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Could We Make Artificial Gravity?

GuideToSpace201

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It’s a staple of scifi, and a requirement if we’re going to travel long-term in space. Will we ever develop artificial gravity?

It’s safe to say we’ve spent a significant amount of our lives consuming science fiction.

Berks, videos, movies and games.

Science fiction is great for the imagination, it’s rich in iron and calcium, and takes us to places we could never visit. It also helps us understand and predict what might happen in the future: tablet computers, cloning, telecommunication satellites, Skype, magic slidey doors, and razors with 5 blades.

These are just some of the predictions science fiction has made which have come true.

Then there are a whole bunch of predictions that have yet to happen, but still might, Fun things like the climate change apocalypse, regular robot apocalypse, the giant robot apocalypse, the alien invasion apocalypse, the apocalypse apocalypse, comet apocalypse, and the great Brawndo famine of 2506.

Astronauts strut their superpowers on the final shuttle mission, STS-135, where they also examined bacteria growth. Credit: NASA

Astronauts strut their superpowers on the final shuttle mission, STS-135. Credit: NASA

Not to mention things that’ll probably never happen, things that could not be, in accordance with the laws of nature. Faster-than-light travel, instantaneous teleportation, and the ability to destroy whole planets with a space station laser pointer.

But there’s one future technology, a massive violation of the laws of physics which plays a role in nearly every single book, show and movie you can mention.

I promise you, if authors, screenwriters and directors tried to adhere to the laws of physics with even a shred of accuracy, your favorite scifi would unfold very differently.

I’m talking artificial gravity.

It’s magical. Captain Kirk can actually *stand* on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, and he just stands there. He can sit in the mess and enjoy a pint of Romulan Ale not served in a plastic bag, or go just to the bathroom without a freaky-weirdo suction toilet.

I understand scifi authors are imagineering spaceships like ocean going vessels, yet in space.

That’s where they go wrong.

On Earth, you can stand on the deck of your warship, drink your Romulan Ale from an open topped non-collapsible container, and it’s all thanks to you, gravity. The Earth is pulling the ale towards its center, and it’s stopped by the glass, which is stopped by your meat and skeleton, stopped by your well polished boots, stopped by the plates on the deck of the ship, held up by the rest of a the ship, held up by buoyancy, which all work to keep everything from zipping down to the center of the planet, or at least the floor of the ocean.

Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA

Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA

Out in space, no gravity. You’ve seen the crew on board the International Space Station.

Once you’re in microgravity, you float around like a balloon. You have to drink and pee into a tube, and one of those involves a vacuum cleaner. Protip: Do not mix up those tubes.

Most importantly, once a spaceship started moving, or undertook evasive maneuvers, everyone would ping pong around like crunchy meaty bingo balls.

Will we ever develop artificial gravity?

The only way to get gravity is with mass. The more mass, the more gravity you get. Without mass, you can’t have gravity.

Before we go any further, there’s no such thing as anti-gravity.

Now that’s out of the way, there are a few ways we can fake it.

The force of gravity that we feel is actually just an acceleration towards the center of the Earth at 9.8 meters per second squared, or 1G.

As Einstein showed us, everything’s relative. If you were in a spacecraft and it was accelerating away from Earth at a rate of 1G, it would feel exactly the same if you were standing on the ground.

This is known as constant acceleration, and if you could somehow power a spacecraft with that much energy, it would be just what you needed.

Astronauts on the Moon. Image credit: NASA

Astronauts on the Moon. Image credit: NASA

Want to get to the Moon? Accelerate at 1G for an hour and a half, turn around, and decelerate for the same amount of time. Not only would you get to the Moon in under 3 hours, but you would have experienced Earth gravity the entire time.

Want to fly to Jupiter? It would only take about 80 hours of acceleration, and then 80 hours of deceleration. At the halfway point of this journey, you’re going more than 2,800 kilometers per second, which is close to 1% the speed of light.

Want to travel a light-year? Accelerate for about a year, then decelerate for a year. At the mid-point, you’ll be going the speed of light.

Uh oh. There’s the problem. As you probably know, as you approach the speed of light, it requires more and more energy. And you can’t go faster than the speed of light. So using this method only lets you travel about a light year at a time.

There’s an idea that I’m sure you Arthur C Clarke fans know, which requires way less energy: artificial gravity from centripetal force… spinning.

Take a large enough spacecraft and set it spinning.

Interior of the Discovery, from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Credit; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Interior of the Discovery, from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Credit; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Thanks to inertia, free floating objects within the spacecraft, like astronauts, would try to fly off into space, but the hull of the spaceship would keep them inside.

To make this comfortable, you need a ring-shaped spacecraft with a radius of 250 meters. This ring would need to turn about twice a minute for astronauts within the spacecraft to experience 1 G.

Building a spacecraft like this is an engineering challenge, but it’s probably within reach of our current technology.

Something like this would help us explore the Solar System without the health risks of microgravity.

That’s right, not only is microgravity super annoying for trying to pee, but it’ll also ruin you.

Unless we discover anti-gravity, we’ll probably never have the kind of artificial gravity we see in science fiction. It’s going to be huge rotating rings for the foreseeable future, sadly.

What’s your favorite science fiction story that seems to have ignored the problem of artificial gravity? Tell us in the comments below.

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Enhanced-color image from Cassini showing red streaks on Tethys (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Enhanced-color image from Cassini showing red streaks on Saturn’s moon Tethys (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Resembling what the skin on my arms looks like after giving my cat a bath, the surface of Saturn’s moon Tethys is seen above in an extended-color composite from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft showing strange long red streaks. They stretch for long distances across the moon’s surface following the rugged terrain, continuing unbroken over hills and down into craters… and their cause isn’t yet known.

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Eris’ Moon of Dysnomia

Artists concept of the view from Eris with Dysnomia  in the background, looking back towards the distant sun. Credit: Robert Hurt (IPAC)

Artists concept of the view from Eris with Dysnomia in the background, looking back towards the distant sun. Credit: Robert Hurt (IPAC)

Ask a person what Dysnomia refers to, and they might venture that it’s a medical condition. In truth, they would be correct. But in addition to being a condition that affects the memory (where people have a hard time remembering words and names), it is also the only known moon of the distant dwarf planet Eris.

In fact, the same team that discovered Eris a decade ago – a discovery that threw our entire notion of what constitutes a planet into question – also discovered a moon circling it shortly thereafter. As the only satellite that circles one of the most distant objects in our Solar System, much of what we know about this ball of ice is still subject to debate.

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Ceres Resembles Saturn’s Icy Moons

Topographic elevation map of Ceres showing some newly-named craters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Topographic elevation map of Ceres showing newly-named craters. The highest regions are in red, the lowest in blue. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Ceres’ topography is revealed in full (but false) color in a new map created from elevation data gathered by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, now nearly five months in orbit around the dwarf planet orbiting the Sun within the main asteroid belt.

With craters 3.7 miles (6 km) deep and mountains rising about the same distance from its surface, Ceres bears a resemblance to some of Saturn’s frozen moons.

“The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres,” said Paul Schenk,  Dawn science team member and a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. “The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust.”

Check out a rotation video of Ceres’ topography below:

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Faces of the Solar System

Move over, Pluto... Disney already has dibs on Mercury as seen in this MESSENGER photo. Image credit:  NASA/JHAPL/Carnegie institution of Washington

Move over, Pluto… Disney already has dibs on Mercury as seen in this MESSENGER photo. Image credit: NASA/JHAPL/Carnegie institution of Washington

“Look, it has a tiny face on it!”

This sentiment was echoed ‘round the web recently, as an image of Pluto’s tiny moon Nix was released by the NASA New Horizons team. Sure, we’ve all been there. Lay back in a field on a lazy July summer’s day, and soon, you’ll see faces of all sorts in the puffy stratocumulus clouds holding the promise of afternoon showers. [click to continue…]

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Neptune’s Moon of Triton

Global Color Mosaic of Triton, taken by Voyager 2 in 1989. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

Global Color Mosaic of Triton, taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

The planets of the outer Solar System are known for being strange, as are their many moons. This is especially true of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. In addition to being the seventh-largest moon in the Solar System, it is also the only major moon that has a retrograde orbit – i.e. it revolves in the direction opposite to the planet’s rotation. This suggests that Triton did not form in orbit around Neptune, but is a cosmic visitor that passed by one day and decided to stay.

And like most moons in the outer Solar System, Triton is believed to be composed of an icy surface and a rocky core. But unlike most Solar moons, Triton is one of the few that is known to be geologically active. This results in cryovolcanism, where geysers periodically break through the crust and turn the surface Triton into what is sure to be a psychedelic experience!

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Blues for the Second Full Moon of July

An artificially created 'Blue Moon,' using the white balance settings on the camera. Image credit and copyright: John Chumack

An artificially created ‘Blue Moon,’ using the white balance settings on the camera. Image credit and copyright: John Chumack

Brace yourselves for Blue Moon madness. The month of July 2015 hosts two Full Moons: One on July 2nd and another coming right up this week on Friday, July 31st at 10:43 Universal Time (UT)/6:43 AM EDT.

In modern day vernacular, the occurrence of two Full Moons in one calendar month has become known as a ‘Blue Moon.’ This is a result of the synodic period (the amount of time it takes for the Moon to return to a like phase, in this case Full back to Full) of 29.5 Earth days being less than every calendar month except February. [click to continue…]

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What About a Mission to Europa?

GuideToSpace200

Click on the photo above to go to our Patreon Page to view the video!

Europa’s water exists in a layer around the planet, encased in a layer of ice. Could there be life down there?
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Highest resolution mosaic of ‘Tombaugh Regio’ shows the heart-shaped region on Pluto focusing on ice flows and plains of ‘Sputnik Planum’ at top and icy mountain ranges of ‘Hillary Montes’ and ‘Norgay Montes’ below.  This new mosaic combines the seven highest resolution images captured by NASA’s New Horizons LORRI imager during history making closest approach flyby on July 14, 2015.  Inset at right shows global view of Pluto with location of mosaic and huge heart-shaped region in context.  Annotated with place names.  Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Highest resolution mosaic of ‘Tombaugh Regio’ shows the heart-shaped region on Pluto focusing on ice flows and plains of ‘Sputnik Planum’ at top and icy mountain ranges of ‘Hillary Montes’ and ‘Norgay Montes’ below. This new mosaic combines the seven highest resolution images captured by NASA’s New Horizons LORRI imager during history making closest approach flyby on July 14, 2015. Inset at right shows global view of Pluto with location of mosaic and huge heart-shaped region in context. Annotated with place names. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Unannotated version below

Until barely two weeks ago, Pluto tantalized humanity for eight decades with mysteries we could only imagine – seen as just a point of light or fuzzy blob in the world’s most powerful telescopes.

Now the last explored planetary system in our solar system is being revealed for the first time in history to human eyes, piece by piece, in the form of the highest resolution [click to continue…]

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The Planet Venus

Venus imaged by Magellan Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Venus imaged by the Magellan spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

As the morning star, the evening star, and the brightest natural object in the sky (after the Moon), human beings have been aware of Venus since time immemorial. Even though it would be many thousands of years before it was recognized as being a planet, its has been a part of human culture since the beginning of recorded history.

Because of this, the planet has played a vital role in the mythology and astrological systems of countless peoples. With the dawn of the modern age, interest in Venus has grown, and observations made about its position in the sky, changes in appearance, and similar characteristics to Earth have taught us much about our Solar System. [click to continue…]

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