Archive for May, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Interplanetary Space Drive

By Stephen Cass | May 28, 2008 11:57 am

Indiana JonesEarly on in the latest Indiana Jones installment, Dr. Jones survives the blast from a nuclear explosion by hiding in a lead-lined fridge. Oddly enough, this may be one of the more realistic stunts in the movie.

When we think of nuclear explosions, we tend to imagine a fireball that annihilates absolutely everything within a certain radius. But in fact it is possible for man-made objects to survive an atomic blast, relatively intact, in even the heart of the nuclear explosion. During a 1954 15-megaton atomic bomb test, two steel balls covered in graphite were hung from the bomb tower. Incredibly the balls survived—but were thrown a considerable distance from the bomb site. This led scientists, including the famed Freeman Dyson, to consider the possibility of using nuclear bombs to propel spacecraft through space.

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Dirty, Dirty Spaceships

By Stephen Cass | May 27, 2008 1:08 pm

MIRSome of the characters on Battlestar Galactica have been tooling around on a sewage recycling ship recently. Not surprisingly, the onboard accommodations are less than four star. Still, however the characters might feel about it, whenever I’m watching a show with scenes set on a spaceship, the messier the interior looks, the happier I am. Unless a spotlessly clean spaceship is being used for specific plot point (“A key member of the crew offends the obsessive-compulsive plant people of Nebulan Six by failing to use a coaster when ritually offered a glass of ice-cool Krotj”) the problem is that spic and span spaceship interiors break down my suspension of disbelief just as quickly as watching a cardboard background tremble at the approach of a castmember. Read More


Geothermal Energy is Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Stephen Cass | May 22, 2008 1:25 pm

PompeiiRecently, as part of the time-and-space traveling adventures on Doctor Who, the Doctor and Donna wound up in Pompeii, the day before the infamous volcanic eruption that would simultaneously put the town on the map and wipe it off the face of the Earth. (warning, minor spoiler follows)

Turns out that—guess what?—aliens were tapping the volcano for geothermal energy. It may seem odd, on first glance, that superadvanced aliens would rely on boring old lava for a power source rather than some fancy technology, but it turns out that there is a vast amount of energy beneath our feet. Places like Iceland have been tapping geothermal energy for decades, but the U.S. is increasingly getting in on the act as well as we discussed in DISCOVER’s April issue :

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Let Us Know if You Spot any Aliens Down There…

By Stephen Cass | May 22, 2008 1:03 pm

rovIn the alien first-encounter movie The Abyss, most of the action takes places on a semi-mobile drilling platform called The Benthic Explorer, located many fathoms beneath the sea’s surface. Now mining the ocean floor is closer to reality , thanks to the efforts of Nautilus Minerals (alas, still no word on any aquatic alien colonies).

Nautilus plans to mine copper, zinc, gold and silver deposits off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The deposits have to be brought up from a sea floor that is under a mile of water. Sadly, the company has no plans to employ a gruff-yet-photogenic crew of oddballs to work down below—the company plans to use a remotely operated robot to do the heavy lifting.


The Highlander Never Jaywalks

By Sam Lowry | May 21, 2008 4:15 pm

The Highlander Never JaywalksSlice of SciFi reports today that the Highlander franchise is about to be revived for what producers hope to be a three movie trilogy. So here’s the related question that we’re periodically bandying about in the Discover office:

Even if you were an immortal, sword-wielding Scottish badass, how long could you statistically be expected to live? Over hundreds or thousands of years, wouldn’t you be just as likely to be decapitated in a car crash as by another immortal?

Not so, as we reported in the November 2007 issue of the magazine:

“Each year, American adults have, overall, a 1-in-1,743 chance of dying in an accident. That means that even if nothing else killed you—doing away with old age and disease—you would on average live to be 1,743 years old before a fatal accident. But you could do better. A 9-year-old child has much lower odds of accidental death, about 1 in 10,000. If we could keep everyone to this low rate (avoiding work and driving would probably help), we could typically live 10,000 years. About 37 percent of the population would do better yet, living on average to the ripe old age of 20,000, says James Vaupel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.”

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