Science Saturday: Lava Flows in the Quad + Curiosity Updates + Neuron Video + New Space Planes + More

The post Vegas Con blues had got us down for a while, but now we’re back in action with a brand spanking new edition of Science Saturday! This week: see real live lava flows moving through New York, get the latest updates on our newest Martian friend Curiosity, watch proteins swimming through neurons, hop on the next Dream Chaser flight into orbit, and more! All this, plus our gadget of the week, in which a real hovercraft takes a test-drive!


Scientists Send Lava Flows Through Syracuse University’s Campus
Ever stand a few feet from a real live lava flow? In a unique mix of science, art, and education, the Syracuse University Lava Project sees scientists melting and pouring molten lava to create real, natural-scale lava flows in front of SU’s Art Building. The spectacle brings the excitement of a volcanic eruption to New York, and also allows scientists to model the movement and flow properties of lavas on a real-world scale. Read more at EARTH Magazine.

Test No.3: Making a continuous lava flow with a coke-fired iron furnace. Its a Volcano.

Curiosity Rover Update: Flexing, Zapping, and Driving
It’s been almost three weeks since the Mars rover Curiosity landed safely on Martian soil. Since then, we’ve been privy to gorgeous HD pictures and video, Curiosity stretching her arm, wiggling her wheels, firing her laser (yes, a laser) at rocks on the surface, and even taking her first drive. What does this all amount to? Well, besides illustrating the public’s love for Curiosity akin to that of Mars Phoenix, it means that NASA has confirmed that all of Curiosity’s systems — propulsion, motors, power, software, cameras, scientific instruments — are functioning properly. And, after a long wait, we are finally in a place to start doing some science in Mars’ Gale Crater. What comes next is the most sophisticated set of analyses ever performed on Mars rocks, which should reveal much about the planet’s history.

The latest video showing Curiosity’s recent test drive

HD video of Curiosity’s descent to the Martian surface

Incredible Video Shows Proteins Moving Through a Single Neuron
A new video from a team of molecular biologists at USC shows actual footage of proteins moving through a single neuron. A neuron, which transmit impulses throughout the human brain via electrical signals, needs to completely rebuild itself each day. “Your brain is being disassembled and reassembled every day,” said scientist Don Arnold, co-author on the study. “One week from today, your brain will be made up of completely different proteins than it is today. This video shows the process. We’ve known that it was happening, but now we can watch it happen.” Arnold explained to io9 that this video has a frame rate of about 15 fps, so you are seeing the process about 15-20 times that of real-time. More at io9, and read the scientific journal article in Cell Reports.

NASA Helps Fund Small, Private Space Shuttle
The Dream Chaser, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s small private space vehicle that could launch into space atop an Atlas V rocket as early as 2015 has just been given a funding boost from NASA to the tune of $212 million. The spacecraft, which DVICE is calling the “chubby mini shuttle”, is based on NASA’s HL-20 lifting body concept vehicle from the 1980’s. The Dream Chaser wouldn’t replace the now long dead Space Shuttle, but would act more like a business jet to space for private industry. As of now, the concept vehicle has been built and is about halfway to being orbit-ready. The new money from NASA will allow Sierra Nevada to perform a barrage of flight tests on the mini-shuttle to see that it’s fit for travel by 2015.

But, Dream Chaser isn’t the only game in town. XCOR Aerospace just announced its plans to build and fly Lynx suborbital vehicles from Kennedy Space Center. Read more at

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser Space Vehicle

Image of the Week: See an Undersea Volcano from Space
NASA’s Terra satellite captured the below image of a ribbon of floating pumice — ultra-porous volcanic rock — that erupted about a month ago from an undersea volcano northeast of New Zealand.

Gadget of the Week: Real Hovercraft Tested in Mohave Desert
The rotocraft, a hover bike developed by Aeroflex, uses helicopter technology (read: two gigantic fans) to lift and propel its rider across the terrain. Rotocraft’s first test flight back in 2008 ended… badly. Suffice to say it burst into flames. But, after a few years of stabilization of the product and design, this baby’s flying high (well, okay, low) over the Mohave desert showing off its maneuvering capabilities. Not shown in the video is rotocraft’s top height of 15 feet and to speed of 30 mph.

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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