The Space Gazette
Space for Everyone -
July 16, 2002 -
Vol. 2 No.14
The Spacefaring Web 2.10:
Saluting the Flag of Convenience
John Carter McKnight
Space-colony independence movements,
usually modeled upon the American Revolution, are a
hoary staple of science fiction. While a sci-fi Fourth
of July may be valuable as entertainment and Aesopian
analogy, the concept doesn’t hold up well as a likely
outcome of foreseeable economic, political and cultural
inputs. Particularly in the case of Earth-orbital (for
shorthand purposes, L5) colonies, glorious democratic
uprisings against tyranny, leading to a birth of national-identity
consciousness and grudging acceptance into the family
of nations, will probably remain a cheery fantasy. Rather
more likely is a resort by colony owners and managers
to that perversion of national sovereignty, the flag
other star systems...
A planet similar in size and orbit to Jupiter
recently found in the 55 Cancri System.
NASA JPL Planetquest
Hardly a week goes by now without
the announcement of yet another planet found orbiting a star
in our vicinity (out to 50 light years or so).
By simulataneously detecting
the Doppler shifts in thousands of spectral lines as a
planet tugs on a star during its course around the star, the
mass and orbit of the planet can be inferred.
Initially, this technique could only detect
very heavy planets, equivalent to mulitple Jupiter masses,
in orbits very close to the star. Gradually, the sensitivity
of the technique has improved and now can detect planets with
mases similar to the gas giants - Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune
& Uranus - around our Sun.
Recently, two separate groups found star systems
that each had a planet with a mass similar to that of Jupiter
and also in a similar orbit:
This raises the possibility that the systems
also have a similar distribution of planets as our systems
- i.e. gas giants in the outer orbits, rocky small planets
on orbits close to the star.
Over the coming years the spectral Doppler
techniques will continue to improve but probably not enough
to detect small earth sized bodies. Instead, high resolution
large telescopes in space will directly observe small inner
orbit rocky planets like Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury.
See the Extrasolar
Planets section for a list of sites and articles
about planets discovered in nearby star systems.
The discovery of star systems similar to our
solar system brings up the possibility that they might also
have planets with life on them. It will be a long time, though,
before we have the capabilities to directly observe evidence
of, say, green vegetation on an earth sized planet.
In the meantime, it is still exciting to find
systems relatively close by that are so similar to our own
and to begin to imagine what the planets are like. There
are number of private sites opening up that are dedicated
to our newly found neighbors. For example,
Simulations of such systems are fun to explore
and practical to use if you are, say, writing a science fiction
story and want to base it on a realistic star system. The
use of 3-D
modelling and texture mappings allows the computer
based planet designer to portray these worlds in wonderfully
imaginative and exotic ways.
See also the following sites
Finding Space in
The open source software movement
has become famous with the success of the Linux operating
system and the widespread use of many important application
programs. The number of such programs continues to expand
rapidly and now includes a broad selection of open source
space and astronomy related programs. .
Some examples of Space/Astronomy
programs at SourceForge.net include:
is a set of programs and standards "to promote large
scale space flight simulation across the internet."
is a "real-time 3D space
simulation which lets you travel through our solar system
and to over 100,000 stars in our neighborhood."
Simulation Project is an open source Java project to
create a simulation of future human settlement on the planet
Space News and Links of Interest
Anniversary: With today's routine video and radio
broadcasts from just about anywhere in the world, it can
be difficult to realize just how amazing it was to Americans
in 1962 to view live TV images from Europe for the first
The launch of the first commercial
broadcast satellite Telstar on July 11, 1962 brought overseas
events directly into living rooms across the country. Soon
the label "Live by Satellite" became common on
broadcasts of sporting events and news reports from Europe
and eventually from other areas of the world as more satellites
were placed in orbit.
The satellite even inspired
a hit song. The music
section discusses Joe Meek's Telstar,
which was recorded by the rock group The Tornados and became
the first British song to reach number one in the US (about
a year before the Beatles began the British invasion of
American rock'n'roll.) The guitar group The
Ventures later got their own hit from it.
The 40th anniversary of the
Telstar launch is being noted by several articles and web
Amateur Astronomers Discover
Comets and Supernova: As discussed
in the Astronomy
section, amateurs frequently make significant contributions
to the field. These articles discuss the work of amateurs
in spotting new comets and supernova:
Rocket Guy Responds
- When Brian Walker, otherwise known as Rocket
Guy, announced his intention of building a rocket on
which he would ride up to 35 miles high and back, he was
not exactly taken very seriously. In fact, many assumed
he was trying to pull a fast one, so to speak.
However, the successful toy inventor has
shown steady progress in development of his hydrogen peroxide
rocket, and now he is increasingly coming to be seen not
as a hoaxer but more as a daredevil and adventurer in the
vein of Evel
Knievel or Steve
Brian provides regular
updates on his website and he is currently working on
a half-scale vehicle that should got to 15 miles. If three
unmanned flights of this vehicle are successful he will ride
it himself and bail out with a parachute at the apogee of
Recently, the popular Slashdot: News for Nerds
website offered readers the opportunity to submit questions
for Brian to answer. He responded with good humor and patience.
Walker (aka Rocket Guy) Fires Back - Slashdot - July.12.02
Quakes From Orbit
There is some
evidence that potential earthquake zones produce extremely
low frequency EM waves (ELF, ~1-3000Hz) prior to the actual event.
Tracker is "a
collaborative effort to track and monitor the ELF ...magnetic
field fluctuations, generated by the earth near fault zones, as
a possible precursor to large earthquakes (M5+)."
They are focusing on the faults in
California with the help of high school groups who install and
monitor ELF sensors.
measurements can only cover a small area.
Scan the World
Satellites could offer a way to monitor
the whole world. Two satellites, the French Aureol 3 in the early
1980's and later the Russian Cosmos 1809, both picked up ELF activity
prior to earthquakes. (See table.)
Inspired by these promising results,
a student team at Stanford is building a small satellite called
to test whether such signals could be detected from orbit.
The 3kg satellite is based on the
picosat standard design developed at Stanford and now being used
by a number of groups.
The satellite would operate for 6
months. Placed in a polar orbit of about 800km altitude, the satellite
would scan the entire global surface every 4 days.
It could give only coarse resolution
on the location of such signals. So the satellite will work with
Tracker project, whose ground sensors
will provide precise location measurments of ELF emissions after
getting rough coordinates from orbit.
The French satellite DEMETER
will also investigate ELF seismic precursors.
If the tests with Quaksat prove promising,
the commercial firm Quakefinder,
LLC plans to build a larger, long life
satellite. It would sell its earthquake forecasts like meterological
firms sell weather forecasts. It would also sell the ground support