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Colonizing the Trans-Neptunians

Golan2072

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this thread has got me thinking about Kuiper-belt objects as possible worlds which might be visited or even colonized; but, of course, there are the technical issues related to operating in such low temperatures (12 Kelvin IIRC on Sedna). Also, would the local natural resources (various frozen volatiles?) be economically profitable to exploit, or, for the very least, useful as raw materials for a colony? In other words, what do you think are the prospects for a colony on Pluto or Sedna or a similar object?
 
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Out among the KBOs IMTU you're likely to find the archetypal grizzled old prospector with his battered seeker and his modular habitat and his portable distillery, scraping together enough to justify an in-system jump to the mainworld once or twice a year to sell his load and buy supplies - between trips he feeds ice to his fuel tanks to keep the fusion plant burning.

Other than that, the only regular inhabitants of the outermost reaches of a star system IMTU are those who want to avoid contact - a research lab that deals in methyl ethyl badstuff, or a military base that tests experimental weapons, or pyrates.
 
Some of those planets could be as big as Mars, they'll have frozen gasses in their crusts., It would probably be hard to get at some rock down below, but with all this potential fusion fuel around, you have a method of warming them up. With a large enough fusion reactor, you can heat up one of the big ones and ultimately terraform it. The most interesting thing about it, is that these objects are so remote, that the rest of the Solar System may not know about the one your working on. While the 8 planets in the inner solar system are well know, you can have a scenario with an eccentric scientist with his legion of robots going out to the outer Solar System and finding a Mars-sized Plutonian, and with his robots be builds a giant fusion powered artificial sun to heat up this planet. The atmosphere will expand rising up off the crust, the the crust will likely melt into gases and liquids, including eventually water. Knowing what we know about these types of outer bodies, a Mars size Plutonid will probably be at least half volitiles with a rocky crust somewhere near the center. To terraform a Plutonid, you have to boil away most of the volatiles exposing some of the rocky crust. Once you do that, you can begin to terraform the planet.
 
Originally posted by Laryssa:
With a large enough fusion reactor, you can heat up one of the big ones and ultimately terraform it.
I'm not sure what you mean by 'terraform' in this context. What kind of lifeforms do you see surviving the deep cold and the miniscule amounts of solar radiation? These bodies aren't big enough to generate much in the way of seismic heat on their own (as opposed to the tidally-flexed satellites of gas giants) and they're too small to hang onto enough atmosphere to create a greenhouse effect.

:confused:
 
Well if the environment was cold with miniscule amounts of solar radiation, the planets wouldn't be terraformed would they. Terraforming planets this way out means in large part replacing the sun with something else. We really don't know how big these bodies get, they certainly seem larger than the asteroids, and some scientists say they could get as large as the planet Mars. Seismic activity really has little to do with short term terraforming.
 
Originally posted by Laryssa:
Well if the environment was cold with miniscule amounts of solar radiation, the planets wouldn't be terraformed would they.
:confused:

Well what were you referring to then in your post about terraforming KBOs?
Originally posted by Laryssa:
Terraforming planets this way out means in large part replacing the sun with something else.
Agreed - so what are you proposing as an alternative?

An ecosystem needs energy inputs so that producers can produce. Solar radiation and geothermal energy are two examples - absent those, what do you suggest?

I modeled an ecosystem based on the breaking of chemical energy bonds in crustal materials but the ecosystem consisted entirely of microscopic lifeforms, nothing multicelluar and certainly nothing with organ systems.

How do you envision a functional ecology without an energy source?
Originally posted by Laryssa:
We really don't know how big these bodies get, they certainly seem larger than the asteroids, and some scientists say they could get as large as the planet Mars. Seismic activity really has little to do with short term terraforming.
As noted, seismic activity is a potential engergy source for biotic communities absent sufficient sunlight, so it's quite relevant to discussion about making a planet earth-like.

A Mars-size world may generate some thermal stresses as the crust cools and contracts - whether that's enough of an energy input to support an ecosystem is a subject of conjecture. In any case it's unlikely to be sufficient to support anything beyond microscopic organisms.

Tom, you suggested terraforming these KBOs - how would you go about it?
 
Even if you boiled off the frozen gases the planet is going to need sufficient mass/gravity to retain the gases to form an atmosphere for any period over a few centuries. Would a Mars sized KBO be massive enough? I doubt it.

If you are transporting enough material, fusion power plants, robots, and lights to terraform the world somebody is bound to notice the 'secret' activity of the eccentric scientist and investigate. What grand scheme could possibly motivate someone to do such a thing considering the expense and necessary support to accomplish the terraforming in the first place. Seems like it would be easier to pick a planet closer to it's star than a KBO would be in an uninhabitated system and do his dirty terraforming deeds there.
IMO
 
You would need a giant fusion reactor, and a huge number of robots to do the grunt labor. Possible von neuman type robots that build more of themselves out of local material to get the job done. The fusion reactor would fuse hydrogen and more hydrogen will be mixed with the hot fusion products to lower the temperature to get the fammiliar yellow glow that is a characteristic of the sun. this hot yellow plasma would then be collected by a magnetic field before it escaped and then remixed with fresh fusion products from the reactor to maintian the temperature of the sunlike plasma. From the surface of the planet this would look like a yellow disk similar in appearance to the sun. In reality it is very similar to a fusion rocket except that the magnetic field captures the exhaust and recycles it, this doesn't produce much net thrust, some plasma leaks out toward the planet, so the reactor pushes away from the planet, but this can be balanced by the planet's gravity.

The fusion reactor has a huge diameter as it must present a yellow sunlike disk to all point on one hemisphere of the planet at a time. The disk is either stationary and held in place against the planets gravity by its own rocket thrust or it orbits very slowly around the planet so that slight centrifugal force makes up for the difference between the rocket thrust of the artifical sun and the planet's gravity. All this is contrived to give the planet a 24-hour day/night cycle. The Fusion rocket exhaust is not particularly focused, it doesn't cook the planet although the hot energetic particals make of a kind of solar wind and an Aurora borealis appears high in the planet's atmosphere at the poles if it has a magnetic field or all over if it does not. This is not just KBOs, it can also be done for interstellar rogue planets, which may be of any size. An Earth sized planet might even be found, chances are however that you may have to boil off a Neptune-sized body before you get a rocky planet the size of Earth.
 
Originally posted by Randy Tyler:
Even if you boiled off the frozen gases the planet is going to need sufficient mass/gravity to retain the gases to form an atmosphere for any period over a few centuries. Would a Mars sized KBO be massive enough? I doubt it.
The atmosphere would not be as intensely affected by stripping effects of the solar wind or collisions as in the early solar system, and photodisassociation would be less, but even if you could get an atmosphere around the KBO, all you have is cold methane - decidedly un-terran.

I want to know the next step: moving from a dead world to a living, "terraformed" one. What's the ecosystem energy source?
Originally posted by Randy Tyler:
If you are transporting enough material, fusion power plants, robots, and lights to terraform the world somebody is bound to notice the 'secret' activity of the eccentric scientist and investigate. What grand scheme could possibly motivate someone to do such a thing considering the expense and necessary support to accomplish the terraforming in the first place. Seems like it would be easier to pick a planet closer to it's star than a KBO would be in an uninhabitated system and do his dirty terraforming deeds there.
IMO
Yep.

On the most basic level, is the cost and effort justified? It would have to be some pretty spectacular collection of resources to reward the effort - this isn't something likely to be done on a lark.

Are there enough significant trans-Neptunian natural resources that can be extracted economically? I don't know enough about the outermost solar system to have an informed opinion on this.
 
How can this be done in secret? Well space is a very big place, one has to look in escatly the right place to find the planet that is being so modified, and the directions you have to search in would be in all directions around the sun, not just in the plane of the ecliptic. KBOs don't ahdere to the ecpliptic planet, they may orbit the Sun at any odd inclination, their orbits may be circular or elliptical, at this distance from the Sun, it doesn't really matter. The illumination received from the actual Sun is too slight to make a difference.
 
Originally posted by Black Globe Generator:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Randy Tyler:
Even if you boiled off the frozen gases the planet is going to need sufficient mass/gravity to retain the gases to form an atmosphere for any period over a few centuries. Would a Mars sized KBO be massive enough? I doubt it.
The atmosphere would not be as intensely affected by stripping effects of the solar wind or collisions as in the early solar system, and photodisassociation would be less, but even if you could get an atmosphere around the KBO, all you have is cold methane - decidedly un-terran.

I want to know the next step: moving from a dead world to a living, "terraformed" one. What's the ecosystem energy source?
Originally posted by Randy Tyler:
If you are transporting enough material, fusion power plants, robots, and lights to terraform the world somebody is bound to notice the 'secret' activity of the eccentric scientist and investigate. What grand scheme could possibly motivate someone to do such a thing considering the expense and necessary support to accomplish the terraforming in the first place. Seems like it would be easier to pick a planet closer to it's star than a KBO would be in an uninhabitated system and do his dirty terraforming deeds there.
IMO
Yep.

On the most basic level, is the cost and effort justified? It would have to be some pretty spectacular collection of resources to reward the effort - this isn't something likely to be done on a lark.

Are there enough significant trans-Neptunian natural resources that can be extracted economically? I don't know enough about the outermost solar system to have an informed opinion on this.
</font>[/QUOTE]There is always more Universe, planets probably outnumber stars, and alot of them most likely don't orbit stars but travel through interstellar space seperately. The lower the mass of the object, the more numerous it is likely to be. One motivation for terraforming these planets is simply to live there. If you live on a planet orbiting a star, everybody knows your address. If their is no FTL travel, you neighbors can't conquer you, as they can't control what they conquer due to communications lag, but they may try to kill you instead, or their may be interstellar "Ghengis Khan" like hordes traveling from planet to planet, plundering, raping, pillaging. If you don't want to be bothered by these interstellar interlopers, then you might choose a less visble and know place to live. If you terraform a planet in interstellar space, the reflected light and the light and radiation emited by the fusion reactor/articial sun would be alot less than that coming from a natural star. Also it is possible for a war to envelope the entire visible Solar System, you might want to live at an address where the enemy, who want's to destroy all life can't find you. The world is littered with fanatics who kill purely for the sake of killing, that might not change when people move into space, and technology gives a few crazy individuals alot more power to disrupt civilization than it had before. But to kill you, they must first find you.
 
Originally posted by Laryssa:
You would need a giant fusion reactor...
A fusion-reactor artificial sun sounds like an infeasible and incredibly inefficient solution that requires far more energy to operate than it produces.

Even with antimatter as an energy source I don't think this is likely to work.
 
Tom, why don't you start another thread on colonizing interstellar planets, so we can avoid taking this one further off-topic? Just cut and paste your "There is always more Universe..." post as the start of a new thread, and we can pick up the discussion there.
 
A fusion-reactor artificial sun sounds like an infeasible and incredibly inefficient solution that requires far more energy to operate than it produces.

Have you got a better way to do this? A giant mirror seems impractical.
 
Originally posted by Laryssa:
Have you got a better way to do this? A giant mirror seems impractical.
I agree that the mirror isn't feasible either.

I don't think there is a better way to do it - terraforming worlds so far beyond a star's habitable zone is an exercise in futility. Any KBO outposts - I hesitate to call them colonies - are going to be small, contained affairs for the most part.

About the only sizable settlement I could see would be something like a hollowed-out asteroid containing artificial habitats akin to orbital colonies - and again, you'd have to have a hugely compelling reason to want to tackle the logistical hurdles to manage it so far from the core of the system.
 
Isolation is the key. People out there want to be isolated. Being far from one's enemies and unknown to them is the perfect defense.

I don't know, I think the planets orbiting stars are only the tip of the ice berg. I think there are alot of unseen, unknown planets out there that are closer than the nearest stars,and they are being overlooked by people who concentrate on how to get to the nearest stars bypassing all the interstellar and KBO objects along the way. Frankly there is no difference between a KBO and an interstellar planet anyway except for the fact that one orbits a star and the other does not. I think fusion power is the most feasible source or energy in interstellar space as hydrogen is the commonest element. Antimatter suffers from the lack of antimatter, you not going to find much of it in interstellar space.

One advantage of interstellar planets is that if gives you lots of time. If you have something like Low Berths in Traveller, you can build your artifical sun, warm up the planet, boil away excess volatiles, a methane atmosphere makes an excellent greenhouse gas, although it would last under the UV rays produced by your artifial sun. In low berths the colonists can wait a long time for their planet to be completely terraformed, robots will take care of the terraforming and maintaining the environment and since the planet is unknown to all except the colonists, it is unlikely to be interfered with by the rest of humanity, and if humanity destroys itself, then this colony will go on, since the agents of humanity's destruction doesn't know about this isolated colony, though it is likely to check all the nearest stars.
 
I'd have to agree with BGG on this one. To create a fusion power source in orbit, just to warm the planet by its exhaust, would be incredibly inefficient, and a fusion source that powerful would be visible from quite some distance anyway. A mini-planet does, however, have advantages over an asteroid, in that its surface volatiles are effectively inexhaustible. You could have a terraformed, partially terraformed, or hydroponic environment, run by a fusion source drawing fuel directly from the planet indefinitely, but it would have to be domed or tunnelled, comprising perhaps a few million dtons per settlement with monorail links between settlements. You might even get a form of artificial sunlight by using mirrors to reflect your exhaust, but personally I'd go for conventional lighting and a solarium.
The best your mad scientist could hope for out there is the sort of thing James Bond blows up, but is that so bad?
 
Another alternative is to have the light source on the planet. Have a number of fusion reactors sitting on the surface, if your going to do that, you might as well give the planet an artificial surface. The planet would probably be 50% ices, all fusion fuels, by mining some nearby moons where the rocky core is closer, you can effectively cover over the entire surface of the frozen planet, the fusion reactor would be below the surface with access to the forzen volatiles, it would melt the icy mantle releasing gases, hydrogen, methane, liquifying water, the hydrogen would be seperated out and pumped into the fusion reactors. The fusion reactors would generate power to illuminate light sources high on the tops of towers projecting from the surface. the towers could be quite high if you are buiding over the entire planet's surface, making a tower that was 10 kilometers tall wouldn't be a problem. On top of the planets surface you could put soil and trees with various bodies of water strategically located to give all areas of vegitation sufficiant water. The planet would effectively be self-illuminating with multiple "suns" on towers in the sky providing sufficient illumination for all the plant and animal life on the surface. I think this would be more efficient than a seperate sun orbiting the planet.
 
I think the average seperation of the towers would be about 20 kilometers between every two, the angle of sunshine would never be greater that 45 degrees at any point on the surface.
 
Except for certain xenophobes I think the only type of colony would be for mining operations (or Ancients' site research). Even the mining colony would have to be a desperate operation considering that what can normally be found on a KBO in the extreme outer system could be found on planets and moons closer to a star and more readily available and easier to exploit.

EDIT:Corrected spelling of xenophobes from zenophobics.

Definition of xenophobes
 
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