Category Archives: NatSci

Natural Science articles, including physics, chemistry, biology, et al

Fishing for asteroids while reaching for the stars

Ideas of going into space have been a dream of many for a long time. Notions of space travel appear in European literature during the 1800s in the verging genre of science fiction. However in the 20th Century, rocket spaceship travel took off in literature with the publication of pulp fiction magazines, and comics. Public imagination was captured and by the 1950s some dared to dream that space travel is possible. With rocket knowledge being limited to a few, private companies started to make a push for space in Britain and USA; Russia’s space programme was state sponsored.


Normandy-SR1 Spaceship, © BioWare

After the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the United States Government was energised towards the space race. The then British government did not pursue an astronaut space programme, or help British enthusiasts and rocket engineers to establish a national programme. Successive British Governments from the 1960s until 2011 held back from pursuing national space policy, although throughout this period, government space interest existed in space research, European Space Agency involvement and unmanned commercial interests, mostly in engineering satellites and components.

So why are individuals and businesses not encouraged, helped and championed to create businesses for a British-based astronaut programme? Protectionism of certain industries and policies by government at the cost of paying higher taxes, or favouritism for one business venture over another are part of the problem. As is red tape and bad policy decisions by governments: historically the evidence sits before us. One is reminded of this from “This Sceptred Isle, Gladstone’s First Budget,” (Episode 187/216).

With the British Chancellor of the Exchequer’s budget announcement on 21st April 2012, the top rate of income tax will be reduced from 50p to 45p in the pound in April 2013. If the top rate remains at 50p, that 5p could be used to invest in scientific and technological research and development centres, fund innovation and provide infrastructure for a wide range of scientific endeavours. Britain would have a greater competitive edge against the emerging scientific and technological markets of China and India. Knowledge clusters could be built in the UK to promote hi-tech industries, innovation and space exploration.

Protectionism in itself is not inherently bad, choices on what to protect can make a positive outcome. With globalisation, mass communication, information dissemination, and global corporations, some good can come in the form of philanthropy. This can be seen with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Globalisation combined with scientific knowledge and its application in the form of technology and especially information technology, has allowed individuals around the world to break orthodoxy, think of impossible things, and think globally on how to find solutions to some of the world’s problems.

With the recent success of SpaceX ferrying items to the International Space Station, the news of Virgin Galactic‘s space flights and the future proposed moon flights by Excalibur Almaz, interest in space flight has been ignited once again. However with all the recent excitement and success of SpaceX’s first mission to the ISS, one cannot help but feel that many government policies, not only in Britain, but also in the USA, Russia and beyond, are acting like a damp squib, stifling innovation, ideas and dreams of many, compounded with nay-sayers, while pouring an inky mess on progress (or should that be damp squid). This can be exemplified with the struggle engineer Alan Bond has experienced with the Sabre engine and Skylon project. Continue reading

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Gedankenexperiment on engineering a time-machine

A question worth considering is: has anyone thought about creating a time machine based on a particle accelerator? Pushing matter about a cyclotron like at the LHC, could create time-dilation for matter (like a neutron), as it is being flung around in a circular path near the speed of light. It should be noted that matter will not reach or exceed the speed of light.

Prof. Ronald Mallett‘s theoretical research shows that light and not just matter could effect gravity. Professor Mallett has proposed creating a machine which circulates laser beams to create space-time dragging for an elementary particle. Creating a ring of light, in a cyclotron-like machine will create a gravitational drag effect, this will be noticeable for small elementary particles, such as a neutron [Footnote 1]. However the machine will not have an effect on any other matter outside of the apparatus itself. The function of time-dragging will operate within the local reference frame of the matter trapped within a cyclotron stream. This does not make a time machine for an external observer, but will create time dilation effect on matter caught in the light-stream’s drag.

The Time Machine 2002, concept drawing

The Time Machine 2002, concept drawing, © Oliver Scholl

So how does one make a time-machine? Understanding space (space-time) is an important part of this puzzle. Just as matter can’t break the light barrier, neither can matter reach a temperature of absolute zero. So what else can one do? Create a massive gravitational body, engineer a magnetar using a stellar-manipulator, possibly, but technology to create this is theoretical, and most likely won’t be feasible for hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. There are however other more practical solutions which we could use to build a working time machine in the 21st century. Continue reading

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Spooky interaction and spongy space

While reading an excerpt from “How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival [Excerpt]” from Scientific American, I again started pondering on spooky-interaction.

Einstein saw a problem with quantum spooky-interaction at a distance, i.e., quantum entanglement. An observer can’t measure neither position or speed (momentum) accurately (noncommutativity) at the same time, because we are outside the reference frame or system of an individual particle being measured; outside the looking glass so to speak, existing within our own snow shaker (reference frame). Although we are made of lots of elementary particles, collectively they work as their own system, within a larger framework of another system.

Just as we can’t see outside our observable Universe or inside a black-hole, the same fuzz occurs with an individual elementary particle because we are not part of that system, which exists in a different phased space from what we exist within. We see a shadow or ghost of that individual particle and we appear reflected to the observed particle’s true nature also as a shadow or ghost.

Within quantum mechanics an elementary particle is said to have spin; that is spin direction. Wolfgang Pauli first proposed the concept of spin, who later formulated a mathematical theory in 1927. Quantum mechanics uses two types of angular momentum: orbital angular momentum and spin. So why is spin important? Spin has no direct analogous classical mechanical equivalent, however quantum mechanical spin does contain information about direction. Continue reading

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Space flight: It’s not all rocket science – pt2

So towards the end of April 2012, several space based headline grabbing stories were published through media outlets: A new British rocket engine (Skylon), asteroid space mining backed by Google (Planetary Resources) and a robotic trip to Saturn’s moon Titan.

Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, with director James Cameron, engineers, scientists and astronauts Chris Lewicki, Tom Jones, Eric Anderson, Peter H. Diamandis, along with other venture capital investors have teamed together to form Planetary Resources. Their mission is to capture asteroids to mine, and use their resources in space, as well as back here on Earth. This idea sounds more like the plot line to a space science fiction opera, however Planetary Resources’ mission is to be fully operational in mining asteroids within 10 years time.

How do they aim to achieve this feat? In short, robot satellite exploration of asteroid rocks, to net and bring close to Earth for mining, taking resources to the Moon and ‘shuttling’ back to Earth. To get these satellites into orbit, private space travel enterprises will be used. Currently there is nothing that can fulfil this task commercially. However in a few years, and possibly within a year or two, there will be private rocket spaceships and high altitude shuttle rides regularly available from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and others licensed for commercial use. SpaceX recently (May 2012) achieved a milestone with a successful launch of the Falcon rocket supplying the ISS and returning safely to Earth.

There is another ‘rocket’ type technology in the offering. Skylon picks up from the shelved British HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) project of the early 1980s. Rocket technology at the heart of the Skylon spaceship is a new innovation, the Sabre engine. Capable of breathing air at lower altitudes while keeping the engine supercool and being able to switch over to a oxygen & hydrogen mix with the flick of a switch, for higher altitudes and outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Continue reading

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Space flight: It’s not all rocket science – pt1

Towards the end of April 2012, there were several headline grabbing space science stories published by British (and other) media outlets. Two stories which drew my attention discussed asteroid mining with backing from Google bosses, and the legacy of the HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) project, Skylon. A third notable story in the new space race focused on a new robot satellite with an accompanying ‘boat’ to explore Saturn’s moon Titan.

At face value, many of these ideas may seem like science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke’s satellite in geostationary orbit paper was originally published in Wireless World during 1945. Many believed this notion to be closer to science fiction than a possible realisation. A decade later John R. Pierce of Bell Labs gave a talk about geostationary communication satellites, a paper was subsequently published in 1956; Pierce has stated that he was not aware of Clarke’s paper at the time.

Although Clarke is generally credited with this idea, it was an innovation to both great thinkers, as the idea of geostationary satellites in orbit was first described in Hermann Oberth’s book, “The Rocket into Interplanetary Space” (Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen) published in 1923. However in 1928 Herman Potočnik’s published under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung “The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor” (Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor) which describes using radio communication using Oberth’s geostationary satellites. For further information, please see Wikipedia entry “Concept of the geostationary communications satellite“. Continue reading

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60 nanosecond measurement problem

In the last quarter of 2011, Gran Sasso National Laboratory published a paper suggesting that neutrinos may be travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light; the published paper was an invitation for other physicists to scrutinise their data. Earlier this week, 16th March 2012, Scientific American reported on CERN’s ICARUS experiment, who recently announced that their measurements showed neutrinos “travelling at a velocity indistinguishable from the speed of light” and not 60 nanoseconds faster.

For further information, please read John Matson’s article published in Scientific American, “Not So Fast: Independent Measurement Shows Neutrinos Don’t Exceed Speed Of Light“. Alternatively ICARUS findings on the 60 nanosecond measurement problem can be found at The evidence is beginning to confirm that Einstein’s Special Relativity stands fast and the current laws of physics as we understand them, are still factually accurate.

According to the current Standard Model of Particle Physics, Neutrinos are members of the Fermion-Lepton family, are electrically neutral and have a small amount of mass. They are not seen to be ‘massless’ like their Force carrier family of particles called Bosons, of which the photon (electromagnetic, or commonly known as ‘light’ carrier) is a member.

Standard Model of Particle Physics

Standard Model of Particle Physics – AAAS

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Collaboration on Science-hack projects

I devise quite a few inventive and innovative ideas on a regular basis. While I make a note of most inventions and innovations, which are subsequently filed away for future investigation, for the odd one or two I open a project folder, for further development beyond an initial idea.

I was watching Click on Saturday 4th February via BBC iPlayer catching up on the past few weeks I had missed, and I saw an excerpt on a story about start-up company Makani Power who have created a flying kite that produces electricity; they are funded by Google and the US Department of Energy.

I was fairly shocked to see this latest kite idea for electrical generation, as I also have had for several years a similar idea to use a kite for electrical generation. However my initial shock occurred during November 2010 when I was watching Wallace & Gromit’s World Of Invention on BBC and learnt about the “Magenn” project.

I have learnt that often when one comes up with a new idea, invention or innovation, there will be several other people around the world who will also come up with a similar idea, invention or innovation. The success of turning an idea from paper into a working model or usable technology can be a complicated and prolonged process. Having good ideas is one thing, turning them into practical usable machinery, processes, or other such useful paraphernalia can be a challenge, but often an exciting one. Continue reading

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