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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Wow the Transparent Aluminum is very impressive

*meant to add ‘story’, Also are we really ready to have “people in our rooms like sales people” that we can walk around?

So, the world is going to end December 21, 2012-octillion?

Love the transparent aluminum. Would be kind nice to have aircraft windows bigger than portholes. Or maybe the nose of a submarine… hmmm.

Can the 3D Cylindrical Display be mounted horizontally? Why do I ask?? No reason. No reason at all. Just curious. (Oh, and as if EVERY guy in Japan isn’t furiously trying to hook one up and plug in a Sailor Moon cartoon into the database.)

A trillion dollar Enterprise in 20 years sounds great. Of course, BTE Dan’s knowledge seems on par with that of the guys who wrote the Starfleet Technical Manual in the ’70’s. My friend, who now designs bombs for the Pentagon, let out a howl when he saw that phasers were powered by “photon emitters.” Thanks, tech guys. That really helps.

Vesta — cool.

Thanks, Kayla!!

WOW!. Scotty was indeed from the futute.

Sadly, those guys wanting to “build the Enterprise” are not living in the real world. It would be nice if that had the slightest chance of being practical, but it is almost the exact opposite of practical.

Sorry Anthony but that IS NOT the MAYAN CALENDAR. That image is the AZTEC calendar which was mostly up for wrestling matches!

This is the mayan calendar

It’s a simple question, Doctor. Would you eat Vesta if it were made of ribs?

The round stone calender image you used for this article is Aztec, not Mayan.

I kahnt believe we have to wait a whole year for the next movie

Having visited and searched through the Build the Enterprise website, I’ll say that BTE Dan is certainly enthusiastic about this idea, but I don’t think he’s seriously considered some important issues:

-He suggests spending 0.27% of the GDP of the US (approximately $50 billion) yearly to build it. He recommends cutting spending in discretionary government programs, combined with enacting a slight tax increase to raise the money, while also requiring an act of Congress to make sure spending isn’t cut yearly. These may be the biggest hurdles of all: convincing politicians to invest that much money in a project that won’t see any completion for at least two decades. The general public may be even more reluctant to make such a long-term investment. With the current political and economic situation, BTE Dan could spend twenty years just trying to convince the government that it’s a worthwhile project.

-BTE Dan seems absolutely hell-bent that this ship should (or must) be as close a replica to the Enterprise as possible. First of all, he doesn’t even seem to consider that the Enterprise design is under copyright; he just seems to assume that CBS will just look the other way when it comes to building this thing. They may very well demand a license to use the look of the Enterprise. Also, he doesn’t seem to consider that it may or may not be the best possible design. His main motivation for building an Enterprise seems to be that it’s iconic rather than any practical considerations.

I’m sure if we really wanted to build the enterprise that Paramount/CBS would be fair/reasonable about it. Think about it. The construction of that thing would be free advertising for star trek. (not that it really needs any) is offline!?!?

13. Slashdotted.

I thought Vegas was building an Enterprise??

I can’t link to the BTE website. I don’t think I’m getting aboard any spaceship this guy designs when he can’t even anticipate his bandwidth requirement for the month.

Thanks for the articles, Kayla. It’d be interesting to learn more about ALON: Is it heavier than glass,… possible applications? Would it bring CmdrR’s plane crashing to Earth (I believe plane windows are composed of something lighter than glass)?

A quick search on the Net wasn’t very revealing. Oh well.

Ok so now that I know nothing is wrong with my computer…

$1Trillion–…! No…just…no. But say someone chips in with the trillion and the Enterprise gets built. What are we going to do with it? Melt ice? What will it run on? Dilithium…that would be nice if it actually existed. Who will fly it? You’re going to need to staff professionally trained people to run and upkeep it. Wouldn’t it need a Starbase as well, or a few? Where’s the money going to come from for that? Just build it as a resort in Las Vegas please. It would get more use and would be more appreciated. Nice dream though.

Dan should have that built right about the time Star Trek 3 comes out then!

I was having problems with pages on BTE as well. Some pages just wouldn’t open properly.

I’m not quite sure why, but my comments are either
1.) Not showing up at all or
2.) Being deleted
….Why exactly?

Hey, that 3D cylindrical display looks familiar. Mass Effect, anyone?

Please. Build the Enterprise? Why not the Jupiter II?
The poor guy can’t even spell hangar correctly, unless he is thinking about hanging his shirts up behind the space port doors so mom won’t have to iron them…..I suspect Dan’s 8 years old because this reminds me of things I imagined doing at that age…. is temporarily unavailable for some reason.

21. LizardGirl – May 12, 2012

You could be using a keyword that the site doesn’t allow. Your post won’t appear if you are.

So far we’ve discovered you can’t say

And I think, Mul_grew

Re: BTE Dan story … Back in the ’80s I worked in the philanthropy group at a major corporation. One day I received a formal request to fund a life-sized Enterprise-D using current tech, including nuclear propulsion a la Project Orion. The guy had many typed pages describing his project and a nicely (hand) drawn schematics. The individual was absolutely serious. I think he asked for $100K to get started. I sent him a very polite response…..

This BTE Dan fellow sounds like a real nut…..or a total phony.


Building the Enterprise would take the combined resources of every major nation on Earth. However, it’s not unreasonable if the will is there.

In our universe, the will is not there. In some parallel universe, it’s already occurring.

Bravo to BTE Dan for his inspiring website. It is a dream that is already a reality in a parallel universe — one that you and I might visit after our sojourn in the present reality.

Not now Madeleine!

Might need a slightly bigger cylinder for some folks these days.

Just sayin’.

Of course that’s the Aztec calendar and not the Mayan calendar.

Anyone can tell… the Aztec centerfold is much cuter.

Miss Aztec June’s turn-offs include Europeans who steal.

I’m not opposed to visions, but building a starship just like the Enterprise today has more in common with science fiction than with serious engineering.

Curiously, the MSNBC article is using an over 20 year old inaccurate sketch created by me (based on the AMT model). (upper right)

Big problem with the BTE site is the appearent lack of bandwidth.
I suppose the author couldn’t afford something better. Perhaps in time….

My main issue with it is that it relys on all material coming from Earth.

It’d make more sense to get the majority of the resources from the moon and/or metal rich asteroids, which would omit a couple of mission senerios he put up.

He mentions nuclear reactors being the power source; the main is a 1.5 gigawatt, with two aux. reactors at 500 megawatts.
Seems rather large, like what you’d see at a power plant.
I wonder if he considered the support equipment for the reactors in his design.

Despite these downfalls, it is an interesting thought experiment.

Rather than attack the idea, perhaps people could think of ways to improve it (I don’t count simply not doing it as an “improvement”, BTW).

34… The “BTE” idea is too silly to take seriously. $1 Trillion is about what NASA has spent in its entire existence (since 1958), which includes Apollo, Voyager, Space Shuttle, Mars Rovers, Space Station, Hubble, Wind Tunnel Testing, and everything else. And this guy wants to spend that much in 20 years on one project. The idea is ludicrous. No one spacecraft can do it all, despite what we’ve seen on TV. A huge number of worthy scientific, engineering, and exploration programs would have to be sacrificed so this doofus can live out his fantasy of being Captain Kirk (albeit vicariously). Sorry, no.

Since this is science Saturday, check out this strange new life form in the sea. It looks like something from the Abyss. And it mugs for the video camera.

One more thing. I was watching BBC’s Frozen Planet in HD with a Blu Ray player. WOW. We know Kayla was in Antartica. The show gives you some idea of what it must have looked like to Kayla. The documentary is extraordinary.


“Frozen Planet” is indeed excellent. Great cinematography, and narration by Richard Attenborough’s “younger” brother, David, who is an expert naturalist.

The 3d Cylindrical Display looks kind of like the ads in Mass Effect.

Thanks for the link, Basement Blogger. AWESOME creature. I love the octagonal pattern in it’s billow.

See, told you guys the whole “Mayan 2012 apocalypse” thing was wrong.

More science. NASA has released a virtual flyby of the asteroid Vesta by the spacecraft Dawn. It used data collected to make a stunning moving picture. Kind of reminds me of the Genesis computer graphic in TWOK only with more resolution.

Not all science news is good news. Controversial report. Biodiversity is down thirty per cent.

Thorny, don’t be such a buzzkill.


I had a drafting instructor in Jr. HS who was adament that the Enterprise could be built with existing technology…back in the late 70’s. Computer glitches aside, what would that have been in real dollars them?

The enterprise should be a concept of human evolution. The world is not ready to explore space freely without solving it’s problems back home. Yet we need to explore space as soon as possible to find new ways do solve problems that could be solved by science. We can’t do one thing without the other being done and vise versa. We’re doomed