Archive for February, 2010

The Quirk: How Will The World End?

February 18, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I ran a competition on WordPress Forum to give me suggestions for blog topics.  The winner was Liana Merlo. Check out her blog here, http://lianamerlo.wordpress.com/. Well done liana, you’ve won some minor exposure on a science blog! Liana wanted to know the most likely ways the world will end.  I thought I’d let The Quirk answer this one.

How the world will end is actually pretty mundane.  The Sun will eventually turn much of its hydrogen and helium supply into heavier elements. Once this has happened the sun will expand into a Red Giant, eventually growing large enough to burn the earth to cinders and eventually cause it to disintegrate and fall into the sun. YAWN! I think what Liana really wants to know is how the world as we know it will end. Here are a few of the possible theories:

GLOBAL WARMING

Soon the rising sea will engulf us all, leaving us in a horrible Waterworld-esqe existence.  I haven’t seen that film, but its got Kevin Costner in it, so I can only imagine it is terrible. Global warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and our only chance of survival is to stop driving/making stuff/buying stuff/thinking and hope it just goes away.

Destroy-ability: 9/10; start building your arks people

MASSIVE ASTEROID IMPACT

If its good enough to kill the dinosaurs, its good enough to kill us.  Step one a massive asteroid hits earth. Step two a huge mass of dust is sent into the atmosphere, blocking the sun. Step three the world is plunged into coldness, and we all freeze to death.  Actually, come to think of it, if this happens soon it will balance out all that pesky global warming.

Destroy-ability: 3/10; I‘ve seen that film Armageddon, everything worked out, except for Bruce Willis

THE RAPTURE

Jesus comes back to earth and saves all the good souls, while the rest of us experience Hell on Earth.

Destroy-ability: 10/10 or 0/10; depends on your faith, you pick

So the smart money is on climate change to piss on our parade, but don’t discount other possibilities. Simon Cowell could use his increasing media influence to hypnotise us all Demon Headmaster style.  Obama’s health care reform could be passed, causing chaos by saving too many american’s lives. Immigrants (see The Daily Mail). Alien Invasion. Who knows?

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Wasted Energy: Alternative Fuel Solutions? Rubbish

February 8, 2010

I’ve written an article over at Our Green Earth, go check it out:

http://www.ourgreenearth.co.uk/wasted-energy-alternative-fuel-solutions-rubbish/

Fusion: Hotter Than the Sun

February 3, 2010

Incidentally light (and heat) leaving the sun travels for 8 minutes, exactly the same time it takes to turn an apple pie into a lethal weapon.  Fusion power is what powers the sun and there is hopes that it could be harnessed here on earth.  At the centre of the sun hydrogen atoms (specifically the isotopes deuterium and tritium) fuse together to produce helium, this process releases an enormous amount of energy.  Scientists hope to one day reproduce this process on earth, and a new finding has brought us one step closer.

Experiments at the National Ignition Facility in the US have shown that ignition of fusion fuel could be achieved using a laser.  By firing 192 lasers at a tiny pellet of deuterium and tritium, plasma was successfully produced without obscuring the lasers themselves.  Handling plasma has always presented a hurdle to progressing with fusion power.  At temperatures of 109 K very little can survive, so creating vessels to contain the plasma requires more than just reinforced steel.

The ITER is the vessel that scientist hope can contain the plasma of a fusion reaction so that heat can be extracted from it.  A collaborative effort between 7 national and supranational bodies, the ITER is due to begin construction of its tokamak in 2011.  A tokamak uses magnetic fields to confine the plasma rather than physical methods, this allows the plasma to be created without damaging any structures.  If all goes to plan construction should be complete by 2018.  Bringing us ever so closer to creating our own mini-sun here on earth.