I’d file this particular bit of news under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” section if I had one: the Russian Energia Space Corporation has unveiled plans to open a mine on the moon. Helium-3, a non-radioactive helium isotope, is found in relative abundance on the moon whereas here on Earth, it’s extremely rare. The isotope is the ideal fuel for a fusion reaction because of its clean decay and relatively harmless byproducts.
Because it is rare on Earth, having a mine on the moon might be economically viable if it weren’t for one problem: a viable energy-producing fusion reaction has yet to be developed. Nonetheless, Energia will press on with their mining plans: they plan to establish a permanent lunar base by 2015 or 2020. The idea is that when a reactor capable of using Helium-3 is developed, Energia will have the infrastructure already in place to supply the Earth with it. Due to the nature of E=mc^2, Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of Energia, predicts that one ton of the isotope will produce as much energy as 14 millions tons of oil. While I think that’s being a little overly optimistic, Helium-3 certainly offers more promise than current fossil fuels.
“Ten tons of helium 3 would be enough to meet the yearly energy needs of Russia,” he added. However, Russia is not the only country interested in the technology. American scientists have expressed interest in helium 3, arguing that one shuttle-load of the isotope would be sufficient to meet US electrical energy needs for a year.
Even viewing the figures bandied about with a great deal of skepticism, Helium-3 is certainly a promising theory, if nothing else. Mining in space is an interesting (and old) idea. I can remember discussing how to make space profitable from a private business’s point of view as far back as elementary school. Naturally, we thought in terms of precious metals: gold, platinum, etc. instead of consumable materials, but I think it’s a safe bet that as raw materials become increasingly scarce, it won’t be the relatively useless “precious” metals that humanity comes to value, but rather the consumable raw materials that a nation controls that determines their stability. Gold in Fort Knox? How about Helium-3 buried in a mountain somewhere instead.
[tags]Helium-3, Kliper, Energia, lunar base[/tags]
You know there’s been a lot of talk about climate change lately. There’s a reason for that. It turns out that 2005 was the warmest year in a century.
In order to figure out whether the Earth is cooling or warming, the scientists use temperature data from weather stations on land, satellite measurements of sea surface temperature since 1982, and data from ships for earlier years.
The previous record holder was 1998, when El Niño was in effect. (Remember that?) 2005 takes the cake without any warmer waters from the eastern Pacific. Thus far the warmest years in order are:
There is some controversy over whether or not 2005 was actually the warmest year. Data from groups besides NASA did not take into account the Arctic regions, which were warmer this year than in previous years, bumping 2005 into the lead. Climate change has also been to blame for the ridiculous amount of activity this hurricane season, with a total of 27 tropical storms.
[tags]climate change, global warming, hurricane season[/tags]
It’s funny that I would come across a story about quicksand a few days after watching Blazing Saddles, wondering if quicksand was really the way it’s always portrayed in movies. It always seemed difficult for me to imagine sand which could collapse quick enough to trap someone.
Discovery News is running an article on the physics of quicksand, and it’s interesting.
On the other hand, it loses this viscosity very quickly in response to stress. A moving object in the sand causes it to liquefy swiftly, as the sand heads towards the bottom and the upper layers become runny.
The settling sand then becomes so compact that it is impossible for material with the density of a human body to become completely submerged.
So an ensnared cowboy should take solace in that he won’t drown, the study suggests. On the other hand, he is likely to stay there for a long time, for even the most muscular help won’t get him out.
The dense sand so clumps around the lower limbs that just to haul out a foot requires a force of 100,000 Newtons, about the same as that needed to lift a medium-sized car.
Holy cow. The whole article is worth a read. (It’s brief.)
Color me skeptical, but this story on Discovery Channel News suggests that a supernova was the ultimate cause for many of the large animals that are extinct today: mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers, etc. Apparently the key piece indicating the explosion is a set of 34,000-year-old mammoth tusks riddled with tiny craters.
The researchers believe that in the sequence of events following the supernova, first, the iron-rich grains emitted from the explosion shot into the tusks. Whatever caused the craters had to have been traveling around 6,214 miles per second, and no other natural phenomenon explains the damage, they said.
They think the supernova exploded 250 light-years away from Earth, which would account for the 7,000-year delay before the tusk grain pelting. It would have taken that long for the supernova materials to have showered Earth.
These iron grains were traveling at exactly 6,214 miles per second, I’m sure. Somehow the leap from tiny craters in mammoth tusks to a supernova to iron grains traveling at exactly 6,214 miles per second seems a little… I dunno… HUGE to me.
Then there were storms similar to those in The Day After Tomorrow caused by a comet-like shower of debris (similar to a nuclear winter, I would suspect) which caused superheated hurricanal winds in the atmosphere that then rolled across North America
The debris is supposed to have killed all the large animals but saved the small animals who escaped by going underground.
In addition to the tusk evidence, the scientists said arrowheads from North America’s prehistoric Clovis culture, which went extinct around 13,500-13,000 years ago, Icelandic marine sediment, as well as sediment from nine 13,000-year-old sites in North America, contain higher-than-normal amounts of radiation in the form of potassium-40 levels.
Magnetic particles also were unearthed at the sites. Analysis of these particles revealed they are rich in titanium, iron, manganese, vanadium, rare-earth elements, thorium and uranium.
These elements all are common in moon rocks and lunar meteorites, so the researchers think the materials provide additional evidence that North America was bombarded 13,000 years ago by material originating from space.
I buy the space-bombardment, but I have difficulty making the leap from tiny tusk craters to superheated hurricanes destroying North America. A lot of scientists seem excited about the idea, so maybe I’m the only one having this difficulty. I would think that looking at the night sky would show up a location 250 light years from Earth where a supernova could have occurred. A black hole, perhaps. I’d like to hear from the astrophysicists now, I think, because frankly, this theory sounds a little like an Ice Age sequel than a solid scientific theory.
Lakes Nyos and Monoun in Cameroon are building towards releasing toxic gases again. In the 1980s, the two lakes vented their payload and killed nearly 1800 people. Primarily carbon dioxide, the concentrations in the lake are building again, despite having a ventilation pipes installed in 2001 to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. The gas is created by volcanic activity beneath the lakes, and although the pipes are working, scientists fear that they are not working fast enough.
They speculate that adding more pipes could help alleviate the problem, and that current pipes will only remove an estimated 10% of the total gas in the next year.
“This slow removal extends the present risk to local populations,” says Kling. “Our model indicates that 75-99% of the gas remaining would be removed by 2010 with two pipes in Monoun and five pipes in Nyos, substantially reducing the risks.”
There are two ways of de-gassing the lakes, the current method in place at the two lakes is the “autonomous soda fountain” method which consists of a vertical pipe between the lake bottom and the surface. A small pump raises the water in the pipe up to a level where it becomes saturated with gas, which lightens the water column. The saturated water rises to the surface creating a spectacular 68-foot water fountain which can be turned on and off at will via radio from shore. Once the process is primed, there is no need for the pump to operate because the process perpetuates itself.
There are three “killer lakes” in the world that release gases: lakes Nyos and Monoun, and Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Lake Kivu differs in that its killer gas is made up of carbon dioxide and methane. Because methane is valuable, several commercial enterprises have undertaken harvesting the methane from the lake to make some money as well as prevent deadly “overturn” which seems to occur once every 1,000 years or so, which kills all of the wildlife in the lake, and around the lake. Lake Kivu is much larger than Nyos and Monoun, but its circumstances are a little bit different in that harvesting the gas is a profitable — as well as life-saving — enterprise.
Once again, the civilian sector is moving into space. Several months ago saw Burt Rutan & Co. win the X-Prize, and now another private group is working on constructing a space elevator. Their proof of concept model successfully tested a robot climber which climbed up a ribbon simulating a future nanowire space elevator.
The test, which was conducted in a secret location (for privacy and safety’s sake) in Eastern Washington, involved a 12′ diameter balloon, a 23lb robot climber, and a long foot ribbon made of composite fiberglass. The lifter is the LiftPort Group’s 18th version(!), and its best altitude was 1,000 feet
Laine said that the Federal Aviation Administration has been very supportive and helpful in orchestrating their test flights.
“We are cleared up to 1 mile high, off of a tethered helium balloon,” Laine said. “Our series of tests are designed to gain in altitude as we go, as we test our communications, range sensors, global positioning system satellite gear, along with temperature and camera systems.”
The company has also created LiftPort Nanotech in New Jersey focusing on mass production of nanotubes to eventually create the super-strong thread of a space elevator.
Along the same lines, the Spaceward Foundation of Mountain View, CA has announced a competition in two parts: the Tether Challenge to create strong nanotube-based materials and the Beam Power Challenge which is a competition to create a climber that can climb 200 feet powered by a high-intensity light source. The competition is sponsored by the NASA Centennial Challenges program.
A massive black hole with the mass of 140,000,000 suns(!) has been found at the center of the Andromeda galaxy, surrounding by fast-orbiting, hot, blue stars similar to Sirius, which is the brightest visible star in our own night sky. These blue stars are orbiting so quickly that their speed can only be explained by the existence of a massive black hole. By calculating the speed of their orbit, scientists have determined the mass of what they are orbiting.
It has been suspected that a black hole existed at the center of Andromeda, but other theories have suggested that it was inhabited by dead and dying brown dwarf stars. However, the measurement of the speed of the blue stars’ orbit has laid that theory to rest. The measurements were made using data from a now-defunct spectrometer on the Hubble Space Telescope — which is an unusual use for a spectrometer.
It is suspected that there are 35 other galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centers, though only two have actually been confirmed: our own Milky Way, and M106. It is doubtful whether black holes in the other 35 galaxies will ever be confirmed because they are so far away. (Though personally I believe determinations will be made in the next 50 years, with the rate that technology is progressing.) Andromeda is the closest galaxy to our own, and it is easier to look into than the Milky Way due to its orientation: we are on the outskirts of the Milky Way, and looking towards the center of our galaxy is difficult. Because Andromeda is removed somewhat, studying it is easier.