Future of Engineering

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Search for Aliens Just Got 100 Times More Powerful

New laser to aid searches for Earthlike planets

Scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA have demonstrated an ultrafast laser that offers a record combination of high speed, short pulses and high average power.

This group has also shown that this type of laser, when used as a frequency comb could boost the sensitivity of astronomical tools searching for other Earthlike planets as much as 100 fold.

What are frequency combs? We will let NIST explain: "An optical "frequency comb" is a very precise tool for measuring different colors—or frequencies—of light. The technology, made possible by recent advances in ultrafast lasers, can accurately measure much higher frequencies than any other tool. Frequency combs are already widely used in metrology laboratories and physics research, and they are starting to become commercially available.

Optical frequency combs rely on the relationship between time and frequency. NIST scientists start with lasers that emit a continuous train of very brief, closely spaced pulses of light containing a million different colors. The properties of the light over time are converted to frequency numbers to make what looks like a comb."

The timing between pulses determines the spacing between the teeth of the frequency comb. The faster the pulse repetition rate, the wider the spacing between the teeth, making each individual tooth easier to identify.

The small-sized laser developed by the joint team emits 10 billion pulses per second, each lasting about 40 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second), with an average power of 650 milliwatts. The new laser produces pulses 10 times more often than a standard NIST frequency comb while producing much shorter pulses. The new laser is also 100 to 1000 times more powerful than typical high-speed lasers, producing clearer signals in experiments.

There are some interesting applications to which this new technology could be put. Frequency combs have already dramatically simplified and improved the accuracy of frequency metrology. They also are making it possible to build precise atomic clocks. These new ultra-precise frequency combs could enable progress in many other advanced fields of science such as detection of toxic biochemical agents, studies of ultrafast dynamics, quantum computing, in synchronization of advanced telecommunications systems, remote detection and range measurements for manufacturing or defense applications, remote sensing of gases for medical or atmospheric studies, on-the-fly precision control of high-speed optical communications, and more.

Apart from these, one exciting prospect is the increased ability to explore planets orbiting distant stars. Why?

In order to identify the presence of a planet orbiting stars, astronomers look for slight variations in the colors of starlight. These color variations occur due to the small wobbles induced in the star’s motion as the orbiting planet travels back and forth.

Currently, astronomers’ instruments frequency standards calibrations that are limited in spectral coverage and stability. Current instruments can detect, at best, a wobble of about 1 meter per second. Lasers used as frequency combs could be more accurate calibration tools, helping to pinpoint even smaller variations in starlight caused by small planets.

The team that developed it says it is pursuing the possibility of testing such a laser at a ground-based telescope or launching a comb on a satellite or other space mission.

The application of frequency combs to planet searches is of international interest and involves a number of major institutions such as the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

More information here @ NIST

Via: Next Big Future

See also: John H Hall Nobel Lecture on Optical Frequencies (2005)


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Future of Astronomy - Trends and Predictions

Future of Astronomy

This post @ The Future of Engineering Blog presents web resources that discuss the future trends in astronomy and space science.

Scientists to discuss future of astronomy from space
Approximately 150 astronomers from around the country will gather at the University of Chicago for a workshop April 2 to 5 to ponder what sort of orbiting telescope should probe the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths once the Hubble Space Telescope's two-decade mission ends in 2010. The Next Generation Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2009, will scan the skies at infrared wavelengths. The Hubble Telescope studies the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Australia's Astronomy Future - Mission: To maximise Australia’s engagement in the new generation of optical/infrared and radio telescopes, through world-class scientific research and innovative instrument development programs. The Australian Astronomy Major National Research Facility (MNRF) is a $52m collaborative venture involving nearly all major astronomical institutions in Australia. The specific objectives of the Facility are to Increase Australia’s share of premier optical/infrared telescopes such as the Gemini 8-metre twin telescopes;
Develop enabling technologies for Australia to play a key role in, and host, the Square Kilometre Array, the centimetre-wave radiotelescope of the future; and

Visions of the Future: Astronomy and Earth Science - What does the future of science hold? Who is making the discoveries that will help shape this future? What areas of research show the greatest promise? Representing a careful selection of authoritative articles published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions--the world's longest-running scientific journal--the chapters explore such themes as:
 The Big Bang
 Humankind's exploration of the solar system
 The deep interior of the Earth
 Global warming and climate change
 Atoms and molecules in motion
 New materials and processes
 Nature's secrets of biological growth and form
 Understanding the human body and mind
 Quantum physics and its relationship to relativity theory and human consciousness
 Exotic quantum computing and data storage
 Telecommunications and the Internet Written by leading young scientists

Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers - The Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) is an international society of dedicated enthusiasts who teach, learn, trade technical information, and do their own observations of the radio sky. This organization is a scientific, non-profit group founded for the sole purpose of supporting amateur radio astronomy. SARA was organized in 1981, and today has hundreds of members worldwide. The group consists of optical astronomers, ham radio operators, engineers, teachers and non-technical persons. Many of our members are new to the field, and membership is extended to all who have an interest in radio astronomy.

Active and future projects - Due to rapid advances in infrared detector technology, the development of adaptive optics for ground based work and the commitment to infrared missions from space organizations such as NASA, ESA and ISAS, the future of infrared astronomy is extremely bright. Within the next decade, infrared astronomy will bring us exciting discoveries about new planets orbiting nearby stars, how planets, stars and galaxies are formed, the early universe, starburst galaxies, brown dwarfs, quasars and interstellar matter. Below is a summary of currently active and future infrared projects. Go through this link to learn more.

Imagining the future: gravitational wave astronomy - On October 27-30, 2004, a group of 64 gravitational wave astronomers and astronomers from traditional fields of astronomy and astrophysics, representing 20 different institutions, convened at Penn State for a workshop to speculate on the future of gravitational wave astronomy.
To facilitate discussion and debate oriented toward considering the future of the field, six questions were posed:
What will it mean to be a ``gravitational wave astronomer''?
What will be the interplay between gravitational wave astronomy and other, now conventional, forms of astronomy?
What will be the interplay between instrumentation, observation, and science in the field?
What will be the role of individual observatories vs. Global networks?
What will be the critical technologies used in gravitational wave detection?
What infrastructure will best contribute to broad participation, community growth, and the best possible science?
A white paper summarizing the key findings and open debates left by the conference is in preparation, and will be posted to arxiv.org when it is completed.

The future of astronomy - Boundaries of the universe, the depth of all that it contains, and the underlying forces that sustain and motivate it, will one day be fully exposed, comprehended, and ultimately and intimately explained by mankind. Such haughty wisdom is to be seriously doubted.
What is the real measure of time and space? Where does the boundary of the universe actually lie? Many would say that it is some 12-billion light years from us. Here, then, one simply needs to ask two very destructive questions; "What is on the other side of the boundary. . . And what, preciously, is time? There will be no factual, scientific answers to these questions.
What, then, is the future of astronomy? It is what it has always been . . . The searching out of, and displaying of, the "observable & quantifiable" universe; the continuing progression into the provable mathematics of the universe; and, yes, the publishing of the many personal "theories" of universal solutions that seem to always abound.
More from this post.

Future of Astronomy in Canada - Canadian astronomers today released the Report of the Long-Range Planning Panel on Canadian Astronomy and Astrophysics in the 21st Century.
The Report, entitled "The Origins of Structure in the Universe", outlines areas critical to Canadian astronomy that need to be developed over the next fifteen years to maintain a Canadian role at the forefront of this field.
Some of the recommendations in their Report include:
Canada's participation in key international projects in the space-based and ground-based astronomy facilities, the Next Generation Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array
Enhancement of Canada's ongoing observatory and facility commitments
Increased training opportunities for new astronomers through fellowship programs and some increase in staff at national laboratories
Establishing university laboratories for experimental astrophysics
Improvement in computing for astronomical data interpretation
An enhanced public outreach program

What space telescopes of tomorrow will see - Giant-sized telescopes such as Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra offer unprecedented views of the cosmos, but astronomers are eager to put more powerful tools into orbit around the Earth. Without the extra help, said Rachel Somerville, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, it may be impossible to resolve some of the universe's greatest mysteries.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Will Large Hadron Collider Nail Higgs Boson & Dark Matter?

The realms of the inconceivably huge and the unimaginably tiny will be united later this year in the countryside near Geneva, when the world’s most massive physics experiment gets under way within a 17-mile ring spanning the French-Swiss border. Inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), massive, powerful magnets chilled to a few degrees above absolute zero — colder than outer space — will zip beams of superenergetic protons and lead nuclei in a loop at speeds within a hairsbreadth of the speed of light, then collide them head-on. The energy released will be so vast that the impacts will recreate conditions in the universe as they existed just a fraction of a second after the big bang. If the LHC performs as expected, it could at last nail down that holy grail of contemporary physics, the Higgs boson — known as the “God particle” because it is thought to lend mass to matter. It may even finally unveil the secret of dark matter, the mysterious entity that makes up 85 percent of the universe — thereby shedding light on as-yet-unexplainable motions of galaxies.

See the article and all the comments here @ Popular Mechanics

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Celestis, Odyssey Moon, Astrobic to Send Your Ashes to Moon

The moon could become a final resting place for some of mankind thanks to a commercial service that hopes to send human ashes to the lunar surface on robotic landers, the company said.

Celestis, a company that pioneered the sending of cremated remains into suborbital space on rockets, said on Thursday it would start a service to the surface of the moon that could begin as early as next year.

The cost starts at US$10,000 (S$14,000) for a small quantity of ashes from one person.
Celestis president Charles Chafer said his company reached an agreement with Odyssey Moon and Astrobotic Technology, to attach capsules containing cremated remains onto robotic lunar landers.

Odyssey Moon and Astrobotic are among private enterprises seeking to land a robotic craft on the moon and conduct scientific experiments. The cremation capsules would remain on the moon with the lunar landers when the missions were complete.

More from here

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Solar Flares Cause Quakes, Oscillations on Sun

Scientists have determined that solar flares in the Sun's outer layers that causes quakes, produce strong oscillations throughout the star the same way as the entire Earth is set ringing for several weeks after a major earthquake.

Christoffer Karoff and Hans Kjeldsen of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, came out with the new theory.

According to a report in Nature News , the possibility that post-quake vibrations also occur in the Sun, was first proposed in the 1970s, but has not been demonstrated until now.

Full report from here

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Lectures - The Next Billion Years, Emerging Global Brain

Wow, this is an excellent read. It's difficult to write a precis for this, so I suggest you read the entire post - quite a long one, I must warn you, but fascinating, don't worry!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

After Arthur Clarke, Who are Science Fiction's Visionaries?

Whether Arthur C. Clarke is measured by such enduring science-fiction novels as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which he conceived of a space-travel program before man walked on the moon, or purely scientific papers like “Extraterrestrial Relays,” in which he described geosynchronous communications satellites two decades before one ever orbited the earth, the author, who died Wednesday at age 90, will long enjoy a legacy as a titan of speculative thought, seemingly capable of willing innovations into existence simply by imagining them.

Yet Mr. Clarke’s passing poses a challenge to the current generation of science-fiction writers: in a world where technology evolves so rapidly that the present already feels like the future, will a modern-day author ever inherit Mr. Clarke’s aura of prescience? Do any of his successors share his apparent talent for envisioning technological breakthroughs before they are realized?

Read more on this topic from this NY Times article

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After Arthur Clarke, Who are Science Fiction's Visionaries?

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NASA Future Space Suits - Bio-suites for Pumpkin Suits, EMU?

In the coming months, NASA is due to select one team to provide the suit that astronauts will wear for the next series of giant leaps.

Currently, NASA astronauts use one type of suit during the space shuttle's launch and re-entry (the orange-colored get-up nicknamed the "pumpkin suit") and another type of suit for spacewalks (the Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU). Both are heavy stuff...Spacesuits are built to protect the body from the near-vacuum of space - and the traditional spacewalking suit does that through internal air pressurization. Currently, 70 to 80 percent of the energy expended by a spacewalker goes to bending the suit's joints against that pressure.

In contrast, the Biosuit does the same job through mechanical counterpressure. The result is a garment that provides a stiff skeleton while preserving much more of a person's mobility. Some experts figure that the Biosuit could be ready for prime time in 10 years.

Other groups such as Orbital Outfitters, are designing togs for suborbital space tourists - who wouldn't need the level of protection required for spacewalks or lunar surface operations.

More from here

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Space Elevator - Will Arthur Clarke be Proved Right Again?

"It's definitely my most important contribution," Arthur Clarke told a journalist a couple of months before this death, about his prescient idea of communications satellites. And he added, "And maybe in a generation or so the space elevator will be considered equally important."

The space elevator - basically a huge cable connecting the Earth to space, along which payloads can be launched using electromagnetic vehicles - is another thing that Clarke has championed. He first wrote about it in 1978. Current plans call for a cable about 50,000 kilometers long.

"The chief expense of space travel when you build the space elevator is entertainment and in-flight movies," joked Clarke to the journalist. It is very sad that the sci-fi genius is no more...

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Methane Discovered on Extrasolar Planet

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have for the first time found the telltale signature of methane, an organic molecule, in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.

Methane is one of the chemicals of life, an organic compound in the class of molecules containing carbon. However, no life is likely to exist on the large, gaseous planet known as HD 189733b. Its daily temperatures can reach 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit.

Full report here

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Evidence for Ocean Found at Saturn's Moon Titan

An ocean seasoned with the chemical ingredients of life may lie hidden beneath the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

The evidence? The entire surface of Titan appears to be sliding around, scientists say, like cheese over tomato sauce on a slice of pizza.

Titan is the largest of the more than 50 known moons orbiting Saturn, and is in fact bigger than the planet Mercury. Titan possesses a thick, planet-like atmosphere — the only moon in the solar system known to have one. And the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons revealed a surface at Titan covered with icy mountains, oily lakes and seas and what might be "cryovolcanoes" that spew plumes of water and ammonia.

Scientists had long suspected that an underground ocean might exist on Titan, much as Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa do.

Full story here

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"Goodbye Earth" in About 7.59 Billion Years

If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

Their report is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of our planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun’s death.

Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”

Full report here

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7.59 Billion Years . . . Goodbye Earth

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Recipe for Saving the Earth from the Sun - Move It!

I was reading an interesting article (quote old by our standards, 7 years, but very new by astronomical standards)...here is the excerpt:

Experts give the sun some 7 billion years, when it will turn into a bloated red giant. Earth would be first engulfed in heat and light, then vaporized.

Well before then, things will turn real nasty. In just a billion years, the Sun could be 11-percent brighter, scientists say, rendering Earth an inhospitable greenhouse. In 3.5 billion years, the Sun could be 40-percent brighter than it is today.

With our demise so clear on the cosmic horizon, astrophysicist Fred Adams of the University of Michigan and NASA's Gregory Laughlin got to wondering in recent years how the planet might be saved by gravitational interaction with a passing star. They ran computer simulations of possible encounters over the next 3.5 billion years, finding last year that the odds of the Earth being completely ejected from the solar system are one-in-100,000.

So Adams and Laughlin, along with Don Korycansky of the University of California, began to discuss consider how human intervention might bring about a more suitable long-term orbit, one that gradually expands with the aging Sun.

Interesting! Read more from the article

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