Scizzle’s CRISPRmas Science Gift Guide

By Sally Burn and Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis

Holmium Holmium Holmium (Ho Ho Ho)! Scizzle is in a festive mood and ready to deliver a science-themed treat down your chimney – that’s right, it’s the annual Scizzle festive gift guide! This year CRISPR/Cas was top of many santas’ experimental wishlists (still not sure what CRISPR is all about? Check out our recent article on it here), so in honor of this awesome genome editing tool we’ve renamed this year’s edition “Scizzle’s CRISPRmas Science Gift Guide”! Enjoy and make sure to take a look back at our 2013 and 2014 gift guides should you need any further inspiration.

 

Gifts for Her

Struggling to find a gift for a science-loving lady? Let her wear her love for science with our handpicked selection of jewelry, clothing, and accessories:

 

Science Trinkets

For the general science-phile, look no further than this classic silver “science” name necklace – basically what Carrie Bradshaw would have worn had she been as passionate about Erlenmeyers as she was about Manolo Blahniks. Need something more niche? For DNA aficionadas, may we suggest the “beads on a string” model of chromatin structure – captured in necklace form. For the evolutionary biologist, this phylogenetic tree necklace ticks all the boxes. Or, for the neuroscientist, how about this snappy serotonin bracelet?

 

Cretaceous Clogs and Stormtrooping Shoes

What’s that you say, you’re looking specifically for a pair of glamorous dinosaur-themed shoes? Here you go then: feast your eyes on these gold glitter T-Rex shoes. Alternatively, if you are looking to splash out on a big bucks gift, treat her to a pair of these awesome Star Wars “The Empire Struts Back Bootie”.

 

Geek Chic

Moving on to apparel, this rocket-adorned “science” t-shirt is both stylish and affordable. Pair it with the science infinity scarf and the fabulous Women of Science Skirt – featuring the 18th century physicist Laura Bassi and chemist Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze – for a complete (if slightly bonkers) outfit.

 

Gifts for Him

Science-loving gentlemen can also expect a treat in their stocking this year with one of these unique and affordable gifts:

 

Science Shirts

Does your man want everyone to know he’s down with Chuck D? No, not the Public Enemy MC, but good old Charlie Darwin. If so, then you should naturally select (geddit?) this “Darwin is my Homeboy” t-shirt. Or perhaps his ultimate science hero is astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, AKA the stranded survivor from blockbuster movie and book The Martian, who uttered the fantastic Neil deGrasse Tyson-endorsed line: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option, I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Let the world know that he also intends to science the proverbial poop out of this, with an “I am gonna have to science the shit out of this” t-shirt.

 

My Chemical Bromance

Chemistry nerds will go wild for both this periodic table brass cuff and festive-themed bowtie. Complete their outfit with a testosterone molecule belt buckle and testosterone cufflinks.

 

Festive Feet

Offer to clad his stinking man feet in one of these fabulous items of footwear. First up, Absolute Socks sell a range of spiffing science-themed socks – because what’s Christmas without receiving socks? Next, choose from one of these two awesome pairs of bespoke Converse All Stars, featuring either Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein. Finally, take his indoor footwear to the next level with a pair of Chewbacca slippers.

 

Gifts for the Home

Science-ify your loved one’s home with one of these inspired decorative pieces:

 

Vintage science posters

Your loved one misses the lab when they’re at home? Or just have an admiration for vintage lab equipment? Then consider ordering this set of 4 VINTAGE science posters!

 

Astronaut Bed Sheets

Your kid wants to be an astronaut when she grows up? Great, make her astronaut dreams even dreamier with this super cool Snurk astronaut Duvet cover.

 

Test Tube Chandelier

Fancy that! Light up the house with this hand-made test tube chandelier! Not only it was inspired by Marie Curie, the test tubes are also detachable so you can rearrange them just for fun or grab one if you ran out of clean tubes to test the O.D of your culture.

 

Science Pun Coasters

Keep your table surface clean with these adorable coasters that will make you wish you could have coffee inside the lab. These coasters feature your favorite scientists and even better have some hilarious puns like “we are two peas in a pod” for Mendel or “you’re radiant” for Marie Curie, ‘cause hey, we all need some sense of humor when we’re having coffee.

 

Your DNA on a canvas

Forget the Andy Warhol colorful self-portrait, personalized art just got better! What better way to show someone you love them than by creating a unique masterpiece from their own DNA, and it doesn’t just come in ethidium bromide, you can choose between 16 different colors!

 

Periodic Shower Curtain

Your darling spends a lot of time in the shower washing away the elements with some H2O? Make it a meaningful daily experience and brush up on your chemistry with this lovely shower curtain.

 

I’ve got a PhD

Need a graduation/holidays gift or maybe give the PhD in your life a way to subtly show off they are a smarty pants with this “I’ve got a PhD” mug.

 

Star Wars Gadgets

This guide would be incomplete if we wouldn’t have at least one Star Wars gift idea. Well, we have 75 ideas for you! In this link you’ll find anything from Boba Fett ice cubes to a Darth Vader porch light cover to lightsaber earrings! And did we mention the Death Star cookie jar? This is clearly for the most serious fans!

 

Petri Dish Ornaments

Sharing the holidays with your loved ones? And by loved ones we mean the million of germs you have on and in your body. Well, who said microbes can’t spread the holidays cheer? Add a scientific flare to your tree with these colorful, pretty petri dish ornaments!

 

Science-tastic Stocking Stuffers

Whether you’re playing secret Santa in the lab or want to nurture your science-phile on a smaller scale, the gift ideas below have got you (and your budget) covered!

 

Spuds Clock

Save your loved one either carbs or batteries, because nothing says green energy like a digital clock powered by potatoes!

 

Beaker cookie cutter

This one is for the bakers who loves makers! A 3D printed beaker shaped cookie cutter. Just think about all the crazy fun cookie decorations you can then do!

 

Biology Buttons/Magnets

These magnets are just TOO CUTE! They’re perfect for home or to bring up the morale in your lab or the fridges/freezer-filled hallway on your floor. These adorable illustrations of microbiology, anatomy, cells, DNA or atoms will put a smile on your face!

 

3D Water Bear

Get a 3D model of one of nature’s toughest, yet cutest, creatures – the tardigrade (aka water bear). Since it’s kind of hard to grow them as a pet, this 3D model may suffice.

 

Molecules Memory Game

Strengthen your neuron connections and chemistry knowledge and bring game night to a whole new intellectual level with the molecule memory game!

The Force Beyond Genetics

 

By Katherine Peng

From humans, to wookies, to Jar Jar Binks. With over 20 million species in the Star Wars galaxy, one can assume that not even this fictional universe is exempt from the laws of evolution. A conversation on how diverse environments pushed them to look so strange (or like cute little ewoks!) through rare mutations would be a discussion of the “hard inheritance” of DNA sequences, but what about soft inheritance? Can the surrounding environment in one lifespan change DNA in ways that can be passed on to offspring?

You’re shaking your head thinking DUH..NO, as thoughts jump back to the image of that giraffe in your biology 101 textbook. Remember that a once accepted theory of evolution proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck suggested that acquired traits were inherited (e.g. a giraffe constantly stretching it’s neck to reach tall trees will give birth to giraffes with longer necks)? We now know that this theory is preposterous. What if Yoda lost his favorite toe in battle and decided to procreate? Would all future Yodas be afflicted with the curse of having only 5 toes?

BUT WAIT. Lamarck might have been onto something after all! Molecular biology has found that environmental factors CAN affect DNA without altering the sequence, and that these changes can be passed on to future generations (though not often beneficially). Welcome to the field of epigenetics!

In all eukaryotic cells in ours and the Star Wars galaxy, DNA is packaged around histone proteins. This DNA can be methylated and/or the histones can be modified to silent gene expression. People nowadays are becoming increasingly interested in how environmental factors produce these epigenetic changes and affect disease patterns.Genome-wide epigenetic studies are more commonly done on identical twins, where differences between individuals must be environmental. While Luke and Leia Skywalker are fraternal twins, sharing ~50% of their genes as would regular siblings, they were separated at birth to be raised in different environments. So, let’s take a look at how they become more different than their genetics would have us believe.

STRESS

In 2004, researchers from McGill University discovered that early nurturing from rat mothers remove epigenetic repression of the glucocorticoid receptor gene in rat pups. Consequently, rats that were not well nurtured became more sensitive to stress as adults.

 

Though childhood scenes of Luke and Leia are basically nonexistant, we do know that Leia was adopted into a very loving royal family who could not have children of their own. Luke was adopted by his step-uncle and step-uncle’s wife. His step-uncle did not approve of his adventurous tendencies, which created tension.

VERDICT: Though both twins are at risk of higher stress responses due to Amidala’s likely depression during pregnancy, hints of a less nurturing environment suggest that Luke may be more sensitive to stress as an adult than Leia.

EXERCISE

The Swedes are on a role in this category. A recent Swedish study shows that 20 minutes of exercise can reverse DNA methylation of genes in muscle that show lowered expression in type 2 diabetes. Another shows that 6 months of exercise changed the methylation pattern of genes in fat cells implicated in the risk of developing obesity or diabetes.

While Luke is working the moisture farm in Tattoine and having adventures, Leia is a palace princess in Alderaan.

VERDICT: While it seems that both Luke and Leia are fit later on, Luke appeared more active as a child and may be at a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. Sorry Leia.

DIET

Bioactive food components (in tea, soybean, etc.) might beneficially reduce DNA hypermethylation of cancer associated genes. On the flip side, folate found in fresh produce is required for DNA methylation, and its deficiency in pregnant moms may cause disease or cancer in children. You are also what your father eats. A mouse study showed that a paternal low-protein diet created upregulation of lipid biosynthesis in offspring.

Unfortunately, there’s no real information out there on the diet of the Skywalkers so…

VERDICT: Inconclusive.

 

So what have we learned here today? Leia needs to ramp up her training, and Luke should control that anxiety before he becomes like his father. But really, epigenetic changes in twins aren’t too different until later in life so I guess it’s all speculation until Disney releases the first installment of the sequel trilogy.

Clones In Space, I Have Placed (Infographic)

 

By Brent Wells, PhD

 

Did Lucasfilm Ltd. direct an explosion in cloning efforts at first rumors of the storyline for Episode II, Attack of the Clones? Or did scientist’s unstoppable desire to achieve the impossible instruct the fate of the Empire? We may never know. But the happy coincidence and a recently christened holiday have brought you science in pictures so don’t think about it too much and enjoy.

 

Credit: Brent Wells, PhD
Credit: Brent Wells, PhD.
Click on the image and then expand to full screen.

 

If I’ve managed to assemble this infographic even half as well as I imagine George Lucas can assemble a sandwich, you probably command a decent understanding of the history of cloning technology by now. Like the special effects technologies developed at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), cloning has advanced from its humble, yet provocative beginnings, into something awe-inspiring and useful at once. Unlike ILM special effects, each subsequent step in the maturation of cloning tech brings something more impressive than before.

 

A new study published just last week in the journal Nature describes the creation of a human, diploid, embryonic stem cell population using SCNT from an adult with Type 1 Diabetes. This is huge for a number of reasons: 1) They were able to use tissue from an adult, which negates any ethical concerns surrounding use of embryonic or fetal tissue. 2) They created diploid cells that can be used in treating human disease. Similar embryonic stem cells were generated in 2011 but were triploid, which means they contained three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two found in humans, making them non-compatible and therefore inviable for use in disease treatment. 3) The stem cells, cloned from an individual with Type 1 Diabetes, can give rise to the very cells lost due to Type 1 Diabetes, and since they are clones of the affected individual, his/her body will not reject treatment that introduces new cells into their body to replace those lost to the disease.

 

This advancement in cloning technology is a significant step forward in creating stem cell banks that can actually be used in the study and treatment of disease on a case-by-case basis and will extend well beyond Diabetes. It also furthers efforts in the growth of complete replacement organs for those in need of matching donors – after all, there’s no better match for you than you.

 

If you want to learn more about cloning, *waves hand in front of face, uses weird voice inflection* You want to learn more about cloning. You’re going to look into the following resources. I am not the droid you’ve been looking for.

 

Wikipedia, of course

The Basic Science Partnership at Harvard Medical School

The Animal Biotechnology Resource at UCDavis

The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah Health Sciences

Or just Google it…

 

May the 4th be with you.

Yoda and the Science of Aging in the Star Wars Universe

 

By Evelyn Litwinoff

 

The first time I saw the Star Wars movies, I could not take Yoda seriously. Having grown up watching and loving the muppets, Yoda sounded too much like Fozzy Bear to be a Jedi Master. I kept waiting for him to add “wakka wakka” to the end of his nonsensical sentences and break out into song and dance.

 

If you think about it, Yoda is certainly an interesting creature. His species is never defined, we don’t know much about his childhood background, he has a crazy long lifespan, and he’s two feet tall yet a powerful fighter. So as homage to Yoda from a scientist’s perspective, I’d like to play a game with you. Let’s pretend Yoda lives in our universe and use our science prowess to figure out how on earth, excuse me, on Dagobah, he lived to be 900 years old without getting cancer.

 

When thinking about mechanisms behind aging, the first thing that comes to mind is telomeres. A telomere is a non-coding DNA sequence that serves as a protective “cap” on the end of a chromosome. (A chromosome is essentially a condensed string of DNA.) Every time a cell replicates it makes a copy of its DNA to pass on to the new cell. However during the process of replication, the new DNA copy loses some of the sequence on the end of the chromosome. In order to prevent losing important DNA sequence, the telomere sequence comes after the important DNA sequence so it is the telomere sequence that gets shorter with each replication. When telomeres become too short, which is usually by the end of the organisms’ lifespan, the cells are considered old and will die, eventually resulting in the death of the whole organism.

 

This leads us to idea #1: Yoda must have super long telomeres so it would take centuries for these telomeres to shorten and cause death. This issue with this hypothesis is that absolute length of telomeres does not necessarily correlate with longer lifespan. For instance, mice telomeres are longer than humans telomeres, but mice have a lifespan of 3-5 years, which is way shorter than human lifespan. Vera et al suggested that instead of telomere length, rate of telomere shortening more accurately correlates with lifespan, i.e., the slower the rate of telomere shortening, the longer the lifespan. So let’s alter idea #1 to idea #2: Yoda had super long telomeres with a super slow rate of telomere shortening.

 

Now telomeres can be elongated by the enzyme telomerase. So it would be possible that in addition to having long telomeres with a slow shortening rate, Yoda could also have high levels of telomerase. However, overexpressing telomerase in mice leads to the development of cancer, and as far as I know, Yoda didn’t have any tumors or chemotherapy during his lifetime. Interestingly, there is a body of literature on telomerase in cancer resistant mice. How fascinating is that! These cancer resistant mice have a mutated tumor suppressor gene, p53, which prevents development of cancer cells. In this cancer resistant environment, telomerase overexpression leads to a longer, healthier lifespan.

 

This led me to wonder, do any species have naturally occurring mutations that make them resistant to cancer (and would this species be similar to Yoda)? Scizzle to the rescue! Apparently, naked mole rats have fibroblasts (cells that produce fibers such as collagen) that secrete cancer killing signaling molecules, which makes these mole rats resistant to cancer! (For those interested, they took the media from cultured naked mole rat fibroblasts and used it to culture breast cancer and liver cancer cells. These cancer cells were unable to survive with the mole rat fibroblast media, although they did survive with media from cultured mouse fibroblasts.) So what is different about these naked mole rat fibroblasts? Although the mechanism of cancer resistance is not fully worked out, it is known that there are mutations in the naked mole rat p53 gene that increase DNA repair mechanisms and cell cycle arrest, but promote apoptosis (cell death). These mutations are believed to have evolved to promote survival in hypoxic (low oxygen) environments, where naked mole rats live.

 

Let’s bring this back to Yoda. If Yoda’s lifespan is due to long telomeres with a slow rate of telomere shortening, it is possible that Yoda has constitutively active telomerase in order to keep the telomeres in tact. However, if he had high levels of telomerase and no signs of cancer, he must also be cancer resistant. Since we just learned that naked mole rats are naturally cancer resistant and this may be related to their hypoxic environment, could Yoda’s environment make him cancer resistant? Towards the end of his life, Yoda lives in a swamp: definitely not a hypoxic environment. Furthermore his end of life environment wouldn’t explain how he survived all those years before arriving to Dagobah. Since we don’t know all that much about Yoda’s childhood, let’s get creative here. We do know that Yoda lives and breathes with the force just like the rest of his species. So maybe the force is a stream of hypoxic energy that altered his species’ genes to make them cancer resistant. This fits well with the fact that all members of his species we know about are Jedi, and Jedi are known to have longer lifespans.

 

Our study of Yoda and telomeres gives us an idea of how Yoda lived to be 900 years old without developing cancer. Of note, this discussion is based on the major motion pictures, not the Expanded Universe. But, if you are well versed in this expanded media franchise, I’d love to hear your scientific take on aging in the Star Wars universe!

 

 

 

The Evolution of the Cutest Creatures in Star Wars

 

By Chris Spencer and Brent Wells, PhD

Credit:  Mary Harrsch (Flickr).
Credit:
Mary Harrsch
(Flickr).

Being such a staple of science fiction, Star Wars contains creatures whose evolution ought to be explainable scientifically. So strap in, and come with us as we cast Darwin’s eye over four species from the Star Wars galaxy:

 

WOOKIEE

The only wookiee we saw in the original trilogy was the enigmatic Chewbacca, but fortunately enough, we were able to get a glimpse of an entire wookiee community in Revenge of the Sith. These powerfully built furry humanoids are an arboreal race from the planet Kashyyyk. Being tree dwellers, they are well adapted for climbing – having sharp grasping claws, and strong backs and calves. Their characteristic fur has evolved for two purposes: it can be any of a range of earthy brown colours for camouflage whilst hunting terrestrially, and it produces a water repellent oil for swimming. Their sharp teeth and keen sense of smell are hallmarks of a species evolved to be hunters.

[hr]

 

Credit: originalpozer (Flickr).
Credit: originalpozer (Flickr).

RANCOR

According to Wookieepedia, rancors are large, carnivorous reptomammals from the planet Dathomir. Before I move on, a reptomammal, as far as I can tell, is a warm-blooded, oviparous reptile. Rancors grow as tall as 8-10 meters with long, pronounced arms and hands and small, under grown legs, kind of like a reverse T. Rex. This massively unbalanced center of gravity would normally be an evolutionary conundrum, but as a reptomammal, it’s clear the rancor plays by nobody’s rules, including natures, just like Earth’s duck-billed Platypus.

The massive size and top heaviness of rancors can be attributed to the low gravity on Dathomir. Alternatively, their size may be a consequence of the rich, almost unending diet the planet provides or the fact that Rancors, unlike regular mammals, lay eggs; it has been suggested that vivipary could limit the size of land-dwelling mammals. One final factor that could have aided in the evolution of such a large predator is the temperate climate the rancor evolved in. An inverse correlation between temperature and body size has been seen in some warm-blooded mammals, maybe because of overheating issues, maybe as a secondary consequence of higher atmospheric CO2, which would lead to more plant food sources and therefore prey food sources. The rancor’s thick, reptilian skin, large claws and teeth, and powerful jaws are all traits that evolved to aid their predatory abilities and their sense of smell became keen to help them find mates.

Rancors give birth to two young at a time, like polar bears, and following their birth, the young are carried on the body (one clutching to its chest and one to its back) until the young reach maturity. This is no easy feat considering the young are up to three meters tall at birth – this is nearly 50% the size of the adult rancor. As an apex predator, we can assume the rancor hunts and therefore attacks its prey. It would also need to defend its kill from other rancor and top predators roaming Dathomir in search of a free meal. Therefore, we can hypothesize that the evolution of its unnaturally long arms came as a way to do battle while the equivalent of a five-year-old child is strapped to its chest. Without extra-long arms with which to work around the front child, the young would surely perish during the battle, preventing the inheritance of genetic information and fixation of traits in the wild population. By carrying double their own bodyweight around in children, rancors have also found a way to lower infant mortality in the species.

 

[hr]

Credit: Brendan (Flickr).
Credit: Brendan (Flickr).

TAUNTAUN

These furry bipeds were used on Hoth by the rebellion in the opening scenes of Empire. Living on an enormous snowball such as Hoth will necessitate adaptations not dissimilar to those displayed by polar bears, including being warm blooded (they are reptomammals not unlike the rancor) – as referenced by Han’s innovative use of the interior of a tauntaun. Their tridactyl feet are furry and with splayed toes to act like snowshoes, with claws to help gain purchase on icier terrain. They also have four nostrils serving to warm air before entering the lungs. The larger pair of nostrils can seal to keep snow out during periods of rest. One key aspect of tauntaun physiology is one shared by many arctic fish: anti-freeze in the bloodstream.

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YODA

Credit: Angelo Su (Flickr).
Credit: Angelo Su (Flickr).

Yoda belongs to a species of small, long-lived creatures with green skin. His longevity is a consequence of a calorically restricted diet and an incredibly slow metabolism, something his species evolved in conjunction with their short stature and slow movement. They live in the wet, dark swamps of an unnamed planet similar to Dagobah, where Yoda was later exiled. Their diet is composed primarily of swamp plants and small insects. Yoda’s species has evolved tough claws on their fingers for prying bark from trees in search of beetles and other insects. Their unusually large ears have evolved as a means to avoid capture by larger, carnivorous animals that would gladly have them for dinner. Hearing predators from a distance is particularly necessary given their slow speed. Their green skin was also evolved as a defensive mechanism to help avoid predation through camouflage; green is the perfect colour for blending in with the large ferns and aquatic plants of their home planet and the creatures of this species are all but invisible among the green swamp gases that persistently hang in the air. Do not confuse Yoda’s bursts of speed during battle with a common trait of all members of his species. He was a Jedi Master, which provided him with special skills. A skill he did not possess, however, was a mastery of the English language.

 

[hr]

 

 

 

Star Wars Planets: More Science Fact than Fiction

 

By Knicole Colon, PhD

The Star Wars universe is enormous, with hundreds of planets and moons that have a range of properties.  Given that astronomers have now discovered some ~1500 exoplanets along with, of course, the 8 planets and ~150 moons in our Solar System, it should be no surprise that astronomers are discovering more and more real planets that are similar to the fictional planets in the Star Wars universe.

 

First, let us look at Tatooine, the home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker.  The most unique feature of this planet is that it orbits around two stars.  In fact, one of the most iconic shots from the Star Wars movies is of Luke on Tatooine with two stars setting in the sky in the background.  Yet, up until a few years ago, astronomers were not sure if planets could actually exist in stable orbits around more than one star.  The Kepler mission changed everything when it discovered a planet orbiting two ordinary stars.  That planet, Kepler-16b, is most likely a gas giant planet that is more similar to Saturn than the rocky/desert planet that Tatooine is, but it is still exciting that planets with multiple stars like Tatooine do exist after all.  Plus, we now understand that there is no reason a planet can’t exist in a stable orbit, even in the habitable zone, around two or more stars.

 

Compared to Tatooine, Kamino is a bit less fantastical.  Kamino is an ocean planet where the clone army was created.  While I can’t speak to whether any clone armies exist somewhere in the real universe, it is a fact that water worlds like Kamino can exist.  GJ 1214b is an exoplanet that is a bit larger than Earth, and for awhile it was believed to be a pure ocean planet based on observations that probed its atmosphere.  It is now believed to have a uniform cloud layer high up in its atmosphere, but it is still possible that underneath that cloud layer, there exists one big ocean.  Maybe it’s even constantly raining there, just like in scenes on Kamino in Episode II!  Even though ocean planets really can exist, I don’t know that anyone would actually want to live on a water world where it’s potentially always raining.

 

If Kamino were further from its star and therefore a lot colder, it might be something like Hoth.  Hoth is (in)famous for being a frigid planet, covered by ice and snow.  During the so-called “polar vortex” this past winter, I recall hearing numerous references of Earth being very much like Hoth.  Since winter did eventually end here and summer is coming (unlike in Game of Thrones), Earth is not a good example of a real Hoth-like planet.  However, there is a growing number of small, potentially rocky exoplanets that orbit at very large distances from their host stars.  Being so far from the main source of heat in a planetary system means that these planets are quite cold, and could very well have Hoth-like climates.  One example is OGLE-2006-BLG-109Lc, which takes about 15 years to orbit its host star.  Based on the temperature of its host star and its orbital distance from its star, that planet has an estimated temperature of -360 degrees Fahrenheit.  I’m thinking that might be a bit too cold for anyone to survive there, so if anyone wanted to visit a “real” Hoth one day, we might need to find a planet that is a bit warmer.  Or, just wait until next winter comes.

 

On the opposite end, a lava planet like Mustafar is not an ideal place to settle down either.  Mustafar is the setting for the epic showdown between Darth Vader, (spoiler alert!) previously known as Anakin Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  In that fight scene, they have to take great care to avoid lava spewing at them.  Interestingly, the volcanic activity on Mustafar is supposed to be a result of the gravitational effect caused by two nearby gas giant planets.  This is very similar to the effect Jupiter has on its moons, in particular Io.  Because of gravitational stresses, Io is the most geologically active object in our Solar System, and images have even been taken of volcanic eruptions on its surface.  There are also known exoplanets that are so hot they probably have lava oceans, thanks to orbiting extremely close to their host stars.  One example is CoRoT-7b, which has an orbital period of just ~ 0.85 days or ~ 20 hours!  This was another discovery not expected by astronomers, simply because it was not believed that a planet could survive being so close to its host star.  While CoRoT-7b will likely be “eaten” by its star eventually, for now it is in a stable orbit, with lava likely flowing happily all over its surface.  For all we know, there is some villainous person like Darth Vader hiding there now, preparing to take over the universe.  We can only hope there is some Jedi-type person who is willing to brave the lava and take the villain down!

 

Last but not certainly not least, we have the Death Star.  Its name is quite misleading, since the Death Star is no star.  And, as Obi-Wan Kenobi also pointed out, “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.”  While the Death Star is a feat of engineering rather than an astronomical object, there was a bit of a ruckus in the astronomical community when pictures of Saturn’s moon Mimas were taken by the Cassini probe in 2005.  That’s because Mimas has a remarkably large crater on its surface, giving it a similar appearance as the Death Star.  Thankfully, the resemblance ends there.  Mimas does not have a powerful superlaser that is capable of destroying an entire planet.  But, if it did have a laser, and if it was used by villains to destroy the Earth, I imagine Earth’s  crumbled remains would eventually form what resembles an asteroid belt.  That is something to keep in mind – for any extrasolar asteroid belts that are discovered, we should consider that they could be the result of destruction by a Death Star.

 

As time goes on and astronomers keep hunting for planets, the fictional Star Wars planets are going to become increasingly realistic.  Still, we will never be able to find the “real” Tatooine or Hoth because those planets existed “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”