Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Sagan

Monday, October 31, 2011

“Fabric of the Cosmos” on PBS this Wednesday

NOVA has a fascinating program airing this Wednesday at 9:00 PM that attempts to tackle the mind blowing theories and experiments that aim to unravel the nature of the cosmos and even time itself. This will be a four part series starting with “What is Space?”, followed by “The Illusion of Time”, “Quantum Leap”, and finishing the series with “Universe or Multiverse”.

Set your DVRs so you don’t miss any of it.

Program Description
“The Fabric of the Cosmos,” a four-hour series based on the book by renowned physicist and author Brian Greene, takes us to the frontiers of physics to see how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time, and the universe. With each step, audiences will discover that just beneath the surface of our everyday experience lies a world we’d hardly recognize—a startling world far stranger and more wondrous than anyone expected.

Brian Greene is going to let you in on a secret: We’ve all been deceived. Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong.

Interweaving provocative theories, experiments, and stories with crystal-clear explanations and imaginative metaphors like those that defined the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed series “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aims to be the most compelling, visual, and comprehensive picture of modern physics ever seen on television.

Airing November 2nd, 9th, 16th and the 23rd, at 9:00 PM on PBS.

Tony’s note: Just got around to watching this last night on my DVR. Very well done and no expenses spared with visual effects. Probably one of the best visual explanations of what space is and how it behaves when it interacts with matter. For the uninitiated, they get a good idea why gravity behaves the way it does. Also, they delved into topics like the Casimir effect and Higgs’ idea about matter interaction and the search for the Higgs’ boson. Can’t wait for next week’s topic on time.

November Space Conferences

There are plenty of space conferences going on this month of November all over the world. There is a comprehensive list that can be found on Space Conference News. Here are a few highlights from that list.

November 2 – 6 • The American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB) conference on Biology Bridging Earth and Space, held in conjunction with the 32nd Annual International Gravitational Physiology Meeting, sponsored by the International Society for Gravitational Physiology will be held in San Jose, CA.

November 9 & 10 • The Women and Mars Conference, focusing on the contributions made by women to space activities, will be held in Washington DC.

November 11 & 12 • The 1st Hackerspace Workshop, organized by Kentucky Space, a non-profit collective of space activists, universities space focused organizations, will be held in Lexington, KY.

November 23 – 26 • The 2011 8th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots and Ambient Intelligence (URAI), focused on state-of-the-art robotic technologies, will be held in Incheon, South Korea.

November 28 – 30 • The International Conference on Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (ICMAE 2011), organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology will be held in conjunction with the International Conference on Aerospace, Propulsion and Energy Sciences in Venice, Italy.


Will Baird let us know about the Team Phoenicia/Techshop Centennial Challenge Seminar, details below:

November 12 • Team Phoenicia/Techshop Centennial Challenge (aka Parallel) Seminar. Location: Techshop – Menlo Park, 120 Independence Dr, Menlo Park, CA. Purpose is to increase the awareness of the current NASA Centennial Challenges for the Silicon Valley Area and allow potential entrants to be briefed on the rules and network to form potential teams.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Microsoft offers us a peek at the future

Some pretty sharp ideas. Some of the stuff in the video, we can already do somewhat (with the touch screen actions) albeit with less pervasive technology. The video has great production values; I hope some of it gets applied to real world technology.

NASA wants to hear your far out ideas for deep space travel

NASA is gearing up to spend millions on your idea to take probes, and even people, into deep space. So it better be one hell of an idea. They want to tap into the brains of universities, government agencies, commercial entities, entrepreneurs, student, anyone that has a well thought out idea backed by solid theories and science.

“We have a space technology program, and there’s some money behind it,” Marshall Chief Technologist Andrew Keys said on Monday in Huntsville, AL.

In-space demo of a mission-capable solar sail - Image: NASA

How much budget money are we talking about? Somewhere between $375 million and $560 million. Not a terribly big budget, but enough, hopefully, to spur interest with scientists and engineers who couldn’t otherwise develop their ideas.

The idea is to let commercial space companies deal with the LEO missions while NASA focuses on deep-space missions. A thoughtful approach; let’s see how it pans out.

Tony’s note: I’d like to see some proposals that involve manned and robotic missions using some sort of nuclear propulsion, either assisted or indirect. Also of interests is artificial gravity in the context of an orbiting rotating ring structure, and eventually, space craft. Some other items off the top of my head, gravitomagnetic propulsion, higher thrust ion engines, refined VASIMR, beamed energy systems, and ways of protecting electronics and flesh from cosmic rays. Hope that helps.

In the future, robots will work hard and play harder

In the future, robots will not only take over domestic, industrial, and office work, they will perform all our leisure activities as well. Remember the people in Surrogates? Yeah.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Green Apples

It’s no secret I am a big Apple fan, and any big Apple fan has done business with a company called Other World Computing, an Apple focused accessory maker and reseller, at some point or another. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear two bits of good, green news from both of those companies.

The Charlotte Observer is running a story about a 171 acre solar farm installation Apple is trying to get approved to power their new billion dollar data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Which is a good thing since they will be sucking up the power at a huge rate and Duke energy, the local power company, is mainly powered by coal.

Apple data center. Click to enlarge a map of the initial 70 acre plot.

It’s said that Apple is clearing 100 acres of wooded area to make room for the farm. It’s still unclear if the clearing of trees and installing a solar farm in it’s place is better for the environment in the long run, however. The data center is where Apple houses most of it’s servers that contain the iCloud service that was recently announced.

Other World Computing, or OWC as it’s well known by, in Woodstock, Illinois is actually making one of the best corporate efforts at being green that I have every witnessed. Consider what their business is based on: getting the most out of your current computer before dumping it in the trash in the form of upgrades and self-repair kits.

ArsTechnica has an article showing OWC’s commitment to environmentally friendly building and products.

“Conservation is really at the core of our business,” O’Connor told Ars. “The average Mac is used maybe three years, and the average PC even less, about a year. But with a little help and the right upgrades and tools, those machines could be put to good use for much longer. Recycling is great—we do a lot of that here in our facility. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had our regular ‘trash’ picked up since our new facility opened three years ago. But what’s even better than recycling is not throwing things away in the first place.”

OWC built their 10,000 ft2 facility in 2006, and right from the start, they integrated ideas that would be environmentally sound and cost effective. They use geothermal energy to heat and cool their building which saves energy and eliminates emissions. A wind turbine out front is able to power their whole facility, with the excess being sold back to the local power company. There is fiber-optic solar lighting through out the building and sensors that turn off the supplementary florescent lights when the outside light is adequate indoors. And there are plenty of skylights installed to allow that light to come in.

OWC Headquarters

Other ideas in place are less whizz-bang, but just as effective. For example, they recycle everything they possibly can. Refuse and recyclables are accumulated in the warehouse until there is a full load that can be carted away in order to save on fuel costs. Old computers are still used for suitable tasks like tracking inventory. They even have waterless urinals installed.

Radical eco-friendly thinking isn’t the norm in the tech industry, but with some companies leading by example, I hope this is a lasting trend that others pick up on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Icarus in the news

Project Icarus is making news all over the place, thanks in part by their strong presence at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in early October.

Check out these articles:

Project Icarus: Exploring Exoplanet Biosignatures – Discovery News
100-year starship plan charted by U.S. agency – San Francisco Chronicle
Not Such a Stretch to Reach for the Stars – N.Y. Times

Icarus probe

Project Icarus is an ambitious five-year study into launching an unmanned spacecraft to an interstellar destination. Initiated by the Tau Zero Foundation and British Interplanetary Society, and managed by Icarus Interstellar Inc., a non-profit group of scientists dedicated to interstellar spaceflight, Icarus is working to develop a spacecraft that can travel to a nearby star.

Star Trek Tech: How far have we come?

Here’s a interesting and fun infographic detailing some technology from Star Trek and how far we’ve advanced in actual science to achieving it. Looks like we’re doing pretty well. Be sure to check out the various Star Trek character quotes.

Without further ado…(Infographic is after the fold.)


Our perceptions of life in the universe need to broaden

Xenophyophores are single-celled animals found in the deepest parts of the ocean. Researchers for the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, funded by NASA, have recently found amoebas that are larger than 4 inches in length! Incredible as that is, a single-celled organism of that size, consider the environment that they are found in:

Scientists say xenophyophores are the largest individual cells in existence. Recent studies indicate that by trapping particles from the water, xenophyophores can concentrate high levels of lead, uranium and mercury and are thus likely highly resistant to large doses of heavy metals. They also are well suited to a life of darkness, low temperature and high pressure in the deep sea.

Close-ups of xenophyophores obtained on previous expeditions. Credit: Lisa Levin (all except upper right, credit David Checkley)

This just goes to show that when we are looking for life elsewhere, here or otherworldly, we need to broaden our definitions of life and where it can be found. It opens up the possibility of finding life on planets that orbit dimmer stars like red dwarfs and larger rocky super-earths (like the ones found by Kepler already) with the presence of water.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Trek’s Future on the Small Screen

The last Star Trek series to grace the small screen was Enterprise, which ended in 2005. But since the mid 80s, we had a pretty good run of Trek series starting off with The Next Generation, through its offshoots, Deep Space 9 and Voyager. Not to mention a healthy dose of Trek films. J.J. Abrams vision of the Trekiverse in 2009′s Star Trek seems to have renewed interest in seeing a new Trek series on television. How likely is it?

Back in 2005, when Enterprise had just ended, Bryan Singer, X-men: First Class producer, pitched a new Trek series. After a brainstorming session with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and director Robert Meyer Burnett, they pounded out a 25-page series proposal that took place in the year 3000 (that’s over 600 years after TNG). It would have been called Star Trek: Federation and was envisioned as more of a space opera with longer story arcs. More like DS9 than the episodic TNG. Other proposed details included same continuity with the TOS/TNG/DS9/Voyager timeline, the series would reflect a parallel to both the decline of the Roman Empire and the current state of the American Empire suggesting a grittier possibly darker BSG-like series, a new threat called “The Scourge”, a new USS Enterprise, and one of the central characters would’ve been called Commander Alexander Kirk, who has a “checkered past”.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Packed up: Next time you see Curiosity will be from the surface of Mars. Hopefully.

Following are a series of images of Curiosity being inserted into its aeroshell capsule, which will be cutting through Mars’ atmosphere upon delivery. Curiosity is expected to launch in 32 days, but won’t reach Mars for 9 months, or sometime in August of 2012.

Wrapping it up


Friday, October 21, 2011

Project Icarus: Extreme Aerospace Engineering

Informative and though provoking as always, Paul Gilster presents a wealth of information and unique insight on the fusion-powered interstellar Icarus Project.

Back in December 2009 I wrote an article titled Project Icarus and the Motivation Behind Fusion Propulsion. This was an attempt to justify the initial design choice of the team as part of the engineering requirements for the study that is Project Icarus.

Despite this article and other discussions we have had, we have recently learned something from our experience at the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium: People still don’t understand the Daedalus connection and fusion choice behind Project Icarus. I shall attempt to explain it in order that the Centauri Dreams readers can follow the process that led to this apparently controversial decision.

Read the entire article at Centauri Dreams. You’re welcome.

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