Will Geothermal Energy Power Our Solar System?

Posted by on Sep 3, 2008 in Blog, Charon, Dione, Enceladus, Energy, Mars, Solar Essay, Tethys, Triton, Video | 3 comments

Image Credit: Apogee.net

Regardless whether one intends to dwell upon a dusty world, or an icy one, living on another planet, moon, or dwarf planet is going to require energy. Without a dependable power source, off world settlements will become nothing but fantasy, regulated to the imaginations of Star Wars, Star Trek and Serenity.

While a few worlds such as Mercury, Luna (aka the Moon) and Saturn’s Titan are blessed with an abundance of energy in the form of solar energy, helium-3 and methane-ethane lakes, respectively, most of the other spheres that dance around the sun (or their respective planets) seem to lack an ample supply of energy.

Without an lush supply of energy nearby, colonists living on other worlds will be forced to import energy from abroad, making these outposts not only expensive, but also small (as increased energy demand may make large cities unreasonable).

In order for our species to truly create independent colonies elsewhere, we may have to drill down beneath the soil in order to acquire the neccessary energy to power our future interplanetary cities.

Despite the fact that this technology is a little over a century old, geothermal energy has the potential to not only power our own home world, but the other globes that “roam” the vacuum of space as well.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, a geothermal power plant basically uses heat from the Earth’s core to turn water (or a “watery mix”) pumped from above into steam. This steam in turn spins the turbine engines, creating electricity for nearby communities to use.

A geothermal power plant can also pump up hot water trapped below, as in the case of the Calpine Corporation’s geyser power plant.

While the technology may not be as glamorous as solar power satellites, it does have the potential of fueling our energy dependent world.



(Video: Scientists explaining how geothermal energy works, as well as its potential. Credit: Google.org)

While this technology is promising, one may wonder whether or not this technology would be feasible off world. After all, in order for geothermal power to have any relevance, it would have to reside on a world that is not only somewhat geologically active, but also contains water (or another liquid substitute) to turn the turbine engines.

Fortunately for our species, it seems that most of the worlds in our solar system seem to be blessed with both.

Mars

Upon first glance, the surface of the red planet appears to be (for lack of a better word) dead. While boasting the largest volcanoes in our solar system, the crimson globe apparently changes little, aside from a “global-cane” that covers the surface every six (earthen) years.

Despite its passive appearance, the Martian depths may be more active than we think beneath the surface, as evidenced by its semi-active core that seems to be generating a “lumpy magnetic field” that barely pops up above the surface (in some spots).


(Image: Artistic drawing of Martian geysers, Credit: Arizona State University / Ron Miller)

Mars also is known to host geysers in its southern pole, which may indicate that the red planet may a lot warmer underneath than we can imagine. Combined with the abundance of water, Mars may become fertile ground for future geothermal power plants.

Ganymede

With its parent world orbiting almost
780 million kilometers
away from the Sun, solar power is not an option for any future colony settling on Jupiter’s largest moon.

Boasting a global magnetic field which is ironically three times larger than the planet Mercury, a future outpost on Ganymede may be a prime candidate for a geothermal plant.

While future “Jupiterans” would have to live within “aquarium houses” in order to survive the intense radiation surrounding the moon, their ability to “tap” into the Jovian moons center, providing enough energy to turn this frozen globe into a second Earth.

Saturn’s Icy Moons


Despite its size, the tiny ice world of Enceladus contains geysers that are spewing icy crystals above its surface.

While scientists remain baffled on how such a tiny world can contain a core warm enough to produce geysers on top, this tiny world could become a prime candidate for a geothermal power plant (by tapping into the “warm crevices” beneath).



(Video: NASA highlighting geysers discovered on Enceladus, Credit: NASA, via Windows to the Universe)



But Enceladus is not the only ice world orbiting Saturn with geysers. Last year scientists discovered that both Tethys and Dione are also spewing ice particles into space, which may hint toward a warmer than anticipated core underneath.

Triton

Often known for its retrograde orbit around Neptune, Triton may become a major settlement in the future by harvesting helium-3 from the atmosphere of its paternal planet.

But before colonists can exploit the blue gas giant for profit, they will need to find a way to acquire energy upon that frozen world. Fortunately, Neptune’s “favorite son” does boast nitrogen geysers, whose erupting pressure may help keep an advance turbine engine spinning (thus keeping “the lights on” for a future colony.

Charon

While the debate rages on whether or not its “bigger brother” can join the planet club, scientists suspect that Pluto’s moon Charon may also have geysers on its surface, which could point towards a warmer core underneath.

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Even though off world colonies will probably have to adjust their technology in order to make geothermal power plants feasible (perhaps by using the geyser pressure from the worlds to turn the turbine engines instead of simply using steam heat), future settlements may consider it more reasonable to power their cities from energy below, rather than importing it from afar.

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Which Worlds Should Humanity Skip?

Posted by on Sep 12, 2007 in Blog, Charon, Europa, Io, Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Uranus, Venus | 2 comments


With our species blessed with 83 worlds that orbit our home star, why would we choose to settle some and skip the rest? After all, would it not be in humanities best interest to spread our glory over every celestial moon, planet and dwarf planet?

While covering every centimeter of every orbiting sphere may sound glorious, it may not be practical (or even desired) by our future descendants. Just as the human race chooses to (mainly) live within fertile valley’s and hills over deserts and mountains, so to our children may opt to skip worlds with “too much hassle” involved in settling them.

A prime example of this would be Mercury. Although humanity may posses the capability of colonizing this sphere, its close orbit towards the Sun may make it uninhabitable, at least during the day time (thanks to solar radiation).

Even though Mercury may contain many precious metals beneath its baked crust, it will probably never boast large metropolis’s upon its surface, unless Earth decides to turn it into a planetary penal colony.

Moving outward to Venus, one could easily realize why humanity would never ever want to set foot on the planet, let alone through its thick atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure on Venus is about 90 times that of Earth, strong enough to crush a human unprotected.

Hosting sulfuric acid within its upper clouds, Venus may be more valuable as an interplanetary garbage dump than a viable colony (even for science).

Over in the Jovian system, Jupiter’s moon Io shares a similar fate to Venus. Although lacking an atmosphere, Io does house numerous volcanoes upon its surface, some of which spew hot sulfur hundreds of kilometers from its surface.

Even if scientists were able to withstand the deadly radiation that engulfs this world, they would probably not enjoy swimming in one of Io’s numerous lava lakes.

Despite the fact that Io’s lunar sister is known to harbor an abundance of water ice, Europa may only gather a mournful glance from a few scientists observing from Ganymede. Even though many scientists suspect that Europa may have oceans beneath its surface, the world is jealously guarded by its father Jupiter, who bathes its lunar daughter in deadly radiation.

While some have suggested digging a hole beneath the icy surface, doing so may only guarantee ones fate within the icy walls, as Europa has a fairly active surface, which could result in one getting crushed by its icy “tectonic plates.”

When it comes to radiation, Saturn’s ring worlds do not seem to fare any better than Europa. While the icy moons of Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea may find their surfaces scoured by robots (in search of water ice), these lunar bodies unfortunately orbit within Saturn’s radiation belts.

Even though engineers will probably find a way to shield themselves with artificial magnetic fields (or even create enormous planetary versions), the added cost of doing so may make living on these worlds too expensive for the “average space colonist.”

The moons of Uranus and Neptune who dance around their green and blue parents, respectively may share a similar fate to their Saturian cousins.

Although its quite possible that these moons may eventually be settled by humanity, they may find themselves harboring space pirates (to the delight of solar governments everywhere) as their distance from Earth and lack of nearby resources may make them unattractive for the masses.

Heading out towards the Kuiper belt, one wonders whether humanity will have the attention span of settling any of these frozen objects at the edge of our solar system.

Although colonizing both Pluto and Charon could provide a few engineering delights, one wonders if humanity may simply decide to ignore these historical relics as they head out to other promising star systems.

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