Friday, November 30, 2012

Another Step Closer to a Practical Warp Drive: Maybe

"How NASA might build its very first warp drive"
George Dvorsky, io9 (November 26, 2012)

"A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks...."

This isn't as crazy as it may sound. The original Alcubierre equations were taken seriously by physicists: as a fascinating and impractical theory. An Alcubierre warp drive, as originally presented, would have used incredible amounts of power: and might not be stable. (June 12, 2009)

Tweaking the Numbers

"...The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, 'The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity,' Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be 'warped' both in front of and behind a spacecraft....

"...In terms of the engine's mechanics, a spheroid object would be placed between two regions of space-time (one expanding and one contracting). A 'warp bubble' would then be generated that moves space-time around the object, effectively repositioning it — the end result being faster-than-light travel without the spheroid (or spacecraft) having to move with respect to its local frame of reference.

" 'Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed,' White told io9. 'However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy.'..."

For early version of the Alcubierre warp drive, "a lot of energy" meant at least what you'd get by converting Jupiter - 317 times as massive as Earth - into energy.

That sort of energy requirement made Alcubierre's equations interesting, but impractical.

Equations, Assumptions, and 'Impossible'

Исследование мировых пространств реактивнымиWhat is or isn't possible depends partly on assumptions. A 'warp drive' is impossible, for instance, assuming that:
  • Technology will never improve
  • Alcubierre's paper covered all possibilities
Using rockets for interplanetary travel is 'impossible,' too: assuming that humanity stopped developing new technologies in 1903.

That's when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published "The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices."

A hundred years later, some folks were wondering when people would go back to the Moon.

Tweaking the Numbers

Harold White explained how looking at Alcubierre's work a little differently made a big difference:

"...'I suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger - like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape - and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required - perhaps making the idea plausible.' White had adjusted the shape of Alcubierre's ring which surrounded the spheroid from something that was a flat halo to something that was thicker and curvier...."

'Are We There Yet?'

"...White and his colleagues are trying to simulate the tweaked Alcubierre drive in miniature by using lasers to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million....

"...'Our initial test device is implementing a ring of large potential energy - what we observe as blue shifted relative to the lab frame - by utilizing a ring of ceramic capacitors that are charged to tens of thousands of volts,' he told us. 'We will increase the fidelity of our test devices and continue to enhance the sensitivity of the warp field interferometer - eventually using devices to directly generate negative vacuum energy.'

"He points out that Casimir cavities, physical forces that arise from a quantized field, may represent a viable approach...."

Bending space-time by one part in 10 million won't take us to other stars. But if that ring of capacitors bends space-time even a little, that will show that the theory works.

Change Happens

Space ships with warp engines won't be built in the next year or so: in the Lemming's opinion. For starters, negative vacuum energy rings aren't off the shelf hardware. Today.

But let's remember that change happens. Leonardo Da Vinci drew pictures of flying machines. About five centuries later, internal combustion engines made powered fight possible.

Maybe folks will know how to build negative vacuum energy rings five centuries from now.

On the other hand, White wants to pump tens of thousands of volts of energy into a ring of ceramic capacitors: to see whether and how much space-time gets stretched.

Warp drive could be closer than it seems.

A tip of the Lemming's hat to Thomas Sanjurjo, on Google+, for the heads-up on this article.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"...If There Were Intelligent Life Up There...."

Ant:  We've searched dozens of these floor tiles for several common types of pheromone trails. If there were intelligent life up there, we would have seen its messages by now. (The world's first ant colony to achieve sentience calls off the search for us.)
(from XKCD, used w/o permission)

SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, almost always assumes that space aliens will use radio for communications.

It makes sense, sort of. People on Earth use radio for most long distance communications. Now.

Let's take a step back and look at people on Earth, technology, and time:
  • 3,390,000 years ago - first (known) tool use
  • 1,000,000 years ago - first (known) use of fire
  • 151 years ago - Maxwell starts experimenting with electromagnetic waves
    • Including radio waves
Granted, people who used fire 1,000,000 years ago didn't look quite like the British Royal family: but folks who use tools and fire are, arguably, people. Even if they're obviously not British.

People have been using radio for a very long time, by American standards. Looking at the big picture, though? We've used radio for 151/1,000,000 the length of time we've been using fire.

1,000,000 years from now?

It took humans about
  • 1,000,000 years to go
    • From using fire
    • To discovering radio waves
  • 150 years to go
    • From knowing how radio waves work
    • To competition between cable and satellite television services
Maybe humans have stopped developing new technology.

Maybe there simply isn't anything about the universe that the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, CERN, and IISc, don't already know.

Then again, maybe not.

Vaguely related posts about people:

Thanksgiving Day, 2012: Desperate Times...

Related(?) posts:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Papa John's Spam Blast: Oops

"Papa John's faces $250 million spam lawsuit"
Olivia Smith, CNN Money (November 13, 2012)

"Popular U.S. pizza chain Papa John's faces a $250 million class-action lawsuit for blasting customers with illegal text messages.

"The plaintiffs allege that Papa John's (PZZA) franchises sent customers a total of 500,000 unwanted messages in early 2010. The spam texts offered deals for pizza, and some customers complained they were getting 15 or 16 texts in a row, even during the middle of the night, according Donald Heyrich, an attorney representing the class.

" 'After I ordered from Papa John's, my telephone started beeping with text messages advertising pizza specials,' Erin Chutich, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. 'Papa John's never asked permission to send me text message advertisements.'

"The pizza franchises sent the text blasts through a mass text messaging service called OnTime4U, which is also a defendant in the case. When Papa John's was first sued in April 2010, the franchises allegedly ended their involvement with OnTime4U's text program...."

Somehow, somewhere, someone got the idea that pestering customers - in the middle of the night - was a good idea.

Or maybe it was a programming glitch.

The CNN Money article says that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 requires wannabe spammers to wait until folks opt in to a text messaging spamfest.

Papa John's, OnTime4U, and probably a lot of other outfits, will be contributing to the welfare of lawyers for quite a while, in the Lemming's opinion.

Nearly-related posts:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lemming Tracks: Puerto Rico, Statehood, and Getting a Grip

As far as the Lemming is concerned, if folks living in Puerto Rico think it's a good idea to become a state, instead of a territory: that's fine. If they don't, also fine. Being a state seems to make sense: but the Lemming lives a few thousand miles away from Puerto Rico, and that's another topic.

Voting, Puerto Rico, and Congress

"Puerto Rico wants to become the 51st state of the US"
BBC News (November 7, 2012)

"Voters in Puerto Rico have supported a non-binding referendum to become a full US state.

"The measure will require approval from the US Congress, but President Barack Obama has said he will respect the vote.

"The island is currently a US territory, which uses the dollar and whose citizens travel on US passports.

"But it does not return senators to the US Congress and is represented in Washington by a non-voting delegate.

"Almost 80% of the island's electorate took part in the referendum, the fourth in the past 45 years...."

The Lemming figured it was only a matter of time before most Puerto Ricans got used to the idea of having equal status with the existing 50 states.

There's also the matter of folks from the 48 contiguous states, plus Hawaii and Alaska, getting used to the idea that Americans don't need to look like Archie Bunker. More topics.

When news about the statehood referendum came out, the Lemming also figured that it was only a matter of time before someone found a dark lining to this silver cloud. It didn't take long.

An associate professor says the referendum vote is wrong, because Puerto Ricans don't want statehood.

They're Not Supposed to Want That?

"Puerto Rico Statehood Experts Challenge Results"
Christina Ng, ABC News blog (November 8, 2012)

"A vote in Puerto Rico over the island’s status as a U.S. territory has triggered a fierce debate over whether a majority voted to become the 51st state.

"The island territory has been debating the issue for decades and pro-statehood politicians are celebrating Tuesday's vote claiming it was the first time in 45 years that Puerto Ricans have voted for statehood.

"Others, however, are challenging that conclusion and argue that the vote indicates opposition to statehood.

" 'Puerto Ricans in general are just dissatisfied with the current government,' Yarimar Bonilla, a Rutgers University assistant professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies, told"

Maybe an associate professor is right, and all those Puerto Ricans didn't know what they really want. Then again, maybe Puerto Ricans aren't quite as unaware as they're supposed to be.

This isn't 1893, Puerto Rico isn't Hawaii, and that's another boatload of topics.

Passports? What Passports?

"Important Travel Information on Puerto Rico", U.S. Department of State (undated)

"Inaccurate press reports about travel between Puerto Rico and mainland United States

"Contrary to a number of inaccurate press reports stemming from a July 16, 2012 article that misquoted a State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs official, there is no passport requirement for U.S. citizens for direct travel between the mainland United States and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands...."

Sometimes reporters get it right. Sometimes they don't. Deadlines, assumptions, and creative editors, may be factors in news media's relationship with reality.

The Lemming's opined about news, and what folks expect, in another blog:

"...In the wake of the Kennedy assassination in 1963, up to somewhere after Watergate, reporters were taken quite seriously. The brave reporter, on a quest for Truth, became a stock character in movies. I've discussed stereotypes and movies before....

"...When Richard T. Heffron needed intrepid heroes for a movie about a conspiracy by robots to take over the world, "reporters" filled the bill neatly. That was in 1976.

"Like I've said before, change happens. A few years after "Futureworld", another creative team gave us a somewhat different view of reporters...."
(A Catholic Citizen in America (April 27, 2012))

And that's - what else? - yet another topic.

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gale Crater, Mars: Like a Hawaiian Beach; Only Drier, Colder, - - -

"NASA Rover's First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals"
Missions News, NASA (October 30, 2012)

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

"The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet.

" 'We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil,' said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., who is the principal investigator for CheMin. 'Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars.'..."

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)
"This pair of images from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover shows the upper portion of a wind-blown deposit dubbed 'Rocknest.' ... The colors in the image at left are unmodified, showing the scene as it would appear on Mars, which has a dusty red-colored atmosphere. The image at right has been white-balanced to show what the same area would look like under the lighting conditions on Earth.

"The rounded rock located at the upper center portion of the images is about 8 inches (0.2 meters) across...."

What Curiosity scooped up may be like Hawaiian soil, but Gale Crater is no Waikiki Beach. The air is mostly carbon dioxide, very thin, and cold. Now.

This particular scoop was taken near "Rocknest," the patch of ground shown in those photos. The soil seems to have been formed 'recently,' when Mars was the cold, barren, place it is today.

Another soil sample was older:

"...Unlike conglomerate rocks Curiosity investigated a few weeks ago, which are several billion years old and indicative of flowing water, the soil material CheMin has analyzed is more representative of modern processes on Mars...."

Movie Monsters, No

Flowing water on Mars, several billion years back, doesn't mean that we'll find a Martian princess, a "space monster," or any of the other nifty B-movie critters from Hollywood.

On the other hand, there might be 'Martians' living today:
  • If Mars' water stayed liquid long enough
  • If enough organic compounds were there
  • If our current assumptions about how life starts are right
Or we may find solid evidence of critters that used to live there: microbes, most likely.

That's a lot of "ifs."

Then there's the intriguing possibility that we discovered living Martians a few decades ago: and wrote them off as 'peculiar chemistry.' (March 5, 2009)

In the Lemming's considered opinion, life on Mars probably wouldn't be quite like life on Earth: and that's another topic.

Martian Microbes, Maybe

"...During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life...."

Just finding a spot on Mars where conditions had been "favorable for microbial life" would be exciting. Finding microbes, living or long dead? That would take much of the speculation out of exobiology. It would also upset quite a few folks, for various reasons. And that's yet another topic.

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