Blog Archives

American firm proposes “Zero Gravity Roller Coaster”

Anyone familiar with Alton Towers or Thorpe Park will know that roller coasters are awesome. But now, BRC Imagination Arts, a Californian design firm, has proposed a roller coaster sure to eclipse any theme park experience.

It is a ride which will accelerate passengers at such magnitude that they will become “weightless” for a whole eight seconds. BRC drew inspiration from NASA’s “Vomit Comet”, the aeroplane which is used to acclimatise astronauts to the sensation of being in outer space.

Their roller coaster will achieve the same effect by accelerating up to top speed, over 100 mph, on a vertical track, and then suddenly starting to decelerate. This will throw passengers out of their seats, and then the ride will adjust its speed so that it matches the velocity of the passengers. Upon reaching the peak of the track and descending, the roller coaster will continue to match the speed of its falling passengers, prolonging the feeling of weighlessness for several seconds.

It is perhaps the closest thing you can come to experiencing being in outer space without needing to be an astronaut. 

Bob Rogers, BRC’s founder and chief creative officer, says the zero-gravity ride would cost $50 million or more, mainly due to the complexity of the precision-response propulsion system. It is still only a concept at this stage, but, if the company could acquire the necessary funds, Rogers claims that this will become a reality by the end of 2013.

Full story: POPSCI


Scientists determine exact colour of Milky Way

Astronomers seeking to classify the exact colour of the Milky Way have reached a conclusion. Announced at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting, the answer is … white.

The scientists wanted to establish the precise colour that the Milky Way looks from the outside – which is tricky, seeing as we are stuck inside it. But, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, comprising information from about a million galaxies, the conclusion is white. Specifically, our galaxy is the colour of spring snow at an hour after sunrise or before sunset.

Determining our galaxy’s colour may help us interpret its past and forecast its future evolution. “For astronomers, one of the most important parameters is actually the colour of the galaxy,” Jeffrey Newman of the University of Pittsburgh told the BBC. 

Full story: BBC News

Earth and giant asteroid have near miss

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier whistled past planet Earth at 30,000 miles per hour yesterday.

As you can probably tell, judging by the lack of an apocalypse on Tuesday, and the fact you are still here, the giant lump of cosmic rock did not hit our planet. However, it is the closest an asteroid has passed by planet Earth in over 200 years.

NASA had been tracking the asteroid – named 2005 YU55 – and confirmed that it had come to within 201,700 miles of our planet. That may sound somewhat distant from us – but that is well over four hundred times closer than the distance to the sun.

The next visit by a large asteroid will occur in just under 20 years: we have a regular visitor to our planetary neighbourhood named the Apophis asteroid. It has been calculated to have a near miss with Earth in the year 2029, and again in 2036.

NASA can give incredibly precise forecasts of these things. On 13 April 2029, Apophis will pass by Earth and come to within just 18,300 miles of our planet. Put a note in your diary and remember to look up at the sky.

Full story: BBC News

Introducing Robonaut R2: The robot that uses Twitter. In outer space.

R2 is a robot with a difference. Not only is it the first ever human-like astronuat robot, but it uses social networking website Twitter to write status updates from The International Space Station.  The popular robonaut has already acquired over 40,000 followers on the site.

R2 has been designed to assist astronauts in The ISS, both inside and outside the station. (It describes itself on its Twitter profile as “A humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people”). The robot currently sits in a fixed base, but eventually NASA plans to attach legs so that R2 can crawl through the Station corridors. Further forward in time, it may even be mounted to a 4-wheel rover and sent to explore the surfaces of Mars and the Moon.

The success of R2 is considered a massively encouraging sign for future space exploration. Writing on NASA’s website, John Olson, the agency’s director of Exploration Systems Integration Office, said: “The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts … It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

Full story: BBC News

Sun’s eruptions are on their way to Earth


Immensely powerful waves of charged solar particles will be blasted towards planet Earth over the next couple of days. These solar flares are expected to toy with the Earth’s magnetic field, lighting up our skies with unique patterns, but also confusing an awful lot of our technology. 

This is a result of three “coronal mass ejections” – eruptions on the surface of the Sun caused by sudden releases of magnetic energy stored in its atmosphere. The third eruption is the strongest recorded since 2006.

It is thought that this could affect modern technology here on Earth: there is a danger that electrical power grids, communications systems and satellite signals may all be disrupted. So there is an outside risk of powercuts, blackouts, radio signals being lost, and the Sat-Nav in your car losing its sense of direction.

On a more positive and cheerful note, the Aurora Borealis (pictured above) are expected to occur far further South than usual, and may therefore be visible here in parts of the UK.

Full story: BBC News

Scientists compile most detailed map ever of night sky

Scientists working on SDSS (The Sloan Digital Sky Survey) have created the most detailed image ever of the night sky. It has taken over a decade of scanning the skies with a 138-megapixel camera to compile this image – consisting of over a trillion pixels in total.

It is an image so detailed and so massive that it would take half a million high-definition televisions to take it all in at full resolution… And this is just a map of one-third of the sky!

Full story: POPSCI Popular Science