Mars City Test Build Outside Dubai Is in the Plans

At CNN, an article by Poppy Koronka returns to the project launched in 2017 by the United Arab Emirates to colonize Mars within the next 100 years.

To me, though, the real point of interest is that there are now architectural plans for a potential Martian city—and plans to build a test version in the desert outside Dubai.

Bjarke Ingels Group Dubai Exterior Air

Bjarke Ingels Group Dubai Rooftops

Quoting from Koronka’s article:

“Mars Science City was originally earmarked to cover 176,000 square meters of desert — the size of more than 30 football fields — and cost approximately $135 million.

“Intended as a space for Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) to develop the technology needed to colonize Mars, architects Bjarke Ingels Group were asked to design a prototype of a city suitable for sustaining life on Mars — and then adapt it for use in the Emirati desert.”

 

Bjarke Ingels Group Mars Features

Bjarke Ingels Group Hybrid Building Method

The materials available online are surprisingly extensive; if interested, I definitely encourage you visit the Bjarke Ingels Group website to read further.

Bjarke Ingels Group Dubai Outdoors

I can’t say I routinely follow the Mars research; mostly I just read whatever happens to come my way, so plans this advanced were a surprise to me. Very impressive!

Found via File 770.

Images by Bjarke Ingels Group

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Disruptive Technology: Iron

These days, every new decade seems to bring a new technology that totally upends the way we live our lives, but the ability of new technologies to disrupt societal structures is not new. Many times in history, the development or introduction of a new technology had far-reaching effects on how people lived their lives. One such technology is iron. The development of iron for military purposes—to make stronger weapons and tougher armor—led to plenty of disruption, but iron could have powerful effects even when used for peaceful and mundane purposes.

One place we can see an example of iron’s effect on society is in southern Scandinavia. The iron age began in Denmark around 500 BCE. The changes that came as a result can be seen throughout much of northern Europe, but they have been particularly well studied in Denmark.

Southwestern Denmark is rich in deposits of bog iron, a form of iron ore that is comparatively easy to extract and process. Iron was soon put to use to produce stronger swords, axes, and spearheads, but it was also used to make sturdy blades for agricultural tools such as sickles, scythes, and pruning knives.

The introduction of iron-bladed tools made possible a dramatic change in the agrarian economy. Earlier flint or bronze tools could not hold a cutting edge well enough to effectively cut large quantities of hay or twigs to be stored as fodder for cattle. Accordingly, cattle could only be kept in relatively small numbers to avoid overgrazing the sparse vegetation available through the winter. With iron tools, winter fodder could be cut, dried, and stored in quantity for the winter, allowing large herds of cattle to be kept in denser concentrations. These cattle provided meat and milk as a food source in addition to the grain people were already growing.

Cattle also produce something else: manure. Manure is a rich source of nitrogen for fertilizing fields. With larger herds of cattle producing more manure, exhausted fields could be refertilized without a long period of lying fallow, which increased grain production.

Keeping larger herds of cattle significantly increased the available supply of food, which allowed for population growth. It also, however, changed social relations. Before iron, individual families largely tended their own fields and kept small herds of cattle, producing only enough for their own subsistence. There was little social differentiation between one family and the next because everyone did essentially the same work and there weren’t many opportunities to get richer than your neighbors. With iron came larger cattle herds, which meant that some people had to do the dirty scut work of cutting hay and mucking out stalls, while those who owned the cattle enjoyed extra food to use for trade or creating new social connections through the giving of expensive gifts. The archaeological evidence from iron age settlements in Denmark shows a process of social differentiation, as some families consolidated their economic power and rose to the top while others became dependent workers supporting the new elite.

The availability of economic surplus in the form of grain, cattle, and trade goods also meant that raiding nearby settlements could now be a profitable way of life for those strong enough to get away with it, and so the new cattle-owning elite soon also put iron to work to equip themselves for defense or to launch raids of their own. The agricultural elite became in time a military elite, with farming duties largely handed off to dependent workers. In time, this military elite consolidated its power enough to found royal dynasties commanding wide swaths of land and conducting raiding activities far from home.

These changes did not happen quickly. Unlike the effects of electricity, automobiles, and the Internet in the modern world, the effects of iron in ancient Denmark played out over centuries. The changes came slowly enough that, in lived experience, they probably did not seem all that disruptive. Looking back with the perspective of archaeology and history, though, we can see what enormous social transformations can be traced back to the introduction of stronger tools made of iron.

The most disruptive technologies don’t always come from the sources you expect, nor can we always predict the long-term effects of what seem like simple changes. These observations may seem very modern to us, but they were as true in the past as they are today.

Image: Raw bog iron, photograph by Tomasz Kruan via Wikimedia

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Happy Belated Birthday, Hubble!

Oh my goodness, the Hubble telescope has turned 30 years!

NASA Large Magellanic Cloud Apr 2020 Sm

More specifically, it’s been operating, up there in Earth orbit, for 30 years. It was projected to be in service only about 10 years when it launched on April 24, 1990, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Impressive.

Read more at the NASA website:

Happy belated birthday, Hubble! Thank you for all of the space pics you’ve sent down.

Found via File 770.

Image: Large Magellanic Cloud, a vast star-forming region composed of the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020), by NASA / ESA / STScl via NASA

LightSail 2 Spacecraft Is Successfully Driven by Solar Sails

Have you guys heard of the LightSail project?

The Planetary Society LightSail 2 Australia New Guinea

Run by The Planetary Society (the world’s largest private non-profit space organization), LightSail is a crowdfunded project that successfully launched a solar sail driven spacecraft into Earth orbit in June 2019 in an effort to lower the cost of space exploration.

While not the first spacecraft to successfully use solar sails, LightSail 2 has managed to slow down the deterioration of its orbit and on occasion to reverse drag created by the atmosphere and correct course. Indeed: one of the mission’s functions is doubling as a probe of far-atmospheric thickness.

LightSail 2 deployed its solar sail in July 2019, and has been sending data down to Earth since then. Access the LightSail project page or LightSail 2 mission control for some interesting browsing.

Really cool, isn’t it?

Image: Australia and New Guinea from LightSail 2 by The Planetary Society (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: A Wheelchair Scooter

Oh my goodness—I am so (so, so, so) overly excited about this wheelchair scooter called Pendel:

NimbleDearArchaeopteryx-mobile via Videopress.com

It’s by Huka, a Dutch company. And it’s SO. AWESOME! Just wheel your chair up the little ramp, stabilize the chair, secure your stuff, lift the ramp up behind you so it’ll form a low “back wall” for the wheelchair area, and go! Aaaaaa!

io9 Tom Hiddlestons Loki Whee Gif

In a sense, I’ve been ridiculously lucky so far—none of my chronic conditions have affected my mobility. I’ve never even sprained a limb, let alone broken one. I have been operated on, though, although fairly lightly and fairly late in my life. However, that one experience was enough to convince me of the absolute, unadulterated value of mobility aids of various kinds, including accessible building.

Twitter Adam Holisky Picard Full of Win

Which reminds me: I just cannot (can-NOT!) understand people who gripe and complain about having to get help, including walkers or wheelchairs or whatnot. Isn’t the tech there precisely to enable us to function more independently for longer, just like glasses?!? Aren’t we social animals who help one another???

Expanse Tedious

(Badly fitted or broken aids, on the other hand, are the worst and should be burninated. And don’t even get me started on how despicably some people choose to treat disabled people who are just out and about, minding their own business…! #JustAskDontGrab)

One thing’s for sure: whenever I get to the stage that I need various aids, mobility or otherwise, BRING ‘EM ON!

Twitter ItsJustJords Sitting Frog

Pendel found via Nicola Griffith.

Images: Tom Hiddleston as Loki whee gif via a comment on io9.com. Captain Picard Full of Win via Adam Holisky on Twitter. “Tedious” screenshot from The Expanse season 3, episode 4, “Reload”. Sitting frog via ItsJustJords on Twitter.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Visual Inspiration: Aztec-Engineered Floating Garden Islands

Did you know that Aztecs created floating garden islands on swamps to feed 200,000+ people? I didn’t before now.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model

An article by Lynette Townsend for the Museum of New Zealand descibes the structure of the chinampas:

“These ingenious creations were built up from the lake bed by piling layers of mud, decaying vegetation and reeds. This was a great way of recycling waste from the capital city Tenochtitlan. Each garden was framed and held together by wooden poles bound by reeds and then anchored to the lake floor with finely pruned willow trees. The Aztecs also dredged mud from the base of the canals which both kept the waterways clear and rejuvenate [sic] the nutrient levels in the gardens.”

Apparently the chinampas were separated by channels, and canoes were used for transport. In addition to food crops and flowers grown, fish and birds drawn to the chinampas were caught for food as well.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model Closeup

What an incredibly smart feature to engineer! It also strikes me as a fantastic (no pun intended), pragmatic thing to adapt into a SFFnal world.

Found via Ultrafacts at Tumblr.

Images: models by artisan collective Te Mahi via Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Living in a Science Fictional Present: Food from Air, Water from Sunlight

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” is my favorite line from the movie The Martian. The amazing thing about our species is that we do that every day, and every once in a while it pays off in a phenomenal way. Below are two cases that have the potential to do just that.

Researchers at the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. have created a process for making protein from air. Specifically, it uses carbon dioxide, water, and electricity, plus added nutrients.

Solar Foods Solein Protein Powder Sm

Apparently they’ve had a test installation running since June. The resulting protein powder, dubbed Solein, looks like flaky meal and reportedly tastes like wheat.

Read more at Yle news (Finnish only), or in English at The Guardian or Solar Foods website.

Professor Peng Wang from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia lead a study introducing a strategy to produce fresh water. Essentially, a distillation unit attached to photovoltaic panels evaporates seawater at relatively low temperatures more efficiently than conventional solar stills and yet generates electricity at the same time.

BBC News Wenbin Wang Solar Panel Water Purifier Concept

More at BBC News and journal Nature Communications.

Images: Solein protein powder by Solar Foods. Combined solar panel and water purifier by Wenbin Wang via BBC News.

50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission—the spaceflight that landed the first people on the Moon.

Ben Feist, a software engineer and historian at NASA Johnson Space Center, and a team of other experts put together a website for Apollo 11 video, audio, and pictures of the astronauts and mission control.

Apollo 11 in Real Time Ben Feist Screencap

The site consists entirely of original historical mission material, with data and audio restored plus transcripts corrected. There’s video, too, and views of the Earth receding and Moon showing up in the viewscreen, various details from the lunar surface, and support teams back home. And a whole host of additional data.

How cool is that!?!

Image: screencap from the Apollo 11 in Real Time website by Ben Feist

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Historical Miniaturization: An Astronomical Ring that Opens into a Sphere

The Swedish History Museum shared this nifty gadget on their Facebook page:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring1

We all know looks can be deceiving, right? That’s definitely the case with this item. It’s a German 16th-century ring that turns into an astronomical sphere:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring2

It’s a brilliant example of the possibilities of miniaturization technologies. I’m immediately thinking of a fantasy or alternate history world where a (rich!) scholar takes this with them when traveling for work.

Images by Historiska museet via Facebook

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Striking Iron: A New Exhibition at the National Museum of African Art

One of the current exhibits at the National Museum of African Art is “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”. It focuses on blacksmithing in sub-Saharan Africa and features works dating from the 17th century to recent times: not just weapons, but other tools and implements such as musical instruments.

The range and design of shapes is truly impressive. Below are just some of the examples.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Ceremonial Knives

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of rain wands (image below) before. They were planted in the earth with the intention of drawing the life force of the Earth up toward the heavens in order to bring down rain.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Rain Wands

Various kinds of sound instruments are also displayed, including lamellophones.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Lamellophone

And, since it’s ironworking, there are weapons.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Double-bladed Dagger

I’m especially struck by the multiple elaborate curls of the ceremonial knives and the rain wand in the shape of a three-headed snake. Simply stunning.

The exhibition runs until October 20, 2019.

Found via NPR—make sure to visit the article for more photos!

Images: Ceremonial knives by Olivia Sun for NPR (Democratic Republic of the Congo; 19th century; iron). Rain wands by Olivia Sun for NPR (Nigeria; iron). Lamellophone (chisanji) via Smithsonian (Chokwe artist, Angola; late 19th century; wood and iron). Double-bladed dagger by Olivia Sun for NPR (late 19th-century Sudan; iron, bone, and crocodile skin).