The Supermoon is Coming!

Today isn’t just Cinco de Mayo. At 11:34 pm EST, the full moon will reach perigee, the closest it passes to Earth along its elliptical orbit. One minute later, it’ll line up with the Earth and the Sun. This phenomenon is called a supermoon. Astronomers expect it to be 14% bigger and 30% brighter than any other full moon this year.

What is a Supermoon?

Supermoons are often associated with rising tides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in popular folklore. And indeed, the gigantic 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred on March 11, just eight days before last year’s supermoon. However, most scholars disagree with that notion. Although there might be a weak correlation between lunar activity and very small earthquakes, there’s no evidence for a correlation with larger ones.

So, don’t worry too much and enjoy the moonlight tonight…it should be spectacular!

Around the Solar System…in Six Minutes?

A few months ago, we wrote about a fascinating movie enabling one to virtually circle the Earth in less than a minute. Along those lines, we’ve got another interesting video for you today (yes, we’re on a bit of a space exploration kick). But while the other video focused on Earth, this one encompasses the entire solar system.

Around the Solar System…in Six Minutes?

Check it out…just six minutes to visit the entire solar system. Incredible huh? It was created by game developer Christopher Albeluhn. It contains all eight planets (ahh, poor Pluto), their moons, the asteroid belt, and all 88 constellations. Here’s the description of the video…

“The Solar System – Explore your backyard” is a highly immersive application that illustrates rather well the vastness of the world around us. Information regarding planets, constellations and countries are available at the click of a button, and in a fashion rarely seen. Rather than simply telling you the facts, I find that it’s easier to show you; This means that instead of just reading about the gravitational pull or cross section of a planet, you get to view it in 3D in real time. ~ Christopher Albeluhn

Albeluhn plans to develop this simulation into a product. If you like his work, consider picking up a copy of The Solar System – Explore Your Backyard at his website.

Let the Asteroid Mining Begin!

And so asteroid mining begins…

Asteroid Mining?

Yesterday, Planetary Resources announced its intention to “mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals.” Not wanting to be outdone, Moon Express used the opportunity to update the public on its plan to mine the moon for precious metals. These developments are, in our view, a game changer of epic proportions.

“NASA’s space ventures have proved exceedingly disappointing in the four decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects.” ~ David Meyer, Asteroid Mining & Space Invaders

Asteroid mining holds tons of promise and not just in financial terms. This budding young industry could very well lead mankind to begin colonizing space in the not-so-distant future.

“If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it’s the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land. Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines.” Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

How will Asteroid Mining Work?

So, let’s get down to the details. How is this going to work? Well, Planetary Resources doesn’t expect to do mining work, at least not at first. Instead, it hopes to “launch a telescopic space surveyor into Earth’s low orbit in less than two years to identify potential metal- and water-rich asteroids.” After achieving success, this low-cost robotic surveying equipment will be marketed to private firms and government agencies.

In four years, Planetary Resources plans to send explorers to space to begin prospecting asteroids for raw materials. This is easier than it sounds. Asteroids lack air and for the most part, gravity as well. Thus, the technological requirements for landing a spacecraft on one are far less advanced than for landing on the moon.

The next step is developing mining equipment. Although asteroids are relatively rich in metals like platinum, the concentrations are still quite low. So, mining will likely be done by robots. In ten years, the company hopes to build its own galactic fueling stations and use hydrogen and oxygen from mined asteroids to refuel spaceships, allowing for deeper forays into the galaxy.

“We’re going to have to use the resources of space in order to explore space. Instead of having to build a new telecommunications satellite we can refuel the ones already up there.” ~ Eric Anderson, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

The company expects space mining to be a multi-trillion dollar business over the next fifty years. From a consumer standpoint, as space mining becomes a reality, the cost of raw materials will decrease, allowing for cheaper and higher-quality goods.

“Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water – is in near-infinite quantities in space. The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed.” ~ Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder, Planetary Resources

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, there you have it, folks. Asteroid mining and rhe race for space has begun. As we indicated the other day, if things proceed as planned, yesterday could go down as one of the most important days in the history of space exploration…the day mankind set forth to conquer the universe.

Asteroid Mining & Space Invaders?

We’re fond of space exploration here at Guerrilla Explorer. From where we stand, NASA’s space ventures have proved exceedingly disappointing in the four decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. But now, something new appears to be on the horizon. Are we nearing the dawn of asteroid mining?

The Asteroid Mining Industry?

On Tuesday, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google fame are expected to announce a new partnership with director James Cameron to create Planetary Resources, a company devoted to “space exploration and natural resources.”

“The company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.” ~ Planetary Resources Press Release

Space exploration? Natural resources? I don’t know about you, but that sounds like asteroid mining to me. An additional clue in that regard is that Tuesday’s presentation will be hosted in part by Peter Diamandis, a vocal proponent of private space flight as well as asteroid mining. Which makes Cameron’s presence especially intriguing, given that his movie Avatar wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for space-based resource extraction.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, how would this work? Well, it’s long been known that asteroids contain high concentrations of minerals such as nickel and titanium. However, mining it was always considered unfeasible, due to heavy costs and lack of suitable technology. But this was largely because space mining was usually viewed through a government-only prism. As commercial interest picks up, this could change rapidly.

“However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.” ~ David Meyer, Buying Real Estate…on Another Planet?

As for the mining itself, there are several different possibilities. Perhaps the most interesting one is known as in-situ resource utilization. In other words, astronauts would land on the asteroid and uses its resources to sustain themselves. Metals and minerals could be used to construct facilities. Mined quantities of hydrogen and oxygen could be used for fuel. The miners could extract water to drink and oxygen to breathe.

We’ll find out more details on Tuesday. However, if Planetary Resources announces what I think it will announce, April 24 could go down as one of the most important days in the history of space exploration…the day mankind sets forth to conquer the universe.

Life…on Mars?

In 1976, two American space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, landed on Mars. After collecting data and performing experiments, scientists decided the planet was lifeless. But now, several scholars are beginning to question that conclusion. Is there life on Mars?

Is there Life on Mars?

“To paraphrase an old saying, if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe. The presence of circadian rhythmicity and a high degree of mathematical complexity or order in the LR data most likely means Viking discovered microbial life on Mars over 35 years ago.” ~ Joseph Miller, Biologist, University of Southern California

The controversy over the possibility of life on Mars deals with a set of experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). Essentially, nutrients as well as radioactive carbon were added to Martian soil samples. Then researchers monitored the air for radioactive carbon dioxide and methane, which would indicate possible metabolization of the nutrients. Although carbon dioxide initially appeared, subsequent tests were unable to duplicate the results.

But new experiments as well as a statistical reexamination of the original data indicates “considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.” Here’s more on the possibility of finding life on Mars from ScienceBlog:

In 1976, the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) launched the Viking program, sending space probes to Mars to determine whether there was life on the red planet. Thirty-six years later the debate about life on Mars is not over, but research conducted in part at the University of Southern California (USC) offers more proof that life may exist on this neighboring world…

In the experiments, the Viking landers dropped on Mars about 4,000 miles apart, scooped up soil samples and applied a radiolabeled nutrient cocktail to the soil…The active experiments did indicate metabolism…But due to lack of support from two other Viking experiments that did not find any organic molecules in the soil, most scientists believed the LR data had been compromised by a non-biological oxidizing property of Mars soil.

Miller and colleagues did not accept this interpretation, and over the last six years applied measures of mathematical complexity to the data from active and control Viking data, as well as terrestrial biological and non-biological data sets. Not only did the active Viking LR experiments exhibit higher complexity than the control experiments, but the active experiments clearly sorted with terrestrial biological data series whereas the Viking LR control data sorted with known terrestrial non-biological data…

(See ScienceBlog for more on the possibility of Life on Mars)

Buying Real Estate…on another Planet?

Over four decades have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. But since then, NASA’s space ventures have proved disappointing. No one has walked on the moon since 1971. And the overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. So, when will mankind begin space colonization?

When will Mankind begin Space Colonization?

A few days ago, Rand Simberg from the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued an interesting white paper on the matter, entitled Homesteading the Final Frontier. In it, he suggests there is a rather simple way to encourage space exploration and ultimately, settlement…property rights.

“At the heart of the prosperity of the West lie clear and recognized freely transferrable property rights, protected under the rule of law. Absent legally recognized rights to buy, own, and sell titled property, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan to purchase said property, improve it, mine it, drill for minerals on it, or sell the proceeds from any of those activities. Property rights are a sine qua non of wealth creation and a reason why America and other Western nations are rich and others are poor. Moreover, they lie at the heart of liberty. Their current absence off planet partially explains why we have not developed the next and, in a sense, last frontier—space.” ~ Rand Simberg

Simberg has a point. Space colonization would be ultra-expensive. And without property rights, there’s no benefit to doing so. However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in space colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.

The Current Status of Space Colonization?

Currently, the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaws private property claims in space. The U.S. never signed that treaty. However, it is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. That particular treaty, while it appears to outlaw space-based private property, is open to interpretation. According to Simberg, the U.S. government could use it to auction off land in space.

That’s the legal argument. There’s also a preservation vs. development argument that needs to be made. One of the most common arguments against space colonization is that space should be completely preserved from human interference.

“Some of the problem arises from a false conception of space as scientific preserve, rather than as a new venue for human expansion. Under the former view, the universe is a fragile jewel to be observed and studied, but minimally explored, if at all, by humans.” ~ Rand Simberg

It’s similar to “preservation” arguments made in other fields of study. Some climate scientists and ecologists wish to preserve nature in situ (sometimes ignoring the fact that nature changes itself, often quite drastically). Social scientists want to preserve current population levels by managing growth. Malthusianists want to reduce resource consumption. Archaeologists are increasingly turning to remote sensing, ground penetrating radar, and other tools in order to completely avoid excavations. They want valuable and interesting artifacts left untouched and underground, presumably forever. These are strange, almost anti-human developments led by technocrats and guided by the odd hope that nothing ever changes.

“We have all the physical tools we need to build a better future. But the vision of the future itself is missing. We have returned to the mental condition of the Roman Empire; there is no future, only an unchanging, infinite Present. Hitler had the same static viewpoint; he called it the “Eternal Return” and symbolized it by the Swastika.” ~ Bill Walker, Take Back the Future

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

We here at Guerrilla Explorer love the idea of space colonization. It’s way past time humanity expanded its reach past this little rock we call Earth. But while Simberg’s proposal is interesting, it depends heavily on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. And that’s problematic. After all, these same people bear much of the responsibility for the rather disappointing state of space exploration. As long as existing governments are perceived to own the rights to everything outside Earth’s atmosphere…indeed, the entire universe…space colonization will likely remain a slow, painful process.

On the other hand, a pure market approach, based on the Homestead Principle, could bear fruit. In other words, no one owns anything in space. However, each of us owns our own labor. So, if a person (or corporation) ventures to the moon or to part of another planet and mixes his or her labor with the land, well, that’s ownership.

The Hunt for the Lost Space Engines?

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. A short while later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin emerged, becoming the first humans to ever walk on that rock. Now, billionaire Jeff Bezos is after the original engines from that flight. He’s already located them. But recovering them won’t be easy.

The Hunt for the Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

Bezos’ team will have to descend 14,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, confirm they’ve actually got the right engines, and then raise the multi-ton hulks to the surface. No date has been set for the expedition but it promises to be one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” Here’s more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 engines from Bezos Expeditions:

The F-1 rocket engine is still a modern wonder — one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. On July 16, 1969, the world watched as five particular F-1 engines fired in concert, beginning the historic Apollo 11 mission. Those five F-1s burned for just a few minutes, and then plunged back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean, just as NASA planned. A few days later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

…I’m excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor. We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in – they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see…

(See “F-1 Engine Recovery” for more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 Space Engines)

A Map of…Everything?

You’ve probably seen all sorts of maps. Maps of a city or a state. Maps of a country or a continent. Maps of Earth, the moon, and even other planets. But have you ever seen a sky map … that shows everything?

Sky Map – A Map of…Everything?

This map of the sky comes courtesy of NASA’s infrared space telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). It contains 560 million stars, galaxies, and plenty of other interesting things.

“In the mosaic, the Milky Way Galaxy runs horizontally across this map. The Milky Way is shaped like a disk and our solar system is located in that disk about two-thirds of the way out from the center. So we see the Milky Way as a band running through the sky. As we look toward the center of the galaxy, we are looking through more of the disk than when we are looking at large angles away from the center, and you can see a noticeable increase in stars (colored blue-green) toward the center of the image.” ~ Mapping the Infrared Universe – The Entire WISE Sky

Here’s more on NASA’s sky map from New Scientist:

The Milky Way’s disk and central bulge are traced out in blue, representing infrared light with a wavelength of 3.4 micrometres, which mainly comes from stars.

The bluish blobs to the bottom right are our two largest satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, more than 150,000 light years away. Andromeda forms a small blue streak to the lower left, and the image is dotted with more distant galaxies…

(See New Scientist for more on NASA’s sky map)

America’s Mysterious Space Plane?

On March 5, 2011, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was launched into low Earth orbit. The purpose of this unmanned space plane remains a mystery. What is the X-37B?

The X-37B – America’s Mysterious Space Plane?

As mentioned earlier, the exact purpose of the X-37B space plane remains shrouded in mystery. However, plenty of possibilities exist. Although no one knows for certain, some have speculated it’s an attempt to weaponize space or a spy satellite. Here’s more on the mysterious X-37b space plane from The Daily Mail:

The U.S Air Force’s highly secret unmanned space plane was supposed to stay in space for nine months, but it’s now been there for a year and three days – and no one knows what it’s doing. The experimental craft has been circling Earth at 17,000 miles per hour and was due to land in California in December. However the mission of the X-37B orbital test vehicle was extended – for unknown reasons…

…The Air Force said the second mission was to further test the technology but the ultimate purpose has largely remained a mystery…

(See The Daily Mail for more on the mysterious X-37B space plane)

The “Wow!” Signal?

On August 15, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected a strange radio signal while working with Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope. The signal lasted for 72 seconds and appeared to be of non-terrestrial origin. Dr. Ehman quickly circled the signal’s markings on a piece of paper and wrote “Wow!” next to it. What was the “Wow!” Signal?

What was the “Wow!” Signal?

Well, the jury is still out on this question. The “Wow!” signal appeared to originate from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, despite multiple attempts over the last three decades, no one has been able to re-detect it. Even Dr. Ehman came to doubt the “Wow!” signal was of extraterrestrial origin.

“Even if it were intelligent beings sending a signal, they’d do it far more than once. We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. Something suggests it was an Earth-bound signal that simply got reflected off a piece of space debris.” ~ Dr. Jerry Ehman, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 18, 1994

It should be noted Dr. Ehman later qualified this statement. However, he remains skeptical the “Wow!” signal originated from an extraterrestrial source. While we are no closer to solving the mystery of the “Wow!” Signal, plenty of dedicated researchers are still trying to understand it. Here’s an excerpt from an interesting interview on the “Wow!” signal from The Atlantic with one of those researchers, Robert Gray:

Is it possible that the “Wow!” signal is somehow a computer glitch, or a signal from earth that was reflected off of space debris of some sort?

Gray: Of course it’s possible. It could have been any number of things. However, it almost certainly wasn’t a computer glitch, because it showed this rise and fall of intensity that’s just exactly what a radio source from the sky would look like. Also, the Ohio State radio telescope was cleverly rigged to filter out local stuff.

The only thing that conceivably could have made that special signature is a satellite of some sort at just the right distance, going just the right speed, in order to mimic a celestial object traversing the sky. So that’s a possibility, but it seems pretty unlikely for a number of reasons. First, it would have been seen by a lot of people. Ohio State would have seen it repeatedly, because satellites broadcast repeatedly. Secondly, if it was a secret satellite it would have been pretty stupid to broadcast at a frequency that radio astronomers across the world listen to.

For a long time, Jerry Ehman, who actually scribbled “Wow!” on the original computer printout, considered the possibility that it was a piece of space debris reflecting a signal from the earth back down into the antenna. But he no longer believes that to be the case. And I’m not saying that it definitely was an extraterrestrial broadcast; there’s no proof of that. The best way I can think to analogize this thing is to say that it was a tug on the cosmic fishing line. It doesn’t prove that you have a fish on the line, but it does suggest that you keep your line in the water at that spot…

(See The ‘Wow!’ Signal: One Man’s Search for SETI’s Most Tantalizing Trace of Alien Life for the rest)