It’s been a while since I got on my soapbox of how the 2012 Mayan calendar doomsday myth is, well… a myth. Let me begin by saying that there is no reason to believe that anything exceptional will happen when the Mayan long count calendar ends. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either totally full of shit, or is very gullible to fluff and hype (generated by the former). The descendants of the Mayans themselves have even said that the doomsday myth is bullshit. So, this thing is already completely blown out of the water by real science and reason, but just in case you needed another reason not to believe the doomsday hype, now the actual date of the end of the long count calendar is in question. The methods used to convert the Mayan calendar into our own Gregorian years has been shown to be unreliable, and this could throw off the date conversion by as much as 50 to 100 years. So in reality, the Mayan calendar might have already ended (and thus simply started over again)! I’ll keep an eye out for any updates and clarifications to this story, but let’s face it- the Mayan calendar doomsday hype is nothing more than fear-mongering and utter ignorance. (Via LiveScience)

Image via Wikipedia

I know I link to this blog all the time, but the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog continually showcases some of the most amazing imagery you’ll find anywhere, and what’s best about it is the content. This particular series involves the National Ignition Facility in California. This massive experiment could literally solve all the world’s energy problems. What they’re attempting to do here is essentially create a miniature star right here on earth. Just recently they completed a successful test in which they fired 192 lasers simultaneously into one tiny frozen target capsule containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). The ultimate goal is to create a nuclear fusion reaction- the same process taking place in the center of our Sun. As you can easily deduce, this would release enormous amounts of energy that is completely clean- the only by-product is helium, which is the element formed when hydrogen atoms fuse. The only hurdle is that it already requires a massive amount of energy to power the lasers that start the reaction in the first place, so the reactor must produce significantly more energy than it consumes in order to truly be a viable solution to the energy crisis. Another issue could be safety. With a reaction as powerful as nuclear fusion, things can get dangerous very quickly. Thankfully though, if an explosion were to occur, it wouldn’t involve the radioactive fallout danger associated with current nuclear reactors which use a different process- nuclear fission. (AKA the reaction used in the atomic bomb.) Click here to learn more about the NIF.

Credit: Pete Souza/official White House flickr photostream

Credit: Pete Souza/official White House flickr photostream

Obama officially announced former astronaut Charles Bolden as his pick for the new NASA Chief Administrator. FINALLY! I’m just glad they now have a clear idea of who’s in charge, and soon will have a clear direction as well.

In case you’re under a rock, Obama also announced Sonia Sotomayer as his pick for the vacant U.S. Supreme Court Justice seat.

Space Shuttle Atlantis landed Sunday at Edwards Air Force Base in California after 3 scrubbed attempts to land at Cape Canaveral. The orbiter will spend a week there being prepped for the piggy-back ride on top of a modified Boeing 747 to take it back to Florida.

With the scheduled Soyuz Rocket launch tomorrow at 6:34AM, the International Space Station will have a full crew of 6 personell for the first time ever. Coincidentally, this also marks the first time that representatives from all 5 agencies involved with the ISS have been aboard it at the same time. Those agencies are NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Ok, enough space stuff already… we’ll stick to science, though, because I found lot of good science news in my reader today, and not much else worth posting.

The National Ignition Facilily (NIF) in California is about to create a tiny man-made star with deuterium, tritium, and one big-ass laser. This has to be one of the coolest-sounding descriptions I’ve ever seen. In all honesty, though, it’s not really a star. But they will create nuclear fusion, the process that occurs at the core of stars, on a very tiny scale for a fraction of a second. This is just one small step toward the solution to all of earth’s energy problems. Not only will this device help solve energy problems, it will also help physicists study what happens when a star explodes, and also the inner-workings of any nuclear explosion. Back to the energy issue, though. If we can figure out a way to contain a sustained fusion reaction, and make it yield more energy than is required to create and contain it, then humans will have solved our energy crisis. As far as I can tell, there’s no Dr. Octavius employed at the NIF, thank goodness…

Stephen Colbert interviewed Seth Shostak on The Colbert Report. Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute. (SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.) Watch it on Colbert Nation.

Ok I have to post something not-so-serious now- Hurley has a blog! Seriously, it’s not the most interesting thing I’ve seen but it’s still way-cool to read about his real life. Besides, who doesn’t love Hurley?