a)Hidden Portals in Earth’s Magnetic Field
A favorite theme of science fiction is “the portal”–an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed….
It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.
“We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions,” explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. “They’re places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun’s atmosphere 93 million miles away.”
Observations by NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft and Europe’s Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They’re typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind. Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth’s upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.
NASA is planning a mission called “MMS,” short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth’s magnetosphere and surround the portals to observe how they work.
Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open and close without warning “and there are no signposts to guide us in,” notes Scudder.
Actually, there are signposts, and Scudder has found them.
Portals form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. “X-points” are where the criss-cross takes place. The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point, creating an “electron diffusion region.”
To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited Earth more than 10 years ago.
“In the late 1990s, NASA’s Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth’s magnetosphere,” explains Scudder, “and it encountered many X-points during its mission.”
Data from NASA’s Polar spacecraft, circa 1998, provided crucial clues to finding magnetic X-points.
Because Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point looked to Polar. “Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we’ve come across an X-point or an electron diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements.”
This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder’s work short cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.
It’s a shortcut worthy of the best portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new “signposts” we know how to find them.
Dr. Tony Phillips
Science at NASA
b)Is Warp Drive Real?
Ever since the sound barrier was broken, people have turned their attention to how we can break the light speed barrier. But “Warp Drive” or any other term for faster-than-light travel still remains at the level of speculation.
The bulk of scientific knowledge concludes that it’s impossible, especially when considering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. There are certainly some credible concepts in scientific literature, however it’s too soon to know if they are viable.
Science fiction writers have given us many images of interstellar travel, but traveling at the speed of light is simply imaginary at present.
In the meantime, science moves forward. And while NASA is not pursuing interstellar flight, scientists here continue to advance ion propulsion for missions to deep space and beyond using solar electric power. This form of propulsion is the fastest and most efficient to date.
There are many “absurd” theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research. But for the near future, warp drive remains a dream.
If you would like to know more about the theories of interstellar flight, you should visit the Tau Zero Foundation. Marc Millis, a former NASA Glenn physicist, founded the organization to consider revolutionary advancements in propulsion.
c)Nasa wants to conquer WORMHOLES: Agency plans to crack unknown physics to explore beyond our solar system
- Washington DC-based agency has revealed its Technology Roadmaps
- These are the technologies they want to develop over the next 20 years
- They include plans to research ‘space warp and wormholes’
- Nasa says this could enable robotic interstellar missions in the future
TO BOLDLY GO? NASA TOYS WITH THE IDEA OF WARP TRAVEL
Nasa made headlines in recent weeks for supposedly developing an engine that could travel faster than the speed of light.
Called the EMDrive, it provides thrust to a spacecraft by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.
Solar energy provides the electricity to power the microwaves, which means that no propellant is needed.
However, Nasa has been keen to play down the prospect of warp travel or travelling faster than light.
But, based on its latest Technology Roadmaps, it seems that the agency is at least considering that such developments might be possible.
Nasa has revealed that it is planning to develop warp travel and wormholes to make it possible to travel into the distant universe.
The agency says it will research unknown physics in an effort to ‘revolutionise space exploration’.
By improving our understanding of gravity, space-time and the quantum vacuum, the agency says it might soon be possible to send robots on interstellar missions.
Nasa has previously shied away from the idea of warp travel, but it has now been revealed that the agency is researching such technologies. Shown is a spacecraft designed by Nasa scientist Dr Harold White, which uses ‘rings’ to warp space-time and travel huge distances in the blink of an eye
These breakthrough forms of propulsion are just some of the many technologies the agency has announced it will be working on for the next 20 years as part of their Technology Roadmaps.
Among the 15 areas to be studied are robots, human exploration, landing systems and nanotechnology.
But it is the emerging propulsion technologies that are of most interest, with Nasa revealing it will try to crack physics in the laboratory to create engines never seen before.
Nasa said it would support research ‘to demonstrate microscopic instance of space warp of wormhole’ (artist’s illustration shown). In theory, a wormhole would bend space-time in four dimensions, greatly reducing the distance between two locations in the universe
The agency does not specifically mention any technologies, but one recent development that made headlines was the EMDrive, which converts electrical energy into thrust without rocket fuel.
This technology is theorised to be able to travel at much higher speeds than anything currently possible.
In early April, meanwhile, Nasa announced funding for the revolutionary Vasimr engine – a plasma-powered form of propulsion that could reach Mars in 39 days, rather than eight months.
And in June last year, Nasa scientist Dr Harold White revealed concept drawings for a variety of interstellar warp ships that could travel into the distant universe.
Elsewhere in the roadmaps, Nasa also says they are working on other forms of propulsion including antimatter drives, solar sails and ‘beamed’ propulsion – essentially firing a laser at a spacecraft to move it.
If the agency does make a breakthrough, it says it could deploy such technologies on a mission to Mars in 2033.
In early April, meanwhile, Nasa announced funding for the revolutionary Vasimr engine (illustrated) – a plasma-powered form of propulsion that could reach Mars in 39 days, rather than eight months. This might be one of the technologies the agency referenced in its latest Technology Roadmap
HOW MIGHT WARP TRAVEL WORK?
Using something known as an Alcubierre drive, named after a Mexican theoretical physicist of the same name, it might be possible to ‘bend’ space-time, and cover large distances almost instantly.
This, in essence, would allow a spaceship to travel almost anywhere in a tiny fraction of the time it would take a conventional spacecraft.
Dr Miguel Alcubierre’s theory was published in 1994 and involved enormous amounts of energy being used to expand and contract space itself – thereby generating a ‘warp bubble’ in which a spacecraft would travel.
Allowing space and time to act as the propellant by pulling the craft through the bubble would be like stepping on an escalator.
Despite Dr Alcubierre stating his theory was simply conjecture, Nasa’s Dr Harold White thinks he and his team are edging towards making the realm of warp speed attainable.
Their concept engine could apparently reach Alpha Centauri in two weeks, as measured by clocks on Earth.
One recent development that made headlines was the EMDrive, which converts electrical energy into thrust without rocket fuel. It provides thrust to a spacecraft by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. Pictured is the first device created by Roger Sawyer
The agency wants to develop technologies that will enable humans to work in the vacuum of space – such as for Nasa’s planned asteroid mission in the 2020s.
By 2026 they say it might be possible to launch an unmanned Mars Sample Return mission, and bring rocks back to Earth from the red planet, ahead of a manned mission in 2033.
And they want to find a way to make use of resources on other worlds such as Mars to ‘dramatically reduce launch mass and cost of human exploration missions.’
By JONATHAN O’CALLAGHAN