Weaponizing Space

The competition between the world superpowers to dominate each other with nuclear weapons is something that makes headlines almost every week. Making its mark in the world of science and tech, China is now posing to be a threat to these powers, especially the US.

Recently, the US Intelligence community has warned the world about China making space weapons to increase its hold and terrorize the US. It has labeled the Asian giant as “the top threat” to the US in space and has accused the Chinese government of manufacturing weapons that could be used outside of Earth to threaten the superpower.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a new Global Risk Assessment report which highlights a huge increase in China’s military and commercial activities in the planet’s orbit. One of the primary concerns raised in the report is that China has developed the weapons to shoot down other satellites with missiles or disable them with high-speed lasers, according to Defence News Analysis. This points towards an extremely specialized industry and expertise of the Chinese military that might result in a potential danger to the US, which by far is the country that dominates space.

The threat of China as a potential contender for colonizing space has challenged the global order which was previously dominated by the US and the USSR. Right now, the US is the sole global authority in the world but by the use of well-planned economic, military and social reforms, China seems all set for world domination.

According to Defence News, ODNI Director Avril Haines told lawmakers, “I think there’s just no question, as a general matter, that China is focused on achieving leadership in space and has been working hard on a variety of different efforts in this area to try to contest what has been presumed our leadership.”

China has upped its game in science and tech and is making great investments in research and development. Even with a global pandemic that originated in the country, it has managed to pull itself out of the economic crisis and is adding a significant amount to the world GDP.

So with an impressive growth rate, China will be ready to construct its next space station in orbit quite soon and even though it is not a military action that threatens any state in particular, it is a statement on its own that the country is ready to compete with other superpowers. The International Space Station is going to retire soon and the United States is making a strong case to the committees about preventing Chinese supremacy that could potentially change the whole global order in favor of the East.

Cloud Seeding

As concerns of water scarcity in the wild west of the United States grow, scientists continue to resort to modern weather modification techniques to create rain in areas of the West Coast facing the worst drought in centuries. With limited rainfall and continuing droughts, the Colorado River and its water-banks are running dry, risking the water supply to over 30 million Americans.

To overcome the drought, in the snowcapped mountains of the West Coast, crushed particles of a chemical compound are being launched from the ground up into the sky or being directly injected into the clouds through airplane flares. The purpose of injecting these particles in the clouds is simple: encourage precipitation, in common terms, provoke rainfall.

While the idea of a cloud making machine may sound as if it’s out of a comic, this process is called cloud seeding, and it is very real. The technique uses particles of silver iodide injected in the clouds. The structure of silver iodide is very similar to ice and thus attracts droplets causing them to cluster and freeze eventually resulting in rainfall/snow. The snow melts during the warmer months and the water is added to the running streams increasing the supply to the population.

The concept of cloud seeding has been around for over 5 decades. It has been used not only to encourage rainfall, but to also reduce hailstone size and to cause clouds to precipitate earlier than when they are expected to.

The effectiveness of the process is still a point of huge discussion as most of the experiments done in the second half of the 20th century didn’t yield satisfactory results and no significant increase in precipitation was ever recorded. However, scientists working on the cloud seeding project believe that right now is the best time to address the issue as global temperatures continue to rise, posing an even greater risk of drought that could last for decades.

Scientists believe that in order to better manage the water supply across America, authorities have only two choices. The first is to reduce the demand by introducing conservation and recycling methods and the second is to somehow increase the water supply. “Cloud seeding is a relatively inexpensive proposition,” remarked Jeff French, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wyoming.

While Jeff French himself is doubtful about cloud seeding being a viable option to increase rain/snow in the regions, it is a technique worth trying to help regions prone to drought.

The states of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, among others are not holding back in their attempts to modify the weather of the region and induce rainfalls and have all introduced cloud seeding projects.

Research recently suggested a 5 – 15% increase in rain/snow fell in regions where the technique was implemented, but unfortunately, scientists haven’t been able to draw a concrete link between increased rain and cloud seeding.

Rising Sea Levels Putting 40% of World Population at Risk

When you consider global warming – melting glaciers, rising temperatures, forest fires, and increasing sea levels – are some of the major impacts that pop to mind almost immediately. Thanks to the massive campaigns for restoring the ecosystem worldwide, everyone is aware of the potential dangers of global warming. However, it will not be an overstatement to say that very little is being done on the grass-root level to avoid the inevitable.

With more and more cars running on the roads emitting toxic fumes, more CFC emitting devices, and increased industrialization leading to the cutting down of forests, the global temperature is rising and causing a major climatic change despite the efforts environmental agencies are putting in to save the environment. Studies suggest that the 100-year projections are still very bleak.

IPCC’s Projection on Rising Sea Levels:

According to projections made in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body that reports on climatic changes, the sea levels would rise roughly by a maximum of 1.10 meters (3.61 feet) by the end of this century. A more conservative approach suggested that if the environmental protection agencies continued to actively engage in reinforcement of climate protection measurements, the sea level rise may be limited to 0.61 meters (2 feet).

The projections were made taking into account current climatic changes, greenhouse gas emissions, ocean warming, and the behavioral changes adopted by humans to reduce their carbon footprints.

Sea Levels Rising Much Faster than IPCC Projections:

However, many scientists believe that the IPCC’s model to calculate the rising sea levels is failing to take into account historical patterns and the sea levels might be rising at a rate faster than projected.

Environmental scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the Bjerknes Center for Climate Research in Norway joined hands and derived a new way to measure the direct impact of rising global temperatures on the sea levels. Their findings were published in February 2021, in the Ocean Science Journal and have raised serious concerns.

According to the study, looking through the lens of historical data, the sea levels are actually projected to rise by half a meter if the temperature rises only half a degree Celsius. However, given the current rate, the global temperature might go up to 2 Celsius causing a correspondingly higher rise in sea levels by the end of 2100

Nearly 40% of the global population is at risk given that they live near the coastlines and projections of the recent study suggest that the rise in the sea levels might go beyond 1 meter if the temperatures continue to rise.

Depleting the Carbon Budgets:

The study further suggests that to prevent the risks associated with such an alarming rise in sea levels, the global economy must reduce carbon emissions by 200 billion metric tons in addition to the actual carbon emission reduction required to meet the climate goals for the century.

The co-author of the study and geophysicist from the University of Copenhagen, Aslak Grinsted said that the global carbon budget has depleted even more and the current projections are too conservative to call for drastic measures.

Drawing a comparison between the IPCC projections and the research paper findings, the scientists have proposed that the upper levels of rising sea levels in the IPCC reports are too low and the IPCC hasn’t taken historical data into account thus calling for more urgent and active measures to stop the global temperatures from rising.

Energy from Black Holes

Commonly known as a space phenomenon that sucks everything into a central singularity, black holes can emit radiation. Even though a typical perception paints an uncongenial representation of black holes, relativity’s general theory gives an extraordinary prediction. The theory of Einstein envisages black holes as an efficient and enormous source of untapped energy.

Unarguably, the most enigmatic celestial object, black holes, are now believed to be energy powerhouses. For several decades, astrologists and scientists have contributed to decrypting the mystery of black holes. Roger Penrose discovered that the development of black holes is a prediction of the theory of relativity. Stephen Hawking theorized the entire phenomenon “Hawking Radiation.”

Energy and space colonization

Populating space might be the highest frontier that humans have ventured on. The vision of large, manned habitats on the moon and or elsewhere in the solar system has so far been science fiction. However, new research hints towards the realization of the ultimate fantasy of every astrophysicist. According to a study at Colombia University and Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Chile, the energy from black holes could be extracted through the charged plasma particles. These particles could be harvested right before the event horizon to extract that energy.

Luca Comisso, the research scientist at Colombia University, proposed the acceleration of plasma particles to negative energy, resulting in the possible extraction of black hole energy. The theory makes black holes the endless source of energy for possible colonization in deep space. The discovery makes it easier for astronomers to formulate accurate estimations and theories regarding the spin and emissions of black holes.

As far as the theory goes, human habitats in space seem like a reality. Asenjo, the coauthor of the study, postulated that energy extraction is possible because of the high relative velocity between captured and escaping plasma particle streams. Plasma energization is known to produce maximum efficiency due to the black holes “leak energy”. Leak energy is an accumulation of negatively charged particles in black holes reducing energy. Comisso’s theory is subjected to the polarity of the plasma shot against the spin of the black hole and not with the spin of the black hole.

Can the future have a celestial realization?

The discovery of black hole energy might just help us claim life in space. Researchers always believed that humans need watery bodies to survive and live; but the potential of black hole energy is changing the dynamics of life in space.

Earth Spinning

A common perspective is that one rotation of Earth on its axis is equal to 24 hours that make up to 86400 seconds. Did you know that the Earth’s revolution in the year 2020 was a millisecond faster than average? Not even the Earth’s rotation was left unscathed in the dreadful year of 2020. The year 2020 holds the record for 28 fastest days in the year, which means that the world experienced 28 shortest days after decades—and no, that’s not just a figure of speech.

The accelerating rotation varies all the time because of variations in the atmospheric pressure, winds, ocean currents and movement in the Earth’s core. However, these variations can be troublesome for the timekeepers who are responsible for setting the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The UTC is used to set clocks and whenever the astronomical time differs by 0.4 seconds from UTC; UTC is adjusted. 

Before the year 2020, scientists would add a leap second after every year and a half to keep the Earth’s spin and global time in line. However, the accelerating spin and shortening rotational time might result in the addition of a negative leap second. In other words, the scientist and timekeepers might have to subtract a complete second from the year to cater for the spinning speed. To elaborate, an average astronomical day is about 86400 seconds long, but the year 2021 would begin 0.05 second earlier than average day-length. Summing the entire time lag for 2021, the New Year would be 19 milliseconds shorter than an average year.

Even though it is a tiny margin, the lag indicates the increasing spin speed of Earth, making the scientists worry about the time in future. Scientists blame rapidly increasing global warming which has led to quicker melting of the glaciers. The speedy meltdown of glaciers leads to inappropriate and non-uniform distribution of mass.

There’s no doubt that global warming has disturbed most natural habitats, processes and ecology, but it could not be the only cause of the increase in spin speed. No matter what the factors and reasons are, the addition of a negative leap second could have catastrophic impacts on modern technologies. To avoid any disastrous consequence, some scientist suggests to let the difference between astronomical and atomic times expand until the addition of leap hour is required. 

The International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (IERS) in Paris will make the final decision regarding adjusting time. Currently, the organization has not issued any report that would state the highly anticipated addition or subtraction of a new leap second. 

Human-made Biomass outweighs everything

Recent reports have revealed the massive impact of human beings on planet earth, as man-made products surpass all that exists in the world confirming the creation of a new geologic epoch called the Anthropocene.

Human Beings often hid behind the “we are just specks” in a greater galaxy when it came to the impact of their doings on the planet. However, a recent paper by Nature has revealed that global humanmade stuff now outweighs all living biomass.

From roads, smartphones, buildings, chairs, telephones to bricks, blocks and bottles, have now dominated most of the Earth. According to the stats, the humanmade mass totals up to 1.1 million metric tons. This amount means that biomass created by men now dominates most of the Earth, a result caused by modern development to urban society.

Plastic alone acquires more space than marine and terrestrial animals, statistically, double the weight. Whereas buildings and other infrastructure have surpassed shrubs and trees. In simpler words, the material created by man has become the dominant force in 2020 and will continue to do so. Thus, human beings may not be just a trivial speck anymore. Now that we are the principal force, it shows the power that we hold. With this power, human beings also become responsible for the resulting consequences.

“We cannot hide behind the feeling that we’re just a small species, one out of many,” says study co-author Ron Milo.

Human-made biomass from 1900 – Present

Scientists say that this increase was bound to happen at some time. However, the process of expansion of humanmade products sped up after 1900. In 1900, the Earth made up only 3% of the humanmade biomass, which means that the materials have doubled up within the gap of 20 years. The scientists say that most of the construction is in infrastructure, concrete, and asphalt used between World War II and the oil crisis of 1973. That was the time when first-world countries were actively building new estate.

In 2020, we are living in a reality that is much closer to Anthropocene. A new geological epoch where the humans are the dominant force, and that actions of every living person is driving the changes.

“It is an indication that, indeed, the transition happened and the name is appropriate,” Milo says

What it means for the future

The increase of humanmade biomass is not unexpected. However, the decrease of the total biomass on Earth is a cause for concert. The research shows that total biomass on Earth has declined about 1100 billion tons since the year 1900. This decline could be attributed to deforestation and extinction. In this case, the increase in manufactured products made by man is somewhat problematic for human health. If the speed with which mass is increased in 2020 persists, the humanmade products will increase three times more by 2040, eventually turning into waste and a threat to human life.