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The Webfooted Astronomer - December 2000


Minutes: Mini-Magnetosphere Plasma Propulsion

Leslie Irizarry

THE October 2000 SAS meeting began with election of officers for the board of directors. The following were elected:
President: Mary Ingersoll
Vice President Programming: George Best
Vice President Education, Karl Schroeder
Vice President Membership: Ron Leamon
Secretary: Greg Donohue
Treasurer: Judy Schroeder
Vice President Publicity: Brian Allen

Next month's SAS meeting has been changed to Dec. 2. Dark Skies Northwest will be sponsoring an all-day event. From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. various speakers will present on topics relating to dark skies and light pollution. In the evening at 7:30 p.m., Dave Crawford will speak on Light Pollution's Impact on Astronomy. He is the executive director of the international Dark Sky Association from Tucson.

Other topics include the effects of light on circadian rhythm and mood. Speakers include: Jack Sales, the chair of California Section of the IDA; Woody Sullivan on satellite observation; Bill Hughes, a lighting engineer from Portland; Del Armstrong, an expert on sports lighting; Angela Squires from Vancouver on protecting the night skies of Vancouver. Karl Shroeder established the chapter and Bruce Weertman is the director of Dark Skies Northwest.

A "Pajama Party in the Planetarium" will be held on Dec. 20. Contact Mary Ingersoll for more information. The Annual Banquet will be held Saturday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m. Cost is $28. Choices of dinners include: prime rib, salmon, or vegetarian plate. Please send your checks to Jerry West, 9109 27th NW.

There is a wine and dessert lecture on astrobiology on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Peter Ward and Don Brownlee will be the speakers.

Bruce Weertman gave a talk to Friends of Goldendale Observatory and the Tacoma Astronomical Society.

Mini-Magnetosphere Plasma Propulsion

Mary Ingersoll introduced the speaker, Dr. Robert Winglee, the developer of M2P2 (Mini-magnetosphere plasma propulsion). Dr. Winglee is a Space Physicist who is involved in science-based engineering at the University of Washington.

Voyager 1 in 1977 travels at 16 km/sec. It is currently at 80 AU. The solar wind's influence is at 150 AU. If exploration of distant planets will occur in Dr. Winglee's lifetime, a method of travel that exceeds the speed that can be attained through chemical propellants must be devised. What is needed is fast propulsion, which also provides radiation shielding.

Alternatives may include nuclear power. (The program developing this got bigger and more expensive, and was cancelled.) NASA is trying to do this with a solar sail. The sail is thinner than cellophane and as big as a football field.

What Dr. Winglee proposes is a magnetic bubble that picks up wind from the sun. The solar wind distorts the plasma and pushes the craft along. It can travel 350 km/sec. (compare that with Voyager I's 16 km/sec). At that speed, it would take 10 seconds to travel from Seattle to Washington D.C. The magnetic bubble provides a magnetic field around the spacecraft that looks like a Slinky. Because the solar wind is made of electrons and protons, they will deflect against the magnetic field and thus protect the occupants from radiation.

Magnetospheres are ubiquitous. On an X-ray picture of the sun, one can see a much more dynamic system. Storms on the sun are electrical storms of unprecedented proportion. The arches will grow and expand. There is an effusion of the magnetic field's forces out into space. These are the ones we want to catch.

If you want to have an interaction between two magnets, you must place them very close together. You can expand the magnetic field through plasma. The Earth's planetary magnetosphere shields us out to 10 Earth radii. Mars has a smaller magnetosphere. Jupiter has a very large magnetosphere—it has a very large plasma source due to spinning very fast. There are magnetospheres on all scales—solar system, planetary, solar, and so forth. Dr. Winglee thought, "Why not get them on a smaller scale?" He developed a bubble with a formation of a 15-30 km magnetic wall (the size of Seattle). It would intercept more than a megawatt via electromagnetic plasma interaction. It is not mechanical.

The structure is basically comprised of a radio frequency antenna surrounded by a magnetic field coil. Heated gas is fed into this, expanding the size of the magnetic field. The expansion of the bubble is to get more and more interception with the solar wind. The concept is basically putting gas into a balloon—it gets bigger and bigger. "Plasma and magnetic field and energy and away we go."

This is the only propulsion device that is also a radiation shield. The solar wind is a free energy source.

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