space

Asteroid drilling could be a gold mine

United States-based firm Planetary Resources, pioneer in asteroid mining technology has been in discrete communication with the entrepreneurs about developing the space-faring vessels in the aim of “expanding Earth’s natural resource base.” To do this, Planetary Resources plan to develop long range space telescopes and orbital probes to seek out potential “gold mines” that are falling through space.

Planetary Resources expect to sell these observations, ultimately offering the mining service, all of which could be possible within the next 15 years. “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,” explained Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the company.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gold, platinum, and even water are some of the resources expected to be harvested after the project gets fully underway. “Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth… is in near-infinite quantities in space,” Diamandis said in an interview with Reuters. Water has been estimated to fetch a high price if it is genuinely sourced from asteroids. This could be broken down into large quantities of hydrogen based fuel for use in spacecraft launches.

Despite these exciting opportunities, some have expressed issues with the project. While gold would fetch up to $20,000 per ounce, the initial launch and maintenance of any specialised spacecraft may not be worth the trouble, argues some. NASA are expected to bring home around 60 grams of material from an asteroid, but at a cost of over $1 billion.

One scientist, Professor Jay Melosh of Purdue University in the U.S., has said that the costs involved in such an operation are simply too great, saying that exploration such as this is “a sport that only wealthy nations, and those wishing to demonstrate their technical prowess, can afford to indulge.” But Eric Anderson, another potential investor from the orbital-tourism company Space Adventures said: “We have a long view. We’re not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time.”

Diamandis apeared on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s commercial radio show StarTalk Radio to talk about asteroid mining. If you want hear an in depth discussion on the topic, you can easily download it here. My favourite quote from the episode is this: “Everything we fight wars over on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate – those things are in near infinite quantities in space. The Earth is a crumb in a supermarket filled with resources.”

We fight wars over Earth’s natural resources. Countries are invaded over oil, people commit their lives to the acquisition of gold, some burgle and murder for fine jewelery. Starting to mine asteroids for similar materials will not solve all these problems, but it is a step to realise how futile the greed is.

[Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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Have scientists just proven the Big Bang?

We start today with exciting news from the South Pole. A group of scientists, called BICEP2, have announced they have found a distinctive signal related to the Big Bang, the leading theory as to how our universe came to be.

The Discovery

Using a powerful telescope at the South Pole -one of the darkest places on the planet and so an excellent place to observe deep space – they have detected a distinctive pattern of gravitational waves echoing through the cosmos. These waves are known to have been created by the rapid expansion of our universe just moments after the bang that started it all.

This pattern of gravitational waves, called B-mode polarisation, has been theorised for decades but have never been found until now.

The reason this discovery is so important is because it gives us real, tangible evidence that the Big Bang actually developed the way we think it did. The scientific community already has mountains of evidence that the Big Bang occurred, but our knowledge of a very specific incident during the process was lacking.

The Details

So, before the Big Bang, all of our universe is thought to have been compacted into an unimaginably small area. A miniscule fraction of a second after the cosmic explosion, the universe became exponentially bigger. This is known as inflation. This inflationary period smoothed out the entire universe, giving it the size and appearance of a tennis ball, with pleasantly rounded edges. Since then, the fabric of spacetime has been growing outwards ever since.

By studying the background emissions of space, the BICEP2 team discovered the dynamic twist of B-mode rippling subtly through the noise of deep space.

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) (Image: wikipedia/commons)

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) (Image: wikipedia/commons)

Pictured above is the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). This is all the disruptions we detect when we point a receiver telescope into the skies and aim it to the oldest part of space. It was by examining the CMB in excruciating detail with the BICEP telescope that the scientists were able to find inflation’s characteristic rumble between the stars.

“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point,” said Prof John Kovac at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He was the leader of the BICEP2 collaboration, referring to the discovery as “smoking gun” evidence for the Big Bang.

“Why the cosmic microwave background temperature is the same at different spots in the sky would be a mystery if it was not for inflation saying, well, our whole sky came from this tiny region,” Chuck Bennett, a top figure in NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mission, told Space.com in 2013.

So what does it mean?

By finding this, we have added to the overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang that happened eons ago. Personally, I find it brilliant that we have the ability to look back to the dawn of time itself, 13.78 billions years ago, and learn about the origins of -well, everything.

This is a big discovery. These findings will certainly be worth a Nobel Prize once the results of BICEP’s observations are confirmed by other scientists. Although, the BICEP team spent three years checking their data, looking for other possibilities than just B-mode. It is very promising.

The groovy movements distinctive of B-mode polarisation (Image: BICEP2 Collaboration)

The groovy movements of B-mode polarisation (Image: BICEP2 Collaboration)

As an aside, there is a Professor who as spent his career investigating inflation -Andrei Linde. He is the father of the inflationary theory having spent over 30 years forming predictions of what B-mode would look and act like. On the day of the announcement, a BICEP scientist arrived at Linde’s home with a video camera to deliver the news.

The reaction from Linde, and his wife, is wonderful:

[Cover Image via Creative Commons]

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