Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conquering The Frozen Frontier (Kuiper Belt Objects) Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas

(Image: Size comparison between largest Kuiper Belt Objects, sometimes called Trans-Neptunians, against Earth. Credit: NASA)

Whether it takes 50 years--or five thousand--humanity seems destined to expand beyond their earthen cradle and conquer the solar neighborhood around them.

Our species may in the distant future find ourselves settling on worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury, to the desert world of Mars. From conquering our own lunar body towards colonizing other moon worlds such as Ganymede, Callisto and Titan.

We may even venture as far as settling upon Neptune's Triton, but beyond that humanity may see little incentive on settling beyond the classical eight planets (sorry Pluto).

While some may see little value of going beyond the gas giants, they may not realize that the Kuiper Belt, located on the "outer frozen edges" of our solar system may play a vital role for humanity--especially if we become an interstellar species.

Imagine if you will you are traveling on a star ship heading towards Alpha Centauri from the Epsilon Eridani star system. You need to make a pit stop in order to not only pick up a few supplies, but to also power down your craft in order to fix a few engines that keep creating a weird pining sound.

If you were the captain of that interstellar vessel, would you rather take your ship deep inside the Sol star's gravity field, or would it make more sense to dock near a Kuiper Belt object located between 30 and 50 astronomical units away?

Unless a star ship desired to take a tour of the solar system it would probably be wiser if humanity established trade settlements upon these frozen worlds in order to help space craft traveling between the stars refuel (or repair) before heading towards another star system.

Since trade upon a Kuiper Belt Object would probably be sparse at best (considering the enormous distances between nearby stars), their main inhabitants will most likely be astronomers and astrophysicists (with space entrepreneurs probably in the minority).

Located far way from the major worlds that dance around our sun, the Kuiper Belt objects would find little appeal among the vast majority of people, who would probably prefer living upon a world with "some scenery" (i.e. an atmosphere or gas planet in the sky).

This would provide many scientists (such as radio astronomers) with the necessary isolation needed to conduct observations of the universe without great interference from radio noise and light pollution beaming from solar colonies.

Scientists could also conduct experiments that might be considered "too dangerous," to be carried out upon other worlds, with little fear of contaminating everybody else living nearby.

Last but not least Kuiper Belt objects may be of use to military bases in order to ward off future threats. Creating military outposts upon these distant worlds may help establish a perimeter around our star system, which could act as a first line of defense against invasive fleets from another star system (whether they be human, robotic or God-forbid "something else").

While the bulk of humanity will probably reside within the classical eight planets, it may not be surprising to see our species placing our fingerprints upon these frosty worlds in order to spread our presence from the inner system towards its frozen edges.

(Image Credit (second photo): Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

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  1. Cool post, Darnell.

    But seriously the comet clouds and Belts have a lot of potential as real estate for fusion powered communities. Some estimates put as many as 100 billion cometoids out in the Deep Cold. In theory such communities could become utterly self-sustaining by harvesting starlight and capturing interstellar dust. According to one estimate, based on extinction of starlight, there's about 3 Jupiter masses of dust per cubic parsec (a sphere centered on the Sun about 2 lightyears in radius), and as the Sun travels through the Galaxy it would be continually replenished.

    Beyond about 676 AU from the Sun (visible magnitude -26.65) the Sunlight is as strong as the Full Moon's light (mag -12.5) - we should call it "The Moonlight Zone". Eventually the Sun is just another star - after 0.5 lightyear it's as bright as Venus is from Earth. About 44,000 AU is the aphelion of the long-period comets, when they're first observed. That's the main reason astronomers believe in the Oort Cloud. Jan Oort estimated about 100 billion exist out there - the utter extremities of the Sun's gravitational kingdom. Between here and there might be dozens of planets - and we'd never know until we venture into that great Vastness.

  2. @ Qraal: That's very interesting! (regarding the potential for fusion power).

    While I am not too sure many people would want to live out there (as there is probably not much to see "out in the black") it may become an attractive realm for scientists and governments (for energy that is).

    As far as extra planets go, I think this could potentially open up the whole "what is a planet" debate, especially if someone finds an Earth sized planet (or larger) out there.


You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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