that is doubly terrifying. Much scarier than it’s more cuddly counterpart. If you don’t already have the desire to die in a helicopter, or to die while careening down a snow-covered mountain, why don’t you try your hand at dying in a gigantic metal shark thing? The shark version of the SeaBreacher submarine is powered by a 260 horsepower engine, which pushes the sub at 50 mph on the surface and 25 mph when submerged. Plus, it can jump 12 whole freaking feet into the air. More photos at DVICE.

Does this thing come with an insurance policy?


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, techies, and trekkies to follow on Twitter. This week…

  • @joshgeeksix: A renaissance geek {games, sci-fi, tech gadgets, pen and paper RPGs } + newspaper guy (yeah, we still make those)
  • @treknation: The documentary “Trek Nation”, directed by Scott Colthorp, explores Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision and its impact through the eyes of his son.
  • @apizzagirl: Nerd, drunk tweeter, bibliophile, disastrous dater, shining beacon of pizza.

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

I thought we were told that space was curved back on itself? If it expands forever wouldn’t it eventually start to run into itself from behind?

Hmmmm. A Shrinking Moon. Sounds realy Kool. Space is truly the final frontier. So if Space is still expanding then what the heck is beyond Space. Like the Shark. I have got to get one of those.

Yes. J.J Abrams did direct it. Those Lens Flares are just everywhere. Thanks J.J and of course Bob Orci. I assume you did write it into the script.

Am saddened about the universe. I was really looking forward to the Big Crunch!

Thanks Kayla

“We Will Find ET Within 25 Years, Say Scientists”

That doesn’t give Zefram Cochrane much time, especially since he won’t be born for another 20 years. ;-)

The Moon actually shrank? No surprise really, since ball shaped objects tend to shrink in cold environments. ;-)

And that Shark Submarine looks like it jumped right out of a James Bond film!

I can imagine what a panic the sub would cause if you submerged it enought to have just the dorsal and tail fin on the surface.

I still remember the scare that JAWS put in me back in 1975.

25 years??? I wish they would get here sooner. LOL Hopefully they’re smarter than us.

Eh, that shark’s nothing, it doesn’t have “LASERS”!

Oh, and don’t worry about the universe not ending, it never really began either.

#7 – Argh. I was hoping for higher (than that) intelligence. grin. Maybe like Dolphins.

Is that the shark that Happy Days jumped (with help from Fonzi)??

@1 – Here’s a page showing some of the latest data on it. As best as we can tell, the universe is flat and just goes on forever.

I would have soooooo much fun if I owned that Shark Sub! The beaches would be empty.

Oh, and the moon explained that the shrinkage was caused by a cold spot it went through, and it is not that size normally. It’s usually much bigger.

Now that someone can track the garbage can someone please go pick it up.

Sharkingly entertaining stuff.

Wouldn’t it be great if they got to the far side of Vesta and found sour cream and bacon bits? Just a thought.

Whadda ya know, in space we can hear your booster scream back to Earth.

Thanks, Kayla.


Uh, I hate to ask, but if “the universe is flat and just goes on forever”, what is above and below us?

…..and the first one who posts “Heaven and Hell” is going to get such a slap! :>)


Not Heaven and Hell—it’s the interstellar attic and basement. God keeps all the leftovers from the Big Bang there… also some encyclopedias and a few excercise tapes.

And the universe doesn’t go on forever. It has an end. There’s a restaurant there. ;)

So the universe is going to expand forever and die out, and we still have not detected alien life anywhere. Man, real science is depressing.

I have a solution for the North Atlantic garbage patch. Herd into the gulf oil slick and then let’s have the coolest trailer-park-trash garbage fire of all time!

The shark looks a lot like the stinger from SeaQuest DSV. Very cool!

Love the SRB separation video – incredible! And nevermind who was directing the lens flare – it’s those great sound effects that I love!

Reminds me of watching my first (and likely only) live shuttle launch at KSC. Amazingly, you can see the rocket boosters separate from the shuttle with only the naked eye from the ground. All those years of watching launches on TV, I assumed that the separation took place high enough that only zoom cameras could catch it.

You know Scientists say we will be in contact with Aliens in the next 25 years, you know there are a lot of people who are already are. It’s just they don’t want it reported on the 6 o clock news! The majority of people will lynch them!

The SRB video is some of the most amazing footage I’ve ever seen.

That shark-shaped submarine reminds me of Lucas Wolenczak’s shark-shaped submarine from the old Seaquest DSV TV series. Very cool!

11. Thank you. …and you too Harry.

I have tried to understand what they mean by a flat universe as well (I’m reminded of Spock: “His pattern indicates… two-dimensional thinking”) but I don’t really understand it. We need an astrophysicist here to explain that. Maybe it’s the fabric of the universe that’s flat, whatever that fabric is supposed to be.

Then again, most Star Trek episodes seem to happen on a flat plane – when ships meet they are almost always lined-up with each other nicely on a level playing field, when you go to warp they never seem to turn the ship straight up and engage, etc. :P

Radio contact with aliens would be very cool. It means we’d have to get the planet cleaned up before company arrives!

But can they make a Sharktopus-shaped Submarine? That’s the IMPORTANT question!

Sad that the universe will eventually hit entropic heat death. :(

Space is flat like a sheet of paper is flat. To a sentient atom trapped inside the sheet of paper, it would look very roomy. I’m sure that analogy is completely wrong. :-)

#25 – Ships in SF all meet right-side-up because they’re aligned with the galactic plane of the ecliptic. Now, how everyone decided which was the top and which was the bottom of the ecliptic … you got me. ;-)

That SRB footage is hypnotic. Like an outtake from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It got very surreal when the jellyfish appeared … then I realized they were parachutes. :-) Love the sounds. Like John in Canada says, they make the video.

Scott B. out.

Didn’t Stephen Hawking say it might be a bad idea to contact “ET” since they might be interested in our planet for our resources. Kind of sounds like the scenario to “Indpendence Day” (1996) Let’s hope we meet the Vulcans soon.