Where’s the mass Lebowski?

July 4th, 2012 Geneva: Officials at CERN, the large hadron collider on the Swiss French border, announced that they may have indeed found the elusive Higgs particle. You might not know this, but finding the Higgs boson is likely to be one of the most important discoveries in the history of mankind. It completes the picture described in the Standard Model, lending more “proof” that quantum physics can explain our Universe.

Physicists have been asking “where’s the mass” for decades, ever since the standard model was introduced. It seeks answers to one of the oldest questions, “how did this shit get here?” You see, every particle that makes up matter in our Universe is made entirely out of energy, the big question was, if it is just energy, what gives us mass. What takes something similar to magnetism and gives it physical form?

All matter that we know of is made out of four fundamental particles, electrons, neutrinos, up quarks and down quarks. There are more particles that exist in our universe, but they do not make anything, they have no mass. Why do these four particles have mass, or gravity? Gravity is how we experience mass, it is what keeps us from floating into space. Actually mass is what keeps us from dissolving into pure energy, with out mass there would be no you, me or any “thing” in our universe.

Formula for the Standard Model

Nerd stuff, what the standard model looks like in equation form

This is all very complicated nerd speak for how shit got here, asking the most basic question about our existence one could ask; a mystery humans have been trying to solve since we could first ask the question. Today’s announcement is like finding some kid’s homework stuffed into the car seat with his name on it, this is a big lead in the case of: where’s the mass?

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Dudes in Space

A weather satellite in orbit

Weather satellite in orbit

On April 24, 2012 Planetary Resources, in a move that is sure to delight nerdly Dudes everywhere, announced their plan to mine near Earth asteroids for water and precious metals. This bold endeavor, led by billionaires Peter Dianmandis (X-Prize chairman and CEO), and space entrepreneur Eric Anderson, intends to begin launching vehicles within eighteen months to two years.

The Seattle based company sports some serious achievers including James Cameron, director and deep sea explorer who just completed his expedition to the Marianas Trench; also former Senior Vice President of Micriosoft David Vaskevitch. And backing them up is a bevy of former astronauts and NASA scientists, clearly there are no amateurs in this group.

The audacious plan to mine asteroids is not new, scientist have talked about it for years, things are different now, with several forward thinking billionaires prepared to put their money where their mouths are.

“It’s not about thinking and dreaming about asteroid mining. There’s plenty of talking. This is about doing. We’ll create robots that go into deep space and mine asteroids. We’re not going to talk about it, we’re just going to do it.” Eric Anderson quoted by PC magazine.

Phase one is to launch a series of special telescopes into orbit to search for potential mining targets, the Arkyd 100 series is the first of three incarnations of space craft planned. Its mission will be to identify Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for further exploration. These space based telescopes wont have any propulsion systems of their own, but they make up for this with low cost and large numbers.

Next they then plan to launch the Arkyd 200, a version of the 100 series with the ability to actually travel under its own power. With additional sensors and maneuverability, it will be able to get an up close better look at targeted NEAs.

Finally the highest value targets will be surveyed by the Arkyd 300, with its impressive array of sensors the 300 will send detailed maps and analysis of asteroid make up for future mining operations. Thus far Planetary Resources has not divulged how they actually intend to mine the asteroids, seems there are still lotta to work through.

The Arkyd space craft will be smaller and much cheaper than other vehicles that have made the trip to space; making it easy to “stow away” with other launch vehicles as “passengers”. Because of their light weight they would still be cheap to put into space atop dedicated rockets. The group plans to use swarm strategy, using many low cost light weight craft instead of a few heavy expensive ones.

A picture of deep space

Amazing space is amazing

This venture could help spur a sluggish economy, with demand for research and manufacturing this could end up adding trillions to the global economy. It would also increase private space ventures and launch technology by other companies who could be there to give the Arkyd a lift into space, or other support that may be required.

One of the goals of the project is to establish space “gas stations”, where water is mined and converted to rocket fuel. They are looking forward into our future and beginning to start building the stellar infrastructure that will be required for us to travel and explore space like never before. May we dare dream, of an In–N-Out burger joint, just past Mars orbit?

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