Friday, June 16, 2006

A Neptunian Asteroid Belt?

(Hat Tip: The Astronomy Blog)

A group of asteroids have been detected sharing Neptune's orbit. These asteroids are located within the Lagrange zone, a point 60 degrees ahead of a planet. Although a second zone orbiting behind Neptune has not been discovered yet, scientists suspect that the cloud may exist.

(New Scientist Space) A newly discovered asteroid in Neptune's orbit indicates the existence of a much larger, but as-yet-unseen, cloud of rocks in that region. The asteroids in Neptune's orbit might even outnumber those in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the new research suggests. [...]

The asteroids orbit 60 [degrees], or about 5 billion kilometres, ahead of Neptune on its circular orbit around the Sun, which is a gravitationally stable location called a Lagrange point. But the newly-found asteroid is unique in that its orbit is tilted 25° relative to the plane of the solar system.

Although the distance between a Lagrange point and its planet is about the same as the distance between a world and the Sun, this asteroid cloud may provide additional resources towards the Neptunian system. If scientists are able to determine whether these asteroids contain nickel and iron, Neptune may have a potential future as a mining system. END

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Book Review: Liftport, Opening Space To Everyone

(Note: Thanks to the Liftport team for sending me a free copy of this book.)

Albert Einstein: "The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them."

If Space is the final frontier, then why is it so expensive? We all dream about venturing into the unknown, but at a cost of $3,000 (or more) per pound via rockets, the trip skyward seems to be more than our wallet can bear.

But what if the cost could be reduced? What if the price for sending humans, satellites and tourists into space were affordable to not just space powers, but third world countries as well? This is a problem LiftPort is trying to solve by constructing a space elevator from the oceanic floor towards the celestial heavens.

Detailing their plans via book format, the LiftPort company hopes to build the eighth wonder of the world--and perhaps open up space for everyone.

The book entitled LiftPort: Opening Space To Everyone, is a "mini explanation" of how an elevator to the stars would benefit humanity on a whole. Rated "T for technical," LiftPort goes through many of the mechanical nuts and bolts on building a space elevator. Early in the book, both problems and possibilities are highlighted in constructing this project, and their honesty as to the hurdles they have to overcome before success can be guaranteed makes creating this object more realistic.

These problems range from creating a physical substance strong enough (via carbon nanotubes) to hold its own weight towards powering the "elevators" (called lifters) in a financially sound way. Also the legal and security issues are dealt with as they discuss how they intend to receive the necessary permits to operate the space elevator as well as securing it from terrorist and international threats abroad.

As far as "opening space to everyone," LiftPort proposes by reducing the overall cost of entering space (from $3,000 per pound to around $400) it will enable corporations and smaller nations to send up astronauts or satellites without the aid of the current space powers (Russia, China, US). This will in effect produce a "global space sale" which not only attract a long list of space clients, but also potentially attract investors as well.

But this novel is not just for scientists, venture capitalists or even geeks with too much time on their hands. Mixed within the legal and science jargon are short stories which help to not only bring the space elevator to life, but also helps the reader understand (via parable form) how this could impact humanity socially, financially, culturally as well as spiritually.

After reading the book a person may have questions regarding the feasibility of this project. After all, LiftPort's technical issues have yet to be overcome, and developing material strong enough to hold up not only itself, but withstand nature and space as well will not be easy.

Although some may see this as nothing more than a "mad scientists project," they must realize that our world has often been shaped by "mad scientists." This list would include figures such as Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford and others who were probably mocked for attempting to construct objects that would ultimately change our planet forever.

Reading this book will open up ones mind towards another possible way of entering space. Not since the days of landing on the moon has another science fiction idea become so close to becoming a scientific fact. Humanity can afford to continue to use rockets to launch people towards the stars. But LiftPort asks, "why currently send people into space if a cheaper method could be conceived?"

Personal note: I enjoyed reading this novel in my spare time and do really think constructing this object is feasible. What I enjoyed most about the book was how a space elevator could help launch other industries (i.e. space tourism, solar satellites, even Ceramics).

What I enjoyed least about the novel was towards the end it seemed as if they were trying to make the Space Elevator sort of like a "cure all" for humanities woes, which would give it the tower of Babel affect (not a good marketing move in today's world).

Although the Space Elevator may not be the only other inexpensive way to send up goods to space (as the magnetic sled may beat them out price wise) it probably would be the only way to bring down objects from space to study or repair, such as satellites, asteroids and moon rocks.

All in all I thought it was an excellent read and would recommend this book to everyone with a future mindset.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

God And Space, And The Human Race

Update: Incorporated sources within post.

(Update Two: Published On Blog Critics)

Space. The Final Frontier. The endless void filled with worlds, wonders and the great unknown that can not be completely measured except in our own imagination. It is in this final arena that humanity will mature, leaving its Earthen cradle behind and exploring the Solar playground that surrounds them.

Conquering their new environment will not be an easy task for humanity, much less exploring its breadth. But before the human race leaves the homeworld to settle on other worlds, they will have to deal with one element that has always guided and divided our species--the concept of a Universal God.

Faith has always guided humanity throughout the centuries, whether one holds to the concept of God's existence, or one rejects that in favor of nothing at all. Religion affects billions of people on planet Earth, and to the dismay of some atheists, science has not reduced the plausibility of God's existence but has rather increased it.

Debate on our origins is already raging in American classrooms across the nation, with teachers preparing themselves to counter student arguments in class. Even in Vietnam, many citizens seem eager to view scientific evidence supporting a Universal Deity, despite the governments official policy against faith via torture.

Faith holds a very distinct role in many people's lives, and it would be silly to expect a venture into the cosmos to persuade the masses to abandon their beliefs of God (as well as the text that surrounds him). Rather than unifying humanity in a common belief system, space may encourage the spread of various beliefs throughout the galaxy as denominations claim worlds or regions as their "promise land."

Although space will probably increase the fervor amongst the religious, it will also pose new problems for them as well. Importing certain foods (such as meats, wines and bread) may be difficult around the holidays, especially if your planet is unable to support or grow the necessary items. And what if your religion demands that you pray towards a certain city on Earth? This would be difficult to achieve on a daily basis in micro gravity, let alone on a world millions or billions of kilometers away from our homeworld.

Just as much as political parties currently shape a nations path, faith will play a future role in shaping space culture. God will be just a controversial now as he will be in the future (if not more), with the only difference being millions more (if not billions) simply added to the debate.

For those hoping that humanities plunge into the great unknown would resolve world issues and unify our race under a "purely scientific" banner (like Star Trek) should probably take note--religion is here to stay and will probably be around for the next million years.