The Next Great “Bad Science” Conspiracy: Project Lucifer

The Lucifer Project
The Lucifer Project: Using the Cassini probe to detonate like a nuclear weapon inside the atmosphere of Saturn… oh dear, here we go again… (NASA/US Dept. of Defence)

Here comes another doomsday scenario, this time from the friendly gas giant Saturn. The story goes like this: NASA is working with secret organizations (such as the Illuminati or the Freemasons) to fulfil their dreams of “playing God” and creating a second Sun in the Solar System. This plan has many aims, but primarily they want to use the Cassini probe to trigger a catastrophic chain reaction inside Saturn so nuclear fusion is possible, generating a mini-Sun. This has been tried before, when the Galileo probe was dropped into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 2003 (but it obviously failed at first attempt). Cassini is carrying about 33 kg of plutonium, making it the ultimate cruise missile aimed at Saturn, atmospheric pressures eventually kick-starting a nuclear explosion in two years time.

Whilst this makes for interesting reading, yet again, the science is deeply flawed. We can expect this doomsday scenario (and yes, it is predicting the end of the world) to gain some strength before the Cassini mission is terminated in 2010…. only this time the Devil (Lucifer) is involved…

In the first part of this mini-series on the Universe Today, I look into the science behind a doomsday scenario known as The Lucifer Project (or simply Project Lucifer). I have heard of variations on this theme for many years, and at first it sounds possible, but then simple logic dictates that turning Jupiter or Saturn into a Sun is rather more sci-fi than sci-fact. In fact, the transformation of Jupiter into a second Sun is not a new idea. In the novel and movie 2010: Odyssey Two (notice the correlation with the date?) created by the late, great Arthur C. Clarke, Jupiter is the focus of the mysterious storyline. Black monoliths breed inside the gas giant’s atmosphere, at first creating a big black spot (again, notice the similarity with the 2003 black spot observation?), increasing its density and mass to a point where nuclear fusion can be sustained. The movie finishes with various views of the new binary solar system. A great movie.

A scene from the movie 2010 where a black spot appears on Jupiter
A scene from the movie 2010 where a black spot appears on Jupiter

So, it would seem, Project Lucifer is loosely based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel (minus Galileo creating a nuclear chain reaction). Obviously, the 2003 Galileo collision with Jupiter had no lasting effect on the planet, conspiracy theorists are now looking at the 2010 Cassini collision with Saturn for their story. Therefore, last night I wrote Project Lucifer: Will Cassini Turn Saturn into a Second Sun? (Part 1) to address some of the technical reasons why a Cassini re-entry into Saturn’s atmosphere (or Galileo’s re-entry into Jupiter in 2003 for that matter) cannot miraculously pull all the tiny pieces of plutonium (non-weapon grade by the way) together to form a crude nuclear weapon. In the next part, I’ll look into the physics behind a star and look at why gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn are called “failed stars”…

Midnight Sun on Mars by Phoenix

A mosaic of the position of the Sun above the Martian landscape over 11 sols (NASA/JPL)
A mosaic of the position of the Sun above the Martian landscape over 11 sols (NASA/JPL)

Phoenix is still working hard on the surface of Mars, scraping and digging into the frozen regolith, preparing samples for the next TEGA bake. This next sample to be dropped into one of the eight on board ovens will intensify the excitement for the confirmation of water ice (in abundance) on the Martian surface. The Phoenix Mars lander has been working on the Red Planet for 57 Sols (a.k.a. Martian days) since it landed on May 25th, the robot has pretty much operated as planned, exceeding all expectations (to be honest, I was relieved it touched down in one piece, anything else was a bonus!). But today, the lander releases a stunning image from its Surface Stereo Imager that really brings the whole mission into perspective: Martian midnight Sun…
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Huge Refrigerator-Sized Space Station Debris Observed From Earth – Where will it Land?

The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)
The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)

On July 23rd, 2007, the crew of the International Space Station did some orbital fly-tipping. They dumped a double refrigerator-sized piece of equipment overboard and sent it toward Earth. Mission control at the time assured the public that it would orbit for about 300 days and most of it would burn up. The first issue is that, a year on, it is still orbiting and it is expected to do so until the end of 2008 at the earliest. Second issue is that a large portion of the kit will survive re-entry. Uncontrolled re-entry like this is by nature hard to predict where it will impact. Although the ISS had little option but to dump the used Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS), was there a better, safer alternative?
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The International Space Station as the International Space Ship? Why Not?

Could the ISS be modified to travel to Mars? Credit: NASA/Ian O'Neill
Could the ISS be modified to travel to Mars? Credit: NASA/Ian O'Neill

Now this is a cool idea: Strap rockets and a steering system to the International Space Station and send it to the Moon. Is this an insane plan? Up till yesterday I would have said yes, in fact before yesterday I hadn’t thought of the idea. Then I read the Washington Post online and find a science writer has been giving this a lot of thought. What’s more it kinda makes sense! So why isn’t this an option in NASA’s mind? And what’s the point anyway?
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And This Mysterious Mound is Where?

Mystery mounds - we know it's a mystery, but please give us a clue? (HiRISE/NASA)
Mystery mounds - we know it's a mystery, but please give us a clue? (HiRISE/NASA)

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a stunning piece of kit. It is generating a vast quantity of images, all lovingly displayed on the HiRISE and other NASA websites. New views of the Mars landscape appear almost daily, with technical information on the projected scene, a polished display image, raw files and a little bit of text telling us what we are looking at. So far so good. That was until recently… Generally speaking, articles with compelling images do rather well online, plus I’m a big believer in “a picture speaks a thousand words,” so I jumped on the chance of running an article about some mysterious shapes that have recently been seen on the planet. Obviously the writer of the HiRISE image was of the same mind by letting the picture do the talking and… well, forgetting to mention where these mysterious features were located…. a mystery indeed…
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Bad Move Buzz, Science Fiction DOES NOT Make Space Boring

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin

I don’t suppose he can get it right all the time. Recently, Buzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon and huge space development advocate, has been very vocal with his views about NASA and the agency’s position in the space exploration pecking order. Good man, the world needs more people like him willing to encourage a more positive attitude toward space. But today, I read that the NASA legend has dropped a clanger. Fair play, he’s entitled to his views, but for once (and hopefully the only time) I will say “Buzz, you are totally, and unequivocally wrong.” So what did he say? Science fiction makes space science reality look boring.
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Wolf-Rayet Star: My Favourite Stellar Object

Artist impression of a Wolf-Rayet star (NASA)

Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars are my favourite stellar objects bar none. Due to the excitement factor I find them even more interesting than black holes, pulsars and quasars. Why? Well, they are a significant period of a massive star’s lifetime making its violent, self-destructive death, possibly culminating in a supernova or gamma ray burst (GRB). WR stars blast out dense stellar winds creating a bubble of matter that completely obscures the star’s surface from any attempts at observation. They are also very noisy neighbours, disrupting binary partners and messing up huge volumes of space. If you thought a star might die quietly, the WR phase ensures this isn’t the case and astronomers are paying attention, making some of the most detailed observations of WR stars yet…
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Now we can Call Martian Regolith “Soil” Thanks to Phoenix

Phoenix sprinkles regolith into the oven (NASA/UA)

This is just one of those niggles I’ve felt ever since I started working on Mars projects and articles. How can “Mars soil” be an accurate description of the stuff that sits on the surface of Mars? You see it written everywhere, from NASA to New Scientist, writers have referred to Martian regolith as soil. Why is this? Is regolith and soil that much different? Perhaps I was just getting my knickers in a twist for no reason; perhaps they were the same thing after all. So back to basics, I grabbed for my trusty old dusty dictionary and stopped leafing through the pages at “S”… there, soil. Now for “R”… got R but no regolith (wasn’t that a word in 1980?), just regorge (that isn’t pretty). So I get online and do my research 21st Century style: Google.

I found my answer, but it turns out recent data from the Phoenix Mars lander has complicated matters… apparently the writers at NASA and New Scientist were right all along (even though they didn’t realise it)…
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Watch out Phoenix! Don’t Scratch the CD!

Abrasive – Phoenix sprinkles regolith into the oven (NASA/UA)

I’ve just written an article over on the Universe Today about the stunning discovery that Mars regolith actually bears very close resemblance to terrestrial soil. This is very cool as this shows Mars may be capable of sustaining life (as we know it) and it has implications for the future of manned Mars missions (we might be able to use this mineral-rich soil for growing plants for instance). So rather than replicating the article here, I urge you to pop over to the Universe Today article (Phoenix: Mars Soil Can Support Life) and enjoy (I was quite proud of pointing out the huge difference between “soil” and “regolith” in the final paragraph!). But that’s not the point of this Astroengine post, I have a far more pressing issue to voice…
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No Doomsday in 2012: The Reason Why Science Will Not Win

Why Planet X is not Nibiru...
Why Planet X is not Nibiru…

I’ve been busy compiling two new articles about the 2012 doomsday scenario. This time I’ve investigated why Planet X is not the same thing as the Sumerian planet “Nibiru”, and why a “killer solar flare” will not be possible in the year 2012. This brings the 2012 series up to its fourth edition, and the feedback has been very interesting. Probably the most important thing I want to emphasise about this whole 2012 prophecy stuff is that I am not trying to stamp on anyone’s beliefs. There are many reasons why 2012 may hold significant spiritual or religious meaning, and I am not disputing this in any way. I want to present the science facts, not the science “facts” that seem to overwhelm many of the end of the world scenarios. Alas, I suspect that I’m fighting a losing battle. I got it wrong, debunking the doomsayers who are doing this for financial gain are not concerned whether their evidence adds up, they are using one tool that I cannot influence. Fear.
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