Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Ever Earth Based Photo of an Alien Planet

O.K. - so it's never going to be a tourist destination. No white sand beaches, scantily clad blue natives or exotic cocktails.It's hotter than Jupiter at about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit  (about 1,500 degrees Celsius).





Photo credit - Gemini Observatory

No, what makes this spectacular is that it is the first direct photograph of an exo-planet by an Earth based telescope. Until now, we have detected exo-planets either through the gravitational wobble in the parent star, or through the observed dimming or occultation that occurs in the star's luminosity as a planet transits in front of it. The observation was made by the Gemini Observatory using adaptive optics and two identical telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.
DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC ORIGAMI?

DARPA backed researchers at MIT and Harvard make electric origami. Not quite the Transformers, but....


The self-folding sheets are composed of interconnected triangular sections with 
universal crease patterns and  thin foil actuators. (Credit: Harvard University)




Remind anyone of this movie (yes, based on Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - hence the title for this post)*.



Maybe I will get my Valkery fighter after all....





*Oh, and for you film snobs out there that like to say the Director's Cut is better (which one?) - please try defending that stupid unicorn dream sequence. The original has dated well, that dumb ass unicorn dream (not the origami) places it squarely in the 1980's world of My Little Pony. Pathetic. The only thing director's cuts are good for is to train the future generation of editors... OK, that's my rant for today

Friday, June 25, 2010

FUTURAMA IS BACK!

Our favorite futurists are back, with time-travelling 80's man Fry, the lovely Leela, the Doctor, the Professor,Hermes, Amy, Kiff, Captain Zap Brannigan, ... and of course our favorited character of all - Bender!

Another sci-fi show, like Serenity, that should never have gone away in the first place

Yay!

Check out the clip

http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=312818&title=preview-interstellar-fugitives

And read the interview with Fry's voice actor Billy West on WIRED

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Coronal Chamber Orchestra


Scientists at the Sheffield University in the U.K. have translated the music of the spheres... Well, the music of the sun that is. Researchers led by led by Robertus von Fáy-Siebenbürgen analysed the huge ribbon like loops of plasma which curl and whip out from the sun. While studying the oscillations and vibrations of these loops using mathematical tools and software the researchers also converted these oscillations into frequencies the human ear can hear. And voila - the Coronal Chamber Orchestra... Fantastic!




Might I suggest that someone do the same thing for the Aurora Borealis?
Check out this spectacular photo taken by the ISS crew and imagine listening to the music generated, in real time in that posh new observation room of theirs. With a tube of champagne and the partner of your choice preferably! Ah, the possibilities... As soon that is, as NASA gets over being so prudish about sex in space...
Actually, blow waiting, I'm heading to Alaska! 















In the meantime, I can just head down to Melbourne's Fed Square, where Lozano-Hemmer's Sun Equation is on overhead display on it's latest stop on a journey around the globe. Now think of a simulation like that hooked into a music genetator... Ooooh, Aaaahhhh - reach for the sun!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Project Orion and The Verne Gun

Imagine a world where we already had spaceships carrying hundreds of crew to Mars, Saturn and beyond. A world where an interstellar probe was already on its way to an alien star system.

That was the dream of Project Orion and it's founders and proponents Frederick de Hoffman, Theodore Tyler, and Freeman Dyson - and they wanted to do it last century. They thought the could - and they might have...

For those space buffs out there, you may already know what Project Orion was. A nuclear powered space craft propelled by pulsed nuclear explosions. Sound crazy? Arthur C. Clarke and Freeman Dyson didn't think so. In fact, there were scale models built using conventional explosives that demonstrated that pulse propulsion was absolutely feasible - with the technology already available in the fifties and sixties.

Of course it's primary disadvantage was fear of fallout and radiation that ultimately doomed the project, despite it's inherent feasibility. To put things in perspective however, thousands of people die every year from air pollution, while even the largest of proposed Orion ships (crewed by hundreds and weighing more than the Great Pyramid) would only have resulted - ultimately - in a dozen or so extra deaths. But just as we happily burn coal while vilifying nuclear power...

So, ultimately it was the fear of radiation (despite the much greater threat to health of coal fired electrical plants), along with the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty that doomed the project.

But that doesn't mean the idea is dead. It was resurrected in the 1970's British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus which proposed using clean nuclear fusion to power a similar pulse drive for an interstellar probe to Barnard's Star. Unfortunately, controlled fusion remains - just over the horizon as much today as it did in the 50's and 60's. However, there is also a new British Interplanetary Society and Tao Zero Foundation joint project called Project Icarus which is modernizing and reworking the original design plan in light of modern and projected technological advances.

Science Fiction fans will  recognize the concept from numerous books, including Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's epic alien invasion adventure Footfall. In fact, it was Neal Stephenson's book Anathem that started this post - in a way. I was recommending the book to a good friend of mine, and describing the Orion type ship it describes  (more particularly the way one of the main characters spots the ship as it orbits his sun using a camera obscura) and as often happens, we started off on a tangent argument about Footfall when another of our friends asked what the hell the Orion project was.

That started a whole 'nother conversation, and argument over whether the initial project had proposed ground launches or space launches (it proposed ground launches) and subsequent research on my part.

Turns out that the Brian Wang and the folks over at The Next Big Future have been seriously talking about the Orion Project and a way to get it done without fallout and without waiting for a breakthrough in controlled fusion...and they've come up with a pretty ingenious proposal.

Karl Schroeder calls it the Verne Gun. In short, you create a giant atomic cannon by digging a really, really deep shaft into an underground salt chamber and use an underground nuke to launch a really, REALLY big payload into space - jump-starting space colonization, asteroid defense, and cheap orbital solar power at the same time. And maybe you even start mining the asteroid belt at the same time...

Unfortunately, it would probably take a serious asteroid threat (if not an impact) or alien invasion to get enough people behind the idea - BUT IT WOULD WORK. 

Check out this excerpt from the BBC's "To Mars by A-Bomb" (2003), with footage of the "hot rod" tests and comments by Arthur Clarke...

 


And this TEDTALKS presentation by George Dyson




And this cool artists conception (by Rhys Taylor) of what an Orion Ship might look like if it were built today...