Thrown off course by relativity

Tom James @ 24-08-2009

Cosmos1-2006-2A preview of space-flight issues of the future: how do you account for the effects of relativity when travelling long distances? A solar sail launched from close to the Sun would have to account for relativistic effects when navigating to the edges of the solar system:

And even though those effects are relatively minor to start with, they have a significant effect over long distances.

The calculations carried out by Kezerashvili and Vazquez-Poritz show that the effects of general relativity could push a solar sail off course by as much as a million kilometers by the time it reaches the Oort Cloud

The promise of solar sails as a propulsion mechanism is impressive:

By one calculation, a solar sail with a radius of about a kilometer and a mass of 300 kg (including 150 kg of payload) would have a peak acceleration of about 0.6 g if released on a parabolic trajectory about 0.1 astronomical unit (AU) from the sun (where the radiation pressure is higher).

That kind of acceleration would take it beyond the Kuiper belt to the heliopause, the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space (and a distance of 200 AU), in only 2.5 years.

In 30 years, a solar sail could travel 2,500 AU, far enough to explore the Oort Cloud.

Of course we need to actually build one of these things first.

[from Technology Review, via Technovelgy][image from Wikimedia]


Visible Magnetic Fields

Tom James @ 05-06-2008

Magnetic fields are weird, something that’s invisible in and of itself, but nevertheless acts on the other objects. By way of visualising magnetic fields, some boffins from Semiconductor working at NASA Space Laboratory as “artists in residence” – Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – have created this incredible movie depicting magnetic fields:

There isn’t much explanation as to what this is – how abstract is the representation? From Semiconductor Films:

In Magnetic Movie, Semiconductor have taken the magnificent scientific visualisations of the sun and solar winds conducted at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Semiconducted them. Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt of Semiconductor were artists-in-residence at SSL. Combining their in-house lab culture experience with formidable artistic instincts in sound, animation and programming, they have created a magnetic magnum opus in nuce, a tour de force of a massive invisible force brought down to human scale, and a “very most beautiful thing.”

Well it sure is pretty, but it would be nice if there were some details as to how the effect was created. It reminds me of the “fields” of the drones from Iain M Bank’s billiant Culture series, which use coloured “fields” to convey emotion and also as manipulators.

[story via technovelgy]