UK Plans Close Encounter With Uranus

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in United Kingdom, Uranus | 1 comment

For those of you lamenting over the lack of attention Uranus is receiving (note: keep the comment section space related folks!) when compared to Saturn, it looks like the British are attempting to mimic Cassini’s success by sending a spacecraft to the distant gas giant.

Uranus Pathfinder is a developing mission concept aimed at sending a spacecraft to the planet Uranus. This mission would perform the first detailed study of an ice giant planetary system which would fill the gaps in our understanding of the formation of the solar system, and the physical processes in the interiors and atmospheres of ice giants. […]

All the major components of the solar system are being actively explored in situ by spacecraft apart from the ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune. Yet the ice giants are an important and essentially unknown part of the solar system, they have a unique place in planet formation, and are crucial in understanding exoplanetary systems (UCL: Uranus Pathfinder)

Although not exactly the most fascinating gas giant known to humanity, Uranus could in the distant future help fuel humanities travels throughout our star system without having to rely too heavily upon nuclear power.

But before we can dream about encountering this lopsided world, we first need to acquire more data about this cold Jovian wonder.

Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI), via Spaceports

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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

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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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Uranus: One Planetary System To Fuel Them All?

Posted by on Nov 26, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Solar Essay, Uranus | 0 comments

Orbiting almost 3 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Uranus is an ice giant that gathers little attention from the creatures that currently rule Earth.

Except for being used as the butt of astronomy jokes, the lopsided wonder gathers little press (if any at all), often being overlooked by both Saturn and Neptune.

Although the blueish-green giant may lack large lunar children like Titan and Triton (not to mention a set of dazzling rings), Uranus may be the key that enables humanity to not only conquer the outer limits of our own solar system, but perhaps enable us to reach the next one as well.

Even though Uranus contains a considerable amount of methane (located in the stratosphere), many scientists suspect that the cold ice giant may contain up to 16 trillion tons within its atmosphere, which may make it a prime target energy corporations (not to mention space faring nations of the future).

Often seen as the future of fusion power, Helium-3 could be the fuel that allows interstellar ships to trek through the dark void in between the star systems.

While scientists suspect an abundance of Helium-3 on the Moon, sifting through millions of tons of lunar regolith may not appeal to many people–especially as one would have to compete with other lunar businesses (like tourism) who may have other uses for the white “soil” beneath their feet.

Since claiming land (or atmosphere) on Uranus would be nearly impossible (unless one is able to set foot on the Uranian core), an orbiting space station would be free to collect the precious element, without the need to haggle neighbors with lawyers (or petition the government to take away property via eminent domain).

Despite its massive size when compared to Earth, Uranus’s gravity is only 89% Earth norm (at least at the top of the atmosphere) which means that humans may be able to create floating space stations within the atmosphere of Uranus, without the fear of being crushed by its gravitational forces.

Although other gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn also have an abundance of helium-3, respectively, their deep gravity wells and strong winds would make mining the resource from the atmospheres incredibly dangerous (if not suicidal).

While Uranus’s heftier brother, Neptune would also be a potential source for helium-3, its violent winds may also dissuade would be helium minors from sending robotic probes beneath its icy blue clouds.

Uranus’s wind speeds on the other hand are a lot more tolerable, which may enable robotic probes (as well as future explorers) to travel beneath its clouds without the fear of being torn apart by Earth sized hurricanes.

Although it may be a century (or two) before we see humanity develop the technology (as well as the political will) to eventually reach this distant ice giant, it may not be surprising to see Uranus become the OPEC of the solar system, providing enough energy to not only keep lights on, but also to propel our species towards the next star system.

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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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