Friday, January 25, 2013

Asteroid Miners

"New Asteroid-Mining Venture to Be Unveiled Tuesday"
Mike Wall, (January 21, 2013)

(Deep Space Industries, via, used w/o permission)
"This illustration depicts Deep Space Industries' Fuel Processor class spacecraft for asteroid mining...."

"A new asteroid-mining company will unveil itself to the world on Tuesday (Jan. 22) and is expected to present an ambitious plan to exploit the resources of deep space.

"The new private spaceflight company, called Deep Space Industries, Inc., will reveal its plans at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) Tuesday at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying in California. The new company is the second audacious project aimed at tapping the myriad riches that asteroids harbor.

"Deep Space seeks to launch 'the world's first fleet of commercial asteroid-prospecting spacecraft,' according to a press advisory the company sent to reporters. 'Deep Space is pursuing an aggressive schedule and plans on prospecting, harvesting and processing asteroids for use in space and to benefit Earth.'..."

Well! It's about time!

Humans have been putzing around, picking up a few rocks here and there, scraping some sand there, and taking pictures just about everywhere in the Solar system. That's fine: the Lemming has nothing against tourism or science.

On the other hand, the fourth planet's surface is covered by iron oxide - maybe the biggest deposit of iron ore humans are likely to find in the next few centuries. Unless someone works out practical applications of Alcubierre's equations sooner, and that's almost another topic. (November 30, 2012)

Where was the Lemming? Humans, tourism, science. right.

Science, Tourism, and Meteoric Iron

Sending postcards from Mars, learning how rocks on Mars aren't quite like rocks on Earth, and counting Saturn's rings, is all well and good: but humans use metals like iron and nickel. There's a remarkable amount of iron ore near Earth's surface, and a fair amount of nickel, too.

Until very recently, though, the only useful iron humans had was what fell from the sky. Meteroric iron is very useful, but very rare. Eventually, humans figured out how to get iron out of that reddish soil that's so common in some spots. That was about two dozen centuries back, more or less.

About two dozen years back, humans made a few trips to the Moon, brought back some rocks, and haven't been back since.

That's where outfits like Deep Space Industries come in.

Some humans are really good at discovering things: rocks on the moon; new lasagna recipes; whatever. Others are really good at finding ways to make use of those nifty new things.

For example, Tsiolkovsky published some interesting math that showed how folks could travel to other planets. At the time, it was interesting but impractical. The math was okay, but ridiculous amounts of energy were needed. Other humans worked out the technology for making interplanetary spaceships.

Which brings us back to asteroid mining.

Asteroid Miners

Mining in the asteroid belt has been staple fare in science fiction/speculative fiction/whatever for decades. Larry Niven's Belters probably have more in common with gold rush miners than tomorrow's technicians and robots. So far, the Lemming's only noticed two companies gearing up for off-Earth mining:
As word of real asteroid miners spreads, the Lemming figures that some folks will be upset. No surprises there. Some humans are good at dealing with new ideas. Others, not so much. And that's yet another topic. (A Catholic Citizen in America (January 25, 2013))

A bit more seriously, most national and international law got written when humans didn't do much apart from take photos and collect souvenirs on trips away from Earth. Mining operations are a whole different proposition. The Lemming figures that judicial wrangles will keep lawyers busy for years. Decades.

  • "Iron Meteorites"
    "The Hearts of Long-Vanished Asteroids"
    Geoffrey Notkin, Aerolite Meteorites,
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Yet more posts, the Lemming's view of:

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Copyright Ownership and Transfer, 203: Termination of - - -" Finally!

"Record Industry Braces for Artists' Battles Over Song Rights"
Larry Rohter (August 15, 2011)

"Since their release in 1978, hit albums like Bruce Springsteen's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' Billy Joel's '52nd Street,' the Doobie Brothers' 'Minute by Minute,' Kenny Rogers's 'Gambler' and Funkadelic's 'One Nation Under a Groove' have generated tens of millions of dollars for record companies. But thanks to a little-noted provision in United States copyright law, those artists - and thousands more - now have the right to reclaim ownership of their recordings, potentially leaving the labels out in the cold.

"When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted 'termination rights,' which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the purview of the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like 'The Long Run' by the Eagles and 'Bad Girls' by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation - and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.

"The provision also permits songwriters to reclaim ownership of qualifying songs...."

Why should the Lemming care what some rock star's lawyers may be doing? 'Those people' make gazillions of dollars and deserve nothing by envy and/or contempt, right?

First, for every rock star who makes and spends several million a month - and might get called a 'creative genius' after dying of an overdose - there are a whole lot of performers to travel from one gig to another for decades, earning a living while studio brass travel from one luxury resort to another on 'company business.'

Steady, now - the Lemming needs to calm down.

Creative, Marketing, Distribution, and Fairness

A few folks are good at being creative, selling what they create, managing a network of distributors: and hyperactive enough to do all that on their own.

But not many.

The point is that entertainment studios serve an important function, taking care of the business end of music, movies, and media: giving the 'creative' types time to be creative. That's the way it should work, anyway.

In the real world:
  • Responsible studio folks go prematurely gray
    • Wondering if this performer will stay sober enough to finish a tour
    • Trying to find the superstar who stormed out of a recording session
      • And hasn't been seen since
  • Responsible 'creatives' develop ulcers
    • Arguing with the studio over travel expenses
    • Trying to explain why "sunny" doesn't rhyme with "orange"
      • Even if "Sunny Orange" is an important sponsor
More seriously, folks who create and perform deserve tangible rewards; and so do folks who run the business side of entertainment: in the Lemming's considered opinion.

January 1, 2013: 35 Years Later

A rather dry bit of United States law reads, in part:

"(a) Conditions for Termination. - In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions...."
(§ 203 . Termination of transfers and licenses granted by the author3)

January 1, 1978 plus 35 years started a little over two and a half weeks ago. From the Lemming's point of view, intellectual property rights changed for the better in America.

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Friday the Lemming Slept Late: Again

The Lemming isn't perfect. This morning's post may show up later this afternoon. Then again, maybe not.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Asteroid Apophis: No "Earth Shattering Kaboom"

Asteroid 99942 Apophis was something of an anticlimax this week, instead of Marvin the Martian's "earth shattering kaboom," all we got was some fascinating data and a few fuzzy pictures.

That's just as well, since 99942 Apophis is almost a quarter-mile wide. Compared to Earth's (roughly) 8,000 mile diameter that's not much: but it's still big enough to stir up a spot of unpleasantness.

Asteroid Impact: 'What If?'

Let's see what would happen if New York City's Greenwich Village got in the way of an asteroid about the same size as 99942 Apophis. That part of New York City's built on nice, solid, Manhattan schist. ("J. Hood Wright Park," City of New York Partks and Recreation)

The Lemming's assuming that the rock in question is porous, 1066 feet across, traveling 17 kilometers a second (38,028 miles an hour), and hits at a 45 degree angle. That's a fairly typical speed and angle for asteroids falling on Earth.

Hello Asteroid, Goodby Greenwich Village

Our first point of view is Hoboken, about two miles west of Greenwich Village. That should be close enough for a good view, provided our observer is in a tallish building.

Quite a lot of energy is going to get released when that asteroid hits. Maybe our observer is a little too close.

The asteroid started breaking up at about 238,000 feet. Earth's atmosphere is noticeable, even 45 miles up: particularly for a rock zipping along at 38,028 miles an hour.

By the time it hits Greenwich Village, pieces of our space rock are spread out over an oval about three quarters of a mile long and a little over a half-mile wide. The pieces are still going pretty fast, and they're concentrated in a fairly small area. When they hit, all that kinetic energy will be released. It amounts to what you get by setting off about 697 megatons of TNT.

At this point, any wealth invested in Greenwich Village real estate disappears: along with Greenwich Village.

For a moment, there's a hole in Manhattan Island almost two miles across and a bit over 3,600 feet deep. Never mind those numbers, though. There's an explosion in progress, and that crater is changing: fast. By the time rock stops flowing, our crater will be 2.31 miles across, but only 1,440 feet deep.

Meanwhile, in Hoboken - - -

Our observer in Hoboken is okay, for the moment. The impact didn't release much heat, and the earthquake-like shaking shouldn't damage well-built structures.

That's the good news. The bad news is that our observer, along with the building and quite a lot of Hoboken, is sliding into the crater.

Let's say that our observer got into a helicopter as the building collapsed. Just under 10 seconds after Greenwich Village disappeared, the air blast hits, along with a 4,670 mile per hour wind.

Newark: 'Ideal for Remodeling'

Hoboken was definitely too close. Let's try another observer, on the west site of Newark, about 10 miles from the center of Greenwich Crater. At that distance, the ground won't start shaking for about three and a quarter seconds.

The air blast takes almost 49 seconds to arrive, and has lost quite a bit of speed: the wind is only about 629 miles an hour. That's enough to blow over a highway truss bridge, knock down most buildings, and generally wreak havoc.

Atlantic City: Pretty Good Odds

In Atlantic City, about 100 miles away, nobody's likely to notice what happened. At first.

About 32 seconds after impact, dishes will start rattling, and folks inside will probably hear walls and doors make odd sounds: sort of like a truck hitting the building.

Just over three minutes after Greenwich Village land value dropped to zero, bits and pieces of the asteroid and Manhattan start start falling. They're about one quarter of an inch across, on average.

About eight minutes and eight seconds after impact, the air blast will arrive. By now it's about as loud as heavy traffic: annoying, maybe, but not a threat.

Why Worry?

Scientists are fairly sure that rocks the side of the Lemming's hypothetical example hit Earth every 65,000 years or so: with emphasis on "or so." We could see two in a matter of weeks, and then wait 130,000 years for the next one. It's an average, not a schedule.

The odds are that none have hit during recorded history. Or maybe one did, and left no surviving witnesses. We just don't know.

From a 'big picture' point of view, there's very little to be concerned about. That hypothetical rock wouldn't have a noticeable effect on Earth's climate, and wouldn't do more than rearrange part of an island near the mouth of one river. 'No big deal.'

The Lemming's pretty sure that folks living on North America's east coast wouldn't agree, though. Aside from humanitarian considerations, New York City's important to the regional economy: and, arguably, much farther away.

New York City might be rebuilt, but that would take time: a lot of time.

'Asteroid Patrol'

Happily, some folks have been tracking asteroids. Humanity has the start of a sort of 'Asteroid Patrol,' that might at least spot an incoming rock months before it hit.

Humanity even has some ideas for how to push dangerous rocks into less-dangerous orbits. In the Lemming's opinion, technology isn't the issue: it's convincing national leaders that there's a problem, and that something can and should be done.

And that, as the Lemming often says in another blog, is another topic.
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Lemming Tracks: Friday, the Lemming Overslept


It's morning?! Already??!

Please be patient, the Lemming's been distracted. There should be a post about something ready in another few hours. If not, the Lemming will write about something else.


Friday, January 4, 2013

WR 104: Gamma Ray Bursts and a Musing Lemming

"WR 104 Won't Kill Us After All"
Ian O'Neill, Universe Today (January 7, 2009)

"Early last year, concern was growing for a Wolf-Rayet star named WR 104 that appeared to be aiming right at Earth (see Looking Down the Barrel of A Gamma Ray Burst). A Wolf-Rayet star is a highly unstable star coming to the end of its life, possibly culminating in a powerful, planet-killing gamma-ray burst (GRB). GRBs are collimated beams of high energy gamma-rays, projected from the poles of a collapsing Wolf-Rayet star. It was little wonder that we were concerned when a dying Wolf-Rayet star was found to be pointing right at us! Today, at the AAS in Long Beach, one scientist working at the Keck Telescope has taken a keen interest in WR 104 and shared new findings that show our Solar System may not be bathed in deadly gamma-rays after all...."

As Marvin the Martian said, "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

Or, in this case, sizzle.

Technical Questions, Technical Answers, and the Lemming

"WR 104: Technical Questions"
Peter Tuthill, School of Physics, Sydney University, NSW 2006, Australia

" This page is for a more in-depth technical discussion of the risk posed by WR 104. There is jargon and techincal [!] stuff ahead, and I won't try to explain all the terms. Ask your local friendly Astronomer if in doubt.

"This discussion focusses [!] on the risk to earth from a potential future gamma ray burst (GRB) in WR 104. Note that this was not a big part of my scientific article published in Astrophysical Journal. The article only had a paragraph or two about this scenario. But for understandable reasons, the press and public have picked up on this aspect of the work. It is maybe a little more widely relevant than, say, 'radiative braking in colliding-wind systems' (which is discussed at length in the paper)...."

In another blog, the Lemming put information about WR 104 into a (fairly) short list:
  • WR 104 is
    • About 8,000 light years away
      • 'Close' on a cosmic scale
    • A double star
    • 'Pointed' in our direction
      • Maybe
      • Or maybe not
  • The stars will explode
    • Probably
    • Within the next 100,000 years
      • Or so
    • Twice
      • It's a double star
  • The explosions will produce either
    • Two gamma ray bursts
    • One gamma ray burst
    • No gamma ray bursts
  • The gamma ray burst(s), if any, will
    • Get deflected by magnetic fields
    • Be diffused by interstellar gas
    • Cause mass extinctions
      • Like the Ordovician mass extinction
      • Or not
Bottom line: in a hundred thousand years or so, one or both of the stars that humanity calls WR 104 will explode, probably.

One or both may or may not shoot a really intense clump of gamma rays in the general direction of Earth.

These gamma rays may get deflected by the Milky Way galaxy's magnetic fields; or they may get mushed up by the stuff between stars; or they may cause something like the Ordovician extinction event.

That Ordovician thing happened 440,000,000 or so years ago: 'Scientist Declares Doom' headlines notwithstanding, global disasters aren't all that common.

One Thing at a Time

The Lemming is, as this blog's name suggests, "apathetic." Maybe humanity will, a few hundred thousand years from now, face a cataclysmic catastrophe of cosmic scope. Then again, maybe not.

Come to think of it, by then humanity may have spread out a bit by then: which would raise the odds of at least one planetary system that's called "home" being in trouble.

The Lemming is content to let generations yet unborn decide whether to set up shielding, evacuate a few planetary systems, or maybe turn WR 104 so in shoots in another direction.

That last option might have unintended consequences. Someone else might be peeved, if humanity pointed WR 104 toward their home just before it exploded.

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