Science Friday: Mystery Plume + Mini Big Bang + Giant Space Bubble + Sending Your Stuff Into Space + more

This week: What’s that thing up in the sky? The LHC has created a mini-big bang. Why aren’t we all dead yet? What can cause gigantic gamma-ray bubbles in our galaxy? How can you become an amateur astronaut? All these questions and more answered in this week’s edition of Science Friday!


California’s Mystery Plume: Missile? Airplane?
An unusual plume was spotted off of California’s coast this Monday that appeared to be some kind of projectile moving west. The sighting sparked several conspiracy theories, the most popular being that the object was a missile. All government agencies denied launching anything at that time, which prompted more fantastical theories including Iron Man and the Charlie Chaplin time traveler. According to NASA and the Pentagon, however, the truth is not so interesting. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Department of Defense, told the Associated Press the billowing contrail probably came from a plane, and that the image was contorted via camera angles, winds and a setting sun. Michio Kaku, PhD physicist agrees that the plume was probably made by a plane. Watch the video below for his explanation of how he arrived at this hypothesis.

Large Hadron Collider Creates a Mini-Big Bang, Earth Not Destroyed
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has successfully created a mini-big bang by smashing together lead ions at close to the speed of light. Amazingly enough, the Earth was not consumed by an unstoppable black hole (phew! dodged that bullet!). Collisions of the lead ions in the latest experiment created temperatures a million times hotter than that of the center of our sun. “At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma,” said David Evans of the University of Birmingham, UK. Quarks and gluons are sub-atomic particles – some of the building blocks of matter. In the state known as quark-gluon plasma, they are freed of their attraction to one another. Evans explained that by studying the plasma, physicists hoped to learn more about the so-called strong force – the force that binds the nuclei of atoms together and that is responsible for 98% of their mass.

Click to watch at the BBC

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope Finds Giant Structure in Our Galaxy
Scientists have discovered a massive, mysterious new structure in our galaxy using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope. The features looks like a pair of bubbles extending above and below the Milky Way’s center, perpendicular to the galactic midplane. Each lobe is 25,000 light years tall, and the whole structure may only be a few million years old (that may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the age of the Milky Way galaxy, 13.6 billion years!). Astronomers have been studying gamma-rays in our galaxy for a while now. The reason they have not seen this gigantic feature until now is due in part to the fog of gamma rays that pollutes the sky. By using various estimates of this fog, Doug Finkbeiner and his colleagues were able to isolate it from the data and reveal the giant bubbles. Scientists now are conducting more analyses to better understand how the never-before-seen structure was formed. The bubble emissions are much more energetic than the gamma-ray fog seen elsewhere in the Milky Way. The bubbles also appear to have well-defined edges. The structure’s shape and emissions suggest it was formed as a result of a large and relatively rapid energy release – the source of which remains a mystery. More at NASA.

Become an Amateur Astronaut, Send Stuff into “Space”
Videos of amateur enthusiasts sending their stuff into space are becoming suddenly popular. Last month, we reported the home-made iphone-bearing spacecraft sent nearly 20 miles up by a father and son team. Just this week, a handful of similar videos have popped up, including a team from north Texas known as the Brothers Gromm that sent Star Trek action figures 20 miles high and a group of Brits that launched a paper airplane 17 miles up. Many of you have commented that 20 miles is not by anyone’s definition the boundary of space, but I say sending something high enough to see the curvature of the Earth is pretty darned impressive. While there is no official definition of the height where “space” begins, NASA designates anyone who travels above an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) to be an astronaut. A widely accepted international definition of space is the Kármán line at 100km (62 mi) or the altitude at which a vehicle must travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself. Wikipedia has a good article on the limits and definitions of outer space.

Click to watch at the BBC

Picture of the Week: Flank eruption of Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island
This week’s incredible photo comes from Volcano Picture of the Week (VPOW). The image is of a flank eruption of Pitun de la Fournaise (“Peak of the furnace” in French) volcano on Reunion Island, a small island near Madagascar. The eruption began October 14th at 19h10, and this image was taken 30 hours later. This is the first activity outside the summit zone of this volcano since 2007. I imagine that some places on the surface of Io must look like this. Incredible.

Eruption at Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island [click to embiggen]

Gadget of the Week: The Jetman’s Jet-powered Wing Suit
The Jetman has become somewhat famous for his incredibly scary looking feats of flying with his jet-powered wing suit over famous landmarks such as the Alps and the English Channel. Last Friday, the 51-year-old Yves Rossy became the first person to ever do an aerial loop in a jet-powered wing suit. Check out the video below of him making his record setting flight.


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…

  • @nytimesscience: Science, Environment, Space and Cosmos News From
  • @IceBridge: NASA Earth Science’s multi-year airborne campaign to track changes in Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets & sea ice.
  • @guardianscience: News, comment, all that stuff from the Guardian’s science, health and environment team

Science Quickies
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.

Editor’s Note: On Traveling to Antarctica

Next week, your humble science editor will be leaving England and heading for Antarctica. Thursday, I hop on a plane to New Zealand where I will be issued gear by the United States Antarctic Program. A few days later I will fly out to the US-run McMurdo Antarctic base. I will have uninterrupted internet access, so ScienceFriday will continue! As I will be spending the next two months on the flanks of Mt. Erebus volcano, I may dedicate one or two ScienceFriday’s to life in the Great White South. If anyone has any questions, photo requests, or anything of that nature, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at kayla[AT]trekmovie[DOT]com.


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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I’m so glad that the Pentagon debunked the missile story. They did a great job debunking Roswell too. That’s where they said the aliens the people saw in 1947 were crash dummies. Oh, the dummies were used in the fifties. Oops. Still no one has accounted for Gary Seven. (TOS: “Assignment Earth”)

Trekker Jon Stewart debunks the story with help from scientist Jon Pike who has the greatest prop for debunking.–impossible

Kayla, have a good time in Antarctica. But make sure you bring Kurt Russell with you. ;)

Only in america can something so utterly common and usual as a contrail and a sunset make the news headlines. Its ridiculous. Embarassing, actually.

Whats next? Growing grass in a backyard at night – mystery fungus from outer space?

Maybe the LHC killed us all in an alternate timeline?

@1 “I’m so glad that the Pentagon debunked the missile story. They did a great job debunking Roswell too. ”

Agreed. The UFO stuff is pretty phony.

Or better yet, “Large white circle seen slowly passing overhead lighting up night sky.”

If it was a missile, NORAD would have shot it down with their “new” laser. The reason they didn’t say anything was because as #3 said, it was ridiculous.

…a mini-big bang……would that, in fact, be a “small thud”?

Oh, and it’s contrails. Some blogger tracked down the flight that caused it, and taken more pic’s. Case closed. I love living out here, don’t you?

Sorry, Hollywood. But, Jet Man beats the hell outta Iron Man.

Are you sure LHC didn’t blow us up? Or flip is into another dimension? You’d tell us if the world ended, right?

So, black holes emit gas. And that’s news?? (Sorry, had to get in at least one fart joke.)

Cool stuff as always, Kayla.

Search “STS-98 Sunset” on Google (images). The first couple of hits are what a sunset rocket launch looks like, a brightening trail that changes color as the rocket gets higher into the sunlight. The trail seen on video earlier this week looks nothing like that.

People in the aviation and space community were saying “its an airliner” from almost the first minute. It took the national media (which never backs away from sensationalism) all week to catch up.

Well one question was answered. I never heard a straight answer when and high up space began. Its my knowledge that anyone who flew over one hundred thousand feet up received an astronaut’s badge-metal. The now defunct x 15 program piolets all received astronat medals. So did the piolets of tthe black bird recon program those birds soared over the 100 thousand feet. I’m not sure about the high altitude flying U2s. Seeing the Earth’s curvature was used as criteria. The skies were nearly black. That is entering the ionispere . Which is space

There is no agreement on where space begins, scientifically speaking. The atmosphere is not static, so the exact point where atmospheric pressure drops below a certain point won’t be the same everywhere, all the time.

But for general purposes the international community settled on space beginning at 100 kilometers (about 62 miles or 328,000 feet). The U.S. for decades defined space as beginning at 50 miles, but I think it finally signed on to the 100 km definition in the ’90s.

The US gave astronaut wings to X-15 pilots who flew over 50 miles, but only one met the IAA definition of 100 km, two flights by Joe Walker in 1963.

By the way, Dr. Michio Kaku seen in the above video, debunking the L.A. missile, also says that five percent of UFO’s cannot be explained and are genuine unidentified flying objects. So he’s not a 100 % Scully. Here’s a video of him discussing Leslie Kean’s book on UFOs, and government officials. Hmmm, I wonder what that thing is trying to break out of the train car in the teaser for J.J. Abrams’ “Superr 8.”

1. Dr. Kaku on the book and UFOs..

2. Cool “Super 8” Teaser (Freight traveling from Area 51 to Wright Patterson Air Force Base)

3. Bonus trailer. Simon Pegg (Scotty) having fun with whole “grey” alien stuff in the upcoming “Paul.” Warning: scenes of dancing Grey alien who can also smile and sounds like Seth Rogen. :)

@ 12. PLEEASSSEE, don’t start the UFO nonsense now on these boards…give me a break!

It will be breathtaking sending humans into space in flying objects.

@ 13

I was commenting on Dr. Kaku, featured in the story, who debunked the L.A. missle, an unidentified flying object. Yes, accroding to him, it’s now identified. The point is that he’s not a skeptic or Scully on UFOs. By the way I’m assuming you’re the same MJ who says Harve Bennett broke the unwritten Star Trek gag rule. I then commented in a positive way on J.J. Abrams, a guy you defend vigorously against the evil “potshots” of critics. Anyway, I am actually promoting Abrams’ very interesting looking movie which is probably about UFOs and alien life. (Area 51, Wright Patterson Air Force Base; I called the trailer, “cool.” ) Unless that thing is a an airman trying to break out of an Air Force car is attempting to get to McD’s for the McRib sandwich. I then followed that up with Simon Pegg’s cool looking UFO comedy “Paul.” You know he’s Scotty in Star Trek (2009) Both very positive things that helps these people in the Star Trek community. I did not digress from the topic or Star Trek. It was a comment on Dr. Kaku, who again is not a total skeptic. That might make his analysis of the missile even more valid. By the way, doesn’t Star Trek have aliens in it?

Look, I know you disagree with virtually everything I write. That’s great. Absolutely disagree with me. But here’s my idea. To save yourself vexation, just ignore me. And if you see the acronymn UFO, ignore that also. For example, a bunch of cool Trekkers like going off topic about the Kennedy assassination. That group includes Bob Orci. You know what I do? I ignore it. Sorry, Bob. Okay, I admit I don’t know enough about it to hop in the conversation. : ) But MJ, if you ignore me and that “UFO nonsense”, you will be happier. Oh, if you do see the phrase, “UFOs are nonsense or phony” feel free to read that or agree. That will give you the “Best of Both Worlds.”

Science Friday rocks.

@15. Thanks for the attempt, but I don’t really need a shrink! :-) And as for somebody who wants me to start ignoring stuff, you sure are prolific about your advice to me…perhaps you should ignore my posts rather than being obsessed with needing to always respond to them? Perhaps we both have the same problem here, but I am the only one of us who admits it; this kind of reminds me of:

“”I admit that I’m a Prima Donna. Montgomery doesn’t admit that, and that bothers me.” — General George S. Patton

@15. BTW, I certainly do appreciate the good information on Super 8 and the other info you provided. Thanks!

@ 17

MJ, first I did not say you needed a shrink. Second, I am not obessed with you. BUT YOU RESPONDED TO ME AND ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS. And on those times you challenged my intelligence and integrity. For example, you scoffed at the fact that I got confused with Star Trek ‘s (2009) parallel universe version of time travel. You said your wife and your little kids got it. Then you said I supported pot shots at J.J. Abrams. YOU BROUGHT THAT STUFF UP. I DID NOT. I do apologize if I don’t have your superior intellect. And I am not Gen. Montgomery. I would be honored if you compared me to Gen. Omar Bradley. But when you say something that’s personal or not correct about me, I will respond. For example, if you think UFOs are nonsense, well say this, ” It requries scientific proof of an extraordinary nature. We haven’t seen it..” See how I did that? Instead you want to stop the discussion (relevant for this article) or attack the speaker. And to make peace, unless you respond to me, I will try to ignore you. If I defend another person you engage with an ad hominem attack, I will make an attempt to not address you.

By the way, Thorny has served our country. PLEASE, feel free to disagree with him. Please tell him he’s wrong. Debate his views but show him respect. Because of Thorny we are free to speak. I don’t think laughing at him is respectful. (Link below, your comment @ 126 to Thorny; you LOL at his view of the destruction of Vulcan.) Okay, I will try to ignore you from now on unless you’re responding to me. I leave you with what Spock would say and say it with sincerity and kindness , “LIve Long and Prosper.”

Decloaking . . .

Not buying how the mainstream media has jumped all over the “plane contrail” theory. Been looking at plane contrails all my life. That is exactly what I’d expect from a missle.

Recloaking. }:-D>


20. It doesn’t look an awful lot like either a missile launch or a jet contrail, but it looks more like a jet contrail. The telltale signature is that the trail is almost a constant color its entire length, indicative of being at the same altitude (cruising like an airliner), not climbing (like a missile.) This event was within five minutes of sunset according to those who filmed it. See my earlier post about googling images for “STS-98 Sunset” to see what a sunset rocket launch really looks like. You can also google “Delta Rocket Sunset” and see some more sunset launch photos (and lots of irrelevant hits too, alas). Most importantly, notice how much brighter the rocket trail gets as it climbs higher into the sky and sees more direct sunshine.

@19. My goodness, you are taking this in a real personal direction that I am not comfortable with. I don’t have it out for you and I am not trying to make fun of vets. Come on bro, have a thicker skin and don’t take my posts so darn seriously. Sheesh!

And the Montgomery/Patton remark was suppose to be taken by you as self-depricating to both of us posting these arguments here…don’t you have a fracking sense of humor? :-)

If I have unintentionally insulted you personally, I sincerely apologize!

@22 Thorny, thank you for your service to our country. If any of my posts here upset you, I sincerley apologize.

Kayla, party with the penguins in Antarctica. I agree with Vultan ( @ 2) to bring Kurt Russell with you. You also need to have an ample supply of flamethrowers. But to avoid breaking out Kurt Russll may I suggest the following. “DO NOT DIG UP AN ALIEN SHIP AND THAW OUT THE CONTENTS OF SAID ALIEN SHIP.” Oh, and pass the message to the Norwegians. : ) .

Since this is the science portion of TrekMovie and also we’re interested in Star Trek, this came in yesterday. Scientists propose a one way trip to Mars to speed up exploration of the Red Planet. They suggest the suicides, et strike that, pioneers be over sixty. Why? The radiation damages reproductive organs and other body parts. Volunteers? And no, I’m not over sixty.

Is there a Star Trek connection? Check out the title of their proposal. “To Boldly Go.” Hmmmmm. I wonder where they got that phrase.

Here’s the story.

Wow how people mistook that trail for a missile is beyond me, I see trails like that ALL the time. People still don’t realise in this day and age that planes leave contrails at high altitudes?


I’ve always wondered just what the “alien” looked like when the Norwegians thawed it out. Judging from the hole in the ice, it was humanoid shaped—perhaps the shape of the saucer’s pilot? Or more likely just a tip of the hat to the original movie—the James Arness vegetable monster!

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get a good look at the creature in the upcoming prequel.

19, hey man, the guy apologized to you.

Can’t you meet him half way given all your acrimony in your message to him?

I didn’t see any similar contrition from you?

@28. “19, hey man, the guy apologized to you. Can’t you meet him half way given all your acrimony in your message to him? I didn’t see any similar contrition from you?”

K-7, while I appreciate the sentiment, I am not expecting an apology from Basement Blogger. I manned up and did my part to express my regret, so let’s leave it at that.