The Professor: GM's new old engine tech, moon mirrors, the dangers of space war debris

The Professor rounds up a handful of interesting and informative gadget-related science stories from the week and presents them in an easily digestible liquid form.

Having trouble keeping your fingers, thumbs, or eyeballs on the pulse of modern science? Do you find yourself in the throes of panic due to misunderstandings in molecular goings-on? Did the latest aircar, split atom, or robotic insectoid go buzzing over your head before you had time to ready a response? Don't worry friends, The Professor is here to help. Though not an actual scientist, professor, or even a college graduate, he can help guide you through the cascading, complicated, and spasmodic visionary vistas of human invention and achievement as smoothly as a hot knife descending into softened butter.

GM scientists have revived a lab-dream from the 1970's, "homogeneous charge-compression ignition" (or HCCI), and are now touting the technology as a possible alternative to hybrid engines. The system works much more efficiently than traditional spark or compression ignition motors, burning fuel at temperatures too low for nitrous oxide production, and utilizing a lower air-to-fuel mixture (more of the former, less of the latter) for 25- to 30-percent better performance in fuel economy and a big reduction in greenhouse gases -- all with a little help from recent advances in sensors and microprocessors. Let the HCCI vs. hybrid wars begin!

Read - In Efficiency Lab, GM Rethinks the Old-School Engine

Of course, no special fuel treatment will be necessary for a project researchers from Pennsylvania State University have proposed. Shawn Domagal-Goldman and Jacob Haqq-Misra suggest covering half the moon in mirrors in order to catch the eye of possible alien astronomers. Angled to reflect the Sun's rays, the panels could be programmed to flash prime number sequences as a sign of intelligence. In addition, the mirrors could also be lined with photovoltaic cells, which might be used to beam electricity back to Earth, thus solving our energy problems once and for all. We can only hope that the panels will end world hunger, promote peace between nations, and make sure everyone has a comfortable mattress as well.

Read - Mirrors on the Moon could catch alien eyes

Once those aliens arrive, however, and the inevitable space war ensues, scientists say we'll have to worry about space debris interfering with our satellites... provided human life still exists! Apparently, bits of blown apart alien battleships in our atmosphere could trigger a cascade of satellite break ups, thus seriously messing with our plans to watch C-SPAN, the Discovery Channel, and the Super Bowl in 2034.

Read - Space war would leave destructive legacy