On Science – The Blind Can See Space

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 8,248
    1-9-14: On this episode of On Science, a 3D printer is helping the blind see space through the Hubble telescope, the ISS gets more government funding, and the Great White Shark lives longer than we first thought.


    How are astronomers bringing the beauty of space to the blind?


    Does more moola mean more time for the ISS?


    What’s even greater about the great white shark?


    And life under the ice in space and life on the ice on Earth coming up today… On Science!


    Hello and welcome to On Science.  I’m Emerald Robinson.


    We love the images of space that we get from NASA, the beauty and color that’s out –of-this-world, but what about those who can’t see these amazing space photographs.  Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, are experimenting with a way to bring such images to the blind in 3D. They are transforming images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope into 3D pictures using a 3D printer so the blind can explore the universe through touch.  The team says it takes “a little guesswork and artistry” to try to produce an object when you know very little about their 3D structure.  The first image they used was the bright star cluster NGC 602, which is located in an adjacent galaxy.  They used plastic to portray the stars, filament, gas, and dust in raised open circles, lines and dots where brightness corresponds with different heights.  Astronomers said these 3D images will be beneficial to not only the blind, but everyone.  They said, “imagine you could reach out and touch the stars!”


    And the White House has shown it’s committed to making sure that we learn more and more about outer space.  The government has approved four years of additional funding for the International Space Station.  The extra funds will cost $3 billion a year and will extend the life of the orbiting outpost until at least 2024.  NASA says there are still a lot of tests they need to perform on the ISS.  For example, preparing for a manned mission to Mars.   The agency said once we commit to a distance as far away as Mars, we better really understand that system.  Also, NASA hopes that it can recoup some of the upfront investment in the ISS now that the station is so productive, whereas little science was done in the early years of the space station.


    And here’s a great example of just how important continued space exploration is and how much more we have to learn.  Scientists at the University of Aberdeen say that earth-sized planets are able to support life at least ten times farther away from stars than we thought before.  Maybe not life as we generally think about, but it extends the “habitable zone” that include life deep below ground.  The team of scientists says that although water may be frozen on the surface of a planet, temperatures below the surface may be warm enough to contain liquid water and support life.  Their new computer model found that rocky planets a few times larger than Earth could support water about 5 km below the surface even in interstellar space and even without an atmosphere because larger planets generate more heat! 


    And from finding life below the ice on other planets to looking at life on the ice here on Earth, these little creatures are just too cute.  A new study of four Antarctic emperor penguin colonies has revealed that these penguins are moving their breeding sites to thick, floating ice shelves from the traditional thin layer of ice sheet in response to climate change. The study found that in the years 2011 and 2012, the sea ice didn’t form until a month after the breeding season began.  This forced the penguins to climb up the higher floating ice shelves, not an easy task for these unproportional little creatures.  The decrease of sea has led to this species to be designated as “near threatened.”  Can’t you just see a poor little penguin trying to climb up a mountain of ice?


    A new study is finding what else is great about the great white shark.   The first successful radiocarbon age validation study for adult great white sharks reveals that this top predator grows much slower and lives longer than we thought. Of the sharks analyzed, the oldest male was estimated to be 73 and the oldest female to be 40.  Researchers say that age determination in fish is important for conservation efforts.  Estimating the age in sharks is challenging but was done through analyzing growth increments in mineralized tissue like ear bones and fin rays.  With age come annual rings that can be analyzed much like the growth in trees.  The team used a cutting-edge technique in isotope geochemistry analysis which allowed to them to correctly access the age of the sharks unlike previous studies, revealing greater longevity in the great white!



    And that’s your bite of science and technology news!  (maybe a great white shark takes a bite out of the logo).  I didn’t mean that kind of bite!