Adventures in Science

May 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

So the other day my girlfriend and I were having an extensive discussion about the space program and astronomy, and it occurs to us that technology is rife with the potential for awesome. Particularly, we were discussing problems of resource-management in space; sure, the asteroid belt is rich in iron and other minerals, but to mine it would require a huge fuel expenditure when said fuels are one of our most valuable (and limited) resources. So how can large-scale mining operations in space be economically feasible?

Easy. We strip-mine the Moon for tritium.

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen (H3, specifically, meaning it’s atoms have three neutrons) that’s rare on Earth but abounds on the Moon. This is key, because Tritium is a key component in nuclear fusion. Assuming fusion power ever becomes feasible on a large scale, mining the Moon will give us access to an incredible powerful and clean fuel source.

It turned out, however, this conversation was just a precursor to three awesome ideas regarding space and astronomy, three things which will shake the very foundations of science and society to their core! They are:

Homemade Water

Another good use of hydrogen is in hydrogen fuel-cells. It’s actually ridiculously clean; when you’re done, the only waste you have is a bunch of water you’ve created as hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air.

Think about how obsessive people are today about bottled water and fancy (read: pretentious) imported waters. Think about how expensive even a practical fusion reactor would be.

I’m calling it first, right here and now. In the future, being able to make your own drinking water will be the ultimate status symbol.

Of course, the rich will find reasons to justify it. I fully expect to hear about how making your own water is the only way to assure ultimate freshness and purity. They’ll talk about how the fuel cells in the basement also provides power to the house (and most of the surrounding neighbourhood) and so they’re helping the community. But this isn’t really what it will be about. In reality, it will be a new way of saying “I’m so goddamn rich I can do something this ridiculous and impractical”.

Dark Matter Found

From here the conversation moved to other impractical methods of getting power, particularly Dyson Spheres. For those who don’t know, a Dyson sphere is a theoretical construct in which an entire star is surrounded by solar panels (or, alternatively, a giant inside-out planet) so that 100% of it’s energy can be collected. Considering that currently we get less than a fraction of 1% of the Sun’s energy, this would result in a dramatic increase in the power available for our use.

Randall Munroe, the XKCD guy, has a great addition to this where a Dyson Sphere is combined lasing cavities to convert the entire star into a powerful laser, a literal Death Star.

What does this have to do with dark matter?

Put simply; observing how much matter should exist based on gravity, scientists are unable to account for 25% of all matter in any particular galaxy (and 75% of all matter in the universe as a whole). This missing galactic matter is referred to as “Dark Matter”; we can see it’s effects, so we know it’s there, but we can’t see it directly.

What would make it so we couldn’t see the missing matter? There’s a few possibilities. Scientists have considered both black holes and dim brown dwarfs, but neither exist in high enough quantities to explain all the missing matter. Something else has to be out there.

Remember how a Dyson sphere captures all the energy of a star? This means absolutely no light would escape. It’s gravitational effects would be felt, but it couldn’t be seen.

The logical conclusion; Dark Matter is actually stars surrounded by Dyson spheres and turned into powerful lasers by various alien races, for use in interstellar combat.

This bears repeating.

25% of all stars in the galaxy have been converted into death-rays.

Though incredibly unlikely, this theory is also incredibly awesome, explaining one of the fundamental mysteries of the universe in terms of badass wars in space. I expect my Nobel Prize any day now.

And finally, the third awesome thing to come from the conversation:

Alouette

A little-known historical fact; Canada was the third country to launch and orbit it’s own man-made satellite, after the Soviet Union and the United States. This satellite, known as Alouette I, was created to study to ionosphere and transmitted results for 10 years before being shut off.

The interesting part about this; when it was shut off, it still had battery power left.

The really interesting part; 40 years later, it’s still orbiting.

In theory, the right radio signal could kick the satellite back online and get it transmitting again. Anyone with sufficient time, expertise and dedication could aim a signal at this thing and get their own private research satellite out of the deal.

On a related note, I’m living with a physicists and two computer scientists next year.

This would be the most awesome (if impractical) house project imaginable.

Editor’s Note: In the first draft of this post, I somehow confused hydrogen fusion and fuel-cells for the part on water creation. It was kind of an embarrassing error.

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