Science Saturday: Rogue Planets + Pope Phones ISS + Saturn Super Storm + LCARS-like Laptop + more

This week in Science Saturday: It’s getting crowded in here! Galaxy may contain billions of starless wandering planets; Hear the first ever papal call to the ISS; Track tornado destruction from space; and witness the growth of Saturn’s super storm. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: LCARS-style laptop concept.


Our Galaxy is Teeming With Billions of “Wandering Planets”, Says New Study
A new study published in Nature has detected the presence of billions of planets simply floating around in space, not bound to any host star, wandering through interstellar space. However, unlike the habitable rogue planet encountered by the crew of the NX-01 in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode of the same name, these are all Jupiter sized bodies. The study uses a technique known as “gravitational microlensing” (something that Bad Astronomer explains quite well on his blog), which basically scans the skies for changes in the brightness of stars that can indicate the presence of a planet and allow for the calculation of that planet’s mass. Scientists have found that there may be twice as many “wandering” planets as there are stars in our galaxy!

The current theory is that these “wanderers” are formed just like normal planets. That is, they form from the collapse of gas and dust in accretionary disks around stars. Then, for some reason, they are sent into unstable orbits where they fling themselves out of their solar systems. So long, star! It’s middle-of-nowhere or bust!

A note to science fiction writers, if I may: this does not mean that we are at risk for gas giant planets to collide with Earth, nor does it mean future space ships will have to navigate mine fields of random planets (I always laugh at the movies that depict the asteroid belt as some cosmic asteroid superhighway at rush hour). Space? It’s still just as vast an expanse as ever. So vast, in fact, that the addition of billions of giant planets doesn’t make it any more crowded. It just makes it more awesome.

*Writer’s note: The fact that the word “planet” comes from a Greek term meaning “wanderer” is just too fitting not to mention.

Billions of giant planets wander through interstellar space

Pope Benedict Phones Up the International Space Station
This morning, Pope Benedict made the first papal call to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. He gave his blessing to shuttle commander Mark Kelly and his wife Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona politician who is currently recovering after being shot in the head last January. He also asked the astronauts their thoughts about world peace and science from their unique vantage point floating so high above the Earth’s surface. Check out the video below, which plays at the BBC website.

Click to view at the BBC

Tornado Tracks Imaged From Space
NASA has released a new and unique satellite image showing the damage caused by the big EF-4 tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27th. The image is a combination of visible and infrared light, and reveals a remarkably visible track left by the tornado that cannot be seen in conventional photographs. This is the first time that data from the ASTER instrument aboard the Earth-orbiting Terra satellite has been used to track this super-outbreak of tornadoes.

Click for the astonishing full-size version!

Cassini Tracks Super Storm on Saturn
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and the European Southern Observatory ground-based telescope are tracking the growth of Saturn’s giant super-storm first spotted earlier this year. The rare storm has been churning away for months and has created the strongest disturbances ever detected in Saturn’s stratosphere. This is the first major Saturnian storm observed by an orbiting spacecraft and the first to be imaged in infrared. With the data, scientists can tell a great deal about the storm including temperatures, winds, and atmospheric conditions. The false color infrared image below shows clouds of large ammonia ice particles being dredged up into the upper atmosphere by the powerful storm. Cassini scientists are studying the evolving storm and, they say, a more extensive picture will emerge soon.

Cassini image of ammonia particles dredged up by Saturn’s super storm

Gadget of the Week: Concept notebook UI reminiscent of Trek-style LCARS interface
During the Next Generation run in the late 80’s and 90’s, the LCARS style of black glass touch screens with colored lights and buttons may have seemed like the way of the future. But, today it looks outdated next to an iPad or tablet. Despite that, German designer Philipp Schaake of Sensid Studio has created a rather LCARS-like touch screen notebook concept. The computer is basically two iPad-esque touch screen tablets that can be connected at a hinge to act like a laptop. The design was a runner-up prize winner in Fujitsu’s Design Award 2011 competition.


LCARS-esque notebook UI

This day in Science history

Replacing my previous #FollowFriday section, which is no longer timely after our permanent move to Science Saturday, is a list of fun facts for you about the famous people, places, and things linked with this day in history. Years ago today, these things happened:

  • Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, French engineer and mathematician who first described the Coriolis effect, was born in 1972
  • The first bicycle was seen in the US in 1819
  • World’s first public aquarium opened in Regent’s Park, London in 1853

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


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This is some great stuff. hey. One of those Rouge Planets could be General trelane. He has made a few of them i think. Love the Storms of Saturn. So kool looking. But would not want to be there. Tgreat stuff from NASa on the Tornado.
Oh. Isnt today supposed to be the end of this World. Lol

As always great stuff. Thanks.

Thanks! A great read. Liked the shout-out to an Enterprise episode.

Doctor Who had its own wandering planet. Mondas, a twin of Earth thrown of our solar system – from which the Cybermen came.

Uh oh, Kayla. Telling us about wandering planets on the day the world is supposed to end is not very reassuring. :-) Acccording to Minister Harold Camping, the world ends at 6:00 p.m. pacific. (LInk) All this talk of doomsday has reminded us of the crazy idea that NASA is hiding the existence of a planet on a collision course with Earth in December, 2012. Good thing the next Star Trek movie comes out that summer. I’ll get to see it before the Earth gets destroyed.

I can’t believe Coriolis hasn’t even hit 40 yet, crazy that his effect is so well known!

Oh wait, that’s supposed to be 1792 huh? Carry on :)

#1 – “One of those Rouge Planets”?

The first image I had is of planets painted up in the makeup that women of the past would apply to their facial cheeks and lips to make them appear more attractive to men… Can you imagine planets doing this, in this state? I realise it was a typo, but I found quite an amusing one.

The worlds ends yesterday, a few hours from now…? It’s 22 May here now, so I think we’ve made it here at least…:)

Apart from the name of a movie, what is all this stuff about Rapture, by the way?

“One of those Rouge Planets” — Where Sarah Palin comes from.

Now, now, don’t start. Just go with the flow.

Nice to Pope B. embracing space travel. And only a few years after the Vatican forgave Galileo. What next? Public use of ball point pens?

I assume the storms on Saturn are bigger than the whole Earth. God does some awesome stuff, when he’s not waging an End of Days Armageddon war with all souls. Of course, that could be awesome, too. Guess we’ll know soon.

Anyhoo — Thanks, Kayla!

Alabama was not the only place to get tornadoes lately. I live in East TN and we experienced 8 tornadoes the end of April. I’d like to see a satellite image of that storm track as it paralled Interstate 81.

I wonder if one of the rogue planets was what did in Ceti Alpha 6 in Wrath of Khan… :)

@4: I can’t believe that shameless shyster managed to con people with this Rapture BS a second time. He should be immortalized as a Ferengi folk hero.

@8: Jeez, that sounds scary as hell, hope you and yours are safe. But I agree that it probably looked really cool in satellite photos.

My “baby” girl just turned nine on 21 May – 6.12pm. What a coincidence. Right now, she is lolling about watching Tom & Jerry cartoons on a DVD I got for her birthday.

Anyway, who is to say that the next *Christ* won’t come in the form of a woman? Hang on, I could be going OT here – must be all that Tom & Jerry music I am hearing in the background…

Okay…. still alive… old friend…. Rev. Camping, like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.. Caaaaaamping!

I hear that one of those rogue planets is populated by xenophobic shapeshifters bent on galactic domination, tyranny and subjugation……


The Pope also spoke to Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, whose mother passed away on May 2 while he was aboard the Space Station. Very nice thing to do.

good stuff thnx !!!!!!!!!!

@6 The Rapture is a Biblical doctrine about the end of time. Basically, when Jesus returns (in the same masculine form He left in, btw), He will “rapture” all the saints to Him. The word comes from Roman tradition: when the Emperor would visit a town, the wealthy would come out of their city to greet him along the way and escort him into their city. After the wealthy would come the middle class and the peasants, so eventually almost the entire city is “rapture” to come escort the Emperor to their home.

It’s the same idea with Jesus. When He returns, the Christians are “raptured” to meet Him as He comes and escort Him to our home planet. The problem is that the Bible has maybe 2 or 3 verses that talk about this, so the details are very light. Yet some Christians with delusions of grandeur like to try to predict when it will happen, despite Jesus saying very clearly that no human will ever know when it will happen until it actually happens.

Some Christians think the rapture happens 7 years before the end of the world, some think 3.5 years, some think it’ll be right at the end. Again, with only 2 verses to go off of, it’s more of a guessing game than anything.

So when you meet a Christian who is righteously passionate that they know when the end is coming… well, they’re basically calling Jesus a liar by claiming to know, so they might not actually be Christians in the first place. They’re just deluded.

And to make this post more appropriate for a forum on… that LCARS laptop is sweet!