Welcome back to another exciting edition of Science Saturday (still happily living in its new time slot). This week: fly by Comet Temple 1 with Stardust, scan your skin Trek-style, cure bald captains of the future, and pretend to travel to Mars with Mars500. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: electronic contacts.
Stardust Spacecraft Flies By Comet Temple 1
Launched over 12 years ago, the primary goal of the Stardust mission has been to collect samples of a comet and return them to Earth for laboratory analysis. In January of 2004, Stardust encountered Comet Wild 2 and collected some of it’s pre-solar particles, known as “stardust”. Two years later those samples were returned to Earth and helped to answer some fundamental questions about how and where comets form in our solar system. Now, in 2011, Stardust has made an encounter with yet another Comet, Temple 1, and has sent some magnificent images of the fly-by back to Earth. Temple 1 is the same comet that was visited by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft in 2005, when scientists slammed an impactor into the comet’s nucleus creating a large crater. Stardust got a look at the impact crater from Deep Impact during flyby! Check out a picture of the man-made comet crater below as well as a compilation of the flyby closest approach images. [Stardust mission website]
Before and after comparison of the part of Temple 1 hit by Deep Impact
Animation of closest approach images by Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society’s blog
Star Trek-Style Tricorder Coming to a Store Near You!
This week in real life Trek Tech: yet another claim that we’ve invented the tricorder! The latest Trek-style scanner, set to have a $280 price tag in Europe, is pointed at the skin and displays the overall health of a person on a scale of one (being least healthy) to 10 (being most healthy). It works by detecting levels of antioxidants in your skin. According to project scientists, anti-oxidant level is a good indicator of overall health because it is affected by several things including stress, smoking, alcohol intake, unhealthy food, lack of sleep, and UV radiation. During a trial, scientists were able to detect changes in diet and smoking habits of the testers. The scanner is not designed to detect specific diseases, but its creators hope that it will allow people to gauge their day-to-day habits and more easily change their lifestyle to a healthier one. [Optische Technologien]
The latest in real life Trek Tech
Stressed Out Mice Hold Key to Baldness Cure
In a finding that applies rather nicely to one (possibly two?) of our favorite Starship captains, scientists were able to, somewhat accidentally, regrow hair on bald mice in the lab. The experiment was intended to study a chemical compound that blocks the effects of stress on the gut. Bald mice were used in the study, as they typically have become bald due to the overproduction of a stress hormone. Once treated with a chemical compound, researchers returned the mice to their cages amongst their hairy, control group brethren. After three months, scientists could not distinguish between the previously bald mice and the control group (they could only be IDed by ear tags). Scientists are quick to note that a study on mice may not apply to curing human baldness, but these new findings may open up the way for new studies that could be applicable. Of course, as Gene Roddenberry has stated when being asked about why humans still haven’t found a cure for baldness in the 24th century, “In the 24th century, they wouldn’t care.” [Scientific results published in PLoS ONE]
Shine your head for a quarter?
Human Landing on Mars Simulated by ESA’s Mars500
Two spacesuited Mars500 crew members on a “mission” to Mars climbed out of their Earth-stationed space capsule and planeted flags around a sand pit as a part of their simulated 520-day mission to the red planet. The pair walked about for an hour and 12 minutes and performed mock-up experiments. The exercise was the highlight of the Mars500 mission and marks the halfway point of the project, which aims to find out how humans would cope with the psychological ordeal of a real trip to Mars. The crew had been sealed inside of a small capsule for the 520-day journey to nowhere, and have tried to copy as best as possible what an actual space mission would be like for future astronauts. On March 1st, the crew members will reboard their capsule and begin their eight-month simulated return trip back to Earth.
Mars500 Space Walk
Gadget of the Week: Bionic Eyesight with Electronic Contacts
The next generation of contact lenses could come equipped with tiny circuitry and LEDs making bionic eyesight a reality. Researchers at the University of Washington have created contact lenses with built-in electronics powered wirelessly by RF. These won’t help you see like Geordi quite yet, but they’re a start down the path to contacts that one day could. “What we’ve done so far barely hints at what will soon be possible with this technology,” says professor Babak Parviz. There are still hurdles to overcome, namely: mass production, miniaturization, and making sure the devices are safe for the human eye. [More at IEEE Spectrum]
Geordi vision coming soon
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…
@AsteroidWatch Pasadena, California
JPL’s Near Earth Object Office coordinates NASA’s efforts to detect, track & characterize potentially hazardous asteroids & comets that could approach Earth.
@teambanzai Burbank California
Narcissitic and Disturbed
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth your time.
- The hunt is on for a new giant planet in our solar system via The Independent
- New space beer ready for testing. Naturally, it’s a stout. via Calgary Sun
- NASA’s WISE shuts down, takes last snapshop of the sky via NASA.gov