Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Yeti Tracks: Invisibility Update

A short update on the quest for the invisibility cloak I mentioned in an earlier article. In this article at New Scientist, it mentions that some researchers believe total invisibility would be impossible due to the infinitely large electrical and magnetic properties required of some of the cloaks electrical components, but that it should still be possible to have something cloaked appear as only a thin ray of light.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Human Mission to Mars?

Not yet (you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?), but if you're interested there is no need to sing the blues (or is that the reds?). I thought I would put together an article on the subject of a Human (Manned) mission to Mars in light of some recent developments in that area. It looks like the old rivalry that started the moon race may come into play again. Here is a recent story from the Telegraph about Russia's intentions to build a moon base and from there move on to Mars. It was January this year when US President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration which included reference to a return to the moon and a mission to Mars on an earlier timetable than the current Russian plans.

An exciting new mini-series is premiering on the Discovery Channel in Canada very soon (September 23rd) entitled "Race to Mars". The producers consulted with hundreds of scientists to create the most accurate portrayal possible of what could be expected on this magnificent journey. This site has a ton of cool things on it as you might expect from the Discovery Channel including some interesting games oriented around Mars exploration, definitely worth checking out as is the mini-series.

Related to the mini-series is "Earth to Mars: The Great Space Debate" hosted by Daily Planet's Jay Ingram in Toronto on September 15th 2007. Tickets are sold out, but you can watch the live webcast online.

Also key to this issue is the Mars Society, a non-profit organization advocating human exploration and settlement of Mars. Their annual convention just wrapped up and their experimental mission in the Canadian arctic (the FMARS 11 Long Duration Mission) just came to a close at the end of August.

For a look at all things Mars from the NASA perspective, this site is a great place to start. It is hard to find any mention of a human mission here though. If you are wondering about the role the International Space Station might play in such a mission, there is a relevant "Ask an Expert" article at Scientific American here.

Going back in time a little,"The Case for Mars" conferences were interesting and share the title of a book by Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society.

You may also want to have a look at what the ESA (European Space Agency) is up to with their Aurora program or at the Russian Mars-500 project, another project intended to simulate on Earth a manned flight to Mars. To round all this out, there is a great list of just about every plan ever proposed here, and this subject has an article on Wikipedia that will point you in a lot of good directions. See you out there!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Development Sparks Fusion Hopes

As alternative energy sources go, fusion power may be the ultimate goal. It seems like it has been "almost here" for years. So is it? Not Yet! But the various research projects and developments keep rolling along. A recent innovation for the "Z Machine" facility at the Sandia National Laboratories carries hopes with it that the Sandia project may gain a little ground on what is probably the world's leading fusion project right now, the ITER which is an experimental reactor that is going to be built in Caderache, France next year.

New Scientist has an article about a rapid-firing "spark plug" (actually a device called a Linear Transformer Driver) that may help boost the efficiency of the inertial confinement method being used at Sandia, which has until now been less efficient and shown less practical promise than the magnetic confinement method used at the Joint European Torus in Culham, UK (JET) and which will be used in ITER.

Fusion is actually a pretty controversial form of alternative power. Despite decades of research and billions of dollars spent on it, a viable fusion power station is probably still decades away (ITER won't be operational until 2015, and it is just the next step for magnetic confinement, not a fully functioning production facility). Critics say this is taking valuable research dollars away from other more viable forms of alternate energy. One leading scientist published a paper in the journal Science recently saying he believes fusion will never be practical as an alternate source of energy because there are just too many insurmountable obstacles that still have to be overcome.

So if you are interested, there is a general overview of fusion reactions and what is required at the JET web site. For a more brain-straining explanation, the Wikipedia article on fusion is excellent. And while you are at it, you may want to visit the ITER site or the Z Machine site (links above).

And for those of you who remember that short period of hope and the following crash of Cold Fusion way back when, that horse is not dead yet. Recent experiments (reproducible this time) seem to show there really is SOMETHING going on there, and if that actually turned out to be the way ahead the irony would just be too sadsterical (that's sad and hysterical at the same time, couldn't think of a better way to say it...)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Invisibility: To see or not to see!

So, can something like an invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter stories be made? Not yet, but perhaps soon. It all involves something called metamaterials, which are essentially materials made up of simple electronic components in repeated patterns that give the material electromagnetic properties not occurring naturally in nature. Recently there has been work published postulating how such a thing could be achieved, and the effect was actually demonstrated recently in an experiment at Duke University in 2006. That experiment involved invisibility to microwave radiation, not visible light however, and in only one wavelength.

The concept seems to have been proven however, and the real hurdle right now is just to create a metamaterial with the correct properties for visible light.

Cloaking devices for aircraft, submarines and such appear to be simpler to achieve since the effect would not have to change shape the way a cloak over a moving human form would have to. In this article at Science Daily, it states that scientists believe invisibility will be possible for objects of any size and shape within the next ten years.

There is an interesting article at Scientific American about building a tunnel out of this material, and how it would appear like a wormhole: light passing through it would seem to be appearing from another dimension.

I've been having a lot of fun thinking of some of the more bizarre applications for this sort of technology, other than the obvious military applications and such. Imagine activating the anti-theft device on your vehicle in the parking lot, and it disappears! Of course then someone else trying to park might plow into it, so maybe not such a good idea after all... How about using it to hide the structural supports for a building so it appears to be floating in space? Or improving the view in some places by rendering industrial infrastructure invisible? How about a closet door that disappears once you close it, leaving only a blank wall? The problem with almost any use for it of course is similar to the parking lot problem- for most things, you have to be able to see them for safety.

It's going to be interesting to see what the next developments in this field will be, now that the theory for how to achieve this effect has been established. See you out there (or maybe not)!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Hydrogen Bus Fleet

So, is there a hydrogen bus fleet or a hydrogen highway? Not yet! But there will be soon in British Columbia. There is an $89 million project to develop a fleet of 20 hydrogen fuelled buses and fulling stations in Whistler, Vancouver, and Victoria to supply the "hydrogen highway". The plan is to have it operational for showcasing at the 2010 Olympics. In fact, in cooperation with the United States the highway is planned to be operational all the way to San Diego by 2010. There is a short article about it here at CBC.

Hydrogen fulled vehicles are ZEVs, which are zero-emission vehicles. The only by-products are pure water and heat. The only problem with them at the moment is that we produce hydrogen using methods that do pollute during the production process. However, if we do get the distribution infrastructure and the vehicles put in place, the production method could be altered to a more environmentally friendly method. This seems to be the most feasible approach to me, one step at a time. It would be impractical to move to alternate production methods before a market has been developed.

So how long until hydrogen vehicles are in the hands of the average consumer? There are prototypes out there, and the big companies are going to be showing them off in the near future. Considering the momentum that concern over climate change is imparting to environmentally friendly technological change now, perhaps we'll see them a lot sooner than most of us originally thought! I'll see if I can round up some of the news on the prototypes that are out there and do a little summary in an upcoming yeti tracks. See you out there!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Yeti Tracks : The Drake Equation

Well, here is my first yeti tracks, a type of post where I intend to add detail or discussion about something I've already mentioned, a sort of follow-up post.

I realized I mentioned the Drake equation in my post about Gliese 581 C without really saying what it was, for those who don't know. Basically the equation was created by Dr. Frank Drake as a method for estimating the number of extraterrestrial civilizations it might be possible to come in contact with. The variables in this equation are almost all subject to debate, but the one that this discovery specifically relates to is ne which is the number of planets per star that would be capable of developing life. The discovery is also very relevant to the Rare Earth hypothesis, which basically states that the conditions required to support life in the universe are very rare, and the Mediocrity principle, which states the opposite by saying there is nothing particularly unusual or special about the conditions required to support life in a universal context.

If you are really interested, you can read more about the Drake Equation, the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Mediocrity principle at Wikipedia. See you out there!

Black hole or worm hole?

A new study suggests that black holes and worm holes may be virtually indistinguishable from each other observationally. The sole observable difference is something called Hawking radiation, which should be found in the case of black holes but not with worm holes. The trouble is that Hawking radiation should be very hard to detect in the presence of many other energy sources. There is a very interesting article on the study and on black holes and worm holes in general at New Scientist.

An interesting thought is put foward that Hawking radiation may aid in future particle accelerator experiments where microscopic black holes might be produced, specifically to help identify whether what is created in the experiment is a black hole or a worm hole.

I've heard a little about these proposed experiments before, and really have to read more about them. What effect would a microscopic black hole have on its surroundings? Would it last a few nanoseconds and then vanish/collapse, or could it sustain itself? A worm hole would be preferable I think, since it does not have an event horizon like a black hole does! Which means something that goes in might be able to come back out.

I remember reading an alternate theory on black hole formation, function and form recently that I'm going to look around for and put up as yeti tracks if I can find it.