August 31, 2011

Worldships: A New Battlecry to Reach the Stars

Not so long ago, I posted about my observations that exoplanets and spaceships often go together in most space artworks involving interstellar ships. Today, that post clearly needs updating when I saw this blog about concept ships.

It’s also high time to mention my latest fave word: Worldships.

I first heard “Worldships” mentioned by Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams and I instantly got hooked on it. Could it be only because it contained my first favorite word: “World”? Or could it be that it is a mashup of “Worlds” and “Starships”? Perhaps. But just how any neologism gets its appeal is the deeper concept behind it.

From what I gathered, "A worldship is self-contained and self-sufficient, carrying a crew that may number hundreds to thousands and might even contain an ocean, all directed towards an interstellar colonisation strategy. Worldships would travel to the stars with cruise velocities of around 0.5% of the speed of light, taking hundreds of years to reach the nearest stars."

The primary focus of this blog should only be about Exoplanets. But there has always been that inevitable question of how to get there--to visit these unexplored Worlds. And that’s where Spaceships come in--these wonderful vehicles of imagination that has inspired many brilliant minds to take up exciting endeavors in the Arts, Engineering and the Sciences to make the impossible possible.

But somehow it is time to move on from that ‘adolescent’ concept of the ‘Spaceship’ or from the more mature 'Starship' and take a new battlecry to reach the stars. It is time for Worldships.

The main concept that sticks in my mind about worldships is that it is a generation ship--something i’ll never set foot in my lifetime. It will take several generations of humans to build it, and several generations more to ride in it! But it's funny how i feel that its 'impossibility' during my lifetime renders its possibility in the future even more real.

As more of us adopt the concept of the Worldship--understanding that it is a long-term goal--each generation will tirelessly move forward to make it a reality in the future.

With Worldships and whatever new form Humanity takes, in due time mankind will finally reach the stars.

Concept Ships
Colonizing the Galaxy Using World Ships
Spaceships and Exoplanets

August 21, 2011

The Call of Cthulhu

Waking up at exactly 3am for no reason at all and then learning that it was H.P. Lovecraft's birthday is nothing short of a call from Cthulhu. I dug through my pile of books and read through a couple of graphic renditions on Lovecraft's work--The Haunter of the Dark (illustrated by John Coulthart), and Graphic Classics that featured several works of Lovecraft. From them I got a sense of what twisted kinds of terrifying imagery will befall the mind of anyone who reads Lovecraft.

Lovecraft's mythos includes The Great Race of Yith, and of course, Cthulhu among others.

Reflecting upon these characters with ancient and cosmic backgrounds, I can say that we don't know how many generations of suns have been before our Sol. The fact that Life sprung forth on this planet does not preclude the thought that older civilizations and lifeforms from an ancient generation of stars and worlds may have lived before us elsewhere...or nearby.

Aliens may strike great fear among many, as with how the unknown often strikes terror. Who knows what an ancient form of life will do to unsuspecting humans?

Our species is a young one, and the birth of mankind's consciousness is barely a blip in the timeline of the earth.

Humanity's collective mind is new and we are only beginning to explore new worlds. It is a time of great wonder, but who knows what terror awaits? Carl Sagan said, "We are at a crossroads in human history. Never before has there been a moment so simultaneously perilous and promising."

Apparently, HP Lovecraft has seen a glimpse of this terror deep within man's psyche.

"I have whirled with the earth at the dawning,
When the sky was a vaporous flame;
I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name."

~ H. P. Lovecraft, Nemesis

August 16, 2011

Open Exoplanet Data on CouchDB

I haven’t been able to do much coding lately. Summer has been busy and my laptop broke. There’s so much I want to do for the field of exoplanetology but i just couldn’t even start without a usable open database platform.

Anything practically useful begins with data and the truth is, we have a great amount of exoplanet data floating around already in all these exoplanet catalogs, but they’re just lying there, and not really being maximized to their full potential.

How can we enable the the wider use of exoplanet data in more useful and practical applications? It begins by providing an open access to that data and a programmatic way of accessing all that exoplanet data.

CouchDB has been my choice due to its advantage of replication and flexibility. I cannot even begin to list down all the many wonderful advantages of using couchDB for an open exoplanet data source that anyone can build upon.

Exoplanet data that is inside a couchDB database can be used and re-used via typical web standards, primarilly javascript. It spews out data in JSON format and this allows anyone to create engaging websites, games, and apps atop all that data. I am even positive that couchDB can be used for scientific analysis of a huge exoplanet data to find patterns and trends, and create dynamic visualizations from it.

There doesn’t seem to be any couchDB implementation of exoplanets yet, so I am posting this to start off the movement in this area of exoplanetology. Watch out for this space.

August 15, 2011

Rise of the Dwarf Planets

This post is a follow up to last week’s “Rise of the Planets”. I just wanted to point you to the table of Dwarf Planets listed on this page so you can marvel at how many more planets there could possibly be within our own star system. Of course, Mike Brown (the pluto killer) doesn’t consider dwarf planets as planets and that’s fine with me. But I think that dwarf planets are bona fide planets. And I am simply posting this to bring into attention the growing evidence that smaller planets are more numerous than bigger ones. And i think that this pattern can be discerned even within our own star system.

Look at how many more possible dwarf planets there are! It would be fun if we maintained a scoreboard between "local" planets and exoplanets. Indeed it might be fun to pit local planethunters versus exoplanet hunters in a friendly competition to see which one discovers the most planets!

How many dwarf planets are there in the solar system?

August 10, 2011

Rise of the Planets

Three new Dwarf Planets were recently discovered in the outer reaches of our solar system. News like this is simply music to my ears. It doubles the fun of an equally growing list of exoplanets! I love Planets and there's simply no other joy than seeing the list of Planets within our solar system grow more and more. In the coming years Dwarf Planets will become the largest contributor to our local tally of Planets.

But wait! Did I just say Planets? Yes, I consider Dwarf Planets as bona fide Planets. I do not subscribe to the third criterion of the "official" definition that planets must clear their orbit of other objects. I think I'd rather stop at the Hydrostatic Equilibrium part.

I can already hear the shouts and sneer from the interwebz, “You’re wrong! You're so damn wrong!” Yes, I know. I’ve already explored that avenue. And specially after watching this talk, You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are, I can argue no further.

I’m wrong. I’m biased. And I confess, I simply want more Planets in our own star system. Guilty as charged. The more the merrier, I shout it all over the rooftops.

Or maybe I just prefer the Linnaean taxonomy wherein objects are classified into large groups which may then be subdivided further--such that if it was applied to Astronomical objects, Dwarf Planets would still fall into the "Phylum" Planet. But then again, No. Astronomy is not Biology. So that’s that. I'm wrong and leave it all behind for now to move on to the cool part of why I even began writing this post.

What do Dwarf Planets have to do with Exoplanets? Well, there’s growing evidence that smaller planets are more common in the galaxy. At the moment, the findings range only between Jupiter-sized planets and rocky Earth-sized planets (because we haven't even found exoplanets the size of Earth yet!) There are more smaller planets than there are gas giants. As Geoff Marcy says, "There are some Jupiters, there are some Saturns. But there are far more of the smaller and smaller planets going down to about two Earth diameters."

I'm inclined to think that this pattern extends to sub-earth-sized planets all the way down to the smallest gravitationally rounded objects orbiting stars. When you think about it, it makes sense. There are more sand grains than pebbles, more pebbles than boulders. So as the years go by, this fact will be confirmed even within our local star system. More Dwarf Planets will be found, heralding the inevitable rise of the Planets.

You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are
List of Gravitationally Rounded Objects
3 Dwarf Planets Discovered
Smaller Planets More Common

August 1, 2011

So Close To Earth

I have noticed recently that several films had placed entire planets so dangerously close to Earth.

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the Decepticons attempted to teleport their home planet Cybertron right next to Earth!

Then there’s Melancholia, an upcoming movie that seems to have a planet set to collide with Earth.

Another Earth has the most poignant scene of them all, with a mirror earth (that includes a matching mirror moon) spanning a huge portion of the sky visible in breathtaking detail.

Let me tell you this. Never have I known a bunch of movies released almost simultaneously that has put entire planets so near to earth. Correct me if i’m wrong, but perhaps the last movie ever made about another planet getting this close to earth was in The Fifth Element released in 1997. But further than that, When Worlds Collide was in 1951. But now, in an era when we are at the brink of finding another earth (or earth-like planet), films suddenly turn up with ideas that puts alien planets so poetically close to Earth.

Could it have been that these films influenced by the numerous discoveries of exoplanets that we hear about in the news almost every month? Perhaps. But there are deeper questions to ask.

Are these a reflection of humanity’s deep yearning to understand what all these new worlds mean to us? Does the quest to find another earth reflect humanity’s longing to understand the meaning of our existence by discovering similar worlds with life like our own?

There is no doubt about it. The impact of exoplanet discoveries is now becoming more and more apparent in our culture. These films simply serve as a signal that the impact of other worlds is now here upon us. And with it comes the question that needs to be asked of ourselves: How does the existence of gazillions of worlds that even outnumber the stars change the way you see the Cosmos?