Star Wars and Our Solar System

For many years I’ve known that Iapetus and Mimas (moons of Saturn) have resembled the Death Star. Today we saw images of Ultima Thule as New Horizons went speeding by at something like 8 miles per second.

Mimas resembles the first Death Star

Mimas resembles the first Death Star

Mimas resembles the first Death Star

Iapetus resembling the second Death Star

Iapetus resembles the second Death Star

Iapetus resembles the second Death Star

Here’s an interesting article about why Iapetus might look the way it does by Phil Plait ‘The Bad Astronomer’.

And now Ultima Thule sure does resemble BB-8

BB-8 and Ultima Thule

BB-8 and Ultima Thule

Creating a multi-national non-governmental space agency

What if we could unite the top 5 GDP nations and have each contribute 1% of their GDP to a non-government space agency that had a board of randomly selected advisors from the heads of industry for various tech sectors that served say 5 year terms (adequate time for serious project/mission development) before new were randomly selected. Stagger these random draws though starting with the first batch so every 6 months a certain percent are replaced so existing projects can continue to run seemlessly.

If we took 1% of the GDP from the top 5 nations, we could have 408 billion a year for space.

NASA'S budget in 2015 was 18 billion. The DoD had a budget of 585 billion in 2015. This would be a tiny sacrifice for each of the top 5 GDP nations and they'd not even notice.

All technology developed from this new space agency would be 100% open source to any participating nation, any nation that wished to join would be required to contribute 1% of their GDP for no less than 3 years to also be granted access to all of the technology, however they could be included in helping to manufacture/develop/include personnel.


Think of what could be achieved. Can we say Starfleet 0.5?

My LEGO MOC of habitat modules for a Mars mission and how I'd set up the first colony

I originally intended to do any entire Mars mission out of LEGO, I have most of the elements I need for the rocketry, return vehicle, exploration vehicle etc but five months ago I did the habitats and stopped. I'll get around to finishing everything eventually. I had thought I posted this MOC on this blog but it appears I haven't so here it is!

I have about 18.5 m2 of PV panels displayed in the model which would provide about 1415w at high noon on Mars during the Martian winter (1851w in the summer), the tanks have actually been launched and landed ahead of time largely empty containing ISRU units to generate/capture usable things from the atmosphere. Probably WAVAR for one of the ISRU units which upon landing could quickly be used for starting soil washing experiments and/or hydroponics, if near the northern polar region you could take your time harvesting water ice for melting, you could also have some of the water from the WAVAR going to a second ISRU purely to make oxygen and hydrogen, you could also have one making monopropellant hydrogen peroxide for the return mission and/or return samples. In the event of a dust storm, which can last months or more, the PV panels would be largely worthless however the stored oxygen and hydrogen could be used with a fuel cell to provide energy for the habitat modules.

I didn't picture an RTG as I plan to have one of the vehicles using an RTG for processing water ice (the waste heat to melt the ice and warm the passenger cabin), this vehicle could be plugged into the habitat modules to provide heat and emergency energy in the event of a prolonged storm as leaving the habitat modules would be a bad idea due to severely reduced visibility.

If I were to establish a Mars colony here are my initial thoughts on how I'd go about doing it.


In the 'early days' I'd start with inflatables as I've shown above in LEGO elements. But Ryan, what about radiation shielding? 

It's not as big of an issue as you'd suspect. You aren't going to be living/temporarily living in clear nylon inflated bubbles. Yes, you'll absolutely pick up more rads if you are living in an unshielded habitat but shielding it is going to be quite easy if you have even modest mechanical means of moving regolith.


Worst case for a non permanent mission, the areas of the habitat you spend most of your time in have the water stored in the walls and ceiling.


Quick shielding for more permanent living you take a strong, but light, material like Nylon 6 with you ultra-light metal poles. You place the poles around the habitat you then weave the material between them (think 'under over') and then spend your first few days using modestly powered Martian wheelbarrow to scoop and move regolith between the material and the habitat with the exception of shielded doors. Again, have some of the water stored in the top of the modules for the hours the sun is overhead. OR make a simple machine that fills sandbags, the sandbags would require more material (fabric/plastic) but would likely be quicker than carting regolith around.

With my example in LEGO I'd have the inflatable modules I have shown then come in with poles spaced out like fence posts, something like Nylon 6 sheeting woven between the poles and then fill the space with regolith. For a more long term shielding, your habitats are largely underground OR you use regolith as a component for making bricks and stack bricks around the hab modules.


Depending on where you land will matter here. If you wanted to land near the northern polar cap you'd find 821,000 cubic kilometers of water ice available for exploitation, elsewhere you'd have to find it in the regolith or get lucky and drill and hope to find a underground water source near a geologically active area that is pumping out geothermal energy (which you might want to do for heating and energy production anyway). 

For this post, I'm going to assume we are setting up camp near the northern cap, farther south than the cap gets during the winter. From here you'd need a vehicle that was capable of week or longer trips. You'd drive all day and park at night, ideally you could make it to ice in 3 days or less, you'd then determine concentrations of water ice and cut/hammer/pick out as much as you can fit into a storage compartment and then drive back. You'd also want a second vehicle at the base so a rescue party could come and get you in the event the vehicle became stuck or otherwise disabled.

Now, you need to melt that ice. With power being a precious commodity on Mars I've had thoughts on how to do this. 

The 'cheapest' method is going to be using the sun directly, basically put the ice in a sealed, transparent, greenhouse and use reflectors to concentrate more sunlight on a given space to raise the temperature. Place ice in, seal, pressurize, open valve in funneled floor, let the sun do it's work. Use a solar tracking system to adjust enough reflectors while it melts, water collects in tank. Melting done, close drain valve and vent pressure. Since no one is in the box you don't even have to use breathable air, simply pump Martian atmosphere into the box in a high enough concentration to assist with the heating of the box.

Second option, so Mars averages 57% the solar irradiance that earth gets. Average temperature on Mars is -55C. Doing some quick math in my head you'd likely need a little less than 0.5KWh to melt 1kg of ice and to get it slightly above freezing so you'll need about 6 square meters of PV panel to thaw 2kg an hour of ice, that's about 2 liters of water an hour assuming it's pure water ice and doesn't contain any dry ice or meteorites of appreciable size.

I'm going to use the potatoes everyone knows about from The Martian for this to give us an idea of how much water migth be needed. Now, it takes about 34 gallons of water to grow a pound of potatoes, that's almost 129 liters. Keep in mind you'll be keeping the water you wash soil with, and growing in a sealed greenhouse losing minimal amounts to air exchange in an air lock. The water content of the potato itself will almost entirely be recaptured as well. So, you'd need 8-10 days to melt enough ice to grow a pound of potatoes if you go the PV route. If you went the solar reflector route you'd be melting a hell of a lot quicker and need about the same weight of materials.

Making a colony make economic sense, funding the effort

Aha, now this is the real key to settling Mars... making money to fund sending more humans and cargo.

If a private company, or more likely consortium of companies from various industries, could cough up 500bn (for reference Apple reported a NET income of 53.39bn in 2015 and has 200bn~ in cash, the fortune 500 top 10 earners reported 210bn in NET profits in 2014) ...

Let's be conservative and pretend a private company would need 20bn per 5 flights. Let's say 1 equipment launch per 4 manned launches. I believe Mars Direct called for 3 people for the early flights but let's pretend 5 per flight.

You get 100 people and a hell of a lot of equipment and habitats to Mars for 500bn over 10-16 years and then BOOM. Declare yourself a nation.

You sell land claims, you license technologies, you tax import but instead of a financial cut you get paid in cargo space or human passage. Screw the various space treaties/agreements, the backing companies spend plenty of money on lobbyists the world around and could get a few countries minimum to exit those agreements and recognize the new government.

You take those human passage spaces taken as tax and use them to hire via employment contracts. You get passage to Mars as well as room, board for working for us for x years and you also earn this many Marsbucks per month. Any mineral deposits, discoveries, inventions etc you make while under your initial contract the Martian Free Government gets 10% royalties on gross profits and may use any technologies or processes for free.

You also work with other companies that want to send people to Mars. "You will be granted access to such and such, an xx year land lease for a nominal amount, in exchange you will give 5% of any profits that arise from your operations on Mars whether or not sold on Mars or not".

Inside of 50 years from the first landing of humans you'd essentially have Mars locked down. If any wildcat colonies tried to land, it'd likely be far from your settlement and they wouldn't be an issue for centuries. If armed forces attempted to come and be a problem, if they were from a Terran government that government would likely find themselves screwed politically as soon as news made its way back to earth.

Recommended reading:

How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet



Lasers, space, ET and long-distance communication oh my!

So the other day the article 'No extraterrestrial laser pulses detected from KIC 8462852, SETI reports' came out and I got a little curious about how wide a laser's beam would be by the time it got here. 

First we need to figure out how quickly a laser spreads as it travels a distance, fortunately someone else already did this work. The Lunar Laser Ranging experiment let's me know that a laser shined from earth is about 6.5 kilometers wide.

  • IC 8462852 is approximately 454 parsecs from Earth
  • The moon is about 238,900 miles from Earth
  • A parsec is 19,173,511,600,000 miles
  • 1 parsec is 80257478.4429 x farther than the moon
  • KIC 8462852 about 36,436,895,213.1 farther than the mooon

So a beam from a laser similar to the on used for the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, sent at us from something 454 parsecs away would be something like 236,839,818,885 km wide/147,165,440,629.8467 miles wide. Or 1 parsec away would be 521,673,609.879 km wide/324,152,952.929.

That means the beam from that a hypothetical laser from KIC 8462852 would be 1583.1x wider than the distance from the earth to the sun by the time it got to us!

Ahem. But wait, there's more!

Let's take something from my problem with time travel, the fact that the Earth is moving through the solar system, the solar system through the galaxy and the galaxy through the universe, essentially in different directions. 

Ok so 1 parsec is 3.26156 light years, and that system is about 454 parsecs away meaning that light has been traveling about 1481 years to get to us which means our solar system has moved 557,863,080,000 miles through our galaxy in the 1481 years since the hypothetical laser left KIC 8462852, which means if it was truly aimed at us they'd have to be thinking where we'd be in 1481 years as light travels straight (ignoring very large gravity sources curving it) and wouldn't be rotating around the galaxy. There's likely also some variation in speed of our star and KIC 8462852 traveling through our galaxy.



Re: Mars Missions Are A Scam

So I was reading this article on BuzzFeed about missions to Mars yesterday and something really upset me...

The trouble is, according to Do’s report, the plants growing the colonists’ food would quickly make too much oxygen and suffocate them.

Alright. Someone isn't thinking. At all. Don't get me wrong, we are not ready for manned missions to Mars unless they are suicide missions. But, we can easily solve the above mentioned problem.

So in the greenhouses you use some gas sensors and a simple pump to pump greenhouse air out and atmospheric air in... you see:

Earth's Atmosphere: 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039 carbon dioxde and miscellaneous traces 

Mars' Atmosphere: 96% carbon dioxide, 1.9% argon, 1.9% nitrogen and miscellaneous traces.

Many forms of algae can create nitrogen from carbon dioxide as part of their day to day life so you could keep nitrogen levels at 78% via your algae.  You figure out the best carbon dioxide levels for the plants in the greenhouse(s) and keep it there, if it's toxic to humans they use breathing apparatus or simply pump air out and then bring it to human-safe levels during work periods. PROBLEM SOLVED.

Wait, hold up Ryan, where are we getting all of that water for tanks and tanks full of algae? Well first you take enough to have some small tanks going. Then we turn to biological hydrogen production from algae, photosynthesis in cyanobacteria and green algae splits water into hydrogen ions and electrons. So use algae to make hydrogen. 

Pretty much get two parts hydrogen for every part of oxygen in something not unlike an engine (fuel cell). Introduce a burst of energy (say a spark) and you get an explosion. You now have an explosion and some water. While we don't do this on earth for clean drinking water due to the simple fact it would be extremely dangerous to do this to create enough water for thousands or millions of people, this would be ideal for use on Mars. You see, you have a separate habitat that is used for this, then you have a few small units in the room that are filling with the appropriate gasses, igniting, small amounts of water come out and the small detonations you capture the energy for use. The units refill and detonate again.

While this wouldn't create massive amounts of water, it would slowly add to your available water stores allowing you to bring more algae on, add more crops, support more humans until a better technology is developed (or a cheaper method of delivering supplies to Mars is found) or even until exploration can take place and perhaps find easily accessible water (likely ice) on Mars.



This just in, you don't matter.

The U.S. population is 316+ million, while our planet has more than 7 billion people on it and the Milky Way (our galaxy) contains about 500 billion stars.



One estimate suggests that the Universe contains more than 100 billion (or 10 to the 11th) galaxies. One can guess that there are likely at least 70 sextillion, stars or 7 × 10 to the 22nd. stars in the Universe (remember, not every galaxy is similar in size and quantity of stars, 70 sextillion is likely a gross understimate). The universe is part of??? The fact of the matter is you don't matter even on a national level (nor do I) and we are a joke in our arm of the galaxy, our arm of the galaxy is a fragment of our galaxy, our galaxy doesn't even begin to matter at a universal level and our universe is potentially a tiny spec in the grand scheme of things.

Note, my above figures are fairly conservative and made with a lot of liberties. I’ve seen the Milky Way estimated from anywhere between 200 and 500 billion stars for example and the galaxies in the universe figure is likely low too. There could easily be septillions of stars (or more!)

So really, someone tell me why we do nonsense like fight, argue, be petty about the most idiotic things? Why do the Kardashians matter? Why does American Idol matter, why do YOU matter? Why should I like your kid's photos on Facebook, should I really care that you are battling cancer? Should I even get out of bed Monday and go to work because when you think about it the Universe doesn't give a rat's ass and whatever it is part of doesn't either. I dunno, maybe I'm a damn fool for thinking about it but hey... what do I know. All I know is existence is far greater than we can imagine yet we focus and obsess about petty shit in our own lives and think we are all the center of existence when the fact is in the grand scheme of things we do not matter in the slightest.

Don't get me wrong, don't take this as a message to just give up. BETTER YOURSELF! Expand your mind, contemplate existence, find something constructive to do, apply yourself to bettering the lives of those around you. Do something for someone else. Learn something. Stare up into the night sky and think about what you are seeing for a few minutes.


If we take a look at our own solar system and count the currently defined planets; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune we know of life on 1 in 8 planets. Let's assume this is actually a high percentage and that 1 in 100 planets has some sort of life.

A septillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 so that gives us 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 worlds with at least single cellular life. That's 10 sextillion worlds.

Ok, so let's assume 1 out of every thousand worlds has multi-cellular life. That's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 worlds, 1 quintillion.

Now let's assume out of those 1 quintillion muti-cellular worlds that 1 in 1000 has something resembling animals. 1,000,000,000,000,000. That's 1 quadrillion worlds with animal life.

Let's assume 1 in 10 of those have some sort of sentient life that has developed the use of tools, even if they are primitive. That's 10 TRILLION worlds.

10 trillion worlds scattered among 100 billion galaxies gives an average of 100 tool-building worlds in your galaxy. Then you have 13.8 billion years to spread those out over.

With such a conservative estimate, it is highly unlikely that we will ever encounter a sentient species that originated on another planet.

We could easily change those numbers for our favor though. Say 1 in 2 stars has a planet or moon that supports life. 500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets with life. Say 1 in 2 of those has tool building life, 250,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

250 septillion planets with tool-building life. That gives you an average of 25,000 tool-building worlds per galaxy. That's still only a 1 in 20 million shot that any given star in our own galaxy hosts a planet/moon with a tool-building race on it. Then factor in that the Milky Way is estimated at 13.21 billion years old, consider humans are only about 200,000 years old and that civilization only goes back 10,000-25,000 years old (if you believe that that Bosnian 'pyramid' is a human creation then 25,000 years) and that we didn't land on the Moon until July 20, 1969 and it is the farthest we've ever sent human beings...

Now let's assume that in the first billion years of our galaxy, there were ZERO tool building species. That leaves you with 12.21 billion years to divide 25,000 civilizations over a galaxy with 100,000-180,000 light year diameter. Let's assume 140,000 light years. That's more than 15,000,000,000 square light years.

That gives us 1 tool building civilization per 600,000 square light years spread out over 12 billion years.

It sucks. I want to meet an off-world species soooooo much, better I want to travel to some of their worlds and see them with my own eyes. But, unless we figure out immortality I won't be holding my breath.

And obviously, this figure could be way way lower than in reality. If a species develops space technology they could easily begin to spread. Even if a civilization needed a thousand years to spread to a neighboring star in 10,000 years you could have a presence in 512 star systems, in 20,000 years 524,288 star systems.

This week in space: Siberian and other cavern craters

So this mysterious Siberian Crater has people throwing out all kinds of theories... 

It reminds me of the one on Mars

It also reminds me of the one on the moon


Now, I have a really good theory on what has caused these... one I've not seen mentioned yet. You see my friends, I whole-heartedly believe these are caused by one thing. A terrible menace. GRABOIDS.