Blast Off!

Players love the tech, but pro and amateur organizations can hardly keep up with the new materials and radical designs that have rewired and sometimes hot-wired sports.

“What the heck is that stuff? Baby oil? Ski wax?”

My golf buddy Jon put the question to me after I fired another long drive so straight it looked like, well, it looked like his ball. I had been beating him on every drive since we’d started to wager over distance off the tee. “Just some goop I rub on my driver,” I told him. “Keeps me from hooking as much.”
It wasn’t losing a dollar a hole that bothered Jon. It was the fact that a 5-foot 6-inch amateur golfer notorious for hitting 200-yard hooks into tree lines was now firing longer drives straight down the fairway. Thanks to a tricked up, smaller-than-regulation golf ball and a special lubricant smeared on a Callaway titanium driver that is also considered illegal on the United States Golf Association circuit, technology had given me the edge. Until, of course, I was caught.

I gave Jon his money back, but I’ll always have his pride.

Sport may idealize the level playing field, but athletes are always looking for an edge, and in technology they often find it. High tech, low tech, strange tech: It rarely matters. Pro bowlers used to soak their balls in acetone and other strong solvents to make them hook better, a technique Don McCune used to become bowler of the year in 1973. And the occasional baseball player has tried to slip a lighter-yet-still-powerful cork-lined bat onto the field, only to face red-handed guilt when a hard pitch broke it in two.

The postwar revolution in materials and design that transformed cars, airplanes, and office chairs had a field day with sports equipment as well. Natural materials such as wood, rubber, and catgut were left in the slow lane by stronger, lighter, stiffer, or more elastic alternatives: high-tech metal alloys, synthetic polymers, and composites. Surfboards evolved from wood to foam polyurethane and fiberglass. The large-head tennis racket, conceived in the 19th century, stormed the market once there were materials strong enough to withstand the string tension needed to make the design work. Carbon-fiber and titanium alloy bicycles weigh pounds less than earlier bikes yet possess remarkable strength. Meanwhile, computer-aided design offers new insight into the behavior of golf balls in air, swimsuits in water, rubber on the road. The resulting machines and equipment are not only performance-enhancing but marvels of form and function, as any Seven bicycle or K2 inline skates owner will attest.

While new tech supercharged athletes, it challenged sport. The signal moment may have been in 1977, when bad-boy-of-tennis Ilie Nastase walked onto a court with a spaghetti-strung tennis racket and broke the 50-match winning streak of Argentinean champ Guillermo Vilas. Designed with three planes of nonintersecting, plastic-coated strings, the racket “held” the ball longer and let even ordinary players apply extraordinary amounts of topspin. Was that exciting or unseemly? For organized sport, that’s the question new technology raises: Does it improve the play, or taint the game?

For athletes, pro or weekend, the question seems almost quaint: If you build it, they will play with it. But for those charged with protecting the character of sport, new tech poses dilemmas. Technology can upset the balance of power-between pitcher and batter, for example-or favor brute strength over finesse. There’s a sort of evolutionary inevitability here (why not play with a racket that holds the ball longer?) but it’s problematic when the balance of power expresses the soul of the game.

The International Tennis Federation was sufficiently alarmed to ban Nastase’s racket from competition in 1978. “Tennis never had a single restriction on rackets for 350 years until this racket allowed barely ranked pros to defeat top 10 players,” notes Nadine Gelberg, executive director of sports and entertainment at Harris Interactive, a Rochester, N.Y., research company that advises sports equipment makers.

But the tech assault on tennis was just beginning, and the ITF may have regulated too little, too late. Kevlar, graphite, and titanium have produced lighter, stiffer rackets that can be swung faster and give balls more rebound, irrevocably altering the game. Gone are the days of long, suspense-filled rallies; most players now win with powerful shots from the baseline, and rarely venture in to the net.

Yet no rules limit how fast a pro racket may propel the ball; some traditionalists think that should change. “We want the game to be exciting, but we don’t want it to be a pure power game in which big, strong, fast serves completely dominate,” says New York University physicist Richard Brandt, director of a testing lab called the Sports Science Institute.

Golf officials have been more aggressive about limiting the influence of technology on the game, in part because engineers have been so aggressive about innovating in a multibillion-dollar industry. But even golf custodians are fighting a rear-guard action. A typical brouhaha erupted last year when, reacting to an influx of big-head golf clubs that a few years ago seemed physically impossible-light yet rigid enough to control, strong enough to withstand impact-the USGA proposed limiting head volume to 385cc. The proposed limit was more than twice the volume of an old-fashioned 150cc driver, but the plan caused a stink because several manufacturers already had 400cc-plus drivers in the works. The USGA quickly upped the proposed standard to 460cc. Still, USGA technical director Dick Rugge insists the limit can’t be raised much more without diminishing the game. Citing a monster 600cc club, he complained, “It’s not a golf club. It’s something else.”

Head size isn’t the only issue: The USGA also judges clubs by a standard known as the “coefficient of restitution” (COR), which denotes the amount of spring the club face produces. COR is a ratio of the speed of a ball before and after it hits a club, and is expressed as a percentage. If the initial ball speed is 100 mph, for example, and it rebounds at 82 mph, then the COR is 82 percent. Callaway’s ERC II titanium driver exceeded the USGA limit of 83 percent and was banned; weekend players looking for an edge buy it despite a sticker saying-perhaps boasting-that it’s a nonconforming club.

Balls may be a bigger issue than clubs. In January, Jack Nicklaus blamed “the ego of the ball manufacturer” for rendering many great golf courses obsolete for tournament play. The problem: Longer-flying balls, with optimized dimple patterns for aerodynamic performance and multilayer construction for better bounce off the club, let strong players fly over hazards. Nicklaus echoed a joke he’d made last year, after the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia: “If you are going to continue to let the golf ball do what it is doing, you’ve got to keep lengthening the golf course. Pretty soon, we’ll be teeing off downtown somewhere.”

The USGA is about to begin official use of a computerized, precisely calibrated indoor ball-testing system that will measure not only how far the ball travels but also its velocity, angle, aerodynamic properties, and backspin at blastoff. Its predecessor, a 20-year-old outdoor robot known as Iron Byron (after champ Byron Nelson), measured only distance.

It’s hard to picture Sergio Garcia or Phil Mickelson swinging a club with a head the size of grapefruit, even if it were allowed; sport technology at the fringes is motivated by companies promising to improve the play of prosperous weekend amateurs. DeMarini Sports is a perfect example of a company that finds its sweet spot exploiting this market. In 1993, the now legendary Ray DeMarini introduced his Doublewall softball bat. Two layers of aluminum alloy stretched the sweet spot along the length of the barrel, creating a trampoline-like effect. The Doublewall was an equalizer: It turned average hitters into spectacular ones. The Amateur Softball Association was not amused, and banned the bat. “Balls were flying out of parks nationwide,” says Kelly McKeown, the ASA’s group director of marketing, “setting records that said more about athletes’ use of technology than their athletic skills.” No matter: DeMarini’s company continued to thrive by marketing aggressively to amateurs, and was acquired by Wilson in January 2000. Recent DeMarini innovations include the F1 “concept bat,” la Detroit concept car-carbon fiber, honeycomb aluminum, double-wall design.

How a sport reacts to technology often depends on its age. Younger sports such as snowboarding and mountain biking are all about pushing the boundaries, and tend to eat up whatever scientists and engineers have to offer. The National Off-Road Bicycle Association, for instance, imposes no restrictions of any kind on materials or designs. “Mountain biking in general is very eager for new technologies,” says David Earle, a designer and engineer at Santa Cruz Bicycles in Santa Cruz, California. “Anything that makes you faster is very easily accepted.” Santa Cruz recently introduced its V10 model, with a suspension system that enables the rear wheel to absorb 10-inch bumps. This gives riders a real edge in “downhill,” an extreme sport that involves careening down mountains at up to 60 mph, over rocks, logs-and 50-foot drops.

The technology issue becomes trickier at world competitions, such as the Olympics, where well-trained athletes can show up and be blown away by technology they had no knowledge of or, worse, access to. The most famous example: Brit cyclist Chris Boardman came to Barcelona in 1992 with a Lotus-designed superbike whose carbon-fiber monocoque frame helped him win gold and break the world 4,000-meter mark. Four years later, he’d shattered the world hour record twice on a superbike, most dramatically in 1996 with a distance of 35.031 miles. Boardman was one of several athletes who in the 1980s and ’90s revolutionized cycling with new racing positions and expensive new bikes.

In 2000, Union Cycliste Internacionale, cycling’s governing body, disturbed that these bikes cost up to $30,000 and so were inaccessible to athletes from poorer countries, took radical action. Not only did the UCI ban superbikes from competition, it renamed Boardman’s time the “Best Hour Performance” instead of the “UCI Hour Record” and reinstated the record set by Belgian Eddy Merckx in 1972 on a traditional bike. The move effectively erased Boardman’s achievement from history.

Not all fellow athletes were happy. “It’s upsetting to see the possible achievements of our sport be held back by limiting what we can use now,” says cyclist Mari Holden, an Olympic silver medalist. “But what’s much worse is to expect us to forget what we’ve already accomplished with newer gear.”

To avoid a similar flap, USA Swimming withheld approval of Speedo’s pricey Fastskin bodysuits for the 2000 Sydney Olympics-as well as similar products from TYR, Arena, and Adidas-until all 1,300 swimmers at the U.S. Olympic trials had access to them. Fifteen world and 38 Olympic swimming records were broken in those Games.

As athletes push new speed and distance boundaries, safety becomes an issue. “The golf industry may enjoy creating powerful drivers that send balls into orbit, but golf doesn’t have a pitcher standing 50 feet in front of the ball,” says the ASA’s McKeown. Hence the limit put on the firepower of high-tech bats. To meet National Collegiate Athletic Association standards, softball bats undergo rigorous laboratory testing. Lasers and radar measure the speed of a ball as it approaches the bat, then the speed at which the bat recoils. Those two numbers are combined to produce the “bat performance factor,” or BPF. Good old wooden bats, which typically have a BPF rating of 1.0, serve as the benchmark. An aluminum bat that returns 10 percent more energy to a ball than a wooden bat receives a BPF of 1.1; bats that exceed 1.2 BPF are considered illegal.

What’s next? Critical to new-generation sports equipment will be supertough resins and fibers, as well as metal-composite combinations-materials that won’t delaminate or crack at critical moments of high stress, such as when bats and clubs hit balls, or when bikes crash to earth. (When composites fail, whether in sports equipment or commercial jetliners, they tend to fail spectacularly: Think of early carbon-fiber bicycle wheels, which shattered catastrophically, sending riders flying, and the Airbus that came apart over Queens, New York, last year.) George Manning, the engineer who designed Iron Byron as well as Louisville Slugger baseball bats, predicts that composites may enable engineers to design bats that stay clear of BPF violations while delivering new power or control. “One of the advantages of composites is that you can get different properties in different directions,” he says. “Composites can be very stiff in one direction and very flexible in another.”

Combine new materials with another growing trend-customization of equipment through computer-aided analysis of a player’s strength, stance, swing, and the like-and you have a vision of the high-tech sports gear of the future: ultrastrong and light, optimized to the limit of each athlete’s capacity to play with it, and pay for it.

Stepping up to the tee on the 14th hole, I ignore the illegal Callaway in my bag for Wilson’s Deep Red 365cc, an oversize driver with extra weight built farther back. Wilson’s design creates a lower center of gravity that lofts a ball higher with less spin so it flies straighter. “It’s an offshoot of what Padraig Harrington used to win the Volvo Masters last year,” I inform Jon as I point to the USGA-approved label. Thanks to that label, my golf partner doesn’t say a word. Thanks to the technology, I hit another long ball.

GUILTY AS SUPERCHARGED

This gear-with aerodynamically optimized dimples, longer-than-normal strings, bouncy club faces, and the like-promises performance but breaks the rules.

1. Acute Dimples
Polara ball
Its edge: Introduced in the late 1970s, this asymmetrical golf ball had shallower dimples on its ends than on its circumference, reducing the odds of slicing or hooking off the tee.
Who banned it?: The United States Golf Association
The crime: Complaining that the ball “reduced the skill required to play golf,” the USGA implemented a new rule: Sanctioned balls must have equal aerodynamic properties and equal moments of inertia about any axis through their center.
Did it really work?: Legend says yes, and if you want to try a round, you can sometimes find these “too old to play with” golf balls on eBay, where a trio typically sells for $40 to $60.

2. Ball and Chapstick
Fireball & Straight Stick
Its edge: Claims are it travels 10 percent farther than an average golf ball; in addition, a lubricant you rub on your club face reduces slices and hooks, adding an extra 12 to 20 yards off the tee.
Who banned it?: The USGA
The crime: A heavier and smaller ball than the USGA allows, it also exceeds velocity standards.
Does it really work?: “Using the lube looks like you’re applying lipstick to your clubs,” said our tester, but the balls did fly an average of 23 yards farther.

3. Longer Is Sweeter
Head ti.s7
Its edge: Its strings run down to the top of the grip, creating a larger sweet spot and generating more power and spin with less effort.
Who banned it?: The International Tennis Federation
The crime: Its elongated strings (17.75 inches) exceeded the ITF’s 15.5-inch limit.
Does it really work?: It took a seasoned tester about 30 minutes to adjust to its extra power, but it kept roughly 11 percent more of her shots in bounds than did her tournament-legal Prince racket.

4. Springtime for Bertha
Callaway ERC II
Its edge: This $625 club’s titanium head propels balls 20 to 30 yards farther.
Who banned it?:
The USGA
The crime: It exceeds the limit on the
amount of spring
a club face can
produce. Though banned from competition in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, it’s allowed everywhere else.
Does it really work?: Yes, but this cannon only benefits an experienced golfer who can hit straight. Our tester just found himself walking farther into the woods to reclaim every slice.

Lock and Roll

An attack copter shows off new antimissile ware When Major Wandent Brawdsen of the Royal Netherlands Air Force rolled his Apache Longbow helicopter and fired a string of flares during last year’s Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford England, it wasn´t just an air-show stunt. He was demonstrating the first and only Apache infrared missile-defense system. The new technology is sorely needed: When an attack chopper drops down to take out a target, it becomes an easy mark for shoulder-fired missiles such as those that were thought to have been the cause of two U.S. Apache pilot´s deaths in Iraq earlier this year. The ultraviolet sensors mounted beneath the aircrafts’s wingtips detect and track missile exhaust and then fire off infrared flares to confuse the projectiles´ guidance systems.

Wave Rider

The biodiesel-fueled boat has a triple-hull design that allows it to pierce 50-foot waves. A prototype is pictured here.

Low Rider

One day. One bullet-shaped bike. One crazy world record In late July, Canadian triathlete Greg Kolodziejzyk pedaled his recumbent bicycle 650 miles around a California track to break the human-powered 24-hour distance record. Equipped with food, water and waste bags, the 70-pound carbon-fiber machine is capable of hitting 60 mph on a flat straightaway. â€Once you get over 12 or 15 mph, 90 percent of your pedaling effort goes to pushing air,†Kolodziejzyk says. â€The key to going fast under human power is to minimize the hole you punch†in the atmosphere. To build a bike that did just that, Kolodziejzyk teamed up with fairing designer Ben Eadie, who used flow-dynamics software to test dozens of designs in a virtual wind tunnel. See more details at adventuresofgreg.com

Brain Monitor

Is this the future of the home theater? No, it´s not a prop. This six-pound helmet monitor is a real prototype, built to demonstrate next-generation television-watching technology. Modeled here by one of its developers (the regular TV is shown only for comparison), the device was built by Toshiba and unveiled in September at an academic conference in Osaka, Japan. Equipped with a built-in projector and a dome screen, the monitor plugs directly into a DVD player or computer and provides an immersive experience that surrounds the wearer with the action of the program-think of it as a portable IMAX theater. Although the invention was popular among testers, who reported that it rests easily on the shoulders and is comfortable enough for a two-hour movie, Toshiba has no solid plans for commercialization.

Ice Ice…Maybe

Glacier National Park could be due for a name change Photographs like these might soon be all that’s left of Grinnell Glacier, seen at left in 1938 and at right in 2005, globally the hottest year on record. The 7,000-year-old ice monolith, located in Montana’s Glacier National Park, has shrunk by 70 percent in the past century or so. “Virtually all the glaciers of the world are retreating,” says ecologist Daniel Fagre of the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, stationed in the park. “It’s clear evidence of global climate change. They don´t retreat for any other reason.” If temperatures continue to climb at current rates, the last of the park´s glaciers will vanish by 2030. Visitors, Fagre says, are conscious of the deadline: “We hear more often that people want to come see the glaciers before they disappear.” _Related:_
Behind the Images: PopSci´s staff photographer talks about some his favorite shots
Mini Machines Photo Gallery

Low Rider

Kolodziejzyk circled the Eureka, California, track 1,800 times.

Race Day

Kolodziejzyk with his wife, Helen, and designer Ben Eadie before the attempt.

Blue Haven

Like a watery elevator shaft, this blue hole plunges 200 feet straight down from the surface of Abaco Island, in the Bahamas. Found below the seafloor and on tropical islands, blue holes formed after the last ice age, when meltwater flooded vertical caves. A research team led by Texas A&M; marine biologist Tom Illife visited Abaco earlier this year. Its mission: to collect specimens in the unusual waters, where oxygen content is low and salinity varies dramatically from the surface to the depths. Scientists suspect that thousands of ancient species have been preserved in blue holes, many of them living fossils of creatures once thought extinct. Illife´s team found what could be several new species of crustaceans.

Life in a Bubble

A Milky Way supernova is providing clues to the origins of planets-and people Cassiopeia A, the remnants of the most recent star to explode in our Milky Way galaxy, is only 10,000 light-years away, close enough for astronomers to get a detailed look at it through the Hubble Space Telescope. By comparing this composite image of Cas A with one taken nine months earlier, scientists have discovered that the glowing cloud of debris left behind by the supernova is not expanding uniformly, as was once assumed. Instead two opposing jets of material are moving at 32 million mph, about 20 million mph faster than the rest of the debris [in this image, one stream extends from the upper left side of Cas A]. Another surprise: This view, which highlights different elements by color (for example, oxygen is shown as green), shows that materials of similar chemical composition remained clumped after the explosion. Supernovae are a major source of all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium and the primary source of heavy elements like iron. These scattered elements eventually coalesce into new stars and planets. They are also what we´re made of.

666 Legs to Stand On

After eluding biologists for 80 years, Earth´s leggiest millipede resurfaces Don´t be fooled by the â€milliâ€-nature hasn´t cooperated in turning up a 1,000-legged grub. The species that comes closest is Illacme plenipes (Latin for â€plentiful feetâ€), and until last fall, when East Carolina University Ph.D. student Paul Marek spotted it in California´s San Benito County, the odd crawler hadn´t been seen since 1926. The rediscovery offers a chance to study the critter with modern tools. This microscope image, for instance, magnifies the millipede 1,270 times. Turns out the gonopods (blue and yellow) are modified leg structures rubbed together to deliver sperm; their hooklike design allows the grub to grasp its mate. Will we ever see a true 1,000-legged millipede? Maybe. Since Illacme plenipes continues to grow new segments throughout its lifetime, it´s possible one could hit the magic mille if it lived long enough.

FLIPPER SHOCK

After years of waiting, a peek at a walrus feast Before Swede Gran Ehlm began photographing walruses a decade ago, it was unclear how they ate. No one had ever witnessed the dangerous 3,000-pound mammals in the deep water where they spend most of their day, unearthing clams from under the ocean floor. It took Ehlm years to learn that the best time to approach the herding animals is when they are alone, and that they are calmest when feeding. But his patience paid off. Last year, he became the first person to document the fact that the walrus employs its flippers to dig up its meal. “That was new to science,âa‚¬ he says. Ehlm spent hours in the frigid waters off the coast of Greenland to capture this image-and then almost erased it. âa‚¬I didn´t know how long the session would take, and I didn´t want âa‚¬no memory´ to flash,âa‚¬ he says. âa‚¬So I was just deleting, deleting, deleting. Then I noticed the head sticking out of the sediment. It was very close.âa‚¬

Fill ‘er Up

A spate of enormous hornet nests may be a sign of a warming Earth In early May, Harry Coker of Tallassee, Alabama, peered into his parked 1955 Chevy and saw a yellow-jacket nest â€the size of a spare tire†on the floor of the backseat. Six weeks later, Coker went back-and found the nest had grown to fill the entire car. Yellow jackets normally construct hives no bigger than a basketball, populated by one queen and at most 3,000 workers. But this year, giant nests are cropping up all over Georgia and Alabama. Auburn University entomologist Charles Ray has documented at least 60, some containing 100,000 workers and hundreds of queens. Ray finds the sudden phenomenon puzzling but speculates that warmer lows in winter-January was six degrees above average this year in Alabama-allowed workers usually killed off by cold to survive into spring, altering the behavior of some colonies.

HOT SHOT

Against a perfect backdrop, the space shuttle undocks from the ISS No, it´s not dust on the lens. The specks on this image of the sun are in fact the International Space Station and the space shuttle Atlantis. Less than an hour after the shuttle detached to return to Earth in September, astrophotographer Thierry Legault captured this image from a cow pasture in Normandy, France. It was his consolation prize: He´d hoped to shoot the docking of Atlantis, but climate got in the way. âa’¬The weather was awful all week, and I had only been able to take my chance during a small moment of clear sky,âa’¬ explains Legault, who used special software to predict the alignment of the station and the sun and shot the photo at an extremely fast 1/8000s shutter speed. His camera was mounted on a telescope with a solar filter-which produces black-and-white images that Legault later colorized-and a motorized base to track the sun. When he took the picture, the shuttle was about 350 miles away. The sun? Some 93 million miles.

In Saturn’s Shadow

A bit of shade helps Cassini see new rings-and home While traveling through Saturn´s shadow last September, the spacecraft Cassini was able to shoot a remarkable series of photographs from a perspective that would normally fry its optics. The images, taken over the course of nine hours and combined here into a panoramic composite, capture for the first time the giant planet and its dazzling array of rings backlit by direct sunlight. The perspective has revealed two never-before-seen rings, faint bands of dust apparently thrown up by meteorites hitting moons. â€The tiny particles are highlighted,†says Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini mission´s imaging team. â€It´s the same effect that makes the dust on your windshield very obvious when you´re driving into the sun.†But the image´s most striking feature, Porco says, is that bluish speck on the left: â€What an amazing sight to see Earth-so small, so fragile-looking-nestled in Saturn´s rings.â€

Uneasy Breathing

In a disastrous year, the mining industry looks more closely at its survival gear This picture was taken outside Pennsylvania´s Twin Rocks coal mine last spring. But it could easily have been taken 25 years ago, mining technology has evolved so little since then. Miner Joe Tenerowicz is demonstrating a self-rescuer, a chemical-based oxygen-production system that provides an hour of backup air. The device, which has been the standard emergency breather for a quarter century, was the only technology available to coal workers in West Virginia´s Sago Mine tragedy, which left 13 dead last January. This year has proved particularly fatal for U.S. miners; to date, 37 have died in 21 incidents, a 30 percent higher rate than in recent years. For the industry, it´s been a wake-up call. Under the federal Miner Act, which went into effect in June, better devices-including replacement cartridges that increase the breathing time of existing self-rescuers and new â€hybrid†units that rely on filters to deal with poor air quality-will be developed in the next two years.

Shuttle Shock

With a little luck, Discovery will fly again this month Thunderstorms forced NASA’s last space shuttle fight to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California rather than at the spacecraft’s launch site in Florida. Five days later-on August 14, 2005-lighting struck at Edwards too. In this photograph, taken that day, the shuttle is parked in a gantry-like structure called the Mate-Demate Device, used to hoist the spacecraft off the ground and lower it onto a 747 airplane for a piggybank trip home to Cape Canaveral. There, Discovery was readied for its July mission to the International Space Station, in which the crew will deliver supplies and test methods for repairing in-flight damage to the craft.

Star Burst

Renderings depict eight sequential moments of Cassiopeia A´s 325-year-long explosion.

Something Fishy

New to the London Aquarium: a robotic carp Swimming alongside its living counterparts at the London Aquarium, the new 20-inch-long “robo-carp” uses artificial intelligence and an infared sensor inside its mouth to detect and avoid obstacles. Like real fish, it generates forward thrust by undulating its tail. Engineered by scientists at the University of Essex in England, the battered-operated fish serves as a decorative prototype for future autonomous underwater vehicles that will be tasked with arduous missions, such as sniffing out underwater and leaky oil pipes.

Carrier Reef

The retired U.S.S. Oriskany is now host to fish and divers Five hundred pounds of plastic explosive sent this 32,000-ton aircraft carrier to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in May, forming the largest intentional man-made reef in history and marking the inauguration of a Navy program to turn old ships into coral reefs. To meet EPA standards for sea disposal, the 888-foot carrier was stripped of oil, paint and asbestos, at a cost of $8 million. It worked: The scuttle didn´t even leave a slick on the surface. The hull of the craft now rests at 212 feet, too deep for casual scuba divers, though the higher superstructure should be fair game. You have plenty of time to plan your trip-the Oriskany won´t disintegrate for hundreds of years.

Blue Vision

Marine biologists team up with NASA to conduct the first global survey of coral reefs This satellite image of Hawaii´s Pearl and Hermes Atoll was taken by NASA´s Landsat spacecraft as part of the first-ever global survey of coral reefs, com-pleted earlier this year. An international group of scientists used 1,800 Landsat images taken over a four-year period to assess the health of the world´s reefs. The diagnosis wasn´t good. Although the study determined that 19 percent of reefs are located within designated marine refuges, most of those areas are not actually protected from human activities and, like nonprotected areas, are suffering the effects of human pollutants and destructive fishing practices. One piece of good news: This 400-square-mile atoll is part of the 140,000-square-mile Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, which became the largest marine refuge in the world when it was created in June.

Thin Diesel

A British backhoe manufacturer takes its new engine to an unlikely work site: Utah´s Bonneville Salt Flats Past owners of the notoriously wheezy diesel Rabbit will find it hard to believe, but this blurry streak is also powered by a four-cylinder diesel. Two of them, actually: one for the front wheels and one for the rear. Built for use in front-loaders and forklifts, the 4.4-liter engines were specially tuned to 750 horsepower each by U.K. construction-equipment company JCB as part of an effort to set a new speed record for a diesel-powered car. It paid off. On August 23, Andy Green-holder of the current overall land-speed record of 763 mph-piloted the svelte, ice-cooled machine to a new record in the Utah desert, averaging 350 mph in two 11-mile runs.

Solar Sailing

Testing a sail that turns sunlight into rocket fuel In a test chamber at NASA Glenn Research Center´s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, engineers show off a 20-by-20 meter solar sail that automatically unfurls when its four support tubes are inflated. Built by L’Garde, Inc., of Tustin, California, the sail is made of Mylar less than one tenth the thickness of a trash bag. It´s designed to deflect photons from sunlight to propel a spacecraft forward with little fuel. A larger version of the sail is a candidate for NASA’s Space Technology 9, a mission for experimental technologies that could fly in the next five years.

Yellow Lab

The JCB Dieselmax´s 350 mph smashed the previous diesel record of 235 mph, set in 1973.

Carrier Reef

The retired U.S.S. Oriskany is now host to fish and divers Five hundred pounds of plastic explosive sent this 32,000-ton aircraft carrier to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in May, forming the largest intentional man-made reef in history and marking the inauguration of a Navy program to turn old ships into coral reefs. To meet EPA standards for sea disposal, the 888-foot carrier was stripped of oil, paint and asbestos, at a cost of $8 million. It worked: The scuttle didn´t even leave a slick on the surface. The hull of the craft now rests at 212 feet, too deep for casual scuba divers, though the higher superstructure should be fair game. You have plenty of time to plan your trip-the Oriskany won´t disintegrate for hundreds of years.

Tossed In Space

What to do with an old space suit? Turn it into a satellite Part laundry bag, part experimental satellite, this repurposed Russian space suit now orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour, may be among history’s most creative recycling efforts. SuitSat, as the makeshift craft is called, is the brainchild of a Russian ham radio operator who saw an opportunity to do something useful with old space suits on the cramped International Space Station. To test the satellite idea, ISS crew members stuffed a suit with a radio transmitter, some digitized recordings of children’s voices, three batteries and, oh what the heck, old laundry. Then they tossed the whole thing overboard. An antenna mounted on the helmet broadcast the voices for two weeks in February to amateur radio operators worldwide before they suit’s batteries died, leaving it to orbit in Earth in silence until this August, when it’s expected to burn up in the atmosphere. SuitSat-2 is scheduled to fly next year.

Gross Anatomy

The world´s fastest body scanner sees it all Not so long ago, a detailed view of the body´s delicate innards required two things: a cadaver and a scalpel. Today, high-powered rotating x-ray machines can visualize bones, organs and blood vessels down to 0.4 millimeter in just seconds, death not required. One such machine is the new $2.3-million Somatom Definition scanner, developed by Siemens and set to debut in the U.S. this spring. It generated this vivid scan of a 65-year-old heart patient in just 17 seconds. Doctors used the images to rule out arterial blockage, saving the patient a trip to the operating room.

Fast Fueled

Powered by vegetable oil and animal fat, a sleek new boat aims to circumnavigate the globe in record time New Zealand engineer Pete Bethune had a grand plan: Bring attention to the potential of biodiesel by building an innovative powerboat capable of setting an overall speed record for world circumnavigation. And he had a gruesomely flamboyant first step: Suck fat out of his own body to provide some of the fuel. Unfortunately, the quarter of a pound Bethune had lipoed created only enough biodiesel to power his one-of-a-kind boat, christened Earthrace, about 300 feet. To make the trip around the world, the 78-foot tri-hull will need 35,000 gallons of fuel (at its cruising speed of 15 to 25 knots, it gets about a mile a gallon). If all goes as planned, Bethune will raise the remaining $400,000 he needs to fund the voyage by March and set off on his 65-day quest. â€I look forward to getting on the water,†Bethune says, â€and proving to the world that renewable fuels are synonymous with power and performance.â€

Shining Sea

Glowing algae light up California´s largest lake Taken on the southern shore of the Salton Sea, this eight-second exposure is lit from three sources: the moon overhead, the lights of a nearby power plant, and mysterious bioluminescent algae blooming in the water. Waves agitating the single-celled organisms cause a chemical reaction within them that releases energy in the form of light. San Diego State University biologists collected the first samples of the glowing algae from the lake in January and have identified them as dinoflagellates in the genus Alexandrium, a kind of algae typically found along ocean coastlines. The scientist’s next tasks are to determine whether the algae are a new species and to figure out what’s fueling their recent growth.

The Macro View

This millipede [magnified 7.5 times] is the leggiest of 12 specimens plucked from the California soil.

Sun Burn

Solar storms can knock out power on Earth.
New satellites will help us predict where and when Spewing billions of tons of plasma millions of miles into space, the sun´s eruptions, like this explosion captured by NASA´s SOHO probe, can be strikingly beautiful. But when they result in what scientists call coronal mass ejections-think seething bubbles of flung-off plasma-they can short-circuit satellites and trigger powerful magnetic shock waves that result in electrical power failures on Earth. NASA´s $540-million STEREO mission, whose two satellites were scheduled to launch in late August, is designed to capture 3-D images that identify Earth-bound solar storms days before their effects reach us. Positioned at points ahead of and behind the Earth in its orbit, the satellites will work like a pair of eyes to more precisely measure a storm´s size and location-and let us identify it in time to take action and prevent damage.

Afragola is Burning

As Naples’s garbage crisis worsened, fed-up and desperate residents resorted to arson–setting more than 100 fires some nights–overwhelming the fire department and leeching harmful chemicals and toxins into already polluted air. Deemed an “ecological and health disaster” by President Giorgio Napolitano, trash crises are common in Southern Italy but have recently increased and worsened. This summer’s is the worst yet, with 10-foot-high piles of refuse lining the streets for weeks now while old dumps max out and new ones are stalled from construction by a weak local political system and a powerful local mafia.

Starborn

Thirteen hundred light-years away, a three-million-year-old supernova explosion launches a cluster of new stars. Captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the birth is visible because of infrared imaging that bypasses dense cloud formations to detect heat-radiating stars, galaxies and planetary systems. As the stars emerge from the Orion constellation, they heat surrounding dust particles (seen in the orange-red areas) and eventually become surrounded by cosmic gas and dust (as are the young pink stars near the top).

by John B. Carnett

A select from our favorite aviation images by staff photographer John B. Carnett

Low Rider

Kolodziejzyk circled the Eureka, California, track 1,800 times.

Water Buggy

A prototype watercraft is designed to go almost anywhere, bump-free It´s known as Proteus, and its performance is just as unusual as its appearance. The creation of California company Marine Advanced Research, this leggy craft is the helicopter of boats, explains designer Ugo Conti, who says Proteus clones could someday be used for quickly deploying research equipment to far-flung locales or for ocean search-and-rescue operations. The range of conventional craft is limited by their ability to take the pounding of huge swells in the open ocean and by the depth of the boats´ draft in shallow water. Proteus´s catamaran-style hulls displace only 18 inches, so it can operate safely close to shore. And the vehicle is designed to surf on top of the waves, rather than cut through them, allowing it to travel safely and efficiently in rough seas. The ride can´t be beat: The cockpit is suspended on four aluminum legs attached to the hulls by titanium springs. Which means no bumps-and a view 12 feet above the waves.

Low Rider

Kolodziejzyk circled the Eureka, California, track 1,800 times.

Blue Crush

In Australia, bluebottle jellyfish invade in striking numbers Sailing ashore on blustery northeast winds, vast armadas of half-foot-long bluebottle jellyfish took Australia´s Gold Coast beaches by storm this year. The smaller, electric-blue cousin of the Portuguese man-o´-war (both species are technically polyps) commonly blows in to southern beaches during the summer months–November to February, Down Under–in dense packs. (This flotilla was photographed on Terrigal Beach in New South Wales.) But seldom have they arrived in such nettlesome droves: In a single January weekend, Queensland lifeguards treated 600 stings, a stunning increase over the 476 stings recorded for that entire month in 2006 (though painful, stings are almost never deadly). It´s unclear whether there has been a population spike among the sail-shaped, gelatinous invertebrates or if the wind patterns are simply bringing more of them ashore, says Lisa-Ann Gershwin, a jellyfish expert at James Cook University in Queensland. â€They live way out in the central gyres in the middle of the great oceans,†she explains, â€but so far nobody´s bothered to go out there and count them.â€