Science Saturday: Martian Plane + Toxic Sludge + Year of the Solar System + Self-tying Shoes + more

Welcome to another Science Friday Saturday! This week, run from a toxic red sludge in Hungary, celebrate the Year of the Solar System, explore the depths of the Earth in a volcano, and do a 450 MPH fly-over of Mars. All this and much more including our gadget of the week: Back to the Future-style auto-tying shoes and a gadget poll with some Star Trek tech!



NASA Planning Mars-Exploring Robotic Plane
In a new spin on Martian exploration, NASA engineers have proposed sending a mission all the way to the Red Planet that would last only two hours once deployed: a rocket-powered, robotic airplane that screams over the martian landscape at over 450 miles per hour. ARES (Aerial Regional-Scale Environmental Surveyor) has been stuck in the planning stages for a while now, and it’s not the first plane to mars thought up by NASA, but it seems to be one that we might actually see happen. Flying at about a mile above the surface, it would sample the environment over a large swath of area and collect measurements over rough, mountainous parts of the Martian landscape that are inaccessible by ground-based rovers and also hard to observe from orbiters. The NASA team already has a half-scale prototype of ARES that has successfully performed deployment drills and wind tunnel tests that prove it will fly through the Martian atmosphere. The team is now preparing the tech for the next NASA Mars mission solicitation and expects to see it tearing through Martian skies by the end of the decade.

ARES: possible future Martian mission

State of Emergency in Hungary After Toxic Sludge Spill
At least 4 people are dead and at least 120 were injured in what is being called the greatest environmental disaster to ever hit Hungary. An aluminum plant near Ajka, about 100 km southwest of Budapest, suffered breakage in a dam that was designed to hold back harmful bi products of the aluminum production process. The red sludge is extremely toxic, and once the dam burst it was sent spilling out into the streets and into residential areas. Many have been displaced from their homes. The torrent is currently heading toward the river Danube, where environmentalists fear it could lead to an even bigger disaster, affecting many more people in other areas.

2010-2012: The Year of the Solar System
An unprecedented amount of exploration is about to begin. Or so says NASA, who announced Thursday that the coming year will be known as the Year of the Solar System (YSS). “During YSS, we’ll see triple the [usual] number of launches, flybys and orbital insertions,” says Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science at NASA headquarters. “There hasn’t been anything quite like it in the history of the Space Age.” Naturally, the YSS will take place over a Martian year, which lasts 23 months, instead of an Earth year. The action begins October 20th, when Comet Hartley 2 will be only 11 million miles from Earth (it will be fairly visible to the naked eye). The Year of the Solar System concludes in August 2012 when the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity lands on Mars. Read more about the entire list of YSS events at Science@NASA.

The YSS begins October 20th!

Most Incredible Volcano Footage
“You will never see anyone closer to a volcano than this” reads the description of the YouTube video below. And, it’s right! The footage was taken in Marum Volcano in Ambrym, Vanatu. This is no ordinary volcano, it’s home to a lava lake, a place where the molten lava ascending from the deep earth is directly visible to the surface. Only SIX active lava lakes exist in the world: Mount Erebus, Antarctica; Erta Ale, Ethiopia; Kilauea, Hawaii; Nyiragongo, Congo; Villarrica, Chile; and Ambrym. Check out the video below to see the full power and amazing spectacle that the earth’s interior brings to the surface through volcanoes. For more awesome videos and pictures of lava lakes, check out Environmental Graffiti’s 5 Most Incredible Lava Lakes!

Gadget of the Week: Nike’s Back to the Future-style Auto-tying Shoes
Ever wanted to don a pair of Marty McFly’s auto-tying shoes as seen in Back to the Future II? Well, you may be able to do that soon! Nike has patented a new shoe design with an “automatic lacing system”. If the company has its way, the shoes would be powered by an internal battery pack and, at the touch of a button, would tighten around the feet of the wearer. No word yet on when we can expect these. Don’t want to wait? That’s cool, because the ORIGINAL shoes from Back to the Future II, as worn by Marty himself, are going on sale. They’re expected to sell at auction for between $12,000 and $15,000.

Get yourself some auto-tying shoes!

UK Film Fans name Star Trek transporter as top gadget
Speaking of Back to the Future gadgets, Universal Pictures UK have just done a special 25th anniversary re-released the classic time-travel movie Back to the Future, and as part of the promotion they conducted a survey of film fans asking to name their favorite movie gadget. However, it wasn’t a gadget from BTTF that came out on top, but instead a piece of Star Trek tech was the most desired gadget. Here is the full list:

  1. Transporter – Star Trek
  2. The DeLorean – Back To The Future
  3. KITT – Knight Rider 2000
  4. Handbag – Mary Poppins
  5. Invisible Aston Martin – Die Another Day
  6. The Neuralizer – Men In Black
  7. Hoverboard – Back To The Future Parts II & III
  8. Lotus Esprit Submersible – The Spy Who Loved Me
  9. Universal Remote – Click
  10. Jetpack – Thunderball

Brits want to beam up


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…

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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Here’s another cool article I read today that could have fit in the science news.
‘Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style’


Battery-powered shoes probably wouldn’t protect my feet if I went walking next to the lake of fire. I wonder why the Brits consider Mary Poppins’ bag-o-tricks to be a ‘gadget.’ I agree that the transporter is a cool choice, but I can think of gadgets I’d rather have than the invisible Bond car. The submersible Lotus was cool, though. What about Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver? How could Brits have missed that one? And the TARDIS is a lot better time-ride than the DeLorean.
Ah well, I’m rambling.

Thanks, Kayla!


Oy… I get so sick of these “Best of…” lists.

Can’t wait for the time when they’re totally out of ideas and come out with “The Ten Best Internet Lists List.”

To you I simply say this.

that Nike Graphic is misleading, and is several WEEKS old.

Here is something Actually exciting. you need to post this in a main article. SOON

I'm Dead Jim

How’d the Holodeck not make that best gadget list? I think if most people had one they’d never leave the house.

Red Dead Ryan

Interesting stuff again. Though I can’t understand why the “cloaking” Aston Martin made the list, since it was over the top, cheesy, totally not needed and uncalled for. They should have included the DB-5 instead.

Dr. Image

Well at least the name “ARES” will get used by NASA- in a different way on a different spacecraft.


Dibs on the Robo-Plane…



Captain Dunsel

“You will never see anyone closer to a volcano than this” ?

Hunh? Lava ain’t *that* fierce.

Pierce Brosnan drove over it.
Tommy Lee Jones jumped over it.
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were blown out of it.
Hayden Christianson and Ewen MacGregor rafted on it.

“…never see anyone closer,” indeed.


Red Dead Ryan


Aaron Eckhart and the actress from “Boys Don’t Cry*” drove a ship down through the magma and straight to the core in “The Core”.

*I keep forgetting the name of the actress for some reason. :-)

The TOS Purist aka The Purolator

#12 – Her name is Hillary Swank, the “go-to” woman for serious dramatic roles. I’m sure there are other actresses who can easily perform in serious dramatic roles as well as or even better than Hillary Swank, but she’s “serious” because she’s not pretty. Oh well.

The funny thing is, I can recall Swank’s name quite easily…until I read your post about how you always forget her name and I blanked out. I had to consult the Great Google to find her name…

Pah Wraith

#11 and #12 don’t orget Chakotay casually jumping from one rock to another on a lava (or was it magma?) river ;)



It seems foolish to get that close to a volcano. I saw a guy who was a lava nut on the discovery channel. He was always getting close to Lava. He said that if someone made a canoe that would float on lava he would ride it. He is now dead, a volcano killed him. Yes, very foolish indeed.

Agree about transporter. Nice to visit family friends across the world, without the travel hassels. Spend a day in france be home before bedtime. Practical for work related trips. There are endless possibilities!


Imagine real transporters – your mother-in-law could visit you at any unexpected time and place! :-))


Anyone seen Buzz Aldrins comments bon CSPAN about one of Mars moons?




Lol! So true.

Red Dead Ryan


The funny thing is, I can recall Swank’s name quite easily…until I read your post about how you always forget her name and I blanked out. I had to consult the Great Google to find her name…”

Hmmmm……could it be that, uh, what’s her name…..I forgot….uh, yes, Hillary Swank….is FORGETTABLE as an actress?


There was a volcanologist named Victor Kraft who liked to get close to volcanoes when they erupted. He managed to escape death many times but was eventually killed by a pyroclastic cloud after a volcano erupted somewhere. (I can’t remember the whole story unfortunately).


“Anyone seen Buzz Aldrins comments bon CSPAN about one of Mars moons?”


No one watches CSPAN, plus the young people today have no idea who Buzz Aldrin is. ;-)

I'm Dead Jim

@20 I wondered if anyone else was going to think that was funny. ;-)

Missed Buzz on CSPAN. You have a link?


22. Google Aldrin cspan Phobos!


21. The kids know who buzz aldrin is! They loved him in Toy Story!

Red Dead Ryan


Yeah, he was a real “blast” in that movie! He helped provide some publicity “Buzz”!


I know who Buzz Aldrin is! He’s the second man on the Moon, and the guy who punched one of those Moon-conspiracy nuts on camera. You rock, Buzz!


26. Gold Star!



I’d like to believe it’s aliens as Buzz suggests, but monoliths are naturally made as well. Just google Haystack Rock or Chimney Rock. And Bryce Canyon in Utah is full of these sorts of things.


If u wiki Phobos, you’ll read that Eisenhower’s advisors told him Phobos was likely artificial, then google Russian probe phobos for more fun on the subject.


love these articles


That’s funny Bob… I was just watching that video on Youtube just a few days ago, where Buzz talks about a large structure on Phobos. He doesn’t say it’s an alien structure or anything, but he does make it clear that it’s worth checking out. Whatever it is, it is huge!


29 – So… the sequel is another time-travel epic. The Klingons build a fake moon around Mars and Kirk must uncover the plot with the help of Sen. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy, while Spock blows off Uhura for a date with Marilyn Monroe (played by Lady Gaga.) Gottit. I’ll Tweet it out there and pack your theatres for ya, Roberto!


Nicely done Trek Commercial >>> …..with plenty of lens flares ;-)

I posted this before about Raytheon building a real “Iron Man” suit. It seems that its applications are more like the exosuit that Ripley used to battle the queen alien in “Aliens.” (2006) Could this be the beginning of something like those accelerator suits in craptastic movie “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra?” Iron Man suit? I mean it’s not rocket powered and bullet proof. At least it’s not yet. Check out the video below.

Harry Ballz


how about a science fiction/romance film?

The working title?


TJ Trek


nice one Mr. Ballz. I don’t usually dig your comments (just a matter of my tastes not being the same as yours), but this was funny…

Harry Ballz

Thanks, TJ! High praise indeed!

Bob, how about producing am alternative news website that focuses on strange stories the kiddie news media won’t take seriously? I tried (click on my name), but it was eating time and money and I’m a lousy salesman. NOT what I do. But there are SOOO many angles that are not being covered. You hear about x, y, or z once and poof! No more. No followups. No in depth reporting. We could use something like that, and I mean done better than the Fortean Times.

am = an

Why does the “Year of the Solar System” end in 2012? Because the Martian year is 23 months long? Because Curiosity is going to land ton Mars? C’mon.

What about the rest of the Solar System? No significance? I’m glad the length of the YSS didn’t have anything to do with Neptune or Uranus.

The site also says history will remember this time as “golden age of planetary exploration” ?

The golden age of *unmanned* planetary exploration, right? Cuz I’m pretty sure I want history to remember the golden age of planetary exploration as the time when we ..i.e. humans.. actually go to other planets.

Nuff Said.

End rant ;)

U.S.S. Manila NCC-99232

Well, there was a spacecraft named Ares IV also for a Mars mission from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager…

I am not Herbert
I am not Herbert

I would love to have a tricorder.

The tech that we really need, though, is warp drive or hyperdrive. Any type of FTL travel would really revolutionize everything. It’s like they said in First Contact, it would “unite humanity in way no one ever thought possible.” I really think that it would.

But, dang, the energy just to get up to the speed of light would require more juice than all the energy output ever released by humans.

I remember a husband-wife couple that studies volcanoes, and were always getting close.. and one day they were both killed when a magma bubble burst or something and three lava all over them. Don’t know their names… anyone else?
But lava, like war, is not healthy for children and other living things. I stay as far away as possible from it and actually felt a chill looking at that person standing next to the cauldron.

One scene that creeped me out in “Volcano” was where the brave rescue worker jumps into a shallow flow to save a victim and just melts down into it.

I am not Herbert

…”accelerating” to light-speed is antiquated thinking…

Entering “hyperspace” (the fourth dimension), where time is non-existent, is the answer… now, exiting again at the right time / place is the trick…


Hmmm. That monolith thingy on Phobos looks more like a shuttlecraft to a nose dive into a hill.

My god, its full of stars!

Buzz Cagney

Seriously, who would want to step into a transporter? Seriously? I’ll take Bonds Lotus i think. Unfortunately Lotus didn’t have the best reputation for the longest time and Lotus came to be short for Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious! I still loved that car when I was a kid though.



Is that Buzz Cagney or Jeremy Clarkson? ;)