Friday, April 29, 2016

The History of Europa

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, has a diameter of 3,100 kilometers, which is about 20 percent smaller than that of the Earth’s moon. Almost all evidence indicates that Europa has an iron core, a rocky mantle, and a salty ocean lying under an icy shell. It orbits Jupiter every three and a half Earth days, and it is very nearly tidally locked with its planet, meaning that its orbital period is the same as its rotational period; one hemisphere of Europa constantly faces Jupiter. As with most planetary bodies, this moon probably formed with a rotation that was not originally synchronous. Over time, tidal torque would have slowed the spin so that it would be nearly synchronous with its orbit. It is generally thought that Europa has a synchronous orbit; however, Richard Greenberg, author of Unmasking Europa, claims otherwise. A non-synchronous orbit would help support the theory that there is a subsurface ocean. The asymmetry of Europa’s mass distribution would offset the tidal torque, and the surface would be separated from the interior by a layer of liquid. The strength of the tidal torque is uncertain, and theory alone does not reveal if Europa is truly tidally locked with Jupiter. Jupiter’s gravity is slightly stronger on the near side of the moon than the far side, so the magnitude of the gravity changes throughout the orbit. This push and pull of gravity stretches and relaxes the surface, and it is believed that this tidal action might cause volcanic or hydrothermal activity on the seafloor, supplying chemicals that could have generated life.

Between its discovery by Galileo and when the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft passed by it, Europa was an unresolved point of light. However, by passing Europa’s light through a spectrograph, 20th-century scientists were able to infer the material that made up its surface. There were no instruments available to determine what would lie beneath the surface, and even now, it would be challenging to confidently determine the substances that lie within Europa unless scientists were to drill through the surface layer to see what lies underneath.

The presence of water was predicted long before Voyager or Galileo by Guy Consolmagno, who based this prediction on the theoretical models of how Jupiter’s moons form. These models suggest that Jupiter’s moons formed from a swirling cloud of dust and gas that surrounded the planet, just as the planets themselves grew in a similar cloud around the sun. As this Jovian “nebula” cooled, solid particles condensed out, and they gradually came together to form the satellite. The sequence of condensation determined the composition while internal heating separated the materials by density within each moon. Dense metal would sink to towards the center to form a core whereas lighter material would form the surface.

It is worth the cost and time to explore Europa as much as possible because there are still many features of it that remain a mystery. The combination of strong evidence of a subsurface ocean and the possibility of life should make exploring Europa a priority for future missions, and hopefully the mysteries of Europa will one day be revealed.


Unmasking Europa: the Search for Life on Jupiter’s Ocean Moon by Richard Greenberg

Discovering Mars

For many years, humans have observed Mars and thought about whether we should eventually colonize it. NASA has sent several missions to land on Mars, and they are helping us to determine if we can actually inhabit this bare planet. The American spacecraft Viking 1 was the first to land on Mars, in 1976, and the first to transmit images from the Martian surface. What it found was a dusty and cold planet that we would have to terraform in order to make it inhabitable.

However, it is difficult to actually travel to Mars and explore it. The biggest hurdle is the amount of time it takes to reach Mars. When Mars is closest to Earth, it is about 38 million miles away. To determine a launch window for Mars, there are many factors to consider. About every 26 months, Mars and Earth are positioned such that the time needed to travel between the two is minimized. The length of a launch window depends on the type of launch vehicle that is selected. A given launch vehicle is associated with a set of parameters that must be optimized, such as the amount of mass that can be carried given a certain target velocity. For a mission to Mars, lift-off is usually scheduled before an ideal launch day, but there needs to be acceptable conditions for the launch vehicle. A launched vehicle utilizes both the orbital velocity of the Earth (about 18 miles per second) and the velocity achieved by its rockets to move swiftly towards Mars. As it moves towards the orbit of Mars, it trades some kinetic energy associated with the velocity into potential energy. When it finally reaches Mars’ orbit, it will slow down enough to allow orbit capture. The total travel time from Earth to Mars is 150 days. Even with this fast travel time, there is still the issue of how a manned mission will get back to Earth, because once we are on Mars, we have to wait for a Martian launch window before sending a rocket back. Thus it is important to plan early when to take off from Earth as that will determine the takeoff date from Mars to Earth, since Mars and Earth are constantly changing their positions from one another.

To learn more about Mars, it takes tremendous effort and time. However, it would be worth it if we can terraform it and transform the planet into something we can inhabit that is similar to Earth.


Zubrin, Robert, and Richard Wagner. "From Kepler to the Space Age." The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must. New York: Free, 1996. 19-20 & 87-91. Print.
- Minami Makino

Delaying Our Doomsday

The average lifetime of an intelligent civilization is one of the variables in the Drake Equation used to estimate the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy. Attaching a quantity to this variable invites not only scientists but also political philosophers into the discussion of our path to finding intelligent life. Because our species is the only intelligent society we know of, determining the average likelihood of intelligent species is mostly dependant on our single data set sample size: us.

One reflective question to ask with outward projection: How long are we going to survive as a species. This is widely disputed across the board, but I have a fairly optimistic point of view. The naturalistic argument is too frequently paired with an outdated anti-industrialist point of view. Too frequently, take a transcendentalist. After all, I consider myself a fan of pomp and convention. It is too late to assert that as humans all we need should be water, food, and love. This is no longer true with today’s size of population. We have a lot more problems to deal with-- but in many ways we have naturally developed infrastructure to match everyone’s needs.

But that’s besides the point. If we think of the progress we’ve made in creating a structure of peace, by the numbers, modern human civilization has been incredibly successful. Consistently, decade after decade, the rate of deaths attributed to war has consistently decreased. Compared with tribes in amazon in the 1900’s, of whom the death rates ranged from 20%-60% coming from murder, the 20th century Europe and U.S. tolled immensely less (around 1%), even including World War I and II. Moreover, since those times we only become even more exponentially peaceful. The death rate attributed to war in 2016 is far below 1% of the world’s population.

Under these statistics, I really believe that we are going to keep progress moving into more consistent eras of unparalleled peace. While many argue the fact that we know are living in a world with much more risk, given the threat of nuclear power-- I argue the opposite. We have been in possession as a global power of nuclear weapons well over 50 years and we haven’t had any type of imminent threat from nuclear war for some time now. In many ways, actually, the new level of peace in the twenty first century can be attributed to the possession of nuclear weapons and the threat of mutually assured destruction.

If we are going to assume, however, that intelligent societies generally will not self implode, going forward we have to think more critically about the fermi’s paradox. If it is indeed true that intelligent life doesn’t self-destruct then why haven’t we been visited by any civilizations that are indulging in their worlds of unforeseen scientific progress and peace as we predicted.
- Sean Moore

The Future of Traveling

Teleportation is everyone’s dream superpower. Instantly moving from one place to another would infinitely increase production and efficiency. But is it scientifically possible? Many scientist, including Professor Michio Kaku and Charles Bennett, think that teleportation is in fact possible, and happens at a quantum level. Quantum teleportation exists and is called quantum entanglement. This process connects atoms, similar to umbilical chords, and allows atoms to transmit information between each other even if they are far away. However, the information does not actually travel. The chunk of information just arrives at the destination without physically passing between them. This might not sound like much, but all objects are just sets of data--elemental abundances, atomic energy states, etc.-that one may use to reconstruct them. So by transferring these data from place to place and using them to reconstruct objects, we are in effect "teleporting" these objects.This teleportation is different from the Star Trek-style teleportation where atoms are converted to energy and then beamed to faraway locations. This style of teleportation is more like making a copy of the object in another place.

Another way of moving over large distances without actually travelling that distance utlizes wormholes, also referred to as Einstein Rosen bridge. Wormholes are tunnels connecting one point in spacetime to another. They can make locations that are actually billions of light years away much, much closer. They create holes in the fabric of spacetime and bend it so the two ends are next to each other. Wormholes sound very efficient and useful, but we may never attain the engineering ability to capture, enlarge, and stabilize wormholes. If wormholes exist, they exist on very small scales, in the quantum foam, where they constantly pop in and out of existence. Because these wormholes are so small, they are impossible to detect with current technology. But let's say we could detect them and capture them. Then we would need to apply a source of negative energy to open them up and make them big enough for human-scale objects to fit. But we currently know of no sources of negative energy. The physics behind wormholes, though it may be hard to admit, is simply not there.

Lastly, a small comment about hyperspace/hyperdrive. Getting a spaceship to travel a couple thousand times faster than the speed of light is very implausible. Teleportation, which on the other hand is much more plausible, is the method that I feel is most likely to be the one we use to travel large distances in short amounts of time in the future.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Home in the Void

The idea of space colonization has been explored in many ways over the past several years. Many individuals in the industry and scientific community have become fixated on the idea of Mars domes or underground caverns where humans would eke out an existence until it could be terraformed. Between where we are now and terraforming Mars, there is a very important step- maybe even an alternative- that we should consider. Free space settlements are those that are not terrestrially bound. This type of settlement would exist in the vacuum of space, which in itself presents a host of positives and negatives.

On the one hand, the fact that we are not terrestrially bound means that we do not have to worry about the hazards of the planet (or moon’s) surface. Cosmic background temperature stays relatively constant at -454 degrees Fahrenheit. The main problem we have with temperatures and building structures is not one extreme or another, but rather drastic temperature changes. The surface of Mars, for instance, varies immensely from -195 to 70 degrees depending on time of day, and this can cause stresses to equipment. Another advantage to living in free space is the relative lack of weather. Although there are bouts of cosmic radiation that surge through space, the surface of Mars is plagued by massive dust storms and other potentially dangerous weather. Living in free space would not limit us by location. We would have the added advantage of avoiding entry of another atmosphere, as well as the possibility of using centrifugal force to create artificial gravity. This would allow us to circumvent some of the problems with living in low-gravity environments, such as fertility and bone-density issues.

On the other hand, living below ground on a planet may be a way to avoid severe weather and temperature changes. Living on a planet may allow us to source more material locally, instead of sending everything up into space from Earth, which would save money. Conceding that living on a planet is not a bad idea, however, does not mean we should not build free space settlements. A space settlement could actually be a stepping stone for Mars missions, as it would be much cheaper to assemble and launch a rocket from space instead of from Earth.

What type of structures could we expect to be living in? Early on, colonists might live in small quarters, like the international space station. As we gain the ability to scale, either by making transportation to space much cheaper than it is now, or by using resources in space, we could build some really luxurious abodes. Bernal spheres, O’Neill cylinders and Stanford tori all rely on the same principle: spinning to create artificial gravity. The interior walls would, in theory be able to support human life, with conditions not too different from here on earth. These mega structures would be on scales of five to twenty miles, which is infeasible today, but in the future, it may be a better alternative than living in a Martian cave.

- Krishna Rao

The Birth of Cells

Life has existed on Earth for more than 4 billion years, yet the precise origin of the first cells remains a mystery. Our understanding of what Earth was like when this occurred has allowed us to develop a few theories regarding the birth of cells. Firstly, most of the surface of the planet was covered in water. Moreover, the atmosphere did not have molecular oxygen or an ozone layer. As such, the surface of the Earth was exposed to considerably more UV radiation from the sun. Given these conditions on the planet, our best guess of where simple single-cellular life may have first flourished is somewhere in oceanic depths near hydrothermal vents, or beneath the surface of the Earth. There are specific requirements that had to be fulfilled for cells to have arisen—structures that permitted molecules to come together to form a cell. In particular, hereditary material such as DNA and RNA, and a structure for compartmentalization such as a cell wall or membrane, were needed. The formation of these structures is the result of prebiotic chemical and physical processes.The RNA world hypothesis is a widely accepted theory that suggests that self-replicating ribonucleic acid molecules are the precursors to prokaryotic cells. Over time, RNA developed enzymes allowing it create polymers of amino acids, eventually leading to the more stable DNA. In the first cells, however, it is believed that a more primitive version of RNA acted as the hereditary material.

Fatty acids in water, given a level above a threshold concentration, spontaneously form a bilayer, a physically stable, low-energy configuration. This bilayer takes on a spherical shape. As such, this create a structure that envelopes water within its walls, a sort of vesicle. Again, this occurs as a direct result of the tendency of matter to organize itself into its most stable state. Supplying the vesicle with more fatty acids (in the form of organic compounds and the energy needed for the formation of said fatty acids) allows it to grow and divide. When the size of the bilayer increases by a fixed amount, its volume increases more than its surface area. And if the contents within the vesicle are not changed, the bilayer will naturally cave around its equator, resulting in a dumbbell-shaped vesicle, a first step towards cell division. Furthermore, hereditary material can become embedded in phospholipid bilayers, and with energy from hydrothermal vents, it is possible that this union of the two structures led to the first cell. Lastly, RNA within the cell, capable of replicating, would also split into both parts of the vesicle when a the bilayer begins to divide. This results in a cell with a membrane, hereditary material, and the ability to reproduce. The bilayer composed of fatty acids and the hereditary material are some of the most important structures needed for simple single-cellular life to have developed.


Lane, Nick. The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015. Print.
- Ricardo Roche

The Possibilities of Time Travel

Time travel is a phenomenon that has been fascinating the human race for centuries. Since the development of Einstein’s theory of relativity, physicians have especially shown a special interest in this field. Einstein’s special theory of relativity suggests that time passes at different rates to different observers. This development resulted from the discovery that traveling at the speed of light would make time appear slower than to an individual with a lower speed. This breakthrough provided unprecedented insight into the nature of space and time and its interactions with gravity. As a result, scientists found that matter is actually able to distort space such that the rate of time is adjusted. They expected this distortion, now referred to as a “wormhole”, to be shaped like a tunnel with two entrances so that inside, time is stopped.

Since the first mention of wormholes, the scientific community has been investigating whether they actually exist and the implications they may hold. Since wormholes act as passages through space-time, they may potentially create shortcuts for journeys across the universe. Scientist Robert Oppenheimer theorized that a star collapse might give way to a wormhole by leaving a black hole that would warp space into a wormhole. However, these Schwarzschild black holes are found to retain charge and spin, which would require one to travel at a speed greater than that of light. Instead, simpler types of black holes would be more ideal to act as passageways and time machines as they allow for speeds slower than the speed of light.

With more research on the feasibility of time travel, physicists have also looked into the implications of time travel for human life. The most well known conflict they face is the grandfather paradox: can time travelers actually change history? This had led the way to a variety of “what-if” scenarios such as killing a family member or meeting oneself, which also caused wide scale discussion on their potential consequences. A large problem that arises is causality, which refers to when an event occurs only after a driving force. This principle may be violated through time travel into the past if one were to interfere with history.

The discussion on time travel and human interference has given way to multiple models of the events that would unfold after changing the past. One model of time travel by researcher Seth Lloyd suggests that paradoxical events would actually be censored by making unlikely events to happen more frequently. For example, in the grandfather’s death instance, a bullet that was used to kill a time traveler’s grandfather would be more likely to be defective so that he couldn’t be killed. Another model by David Deutsch allows inconsistencies between a time travel’s memories and their actual experiences so that he would remember killing his grandfather without having done it.

Unfortunately, we cannot know the true nature of time travel until humans are able to pass through spacetime differently. As a result, physicists have been further looking into the feasibility of time travel via wormholes. There is no clear answer currently to whether humans are capable of travelling through, developing, or stabilizing a wormhole. However, with the rapid developments of science and technology, we will hopefully gain a much greater understanding of space and time travel that may pay off thousands of years from now.


“Time Travel: Tunnels Through Time” by Barry Parker (1992)
“Time travel gets more plausible, yet weirder too” by Laura Sanders (2016)
- Shreya Punya

Friday, April 22, 2016

Positive Considerations for the Colonization of Mars

Besides being a potential candidate for terraformation, Mars is seen as a beacon of hope for the future of humanity by proponents of colonization. They are in turn challenged by dissidents who bring up ethical and practical issues of taking on such an operation. These issues included our right as a species to endanger another by corrupting their natural environment, and the impracticality and costs of terraformation. The atmosphere, water content, gases, etc., of Mars render the process of maintaining an Earth-like environment difficult and costly in the long run.

Proponents of colonization uphold many reasons for the settlement of Mars. But in particular, the strongest motive is the preservation of the human race. Since WWII, the scale of nuclear weapons have greatly increased, and technology has advanced immensely. Although we have been able to maintain some stability on Earth, it seems that while we move further ahead into the future, these developments will only create more social or economic issues. Proponents of colonization believe that an international effort to settle Mars will bring humanity together in a collective effort to survive, or an “alternative to destructive wars that could decimate high tech civilization on Earth and humanity’s chance to reach the stars”(Paine). The additional fact that material from nuclear warheads around the globe can be used as fuel for future Martian civilizations for a long time, is another incentive for colonization. An international collective effort to use these weapons for this purpose would simultaneously bring us together for the common purpose of futhering humanity in colonizing a new world, as well as lessening the possibility of using these weapons for their original purpose. Basically, the goal of colonizing mars is both unifying and possibly beneficial in some perspectives. Settlement of Mars would also imply other benefits for humanity such as economic development and growth through expansion of our economy throughout the solar system and resources to be discovered, as well as a clean slate for humanity to restart itself.

In addition, Mars shows some promise in maintaining a good economic balance, in terms of what it can provide for Mars-Earth trade. For example, steel- an important industrial material, can be retrieved from mars in iron form in many quantities. Compared to steel production on Earth, that on Mars is significantly easier, since the conditions are so that the energy intensive reduction process is not necessary(Landis). In return, Mars’ arid soil would need to be fertilized through Earth’s resources, further enhancing the trade system in the process of colonization. Despite the numerous questions and ethical issues raised by dissidents of the colonization/ terraformation of Mars, it seems that fostering a civilization on this planet is in fact an achievable and potentially very beneficial project. Mars possesses most of the raw materials required to uphold a civilization and build what is required to sustain it. The only issue besides that would be of the moral implications, if it is discovered that microbes/life on Mars is confirmed to exist.


- Haeun Bang

The Implications of Living in a Simulation

If we are in fact part of a simulation then we have an answer to our existence and several possible solutions to alien existence. We know where we came from: our existence is due to a civilization that reached a point where they could create a simulation of the Universe, and did so. Thus our existence is as part of a program rather than within a Universe that arose by natural means. In this regard we don’t really exist on our own: entities that exist outside of our Universe control our destiny. On a side note, being in a simulation would also explain the Big Bang: the program began with the Big Bang, or at some point later with observational evidence of the Big Bang coded into it. Being in a simulation answers many questions that we have about the Universe, but also has many implications for the way we live in the future. If we discover that our world is a simulation there are several elements of everyday life that will change.

First, our living in a simulation means that we do not exist in the traditional sense. Living in a traditional sense implies you exist, everyone else exists, and the Universe exists as well. In example, if the Universe is a hologram then we would perceive ourselves to be living normally, while in fact the world is not what we perceive it to be. Many people may have existential crisis, since being told you are in a simulation can be quite a shock. However, the simulation world will still follow the rules of the Universe we. This means that the laws that govern our society are not changed. If we discover we are in a simulation, gravity will not cease to exist. Just because we found out we are in a simulation does not mean that the laws of nature have changed.

Possibly the largest implication would be the effect this knowledge would have on religion. Most religions are based around either a single god or a group of gods that created the world or have some on-going impact on our everyday lives. If we discover that the Universe was made by some higher-order beings than there are two ways the religious can respond: either they shift their identification of god to those that made the simulation or they can denounce their religion. There is a third option, ignorance, which some may choose but does not need explanation as to the change involved. There will always be people that will not believe the evidence brought forth if we are found to be part of a simulation.

If religions reimagine their god(s) to be the creator(s) of the simulation, they will have undeniable proof that god exists (assuming we have undeniable proof of being in a simulation, which I know to be difficult to explain). If every religion updates their definition of god then every religion will end up praying to the same creators. Perhaps one religion will emerge from the chaos that would ensue, a hybrid religion that combines what we currently believe with what we have learned from being in a simulation. However if religions cannot adapt their definitions of god then they will struggle while trying to maintain their previous assumptions. Finding proof that we live in a simulation will result in huge changes to society, for better or worse.
- Adin Adler

Directed Panspermia

The panspermia hypothesis states that life is found throughout space, carried from planet to planet by meteors or other objects. There is a multitude of variations on this idea ­ some argue that hardy microorganisms undertake not just interplanetary journeys but interstellar ones as well; others find the idea of alien microbes too far­fetched, and maintain that panspermia takes place with organic molecules only. Some even claim that panspermia is deliberately initiated by intelligent life: a hypothesis specifically referred to as directed panspermia, where the biological spores in question are intentionally dispersed by intelligent civilizations, using natural or artificial means.

Most speculation about directed panspermia falls under two umbrella questions: Could an intelligent species seed an Earthlike planet with life? And could humans do the same with a clear conscience?

If panspermia occurs naturally, as many argue that it does, then panspermia aided by technology should be that much more effective, and thus that much more common. After all, if alien bacteria can make interplanetary journeys on their own, then they can certainly do it with help ­ yet no evidence of directed panspermia has ever been discovered. Opponents of panspermia (or at least those who maintain a belief in extraterrestrial intelligence) claim that by simple contraposition, this lack of proof proves that panspermia “doesn’t work.” However, due to the (apparent) scarcity of technologically advanced societies in our sector of space, an absence of evidence for directed panspermia does not necessarily mean that it is impossible ­ only that no nearby alien civilizations are putting it into practice.

The intentional propagation of microbial life throughout space does indeed seem to be possible. In science fiction directed panspermia is usually the work of a species far more advanced than ours, but the reality is that panspermia could likely be initiated using today’s human technology. Capsules on the order of a few millimeters or centimeters could conceivably carry Earth bacteria to other star systems using an efficient solar sail propulsion system. They might take hundreds of thousands of years to arrive at their destination, and many would perish on the journey, but the process is definitely within reach.

Human­-initiated panspermia is, of course, a highly controversial proposal, with strong feelings on both sides. On one hand, the most popular argument in favor of the colonization of other planets is to have a “backup” in case of disaster on Earth: so as a means of making a planet habitable for human life, directed panspermia might be a simpler and far cheaper alternative to terraformation (albeit a far more gradual one). On the other hand, propagating Earth life elsewhere in the galaxy could annihilate existing biospheres, in the same way that an invasive plant species can drive a native one to extinction. Though we do have the technology to disperse life, we aren’t capable of detecting it from afar, meaning that any panspermia campaign could have this effect. Even in the far future, with hypothetical technology capable of detecting evidence of microbes on planets lightyears away, this could prove an ethical problem. Humans could confirm the absence of life on a planet and send biological capsules its way; but there is no guarantee that life would not evolve during the long interval between the capsule’s launch and its arrival. To sidestep this problem, some have suggested targeting newborn stellar systems, where life would not have time to evolve.

The problem with directed panspermia is that almost all of the factors that would help us through this ethical dilemma are unknown. Nobody knows for certain how life originates, or how often, or where (let alone why) . Though human tendency in similar situations has historically been to “go ahead and do it anyway,” in this case the morally minded can breathe a sigh of relief: the technology exists, but the monetary cost of launching a fleet of biological capsules is still prohibitively high for those who would like to do so.


Gilster, Paul, “Seeding the Galaxy” -- http://www.centauri­
Makukov and shCherbak, “Space Ethics to Test Directed Panspermia,” Life Sciences in Space Research, July 2014
The Interstellar Panspermia Society, “Principles of Panbiotic Ethics”-- http://www.panspermia­
- Emma Flickinger

Alien Appearance

Assuming that aliens do exist somewhere in the universe, how will we compare to them physically? Fergus Simpson, a cosmologist, performed a Bayesian analysis regarding the size of aliens, size of planets, and population sizes. After considering these factors, Simpson holds the belief that we should not be looking at Earth-like planets because our planet is not representative of inhabitable planets as a whole. Instead, we should be looking at planets of smaller size.

According to Simpson, we may make predictions about alien life based on our current Earth. For our purpose, we are naming an individual country as a “group” of people. If we take a look at the number of countries and their population sizes, we notice that more than 50% of humans live in seven countries. Because of this fact, the median person will probably be a member of one of these seven countries. However, the majority of countries have populations less than six million. If we were to take the median country based on population size, the chosen country would not be from one of the seven largest countries. Anytime groups are of different sizes, most individuals will be members of groups of larger size.

However, when it comes to figuring out where we are in comparison to other life forms, we cannot say with 100% confidence which part of the spectrum we are on. All things being equal, a randomly selected person is most likely to be a member of a more populous group, whether we group by race or blood type or by nationality. Whether it involves blood type or race, we are not equally likely to belong in each group. Simpson takes uses this fact and applies it to our planet so as to compare it to all the “other” planets that house alien life. He proceeds to make the assumption that we are a part of a large group.

Countries with high populations tend to have larger land areas. Because Simpson makes the assumption that we are on the higher end of the population size spectrum, he concludes that our planet is also on the higher end of the size spectrum. If we may compare planets like we compare countries, then there is a higher number of smaller-sized planets. Therefore, we should be looking at smaller planets instead of Earth-sized planets, as there are simply a larger number of inhabited smaller-than-Earth-sized planets than Earth-sized planets or larger.

Apart from population size, we may also hypothesize the size of these aliens. If we take a look at common species on Earth, smaller creatures tend to have a higher population size than larger creatures. For example, the population size of smaller ones like an ant is much larger than the population size of a larger ones like a hippopotamus. We may then apply this concept to the sizes of aliens in comparison to human beings. Above, we saw that we may assume that there are more smaller-than-Earth-sized planets. Given this assumption, these planets also have smaller population sizes, so their inhabitants are likely to have a larger physical sizes. So, it is probable that we are smaller in comparison to most alien populations.


- Stephanie Bao

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Murchison Meteorite and the Origin of Life

How did the first living being arise on Earth? A number of answers have been proposed to this question – yet no theory has been accepted as fact. Current scientific research suggests that the answer lies on our very own planet – albeit contained on an asteroid that originated far from Earth. The Murchison Meteorite, an object of great significance in the field of astrobiology, landed on Earth on September 28, 1969 near the quiet Australian town of Murchison at approximately 10:45 AM.1 Fragments from what later became known as the meteor scattered across the countryside – each containing evidence that would become crucial to astro-biological research.

A large fragment of the Meteorite.2
Closer examination of the meteorite fragments revealed an abundance of both right-handed and left-handed amino acids and evidence of nucleobases that are comprise both DNA and RNA.3 Nucleobases are defined to be “structures that play fundamental roles in in carrying genetic information of all living things.”4 To illustrate the importance of such a discovery, take DNA and RNA to be a computer. Nucleobases are then metaphorically thought of as the various components of the computer, such as the hard drive. While a hard drive is essential for the operation of the computer; a hard drive itself does not constitute a computer. Similarly, a nucleobase does not constitute DNA or RNA by itself, but it essential to their function. One must note that “samples were gathered soon after impact”,4 therefore it is reasonable to assume that the samples were not contaminated – meaning that all compounds on the meteorite were of extraterrestrial origin.

The discovery of right-handed amino acids and nucleobases on the Murchison meteorite may provide the missing link in determining the ultimate origin of life.5 While the Miller-Urey Experiment concluded that organic molecules, namely amino acids, can arise naturally on Earth, they were unable to create life from such compounds. The compounds created are necessary for life to develop, alone they are not sufficient for life to develop. Some combination of the extraterrestrial materials found on the Murchison Meteorite may provide the missing component necessary for life to arise.

For some scientists, the discovery of nucleobases led them to speculate that life on Earth arose from an extraterrestrial source.6 Scientists who subscribe to a theory about the origin of life known as Panspermia, a theory stating that life on Earth did not originate on it, continue to debate exactly how life was transferred to Earth.7 Most scientists advocating for the Panspermia theory agree that meteors like the Murchison Meteorite act as the vehicles for such a transmission.8 After an impact had occurred, the materials from a meteor would react with the materials present on Earth to create life. While this model seemingly makes sense, a fatal flaw is present. The model – as it is currently stated – assumes that the materials that may be present on an asteroid can survive an impact. Assuming that organic compounds and organisms capable of surviving such an impact exists – such materials could exist in most places in the Universe.9 The idea of hardy organisms capable of surviving implying widespread life throughout the Universe characterizes the so-called “Panspermia Paradox,” as dubbed by sources such as RealClearScience10 and Scientific American.11 Organic compounds and organisms honed by natural selection to survive in space for extended periods of time should be common throughout the Universe, spread by asteroids and comets – but such organisms have yet to be observed.

The findings on the Murchison Meteorite serve to clarify the paradox known as the “Panspermia Paradox.” The presence of nucleobases and both left and right handed amino acids confirms the longevity of certain organic compounds.12 The findings of the Murchison Meteorite necessitate a re-examination of current efforts to search for extraterrestrial life. Other asteroids must be collected and planets must be explored. If such molecules could survive on an asteroid – they are most likely present on other planets.


- Frank Kovacs

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Should We Deal With Life on Mars?

When it comes to Mars, the first thought that comes to most peoples’ minds would likely not be the ethical issues that could arise if we do eventually go there. After all, there are currently no conclusive signs of living organisms on the planet. So, if the planet is available, few people would argue against visiting it since it has been a goal for human explanation for at least fifty years. However, even though scientists have yet to find signs of living organisms on Mars, it is important that we are prepared to deal with living organisms just in case they do exist on Mars. If Mars is not a lifeless planet, do humans have a right to disrupt Martian organisms no matter how small they are by introducing life from Earth onto the planet? In order to answer this question, we must consider two possibilities. One possibility is that life on Mars is biochemically and genetically related to life on Earth. The other possibility is that life on Mars arose from a completely different origin.

There is strong evidence to suggest that if life on Mars exists, it would be similar to life on Earth. This is because we already know that Earth and Mars are not isolated from each other. For instance, there are over a dozen rocks on Earth that have already been discovered to have come from Mars. If rocks came from Mars to Earth, there’s a possibility that rocks that originated on Earth are now on Mars. Given that microorganisms that live deep within rocks would be able to survive the journey from planet to planet, if there is life on Mars it is probably genetically similar to life on Earth. In this case, there would be absolutely no ethical issues of inhabiting Mars with life from Earth. Humans currently coexist with millions of species of microorganisms. If these microorganisms are like those on Earth, Mars would eventually evolve similarly to Earth, so humans speeding up the process should not cause too much concern.

While it would be more likely for life on Mars to be like life on Earth, it is possible that Martian organisms originated from a completely different source. This means that there would be a different type of life on Mars, completely independent of life on Earth. In this case, the question of ethics becomes more of an issue. It would be unethical to introduce life from Earth onto Mars if the two types of life are completely different. We cannot place more value on one type of life from another. Even if the life is only simple microorganisms, humans need to leave Mars alone. This is not a matter of saying that microorganisms are more valuable than humans, but rather that humans need to respect that there is another way for life to form. Therefore, a hands-off approach would be a better way of dealing with Mars so that life could evolve on its own.


- Autumn Hair

Plans for Future Space Survival and Colonization

Colonizing other planets is a new and interesting idea, but what really matters is the actual plans that are produced that state how colonization is to actually proceed. Although many organizations and groups claim to be planning a mission to Mars, or beyond, few of the plans proposed so far seem plausible. As to be expected from such an expensive operation, enough money and support is often hard to find. However, there have been some proposals that seem to have enough support to actually get somewhere.

Starting with probably the least likely proposal, Mars One is an eight-man project that is meant to start a lasting human civilization on Mars. The idea is popular so far, as evidenced by the over 200 thousand people that applied to be on the first crew. It has also received support from large businesses like Media Injection and Byte, such that money may become less of an issue. The first mission (unmanned) is currently scheduled to launch in 2020. No designs have been released yet, as Mars One is still in the “concept phase” of planning.

Influential millionaires such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have also developed plans to colonize faraway planets. Musk has yet to reveal any set plans, but continues to refine his ideas as more and more information and technologies are made available. His ultimate goal is to have a lasting, prospering colony on Mars. According to Musk, a key invention needed to advance his plans are reusable rockets and rocket fuel that can be made from materials already on Mars.

Stephen Hawking and a team of millionaires and billionaires have very recently proposed a new solution – tiny nanocraft that could be propelled into space. They would be propelled by lasers on Earth, and could possibly go as fast as 20 percent of the speed of light. These machines could actually get to Alpha Centauri in a reasonable amount of time (about 20 years), versus how long it would take a spaceship at current speeds (thousands of years). There are obviously many engineering and funding obstacles, but the team is confident that their plan provides a plausible solution for more distant space travel.

NASA's three-step plan in a picture.
Lastly, there is the established three-step plan published by NASA. The first step – “Earth Reliant” – is where research will be done aboard the space station to study how humans could survive on Mars. The second step – “Proving Ground” – will let crews practice operating in deep space, before returning to Earth in a few days. The final stage – “Earth Independent” – will be when the humans are finally placed on Mars, and ready for survival. NASA’s plan seems the most straightforward, but in this case a farfetched, new and creative plan could actually prove to be the most successful.

No matter the plan, the act of experimenting and discovering new possibilities for space colonization will never have a negative effect. Each time we find a method that will not work, we are one step closer to finding a future solution to a current problem.


- Mary Garrett

Monday, April 11, 2016

Terraforming within the Solar System

Terraforming is transforming a place not suitable for life into a place where life is habitable. The process of terraforming can help advance human technology and the growth of the population. Mars is one of the prime candidates to terraform because of its being the most earth like. At one point, scientists think that Mars was a habitable place, like Earth is now, but over time and solar winds stripped away the atmosphere and made it what it is now. NASA however, think that there is a way to make Mars habitable again. The first part will be to try and make an atmosphere by releasing greenhouse gases, like chlorofluorocarbons, which contributes to the growth of the ozone layer on Earth. By doing this, heat will be trapped from the sun and the planet will begin to warm up. To release the chlorofluorocarbons, factories would need to be on the planet creating them from the air and soil. One factory on Mars would need the amount of power equivalent to a large nuclear power plant. Once the greenhouse gases are released the increasing temperatures would vaporize of some of the carbon dioxide in the polar cap, meaning that carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere. This would contribute to additional global warming, increasing the vaporizing of the polar cap until it is completely released. With higher temperatures now, ice will start melting providing the water that is necessary for supporting life. With the melting water, atmospheric pressure will also begin to rise enough to be habitable. The next steps will be stabilizing everything by planting trees and growing things that will create the cycle of the production of oxygen.

Another way of terraforming Mars is first change the increase atmospheric pressure and the air composition by importing ammonia, hydrocarbons, hydrogen, and using fluorine compounds. The next step will be to build up the water content by melting the ice from earlier asteroids. Then people would need to create artificial rain after heating up the planet to regulate everything. There are several ways to heat up the planet, the first one is to have orbiting space mirrors direct the heat from the sun onto the planet. Another way is the use nuclear weapons to create global warming and use the radiation to warm up the planet. Another way is to use fossil fuels on the planet. If massive factories were being run of the planet, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be released into the atmosphere, similar to how factories on earth contribute to global warming. The last way to warm up Mars is by guiding asteroids to hit Mars. The next step would be to begin planting trees and wildlife on Mars by first importing synthetic microbes and genetically engineered seeds. After all of this, people can then begin to colonize Mars. And hopefully technology will be advanced enough so that people can get to Mars in a short amount of time and be able to build cities using 3d printers.
- Tommy Sha

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Leveraging the rate of Observational Research of the cosmos for funding

It seems that when SETI is brought up in discussion, the two opinions that will be expressed either suggest that god only created humans to live alone on a flat earth, or that the never-ending universe has to contain intelligent life somewhere, because of its shear size. Statistical reasoning has been able to serve as a tool for the intelligently critical to more sharply estimate around how many intelligent civilizations could reside in the universe with us. The Drake equation famously introduced the various crucial variables that can lead to the possibility of intelligent life.

The quantities linked to each of these variables can always be adjusted based on the observations we make. From a funding perspective, carrying out projects that provide cosmological observations can be very viewed as costly by politicians. So, scientists need to be cautious of the way the timing of their discoveries can affect the future of their funding. For example, if one of the variables in drake’s equation is sharpened negatively by a given discovery, because of the linked nature of how these nodes interact, effectively the likelihood of discovering extraterrestrial life can be temporarily lowered-- making finding funding for SETI less attractive.

Scientists should not falter however--- for many of the probabilities can actually be clarified by scientists in different field helping out with clarifications. For example, astrobiologists could constructively explain a case to support the decreased probabilities of life by posing other variables that could be introduced based on the discoveries. Perhaps, unity in academic thought could allow for more fearless projects. In a bayesian network, the conditional probabilities of variables actively affect the rest. For now, since we are the only intelligent life forms we know about, it is very hard to make observational conclusions that give insight on the probability of intelligent life spawning elsewhere without the help of multiple fields. Frequently, skeptics are too quick to think of the probabilities of intelligent life is non-existent, while intelligent alien believers are tend to get caught up in the philosophical infinite quality of the universe. In a universal sense, we can dream and speculate all we want about the possibility of other intelligent life arising in distant parts of the universe. The public view on SETI’s mission should remain clear on either discovering intelligent life or discovering the absence of it.

The conversation on intelligent life should not be open-ended-- this is why SETI loses funding. There needs to be a purpose presented to investors, and there is one; gaining any type of insight that can sharpen the probabilities of the variables in drake’s equation should be considered valuable. Additionally, if we were to develop a more stochastic model1 to structure drake’s equation we can mathematically calculate what type of discoveries could affect our the conditional probabilities in the model the most; the problem, however might reside in SETI’s distrust in the current academic open-mindedness of many astrobiologists, but I digress: do not be afraid to make conscious efforts for space. The more inferences we can statistically confide in, the more knowledge we will eventually have.


1 Glade, Nicolas, Pascal Ballet, and Olivier Bastien. "A Stochastic Process Approach of the Drake Equation Parameters." International Journal of Astrobiology 11.02 (2012): 103-08. Web.
- Sean Moore

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Cool Your Jets

When the topic of space colonization is brought up, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is a terraformed Mars. While Mars is a good candidate for eventual colonization, we may have some better options closer to home. These days, the moon is not considered a new frontier, and thus too mundane to consider colonizing, even though we only visited a few times forty years ago. But is it wise to overlook our closest celestial neighbor?

There are a few main factors that we need to take into account when building a space colony, that may show that it’s a better decision to hold off on Mars for now. Our primary concern is feasibility. If world leaders got together tomorrow and decided to throw all their money at colonizing Mars, it would be technologically achievable. However, according to an article in Discover Magazine, the heavy payload and life support means that it would be prohibitively expensive to ship everything out so far with realistic budget constraints. There is also the time factor to consider. If we continue to use the chemical rockets we use today, the journey will take several months to a year, and if there was any emergency, it could be too late by the time we try to send for help.

Now consider the moon, which is at a distance of a couple hundred thousand miles, compared to Mars, which is tens of millions of miles away. Travel to the moon takes a matter of days. Although Mars is given credit for being more earth-like in composition and viability as a terraformation project, the moon has features such as deep craters and caves that could house early colonists.

It is important to remember that terraforming Mars is only a long-term goal, and not something that we could quickly do using current technology. Any near-term colonization on either Mars or the moon would look fairly similar- enclosed environments.

One particularly promising location on the moon is the Shackleton Crater, which is at the south pole. Because it is situated at the edge of the dark and light sides, the area receives good amounts of sunlight but is sheltered compared to the rest of the surface.

A moon colony may benefit the Earth’s economy because it contains resources that could be mined. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found high levels of the isotope, Helium 3, in lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions. Helium 3 is an ingredient required in nuclear fusion, which could spawn an energy revolution once we figure out how to harness its energy. For immediate use, there are many rare-earth elements and metals that lie just beneath the moon’s surface.

Building a moon colony could help us reach Mars and other planets even faster than going there directly. The moon also has very low gravity and little atmosphere, which would make it better than Earth’s surface for a place to launch rockets. In fact, from a logistical viewpoint, building a colony on Mars would be much easier if we had an established base or colony on the moon first. It would be the ideal proving grounds before we make our big leap to the next planet.


- Krishna Rao

Friday, April 8, 2016

Teleportation and its Implications for the Human Race

Teleportation and wormholes have had a large presence in American film and literature. Often, the outlets that incorporate these ideas are associated with space or time travel as well. These futuristic pieces seem to create the idea that these concepts are far from reality or will take centuries to develop. However, teleportation has been traced far beyond recent times. The New Testament and Quran both mentioned teleportation, especially in regards to large bodies of water. The idea that someone was able to teleport across water leaves an impression of holiness or advancing beyond the human race. In modern film, we now see a slight shift in the theme of instantaneous travel. Rather than being associated with religion, time travel is more connected to the human desire to explore the universe efficiently and safely.

The idea of teleportation brought about discussion on many phenomena such as quantum teleportation, multiple dimensions, and wormhole teleportation. Although these seem abstract, some scientific concepts suggest that they may actually be possible. According to previous research, quantum teleportation seems to be one of the most feasible of the teleportation techniques. Quantum teleportation involves making a duplicate copy of a quantum state in another location so that it would appear to travel instantly. Although the procedure for quantum teleportation is quite clear, there are still a few problems to be addressed before we can use this technique. These problems include making simultaneous measurements and destroying the original copy. In fact, this process has been demonstrated in scientific laboratories by teleporting single particles and photons. Scientist Eugene Polzik was even able to teleport an atomic system with 1012 atoms half a meter away in 2006.

In addition, discussion of general relativity has led some to believe that teleportation via other dimensions is possible as well. As a result, they have conjectured that shadow matter may be able to exist in addition to normal matter in the hidden dimensions. This means that hidden dimensions may allow for the existence of parallel universes that one can teleport to by changing from normal to shadow matter. Einstein’s research in 1935 also gave way to the concept of wormholes. He found that general relativity has solutions involving curve space objects connecting different regions of space-time to each other, which are now called “wormholes”. Afterwards, other researchers investigated the stability of wormholes and found that they could be stable if converted into time machines by connecting one time to another in the same physical location. In addition, conservation laws suggest that an object of equal mass must pass through the opposite direction to avoid the wormhole exploding.

Although dimension and wormhole physics are still underdeveloped theories, experiments with quantum teleportation suggest that it is a very possible development. Although able to work on particles, scientists still have a lot of work before they are able to teleport humans. The biggest issues that need to be addressed before teleportation on humans can initiate are preserving human characteristics and keeping with conservation laws. Currently, they might seem impossible to overcome, but hopefully humans will be able to teleport in the upcoming centuries.


“All About Teleportation” by John G. Cramer (2008) – published by Analog Science Fiction & Fact
- Shreya Punya

Complex life and the hydrogen hypothesis

There is more to complex life on Earth than most people believe. Our 4.5-billion-year-old planet was lifeless and empty for hundreds of millions of years, until the first organisms, the prokaryotes, appeared about 4 billion years ago. Another 2 billion years passed until complex life, the first eukaryotes, appeared. As we will see, these cells were critical to the development of life on Earth as it is today. The prokaryotes are comprised of two groups, archaea and bacteria, which are morphologically similar, but very different in their genomes. Along with eukaryotes, they constitute the three domains in biological taxonomy, the highest rank in the classification of living beings.

It was previously believed that eukaryotes evolved in the traditional way—prokaryotes became more complex through mechanisms of evolution, such as natural selection, until they were different to their ancestors. Yet there is no evidence of an evolutionary intermediate between prokaryotes and eukaryotes in the fossil record. Plants and fungi, for instance, two types of eukaryotes, did not develop from different types of prokaryotes. Instead, eukaryotes are monophyletic—a population of eukaryotes arose once, and all plants, animals, fungi, algae, and protists evolved from this original eukaryotic population. What is most fascinating about the origins of eukaryotes is that it can be seen as a singular event. In other words, either a eukaryotic population occurred only once in 4 billion years, or it occurred any number of times, yet only one population survived long enough to populate the planet. In either case, the birth of the eukaryotes is a complex and possibly extremely rare event. So what caused it?

The hydrogen hypothesis suggests what the nature of the event might have been. During the two billion years in which the Earth was populated entirely by prokaryotes, an endosymbiotic relationship arose between an archaeon and a bacterium. For this to have occurred, several conditions must be true of the host, in this case the archaeon: (1) it was anaerobic, (2) it possessed a hydrogen-based metabolism, and (3) it was strictly autotrophic, capable of providing itself with nutrients using inorganic substances. Similarly, the symbiont, the bacterium in this case, must have been able to provide the host with the hydrogen it needed. This results in a relationship in which the bacterium, the symbiont, lives within the cell membrane of its host, the archaeon, supplying its host with the hydrogen needed for metabolic processes since it is a byproduct of anaerobic respiration. Methanogens are archaea that satisfy the conditions above, strongly suggesting that the original eukaryotic cells had methanogens or a similar archaeon as the host. Finally, when the archaeon host is removed from geological hydrogen (for whatever reason), it becomes dependent on the hydrogen provided by the symbiont. This lethal selective force led to the survival of only those cells that had this endosymbiotic relationship, in the population in which the event occurred. Over time, this relationship permanently changed the population of surviving cells, as the bacteria developed into organelles, such as nuclei and mitochondria, and the archaeon host became a cell adapted to utilizing these internal structures. The eukaryotes, genetic chimeras with genes of their predecessors, then had the capability to evolve into the countless species that have existed on the planet.


Lane, Nick. The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015. Print.

Martin, William, and Miklós Müller. "The hydrogen hypothesis for the first eukaryote." Nature 392.6671 (1998): 37-41.
- Ricardo Roche

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Will we ever colonize Mars?

Out of all the planets we have discovered so far, Mars always gains the most attention. Why is that? In part, it may be because Mars is seen as the one planet that is possible for the human race to inhabit. Some people also wonder why we might become so desperate to go live on Mars when Earth is already comfortable. Well, Mars would be our backup plan if Earth were to ever collapse due to situations such as climate change. There is also the option of trying to search for extra water during droughts on Earth, and look for extra metal and croplands to bring extra food back.

In order to explore more, NASA is putting together a manned-mission to Mars. It finds value in this exploration, as Mars is a possible new home for the human race and we can possibly obtain valuable resources such as water ice from under the surface. Furthermore, it believes that we might be able to learn more about the history of Earth by learning about Mars, and we might be able to determine if life exists somewhere in the solar system. Even though there is an endless list of what we can learn about Mars and the possibilities of future life there, we must consider the actual conditions of the planet and whether the human race would really be able to survive in those conditions.

Humans can currently survive on Earth because we have an atmosphere with oxygen. However, Mars’ atmosphere is very thin and has an atmospheric pressure lower than that of Earth’s. Also, most of Mars’ atmosphere mainly has carbon dioxide and the thin atmosphere would not be able to keep harmful cosmic radiation from reaching Mars’ surface. Mars also has very cold temperatures that average at about negative fifty degrees Celsius, with winters even being colder than that. Moreover, there are dust storms that can cause some danger to humans.

In the end, will humans ever be able to colonize Mars? Scientists are currently and continuously looking for ways humans may inhabit the planet. For example, in 2004, astronomers and Dr. Todd Clancy, the head of the research team at the Space Science Institute, found hydrogen peroxide in Mars’ atmosphere. They were able to detect this because of the 2003 opposition of Mars, where Earth and Mars were closest together in their orbit around the sun. Since hydrogen peroxide is used as an antiseptic on Earth, it would “retard any biological activity on the surface on Mars.” By taking into account discoveries like this one, we humans may have a chance of colonizing Mars one day.

- Minami Makino

Colonization of Mars

Many people strongly believe that the world is coming to an end. So, where will we move? What is to happen to the future of humanity? The answer: colonization of Mars.

This would not be Sci-Fy story. Scientists actually believe this is possible, Since Mars is the most similar planet to Earth, with the a dry solid surface and presence of sub-surface water. The temperature and atmosphere can be made similar to Earth’s after terraforming. Mars also contains material that can act like soil when combined with sufficient bacteria and water, which is necessary for long-term habituation. The day/night timing will also be similar to Earth’s. One day, or “sol” on Mars is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds.

But what is really the problem is the cost of transporting civilization to Mars. Costs have been the bane of human existence. Is it worth it? Can we afford it? Terraforming an entire planet would be a very expensive feat. Mars’ surface area is 28.4% of the Earth’s, but would still cost around 3-4 trillion dollars to terraform it. Converting a red planet (a dead planet) to a blue planet (a planet with an acceptable atmosphere and temperature) would take between 100 and 200 years to complete. The five most important aspects brought up are the surface temperature rising, atmospheric pressure increasing, chemical composition changing, making the surface wet, and reducing surface flux of UV radiation. Then, it will take another 100 years for Mars to reach the green planet status, when one will be able to grow and host microbes and algae. The history of Mars permits terraforming to actually work, and become similar to Earth, but there are many ethical arguments involved when talking about terraforming and reshaping an environment, which I will discuss in a latter blog post.

The next major cost in colonizing Mars is that of transportation. Transporting a family of four would take $30 billion, food and water would take $52 million, and shelter would cost $150 million. And that’s only for a family of four. Of course, more people can fit in a spaceship than four people so the cost of travelling will not be this much for the entire population, but this gives us a general idea on how much it will be. Of course, not every family is able to afford a trip to Mars, and even bringing one million people to Mars would still be very expensive.

The next step for colonization is the actual colonization. This involves building cities on Mars using 3D printed houses. Gravity on Mars is much lighter than Earth, around 30% of Earth’s gravitational strength, so the architecture and machinery will be very different. The 3D printed cities will cost around 1.5 trillion dollars and will take 70 years to transport and complete. The amount of money going into this is obviously an abnormal amount, but given that this could ensure the future of humanity, money should not be an issue.


- Ata Numanbayraktaroglu

Mission to Europa

An image of Europa taken
by Galileo in the late 1990's.
The brown streaks suggest the
presence of a sub-surface
ocean because contaminant
(claimed to include sea salt)
have mixed with the icy surface
to create the "dirty ice."
The Galileo mission, launched in 1989, revealed possible evidence of salt water below the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. What Galileo discovered on Europa are bumpy features called chaos terrains. Analysis suggests that these features are formed from a heat exchange between Europa’s icy shell and an underlying ocean. This could provide a model for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and the inferred ocean. While it was running out of fuel, Galileo was intentionally sent into Jupiter to be destroyed, in case leaving it in orbit would lead to it crashing into Europa and contaminating any potential life.

The Galileo mission piqued scientists’ curiosity about this moon, and a mission to Europa is expected to launch in the 2020’s. This mission, the Europa Clipper, will perform 45 flybys at various altitudes, from 1700 miles to 16 miles above the surface. Its goal is to take high-resolution pictures of the surface to determine its composition, and use an ice-penetrating radar to search for sub-surface waters. A thermal emission imaging system will survey the surface in search of any recent eruptions of warmer water, and other instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s atmosphere. This flyby approach will obviate the need to drill through layers of ice to find possible signs of life.

Why is drilling currently not an ideal approach? It is not definite that there is an ocean below the surface. It is possible that drilling before fully understanding Europa will be a waste of time, resources, and money. Also, the surface of the moon is exposed to extreme radiation from Jupiter’s radiation belts. A drilling machine or spacecraft will need a vast amount of radiation protection, which will make the craft heavy and thus expensive to transport. The flyby approach will decrease the amount of protection needed because the Europa Clipper will only be close to Jupiter during a small portion of its orbit.

On the other hand, if the Europa Clipper discovers strong evidence that suggests Europa has a sub-surface ocean that may be habitable for people or other lifeforms, a drill will be necessary to reach the habitable area. The amount of radiation on the surface is enough to cause severe illness or death after a single day’s exposure, but the thick, icy crust is thought to be able to shield the ocean from the radiation on the surface. While the Europa Clipper is not designed to search for life, a future mission would need to be designed to determine if Europa is already inhabited. It is uncertain now whether Europa is suitable to house life, but the Europa Clipper mission hopes to reveal if the ability is present.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Shedding Light on Dark Matter and Dark Energy

Looking at the night sky, the heavens appear to be utterly empty. Space draws its name from seeming to be just that – empty space. While seemingly obvious, this assumption does not hold true. Approximately 68% of the universei is composed of mysterious energy known as dark energy. Originally predicted by Einstein’s erroneous cosmological constant, dark energy may function as a reduced form of a constant in the equations for relativity. If this form of energy is indeed fixed,ii dark energy functions as a constant term in equations. Considered in Friedman’s equation,iii H2 = (8 π G / 3) ρ - k c2 / R2 + Λ/3, the cosmological constant Λ/3 may be construed as dark energy. While Einstein may have inadvertently directed attention to the existence of dark energy, the discovery that the Universe is flat lends strength to an argument for the existence of dark energy’s counterpart, dark matter. In very general terms, dark matter is defined as a structure with mass and that does not reflect light, hence the title “dark." For the Universe to be flat it must contain a certain amount of mass to meet the required density so that gravitational waves exist also exist in a flat plane. As observable mass and energy alone, another mechanism must be at work. Dark matter has been inferred to be this mechanism, providing a large portion of the Universe’s mass without reflecting light. For the sake of understanding, this entry will focus primarily on dark matter, as its counterpart dark energy requires an understanding of dark matter.

Given the strange nature of dark matter a question remains: what is the function of dark matter? For dark matter to exist, such matter must have mass. Simulations of the Milky Way Galaxy from the Big Bang to the present predict a scattering of matteriv. As the Milky Way is not a particularly massive galaxy, no collection of identifiable objects is capable of providing the gravitational pull to hold the galaxy together. In the context of the simulations, identifiable objects are defined as objects who may reflect light. The mass of the visible objects alone is not sufficient for the Milky Way to maintain its spiral form – suggesting another source of mass. For the universe as it currently exists to make sense, mass that does not reflect light must exist. Thus it may be concluded that dark matter is responsible for mass but do not reflect light – lending it the prefix “dark.”
Despite rapid advancements in modern telescopes, both studying and observing dark matter is extremely difficult. As this phenomenon cannot be seen by conventional means, scientists must turn to creative and inventive methods of detection. Chief among the techniques used to detect this strange form of matter is gravitational lensing. Measuring the distortion and bending of far-away lightv, the potential effect of an object between the observer and the vent may be measured. When scientists observed the collision of the Bullet Cluster, they found that the majority of the mass after the collision was located on the periphery of the collision – proof that dark matter particles do not interact with one another. If the opposite held true – that dark matter particles do interact with one another, the gas in the center of the collision would have been slowed down. Thus, dark matter’s lack of interaction with itself allows for the distribution of mass along the periphery of the Bullet Cluster, as indicated by orange lines in the picture below.

Numerous astronomical objects have been proposed as candidates to be dark matter. When used in this sense, the term dark matter is applied to mean matter that at extremely low luminosities and temperatures. “Baryonic”vi dark matter, matter made from regular elements and compounds, may include black holes, dwarf stars and neutron stars. While it is tempting to accept both dwarf and neutron stars as dark matter, these may be ruled out due to the age of the universe. Put simply, the universe has not existed for a time period sufficient to achieve the creation of enough neutron stars to account for all of dark energy. Black holes seem to be a logical candidate due to their absorbance of light – yet are not common enough in the Universe to account for all of dark matter. This causes scientists to look to non-standard matter, also known as “Non-Baryonic Matter.” Such matter would be composed of unknown exotic particles high enough in mass to have an observable effect on galaxies. Finally, some scientists argue that dark matter does not exist. Equating the gravitational shift to differing properties of gravity on large scales, dark matter may be unknown gravitational properties of extremely high mass objects.vii


Practical Considerations of Terraforming Mars

The concept of altering Mars’ environment so that it is habitable for humans, or terraforming, has been subject to a lot of speculative fiction and debate. The idea was first incorporated into Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, The Sands of Mars, in 1951. Since then, the prospect has been explored and tested through numerous studies and is now seen as possibility. A key issue to making this a reality deals with altering Mars’ atmosphere so that it will have sufficient levels of oxygen/ozone. The methods to which this can be achieved, as studied by NASA, seem feasible but still impractical in the long term, particularly in terms of cost. Mars’ atmosphere is mainly composed of carbon dioxide, and oxygen makes up about 0.1% of it(NASA). Mars’ temperature, which is much lower than that of Earth, would also need to be altered in the terraforming process. Terraformation on Mars has been a popular idea, since its environmental characteristics are the closest to Earth’s so far. But, due to the specifics of Mars’ temperature and atmosphere, it is unlikely that life can prosper in those conditions. There are some solutions to terraforming the hostile characteristics of Mars’ environment. For example, creating greenhouse effects with vapor would raise the temperature to a sufficient degree. However, these solutions are not achievable in the long-run. There are other potential solutions, such as genetic engineering, or altering the atmosphere to sustain more oxygen. But for now, all of these ideas are either impractical in the long run or would take way too long to be concluded as effective solutions.

- Haeun Bang

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Is Building a Colony on Mars a Suicide Mission?

With the way humans have been developing technology over the past fifty years, it seems like a trip to Mars is inevitable. Whether it takes us twenty years or one hundred years, humans will eventually go to Mars. Many scientists today believe that we currently have the resources needed to send humans to Mars. For some of the plans that have been proposed, the humans we send would not come back. That is because once they get to Mars, they will attempt to build a self-sustaining colony there and a return trip home may be too difficult if the colony fails. So, if we send humans to Mars with the goal of building a colony, are we essentially sending people to their deaths? While there are many psychological risks that could have dangerous consequences, I will focus on the physical risks that could potentially kill the astronauts before or shortly after they reach Mars.

One of the reasons why people may die either before reaching Mars or shortly after is due to radiation. Without the Earth’s magnetic field and dense atmosphere to protect them, humans would be at a much higher risk to develop cancer. In addition, high radiation levels may have an effect on the heart or central nervous system which could potentially cause death. This problem could be minimized if we choose people who have a genetic resistance to radiation. In places such as Ramsar, Iran, the beaches near Guarapari, Brazil, and Yangjiang, China, there are high levels of natural radiation, but below average cancer rates meaning many of them are more likely to have a genetic resistance to radiation. However, even with people like this, there is still a high chance that they would die much sooner than they would had they stayed on Earth.

Many of the other heath risks associated with going to Mars have to do with the effect of weightlessness and reduced gravity on the human body. When humans experience an extended amount of time without gravity, their muscles atrophy and and their bones quickly become weaker as they experience bone loss. Weightlessness also causes humans to experience cognitive problems similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These medical concerns could cause a huge problem when the astronauts actually get to Mars. Since their bodies will be much weaker, it could be difficult for these people to lift the heavy objects necessary to build their colony in reduced gravity. Allowing the astronauts to run on a treadmill in microgravity as part of their training could minimize the risk, but again it would still be very difficult for these people to not only live a long life on Mars, but thrive.

It has been no secret that a trip to Mars could have deadly consequences. As with any exploration, venturing into the unknown comes with risk. However, there is some concern that even if the Mars trip is successful, the astronauts will probably die much sooner than they would have on Earth. So, is building a colony on Mars a suicide mission? It absolutely is. No matter what happens, the people we send will most likely not come back. But, this should not cause too much concern. These volunteers would die doing something remarkable by having the chance to go where no human has ever gone before. We should not be afraid to let them face this challenge.


- Autumn Hair