Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Orbital Engineering

According to the physicists, the Sun will cause the Earth to become too warm for life in one billion years. Of course, in a billion years and with a gradual warming, Life has a tendency to adapt to even the harshest of conditions. But by then, whatever humanity has evolved into or whatever has come after us if it is organic, may have other options available to it. However, a team at UC Santa Cruz proposed a plan using an icy or rocky body that comes close to Earth every 6000 years and impart energy into Earth's orbit. This would have the effect of gradually increasing Earth's orbit so that the amount of sunlight we receive stays relatively constant. The technique could aslo be used to move Venus's orbit out to a habitable zone or move Mars closer so that it warms up. The paper entitled "Astronomical engineering: a strategy for modifying planetary orbits" is available for free download. Of course, we don't have the technology to implement their idea just yet. Come back in 50-100 years.

Interestingly enough, Dan Simmons has a science fiction short story entitled "Orphans of the Helix" whereby an alien race engineered their world to withstand the hellish environment of a Red Giant. They moved into the interior of the world as it was engulfed by the star. Their atmosphere and oceans were internalized. I believe that the plan outlined in the paper is simpler and more economical than deciding to live below the surface of a star. That does not take away from the beauty and drama of his fine short story though. It is a wonderful read and he is a superb storyteller. He also "gets" human evolution.

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