Hello and welcome back to another exciting (and long overdue) edition of Science Saturday! This week: hear Microsoft’s real-life universal translator, map out the volcanic moon Io, feel the heat from increased solar activity, and make stars blow up with the help of NASA. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the indoor cloud machine.
Microsoft Developing a Universal Translator
It’s one Star Trek technology, likely written in part to save the writers from having to invent a new language every time we meet a new alien species, that just seems like magic. To be able to speak in one language and have the others in a room hear your voice, but in a different language. Could that technology ever actually exist? Microsoft wants to make it real and is now developing just that — software that translates YOUR voice (not a computer reading a translation of your voice; it’s actually your voice!) into other languages on the fly. The system needs about an hour of training listening to your voice, then uses individual sounds recorded from the training session to create your voice in a foreign language. The tech was showcased at a Microsoft campus earlier this month.
More at Technology Review.
Real life Universal Translator from Microsoft in the works
New, Best Ever Map of Jupiter’s Volcano Moon Io
Io is the veritable volcanic planetary body as the most volcanically active body in the solar system — it’s literally a planetary volcanologist’s dream (no, strictly speaking, there’s not actually such a thing as s planetary volcanologist… yet!). This little moon is gravitationally jammed between the second largest gravity well in the solar system (after the sun), Jupiter, and the other large Galilean moons of Jupiter creating a gravitational tug-of-war that causes so much friction and heat inside little Io that it is constantly resurfacing itself volcanically; Io is literally turning itself inside out over and over again. Now, we have the first global map of Io published by the US Geological Survey, which gives scientists a full picture of the volcanic moon.
Bonus! Awesome (stitched) image of Io and Jupiter!
This (these) gorgeous picture(s) of Jupiter and Io were taken in 2007 when the New Horizons probe swooped past Jupiter on its way to Pluto. The red dot on Io is an active volcano, and the blue plume is a volcanic eruption! The photo is real in that it is real images taken at Jupiter, but it is stitched together (the photo of Io was taken a day or so after the photo of Jupiter). I’ll let Phil Plait (aka Bad Astronomer) explain more on his blog.
Solar Storms Dumping Gigawatts of Energy into Earth’s Atmosphere
One exciting area of science news as of late is space weather. Our sun has just come out of a solar minimum — where activity on the giant plasma ball is slim to none. Now, Sol is churning out coronal mass ejections and solar flares like nobody’s business — and the energy from those events is coming straight at Earth. Luckily, our atmosphere shields us from the worst of it. Still, this is the first time we’ve had lots of advanced technology in orbit to study (and be affected by) a solar maximum, which will peak in 2013. NASA is doing all it can to determine what effects we might see here on Earth’s surface from continued solar activity in the coming years.
NASA: How to Make a Star Go Supernova
Thanks to new data and studies from NASA’s Swift satellite, scientists are figuring out how to blow up stars. More specifically, they are trying to determine the origins of Type 1a supernovae. The current thinking is that a white dwarf star orbits a normal star, pulling a stream of matter from it, until the white dwarf reaches critical mass and explodes catastrophically. But, there are still unanswered questions as to what kinds of stars reside in these binary systems. The secondary star may be a red or blue supergiant or even a second white dwarf star. In the latter model, the two white dwarfs would spiral inward and collide, creating the supernova. Astrophysicists are working with new data and creating models for what could possibly be happening in these super explosions in space.
More at NASA.gov.
Two possible scenarios. Left: White dwarf & sun-like star. Right: Two white dwarf stars
Video of the Week: Symphony of Science: Dinosaurs!!
We absolutely love Symphony of Science, taking famous scientists, beautiful pictures, and creating music videos. Check out their latest video: Dinosaurs!
Gadget of the Week: Indoor Cloud Machine
In a new art installation by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, clouds — real clouds — are created in the middle of a gallery space. Using a fog machine and very precise controls on the temperature and humidity of the room, Smilde creates puffy white clouds floating in interesting spaces.
Real clouds created as art by science
Science Bytes: Mercury
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
This week, all eyes are on planet Mercury with new data streaming in from the MESSENGER mission, currently in orbit around the solar systems 1st planet.
- MESSENGER provides new look at Mercury’s landscape, metallic core, and polar shadows
- Mercury having an exciting, active middle age
- NASA extends missions to Mercury and the Moon