Cell phones will soon make a giant leap for mankind–right into outer space. In the coming year, British engineers from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) plan to send a cell phone into orbit to test whether cell phones are tough enough to withstand outer space, and whether they’re powerful enough to control satellites. As the BBC reports:
“Modern smartphones are pretty amazing,” said SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon…. “They come now with processors that can go up to 1GHz, and they have loads of flash memory…. We’re not taking it apart; we’re not gutting it; we’re not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite – we’re flying it as is,” Mr Kenyon explained.
The jury’s still out as to what cell phone model will be the world’s first orbital smartphone–but the scientists have already decided to pick one that uses Google’s Android operating system. That software is open source, allowing the engineers to tweak the phone’s functions. Not every phone, after all, comes off the shelf with the ability to navigate a nearly 12-inch-long, GPS-equipped, pulsed-plasma thruster satellite.
With less than 10,000 miles to go until they reach fake Mars, the fake mission to the Red Planet is going as planned. Which is to say, the space travel simulation project known as Mars-500 project is full of mishaps and surprises, as the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems tests the fake astronauts’ ability to handle anything outer space could throw at them.
The next milestone: the fake arrival in Mars orbit on February 1.
And for being confined to a 1,800-square-foot test module for 520 lonely days, the crew members are doing a stellar job. In their last update, published on the official Mars-500 website on January 14, they give a terse but positive appraisal of their condition:
226th day of the experiment. Scientific equipment is in operable condition. Clarification for implementation of special experiments is carried out. There are no alterations of health state which can interfere with participating in the experiment and realizing of scientific program.
Strap on your astronaut suit and hold on to your space shoes, because in 20 years, you could just be aboard Earth’s first mission to Mars. At least, that’s the hope of over 400 people who read the Journal of Cosmology’s special edition issue, The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet, and volunteered to take part in a not-yet-scheduled trip to Mars.
The journal spills the details about the logistics involved in a privately-funded journey to the Red Planet–a book-length brainstorm by leading scientists. What, for example, happens if you get an infection on Mars? How do you have sex in space? And, most importantly, how long do you have to live on Mars before you get to call yourself a Martian? (Ok, I made that last question up, but aren’t you curious?)
Any journey to Mars–especially one with no scheduled return to Earth–is fraught with challenges. As Fox News reports:
“It’s going to be a very long period of isolation and confinement,” said Albert Harrison, who has studied astronaut psychology since the 1970s as a professor of psychology at UC Davis…. “After the excitement of blast-off, and after the initial landing on Mars, it will be very difficult to avoid depression…. Each day will be pretty much like the rest. The environment, once the novelty wears off, is likely to be deadly boring. Despite being well prepared and fully equipped there are certain to be unanticipated problems that cannot be remedied. One by one the crew will get old, sick, and die-off.”
Need to teach 13-year-old Ke$ha fans about the quest for extraterrestrial life, but worried you won’t capture their attention? Fret no more. Fresh off of YouTube comes a parody of Ke$ha’s song “We R Who We R,” refashioned into an informative and utterly dorky song about astrobiology.
The video credits Jank for the lyrics and video and mrskimful for the music. We applaud the creators for their shout-outs to moons like Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus–all promising destinations in the search for microbial life in our solar system. But we have to take exception to the quick, unqualified mention of bacteria that can thrive on arsenic, and the video’s implication that this recent finding stretches scientists’ notions about what kinds of life can exist. Have they not been following the roiling controversy over whether that finding is valid?
Discoblog: Science Sing-Alongs: Higg Boson vs Google Periodic Table
Discoblog: The OK Go Video: Playing With the Speed of Time
Discoblog: Evolution, With Dope Rhymes and a Funky Hip-Hop Beat
Discoblog: Carl Sagan Sings Again: Symphony of Science, Part 4
Discoblog: For Honey Bee Awareness Day, Music Video Asks, “Where My Bees At?”
Most ten-year-olds don’t have the patience to sift through star images for thousands of hours. But Kathryn Aurora Gray was on a mission: She wanted to become the youngest person to discover a supernova.
And luckily for her, Kathryn’s work didn’t take thousands of hours–she discovered an exploded star about fifteen minutes after starting her career as an amateur astronomer. After looking through four of the 52 pictures provided by family friend and astronomer David Lane, she saw it, her father explains to the Canadian Star:
“Kathryn pointed to the screen and said: ‘Is this one?’ I said ‘yup, that looks pretty good’,” said Paul Gray, describing his daughter’s find.
The images that Kathryn studied to find the supernova were taken by Lane on New Year’s Eve at his “backyard astronomical observatory” in Nova Scotia, Canada. On January 2nd, Kathryn and her father sat down to analyze Lane’s images using a computer program that overlays pictures of the sky from different dates. If one of the stars in the frame brightens dramatically, it appears to “blink” when switching back and forth between the pictures. (See an animation here.)
Nature editor Adam Rutherford wanted to see how a 2,000-year-old astronomical computation machine–called the Antikythera Mechanism–works. So he set Apple software engineer Andy Carol to the task of building one, using one of the most sophisticated construction systems humanity has ever devised: Lego. It took 30 days and 1,500 Lego Technic parts.
The gear-based machine was discovered in the early 1900s in a wrecked Roman merchant ship. Even after a century of study, it took the invention of CT scans to reconstruct the corroded device’s inner workings and understand how the complex machine operates, explains Nature:
The device … contained more than 30 bronze gearwheels and was covered with Greek inscriptions. On the front was a large circular dial with two concentric scales. One, inscribed with names of the months, was divided into the 365 days of the year; the other, divided into 360 degrees, was marked with the 12 signs of the zodiac.
This top-secret space passenger doesn’t have the attributes often associated with astronauts–instead of being labeled brave and resolute, this passenger has been described as nutty, sweet, and buttery. Meet Le Brouere, a space-faring wheel of cheese.
One small step for a cheese, one giant leap fromage-kind.
The mild French cheese Le Brouere isn’t the first of its kind to be blasted towards space, but it is the first to reach orbit and to be successfully recovered post-flight. The cheese orbited the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday. The test flight was the first ever orbital reentry and recovery mission by a commercial space company.
While watching the science news for you here at Discover blogs, we’ve seen our share of bad science coverage. Most of the time, we let it slide. Most of the time, we write the truth and hope to overshadow the erroneous and exaggerated stories. But this time… this time we’re calling it out.
Last week’s coverage of the bacteria that live in Mono Lake, CA was over hyped because of a cryptic message in a NASA press release (namely, that the discovery would “impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life”). And even after all the build up, the early embargo break, and a long press conference, many news outlets STILL got the story wrong.
Those “green UFOs” that caused a stir in Australia four years ago? Researchers say they definitely weren’t alien spaceships (not like they were going to say anything different), but they still aren’t sure what they actually were.
The three green fireballs were spotted by more than 100 people in the sky over Queensland, Australia on May 16th, 2006. The potential abductees said the lights were brighter than the moon, but not as bright as the sun. A single farmer claims to have seen one of the green balls bouncing down the side of a mountain after hitting the earth.
Stephen Hughes, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, has just published a paper on the phenomenon in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. He explained to LiveScience that the main fireballs were most likely caused by a meteor breaking up and burning in earth’s atmosphere:
In fact, a commercial airline pilot who landed in New Zealand that day reported seeing a meteor breaking up into fragments, which turned green as the bits descended in the direction of Australia. The timing of the fireballs suggests they might have been debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3.
Our favorite autotuned scientists are back at it, with the seventh video in the “Symphony of Science” series. This video focuses on scientific/skeptical thought, explains creator John Boswell:
It is intended to promote scientific reasoning and skepticism in the face of growing amounts of pseudoscientific pursuits, such as Astrology and Homeopathy, and also to promote the scientific worldview as equally enlightening as religion.
Keep your eyes peeled for DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, who makes a few appearances!
If you haven’t seen the earlier iterations, I recommend a trip over to Symphony of Science headquarters to watch some of the previous videos. You can even pick up a seven-inch vinyl of the original “A Glorious Dawn” featuring Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan.
Discoblog: Carl Sagan Sings Again: Symphony of Science, Part 4
Discoblog: Scientist Dance Styles: Glee Episode, Spanish Whodunnit, Internet Love Orgy
Bad Astronomy: The Vaccine Song
Cosmic Variance: The Dark Energy Song