Saturday, November 22, 2008

Captain's Log: Star Trek, Mars, Atomic Souvenirs and Harry Potter

In addition to the trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie, there's been a media tour of major cities which included screenings of four scenes. Anthony Pascale, impressario of Trek, describes and evaluates them in detail here.

Planet News

There were a couple of recent discoveries involving planets outside our solar system. In September, the first planet was found circling a star much like our sun. Previous planets were located in "brown dwarf" systems. It's a very large planet, very far away from a star somewhat younger than our sun, about 500 light years away.

More recently, scientists managed to take the first ever photograph of a planet outside our solar system, only 25 light years away. It's not much of a picture--just a dot--but the feat stunned other scientists. "This is amazing," said Eugene Chiang, an astronomer at UC Berkeley. "It's almost science fiction. I didn't think this day would occur until years from now." Some 200 "exo-planets" have been discovered, but by indirect means. This is the first time an exo-planet has been "seen." However, it is far too distant from its sun to support life, the scientists say.

In planetary news closer to home, scientists examining radar imaging of Mars say they "strongly suggest that the lobes are pure ice in the form of glaciers, buried under a thin layer of soil and rock." Recent discoveries have shown that water does exist on Mars--and now it looks as if there might be quite a lot of it.

A Science Advisor to President Clinton suggests "How to Save the U.S. Space Program."

The Year (Plus) of Shooting Harry Potter

Charlie Rose interviewed Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry Potter) and Richard Griffiths (who plays his stepfather, Mr. Dursley), about Equus, the Peter Shaffer classic now on Broadway. Radcliffe plays the young and very troubled stable boy, and Griffiths the psychiatrist who examines him to determine why he suddenly blinded several horses. A clip from the play revealed that the cast also includes Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager.)

Towards the end of the interview, Radcliffe said that the play would close in February because he had to return to England to begin work on the two movies being filmed from the last Harry Potter book. They'll be shot at the same time, but the amazing fact Radcliffe revealed is that he'll be shooting this story for 14 straight months.

The Irradiated Generation Jones

Though only two atomic bombs were ever used in war (so far), increasingly powerful nuclear bombs were exploded in the atmosphere from 1945 until the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty proposed by President Kennedy took effect in 1963. Radiation from tests traveled around the world, and new research suggests that everyone who was alive then and is still alive today is carrying residues from those tests in their bodies, namely some carbon-14:

The latest study was of trees, and it found: It turns out that virtually every tree that was alive starting in 1954 has a "spike" — an atomic bomb souvenir. Everywhere botanists have looked, "you can find studies in Thailand, studies in Mexico, studies in Brazil where when you measure for carbon-14, you see it there," Nadkarni says. All trees carry this "marker" — northern trees, tropical trees, rainforest trees — it is a world-wide phenomenon."

It is also true of people: "The amazing lesson of all this is that a bunch of atomic bomb blasts from 50 years ago changed the biology of the world, searing themselves into most living things, and the evidence is still there. If you were born around 1954 or shortly thereafter, those bombs made their mark — in you!"

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