From Messier 80 to Messier 45 in 13.111 Seconds

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3833014&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1

PussyMagnet 6009 from Mato Atom on Vimeo.

On my travels across the space blogosphere, I came across a rather nifty video called “Docking” posted on the Cosmic Variance blog. The impressive CGI was done by a guy called Mato Atom on the video site Vimeo, and it’s certainly not subtle (a reminder that sex in space will, quite literally, be a docking procedure).

Having a look at Mato Atom’s other videos, I found another creation that took my breath away. A computer generated flying saucer called the PussyMagnet 6009, animated to Bach’s Air (on a G-string). Once again, the title of the video suggests you might want to use this hi-tech flying saucer for something more than warping space-time, but this mock-advertisement is certainly in the style of an expensive BMW, Audi or Mercedes ad.

So, come the year 6009, you might see an ad like this on your TV screen (or whatever ‘screen’ we might use in 4000 years time), where the looks of space vehicles are just as important as their function. Some things don’t change

“Because fossil fuels are so 2009.”

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Flying Laser Ready to Begin Airborne Weapon Tests

The 747 plus ABL (USAF)

747 airliner? Check. Huge laser? Check. Huge-flying-missile-melting-laser? Nearly.

Actually, I’d want to fly the aircraft remotely, unmanned, and fire the oversized laser pointer at the 747 from a distance. Just to see how long it would take to melt. But that’s just me.

Boeing on the other hand, has succeeded in building a flying laser. Toward the end of 2008, the Airborne Laser (ABL) had been installed inside its Boeing 747 host and it was undergoing static tests. Sure enough, the megawatt laser had proven its worth and fired at a target, twice, in one-second bursts. Details are sketchy as to the damage the ABL caused, but Boeing and other US military contractors heralded the test as a success (if you ask me, the target probably looked like this afterwards).
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“Moon” Movie Trailer Now Online

Why didn’t I know about this movie?

samfront

I have no clue how I didn’t notice this film was in the works, but it would appear I’m not quite as well plugged into the sci-fi pulse as I used to be. Announced last year, “Moon” is set on the lunar surface where a lone contractor is manning the Helium-3 mining operation. Acted by Sam Rockwell, the setting looks like a visual treat, bound to get any science fiction enthusiast’s taste buds excited. However, yesterday the trailer was released ahead of its June 12th release… and it looks good
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Space Exploration Isn’t an Economic Stimulus. It’s a Humanity Stimulus

A scene from X3: Terran Conflict (©Egosoft)
A scene from X3: Terran Conflict (©Egosoft)

When I said this on Twitter today, it struck up a lot of support. It actually came out as a throwaway comment in Wednesday’s Astroengine Live when I was having a rant about the misconception that space exploration is a luxury and not a necessity. If I was debating this now, I’d probably be somewhere between “necessity” and “luxury”. On the one hand it would be nice to have a very wealthy space agency, carrying out unimaginable science throughout the Solar System, colonies on the Moon and Mars, mining asteroids and setting up an interplanetary transportation system. On the other hand, none of these things will be possible unless there is huge (global) public support and political will…
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Reality, Virtual

Computer technology is reaching new levels of sophistication, limited only by our imagination (and that pesky Moore’s Law). As we develop faster and more powerful processors, an exponential increase in the number of calculations can be done per second, providing advanced software with the capability to deliver complex applications to the user. In fact, some computer operations are becoming hard to distinguish from basic human interactions (neural networks hold particular promise).

Naturally, this continuing advance in technology has stimulated the Internet, allowing users worldwide to interact at great speed, where virtual worlds have been created, and people can project themselves as an avatar (a virtual ambassador for their real-world personalities). These virtual worlds have become so immense that millions of users can interact, and the boundary of the universe is only limited by how many networked computers you have running the show. These virtual universes are known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), and NASA hopes to release their universe (Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond) some time next year.

User interfaces are advancing too. Gone are the days of simple gaming feedback features (such as a rumbling joypad when your 3D animated cartoon character suffers a blow on your 2D TV screen), virtual reality is starting to live up to its name, where the virtual world is overlapping with our real world. Now a 5-sense virtual reality system is undergoing tests, and its implications for NASA’s MMORPG and future space exploration could be huge…

When does virtual reality become… reality?

Imagine: You’ve just completed your expedition inside the Hellas impact basin on the surface of Mars. You can smell the new plastic inside your spacesuit and hear the hiss of your air supply in the back of your bulbous helmet. Looking out over the crater bottom, the 9 km high wall of Martian rock restricts your view of the planet; there’s a feeling that you are closed into a huge hole dug out by an unimaginably large shovel. Looking down, you survey the scattered rocks and rusty regolith. Although your suit isn’t as bulky as what is needed on the Moon or during an EVA, it still restricts your movement as you bend over to collect more fist-sized rocks for your research. Surprisingly, the ground is very frosted and you spot small collections of water ice. It hasn’t sublimed into the air.

As you are so deep, the air pressure is nearly twice as high as the atmospheric average. According to orbital measurements, it may even get warm enough for liquid water to exist on the surface. This is why you’re here, to seek out signs of seasonal weathering on the samples, and to look for signs of large quantities of water to be used in your habitat. Looking around, this isn’t just a gentle winter frosting, water is here, and there’s lots of it…

As we may not be sending man to Mars for a long time yet, the above scenario could be just as well played out in virtual reality as in real life. As there is little political incentive for a NASA-led manned mission to the Red Planet any time soon (and no, an Apollo 2.0 to Mars to save the ailing US economy isn’t the incentive we are looking for), could a virtual Mars be constructed for training and exploration purposes?

As it turns out, NASA is currently working with a group of software companies to release “Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond” (reminds me of the awesome 1999 “X: Beyond the Frontier” first-person space adventure game). The scheduled rollout date is sometime in 2010, but it looks like the MMORPG is already a long way down the road of development. This new NASA universe will be based in a near-future reality where online subscribers can play the role of explorer, doing “mundane” astronaut tasks in low-Earth orbit, to setting up colonies on the Moon and Mars. Although I doubt the NASA universe will be able to compete with online fantasies such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, it may invigorate space science outreach to the largest audience available. A worthy project in my view, Astroengine will be watching developments very closely.

Then, yesterday, GearCrave posted an article about the development of a “5-sense virtual reality system”. We all remember those cumbersome head boxes that promised to be the “dawn of a new age” in computer visualization back in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Unfortunately, little had changed as the hardware simply wasn’t there to display anything close to a “virtual reality” (giving the user a bout of nausea and unrealistic graphics). Also, the user feedback was very one-dimensional. However, as time has moved on, and the gaming industry has driven graphic hardware into a new era, we suddenly have a suite of user feedback systems (such as a rumbling joypad or the sense of touch through a special glove). Now there is the desire to move from the 2D TV screen, immersing the user inside a more realistic “virtual reality”. In fact, this new development provides user feedback via several senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and feelings.

Researchers from York and Warwick universities are developing the ultimate virtual reality headset, that won’t directly manipulate the brain (via electrode-induced agony) but manipulate the senses to induce an emotional response. This will be achieved through the use of hi-tech smell and taste sprayers. Also, the visual element will be stunning. The screen will naturally be in high definition, with far greater light and dark limits. To say the view will be crisp is an understatement.

So, we now have the ability to create our own virtual universes. We are fast approaching the point where fully-immersive virtual reality may be a possibility (although the brain can be tough to trick at times, the VR would have to be VERY good to fool us wily humans). Computer systems are becoming so advanced that “graphics” may be a bad description of the world you are participating in looks like you are in a real world. Also, the spin-off technology from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could effectively make the Internet transparent (the only limit on speed would be the speed of light when uploading/downloading files, imagine that).

Personally, I cannot imagine a future where mankind is stuck on Earth, just sending probes to do the exploration of space for us, but say if these robotic missions could do something a little more than basic reconnaissance missions? What if the unmanned rovers, landers and satellites become so advanced that they can collect all the data we’ll ever need from the planets in the Solar System? This data could be used in a sufficiently advanced distributed network on Earth, allowing Internet users to collaborate (in the spirit of existing online projects such as Galaxy Zoo, but powered by a fully immersive MMORPG system), exploring a virtual reality universe based primarily on real data, but with intelligent algorithms that fill in the details and known physical/biological processes. However, in this virtual reality, users will be able to see, smell, hear, taste and feel, with physical feedback mechanisms.

This kind of project would have a vast array of practical applications; from doing science with real data, to training astronauts/settlers ahead of a real mission to Mars. However, there are two mind-bending philosophical questions that are attached to this eventuality:

 

 

Scientists Create Synthetic Life… Now What?

You talk about synthetic life like it's a bad thing - Tricia Helfer in BSG
You talk about synthetic life like it's a bad thing - Tricia Helfer in BSG

Say if you’re in space, searching for life, what do you look for? That’s simple. You look for something that resembles life on Earth; whether that be single-celled amoeba or a Star Trek-style humanoid with a lumpy head and webbed feet.

That’s life we know and understand (with some sci-fi comedy thrown in). What if there are some other unimaginable creatures that may not fit into our understanding of How Things Work™? This is a very real problem NASA has been faced with ever since the agency started sending probes to Mars and spacecraft beyond the Solar System itself. Deep space missions (like the Voyager and Pioneer probes) have intelligent life forms in mind (i.e. ones that can read, hear and interpret the Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian Man; so it would be nice if ET also has an appreciation for fine art), but our intrepid Mars rovers and landers that have been pestering the Red Planet since the 1960s are looking for the basic building blocks of life, plus evidence of past or present life. So far, there’s been a lot of rocks turned over, yet no sign of extraterrestrial life.

Therefore, scientists at a very early stage defined “life” as a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution so we can focus on finding life we know and understand. To boost this understanding a little further, wouldn’t it be great if we could create our own evolving soup of chemicals?

Now, it seems, this has become a reality. Scientists in a Florida lab have created a beaker filled with synthetic life
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Sci-Fi Romance and the Carnival of Space Love

WALL-E, the best animated-sci-fi-robot-romantic-comedy of all time (yep, I teared up at the end)
WALL-E, the best animated-sci-fi-robot-romantic-comedy-adventure of all time (yep, I even teared up at the end).

I couldn’t resist. As it is the day of romance, love and *pinging* cash registers, I thought I’d post a special Astroengine commentary of Valentines Day. Everyone is doing it; the Google logo is loved up, the news websites are buzzing about it, even the blogs seem to be obsessed with relating their craft with the desire for some romance (even this week’s Carnival of Space over at 21st Century Waves is “doing it”), so here’s some random Valentine’s Day paraphernalia for your reading pleasure…
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The Death Star: An Uneconomical Way To Blow Up Planets

A Death Star made from Lego. Still too expensive. (Gizmodo)
A Death Star made from Lego. Still too expensive. (Gizmodo)

It’s been one of those bad blogging days. Usually, I’d start the day rifling through the day’s space news on the mainstream to work out what has been going on in the world. If some exciting stuff has been going on, my notebook will be filled with scribble, usually priming me for an afternoon of writing for the Universe Today or Astroengine. Usually. Today, although I got up bright and early, my writing ability took a U-turn much like the abysmal LA winter weather (grey and soggy). Writer’s block.

Bloggers writers block is especially frustrating as there is no end to the cool stuff going on in space (and even if there isn’t, I can usually unearth something not-so-cool and make it cool by doing a bit of research), but for some reason my brain wouldn’t budge. Not a bit. Plus I’m co-writing a book (but I’m not saying about what… yet), so it was a double-whammy bad writing day.

I gave up, had a bath, read a book and watched two episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Awesome
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In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream “Get Back Here You Thieving Alien!”

bridgestone

I’m quickly realising that the Super Bowl ad break is as eagerly awaited as the match itself. I’ve lived in the US for 3 Super Bowls, and each time there’s the buzz, “I wonder what the [insert company here] ad will be this year?” It’s funny, I’ve only watched one Super Bowl (in my first year) and I was astonished that there were more ad breaks than (American) football. (Which is no bad thing, I’m not a huge fan of the sport, give me football–soccer–any day.)

All I do know is, some of the ads are funny, some are clever but most are crap (don’t get me started on the GoDaddy marketing campaign… what in the hell are they doing?). But today, as posted on Greg Fish’s World of Weird Things, there was a glimmer of Space Age hope from a tire manufacturer…
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Can Gravitational Waves be Used for Evil?

Theoretical gravitational waves generated after a black hole collision. Can we surf them?
Theoretical gravitational waves generated after a black hole collision. Can we surf them?

Gravitational waves are a theoretical consequence of a propagating energy disturbance through space-time. They are predicted by Einstein’s general relativity equations, and astrophysicists are going to great pains to try to detect the faint signature from the passage of these waves through local space. Unfortunately, even though millions of dollars have been spent on international experiments, the gravitational wave remains in equation form; there is little (direct) evidence to support their existence.

However, this doesn’t stop the US military from worrying about them and commissioned a 40-page report into whether high frequency gravitational waves could be used by an enemy. Excuse me? Gravitational waves… as a weapon?
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