Back in 2008, researchers discovered a massive hydrothermal vent system in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, between Greenland and Norway. This is basically a group of enormous undersea volcanoes, more than 7,500 feet underwater, shooting out superheated water in 40-foot plumes of sulfides. They were christened "Loki's Castle," and there's nothing else quite like them on the planet--and now Norway is considering protecting them by naming them a national park.
Since the announcement last week that a team of high-profile backers--Eric Schmidt and Larry Page from Google, filmmaker James Cameron, Ross Perot Jr. (son of the former presidential candidate), space tourism pioneer Eric Anderson, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, among others--is launching a company that will "overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP," media speculation has generally centered on one thing: asteroid mining. And this morning, hours before the official press conference launching Planetary Resources Inc., that speculation appears to be confirmed.
By Andrew RosenblumPosted 12.16.2011 at 3:30 pm 24 Comments
The prospect of great wealth will be one of the main draws of space exploration in the coming decades. A 650-foot-diameter asteroid (about average) can contain $1 billion or more worth of platinum-group metals and untold amounts of ice or water—which are perhaps even more valuable in space because they can be converted to fuel in situ. But extracting those resources will present some unique challenges. For example, the combination of asteroids' near-zero gravity (because of their small mass) and quick spin (up to one rotation every couple of minutes) means that asteroid-nauts must attach everything, including themselves, to the rock, or risk floating off into space.
At AUVSI's (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) massive robot conference in D.C. this week there is no shortage of robots designed to seek out--and in some cases destroy--human targets. Sandia National Labs chose to go in the opposite direction with their Gemini-Scout, a remotely controlled rolling robot designed specifically to lead search and rescue efforts in the event of a mining disaster.
This morning Wired Science posted a fascinating Q+A with San Francisco-based geologist-artist Dave Janesko, who creates works of art by intervening in natural--and unnatural--environmental processes. Using acid runoff from mines (above) and the fumes created by electronic components dissolving in electrified salt and vinegar, Janesko doesn’t just capture geologic processes but, in his words, “collaborates” with them to create visual art.