Topic: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.  (Read 9366 times)

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Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #20 on: June 05, 2005, 10:22:19 pm »
I have come across it before.  So far it seems to be "unvalidated".  Anything that can manipulate gravity in any way would be of amazing importance both scientifically and technologically.  One must hope that he is right and that it can be developed.

If it can be proven and the effect magnified in a portable fashion then the rules of transportation systems could easily go totally out the window.   Lower your personal gravity and the fantasy of Icarus becomes real. The Moller skycar would be obsolete before it hit the market. 

Even material processing could dramatically change.  There are materials that in theory could be made in zero or microgravity far more efficiently than in the Earths 1g field.  The ability to create a 0g field on the surface of the Earth would allow those processes without having to travel to space and operate in vacuum conditions with all the equipment in 0g.   

Pumping by changing the gravity field would avoid damaging materials as can occur with current pumping systems.  It would also allow leak free pumps as the gravity controller responsible for the pumping action would not need to be in contact with the material being pumped.

Of course gravity control on a planetary scale would make moving Venus and other bodies easy.  Even spinning up Venus would become doable.  You space project would become modest.
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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #21 on: June 05, 2005, 10:29:38 pm »
All true. i note however that the reason NASA was not able to replicate was that they refused to follow his protocol for the original experiment. They have subsequently agreed to retry the experiment using his protocol. I do not know the deal with boeing's work. But the good doctor is not alone in postulating gravity coupling with superconducting magnets.

Offline Commander Maxillius

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #22 on: June 09, 2005, 05:12:35 pm »
I would say Venus would be the best bet at terraforming.  Venus is the closest to Earth's gravity, and the only thing standing in the way of a normal atmosphere is that there's so much of it.  If we could blow the atmosphere off with nuclear devices so that the spin could be affected at the same time, Venus could have the opportunity to cool to temperatures at the equator of around 150ºF a mere hundred years later.

Nuclear devices wouldn't have the ability to reverse the spin and speed it up enough to give it a day less than half a year, but Venus will need water, so tossing comets at it will help to accelerate the spin to at least a 30-hour day. 

Then the only thing we'll have to worry about is the psychotic effect of the huge sun in the sky!
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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #23 on: June 09, 2005, 06:48:58 pm »
yes using venus does eliminate the primary problem of gathering enoguh mass to equal earth's mass/gravity. the other problems require no fundamental breakthroughs providing we do not have to move her. Nukes however would be too small to blow away the atmosphere. the most logical way of altering the atmosphere is through chemistry and catalysts; either biological or mechanical. for example if microorganisms are developed that feed of sulfuric compounds they would reproduce as long as there was sulphuric compounds in the air. they would reproduce exponentialy as long as the supply was optimal then die off as the level becomes less than optimal. since they grow exponentially they can rapidly eliminate most of the sulpuric acid and any hydrogen sulfides. thier biology could be taylored to bind the sulphur to metals or other heavier than air material. the same could be done for other compounds or elements. if that is insufficient we could super heat the top layer of the atmosphere with lasers or mirrors. the increased kinetic energy would kick many more atoms and molecules out of the gravity well than would normally occur through random brownian motion. in this way the exess atmosphere could be antenuated down to earth norms.

Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #24 on: June 10, 2005, 05:55:51 pm »
We need an advanced ION drive that can use the atmosphere of Venus as reaction mass then use the drives (1000's all over the planet) to spin up the planet and remove unwanted atmospheric components.  Bombard it with comets at the same time to provide more material for spinning up and building an atmosphere/hydrosphere of the "right" types.  Of course ideally we should move Mercury out to be a Venusian moon. 

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Offline Commander Maxillius

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2005, 06:06:39 pm »
Mercury's very dense.  It's got a solid iron core that's I think larger than Earth's, but total size only slightly larger than our moon.  Putting mass like that in orbit of Venus would only slow her down further.
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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #26 on: June 10, 2005, 06:09:25 pm »
I'd assume that with a highly eccentric orbit it could be used to actually speed it up but any technology that could move mercury would easily be able to spin up venus.

Offline Commander Maxillius

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #27 on: June 10, 2005, 06:20:48 pm »
It would be far cheaper to mine Mercury's core where it is than to try to move it anywhere.
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Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #28 on: June 10, 2005, 07:09:20 pm »
A planet named for a goddess of love needs a lovers moon.  Mercury is ideally large. 

Besides I want tides in my oceans I don't want them stagnant. 
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Offline Commander Maxillius

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #29 on: June 13, 2005, 12:18:17 pm »
good point, but Mercury's far too massive for that.  Your tides will be huge and the tidal forces will eventually make the whole surface volcanic.

Better to build a Death Star moon or something hollow like that.
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Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #30 on: June 13, 2005, 07:41:54 pm »
good point, but Mercury's far too massive for that.  Your tides will be huge and the tidal forces will eventually make the whole surface volcanic.

Better to build a Death Star moon or something hollow like that.

Put it a little further out.  :)
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Offline Sirgod

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #31 on: June 18, 2005, 01:10:39 am »

Magma oceans sloshed across early asteroids

    * 18:00 15 June 2005
    * NewScientist.com news service
    * Jeff Hecht

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Some asteroids, such as the 52-kilometre-long Ida, may have been melted by radioactive isotopes when the solar system was forming (Image: NASA)
Some asteroids, such as the 52-kilometre-long Ida, may have been melted by radioactive isotopes when the solar system was forming (Image: NASA)
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    * Richard Greenwood, Open University
    * Michael Drake, University of Arizona
    * Nature

 

Oceans of molten rock, or magma, covered some asteroids in the early solar system, reveals a new study of meteorites. But researchers are still puzzled over why other asteroids apparently did not melt at all.

In the solar system's first few tens of millions of years, collisions between rocky objects and the decay of radioactive isotopes melted the interiors of large objects. Magma oceans - perhaps hundreds of kilometres deep - lapped over the Moon, the Earth, and other planets, allowing dense material to settle towards their centres in a process called differentiation. But the extent of asteroid melting had remained unclear.

Now, Richard Greenwood at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, and colleagues have analysed groups of meteorites thought to have come from the 530-kilometre-wide asteroid Vesta and from a second, still-unknown, asteroid.
Short half-life

They found all of the meteorites from each source shared the same ratios of oxygen isotopes, suggesting both asteroids must have melted almost completely. "It's an exquisite piece of work," says Michael Drake, a geochemist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, US.

But the research fails to explain why other asteroids do not show any evidence of melting. Ceres, the largest known asteroid - 930 kilometres wide - appears to be totally undifferentiated.

Drake thinks the difference may be down to timing. Previous research has suggested asteroids were heated by the decay of radioactive aluminium-26 in the dusty disc from which the solar system condensed. That isotope has a half-life of only 700,000 years. So if it was the main heat source for the first asteroids, too little may have remained to warm those that formed later, Drake says.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 435, p 916)


question:  How much remaining radioactive material is available? enough to produce an earth sized molten outer core? Thinking magnetic fields here...
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Offline Sirgod

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #32 on: June 18, 2005, 01:04:13 pm »
An Ad Astra terraforming article via space.com:

 Terraforming: Human Destiny or Hubris?
By Dave Brody

posted: 17 June 2005
09:40 am ET

This story first appeared in the Spring 2005 Issue of Ad Astra Magazine

 

"Men are weak now, and yet they transform the Earth's surface. In millions of years their might will increase to the extent that they will change the surface of the Earth, its oceans, the atmosphere, and themselves. They will control the climate and the Solar System just as they control the Earth. They will travel beyond the limits of our planetary system; they will reach other Suns…”

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky c.1926

 

Say the word “terraforming” amidst a gathering of space enthusiasts and it’s a bit like upending your beer mug in an Australian pub. It means you’re ready to duke it out with anybody in the joint. And the fight usually breaks out along these lines: One team sees the quest to replicate the biosphere of Earth on other planets as a moral imperative, an inevitable destiny, or both. Others -- equally passionate -- recoil at such pretension, proclaiming with surety that humans have no right to interfere with Nature as writ large upon the face of other worlds. Both viewpoints are, of course, so fraught with self-defeating conflicts as to be, well, flat out wrong.

 

Weird, isn’t it, that an enterprise that no one now alive can remotely hope to see fulfilled should arouse such fire and fury? [Nobody quibbles much about warp drives, wormholes or what we’re actually going to reply to ET.] But there seems to be something about the notion of taking a planet upon whose surface you did not evolve and changing it to suit yourself that catalyzes all audiences immediately to one pole or the other.

 

Bind yourself to the nearest mast and try to listen dispassionately to the combatants and you’ll start to hear these discussions for what they really are: religious conflicts. Disagreements rooted in faith, belief and longing. What you won’t hear, usually, is good science. Not often sound engineering tips. And not much of immediate practical use to those of us who want to expand Humankind’s range to include the resource base of space, a primary goal of the membership of the National Space Society.

 

Equally odd, if you think about it, the terraforming tirades seem to swirl solely around Mars. The asteroids are much easier to work with. Earth’s Moon is closer, better known and sports a more fun-friendly gravity field.  Europa, and (likely) other moons of the gas giants, may have lots more liquid water and could harbor more complex life.  Comets have mega-tons of water and organics and they visit us predictably. And, as long as we’re talking technology that doesn’t yet exist, we might imagine (as Carl Sagan, and a generation of science fiction writers before him, did) thinning and cooling the atmosphere of Venus -- a virtual twin of Earth in size and mass -- as least as easily as we could cause a thicker and warmer atmosphere to magically stick to the low mass of Mars. [See Randa Milliron’s excellent article in the winter 2005 issue of ad Astra.]

 

Yet Mars is where the terraforming battle rages now. So let’s face it.

 

Designer Worlds

 

“Can we do it? We’re doing it on the Earth,” argues Jim Bell, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Rovers’ PANCAM, “We’re changing the Earth’s atmosphere whether we realize it or not. It’s certainly within the realm of a reasonable extrapolation of future technology to think we can do it on Mars. Must we do it? I don’t think that’s our call. I think that’s the call of the people who are living there a hundred years from now, living in spacesuits, dealing with this gritty dust that’s all over the place, having to manufacture oxygen from rock or ice underground.”

 

Not everyone wants to wait that long: “We have the capability now of being the pioneer species that can go out to a currently barren island out there on Mars and make it habitable for life,” declares engineer and author Robert Zubrin. “Really, what humans are doing is, in a sense, fulfilling an obligation on behalf of the terrestrial biosphere.”

 

Gaia Weighs In

 

There is a notion -- strangely, embraced by both ultra-liberal tree huggers and rabid reactionary exploiters -- that the Earth is somehow a self-regulating über-organism. This idea implies that Terra’s vast mass and complex biosphere will adapt to human-induced alteration in a manner that is ultimately favorable to that biosphere as a whole system (though not necessarily good for humans). But why would it be that Earth can do that, while Mars seems to have “areo-formed” itself from a warm wet world to a cold, dry barren wasteland? As Jim Bell puts it: “How do you go from an Earth-like place, to a Mars-like place?”

 

That is a central question behind the current Spirit/Opportunity missions. And their Principal Investigator, Steve Sqyures, has this to say about terraforming: “We are very far from being able to control -- or even fully understand -- the climate of our own planet. And I think that changing the climate of an entire planet in an intended direction, getting an intended outcome and betting people’s lives on that outcome strikes me as a chancy proposition for the foreseeable future. It sounds like a tough thing to do.”

 

Perhaps this whole business may turn out to be about simply taking control of the pace of biological  change  rather than about redirecting towards or away from Earth’s biology.

 

Astrogeophysicist Chris McKay, one of the first scientists to look seriously into the notion of purposefully guiding the biological evolution of Mars  -- and one of the founders of the so-called Mars Underground -- thinks of a Red Planet re-engineered, but for the original residents. “If there is life on Mars, it's not doing very well. We know that from just looking at the planet. And it could use some help,” McKay believes. “I think we would be ethically on good grounds to support it, to encourage it to flourish into a global scale biota like we have on Earth, especially if it was on the verge of extinction which it could well be.”

 

McKay would champion a technological effort to nurture these, presumably microbial, or at least miniature, Martians: “They would have the right to evolve on their own biological trajectory. Although Mars is a very interesting world without life, my own personal judgment is that life is a more intrinsically valuable, beautiful phenomena.” Chris McKay perceives a marked difference between warming the planet up to support simple, stupid life and fully engineering a human-shirtsleeve balanced Nitrogen/Oxygen atmosphere at water cycling temperatures. On McKay’s Mars, the first is possible and desirable; the second is not.

 

To do either requires giving the rusty red world a much thicker atmosphere. Mars atmospheric scientist Scot Rafkin isn’t sanguine about that possibility: “I think it would be tough. And more than the technical aspect, you have to wonder how expensive it would be versus, say, enclosing huge regions of Mars and modifying the environment for human habitation. It might make more sense to do that than to try and add significantly more mass to the entire atmosphere.”

 

“Life on Mars probably died out young when the planet went through this transformation to a thin, cold atmosphere,” says planetary scientist David Grinspoon. “There’s nothing about the ancient past of Mars that was so different from Earth that the origin of life should not have happened. I think it’s quite reasonable to look for fossils on Mars (but) in my opinion Mars at present is dead, dead, dead.”

 

Lacking any other examples of life in the Universe, there’s no denying that Earth life’s propensity to begat more life is spectacular. “The fundamental policy of life is one of talking barren environments and transforming them into those that are friendly to the propagation of life,” opines Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin. “That is why we have oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and why there is soil on Earth’s continents. It’s an artifact of life. Symbiotic communities of plants and animals have transformed the Earth.”

 

Earth life and Mars life could be rooted in the same DNA. Or they could have had independent origins. “The question of going to Mars if there are, in fact, Martians – even microbes – is a question that tends to be glossed over by people that are really excited about the idea of going to Mars,” David Grinspoon adds. “The good news is that there aren’t Martians, I’m pretty sure. But we have to be a lot more sure before we go starting to set up our strip malls and sports stadiums.”

 

Given our track record of modifying Earthly environments, can we safely conclude that Nature has pre-destined -- or at least deputized -- Homo sapiens to be the agent of its spread to the stars?

 

Again, Bob Zubrin: “Human beings in bringing life to Mars will be, in a very real sense, continuing the work of Creation. We will not be playing God but engaging in that activity that God gets the most credit for doing. By so doing, we will show the divine nature of the human species and, therefore, the precious nature of every member of it. No one will be able to look at a terraformed Mars and not be prouder to be human.”

 

Designer Humans

 

Ah, but what is a human in this brave new Universe? Though the specifics are fuzzy at best, no one disagrees that true, deep change of an entire planet -- Mars or any other -- will take “a long time.” Our great-great grandchildren may find that it is easier to reshape and supplement people to live on varied worlds than it is to rework those worlds for the sake of people. The bio-memetic revolution is just now being born. And it may seem to its beneficiaries, a few generations hence, that the idea of altering an entire globe to perform like Earth is rather like Michelangelo depicting God as a great white, corpulent, male, cloud-floating human. It’s a great work of art, but it now seems awfully exclusive and faintly embarrassing.

 

Could be our concern here ought not to be for what our descendants will think of us for having contemplated terraforming, but rather what the terraformers’ progeny will think of them for having actually done it. Heady stuff.

 

Next page: The Designer’s Galaxy
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Offline Sirgod

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #33 on: June 18, 2005, 01:06:05 pm »
Part 2:

The Designer’s Galaxy

 

One way to keep one’s sanity inside a terraforming discussion is to remember why one wanted to set sail for space in the first place. Perhaps the most compelling reasoning for grabbing a toehold beyond Earth was articulated by Greg Allison within these pages a few months ago:  survival, not just of we the “smart monkeys” but of Earth’s complex and explosive ecology.

 

“If you’ve got an endangered species, you don’t want to have just one little plot of it someplace,’ says David Grinspoon. “All life on Earth is that endangered species. If we get to that stage where we’ll be moving from one celestial body to another, we’ll have a pretty good crack at outliving the Sun. We may be manning the lifeboats, but in those lifeboats there will be all the species of Earth coming with us (well, maybe not the mosquitoes).”

 

We space enthusiasts have felt this push for a long time. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the Russian space visionary, began to build out a sensible strategy for populating the galaxy while the Wrights were still building bicycles. By the middle of the 1920’s he “had it down to a science” (engineering details to be worked out later, of course). A liberal translation goes like this:

 

    * Build, test and fly winged airplanes powered by rocket engines. [Sound familiar, X PRIZE fans?]

 

    * Bit by bit, fly these faster and higher. [We now call it: “Build a little; test a little.”]

 

    * Drop the wings and create true rockets with reaction control systems.

 

    * Learn to splashdown from orbit into the cushioning ocean. [Alan Shepard became Tsiolkovsky’s test pilot in 1961.]

 

    * Get up to Mach 25 and orbit the suckers.

 

    * Incrementally extend your mission durations.

 

    * Learn how to grow plants in zero-G to make atmosphere.

 

    * Get your crews comfortable working outside in pressure-suits.

 

    * Put your EVA skills to work making closed-cycle orbiting plant nurseries.

 

    * Build town-sized space stations in various Earth orbits.

 

    * Harness the Sun to heat your habitats, nurture their plants and push your around the Solar System.

 

    * Expand your operation to the Main Belt of asteroids, using their resources to replicate your large habitats. Encourage big, diverse groups of people to live there.

 

    * Populate the rest of the Solar System -- and as much farther out as you can get -- changing planets as needed. [OK, so there’s the “T” word, finally.]

 

    * Now -- as a consequence of the god-like powers you’ve obtained -- work on changing humans to live more personally fulfilling, socially responsible lives.

 

    * Give in to population pressure and expand Humanity’s range to other stars; spreading Earth’s spawn geometrically.

 

    * Leave the Sun behind entirely -- sometime well before it burns out.

 

So now you have it: a sixteen-step program to an infinite future for the seed of Humankind. Note how late in the game terraforming appears. Almost a century ago, Tsiolkovsky’s stunning intuition showed that long before you get to the level of engineering required to transform whole worlds, you already have everything you need to prosper in space without such worlds! And there are very good reasons not to automatically gravitate to planets.

 

Planet Problems

 

Implicit in this notion of planned planetary engineering is that you have to start with something the size of a whole world. But why do that?

 

Students and followers of Gerard K. O’Neill (yes, this author is one such) have conducted thousands of gentle, loving interventions for the past three decades, trying to help our colleagues get past their inborn “planetary chauvinism.”  Just because you evolved on a planet does not necessitate that you continue to live on one. And there are some profoundly good reasons not to do so. Like that big honkin’ “gravity well” that you have to expensively and dangerously blast your way up out of each time you need to go someplace. And the bigger the planet, the worse the penalty.

 

It’s tough to scale your engineering efforts to alter an existing world, making it ecologically dynamic yet stable enough for biology (like Earth’s beneficial disequilibrium). But in building ever-larger individual contained habitats, you may likely learn the environmental and construction technologies to do so. Along the way, you end up creating a whole host of custom-designed mini-worlds in wide a range of shapes, sizes, climates, gravity levels and life-styles associated with these factors.

 

Importantly, a widely distributed, de-centralized society is much more resilient to (likely completely immune from) acts of senseless terrorism -- even if such acts are perpetrated on a planetary scale: say a diverted retrograde comet; a doomsday bio-weapon; choose your own personal nightmare…

 

And after all, planets are not common, not easy to travel to, and not really all that nearby.

 

Enticing as it may be, Mars is still on the order of 100 million miles away.  And it’s a bitch of an environment to work in: dusty, cold, windy, dry... Much closer are the Near Earth Asteroids; easier to get to than the Moon, much richer in materials too.  Planetary geophysicist Dan Durda says it this way: “By the time you pull all the metals, the rich organic molecules, all the useful volatiles like water, the oxides (for re-entry shields) out of the surface of an asteroid, the slag (the garbage) you have left over has about the same composition as the lunar soil.”   And you, or your teleoperated robot, can work your way around most any asteroid with your fingertips. There’s no deep “gravity well” to climb out of.

 

Way to Go

 

Let’s face it: space settlement -- whether upon the surface of a terraformed sphere or within an engineered one  -- is the living embodiment of “disruptive technology.”  If we go (and I say we must) we will change the Solar System and it will change us.

 

Easy for writers, like yours truly, to sit back and poke irony; hard to “put yer nickel down and bet”. So I say this: Go on, inflame your colleagues.  Debate terraforming all you want. Challenge and duel to your heart’s content.  But at the end of the night  -- and particularly the next morning when it comes time to approach the bankers and the venture capitalists -- let’s do what works.

 

And what works is what takes the least work: Asteroid/comet resources in near Earth orbits. The use of solar energy and electro-tether technology -- and a little bit of nuclear power -- to launch ourselves into a Hydrogen/Oxygen economy, which then would drive higher-order materials processing. And Humanity would get lots and lots of cheap, free-floating, scalable, designer settlements in interesting, useful orbits. Argue about modifying and colonizing whatever mud-balls you want as soon as the technologies truly become available.

 

But if you want to widely populate space soon, do this first. The way Tsiolkovsky, O’Neill and, perhaps, God (or at least the physics of the Universe) intended.

 

Dave Brody has been a Life Member of the National Space Society since 1982. He is currently IMAGINOVA’s Executive Producer and Director of Media; the views expressed herein are entirely his own.
"You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced to the point of arrogance, that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth - and the amusing thing about it is that they are."- Father Kevin Keaney, Chaplain, Korean War

Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #34 on: June 24, 2005, 06:52:46 pm »
It seems someone is already building a planet nearby.

Planet Construction Site Spotted

Quote
A vast collection of space pebbles surrounding a relatively nearby star is a planetary construction zone, astronomers said today.

The star, TW Hydrae, is young and ripe for developing new worlds.

New observations reveal a swath of pebble-sized material extending at least a billion miles from the star. It's just the sort of stuff theory says is needed for making comets, asteroids and eventually planets around a young star
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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #35 on: June 24, 2005, 09:10:50 pm »
Fascinating. I hope it has enough radioactive rocks to build and sustain a molten core.

Offline Nemesis

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #36 on: June 24, 2005, 09:17:58 pm »
Link to full story

Quote
Violent jet detected spewing from brown dwarf

    * 13:06 24 June 2005
    * NewScientist.com news service
    * Maggie McKee

A jet of matter has been detected spewing from a brown dwarf for the first time, mimicking a process seen in young stars. The observation suggests brown dwarfs form like stars - and even hints that jets might once have gushed from planets such as Jupiter and Saturn.

Brown dwarfs occupy the middle ground between planets and stars, weighing between 13 and 75 times the mass of Jupiter. Often called "failed stars", they are not massive enough to burn hydrogen in their cores. But astronomers are divided over what stunts their growth


Apply this to Jovian and sub Jovian planets and you may be giving justification of Velikovsky's "theories".
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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #37 on: June 24, 2005, 09:21:41 pm »
one thing he did was explain how that planet got it's odd orbit and inclination. as far as I know no one else has even attempted it. I have read his books of course. don't know what to make of it. it certainly is out there though.

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #38 on: July 20, 2005, 08:39:19 pm »
planetary scale engineering seriously proposed:   http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviation/article/0,20967,1075786,00.html

How Earth-Scale Engineering Can Save the Planet
Maybe we can have our fossil fuels and burn ’em too. These scientists have come up with a plan to end global warming. One idea: A 600,000-square-mile space mirror

By Michael Behar | August 2005

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
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From The Editor


 
David Keith never expected to get a summons from the White House. But in September 2001, officials with the President’s Climate Change Technology Program invited him and more than two dozen other scientists to participate in a roundtable discussion called “Response Options to Rapid or Severe Climate Change.” While administration officials were insisting in public that there was no firm proof that the planet was warming, they were quietly exploring potential ways to turn down the heat.
Most of the world’s industrialized nations had already vowed to combat global warming by reining in their emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief “greenhouse gas” blamed for trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. But in March 2001 President George W. Bush had withdrawn U.S. support for the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty mandating limits on CO2 emissions, and asked his administration to begin studying other options.

Keith, a physicist and economist in the chemical and petroleum engineering department at the University of Calgary, had for more than a decade been investigating strategies to curtail global warming. He and the other scientists at the meeting—including physicists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who had spent a chunk of their careers designing nuclear weapons—had come up with some ideas for “geoengineering” Earth’s climate. What they proposed was tinkering on a global scale. “We already are inadvertently changing the climate, so why not advertently try to counterbalance it?” asks retired Lawrence Livermore physicist Michael MacCracken, a former senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program who helped organize the meeting.

“If they had broadcast that meeting live to people in Europe, there would have been riots,” Keith says. “Here were the bomb guys from Livermore talking about stuff that strikes most greens as being completely wrong and off-the-wall.” But today, a growing number of physicists, oceanographers and climatologists around the world are seriously considering technologies for the deliberate manipulation of Earth’s climate. Some advocate planetary air-conditioning devices such as orbiting space mirrors that deflect sunlight away from Earth, or ships that intensify cloud cover to block the sun’s rays. Others are suggesting that we capture carbon dioxide—from the air, from cars and power plants—and stash it underground or react it with chemicals that turn it to stone.

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Offline Stormbringer

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Re: Modest space project idea: Lets make a planet.
« Reply #39 on: July 20, 2005, 08:40:55 pm »
Carbon dioxide wasn’t always public enemy number one. For the past 400,000 years, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has fluctuated between about 180 and 280 ppm (parts per million, the number of CO2 molecules per million molecules of air). But in the late 1800s, when humans set about burning fossil fuels in earnest, atmospheric CO2 began to increase with alarming speed—from about 280 ppm to the current level of almost 380 ppm, in a scant 100 years. Experts predict that CO2 could climb as high as 500 ppm by 2050 and possibly twice that by the end of the century. As CO2 levels continue to rise, the planet will get hotter. “The question now,” says Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore and one of the world’s leading authorities on climate change, “is what can we actually do about it?” Here are some of the geoengineering schemes under consideration.

1. Store CO2 Underground
Feasibility: 10
Cost: $$
RISK: 4
In the southeastern corner of Saskatchewan, just outside the town of Weyburn—the “Opportunity City”—a steel pipeline descends 4,000 feet below the prairie at the edge of a 70-square-mile oil field. Into this subterranean cavern, petroleum engineers are pumping 5,000 tons of pressurized, liquefied carbon dioxide every day. The aim is twofold: Use high-pressure CO2 to drive oil from the porous rock in the reservoir to the surface, and trap the carbon dioxide underground.
Welcome to the world’s largest carbon-sequestering operation. Dubbed the Weyburn Project, it began in July 2000 as a partnership between EnCana, a Canadian oil and gas company, and Canada’s Petroleum Technology Research Centre. With $13 million in funding from more than a dozen sponsors, including the U.S. Department of Energy, engineers have already socked away six million tons of carbon dioxide, roughly the amount produced by burning half a billion gallons of gasoline.

The Timeline
Unlike other geoengineering schemes, this one is already happening, with more than half a dozen major projects under way. The problem, says Howard Herzog, a principal research engineer at MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, is that concentrated CO2 is in short supply. There’s too much of the gas floating around in the air, but actually capturing, compressing, and transporting it costs money. In the U.S. and most other nations, there are no laws requiring fossil-fuel-burning power plants—the primary source of CO2 emissions—to capture a single molecule of the gas.

The Promise
By 2033, the Weyburn Project will store 25 million tons of carbon dioxide. “That’s like taking 6.8 million cars off the road for one year,” says project manager Mike Monea, “and this is just a pilot test in a small oil reservoir.” Saline aquifers, giant pools of saltwater that have been trapped underground for millions of years, could hold even more CO2. Humans dump about 28 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Geologists estimate that underground reservoirs and saline aquifers could store as much as 200,000 gigatons.

The Perils
Before CO2 is injected into the ground, it’s compressed into what’s called a supercritical state—it’s extremely dense and viscous, and behaves more like a liquid than a gas. In this form, CO2 should remain trapped underground for thousands of years, if not indefinitely. The danger is if engineers accidentally “depressurize” an aquifer while probing for oil or natural gas. There’s also a risk that carbon dioxide could escape slowly through natural fissures in subterranean rock and pool up in basements or cellars. “If you walked down into a basement [full of CO2],” Keith says, “you wouldn’t smell it or see it, but it would kill you.”

2. Filter CO2 from the air
Feasibility: 4
Cost: $$$
RISK: 4
Klaus Lackner is accustomed to skeptics. They’ve doubted him since he first presented his idea for extracting carbon dioxide from ambient air in March 1999, at an international symposium on coal and fuel technology. “The reaction from everyone there was utter disbelief,” recalls Lackner, a physicist with the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University.

He called for the construction of giant filters that would act like flypaper, trapping CO2 molecules as they drifted past in the wind. Sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide—chemicals that bind with carbon dioxide—would be pumped through the porous filters much the way antifreeze is circulated through a car’s radiator. A secondary process would strip the CO2 from the binding chemical. The chemical would recirculate through the filter, while the CO2 would be set aside for disposal.

The Timeline
Lackner is collaborating with engineer Allen Wright, who founded Global Research Technologies in Tucson, Arizona. Wright is developing a wind-scrubber prototype but remains tight-lipped about the project. He estimates that a completed system is at least two years away.

The Promise
Wind scrubbers can be placed wherever it’s convenient to capture carbon dioxide, so there’s no need to transport it. Lackner calculates that a wind scrubber designed to retain 25 tons of CO2 per year—the average amount each American adds to the atmosphere annually—would require a device about the size of a large plasma-screen television. A single industrial-size wind scrubber about 200 feet high and 165 feet wide would snag about 90,000 tons of CO2 a year.

The Perils
Some experts are dubious about the ease of separating carbon dioxide from the binding chemical, a process that in itself would require energy from fossil fuels. “CO2 is so dilute in the air that to try to scrub from it, you have to pay too much for energy use,” Herzog says. And to capture all the carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere by humans, you’d need to blanket an area at least the size of Arizona with scrubber towers.

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