Missing: Mercury's Iron

Posted by on Jul 5, 2008 in Blog, Mercury, NASA | 0 comments

Messenger, a space probe by NASA responsible for de-mystifying secrets of the “first rock” from the Sun, has unfortunately informed scientists that the planet contains very little iron within its crust.

(Physorg.com) “For example, according to our color data the Caloris impact basin is completely filled with smooth plains material that appears volcanic in origin,” Robinson explains. “In shape and form these deposits are very similar to the mare basalt flows on the Moon. But unlike the Moon, Mercury’s smooth plains are low in iron, and thus represent a relatively unusual rock type.”[…]

The low-reflectance material is particularly enigmatic, says Robinson. “It’s an important and widespread rock that occurs deep in the crust as well as at the surface, yet it has very little ferrous iron in its silicate minerals.”

That, he says, makes it unusual. “You expect to find low-reflectance volcanic rocks having a high abundance of iron-bearing silicate minerals, but that’s not the case here.” One possible solution, he says, is that iron is actually present but invisible to MESSENGER’s spectrometers because it’s hidden within the chemical structure of minerals such as ilmenite.  

While this new information does not completely rule out that iron (in some form) exists upon the Sun baked world’s surface, it may rule out vast quantities within easy reach of humanity.

Further inspection of Mercury (in much greater detail) may be needed in order to locate “abundant spots” of iron, although humanity may still find some use for ilmenite (which can be used as a base for paints, paper and plastics).

If Mercury is found to be lacking in iron (or if it it is extremely difficult to export of the world), humanity could always scour the surface for helium-3 (perhaps with the help of a “few volunteers“).

(Image Credit: NASA)

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In Space, Lunar Colonists May Have To Drink "Recycled Urine"

Posted by on May 20, 2008 in Blog, Mercury, Moon, NASA, Technology | 0 comments

In space, water is more precious than gold. Unfortunately for our species, our nearest neighbor has very little (if any) upon its surface.

While importing water from Earth would be desirable, future settlers may have to settle for drinking water redeemed from their own urine.

(Universe Today) But NASA has been working on a recycling system to transform urine and other liquid wastes into water that can be used in space for drinking, food preparation and washing. Agency officials say the water from the system will be cleaner than U.S. tap water. […]

The Water Recovery System recycles liquid wastes — which can consist of urine, sweat, or leftover water used for bathing or food preparation — by filtering it through a series of chemical processes and filters, making it safe to drink. Urine, for example, first passes through a distillation process to separate the liquid phase from the gaseous phase, after which it is mixed with other water waste and is treated with the help of a water processor.

Since exporting water to the Moon will probably be very expensive, recycling ones own urine may help not only keep costs down, but enable the future colony to become more self sufficient.

This technology would also be useful for future settlers (or prisoners) upon Mercury, whose close proximity towards the Sun makes water a bit scarce.

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Mercury Before Mars Equals Space Faring Civilization?

Posted by on May 7, 2008 in Blog, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Solar Essay | 2 comments

Orbiting a little over one light second away from the surface of Earth, the Moon is an obvious choice in our quest to revisit the stars.

Harboring helium-3 withing its crust, the Moon could help “jump start” our journey into the cosmos financially, if not pay for itself by selling future space stations oxygen via its lunar rocks.

Even though the Moon may benefit our species tremendously, visiting Mars may be harder to justify economically.

For corporations, stock holders may not see the value in visiting the red planet for short term gains (or profits). Meanwhile tax payers may grumble at politicians spending money on another world without seeing any immediate benefits towards Earth.

Such a scenario could easily lead towards humanity delaying (or even skipping) Mars, opting instead to visit the asteroid belt in order to harvest its precious metals.

While mining the asteroid belt would benefit humanity financially, it may not motivate our species to choose a second home en mass outside of the gravitational influence of Earth.

In order to justify Mars, our species may have to look towards the first “rock” from the sun, Mercury.

Described by some as “A Mini-Earth in Moon’s Clothing,” the planet Mercury shares a few similarities with Earth’s Moon.

Orbiting “recklessly close” towards the surface of the Sun, solar energy on Mercury is about 6 1/2 times greater than that on the Moon (or Earth), making the world a prime location for solar powered satellites.

Its close proximity towards the Sun has a few scientists predicting that its crust may be loaded with helium-3, which would make it an ideal “next step” after humanity is done depleting reserves on the Moon.

Mercury may also have an abundance of metals within its crust as well, which could make it an attractive location for future mining corporations (who may consider asteroid mining too dangerous for their employees).

Despite the fact that this world has a global magnetic field, this sun baked world may not attract a large population due to the fact that it lacks an abundance of water.

While lunar colonists would probably be able to import water from Earth, Mercurian settlers may have to look elsewhere as Earthen gravity could make importing water (not to mention food) from the homeworld very expensive.

Since Mars has an abundance of water (in the form of ice), future Mercurian corporations could easily contract explorers to filter and export this precious liquid “sun-ward,” launching a whole new industry on Mars.

This could make Mars economically attractive to future Earthlings, who may consider settling the planet en mass in order to reap the benefits of interplanetary trade.

This ultimately could help push our species towards other promising worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Titan), enabling our species to become a space faring civilization.

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be added later on.

Update: Images inserted.

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Welcome To Mercury (The Prison Planet)

Posted by on Jan 15, 2008 in Blog, Mercury, Solar Essay | 3 comments

So you want to see the future?
To see the glory of tomorrow
And experience adventure
As well as escape today’s sorrow

But every great society
Has to remove the base and vile
From the rest of humanity
Sadly casting them into exile

~Darnell Clayton, © 2008

With NASA’s Messenger probe seeking to map out the entire planet of Mercury, one may ponder whether or not our species may settle upon that sun baked world.

Mercury’s high density may hint towards an abundance of metallic resources beneath its surface. If so, the cratered crust may rival that of our asteroid belt as far as wealth is concerned.

While Mercury may hold the promise of a future colony world, the cratered globe will probably not attract large bodies of people, who may consider it too dangerous to live due its close orbit around the sun (hint: think radiation).

Instead of future solar governments “bribing” their citizens to declare the first rock from the sun home, why not populate Mercury with prison colonies?

While the common citizen may consider working (let alone living) upon Mercury too hazardous for health, future solar governments could mine the surface using prisoners convicted of serious crimes.

Since the “Merurian days” may be too hot to handle, underground Penal colonies would have to be established in order to protect the inmates (as well as guards) from the wrath of the Sun. These underground prisons may not only make it safer for these prisons to operate, but also help contain these inmates as any escape may result in the “mother of all sun burns.”

(Image: Sunrise on Mercury. Credit: JPL, California Institute of Technology)

During the “Mercurian nights,” prisoners could seek out metallic rich rocks upon the surface, and gather them for later processing in “the day time” below. Metals harvested from “yesterday’s labor” could be left upon the surface for pickup during the Mercurian day.

Governments could later use the harvested resources to benefit their respective economies, perhaps even splitting the profits with families seriously hurt by the convicted criminals who inflicted them pain.

While turning Mercury into a prison planet may ultimately result in its final transformation as a self governing world, colonizing Mercury may help ensure that human race thrives upon every habitable world, from the fiery inner system to the frigid outer limits.

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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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Penal Solar Colonies, Anyone?

Posted by on Feb 8, 2007 in Asteroids, Blog, Mercury, Solar Essay | 0 comments

(Inspired by SpaceBlog Alpha)

Roses are red, and violets are blue, but if we go to space, we need a prison, or two? Despite all of the glorious wonders of visiting the worlds that dot our star system, one regrettable custom we will need to duplicate on other worlds are prisons.

Space is not for the faint of heart, and with the dangers of radiation and asteroids already facing future colonists, adding violent offenders to the list may make living off world less desirable.

With the recent case of a solar citizen attempting to kidnap and possibly murder a rival, future explorers may want to consider off site penal colonies as a way to maintain order in an already dangerous universe.

Penal colonies are nothing new to our species, something Australia can easily testify about. Australia was distant enough to prevent ex-cons from returning, yet within reach for the British empire. But where would future Earth, Luna Maria, and Martian citizens place their space prisoners at? On undesirable locations of course!

Located less than 60 million kilometers (or 36 million miles) from the Sun’s surface, Mercury makes an excellent spot for a penal colony. With temperatures approaching 427o Celsius, those imprisoned on the surface (or below it) would be highly motivated to remain within their protective biosphere.

Although this planetary Alcatraz could be quite useful for a few centuries, sooner or later this world is bound to become “desirable,” which may result in its eventual colonization as a civilized world.

Another possible (an perhaps favorable) location for a prison world would be inside an asteroid. Although our solar system is filled with many valuable asteroids, most of these space rocks are made up of a Carbonaceous material which holds little value for miners and explores.

Since these asteroids generally lie near the outer rims of the asteroid belt, their isolation away from planetary systems could serve as useful prisons to house our most dangerous minds.

Despite being a more extreme choice, carving out jail cells on a enormous comets (called Centaurs) could possibly serve humanities interest as well. Many of these large comets do not enter within the inner solar system and their isolation away from major systems may make them prime locations for future colonists, especially for residents of lunar gas giants.

Although an on site prison might be cheaper, the chance of prison breaks and escapes alone might put any nearby habitation on edge. A penal colony may serve a communities long term interest by not only deterring other crimes, but also protecting the colony from immediate acts of vengeance.

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