Let’s source all of Earth’s energy from Moon-based solar panels


Shimizu, a Japanese architectural and engineering firm, has a solution for the climate crisis: Simply build a band of solar panels 400 kilometers (249 miles) wide (pdf) running all the way around the Moon’s 11,000-kilometer (6,835 mile) equator and beam the carbon-free energy back to Earth in the form of microwaves, which are converted into electricity at ground stations.

That means mining construction materials on the Moon and setting up factories to make the solar panels. “Robots will perform various tasks on the lunar surface, including ground leveling and excavation of hard bottom strata,” according to Shimizu, which is known for a series of far-fetched “dream projects” including pyramid cities and a space hotel. The company proposes to start building the Luna Ring in 2035. “Machines and equipment from the Earth will be assembled in space and landed on the lunar surface for installation,” says the proposal.

If that sounds like a sci-fi fantasy—and fantastically expensive—it’s not completely crazy. California regulators, for instance, in 2009 approved a contract that utility Pacific Gas & Electric signed to buy 200 megawatts of electricity from an orbiting solar power plant to be built by a Los Angeles area startup called Solaren. The space-based photovoltaic farm would consist of a kilometer-wide inflatable Mylar mirror that would concentrate the sun’s rays on a smaller mirror, which would in turn focus the sunlight on to high-efficiency solar panels. These would generate electricity, which would be converted into radio frequency waves, transmitted to a giant ground station near Fresno, California, and then converted back into electricity.

Unlike terrestrial solar power plants, orbiting solar panels can generate energy around the clock. The part-time nature of earthbound solar power means it can’t currently supply the minimum or “baseload” demand without backup from fossil-fuel plants. However, the cost of lifting the solar panels into orbit would be far higher than for building a photovoltaic power plant on earth.

Not much has been heard from Solaren since then, but last year Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said in a speech that the project was still under development. “Although this sounds like science fiction, I am hopeful that recent advances in thinner, lighter-weight solar modules will make this technology feasible,” Peevey said. “I believe it is worth taking a chance on this technology because as a baseload resource, space-based solar may help to displace coal-fired capacity that would otherwise meet those needs.”

But even if the energy that eventually comes from a solar power plant on the the Moon justifies the costs of building one—not to mention the fossil fuel you have to burn to get the machinery up there—Shimizu’s greatest hurdle may be staking a claim on all that lunar real estate, points out Wired. “Outer space law is notoriously difficult to apply in practice and may scupper the plans long before anything gets built.”


The Fall Of Mt. Gox — The World’s Most Famous Bitcoin Exchange

Dubai Mall WaterfallMt. Gox, the Japan-based Bitcoin exchange, was forced to halt all currency withdrawals this morning amid an “increase in withdrawal traffic.”

According to a memo on Mt. Gox’s website, “In order for our team to resolve the withdrawal issue it is necessary for a temporarily pause on all withdrawal requests to obtain a clear technical view of the current processes. We apologize for the sudden short notice.”

Prices were down as much as 12%.

While the issue is now believed to have been pinpointed, this is not the first time Mt. Gox customers have had trouble accessing their accounts.

And Bitcoin traders have taken notice. According to Max Pelham, a German physics student who was one of the first to spot the withdrawals on his blog CoinWatch, the Bitcoin community may now be ready to give up once and for all on the exchange.

“People will be leaving Mt. Gox either way, the trust isn’t already very high, and with this now people are going to trust them even less,” he said. “I think Mt. Gox is going to lose relevance even more now, they’re not very forthcoming in their public relations, their technical problems and their withdrawal problems aren’t going away. Even if they fix it now, the withdrawal problem still remains with USD and Euro withdrawals.”

Once the world’s largest Bitcoin trading forum, Mt. Gox was processing more than 1 million trades at its peak. But before today, volumes had not broken through 30,000 since January. mt gox

Mt. Gox (which actually stands for Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange — site founder Jed McCaleb originally used the site to trade Magic cards), has long been the subject of the Bitcoin community’s ire, even at the height of its powers — the first thread for “MtGox withdrawal delays” on Bitcointalk.org dates from April 2013.

The situation was complicated last fall after federal authorities seized most of the exchange’s U.S.-based accounts, accusing it of violating wire transmission laws. Roger Ver, known as Bitcoin Jesus, told Wired Magazine’s Robert McMillan and Cade Metz in their November profile of Mt. Gox that despite being friends with Mt. Gox head Mark Karpeles, he would not recommend using the exchange.

“Anybody who has enough information about what’s going on in the bitcoin world, you would not buy your bitcoins on Mt. Gox,” he said.

In an email to BI Friday, Ver said: “Mtgox has been losing marketshare quickly over the last few years. I think this latest glitch will hasten that decline, but for the betterment of the entire Bitcoin ecosystem.”

Bitcoin users say Karpeles and Mt. Gox have gained a reputation for being unresponsive to the various issues. Wired says Karpeles dropped off of Bitcointalk.org in June, and was rumored to have limited his conversations to the obscure Internet Relay Chat forum.

Karpeles actually serves on the Board of the Bitcoin Foundation, and at least one Foundation member. In an email to BI, the Foundation itself declined to comment on Mt. Gox business issues.

Pelham says the fall of Mt. Gox is ultimately a good thing, as other exchanges will be able to learn from its mistakes. “Everyone now is forced to do a better job than them,” he said.

The Bitcoin exchange crown now falls to Slovenia-based BitStamp, which processes nearly twice as much as Mt. Gox. Pelham says the site has proven much more reliable than Mt. Gox ever was. But he says it’s concerning that the world’s largest USD-traded exchange must be based in such an obscure country. While there’s been talk within U.S. investment circles of setting up such a more rigorous exchange, regulatory uncertainty has slowed progress.

“People would definitely welcome this — there still is a major opportunity for trusted exchanges,” he said.

We reached out to Mt. Gox for comment and did not receive a response.

The average Bitcoin price this morning is $732.

Game|Life Podcast: Videogames Are Too Damn Long

Bravely Default  had a long, immersive demo—but was it too long? Image: Nintendo

Bravely Default had a long, immersive demo—but was it too long? Image: Nintendo

On the docket? Game demos—specifically, the length thereof and how Laura feels a burned by sinking six hours into the Bravely Default demo, then having none of her progress carry over to the full game. I chime in, she chimes back, then we all head down the street for a tasty Big Mac. (That last part isn’t true. Just the chiming part.)

GameLife’s podcast is posted on Fridays, is available on iTunes, can be downloaded directly and is embedded below.

The Sun’s Magnetic Field Is About To Flip

sflarThe sun regularly goes through an 11 year solar cycle, and we are reaching the end of another one. At the end of each cycle, a complete magnetic flip happens that has a ripple effect throughout the entire solar system and beyond.  The sun’s magnetic field changes polarity. (4)

Scientists are predicting that it could happen any day now.

“A reversal of the sun’s magnetic field is, literally, a big event. The domain of the sun’s magnetic influence (also known as the “heliosphere”) extends billions of kilometers beyond Pluto. Changes to the field’s polarity ripple all the way out to the voyager probes, on the doorstep of interstellar space. – Phil Scherrer, Solar Physicist”(4)

Scientists have been studying the sun’s weather and the effect it has on the weather here on Earth for a number of years. As a result, one thing that seems to be certain is the fact that solar activity is in fact directly correlated with the weather here on Earth. (1)

Weather isn’t the only thing that the sun has an effect on. Not many studies have been done on solar activity and its effect on human consciousness, however, the fact that human biological systems are intertwined to solar and lunar related rhythms (chronobiology) does serve as some validation to the idea that somehow the sun plays more roles in our biology than what we are currently aware of.

Solar cycles and flares change human DNA. Studies show how solar cycle activity influences genetic change, many of which probably remain undiscovered. Some have already been discovered. (2)

What can happen?

Could the recent tragedy in the Philippines be a result of what is happening? It Certainly could, it’s not the first time record-breaking weather activity has occurred at the same time as extreme solar activity. Earth has experienced dozens of solar flares in short periods of time throughout the past few months.(5) Geomagnetic storms could also wipe out the electronic grid. It has happened before. Apart from that, I’m not sure, but I truly feel that it is nothing to fear.

The Most Amazing Images NASA Took of Earth From Space This Year

The Most Amazing Images NASA Took of Earth From Space This Year

A cluster of small images in the far northern reaches of Lake Michigan. Captured on May 24, 2013 by the NASA/USGS Landsat 8 satellite. (Image: USGS/NASA). [High resolution version]
This image of Princess Charlotte Bay in Australia was captured by the NASA/USGS satellite Landsat 8 on April 20, 2013. (USGS/NASA). [High resolution version]
An astronaut on the International Space Station took this photo on Jan. 10, 2013 of an eruption on Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. (NASA). [High resolution version]
Isla Socorro creates von Karman vortices in the clouds above the Pacific ocean in this image captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite on May 22, 2013. (NASA). [High resolution version]

Sweden Deploys The First ‘Operational’ Stealth Warships


The country that gave us Volvos, Saabs and ABBA has developed what it claims is the world’s first fully operational stealth warship that is essentially invisible to radar.

The two Visby-class corvettes will enter service by the end of the year. They are made from composite materials and use Rolls-Royce water jets to make them electronically undetectable at more than eight miles in rough seas and more than 14 in calm waters. The ship’s acoustic and optical signatures are lowered by its non-magnetic hull that, like the F-117 Nighthawk, features large, flat surfaces and sharp angles. The water jets are 10 to 15 decibels quieter than propellers.

“It’s very hard for a submarine to detect a water jet vessel,” Patric Hjorth, technical manager of the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration, told Naval-Technology.com. “It has a very different signature from a propeller-driven craft as it fades into the background.”

Sweden has maintained military neutrality since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but it saw foreign submarines make a spate of incursions into its territorial waters during the 1980s. That led the government to call for the development of a anti-submarine and mine-hunting vessel that could patrol coastal areas. The Swedish defense firmKockums got the job and decided invisibility would be better than invincibility.

“A warship’s survivability can be built on one of two premises: invincibility or invisibility,’” the company says in a statement (pdf). “For nations with deep pockets and imposing military budgets, invincibility is the chosen high-ticket objective. For countries with more limited material resources, the more affordable choice must be invisibility, to which stealth is the obvious path.”

That’s not to say the Visby corvettes lack muscle. Each is armed with eight anti-ship missiles, three torpedo tubes, multiple grenade launchers, depth charges, submarine homing torpedoes and a fully automatic 57mm “general purpose” gun.

They’re nimble, too. The plastic and carbon fiber hull displaces 600 tons of water, about half that of  conventional, steel-hulled ships of a similar size. “The need for agility and a high top speed meant that a light weight was an essential factor,” Hjorth says. “You actually need waterjets for these vessels, as they’re more efficient than propellers at high speeds.”

The vessels are capable of speeds exceeding 35 knots. Propulsion comes from two diesel engines and four gas turbines that power a pair of water jets. Water jets are about 10 to 15 decibels quieter than props, and to further minimize noise the Visbys use impellers with seven blades instead of five. Some of the components are made of bronze instead of stainless steel to further reduce their magnetic signature.

The original plan called for six Visbys in two classes — one for surface combat and the others for submarine hunting and mine detection — but cutbacks in the early 1990s by the Swedish government cut the fleet to five vessels. The first was launched in 2000; the vessels are being readied for active duty. The first two will be formally commissioned into active duty later this year. The U.S. Navy reportedly has expressed interest in them as well.

UPDATE 9:30 p.m. Eastern – several readers  have noted that Lockheed built the Sea Shadow for the U.S. Navy in 1985 to test stealth technology. The U.S. Navy says the ship was for research purposes only, “was never intended to be mission-capable” and did was not designated as a “USS” vessel. It is listed in the Navy’s inventory as a “miscelaneous craft.” We’ve corrected the headline.

Photos: Kockums.



X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – Official Trailer (2014)

The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from “X-Men: First Class,” in an epic battle that must change the past — to save our future.

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