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?"

Well...
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.

 "Schweet!."

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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?



"PHOSPHOROUS!" 
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". 



UPDATE:
: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.  

UPDATE 2:
: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 

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September 12, 2018

The 21st Century is Here!

Finally! Exactly the sort of human augmentation that science fiction has been promising us!


Beware of Penguins.

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July 15, 2018

News From the World of 'Splody!



One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us the delightful news that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has declassified about 300 more above ground nuclear test films.




Both the above and below are of the same test of the SADM, nuclear backpack bomb (positioned 110 feet underground).



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July 07, 2018

Prospecting Prospects

Issac Arthur's video this week is on the colonization of Ceres. This one is pretty neat. I had not realized that the gravity on Ceres was so low that spin habitats could be put on the surface and there would only be the equivalent to about a three degree list to port for the inhabitants. 

The fact that sunlight is actually bright enough to grow plants and be marginal for solar power as far out as Jupiter is interesting as well. 


I'm much more of the Dandridge Cole / Gerald O'Neal school of thought on space colonies. I'm skeptical of Mars settlement, especially when A Stanford Torus or O'Neal cylinder pretty much will have correct gravity. They can be anywhere, perhaps next to (or inside) mineral rich asteroids and potentially move if needed. 

Art by Franz Blok

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July 05, 2018

OK. Now Pele is Just Screwing With Us

Behold, a lava tornado.

 


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July 03, 2018

It's Important in These Trying Times to Maintain Some Perspective

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May 07, 2018

That's a Bad Thing to See on Your Commute




Via Volcano Cafe, which is doing a great job on covering the situation in Hawaii. 

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December 17, 2017

Old 'Splodies, Newly Released

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories has released another dump of declassified films of above ground nuclear tests. While none are as visually spectacular as some of the ones in the previous release, they're nevertheless interesting and this batch seems to focus mostly on very small (including sub-kiloton) blasts and some of the big multi-megaton tests at the Pacific test range. 


Regarding the latter, I do wonder if the great distances these high yield tests were filmed from in comparison to the first is related to the debacle that was Castle Bravo

One thing about these films only fully registered with me recently. There are several  sequences that attempt to film the actual physics as it is happening, and push the 1950s filmmaking state of the art to the limit. Remember, this was captured with film...there was no such thing as a digital camera then... this is a fission/fusion explosion...just really...sloooooowwwwwww. 


Amazing!



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October 30, 2017

Obviously Its Reporting Back to the Mother Ship

While many of us were distracted, a new comet (C 2017/U1 PANSTARRS) was observed. After a bit of math, it was realized that the "comet" was moving faster than solar system escape velocity, meaning that it had to be an extra-solar object passing through our system.

One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes has some...comettary.



There's more on this neat story, herehere, and here


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October 18, 2017

Oh. We've Got TWO!

NASA has recently noticed a heretofore undocumented moon that has apparently been squatting here undetected for some time. Due to NASA's limited border enforcement budget and the fact that the interloper's arrival predated the Johnson-Reed Act by about a decade, it is not (as of now) going to be deported. 


It's unclear how the change in the number of dependents will affect Earth's Tax status. 


Art (sans text) by Kiichi

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July 12, 2017

"Shall We Take a Train to the Moon ?"


One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes notes that a bullet train will take 50 days, if it's no faster than an E-6.



I honestly never thought that Galaxy Railways might intersect with plausible space development in any meaningful way.

Now you may ask yourself, "What the hell is this all about?"

Well, this...


Better than a space elevator and doable with current tech. 

more...

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June 07, 2017

Elmer Fudd: Super Genius

Isaac Arthur has one of my favorite You-Tube channels and I just realized I've never linked to him. That is a travesty on my part. This is a a superb channel focusing on futurism.


This video on the Kardashev Scale is a good primer for the channel. 


Beware!
The fellow has an epic speech impediment that inspired the post title.
This channel is online video crack and if one is not careful one will lose hours, possibly days basking in the sheer awesomness of it. 
Use responsibly!




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April 29, 2017

This is Why we Can't Have Nice Things

We noted this wondrous development last year, but had missed the inevitable follow-up.


This is incredible! This is the 21st century we were promised! Naturally, the federal government is on the case, taking money from us under threat of force to pay a stalwart army of Vogons to protect us from this joy.

Here's another view of this fantastical French phenomenon without the scolds, or their remonstrance. 

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March 17, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore

At least, I'm pretty sure that computer manufacturing facilities do not employ seamstresses in crucial roles.  (via)



Rope? Memory? 


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March 14, 2017

First Fluorescent Frog Found

Well, that headline is pretty self explanatory, so there's very little to add to it except for a bit more alliteration. 

Alas, we're running low on polite "f" words.





"...Funky!"

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March 05, 2017

A Magnetic Field for Mars, on a Budget

Mars has lost the bulk of it's atmosphere in part because it's magnetic field is weak and only covers parts of its tropical regions. This has allowed the solar wind to strip away most of the planet's atmosphere other than the relatively dense CO2.


Therefore, one issue facing those who would terraform the red planet is the fact that if the atmosphere were built up through human endeavors, the atmosphere would immediately start to erode again, taking thing like the oxygen and nitrogen first. 

Giving the planet a magnetic field has been considered a far more daunting task than simply terraforming it, since to increase the output of the planetary dynamo would require bringing a large moon to pull on its core like ours does. 

This has...practicality issues.

One alternative is a vast series of cables built all over the red planet and powered by many gigawats of electricity. Such a system has been proposed for Earth to deal with a possible pole reversal.

However, scientists at Princeton University, have run the numbers and determined that Mars could be effectively protected from the solar wind by a small inflatable structure at Mars's Sunward Lagrange Point. This structure would generate a 2 Tesla magnetic field (that's 10,000 to 20,000 Gauss)...whatever that means.


"That's  less than one quarter of a typical MRI machine's maximum capacity."


Uh...thanks.

Anyway, the magnetic field generated would deflect the solar wind around the planet, rather more completely than Earths field does, since the field is separate and doesn't leave the poles unprotected. 



This would, even without any further human intervention, result in the Martian atmosphere thickening on its own.

This makes any terraforming of Mars much more sustainable.

We here at Brickmuppet Blog are more of the Dandridge Cole, Gerard K. O'Neal  schools of space settlement, but this is a really neat development. A planetary settlement does have some advantages with regards to resources, especially on a place like Mars. 

(Interestingly, this probably can't be made to work with regards to Earth, because our Lagrange Points are not balanced between Earth and the sun, but rather Earth and the Moon.)

HT: NBF

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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. 


Image via

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's more on this here, here, here, & here.

*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.


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