Bending Radiation Around Future Starships And Space Colonies?

Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Science, Technology | 1 comment

As many of you already know space radiation is a huge problem. Aside from the fact that it can melt your brains faster than a mini-series upon Hulu, space radiation (whether from stars, black holes or planets) can limit the number of terrestrial worlds we can settle within our solar system.

While artificial magnetic shields could enable humanity to set foot upon the spheres that orbit Sol Star, it might be wiser to bend radiation around our future homes and ships instead.

Theory says that gamma rays, being even more energetic than x-rays, ought to bypass orbiting electrons altogether; materials should not bend them at all and the refractive index for gamma rays should be almost equal to one. Yet this is not what a team of physicists led by Dietrich Habs at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany and Michael Jentschel at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France, has discovered.

 

ILL is a research reactor that produces intense beams of neutrons. Habs, Jentschel, and colleagues used one of its beams to bombard samples of radioactive chlorine and gadolinium to produce gamma rays. They directed these down a 20-meter-long tube to a device known as a crystal spectrometer, which funneled the gamma rays into a specific direction. They then passed half of the gamma rays through a silicon prism and into another spectrometer to measure their final direction, while they directed the other half straight to the spectrometer unimpeded. To the researchers’ surprise, as they report in a paper due to be published this month in Physical Review Lettersgamma rays with an energy above 700 kiloelectronvolts are slightly bent by the silicon prism. (ScienceNOW)

Even though developing, perfecting and applying the technology upon a future outpost is probably over half a century away at best, finding a way to bend deadly radiation around a future space  settlement could enable colonists to live upon the surface of  “moderately” radioactive worlds like (Luna, Mars and Ganymede) instead of underground.

It could also enable starships to travel throughout our Sol System without fear of encountering a deadly solar storm or random radiation via a black hole.

Although future space settlers in the near term will probably adopt heavy shielding and magnetic shields as their new best friends, bending radiation around settlements, starships and (one day in the distant future) space suits could allow us to visit deadly worlds such as Europa in person (instead of via our robotic friends).

(Hat tip: Engadget)

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Another Reason Martian Settlers May Choose Solar Over Nuclear Power

Posted by on Oct 11, 2011 in Energy, Mars, Science, Technology, Video | 2 comments

Even though having a mini-nuclear reactor nearby is not a bad idea, settlers upon Mars may prefer an option that relies less upon the splitting of the atom and more upon the rays of the Sun.

Scientists in Spain have figured out a way for solar power stations to generate energy after sun set when rays from the Sol star are no where to be found.

Gemasolar, the concentrated solar power plant located in Fuentes de Andalucía (Seville), a property of Torresol Energy (a joint venture between Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s future energy and clean technology company and SENER – the leading Spanish engineering and construction company) has supplied its first uninterrupted day of electricity to the network.

This has been made possible by its innovative technique of storing solar energy in molten salt, a cutting-edge thermal-transfer technology developed by SENER. This system is capable of fifteen hours of electricity production without solar radiation which overcomes fluctuations in the energy supply. [...]

The salt storage system allows the plant to stretch its electrical production hours to beyond sunset, regardless of the cloud cover. Thus, Gemasolar, with its 19.9 MW steam turbine, is able to supply electricity to a population of 25,000 households.

Eventually the plant will be able to supply 24hrs of uninterrupted production per day on most summer days, providing a higher annual capacity factor than most baseload plants such as nuclear power plants. (Torresol Energy

Although Martian settlers will probably need a mini-nuclear plant as a backup energy source (as Martian hurricanes have a habit of blocking out the Sun worldwide), relying upon a solar-thermal hybrid could enable colonies to thrive upon Mars without having to rely upon infrequent shipments of nuclear plants from Earth.

This technology would also benefit asteroid colonies as well, as it would enable settlements within the inner solar system to become less dependent upon Earth (or even Mars) for resources.

Note: Since sunlight intensity tapers off beyond Mars, solar power (of any kind) would be useless for out posts established upon Jupiter’s mega moons (Callisto and Ganymede), who would need to rely upon nuclear energy to avoid freezing to death.

(Image credit: Torresol Energy, Video credit: Tony Seba, Hat Tip: Gizmodo

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Will Humanity Mine The Moon For Titanium?

Posted by on Oct 11, 2011 in Moon, NASA, Science | 1 comment

Apparently silver isn’t the only thing Earth’s nearest neighbor harbors upon the surface. Astronomers have discovered another element which could aid lunar settlers in their quest to conquer the Moon.

A new map of the Moon has revealed an abundance of titanium ore that is up to 10 times richer than on Earth, a finding that could one day lead to a lunar mining colony, astronomers said on Friday. [...]

 

“Lunar titanium is mostly found in the mineral ilmenite, a compound containing iron, titanium and oxygen,” they said.

 

“Future miners living and working on the Moon could break down ilmenite to liberate these elements. (Moon Daily)

Aside from the obvious uses of titanium (i.e. planes, rockets, buildings, etc.), the strong light weight element is also the metal of choice for surgical implants (as titanium is able to remain harmlessly within the human body for decades).

Although titanium alone will not convince humanity for the need to settle the Moon, it’s presence (along with the discovery of water and the ability to extract oxygen from lunar soil) will probably add to the case of inhabiting Luna first before our species decides to conquer more ambitious objects (like Mars and Callisto).

(Image: Titanium Crystals, Credit: Heinrich Pniok)

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Creating Gas On Mars

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in Mars, Science, Technology | 2 comments

While we often envision future Martian colonies powered by solar, steam or nuclear power, one aspect we often neglect is the human rated rovers that will be criss crossing the planet.

Fortunately it looks like technology developed on Earth may aid rover ranging explorers on Mars.

The idea is to use the sun to power chemical plants able to split carbon dioxide. Combine the resulting carbon monoxide with hydrogen and you have the beginnings of a solar fuel that could one day replace oil. [...] Now, Konstandopoulos and colleagues have successfully used the same reactor technology and process to split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide in the lab. Two reactors running simultaneously could generate hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which could be combined into synthetic fuel using one of two established chemical processes, says Konstandopoulos. In the Sabatier process the two gases are heated at high pressure in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane or methanol, while in theFischer-Tropsch process an iron-based catalyst is used to generate liquid hydrocarbon fuels. (New Scientist)

Although scientists have already explored technology that could turn Martian air into fuel, it’s good to see others pursuing this idea on our home planet.

While the first Martian rovers carrying humans will probably be fully electric, over time we may see settlers transition to fuel based rovers (provided the economics converting Martian air support it).

Even though this technology would probably not replace fossil fuels on Earth (due to the cost and “ease” of extracting oil), it may help our fuel our descendants travels on our neighboring planet. (via Gizmodo)

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NASA: Omega-3 Everyday Can Keep The Bone Loss Away (Micro Gravity)

Posted by on May 13, 2010 in Blog, Health, Science | 0 comments

One of the biggest hurdles preventing humanity from settling the final frontier is micro gravity.

While it may be fun to float in the air like jelly fish floats in water, micro gravity can wreck serious damage upon our bodies, turning strong bones into brittle skeletons.

Fortunately it looks as if the boys and girls at NASA may have found a solution to our woes via a fatty acid by the name of Omega-3.

(NASA) NASA-sponsored studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may play a role in mitigating bone breakdown that occurs during spaceflight and in osteoporosis. Ongoing research for decades has looked for ways to stop bone density loss in astronauts. [...]

In a series of cell-based studies, scientists documented that adding a specific omega-3 fatty acid to cells would inhibit the activation of factors that lead to bone breakdown. This was true in both typical cell cultures and those designed to mimic weightlessness. The inhibited factor is known as “nuclear factor kappa B” or NFκB. NFκB is involved in immune system behavior and the inflammation process. The activation of NFκB in different tissues can lead to bone and muscle loss.

Combined with medical drugs (which will help keep our muscles strong), humanity may finally be able to dwell among the heavens above without fear of their bodies deteriorating in deep space.

While this probably means that sea food, will become apart of the future diet (especially for water rich worlds like the Moon, Mars and Callisto), this revelation may also help make living off world a little bit easier (if not tastier as well).

(via SpaceRef, Image Credit: Medline Plus)

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Water Plus Sunlight Equals Clean Energy For Mars?

Posted by on Mar 18, 2010 in Blog, Mars, Science, Technology | 0 comments

Unlike its big terrestrial sister (aka Earth), Mars is sorely lacking in the energy department.

While future Martian cities may eventually be powered by algae, solar steam or even geothermal power plants, colonists are going to need an energy source to immediately “power up” their off world outposts.

Fortunately it looks like researches may have discovered a solution that could make living upon Mars a reality.

(Emory University) Emory University chemists have developed the most potent homogeneous catalyst known for water oxidation, considered a crucial component for generating clean hydrogen fuel using only water and sunlight. The breakthrough, to be published in “Science” and released online by the journal March 11, was made in collaboration with the Paris Institute of Molecular Chemistry. [...]

The long-term goal is to use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen becomes the fuel. Its combustion produces the by-product of water – which flows back into a clean, green, renewable cycle.

Since Mars receives approximately half of the sunlight as Earth does, future colonists may have to look towards a temporary chemical solution rather than an innovative solar panel (like solar rods).

Although this innovative technology is far from perfect (as there are still major hurdles to overcome), it could pave the way for not only green energy on Earth, but help “jump start” colonies on Mars too.

(Image: Bubbles form during water oxidation, catalyzed by the new tetra-cobalt water oxidation catalyst. Credit: Benjamin Yin)

(via Mars News)

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