Quotulatiousness

June 15, 2017

The “killer app of space tourism”

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The “mile-high club” will soon be replaced by the “sixty-two-mile-high club“, says Glamour in their coverage of “Sex in Space“:

As Elon Musk announces a plan to start colonizing Mars in 2020 and space tourism companies begin offering (very pricey) trips outside the planet, space vacation is suddenly looking less like a sci-fi plot and more like a real possibility. And like any other type of vacation, one of the best parts will probably be sex. But sex in space? Is that even a thing?

To our knowledge, no one’s boldly gone there, but that hasn’t stopped the experts from guessing. Here, they answer some of our most pressing questions about the future of hooking up in space.

Is it even possible?

Sure, though keep in mind that in space capsule conditions, there’ll be considerably more fumbling around. Just getting our parts to touch could be a puzzle, since it turns out gravity is the important sex aid you didn’t even realize you were using.

“Because successful coitus for humans relies on gravity to achieve correct alignment and maintain contact with the participants’ genitals, its absence will pose a novel problem,” says OBGYN Kyrin Dunston, MD. “In addition, the thrusting motions required for successful coitus will present unique reactions in the female, where she will be propelled away from her partner during coitus, making the act very difficult.” (Though it’s pretty hilarious to picture.)

According to Dr. John Millis, Ph.D, a physicist and astronomer at Anderson University, it would be almost like two ice skaters pushing their hands against each other while standing on ice. “This two-dimensional example is complicated further by the fact that, in space, the astronauts would be moving in three-dimensions,” he says.

Will we need a whole new genre of sex toys, then?

If we want to streamline space sex, we may have to enlist technology to stop people from floating away from each other. A good space-sex device would have to attach the astronauts to their partners and the space station, says Millis.

Dr. Dunston elaborates: “That could be a jungle gym-type apparatus that allows people to position themselves appropriately to a strap system that holds them together, or clothing that accomplishes the same thing. Imaginative minds will create something ingenious, I’m sure.”

May 17, 2017

NASA swings for the Moon … and misses

Filed under: Space, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Robert Zubrin is not a fan of NASA’s recent announcement of a planned lunar orbital station as its next major goal, calling it “NASA’s worst plan yet”:

At the recent Space Foundation conference held in Colorado Springs, NASA revealed its new plan for human space exploration, superseding the absurd Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) championed by the Obama administration. Amazingly, the space agency has managed to come up with an even dumber idea.

In the early months of the Trump administration, some lunar advocates spread the rumor that the new president would seek a return to the Moon within his first four years, thereby dramatically making America great again in space. That is not the plan.

Nor is the plan to send humans to Mars within eight years, something that I think we could achieve. Nor is it to send human missions to explore near-Earth asteroids, as then President Obama suggested in 2010, nor is it even to send humans to a piece of an asteroid brought back from deep space to lunar orbit for study, as called for in the ARM.

No, instead NASA is proposing to build a space station in lunar orbit. This proposal is notable for requiring a large budget to create an object with no utility whatsoever.

We do not need a lunar-orbiting station to go to the Moon. We do not need such a station to go to Mars. We do not need it to go to near-Earth asteroids. We do not need it to go anywhere. Nor can we accomplish anything in such a station that we cannot do in the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, except to expose human subjects to irradiation – a form of medical research for which a number of Nazi doctors were hanged at Nuremberg.

If the goal is to build a Moon base, it should be built on the surface of the Moon. That is where the science is, that is where the shielding material is, and that is where the resources to make propellant and other useful things are to be found. The best place to build it would be at one of the poles, because there are spots at both of the Moon’s poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters where water ice has accumulated. Such ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as ballistic hoppers that would provide the base’s crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the Moon. Other places on the Moon might also work as the base’s location, because while there is no water in nonpolar latitudes, there is iron oxide. This can be reduced to produce iron and oxygen, with the latter composing 75 percent or more of the most advantageous propellant combinations.

May 14, 2017

Space Myths Debunked – Earth Lab

Filed under: Science, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 May 2017

From astrology to the temperature in space, Dom counts down the top 5 space myths and explains why they are baloney.

1 http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/N/Neutron+Star
2 http://www.universetoday.com/77070/how-cold-is-space/
3 https://www.wired.com/2007/11/no-dark-side-of/
4 http://www.livescience.com/34212-great-wall-of-china-only-manmade-object-visible-from-space.html
5 http://www.universetoday.com/25364/can-you-see-the-great-wall-of-china-from-space/
6 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-nasa-spen/
7 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-international-astronomical-union/article/div-classtitleastronomy-and-astrologydiv/3171E9B009B4E8421B1913AC0A08AB32

April 28, 2017

What is a parallel universe? | Doctor Who Special | James May Q&A | Head Squeeze

Filed under: Science, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Nov 2013

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the very first episode of Doctor Who James has a very special video on what exactly a parallel universe is!

Some physicists believe that in a parallel universe all of our mistakes have been corrected. Rather than taking a take away for one in a cold miserable flat, we are, in a parallel universe, living with our one true love having the best life ever. Outside our own universe, the theory goes, that there are an infinite number of other universes.

However maybe we don’t have to travel beyond our universe to find a parallel. The Schrodinger’s Cat paradox basically is that a cat in a box with a device that can kill at random exists in both alive and dead states. More info on Schrodinger’s Cat here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/google-doodle/10237347/Schrodingers-Cat-explained.html

Thanks to Alyssa Ann for her portrait of Jeremy Clarkson: http://alyssamenold.com/

April 21, 2017

How do spacesuits work? | James May Q&A | Head Squeeze

Filed under: History, Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Nov 2013

You’ve seen the videos of those astronauts on the International Space Station getting suited and booted in a spacesuit before a spacewalk, but how exactly does the space suit work?

A spacesuit has to protect you from the glaring radiation from the sun as well as keeping you warm from the extreme cold of outer space. As well as that is has to make sure you have enough oxygen and enough movement so you can actually do your job.

It also has to be pressurised to about 4.7PSI. Otherwise the empty vacuum of outer space will make your organs increase to twice their normal size and you will meet a very unpleasant untimely death.

Don’t fancy building your own spacesuit, why not build an elevator into space? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=annVRxRjj4c&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLMrtJn-MOYmeNkbYzXsEluioufGDxuqtO

Martin Archer has all the information you need on when humans will be able to go to Mars http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYthxj-bO0I&list=PLMrtJn-MOYme6klSjJXoZfWmNZ6ZthOSA&index=12

March 10, 2017

The two Elon Musks – the savvy businessman and the crony capitalist

Filed under: Business, Government, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Federalist, Eric Peters describes the ways Elon Musk and his SpaceX crew manage to profit from government subsidies in the process of putting their Falcon rockets into space:

Image from SpaceX website.

Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration specializes in putting taxpayer dollars into the pockets of crony capitalist chieftains such as Elon Musk, whose SpaceX operation manages to get NASA to pay him to use its launch pads and other infrastructure — all provided at taxpayer expense. He also doesn’t cut NASA in when he uses its facilities — our facilities — to launch rockets carrying private cargo, meaning he effectively gets paid for it twice.

That’s once in the check he gets from the private business whose cargo his rocket is carrying; then again in the de facto subsidy he gets for the free use of NASA’s equipment at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Why isn’t Elon paying the freight, as opposed to blowing it up?

Incidentally, that happens a lot. Over the past five years alone, SpaceX has lost the same number of rockets as NASA did space shuttles over the 30 years it operated them. And the shuttle wasn’t a money-making machine for politically connected crony capitalists such as Musk. Taxpayers funded it, but no private citizens got a check from taxpayers.

The shuttle even made some money for taxpayers. Private businesses paid NASA to carry satellites into orbit, recovering some of the cost of building that infrastructure. The shuttle also did things useful for the public, like put the Hubble telescope in orbit. It has given humanity an unprecedented view of the universe, and not on pay-per-view.

I read a biography of Elon Musk soon after it was published … and it did a good job of pushing a more sympathetic view of its subject than the linked article above.

March 3, 2017

“Apollo 8 altered the self-perception of our species forever”

Filed under: History, Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh contrasts the insane bravado of John F. Kennedy’s moonshot announcement with the more recent insane bravado of Elon Musk and SpaceX:

SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded in 2002 by billionaire adventurer Elon Musk, says it is developing plans to fly two unnamed persons to the moon late in 2018. This announcement has created both skepticism and alarm. This is, I think, partly a matter of confusion about prepositions.

If I announced that, despite being Canada’s most sedentary citizen, I was going to Mount Everest next week, you would probably know better than to assume I was going UP the mountain. SpaceX’s proposal is to send a manned spacecraft beyond the moon. That’s the word they use in the SpaceX press release, and whoever chose it should get a big fat bonus. “Beyond” is an English word of unparalleled connotative power and romance.

But, of course, going beyond the moon — more prosaically, looping around it and coming back — is much, much simpler than landing ON it. It is probably not a fantastically difficult challenge, and the company’s zany-sounding timeline may be justified. (Mind you, this is not a prediction.)

Even if you are old enough to have followed the golden age of spaceflight as it happened, you may not understand or remember the half-insane ambition of John F. Kennedy’s original proposal to land men on the moon. For young and old, the moment that the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the Sea of Tranquility tends to obscure everything else about the tale in retrospect. But no U.S. astronaut had orbited the Earth yet when JFK threw down the gauntlet. No spaceship had photographed, much less touched, the moon.

Taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, at mission time 075:49:07 (16:40 UTC), while in orbit around the Moon, showing the Earth rising for the third time above the lunar horizon. The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. Width of the photographed area at the lunar horizon is about 175 kilometers. The land mass visible just above the terminator line is west Africa. Note that this phenomenon is only visible to an observer in motion relative to the lunar surface. Because of the Moon’s synchronous rotation relative to the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth), the Earth appears to be stationary (measured in anything less than a geological timescale) in the lunar “sky”. In order to observe the effect of Earth rising or setting over the Moon’s horizon, an observer must travel towards or away from the point on the lunar surface where the Earth is most directly overhead (centred in the sky). Otherwise, the Earth’s apparent motion/visible change will be limited to: 1. Growing larger/smaller as the orbital distance between the two bodies changes. 2. Slight apparent movement of the Earth due to the eccenticity of the Moon’s orbit, the effect being called libration. 3. Rotation of the Earth (the Moon’s rotation is synchronous relative to the Earth, the Earth’s rotation is not synchronous relative to the Moon). 4. Atmospheric & surface changes on Earth (i.e.: weather patterns, changing seasons, etc.).
NASA photo via Wikimedia.

January 8, 2017

The worship of NASA

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Science, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Miller is more than a bit skeptical of those who unabashedly sing the praises of NASA and more generally the “I love science sexually” crowd:

I’ve never understood the slobbering love affair many have with outer space and, more specifically, NASA. Sure, the moon landing was an incredible feat demonstrating American strength at time of conflict with a competing superpower. But I’m in agreement with Gary North: It was the “most expensive PR stunt in American history,” with little other benefit. We have yet to put a man on another moon, let alone another planet. It’s been a half century since Neil Armstrong made history, and the federal government still fails at running a simple website.

The saccharine lengths some go to to express their admiration for NASA has always made me queasy. Like all government bureaucracies, it wastes an incredible amount of money. Yet conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz never miss an opportunity to remind us that conquering new galaxies is paramount to our national survival.

If the windbags in Washington can’t put a stop to the caliphate of killers in the Middle East, what hope is there for putting a colony on Kepler-186f?

My antipathy for space travel goes hand in hand with my overall distaste for science worshipping. The celebrification of the study of the natural world has been as infantilizing and degrading as Richard Nixon’s clownish appearance on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. “I fucking love science”? I’d much rather string celebrity science guy Neil deGrasse Tyson up by his thumbs.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link. Kathy also throws shade at Star Wars and praises the heck out of Star Trek:

If Star Trek was actually set on Antarctica (and here, it is) I would watch the hell out of that (and have.)

But I also love how this fictional universe (which I would HATE to live in because they’ve abolished money, wear ugly clothes, and pretend to believe in peace and love and shit) has inspired real world, well, enterprises.

Yes, space travel is stupid. But it’s amazing that a black woman decided she could and would become an astronaut because she saw an actress do it on her TV when she was a kid.

I totally get that, and just get off on the phenomenon of people taking a sliver of fiction, and having seen this fake, plastic, non-functional prop, worked to create a functional version (and a multi-billion dollar industry.)

It’s like cargo culting, except by, well, smart people with way more resources who actually want shit to work.

Star WARS on the other hand is just life-wasting masturbatory etc EXCLUSIVELY.

Star Wars is nothing but escapism.

It has had no real world impact except that negative one. Star Wars has been a net negative on society while Star Trek has been a net positive:

September 8, 2016

QotD: The US space program was “a WPA for engineers instead of artists”

Filed under: Quotations, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… even when uttered by the First Lady of the American Screen, any blather about the constellations leaves me as cold as Neptune. Yes, as a teenager, I obediently watched Cosmos like everyone else. But neither Carl Sagan’s corduroy charisma nor those glossy special effects fired up my heart and brain, any more than all those NASA expeditions to vacant rocks in the sky that had punctuated my childhood (and interrupted my cartoons).

The space program was a spectacular waste of extorted tax dollars, a WPA for engineers instead of artists. Watching nerdy small-government libertarians swoon in pathetic conformity over Apollo and SpaceX proves once again that Conquest’s Laws are bunk: Everyone is, in fact, a raving liberal when it comes to his pet passion. Elon Musk is a welfare queen.

Bores insist that the space program has spun off a host of indispensable inventions, but these they can rarely name, and besides, such wonders, if truly crucial, would have been developed anyhow — perhaps even faster, and more cheaply, had the government left trillions in stolen cash in the hands of private enterprise.

Perhaps some readers will find my opinions more palatable if phrased this way: “Federally funded spaceflight is the quintessential neoconservative project: a giant, wasteful crusade designed to fill Americans’ supposedly empty lives with meaning.”

Kathy Shaidle, “The Lovers, the Dreamers, Not Me”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-08-23.

July 6, 2016

Public Goods and Asteroid Defense

Filed under: Economics, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jun 2015

While the probability of an asteroid hitting the planet is very low, its effect would be disastrous for all of us. So, who should pay for asteroid protection? A good like asteroid defense — a public good, meaning it’s nonexcludable and nonrival — has some unusual properties that challenge markets. We explore the curious case of public goods in this video and others in this section.

April 30, 2016

QotD: “SETI is a religion”

Filed under: Quotations, Religion, Science, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses — just so we’re clear — are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

December 30, 2015

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the future of spaceflight

Filed under: Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Colby Cosh on the real significance of the private space companies’ successes:

The science fiction authors who originally imagined spaceflight thought it would be classically capitalistic in nature — a Wild West of chancers, gold-diggers, outlaws, and even slave-traders transposed to the skies. It ended up, in its first incarnation, being a government program. This had the merit of showing that some impossible technical problems could be solved if you threw near-infinite resources and human lives at them. But the money and will ran out before NASA got around to figuring out how to make orbital spaceflight truly routine. Reusable rockets are the important first step that NASA didn’t have time to try in the Golden Age, under the pressure of a “space race” between governments.

Musk and Bezos are trying, I think very consciously, to revive the public interest and inspiration that this race narrative once brought. When SpaceX stuck its landing this week, having previously had a couple of flops, Bezos tweeted “Welcome to the club!” Musk will not mind the cheap shot too much. Bezos is doing him a favour by making a game of it.

It is hard for us to feel passion about accounting, even when “accounting” translates to cheaper satellite technology that means subtle advances in science and cost cuts in earthbound communications tech. Anything you can turn into a mere clash of personalities will get the attention of journalists and readers more readily. Musk and Bezos are exploiting their position as two of the great stage characters of our day.

The benefit they’re really going for is to bring a slightly larger margin of the human neighbourhood within reach for spaceships assembled on orbital platforms — the only practical kind of spaceship, as it seems to have turned out. Routine orbital access means affordable space tourism; it means possible Mars missions predicated on traditional exploration/adventure motives; it means deeper scientific scrutiny and even commercial study of the Moon, the asteroids, perhaps the inner planets. It means space stations that aren’t just for handpicked careerist supermen.

It means — well, we don’t know, from this side of the future, what it means. Some grade-three kid out there may already have a “killer app” for reusable rockets that nobody has considered yet. (If the cost comes down far enough, are we certain rockets won’t re-emerge as a possibility for long-haul terrestrial travel? That’s another assumption of early SF we have discarded, perhaps carelessly!) But it is probably a good guess that the balletic SpaceX triumph will turn out, after the fact, to have been one of the biggest stories of 2015.

December 23, 2015

SpaceX Falcon 9 performs successful launch and controlled landing

Filed under: Business, Space, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

William Harwood reports for CBS News:

Making its first flight since a catastrophic launch failure last June, an upgraded, more powerful SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life and shot into space Monday, boosting 11 small Orbcomm data relay satellites into orbit in a major milestone for the California rocket builder.

In a significant space “first,” the Falcon 9’s first stage fell back into the atmosphere and pulled off a powered landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, settling to a smooth tail-first touchdown in a convincing demonstration of reusability, a key requirement for lowering commercial launch costs.

In a scene resembling a launch video running in reverse, the booster quickly dropped out of a cloudy sky atop a jet of flame from one of its Merlin 1D engines, heralded by twin sonic booms that rumbled across Florida’s Space Coast. Cheers erupted in company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, as the stage settled to a smooth touchdown.

In another first, the Falcon 9 used colder, denser-than-usual liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants, a significant upgrade allowing the booster’s nine first-stage engines to generate more power, increasing their combined liftoff thrust from 1.3 million pounds to 1.5 million, or 170,000 pounds of thrust per engine.

The launch, first-stage landing and satellite deployments all appeared to proceed without a hitch, a welcome success for a company returning to flight after a disheartening failure.

“Everything we’ve seen thus far in the mission appears to be perfect,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a conference call with journalists. “The satellites were deployed right on target and the Falcon 9 booster came back and landed. Looks like almost dead center on the landing pad. … As far as we can see right now, it was absolutely perfect. We could not have asked for a better mission.”

December 9, 2015

SF “war in space” memes of improbability

Filed under: Books, Military, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross explains several SF novel shibboleths that make him want to hurl the book against the nearest wall, including so many “war in space” stories:

Newton’s Second Law, for dummies. E = 1/2 * (mv2) — it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. Notice the huge distances I alluded to above? Well, to get between planet A and planet B in anything approximating reasonable human time spans, you need to go fast. And if you go fast, your velocity relative to the bodies around you is also high. In event of an inelastic collision the kinetic energy transfer is proportional to the square of your velocity; and this has drastic consequences for space ships. Suppose you’re in low Earth orbit and you hit a piece of space junk, for example a screw that’s fallen off someone else’s ship. It’s traveling in pretty much the same orbit as you, but inclined at 30 degrees. What happens? What happens is you get a happy fun experience much like being hit by a bullet from a high-calibre sniper’s rifle, because (I can’t be bothered to do the trig here) it’s packing a velocity component angled across your path at a goodly fraction of orbital velocity, and at orbital velocity a kilogram of water packs kinetic energy equal to about ten times its mass in exploding TNT.

You know what a high-speed car crash looks like, right? Space ships travel a lot faster than that: if they hit something, it’s going to be very messy indeed. And that’s at sluggish orbital velocities; if you starship is barreling along at about 85% of the speed of light general relativity has something to say on the subject and it’s kinetic energy is equal to about half it’s rest mass — the equivalent of a 10 megaton hydrogen bomb for every kilogram of hull weight. (The pilot’s space-suited body alone packs the energetic punch of a Peak Strangelove 1980s USA/USSR strategic nuclear exchange.)

Human bodies are basically squishy sacks of goopy grease and water emulsions held together by hydrogen bonds and disulphide bridges between protein molecules and glommed onto some big lumps of high-grade chalk. We evolved in a forgiving, water-dominated low-velocity world where evolution didn’t bequeath us nervous systems able to comprehend and deal with high energy interactions other than in an “ooh, that lightning bolt was close! Where’s cousin Ugg?” kind of way. We can’t even see objects that flash across our visual field in less than 50 milliseconds — a duration in which, at orbital velocity, an object will have travelled on the order of half a kilometer.

Intuition and high energy regimes: do the math, or your space combat will be a whole bundle of nope.

(Other related cognitive errors include but are not limited to: Napoleonic navies clashing in space and firing broadsides back and forth at one another’s line of battle … spaceships with continuous high acceleration fusion-powered motors or similar that don’t glow white-hot then melt because vacuum is an insulator and shedding that much heat is a hard engineering problem (hint: a 100 ton spaceship accelerating at 1g requires 1 megaJoule of thrust: using a photon rocket for maximum efficiency that’s going to require 3 x 1015 watts of juice going in, if it’s 99.9% effective at heat dissipation that means it’s racking up around three terawatt of leakage, and that’s equivalent to about 45 kilotons of nuclear explosions per minute of waste heat) … warships using active radar to hunt for one another (hint: active sensor reach is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the emission strength, passive sensors obey the inverse square law) … warships using stealth in space (hint: infrared emissions, second hint: the background temperature you want to avoid standing out against is 2.73 degrees Kelvin, i.e. liquid Helium temperature) …

Oh for fuck’s sake, don’t get me started on war in space, we’ll be here forever unless we just throw physics to the winds of fiction and delegate all our hand-waving to magic hyperspace or cyberspace technology or something.

November 16, 2015

QotD: The Great Filter

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Great Filter, remember, is the horror-genre-adaptation of Fermi’s Paradox. All of our calculations say that, in the infinite vastness of time and space, intelligent aliens should be very common. But we don’t see any of them. We haven’t seen their colossal astro-engineering projects in the night sky. We haven’t heard their messages through SETI. And most important, we haven’t been visited or colonized by them.

This is very strange. Consider that if humankind makes it another thousand years, we’ll probably have started to colonize other star systems. Those star systems will colonize other star systems and so on until we start expanding at nearly the speed of light, colonizing literally everything in sight. After a hundred thousand years or so we’ll have settled a big chunk of the galaxy, assuming we haven’t killed ourselves first or encountered someone else already living there.

But there should be alien civilizations that are a billion years old. Anything that could conceivably be colonized, they should have gotten to back when trilobytes still seemed like superadvanced mutants. But here we are, perfectly nice solar system, lots of any type of resources you could desire, and they’ve never visited. Why not?

Well, the Great Filter. No knows specifically what the Great Filter is, but generally it’s “that thing that blocks planets from growing spacefaring civilizations”. The planet goes some of the way towards a spacefaring civilization, and then stops. The most important thing to remember about the Great Filter is that it is very good at what it does. If even one planet in a billion light-year radius had passed through the Great Filter, we would expect to see its inhabitants everywhere. Since we don’t, we know that whatever it is it’s very thorough.

Scott Alexander, “Don’t Fear The Filter”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-28.

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