Were Ancient Martians Vegetable Farmers?

If a petrified cauliflower garden was discovered on Mars would that indicate that ancient Martians were vegetable farmers? Again, images transmitted by Mars rover Spirit have ancient alien conspiracy theorists reveling in the possibility. Unfortunately, unless ancient Martians enjoyed a crisp, tasty salad of silica, no, they were not vegetable farmers.

Near what NASA has dubbed “Home Plate”, Spirit took some pictures of interesting mineral formations that looked like cauliflower. Now, just because something looks like something doesn’t mean that it is that something. Think of all the little fishies in the sea that believe they are about to snag a little morsel for dinner only to realize, much too late, it was actually a bio-lure attached to the head of a deep sea angler fish who is about to be enjoying some dinner of his own. See, although that glowing tidbit looked like food, it was actually a dangerous decoy and not at all what it seemed. So, no, the gringa does not believe that these cauliflower looking formations are actually petrified cauliflower. But, still, is there any exciting news attached to their existence?

According to researchers from Arizona State University, although the mineral formations are no indicator of ancient Martian farmers, they could still very well have been created by alien life. Just not the kind of alien life that walks about, flies in spaceships and probes your brain. We are talking about microscopic alien life in the form of microbes. Which, I guess, technically speaking, under the right conditions could get inside a human brain for a “brain probe”, technically speaking, of course.

Now these silica protrusions were first reported to Earthlings by Spirit in 2008. Why has it taken eight years for the media to find something interesting? Well, science takes its own sweet time in research and drawing the right conclusions. Part of this research involves studying similar mineral formations here on Earth to get some local answers. One place to do that is in the high altitude Andean Atacama Desert of Chile which has some shapes that look like a mirror image of what was found on Mars. Could the microbes that created the Martian formations have traveled to Earth and duplicated their work here? Is that a sign of a cosmic connection between our two planets or is it common for microbes to create silica based cauliflower everywhere? Are conditions simply present in lots of places remote from one another for this to happen?

Scientists Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer, who penned an article published by Smithsonian Magazine, believe that the Martian petrified cauliflower may be proof that at one time, way back when, Mars was teeming with the kind of life commonly found in the vicinity of geysers, even living within the geysers themselves. After their investigation of Chile’s cauliflower, the work of artistic microbes who have a penchant for sculptures resembling vegetables, they linked the microbes responsible to some ancient microbes found in New Zealand that were definitely from out of this world. More silica cauliflower cousins have also been found in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

So maybe, just maybe, some space traveling microbes made their way here from Mars aeons ago. And the message they have left behind to get our attention are rock formations that look like cauliflower. Does that sound crazy or what? How would ancient microscopic Martians have ever known humans would ever develop the habit of even eating cauliflower and decide that would be their key way of making first contact or leaving behind a letter of introduction? The gringa appreciates the zeal of scientists but methinks this is all just an accident. Mars probably got slammed by an enormous asteroid, comet or meteor which sent chunks of Mars shooting out into space and one of these chunks happened to make its way to Earth and, bing, bang, boom, a kazillion years later we have cauliflower rocks just like Mars.

If that’s the case, there’s no telling what other bits of Mars may have made their way here and be right under our very noses. It makes rock collecting take on a whole new meaning. That little bit of quartz or gypsum you collect and stuff in a cubby hole or box today may prove to be of galactic origins tomorrow.

More interesting to the gringa than the thought of beings similar to us living on Mars long ago is the implication of space scraps making their way hither and yon from the vast reaches of space to finally land upon Earth. Who knows?! Maybe NOTHING organic on Earth actually originated here. Maybe our planet is a virtual junkyard of the Universe, with little bits from here and there surviving and growing up into what we have today. Hey, stranger things have happened!

Sources:  www.nasa.gov



Image source:  www.americaspace.com




A One Way Ticket To Tomorrow – Time Travel

Ever really screwed things up and wanted a do-over? Yeah, the gringa does that all the time. That’s what makes time travel so appealing. But is it possible? Theoretically, sure it’s possible, but only if you want to see the future. To start the day all over again in order to get it right the second time around means travelling faster than light and that, theoretically, is impossible. But, actually, that’s good news. That means a spiteful ex can’t travel back in time and take out your grandfather, thus wiping out your future existence. It also means that adventurers who travel to the future have to stay there (maybe). For a trip to tomorrow, it’s actually relatively easy, according to scientific formulas (although no one’s actually done it yet, I think).

You see, if a person hopped on board their spaceship and zipped away into the cosmos at even a fraction of lightspeed, for a journey of say a year or two, they would return to an Earth that had aged perhaps by decades. So, technically, the galactic pioneers traveled to the future. But Einstein offered another option to travel to the future in the blink of an eye, wormholes.

A wormhole is a time tunnel that connects different parts of the universe. By using the wormhole as a direct route across the universe, rather than taking the long route of flying through the curved mass of space, a person would emerge, within moments, in a completely different time zone, perhaps an entire era altogether, hundreds of years in the future. The furthest a person could then go back in time would be to simply use the wormhole to return to the point they started from. However, a Caltech physicist by the name of Kip Thorne believes that quantum theory suggests that once a person traveled through a wormhole it would collapse behind them. A wormhole to the future might be a one way ticket to tomorrow.

So, if you want to have a time traveling adventure, you just have to find a wormhole. Or go to China. Yep. That’s what the gringa said. Go to China. Interesting reports have been in the news for a few years now about a time travel tunnel in China. Located in Guizhou Province, time travelers can break all the rules and travel back in time. You don’t even need a spaceship. You can use the ancient technology of cars.

It only takes, technically, about five minutes to travel the 400 meter length of the tunnel. However, when drivers emerge on the other side of the tunnel their electronic devices indicate that they have traveled back in time about one hour. However, time is a jealous mistress. It seems to not appreciate being lost and chases down evaders like a jilted lover turned crazed stalker. Once people travel some distance from the tunnel their lost hour catches up with them.

What the heck is happening here? It’s a mystery. One that is absolutely adored by science fiction fans, conspiracy theorists and alien abduction proponents. However, China is not a fan of wacky explanations. They have offered a few boring theories as to why this is happening:

  • A transmitter in the tunnel is resetting everyone’s electronic clocks which reset once again when they receive new GPS signals from a different transmitter after emerging from the tunnel.
  • A localized magnetic anomaly messing about with electronic devices

The gringa doesn’t really care why. It seems harmless and loads of fun. The gringa would like to go back and forth several times, perhaps hundreds of times, maybe thousands just to see what might happen. Maybe I’ll lose a wrinkle or two.


Sources: www.physics.org


Image:  i.ytimg.com

The Allure of Conspiracy Theories

The gringa loves real science and also a thrilling science-fiction tale. I don’t get the two confused. I love to debunk a curious space related conspiracy theory and I have to admit I have believed my share of crazy conspiracy theories in my lifetime. However, there is a difference, I believe, between a person who entertains a conspiracy theory as a possibility, explores it for its entertainment value or believes one with the joint purpose of proving or disproving, and the person who is a whole-hearted conspiracy theorist. Where exactly is the line in the sand between the two psyches? Why are conspiracy theories so alluring to otherwise sound, reasonable minds?

Take for example the true believers in a  YouTube video  that contains audio claimed to belong to a Soviet Union era cosmonaut, the first Soviet woman in space, who was killed upon re-entry when her space capsule failed to withstand the re-entry burn.  The video/audio was debunked as a hoax by former NASA mission control technician James Oberg. His career encompasses space journalist, historian, author and he is fluent in the Russian language, an expert in Russia’s space program.

The hoax award can probably be given to the Judica-Cordiglia brothers who perpetrated multiple space related hoaxes throughout the 1960s. These Italian brothers liked to while away the time underground in an old bunker filled with electronic equipment. Although they claimed the equipment was for detecting radio frequencies filled with covert signals that they decoded and revealed to the public, the truth is it was their own private hoax production studio.

They also claimed to have captured the dying words of Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut whose spaceship burned up in re-entry. Back then the public must not have known what we know now… there is a radio blackout during re-entry as radiation and intense heat interfere with the viability of radio signals.

Although the gringa is certain the hoax videos and audios were highly compelling, the truth is equally, if not more, interesting. While Komarov encircled the Earth in a faulty space capsule he had what he knew was his last conversation with a Soviet official who was safely aground on Earth. It is reported that Alexei Kosygin was in tears as the two talked, knowing his comrade was doomed to a torturous death by suffocation in extreme heat before the capsule ever disintegrated into a ball of flames. The United States had listening posts in Turkey where Cold War spies eavesdropped on the emotional exchange as  Komarov vacillated between rage and despair at his horrible fate.

To make the tale even more gripping is the fact that Komarov’s gruesome death could have been completely avoided. The original plan was to launch a second capsule the day after Komarov’s launch. The two space vehicles were to dock together and Komarov would swap places with one of the two cosmonauts in the second vehicle.  This was all scheduled to coincide with the Communist revolution’s 50 year anniversary and was Brezhnev’s victory plan to reveal to the world Soviet superiority.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was slated for the second space capsule. He made a tour of Soyuz 1 with a group of technicians and they recommended a postponement of launch due to hundreds of flaws in the vehicle. Forwarding the recommendation, inspection report and a ten page memo to Brezhnev through a KGB friend, the buck stopped with the KGB. No one dared defy Brezhnev’s dream of glory because the KGB agent, Venyamin Russayev, as well as every other agent who had knowledge of the communique, were summarily demoted and shipped off to remote areas within the Soviet Union for convenient, out of the way service.

Komarov knew he was on a suicide mission but he went anyway. He is a true hero. When Gagarin’s KGB friend suggested to Komarov to simply refuse the mission, he explained that if he didn’t go, the government would send the cosmonaut who was next in line, which was Gagarin. Gagarin had tried to save Komarov’s life by recommending the mission be scrapped. Komarov turned around and gave his own life that Gagarin’s might be saved. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.

Soyuz I launched April 23, 1967 and almost immediately began experiencing problems and mechanical failures. Due to these problems the second capsule’s launch was scrubbed from the schedule. U.S. National Security Agency analysts (fancy words that basically mean spies) recorded and translated what they could of Komarov’s communications to ground control. They describe a cosmonaut who knew he was going to die. Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin cried as he told Komarov he was a hero. American records reveal that when the descent parachutes failed, Komarov raged as he entered his death plummet.

This tragic story is as fascinating as it is sad. Why would anyone feel the need to believe a titillating conspiracy theory rather than the tragic truth? And this is not the only case where outrageous conspiracy theories have often been eclipsed by an even more fantastic truth. Consider the following conspiracy theories and their fans:

  • Da Vinci disciples who believe the mysteries in the book “The Da Vinci Code” are real yet the mystery of Da Vinci’s art is even greater than conspiracy fiction.
  • 9/11 Truthers who believe that the U.S. government murdered thousands of U.S. citizens yet is eclipsed by the intricacies of an ideological war by a small group of terrorists that have managed to capture the entire world’s attention, keeping everyone riveted with fear despite their very small numbers compared to the numbers of allied militaries fighting against them.
  • Birthers who believe that President Obama was not born a U.S. citizen is really quite boring when compared to the fascinating, tragic yet triumphant tale of how a young boy became president of the United States of America despite the statistical odds stacked against him.
  • Amelia Earhart fans who believe that she was abducted by extra-terrestrials yet the biography of this amazing, adventurous woman and the impact she has had on the lives of women for decades is so much greater than chasing shadows.
  • Osama bin Laden – conspiracy theorists believe that he is not dead and that the story of his body being dumped into the sea from a helicopter is a cover story. However, the account of the assassination plan by military special forces is the stuff that best selling novels are made of.
  • Princess Diana – conspiracy theorists believe that she was assassinated by the British Royal family and would rather believe such outrageousness when the life of not only this amazing princess but the entire House of Windsor can keep a person riveted to history books for weeks on end.

The gringa would like to know what makes a diehard conspiracy theorist tick. Experts say that they are more than your average skeptic. To selectively doubt certain scenarios or details that are reported by official agencies is normal. But when a critical political view morphs into believing in the omnipotent power of an elite shadow government ruling the world, a real conspiracy theorist is born.

Conspiracy theorists are not necessarily mentally ill despite the fact that they may believe some things that seem outright crazy, unreasonable or illogical. It is becoming such a widespread perspective, psychologists are categorizing it with its own empirical field definition. They explain that distrust is the underlying condition but it is the wrong kind of distrust. It is a form of distrust that is disconnected from critical thinking skills.

Although everyone has trust issues with someone at some point in their life, not everyone becomes a conspiracy theorist. When a person is able to hold on to the general opinion that most people in society are decent people worthy of measured trust, that trust growing as a relationship grows, that is a person managing distrust in a healthy way. However, once a person becomes so cynical that they believe that no one can be trusted, that everyone is out to get something over on everyone else, they are primed and ready to believe that the entire world is at the mercy of global elite puppetmasters.

Conspiracy theorists believe a distortion of the real truth that governments, though corrupt to varying degrees, do have within them some officials who are puppets serving elite interests in order to line their own pockets yet at the same time there are also officials who genuinely want to serve their people. And working within these governments are programs honestly designed to make the nation, as well as the world, a better place while at the same time operating alongside programs designed to enhance and broaden the scope of power for individual elites as well as the nation. So, a conspiracy theorist neglects to believe the good that is very real and their perspective lacks balance because it lacks the entire truth.

You see, cynicism is like a cancer. Once a person gets into that negative mindset, cynicism grows. At first Frank believes that his coworker, Joe, who got a promotion, somehow conspired to sabotage Frank’s chances at the promotion by telling tales behind his back. Once Frank convinces himself of this truth, rather than the real, ugly truth that he’s just a lousy worker unworthy of the promotion, Frank then has to include his other co-workers in the conspiracy when they object to his accusations against Joe. As Frank continues to stew in his own angry juices he soon believes it all started at the top with a boss who must surely hate him. Eventually he either quits or his behavior is so affected he gets fired. Such an experience will most certainly shape his behavior as he continues on to his next job.

Rather than accept the uncomfortable truth that another person excelled his own capabilities and deserved the promotion, rather than believe the nasty truth about self, that he scapegoated a co-worker and then blamed his other co-workers and, ultimately, his boss, rather than accept that he is the problem, Frank continues in blaming others because that is more convenient than believing an uncomfortable truth about self. By perpetuating this scapegoat mindset Frank becomes unfit for any job. As he continues this self-destructive cycle blaming others rather than practicing self-accountability, Frank must then begin to believe in a united business conspiracy of a network of people who just want to keep him down. Eventually this unreasonable paranoia will affect Frank’s view of pretty much everything in his life.

Eventually, Frank is just a very nasty, negative fellow who believes that everyone is out to get him. He concludes if that’s true about society and work environments, it’s not a stretch to then believe that the federal government also conspires against the little people for their own gain. Mainstream and official sources of information are rejected as “tainted” and Frank only relies on fringe journalism because those are the folks who really know what’s going on and haven’t sold their souls to the “establishment”.  Eventually, by his own selective exposure to views that agree with his personal angry-at-the-world perspective, Frank is a full-fledged conspiracy theorist, brainwashed by himself.

So, when you get right down to it, psychologists are right. Conspiracy theorists are not really mentally ill. They are really just Negative Nellies and Nasty Nelsons. It’s perfectly fine to be a Curious Casper and entertain conspiracy theories for entertainment value or as alternative possibilities to an accepted truth that does not have the evidence to completely prove it to be the truth. But keep things in perspective. Don’t be like Frank.







Image Credit: http://www.topsecretwriters.com


Lost, Squished or Spaghettified By A Black Hole

Imagine you are zipping through the Milky Way in your spaceship, minding your own business, studying the stars, negotiating interplanetary alliances with interesting alien species, when all of a sudden alarms start sounding all over the ship. The helmsman is shouting, “Black hole dead ahead!” Everyone freezes in their tracks as a sense of doom overwhelms even the strongest survival instinct. After all, it’s a black hole, it’s a death sentence. Momentarily the ship will be caught in the great space suck, swirling down a cosmic drain to be crushed into stardust. Or not.

A proximity alert sounding through a spaceship is not the death knell as an iceberg was for the Titanic. New research gives space explorers some hope against the fated doom of a galactic squish. Rather than flat as a pancake, hapless star travelers would become space spaghetti, sucked into the black hole’s infinitely dense center and shredded. So, no, not the doom of a great space suck ultimately ending in pulverization, but a ghastly doom nevertheless. How in the world do scientists consider this good news?

The greatest physicist of all time, Stephen Hawking, has been telling everyone they were all wrong about what would happen if a person got sucked inside a black hole. The gringa is certain he must feel very satisfied to know that the rest of the scientific community has finally caught up with his genius.

And, although spaghettification sounds like a miserable end, scientists say that the good news lies in the fact that little bits of a person may be able to escape a black hole. But, again, this good news really isn’t good news at all. The only way a bit of a human might escape the black hole is if that particular bit of human spaghetti is converted into radiation.

But there’s one more kicker and opportunity for some actual good news. There are two types of black holes, one is stationary and the other spins like a top. In a spaceship trapped by a black hole scenario, hope for the spinning one. You may just be able to survive without becoming a glow-in-the-dark noodle.

If caught in a spinning black hole, also called a Kerr black hole, objects don’t necessarily get smashed to smithereens by gravitational increases. What experts expect happens is that the black hole’s gravity increases to the point of infinity. This happens so fast that the object passing through the black hole’s center remains intact.

So, this is great news. A crew and their ship could just zip right through a Kerr black hole unscathed, perhaps a little dizzy but not smashed or shredded. Then there’s the but. It’s very possible they could come out the other end in another universe altogether, once again doomed to an agonizing slow death of privation.

The gringa can only say, “Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Please stop getting my hopes up then spaghettifying them with these darn good news/bad news scenarios. Just quit saying ‘good news’ altogether!” Because, guess what? The black hole business only gets scarier!

Scientists don’t know how they form. They are a mystery and can just, POOF, appear. So, even if humans do get some Galaxy class ships airborne, we better make darn sure we have some serious back up supplies on board because they could all get sucked to infinity and beyond no matter how clever we map their routes throughout the cosmos.







Image credit:  http://www.yumpu.com

Who’s In For A 2-Month Long, Melanoma-Free Day?

As researchers plot their space plans to discover where possibilities lie for a home planet like Earth, that might even be supporting our ancestors, where are they looking? MIT astronomers comprising an international team in Belgium are plotting for a search about 40 light years away. That means if we don’t want a spaceship to arrive with astronauts dead of old age or perhaps affected by age-related dementia, we have to send astronauts in the age group of 20s-40s to manage the forty year flight mission. It may take another decade or two for space agencies to have the ability to travel that far so elementary and middle school children of today are the astronauts of tomorrow that may be slated for just such a mission.

Beyond our solar system is the best bet for finding life like our own, or at least a few planets like ours. An MIT team has discovered three planets that orbit a dwarf star about 40 light years away. Their sizes are about the same as Earth or Venus. The telescope the astronomy used to locate them is the TRAPPIST telescope located in Chile. This telescope is designed to specifically focus on a cluster of dwarf stars, 60 in number.  Belgian scientists created TRAPPIST to study the infrared wavelengths of dwarf stars and the planets surrounding them.

The scientist’s favorite dwarf star is an ultracool (as in thermally ultracool, not socially hip) star about the size of Jupiter and much cooler than our own sun. Beginning a period of observation in September, 2015, the astronomy team observed regular intervals of fading in the infrared signature of the star. They theorized that planets were passing in front of the star causing this to occur.

The team turned their attention to the time to expect a light fade event and discovered that there were, indeed, planets orbiting the star. The two nearest planets were similar in size to our own Earth and Venus. The closest planet that has everyone’s attention is named 2MASS J23062928-0502285, commonly called TRAPPIST-1. The two planets have orbit cycles, respectively, of 1.5 of our own days and 2.4 days. The amount of radiation they absorb from their star is significantly more than what we deal with. The closest one receives about four times the radiation we get and the next one about two times the amount. So, if there is any life there it would have to have evolved with natural radiation tolerance.

The third planet in distance from the star has an unknown orbit cycle. The scientists’ best guess so far is that it could be anywhere from four to 73 days but would receive significantly less radiation. I guess that’s good news. If we need to relocate I suppose we could deal with a four-day long day or even a two-month long day and not have to worry about skin cancer.

When the team analyzes the size of the planets in relation to the star, and take into account their proximity to their sun, they believe that life could be sustainable. They calculate that there could be areas with a temperature range less than 400 kelvins. That converts to about 260 degrees Fahrenheit or 127 degrees Celsius. Not exactly a tropical paradise but conditions where liquid water and organic life could survive.

The next step is to study the atmospheric conditions of the planets to see what their atmospheres are composed of. What kind of gases? Is there breathable oxygen? And they believe that within their own working career’s lifetime they will be able to determine if these planets are inhabited with life of some kind, say the next ten years or so.

This is a breakthrough in science. Traditionally scientists have studied bright solar stars like our own. By taking a risk and searching for a cool dwarf star, this MIT group has hit paydirt with the find of a lifetime. To accomplish their task they had to design a whole new set of instruments specialized to detect the radiation emitted by cold dwarf stars and only visible through an infrared telescope. The whole field of detecting other worlds changed simply by changing the wavelength humans were viewing the galaxy with. Perspective is everything.

Source: news.mit.edu

Image Credit: http://www.storify.com

Fairy Rings & Tree Councils

Ever since the gringa was a little girl, she has loved fairy tales. Stories of magic and elves rate right alongside stories of spaceships and far-and-away star colonies. Of course, whenever the gringa imagined the fairyland setting of a wooded glen with magical sprites and naughty gnomes, the picture in my mind was of emerald green meadows filled with colorful flowers and dark forests with friendly woodland animals. A picturesque image to be found in places like Ireland or jolly aulde England. Never in a kazillion years would the gringa have linked fairy tales with southern Africa or western Australia. Now scientists have gone and turned my childhood fantasy world upside down.

You see, fairy rings have always been a standard feature in tales of deep magic in old forests:

  • “Meraugis de Portlesguez” by Raoul de Houdenc
  • “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare
  • “The Impossible Dowry” (Amyntas) by Thomas Randolph
  • “Nymphidia: The Court of Fairy” by Michael Drayton
  • “History of the Goths” by Olaus Magnus

Even unwritten works, like folklore, preceded great literature with tales of fairy rings:

  • Sorcerers’ rings of France
  • Witches’ rings of Germany
  • Devil’s milk churn rings of the Dutch
  • Remnants of fiery dragon tails of Tyrol
  • Dance rings of elves and fairies of England, Wales, Scandinavia and Ireland
  • Dinner tables of fairies from Scotland

The gringa loves the old tales and fantasies of midnight revelries rising up to the surface of the earth as the magical middle Earth creatures enjoy the moonlight and starlight while humans sleep. I am sorely disappointed that scientists had to go and destroy this little piece of illogical, creative, mental space in my mind by announcing they have solved the mystery of fairy rings. And they even went and renamed the phenomena, calling them “fairy circles”. I suppose scientists prefer a geometric term to a more poetic counterpart. Doggone them all.

South of Angola toward South Africa’s Northwestern Cape province is a vast, barren region of land that is mostly uninhabited. It is dotted with reddish and golden earth circles within the grassland. The fairy circles vary in size from about 7 feet in diameter to almost 50 feet in diameter. This strange geographical feature has been romanticized in literature and local myths. The bushmen of this area claim the fairy circles belong to divine gods and possess magical powers.  Some say they are the footprints of the gods themselves.

Recently, these same types of circles were discovered in Australia’s Pilbara region. Much to the gringa’s dismay, the mystery has now been solved. This year an environmental research group published their official findings of what exactly causes fairy circles. However, if the gringa so chooses, she could put her own spin on their determinations. A fairy circle would no longer be the work of fairies, elves and sprites, but of the living forest itself.

What scientists have concluded is that the fairy circles are definitely not the work of termites or ants. It is more probable that they are the work of plants organizing themselves in certain patterns as they compete for scarce water resources. The gringa sees literary and poetic potential in this theory.

Imagine, if you will, councils of shrubs, trees and flowers getting together and discussing just how much water they need to survive. Envision them arguing their case for who needs shade and who has a root system that is just robbing the entire community and being selfish. I can hear the sound of a gavel-shaped root coming down on the top of  a flat stone, a centuries-old tree declaring, “Hear, hear. It has been determined that the crocuses will relocate to the shade of the old growth elms tree line and the blackberry bushes will separate their thorny selves from the fern bed, moving eastward toward the river.”

Although such a tale lacks the mischievous fun of fairies and nymphs, it would still contain delightful magical potential. So, all is not bad news.


Source:  www.mic.com & Wikipedia

Image Credits: www.cnn.com & www.fairyroom.com




Cosmic Spas & Outer Space Mineral Mines

Are NASA and other international space agencies interested in creating colonies on the Moon and various other exotic, cosmic locales? Most certainly. However, not for the nefarious purposes of whisking away the highly educated and financial elite in order to preserve the human race from extinction. What they really want to do is exploit the natural resources of these places.

Humans are a hungry species and their appetites include all sorts of stuff from fruits and vegetables to minerals and ores. Many minerals and ores are not only rare, with few deposits in sundry places around the world, but are also finite in their supply. Once diminished, humans will have to find another source. That’s where asteroids and the Moon come into play.

Asteroids are like one of those grab bags you get as a party favor. You never know what’s inside. Although primarily chunks of ice, tar and dust, they also contain scare minerals and metals. For astronaut mining crews, outer space is full of opportunity, kind of like a mechanic entering an auto junkyard the size of Earth. Best estimates to date believe there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, some nearly five billion years old, of assorted sizes and shapes from the size of a coffee table to hundreds of miles in diameter (Earth, in comparison, is about 8,000 miles in diameter). With such abundance, if humans can overcome the technological and economical obstacles, we may have a seemingly limitless supply of raw materials available.

The gringa wonders what will happen when that occurs? Will space become filled with flag waving asteroids? Considering even a small asteroid could be valued at many millions of dollars in potential minerals, will countries be zipping about space, hither and yon, planting flags on as many asteroids as possible in a territory game of, “Mine! I found it first!”? The gringa is hoping it will be much more civilized than that.

For mining purposes, asteroid’s are classified according to three groups based on light reflection (spectral) analysis. Since mankind cannot yet land on an asteroid and physically take a geological sample or do so with a robotic satellite, scientists evaluate how light reflects off the surface of an asteroid to determine its primary mineral component.

C-type asteroids are dark and carbon based. They are comprised of clay based minerals that have lots of water trapped within the clay. The gringa thinks these could, perhaps become cosmic spas if we could find a way to generate some kind of thermal reaction within the asteroid. Think of it, “Come visit asteroid XP-247 for its relaxing steam baths and mineralized clay body and facial wraps. Just don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

But what about the carbon and other stuff in the clay? Is that any good for anything? Yep. It makes a garden grow lush, thick and plentiful. C-type asteroids rich in carbon, phosphorous and other elements in the fertilizer spectrum could be very valuable as future garden spots. The gringa can now see the cosmic version of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” where visitors can also get a soak in the hot springs and a beautifying and detoxifying mineral rich clay body wrap.

I mean, really, we have plenty of clay and carbon and water here on Earth but surely there will be an eager entrepreneur who will see the same potential. Or do we really have plenty of clay, minerals and water on Earth?

The water reserves could very well come in handy. The gringa can see it now – a gravity beam lassos a water rich C-type asteroid and hauls it near Earth’s atmosphere. It then uses transporter technology that has finally been perfected to zap it through the atmosphere, avoiding a friction filled entry that would evaporate up all that precious water. Then, as it approaches fatefully close to a desert region, just before impact a precision laser beam goes, “ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!” and a lovely shower of water rains down upon the desert with all the pulverized clay and carbon providing rich fertilizer. The desert is soon a fertile oasis. Hey, it could happen. Stranger things already have.

But NASA thinks the real value of water rich asteroids is in using the resource in outer space. By finding a way to mine the water in flight, crews could save billions of dollars by not having to pack this life-support necessity. Interestingly enough, the very thing that humans need to survive, consisting of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, are the very elements of rocket fuel. (Wow, humans are 60% rocket fuel, or, water, depending on your perspective!). So, astronauts dock their spaceship at a galactic version of Exxon to fill up the tank and top off the water reserves. And while the service station is checking the engine’s oil level and cabin’s air pressure, the crew is freshening up at the nearby spa. Interesting.

So, C-type asteroids can either be Desert-to-Eden conversion sources, hot spring spas, water wells, or rocket fuel depots. Or all three at the same time.Take your pick.

S-type asteroids shine a little brighter than dark, carbon based C-types. That’s because they are rich in reflective metals like cobalt, iron and nickel. If a mining crew is really lucky they could find one with deposits of rhodium, platinum or gold. Scientists estimate that an asteroid about the size of an average bedroom could be packed with well over one million pounds of metals, a tiny fraction being the exceedingly valuable rare ones. Even if mining crews could extract just one hundred pounds of platinum, at about $1000 an ounce, a $100,000 load of platinum would just be the gravy on top of the wealth accumulated from the remaining predominant minerals.

But it may be the M-class asteroids that wars end up being fought over. The wars for oil that we have raging now could very well become wars for M-class asteroids in the future. These asteroids are expected to contain at least ten times the mineral content of S-types.

To make space mining a reality, the mission has to be profitable. With current missions costing in the hundreds of millions, some even billions, an asteroid would have to be massively rich in raw materials. The other option is to develop technologies that are more economical.

Before any of that even matters, current asteroid knowledge needs to be vastly broadened and fine-tuned. We need cosmic cartographers to accurately map the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in outer space. The world needs space geologists that have the technology and knowledge to analyze what minerals each asteroid actually contains. Young students now, who have an interest in a cosmic career, could really have a geology or cartography degree pay off by landing them their dream job.

NASA’s first effort to test their scientific mettle for determining present mineral resources within an asteroid lie with their OSIRIS-REx mission. The goal of “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer” is to return with a geological sample from asteroid Bennu. It is set to launch in September and arrive at the asteroid almost two years later. If all goes according to plan, Earthlings can expect an authentic piece of Bennu to arrive on planet Earth around 2020. (Of course, the gringa is reminded of her favorite piece of motherly advice given regularly to her children in efforts to cultivate a more relaxed approach to life, “The plan is that nothing goes according to plan.”)

In addition to geological studies of Bennu’s raw materials, asteroid re-direction technologies will also be studied. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform an interesting experiment. It is going to give Bennu a gentle, solar nudge. Scientists want to know if sunlight can be used to affect the path of travel of asteroids. I guess the reasoning is that asteroids are too valuable to simply blast into oblivion if Earth happens to be in the way. They would rather nudge them aside then attempt to exploit the wealth they contain.

The most important goals of the mission, however, are to further the development of space mining technologies. They plan to scrape together a two ounce and 4.4 pound geological sample. The spacecraft will then use its state-of-the-art instruments to map the surface of Bennu and analyze its composition. These are the on-board technologies and their purposes:

  • OVIRS (OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) – analyzes visible and near-infrared light to detect minerals, compounds and chemicals within the asteroid.
  • OTES (OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer) – analyzes infrared light to detect surface minerals of Bennu, determine surface temperature and map the location of water-rich clay mineral deposits.
  • REx (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) – analyzes X-ray aura of Bennu’s surface in sunlight to calculate amounts and locations of elements like: iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur.

To find out if sunlight can be used as an asteroid diversion technique OVIRS and OTES will combine their abilities to study what is known as the “Yarkovsky effect”. When an asteroid absorbs sunlight much of the heat radiates outward and provides a propelling effect. Observations will be made to see if a “man-made” solar heat saturation could result in changing an asteroid’s trajectory.

Most of what will be recorded by the different spectrometers will only reflect what is on Bennu’s surface and within a shallow depth (about half a millimeter). They are not capable of reaching deep within the asteroid’s core. To get a deeper look the spacecraft has a tool that blows nitrogen gas onto the surface that will force minerals up from a depth of about two inches. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that much about Bennu will remain unknown even if the mission is successful in achieving all of its goals.

But, a successful mission will at least tell the world one thing: can mining asteroid’s work? The gringa believes if great wealth is at stake there will be movers and shakers in this world who will make it work one way or another while pocketing a healthy profit in the process.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov