February 23, 2017
We Ought to Name Them After the Days of The Week*
Wow! No less than SEVEN planets ranging from roughly Earth to Mars sized have been discovered in the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. No less than three of the planets are in the habitable zone!
All 7, at least theoretically, could have water on their surfaces, though on the farthest planet, any water would almost certainly be ice, and the closest are...borderline. However, at least one of the planets in the habitable region has tentatively been identifies as being of water rich composition (mentioned at about the 04:40 mark in the embedded video).
Note that NASA recently tightened the definition of Habitable Zone which effectively reduced it in width for any given star. This model does not take into account many potential atmospheric effects, but does account for other things. By the older, less restrictive definition (given the distance from the star and sufficient atmospheric pressure, could liquid water exist on the surface of the planet) Venus, Earth, Luna, Mars and Ceres are all in the habitable zone of our solar system. Note too, that under the new rules Earth is a borderline case.
The star is being described an ultra-cool-dwarf, which is NOT a charismatic little person, but a stellar spectral type classification (L-T) that has recently been shoehorned into the demarcation between red dwarf stars and brown dwarfs (which are substellar). The star is only 11% the diameter of the sun or about the size of Jupiter (though much more massive). The orbits of these 7 planets, therefore are pretty close together, kind of like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but they are much much larger. This means that...well...look...
From the video, this completely hypothetical view from the fourth planet out is quite speculative and hopeful regarding the snow and water and transparent atmosphere. However, given the latter, is accurate regarding the view of other planets.The other planets, at certain times of year would appear as actual planets rather than wandering points of light. In some cases, planets in adjoining orbits would appear bigger than the moon. The planets are all closer to their tiny, cool star than Mercury is to ours.
Interestingly, while ultracool dwarfs are red stars, that is because so much of their emissions are in the infra-red. Their VISIBLE light from them (or red dwarfs for that matter) would be perceived by us as very similar to our own...basically white-yellow as all the colors are mixed together unless refracted, for example by a prism. (Earth's sun is technically a green star). There are some things missing from their spectrum though, blue and some greens are absent. Thus, optimistically assuming a Nitrogen atmosphere like ours, the nitrogen would not lightly reflect the blue as it does here, thus, the daytime sky would not be blue, but would be transparent. So, if not looking directly at the star, on an optimistically assumed clear day one might well see a black nightlike sky and even see stars (and passing planets) at noon if one was not looking at the star. Green plants, oceans and rainbows would look...different.
I guess Trappist-1 really IS an ultra-cool dwarf!
Image from Wikipedia's Trappist-1 entry.
They are remarkably similar in size with much less variation than our solar system's rocky planets, ranging from a bit larger than Mars to a tad bigger than Earth. Given the proximity of the planets to one another (as little as 1.5 times the distance to the moon) and super short orbital periods (years on these worlds range from 1.5 to 20 DAYS) they would periodically subject their neighbors to tidal forces, that would provide tides in optimistically supposed seas and perhaps facilitate magnetic fields on the smaller planets in much the same way that Ganymede has one. This would greatly increase the possibility of life. Finally, since we're engaging in highly optimistic ponderings, such tidal forces might interfere with and prevent the assumed tidal locking.
Given current technology, 40 light years might as well be infinity. We could, if we went balls-out and spent something like the budget of the USN for a decade or two, we could make something related to an Orion type starship that could make 5-10 percent the speed of light (max) which would get us to the nearest star (ProximaCentauri at 4.5 light years) in 45-90 years. The Trappist-1 system is a tad under 40 light years away and would be 400-800 years...which is a rather unsatisfactory commute. Still, this discovery is beyond cool and there is the infinitesimal possibility that something like the Alcubierre-drive might be possible and get developed.
Here, one of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes takes a moment to show off the 'work" she's planning on getting done in the hopes that she can one day see this wonder up close.
Art by Sukabu
*There is symmetry in this: The days of the week actually were named after Graeco-Roman astrology, specifically, the 7 classical planets (which included the sun) themselves then named after the high ranking members of the Roman pantheon.
February 13, 2017
BOOM! One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes reacts to news that a small U.S. aerospace company in Bolder is branching out into supersonic airliners...
Real Clear Future has an interview with the founder and CEO of Boom Technology a small aerospace company that is designing a three engined, small (45 passenger) airliner with intercontinental range. The small size, is, in part, to mitigate overland sonic booms. A proof of concept prototype is set to fly this year.
Given that the prototype is a two seater, the proposal is not as far along as the article suggests, however, BOOM Technology is not quite vaporware, having done work for LockMart, Boeing and Space-X. Additionally, Richard Branson of Virgin Airways has agreed to buy the first 10 of their airliners, which they hope to sell him in 2023.
Of course no matter how small their sonic boom, commercial supersonic flight is illegal over the United States, so they are focusing on overseas routes for now. However:
Scholl: My view is that when you can get from San Francisco to Tokyo faster than San Francisco to DC, there are going to be a whole lot of influential people who are motivated to get those rules fixed. I think we'll see that coming. That said, apparently fixing this is on Trump's first 100 days agenda, so we'll see whether that comes to fruition.
While this proposal is at least as well removed from the ticket buying phase as other, projects in the same vein, what is intruiging about this is the attention to ticket price by the designers. Round trip prices to places like London, Sydney, Auckland, and Tokyo are estimated to be in the 5-7000 dollar range. Pretty steep, and three to five times what one might pay for a coach seat, but in line with business class....and it's supersonic flight.
We'll wait and see if their prototype even flies, but this is something to keep an eye on and look forward to.
December 22, 2016
Meanwhile, in Space One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes sends you all seasons greetings and shows off a reliable and well understood way to generate thrust applied to one's shoulder. The Springfield model 1903 uses an explosion to send a 14 gram projectile at 760 meters a second in one direction and that force minus the mass of the rifle is applied to the shooters shoulder.
In stark contrast, China is claiming, that they have successfully tested (IN SPACE) a system that generates thrust without expelling any propellant. They claim to have been running tests of the EM-Drive on their space station.
The EM-Drive made news some weeks ago when a peer reviewed study indicated that it was (somehow) generating measurable (if minute) amount of thrust.
Note that "minute" doesn't do justice to the infinitessimality of the thrust levels involved.
The Springfield, does not violate any natural laws (asinine state laws are another matter) The same cannot be said for the EM Drive or any of the other RF Resonant cavity thrusters, like the Cannae Drive.
There seems to be SOMETHING going on with these devices, but the thrust is so low (at least in the NASA sponsored tests) that prctical application of them seems dubious even if they do work.
However, the place to test these is in free fall and the Chinese claim that
"This technology is currently in the latter stages of the proof-of-principle phase, with the goal of making the technology available in satellite engineering as quickly as possible," Li Feng explained at the press conference.
In any event, Cannae, a private company that is developing a similar drive (similar in that it looks like magic) is putting their money where their mouth is and will be testing their version in orbit as well. This indicates at the very least that even if they are incorrect, their pursuit of this technology is not a scam.
In any event, after this Chinese announcement, we here at Brickmuppet Blog remain deeply skeptical, but ever so slight more hopeful.
As it stands now, the thrust levels have little practical application, being orders of magnitude lower than even arc jets, However, IF, it actually works, and IF they can increase the thrust by a few orders of magnitude, then this could be a real thing. Those are a couple of pretty big and unlikely "Ifs"but they would portend a truly awesome development.
It would also be a disturbing one since it would mean that our understanding of even the most very basic rules of our universe is completely wrong.
But hey....the way 2016 has gone thus far, would that really be such a shock?
October 17, 2016
106 Years Ago Today ...the airship America broke records and achieved several firsts.
The ship was the brainchild of reporter/adventurer Walter Wellman and was initially financed by the Chicago Tribune, being designed and built for an attempt to be the first to reach the north pole. The aircraft was actually built in France, which was closer to Norway and allowed the designers to use the considerable expertise and physical plant of French balloon manufacturers, and presumably gain some input from the Gaelic airship pioneers. The craft, was, however, quite distinctive. America was a semi-rigid dirigible with a number of innovative features including swiveling airscrews capable of providing vectored thrust.
America, as built, about to make one of her attempts to reach the pole.
In 1906 the airship left Spitsbergen bound for the pole, but suffered from total engine failure. However, the crew managed to return as a balloon. The engine proved unrepairable and the ship was broken down and shipped to France for repairs. After the installation of a new engine the craft returned in 1907 and made 2 more attempts, however, both were stymied by abominable weather. The ship was shipped out again this tome to America and had it's envelope enlarged, had newer, more powerful engines installed, an electrical system including electric lights, and a wireless set was fitted, as was a lifeboat and a peculiar altitude regulator called an equillibrator, described here.
The device was a 300-foot long steel cable with 30 steel tanks containing gasoline and 40 wooden blocks. Each steel tank was 4-feet long and 9 inches in diameter and weighed about 100 pounds when filled with gasoline; the concave end of one tank fit into the convex end of another, like a ball and socket joint, and was padded with felt to absorb shocks and minimize wear and abrasion. The far end of the device consisted of 40 solid wooden blocks, tapering in diameter like the tail of a snake, that would float on the surface.
This was intended to compensate for day/night changes in buoyancy, without permanently dropping ballast. This was obviously a hazard to people on the ground, but with Robert E. Peary having gotten to the north pole in 1909. Wellman and the ship's designer, Melvin Vaniman had set their sights on a different "first", one that would push their little airship to the limits of it's capability. Their new goal was to cross the Atlantic by air, and for this, the equillibrator actually made sense as it had the potential to minimize losses of ballast and hydrogen.
America as refitted.
On October 15, 1910 America took off from Atlantic city New Jersey. Almost at once, things began to go wrong. The ship's propellors set for full vertical thrust kicked up a spectacular sandstorm. Moments after takeoff a loud screech was heard and investigation revealed the presence of a terrified cat that had stowed away in a box near the engine. He was named Kiddo. Engine trouble quickly ensued and and the ship continued on one engine. Attempts at repair proved futile as it was discovered that the engine had ingested a good deal of sand that had been kicked up during takeoff and was a total loss. It was decided to disassemble the other engine and clean it...but engine number two chose that moment to die.
The second engine was not completely wrecked and was repairable, but a ballasting error resulted in considerable loss of hydrogen. Over the next day, a storm came up and one engine was not enough to overcome the strong winds which pushed the ship far to the south.
The ship was far off course and the second engine became intermittent, so it was decided to abandon the flight. On the 17th, just north of Bermuda, the airship, now effectively a balloon spotted a British mail packet, the S.S. Trent, and hailed them via wireless using CQD (the predecessor to SOS). All six crewmen and Kiddo got into the lifeboat and were picked up by Trent, however, before a hawser could be attached, America, relieved of the weight of the lifeboat shot into the sky and was never seen again.
America photographed from RMSTrent. Note the visible "plug" in the envelope where the ship was enlarged & the equillibrator trailing in the water..
The flight, while unsucsessful, had a number of firsts.
2: Longest duration flight to that date by a considerable margin.
3: Longest distance covered by an aircraft in a single flight (over 1000 miles), also by a considerable margin.
4: First radio transmission from an aircraft was "Roy come and get this goddamned cat!"
5: First distress signal sent from an aircraft.
6: First launch of a boat from an aircraft.
7: First air-sea rescue....actually a sea-air rescue.
If things had broken just a bit different, America probably would have made it. An air intake filter would have prevented the loss of the engines. Of course this was one of the learning experiences that caused people to adopt them
Wellman threw in the towel on aviation after this, but Vaniman attempted another crossing of the Atlantic the next year in an improved and enlarged version of America named Akron (the first airship manufactured by Goodyear). Tragically, Akron exploded shortly after launch with the loss of all hands. The Atlantic would not be crossed by air until 1919.
If you are interested in more stuff involving airships, J.C.Carlton has you covered.
October 05, 2016
It's Time to Have a Little Talk With HR Scott Lowther notes another scolderiffic luddite pantywaist killjoy douche-mongler who is all upset about Elon Musks rather ambitious Mars plan. The piece is a sad commentary on our culture but would not really be worth noting were it not for one tidbit that Mr. Lowther turned up about this Calvinistic sourpuss who thinks that the ideal model for society is a pot of crabs.
EMPLOYMENT• Manager of Communications , NASA Astrobiology Program, Jan. 2007 – present.• Communication research, planning, and analysis, NASA Planetary Protection Office, Sept. 2002 – 2006.• Director of Communications , SPACEHAB, Inc., Washington, D.C., Sept. 1999 – Aug. 2002 .• Chancellor’s Fellow (1996 – 97, Knight Fellow (1997 – 99) , Indiana U. School of Journalism.• Director of Science Communication, Life Sciences Division, NASA HQ, Oct. 1994 – Aug. 1996.• Manager of education and out reach, exploration office, NASA HQ, Dec. 1993 – Oct. 1994 .• Senior editor/analyst, BDM International, April 1990 – December 1993.• Editor, Lockheed Engineering & Sciences Co., July 1988 – April 1990.• Senior editor for space, Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, December 1985 – July 1988.• Public affairs officer, National Commission on Space, Sept. – Dec. 1985.• Consultant, National Science Foundation, August – September 1985 .• Editor, Space Business News, June 1983 – August 1985.
"So...she's diametrically opposed to the Raison d ' être
of the organization, and is more generally an enemy of reason.
Why is NASA paying this person?"
August 24, 2016
CONFIRMED! We advised skepticism earlier, but it has now been confirmed that Proxima Centauri, the closest known star to our solar system, does indeed have a rocky "Earthlike" planet.
It get's better...
Although Proxima is considered a moderately active star, its rotation period is about 83 days (ref. 3) and its quiescent activity levels and X-ray luminosity4 are comparable to those of the Sun. Here we report observations that reveal the presence of a small planet with a minimum mass of about 1.3 Earth masses orbiting Proxima with a period of approximately 11.2 days at a semi-major-axis distance of around 0.05 astronomical units. Its equilibrium temperature is within the range where water could be liquid on its surface5.
One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes has thoughts on the matter....
This is still, an insanely long way out. An Orion drive (which involves propelling a ship by exploding atom bombs behind it) could get a crewed expedition there in about 100 years. More advanced nuclear pulse propulsion systems (that, unlike Orion would require considerable advancements to get working) could make a one way trip in around 45 years, as could the proposed laser sail designs.
Ok, that's a littler silly given that one needs to be darned sure of a destination if one embarks on a one way trip.
Obviously an unmanned probe could get there faster still...as little as 15 years for one design using near term technology and a very small probe. Well, that design now has a concrete goal.
And IF there was something very interesting found there...well, assuming a 20 year lead time to build the ship (which would involve the equivalent of constructing 4-10 Nimitz class aircraft carriers in terms of mass) then we could still put a, flag, some footprints and a small town there in the lifetime of the people that set the project in motion.
This is, on the one hand, unspeakably extravagant and optimistic given the challenges our civilization faces regarding its health and even survival in the near term. However, given those difficulties and others peculiar to having all of our eggs in this pale blue basket, such an extravagant project is not quite as insane as it sounds at first blush, given that a successful implementation would mean that our civilization would be multi-stellar at that point and our species's survival far more likely.
In any event, this is an awesome development in astronomy, for other reasons. The fact that the very closest star to our sun just happens to have one of these planets makes the odds of such things far more likely...especially since red dwarf's such as Proxima Centauri are the most common type of star in the galaxy.
The implications for that are nontrivial indeed.
UPDATE: This image, by ESO Calcada is, of course, pure speculation regarding the planet's appearance, but it gives a very good idea of the scale of space. Note that Proxima Centauri is generally considered to be a part of the Alpha Centauri System, Alpha Centauri A and B are both about the same size and brightness of our sun (A liitle larger and a little smaller respectively). Keeping in mind that they are in the same solar system as Proxima, note their distance from their little red companion in this picture.
August 18, 2016
A Mere 4.25 Light Years Away.... One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us up to speed on potentially consequential news from the world of astronomy.
"Take the following with a grain of salt."
There is a report that German and Chilean astronomers have discovered an "Earthlike" world...in the habitable zone....of...Proxima Centauri.
A couple of things about that sentence: "Earthlike" in that context seems to mean a terrestrial planet, which is referring to rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars...only one of which would be described by laymen as Earthlike. The habitable zone of a red dwarf is very narrow , so this is a very lucky happenstance if their figures are right. Note though, that we have three terrestrial planets in our solar system's habitable zone and only one of them had everything break just right. Finally, the actual paper has not been released yet, The article is based on an anonymous leak to Der Spiegel.
Still, if a random planet has been found around a red dwarf, especially the closest star to our solar system, this is a big deal, if it IS in the habitable zone, it's an even bigger deal.
It should be noted though that even this, closest of stars would take thousands of years to reach with our current fastest spacecraft. Nuclear pulse propulsion and laser sails however, both have the potential to reduce that to less than a century.
"Science Babe" is Mercy from Overwatch as imagined by GGGG
Painting is an imagining of another planet orbiting a red dwarf in a trinary star system Gliese-667c and comes via ESO-Calcada
July 03, 2016
Do Keep In Mind That This Chart is Two Years Old The rest of us....are just old.
I'm as old as C.
May 26, 2016
This Seems...Ill Thought Out
One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes reacts to the latest information on this "tunnel bus" or "straddle bus"currently being tested in China.
OK...I find myself in general agreement with her.
This does not seem wise. I mean it really looks like many, many, accidents waiting to happen. In a broader sense it's a neat idea though, and as a streetcar (on rails) it might work very well indeed.
There's more on this here, though not quite as much as there was before the translation.
April 28, 2016
One of These Words Seems Out of Place Optically. Transparent. Wood.
But wait...there's more.
This actually isn't the first time we've seen wood turned into a transparent material, as nanofibrillated cellulose has been used to create items such as the substrate for wood-based computer chips. According to KTH, however, the new process should be particularly well-suited to large-scale applications and mass production.
...scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have started producing "wooden" semiconductor chips that could almost entirely biodegrade once left in a landfill. As an added bonus, the chips are also flexible, making them prime candidates for use in flexible electronics
"Also enforces obsolescence when they rot."
See? When words are used incorrectly, there is mischief affoot.
"PIXY!! My computer has termites!"
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