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by Timothy Ferris

27 Apr 2015


Excerpted from “Hubble’s Greatest Hits”, by Timothy Ferris. Full article in National Geographic, April 2015, on newsstands now. Copyright © 2015. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photos courtesy of Zoltan Levay, the imaging team leader at Space Telescope Science Institute and National Geographic. See more photos for this article here on National Geographic.

It didn’t amount to much at first.

Credit: National Geographic

Credit: National Geographic

Launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, amid flurries of hope and hype, the Hubble Space Telescope promptly faltered. Rather than remaining locked on its celestial targets, it trembled and shook, quaking like a photophobic vampire whenever sunlight struck its solar panels. Opening its protective front door to let starlight in perturbed the telescope so badly that it fell into an electronic coma. Worst of all, Hubble turned out to be myopic. Its primary light-gathering mirror, eight feet in diameter and said to be the smoothest large object ever fashioned by humans, had been figured perfectly wrong.

by Cynthia Fuchs

22 Mar 2011


Craig Ewert is dying. And as he explains in John Zaritzky’s documentary, originally made in 2007 and re-airing on Frontline 22 March at 9pm, as well as online, he wants to feel some measure of control over the process. Thus he and his wife Mary have come to Dignitas, “one of a handful of Swiss groups devoted to helping people end their lives legally.” As Craig puts it, “ “I’m tired of the disease, but I’m not tired of living. And I still enjoy it enough that I’d like to continue. But the thing is, that I really can’t.” He must be the one, legally, to commit the act: he must drink the liquid that will end his life, and agree to be taped doing so. The film tapes the taping, as well as the couple’s loving farewell. Craig’s final moments are rendered in a series of close-ups and dissolves, under the Beethoven movement he has asked to hear. While assisted suicide raises profound questions concerning both risks and benefits, the potential for abuses versus respect for individual rights, needs, and desires, The Suicide Tourist doesn’t engage in these debates. Instead, it observes the Ewerts as they go through this complicated journey.

See PopMattersreview.

by Dean Blumberg

11 Jun 2010


Sue Storm, the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman

Sue Storm, the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman

I always just assumed an invisibility cloak was something relegated to Marvel Comic’s The Hood, the Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman or some Tony Stark Iron Man development. Apparently the technology of comic books is not so far from scientific developments in today’s real world.

Anil Ananthaswamy posted a piece on the New Scientist website this week about advancements in what innovators term “optical camouflage technology”. Researchers at Duke, UC Berkeley and University of St. Andrews are hard at work are using “metamaterials”, or materials with strong electromagnetic properties with a negative refraction index. From what I’ve read in the linked reports on the New Scientist piece, light does not reflect or refract but instead bends around these materials rendering them “invisible” to our visible spectrum. Wait a second, this sound like something from TV’s Lost!

However, we are still far from Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. Today’s cloaking technology works primarily on 2D objects. As Ananthaswamy explains, “[the] first cloak could only hide two-dimensional objects viewed from specific directions – and only if they were ‘viewed using one particular microwave frequency. Producing a cloak to hide objects from visible light, which has a wavelength several orders of magnitude smaller than microwaves – let alone cloaking objects when viewed from any direction – seemed a more remote possibility”.

As New Scientist reports, 3D cloaking is currently the project that scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany are working on. If comic books are any indication of scientific advancements of the future, I expect Pym Particles that allow humans to radically alter their size to be developed by 2020.

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