Larry Klaes sends along links to four of Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe’s books on panspermia, now available online. I first encountered the duo’s Evolution from Space shortly after its publication in 1981, found it curious and unlikely, and went on to other things. But the idea that a microbe might make its way between planets is under greater scrutiny than ever, even if the concept of interstellar panspermia remains contentious. And I think Larry sums the matter up nicely: “Certain ideas in these works have become a bit more accepted, or at least less further from the mainstream than when they first came out. They do make for very interesting reading whether you agree with their ideas or not.”
The Cosmic Ancestry site offers resources on the topic here, including PDF’s of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s Space Travelers: The Bringers of Life, Viruses from Space, Living Comets and Proofs That Life Is Cosmic.
I’m looking at a stunning image of Saturn’s rings, with a huge, smoggy Titan bisected by their arc, and battered little Epimethus hovering just above the rings. The view is courtesy of the new National Geographic title Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System, capturing the intriguing organic chemistry of one Saturnian moon and contrasting it (via an insert) with another, the continually surprising Enceladus. The photograph is lovely, but Planetology aims to be more than a collection of memorable imagery. The method here is to look at the natural processes that shape the landscapes we see with our probes, with emphasis upon the forces that shape their existence. Earth appears in these pages not so much as our home but as another intriguing planetary surface.
Thus an image of Mercury’s Spider crater is contrasted with a shot from orbit of Canada’s Manicouagan crater, some sixty miles across, where rivers trace impact-generated fault lines even as weathering and crustal movement wear down other evidence of the cataclysmic event. The rift zones of Venus are contrasted with the long troughs of Mars’ Cerberus Fossae and insets of the Great Rift in East Africa. Page after page the views tell the tale of the movement of fluids on Titan and Mars, the action of ice volcanoes on Triton and the erupting plumes of Enceladus, the formation and movement of ice, the effects of storm and wind.
Astronaut and planetary scientist Tom Jones, working with planetary geologist Ellen Stofan, wrote the text, from which this:
Through field observation and experiment, earth scientists have built theories or hypotheses about how volcanoes erupt, earthquakes rumble, and glaciers advance and retreat. Today, researchers apply those models to the features seen on other planets; if those geological features can be explained by our model, then our understanding is reinforced. If solar system reality does not fit our Earth-generated theory, then the model needs revision. Geologists head back into the field for more data, and theorists go back to reassess their approach to explaining fundamental forces like impacts, volcanism, and erosion. By incorporating the data and imagery from robotic probes and astronaut expeditions into the study of our planet, we not only learn more about the solar system but also about our own Earth.
A point well taken. For me, the interesting thing about this book is the way it played with my sense of perspective, so that the unusual features we see on distant planets and moons relate to things I take for granted on this planet because I’m not used to looking at them from space. We’ll do that same kind of perspective-shifting one day when we gain the ability to image exoplanets up close, a distant prospect, but perhaps within reach in a matter of decades with extended versions of Webster Cash’s New Worlds and other space-based observatories.
The latest Carnival of Space is up at Simostronomy, with special attention to the idea of magnetic shielding for future space travelers. Solar and cosmic radiation provide a danger great enough that an unfortunately timed solar storm would quickly prove lethal to humans and associated electronics. The Potentia Tenebras Repellendi site quotes Robert Bingham from the University of Strathclyde, one of the venues where this work is being conducted: “It would be a bit like being near the Hiroshima blast. Your skin would blister, hair and teeth fall out and before long your internal organs would fail. It is not a very nice way to go.”
Bingham’s team, as Universe Today notes, is working on a prototype that should be operational within five years, a mini-magnetosphere generator that can do for astronauts what Earth’s magnetosphere does for us on the ground, protecting our bodies from harm. The system is no bigger than a large desk and needs about as much energy as an electric kettle. It would operate through two small satellites, located outside the spaceship, which could be switched on if an approaching solar flare or coronal mass ejection were detected.
So now we have scaled the magnetic bubble idea down into an efficient deflector shield. Says Ian O’Neill at the Universe Today site:
This astounding achievement is a big step toward protecting sensitive electronics and the delicate human body against the radioactive effects of manned missions between the planets. It may sound like science fiction, but future astronauts may well shout the order to “RAISE SHIELDS!” if the Sun flares up during a 36 million mile journey to Mars…
More in this article from the Telegraph, which points out that although the idea of a magnetic bubble has been around since the 1960s, the thinking was that only a large bubble, perhaps 100 kilometers wide, could work. The energy involved in generating such a field would be enormous. The recent experiments, conducted not only at Strathclyde but at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the University of York, makes it appear that a solution to the ‘space weather’ problem is on the horizon, at least until we hit the heliopause, beyond which all bets are off.