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Saturday, November 1, 2014

THE FUTURE OF SPACE AND THE POTENTIAL OF MEGA-TSUNAMIS

I once worked for NASA on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, doing something similar to what Jodie Foster portrayed in the movie CONTACT.  I continue to believe that there is a role for NASA in cutting edge space research to inspire future generations. 

Someday, this will become a natural human imperative, but don't bother with billion dollar space projects today.  Back to the Moon or on to Mars?  Let China or India waste their money.  We have too many more important higher order priorities. Private enterprises on the International Space Station?  According to a top Russian official, the ISS will fall back to Earth not long after 2020.  They should know, as their Mir space station suffered that fate in 2001.  Commercial travel?  No, no, no.  Too dangerous.

On Tuesday an Antares rocket blew up over Virginia's Eastern Shore, left.  Why we're still bothering with the International Space Station, the most expensive white elephant ever at $150 billion, is only because it's too expensive to abandon.

Yesterday, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed north of Los Angeles on a flight originating at the Mojave Air and Space Port, killing one of the pilots.  


That is, sadly, but appropriately, the end for now of those $250,000 tickets to space.  Perhaps sometime in the next millennium, the rich can risk their life again.  Even Richard Branson is now wavering.  Just about half a billion dollars have already been spent, mostly his money, but also from the Abu Dhabi government.


But is there anything still truly relevant about expenditures for outer space?  Yes, absolutely.  Former Astronaut Ed Lu has formed B612, a private foundation to detect killer asteroids.  He says there are two tasks not being undertaken by NASA:
  • use a space infrared telescope to map those incoming disasters
  • design a system to deflect it
I had a chance to talk to Dr. Lu last year, and agree with him that this mission is eminently worthy.  B612 has plans to raise half a billion dollars (hmm...same as Virgin Galactic) to accomplish the first above task.  Currently, there are only visions on how to deflect asteroids:  gravity tractor and a concept called kinetic impact.  Cost?  ??

There have, of course, been numerous films involving doomsday by asteroid.  Among the more memorable, ones, climaxing around the turn of the Millennium:


That asteroid off Yucatan 66 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs could have generated a megatsunami as high as 3.1 miles.  This killer asteroid was "only" 6.2 miles to 9.3 miles in diameter and had an impact 2,000,000 times more powerful than the Russian Tsar Hydrogen Bomba, the most energetic man-made explosion.  If you've got an hour and a half to waste, here from History.com is everything you want to know about Doomsday.

B612 is particularly focused on "city-killers" similar to the 1908 Tunguska Event,  where the so called comet fragment had a diameter between 200 feet and 620 feet (that graphic to the right estimates 330 feet at the bottom), and has been calculated to occur once a century.  Note that it has been more than a hundred years since that crash.

There is, though, another kind of mega-tsunami.  Last week scientists reported on a possible mammoth tsunami that struck the island of Kauai perhaps 500 years ago.  The speculation is that a 9.0-9.6 (there has not yet been one that large in recorded history) Alaskan earthquake sent waves exceeding 128 feet high to the east side of that island.  The speculation was just a typical giant earthquake.  Whether from land or sea, no conventional earthquake can send a tsunami exceeding an amplitude of 30 feet or so into the far field (thousands of miles away).

But another kind of mega-tsunami is possible if there is a sudden and major landslide into the sea.  While way overhyped, Simon Day and Steven Ward speculated that there is potential for Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in the Canary Islands erupting and falling into the sea.  This could generate a megatsunami as high as 164-300 feet over New York City. and other cities of the Eastern Seaboard.

How far would a 300-foot tsunami flow inland?  Well, all of Florida, for example:


My chapter five of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, Six Hours to Seattle, hypothesized about the potential of a megatsunami if the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawaii falls into the sea.  I won't tell you what happened in my book, but feel free to glance at:


I actually met with Professor Day in London to discuss the subject.  Here is a 45 minute program on MEGATSUNAMIS.

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According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Kilauea lava flow will enter Pahoa today.  Click on Big Island Video News:


The lava front has actually not advanced over the past few hours, but the magma continues to build up, so the inevitable is almost obvious.  Tomorrow I will speculate on whether this flow can overrun the only commercial geothermal operations in Hawaii.
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Typhoon Nuri is now at 85 MPH, and predicted to attain Category 4 strength.  The current path is along the eastern coastline of Japan, but sufficiently east as not to be a problem.  But, ocean storms have been known to veer in strange directions.


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