January 23, 2008

Color My World

So if you're an astronomy nerd, you will recall being absolutely blown away by the first-ever images of the "other" side of Mercury beamed back by the MESSENGER spacecraft last Wednesday.

If you're pretty much anybody else, you'll recall wondering why everyone in the science media was getting so gosh-darn excited about another picture of the moon.

But wait. The first image released was taken in monochrome. MESSENGER, as a product of the 21st century, does comes equipped with a camera boasting (count 'em) 11 narrow-band color filters.

As evidenced by the stunning images that have made instruments like Hubble and Cassini almost household names, combining a bunch of data from several filters will get you those jaw-dropping false-color shots of cosmic objects that can capture the public's imagination.

So now here it is folks, the Mercury glory shot we've all been waiting for, a high-tech mosaic combining data from filters that transmit light with wavelengths of infrared, far red, and violet:

Hmmm... Well, we can't all be doing science with snazzy art. Ever try to get a good picture from the folks working on an invisibility cloak?

January 21, 2008

So, a Virus Walks Into a Bar...

Cruisin' 'round YouTube today I found a quirky making-of vid about science comedian Brian Malow's visit to the Koshland Science Museum here in D.C. back in May. Seems he was doing a show about infectious diseases to commemorate the museum opening a new display on the topic.

Back when I had time for life outside the office I used to docent at the Koshland, which is a relatively recent addition to the Washington museum scene. It's run by the National Academy of Sciences and sits on the corner of 6th and E NW near the NAS headquarters building.

What I love about the place is that it is the first science museum I've been to in a loooong time that is aimed at adults. Interactive displays and hands-on demos still apply, but the content is definitely written for high school and above. They also do a nice job appealing to "geek chic" in the city by hosting after-hours events such as book signings, wine-soaked mixers, and—apparently—stand-up routines.

Malow admits his repertoire is low on disease-related material, a fact made painfully obvious by the sound bites in this clip. This leads me to wonder, can there be good science-themed stand-up? And can science jokes ever be educational/inspiring, or are they merely for the pleasure of the already informed?

In school one of the most boring subjects for me was history, but my favorite stand-up artiste of all time, Eddie Izzard, seems to get some of his best material from topics like WWII and comparative religions. (If you have not yet experienced the joy that is Dress to Kill, check out the clip below.)

See? Genius. And pretty educational at the same time. So, fingers firmly crossed that when Malow makes a return visit to the Koshland in April to riff on time travel, neurology, and string theory, he'll have some Izzard-level material on hand.

Paper Planes in Space... Uh, What?!?

Even as schoolkids fantasize about being astronauts, it seems some astronauts dream of being schoolkids again.

Pink Tentacle is reporting via the Asahi Shinbum that the University of Tokyo has teamed up with the Japan Origami Airplane Association to bring you a paper plane that can fly in outer space. The idea is that the intrepid crew on board the ISS can launch this sucker from the station and let it glide gently into orbit.

Well, "gently" is relative. The paper glider is being tested to go whizzing around the planet at up to 5,300 miles an hour—a snail's pace compared to the actual shuttle's top speeds of 15,200 mph.

Not only that, this intricately folded plane will be treated to withstand extreme heat so that it can survive re-entry and land back on Earth.

How does one say "wtf?" in Japanese?