October 01, 2019

Chariklo and the Importance of Reading the WHOLE Page Before Linking it

I was curious about that ringed asteroid/dwarf planet they found between Uranus and Saturn a while back. Chariklo is one of several asteroids in that region between Uranus and Saturn which have collectively been named the Centaurs. The objects in this small group are named after centaurs from Greek mythology and as there aren't many of those, any non-Centaur spouses/children from when the myths implied that the achievement "hybrid vigor" was unlocked...still they are likely to run out of names from Greek Mythology and will soon have to go to other sources.

Ms. Shianus by エルセン(Elsen?)

Etymology aside,  these objects don't represent a large field like the Main Belt, the Jovian Trojans, or Hildas, but are thought to be a few objects from the Kupier Belt tossed sunward like Triton and Pluto/Charon. The largest of these, Chariklo, (named after Chiron's wife) had caused some confusion due to uncertainty about its size and readings that indicated it was either big and icy or small and surprisingly not so. It turned out that the Chariklo is a largely spherical object with an icy ring system that may imply two or more shepherd moons as well.

Not enough is known about this object to know if it will ultimately qualify as a Dwarf Planet (it would have to be in hydro-static equilibrium) but there's a chance that it might.  It's certainly at the low end of the scale of such things as can be seen here.....

Because Ceres is not a common frame of reference, the below picture may be helpful.

Besides the general coolness factor of the rings, one thing appears curious from the perspective of a layman with a mere Bachelor of Arts degree. The rings were discovered in part because when viewed front on the object appeared to be an icy object, when viewed ring edge on the moon appeared to be ice free. Now, "ice free" might mean largely anhydrous like Psyche, or just covered in regolith like Ceres. If the former, Chariklo might be something even more interesting. If all it's water is baked out then this thing might be a differentiated object like Vesta and Psyche, with all the potential for mineral wealth that that would imply.

As of now I have not learned anything more along those lines.

However, while looking,  I did encounter the exact opposite of learning. Well almost. In my search I blundered onto this website and very nearly used it as a reference hyperlink...after all it linked to space.com and had a nice overview of the object...the etymology of its name, and it then went on to discuss where the object can be seen in the sky at various times of the year which might be useful if one somehow has a ridiculously powerful telescope as this is a very dark object, (though the rings might be visible to some very well equipped amateur astronomers if one knows where to look).

Alas, this positional information was in reference to which HOUSES the object is in when viewed from Earth because the discovery of this object fills in some of the gaps in the predictive powers of...astrology.

Chariklo aspects seem to be prominent in individuals who take a step into the future. It may be through science (Pierre Curie, who studied the various types of energies, had a close Chariklo conjunct Sun...the greatest source of energy for this planet; Alexander Graham Bell, who studied ways to communicate with the deaf and who invented the telephone, had a close Chariklo conjunct Mercury....planet of communication).

Oh Lord.

Yes, the cray-cray is strong with this link. The author manages to tie in many of the cast and crew of Star Trek, Dr. Who, The Outer Limits and various other Sci-Fi authors to being born under the sign of this object, because this space-rock being linked...somehow...to forward thinking people is obviously linked to those involved in science fiction. Obviously.


Actually, there is a tremendous amount of research that went into this page. There is the equivalent of four typed pages that catalog when people of note were born when this asteroid happened to be in a certain arbitrary location when viewed from the Earth*.

There's an awful lot of numbers and charts.
So, (checks) I appear to be a Capricorn. If I were to apply this websites knowledge practically, what conclusions could be drawn about me?

Ms. Shianus by Okayado. Profound wisdom inspired by the Onion.


But wait.

This stupid actually gets worse.

Three out of the first five pages that came up on Chariklo in a web search were in fact astrology pages. None of them were the Space.com page that the Astrology page linked to.

The algorithms that are deciding who gets to speak and what is a credible source can't tell the difference between astrology and astronomy.

This is why we can't have nice things. 

We're doomed! DOOMED!

Of course, in a few million years Chariklo might be too, since it's likely to eventually join the Saturnian or Uranian system....perhaps catastrophically.

Green=Uranus  Yellow=Saturn  Unlikely Pink=Chariklo

*The third large object orbiting an unremarkable green dwarf in a big  empty bubble in the Orion arm of The Milky Way Galaxy, one of what is provincially known as The Local Group, a cluster of Galaxies which is somewhat removed from the apparent center of Lainekia.

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September 27, 2019

While We Weren't Looking

One of the things that comes up from time to time when discussing futurism and space travel is that there is a theoretical (if tenuous) basis for violating the generally accepted impossibility of superluninal travel.

Developed by an acclaimed Mexican scientist named Dr. Miguel Alcubierre, the  Alcubierre Warp Drive sounds superficially similar to the propulsion in Star Trek, but is based in real physics..albeit very theoretical physics.

You see, since the speed of light is very firmly established as an insurmountable obstacle Dr. Alcubierre was only able to develop a mathematically sound way of violating this by using negative values for certain variables....in this case, um, mass.

In the above interview, Dr. Alcubierre is quite up front that this is a dubious prospect as negative mass is not something that one encounters...it is simply not forbidden to exist, we're not talking about anti-matter...we're talking about "stuff" with a value of less than nothing.

So unless someone invents/discovers "negative mass" this is basically at the intersection of physics, mathematics, special pleading and vapourware.


Now, one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes points us to this post at Next Big Future which offhandedly mentions that scientists from The University of Rochester generated negative mass last year and further poking around reveals that Scientists in Washington did so in 2017.

Seems a rather LARGE thing to have avoided news coverage, but it does appear to be legit. This is not to say that the Alcubierre Drive is imminent, or even practical, but it is just a tad more possible.

The above link that started all this concerns research paths on various FTL proposals and discusses the humbling obstacles to being able to do this such as a million fold increase in the sensitivity of various sensors i order to observe adjustments in the warp fields. That is indeed a large hurdle...but for the first time scientists know what they need in the way of calibration and sensors to study the problem.

Scientists now know a little more of what they don't know and that is actually progress.

If negative mass can be produced in any quantity (and there are formidable issues with that)  then even if there is no practical result to the warp drive  research, the negative mass has some interesting (potential & theoretical) applications that border on Clarke-Tech.

And even if the Warp Drive is possible, it's likely that we'll never see anything like FTL in our lifetime, but the fact that scientists are discovering things like negative matter point to a very bright future indeed, if we can avoid some dystopian speedbumps on the road to tomorrow. 

* Science Babe by Tony Taka

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September 18, 2019

There Are Space Tomatoes For Sale!

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September 16, 2019

Borisov Intercept Proposal

In the recent post on the extra-solar comet Borisov, we used the rocketry and ballistics expertise bestowed by our liberal arts education to to recklessly speculate that it might be possible to launch a quick and dirty probe to get a close up look at this visitor from beyond.

Now one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes has found a proposal to do just that, presumably after slogging through academic sites for many hours.

"Nah, I just checked out Centauri Dreams."

The paper is using the SLS as it's baseline launch vehicle, and not the  larger and more powerful and more or less existing Space-X Super Heavy.

However, this paper by actual rocket scientists, points out that the rather significant detail that the launch window for a conventional intercept of this thing was actually a bit over a year ago. Borisov is coming no closer to the Earth than Mars before it speeds off into the void.

Instead, the scientists are looking at a high energy, multiple slingshot trajectory and is proposing a launch in 2030, and an intercept in 2045, which gives plenty of time to work things out in a more conventional manner.

Interestingly, it also notes that a mission to Omuamua, using a New Horizons class probe is still possible. Which is quite awesome.

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September 14, 2019


 One of the questions that was left unanswered in the wake of the recent passing through the solar system of the interstellar object Omuamua was whether this was a vanishingly rare event, or if such interstellar objects pass through fairly frequently and we hadn't noticed them.

Well, there is now some evidence that it may be the latter.

While not yet officially confirmed to be an extrasolar object, C/2019 Q4 tentatively named Borisov, after its discoverer, is coming in at about solar system escape velocity and is expected to leave the solar system after doing a loop around the sun.

.gif via JPL

This is a rather larger object than Omuanua between 1 and 30 kilometers across and Astronomers will have time to examine it in considerable detail.

That's all we know now, but one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes offers a bit of speculation....

"Given that its closest approach to Earth will be in December, it is also possible (albeit unlikely) that a very austere probe might be sent. Note that Elon Musk is planning a full up launch of his super rocket in October, some kitbashed probe might make a better payload than the water that normally acts as ballast on these things."

It should be noted as well that Mr.Gennady Borisov, the Russian amateur astronomer who discovered this comet, pulled off quite the impressive feat with his homemade telescope found what the algorithms had missed.

[quote] Aside from how prominent or not Gennady’s comet will become, the most amazing thing is that he beat the automated surveys to the punch. These days nearly all comets and many asteroids are found by professional astronomers using robotic telescopes hooked up to sensitive cameras and computers. Large areas of the sky are covered each clear night. If a fuzzy, moving object is detected by the computer, astronomers are alerted, follow-up observations are made and the new object receives a letter, number and the survey’s name.  That’s why there are a plethora of comets in the past 15 years with names like LINEAR (Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Survey), Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System), LONEOS (Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search) and others.

This one however, is named "Borisov".

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This Pretty Epic

Specifically, it involves EPIC201912552 and even more specifically  EPIC201912552b a large terrestrial planet orbiting it.

One of The Brickmuppet's Crack team of Science Babes explains...

"Mercifully, the planet is also referred to as K2-18b and the rest is in this NASA press release"

With data from the Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet within the habitable zone of its host star. K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is the only planet orbiting a star outside the solar system (or "exoplanet”) known to have both water and temperatures that could support life. Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

K2-18b was discovered some years ago and, despite being theoretically in the habitable zone, was viewed as unlikely to have water or life due to its star's mercurial nature. It orbits a red dwarf star quite close in and the dwarf in question is one that flares a lot, and emits considerible UV radiation.

However, Hubble has discovered that the planet is, in fact quite wet. This could mean it's a Neptune type planet that's boiling away or it might be a very large Earth like planet that has been able to retain its atmosphere due to high gravity and, perhaps, a strong magnetic field.

In either case, it's warm, wet ,and while quite unlike Earth in various ways it would seem now to have at least the potential for life of some kind....which is indeed pretty epic.

And logically, there ought not to be any downside.

Alas, it's 2019. There's always a downside. It seems that The Weather Channel has noted the clouds too and has begun running a story on K2 18b's weather, which means we can look forward to more weather reports of negligible relevance to us resulting in even LESS local coverage on the Weather Channel in the future.

In any event, such minor annoyances notwithstanding, that we're finding these things is pretty awesome.  While water vapor has not been found on an earth sized, habitable zone world before now, there are quite a few potential candidates for life-bearing planets. Here is a conservative list of the exo-planets currently thought to be potentially habitable, minus K2-18b which was on it some years ago but was removed and has not, as of yet, been put back.

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August 31, 2019

Meanwhile, At Stromboli

Erupting volcanoes are mercurial and as such are not the most advisable of tourist destination.

Pyroclastic flows can really take you by surprise. .

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August 27, 2019


Remember that post a few months ago about the glaciers on Mercury?
Well India sure did!

"I'm absolutely confident that that post had zero impact on India's space program"

Anyway, Chandrayaan2, India's second lunar probe, is set to land a rover near the lunar south pole on September 9. The main purpose of this mission is to do an extensive survey of the ice deposits which were confirmed by Chandrayaan1 via the straightforward method of shooting an impactor into Shackleton crater and noting that ice was blasted out of it.

Currently, the probe is surveying the possible landing sites in preparation for releasing the lander.

Unlike previous probes this one is intended to extensively study exactly what forms the ice is in so we may find out if there really are formations as unexpectedly spectacular as the glaciers on Mercury.

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August 26, 2019

Looking for Hohmann Transfer Tables

Some months ago, when I was otherwise obligated, I blundered into an online Hohmann orbit / travel time calculator for launch windows between all planets out to Jupiter (plus Ceres) out to IIRC 2050.

 I can't find it now and suspect it may only be available from academic institutions, but I was wondering if anyone has a link to something similar.

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July 23, 2019

Here's Something Neat That You Don't see Everyday

Here we have a false color image of...something.
Guess what the 'greenish-yellow' stuff is.

Is it :
A: Impact related lava flows in Lunar Craters?
B: Sand dunes in windswept craters on Mars?
C: Stromatolite colonies in brine pools in Australia?


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July 10, 2019

Some Correct Scale

Here is an excellent study of the interior of the Stanford Torus space habitat by Rick Guidice.

It's particularly notable as one of the few renditions to get the scale of the actual final design right. 

The Stanford Torus was the final in a series of designs intended as  minimum sized test beds for a self sustaining space habitat. The Stanford Torus's habitation tube was "only" 430 feet wide. That's still almost half again wider than a football field is long, and it would have been 3 and a half miles (5.6K) long, which is pretty impressive.  

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March 10, 2019

Since That Last Post Was Depressing (UPDATED)

Here's something to give existential threat assessors hives, and the rest of us hope.

It's Ryan Weed,  the CEO of Positron Dynamics who claims to have solved antimatter's production and containment issues. He's getting around the storage problem by the elegant method of avoiding it totally. They're generating positrons  on the spot (using Krypton79 decaying to Kr78 ) and firing them into deuterium to catalyze fusion. The neutrons from the reaction transmutes the Kr78 back to Kr79 and the associated 'splody travels out the tailpipe and goes "woosh".  Research is looking promising, but there are already some interesting spinoffs, which include a nuclear battery with a yield of as much as 100 watts a kilogram. 


Here's an animation of how their system is supposed to work.

Peter Thiel has invested in the company
and their development has been promising enough that NASA gave them a big grant last March.
Time will tell. 

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March 08, 2019

It Went Splash, Not Splat!

The most important part of a successful manned spacecraft is the ability to return It's crew safely.

Oh look!


"The plushy and the robot have not lodged complaints!"

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February 09, 2019

Meanwhile, In the Kuiper Belt

N.A.S.A.s New Horizons probe has just had its best pictures of " _2014_MU69">Ultima Thule" processed. Now we've sent one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes to bring us the latest on this Kuiper belt object. However, given what we've seen so far it's fairly clear that it is just a bog standard comet and pretty much uninteresting in any way. 

"That last sentence is about as wrong as is grammatically possible."


Well, it appears that Ultima Thule still had some surprises, one of which  was only revealed when the spacecraft flew past it. 

You see, according to the mission webpage, this is believed to be the best picture that New Horizons took of Ultima Thule...

There's a lot of oddness, including the fact that it appears to be a conjoined comet. Then New Horizons flew by the object aaand....

Why that should be is unclear to say the least, but it is interesting that one of the explanations for the weirdness of the recently departed Omuamua is that it was flat enough to be affected by solar pressure. Perhaps something causes objects on edge of interstellar space to flatten. 

In any event, it's NEAT!

 And, rarely does science give us such a straightforward and unambiguous lesson in the importance of perspective. 

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January 15, 2019

The News is All About Hamburgers and Overpriced Razors So Here's Some Space Stuff

One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us the latest developments the search for extraterrestrial intelligence...

"My new favorite word is Technosignature."

The short video is a good quick overview of SETI issues. However, Mr. Cain also links to the referenced NASA report as well as the recent SETI conference minutes, which can provide hours of amusement.

In other SPACE news, while we wait for high resolution pictures from Ultima Thule NASA is providing some visual perspective on the matter.

The full presentations are here and here

(We should see some high rez pictures in about two weeks or so.)

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December 31, 2018

New Horizons VS. Ultima Thule

Well, tonight (tomorrow actually) after the fireworks and the dropping of the ball,  you should stick around because there will be an encore celebration around 12:15AM, when Clyde Tombaugh's atomic powered urn, better known as NASA's New Horizons probe, which not so long ago gave us spectacular views of Pluto is going to pass by(486958) 2014 MU69, a small but very strange transNeptunian object that has been given the unofficial temporary name Ultima Thule for marketing purposes. 

The object in question, about 12 miles across, is a cause for a good bit of speculation  as it doesn't seem to have much of a light curve, at all, which is...odd.

"But it's AWESOME, 'cause it's weird 
and we're gonna discover something!"


Note though, that possible explanations include that the object is actually surrounded by a cloud of debris, in which case there's a decent chance that New Horizons will come to an end in a collision. 

Because it is SO far away, the radio signals will take over 9 hours to get to NASA! Coverage of that is set to start around 09:45 Eastern Time(U.S.). There is a press conference scheduled for 11:30 Eastern to discuss the pictures, or what can be gleaned from the probes loss. There will be a lot of discussion of this online tonight and tomorrow morning with Launchpad Astronomy already 4 hours into their  24 hr livestream. 

So tonight, after the celebrations, sit back, watch the coverage and throw back an egg nog for Clyde Tombaugh, the little probe that carries his remains, and the implacable spirit of mankind.

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November 09, 2018

A Spoiler Appears

The midterms aren't over!

It looks like all those missing ballots went to S.M.O.D. who will send his emissaries this weekend.

"Instead of tabloids and sketchyYouTube
sites, maybe check NASA?"

That wouldn't be click-baity at all would it?

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October 30, 2018

Thoughts on Proxima B

Shortly after the discovery that Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun has a planet in the habitable zone, NASA pointed out that Proxima is known to be a flare star and the planet is so close that it would probably be grilled, baked and flash fried

Now, two years later, they've finished a study adding potential variables to see if anything could mitigate the effects of the flaring, and surprisingly, there some scenarios which allow for a habitable planet and a few with a sort of Earthlike  biosphere. These are HIGHLY speculative numbers as we know almost nothing about the planet except its orbit and mass. They are interesting nonetheless...

The odds are still on it being a burned out cinder, but even for this planet, that is not a given. 

Note that the second closest planet to our solar system, (Ross128b) is a better candidate, not only because it doesn't face the flare issue, but is even closer in mass and temperature to Earth. With such variables as discussed in the Proxima-B video, its odds might be better still.


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October 21, 2018

Follow-Up on that Hardware Hacking Story

A few weeks ago we noted that Bloomberg had broken a HUGE news story that involved China inserting small chips onto mother boards that were intended to allow back door access to ALL THE HARDWARE. 

A week or so later we noted that sourcing was rather....thin, and that no rice grain sized chips had been produced. 

Now it appears that Apple (who has vociferously denied it all along) is demanding a retraction and apology from Bloomberg.  

As Pixy noted in the comments to our first post on the matter, one of the reporters involved has a rather chequered history with computer spying stories.

To Wit:

one of the reporters on the Bloomberg story -- Michael Riley -- had also done a story back in 2014 making bold claims that the NSA had exploited the Heartbleed bug, and multiple other reports ripped that story to shreds, with multiple people denying it and no one else confirming it.

That TECHDIRT story goes on to suggest that Bloomberg has whittled away their credibility on this and "set fire to the scraps". 

For example people quoted in the original story are strongly contradicting it.
All of Bloomberg's sources on this are and remain anonymous. So as of now, the story seems to be a dumpster fire, that still hasn't produced any spy chips or any evidence whatsoever. 

None of this is to suggest that its a good idea to be subcontracting our most vital components to overseas slaves whose masters hate our guts, or that this isn't an obvious and even likely threat. However, IF this story is in fact bunk, (as now seems likely) the "Cry Wolf Effect" will make it harder to prepare for such matters. Furthermore if this is bunk then those of us who reported it credulously will find it harder to be believed when it does come to pass.

If I were the CCP, that would suit me just fine.

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October 17, 2018

Project H.A.V.O.C.

While the acronym does accurately convey the idea, the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept acronym might need some tweaking for PR reasons.

In any event,  the project is quite interesting and NASA's announcement Monday that it is seriously considering it for one of its upcoming manned missions is genuinely exiting.  Conceived by N.A.S.A.'s Langley Research Center, H.A.V.O.C. has actually been around for a few years, Scott Lowther did an extensive write up on it in U.S. Spacecraft Projects #5 earlier this year. 

The concept involves using a rocket to go to Venus, (which actually is easier to get to than Mars) which will drop a manned survey vehicle into the atmosphere. 

So far so good, except that as we all know, Venus's surface temperature is that of molten lead, its pressure is higher than in the Marianas Trench and after CO2 and Nitrogen, the most common atmospheric gas is sulfuric acid. Also it's gravity is about the same as Earth and so would require a full sized ( Titan or bigger) acid proof rocket to get the crew back into orbit in the unlikely event they weren't baked, dissolved, and crushed.

This is why Venus has not been on N.A.S.A.'s shortlist for places to visit. 

Fortunately there is an amazingly cutting edge technology that allows a manned survey of Venus. 

The Blimp!

The High Altitude Venus Operational Concept takes  advantage of the fact that temperatures 34 miles above the surface are around 80 degrees and the pressure is that of Boulder Colorado. However because the CO2 atmosphere is much denser than nitrogen, earth air is a lifting gas at that altitude. 

 "Dirigibles in space!"

So the idea is to inflate the "landing" party's ship on the way down and have it double as a 423 foot long airship, (Actually a manned, dirigible, rockoon) and then fly around the planet for a few weeks or months doing more detailed surveys than can be done from orbit and tele-operating probes on the surface. This also allows for detailed chemical analysis of the atmosphere, using sensors lowered on tethers into the dense lower atmosphere, much like a oceanographer uses Nansen bottles to sample the deep. 

After completing the mission, the Blimp will launch a rocket from high altitude (Like a Pegasus) and transport the crew into space, where they'll rendezvous with their mother ship and return to Earth.

Assuming an acid proof blimp, Venus is actually much safer than Mars for the astronauts. The gravity is about the same as Earth, the thick atmosphere plus the planet's weak magnetic field would protect the crew from cosmic rays even better than earth does. Venus is much easier to get to and launch windows open much more often than they do for Mars. Two precursor missions, one manned but confined to orbit and one using a 1 quarter scale drone dirigible to test acid proofing and demonstrate that the inflation/deployment system works would precede the crewed Venus blimp sortie..

This is a very good idea for an icebreaker mission. It's more advanced than the moon or asteroid missions currently in the pipeline but still far quicker, easier (and probably safer) than the upcoming mission to Mars. Such a mission would be far shorter in duration than a Mars landing and would be a nice stepping stone on the way to those missions as well as expeditions to the asteroids Mercury, Ceres and Callisto. Flags and footprints albeit without flags or dirty feet (but with a blimp!).

So, today we've discussed rockets, space travel, a manned mission to the planet Venus and an airship, nay, a rockoon even! The only thing that would make this cooler is a swordfight. 

Or floating cities...

The fact that air is a lifting gas means that large, long term settlements are theoretically possible, with all the advantages regarding radiation and gravity listed above. Even the sulfuric acid is not that big a problem as it is mostly below the altitudes proposed, where it is quite dilute. In fact, the temperatures while hotter than Death Valley are such that one could could probably do something one can do nowhere except Earth: step outside in a birthday suit and survive as long as one could hold one's breath (but run to the cold shower/eyewash station afterwards!). As an added bonus, unlike anywhere except Titan, due to the sheer density of the CO2, such cloud cities would also be far better protected against meteor strikes than any city on Earth. 

A 2015 study at Rutgers (preliminary draft here) published the above artwork some time ago to illustrate what a (very hypothetical) more permanent research station might look like and news reports on Monday's announcement almost universally featured the below N.A.S.A. image of a large floating outpost acting as a tender to several H.A.V.O.C. type airships. 

Both of these are very ambitious indeed and probably quite far term. For one thing, despite its advantages, Venus would seem to make little sense as a location for space cities, as they'd be far down a gravity well, there's no water except what one can crack from the sulphuric acid and no easy way to bring in supplies from asteroids. In an O'Neal cylinder or on the surface of a planet like Mars a major damage incident is survivable with space suits and repair teams, on Venus if you balloon deflates you're baked, dissolved, and crushed.

So unless the view of the clouds is SPECTACULAR and sufficiently so to somehow justify interplanetary tourism,  there's little reason to believe that there would ever be any kind of permanent outpost on Venus.  

I mean what could Venus produce that has real value and couldn't be gotten FAR easier somewhere, indeed anywhere else?

Oh right...

One of our Crack Team Of 2-D Science Babes reminds us of this paper (PDF) we perused recently that reviewed what scientists know about Venus's atmosphere. Here's an interesting excerpt...

Venera 13, Venera 14, Vega 1, and Vega 2 descent probes all carried X-ray fluorescence instruments. These instruments measured elemental composition of the cloud particles and found not only sulfur, but also phosphorus, chlorine and iron – notably, as much phosphorus as sulphur in the lower clouds below 52 km [Andreichikov et al, Sov. Astron. Lett. 1986, 1987]. A chemical analysis by Krasnopolsky [PSS, 1985] con- cluded that the phosphorus could be in the form of phosphoric acid (H3PO4) aerosols, which would ac- count for the particulates observed by descent probes down to 33 km altitudes

Emphasis is mine.

Phosphorus, is not a trivial thing.
Phosphorus is absolutely vital to life and while theoretically common on earth is concentrated in useable forms mainly in living organisms and in phosphate rocks (mostly fossils of dead organisms). The amount of free phosphorous pretty much dictates the carrying capacity of the planet and it is a real concern for food production as phosphates are a finite resource. Furthermore, additional sources of phosphorus need to be found if humanity is going to expand into space. such deposits are presumed to exist, but on Earth they seem to have been concentrated by biological action leaving a bit of a chicken-egg problem finding it off planet. Even without off planet colonization phosphorous shortages represent a potential disaster for human food supplies. There is discussion of peak phosphorus here, here and here.  

Even if the perils of peak phosphorus are overstated, it IS a finite resource and most off planet settlements are going to require off planet sources of phosphorus if they are to expand. Phosphorus could well end up being something akin to the dilithium, quanticum 40,or spice Melange of the real future. The only extraterrestrial places that I've read that it exists in other than trace amounts is the above mentioned cloud layer on Venus and the red clouds of Jupiter (bound in phosphene). 

This moves the notion of a floating city on Venus from technically feasible to potentially practical and indeed desirable. See, if the Soviet probes were correct, then there is, in Venus's lower atmosphere, phosphorus (in gaseous form) in greater concentrations than the ubiquitous sulfur. You'd need to pump up atmosphere near the surface, filter out the undesirable stuff and if its phosphoric acid then you have to take out the water and oxygen (I'm sure uses can be found for those) I don't know what reagents might be necessary but this represents a steady supply of phosphorous.  

But wait...there's more. Venus has more sunlight than earth, a zillion times as much CO2, and about 4 times as much atmospheric nitrogen as Earth. There's also water to be had from the phosphoric and sulphuric acid. And remember you're better protected from meteor strikes and cosmic rays than on Earth. A Venusian phosphorus-gas mine could grow all its own food. 

Art from Technica Molodezhi TM - 9 1971 a Soviet Science Magazine

In the longer term, expanding upon such floating farms, Venus could be the breadbasket of the solar system. All that stuff that can be got so much easier on Luna, Mercury, Mars or The Belt? Well, the cloud cities of Venus ought to be able to just buy them. Of course you have solar power out the wazoo so it's at least conceivable that such an outpost might make something useful out of the carbon in the CO2. Note too that the referenced report also mentions the apparent presence of gaseous iron compounds in the lower atmosphere which might be industrially exploitable as well. Finally, Venus has, as mentioned, well more that three Earths worth of nitrogen in its atmosphere. If Venus sold Mars an atmosphere, there'd still be enough left over for thousands of O'Neal Cylinders. Venus has the potential to be not only self-sufficient but an exporter of food, fertilizer and air. 

Of course for any of that that to eventually come to pass we need to confirm the Soviet probe data and do close surveys of the planet. N.A.S.A. seems to be planning just that in the next decade.

This is awesome. Even putting aside the longer term speculations; the fact that N.A.S.A. is looking at innovative missions like this is truly heartening.

With regard to the more ambitious proposals, I think we should begin a movement to have high pressure gaseous phosphoric acid referred to by the trade name "Tibanna". 

:Fixed some typos. 
:Added 2 additional pictures
:While trying to hunt down a picture credit I discovered that there is an extensive disquisition on the topic of Venusian settlement and even terraforming from 2014 here.  

:Thanks to Pete Zaitcev in the comments there are some links to much earlier thoughts by John Goff on the matter regarding safe rocket recovery here and here as well as Venusian industrial chemistry here and here.

Crackerjack 2-D Science Babe is Rikka from Haganai 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 09:38 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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