Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Scientifically speaking, we live in extraordinary times.  We’ve detected Gravitational Waves, discovered the Higgs Boson god particle, and inch ever closer to figuring out what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are.  If they even exist at all.  Scientists have invented a material with negative mass, a liquid that flows backward.  New exo-planets, some of them potentially habitable, continue to get discovered on a daily basis.  Within the far reaches of our own solar system we continue to find evidence of new planetary bodies, while exploring the possibility that icy moons could harbor life.

But there’s always been one area of physics that has eluded our grasp.  One conundrum that not even the most potent particle accelerator could figure out.  The infamous Black Hole; the information destroying, light capturing, matter eating behemoths that allegedly reside at the center of every galaxy, wreaking havoc on space-time just for the hell of it.

At least that’s what we think happens.  Just like with Dark Matter we’ve never been able to directly observe a Black Hole.  We just figure that it must exist based on our calculations and best guesses for how the Universe works. But all that may be about to change.  For the first time ever we may be on the verge of actually photographing a Black Hole!

To pull off this incredible feat scientists have concocted an audacious plan so-crazy-it-might-just-work: turning the entire Earth into a giant telescope!

As Gizmodo explains:

“The Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, is a network of around ten radio telescope observatories across the planet, synchronized via the most precise atomic clocks, and pointed directly at the center of our galaxy. There, scientists are pretty sure a supermassive black hole around four million times the mass of our sun, called Sagittarius A*, powers the orbit of the Milky Way’s rotation, tears matter to shreds and flings balls of it across space. The telescope network will also look at the much larger black hole inside the giant galaxy M87. The EHT is around a decade old, but the addition of the world’s most powerful radio telescope, ALMA or the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Chilean desert, along with a telescope at the South Pole, may allow scientists to finally get the wild black hole image previously offered only by artist drawings or computer simulations.  This souped-up Event Horizon Telescope will start observing in early April.”

This means that we could be mere days away from finally observing what an actual Black Hole looks like.  Maybe even days away from finding out if Hawking radiation is real or not; from finding out if light really can’t escape the event horizon; if information is truly lost; if these soul crushing monsters are actually cosmic dead ends or portals to other dimensions.

These observations could have a profound impact on our ability to understand the way that the Universe works, to learn more about galaxy formation, and to figure out what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are.  All told, this new knowledge could potentially bring us one step closer to crossing the cosmos in pursuit of discovering new worlds.  Extraordinary times indeed.

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Is using the entire Earth as a telescope the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,034 – TRAPPIST-1

Yesterday NASA held a press conference to announce a major discovery outside of our solar system.  There was a lot of speculation as to what it could be.  Proof of dark matter?!!? Direct observation of a black hole?!!? An explanation for Dark Energy?!?!  As it turns out the announcement was better than all that: the discovery of a solar system with not one, not two, not three, but seven (seven!) Earth sized planets!

As Futurism put it, “scientists working with telescopes at the European Southern Observatory and NASA announced a remarkable new discovery: An entire system of Earth-sized planets. If that’s not enough, the team asserts that the density measurements of the planets indicates that the six innermost are Earth-like rocky worlds.  And that’s just the beginning.  Three of the planets lie in the star’s habitable zone.”

This is a really big deal.  In our search for intelligent life and for other places to call home we’ve found other exoplanets before.  We’ve even found other Earth like exoplanets within the Goldilocks zone before.  But we’ve never found a multi-planetary system teeming with the possibility of this much life before.  If you were going to pick any star to travel to, this star, known as TRAPPIST-1, would be the one.  If for no other reason than the sheer odds of finding life or habitable conditions on at least one of the three planets, if not all three.  Not to mention the fact that the other three rocky planets could contain ice or other natural resources that you could use in your colonization efforts or could themselves be candidates for terraforming.  Oh, and I did mention that TRAPPIST-1 is one of our closest stellar neighbors.  Only 40 light years away!

Of course that’s still too far to reach within a human life span using modern technology which is why some people were quick to dismiss this news.  Sure, it’s noteworthy.  But ultimately, it just doesn’t matter they exclaimed.  What!!!!?!!! This sentiment bothers me.  A lot.  This is really big news.  And it does matter.  A lot.

It may not seem like it but space travel is actually within our reach.  For starters the Breakthrough Starshot project has its sights set on sending gram scale nanocraft to nearby Alpha Centauri within forty years to search for signs of life.  Meanwhile the “impossible” EM Drive could speed up our space travel efforts by pulling the fabric of space time around a ship instead of propelling a ship through it.  All while the James Webb Telescope is set to launch in October 2018, replacing the Hubble Telescope, and allowing for even more precise observations of phenomena across the Universe, including giving us a closer look at the makeup of the TRAPPIST-1 system.  If that’s not good enough for you consider the fact that we’re on the verge of mining an asteroid and that Elon Musk has specific plans on how to get us to Mars.  That is, when he’s not busy landing reusable rockets on floating sea platforms.

But all of that actually pales in comparison to the real reason why yesterday’s news matters: public sentiment.  It used to be that visiting the Moon or living on Mars was all we thought about whether we were a ten year old kid or a science fiction writer.  Now whenever exciting news occurs we shrug our shoulders and go back to scrolling through our Facebook feeds.  A planetary system with 3-7 habitable Earth like planets could change all that.   Could get us to daydream once again about space travel.  Get us to imagine what it would be like to live on one planet and work on another.  Or what it would be like to explore another world while on an exotic vacation.

I get that there are doubters, but I for one can’t wait to learn more about this planetary system and I especially look forward to tracking our efforts to get there.  TRAPPIST-1 here we come!

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TRAPPIST-1 here we come!



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It may seem like all hope has been lost but in spite of recent world events there’s still a lot to be thankful for scientifically and technologically.

Such as:

  • My wildest Back to the Future dream coming true with the December 1st release of self-lacing sneakers from Nike known as HyperAdapt.  These are going to be a must have even at the $720 price point.
  • The Hyperloop continuing to progress in Dubai; perhaps it will be used to transport people and not just cargo after all.
  • A breakthrough that could allow medication to be delivered consistently without having to take a pill every day thanks to a new method that administers a dose that lasts for weeks.
  • The Chinese using the groundbreaking gene editing technique CRISPR on a live human for the first time to fight cancer.  Could this be the future of healthcare?
  • An even more absurd AI breakthrough that could lead to the creation of a light based neural network that would be 1,960 times faster than a normal processor.
  • The completion of the James Webb Telescope, still on schedule to replace the Hubble Telescope in 2018.  Habitable exo-planets here we come!
  • Apple allegedly working on a new innovation to incorporate Augmented Reality features into their cameras.  Apparently Tim Cook and company are still capable of telling us what we want before we even realize it.
  • Continuous 3D printing breakthroughs including a new turbine capable of powering 10,000 homes using carbon dioxide. Perhaps we will be able to science our way out of Climate Change after all.

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Nike’s Hyper Adapt is just one of the many things I’m thankful for.

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#978 – Emergent Gravity

I knew it! I just knew it! There’s no such thing as Dark Matter!

For the uninitiated regular matter i.e. me, you, everything on Earth, the Earth itself, other planets, asteroids, stars, etc. only makes up about 5% of the known Universe.  Everything else is Dark Matter and even though we can’t directly detect it we believe that it’s there because without it planets would fly off their orbits and into space.  But what if it’s really not there at all?  Perhaps all we have to do to explain our observations of the way things work in our solar system and in our galaxy is to redefine our understanding of what gravity is and how it works.

This mind blowing new theory is known as Emergent Gravity and was posited by Professor Erik Verlinde, a string theory expert at the University of Amsterdam and the Delta Institute for Theoretical Physics.  As Phys.org puts it, “According to Verlinde, gravity is not a fundamental force of nature, but an emergent phenomenon. In the same way that temperature arises from the movement of microscopic particles, gravity emerges from the changes of fundamental bits of information, stored in the very structure of space-time.”

So far the math checks out for this theory and best of all, it can even be used to explain Dark Energy as well, that mysterious force that may be responsible for speeding up the expansion of the Universe.

According to Phys.Org:

“One of the ingredients in Verlinde’s theory is an adaptation of the holographic principle, introduced by his tutor Gerard ‘t Hooft (Nobel Prize 1999, Utrecht University) and Leonard Susskind (Stanford University).  According to the holographic principle, all the information in the entire universe can be described on a giant imaginary sphere around it.  Verlinde now shows that this idea is not quite correct—part of the information in our universe is contained in space itself.  This extra information is required to describe that other dark component of the universe: Dark energy, which is believed to be responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe.  Investigating the effects of this additional information on ordinary matter, Verlinde comes to a stunning conclusion. Whereas ordinary gravity can be encoded using the information on the imaginary sphere around the universe, as he showed in his 2010 work, the result of the additional information in the bulk of space is a force that nicely matches that attributed to dark matter.”

Not to get all religious on you but the idea of Dark Matter is one that always bothered me the same way a belief in God has always bothered me.  We couldn’t fully explain the way the Universe worked using physics so we just made something up to fill in the blanks.  Similarly, whenever early man came across something that he didn’t understand he would just chalk it up a higher power.  Don’t know why it’s raining?  It’s simple.  The Rain Gods made it rain.  Clearly that’s not the right approach though.  There’s obviously a firm mathematical based explanation for everything, even something as mysterious as Dark Matter, as this new theory of Emergent Gravity shows.  Hopefully, those among us still simple minded enough to believe in the idea of God will figure that out sooner rather than later.  In the interim it’ll be interesting to see how this theory holds up to more rigorous testing and what comes out of it.

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Is Emergent Gravity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#965 – Asgardia

This may be sacrilegious to say but I don’t really feel a strong connection with being an American.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love America.  Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  Have never even traveled outside the country.  It’s just that there’s no real emotional attachment.  Watching Michael Phelps win gold after gold at the Olympics does nothing for me.  Chalk it up to my apathetic nature if you must.  I don’t have a strong connection to my Jewish heritage either.  I don’t even have a single favorite sports team that I care that deeply about. Rather the only group that I really self-identify with are futurists.  Forward thinking individuals driven to making the world a better place through innovation.  People who set out to actually invent the future that they want to see.  Unfortunately, there’s no physical manifestation of this group.  There’s no church of futurism.  It’s not a political party.  A physical location akin to Disney’s Tomorrowland doesn’t actually exist.  There’s no real way for someone like myself to feel included.  Until now that is.  Say hello to Asgardia, a newly created nation dedicated to outer space!

That’s right.  We’re talking about the creation of an entirely new country, one free from national pride, regional entanglements, and other Earthly constraints.  A group of people dedicated to one thing and one thing only: ensuring access to outer space for the entire world.  As of now only thirteen countries have space programs lead by the likes of the U.S., Russia, China and India.  But what about everyone else?  Free from the regulatory and political shackles that currently throttle innovation on Earth this new space faring nation would be able to innovate at a much quicker pace and do so for the benefit of the entire planet.

The concept of creating a new nation to avoid regulatory wrangling isn’t new.  For example, seasteading refers to the practice of creating permanent dwellings at sea.  Located in international waters these collectives can skirt the law and innovate freely.  There are also dozens of micro-nations that spring up from time to time for similar reasons.  The difference is that these micro-nations aren’t recognize by real countries.  Asgardia on the other hand is actually aiming to join the United Nations.

Asgardia isn’t a space based hippie commune though.  There won’t even be a physical space station for people to live on.  Rather what we’re talking about is a serious entity that would aim to tackle some of the gravest threats facing the planet.  Their #1 priority?  Building a planetary defense system capable of protecting Earth from asteroids, decommissioned satellites, and any other trash hurdling through space that could push a risk to anyone on Earth.  They’d also conduct scientific research in a gravity free environment and provide access to space to the billions of people around the world who hail from countries without space programs.

Best of all Asgardia is actually offering up citizenships to the people of Earth.  100,000 of them to start.  What would citizenship entail?  That part isn’t clear yet.  What is clear is that I desperately want to become an Asgardian.  Instead of being constrained to the country that I was randomly born into I could instead represent the entire planet.  Helping my new nation to protect the world and all of its inhabitants.  I’m starting to swell with pride just thinking about it.  Asgardia here I come!

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Is Asgardia the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#961 – Space X Shipping

Elon Musk’s well detailed plans for travelling to and colonizing Mars have garnered most of the headlines lately and rightfully so.  But it’s one of his other more Earthly ideas that could make a bigger impact in the near term.  Say hello to Space X Shipping, a low Earth orbit shipping concept that could one day lead to packages being sent from New York to Japan in just twenty minutes!

As Musk told Inverse at the recent International Astronautical Congress, site of his Mars plan unveiling:

“Maybe there is some market for really fast transport of stuff around the world, provided we can land somewhere where noise is not a super big deal. Rockets are very noisy…Maybe if we had a floating platform off the coast of New York, say 20-30 miles out, you could go from NY to Tokyo in 25 minutes, cross the Atlantic in 10 minutes. Really most of your time would be getting to the ship.”

Digital Trends expands on the idea further:

“Offering an example, [Musk] said that a rocket launching from a floating platform 30 miles off the coast of New York City could reach Tokyo 6,800 miles away in a mere 25 minutes. The quickest available flight today takes 14 hours. He added that a hop across the pond to Europe would take just 10 minutes – a tantalizing prospect if you’ve always found FedEx’s Express service to be a tad on the slow side.”

Considering the amount of capital that would be needed to fund a manned mission to Mars it would make sense for Musk and Space X to look into ways to generate more revenue.  Using their reusable rockets for commercial cargo shipping could very well be one of those ways.

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Is Space X Shipping the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#960 – Mars, Here We Come!

“I still have the same sense of wonder about our space program that I did as a child. It represents an essential part of our character — curiosity and exploration, innovation and ingenuity, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and doing it before anybody else. The space race we won not only contributed immeasurably important technological and medical advances, but it also inspired a new generation of scientists and engineers with the right stuff to keep America on the cutting edge.”

That was President Obama, in his own words earlier today, in a piece that he authored for CNN.  And while the timing may be curious (he’s obviously just doing it now to try and further define his legacy) it doesn’t make the initiative any less important.  With all of the horrible things happening all around us from ISIS and the war in Syria to civil unrest in our own country what we need, now more than ever, is hope.  A promise for a better tomorrow.  Racing towards Mars could provide that hope.  Inspiring a whole new generation the way the race to the Moon inspired so many once before.

However, it’s not going to be President Obama who gets us there.  Rather, it’s going to be Elon Musk.  Just two weeks ago the world’s greatest living inventor outlined in great detail exactly how he’s going to get us there in just one decade, not two as President Obama had targeted.  Here are some of the highlights of Musk’s audacious plan:

  •  According to Wired the plan, “involves a slew of new technology: gigantic, reusable rockets; carbon fiber fuel tanks; ultra-powered engines. Plus spaceships capable of carrying a hundred or more passengers to the Red Planet, landing, then returning to Earth to pick up more. Musk doesn’t just want to go to Mars: He wants to build a civilization there. Which means he’ll need all that sweet gear to make it cheap enough to work.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds that: “[Mr. Musk] envisions hosts of giant, reusable rockets standing more than 300 feet tall eventually launching fleets of carbon-fiber spacecraft into orbit.  The boosters would return to Earth, blast off again into the heavens with ‘tanker’ spaceships capable of refueling the initial vehicles, and then send those serviced spacecraft on their way to the Red Planet. The rockets would be twice as powerful as the Saturn 5 boosters that sent U.S. astronauts to the Moon. Each fully developed spacecraft likely would carry between 100 and 200 passengers…”
  • Meanwhile, according to NPR: “Musk described plans to send at least a million humans to Mars and establish a self-sustaining city there. He said he expects people to reach Mars within a decade, and described four requirements for a new rocket fleet, which would travel to Mars approximately every two years, when Mars and Earth come closest to each other.  The requirements for a feasible rocket system are full re-usability, the ability to refuel in orbit, the ability to produce fuel on Mars and identifying the ideal propellant. Because the atmosphere of Mars is largely made of carbon dioxide, and previous missions have found ice on the planet, Musk said he thought it would be possible to produce a methane fuel there.”
  • As for who would foot the bill for this huge endeavor NPR notes: “One thing Musk was less specific about was who would pay for it all, saying it would be ‘a huge public private partnership,’ and that he expected support to ‘snowball.’ He did say the cost per person would need to decrease significantly in order for colonization to work. Right now, Musk estimates a trip to Mars would cost $10 billion per person. Musk says he would like to bring that cost down to about $200,000.”

So to recap, we’re talking about sending a million people to a planet that’s not yet habitable, in under ten years, using technology that doesn’t exist yet, with funding that we don’t yet have.  Sounds like a plan!

Obviously, we have a long way to go before we turn Musk’s vision into a reality.  But if anyone can do it, it’s him.  Thankfully, he won’t have to do it alone.  With President Obama on board with getting to Mars the groundwork has been laid for the government and private sector to work hand in hand from here on out.  Pushing each other the way the U.S. and Soviet Union once pushed each other during the Cold War to reach the Moon.  Except that this time the stakes are even higher than the threat of an armed conflict.  This time we’re talking about becoming an inter-planetary species and ensuring our survival.  The stakes couldn’t be any higher.  Mars, here we come!

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It’s now only a matter of time before we get to Mars.


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