How To Colonise The Moon

Original article here via Science Alert

A lot of focus over the past 12 months has been on NASA’s journey to Mars. But a group of space experts, including leading NASA scientists, has now produced a special journal edition that details how we could establish a human colony on the Moon in the next seven years – all for US$10 billion.

Although that’s pretty awesome, the goal isn’t really the Moon itself – from an exploratory point of view, most scientists have bigger targets in sight. But the lessons we’ll learn and the technology we’ll develop building a human base outside of Earth will eventually be the key to colonising Mars, and other planets, according to the experts.

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“My interest is not the Moon. To me the Moon is as dull as a ball of concrete,” NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay, who edited the special, open-access issue of New Space journal, told Sarah Fecht over at Popular Science. “But we’re not going to have a research base on Mars until we can learn how to do it on the Moon first. The Moon provides a blueprint to Mars.”

The journal articles came out of a workshop held back in August 2014, when some of the greatest minds in space research and business were brought together to explore and develop low-cost options for building a human settlement on the Moon.

We haven’t gone back to the Moon since 1972 simply because of how expensive it is – the Apollo program that put the first humans on the lunar surface would have cost US$150 billion by today’s standards, Fecht reports. And with a budget of US$19.3 billion for the whole of 2016, NASA hasn’t been able to consider the Moon as well as Mars.

But thanks to new technology, it no longer has to be that way.

“The US could lead a return of humans to the surface of the Moon within a period of 5-7 years from authority to proceed at an estimated total cost of about $10 billion (±30 percent),” conclude NASA’s Alexandra Hall and NextGen Space‘s Charles Miller in one of the papers.

As Jurica Dujmovic notes for MarketWatch, that’s cheaper than one US aircraft carrier.

“The big takeaway,” McKay told Popular Science, “is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space – like self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets – are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do.”

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According to the research papers, the lunar base would house around 10 people for stays of up to a year at first – and could eventually grow to a self-sufficient settlement of 100 within a decade.

They’d get to the Moon on SpaceX’s soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy, and while they’d have to take quite a lot of equipment on the first trip, 3D printing could be used to produce pretty much everything else once they get there.

The colony would most likely be established on the outer rim of one of the Moon’s poles, which receive more sunlight than the rest of the surface, so would help keep solar-powered equipment running. As Marketwatch reports:

“Furthermore, all that energy could provide power for robots that would excavate large amounts of ice detected within the craters. Water gathered that way could then be used for life support, as well as for providing oxygen, or it could be processed into rocket fuel, which would be sold or stored for refuelling space crafts.”

The astronauts would probably live in the something similar to Bigelow Aeropsace’s inflatable habitat, the researchers write, which is radiation resistant and would allow for a range of living areas, as well as easy storing and transport.

It could also provide protected habitats for basic crops, which would be fertilised with the help of a toilet that recycles human waste into energy, clean water, and nutrients, such as the Gates Foundation-funded blue toilet.

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The rest of the food and supplies for 10 people that couldn’t be grown and 3D printed on the Moon could be shipped by SpaceX for less than US$350 million per year using the reusable Falcon 9 rocket.

It all sounds amazing, but the elephant in the room is the fact that the US$10 million establishment cost is more than NASA’s existing space flight budget of US$3-4 billion per year. But assuming setting up the colony is a flat fee, it’s definitely still affordable and could run alongside plans to Mars, the scientists write.

And things could get even cheaper if commercial service providers are involved, which would then be prime position to sell propellant from the Moon’s orbit to NASA and any other space agencies trying to get humans to Mars.

All of the papers in the special edition of New Space are freely available online for you to peruse and use to plan your future in space. Get dreaming, because it’s closer than you think.

“It is time to go back to this Moon, this time to stay,” concludes the journal’s preface. “and funding is no longer the main hurdle.”

Possible New Particle at LHC

Original Post via Nature http://www.nature.com/news/who-ordered-that-1.19514?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the giant particle-physics experiment near Geneva, Switzerland, have searched for many possible subatomic particles and novel phenomena. They have tried to recreate dark matter, reveal extra dimensions of and collapse matter into microscopic black holes.

But the possibility of an electrically neutral particle that is four times heavier than the top quark — the current heaviest — and that could decay into pairs of photons has apparently never crossed anybody’s mind. No theorist has ever predicted that such a particle should exist. No experiment has ever been designed to look for one.

So when, on 15 December last year, two separate teams at the LHC independently reported hints of such a particle (see Nature http://doi.org/bc4t; 2015), the reaction of many experts was similar to that of US physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi when the muon, a heavier relative of the electron, was discovered in 1936: “Who ordered that?”

If the particle exists, the implications would be enormous. Precisely because it is so unexpected, it could be the most important discovery in particle physics since quarks — the elementary constituents of protons and neutrons — were confirmed to exist in the 1970s. Perhaps it would be the biggest deal since the muon itself.

The evidence so far is scant, however. It amounts to a few too many pairs of γ-ray photons produced with combined energies of 750 giga­electronvolts when the LHC smashes protons together. The fact that two separate detectors spotted it at almost exactly the same energies gives some hope, but anomalous signals such as this often show up in experiments only to later vanish back into the noisy background.

Still, people at CERN, the European particle-physics lab that hosts the LHC, have scarcely talked about anything else since. And theoretical physicists around the world have gone into overdrive: more than 200 papers have been posted online with theories that could explain the particle. One possibility is that it could be a heavier cousin of the Higgs boson; another, even more tantalizing one, is that it is a type of graviton, the particle hypothesized to carry the force of gravity. If so, it could point to the existence of extra dimensions of space beyond the familiar three.

Some have discounted the outburst of preprint articles as merely an attempt by authors to rake up citations. One physicist has even done a quantitative comparison of this spike in activity with other fads that have come and gone in the past (see M. Backović Preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1603.01204; 2016), charting theorists’ initially exploding, then fading, interest. But describing theorists’ interest as ‘ambulance chasing’ is a bit unfair. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, if people knew what they should be looking for, it wouldn’t be called research.

“The LHC is now providing the opportunity of a lifetime to break entirely new ground.”

And particle physicists’ excitement is understandable, if tempered by caution. For decades, their field has been finding evidence for the standard model of particle physics, a collection of theories that was put together in the 1970s and has been more successful than anyone expected. The current generation of young physicists was not even born when particle accelerators produced their last genuinely surprising results. Meanwhile, searches for physics beyond the standard model have so far come up empty — at accelerators such as the LHC but also in many tabletop experiments and at detectors built underground or sent into space to look for dark matter. The most notable exception to the standard model’s standard fare has been the discovery, beginning in 1998, that the elementary particles called neutrinos spontaneously oscillate between their three known types, or flavours — something that the original version of the standard model had not predicted. That breakthrough earned two physicists a well-deserved Nobel Prize last year.

The LHC is now providing the opportunity of a lifetime to break entirely new ground. In 2015, it restarted after a long shutdown that brought the energies of its collisions to a record 13 teraelectronvolts, from 8 TeV. This has put much more massive particles in reach — if any exist — but it will be the last substantial jump in collider energies in a generation. More-powerful machines, if they ever see the light of the day, will take decades to plan, develop and build.

The good news is that whether the new particle exists or the data bump is a statistical anomaly is not a question that will leave us hanging for long. The LHC experiments had time to observe only relatively few collisions in their first 13 TeV run last year, before the experiment shut down for its winter recess.

At a meeting in the Italian Alps that starts on 12 March, LHC researchers might present fresh analyses of those data that could provide more clues. And the machine will begin to collect vastly more data in April. If the bump seen last year was an anomaly, it should go away by the summer. If not, stay tuned for some interesting announcements at the next round of conferences.particle

Pairs of photons (green) produced in LHC collisions suggest the existence of a boson with a mass of 750 gigaelectronvolts.

Hubble Team Breaks Cosmic Distance Record

By pushing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by measuring the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This surprisingly bright infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the Big Bang. GN-z11 is located in the direction of the constellation of Ursa Major.

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More details via NASA https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/hubble-team-breaks-cosmic-distance-record