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Venus for termites

  1. Sep 1, 2010 #1
    Venus and Mercury arguably are the most valuable real estate in the Solar system. I propose a reason why we will never exploit them, and why it is a pity. See next message.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2010 #2
    Venus for Termites

    or Whatever Happened to Hubris?

    Ever since Babel, probably as an after-effect, Mankind has been unable to unite to meet large challenges. The nearest thing to a counter-example in recent history was the Ijsselmeer dam; the Dutch practically pawned their country for it, but that was just one nation. As a species we lack the long view, the guts, the commitment, for projects which politicians in power will not live to profit by. We are monkeys rather than termites, and none the better for it. Consider a project tailor-made for a termite civilisation on our scale, the conquest of Venus. At a stroke it would more than double the land space available to humanity, render the species practically immune from asteroidal wipe-out or cosmic catastrophe for five billion years or so, increase industrial capacity several-fold, and create the infrastructure to establish a race of spacefarers who could conquer this corner of the galaxy.

    As apes however, we stand a better chance of growing ourselves termites’ wings.

    And that is a pity. Apart from a shortage of hydrogen, Venus is good real estate. Its atmosphere is largely vaporised rock (CO2) and its climate is a bit dodgy, but all that depends on a single problem: the Venusian day. Adjust the day length and hey... well not presto, but certainly abracadabra, we double our current living space and gain an equal area for industrial real estate into the bargain. We also get so much free, renewable energy that to burn either molecules or atoms for large scale power would be ludicrous in the next few hundred million years, on Venus at least.

    The trick is to adjust Venus’ sidereal day to equal the length of its year, so that it permanently keeps one face to the sun. In the process we would also strip local space of all threatening asteroids. We would hunt down everything movable, all the way to the Kuiper belt, and drop it with precise aim on the appropriate limb of Venus. Since she has a retrograde spin, we would *speed up* the rotation.

    By exploiting the potential energy of rocks in remote orbit, we could profit energetically by a factor of a hundred or so; more if we handle the slingshotting neatly. We would invest in steering the missiles rather than impelling them. Some 70000-80000 10km rocks should do the job nicely -- a total mass about equivalent to the top few kilometres of Texas. Would-be comets (“dirty snowballs“), would be even more rewarding, because of their hydrogen content.

    It might take a millennium or two, but that is a pretty modest price for five billion years worth of planet, surely?

    Once Venus settles into its new role as the only planet with six poles (perihelion (or solar) and aphelion (or antisolar) as well as North and South, East and West, not to mention NNW!) and three equators to match, the current east-west equatorial wind will decay into turbulent convection and the weather forecast for the antisolar pole will be: frigid sulphuric rain, followed by blizzards with precipitation of about two kilometres of dry ice. The remaining atmosphere will be mainly nitrogen and some oxygen at roughly earth’s atmospheric pressure.

    It seems *meant*, doesn’t it?

    Around the "solar" twilight equator, convection should establish a permanent steady wind of enormous power. If ever there was a dream environment for a wind farm...! Since the wind speed would be fairly constant, we could design windmills of great efficiency for a modest price. For the price of installation and maintenance of generators, it should supply electricity for the entire residential region: the cooler half of the dayside, nearest the twilight equator.

    At the industrial areas at the Solar high latitudes, we would exploit solar power of an intensity to make the best on Earth look feeble, not to mention intermittent and seasonal! The dayside would exceed twice the usable land area of Earth.

    It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it!

    For a few millennia we would live indoors, but seeding of temperate zones with algae, plus employing spare solar power to split CO2 should improve the atmosphere till it becomes breathable for humans. Water would be the main problem. Venus remember, is poor in hydrogen and water would settle out on the night side. Coal mining on earth might find an analogy in ice mining on Venus. But fine tuning the planet’s rotational obliquity and day length would be a continuing concern, so to make a virtue of a necessity, private enterprise Rockrat astronauts would always be hunting ammonia- and water-rich comets to drop with great precision on the night side. At least Venus would be one planet where water is properly valued!

    Still, we need not be obsessively pessimistic about water. Pile up dry ice to about two kilometres depth, and you may expect a significant glacial flow. The night side cap of CO2 would continuously flow towards the twilight zone and carry vast amounts of scoured rock, moraine which might, or might not be valuable in itself. As the CO2 reaches warmer areas, it volatilises and for the most part, it would quickly freeze out again on the night side. However, some of the first volatiles to settle out of the atmosphere would be the water, ammonia and sulphur oxides. They would remain behind as harvestable powders in the moraines. They might be only a percent or two of the original atmosphere, but that would amount to a lot of valuable material. What is more, such valuable volatiles would continuously snow out on the night side, but they would all do so near the edge. They would soon be borne out to where they could be collected and recycled. In fact, in the process they would be fractionated and could be purified cheaply.

    The whole process is so inviting that it makes a mockery of the idea of terraforming Mars. For probably no greater investment, and in my isolated opinion in no greater time span, we would get far more planet, develop far more valuable technology, and earn a far, far more valuable, power-rich prize.

    If we were termites.

    But sadly, being monkeys, not termites, we never will do it...

    Monkey Jon
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  4. Sep 1, 2010 #3


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    I have neither the energy nor the sobriety to read that whole post right now, but the first few paragraphs had me rolling.
  5. Sep 1, 2010 #4
    Much thanks! I'll wait with bated breath for the hangover! :bugeye:
  6. Sep 1, 2010 #5


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    Alas... I don't get hangovers. If I did, it would probably be a lot easier to quit drinking.
    Congrats, also, for being the first person that I've seen spell "bated" properly. (It's usually "baited". :grumpy:)
  7. Sep 2, 2010 #6
    Now Danger, don't you bait me into a tirade on spelling, literacy, and all that!
    Punctilious spelling is addictive. It should come with a government health warning.:rolleyes:
    Go well,
  8. Sep 2, 2010 #7

    As I started to read your post I was already writing you off but I continued and I must say I'm impressed. As crazy as the idea sounds I admire you for thinking outside the box and thinking through so much of the detail. As far as mega projects go its not just about coming together but the true cost of implementation. As a species we are only just becoming capable of anything really and we already have our eyes on lofty goals. We will need to implement serious time and labor savings to attempt anything at even 1/1000th the scope of this.... something like near automated design and manufacturing in a complete multiphysics simulator to make implementation a much smaller line item on the overall budget and to allow for high certainty pricing of implementation with high certainty of success.

    Right now its like we're on food stamps and talking about buying a yacht :)
  9. Sep 2, 2010 #8

    Ranger Mike

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    its 5 O'clock some where ..i just gotta find out where!

    Attached Files:

  10. Sep 2, 2010 #9
    You know, there are certain recreational drugs that can cause this type of rambling.
  11. Sep 3, 2010 #10
    JS, thank you for a response that left me feeling very complimented.
    I agree with everything you have said in your posting. I have had some thoughts along the lines that you mention in the foregoing paragraph. I wonder whether I should post those thoughts. If I do, then maybe I should put them into another thread. I'll think about that...

    You got that right! Don't think that I underestimate the scope of the project. It actually is so large that although I speak glibly of the rewards being measured in terms of gaining another planet, it is not clear that there would be profits that make sense in terms of current economic concepts. For one thing, we are speaking about a project that would take at least several centuries even to adjust the planet's rotation satisfactorily; and probably 1000 years or thereabouts to make serious progress with the (I hesitate to call it "terraforming", because the results would be so different from Earth) ground-level engineering.
    I argue that the sheer scope of the profits (a whole new planet...) is several orders of magnitude beyond the costs, and this certainly is true. However, how do we go about defining the economics of a project that will show no profit during the lifetimes of our great great great great great great grandchildren?
    Even if we get our act together and extend the human mind and longevity to scales are rational for a social species whose major intellectual, psychological, and experiential capital is in the minds of its individuals. As things stand, our functional lives our ridiculously short for any of our conscious objectives. Unless we overcome that, our only possible purpose as a species could resemble some meta-purpose, or meta-consciousness, such as Aunt Hillary in "Goedel, Escher, Bach" by Hofstadter.
    A social insect (such as indeed, a termite) might have no difficulty with that question, but a human?
    Now, as you have, I am sure, fully realised, this is a fun idea for me. I have no intention of running out, breaking through the cordon of bodyguards, and buttonholing some of the current superpower presidents to move them to start a super-Manhattan Project to conquer Venus and Mercury (Mercury is a honey! But I think I will let that proposal simmer on the backburner for now. Still, I hope you can see the rationality of the insight that the inner planets are where our short-term future prospects lie.)
    At the same time, beyond the fun, I cannot escape a chill feeling that if we do not break into the point of view, the hubris, that would permit humanity to tackle such projects, we are doomed. Doomed in this century? Probably not. Doomed in this millennium? Very likely not, if certain trends can be managed. But doomed certainly. A single planet, even without having to deal with our destructive tendencies as a species, is a sterile bottle. We break out or perish in our own midden.
    But, for a somewhat warmer feeling, maybe I should start a few related threads. Thanks for the encouragement so far.
  12. Sep 3, 2010 #11
    OK, now, this is ridiculous.
  13. Sep 3, 2010 #12
    Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that the Ijsselmeer dam is in some ways a very illuminating model. It is a fascinating subject and I commend it to your attention in case you do not happen to know much about it. Wikipedia is a good place to start.
    Now, the point I am getting at is not so much that the project is big, but that because it is big its actual objectives have changed during its history. They bid fair to change again, if not actually continually. Such change is not the kind of thing that one naïvely associates with engineering projects, but on such scales and larger, I reckon that we very much do need to think in such terms.
    In nature there are many models for such indirect or unforeseen changes in the direction and context of development.
    Beware! As a line of thought, this one is fit to swallow minds.
  14. Sep 3, 2010 #13
    Very likely, but could you please elaborate a bit? Are you referring to the time scale, the project, the objectives, the economics, the engineering, the...
    Come on, if you bothered to reply, you could say a bit more than that surely?
    Thanks in anticipation,o:)
  15. Sep 3, 2010 #14
    Jon, chill.
    Your theory and thrust has no substance of "doable" applicability.
  16. Sep 3, 2010 #15
    I didn't actually, though I'll take your word for it. But are you talking about the Venus thing or the hangovers etc?
  17. Sep 3, 2010 #16
    Jon, we can not just adjust the earths rotation with some sense of specificity:
    This is not possible with current technology at all. The forces demanded are far greater than we could produce. Even with nuclear devices.
    Our earth is very massive.
    Not to mention the fact that, if we could do that, it would be extremely dangerous to alter what we have now.
  18. Sep 3, 2010 #17
    Why not? It might be a large project by current standards, but so was the Ijsselmeer project in its day. The technology is a modest, quantifiable extrapolation of what we know, and much of what we would need to do in preparation would have thoroughly doable and material benefit even if we changed our minds halfway.

    So far you have not said anything beyond denial. It is not as though I were suggesting the colonisation of Mars or a universal Zodiocracy, is it? As an engineering project it is rational in terms of resources, mechanisms and rewards. What more is necessary, beyond commitment?

    Let's hear something substantial; I am not in a snit. I am dead serious. I really do want some remarks. Have you identified a single obstacle, let alone anything that comes anywhere near rivalling what I see as the real killer: the Termite/Monkey dichotomy? Or the (closely related) problem of long-term projects in our current ideas of economy?

    The fact of the matter is that we are doomed, but the reason we are doomed is nit that we couldn't do it but that, being monkeys, we won't. :cry:
  19. Sep 3, 2010 #18
    I am going to retire for the evening/morning and allow you to reflect on those thoughts.
    Nite, nite...
  20. Sep 3, 2010 #19
    Thank you for coming back, but are we talking about the same thing? You said that we cannot adjust the Earth's rotation, and with minor reservations, I agree. As for the use of nuclear devices for any such purpose, that really would be ridiculous! For one thing, I doubt that all the nuclear devices we could scrape together would suffice. But how did the adjustment of the rotation of Earth get into this? I never mentioned that, and if anyone has any ideas as to why we should want to do this, do let me know please, I am absolutely stumped!
    What I proposed was to change the rotation of Venus, and I explained both why and how. You will notice that in comparison to any plausible adjustment to the Earth's rotation, the problems would be trivial.
    Thanks again,
  21. Sep 3, 2010 #20
    Uh, what?!!! Your kidding, right?

    No offense intended, but that is simply beyond ridiculous. The energy required is mind-numbling enormous.
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