This Lee Billings guest post at BoingBoing sums up the possibilities – given our current understanding of the laws of physics – of travelling to other star systems. Probably won’t be news to many readers here, but even unmanned missions beyond the heliopause will be technologically challenging, hideously expensive and incredibly slow to deliver results. None of which are reasons to write the idea off, though, at least not in my book.
I just wanted to pull out this paragraph, though:
… space is vast, and even the distance to the nearest star is mind-boggling. Let’s say the Sun is the size of a large orange, 10 centimeters in diameter. Place the orange on the ground, walk a bit more than 10 meters away, and you’re in Earth’s orbit. Finding our planet might prove challenging—it would be the size of a millimeter grain of sand. The walk out to Pluto, a speck of dust ten times smaller than our sand-grain Earth, would be nearly a half-kilometer, and along the way you’d be lucky to encounter any of the planets: Even the largest, Jupiter, would be no bigger than a small marble.
That pretty much sums up the sensawunda kick for me. So much space out there… and we’re still arguing over patches of ground and bits of coloured cloth down here at the bottom of the gravity well.
There’s water on Mars, and there’s water on the Moon. And now there’s water out in the asteroid belt, too – if spectral analysis of the rock known as 24 Themis is to believed, that is [via SlashDot]:
Analyses of the sunlight reflected off the asteroid also show that organic compounds are widespread on the surface, he added, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, CH2 and CH3.
The new finding corroborates earlier observations of the same asteroid by astronomers Andrew S. Rivkin and Joshua Emery who also used the Infrared Telescope Facility. Over several years, Rivkin and Emery had found evidence of frozen water in single spots on 24 Themis but had not studied the asteroid as it made one entire rotation. Together, the two teams’ findings reveal that the asteroid’s entire surface is coated with frozen water, Campins says.
The scientists say these new findings support the theory that asteroids brought both water and organic compounds to the early Earth, helping lay the foundation for life on the planet.
Well, maybe, but it also supports another theory: the asteroid belt is actually the broken remains of Earth’s twin planet which was destroyed by Xenu in a fit of pique OMFG!!!1
The destructive rage of entirely fictional deities aside, it’s becoming clear that the necessities of life – if not life itself – are more abundant out beyond the gravity well than we thought. So maybe we should lend more credence to speculative work like that of planetary scientist Richard Greenfield Greenberg, who theorizes that not only is Europa’s ocean comprised of water, but that it may be more oxygen-rich than those of Earth, meaning there could be all sorts of weird multicellular lifeforms lurking out there waiting to be discovered.
Isn’t it high time we went out and looked?
Another gorgeously science-fictional concept: that of the constantly shifting gravitational corridors in the solar system that will allow for the rapid transit of spacecraft around the Sun:
Scientists in the U.S. and Germany are attempting to map the corridors to allow them to be used by spacecraft exploring the solar system. One of the researchers, Shane D. Ross from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in the U.S. described the system as a series of low energy corridors that wind between planets and moons. Once a spacecraft entered a corridor it would “fall” along the tube, much as an object falls to Earth.
If and when there is a substantial demand for intra-system space traffic these channels in space will become like the shipping lanes of the oceans of Earth.
[from Physorg][image from TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ on flickr]
We interrupt this blog for a weather bulletin–a space weather bulletin, that is:
INCOMING ASTEROID: A small, newly-discovered asteroid named 2008 TC3 is approaching Earth and chances are good that it will hit. Steve Chesley of JPL estimates that atmospheric entry will occur on Oct 7th at 0246 UTC over northern Sudan [ref]. Measuring only a few meters across, the space rock poses NO THREAT TO THE GROUND, but it should create a spectacular fireball, releasing about a kiloton of energy as it disintegrates and explodes in the atmosphere. Stay tuned for updates.
Keep watching the skies! (Via Space Weather).
We now return you to your regular posts.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)
You might think that a dwarf planet is, oh, a planet, and that would settle it. But the International Astronomical Union just decided that the new classification for Pluto-like objects such as Eris, Ceres — and, presumably, Sedna, Orcus, Varuna, and Quaoar — is “plutoid.” Fearless prediction: Nobody is going to like this word. If you were the first to set foot on any of these objects, wouldn’t you want credit for being first on a planet? Bad enough that I have to tell my son that Xena was only the unofficial name for Eris, and that Buffy probably won’t stand as an astronomical name, either.
[Children protest Pluto’s reclassification, c. 2006, Wikimedia Commons]