Remember Star Trek IV? That was the movie where they ended up time traveling back to the 20th Century and got stuck there, needing some transparent Aluminum to create a holding tank for a humpback whale. Some scientists have now created just that, if only for about 40 femtoseconds. They say it’s an entirely new state of matter, because they used a high-powered laser to remove one of the core electrons from each atom in a tiny area of Aluminum. This allowed X-ray and ultraviolet radiation to pass through uninhibited, effectively making the Aluminum transparent. (Via LiveScience)

Astronaut Koichi Wakata

Astronaut Koichi Wakata

There are many common luxuries that we take for granted on Earth, such as being able to wash our clothes. Unfortunately, in space you don’t have that luxury. Just going to the bathroom requires a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced toilet system. When astronauts wash their bodies they use special soap and shampoo that doesn’t require water. But in a microgravity environment where droplets of water can float around and destroy sensitive equipment, washing their clothes just isn’t an option. Unfortunately dirty clothes must be simply discarded. But apparently some Japanese scientists are working to fix that by inventing clothes that clean themselves… or don’t get dirty in the first place, depending on how you look at it. Astronaut Koichi Wakata, who just left the ISS on Endeavour, tested these new clothes during his 4 1/2 moth stay. It sounds utterly disgusting, but he never changed his underwear while he was there. The high-tech material actually kills odor-causing bacteria and absorbs moisture. He says that even after 4 1/2 moths of wear, they didn’t smell at all. This is yet another great example of how manned space exploration drives innovation and ultimately leads to technologies that are very applicable here on the ground. This could one day lead to clothes that literally clean themselves, eliminating the need for washing machines and dryers, which are energy and water hogs. (Via Universe Today)

In a related note, Universe Today also posted a set of great photos from Endeavour’s mission. Check it out.

That’s all I have time for today!

The Colony/Apollo stuff

July 21, 2009

Discovery has a new series called “The Colony” that looks somewhat interesting. It debuts tonight at 10pm EDT/9pm CDT. It’s a twist on the reality TV genre, set on the outskirts of L.A. Ten people are put into an environment that simulates what it might be like right after a major world disaster. I’ve never been big on reality TV, but this could be interesting. Watch a scene here.

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy posted a bunch of good links to various interviews related to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s great to see this getting so much media attention. As I’ve said before, it’s quite possibly mankind’s greatest achievement thus far. It deserves the attention.

The tiny island nation of Tuvalu is hoping to set an example for the world by aiming to have 100% renewable energy by 2020. Obviously this is easy for a nation comprised of only 9 islands. A big portion of their power will come from the sun, since they kind of have an abundance of it there in the pacific ocean. But I’m just glad someone is taking such a strong stance. Hey world! Follow their example! (Via EurekAlert)

Just about everyone hates WalMart for various reasons. At least everyone with half a brain. BUT they’re beginning to redeem theirselves in my eyes with this new initiative to instate a universal carbon footprint rating for all retail stores to use. Different environmental groups have attempted to do this for years but failed repeatedly because it’s such a an enormous undertaking. But hopefully not too enormous for WalMart. If anyone has the power to get this kind of research done, it’s WalMart. Let’s hope this is a case of the giant with superpowers using them for good, not evil. This could have a huge effect if successful, because it will put real pressure on manufacturers to “green” their processes and products. More at the New York Times. (Via EcoGeek)

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Credit: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Endeavour did a fly-around of the ISS today and then successfully docked. They took many detailed photographs of the heat shields and will inspect them in the days to come. The shuttle engineers are intrigued by the 12-ish pieces of foam seen falling off the external fuel tank late in the launch footage. This is mainly because of how late it occurred. It happened at a time/height when atmospheric pressure is very low and thus there’s much less stress on the foam to cause it to fall off, so they aren’t really sure why it happened. Nonetheless, initial opinion is that the heat shield did not suffer any major damage that would threaten safety of the crew on re-entry, but that opinion can always change. (Via Space.com)

Today I found a smattering of random links worth posting.

Google announced that they’re going to be developing a “Google Chrome OS”… basically a whole new open-source operating system for notebooks. As a Mac user I’ve yet to experience the Google Chrome web browser (it’s not available for Mac), so I don’t really know what to expect here. (Via Yewknee)

yazoologo02Nashville brewers Yazoo are going to be re-locating to the Gulch neighborhood next year. The new facility will allow the company to produce 4 times as much beer, which means they’ll be able to expand distribution to several neighboring states. They’ll also have a taproom at the new location, with the same hours they have now plus the possibility of opening a full-on pub if the demand is there. I must say I’ll miss the charm of the current taproom in the old Marathon Motor Works building, but it’s good to see a local brewery doing so well. (Via Bites/Nashville Scene)

In other local news, Nashvillest has a sexy new look to their website. Go check it out. I also found some disturbing news while exploring said new look- even though GM rid itself of Hummer, the brand still exists and it was bought by a Chinese machinery manufacturing company, and thus the Hummer executives need a new HQ. Unfortunately it looks like Franklin could be it. Honestly though, they’d fit right in, what with Nissan HQ there and the GM plant just down the road in Spring Hill. Why won’t these things just die? More at the Tennessean article.

Science is getting closer and closer to making invisibility possible. A new breakthrough in metamaterial technology may soon allow one to see through solid steel, or even become invisible. Furthermore, one could make one object look like another. The example they use is making a cup look like a spoon. The cup is sitting there, but when you look at it through a layer of the special metamaterial, you would see a spoon. One of the biggest applications that I can see with this technology would be in spaceships. The scientists behind this research say that it would be possible to make an otherwise opaque material transparent. This would eliminate the need for traditional windows on a spaceship- you could just install one of these devices made of metamaterials on a solid aluminum (or other metal) hull, which is much safer than cutting a hole in the hull to install a glass window, which is much more susceptible to the inevitable impacts from micro-meteors and other space junk. (Via NewScientist)

It’s pretty obvious that hydrogen is fuel of the future. It’s the most abundant element in the universe, and when it’s burned the only byproduct is pure water. Even though it’s abundant, it’s still hard to make here on earth. Up until now the best way was through electrolysis of water, but that’s very expensive, so unfortunately most of it today is made from fossil fuels, which kind of defeats the whole purpose (to get away from fossil fuels!). But that may be changing. Researchers at Ohio University found a way to make it from urea, which is the main compound in urine. Crazy eh? It’s not the most practical idea, but it could be made practical eventually… (Via EcoGeek)

This is really one of the most random/bizarre things I’ve seen in a while. Apparently Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined with Snoop Dogg and some other rappers on a song called “Rocket Experience.” No, that’s not a typo. Buzz Aldrin collaborated with Snoop. On a song in which he actually raps. Well… I guess you could call it rapping… The video is up on Funny or Die. Be sure to watch the “making of” video too. I don’t even know what to make of it, but it’s entertaining to say the least. Grab the song off iTunes, because they’re donating part of the sales to the ShareSpace Foundation. Today’s kids need a lot more science in their lives. Via Universe Today.

Of Montreal does a lot of cover songs live, but this time they’ve taken it to the studio covering Prince’s “Computer Blue.” Grab it over at You Ain’t No Picasso.

The future of architecture is here. It’s extremely hard to believe, but bendable concrete has indeed been invented. Not only is the stuff bendable, but it heals its own cracks too! Basically it’s all in the chemistry- when a crack occurs, the newly exposed dry concrete then reacts with the CO2 and moisture in the air to create calcium carbonate which acts just like scar tissue on skin, and the crack fills. I can see this being used in earthquake-prone areas and literally making the buildings almost completely quake-proof. Absolutely ridiculous. Via EcoGeek.

Mountaintop removal mining is literally a crime. I applaud the 100’s of dedicated citizens who have made their way to the West Virginia and Kentucky mountains to stage civil disobedience sit-ins. Yesterday NASA climate scientist James Hansen was arrested in one of the sit-ins, along with actress Daryl Hannah. I hope more celebrity and other high-profile people are willing to be arrested to help save these beautiful mountains and the planet. This is only one small part of the over-arching coal problem. The sooner we can stop using coal to generate power, the better. It’s absolutely filthy and despite what the commercials tell you, there’s no such thing as “clean coal.” It’s an oxymoron and here’s why. That’s probably the only thing on which I disagree with Obama. No coal-burning plant in America is “clean,” even though lots of research has been done on the technology. That’s because it’s expensive and impractical. Coal is not renewable. We’ll eventually run out of it just like we’ll eventually run out of oil (it’s all dead dinosaurs afterall!), so why the hell waste money and time trying to make it “clean?” We need to be putting ALL of our efforts toward 100% renewable sources of energy NOW, and say goodbye to fossil fuels FOREVER.

Not much in the music realm today: The biggest thing I read was that Jack White is planning a solo album…. I swear the guy must be a glutton for punishment. How can anyone be in 3 bands, run a record label, and still have time for a solo project? He’s a machine. That’s the only explanation.

Also of interest- How I Became the Bomb will be teaming up with Kindercastle for quite an undertaking: covering ELO’s Out of the Blue in it’s entirety on June 26th at Mercy Lounge. Obviously these two local bands are heavily influenced by ELO- HIBTB in the use of vocoders and Kindercastle in their use of thick orchestral string arrangements. According to the calendar both bands will be onstage along with an eight-piece string section. That means 16 people onstage y’all. That means this will be seriously EPIC y’all.

If you’re a Twitterer, you might find Tweemap interesting. It plots all of your followers on a map for you. Kind creepy but kinda cool…

EcoGeek reports on the first easily attainable wind power generator for the home. It mounts on your roof and generates 2,000 kWh per year, which is about 18% of the average household’s energy requirement. It ain’t cheap ($4500 plus up to $1500 installation) but apparently you can get some serious tax credits and discounts due to the stimulus bill and other statewide incentives. This makes me very happy. If I owned a house and could even come close to affording the unit, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

The National Weather Service has said that conditions are favorable for an El Nino pattern to form over the equatorial pacific ocean this summer. We haven’t had a strong El Nino in a while, so I fully expected one to develop this fall. The good thing is that El Nino ultimately leads to more wind shear in the areas where hurricanes normally develop, which makes it harder for them to develop/strengthen. But it also means more rain in the US southeast, and slightly above-average temperatures during the winter. However, most areas of the southeast have been experiencing a drought for many years now, so more rain is not necessarily a bad thing. For more info on exactly how El Nino works go here.

I love dinosaurs. We all love dinosaurs. They’re pretty awesome because they ruled this planet for several million years, compared to about 200,000 for humans. When we first discovered their remains, we thought they were related to reptiles. Then after some more discoveries and research, we thought they actually had more in common with modern day birds, and even that modern birds may have descended from dinosaurs. Now that last theory has had some pretty big holes shot through it. Turns out the bone structure of birds’ femur provides a major clue that birds simply evolved parallel to the dinosaurs, not from them. Via Science Daily. Read more if you’re interested.

Back tomorrow, and then that will be it for a while as I’ll be photographing at Bonnaroo all weekend.