Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Sunday, November 13, 2005

  Life on Aten Asteroids?

One of the reasons I'm big on asteroids in Aten orbits is that they have a surface temperature range that passes through what is required for life. 2062 Aten, the lead asteroid in the class, has a mean surface temp of 275 degrees kelvin, which translates out to 35 degrees fahrenheit - chilly, but survivable. I don't have any data on the temperature range (min and max) such asteroids go through, but it stands to reason that some have a range of surface or interior temps within the known earth-life-and hardware survivable range. Still looking for data... I think there is an ideal temp range for spacecraft and habitable structures, but I don't know what it is. (hardened COTS computer hardware has a comfort zone of -40c to +80c - some might say -40 to +100c is feasible - but what of the other components?)

And what kind of raw materials would be available on a typical aten? Too hot, and you have no volatiles. Too cold, and cellular metabolisms can't function. Construction of shelter is easy, use an instant shelter, and just add water.... Or adapt a spacehab... you might want to burrow down a dozen meters both for insulation and extra radiation shielding.

The main problem is getting rid of heat in a near vacuum, there would have to be a heat exchanger mounted in the crust. You need one anyway, to boil out various volatiles.

Transport back from an Aten is straightforward - if you use a restartable engine like the Vulcain or the RS-72. Same fuel (NTO/MMH) that took you out takes you in, but this time you end up in Earth orbit with plenty of extra fuel. How much extra fuel typically? Take a wild guess (and comment). (take a look at an Ariane upper stage dry and wet, that should help...)

Wouldn't it be cool if something like a hydrogen-sulfide metabolism could survive on an asteroid?

I've been worrying a bit about the newly discovered class of Aphohele asteroids, which orbit just inside Earth's orbit. While only 2 have been definitively discovered, at least 50 are projected to exist. As they spend most of their time in the Sun's glare, they are very hard for Spaceguard in its present form to spot.

Mean surface temp on 2003 CP20 is a blistering 323K (122F).

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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