Tag Archive for space

The Standard Model and the Big Bang

Universe

I am old enough to remember when the the Big Bang was not the accepted model of the universe. In the 1950’s there were two major theories: George Gamow’s Big Bang Universe and Fred Hoyle’s Steady State Universe. After evidence of the residual noise of the Big Bang discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1964 appeared to confirm a single creation event, the Steady State Universe fell into disrepute. In the Big Bang Universe, everything that exists was created in the first few seconds of its 13.7 billion year history. On the other hand, the Steady State Universe is eternal. It has always existed and will always exist. As it expands, new matter is continuously created to keep the Universe in balance and in a “steady state.”

The Big Bang theory has much physical evidence to support it. The outward motion of the the galaxies seems to suggest an expanding universe, which would logically follow if everything originated at a single point. The idea that the four elemental forces, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force were all created at the very beginning and thus were essential in defining the rules of the new universe fits nicely with some of the evidence produced by studies of subatomic particles (see previous blog). The Big Bang also has a psychological and social appeal: it is consistent with most of the creation myths posited by the religions of the world, and it is psychologically consistent with our own life cycle: birth, life, decay and eventual death. These appeals make it attractive to scientists, whether they choose to admit it or not, and probably explains their resistance to accepting data that seems to suggest flaws in the theory.

The measured rate of expansion of the universe, sometimes known as the Hubble constant, has been shown to be inconsistent with the estimated amount of matter and energy in the universe. Therefore, the proponents of the Big Bang have postulated that there is a large amount of matter and energy, known as dark matter, that exists, but is undetectable other than by inference from the prevailing theory. This explanation bears a close resemblance to those put forth by pre-Copernican scientists to explain retrograde motion and other measurements being made that seemed to suggest that an Earth centered, Ptolomeic universe was a flawed model. They postulated that the planets moved around the Earth and then also moved in mini-orbits called epicycles. Of course, within a few years this elaborate explanation came unraveled and a new version of the solar system emerged, along with a new way of looking at creation. Similarly, if the Big Bang was brand new and being suggested as a model with dark matter and energy built into that proposed model, I am certain it would be dismissed as ridiculous and overly elaborate. But because it is the conventional wisdom that the prevailing theory is the true model of creation and scientists are psychologically comfortable with this model, the postulated undetectable matter and energy is accepted.

Because the actors in history are people and people do not change, while scientific discoveries and fads may come and go, history cycles on repeating the same patterns. The Big Bang is getting long in the tooth as scientific theories go in the modern era and I suspect it will be coming unraveled soon. What replaces it will be interesting to see. Possibly some modified version of Hoyle’s eternal and infinite universe will re-emerge to explain the seemingly contradictory observations.

 

Artificial Gravity

800px-Nasa_mars_artificial_gravity_1989

One of the methods of developing artificial gravity in a ship traveling on interplanetary journeys lasting many months is to apply spin to the ship.  Studies have shown a practical limit of this method to be that a rotational rate in excess of two rpm (revolutions per minute) will cause dizziness in the passengers. To counter this problem, several engineers have proposed dividing the ship into two parts: a crew section and a service module. A long cable would run between the two parts and they would rotate around a common axis. Using this method, if one were to limit the rotation to say 1 one and a half rpm, the longer the cable, the greater the sensation of gravity, the shorter the cable, the lesser the sensation of gravity.

To calculate how long the tether must be to generate a simulated gravity of one sixth G at one and one half rpm, you need only apply a relatively simple formula:

 

R = G / ((pi * rpm)/30)2

 

R is the radius of the circle described by the crew compartment expressed in meters and G is the desired rate of acceleration expressed as meters per second. After doing the math you arrive at a figure of 66.7 meters. That would be the approximate distance from the axis to the crew/cargo section. Since the axis of rotation is located at the center of gravity of the system, the service module would be either closer or farther from the center depending on whether it is heavier or lighter than the crew quarters.

Note: A portion of this explanation is taken from my forthcoming story: Ribbon to the Sky.

Conference Call 10-13-12

The object that came within 58,000 miles of Earth

Only two participants: Stargazer NZ and Doug Turnbull

We discussed the near Earth asteroid 2012 TC4. Discussed earlier detection as well as methods of deflection of dangerous objects. We only had 10 days warning for this one. It was about 56 feet across.

We discussed terraforming and its application to Mars and Venus. Venus seems extremely impractical as one couldn’t really settle there until the job was done, while Mars could be settled today. Inoculating Mars with methane producing bacteria might be one way to do it. I am not a particular fan of terraforming.

Stargazer believes Mars is natural place for manufacturing for the space faring culture we see developing off the Earth in the future.

We discussed the “face on Mars” and the willingness of people to believe fantastic things about Mars. This doesn’t seem to transfer to other celestial bodies. I pointed out that all the SF written about Mars may be contributing to it.

No others joined the conversation on this day. Next call: Saturday October 27th at 11 AM EDT (15:00 UT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek, Star Wars, or Zardoz?

What is humanities’ future in space if any?

On another list, the question was raised about the future of humans in space and several movie versions were suggested. My thoughts on these follow. If anyone wants to argue, take offense or agree, please feel free to comment.

I think the Star Trek vision is still too Earth bound, too reflective of our own forms and biases. The aliens in Star Trek, Whatever Generation are simply reflections of ourselves. They are not aliens. The Vulcans are simply the logical and rational sides of ourselves; the Klingons are our greedy and rapacious side, while all of the other aliens are simply character actors in morality plays.  It is a great series, but it is not particularly visionary.

Star Wars tries to be big, but ends up being small. It is Shogun in space.  Jedi-Samurai, endless intrigues with double and triple crosses, good guys become bad guys become good guys and so on. It is great fun but visionary about human space flight it is not.

Zardoz is a total downer. This is science fiction at its worst. It is The Sun Also Rises without the happy ending.

I see human space flight, exploration and colonization as the dawn of a new age. Those who go will be optimists. The kind of people who looked at the New World as an opportunity to be grasped rather than a mystery to be feared. We will take all of our faults and foibles with us, of course, but the tip of the spear will be sharp and we will embark on a great adventure. Those new folks, the lunar and Mars colonists, the ones born and raised there, will see the universe through different eyes. Where we see limits, they will see opportunities. I am quite optimistic. The only movie I can think of that captures this spirit isn’t science fiction at all, it is Centennial, a mini-series about the settling of a town in Colorado that begins with the Native Americans who settled there first, to the trappers and mountain men, the cattlemen, farmers and follows through to the present day. That is our future in colonizing the solar system.

Review of The Star Beast

The Star Beast was copyrighted in 1954 by Robert A. Heinlein and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in that same year. This is the first of the juveniles to have no interior illustrations, but the cover art and title page were done by Clifford Geary. Because of the lack of illustrations, for the video montage portion of this review, I will use the some of the cover art of the many editions of this book that have been published. This is the eighth of the juveniles and as it was with all of the previous books, the plot and characters are unique. Set in the 22nd century, the book has two distinct story lines, lines that eventually intersect, and the point of view changes among the several characters that populate these story lines. This is an interesting plot device and allows Heinlein to build suspense as the reader tries to anticipate how and when the two plots lines will meet.

The first story line probably takes place in Colorado, although that is never stated, and has three principal characters. Lummox, the title character, is an alien brought to Earth by the great grandfather of the book’s ostensible main character, John Thomas Stuart XII. John Thomas is a teen aged boy who takes care of Lummox and tries with limited success to keep the beast out of trouble. Lummox, who was small enough to fit in a jump bag when brought to Earth, has grown to the size of a medium tank and is just about as tough. The close relationship of the two and their loyalty to each other is a crucial part of the story. John Thomas also has a friend, Betty Sorenson, who plays an important role in this book, even though the point of view is never centered on her. Like Lummox, Betty is loyal to John Thomas and tries to look out for him, and while John Thomas seems oblivious to the romantic implications of their relationship, Betty is not.

The second story line takes place in the Federation Capital, the location of which is not stated but in other Heinlein books is in Nassau. There are two main characters in this line and both have the point of view at various times. Henry Gladstone Kiku, OBE, Permanent Undersecretary for Spatial Affairs, is one of the most powerful men in the Federation. Sergei Greenberg is his go-to assistant and is assigned all the hard jobs, because he gets them done. As the story develops, the two men are involved in some tricky negotiations with a newly discovered alien race called the Hroshii. I’ll allow the reader to discover how this seemingly unrelated plotline eventually intersects with the one in Colorado, but it is through circumstances that only Heinlein could make believable. As a character, Kiku is especially noteworthy because he is from Kenya and is black. In 1954, one simply did not depict black men in such roles and if this had not been science fiction, I doubt if any editor from a major house would have approved it. Heinlein, always a step ahead, would cross the color line again in another of the juveniles.

The double plot lines make this an intricate novel, more so than the previous juveniles, but with well developed, believable and likeable characters as well as non-stop action, Heinlein carries it off.  The book is readable and never boring. As with his other works, Heinlein does not indulge in the poetic descriptions of scenery and characters that impresses critics and professors of literature. Rather, we learn about the characters by watching what they do. The Star Beast is another masterpiece by the original dean of science fiction.

Future of NASA

I support Mars and Lunar colonies now. But I feel that NASA run operations won’t work. NASA has become too blunt an instrument. We get way too little bang for our buck with NASA. They need to evolve into a much smaller granting and underwriting operation. But no self-perpetuating bureaucracy ever voluntarily shrinks. So it is most likely that it will lurch on into the future, doing fewer and fewer missions while consuming huge amounts of capital that would be better spent in private hands.
As an example of how the NASA of the future might function, suppose the current Mars “Curiosity” mission had been set up as an “X-Prize” type operation, with the proviso that the company or organization that completes the mission as described in the grant also has exclusive exploitation rights to any developments, media coverage, inventions, procedures and discoveries on Mars. If they find diamonds, they have first claim because the territory mapped out by the rover belongs to them. Possibly an generous land grant would be a part of the deal.
The advantages to this type of system are clear and have historical precedent. Charles Lindbergh flew NY to Paris to win a prize. He did it as economically and quickly as possible. If NASA had undertaken this challenge, they would spend five years planning a massive expedition and then after that, might actually begin development of an aircraft. The Parisians would still be waiting at Le Bourget Field for the plane to arrive.