Thursday, October 6, 2022

Ah, heat shields...

 One of the biggest issues with coming back to Earth from space is that our atmosphere protects us from impacts quite nicely.

I mean, we still get some, but compare the moon.

Unfortunately, our atmosphere also "protects" us from our own returning spacecraft. Friction as the object enters the atmosphere causes intense heat that can destroy a spacecraft.

The Columbia accident shows us what happens when the technology we use to protect our ships fails.

Next week, NASA will launch a test of a new kind of protective technology. The LOFTID (Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator) mission will test an inflatable heat shield. If it works, then it will significantly reduce the weight of heat shields...and thus the cost of getting the craft off the planet in the first place.

It's primarily intended for Mars, but may also be used for large return payloads to Earth...such as if we start mining platinum or other rare materials from near earth asteroids. The weight of the shield has historically limited what we can return.

Wishing them luck (and wondering how I never heard about this until today).

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Pacific will Cease to Exist...

...but don't worry, not for about 300 million years. We've finally got some good predictions for how continental drift is going to shape up, and in that time the continents will come back together.

And the lead current theory is that the Pacific ocean will close, America slam into Asia and...

...we'll end up with "Amasia." Then eventually things will shift and they will come apart again. Probably in a different way.

Even the map isn't static, and I don't mean small countries in Europe coming together or splitting apart...

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Does Life Need Water?

 It's a familiar argument. Does life need to be based off of carbon and use water as a universal solvent?

Maybe. Certainly our kind of life does. But life also needs to not be wet for certain things to happen. So, how does that even work?

Apparently, it works because water isn't always wet. Or rather, the reactions that start to form our kind of life need the water to have an edge. They happen where waves lash against a shore, where a stream goes down a slope.

This means something...it would be a lot harder for life to form on an entirely ocean world where there's nothing to break the water up.

(An underground or underice ocean is another matter, as water would be moved against the ice by various processes, so this doesn't mean Europa is out. And there is always not our kind of life).

Monday, October 3, 2022

Capclave Roundup!

Thank you to everyone who bought books!

Panel-wise, we did a panel on Gaming and SFF in which we had a preliminary discussion about, no kidding, board games as a storytelling mechanism. This warrants its own panel! (Mostly we were focused on the traitor mechanic).

I also very much enjoyed moderating the panel on Poverty, Class Divides and Inequality in SF. Which needed at least another hour as we didn't even get to alien class systems, UBI/replicator economies or the difference between absolute and relative poverty. Whewf. There's so much there.

Hurricane Ian did dump some rain on us, but never at a time I needed or wanted to leave the hotel ;).

Looking forward to next year already.

Friday, September 30, 2022

DART hit hard!

 The impact of the DART spaceship was...harder than expected. In fact, we think it knocked a chunk off the asteroid.

This is both good and bad. Good, because it means we can probably use the technique for larger rocks than we thought it would work for.

Bad, because you want to make sure you don't break something up, but still end up with multiple impactors. That's not great...

Still, we are thinking this is looking like a successful test, and hitting too hard is a pure engineering/math problem.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Is Artemis Jinxed?

 Possibly! They moved the Artemis I rocket back into the VAB, a complicated and lengthy process, to avoid Ian.

And now there's been a fire in the VAB. No injuries and the rocket was not damaged, but NASA hasn't worked out what caused it yet.

It could now be December before Artemis goes up...while it in theory could launch next week they want to check some "limited life" items first. All of the launch windows in November are at night and, understandably, they don't want to launch a complicated prototype in the dark...

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Worlds with undersurface oceans

 Europa, Enceladus, Earth?

Yes.

Earth has more water buried in the mantle than on the surface. And right now we don't know where that water came from. Was it trapped after a comet hit?

Or does it somehow cycle with our surface oceans?

Either way...knowing would help us work out how Earth became habitable. Does this water play a role in Earth's ability to support life.