Friday, May 17, 2013

Today, the Planets: Tomorrow, the Stars?

I remember when warp drives were viewed as science fiction: 'Buck Rogers' stuff. That was then, this is now.
  1. Monday's Solar Flare
  2. Warp Drive and NASA

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

We probably can't build a practical warp drive with today's technology.

But in 1903, when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published "The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices," we couldn't build interplanetary spaceships. Even new technological wonders like the zeppelin couldn't carry us beyond Earth's atmosphere.

In 2009 some folks wondered why we hadn't gone back to the moon.

As of last week, about 78,000 people have signed up for the Mars One colony project.

In 2109, the debate may be whether to keep deep space colonization in the private sector: and whether for-profit interstellar exploration is okay.

Being Human

Faith, reason, and seeking truth get along just fine. Honest research can't get in the way of faith, since we're studying what God created. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 35, 2104)

Learning and making tools is what we're supposed to do. We're expected to take care of this creation and equipped with abilities that the job requires.

This isn't the crazy Victorian-era notion that nature is something we can pillage and destroy. We have a job, and responsibilities. (Catechism, 159, 339, 373, 2292-2295)

Looking Beyond Earth

In the last few centuries we've discovered that this creation is immensely larger and more ancient that we'd guessed. I'm okay with that, some folks aren't.

My faith doesn't require me to know about this universe: but ignoring what we've learned since the 1500s seems silly, and I've been over all this before:
It's speculation on my part, but I think we may be expected to take care of much more than this one planet. If that's so, we have a huge job ahead, which could be a scary thought. I'm inclined to see it as job security.

Finally, my take on some of the week's (science) news:

1. Monday's Solar Flare

(NASA, via, used w/o permission)
"This image shows an X3.2 solar flare (far left) erupting from the sun late Monday (May 13, 2013) as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It was the third major X-class solar flare in 24 hours."
"Huge Solar Flares Keep Erupting from Busy Sunspot"
Tariq Malik,, (May 15, 2013)

"An overachieving sunspot on the surface of the sun unleashed its fourth major solar flare in two days late Tuesday (May 14), a solar storm that may deal Earth a glancing blow, space weather experts say.

"The active sunspot AR1748 roared to life Tuesday night releasing an X-class solar flare - the strongest type the sun can experience - that peaked at 9:48 p.m. EDT (0148 May 15 GMT), according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. The flare came after a relative lull in activity from sunspot AR1748, which fired off three monster X-class solar flares within a 24-hour period between Sunday and Monday...."
Cubicle-dwellers take note: Muting your sound might be prudent before loading that article. A different video ad started each time I returned to it. The ones I've seen range from amusing to annoying. Your experience may vary.

Flares: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

A thousand years ago, folks didn't know why aurora happen, and solar flares didn't matter in everyday life.

A hundred years back, some solar flares affected telegraph operators: painfully.

Today, major flares affect Earth-based communication and robots we've sent to explore other planets.

A hundred years from now, they'll probably be a hazard for interplanetary travelers: and folks living outside the protection of Earth's magnetic field.

2. Warp Drive and NASA

"Warp Speed, Scotty? Star Trek's FTL Drive May Actually Work"
Jillian Scharr, (May 14, 2013)

"In the 'Star Trek' TV shows and films, the U.S.S. Enterprise's warp engine allows the ship to move faster than light, an ability that is, as Spock would say, 'highly illogical.'

However, there's a loophole in Einstein's general theory of relativity that could allow a ship to traverse vast distances in less time than it would take light. The trick? It's not the starship that's moving — it's the space around it.

In fact, scientists at NASA are right now working on the first practical field test toward proving the possibility of warp drives and faster-than-light travel. Maybe the warp drive in 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' the franchise's latest film opening this week, is possible after all. [Warp Drive: Can It Be Done? (Video)]...
The article has one of the better explanations of Alcubierre's math and its practical applications. There's also a fair number of "Star Trek" references; and what looks like a picture from the latest movie, showing someone in a Star Fleet uniform having an emotional meltdown.

About NASA making a warp drive that looks like "Star Trek's?" What we get won't look like the starship Enterprise.

Alcubierre's equations, as recently tweaked, call for a warp field generator that looks like a skinny doughnut or fat Hula-Hoop, with room for a payload in the ring's center.

Interstellar Travel and Technology

If Alcubierre's equations are right, long-range spaceships aren't limited to the speed of light.

Matter and energy can't travel through space faster than light. But space isn't matter, it isn't energy, and it doesn't look like there's any reason why we can't make a piece of space move through the rest of space-time at any speed.

Even better, recent work shows that we may not need to convert mass to energy in Jupiter-size lots to make a warp drive work. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 30, 2012))

I've read overviews of the White-Juday warp field interferometer, which could test whether today's warp field equations are a good match with reality. I'm no expert, but I know a little of the math, some of the science, and many of the principles involved.

I'm a little surprised that a prototype can be built with today's technology, but Harold White and others found ways to reduce power requirements: a lot.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.