A Brief Tour of the End of the World

Posted by on August 2nd, 2014

A short megamix of the latest Interstellar trailer.

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We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, and now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.

The origin of Turkmenistan’s Darvaza Crater – nicknamed the “door to hell” – is disputed, but the theory most widely accepted involves a Soviet expedition to explore for gas.

A Turkmen geologist claims the borehole was set alight in 1971 after fears it was emitting poisonous gases. It has now been burning for 40 years.


It’s as if the Earth is celebrating. Soon, no more humans!
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there’s been new (and definitive) evidence released that the Siberian holes were created via methane released from warming permafrost, not a pingo as had been hypothesized earlier. Today, the journal Nature published an interview with archaeologist Andrei Plekhanov​ and his scientific team, who investigated the first hole. That team measured methane concentrations up to 50,000 times standard levels inside the crater:

Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground


“It is a small village and this happened very suddenly,” local legislator Dilip Walse Patil told CNN-IBN TV network. One local commissioner, Prabhakar Deshmukh, said more than 150 people could be trapped.

Landslides are common in the area during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September.

Pune district is about 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The nearest medical center is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the village.

The area around the village has been deforested extensively, increasing its vulnerability to landslides.

Similar deforestation and environmental damage have caused floods and landslides in other parts of India. Last year, more than 6,000 people were killed as floods and landslides swept through the hilly northern state of Uttarakhand during the monsoon season.

Nasa is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that “impossible” microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

This last line implies that the drive may work by pushing against the ghostly cloud of particles and anti-particles that are constantly popping into being and disappearing again in empty space. But the Nasa team has avoided trying to explain its results in favour of simply reporting what it found: “This paper will not address the physics of the quantum vacuum plasma thruster, but instead will describe the test integration, test operations, and the results obtained from the test campaign.”

Bill Nye: We May Discover Life on Europa (without attempting a landing there, mind you!):
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A real life space mystery has been solved:

Astronomers have long known that interstellar molecules containing carbon atoms exist and that by their nature they will absorb light shining on them from stars and other luminous bodies. Because of this, a number of scientists have previously proposed that some type of interstellar molecules are the source of diffuse interstellar bands — the hundreds of dark absorption lines seen in color spectrograms taken from Earth.

In showing nothing, these dark bands reveal everything. The missing colors correspond to photons of given wavelengths that were absorbed as they travelled through the vast reaches of space before reaching us. More than that, if these photons were filtered by falling on space-based molecules, the wavelengths reveal the exact energies it took to excite the electronic structures of those absorbing molecules in a defined way.

Armed with that information, scientists here on Earth should be able to use spectroscopy to identify those interstellar molecules — by demonstrating which molecules in the laboratory have the same absorptive “fingerprints.” But despite decades of effort, the identity of the molecules that account for the diffuse interstellar bands remains a mystery. Nobody has been able to reproduce the exact same absorption spectra in laboratories here on Earth.

“Not a single one has been definitively assigned to a specific molecule,” said Neil Reilly, a former postdoctoral fellow at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a co-author of the new paper.

Now Reilly, McCarthy and their colleagues are pointing to an unusual set of molecules — silicon-terminated carbon chain radicals — as a possible source of these mysterious bands.

The ESA are chasing down a comet, live tweeting from space:

The end of the world as the hominid species has known and shaped it and/or the beginning of life as a space-faring species, as we follow the path laid by our children, the robot explorers. Fleeing the world we killed in our adolescence. As Burroughs & Leary put it:

the near earth asteroid defense system #thinkglobalactsolar

Posted by on October 23rd, 2013

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Lu began by noting that deflecting lethal asteroids is the easy part. We know how to do it and already have the needed technology. Years before a threatening asteroid converges with Earth, we can ram it from behind with a rocket with the precise amount of energy needed to speed it up just enough to miss our planet and keep on missing us in the future.

Funding such a mission will be straightforward. Once you know when (and even where) a catastrophic impact will occur, there will be abundant motivation to pay for heading it off. With good sky reconnaissance, we’ll have years of warning. But that reconnaissance doesn’t exist yet.

As I do several times each year since they first began, I’ve been catching up the Long Now Seminar’s on Long Term Thinking. Much as love hearing visions of Starship programs and DeExtinction projects, it was former astronaut Ed Lu’s talk (above) that really leapt out. Because it is both fantastic and realistic, and immediate. And necessary.

Lu spoke about the consequences of the Overview Effect:


We have to start acting as one species, with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t do that.

Coming back to Earth a changed man, and wanting to do something real. Long story, short (you can hear it all above, after all), he’s founded the B612 Foundation. Their self-assigned mission, to build and launch Sentinel:

The Sentinel Mission will provide a unique opportunity for the public to take ownership in a historic space mission that will protect Earth, while providing the necessary roadmap for future exploration.
Sentinel is a space-based infrared (IR) survey mission to discover and catalog 90 percent of the asteroids larger than 140 meters in Earth’s region of the solar system. The mission should also discover a significant number of smaller asteroids down to a diameter of 30 meters. Sentinel will be launched into a Venus-like orbit around the sun, which significantly improves the efficiency of asteroid discovery during its 6.5 year mission.


They’re aiming to share resources with NASA, and funding it via philanthropy and donations from the public. And whilst I view philanthropy as the benevolence of those that have accrued wealth through various forms of economic and legal force, it’s better that those funds get directed toward doing something other purely cosmetic, vanity projects. We simply don’t have time to linearly fix all world’s problems. The pragmatist in me maintains that the rescue mission must accomplished by whatever means are available.

Which brings us to the newly created, half jesting, semi-fictional, deadly serious Overview Effect Enforcement Agency. The product of a conversation between some creatively titled futurist folks on Twitter, it exists, if only as a rescue-lutionary theory object, to encourage the sending of the world’s leaders into low-earth orbit for a cognitive readjustment. A tactic deployed by Picard in an episode of Star Trek: TNG, to correct his own elevation to godhood. As recent political theater events of extreme dramatis demonstrate, it’s sorely needed. And as I suggested: if they learn something, they can come back too.

Because there are more threats to the world than just the ego’s of political leaders and billionaires. Like Lazarus Comets:

“We found a graveyard of comets,” said Ferrín. “Imagine all these asteroids going around the Sun for aeons, with no hint of activity. We have found that some of these are not dead rocks after all, but are dormant comets that may yet come back to life if the energy that they receive from the Sun increases by a few per cent.”

Resurrected space rocks don’t discriminate on imaginary human divisions of map, religion or creed. We can learn something from them. We can be bigger, grow up, build out into the solar system, and beyond. It’s just an idea. But what else has ever changed the world than that?

Elon Musk: The Real Life Tony Stark (infographic)

Posted by on June 13th, 2012

Elon Musk: The Real Life Tony Stark
Created by: OnlineGraduatePrograms.com

Give Intergalactic Peace a chance

Posted by on May 9th, 2012

via io9

520-day mission to Mars gets ready to land next month

Posted by on January 22nd, 2011

The only big factor missing in the lack of gravity:

It sounds crazy, but 233 days ago a team of six scientists entered a sealed simulator in Russia. Their mission? Recreate the conditions of a 520-day round trip to and from Mars, realistically cutoff from the rest of the world. Come February they’ll finally reach the Red Planet, but the hardest part of the journey will still be ahead.

The experiment, called Mars500, is going down in a windowless isolation chamber within the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, with a team composed of three Russians, a fellow from France, one from China, and an Italian-Colombian. Communication is delayed just as it would be if the team was traveling further and further away from Earth for real; email and video messaging are the prime ways to exchange words even though the simulator is surrounded by a team of researchers, unseen by those inside. The team eats the kind of meals you’d find on the International Space Station and typically only enjoys showers weekly.

Via dvice.

Space, Alien life, environmentalism and our posthuman future

Posted by on August 7th, 2010

The UK’s Astronomer Royal, Baron Martin Rees, recently gave a fascinating lecture as part of the Seminars of Long-term Thinking series, put on by the Long Now Foundation.

From Stewart Brand’s summation of the speech:

“We are the nuclear waste of stellar fusion,” Rees noted, the ash from long-dead stars all over the galaxy exchanging their gases in a complex ecology, and the galaxies show a mega-structure of density contrasts generated by gravity. Poised midway in scale between atoms and stars, biological life appears to be the peak of complexity in the universe—a flea is more complicated than a star.

Since we don’t know how our own life emerged and haven’t discovered any elsewhere, we still have no idea whether life is common in the universe or if we are unique. We can be certain that we are not the culmination of life forms here, because we are less than halfway through the Sun’s lifespan. In the six billion years to come, there are likely to be creatures as far beyond humans as we are beyond microbes, and science as far beyond our present understanding as quantum theory is remote to a chimpanzee.

Now that we are stewards of this planet, we are responsible for maintaining life’s possibilities in this cosmic neighborhood.

It’s over an hour and half long, but it’s riveting stuff. Grab the link and (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere) sit outside, stare at the stars and listen. Or just hit play here:

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Bonus Content!

For your patience you get a treat – A Glorious Dawn, an auto-tuned mash-up of Carl Sagan’s work, featuring Stephen Hawking:

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Second, a profile of Elon Musk and his desire to retire to Mars.

Lastly, Charlie Stross has been having fun dissecting various aspects of space colonization; from working out the size of an independent off-world colony, to critiquing the much worn ‘space as another Wild Frontier’ myth.

Faded dreams of Russian space shuttles

Posted by on June 10th, 2010

Once upon a time, in the dying days of the Soviet Empire, back in the grand ole 20th Century, when there was still something of a space-race going on, the USSR tried to construct it’s own space shuttle fleet.

At the time this was just a rumor; it was the Cold War still, remember, and much as we’re never sure just what those crazy North Korean’s are up to today, back then it was very hard to verify if those damn Ruskie’s were full it, or actually had built their own version of the USA’s then mighty space shuttle.

Today, of course, it’s a completely different story. It’s the final year of the US’s space shuttle, and it will be many years before that country will be capable of launching manned space craft again (or will it?). In the meantime, who will they be dependent upon to send astronauts up to our pitiful space-station, the ISS? Russia.

And as this photo essay shows (from which the above pictures were taken) the USSR did almost have a shuttle fleet of it’s own.

Once you’re done contemplating lost Futures, wander over to the Breaking Time for David Forbe’s thoughts on this; Is space still the place?

Teleportation of energy theoretically possible

Posted by on February 4th, 2010

If reality was a science-fiction novel, the prologue for the one starting today would include this text:


Masahiro Hotta at Tohoku University in Japan has come up with a much more exotic idea. Why not use the same quantum principles to teleport energy?

Today, building on a number of papers published in the last year, Hotta outlines his idea and its implications. The process of teleportation involves making a measurement on each one an entangled pair of particles. He points out that the measurement on the first particle injects quantum energy into the system. He then shows that by carefully choosing the measurement to do on the second particle, it is possible to extract the original energy.

All this is possible because there are always quantum fluctuations in the energy of any particle. The teleportation process allows you to inject quantum energy at one point in the universe and then exploit quantum energy fluctuations to extract it from another point. Of course, the energy of the system as whole is unchanged.

He gives the example of a string of entangled ions oscillating back and forth in an electric field trap, a bit like Newton’s balls. Measuring the state of the first ion injects energy into the system in the form of a phonon, a quantum of oscillation. Hotta says that performing the right kind of measurement on the last ion extracts this energy. Since this can be done at the speed of light (in principle), the phonon doesn’t travel across the intermediate ions so there is no heating of these ions. The energy has been transmitted without traveling across the intervening space. That’s teleportation.

Chapter One would be the construction of giant solar panels in space.  The world would transition away from not just coal, but nuclear power too.  We’d have a reason, nay be compelled to build a giant space fleet, setting up relay stations and outposts at first the Moon, then in orbit around Venus and Mercury. 

Chapter Two would be the creation of a fleet powered by this very energy, having the power of the sun beamed straight into the star drives.

Chapter Three..  well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Crazy, I know.  But a guy can only hope for the best, right?!

Sunlight-Propelled Spacecraft to Launch in 2010

Posted by on November 10th, 2009

The first Solar Sail spacecraft met an untimely end, crashing into the ocean instead of making it into orbit. But now, in 2010, a new, improved version of that craft–an entire spaceship that’s propelled only by the sun’s rays–is set to launch. And scientists will be see if this unique spaceship will become the prototype for long term interstellar travel.

Some scientists believe that such solar sail technology holds the key to long term exploratory spaceflight, according to the Associated Press.The solar sail spacecraft are designed to be propelled by accumulating photons, not solar winds, and though slow-moving at first, would eventually be able to reach tremendous speeds. And that’s right–it’s zero emissions space travel.

The new craft, called the LightSail-1, will actually hopefully be the first of a series of three similar solar-sailed spacecrafts created by the Planetary Society–the space advocacy organization founded by none other than Carl Sagan.

Planetary Society describes the first of the three missions, which it hopes will launch in December of next year, as follows: “Our first solar sail will lay the foundation for the whole LightSail program by demonstrating controlled flight with only the pressure of solar photons bouncing off the sail.”

Via treehugger.com.

Spaceport America construction about to begin

Posted by on June 18th, 2009

From Universe Today:

On June 19, ground will be broken in New Mexico for Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport built for launching private citizens into space. Groundbreaking ceremonies will include a flyover by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, the mothership that will send tourists on their way to space in SpaceShip2. Virgin Galactic will be the first – if not most important — tenant of Spaceport America, and already more than 250 people have put money down to take trips to the edge of space as early as next year.

via Mac Tonnies

Babel 2.0 – Scientists pitch an inflatable tower to touch the sky

Posted by on June 8th, 2009

Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel

From NewScientist:

Inflatable pneumatic modules already used in some spacecraft could be assembled into a 15-kilometre-high tower, say Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu at York University in Toronto, Canada, writing in Acta Astronautica (DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2009.02.018). If built from a suitable mountain top it could reach an altitude of around 20 kilometres, where it could be used for atmospheric research, tourism, telecoms or launching spacecraft.

The team envisages assembling the structure from a series of modules constructed from Kevlar-polyethylene composite tubes made rigid by inflating them with a lightweight gas such as helium. To test the idea, they built a 7-metre scale model made up of six modules. Each module was built out of three laminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimetres in diameter, mounted around circular spacers and inflated with air.

To stay upright and withstand winds, full-scale structures would require gyroscopes and active stabilisation systems in each module. The team modelled a 15-kilometre tower made up of 100 modules, each one 150 metres tall and 230 metres in diameter, built from inflatable tubes 2 metres across. Quine estimates it would weigh about 800,000 tonnes when pressurised – around twice the weight of the world’s largest supertanker.

The Silent Tombs of Dead Cosmonauts and Open Source Science

Posted by on April 29th, 2009

Warren Ellis linked to this article a few days ago, and while I realize that means half of the known world has now read it, I had to repost it over here due to the extreme relevance.  While yes, it’s a story of the strange places the space race played out in, it’s also the story of how a few hobbiests turned a garage into a hub of international activity and secret intelligence with just their passions and the tech they could find and repourpose.

Suddenly, an angry voice rang out; the man who lived on the floor below leant out of the window and screamed: “Will you stop that racket, I’m trying to sleep!”

One of the young men shouted back “Sorry sir; the Soviets have launched a satellite and we’re trying to intercept it!”

The brothers finished setting up, grabbed their head-sets, twiddled the knobs on their portable receivers, hit the record button and listened…

“Come in… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?”
The brothers looked nervously at one another. They only fully understood the Russian later when their sister translated for them, but the desperation in the woman’s voice was clear.

“Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!”

The signal went dead.

Today, there are do it yourself genetics clubs, you can mail out to have your genome sequenced, open source engeneering labs and all sorts of places that people can come together and test new frontiers outside of an institutional heirachy.  The street still finds its own uses for things, and while the space race has stagnated (a topic of black rage for myself) , there are still many envelopes to push, many mysteries to probe, and many wonders to be found with whatever tools we can scrounge to find them.

Sorry, if I sound like an evangelical Grinder, today, but I find this article to be really inspiring.

[Via Warren Ellis and Fortean Times]

We *have* to go to Mars (and beyond) to see if there’s life there..

Posted by on January 15th, 2009

Are we alone in the Universe or is life everywhere?

It’s pretty fair to say it’s the question that’s been on our specie’s mind since we first became capable of thought.

From Popular Mechanics:

At a NASA news conference this afternoon, a team of scientists led by Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center announced the discovery of plumes of methane emanating from the surface of Mars during the planet’s late spring and early summer…

methane plumes

The only way to learn more about these plumes may be to go and physically investigate them, she said. Observing them from Earth—or even from Mars orbit—probably won’t reveal whether there are microbes beneath the surface. “We’re going to have to get down where they live,” she said. The Mars Science Laboratory, a new rover set to launch in 2011, carries instruments that could investigate below the planet’s surface—but most likely not deep enough. If microbes do exist on Mars, Mumma said, they could be buried more than a kilometer down. That would require a whole new plan, including technology that doesn’t yet exist.

You can only learn so much by observation and remote drones.

We need to get there A.S.A.P and have our minds blown and axioms shattered.

I’ll never shut up about this.

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First commercial spaceport approved

Posted by on December 20th, 2008

From Discovery News:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has given the green light for the world’s first commercial spaceport, New Mexico authorities said Thursday.

The system plans to take passengers approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) into the sky. Virgin Galactic plans to welcome 500 passengers per year who will pay 200,000 dollars each for a suborbital flight lasting three to four minutes.

Dear Aliens; where the fuck are you?

Posted by on December 5th, 2008

I have this gut feeling that the day a human-crewed spacecraft makes it out to Jupiter an alien ambassador will appear and welcome us into the Galactic Federation. Well, a guy can dream anyway.

Try as we might, we just have not found any sign of alien civilizations out there in the stars. But odds are, we are just doing it wrong. All we can do is try and guess what they might look like, and seek that out. But isn’t that kind of like asking an ant what a human society might look like?

One of the best current theories is that an alien civilization would construct Dyson Spheres, but so far this search has come up empty:

A search for colossal feats of alien engineering called ‘Dyson spheres’ has so far found no convincing candidates within 1000 light years of Earth.

Solution? Build bigger and better detection systems. Which I am totally down with. What we have found with just the Hubble Space Telescope has been damn impressive.

It is becoming undeniable that space is far from dead, as many people still seem to assume. In fact, it gets more interesting the more we look. Like the possibility that this comet may well have wandered over from another solar system!

alien comet?

If it does have a dark passenger, at least these Teddie Bears in space might buy us some time:

teddies in space

Fermi Paradox be damned – I wanna party with Aliens!

YES! The ‘Interplanetary internet’ is coming…

Posted by on November 20th, 2008

Because we need to be able to update Facebook during the 2year journey to Mars.
Status: Do not have cabin fever. /repeat.

Oh and get streaming video from our robot friends as they build our habitats.

From New Scientist:

NASA has finished its first deep-space test of what could become an ‘interplanetary internet’. The new networking commands could one day be used to automatically relay information between Earth, spacecraft, and astronauts, without the need for humans to schedule transmissions at each point.

…Just as data is sent from one point to another on the internet via a linked network of hubs, or nodes, spacecraft scattered throughout the solar system could be used as nodes to transmit data through space.

…the new protocol, called Disruption- or Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN), commands each node in the network to store information until it can find another node that can receive the information.

Data is relayed in a chain and should only need to be transmitted once. “The nodes themselves can take care of making sure the data moves progressively from the source to its destination,” Hooke told New Scientist.

To guard against hackers, the data transmitted over DTN is encrypted. In order to transmit or accept data, a node must identify itself to its companion, a concept called ‘mutual suspicion.’

Hooke hopes to incorporate the protocol on upcoming space missions, beginning with robotic missions to the Moon. “The goal is by the end of 2011 to have these protocols ready to go out of the box, so we can give them to project managers to load onto spacecraft,” Hooke says.

…the team plans to set up a permanent DTN node at the International Space Station. The protocol will be uploaded to a payload aboard the station in mid-2009.

Closer encounter: Nasa plans landing on 40m-wide asteroid

Posted by on May 9th, 2008

“A report seen by the Guardian notes that by sending astronauts on a three-month journey to the hurtling asteroid, scientists believe they would learn more about the psychological effects of long-term missions and the risks of working in deep space, and it would allow astronauts to test kits to convert subsurface ice into drinking water, breathable oxygen and even hydrogen to top up rocket fuel. All of which would be invaluable before embarking on a two-year expedition to Mars.”

Found by LBA (thanks!) who says:

…which in an of itself is pretty cool, using kits to convert deep space ice to drinkable water and breathable oxygen… but what microbes and bacteria may be in that deep space water hibernating, waiting for a nice, warm, meaty host to latch onto. (cue another zombie apocalypse story, because we really can’t have enough of them).

Also, if one were to put on their tinfoil hat, maybe, just maybe this object is on a crash course with earth and this is the first step towards sending a mission to knock it off it’s current collision course. Also we don’t need another Bruce Willis movie with a bad Aerosmith soundtrack to be made.

Link to article.