Category: Space & Aliens Therefrom

What Would You Sound Like on Venus?

By Veronique Greenwood | April 3, 2012 12:40 pm

First consider what, exactly, you’d be doing here.

Like a Smurf with a bass voice, according to Tim Leighton, a professor of acoustics at University of Southampton who has made it his mission to figure this kind of thing out, using physics and math combined with data about otherworldly atmospheres.

Venus’s atmosphere is much denser than ours, so vocal cords would vibrate more slowly there, yielding a lower voice—the opposite of what happens when you inhale helium. The speed of sound, though, is a lot faster on Venus than it is here, Leighton explains in a press release. He says that this can mess with how big we imagine the speaker to be: “This tricks the way our brain interprets the size of a speaker (presumably an evolutionary trait that allowed our ancestors to work out whether an animal call in the night was something that was small enough to eat or so big as to be dangerous).” So we might interpret that deep bass rumble as coming from a diminutive form.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

How to Turn a Blazing-Hot Fusion Reactor Into a Sunny Paradise, in 10 Easy Steps

By Veronique Greenwood | February 22, 2012 3:49 pm

Stephen Gaskell is a British science fiction writer whose work has been published in Nature, Interzone, and Clarkesworld. A graduate of the Clarion East writing workshop, he recently released Strata, co-written with Bradley P. Beaulieu.

In many ways the interior of a star would be an ideal place to live for an advanced species. A near limitless source of energy. Camouflage from interstellar predators. And sunshine three hundred and sixty five days a year.

In our new novella, Strata, Bradley P. Beaulieu and I didn’t travel so far into the future that humankind had migrated to the sun, but we did imagine giant solar mining platforms that orbit through the sun’s chromosphere. Of course, at present such a feat of engineering is beyond the technological and economic reach of humanity, but we wondered if this might one day be a scientifically feasible enterprise. Here are 10 features of the extremely hostile solar environment that had to be overcome:

1. Pressure

You might think your boss is putting you under enormous pressure for next week’s deadline, but it ain’t got a patch on the kind of stress that the center of the sun’s under. At its core, the pressure of the sun is equal to 340 billion times the Earth’s surface atmospheric pressure. That’s a lot of elephants standing on your head. Fortunately for the future of humankind’s solar mining adventures, the sun’s internal structure is not uniform. The outer regions from the photosphere up (the chromosphere and corona) are actually very thin, with pressures generally 1% or less of Earth’s surface atmospheric pressure. Still, I wouldn’t hang out there.

2. Gravity

The sun’s big. Big like you can’t imagine. You thought Jupiter was big, but the sun makes Jupiter look like some snotty-nosed Mummy’s boy on his first day at school. And what does all that matter do? It does what gravity tells it, creating one serious gravitational well about which the planets orbit like toy ducks around a discharging plughole. Mercury completes one whole orbit every eighty-eight days. The orbital period for a mining platform situated in the sun’s chromosphere would be around one-tenth of a day. That’s a fair zip! And there’s an additional problem; any solar miners would be effectively weightless in the freefall orbit—the mass of the platform being negligible compared to a planet or moon.

In a fixed position the problem would be worse, the surface gravity of the sun some 28 times greater than the Earth. Even fighter pilots get nowhere near those g-forces. In the best traditions of science fiction we came up with an as yet undiscovered technology: gravity inhibitors, an idea first floated (ahem) in H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon with Dr. Cavor’s invention of the fictional material cavorite.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

Moonrock-Peddling Grandma Feels the Cold Hand of the Interplanetary Police

By Veronique Greenwood | October 24, 2011 1:05 pm


The warrant for Davis’s arrest sports a snapshot of the contraband—
a paperweight containing a fleck of the moon.

The zany world of moonrock theft and recovery has produced some of the stranger science-related stories in recent years—you know, like “NASA interns steal safe of moonrocks and spread them on hotel bed to have sex amongst them” strange. The case of the grandma apprehended by federal agents in a Riverside County Denny’s with a moonrock paperweight, explored at length in an AP exclusive, is a fitting entry in this pantheon of interplanetary skulduggery. To make some extra cash, Joann Davis, 74, the widow of a contractor who worked with NASA during the Apollo moon mission era, decided to find an online buyer for a tiny moon fragment she says her husband received as a gift from Neil Armstrong (Armstrong has denied giving anyone such lunar souvenirs). It’s illegal to sell Apollo moonrocks, which are all US government property and thus can’t be used to turn a profit. Davis apparently had a hard time finding taker for the plastic-encased shard, because she ultimately emailed NASA to ask if they had any tips on selling the things. “I’ve been searching the internet for months attempting to find a buyer,” Davis wrote in May, the AP reports. “If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call.”

Let me just give you a pointer, reader: when selling contraband, don’t contact the people it came from. They will probably want to make your acquaintance in the very near future.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

(1) Capture Asteroid. (2) Mine It. (3) PROFIT!! (4)…KABLOOM

By Veronique Greenwood | September 1, 2011 2:06 pm

Reel ‘er in!

We all know that asteroids close to the Earth are Bad News. (Although not as bad as many would have you think.) But what if we could catch one? Bring it home? Put it in Earth orbit? Maybe mine it for some valuable minerals; do a little science; potentially, I don’t know, back a new currency? Sure, say some Chinese scientists in a paper on the ArXiv. We should go for it!

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No Shuttle? No Biggie! NASA's New Astronauts are LEGO People

By Veronique Greenwood | August 4, 2011 3:59 pm


The future of manned spaceflight, it’s not. We hope.

Ever since the Space Shuttle took its last flight earlier this summer, the US has had no real plan for getting humans back up in space in the near future. Meanwhile, NASA is sending three LEGO figurines to Jupiter tomorrow, as part of a sponsorship deal with LEGO “to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Because flying little aluminum Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo more than 1,700 million miles is a great way to demonstrate to future scientists the importance of funding!

The figurines of the god, goddess, and seventeenth-century astronomer aren’t part of any of the scientific experiments also making the journey on NASA’s Juno probe. But, the press release is quick to note, “Of course, the miniature Galileo has his telescope with him on the journey.” Too bad he has no eyes.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

Fore! Golf Game Lets You Frolick on Saturn's Moons

By Veronique Greenwood | June 27, 2011 12:29 pm

enceladusThis takes location golfing to a new level.

If 18 holes on Kauai or Tenerife is old hat, grab your clubs and head to Saturn’s moons.

The NASA team behind the Cassini orbiter periodically release troves of gorgeous images of Saturn and its dozens of moons, revealing the gouges on Enceladus and the lakes of Titan. The drool-worthy vistas just beg to be explored, and you can now do just that with a nifty little Flash game developed by Diamond Sky Productions called Golf Sector 6. The game takes players through several 9-hole courses across a variety of Saint-Exupéry-esque moons, whose cratered surfaces are patched together from Cassini’s images. As Saturn drifts by in the background, you can relax, put your feet up, and bat a small pink ball toward the hole with your mouse. But beware of that pesky escape velocity: it’s different on every moon, and it’s way, way less than Earth’s.

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Who Has the Best Pre-Space Launch Superstitions? Hint: Not US

By Valerie Ross | April 12, 2011 3:42 pm

Fifty years ago today, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. In the half-century following, many men and women have followed in his flight path—and come up with a slew of unusual rituals meant to help their missions go smoothly, described in a 2008 article in The Space Review. Here are Discoblog’s rankings of various space programs’ pre-launch superstitions:


  • Eat a steak-and-eggs breakfast. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, had this meal before his 1961 launch. Plus, it’s thought to, uh, decrease the need to do things you’d rather not do in a space suit. (Then again, Shepard is probably not the best example for that, considering he famously peed his suit while Freedom 7 was mired in protracted delays on the launch pad.)
  • Take a load off. Before a mission, astronauts sit in the same leather armchairs the Apollo guys sat in. Not just for rest and relaxation, though: As they lean back in the E-Z Boys, the astronauts are wearing pressure suits and breathing pure oxygen to rid their blood of nitrogren pre-launch.
  • Lose at cards. Specifically, the mission commander must lose to the tech crew, at a game that may be some sort of blackjack or poker. This is NASA, not Vegas.
  • Ranking: 2nd (6/10). While these pre-launch traditions do include run-ins with some of our favorite vices—red meat, sloth, and gambling—they seem awfully practical. Do superstitions usually involve multitasking?

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Triumph: Fake Astronauts Walk on Fake Mars!

By Patrick Morgan | February 14, 2011 12:59 pm

The simulated eagle has finally landed, and today, two men have walked upon the red sands of fake Mars. This jaunt along a sandpit in Moscow, the latest episode in the Mars500 project designed to test human endurance, gives the cosmonauts a respite from their past eight months of windowless confinement.

As the BBC reports:

“We have made great progress today,” commented Vitaly Davydov, the deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, who was watching a video feed of the two men. “All systems have been working normally.”

Organized by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency, the Mars500 project seeks to better understand how humans would endure the psychological and physical effects of the isolation and confinement necessary for a real mission to Mars. The ‘500’ in Mars500 indicates the mission’s time frame–the organizers estimated that it would takes 250 days to travel to Mars, and then allotted 30 days for surface exploration before a 240-day return trip. (Technically, the project’s name should be Mars520.)

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To Hitch a Ride to Mars, Just Flag Down an Asteroid

By Patrick Morgan | February 11, 2011 11:44 am

Mars missions should probably come with the kind of warning label you’d find on a cigarette pack: “May cause cancer and blindness.”

If you were traveling to Mars solely by spacecraft, your health might take a serious hit during the 18-month or so round-trip journey–and you might not even be able to see your home by the time you got back. Throughout the journey, high-energy particles known as cosmic rays would course through your body, not only damaging your eyesight, but also increasing your risk of cancer by up to 20 percent.

Luckily, one scientist has an answer: Don’t fly a spaceship to Mars, hop on an asteroid instead.

Cosmic rays zing into our solar system from interstellar space; here on Earth our planet’s magnetic field protects us from them, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station are mostly protected by the Earth’s bulk and its magnetic field as well. But astronauts on a long-haul trip to Mars would be in more danger.

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Maybe E.T. Hasn’t Come Calling Because Human Messages Are “Messy”

By Patrick Morgan | February 10, 2011 11:26 am

In the noble pursuit of contacting aliens, we humans have broadcast images, music, voices, and more into space, but have you ever stopped to think that maybe we’re sending mixed messages? Some astronomers have, and to counter that problem they’ve suggested creating standard rules for all future space-bound missives–and they want to harness the power of crowdsourcing to “edit” these messages.

In their Space Policy paper, a team of alien-hunting scientists say that standard message protocols would increase the likelihood that aliens would hear us, one goal for those involved with SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Wired Science quotes astrobiologist Jacob Haqq-Misra:

“The paper is really a call for unity among thinking about messaging exraterrestrials,” Haqq-Misra said. “Right now it’s messy, it’s kind of all over the place. Maybe we can increase our success chances by being more unified about this.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

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