Science Saturday: Comet Flyby + Baldness Cure + Real Med-Tricorder + Bionic Contacts + more

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…

Asteroid Watch

@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.

Mike Brown

@plutokiller Pasadena, CA

Astronomer, planet hunter, Pluto killer. Finger-wrapped dad.

Brett Papworth

@teambanzai Burbank California

Narcissitic and Disturbed


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


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cool stuff

So the hunt for Planet X resumes then?

I imagine being stuck in a simulated spaceship for 520 days must be boring. I wonder if these guys suffered any psychological effects.

It may be a little selfish, since I have bad eyesight but the bionic contacts gives me hope.

i’m trying to picture little bald mice

@3: They’re going through this whole, gruelling experience, and at the end of it they won’t even have left Earth’s surface where all the rest of us meatbags already are…as much as they might be in it for the benefit of future Marsgoers, I can’t help thinking that might colour their psychological state a bit. Your thinking changes a little when you know something is a test or a simulation.

Preet nice article. The Comet pics were great. Now the ancesters of Dr. Mccoy can get started on there tricorders. Curing Baldness. Hmm. I heard that before. Not that I’m Bald. 520 days. Wow. Did they get overtime.

Imagine what we as a species could accomplish if there were no wars and we all focused on bettering ourselves as a species… Sadly we live in a world full of hate, violence, and power hungry people who can only think of where their next dollar is coming from… Perhaps one day we will rise above our petty differences and realize that if we work together we can accomplish so much more.

New gas giant? Orbiting our sun? Wow, if this turns out right, that’s amazing! Even more amazing is the considered possibility of the sun being a member of a binary system!

Once again Science Saturday proves to be terrific reading. Thank you. I have terrible eyesight (100% correctable with glasses or contacts) and the news about bionic contact lenses gives me faith that some day I will be able to see just like Steve Austin : )

Temple-onians have condemned what they consider to be an unwarranted act of outright aggression by Earth against their home comet, and are threatening to ram Earth head-on during their next orbital cycle.

I’m trying to picture a bald mouse with a really bad comb-over!


Well, I’m pretty sure the mouse would most likely sport a “rat-tail”!

And I would assume the mouse would be kept “squeaky” clean!


Aw, shut your trap! :>)


Do you enjoy cheese with your whine? :-)


Sounds like a certain type of princess with a yeast infection!


That’s why they don’t have sex in bakeries!

What, you never sent a girl “flours”?


I tried to grow some, but they never “rose”!

That’s what the girl exclaimed when she slid her hand under my bathrobe…..”it’s grusome!”

I replied, “keep touching it and it’ll grew some more!”

Very good reports!

Reading Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars” now. She suggests the astronauts in Mars500 volunteer for this long and (if you want to look it at that way) pointless trip to nowhere so they have a better chance of landing a place on the real thing. Good book, btw.

Man, so our Solar System is something like 2 light years across, with extra chunky bits in the outer candy shell? Jeez, things are so much more complex than they ever taught in school.

Cool stuff, Kayla.

the bionic eye is a fantastic breakthrough…but the bald mice thing, well..the following is a redo of the opening credits to The Six Million Dollar Man..

“Jean Luc Picard, Captain..a man going bald, We can regrow his hair, we have the technology. We have the capability to create the worlds first bald man with a full head of hair. He will be sexier than he was before, manageable, less reflective, more attractive….”

da da da daaaa,,,da da da da da…da da da daaaaaa

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3. “I imagine being stuck in a simulated spaceship for 520 days must be boring. I wonder if these guys suffered any psychological effects.”

They went bald fro the stress.

The bald thing is fascinating, speaking as a bald guy. I keep picturing the crazy little rats from I Am Legend going batshi(p) in Will Smith’s basement lab-or-a-tory.

My luck, they cure baldness on my 98th birthday.

SOMEONE needs to put that number in a speed dial system – 24 hours of continuous ‘wrong numbers’ would teach em. We dont need no frakkin spam!

Hey on the ‘Mar Voyage’, how about we hypnotize them into believing the voyage is real, that would certainly put an edge on it… if they get into ‘jeopardy’, just snap them out of it. (No Watson jokes pls)


Yeah, they can call the mission IN-DECEPTION!

We already know where planet X is.