Friday, February 27, 2015

From near to far, amazing things are everywhere...

What a year! So far, we've had a landing on a comet, great results from Mars, many more exoplanets zeroing in on "goldilocks" zones... and now, across the next few months, NASA spacecraft close in on the two most wondrous and fabled dwarf planets...

First up -- Ceres: NASA's Dawn spacecraft - after probing the giant asteroid Vesta - is getting super close to its planned orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres -- due to arrive March 6. The "white dot" mystery grows. But I am especially interested in whether our probe finds evidence of a liquid sea under the thick, icy crust.  If so, it will prove the "roofed water worlds" don't need the tug of a nearby planet, in order to heat and melt subsurface water.  It will change our notions of the abundance of liquid water in the universe.

And...the New Horizon spacecraft is closing in on Pluto. Nine years after its launch, New Horizons will achieve closest approach on July 14, 2015, collecting data on the surface and atmosphere of the dwarf planet, its large moon Charon and four smaller moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.  

 Want your name and message to go onto the New Horizons probe? Uploaded into memory after it finishes its main mission and heads out of the Solar System?  See (and join!) the New Horizons Message Initiative, headed by my friend the great space artist Jon Lomberg and his wife Sharona.

Want more wonders? Could there be life in the seas of Saturn's moons? Cornell researchers have modeled methane-based lifeforms that could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan.  Many have I got a great story on the back burner!

Meanwhile, we're still receiving wonderful views of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta orbiter, and these should get even better, during coming weeks. A dream come true for this comet guy!

(Alas, they hope that the little Philae lander, which should have been nuclear, not solar powered) will get enough power in a few months, as 67/P streaks sunward. But that's the same point when the rising push of escaping-subliming gas from below will likely shove the little guy out into space.)

== Visualizing Andromeda ==

For stunning new imagery of our neighboring galaxy, see the high-definition Gigapixels of Andromeda, assembled by Cory Poole. 

If there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, that means there are 100 stars for every Human Being! Manifest destiny!  Let's go get em!  

Ooops, that just went out over the web... so the natives know we're coming...

... in peace!  Yeah, that's the ticket.  We come in peace. ;-)

Seriously, read Phil Plait’s lyrical essay about how fortunate we are to witness such splendor. He writes of "the awe of the raw Universe laid out right in front of me."  Now revealed.  By our own hands.

== Peering downward...and outward == 

Four newly launched Earth-observing satellites are now collecting data on global atmospheric conditions, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, allowing us to better understand our own planet. 

A Kepler-discovered solar system with rocky planets is 11.2 billion years old and was born near the dawn of the galaxy. An amazing discovery with profound impact on our "Drake Equation" calculations of when both worlds and life might have first emerged. At a distance of 117 light-years from Earth, Kepler-444 is two and a half times older than our solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. "Which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy."

A proposed space telescope, the Aragoscope, could potentially image at a far higher resolution than Hubble. See an interesting write-up on one of the exciting projects we’ve been seed-funding at NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program, designed to turn science fiction into reality through pioneering technology development. This one is a spectacular space telescope that might also be very cheap to build… and closely related to one I described in Existence.

In fact, see my earlier posting about a wide range of skyward wonders that are astronomically-good...

== And more! ==

Astronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. This monster quasar shines (or shone 429 trillion times brighter than the sun.

After decades... a historical curiosity comes to light: Neil Armstrong’s Widow Finds His Moon Purse Stashed in a Closet. 

Closest known flyby: An international group of astronomers has determined that 70,000 years ago a dim star is likely to have passed within our solar systems Oort Cloud — 52,000 astronomical units (AU) or 0.8 light years from the Earth. That is five times closer than Proxima Centauri.

To answer your next question: “98% of the simulations showed Scholz’s star passing through the Oort cloud, only one brought the star within the inner Oort cloud which would have triggered “comet showers”.  Still, one is tempted to look for impact fluxes having gone up, 60-70,000 years ago.

An interesting thought that came up, at the AAAS discussions.  That a top-ranked motion picture like Avatar can now cost about the same as an astronomical mission to discover thousands of real-life planets, like Kepler. Not suggesting a zero-sum tradeoff.  

We need both.  Now if only one could help the other….

== Mister Spock -- the final farewell ==

Yes, it was good to have Leonard Nimoy among us.  I won't say Rest in Peace, because frankly, although I am a scientific dubious agnostic, I do hope he is not "resting," but off on his next cool adventure.  Maybe even where no one has been, before.


Addenda:  My wife had a crush on Spock, as a child. Phew, that was tough competition!

Oh, what a tricky guy -- getting all the world's nerds to hold up a rabbinical hand sign.... probably well into the future.


Treebeard said...

You have to shed a tear for the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Star Trek and In Search of were two early childhood memories and formative influences. It feels like a part of my childhood is gone. I don't know about you guys, but this one is hitting me hard. Death...still ultimate mind-killer and reality check.

David Brin said...

Ah, something in common with Treebeard! And of course it is only an egalitarian and enlightenment and democratic civilization that could both combat death and bring on the more advanced egalitarian and enlightenment and democratic civilization called Star Trek.

charmech said...

I share your feelings about the wonders of space and hope to share them with my students at a Yuri's night party on campus on April 9th. Don't suppose you will be in LA on that date? Chrissie Post.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin, I think a very substantial fraction of American women (and maybe elsewhere, too) had a crush on Mr. Spock (though less so Leonard Nimoy, especially after the recording contract). Mere mortal men can hardly compete with that combination of intellectual, witty, sarcastic, loyal and completely out of touch with his feelings. I even knew a lesbian who had the same crush. I just loved the constant repartee between him and Dr. McCoy. He made it to 83, and he seems to have lived a good life. It's too bad they hardly mentioned Vulcan food, or we could throw a dinner party in his honor.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

We should probably be celebrating the fact that NASA has been allowed to launch missions focused on Earth, after the Bush Administration hiatus. You have to wonder about a regime that feared data.

On another matter, I wanted to answer Paul451 from an earlier post. I haven't had much time to peruse this blog lately, so if this is old news to anyone, you can skip the rest of my entry.

Paul 451 said: "Your Hanta-virus in slave-dorms explanation doesn't work either. The northern continent was similarly depopulated before European arrival. The disease spread up the coasts from Caribbean/Central American colonies, then moved inland well ahead of European expansion, certainly without any dormitory living being enforced onto midwest Native Americans.

Further, the Europeans should have been similarly, perhaps more, devastated by a non-European bug turning rogue, especially once the infection got back to Europe. (As happened with Syphilis.)"

The indigenous Hanta-like virus is the hypothesis of an epidemiologist named Rudolfo Acuña-Soto. I'l link to an article here, though I first heard of it from a National Geographic video called "What Killed the Aztecs." My days of studying such things are long gone and my memory not the best, but if I recall correctly, the Mound Builder cultures of North America were already suffering a population decline by the middle of the 14th Century, long before any European pathogens made the crossing.

I find myself suspicious of the received wisdom on epidemics spread between populations. In the case of pathogens that attack by producing toxins, this makes sense. The population with the longest exposure would have developed the greatest resistance. But viruses and many bacteria work differently - they try to latch on to surface proteins on our cells by adjusting their own surface proteins to match. This is a process that involves a lot of random mutation, and since those surface proteins are individual, not universal to the human species, they will exhibit a clinal variation, as will the pathogens themselves. So a pathogen that has coevolved with one population of humans will not necessarily have the appropriate surface proteins to infect other populations. A disease that killed Europeans may or may not be able to harm people from other parts of the world, and vice versa.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Oops, I forgot to add the link to Dr. Acuña-Soto!

David Brin said...

Chrissie alas I'll not be in LA till May 29... But have fun!

Paul451 said...

David Brin,
Random aside, did you ever plan to write more in the "Kiln People" universe. Amazon insists on subtitling it "The Kiln Books", as if it's part of a series. Will we ever see a "Kiln Time"? (**) SF detective noir in an established universe seems a "churn" project for an author to rattle off quickly between "real books", and the sort of thing publishers love marketing.

(** Kiln Game/Kiln Moon/Kiln Curse/Kiln Zone/Kiln God... So many puns available, how could you resist? Hell, trilogies with name-themes "Kiln Time/Hour/Season", "Kiln Curse/Word/Breath", "Kiln Hand/Mind/Touch"...)

Paul Shen-Brown,
"It's too bad they hardly mentioned Vulcan food, or we could throw a dinner party in his honor."

Canonically, they were vegetarians. Many dishes involve fruit, grains. Not a lot of root-vegetables. Disproportionate number of "Vulcan Spice [something]", so you can assume they liked spicy foods. Mentions of soups, tea, and mocha.

You should be able to whip up a couple of courses.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

We could get a Vulcan recipe exchange going, I'll get my Traeki chef on it right away!

Alex Tolley said...

This is a good year for planetary science.

We have the comet 67P/CG observations as it approaches the sun. Ceres rendezvous. Pluto flyby. Not forgetting the Mars Curiosity rover finally reaching its real science destination. Plus other probes still doing science like Cassini in the Saturn system.

It would be great if every interesting body in the solar system had ongoing, long term observations in progress, as well as exploration of smaller bodies like asteroids and comets, all providing rich information on these bodies.

David Brin said...

If I ever get the kiln self-duplicator I could write all those books! If the movie/TV thing ever rolled, Kiln Time would be rolling too!

Alex Tolley said...

Completely OT, but here is an article about Democratic vs Republican economic performance, especially regarding minorities. Good charts going back to 1948.

Every voter should have a grasp of these numbers if they vote with their pocket books, rather than red-meat social issues.

locumranch said...

The picture after the 'And More' caption (assumed to be the image of the largest black hole) appears to be the spitting image of Van Gogh's swirling 1889 'Starry Night' which (IMO) was the pictorial representation of Poe's 1841 'Maelstrom', begging the question as to whether or not we choose to project our circular preconceptions on to the greater universe (humanity as navel-gazing golems) rather than seeing the greater universe as is.

They would not listen,
they're not listening still, Perhaps they never will.


Anonymous said...

A trillion stars in the Adromeda galaxy? Should that not be 100 billion, or roufhly 1/10th of a trillion?

Jumper said...
Or not Poe, but science.

David Brin said...

My wife painted that one! As for seeing the universe "as-is" - well - we weren't doing all that well in the 99% of human cultures where subjectivity ruled and decided "truth." Now? We haven't escaped subjective bias in observation. But at least we WANT to! We try to. And it matters.

Subjectivity as a source of art is alive and well and as fecund as ever!

But it does not belong in policy, or science, or in declaring what is "true." We tried that. We tried is a bazillion times.

Jumper said...

On a topic often discussed here:

Tony Fisk said...

Subjectivity as a source of art (and visual neurology) is alive and well in the current discussion of dress colour. can assume they liked spicy foods. which has me picturing an Away Team nibbling on ghost chillis, thinking them something more innocuous. As the redshirts die in hideous agony in the background, Mr. Spock raises one eyebrow and murmurs 'Fascinating!'

In celebration of Mr. Nimoy's life I propose that Spock* be declared a doing word so that, in addition to Living Long and Prospering, we can 'Spock On!'

*See also 'grok'

Daniel Duffy said...

Leonard Nimoy - he lived long and he prospered. He became a cultural icon. He had a great life. Who could ask for more?

Actually, he became two cultural icons: Spock and "evil Spock" from the mirror universe. Because of him, everyone associates goatees with evil.

What could be cooler?

Daniel Duffy said...

Methane based life forms are a fascinating subject. Ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for such life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our narrow zone for water based life forms.

We can also imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis (but not ultraviolet - the wavelengths are too long to be intercepted by cells) on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria. And if brown dwarfs greatly outnumber suns, then visible light spectrum based life may be the exception instead of the rule.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum for photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

Tony Fisk said...

Because of him, everyone associates goatees with evil.

... Everybody, head slowly toward the exits now. This conversation has just taken a sinister turn.

Daniel Duffy said...

We should be colonizing Ceres, not Mars.

The near term future of manned colonization of space is the asteroid belt. So instead of Mars, we should colonize Ceres in order to establish a logistical base for asteroid prospecting and mining. Ceres has no significant gravity well to overcome and lots of water for life and fuel.

Mars, OTOH has nothing of material value and if it did it would have to be dragged up out of the Martian gravity well at great energy cost.

Asteroid mining will be dirty, dangerous work with a high death rate, like off shore oil rigs in the arctic. But it will be work that makes investor back home extremely wealthy, mankind more prosperous, and earning the workers a small fortune with each service contract (if they live long enough to return to Earth and spend their money). Think "roughnecks in space". And like oilmen in the arctic, these workers will not be bringing their families with them. We will work in the asteroid belt, but we won't colonize it.

Maybe we'll have the occasional scientific base established on Mars or floating in the atmosphere of Venus, but they'll be no bigger than a current Antarctic base. And like Antarctica, we won't be colonizing mars or Venus for the foreseeable future.

Instead of Star Fleet starting human colonies on the surfaces of planets, we'll have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation contracting out the space equivalent of oil rig work, So forget about the bright, shiny and clean Enterprise, our future in space is the dirty, gritty and dangerous Nostromo.

Daniel Duffy said...

Tony, so Dr. Brin is actually "evil Dr. Brin" from the evil mirror universe?

well, that would explain a lot. ;-)

Howard Miller said...

I always thought that Vulcans would find Carolina Reapers bland. It makes sense that their food would be fiery as a way to express the emotion they keep bottled up. Earthlings might want to ingest some of their food, but they would never want to excrete it.

sociotard said...

Is everybody following "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality"? A few new chapters have been posted. Now the author has an ultimatum: Fans must post their solutions to the pickle he left Harry in. If no solution meets Yudkowsky's standards for 'yeah, that might work', there will be a short, sad end to the fanfiction. I take that to mean Harry dies and the bad guy wins.

I really wish blogger had some variant of the "spoiler" tag. They are so useful in these cases.

locumranch said...

Although our host maintains that "{Subjectivity} does not belong in policy, or science, or in declaring what is "true", he clings to the 'truth' of optimism bias like a drowning man to lumber, believing Vernean heroic fantasy as the source of the Science Fiction genre, rather than the pessimism of Poe (citation 1), or even the parody of Swift (citation 2).

As Danial suggests, perhaps our Dr. Brin is actually an "evil Dr. Brin" from a contraterrane universe (hence 'Contrary Brin), dedicated to the introduction of subjectivity bias into (and the promotion of social policy over) science, so that his mirror moral mindset may subjugate the reality of empiric observation, allowing him to effect the predetermined outcome of 'positive sum' by reflection.

Just a thought.

Citation 1:

Citation 2:


Randall Winn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randall Winn said...

The Kepler-444 article introduced me to the concept of asteroseismology - what a delight, thanks! It seems to be a product of sensitive instrumentation and massive data crunching - perhaps an example of how much can be done through the expenditure of intelligence rather than raw materials. I'm waiting for Ken Ham to explain why God made stars wobble that way ...
"Keep Calm And Spock On!"

Alex Tolley said...

life based on infrared photosynthesis (but not ultraviolet - the wavelengths are too long to be intercepted by cells)

I think you have that reversed. IR has long wavelengths, and UV short.

IMO, UV would be better for photosynthesis as there is more room for accessory pigments to convert the UV to the colors needed for the local chlorophyll to work best. IR has low energy which would mean that the energy trapped would be low and possibly unsuitable for splitting molecules chemically.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: methane organisms. We should be very cautious of a theoretical claim. I would want to see evidence of either extant methane based life (e.g. on Titan) and/or a proof of concept with a living, replicating cell in the lab.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Duffy,
"We can also imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis (but not ultraviolet - the wavelengths are too long to be intercepted by cells)"

Backwards. UV has shorter wavelengths than visual, visual has shorter wavelengths than IR.

longwave, shortwave, microwave, teraherz, far infrared, near infrared, rainbow, double rainbows, UV-a, UV-b, UV-c, extreme ultraviolet, soft xrays, hard xrays, gamma rays, Omega rays, chronotron radiation, hyperpulse, tachyons, longwave, shortwave...

Re: Ceres.
"And like oilmen in the arctic, these workers will not be bringing their families with them. We will work in the asteroid belt, but we won't colonize it."

Ceres would be the ideal spot for a proper settlement (with families). Underground, under-ice, you can tunnel out vast cities. Cities plural, Ceres is nearly a 1000km wide (600mi).

LarryHart said...

On Spock...

In his early Star Trek novel called "Spock Must Die", James Blish actually had Kirk and McCoy engage in some metafictional dialogue over the reasons women were attracted to Spock. What I remember most vividly was Kirk asserting something about the "mother instinct" at work, and McCoy scoffing, "Just look at them. The LAST thing they want to do is to mother Spock".

Also, just using this as an excuse to post that I'm so happy to put the six consecutive months with fewer-than-seven letters in their names behind us and begin the much more pleasant six consecutive months with fewer-than-seven letters.

And does that prove that I'm not a robot, or that I am?

Daniel Duffy said...

Alex and Paul - you are right, I worte it backwards. UV is unsuitable for photosynthesis due to its high rad dosage. Though we already know of bacteria that use infrared.

Daniel Duffy said...

Paul, families would represent an unnecessary cost to companies mining he asteroid belt. It would be far cheaper to accommodate families for arctic oil rigs - and it is not done because of cost considerations.

Alex Tolley said...

Bacteria and IR.

David Brin said...

Yes, Sociotard, I submitted a proposed climax scene for Eliezer's "Harry Potter Rationality" fanfic novel. The only possible way out and the only one that makes any sense. Though it would drive folks crazy!

As for "alternate Brins"? Those are the only ones locum sees ! When was the last time his portrayal of any of my stances or opinions, about anything whatsoever, bore more than a glancing or satirically opposite relationship with the real things?

He lives in this world... but the EYES only see into the land of strawmen. Har!

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Daniel, Alex & Paul 451, I think that whether Ceres will become suitable as a colony depends on how far into the future we want to speculate. Probably initially we would be sending miners and using it as a base, but if asteroid mining grows into a successful industry, families will eventually follow. The cost of space transportation will come down and the feasibility of regular space flight for ordinary people will increase, until one day people will be traveling the Solar System as commonly as they fly around the world today. And Loci can tell Wilbur and Orville it'll never fly all he likes.

Larry, I kind of think Kirk was on to something, even if the ultimate goal could not be considered particularly motherly. A desire to cuddle in people (of both sexes) often begins with a sense of nurture - a desire to make someone feel better, though it may lead to making yourself feel good, too (what biologists call enlightened self interest).

Personally, I'm not looking forward to the Summer months. My North Sea metabolism does not care for the heat. But then, I'm living in a place that did not get hit by climate change snowballs this Winter.

David Brin said...

Ceres could be the core of habitation... many industries would need two things it offers. ice and enough gravity for liquids to settle and industrial separation processes.

Alas, at 1/30 th of a gravity, it is not a wholesome place for kids. You ould want nearby O'Neil colonies that can spin up for habitats. Though Ceres would make a great nearby shelter from really bacd solar storms. And the water would be essential.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

What about the possibility of spinning Ceres itself? It's a big rock, but with steady pressure and enough time...

David Brin said...

Paul, you'd have to hollow Ceres out and the spin to make OUTWARD g forces would tear it apart, alas....

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Are you sure it would be necessary to hollow it completely? I would expect that centrifugal force would work in a system of tunnels and chambers just as well, or is there some bit of physics I'm missing?

David Brin said...

Paul my hollowing out comment was not the important one. You want to spin up an extremely massive body till its centrifugal force is much greater than its inward gravity. Picture it!

Maybe for a small asteroid.

Zen Cosmos said...

Re: Nimoy's passing--
He is only the first actor to play Spock. And the character he created is now in the same company as Iago, Romeo, and Hamlet. The entire bridge crew, despite fumbled reboot, will now or soon join that same club of iconic characters we enjoy for many playwrights and screen writers. In the decades and centuries ahead we can hope that the story can be reinterpreted without being warped and deconstructed...a new take on an ols paperback: Spock Must (NOT) Die!

David Brin said...

Tony Fisk, you still around? You still running this page?


My log in doesn't work anymore and they say they need some activity or they'll dissolve it.

Seemed a cool and fun thing and a shame to let it go!

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

Personally, I'm not looking forward to the Summer months. My North Sea metabolism does not care for the heat. But then, I'm living in a place that did not get hit by climate change snowballs this Winter.

My affinity for the months with fewer-than-seven letters is only partially related to weather. It has a lot to do with the old school calendar beginning in September and leading toward summer vacation June thrun August. Even though I haven't been in any kind of school for over 25 years, the psychological connotations still stick.

Tony Fisk said...

@David. Got the same email. Have re-activated the site. Should start updating it to include other sources, I suppose. Might suggest a rename...
Odd that you bounced, since you're still listed as an Admin, using your sbcglobal account.


Despite Yudkowsky's epic fail at saving the world by creating super-intelligence (after 20 years of trying, he's failed to even produce vapourware), we thought that at least the guy had finally found his calling writing decent rationalist fiction.

It turns out that even in fiction, he had to start tormenting his readers with more and more mind games - he just couldn't resist the temptation to prove he's smarter than everyone else *sigh*

I would imagine that there's more than one valid solution, and Yudkowsky has written one chapter for each valid solution.

Logically, I would expect 1 solution for each of the 4 houses:

Hufflepuff: Harry wins by persuasion involving demonstrations of power, interpretations of prophecy, pre-commitments, etc.

Slytherin: Harry wins by trickery - disguise and double-crossing

Ravenclaw: Harry wins by some clever complex scheme involving the timer-turners

Gryffindor - Harry wins by a full-frontal heroic magic attack

On the other hand, the time-turner allows 6 hours retro-casual effects - so its possible there could be up to 6 valid solutions (1 hour each)?

Decent fiction by all accounts, but at the end of the day, its just Yudkowsky indulging his own monster ego and playing mind games with us all yet again.

David Brin said...

Tony thanks and glad you are still around! We can discuss further, down the road.

As for Yudkowsky, well, talent calls upon forgiveness. I want him to get done with this HP thing so he can write fiction that PAYS!

But yes, I know the only way it can end and I sent it to him. ;-)

Laurent Weppe said...

"You ould want nearby O'Neil colonies that can spin up for habitats"

Why would you be so unambitious: one giant McKendree habitat would be so much better.

Berial said...

I get a 404 error from the "Neil Armstrong’s Widow Finds His Moon Purse Stashed in a Closet. " link.

I think it's because your link adds a "%EF%BB%BF" to the end of the link, because otherwise the link looks fine.

A.F. Rey said...

Bad news. The Supreme Court is going to review whether it is constitutional for states to delegate redistricting to independent commissions, rather than by partisan legislatures.

In one fell swoop, gerrymandering may actually become a constitutional right. :(

Cesar Sam said...

To be frank I look at Space with both awe and terror.

Awe of the amazing beauty out there and terror of the monsters that could be out there, hiding in the darkness, waiting.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Duffy,
"It would be far cheaper to accommodate families for arctic oil rigs - and it is not done because of cost considerations."

No, it's not done because it only takes a few hours to reach land. Likewise modern mining uses fly-in-fly-out work practices. However, when transport was harder and slower, mining towns rose up around mining operations; with miners initially coming out alone, making money, then sending for their families. Other people followed to supply the miners and their families. Same thing happened at any trading hub or cross-roads. When you're 6 months or a year away from everyone else, eventually we will move towards a settlement model.

Paul Shen-Brown,
"I think that whether Ceres will become suitable as a colony depends on how far into the future we want to speculate. Probably initially we would be sending miners and using it as a base,"

Asteroid mining will not begin in the asteroid belt. It will, by necessity, revolve around NEOs. We would expand into the asteroid belt as part of the expansion of early settlements, not prior to settlement.

Start with fuel depots in LEO, supplied by end-of-life reusable launchers. Later lunar ice developed to supply BEO missions (if you can refuel at L2 you break the exponential in the rocket equation). NEOs following on from lunar ice (first as research destinations, then as resource). Lower cost HSF in LEO (due to lower launch costs and refuelling) means the balance shifts back from unmanned facilities (like GEO satellites) to manned facilities (operating more like shared broadcast towers, like AC Clarke's GEO stations). Lunar research bases follow as lunar resources simplify access to the surface. This allows far-side astronomy, lunar geology, etc. Development of manned commercial LEO/GEO/L1/L2 facilities allows NEO asteroid mining to become possible (robotic mining will probably be too expensive, someone has to fix the robots). Settlements follow the mining. As more people live and work in space, settlements continue spread out into virgin territory. (Somewhere in there, there's a Mars research base. God forbid, maybe someone ever tries to colonise the damn place.) As power, transport, etc, improve, people spread further out into the solar system. If technology allows, perhaps into the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. If Oort clouds intermingle, then one day, thousands of years hence, someone in a colony out there will work out that they are now closer to another star than to the Sun.

[Assuming no fusion drives, wormholes, artificial gravity, matter transporters, super-AI, brain uploads, etc etc.]

Paul451 said...

"Ceres could be the core of habitation... [...] Alas, at 1/30 th of a gravity, it is not a wholesome place for kids. You would want nearby O'Neil colonies that can spin up for habitats."

Ceres is so large that you could have an entire O'Neil-scale colony spinning in a cavity underground. (**) Or more reasonably, hundreds or thousands of smaller spin-modules serving the same role as buildings do in cities on Earth. Linked together by non-rotating common infrastructure. There's no need for a separate colony off-Ceres.

Indeed, this is my preferred model for small-asteroid habitats. Develop a tunnel boring machine that works on asteroid regolith, once you have your initial tunnel you sinter the walls, add an access point at the entrance to act as a dock and a hard-point to attach external systems (comms, solar-power, radiators, etc). Further in, you add inflatable hab-modules for the initial stay. Later on your TBM digs out a ring tunnel, inside the ring-tunnel you join up modules in a ring which you spin up for gravity. (It's floating inside the tunnel, simple guides keep it centred.) Depending on your available power and the diameter of the torus, you might be able pressurise the entire torus-tunnel allowing you to have unpressurised modules. The asteroid gives you instant radiation and micro-meteorite shielding, a uniform thermal mass, and structure to bolt onto. The spin-station gives you gravity. Your mining continues throughout the asteroid, only the work areas having to deal with dust. Reducing external mining also lowers the amount of dust around the asteroid, reducing the effect on habitat modules, incoming spacecraft, etc. And lets you separate active mining from processing areas, from habitat areas, from docking areas, etc. If you want to add a nuclear reactor for power, you can also place it in its own chamber, 20-30m under the surface, the asteroid providing radiation shielding for the rest of the facility.

It requires one big invention, the asteroid-TBM. But once you have that, it solves almost every other problem with building a long-duration human settlement.

(** But not a McKendree habitat. Sorry, Laurent.)

Anonymous said...

Other authors colonized Ceres first, including Asimov, Bester, Pournelle, Sterling and the great Orson Scott Card.

matthew said...

Anonymous, anyone that thinks OSC is "great" probably should stay anonymous. Wise choice in not identifying yourself.

David, are you planning on any sort of commentary / rebuttal-type thing to Bruce Schneider's "Data and Goliath?" From reviews (I haven't gotten a copy yet) it sounds like he is pushing some concepts in concert with you and is odds with others (use of crypto springs to mind). As "Mr. Transparency" are you hearing the intellectual call to battle yet?

Alfred Differ said...

For UV to be used in photosynthesis, one needs an intermediary layer that goes phosphorescent. It could evolve as a UV defense first, I suppose. I'm imagining our CFL bulbs in reverse.

UV emitting stars are shorter lived, though, so we should be skeptical about the time scale needed for advancing past simplistic water worlds.

IR options are much more intriguing. So many solids and plastics could be made to do work with NIR and slightly less. Hmm... Seems one should have options for this even on water worlds like ours. Not every niche is up high where oxidation is a risk and the Earth is plenty warm.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it looks like Arizona (and likely California's) attempt to reduce gerrymadering is about to be ruled unconstitutional by a conservative majority of the Supreme court.

Alfred Differ said...

Sounds like it is time to bring up Amendment #9.

Daniel Duffy said...

Instead of hollowing out Ceres to construct a centrifuge you could build a maglev train round its equator going so fast that it would overcome Ceres weak gravity (.03g).

The resultant centripetal force would turn the inhabitants of this "train" upside down with their feet to the sky /roof of the train and their heads to the planet surface.

Ceres is 950 km in diameter, a radius of 475 km (475,000 m). The train track would have to be 1,492 km (927 mile - about the distance from New York to Atlanta).

1.0g is 9.8 m/s^2. Divide this by 0.97 and you have a centripetal acceleration of 10.1 m/s^2 that would overcome the weak 0.03g gravity of Ceres and give the upside down passengers of the train an artificial gravity of 1.0g.

Using a handy dandy centripetal acceleration calculator ( and the required velocity of the "train" would be 2,190 m/s (2.2 km/sec or 7,920 km/hr, equal to 4,921 mph - mach 6.46).

The SR-71 Blackbird can do mach 3.3. The fastest commercial maglev train goes 268 mph.

So all we need is a train that goes 2x as fast as the fastest air breathing airplane ever built, or 18x the fastest maglev.

Piece of cake.

Tacitus2 said...

I mention as a public service that Brin got linked from his mention in the WaPo article on SETI over to the notorious right wing site Instapundit. This actually happens several times a year...they like him there.

I am now raising a virtual hand to admit that I too have a goatee, so presumably on the other side of the "Mirror" I am a die hard liberal locked in endless debate with Conservative Brin.

It is an oddly pleasing thought.


David Brin said...

I got no probs with conservatives who think, even if they got evil goatees...


Tony Fisk said...

Also, Daniel, your very fast maglev train would have to be well anchored into bedrock of unknown bedrockedness.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Duffy said...
"Instead of hollowing out Ceres to construct a centrifuge you could build a maglev train round its equator going so fast that it would overcome Ceres weak gravity (.03g)."

I'm not suggesting "hollowing out Ceres" any more than a subway system can be said to be "hollowing out the Earth". In the 950km diameter Ceres, you only need to burrow 50-100m or so below the surface. 1/10,000th of the diameter. Even building entire cities 50-100km across with a population in the millions, is still only a tenth of one percent of Ceres' volume.

The reason for building underground is to protect against radiation and micrometeorite impacts (and for a city, not-so-micro-meteorites), something your upside-down maglev train wouldn't do.

As for the maglev train, it doesn't have to go around the equator. For people at 1g, you don't need a 1000 mile inverted track for a train running upside down at 1000mph. You just need a 500m wide loop at 50m/s (that's 500 metres wide, not miles) . Or a 200m wide loop at 30m/s. Or a 100m wide loop at a mere 50mph. That's slow enough to allow you to pressurise the loop itself and leave the "train" unpressurised. And it doesn't need to be maglev, or anything that complex, a toroidal habitat would float nearly weightless, spinning as it would in free space. Only the slightest guides would be necessary to keep it off the "floor" of the tunnel.

(And on the surface, a track just a few kilometres long (right-side up) will get you to Ceres escape velocity. Making transport off-world a doddle. Might even be able to land on it, it's only two or three times faster than an normal airport approach and there's no turbulence or weather.)

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