Phil Dick would’ve smiled

Fomalhaut (Whale Mouth, in Arabic) was a favourite location for many of Philip K. Dick’s stories – either as a place for aliens to have come from, or for people to eke out a lonesome existence. Now it probably has a planet, as well as a ring of dust…

Planet Warps a Ring

…though whether it’s home to aliens is another question. Perhaps it is just a relay point, as the star and its system seem to be very young.

Dante’s Inferno…

This is cool… in a kind of grim way. Dante’s “Inferno” is a journey through the Circles of Hell – well worth a read for anyone wanting to know how people thought in the 14 th Century. Dante puts more than a few Popes in Hell for abuse of their office, which was a pretty gutsy thing to do especially when one of them was still alive.

Dante’s Inferno

The entry way into Hell has a chilling “Sign”:

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

40% efficient PV cells

Once again Spectrolab is busting records. Physorg reports a new multi-junction cell that converts light to electricity at 40.7% efficiency. The theoretical limit for the design is 58% so they’re getting closer, and are optimistic of 45-50% in the near term. What would a 50% efficient cell mean?

Take Geoffrey Landis’s SPS design which uses L’Garde inflatables for structure and concentrators. It massed 800 tons of concentrators/PVs/heat sinks and 500 tons of structure for 3 GW in-space power and 1-2 GW delivered to the ground, depending on antenna technology. Thus a 300 MW in-space power source for a Mag-Beam pushing 10 ton payloads to Mars would mass 130 tons with his assumed 35% efficient PVs, but would mass just 91 tons with 50% efficient cells. A whole Mag-Beam system massing about 130 tons could be launched by a single near-term HLLV.

Launch a few more and you’d very quickly have 1 GW SPS launched massing just 910 tons. At $3,000/kg (think SpaceX) that’d launch for just $2.73 Billion. If you sell power for $50 / then a 1 GW SPS brings in about $400 Million a year so it would repay the launching bill pretty quickly – if it takes 10 years to pay for and lasts 30 years, then we’re talking serious money.

The International Space Development Conference had an interesting abstract available online, but the site is currently being redone. In sum the author suggested using current commercial throwaway launchers, but lifting a bit less than their maximum payloads to put both the upper stage and the payload into orbit. Then both payload and booster could be use for constructing an SPS – he estimated abou 4,000-5,000 tons for a 5 GW SPS and a total cost of $22.5 Billion. Power would be sold at $100/MWhr.

North American Catastrophe

About 12,900 years ago an asteroid or comet – the distinction is a bit blurry – fragmented above North America and effectively fire-bombed the entire Eastern side of the continent, wiping out the large mammals and the Clovis people with both the direct blast, the fire-storm and the Younger Dryas cold spell which refroze the Northern Hemisphere just as it was leaving the last Ice Age’s glacial advance. This is the latest claim advanced by a team of geoscientists at a recent geophysics meeting. The various news outlets have reported on the meeting, probably leaving a few of their fellow scientists a bit envious of the publicity – sufficient motivation to do some research of their own… that’s science!

Here’s the BBC story… Ice Age Blast

The BBC also has some good background pieces…

Megafuna Extinction …dozens of large mammals went extinct roughly at the same time as the blast took place. Some might’ve died soon after, some lingered through the Younger Dryas freeze.

Solutreans in America …the Solutrean people were Stone Age Europeans who lived towards the end of the last big Ice Age (glacial advance.) Their technology, and possible genetic traces, have links with the Clovis culture that was destroyed by the comet/asteroid blast.

Clovis First? … background on the debate over who settled the Americas first. The picture has been blurred by a lot of finds earlier than Clovis remains.

Science News has a more scholarly news report… Ice Age Ended Smashingly? … but they archive quickly, so the link might drop dead.

And, of course, MSNBC… Comet Chilled and Killed Ice Age Beasts …which gives a nice summary.

Also the American Geophysical Union has abstracts from the meeting available online – just do a search under “Younger Dryas” and most of the abstracts will be about the putative impact event.

Andrew Collins is an independent researcher with an astounding grasp of the Late Pleistocene and Neolithic (see his “From the Ashes of Angels”), and some intriguing theories and evidence for Plato’s teasingly half-true story of “Atlantis”. Collins believes that the story derives from tales brought back by the Phoenicians, who had made contact with the natives of the present day islands of the Americas. The natives had retained memories of a terminal Ice Age catastrophe which had preceded the flooding of their primeval lands – just as the new research has revealed.

Here’s Andrew’s discussion of the new findings… Comet Firestorm

And, of course, my erstwhile friend and guru of the Interstellar, Paul Gilster, reports on the Impact at his blog, Centauri Dreams …which also has a few thoughts from yours truly.

The Future PostPoned

As a Space Enthusiast who grew up reading pop-sci books for kids with an optimistic take on the world I grew up thinking that by the year 2000 there would a lot of space activity in LEO, GEO and even the Moon. A Mars mission might’ve returned, or be not far from launching.

In reality I was born in the year 1970 – the year of Apollo XIII and the near cancellation of the US manned space-program. Nixon almost killed off everything after Skylab, but he bought into the Shuttle spin at the last minute, committing the USA to a space vehicle program that had no mission. It’s a little known fact that a large 12-person Space Station was due for launch in c.1975, to be tended by the Shuttle, to be followed by a 50-person Space Base by 1980, which would be expanded to 100-persons by 1990. When the Station program was cancelled it effectively removed the main justification for the Shuttle, but by then the bureaucratic machine was in “Program Mode” and inexorably moving forward.

Now, some 37 years after that decision, we have a Future that no one expected.

as it is the business of the future to surprise us, it seems unwise to rule out such scenarios – Paul Gilster

Human Hibernation gets closer

Discover Magazine’s May 2007 edition has an amazing up date on work being conducted into induced hibernation in mammals. In recent years news arose of dogs and pigs being aroused from a death-like state after several hours, and of mice being induced to go into metabolic slow-down by breathing the right concentration of hydrogen sulphide. As the Discover article relates the work has gone further with dogs and pigs being put into hibernation by hydrogen sulphide and the amazing story of a Japanese man, Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, who went into a hypothermic torpor for 24 days after being knocked unconscious.

Naturally the first thought for the medicos working with this surprise mammalian ability is the preservation of a patient’s life when they’ve suffered major injury. If they can be suspended in a low metabolic state, then transfers from incident site to an ER becomes infinitely easier, giving the victim a much needed time-extension. Also many different major surgical procedures would become much less risky if a patient’s blood pressure, heart rate and so forth can be slowed to a crawl.

Of course, for a space-minded thinker, the next questions are:

  • just how long can the suspension last?
  • how much can physiological requirements be reduced?
  • how easy is it to induce and revive from?
  • does it reduce radiation damage?
  • could it be used as a step towards total biostasis?
  • In fiction there’s a long tradition of suspended animation, either through extreme metabolic reduction and/or cryopreservation. The new prospect of a natural suspended animation in all mammals is a rather exciting step forward for the credibility of the concept. Another curious prospect is based on the observation that mice which have had their metabolisms reduced, but not all the way into torpor, are able to breathe an atmosphere with a much lower oxygen content than what would otherwise kill them. Perhaps this provides a way to allow people to adapt to non-standard atmospheres?

    James Blish’s 1965 novel, Welcome to Mars, uses just such a plot device to allow the protagonist to breathe the thin Martian air – as thickened by being at the bottom of Hellas. Unfortunately for Blish’s story a few weeks later Mariner 4 showed the Martian atmosphere was less than 1/10th of the expected density. Still he did correctly predict that there would be plenty of impact craters and what “canals” (channels) that existed would be geomorphological in origin. He also predicted a frozen sea of ice, which Mars Express potentially has discovered.

    The New Omega Point Theory

    First let’s look at Tipler’s new Omega Point Theory (OPT) as modified since the discovery of cosmic acceleration ,(probably) caused by a cosmological constant, in 1998. A cosmological constant (dubbed “dark energy” in the media) in its simplest form is constant forever and drives the constituents of the Universe apart – eventually our Local Group of Galaxies would be all the mass left this side of the cosmic horizon. This result destroyed the original OPT which required a closed universe, so Tipler at first questioned the cosmic acceleration data, but then had an insight – what is happening to the Higgs field as mass is being converted into energy by intelligence in the cosmos? Perhaps the acceleration is caused by the Higgs field not being in its ground state – which the Standard Model of particle physics seemed to require? And just how does intelligence manage to turn mass into energy?

    There’s such a process available known as reverse baryogenesis which can turn protons and neutrons into energy – a process that liberates more than 100 times the energy released by nuclear fusion. Tipler suggests that this is how Christ’s body was turned into a “spiritual body” – he turned it into a burst of nearly massless neutrinos, then reformed it again to appear to the disciples, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

    But why the elaborate use of high energy physics by God? Tipler believes that God, as Jesus, has demonstrated baryogenesis so we (or our computer descendents) know it exists in an accessible form, so we (or they) will one day use it to convert enough mass-into-energy to cause the Higgs field to achieve its ground state. That’s necessary for the Universe to then collapse into the Omega Point – which Tipler identifies with God.

    Why do the laws of physics require the Omega Point? According to Tipler, left to itself the Universe will end badly. How so? When very massive stars die they explode by their cores imploding, and some imploding cores become black holes. A Black hole is actually a rather simple object because all the many and varied particles that were once a star are crushed into a singularity that wipes out their individuality – a kind of super-particle forms. The singularity is trapped behind an Event Horizon (what we see as a “Black Hole”) and nothing escapes it – except there’s a catch. Energy can leak from the Event Horizon and so the Black Hole slowly decays away, ultimately erasing all memory of what fell into it. This leaves the development over time of all those particles incomplete – a property of all matter and energy, called unitarity, is violated. This might not sound like much but it actually means in practice that, for example, particles of light (photons) could end up with ridiculously large energies in such trivial situations as turning on a microwave oven. Since the Earth doesn’t melt down unitarity must be preserved somehow.

    If our Universe were to expand forever and all the information of particles and their unitarity was lost down black holes, then the laws of physics will eventually breakdown and the world will end… badly. But what if black holes never decay away? To do so, and to never form information destroying event horizons and singularities, then the future development of the entire Universe has to be directed in a certain way – and that’s what the OPT is all about. By guiding how mass becomes energy and how the Universe then collapses into the Final Singularity – which doesn’t violate unitarity because it is the End of Time and all information is preserved by it – then Life has a very big cosmic role. And to fulfill that role, according to Tipler, Life must become Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent i.e. it must end in God, the Omega Point.

    As I’ve already said Tipler believes that God, the Omega Point, has sent information to us via Jesus Christ, but just how? According to Tipler’s mathematics of our Universe there are three Singularities – the Beginning of Time, the End of Time, and the All Time Singularity which joins the Beginning and End. Or, in Christian terms, the Spirit, the Father and the Son, respectively. Thus the Son – the All Time Singularity which parallels and bounds all moments in all Unvierses of the Multiverse – is joined to the Future and the Past, and thus shares in their knowledge, and provides the means to guide the Universe(s) from the Past to the Future. And one such piece of knowledge is how to reverse baryogenesis.

    And how has Jesus given us this knowledge? As well as resurrecting his old body into a new one there may well be physical evidence of that event. Tipler believes that traces of the Resurrection might still be present on the Shroud of Turin, itself a controversial relic. There’s a lot of historical evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity and good physical reasons to doubt the 1988 radiocarbon dating was actually of the original material and not a Medieval patch. So Tipler’s endorsement of the Shroud isn’t an irrational lapse, as some have claimed, but a reasonable proposal – if the Shroud really does preserve traces of Jesus’ blood and evidence of a macroscopic sphaleron causing reverse baryogenesis, then it’s an incredibly important historical artifact.

    On the other hand Jesus also makes possible ethical use of the awesome power of mass-energy conversion, through his teachings and moral example – sacrificial living and dying for other people. A world armed with total mass-energy conversion is a very dangerous place indeed, unless we can achieve a higher ethical civilisation. The real possibility of such power might just need the direct intervention of Jesus himself. Or so Tipler believes.

    The Physics of Xianity Part 1

    I’m yet to read Tipler’s “The Physics of Christianity” past Chapter 1, which he offers online at his homepage, but over the past few years he has published a number of articles which give the basic outline of his argument – that Christianity’s basic claims are open to scientific verification or refutation, and case from the demands of physics means Christianity is true, the one true faith in fact. Just how the facts do support Xian dogma requires his Omega Point Theory to interpret them – God is the Singularity at the end of the Universe, in fact at both ends and not just our Universe, but all the Many-Worlds required by quantum theory, as explicated by Everett-Wheeler.

    Personally I have problems with that initial claim – that the Everett-Wheeler Multiverse is the ONLY valid interpretation of Quantum Mechanics – as John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation is as good and requires just one Universe. Also Ashfar’s experiments on Two-Slit interference of light still haven’t been explained away by Many-Worlds theorists.

    That being said let’s give a summary of what his modification of his original OPT is now telling us about the Multiverse and Xian dogma.

    • Universal acceleration is caused by the Higgs field being in a false vacuum. Reverse baryogenesis, employed by intelligent life, will eventually return it to its ground state allowing cosmic collapse into the Omega Point.
    • Jesus performed many of his miracles through the reverse baryogenesis process, even if the miracle is strongly suppressed probabilistically speaking – how? Because the consistency of physics requires it.
    • Jesus was born of a Virgin, Mary, as a parthenogenic XX male.
    • Jesus was Resurrected via the conversion of his mass-energy into neutrinos, and reformed into a new “spiritual” body.
    • This process – macroscopic sphaleron tunnelling – left traces on the Shroud of Turin as an apparent chemical reaction.
    • Research on the process, using the Shroud perhaps, will give us the power of reverse baryogenesis – needed to colonise the Universe, but threatening humanity’s continued existence.
    • Humanity is also threatened by the rise of human-level robots in the next 50 years. The combination of reverse baryogenesis and androids is the cause of the “Great Tribulation” that Jesus prophesised would proceed his direct intervention.
    • ETIs exist, but beyond our Hubble horizon and their use of the macroscopic sphaleron tunnelling process independently of us will collapse the Cosmos.
    • SETI will be able to confirm the existence of ETIs by building immense telescopes to image the home-planets of aliens billions of years in the past.

    Tipler’s ideas can be found in several documents available online.

    Firstly, his basic physics ideas can be found at the Internet Physics PrePrint archive…

    Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything

    Intelligent Life in Cosmology

    Closed Universes With Black Holes But No Event Horizons As a Solution to the Black Hole Information Problem

    The Ultimate Future of the Universe, Black Hole Event Horizons, Holography, and the Value of the Cosmological Constant

    Genesis: How the Universe Began According to Standard Model Particle Physics

    Secondly his arguments with respect to the dogmas of Xianity can be found here…

    The Omega Point and Christianity

    …plus some associated comments by Wolfhart Pannenberg.

    Finally, the first chapter of the new book is available online at Tipler’s webpage…

    …which summarises many of his recent comments elsewhere.
    I’ll go into more detail in Part 2

    Gl581c… habitable?

    The big news from the ESO is the discovery of three planets around a red-dwarf star, Gliese 581, just 20.5 light years away – and one of the planets, Gl 581c, is “in” the star’s habitable zone and small enough to be (roughly) Earth-like.

    Maybe not so habitable. According to this article by Barrie Jones, Nick Sleep and David Underwood, the habitable zone of Gl 581 is from 0.113 AU to 0.224 AU – BUT the new planet in the news is at a radius of just 0.073 AU i.e. it’s more like Venus and less like Earth. Albeit a probably wet Venus – a scaldingly hot ocean under a massive atmosphere of water vapour. Not nice real estate until improved by a reflective soletta sending some heat back at the star. Call it an ETP… Easily Terraformable Planet.

    It’s fellow star system mate, Gl 581 d, is at 0.25 AU and somewhat more likely to be habitable, but it masses about 8 Earths, so it’s a bit big. And, of course, from my cursory survey of comments pages at different fora… well the usual crap is being bandied around e.g.

  • So many stars, so many planets, there must be ETIs
  • Let’s not go and “pollute” this new world with our “impure” earthliness
  • Why use the money here on earth to help the poor before we go looking for new planets?
  • The usual truisms, humanity-hating, future-cringing and hopelessly idealistic BS.

    (a) ETIs might exist, or they might not. But if they do/did then why no visible signs? Astrophysical engineering is conspicuously absent in our Galaxy, plus many other Galaxies.

    (b) Life propagates Life wherever it goes. The “pollution” of human-life is in no way alien when you look at the behaviour of all large animal species – we change our environments. We might be so stupid as to foul our own nests BUT personally I see signs we’re getting better at cleaning up after ourselves. City-dwelling modern humans have a SMALLER ecological foot-print than their predecessors, a fact that Luddites and Tree-Huggers blithely ignore.

    (c) The last thing the poor of the world need is our money because they’re poor. They need us to buy stuff from them, not tie another pelican around their necks like so much foreign “aid” has been in the past. Community development is fantastically important, but it only helps if it builds up people to trade and compete with the rest of us. Mere hand-outs kill. And in the end they want to be like us – and part of being us is looking beyond this horizon. That’s why astronomy and space is so damned important. A “simple life” impoverishes all.

    My $0.02 worth.

    Solar for a Mag-Beam

    The Mag-Beam propulsion concept was developed by Robert Winglee and his fellow researchers as a means of propelling quick interplanetary shuttles without mucking around with rockets. Basically it’s a big plasma rocket turned into a big plasma gun, that fires a fast, hard ion-beam at a magnetically ensheathed shuttle vehicle. This gives the shuttle a big shove and sends it on its way – to be slowed down at the destination by another Mag-Beam, or a bit of adroit aerobraking if it’s slow enough.

    Problem is the Mag-Beam wants a lot of juice to do the job – for example, a 20 ton shuttle being accelerated to 20 km/s needs a 300 MW Mag-Beam firing at it for about 4 hours, which is a lot of battery mass (3,000 tons at 400 of battery.) Once the beam has fired the massive battery pack can be recharged via solar power over a few weeks or days before the Mag-Beam is needed again. But is the battery pack needed at all?

    Geoffrey Landis designed a Solar Power Satellite that beams 1 GW to the ground @ 33% efficiency and it massed just 1,300 tons which means its in-space power output is 3 GW – ten times the power needed by the Mag-Beam. Thus an in-space SPS power source for a 300 MW Mag-Beam need only weigh 130 tons. That’s a mass that could be launched in one piece by an Energia or Saturn V class launcher – like the new Ares launchers for NASA’s Return to the Moon. To do everything the Mag-Beam is required to do the power has to be delivered to multiple Mag-Beam plasma-gun stations. What made Landis’ SPS so light was that it remained in an orbit perpetually pointed at the Sun, so there was no need for a rotating power transfer collar from the array to the rectenna, and the same reflectors used for power gathering act as rectennae for power transmission in the Landis design. To keep that simple design, and power Mag-Beam stations in multiple locations, Power Relay Satellites – really just microwave wave-guide horns for changing a beam’s direction – might be needed. Or we might just bite the bullet and have a rotating connection between array and station. Both add mass, but it’ll be a LOT less than 3,000 tons of batteries. Plus PRSs can point at rectennae beaming power up from the ground to transfer back down to the ground at another location, allowing a PRS to do multiple roles and make money transferring power to areas of peak demand on the ground.

    Aside from propelling shuttles to Mars and elsewhere a Mag-Beam can also boost a sub-orbital vehicle ( a modified Virgin Galactic SpaceShip, for example) to orbital speed. The power required maybe higher, but as a shorter burst. If the sub-orbital vehicle can boost to a horizontal speed of ~ 1 km/s, then another 6.8 km/s is needed for low orbit. At an acceleration of 20 m/s^2 that’s a boost for 340 seconds, just under 6 minutes. In energy terms it’s the equivalent of 120 minutes of a 300 MW beam. Perhaps the higher power can be supplied from the ground?