Archive for April, 2010

Dangerous Planets

Today on Discovery Enterprise we will explore some of the most dangerous and hostile planets in our solar system. The planets Venus, Jupiter and Neptune are worlds that will present many perils and challenges to future intrepid Astronauts. How were they were formed, why are they are so deadly and why can they not sustain life?

Will be it possible to make other planetary environments more like our own? Travel our solar to see what it would take to live on a neighbouring planet.
Naked Science: Dangerous Planets (2006)

Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking – Aliens

Today on Discovery Enterprise we are proud to present Stephen Hawking’s new television series “Into the Universe”.

Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking is an epic new kind of cosmology series, a “Planet Earth” of the heavens. It takes the world’s most famous scientific mind and sets it free, powered by the limitless possibilities of computer animation. Hawking gives us the ultimate guide to the universe, a ripping yarn based on real science, spanning the whole of space and time — from the nature of the universe itself, to the chances of alien life, and the real possibility of time travel.

The first episode of this new documentary series explores the possibility of alien life elsewhere in universe. Aliens premiered on Sunday April 25, 2010.

Hawking joins science and imagination to explore one of the most important conundrums facing humankind — are we alone in the Universe?

In the premier of this exciting new series Stephen Hawking explores the possibility of alien life in the Cosmos, the prospect of other sentient beings in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the likelihood of a future “first contact” between humanity and another extraterrestrial civilization.

It is interesting to note that in this first installment of the series most of the discussions on alien life are not about its invasion tendencies. Once again the media has picked up on the most sensationalistic aspects of a story and ran with it.

So join us today on Discovery Enterprise as we accompany Dr. Hawking on an odyssey in search of life elsewhere in the Cosmos. Traveling from the moons of Jupiter and to a galaxy maybe not so far, far away, he will introduce us to possible alien life forms, in stunning CGI, that face the same universal trials of adaptation and survival as life on Earth.

Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking – Aliens

Tank on the Moon

In the 1960s and 1970s the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a battle for ideological and military supremacy. It was a battle fought on land, sea and space. Two opposing economic and political philosophies were engaged in a contest to win the hearts and minds of the world’s people. And, nowhere was the competition more fierce then the race for the moon. It was a race that the U.S. would eventually win. But the Soviets had one spectacular success. A success nearly forgot by history, until now.

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the documentary “Tank on the Moon”. This documentary film concerns the development, launch, and operation of the Soviet Moon exploration rovers, Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2 in the period from 1970 to 1973. The film uses historical footage from American, Russian and French archives.

Tank on the Moon

Exodus Earth – Mercury

Today on Discovery Enterprise we join our host physicist Dr. Basil Singer in exploring the potential, challenges and hazards of establishing a human outpost on Mercury, the most extreme planet in the solar system. It is deadly hot on one side, but fatally cold on the other. Yet in craters near the pole Basil finds water, and conditions that might make Mercury home.

Exodus Earth – Mercury

The Coming Magnetic Storm

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present a scenario the sounds like the central plot of a Sci-Fi blockbuster motion picture. Deep within the core of our planet, where the constant spin of Earth’s liquid metallic core generates an invisible magnetic force field that shields our planet from harmful radiation in space, something has affected the spin of this planetary dynamo and has slowed it down and there are signs that it may shut it down completely.

Gradually, the field is growing weaker. Electrical and electronic devices suddenly shut down and people with pacemakers suddenly and inexplicably drop dead, flocks of pigeons lose their ability to navigate in seemingly lose their way and circle aimlessly above skies of Trafalgar Square and begin crashing into buildings, parked cars and people. Countless pods of whales and other aquatic mammals beach themselves. Navigational devices go awry effecting cargo ships, passenger aircraft, telecommunications satellites and computers on NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour sending it far off course and forcing the its Astronauts to land in the Los Angeles River basin .

Is there a factual basis for such a plot line? Could we be heading for a demagnetized doomsday that will leave us defenseless against the lethal effects of solar wind and cosmic rays? Today’s documentary “Magnetic Storm” takes a close scientific look at such a horrific scenario.

Scientists studying the problem are looking everywhere from Mars, which suffered a magnetic crisis four billion years ago and has been devoid of a magnetic field, an appreciable atmosphere, and possibly life ever since, to a laboratory at the University of Maryland, where a team headed by physicist Dan Lathrop has re-created the molten iron dynamo at Earth’s core by using 240 pounds of highly explosive molten sodium. The most visible signs of Earth’s magnetic field are auroras, which are caused by charged particles from space interacting with the atmosphere as they flow into the north and south magnetic poles.

Magnetic Storm

The Core

The Vesuvius Time Bomb

Today on Discovery Enterprise we decided, in the light of recent events in Iceland to present a documentary on volcanoes and to focus our attention on perhaps the most famous volcano in history – Vesuvius.

Our video feature for today is another exciting documentary from the National Geographic Channel’s series Naked Science which will lay bare the potential danger posed by the ticking geological time bomb of Vesuvius to the inhabitants of the Southern Italian city of Naples.
This volcano could kill millions in a fraction and sits a mere five miles outside of Naples, Italy and is infamous for the ancient decimation of the city of Pompeii on the afternoon of August 24, 79 AD. Will it erupt again?

Join leading researchers and archaeologists in a race against time as they attempt to predict when this will happen again and try to save the Neapolitans from a fiery fate.

Naked Science: Vesuvius Time Bomb

A Common Sense Human Space Program

I wrote the essay below in response to some conversation among my Space enthusiast friends.

As a eleven year old boy I sat before a television  set  filled with excitement and wonder as the Apollo astronauts explored the Moon. The future held the bright promise of humanity reaching out from the Earth. I expected to see Moon bases, humans to Mars and believed I may even have the opportunity to go to the Moon myself.  None of this was to happen. Instead the human race has been stranded in Earth orbit for nearly 40 years.

It should be obvious to everyone that if the current situation continues that the chances of human activity beyond Earth orbit (BEO) are slim to non existent. What happens is that an American President comes up with a Space plan which has some support during his term.  However the following President is not bound by the past President’s policy  so  its abandoned. There have been some exceptions, Nixon’s space shuttle survived the Carter administration because it was a case of supporting the Shuttle or abandoning manned space completely.  Reagan’s Space Station underwent various chops and changes but President Clinton saved it as a post cold war mechanism for  international co-operation. Plans for missions to the  Moon and Mars however have got nowhere. President Bush I and Bush II both had such plans and both plans have ended in the dustbin of history.

President Obama has now released his Space plan, it has much to recommend it. Having NASA contract out to the commercial sector  the mundane tasks of delivering people and cargo to the ISS is long overdue. It should give a major boost to the space entrepreneurs. However it still leaves humanity  marooned in Earth orbit. There is vague goals of Mars and asteroid missions but no set time table.  The decision to build the HLLV won’t happen until 2015. Effectively that will acquire approval of the next President.  What the Obama administration will give us is a lifeboat for the ISS.  The Soyuz has been a perfectly good lifeboat for years, its unclear why another one is needed, especially since the Soyuz will be used to ferry astronauts to the Station anyway.  If one was needed I’m sure the commercial people would have been happy to follow up their space taxi with a lifeboat.

It just has to be accepted the that Moon bases and missions to Mars are not sustainable goals. They are too expensive (especially with the US’s trillion dollar deficits) and have no widespread support. There is not going to be any BEO activity if those goals are continually promoted. They need to be set aside for goals which are sustainable. Goals which make sense to people.

Such goals do exist for the ability to send people beyond the Earth is essential to our very survival. The sophistication and technological advancement of our civilization has made us vulnerable to natural threats that would have had little or no impact in the past. Lets look at a none space example. A volcano goes off in Iceland and the world’s international travel is in chaos. Had that volcano gone of a century ago it would have only been a concern to the people of Iceland. The Space environment presents us with two threats that can destroy our civilization. 

One is the threat of solar storms. Our Sun is a seething ball of  gas that can send huge eruptions of plasma  towards Earth. The resulting solar wind shock wave  can  completely disturbs Earth’s   magnetic field. Such storms  effect our communications and electricity generation. In 1989 a solar storm caused black outs throughout Quebec. But that was nothing compared to the solar storm of 1859. That was so severe that telegraph operators received electric shocks and fires were ignited.  If the Earth was hit by a similar storm today without warning it would cause world wide catastrophe. Power station transformers would be destroyed, communications systems would be useless. It would be an existential threat to our civilisation.

Common sense tells us what’s required is to keep the Sun under perpetual  observation so as to provide the earliest warning. A way to do that is to have a large solar telescope , comparable to the Hubble or larger, at the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. The L1 point is an ideal place for a solar observatory as it will never be shadowed by the Earth or Moon. Thats why there’s several sun watching  satellites there already. A large aperture telescope would have the resolution to observe the  smallest feature  on the sun providing early warning. Like the Hubble the solar telescope would be man tended allowing  regular maintenance and upgrades. That way the observatory would be available for decades.

 Impact events  are another threat.  The threat of  the Earth impacting with an asteroid, comet or meteorite is real and has happened in the past. There are craters like Barringer and Henbury to prove it.  Although the larger impacts are more rare the smaller ones are more common. The Tunguska event in 1908 had a explosive force between 5-30 megaton. That  impact occurred over Sibera. It couldn’t do much damage to civilization in 1908, but a 5 megaton blast over Russia today could have serious international consequences.

Its common sense to be prepared for such impacts and to take measures to prevent them. There has been much thought given as to how divert an approaching asteroid but no one is sure. What is certain is that any action is best taken when the asteroid is far away from Earth. A small diversion , requiring the least energy, in the asteroids orbit at distance will be amplified by the time it approaches Earth to hopefully  However operating on an asteroid ten or twenty million kilometers away means there will be a radio time lag to Earth of several minutes. If you are trying to attach a solar sail or position a hydrogen bomb on a rotating asteroid you want someone there to make instant decisions. Not  try to operate robots with lengthy time lags.

These reasons alone justify a human BEO capability. The goals are modest in cost and capability but would significantly increase our abilities in the Solar System. Note too that this modest capability would also enable Moon orbital missions and the establishment of a major astronomical observatory at the Sun-Earth L2 point. With goals based on plain old common sense rather then illusions the human race can finally leave Earth’s orbit.