Science Saturday: New Old Mayan Calendar + Vesta Views + Build The Enterprise + Transparent Aluminum + More

Welcome to another exciting Saturday filled with Science! This week: how the earliest known Mayan calendar does NOT predict our doom this December, the fascinating miniplanet of Vesta, a guy on the internet says we can build the Enterprise in 20 years, and a quick look into the world of transparent aluminum (hello, computer!). All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the 3D Cylindrical Display.


Earliest Mayan Calendar Discovered, Reaffirms Lack of Apocalypse
Scientists have known for some time that the Mayans did not predict the Apocalypse in December of 2012, and a new discovery of the oldest known Mayan calendar confirms this. In fact, this calendar shows that the Mayan calendar will keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future. Murals on the wall, including the calendar, were discovered in a small room inside of city ruins deep in the Guatemalan rainforest. It’s almost as if an ancient scribe got sick of flipping through a document to find his timekeeping chart and decided to put it on the wall for at-a-glance reference, says archaeologist David Stuart. “It’s kind of like having a whiteboard in your office where you’re writing down formulas that you want to remember,” he said.

Read more at LiveScience.

Part of the mural found with the calendar

Confirmed: Vesta is a Protoplanet, Complete with Craters, Mountains, Landslides
NASA’s Dawn mission to asteroid Vesta has sent back some amazing imagery and data confirming the complexity of protoplanet Vesta. Among the most impressive features seen on the mini planet were a mountain more than twice the size of Everest, a crater that would stretch from L.A. to San Francisco, and interesting mineral distributions and color patterns. Studies of meteorites found on Earth that are linked to Vesta suggest that Vesta formed from interstellar gas and dust during the solar system’s first 2 to 5 million years, so Vesta can tell us a lot about the formation of the early solar system. According to Dawn’s principal investigator Prof. Christopher Russell, “We didn’t find gold on Vesta, but it is still a gold mine.”

Read more at UCLA’s Website.

Dawn image of Vesta showing its two largest craters

We Can Build the Enterprise in 20 Years with Current Technology, Says Guy on the Internet
You may have seen reports about “Build the Enterprise Dan”, a man who has created a website claiming that, with current technology and just a bit* of funding, NASA can build a working starship Enterprise in just 20 short years. This spaceship would have 1G gravity supplied by a “gravity wheel”, shields made from “a force field of some type”, and a 100MW laser used to cut into the surface ice on Europa.

While the website, is quite nice, the man behind it who only refers to himself as BTE Dan does not seem to have any actual knowledge of spacecraft design. And, while he claims that this could be done with current technology, he admits that many of the features necessary for this spaceship to work don’t quite exist yet — he simply insists that all of this technology will be ready to go in about 20 years. So — Enterprise in 20 years? Not likely, but cute website, Dan.

*$1 Trillion over 20 years

Dan’s Enterprise design that MSNBC hails as meticulously detailed

Science Spotlight: Transparent Aluminum
I’m sure all of you will remember the famous scene from Star Trek IV where Scotty trades the formula for transparent aluminum for some plexiglass to build a whale tank inside of a Klingon Bird of Prey (man, that movie is awesomely ridiculous). Well, what you may not know is that scientists have been working on something akin to transparent aluminum since 1981, years before Star Trek IV came out. Today, they’ve managed to make transparent aluminum-based ceramic, aluminum oxynitride, known as ALON. Not only is ALON transparent, it’s incredibly strong (like Scotty’s transparent aluminum). Just have a look at the video below, which demonstrates bullet-shielding applications of the stuff.

Gadget of the Week: 3D Cylindrical Display
Here’s an example of how conference calls are getting more and more like face-to-face meetings. The 3D Cylindrical Display, developed at Queen’s University, makes you feel like you are standing next to someone who may be a world away. It works by combining 360 degree images of the person, projecting that onto a cylindrical screen, and using parallax and stereoscopy to make them look three-dimensional. The viewer can walk all the way around the person to see them from all sides, as if they were actually in the room.

The cylindrical display

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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