IS THERE LIFE ELSEWHERE? – THE BIG BANG

                  

                                  

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For the next few posts I will talk about the big question – Is there life elsewhere? But to do that I need to go back over 13 billion years to the formation of the Universe. We need to understand how and where we came from to be able to speculate about other life forms in the cosmos.

The accepted current basis for the start of our universe is The Big Bang Theory; an event that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. A cataclysmic explosion from a single point that resulted in all the matter [that we know about] that subsequently coalesced into galaxies, stars, solar systems and planets. And of course Earth.

big bang

 

I have a problem with this because the theory says that before the big bang there was nothing – at least I think that what it says. I have never been able to fathom out what the theory actually claims the pre big bang state to be – maybe my readers will have views? 

I am a great believer in the Laws of Thermodynamics and the 1st law at its simplest says to me – “matter can neither be created nor destroyed but can be moved from one form to another.” Thus I am comfortable with the notion that matter is timeless – it has always been there and always will be – in some form or another.

So here’s my theory for the Universe –

Yes, there was a big bang 13.8 billion years ago and all the galaxies are flying apart [some will collide]. The accepted theory says that eventually these galaxies will run out of steam and slow down to a state of maximum entropy – disorder – and the universe will ‘die’. I don’t believe this and consider that as the galaxies start to slow down their incredible gravity will act first as a brake and then as an attractive force which reverses their direction such that they start rushing towards one another again. Ultimately all the galaxies [all matter] will collapse in on itself forming the ultimate Black Hole. BH_LMCHowever the forces inside this black hole will be so incredibly high that they will trigger the mother of all explosions – another Big Bang in say 28 billion years time. I believe that this is what happened just before our Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Thus matter rushing towards itself, exploding, rushing away and then rushing towards itself again is a repeat cycle that is timeless. I would love to hear your views on this hypothesis.

CMS_Higgs-event

The experts say otherwise and I can offer no proof. But they don’t know everything. We have just proved [?] the existence of another particle – the Higgs Boson which helps to account for some of the matter we don’t understand. But we still can’t account for 70% of the matter in the universe. We call this dark matter and dark energy and some believe it to be the ‘glue’ that holds everything together.

Perhaps it is another dimension that something, if it was clever enough, might utilise for galactic and inter-galactic travel. And maybe that something is a Dicepteron! But you will have to wait for Volumes 2 and 3 for the answer to that.

But whatever theory we accept for the beginning, the Universe is immense beyond belief. We can now ‘see’ images from just after the Big Bang. That light has been travelling for over 13 billion years at 300,000 kilometres every second!  Light from our Sun which is approximately 150 million kilometres away takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth. The nearest stars that we see are 5 – 10 light years away and the Andromeda galaxy is a staggering 2.5 million light years away but that is a short hop compared to the size of the Universe.

Our immense Universe contains billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars with orbiting solar systems. One estimate says there could be 1 billion potentially habitable planets in our galaxy – The Milky Way and we are now discovering new planets around distant stars on a daily basis.

So the first prerequisite for the question – Is their life elsewhere? – is numbers – there are so many potential Earth-like planets that somewhere else conditions would be equitable for life.

But how did life form on planet Earth? This I will discuss in the next post. 

A final thought – there may be more than one Universe!                                                                                    

                                                                                                 

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JOURNEY TO A STAR – FORCE FIELD

  

                                                    

 Over the last few posts I have discussed the many dangers in space that threaten our star mission – the asteroid belt, comets, meteoroids, meteors, meteorites, space dust and debris etc. We also have to protect our astronauts from solar radiation from our sun as we travel away from it and from our new star as we approach it.

To protect our spaceship we need to be certain of detecting and deflecting anything that is on our trajectory or to make adjustments to our course to avoid larger objects that could smash through our defences.

At the relatively low speeds through the solar system at the start of our mission we are less vulnerable. But when we accelerate to half the speed of light we will need advanced detection and a highly sophisticated deflection system – a variable force field. Not just to deflect objects flying through space but also to defend ourselves against the unknown aggressor. We have to generate a low level barrier or field around our starship and be able to rack this up to a directional defensive shield against a major threat.

Detection – Detecting large objects on a potential collision course with our spaceship will be, relatively, more easy to achieve. We already have sophisticated Earth based telescopes and spaced based satellites eg Hubble that can detect objects hundreds of light years away. We also have equipment looking out for asteroids that could come near Earth and recently one did pass between us and the Moon but we had been tracking this since February 2012. However we must not be complacent as we were taken completely by surprise by the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia and that object was 20 metres wide and weighed 10,000 tonnes!

However by the end of this century we will have developed systems to detect dangerous objects hundreds of millions of kilometres ahead of our trajectory with incredible precision. We will have to because when we are travelling at half light speed [approx 150,000 kilometres per second] an object 14 million kilometres away will be reached in 100 seconds [and quicker than that if it is moving towards the spaceship].

English: A sketch of Earth's magnetic field. S...

English: A sketch of Earth’s magnetic field. Shows that Earth’s interior has a magnet with its south Pole under Earth’s magnetic North pole. Earth’s magnetic field is generated due to a dynamo which creates a large currents in its outer liquid iron core. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Force Field – The best example to explain the concept of a force field is our planet. Earth is mankind’s spaceship and we are hurtling through space at 100,000 kilometres per hour as we travel around the sun.

220px-Geodynamo_Between_Reversals

 And space is a dangerous place as I have described over the last few posts with billions of objects on collision course with us. If we also add solar radiation to the equation we are being continuously bombarded with lethal rays that would turn our planet’s surface to dust with no life possible. But Earth has two force fields with which to defend itself. Its molten iron core creates a magnetic field which stretches tens of thousands  of kilometres into space and this magnetosphere deflects the deadly solar wind around the planet. Earth also has an atmosphere – a shell of gas that burns up most, but not all, of the billions of objects raining down on the ionosphere, the upper region. And this is exactly what we need to protect our spaceship – a low level field to divert the radiation and a more powerful, variable field to deflect potential impacts and for defence against possible alien aggression.

 

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Low level field – Here we must emulate Earth’s magnetosphere and create a similar field around our spaceship. This will be required soon for journeys to Mars could become reality during the next 10 years. Scientists in the past have doubted if a big enough magnet could be carried on a spaceship to produce the necessary field. However recent work at the Rutherford Laboratories, UK indicates that a field extending 30 metres or so around our spacecraft can be generated from a very small magnet. This is because there is an interaction between the solar wind particles and the generated magnetic field which multiplies the shielding effect. The following is an extract explaining this…

‘Because the solar wind is a plasma made up of charged particles, it too carries a magnetic field. When the solar wind’s field meets the rocks’ mini-magnetosphere, the two fields clash, exerting a force on each other. Something has to give. Because the solar wind’s field is created by free-moving particles, it is the one that yields, altering its orientation to minimise conflict with the mini-magnetosphere’s field.

Some parts of the solar wind shift more easily than others. The positively charged protons have nearly 2000 times the mass of the negatively charged electrons, so the latter are much more easily deflected. The electrons stay at the surface of the magnetic bubble, while the positive charges penetrate further in.

This separation of positive and negative charges generates intense electric fields up to a million times stronger than the magnetic fields that created them. Subsequent solar wind particles hit these electric fields and are strongly deflected. The result is a shielding effect far more powerful than the magnetic field alone might be expected to provide.’

This work has been proved in the laboratory but has not as yet been trialled in space. However the results are very encouraging and the British laboratory is in discussions with NASA. The article is reproduced in full in New Scientist.

This shield would protect our astronauts from radiation for short [Mars] and protracted [star] missions and I have no doubt that this or similar technology will become reality within the next decade.

Voyager_shield

High level shield – now we are in the realms of science fiction eg Star Wars where a powerful, variable field can be generated at the touch of a button or more likely a sophisticated computer assessing the threat and applying the necessary defensive field. But this is where we will need to be by the end of this century if we are to go to the stars in 2150.

It is difficult to imagine a large enough permanent magnet that could achieve this. The technology might be an electro magnet powered by the spaceship’s nuclear reactor. But we have to consider all the complex equipment and computer systems on board that could be fried by a huge magnetic surge – and of course our astronauts!

I consider that the shell of our spaceship could be the electro-magnet with its huge, variable field acting outwards and away from the interior. It would be managed by our artificial intelligence computer as situations would have to be assessed and acted upon in fractions of seconds. See how Zec does it in The Blue People of Cloud Planet.

I would like to hear your views on this.                                                                                             

                                                                                                 

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JOURNEY TO A STAR – METEOROIDS, METEORS, METEORITES

    

                                                                                            

                                                 

 Let us remind ourselves of the definitions of the many objects flying around in space..

  • Comet – a relatively small solar system body comprising  ice and debris that orbits the Sun.
  • Asteroids – are larger solar system bodies that orbit the Sun. Made of rock and metal, they can also contain organic compounds.
  • Meteoroid – a small rock or particle of debris in our solar system.
  • Meteor – a meteoroid that burns up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Meteorite – a meteoroid that survives falling through the Earth’s atmosphere.

We have dealt in detail with comets and asteroids in previous posts. Now let’s look at the others.

Meteoroid 

The origin of meteoroids is thought to be small particles that break off comets and asteroids. They are defined by their size which range from smaller than a grain of sand to objects about 1 metre wide. They are incredibly numerous in our solar system as evidenced by the huge number of impact craters on  Mars, the moon and other moons around planets. Here there is little or no atmosphere to break up the meteoroid.

220px-Mimas_moon

 Further evidence is that an astonishing 15,000 tonnes of meteoroids, micrometeoroids and space dust enter Earth’s atmosphere every year.

The composition of meteoroids ranges from fragile, low-density snowball objects to dense nickel-iron rich rocks.

When meteoroids hit our atmosphere they heat up and disintegrate into particles which we know as.. 

Meteors

We are all familiar with the term ‘shooting star’ and have witnessed these streaks of light in the night sky. What we are seeing is the break-up particles of a meteoroid glowing as they streak though the atmosphere. Most completely disintegrate before reaching the Earth’s surface. 

meteor

They can be quite spectacular as a single occurrance and multiple meteor showers. A particularly bright meteor is known as a fireball. The most famous is the Leonids a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttel. This occurs annually in November and showers an estimated 12-13 tonnes of particles across the planet. Fortunately these particles are minute and cause no damage to us or the surface not like… 

 220px-Meteor_burst

Meteorites

A meteorite is usually part of a larger asteroid or meteoroid that has survived the passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and impacts the surface relatively intact. They may or may not be associated with an impact crater.

220px-Esquel_pallasite_partial_slice

Many examples of meteorites have been found on Earth over hundreds of years. The most recent findings occurred in Russia after one of the most spectacular meteors exploded just above the ground at Chelyabinsk  showering a huge area with small meteorites.

Cheljabinsk_meteorite_fragment

 

The most concerning aspect of this meteor is that it originated from a 20 metre wide asteroid that arrived at Earth completely undetected.

Further evidence that space is a dangerous place and our own solar system contains billions of objects which could prove disastrous for our star mission right at the beginning of our journey. 

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JOURNEY TO A STAR – ASTEROIDS – SHAPERS OF EARTH

 

                                                                                                      

 In this post I will concentrate on asteroids. After planets they represent the largest objects and most numerous in the solar system. They are a real danger to our star mission as we have to travel through them at the start of our journey. 

[see previous post – Asteroid Belt

But crucially, we human beings would probably not be here was it not for a piece of rock, 10 km wide, flung out of the asteroid belt 66 million years ago – but more of that later.

So what is an asteroid and where did they come from?

There is still some doubt amongst scientists as to the true origins of asteroids. The simplest explanation is that they were the result of failed planets during the formation of the solar system 6.5 billion years ago. Then through multiple collisions and the influence of the huge gas giant Jupiter, the larger fragments, called planetissimals, shattered into billions of pieces and formed the asteroid belt. Some larger asteroids survived – the largest object is Ceres, a dwarf planet at 950 km diameter, followed by Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea which are all in excess of 400 km.

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Typical asteroid

Asteroids are very rocky structures with irregular shapes. None of them is spherical as they did not have sufficient mass during formation – unlike the major planets. Their composition is not unlike Earth as they contain many similar compounds and elements. Asteroids are made of different minerals and substances and their composition depends on which planet they may have originated from. Many asteroids are the result of larger asteroids hitting planets or each other during the fiery beginnings of the Solar System. The chemical reactions that they have undergone over the millennia also effects their composition. The asteroids that are nearest the Sun are mostly made of carbon while the ones further away are made up of silicate rock. The metallic asteroids are composed of up to 80% iron and 20% a mixture of nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, gold, and other precious metals. There are those few that are made up of half silicate and half metallic.

The metallic asteroids are of particular interest as they could be a source of precious metals in the future when we can find a way to harvest these objects. [But perhaps something has already been capturing asteroids for their own ends? Quest of the Dicepterons?]

Asteroids have been smashing into one another and other planets and moons since the start of the solar system. You can see the craters on the Moon, other planets and even on asteroids themselves – space can be a very dangerous and violent place. Our planet is covered with impact craters and one of these in the Yucatan Peninsula resulted in us – mankind!

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Crater on Earth

So finally let us talk about an event 66 million years ago which radically changed the direction of evolution on planet Earth. Back then the world was dominated by the dinosaurs who had reigned supreme for 165 million years. They ruled the land, seas and skies and ranged from small chicken sized raptors to monsters such as Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were so successful and aggressive that hardly any other creatures could co-exist with them. A small number of vole-like mammals lived underground, only venturing above ground at night to scavenge for food.

In terms of longevity, the dinosaurs are the most successful species that have inhabited Earth. They lived for 165 million years whereas we have existed in our humanoid form for a mere 200,000 years. BUT – the dinosaurs did not know that something was on a collision course with Earth and even if they did would not have had the technology to do something about it.

Earth was struck by an object 10 km in diameter which formed a crater 180 km wide. The impact threw so much debris into the atmosphere that the sun was blocked out and fires raged over most of the surface of the world. The effect on the dinosaurs was devastating – those that were not immediately wiped out by the impact lost their food source and warmth of their star. The extinction of the dinosaurs had begun and few survived – some of the sea dwelling creatures and birds lived through this calamitous time and their descendents, eg crocodiles and alligators, are with us now. 

But out of disaster came opportunity. The small vole-like mammals were safe in their burrows and ultimately were able to venture above ground as there were no predators left to attack them. They grew, evolved and spread across a new Earth and 64 million years later humanoid forms stood on two legs in the cradle of Africa.  These migrated to every corner of the world and became ….. us. Certainly the most technically advanced species to occupy planet Earth. But will we outlive the dinosaurs?  I doubt it – but what do you think?

The weight of scientific argument points to an asteroid strike 66 million years ago but there are still some who dispute this and have offered alternate theories. Whatever it was, it changed the history of planet Earth.

But what if it wasn’t an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs? Ah, well, you’ll have to wait for Volume 2 of my trilogy to find the answer to that question……..

…… but meanwhile why not catch up on Volume 1 and book your seats on a dangerous one way mission to the stars? 

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JOURNEY TO A STAR – ASTEROIDS, METEORITES, COMETS

 

 In the last post I discussed traversing the asteroid belt – a minefield of danger for our spaceship right at the start of our star mission. But there are other bodies flying around in space that we have to avoid and there is often confusion as to their true nature.

I’m referring to asteroids, meteoroids, meteors, meteorites and comets and over the next couple of posts I will define these objects and try to explain their origins and composition.

Let us start with some simple definitions …

  • Comet – a relatively small solar system body comprising ice and debris that orbits the Sun. When close enough to the Sun they display a visible coma (a fuzzy outline or atmosphere due to solar radiation) and sometimes a tail.
  • Asteroid – a solar system body that orbits the Sun. Made of rock and metal, they can also contain organic compounds. Asteroids vary in size from 500-1000 km across to millions which are less than 50 km. They are concentrated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • Meteoroid – a small rock or particle of debris in our solar system. They range in size from dust to around 10 metres in diameter .
  • Meteor – a meteoroid that burns up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere is known as a meteor. If you’ve ever looked up at the sky at night and seen a streak of light or ‘shooting star’ what you are actually seeing is a meteor.
  • Meteorite – a meteoroid that survives falling through the Earth’s atmosphere and then collides with the Earth’s surface is known as a meteorite.

You can see that asteroids, meteoroids, meteors and meteorites have certain similarities and links and I will leave their detailed description to the next post.

Comets are different and I will focus the rest of this post on them.  

A comet is an icy small solar system body which when close to the sun displays a coma – a fuzzy, temporary atmosphere and sometimes a tail. Both effects are due to solar radiation and solar wind on the nucleus of the comet. They range in size from hundreds of metres to tens of kilometres and are made up of aggregations of ice, dust and rocky particles. Their most interesting characteristic is they keep turning up at regular intervals and have been observed for thousands of years.

220px-Comet_Halley

The most famous comet is Halley’s Comet which is visible from Earth approximately every 75 years – so some of you will see it twice! It last appeared in 1986 and will reappear in 2061. Astronomer Edmond Halley determined the periodicity of this comet in 1705 and it was named after him.

In 1986 Halley’s comet became the first object of its kind to be observed by a close approach of a spacecraft. This confirmed the ‘dirty snowball’ definition of a mixture of volatile ices – water, carbon dioxide and ammonia – mixed with rocky substances. The comet proved to be a more solid, rocky structure than previously predicted.

The origin of comets is still uncertain. They were once thought to have originated outside the solar system, but more recent theories suggest they were formed during the formation of the solar system and are permanent members of it.

220px-Halley_Giotto

Comets are only seen from Earth about once per year but there are more than 4000 known comets and  it is estimated that there are a trillion comet-like bodies in the outer solar system.

That’s a huge number of potentially dangerous objects to steer our spaceship through on our mission to the star Seren.

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