Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Monday, 2 February 2015
With an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of water ice at its poles and an abundance of rare-earth elements hidden below its surface, the Moon is rich ground for mining.
In this month’s issue of Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield explains how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into these lucrative resources and turning the Moon's grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer belt. A video preview of the February issue of Physics World can be viewed here.
Since NASA disbanded its manned Apollo missions to the Moon over 40 years ago, unmanned spaceflight has made giant strides and has identified a bountiful supply of water ice at the north and south poles of the Moon.
“It is this, more than anything else,” Cornfield writes, “that has kindled interest in mining the Moon, for where there is ice, there is fuel.”
Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) plans to mine the vast reserves of water ice and convert it into rocket propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit.
As the company’s chief executive officer, Dale Tietz, explains, the plan is to build a “gas station in space” in which rocket propellant will be sold at prices significantly lower than the cost of sending fuel from Earth.
SEC plans to extract the water ice by sending humans and robots to mine the lunar poles, and then use some of the converted products to power mining hoppers, lunar rovers and life support for its own activities.
Moon Express, another privately funded lunar-resources company, is also interested in using water ice as fuel – but in a different form. It plans to fuel its operations and spacecraft using “high-test peroxide” (HTP), which has a long and illustrious history as a propellant.
As for mining the rare-earth elements on the Moon, China is making the most noticeable headway. The Jade Rabbit lander successfully touched down on the Moon in December 2013 and the Chinese space agency has publicly suggested establishing a “base on the Moon as we did in the South Pole and the North Pole”.
With a near-monopoly on the dwindling terrestrial rare-earth elements, which are vital for everything from mobile phones to computers and car batteries, it is no surprise that China may want to cast its net wider.
“All interested parties agree that the Moon – one step from Earth – is the essential first toehold for humankind’s diaspora to the stars,” Corfield concludes.
Perhaps the mining bases on the moon will be built using 3D printing, as described earlier: ed.
photo credit ESA
Saturday, 24 January 2015
Tuesday, 20 January 2015
A strange phenomenon has been observed by astronomers as it was happening – a ‘fast radio burst’. The eruption is described as an extremely short, sharp flash of radio waves from an unknown source in the universe. The results have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Over the past few years, astronomers have observed a new phenomenon, a brief burst of radio waves, lasting only a few milliseconds.
It was first seen by chance in 2007, when astronomers went through archival data from the Parkes Radio Telescope in Eastern Australia.
Since then we have seen six more such bursts in the Parkes telescope’s data and a seventh burst was found in the data from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. They were almost all discovered long after they had occurred, but then astronomers began to look specifically for them right as they happen.
Radio-, X-ray- and visible light
A team of astronomers in Australia developed a technique to search for these ‘Fast Radio Bursts’, so they could look for the bursts in real time. The technique worked and now a group of astronomers, led by Emily Petroff (Swinburne University of Technology), have succeeded in observing the first ‘live’ burst with the Parkes telescope. The characteristics of the event indicated that the source of the burst was up to 5.5 billion light years from Earth.
Now that they had the burst location and as soon as it was observed, a number of other telescopes around the world were alerted – on both ground and in space, in order to make follow-up observations on other wavelengths.
“Using the Swift space telescope we can observe light in the X-ray region and we saw two X-ray sources at that position,” explains Daniele Malesani, astrophysicist at the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.
Then the two X-ray sources were observed using the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma. “We observed in visible light and we could see that there were two quasars, that is to say, active black holes. They had nothing to do with the radio wave bursts, but just happen to be located in the same direction,” explains astrophysicist Giorgos Leloudas, Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen and Weizmann Institute, Israel.
So now what? Even though they captured the radio wave burst while it was happening and could immediately make follow-up observations at other wavelengths ranging from infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light and X-ray waves, they found nothing. But did they discover anything?
“We found out what it wasn’t. The burst could have hurled out as much energy in a few milliseconds as the Sun does in an entire day. But the fact that we did not see light in other wavelengths eliminates a number of astronomical phenomena that are associated with violent events such as gamma-ray bursts from exploding stars and supernovae, which were otherwise candidates for the burst,” explains Daniele Malesani.
But the burst left another clue. The Parkes detection system captured the polarisation of the light. Polarisation is the direction in which electromagnetic waves oscillate and they can be linearly or circularly polarised. The signal from the radio wave burst was more than 20 percent circularly polarised and it suggests that there is a magnetic field in the vicinity.more information
Sunday, 18 January 2015
Saturday, 17 January 2015
Impression (artistic) shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. By analyzing data captured by the Kepler spacecraft, a UA-led team of researchers has discovered three new Earth-size planets orbiting a star only 150 light-years from our sun. (Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle)
Researchers led by UA scientist Ian Crossfield has found a star with three planets, one of which may have temperatures moderate enough for liquid water — and maybe even life — to exist.