A dramatic computer-animated simulation, produced by NHK Japan and the National Film Board of Canada, depicts what would happen if an asteroid measuring 500 kilometers (300 mi) in diameter collided with Earth.
The massive asteroid -- larger than Japan's main island of Honshu -- is traveling at a speed of over 720,000 kilometers per hour (450,000 mph) when it crashes into the Pacific about 1,500 kilometers (1,000 mi) south of Japan. The impact causes the crust of the Earth to peel away like the skin of an orange, in what is called a "crust tsunami." Japan and a large portion of Asia are disintegrated, and chunks of burning rock as large as city blocks are hurled into the atmosphere before raining back down on the planet.
The crater from the impact measures 4,000 kilometers (2,500 mi) across, and the rim stands 7,000 meters (23,000 ft), higher than many mountains on Earth today.
Moments after the impact, a blanket of rock vapor as hot as the sun spreads quickly across the planet, decimating every living thing in its path. The entire planet is covered within one day. The oceans boil under the intense heat, evaporating at a rate of 5 centimeters (2 in) per second until they vanish.
After a year, the rock vapor starts to dissipate and temperatures begin to drop. Within 1,000 years, the evaporated water vapor -- which does not escape into space due to the Earth's size and gravity -- cools, condenses, and falls back as torrential rain. The oceans start to fill, and life begins again.
It is thought that asteroid impacts of this magnitude have happened six times in the past.
This simulation was featured in "Miracle Planet" (Episode 1 - The Violent Past), a five-part documentary about the 4.6-billion-year history of the Earth.
Here is a collection of sci-fi illustrations by the prolific Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915-2001), whose fantastic work appeared on plastic model kit boxes and in magazines and picture books in the 1960s to 1970s. Click the "+" under each image for a larger view.
Japanese construction firm Shimizu Corporation has developed a series of bold architectural plans for the world of tomorrow. Here is a preview of seven mega-projects that have the potential to reshape life on (and off) Earth in the coming decades.
* * * * *
- Luna Ring
In response to the ever-growing demand for energy, Shimizu has developed plans for the Luna Ring, a project that seeks to transform the Moon into a massive solar power plant.
Luna Ring's 11,000-kilometer (6,800-mile) "solar belt" spans the Moon's equator
Electricity collected by the Luna Ring's enormous "solar belt" is relayed to power conversion facilities located on the near side of the Moon. There, the electricity is converted into powerful microwaves and lasers, which are beamed at Earth. Terrestrial power stations receive the energy beams and convert them back to electricity.
Luna Ring feeds power to energy-hungry Earth
The solar power plant is built mainly using lunar resources. Moon rocks and dust are used to manufacture building materials such as cement, bricks and glass fibers. Water is produced through a chemical process involving lunar soil and hydrogen.
Large machinery and equipment from Earth is assembled in space and landed on the lunar surface for installation. Much of the construction is performed by robots controlled by people on Earth, and a team of human astronauts is stationed on the Moon to supervise the robot operations. [More]
* * * * *
- Green Float
Shimizu's Green Float project seeks to build "botanical" cities that float like giant lily pads in the equatorial Pacific, where sunlight is plentiful and the impact of typhoons is minimal.
Lily pad-like cities at sea
Each floating island features a 1,000-meter (3,300-ft) central tower. The lower section of the tower serves as an industrial area with offices and factories employing 10,000 workers, while the upper section functions as a residential area for 30,000 people. Another 10,000 residents live at ground level, in low-rise townhouses near the beach.
Green Float islands are 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) in diameter and support a population of 40,000
The typical Green Float island landscape consists of forests, grasslands, waterways and reservoirs. A portion of the land is set aside for agriculture and some of the shallow beaches are used for cultivating seafood, making the islands 100% food self-sufficient.
The eco-friendly Green Float cities rely on a variety of natural energy sources, including wave, wind and solar power, as well as ocean thermal energy conversion.
Green Float islands join to form a floating metropolis
Green Float islands are built upon a floating base of connected hexagonal tubes that each weigh 7,000 tons and measure 20 meters (65 ft) across and 50 meters (165 ft) deep. The primary structural material for the honeycomb-like base, as well as for the island's buildings, is magnesium alloy. Seawater -- which is composed of 0.13% magnesium by weight -- is an abundant source of magnesium. One ton of the material can be extracted from 770 tons of seawater. [More]
* * * * *
- Mega-City Pyramid
Shimizu's proposed Mega-City Pyramid is a self-contained city for one million people.
The Mega-City Pyramid stands 2,000 meters (1.25 miles) high
The pyramid-shaped hyperstructure is an assembly of skyscrapers suspended within a skeleton of 350-meter (1,150-ft) long shafts made from lightweight materials (such as carbon and glass fibers).
Residential buildings (left) and office complexes (right) inside Mega-City Pyramid
The skyscrapers within the Mega-City Pyramid are home to residences, offices, research institutions, shopping and entertainment centers, and other facilities. The connecting shafts, which measure from 10 to 16 meters (30 to 50 ft) in diameter, contain the city's plumbing, electrical and communication systems, as well as a network of trains, escalators and moving walkways.
The proposed hyperstructure has a footprint of approximately 8 square kilometers (3 sq mi), and it features an open-air construction that allows sunlight to reach the interior. A network of optical fibers transports sunlight into poorly-lit areas.
Construction of the massive Mega-City Pyramid is facilitated by robots and automated assembly systems, as well as by the use of standardized parts and materials. [More]
* * * * *
- Space Hotel
To capitalize on the coming boom in space tourism, Shimizu has developed plans for a space hotel in low-Earth orbit.
Shimizu Space Hotel, located 450 kilometers (280 mi) above Earth
The hotel -- which is powered entirely by solar energy -- features a microgravity recreational area where guests can enjoy sports, dining, and gazing at the Earth and stars. The 64 guest rooms and 40 staff rooms are situated in a ring measuring 140 meters (460 ft) in diameter. The ring rotates at a speed of 3 rpm to produce an artificial gravity of 0.7 g in the rooms. A 240-meter (790-ft) elevator shaft connects the hotel facilities with the docking port. [More]
* * * * *
- Lunar Bases
For the more adventurous offworld traveler, Shimizu has developed plans for lunar bases.
Lunar bases are the key to establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon
Shimizu's proposed bases feature a modular design of interlocking hexagonal units that can be arranged both horizontally and vertically. The modules are built using concrete made from lunar soil and rock. Tele-operated robots and automated assembly systems are used to construct the bases. [More]
* * * * *
- Urban Geo-Grid Plan
Back on Earth, Shimizu's Urban Geo-Grid Plan seeks to reduce urban congestion and improve the overall efficiency of Tokyo by placing a variety of city functions underground.
Urban Geo-Grid Plan puts much of Tokyo underground
The plan -- which covers an area extending from central Tokyo to the Boso Peninsula on the opposite side of Tokyo Bay -- consists of a vast underground network of so-called "grid points" and "grid stations." Grid points incorporate community facilities such as grocery stores, exhibition halls and public bathhouses, while the larger-scale grid stations incorporate office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, and train stations. An extensive underground transportation network connects the grid points and stations. Moving all these facilities underground frees up an enormous amount of street-level space that can be set aside for parks. [More]
* * * * *
- Desert Aqua-Net Plan
The Desert Aqua-Net Plan seeks to make the desert habitable by constructing a network of lakes and waterways.
Desert Aqua-Net Plan brings water to the desert
The plan involves creating artificial lakes in low-lying desert areas. Islands are constructed in the middle of the lakes, which are filled with seawater channeled inland through canals. The canals connect the lakes to form an extensive water network.
Located 150 kilometers (95 mi) apart, the artificial lakes measure 30 kilometers (20 mi) in diameter and 20 to 30 meters (65-100 ft) deep. The canals running between the lakes measure 50 meters (165 ft) wide and 10 meters (35 ft) deep
The lakes reduce temperatures and increase humidity in the surrounding areas, creating a comfortable and mild environment. Seafood and biomass resources (such as algae and seaweed) can be cultivated in the saltwater lakes, and the canals can be used to transport people and goods between the cities built on the artificial islands. [More]
In an ambitious new project unveiled on April 27, an Osaka-area business group has vowed to put a humanoid robot on the moon by 2015.
The business group, known as SOHLA (Space Oriented Higashiosaka Leading Association), made headlines in January 2009 after their Maido-1 lightning observation microsatellite was launched into orbit. Their new project is to develop a bipedal humanoid robot -- named "Maido-kun" -- which can function in the harsh lunar environment. If all goes as planned, Maido-kun will be ready to travel to the moon in 2015.
SOHLA admits there are a number of obstacles to overcome -- most notably the astronomical development costs (now estimated at 1 billion yen, or $10.5 million) -- but they are optimistic about their pursuit and believe it can help stimulate the local economy by getting small and medium sized manufacturers involved in the development of space technology. At present, SOHLA consists of six local enterprises working in partnership with government-affiliated organizations such as the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
In 2005, JAXA announced bold plans to send bipedal humanoid robots to the moon. However, after recognizing the numerous difficulties that the lunar landscape poses for two-legged humanoids, they decided it would be more feasible to send wheeled robots instead.
Wheels may be more practical than legs, but SOHLA board member Noriyuki Yoshida sees an advantage in robots that look like people. "Humanoid robots are glamorous, and they tend to get people fired up," he says. "We hope to develop a charming robot to fulfill the dream of going to space."
JAXA plans to send their first robot rover to the moon in or around 2015, and SOHLA hopes their Maido-kun humanoid will be able to hitch a ride on the same mission.
Sapporo Breweries has begun selling six-packs of the world's first "space beer" brewed with barley descended from seeds that spent time in space.
For now, only 250 six-packs of the beer, which Sapporo calls “Space Barley," are available for purchase. Customers will be selected at random from those who apply through the Space Barley website before December 24.
The barley used in the beer is the fourth-generation offspring of seeds that spent five months aboard the International Space Station in 2006 as part of research that Sapporo conducted with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University. The aim of the research was to study the adaptability and life cycle of barley in zero-gravity and to explore the challenges of achieving self-sufficient food production in space.
Space Barley beer has a mellow flavor and slightly dark color reminiscent of deep space, according to Sapporo. The six-packs are priced at an astronomical 10,000 yen ($110), but Sapporo will donate the profits to Okayama University, who will use the funds to promote science education for children and foster the development of space science research in Japan and Russia.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the sci-fi art of Japanese illustrator Shusei Nagaoka graced numerous album covers and appeared in a variety of advertisements, magazines, and movie posters. Here is a small sample of his fantastic work. (Click the "+" under each image to enlarge.)
In the latest move in Japan's war on giant jellyfish, high school students in the town of Obama have developed a new type of caramel candy made from the enormous sea creatures -- and they are offering it up as a snack for astronauts in space.
Nomura's jellyfish (Echizen kurage) -- If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em (in space)
The enterprising Obama Fisheries High School students have requested the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to place their chewy treat on the official menu for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The space agency, which appears to be entertaining the proposal, is reportedly sending a representative to the school tomorrow (September 17) to evaluate the candy.
Described as having a sweet and salty flavor, the caramel's ingredients include sugar, starch syrup, and jellyfish powder, which is obtained by boiling the jellyfish down to a thick paste, drying it, and grinding it into fine particles. The most recent batch of caramel uses powder from Nomura's jellyfish snared last month in fixed fishing nets in nearby Wakasa Bay. The bay is located in Fukui prefecture, which has been among the areas hardest hit by the giant jellyfish swarms in recent years.
The students began cooking with Nomura's jellyfish three years ago, after a NASA-designed food safety management system was installed at the school. In 2006, after the school developed a method for processing giant jellyfish into an edible powder, a local company began using it as an ingredient in their jellyfish cookies.
Since then, the students have been searching for new ways to use their jellyfish powder. They are hoping to benefit from the recent raw caramel craze sweeping Japan.
Moonbell is an automated music generator that plays musical scores based on lunar topographical data obtained by Japan's Kaguya (SELENE) explorer during its orbit around the moon from late 2007 to June 2009.
Moonbell, which was developed in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has two playback modes: "Orbit Play" and "Free Scratch." Click the buttons on the bottom right of the screen to switch modes.
In Orbit Play mode, Kaguya traverses the moon in a circular orbit and music is generated based on the topography below. This screen displays Kaguya's orbital path, an altitude graph of the topography, and the corresponding musical notation map. Use your mouse to change Kaguya's location and orbit.
In Free Scratch mode, you can use your mouse to chart a path across the moon's surface. The corresponding music plays in a loop, regardless of how long the path is. The notes are visualized as different colors and patterns on the screen.
To tweak the audio output, click the "Preference" button on the bottom left of the screen. This opens the settings panel, where you can choose from 128 musical instruments for each track, change the playback speed, set the volume for each instrument, and more.
See the "About" page for a complete description of all of Moonbell's functions and controls.
Japan's Himawari-7 (a.k.a. MTSAT-2) weather satellite has beamed back a series of images of Earth captured during the solar eclipse earlier today. Taken at 15-minute intervals from an altitude of 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles), the satellite images show the dark shadow of the Moon racing east across Asia and into the Pacific.