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This epic short film reveals what life will look like once we’ve conquered the Solar System

If the state of the world is getting you down right now, and all you want to do is escape these Earthly shackles, take comfort in the fact that the brightest minds on the planet are trying really, really hard to make that happen.

The dream of leaving Earth behind to set up shop on a lunar or Martian base is far from realised just yet, but in the meantime, this epic short film by digital artist Erik Wernquist gives you a glimpse of what it’s actually going to look like if when humans conquer the Solar System.

In less than 4 minutes, Wanderers takes us on a mind-bending journey through the Solar System, as humans from the future base-jump off the tallest known cliff in the Solar System – Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda – and float through the clouds of Saturn.

And just to top it all off, we get to see the incredible sights of human space exploration while Carl Sagan reads us his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot:

Hey, who’s cutting onions in here?

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens,” Wernquist explains.

“The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.”

Some creative license has obviously been taken by Wernquist in the film – for example, we don’t really know what it’s going to be like if we started mining asteroids, or viewing Saturn’s rings from the safety of a blimp.

But considering we’re still figuring out what our neighbouring planets even look like, it’s about as accurate a representation as we’re going to get right now of what it would be like to cruise through the dense atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, or beam light into the darkness from underground moon colonies.

Among Wernquist’s image sources are NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualisation Studio, and the European Space Agency.

“Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighbouring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there,” says Wernquist.

If you missed some of the best bits, or are wondering where some of the incredible scenes are taking place, here are a bunch of annotated stills from the film to bask your imagination in.

Cape Verde – Mars:


A group of people await the arrival of a few dirigibles at the edge of the Victoria Crater on Mars.

Verona Rupes – Miranda, moon of Uranus:


Base jumping off the tallest cliff in the Solar System, located on Uranus’ moon Miranda.

The rings of Saturn:


Iapetus Ridge – Iapetus, moon of Saturn:


Simulating a shot taken in low orbit over Saturn’s moon Iapetus, this scene shows domed settlements along the equatorial ridge that runs along the moon’s circumference.

Europa View – Europa, moon of Jupiter:


A group of people hiking across the icy plains of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Jupiter and another of its moons, Io, are seen in the background.

A ‘terrarium’ inside an unnamed asteroid in the Main Asteroid Belt:


“This shot shows the inside of [an] asteroid,” says Wernquist.

“[It] is a highly speculative vision of an impressive piece of human engineering – a concept that science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson calls a “terrarium” in his novel 2312. It is also not unlike what Arthur C. Clarke described in his novel Rendezvous with Rama.”

‘Ringsurf’ – the Rings of Saturn:


“There are, as of yet, no real photos from within the rings, so this is my best guess of what it may look like,” says Wernquist.

“This shot is created from scratch (as in, no photos used), but I was very inspired by this photo by the Cassini Spacecraft from 2004.”


Let’s do this, humans.

Here’s more of Wernquist’s work, celebrating NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft:

The 5 Biggest Things in the Universe

The 5 Biggest Things in the Universe

Psst, hey there. We’re about to let you in on a really big secret. You know space? It’s a humongous place filled with enormous stuff.

In space, nothing is measured in football fields. For example, the distance between objects in the universe is typically measured in light years, or the distance that light travels in one year (which is about 6 trillion miles).

And objects are also measured on a grand scale. For example, Earth is kind of small in the cosmic scheme of things. We’re easily dwarfed by the planet Jupiter. More than 1,000 Earths would fit in the planet, according to NASA. And the sun? More than a million Earths would fit in there, according to Cornell University.

But guess what? Jupiter and the sun aren’t really that big. There are objects in the universe that make these familiar giants seem puny. Here are five of them.

UP FIRST: Big, big star


The Biggest Star

The sun is the largest object in our solar system (though some argue that the sun’s heliosphere is actually the largest continuous structure in our corner of the galaxy). But even our sun looks little when it’s compared to the biggest stars we know of.

The sun is a G-type star, a yellow dwarf — pretty average-size on the cosmic scale. But some “hypergiant” stars are much, much larger. Perhaps the biggest star known is UY Scuti, which could fit more than 1,700 of our suns, according to Gizmodo. UT Scuti is only about 30 times more massive than the sun, however, which demonstrates that mass and size don’t necessarily correlate in space.

And while UY Scuti is pretty huge, it isn’t the most massive star out there. That honor goes to a star called R136a1, Gizmodo reports. R136a1 is 265 times more massive than the sun, but its radius is only 30 times that of our nearest star.

In addition to being the most massive star we know of, R136a1 also has the highest luminosity of any known star.

UP NEXT: Big black hole


The Biggest Black Hole Ever


Ok, so stars are pretty huge, but they’re not the only humongous objects in the universe. Progressing up the list of big cosmic objects, other things to consider are black holes and in particular, supermassive black holes that typically reside in the center of a galaxy. (Our Milky Way hosts one that is about 4 million times the mass of the sun.)

The biggest supermassive black hole is roughly 21 billion times the sun’s mass, and lives in the Coma Cluster, which includes more than 1,000 galaxies. (For comparison, the black hole lurking at the center of the Milky Way totals around 4 million solar masses.)

Astronomers discovered another supermassive black hole in April 2016. That giant is located at the center of the galaxy NGC 1600 and contains roughly 17 billion times the mass of the sun. It’s a little strange that this huge black hole resides in NGC 1600, which is something of a cosmic backwater.

The newly spotted black hole lies 200 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus and belongs to an average-size galaxy group, whereas other monster black holes discovered to date tend to be found in dense clusters of galaxies. So researchers may have to rethink their ideas about where gigantic black holes reside, and how many of them might populate the universe.

UP NEXT: Gigantic galaxy


The Biggest Galaxy


Monster black holes are, well, monstrous, but they are also not the biggest things in the whole wide universe. What’s bigger than a supermassive black hole? A galaxy, for one thing.

Galaxies are collections of star systems and all that is inside those systems (such as planets, stars, asteroids, comets, dwarf planets, gas, dust and more). Our own Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across, NASA says; a light-year is the distance light travels in a year. It’s difficult to characterize what the largest galaxies are, because they don’t really have precise boundaries, but the largest galaxies we know of are millions of light-years across.

Take the supergiant elliptical galaxy IC 1101, for example. Located at the center of the Abell 2029 galaxy cluster, IC 1101 is approximately 1.04 billion light-years from Earth, and is often referred to as the largest galaxy in the universe (though, again, there’s no way of definitively proving how large it really is). What we do know for certain is that IC 1101 is much bigger than our Milky Way — about 50 times the size of our galaxy and 2,000 times more massive, to be exact.

UP NEXT: Bigger than the biggest galaxy


Biggest Galaxy Cluster


Now at last we are starting to approach the biggest structures in the universe. Galaxies are often bound to each other gravitationally in groups that are called galaxy clusters. (The Milky Way, for example, is part of the small Local Group that comprises about two dozen galaxies, including the Andromeda Galaxy.)

Galaxy clusters are collections of galaxies that formed once stars and individual galaxies had been built. Gravity binds hundreds of thousands of galaxies together in collections so large, they can distort the fabric of space-time. According to present understanding, the massive objects should take billions of years to form.

In 2012, scientists used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the galactic cluster IDCS 1426, which lies approximately 10 billion light-years from Earth. Because light takes a full year to travel the distance of 1 light-year, that means astronomers are able to study the cluster as it appeared when the universe was only 3.8 billon years old.

Initial estimates suggested that IDCS 1426 contained an enormous mass at a significant distance, but were not conclusive. Brodwin and his colleagues decided to use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Keck Observatory and Chandra X-ray Observatory to refine measurements of the mass of the cluster, using three different methods.

All three observations independently provided a mass 250 trillion times higher than the mass of the sun, or 1,000 times more massive than the Milky Way. But IDCS 1426 is not the most massive galaxy cluster in the universe. That distinction is held by a massive cluster that lies only 7 billion light-years from Earth.

Known informally as ‘El Gordo,’ the hefty cluster weighs in at a whopping 3 quadrillion times the mass of the sun (that’s 3 followed by 15 zeros, or one thousand million million). However, according to Brodwin, the cluster is on track to grow into something that large.

UP NEXT: Super sized


Biggest Supercluster


For a while, astronomers thought that galaxy clusters were the biggest structures in the universe. In the 1980s, however, astronomers realized that groups of galaxy clusters are also connected by gravity and connected in a supercluster.

The biggest supercluster known in the universe is the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. It was first reported in 2013 and has been studied several times by teams led by the same person. It’s so big that light takes about 10 billion years to move across the structure. For perspective, the universe is only 13.7 billion years old.

The structure first came to light as the research team (led by Istvan Horvath, with the National University of Public Service in Hungary) was looking at brief cosmic phenomena known as gamma-ray bursts. It is thought that they come from supernovas, or massive stars that explode at the end of their lifetimes.

Gamma-ray bursts are thought to be a good indication of where huge masses of stuff lie in the universe, because big stars tend to congregate in dense areas. The first survey showed gamma rays particularly concentrated about 10 billion light-years away in the direction of the Hercules and Corona Borealis constellations.

UP NEXT: Super, super sized


Bigger Than the Biggest Supercluster?


So galaxy clusters may be the largest things in the universe, but it’s still a puzzle as to just how giant structures like the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall came to be. A 2013 article from Discovery News (a partner site to pointed out that this structure appeared to go against a principle of cosmology, or how the universe formed and evolved. Specifically, this principle says that matter should be uniform when seen at a large enough scale. The largest known supercluster, however, is not uniform.

“I would have thought this structure was too big to exist. Even as a coauthor, I still have my doubts,” Jon Hakkila, an astronomy researcher at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, said in a 2014 press release. He said there is a very small chance the researchers saw a random number of gamma-rays in that location, but it is far less than one in 100.

“Thus we believe that the structure exists,” he added. “There are other structures that appear to violate universal homogeneity: the Sloan Great Wall and the Huge Large Quasar Group … are two. Thus, there may very well be others, and some could indeed be bigger. Only time will tell.”

Dark Matter May Be Made of Primordial Black Holes

Dark Matter May Be Made of Primordial Black Holes

This image shows the infrared background, or the infrared light not associated with known sources. It may be left over from the universe’s first luminous objects, including stars.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/A. Kashlinsky (Goddard)

Could dark matter — the elusive substance that composes most of the material universe — be made of black holes? Some astronomers are beginning to think this tantalizing possibility is more and more likely.

Alexander Kashlinsky, an astronomer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, thinks that black holes that formed soon after the Big Bang can perfectly explain the observations of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time, made by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) last year, as well as previous observations of the early universe.

If Kashlinsky is correct, then dark matter might be composed of these primordial black holes, all galaxies might be embedded within a vast sphere of black holes, and the early universe might have evolved differently than scientists had thought. [Watch the LIGO documentary "LIGO, A Passion for Understanding"]

In 2005, Kashlinsky and his colleagues used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to explore the background glow of infrared light found in the universe. Because light from cosmic objects takes a finite amount of time to travel through space, astronomers on Earth see distant objects the way those objects looked in the past. Kashlinsky and his group wanted to look toward the early universe, beyond where telescopes can pick up individual galaxies.

“Suppose you look at New York [City] from afar,” Kashlinsky told “You cannot see individual lampposts or buildings, but you can see this cumulative diffuse light that they produce.”

When the researchers removed all of the light from the known galaxies throughout the universe, they could still detect excess light — the background glow from the first sources to illuminate the universe more than 13 billion years ago.

Then, in 2013, Kashlinsky and his colleagues used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to explore the background glow in a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum: X-rays. To their surprise, the patterns within the infrared background perfectly matched the patterns within the X-ray background.

“And the only sources that would be able to produce this in both infrared and X-rays are black holes,” Kashlinsky said. “It never crossed my mind at that time that these could be primordial black holes.”

Then, there was the LIGO detection. On Sept. 14, 2015, the observatory made the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves — cosmic ripples in the fabric of space-time itself — that had been produced by a pair of colliding black holes. It marked the beginning of a new era of discovery — one in which astronomers could collect these unique signals created by powerful astronomical events and, for the first time, directly detect black holes (as opposed to seeing the illuminated material around black holes).

But Simeon Bird, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, speculated that the discovery could be even more significant. Bird suggested that the two black holes detected by LIGO could be primordial.

An image of the sky in infrared light, taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The image shows the same patch of sky as seen in the image above, but without the known infrared sources removed.

An image of the sky in infrared light, taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The image shows the same patch of sky as seen in the image above, but without the known infrared sources removed.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/A. Kashlinsky (Goddard)

Primordial black holes aren’t formed from the collapse of a dead star (the more commonly-known mechanism for black hole formation that takes place relatively late in the universe’s history). Instead, primordial black holes formed soon after the Big Bang when sound waves radiated throughout the universe. Areas where those sound waves are densest could have collapsed to form the black holes.

If that thought makes your head spin a little, just think about spinning pizza dough into a disc. “After a while, you will notice it has these holes in the texture of the pizza dough,” Kashlinsky said. “It’s the same with space-time,” except those holes are primordial black holes.

For now, these primordial black holes remain hypothetical. But Kashlinsky, impressed by Bird’s suggestion, took the hypothesis a step further. In his new paper, published May 24 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Kashlinsky looked at the consequences that these primordial black holes would have had on the evolution of the cosmos. (Bird is not the first scientist to suggest thatdark matter might be made of black holes, although not all of those ideas involve primordial black holes.)

For the first 500 million years of the universe’s history, dark matter collapsed into clumps called halos, which provided the gravitational seeds that would later enable matter to accumulate and form the first stars and galaxies, Kashlinsky said. But if that dark matter was composed of primordial black holes, this process would have created far more halos.

Kashlinsky thinks this process could explain both the excess cosmic infrared background and the excess cosmic X-ray background that he and his colleagues observed several years ago.

The infrared glow would come from the earliest stars that formed within the halos. Although stars radiate optical and ultraviolet light, the expansion of the universe naturally stretches that light so that the first stars will appear, to astronomers on Earth, to give off an infrared light. Even without the extra halos, early stars could generate an infrared glow, but not to the extent that Kashlinsky and his colleagues observed, he said.

The gas that created those stars would also have fallen onto the primordial black holes, heating up to high enough temperatures that it would have sparked X-rays. While the cosmic infrared background can be explained — albeit to a lesser extent — without the addition of primordial black holes, the cosmic x-ray background cannot. The primordial black holes connect the two observations together.

“Everything fits together remarkably well,” Kashlinsky said.

Occasionally, those primordial black holes would have come close enough to start orbiting each other (what’s known as a binary system). Over time, those two black holes would spiral together and radiate gravitational waves, potentially like the ones detected by LIGO. But more observations of black holes are needed to determine if these objects are primordial, or formed later in the universe’s history.

Are we alone in the universe? Not likely, according to the maths

By flipping the question of possible alien life to a question of whether we are unique, researchers find it much more likely the universe has seen many civilizations come and go.

One of the most vexing mysteries of the universe is whether or not we’re alone. There are potentially hundreds of billions of planets in the Milky Way alone. How likely is it that life is out there?

A new equation calculates the probability of other technological civilisations evolving, and has found that it’s wildly unlikely we’re the only time advanced society has appeared.

Image result for drake's equation

Adam Frank from the University of Rochester and Woodruff Sullivan from the University of Washington based their new equation on the Drake equation, used for calculating the probability of extraterrestrial civilisation, written by astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake in 1961.

By accounting for new knowledge gleaned from the Kepler missions, Frank and Sullivan’s calculationswere much more accurate.

“Rather than asking how many civilisations may exist now, we ask ‘Are we the only technological species that has ever arisen?'” Sullivan said in a statement. “This shifted focus eliminates the uncertainty of the civilization lifetime question and allows us to address what we call the ‘cosmic archaeological question’ — how often in the history of the universe has life evolved to an advanced state?” for a more accurate calculation.

We also now know, thanks to Kepler, that approximately one in five stars have planets in the habitable zone, a number that Drake originally had to guess.

Frank and Sullivan calculated that human civilisation is only unique if the odds of a civilisation developing on a habitable planet are less than one in 10 billion trillion.

“One in 10 billion trillion is incredibly small. To me, this implies that other intelligent, technology producing species very likely have evolved before us,” Frank said.

NASA illustration of Kepler 186f, one of the most Earth-like planet the Kepler mission has discovered to date.

NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

So why haven’t we found them yet? Well, it’s entirely possible they’re just too far away, and that advanced civilisation can only survive a very short time.

Humans have only been around for about 200,000 years, and civilisation as we know it only 6,000 years. And radio transmission technology isn’t even 200 years old. By the time we sent a transmission to another planetary system 100 light-years away, it would be another 200 years before we received a reply.

But while we may not be able to communicate with our neighbours, the new equation does have scientific and practical importance.

“From a fundamental perspective the question is ‘has it ever happened anywhere before?’ Our result is the first time anyone has been able to set any empirical answer for that question,” Frank said. “It is astonishingly likely that we are not the only time and place that an advanced civilisation has evolved.”

A black hole 12 billion times more massive than our Sun has been detected

It’s so big, we need new physics to explain it.

Step aside regular black holes, astronomers have detected an ancient black hole that’s so incredibly massive and luminous, it defies our understanding of the early Universe.

In fact its quasar, the shining object produced by a supermassive black hole, is 420 trillion times more luminous than our Sun – despite forming only around 900 million years after the birth of the Universe. This makes it the brightest object ever spotted in the ancient Universe. It’s so impossibly bright that it’s almost, well impossible.

“How could we have this massive black hole when the universe was so young? We don’t currently have a satisfactory theory to explain it,” the lead researcher, Xue-Bing Wu, from Peking University in China and the Kavli Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the US, told Rachel Feltman from The Washington Post.

The quasar, known as SDSS JO100+2802, is located around 12.8 billion light years away from Earth, and was spotted by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, before being verified by three Earth-bound telescopes.

Reporting in Nature, the team explains that for the black hole to reach such a massive size in less than a billion years, it would have been constantly sucking in interstellar mass at its maximum rate. But this doesn’t fit with our current understanding of black hole growth, which states that the process is limited by energy that blasts out of the quasar as the black hole heats up.

Following that hypothesis, and also factoring in the limited amount of matter available in the early Universe, it makes it extremely difficult for scientists to explain how the supermassive black hole exists – and how it came to be 12 billion times more massive than our Sun.

“With this supermassive black hole, very early in the Universe, that theory cannot work,” Fuyan Bian from the Australian National University, who was involved in the research, told Genelle Weule and Stuart Gary for ABC Science. “It’s time for a new hypothesis and for some new physics.”

But even though we’re still not sure how the mega quasar is possible, it’s going to be a useful tool for finding other objects in the Universe.

“This quasar is very unique. Just like the brightest lighthouse in the distant universe, its glowing light will help us probe more about the early Universe,” said Wu in a press release.

Sources: ABC ScienceThe Washington Post

Read this next: The masses of black holes are more predictable than we thought

Should we call the cosmos seeking ET? Or is that risky?

Should we call the cosmos seeking ET? Or is that risky?

This undated handout image provided by NASA shows a message carrying Golden Record that Voyager carried, a phonograph record-a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture

Astronomers have their own version of the single person’s dilemma: Do you wait by the phone for a call from that certain someone? Or do you make the call yourself and risk getting shot down?

Instead of love, of course, astronomers are looking for alien life, and for decades, they have sat by their telescopes, waiting to hear from E.T. It didn’t happen, and so now some of them want to beam messages out into the void and invite the closest few thousand worlds to chat or even visit.

Others scientists, including Stephen Hawking, think that’s crazy, warning that instead of sweet and gentle E.T., we may get something like the planet-conquering aliens from “Independence Day.” The consequences, they say, could be catastrophic.

But calling out there ourselves may be the only way to find out if we are not alone, and humanity may benefit from alien , said Douglas A. Vakoch, whose title—for real—is director of interstellar message composition at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and until now it’s been mostly a listening-type thing.

This dispute—which mixes astronomy, science fiction, philosophy, the law, mathematics and a touch of silliness—broke out Thursday and Friday at a convention in San Jose of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

And this week several prominent space experts, including Space X founder Elon Musk and planet hunter Geoff Marcy, started a petition cautioning against sending out such messages, saying it is impossible to predict whether  will be benign or hostile.

Vakoch is hosting a separate conference Saturday at the SETI Institute on the calling-all-aliens proposal and what the messages should say.

The idea is called active SETI, and according to Vakoch would involve the beaming of messages via radar and perhaps eventually lasers.

Should we call the cosmos seeking ET? Or is that risky?

This undated handout photo provided by Seth Shostak, SETI Institute, shows the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The world’s largest single antenna, it has a million watt transmitter.

We’ve been inadvertently sending radio and TV signals out to the cosmos for some 70 years—though less now, with cable and satellite sending shows directly down to Earth. In fact, each day a new far-off planet may be just now catching the latest episode of the 1950s sitcom “I Love Lucy,” said astronomer Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

There have been a few small and unlikely-to-work efforts to beam messages out there in the past, including NASA sending the Beatles song “Across the Universe” into the cosmos in 2008. NASA’s Voyager probe recently left the solar system with a “golden record” created by Carl Sagan with a message, and the space agency’s New Horizon probe will also have greetings on it by the time it exits the solar system.

But what scientists are now talking about is a coordinated and sustained million-dollar-a-year effort with approval from some kind of science or international body and a message that people agree on.

It’s an “attempt to join the galactic club,” Vakoch said. He assured a crowd of reporters: “There’s no danger of alien invasion from active SETI.”

But as a  author, as well as an astrophysicist, David Brin thinks inviting aliens here is a bad idea. Even if there is a low risk of a nasty creature coming, the consequences could be extreme.

“I can’t bring myself to wager my grandchildren’s destiny on unreliable assumptions” about benevolent aliens, Brin said.

Brin noted that European explorers brought slaughter and disease to less technologically advanced people in the Americas more than 500 years ago. He called for the science community to put efforts on hold for an ethical and scientific discussion on “why it won’t go the same way as between Cortez and the Aztecs.”

As Brin, Shostak, Vakoch and others sparred at a news conference, 84-year-old Frank Drake sat in the back quietly. Drake, a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial life, created the formula called Drake’s Equation that scientists use to estimate the chances that other life is out there. More than 40 years ago, Drake and Sagan beamed a message into space to look for aliens, a first for Earth.

It was a short message from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and it was aimed at a star cluster called Messier 13. It will take 25,000 years to get there, Drake said.

“The probability of succeeding is infinitesimally small,” Drake said, rolling out calculations about the incredible amount of time it takes messages to go back and forth and his estimate that the average civilization will last only 10,000 years.

So why’d he do it? Curiosity, Drake said. And it doesn’t matter if our civilization is gone by the time E.T. answers, if he does.

“We get messages from the ancient Greeks and Romans and Socrates all the time, long since gone. Still valuable,” Drake said. “We’re going to do the archaeology of the future.”

 Explore further: Preparing for alien life

This plane will be able to fly anywhere in the world within 4 hours

The engine will be able to fly in outer space too.

British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Limited is working on an engine system that will be able to take 300 passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours.

Even more impressively, the engine will also be used to fly a plane in outer space, as Business Insider reports.

The engine system is called SABRE, and it relies on a device called the precooler – technology that cools down the air entering the engineer system by more than 1,000 degrees Celsius in .01 seconds. That corresponds to an unheard-of cooling rate of 400 megawatts, and will allow the plane to “breathe” oxygen.

This means that the engine system will be able to run at a much higher power than is currently possible

According to Reaction Engines, SABRE will be used inside two upcoming plane models – LAPCAT A2, a commercial plane that will be able to transport passengers from Brussels to Sydney in “two to four hours”, and also the ambitious SKYLON, an unpiloted and re-usable spaceplane that aims to provide cheaper access to space.

As chief engineer Alan Bond explains in the video below, the LAPCAT A2 will be able to “pretty easily” fly around the world at an incredible Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound.

The precooler system weighs around a tonne, and, as Business Insider explains, is made up of a swirl of thin pipes that are filled with condensed helium. These pipes suck heat from the air, cooling it down to -150 degrees Celsius before it enters the engine.

The company is already testing the SABRE engine system, and is planning the first test flights for a tantalisingly close 2019.

SKYLON, the plane that will take us into outer space, will be 82 metres long and, although it’ll fly like a rocket in the air, it takes off and lands horizontally like a normal plane, which will make it more versatile. The model is estimated to cost around US$1.1 billion each.

Unfortunately, the plane won’t have any windows to look out of, but if new developments in aviation are anything to go by, that might not be such a bad thing – companies are now putting cameras on the outside of the planes and live streaming a 360 degree view on the inside walls or passengers.

Imagine being able to see this while flying through outer space.

plane-interior 768

In this video from 2012, chief engineer Alan Bond explains more about how the new plane will work.

Moon’s molten, churning core likely once generated a dynamo

Moon’s molten, churning core likely once generated a dynamo

New magnetic measurements of lunar rocks have demonstrated that the ancient moon generated a dynamo magnetic field in its liquid metallic core (innermost red shell). This dynamo may have been driven by convection, possibly powered by …more

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When the Apollo astronauts returned to Earth, they brought with them some souvenirs: rocks, pebbles, and dust from the moon’s surface. These lunar samples have since been analyzed for clues to the moon’s past. One outstanding question has been whether the moon was once a complex, layered, and differentiated body, like the Earth is today, or an unheated relic of the early solar system, like most asteroids.

Ben Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and members of his laboratory have found remnants of magnetization in some lunar rocks, suggesting that the moon once emitted a substantial magnetic field, much like the Earth does today. The discovery has opened a new set of questions: How long did this magnetic field last? How strong was its pull? And what sparked and sustained it?

Weiss and former MIT student Sonia Tikoo have written a review, published today inScience, in which they explore the possibility of a lunar dynamo—a molten, churning core at the center of the moon that may have powered an for at least 1 billion years. Weiss spoke with MIT News about the moon’s hidden history.

Q. How would a lunar dynamo have worked? What might have been going on in the moon, and in the , to sustain this dynamo for a billion years?

A. Planetary dynamos are generated by the process of induction, in which the energy of turbulent, conducting fluids is transformed into a magnetic field. Magnetic fields are one of the very few outward manifestations of the extremely energetic fluid motions that can occur in advecting planetary cores.

The motion of Earth’s liquid core is powered by the cooling of the planet, which stirs up buoyant fluid from the surrounding liquid—similar to what happens in a lava lamp. We have recently argued from magnetic studies of Apollo samples that the moon also generated a dynamo in its molten metal core.

Our data suggest that, despite the moon’s tiny size—only 1 percent of the Earth’s mass—its dynamo was surprisingly intense (stronger than Earth’s field today) and long-lived, persisting from at least 4.2 billion years ago until at least 3.56 billion years ago. This period, which overlaps the early epoch of intense solar system-wide meteoroid bombardment and coincides with the oldest known records of life on Earth, comes just before our earliest evidence of the Earth’s dynamo.

Q. Why is it so surprising that a lunar dynamo may have been so intense and long-lived?

A. Both the strong intensity and long duration of lunar fields are surprising because of the moon’s small size. Convection, which is thought to power all known dynamos in the solar system today, is predicted to produce surface magnetic fields on the moon at least 10 times weaker than what we observe recorded in ancient .

Nevertheless, a convective dynamo powered by crystallization of an inner core could potentially sustain a lunar for billions of years. An exotic dynamo mechanism that could explain the moon’s strong field intensity is that the core was stirred by motion of the solid overlying mantle, analogous to a blender. The moon’s mantle was moving because its spin axis is precessing, or wobbling, and such motion was more vigorous billions of years ago, when the moon was closer to the Earth. Such mechanical dynamos are not known for any other planetary body, making the moon a fascinating natural physics laboratory.

Q. What questions will the next phase of lunar dynamo research seek to address?

A. We know that the moon’s field declined precipitously between 3.56 billion years ago and 3.3 billion years ago, but we still do not know when the dynamo actually ceased. Establishing this will be a key goal of the next phase of lunar magnetic studies.

We also do not know the absolute direction of the lunar field, since all of our samples were unoriented rocks from the regolith—the fragmental layer produced by impacts on the lunar surface. If we could find a sample whose original orientation is known, we could determine the absolute direction of the lunar field relative to the planetary surface. This transformative measurement would then allow us to test ideas that the‘s spin pole wandered in time across the planetary surface, possibly due to large impacts.

Why Orion’s launch is the best news for humanity in a long time

Why Orion's launch is the best news for humanity in a long time

Launch of NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule

I have always been sad that I never got to see the beginning of humanity’s ultimate journey, and even sadder to realize that in 1972 we abandoned a path that could have possibly gotten us to Mars and other planets by now. Today we opened the gate to that path again. We should rejoice—we are going back to the stars.

In the 60s we dipped our toes in the sea of space. It was exciting. It lead to countless discoveries and technologies that made possible the world we have today. We dipped our toes in the waters of the cosmos but then we ran back to the shacks of that comfy beach we call Earth, scared.

1972 marked humanity’s last mission to the Moon and with it, all the optimism of the space era died. But on the brink of nuclear annihilation, with the war in Vietnam raging on, our journey to the Moon saved the world’s collective mind. As television reporter David Brinkley said during Apollo 8’s live Christmas Eve television special, broadcasted from the orbit of the Moon:

The human race, without many victories lately, had one today. Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.

Apollo 8 also brought us this photo. It had huge repercussions in humanity’s common psyche, starting the environmental movement and the idea that we should collectively work to establish peace on Earth. After this photo—and the Blue Marble—humans realized, at last, that we needed to work together. Slowly, things began to change.

Why Orion's launch is the best news for humanity in a long time1

They didn’t change fast enough. We are still working on that. And thanks to miserable politics and our inability to deal with long term plans, we abandoned the natural path that the 1960s space program opened.

It was perhaps too early, like Carl Sagan said in his 1994 book The Pale Blue Dot, in beautiful words magnificently illustrated by this extraordinary short film by Erik Wernquist:

For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.

Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”

Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.

Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.

20 years later after those words, it feels like the time has come.

We sent an amazing rover to Mars in a seemingly impossible mission that had the entire world watching with baited breath. A few weeks ago, we landed on a comet. This week, we sent another spaceship to return material from an asteroid. Today we launched the spaceship that will take humans back to the Moon, asteroids, Phobos, and Mars.

So yes, I look at Orion rising against the deep blue, I hear the cheers coming out of my mouth and countless others, I see the millions of people watching this apparently insignificant event—just a spacecraft that is empty going up and splashing on the Atlantic Ocean—and it feels like the 60s all over again.

The path is open again, a sunbeam illuminating its gates, now clean of the vines that had grown through all these years of abandonment.

Today is the day. Today we are starting to get back to the stars. And this time there’s no way back.

Nasa’s Orion deep space capsule launches

Launch of NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule

The Delta IV-Heavy rocket roared off the pad at Cape Canaveral

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A rocket has launched from Florida carrying an unmanned version of the US space agency’s new crew capsule – Orion.

The ship is designed eventually to take humans beyond the space station, to destinations such as the Moon and Mars.

Orion’s brief flight today will be used to test critical technologies, like its heat shield and parachutes.

The Delta IV-Heavy rocket roared off the pad at Cape Canaveral at 07:05 local time (12:05 GMT).

It will throw the conical ship to 6,000km above the planet, to set up a fast re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

This will generate temperatures in the region of 2,000C, allowing engineers to check that Orion’s thermal protection systems meet their specifications.

The mission teams will also get to watch how the parachutes deploy as they gently lower the capsule into Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

That splashdown is expected to occur at about 11:30 EST (16:30 GMT).

Nasa has a drone in the area hoping to relay video of the final moments of descent.

Service module fairingA view from one of the cameras as Orion’s service module fairing separated

US Navy divers in speedboats will move in to capture Orion when it hits the water. The floating ship will then be towed into the well deck of a support vessel.

Orion is reminiscent of the Apollo command ships that took men to the Moon in the 60s and 70s, only bigger and with cutting-edge systems.

It is being developed alongside a powerful new rocket that will have its own debut in 2017 or 2018.

Together, they will form the core capabilities needed to send humans beyond the International Space Station.

Thursday’s mission is but one small step in a very long development programme.

Unable to call upon the financial resources of the Apollo era, Nasa is instead having to take a patient path.

Even if today it had a fully functioning Orion, with its dedicated rocket, the US space agency would not be able to mount a mission to another planetary body because the technologies to carry out surface operations have not been produced yet, and it could be the 2030s before we see them all – certainly, to do a Mars mission.

Flight profile

To go to the Red Planet would require transfer vehicles, habitation modules, and effective supply and communication chains. And fundamental to the outcome of the whole venture would be a descent/ascent solution that enabled people to get down safely to the surface and then get back up again to make the journey home.

Nasa’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan told the BBC: “We have all these technologies mapped out and we’re asking, ‘what is the most sustainable path we can get on (to achieve them)?’ And when I say ‘we’, I don’t just mean the United States because it’s not just Nasa that’s thinking about this; it’s all the space agencies around the world.”

To that end, the Europe Space Agency has been asked to provide the “back end” for all future Orion capsules.

This service module is principally the propulsion unit that drives Orion through space.

Orion diagram

Nasa says it is open to similar contributions from other partners as well.

Nonetheless, some commentators, like the respected historian John Logsdon, are worried that the policy as laid out cannot continue in its current guise.

“The first Orion launch with a crew aboard is 2020/21, and then nothing very firmly is defined after that, although of course Nasa has plans. That’s too slow-paced to keep the launch teams sharp, to keep everyone engaged. It’s driven by the lack of money, not the technical barriers,” he said.

But there is no doubting the enthusiasm within Nasa for the Orion project.

Rex Waldheim flew on the very last shuttle mission in 2011, and is now assisting the design of the capsule’s interior systems.

He told BBC News: “The people that are actually going to fly in Orion – I just can’t imagine the thrill they’re going to have when they sit here at the Kennedy Space Centre atop the rocket, ready to go to the Moon or to Mars or an asteroid – these incredible destinations. It’s just going to be spectacular.”