How Many Oceans Does Pluto Have?

Posted by on Dec 22, 2010 in Pluto | 1 comment

Despite being located billions of kilometers away from its host star, the dwarf world formally known as a planet may harbor and interesting secret beneath it’s icy crust.

Scientists suspect Pluto holds a rocky core spiked with radioactive materials that are slowly breaking down, releasing enough heat in the process to melt ice and keep it liquid. The temperature on Pluto’s surface is about -375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Considering Pluto’s size and composition, just 100 parts per billion of radioactive potassium would be enough to maintain an ocean 60 to 105 miles in depth 120 miles beneath the surface, says planetary scientist Guillaume Robuchon, with the University of California at Santa Cruz. (Discovery News)

While scientists have yet to prove whether Pluto has an ocean, settlers brave enough to establish homes upon this Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) would probably not be interested in digging/melting through its crust in order to find out first hand for themselves.

Either way this does make Pluto a bit more interesting than its KBO friends, and could help bring some much needed attention to the dwarf world (who is usually overshadowed by other planets closer to the Sun).

Image Credit: European Southern Observatory / L. Calçada

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The 7 (Future) Wonders Of The Solar System

Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Future, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan, Uranus | 5 comments

solarsytemmontage

Two hundred years after the first man and woman graced the plains of Mars, humanity is still isolated to just one star system.

Despite an intense campaign by the Alpha Centauri Society, humans overall have little desire to travel between stars due to cost and technology.

Although this rowdy species has yet to claim their interstellar inheritence, they have transformed their solar playground around them, producing seven wonders that will go down in galactic history.

The Silver Stripes of Mercury

Originally conceived as a penal colony, industrial corporations decended upon Mecury after discovering large deposits of minerals and metals upon its surface.

While its close proximety to the Sun has made Mercury famous for its Magsail races, it’s the billions of solar panels that encircle the planet on the surface (in “neat” rows varying between 1-10 km wide) that make this world an engineering wonder.

The planets 100,000 residents use the energy produced during the Mecurian day to power the ores and cities on the dark side of the planet when it’s safe to work above ground (due to the Sol Star’s radiation).

The Bio Gardens of Luna Maria

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(Image Credit: Daein Ballard)

Officially designated Luna Maria after the failed Lunar revolution (condemned by government and religious leaders on Earth), Luna Maria has transformed its appearence from a white barren wasteland into a “second Eden,” which now boasts 60 million residents.

After generating enormous wealth from exporting oxygen throughout the Sol System, Luna Maria has erected hundreds of thousands of enormous, interconnected biospheres upon 87% of its surface, giving Luna Maria the appearence of a miniture Earth from space.

Luna Maria’s artificial planetary magnetic field (the only one in existance due to cost) has allowed the moon to use bees instead of ants to pollinate its crops, producing gardens unrivaled throughout the star system (due to it’s 16.7% Earth norm gravity).

The Phobian Skyhook (Or Martian Space Elevator)

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(Image Credit: Steve Bowers)

After failed attempts to construct a space elevator on Earth (due to infrequent yet devestating global wars), humanity was finally able to construct a skyhook on the Martian moon of Phobos.

This engineering feat has enabled Mars to inexpensively export its vast supply of water throughout the asteroid belt and inner Sol System, bringing mixed prosperity to the 8 million residents of Mars.

While the red planet’s globacanes prevent a space elevator touching the ground from ever being built, the Phobian Skyhook is an impressive site to see when orbiting this crimson world.

The Jovian Jewel Callisto

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(Image Credit: Thomas Guilpain)

Originally established as a way station world during the Helium-3 rush (in which thousands sought to harvest the isotope for profit), Jupiter’s moon Callisto attracted millions of residents after being declared the safest radiation world after Earth.

Using its brother moon Ganymede as an agricultural world (due to it’s natural magnetic field), Callisto developed the means to feed its enormous population of 750 million, who built cities covering 96% of the entire surface.

Using robots to harvest radioactive materials from both Io and Europa to power its cities (as they are too dangerous to be visited by humans), Callisto brilliantly shimmers in the dark whenever it falls underneath Jupiter’s shadow.

The Beacon Towers Of Titan

Often declared as “an astronomer’s hell” due to it’s cloudy covering, Saturn’s moon Titan is considered a musicians heaven due to the richer sound that’s a result of it’s atmospheric presure and composition.

While Titan eventually became wealthy by exporting methane and ethane to the Sol System, the cloudy moon was extremly difficult to navigate as its crust rested upon a methane/ethane mix, causing it to “slightly drift” and rotate due to the worlds strong winds.

Since traditional forms of GPS were utterly useless, numerous 1.5 kilometer tall Beacon towers (beaming out intense radio waves) were constructed thoughout the moon, giving its 4 million residents a faux GPS system (making travel and commerce throughout the world a lot easier for all).

The Floating Cities Of Uranus

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(Image Credit: Star Wars, original artist unknown)

Originally built by various Terrian corporations to harvest methane and helium-3 within the clouds of this ice giant, these floating cities soon became tourist attractions for the more affluent seeking to escape the low gravity life of lunar worlds orbiting gas giants.

These giant orbital space stations boast near Earth gravity, and mimic the daylight cycle on Earth by floating around the enormous ice giant which its residents call home.

While estimates put the total population between 80,000 wealthy souls, these floating cities are known to have hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through their space ports each standard year, many of them heading towards the Neptunian Lagrange asteroid fields.

The Plutonian Ice Bridge (aka Solar Bridge of Pluto And Charon)

Boasting no more than 50,000 brave souls, this world was originally settled upon by government scientists from various Terrian, Martian and Callistian nations seeking to conduct experiments considered too hazardous (and/or controversial) on their respective home worlds.

While the world and its smaller moon hold little value (both visually and economically), one interesting feature of this binary system is the solar bridge connecting both Pluto and Charon together.

This engineering feat was originally built to reduce the cost of travel between both worlds via rockets although conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions for its existence (none of which will be cited here).

What about Earth?

Although the human race has made great strides in establishing colonies throughout the Sol System, most of its 20 billion individuals reside on the birth planet Earth.

While Earth is still home to some of the greatest scientific discoveries known to man (and women), there are no great engineering wonders to speak of, aside from the beautiful beaches, mountains and vast blue oceans that distinguish our home world from every other sphere that orbits our star.

Update (11/24): Corrected grammatical errors. Thanks!

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Nitrogen Powered Rockets (For Titan, Triton And Pluto?)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2009 in Blog, Neptune, Pluto, Rockets, Saturn, Technology, Titan, Triton | 2 comments

(Image: A prototype of the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster. Credit: Donna Coveney / MIT)

Out “in the black” where the suns rays are much dimmer, future explorers will have to come up with innovative ways to travel to and from the gas giants, dwarf planets and the various moons that dance around their parent worlds.

While solar sails, magnetic sails and nuclear rockets could provide some measure of transport, they will probably be too expensive for the average star ship.

Since mining hydrogen directly from gas giants is suicidal due to their deep gravity wells and very fierce winds (with the only exception being Uranus), colonists beyond Jupiter may look towards nitrogen to solve their space transport needs.

(Space Travel) Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say their new rocket — called the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster — is much smaller than other rockets of its kind and could consume just one-tenth the fuel used by conventional systems. […]

The scientists said the Mini-Helicon is the first rocket to run on nitrogen, the most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Batishchev noted, however, it could be years before the technology can be used commercially.

While this technology will have some value on our home world, these nitrogen powered rockets may prove invaluable to worlds like Titan, Triton and Pluto who seem to be blessed with an abundance of nitrogen, respectively.

If future settlers could find ways to harvest this element from these worlds, then humanity may discover a means to travel not only throughout the outer planets, but perhaps beyond the Kuiper belt as well.

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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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Video: Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Galactic Edition)

Posted by on Jul 25, 2007 in Blog, NASA, Pluto, Rockets, Space Geeks, Technology, Video | 0 comments

(Original Image from NASA)

Editor’s note: Last weeks Carnival of [the] Space [Geeks] (hosted by Music of the Spheres) covered various topics ranging from the Galaxy Zoo to general astronomy.

Several notable highlights of this carnival focused upon human exploration in or beyond our solar system with posts from:

  • Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams discusses the possibility of using multi-generational worldships to conquer other star systems.
  • James of Surfin’ English discusses space pirates, as well as outlining some strategies to fight them in the future.
  • Louise RioFrio of A Babe in the Universe gives thoughts on Charon’s new geysers, and how tiny black holes could be heating up the moon.
  • Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society’s Weblog writes about how the upcoming Phoenix mission could contaminate the soil its suppose to analyze.
  • The Anonymous author of Space Files has some interesting images regarding NASA’s space simulator which helps us test whether or not our solar toys are ready for cosmic prime time.

But the most interesting post by far was from Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology, who wrote about how nuclear rockets would be a better alternative to traveling off world than their chemical cousins.

(Advanced Nanotechnology) Nuclear rockets can have 2 to 200 times the performance of chemical rockets. They are a technology that we only need the will to develop. The science is solid and straight forward. We just have to have the courage to become a truly interplanetary civilization. This article will review the various pulsed plasma (using nuclear bombs for propulsion) proposals and have a bit of review of the nuclear thermal rockets at the end. Modern materials will allow smaller nuclear rockets to be produced which could be deployed in space by chemical launch systems. Also, there is uranium and thorium on the moon, so lunar materials could be mined and processed and these nuclear rockets could be made almost entirely from lunar material.

For those nervous about having nuclear rockets launching everywhere from space hungry nations, there have already been several proposals for having these vehicles initially launch via chemical rockets first, before switching over to nuclear thrust.

Here is a video below demonstrating how a “nuclear rocket” could enable humanity to not only escape Earth’s gravity, but also reach Mars.

(Video: Animation depicting a 4000 ton ‘Orion’ type nuclear pulse rocket on a manned mission to Mars. Credit: Nuclear Space)

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Is Pluto's Atmosphere Freezing Too Fast?

Posted by on Sep 25, 2006 in Blog, Pluto | 0 comments

It looks as if the previously thought out theory of how Pluto’s atmosphere freezes has been shattered with new observation of the dwarf world orbiting billions of miles away from our Sun.

(Pluto Today) Pluto’s surface is bright because its atmosphere periodically condenses onto the surface. Theory suggested that, as Pluto cools, the traces of methane should condense first, followed by nitrogen ice as Pluto’s surface grows colder.

The study showed two surprising results: that most of Pluto’s nitrogen ice contains dissolved methane and that the area covered by pure methane ice patches is roughly the same as the areas covered by the nitrogen methane mixture. The fact that methane ice is mixed in with the nitrogen suggests that the freeze-out process happens quickly and haphazardly.

Despite the controversy surrounding Pluto’s demotion, this world (or rather dwarf world) still fascinates scientists with its patchy surface of nitrogen and methane.

Although orbiting over six billion kilometers away from the Sun, Pluto may hold some value for future explorers as methane is a valuable resource, especially in deep space.

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