Tag Archives: future

Planet Building: Possible?

If you don’t want to read, then listen! I have put this post up on a podcast I’m doing, available on Anchor FM, as well as certain other outlets.

https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/embed/episodes/Planet-Building-e1ff39

If anyone has read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” quadrilogy they would have been struck by some of the big ideas hidden within Douglas Adams’ deadpan humour. One of the heavy concepts that stuck with me was the idea of planet building. According to the story, Earth as we know it today is a planet sized super computer, built to perform one task: to figure out the meaning of life. A planetary architect named Slartibartfast is entrusted with overseeing the rebuild of Earth after it’s destroyed due to a galactic scale clerical error.

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Planet building.

Possible? Why not? According to prevailing theories, planets mainly form via the process of accretion. Simply put, particulate matter adrift in molecular clouds clumps under the inexorable pull of gravity, forming ever larger clumps that clump to ever larger clumps and so on. Eventually a planet or star is the inevitable result.

A newly formed exoplanet (in the dotted circle) orbits a newly formed, newly discovered star: CS Cha. Image: Space.com

Why couldn’t this be done artificially? Would it be even possible? If it’s just a matter of throwing lumps of crud at other lumps of crud and hoping they stick, then why couldn’t it be?

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Scenario:

It’s the future. Humanity lives and works in space. The asteroid belt is the new frontier or wild west. Chunks of formerly useless rock are now homesteads or villages. Distances are not overly tyrannical. An asteroid is typically only a few light seconds from another. However, asteroids can be moved. Bigger asteroids like Ceres, Vesta or Eros would comprise the main hubs of commerce and trade in this new world.

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A new frontier… Image: Maciej Rebisz

Smaller settlements such as these “homesteads” could make life easier for themselves in terms of travel times (and therefore fuel costs) to larger, more important settlements by moving closer. In the frictionless, zero gravity environment that is space this wouldn’t be too technically difficult.

Scenario:

Time has moved on. The asteroid belt is a thriving collective of trade networks and conglomerates of smaller settlements. Smaller asteroids now cluster around larger ones like space junk in low earth orbit. Economically, this proximity is making things easier for everyone, and lots of people are getting rich.

Just imagine though if humans disappeared. The zombie apocalypse hit outer space and spread to all corners of the solar system.

(That’s the fun explanation)

Every living human is gone, and the asteroid belt is now a vast ghost band, forming a wreath around the sun, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. There are all these swarms of asteroids now adrift, all artificially brought closer together by generations of enterprising human beings No course corrections keep them from colliding and so many of them are doing just that. Orbits decay, and tiny chondrite specks plough slowly into larger planetesimals.

See where I’m going with this? Over time, natural accretion would naturally lead to planets forming, or at least a large moon sized object. In millions of years the solar system could have a tenth planet (let’s just sneak Pluto back into the club. Don’t tell anyone!)

Planet Building! Essentially a garbage planet could form from the artificially placed asteroids and other objects now in very close proximity and drawn by the slow but inescapable pull of gravity.

I think it’s an exciting idea: a real megastructure! The ultimate megastructure!

What next?

This post was inspired by a chance statement in a video discussing space colonies on Isaac Arthur’s Science and Futurism youtube channel. Check it out. Isaac has a huge catalogue of lengthy discussions on some really interesting concepts. Here is a link to the relevant video if you’re interested:

Last but not least, here are links to the social media for Maciej Rebisz, the talented artist behind some fantastic space artwork, including the asteroid colony about halfway down the post.

facebook – https://www.facebook.com/maciej.rebisz

twitter – https://twitter.com/voyager212 – general updates

artstation – https://www.artstation.com/mac – art

society6 – https://society6.com/macrebisz – prints

Join me on my facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AstroB/

And on YouTube. I’m not quite up to the standard of the venerable Mr Arthur (yet), but I’m working on it. Help me on this journey and subscribe!

http://www.youtube.com/c/BensLab

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Exploring Titan: a Channel Update

My tiny little channel lives! I’m almost at 200 subscribers.

UPDATE: 3rd APRIL 2018

200 Subscribers!

Back to the post.

That is peanuts, but it tells me this channel is definitely trending on an upward trajectory. My most recent video “A Brief History of Astrobiology” is doing well (hint, check it out!)

Watch it for an irreverant look at astrobiology over the ages.

My next one will take a closer look at Titan through the imaginary eyes of its discoverer; Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch astronomer who spied this mysterious moon in 1655. I plan on taking Huygens there for a grand tour. He may even meet his namesake!

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What would a 17th century stargazer think upon seeing his high tech namesake, at rest on a frozen plain on Titan?

The tale of Huygens incredible discovery, as well as his amazing mind is worth a single video, and so that’s exactly what this new one is, the story of the exploration of Titan, from 1655 up until some imaginary mission sometime in the late 2020s, when a drone flies through the thick soupy atmosphere of this exotic moon. Maybe (just maybe) a submarine will explore the methane seas that dot the moons northern expanses. I personally can’t wait for both to happen.

Titan boasts liquid hydrocarbon lakes at its north pole
This would be quite a view.

Here are a few screen shots from the upcoming video:

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A drones eye view of titan, seen through a veil of organic haze and interference.
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The drone takes wing, dropped into the atmosphere of Titan. One of the mysterious methane seas can be just discerned through the haze coating the landscape.
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A night time flight over a methane lake. Beneath the frigid surface a small submarine drone looks for signs of methane based aquatic life.

I’m super excited about this one, and I am sure it’s going to be a lot of fun. Stay tuned!

Ben.

#NightFlighttoVenus

Turn that dial. What’s on the radio?

Crackle. Static. Hissss……

….

Welcome back!

You’ve seen Mars. Who hasn’t?  Done to death! Orbital skydiving from Phobos? Yesterday’s thrill! Jupiter? Saturn? 

Boring!!

Deep sea diving with the natives on Europa?

Somebody wake me up!

Chuck all those snoozefests in the trash because we have something special just for the first 10 callers!

Yessiree we’ve moved on from plain old space tourism. None of this flying over the dark side of the moon for hyper rich tourists! Its  2087, and for a limited time Ben’s Lab Mystery Tours have a ripper for you!

Venus!

For a moment I thought I actually heard crickets chirping in this studio…
What’s that you say? Venus is the Florida of the Solar System! How can that possibly be exciting?  I don’t want to fall asleep in the upper atmosphere, enjoying the sun and mild temperatures on some Cloud City! Retirement villages, man!

Well, how about we forget the cloud cities then? We have put together- for the extreme extreme sports nuts out there, a holiday from Hell- in Hell!
Take a walk on Venus.

I hear your bowels clenching. Good!

Venus is hardcore. Venus wants to eat you alive and spit you out! Did you know our ancestors thought Venus was a beacon of serenity,  drifting peacefully in the heavens. Ha! They thought Venus was a cloud covered blue green marble like our little planet.

Well, they were right. They just had bad timing. Earth and Venus formed at roughly the same time, forming from a molecular cloud, made of gas, dust and other muck drifting around our own newly formed sun.

Earth got lucky. We were at just the right distance from the sun for water to exist in a liquid state on the surface. Venus is just within this little strip of safety,  called the Goldilocks Zone.
For half a billion years or so, Earth had a real twin. Sure, Venus is pretty much the same size as Earth, with almost identical gravity, but those two things do not a paradise make. What Venus had back then was oceans. Continents even.  Venus kind of looked like Earth!

Am I selling it yet! Sounds pretty sleepy, doesn’t it? If you nutcases can’t handle the peace and quiet go stick your head in a volcano on Io.

Call now! This is a once in a lifetime experience!

I have a caller! Let’s see who it is!

Jasper Dixon wants to know; what happened to Venus then? How did an earthlike planet transform into an inferno, with crushing clouds of sulphuric acid and carbon dioxide? What about that atmospheric pressure, 92 times our own!

I agree Jasper. That’s just plain silly. Well at the risk of driving away listeners I’m going to tell you. If I explain why Venus is the nastiest place in the solar system I reckon the phones will be ringing off the hook!

It’s all about water. Back on Earth water isn’t just used to make fizzy drinks and fill swimming pools. It isn’t just necessary for all life. The planet needs water as well. Really!

I know, I know, the planet has a hydrological cycle. Oceans are vast heat sinks, storing heat and influencing climate. Water evaporates, creating rain and clouds, which not only bug us when we’ve just hung clothes on the line, they also reflect a lot of sunlight and heat back out into space. The planet’s reflectivity is called it’s albedo.

This is all true and all very important. But water performs one other vital function:

It lubricates the planet.

Long ago Earth looked like this. 
 

Some time later it looked like this. 

Then this.  

Then this. 

Plate tectonics, my friends. The continents are basically slabs of crust which happen to be less dense than the crust the ocean floor is made of, and so they float and slide around, moving very slowly, but definitely moving. Australia is whipping along at breakneck speed: at about five centimetres a year!

Plate tectonics and other events in the earth’s crust perform an important task; They release heat from the planet’s core. This planet contains a liquid metal core which is kept superheated by the decay of radioactive elements left over from earth’s formation. If the planet’s crust didn’t fracture and split all the time where would all this heat go?

Nowhere of course! The planet would just heat up and heat up, overheating until it became, well, it became Venus. We don’t want that.

So what the heck does water have to do with this! We don’t care anymore! We get it! Shut up and take our money!

Impatient lot, aren’t you? Well, you can’t hurry education! 

Remember those cars the old timers used to drive around? Remember how they had to put oil in them to stop the engines seizing up? Well, if earth’s crust isn’t kept lubricated by vast amounts of water running deep, then it too will seize up. This is what has happened to Venus.

Partly, at least. The planet’s surface is now so hot as a result of this runaway negative feedback that it can melt lead.

Better make sure you pack a decent space suit, extreme sports fans. One that can handle temperatures of 490 degrees Celsius. Make sure the electronics are tough too. It was only due to the advent of electronics that could operate in these temperatures that rovers and eventually humans were able to reach down and touch the Venusian dirt.

All you rugged outdoorsey types: don’t bring compasses. Yes, it’s a great idea, no they won’t work. Period. Venus has practically no magnetic field. This is a side effect of it’s core shutting down long ago. Don’t even ask me why. It may be 2087, but how the heck would I know? I’m selling holidays, not winning the Nobel Prize.

The folks up in those cloud cities have it pretty good.  Sure, hard core acid rain is a pain, and having to wear oxygen masks can be annoying. By and large, however it was a brilliant idea. Much easier than that whole Mars fiasco back in the 2050s.  Terraforming a whole planet? Good luck! See you in a couple of thousand years. Maybe. But those cloudies have no idea what’s below them. I know it’s not pretty.

Not a drop of water anywhere. A few wisps in the atmosphere.  0.002 percent of it is water vapour I think. Down on the freshly formed lava plains (by fresh read: less than 100 million  years old!) though; nada. Zilch.

Venus is close to the sun. A lot closer than earth at 108 million k’s. The Sun, being the vicious ball of fury it is, is constantly punishing the inner planets with solar radiation. Mercury is completely dead, baked clean by its proximity to the Sun. Venus held onto to atmosphere for a while, but when it’s core bit the dust that’s when things went south.

Earth has a magnetic field, which protects life on earth from harmful cosmic and solar rays. Sure, we get sunburn sometimes, but that’s a damned sight better than being baked to death, or having our DNA so damaged by radiation all life would perish from lethal mutations.

Without a magnetic field Venus’s one time oceans were slowly stripped and cast into space. Even today traces of this water are being ripped away by solar rays and sent into the Big Empty.

Still sound like fun? There’s always some hardcase out there who just can’t listen to good sense.

Operators are standing by!

One other thing. Feel free to call in and let me know exactly what happened to Venus’s core…