Wanderers by Erik Wernquist

Terrarium. Credit: Erik
Terrarium (unnamed asteroid, Main Asteroid Belt). Credit: Erik Wernquist

This has to be one of the most inspiring short films of the year. Erik Wernquist = a digital artist and animator from Stockholm, Sweden – released this movie this past fall, and its made quite the impact already! Addressing the idea of future space exploration, Wernquist uses stunning visuals to show how human beings may one day fly to Jupiter, float walk on the surface of Mars, skate on the frozen surfaces of Europa, and fly through the skies of Titan.

One thing I myself loved was the attention to detail and little accuracies. Within each impressive visual, there are hints that give away the locations. For example, the blue sunset is from Mars, as pictured by NASA’s many rover missions over the past few years. The frozen lake where people are skating on shows Jupiter looming in the sky, indicating that it is Europa. And an overhead shot of Titan shows the “Mini Nile River” observed there by the Cassini space probe. And while the asteroid is unnamed, I would bet dollars to donuts that Vesta!

Including in these visuals are a number of speculative science fiction ideas pioneered by writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Kim Stanley Robinson, not the least of which have to do with space elevators and habitats built into hollowed-out asteroids. But above all is the contribution of Carl Sagan, who’s narration from his own book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” (1994) provides the voiceover for the film.

You can watch the short film below, and be sure to check out Wernquist’s website for more info and his stunning gallery of images:

Should I Be Afraid of the Future?

should-i-be-afraid-of-the-futureNot that long ago, I discovered a site dedicated to taking speculations about the future, crunching data and trends, and producing visualizations about them. Already, they had me with their graph that shows when future technologies will emerge, and how they will be interrelated. But then came their future of education and health technology, both of which addressed the same issue – what can we can expect within the next few decades, leading up to the middle of this century?

And now, the good folks at Envisioning Technology have created something truly informative and relevant. Entitled “Should I be afraid of the future?”, the infograph addresses all the big questions people might have when it comes to emerging technology, environmental perils, and the kind of technophobia that often result.

“Geophysical disasters, global warming, robot uprisings, zombie apocalypse, overpopulation, and last but not least the end of the Mayan calendar – humanity faces many threats! Will we survive the end of the year? And if we do, what’s next lurking around the corner? What is science fiction, what is science fact? Join in exploring the world of existential risks – but always remember what Carl Sagan said: ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.'”

The questions are broken down into three interrelating fields. First, there is Nature, covering such things as geological disasters, climate change, a possible ice age, and even astronomical events. Then comes Mankind, addressing possible factors such as war, apocalyptic scenarios, and overpopulation. And finally, there is technology, where questions about whether robots and AIs could turn hostile, and if advances in nanotech, biotech, and neuroscience could be potentially harmful.

And of course, each question is addressed in a rational, sensible fashion, even when the questions themselves are based on irrational, myth-peddling paranoia. The Mayan Calendar, bio-outbreaks, every possible technophobic impulse, and even a zombie apocalypse are covered. But then again, the infograph is all about addressing fears. Fear, by its very definition is irrational, and the only cure is information. A well-informed public is not only a safeguard against persecution and bigotry, but against a future full of existential risks.

Source: Envisioning Technology

The Case for Terraforming Venus

This weekend appears to be shaping up with a theme: news from space that isn’t about Mars. I swear that it’s entirely accidental. First there was the discovery of the diamond planet, 55 Cancri e, and now a story about the merits of terraforming another planetary neighbor. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s not Mars for a change.

Yes, it seems that there is a strong case for terraforming Venus instead of the Red Planet, and it comes from numerous scientists who claim that altering the climate on that planet could help us save our own. The reason being – and stop me if this sounds frightening – is because our planet could one day look just like our lifeless, acid ridden, cloud covered neighbor.

In short, Venus underwent a carbon-dioxide fueled cataclysm a long time ago, when it was still young and was believed to have oceans. In those early days, and as the sun got brighter, Venus’s oceans began to boil and evaporate into the atmosphere. As a result, carbon dioxide accumulated in the atmosphere, due in part to the lack of carbon recycling which depends on the presence of oceans and seaborne algae. This is essentially a magnified version of the Greenhouse Effect, which scientists identify as the reason for rising temperatures and melting polar ice caps here at home.

Because of this, Venus became the hot, deadly planet that we are familiar with today, with surface temperatures that average 467°C (872°F), hot enough to melt lead. What’s more, its atmosphere consists of 96% carbon dioxide, which appear as thick layers of clouds that float 50-70 km above the surface. Above that, clouds and mist of concentrated sulfuric acid and gaseous sulfur dioxide lead to acid rains that could literally melt the flesh off your bones and the metal off a landing craft. Combined with the amount of sunlight it gets (twice that of Earth) and the lack of a magnetosphere, Venus is a pretty damn awful place to visit!

Of course, some would say that this makes terraforming the planet a pretty dangerous and poor prospect, at least compared to Mars. However, the benefits of terraforming Venus are far greater, certainly when we consider that the lessons gleamed from it could help us reverse the Greenhouse Effect here on Earth. In addition, it’s closer than Mars, making it easier and quicker to travel back and forth. And like the Earth, it resides within the solar system’s habitable zone and has its own atmosphere, not to mention it is nearly the same mass and size as Earth.

All of this, when taken together, would make Venus a far more suitable place to live once the terraforming process was complete. In short, its easier to convert an existing atmosphere than to create one from scratch. And, as noted, the process of converting the CO2 and sulfur-rich atmosphere into one that a breathable one that is rich with water and precipitation would go a long way to helping us device solutions to cleaning up our own atmosphere here at home.

This may sound like pure speculation, but in truth, many solutions have already been proposed. In fact, Carl Sagan began proposing that we introduce genetically-modified airborne algae into Venus atmosphere 50 years ago. Thought not 100 percent practical, it was a stepping stone to some more recent ideas which may prove doable. In 1981, NASA engineer James Oberg proposed that all the CO2 could be blown out into space. Again, not the most practical idea, but they were thinking and that’s what matters!

More recently, Paul Birch, a writer for the British Interplanetary Society, proposed flooding Venus with hydrogen. Once it interacting with the high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, the end products would be graphite and plenty of water. Other plans involve carbon capture, nanotechnology, and other advanced forms of ecological engineering. These, alone or in combination, could prove to be the difference between thick glass clouds and sulfuric oceans and a lush green planet covered with water and vegetation.

A pretty interesting prospect; and if it all works out, humanity could end up with three habitable planets within the Solar System alone. Combined with pressure domes and sealed arcologies on the system’s various moons and larger asteroids, planet Earth could one day retire as the sole host of humanity and this thing we call “civilization”. In fact, I could foresee a time when our world goes on to become hallowed ground, hosting only a few hundred million people and free of heavy industry or urban sprawl. Hello idea for a story!

And, to mix up what I usually say at the end of every one of these posts, stay tuned for more news from Mars and other planets within our Solar System. There’s a lot of them out there, and someday, they might all places that our species calls “home”.

Source: IO9

Of Sci-fi and speculative fiction

I love science fiction, always have, always will.  But it’s the kind of science fiction that I love which I think is an important distinction. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that sci-fi comes in two varieties: classic and commercial.  The classical kind is the traditional variety that people take seriously, like H.G Wells, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, William Gibson, Neil Stephenson, and Alastair Reynolds (These are just some of my favorites, they are by no means the only authors who were great at establishing sci-fi as a serious literary form.)

Commercial sci-fi, by contrast, is your basic stuff that owes much to the original masters but really didn’t follow in their footsteps.  Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate, et al (awful lot of stars in there!) are all examples of this.  This isn’t to say I didn’t like these shows, I grew up on Star Wars after all!  But to be honest, I never really found them particularly inspiring.  In all honesty, when it came to my own writing, they were more an example of what NOT to do.

Also, credit must be given to a friend of mine who once said that science fiction really isn’t a genre at all, it is a vehicle.  A vehicle who’s purpose is to deliver a message.  What that message is and how it is conveyed is what I think differentiates classic sci-fi from the commercial type.  Without a doubt, Frank Herbert’s Dune was the most inspirational work for me in that it delivered so much, and did so in a way that was both profound yet subtle.  He didn’t have muppet-style aliens who’s sole purpose was to reflect on humanity, he wasn’t preachy, his characters weren’t one-dimensional and his plots were never quick and tidy.  Characters were complex, his commentary was challenging, and his universe was rich and developed.

He was one of the greats that got me into writing sci-fi. Originally, back when I was still in school, I thought it might be cool to write a science fiction series.  I always loved drawing futuristic worlds and sci-fi stuff, but mainly I wanted to create my own universe. After reading his series, it occurred to me that I could turn my own ideas into short stories or even a full length novel.  I’ve crafted one full-length, called Legacies, and several shorts that are either set in the same universe or are completely independent. Since that time, I’ve also delved into some work that is a bit more contemporary, set in today’s world but with a sci-fi feel and spin.

The topics I like to cover are human evolution, extinction, exploration, colonization, society, technology, the cutting edge of things, and yes, even extra-terrestrials.  The longer I am here, the more I hope to post and share.  Hope y’all like what I have to offer! Enjoy!