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Tag Archives: NASA

Megacities and the Scale of the Future

  by Mike Macartney

Demographic trends in society are pointing towardsmegacities, defined as populations of 10 million or more, as the future for how most people on the planet will live. There are 21 such cities today and they include Cairo, Mexico City, Lagos, Los Angeles, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Moscow, Tehran, London, Paris, and others, growing every day. Tokyo was at 34 million in 2011. These cities and what supports them are at the core issues of scale and sustainability.

  • How large will these cities grow?
  • How will people in the future supply them with energy, food, water, transportation, jobs, housing, education, health care, and not least of all, entertainment?
  • How will these cities fit into national models – will they become city-states like earlier times in human history?

Scientific groups like the Santa Fe Institute are studying that very sustainability. Other, informal web based groups of people like New Geography are also thinking about what cities and human society will become.

The issue of scale may be the defining issue of the 21st century. The solutions are not simple or even invented yet. For example, it is well known in investment circles that alternative energy does not scale like the Information Age cornerstones of semiconductors, telecommunications, and software. Because of the laws of physics in the universe we live in alternative energy requires large investments in land, labor, and raw materials. These are needed to provide grid energy systems like the current fossil fuel and nuclear powered electrical grids. Innovation in alternative energy is not information or knowledge based. It is execution and implementation based. Even if we think we know how to do it, we still have to get it done. Very large physical scale collection and distribution systems are required to implement alternative energy solutions. Presently, the profit for investment in large-scale energy systems ties to large-scale tax systems. These are linked to government subsidies and government funded infrastructure build-out to solve the scale problem. Will the same go for alternative energy?

The scale needed for alternative energy competes directly with the scale needed for agriculture, housing, environmental preservation, and transportation. One example is the Three Gorges Dam project in China that displaced over 1-million people. Hydroelectric power systems are solar energy systems. The water behind a dam is stored solar energy. Very large amounts of land are required for hydroelectric systems just like for proposed solar, wind, and biomass systems. All the systems require very large solar collectors to operate in a grid power model. Efficiency can never be greater than one. There is no Moore’s Law of exponential growth hidden in the current efficiencies of a few tens-of-a-percent and 100-percent in alternative energy collection components. Are grid power systems the future of alternative energy?

The solutions to the scale problems of megacities with high consumption rates of food, energy, and living space are complex and competing. Complexity is one of the areas of study by scientific think tanks like the Santa Fe Institute and government funded institutions like Harvard University and MIT. How do you think scale will be achieved to support megacities in the future?

About the Author

Mike Macartney

Mike holds a BS and MS in mechanical engineering with emphasis in heat transfer and computational fluid dynamics. As a staff system engineer he developed advanced cooling systems for more than 15 different spacecraft and missiles, ranging from cryogenically cooled sensors and pre-amplifiers to on-orbit problem resolution of failing spacecraft. Mike has managed over 200 proposals for advanced aerospace systems, and terrestrial IT systems and custom code development for corporate customers.

Mike has advised start-up companies and high-tech incubators wishing to “spin-in” technologies from NASA and the National Laboratories as well as helped Russian enterprises do business in Silicon Valley. Mike has been a founder in three start-up companies for enterprise SW and publishing as well as a trade show manager for NASA technology transfer activities, and an executive liaison manager to facilitate business cooperation between aggressive Fortune 500 competitors. Mike has developed reengineered business processes for quality control, proposal development, and lean manufacturing.

He currently operates a small publishing company, Shoot Your Eye Out Publishing

 

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What’s the Deal with the Northern Lights?

You see them displayed in Christmas movies as a phenomenon of the North Pole. But the Aurora Borealis, as they are scientifically referred to, are actually visible from areas of the earth much farther south than the north pole. If you want to enjoy the beauty and wonder that is the Northern Lights, here are a few interesting things you should know:

  1. The name Aurora comes from the name of the Roman goddess of dawn.
  2. An Aurora in northern latitudes are called aurora borealis (northern lights). An Aurora in the southern latitudes are called aurora australis (southern lights).
  3. The plural of aurora is aurorae.
  4. An aurora occurs when highly charged particles from space collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere. This makes the atoms excited, meaning they start moving at a rapid pace. The way they release this energy is to accelerate along the earth’s magnetic fields, which will emit the energy in the form of light.
  5. Solar flares are the most common occurrence that induces an aurora in the atmosphere.
  6. Solar wind is constantly blowing past the earth, contained in this wind are particles that agitate the atoms in our atmosphere. When the sun flares, the wind become stronger so aurorae are most likely to occur then
  7. Norther and southern aurorae mimic each other.
  8. From a distance, the aurora will appear as a greenish glow or even a faint red. From a closer location, the light can appear as a vivid green color.
  9. The green color is due to the emission of oxygen as the atoms begin to slow down from their excited state.
  10. Blue colors come from nitrogen atoms gaining an electron (becoming excited) and red colors occur when the nitrogen atom slows back down to it’s normal state.
  11. Often they look like a curtain of light in the sky that can change shape every few seconds, or even hold their shape. They can also emit it a simple reddish or greenish glow in the sky, without any movement at all.
  12. Aurorae can occur on other planets.
  13. The sun has an 11-year sunspot cycle during which sunspot activity first increases than decreases. Aurorae are most commonly seen at the peak of that cycle and during the three years afterwards because of the increased strength of solar wind produced. The last solar cycle started in January 2008. The max of this cycle is expected to hit in 2011 and 2012.
  14. Pictures taken by space ships of the aurora are even more amazing than what you can see from earth. NASA’s website has a good array of options.

About the Author

Natalie Clive is a writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers is a useful website that can help students find the best online universities where they can earn a college degree. Individuals with a college degree are more likely to have a higher quality of life.

 

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