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Archive for the ‘asteroid/comet impacts’ category: Page 10

Jan 10, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 1

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, finance, fun, futurism, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, robotics/AI, space, transparency

Steamships, locomotives, electricity; these marvels of the industrial age sparked the imagination of futurists such as Jules Verne. Perhaps no other writer or work inspired so many to reach the stars as did this Frenchman’s famous tale of space travel. Later developments in microbiology, chemistry, and astronomy would inspire H.G. Wells and the notable science fiction authors of the early 20th century.

The submarine, aircraft, the spaceship, time travel, nuclear weapons, and even stealth technology were all predicted in some form by science fiction writers many decades before they were realized. The writers were not simply making up such wonders from fanciful thought or childrens ryhmes. As science advanced in the mid 19th and early 20th century, the probable future developments this new knowledge would bring about were in some cases quite obvious. Though powered flight seems a recent miracle, it was long expected as hydrogen balloons and parachutes had been around for over a century and steam propulsion went through a long gestation before ships and trains were driven by the new engines. Solid rockets were ancient and even multiple stages to increase altitude had been in use by fireworks makers for a very long time before the space age.

Some predictions were seen to come about in ways far removed yet still connected to their fictional counterparts. The U.S. Navy flagged steam driven Nautilus swam the ocean blue under nuclear power not long before rockets took men to the moon. While Verne predicted an electric submarine, his notional Florida space gun never did take three men into space. However there was a Canadian weapons designer named Gerald Bull who met his end while trying to build such a gun for Saddam Hussien. The insane Invisible Man of Wells took the form of invisible aircraft playing a less than human role in the insane game of mutually assured destruction. And a true time machine was found easily enough in the mathematics of Einstein. Simply going fast enough through space will take a human being millions of years into the future. However, traveling back in time is still as much an impossibillity as the anti-gravity Cavorite from the First Men in the Moon. Wells missed on occasion but was not far off with his story of alien invaders defeated by germs- except we are the aliens invading the natural world’s ecosystem with our genetically modified creations and could very well soon meet our end as a result.

While Verne’s Captain Nemo made war on the death merchants of his world with a submarine ram, our own more modern anti-war device was found in the hydrogen bomb. So destructive an agent that no new world war has been possible since nuclear weapons were stockpiled in the second half of the last century. Neither Verne or Wells imagined the destructive power of a single missile submarine able to incinerate all the major cities of earth. The dozens of such superdreadnoughts even now cruising in the icy darkness of the deep ocean proves that truth is more often stranger than fiction. It may seem the golden age of predictive fiction has passed as exceptions to the laws of physics prove impossible despite advertisments to the contrary. Science fiction has given way to science fantasy and the suspension of disbelief possible in the last century has turned to disappointment and the distractions of whimsical technological fairy tales. “Beam me up” was simply a way to cut production costs for special effects and warp drive the only trick that would make a one hour episode work. Unobtainium and wishalloy, handwavium and technobabble- it has watered down what our future could be into childish wish fulfillment and escapism.

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Oct 25, 2011

Don Quijote — the podcast

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, space

The Don Quijote mission — so we don’t go the same way as the dinosaurs.

With some help from colleagues, I recently produced a report on the planned European Space Agency Don Quijote mission to divert an asteroid’s trajectory (kind of a test-run for the real thing that may happen some time in the future) as a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.

It is reassuring to see humanity beginning to deal with this genuine risk to Earth’s survival — just in case we don’t all get swallowed up in a 2cm black hole in the next five years wink

The transcript is also available for reading on the 365 Days site if you are not a podcast fan.

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Aug 15, 2011

Actually saving the Earth for a change

Posted by in category: asteroid/comet impacts

If the conspiracy theory content of this blog is getting you down — here’s a write up of a real science project to test a technique to divert an asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth. All going well the Don Quijote mission will launch by 2015.

Steve Nerlich
Member of the Board

Apr 25, 2011

Cosmic Connection: How Astronomical Events Impact Life on Earth

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, existential risks

As I remarked in my heartfelt endorsement for astronomer Jeff Kanipe’s fantastic book at Amazon.com, Dobzhansky noted,

One can argue that all environments are hostile, and that death and extinction are probable events, while survival is improbable. Just how life has managed to overcome this improbability is a problem which many biologists find challenging and fascinating. In my opinion, this problem may well be used as the framework on which to build the teaching of biology [1].

Building upon profound observations along these lines, readers may find that Kanipe offers some poetically illustrated support for my conjecture that this problem may well be used as the framework on which to build the teaching of every science — from biology to cosmology to economics to political science.

On the Origin of Mass Extinctions: Darwin’s Nontrivial Error offers a few choice previews from this beautiful, optimistic, and most highly recommended book!

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Apr 19, 2011

On the Problem of Sustainable Economic Development: A Game-Theoretical Solution

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, biological, complex systems, cosmology, defense, economics, education, existential risks, finance, human trajectories, lifeboat, military, philosophy, sustainability

Perhaps the most important lesson, which I have learned from Mises, was a lesson located outside economics itself. What Mises taught us in his writings, in his lectures, in his seminars, and in perhaps everything he said, was that economics—yes, and I mean sound economics, Austrian economics—is primordially, crucially important. Economics is not an intellectual game. Economics is deadly serious. The very future of mankind —of civilization—depends, in Mises’ view, upon widespread understanding of, and respect for, the principles of economics.

This is a lesson, which is located almost entirely outside economics proper. But all Mises’ work depended ultimately upon this tenet. Almost invariably, a scientist is motivated by values not strictly part of the science itself. The lust for fame, for material rewards—even the pure love of truth—these goals may possibly be fulfilled by scientific success, but are themselves not identified by science as worthwhile goals. What drove Mises, what accounted for his passionate dedication, his ability to calmly ignore the sneers of, and the isolation imposed by academic contemporaries, was his conviction that the survival of mankind depends on the development and dissemination of Austrian economics…

Austrian economics is not simply a matter of intellectual problem solving, like a challenging crossword puzzle, but literally a matter of the life or death of the human race.

–Israel M. Kirzner, Society for the Development of Austrian Economics Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech, 2006

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Apr 2, 2011

A (Relatively) Brief Introduction to The Principles of Economics & Evolution: A Survival Guide for the Inhabitants of Small Islands, Including the Inhabitants of the Small Island of Earth

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, biological, complex systems, cosmology, defense, economics, existential risks, geopolitics, habitats, human trajectories, lifeboat, military, philosophy, sustainability

(NOTE: Selecting the “Switch to White” button on the upper right-hand corner of the screen may ease reading this text).

“Who are you?” A simple question sometimes requires a complex answer. When a Homeric hero is asked who he is.., his answer consists of more than just his name; he provides a list of his ancestors. The history of his family is an essential constituent of his identity. When the city of Aphrodisias… decided to honor a prominent citizen with a public funeral…, the decree in his honor identified him in the following manner:

Hermogenes, son of Hephaistion, the so-called Theodotos, one of the first and most illustrious citizens, a man who has as his ancestors men among the greatest and among those who built together the community and have lived in virtue, love of glory, many promises of benefactions, and the most beautiful deeds for the fatherland; a man who has been himself good and virtuous, a lover of the fatherland, a constructor, a benefactor of the polis, and a savior.
– Angelos Chaniotis, In Search of an Identity: European Discourses and Ancient Paradigms, 2010

I realize many may not have the time to read all of this post — let alone the treatise it introduces — so for those with just a few minutes to spare, consider abandoning the remainder of this introduction and spending a few moments with a brief narrative which distills the very essence of the problem at hand: On the Origin of Mass Extinctions: Darwin’s Nontrivial Error.

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Apr 14, 2010

Technology Readiness Levels for Non-rocket Space Launch

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, engineering, habitats, human trajectories, space

An obvious next step in the effort to dramatically lower the cost of access to low Earth orbit is to explore non-rocket options. A wide variety of ideas have been proposed, but it’s difficult to meaningfully compare them and to get a sense of what’s actually on the technology horizon. The best way to quantitatively assess these technologies is by using Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). TRLs are used by NASA, the United States military, and many other agencies and companies worldwide. Typically there are nine levels, ranging from speculations on basic principles to full flight-tested status.

The system NASA uses can be summed up as follows:

TRL 1 Basic principles observed and reported
TRL 2 Technology concept and/or application formulated
TRL 3 Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of concept
TRL 4 Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment
TRL 5 Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment
TRL 6 System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
TRL 7 System prototype demonstration in a space environment
TRL 8 Actual system completed and “flight qualified” through test and demonstration (ground or space)
TRL 9 Actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations.

Progress towards achieving a non-rocket space launch will be facilitated by popular understanding of each of these proposed technologies and their readiness level. This can serve to coordinate more work into those methods that are the most promising. I think it is important to distinguish between options with acceleration levels within the range human safety and those that would be useful only for cargo. Below I have listed some non-rocket space launch methods and my assessment of their technology readiness levels.

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Sep 25, 2009

Asteroid attack: Putting Earth’s defences to the test

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks

Peter Garretson from the Lifeboat Advisory Board appears in the latest edition of New Scientist:

“IT LOOKS inconsequential enough, the faint little spot moving leisurely across the sky. The mountain-top telescope that just detected it is taking it very seriously, though. It is an asteroid, one never seen before. Rapid-survey telescopes discover thousands of asteroids every year, but there’s something very particular about this one. The telescope’s software decides to wake several human astronomers with a text message they hoped they would never receive. The asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. It is the size of a skyscraper and it’s big enough to raze a city to the ground. Oh, and it will be here in three days.

Far-fetched it might seem, but this scenario is all too plausible. Certainly it is realistic enough that the US air force recently brought together scientists, military officers and emergency-response officials for the first time to assess the nation’s ability to cope, should it come to pass.

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Jun 19, 2009

Asteroid hazard in the context of technological development

Posted by in category: asteroid/comet impacts

Asteroid hazard in the context of technological development

It is easy to notice that the direct risks of collisions with asteroids decreases with technological development. First, they (or, exactly, our estimation of risks) decrease due to more accurate measurement of them — that is, at the expense of more accurate detection of dangerous asteroids and measurements of their orbits we could finally find that the real chance of impact is 0 in the next 100 year. (If, however, will be confirmed the assumption that we live during the episode of comet bombardment, the assessment of risk would increase 100 times to the background.) Second, it decreases due to an increase in our ability to reject asteroids.
On the other hand, the impact of falling asteroids become larger with time — not only because the population density increases, but also because the growing connectedness of the world system, resulting in that damage in one place can spread across the globe. In other words, although the probability of collisions is reducing, the indirect risks associated with the asteroid danger is increasing.
The main indirect risks are:
A) The destruction of hazardous industries in the place of the fall — for example, nuclear power plant. The entire mass of the station in such a case would evaporated and the release of radiation would be higher than in Chernobyl. In addition, there may be additional nuclear reactions because of sudden compression of the station when it is struck by asteroid. Yet the chances of a direct hit of an asteroid in the nuclear plants are small, but they grow with the growing number of stations.
B) There is a risk that even a small group of meteors, moving a specific angle in a certain place in the earth’s surface could lead to lunch of the system for the Prevention of rocket attacks and lead to an accidental nuclear war. Similar consequences could have a small air explosion of an asteroid (a few meters in size). The first option is more likely for developed superpowers system of warning (but which has flaws or unsecured areas in their ABM system, as in the Russian Federation), while the second — for the regional nuclear powers (like India and Pakistan, North Korea, etc.) which are not able to track missiles by radars, but could react to a single explosion.
C) The technology to drive asteroids in the future will create a hypothetical possibility to direct asteroids not only from Earth, but also on it. And even if there will be accidental impact of the asteroid, there will be talks about that it was sent on purpose. Yet hardly anyone will be sent to Earth asteroids, because such action can easily be detected, the accuracy is low and it need to be prepared for decades before event.
D) Deviations of hazardous asteroids will require the creation of space weapons, which could be nuclear, laser or kinetic. Such weapons could be used against the Earth or the spacecrafts of an opponent. Although the risk of applying it against the ground is small, it still creates more potential damage than the falling asteroids.
E) The destruction of the asteroid with nuclear explosion would lead to an increase in its affecting power at the expense of its fragments – to the greater number of blasts over a larger area, as well as the radioactive contamination of debris.
Modern technological means give possibility to move only relatively small asteroids, which are not global threat. The real danger is black comets in size of several kilometers which are moving on elongated elliptical orbits at high speeds. However, in the future, space can be quickly and cheaply explored through self-replicating robots based on nanoteh. This will help to create huge radio telescopes in space to detect dangerous bodies in the solar system. In addition, it is enough to plant one self-replicating microrobot on the asteroid, to multiply it and then it could break the asteroid on parts or build engines that will change its orbit. Nanotehnology will help us to create self-sustaining human settlements on the Moon and other celestial bodies. This suggests that the problem of asteroid hazard will in a few decades be outdated.
Thus, the problem of preventing collisions of the Earth with asteroids in the coming decades can only be a diversion of resources from the global risks:
First, because we are still not able to change orbits of those objects which actually can lead to the complete extinction of humanity.
Secondly, by the time (or shortly thereafter), when the nuclear missile system for destruction of asteroids will be created, it will be obsolete, because nanotech can quickly and cheaply harness the solar system by the middle of 21 century, and may, before .
And third, because such system at time when Earth is divided into warring states will be weapon in the event of war.
And fourthly, because the probability of extinction of humanity as a result of the fall of an asteroid in a narrow period of time when the system of deviation of the asteroids will be deployed, but powerful, nanotechnology is not yet established, is very small. This time period may be equal to 20 years, say from 2030 — until 2050, and the chances of falling bodies of 10 km size during this time, even if we assume that we live in a period comet bombardment, when the intensity is 100 times higher — is at 1 to 15 000 (based on an average frequency of the fall of bodies every 30 million years). Moreover, given the dynamics, we can reject the indeed dangerous objects only at the end of this period, and perhaps even later, as larger the asteroid, the more extensive and long-term project for its deviation is required. Although 1 to 15 000 is still unacceptable high risk, it is commensurate with the risk of the use of space weapons against the Earth.
In the fifth, anti-asteroid protection diverts attention from other global issues, the limited human attention and financial resources. This is due to the fact that the asteroid danger is very easy for understanding — it is easy to imagine, it is easy to calculate the probabilities and it is clear to the public. And there is no doubt of its reality, and there are clear ways for protection. (e.g. the probability of volcanic disaster comparable to the asteroid impact by various estimates, is from 5 to 20 times higher at the same level of energy – but we have no idea how it can be prevented.) So it differs from other risks that are difficult to imagine, that are impossible quantify, but which may mean the probability of complete extinction of tens of percent. These are the risks of AI, biotech, nanotech and nuclear weapons.
In the sixth, when talking about relatively small bodies like Apophis, it may be cheaper to evacuate the area of the fall than to deviate the asteroid. A likely the area of the impact will be ocean.
But I did not call to abandon antiasterod protection, because we first need to find out whether we live in the comet bombardment period. In this case, the probability of falling 1 km body in the next 100 years is equal to 6 %. (Based on data on the hypothetical fall in the last 10 000 years, like a comet Klovis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas_impact_event , traces of which can be 500 000 in the craters of similar entities called Carolina Bays http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_bays crater, and around New Zealand in 1443 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahuika_crater and others 2 impacts in last 5 000 years , see works of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_Impact_Working_Group ). We must first give power to the monitoring of dark comets and analysis of fresh craters.

Feb 24, 2009

I Don’t Want To Live in a Post-Apocalyptic World

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, futurism, habitats, robotics/AI, space

Image from The Road film, based on Cormac McCarthy's book

How About You?
I’ve just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road at the recommendation of my cousin Marie-Eve. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world and the main protagonists — a father and son — basically spend all their time looking for food and shelter, and try to avoid being robbed or killed by other starving survivors.

It very much makes me not want to live in such a world. Everybody would probably agree. Yet few people actually do much to reduce the chances of of such a scenario happening. In fact, it’s worse than that; few people even seriously entertain the possibility that such a scenario could happen.

People don’t think about such things because they are unpleasant and they don’t feel they can do anything about them, but if more people actually did think about them, we could do something. We might never be completely safe, but we could significantly improve our odds over the status quo.

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