Friday, August 30, 2013

"Evacuate Earth", NatGeo documentary, imagines building an evacuation "Ark" to a nearby solar system if a neutron star threatens Earth

"Evacuate Earth", a docudrama by Bruce David Klein for the National Geographic Channel, envisions a project to evacuate about 250,000 people from Earth to an “Earth 2” (the name of a television series in the 1990’s) in the Goldilox zone around Barnard’s Star, about 6 light years from Earth.  It’s more likely that a suitable planet exists about 20 light years away around one of the “Gliese” M-stars, and it’s likely that a planet with a habitable area would be tidally locked.  (2020: The best available link to purchase a video to watch this legally seems to be this.)

The scenario imagines that NASA determines that a neutron star will come close the Earth in 75 years.  It’s not likely that a neutron star or black hole is within 75 light years of Earth, let alone able to reach us that soon.  As the object approached, many asteroids would become unstable in obit and could hit Earth first.  But given such a deadline, could Earth solve not only the technological problems but the social and political issues to build a “Horizon” space ship (a kind of secular "Noah's ark"), propelled by “Orion” nuclear explosions, a cylinder built like the one in Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” (1979)?

The government sets up a research facility called Star City in the Disney area of Florida.  The selection of the people, who have to be fit and genetically diverse, raises obvious ethical problems, because by definition everyone else is “left behind”.  It could obviously raise questions about eugenics and memories of Nazism, except that genetic diversity (instead of a monolithic master race) is a must.
There are other side issues, such as when “rich people” with a John Galt streak build their own anti-matter “Savior” ship – at $500 million a ticket – based on an antimatter engine, but it blows up like the Challenger (actually on the pad).

A whole generation or two must live on the Horizon for about 80 years and even have a couple of generations of children.  How the population of such a spaceship would be organized politically is obviously a troubling question.  The physiological ability to have children (in artificial gravity) is an issue, as is the emotional inclination of people to do so, given that they don't have the freedom that we're accustomed to expecting. 
The film implies another level of ethical thinking, whether every individual should prove he or she can provide for others in a survival, moneyless mode, before he strikes out on his own – because we never know when there could arise a circumstance where the survival of those who follow “you” is more important than “you” are.  My own father believed in this idea.
Some day, man will have to leave Earth.  Eventually the Sun will become a red giant.  But maybe we could live on Mars, Europa or Titan and not have to go to another solar system.  
The best link seems to be this (posted Feb. 2013 by Documentary King HD. NatGeo has its own link here
There are several other documentaries in this series, such as about traveling faster than light, to look at later.  Maybe this would have made a good museum IMAX film from NatGeo, or maybe it is too politically divisive. 

Wikipedia attribution link for artist’s drawing Gliese 518c, which might be Earth-like. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

CNN: "Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing"

Sunday night, the CNN “Crimes of the Century” series aired the one hour “Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing”.
The documentary was a pretty straightforward factual re-enactment of the incident on April 19, 1995, carried out by Timothy McVeigh, but set up with the help of two others who then dropped out. 
The basic link is here.

McVeighcc’s public defender attorney Stephen Jones often speaks.  Jones says that McVeigh was totally sane, and very difficult to defend  Jones, generally factual and mild-mannered and a successful lawyer from Enid, OK, often describes himself as a proper “Republican” but moderate in policy views.
Timothy McVeigh was executed on a Monday morning in June, 2011, about three months before 9/11.  He reportedly never showed remorse, but thought he would start an anti-government “revolution”.  Exactly the opposite happened.
The film does trace McVeigh’s resentment of the government’s handling of Waco, which had burned on April 19, 1993.  The film says that McVeigh traveled to Waco and watched it.  Actually, in late March 1993, on vacation, I traveled down there with an ex-boyfriend from Dallas and watched the siege from a bridge about a half mile away.  Today it is difficult to find the site.

The film also looks at the possibility of other acomplices.

Stephen Jones, the defense attorney, believes that McVeigh had traveled to Elihom City, a private extremely fundamentalist community near the Arkansas border. 
The film notes that the Boston Marathon attack occurred almost 18 years to the day later.
The Oklahoma City bombing is the deadliest purely domestic terrorist attack in modern US history, and the largest on US soil except for 9/11. 
After 9/11, McVeigh was always referred to as a “different kind of terrorist”. President Clinton called it “evil”.   

 Pictures: Mine, April 1998. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

NBC Washington: "Storm Team 4: Tracking Summer": a smaller discussion of severe weather

NBC4 (NBC Washington) ran a meteorology special Saturday morning,  August 10, 2013, “Storm Team 4: Tracking Summer”, a thirty minute show somewhat in the spirit of a longer show on competitor station WJLA 7 reported here on June 21 on “Surviving Severe Weather”.

Much of the show was broadcast from a NASA laboratory facility in Greenbelt, MD, NE of Washington DC. 

There was a demonstration of a wind tunnel, and a statement that most people cannot walk in a wind gust of greater than 80 mph.

There was a segment on lightning safety, and an anecdote of a man caught in a lightning storm when on the Chesapeake Bay.  

There was some explanation of hurricanes develop, but no explanation as to why they move in the wrong direction, East to West.

There was no real discussion of the monster tornadoes in Oklahoma earlier this year, or of similar ones in Joplin MO or Tuscaloosa, AL. 
The only real web  reference seemed to be here

NBC4 local broadcasts tend to be a little more alarming when severe storms approach than similar broadcasts on WJLA.  But I have found that usually WJLA has more detailed information in terms of radar, blog posts, and NOAA analysis, particularly when unusually unstable air does build up east of the Appalachians.  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

"Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm" from Discovery Channel traces how a solar superstorm gradually takes down the entire worldwide power grid

Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm:  Informative Dramatization of Grid Collapse”, posted by “ZP ZAP” Jan. 2013), is a 43-minute documentary from the Discovery Channel(edited by Ben Giles) depicting the possible consequences of a massive and prolonged solar storm.   The YouTube link is here. The Discovery official site is here
The film starts with a power outage in Brooklyn, NY when at the same time a space satellite burns up and crashes into a cemetery.  Soon scientists from NOAA converge.

The “solar maximum” in the sunspot cycle has weakened the Earth’s magnetic field somewhat, and then there is a massive CME or coronal mass ejection from a Jupiter-sized sunspot.  No one knows how long it will take the CME to reach the Earth.
The signs of impending disaster accumulate gradually.  The solar storm strikes in stages.  The solar flare moves ahead of the CME, just taking 8 minutes (at the speed of light).  Next comes a radiation storm, a few hours later.  That affects astronauts and objects in space.   Then the CME, the last phase of the “perfect storm” arrives in a few days, like a “Lucifer’s Hammer”.
Electromagnetic storms are measured in “nano-Tesla” units.  The one in the film is larger than the 1859 Carrington event.  The fictitious storm measures 240;  Carrington measured 200.
The utility tries to power down just before the CME hits. Power is shut down first in Brooklyn, in an attempt to protect large transformers, very difficult to replace.
The auroras reach all the way down to the Equator. People don’t completely understand the ominous threat – power out in many areas for months or years.
Officials suddenly announce the concern about the approaching solar storm, and the utility notices enormous power surges.

The modern world comes to a standstill around the globe 39 minutes into the film.
Backup generators can work about three days for most hospitals.
Over 200 transformers are destroyed in the U.S.  And we can’t make them quickly at home.  Money means nothing now.  A Maoist world ensues.  Everyone is brought low.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe the prophylactic blackouts save the grid. 

Pictures: from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2013 trip.  Last picture: a transformer manufacturer in Roanoke, VA.