My monthly eclectic mix of science highlights have proved popular in 2015 so I’ll continue in 2016. As a science fiction writer I scan for such things a) because I’m interested and b) because you never know what might spark that next (potentially blockbusting – we can hope) story. So here is the pick of what has caught my attention in December.
1) If you live in the UK you can’t help but have been caught up in the first Britain, Tim Peake, to visit the space station. The build-up, the launch, the entry into the space station itself have all been televised. Schools have shown it and no doubt have spawned many projects on the back of it. Hopefully enthusing the next generation of engineers, scientists and perhaps astronauts – Go Tim!
Staying in space
2) Apparently the Russians are aiming to have a permanent base on the moon by 2030.
3) Did you see the landing of the first stage of the falcon 9 rocket? This is part of plans by the company Spacex to make getting into orbit more economical by having a reusable first stage. The impressive thing was seeing it land vertically – just like some 1950’s science fiction film.
4) A few months ago I mentioned the structure spotted by the Kepler space telescope. It was speculated that it might just, possibly have been an alien megastructure orbiting a star. However, after more research they are now saying that is likely to be a gigantic swarm of comets. Well they would wouldn’t they??
Back to Earth
5) Scientists are planning to drill down below the earth’s crust for the first time a distance of some 5 – 5.5km. There have been failed attempts in the past but scientists are more hopeful because faulting and erosion have already thinned the crust at the targeted drill site, known as Atlantis Bank on the South West Indian Ridge of the Indian Ocean. The aim is to find out more about the make up of the crust and to understand better how the planet is put together.
6) How hot could the earth get. I thought this was topical given the recent climate change summit and new agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions (hopefully, maybe?). The earth is currently one degree above pre-industrial levels. The target (set in 2009) is to limit the rise to two degrees. The current models suggest that if our greenhouse emissions continue to increase at the present rate the world will be four degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and could reach seven degrees warmer by 2200 before stabilising. There are many complications to this such as melting all the ice caps would decrease heat reflected back into space. Also all that water would increase vapour in the atmosphere again contributing to greenhouse gases. If it tells us one thing it is that we can’t afford to sit back and do nothing.
7) Students in the US with a lot of time on their hands worked out the cost of building the Death Star megastructure (I know – haven’t they anything better to do?) at $852,000,000,000,000,000 (£564 quadrillion). That’s about 13,000 times Earth’s GDP. They reckoned producing the steel would take 833,315 years (OK that’s using today’s technology and without ‘the force’). Apparently it’s about 1.08 x 1,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes of steel. But then with the Earth’s iron, you could make just over two billion Death Stars.
As always comments are welcome.