DIscoveries, Engineering Progress and Science Fiction

Of course the highlight news is the astronomers have found a planet that has atmosphere. It’s GJ 1132b, which is 1.4-times the size of our planet and lies 39 light years away, and in the Vela constellation. As it has a surface temperature around 370C, it won’t be habitable. However, that does not rule out it being habitable at some layer in the atmosphere – just like our neighbouring planet, Venus. Observations  suggest that it has a thick atmosphere containing either steam and/or methane. More details here.

This of course is only the start of finding the composition of atmospheres on close planets, but it is a step in the right direction if humankind is ever to travel to our neighbouring stars.
In other news, Norway has announced it is going to build a 1.7km tunnel to allow ships up to 20,000 tonnes to pass through. It’ll mean that these ships would not have to go the long way round through hazardous waters. In a way this could contribute valuable knowledge to building tunnels and indeed habitable spaces in hard rock on our Moon and Mars.

Sometimes science fiction can inspire scientific research. Do you remember film or novel The Martian? (The novel was written by Andrew Weir.) Some scientists have now grown a potato in Martian conditions. More details here. It is an important step to being able to sustain ourselves off-Earth in the future. That includes the Moon.

One of the points Robert Heinlein made in his novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, was that the soils / dust on the Moon were virgin i.e. they had never been farmed. Therefore they are full of all the good nutrients that would go to making quality food. In the novel, Heinlein has the people growing grain crops and literally throwing container loads of the stuff from the Moon using an electromagnetic rail system i.e. the containers had no onboard fuel whatsoever. With water ice deposits being found in the Shackleton crater towards the South Pole, the idea of economic farming on the Moon starts to become feasible. You never know, with further discoveries and scientific advances it could even become economically feasible.

Talking of living on the Moon… if we are to go there, the economics has to stack up. Rich people can visit it for fun. Scientists can visit it for setting up and running experiments to advance our knowledge of science. Neither reason gives any permanency. One possible reason was the mining of helium three for nuclear fusion reactors. That is on hold until we can such a nuclear reactor working more cheaply than current power generation methods. So farming might be just the driver to get us permanently on the Moon, depending on how things go.

… and the more science fiction can come up with ideas of how we can improve the economics of setting up a permanent base, the quicker we might there.

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