Wednesday, February 7, 2018

That's heavy, man!

After yesterday's awesome launch -- and two-thirds recovery -- of the Falcon Heavy, what more is there for a technologist and  SF author to comment upon? Read on.

If you haven't yet had OD-ed on the coverage, check out "The best photos and videos of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch."

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is highly motivated to make humanity a multi-planetary species by colonizing Mars. (Yesterday's mission seems to have gone a bit off course: "Elon Musk’s Tesla overshot Mars’ orbit and is headed to the asteroid belt.") To which end (once these little navigational glitches are worked out), this recent news is very encouraging: " 'A fantastic find': Mars hides thick sheets of ice just below the surface."

Color-enhanced: blue = ice.
How much ice? Check the photo at left.

And equally awesome, IMO, is this item that has been overshadowed by the aforementioned stories: "LISA Pathfinder, the gravitational wave space mission, declared a success: European Space Agency reports final results of proof-of-concept mission, ahead the most ambitious science experiment ever attempted."

LISA stands for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. I've several times posted enthusiastically about the wonderful LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), its 2015 discovery of gravitational waves, and a few of its event detections. LIGO is an L-shaped instrument about four kilometers on a side. LISA Pathfinder was the proof-of-concept mission for an eventual L-shaped instrument 2.5 million kilometers on a side. LISA will offer sensitivity, and visibility into astronomical phenomena, far beyond anything LIGO -- or any Earth-based instrument -- can approach.

Life imitates art
Part of what spoke to me about the progress toward LISA is this quote: "... once the triangle of satellites is eventually up and running, it will be able to detect very early signs of a black hole merger, weeks before the eventual collision." In my 2016 novel Dark Secret, the (fictional) space-based Einstein Gravitational Wave Observatory kicks off the story by detecting the signs of an imminent neutron-star merger. That detection forewarns of a gamma-ray burst that will obliterate life in our solar system. (Post-wise, here's a second coincidence: Dark Secret opens on recently colonized Mars.)
Alas, we won't see LISA until, at the earliest, 2034. That's okay. LIGO was decades in coming, too (see Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space).

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