A green planet gone bad—relax, it's just a video game
A planet in near ecological ruin is in desperate need of alternative energy sources, including solar, water and wind. Obvious parallels with today's Earth aside, this predicament describes the PowerUp sci-fi multiplayer online game recently launched by IBM, not a company typically associated with gaming. PowerUp emerged from the TryScience initiative (sponsored by IBM, the New York Hall of Science and the Association of Science-Technology Centers), whose goal is to get children interested in conservation as well as engineering, science and technology. They aim to use video games as the medium for that message, an approach that Electronic Arts Inc. has likewise pursued with its recent SimCity Societies release. In PowerUp, players are encouraged, for example, to ride over rugged mountains in buggies, build solar towers or search through junk yards to find parts to repair wind turbines. The twist is that this crippled society had already solved its energy problems through the use of sun, water and wind power, only to become complacent and abandon these green technologies. Talk about science fiction!
Whoops, the sun may vaporize Earth after all
British researchers report they've revamped their calculations of Earth's fate during the sun's predicted death, starting about 6.5 billion years from now—and it's not looking good. Their earlier thinking was that as the sun expanded into a red giant, it would shed considerable mass in the form of solar wind, which would weaken its pull on Earth enough for the planet's orbit to enlarge, thereby avoiding destruction, if not a good charring. Now they say one tiny factor was overlooked: the fact that the sun's wispy but expansive outer atmosphere would exert a drag on our mother world, causing it to plunge into the raging red monster and be vaporized. You might think there's nothing to be done, but it ain't necessarily so: They optimistically note that if we could orchestrate a near miss between Earth and a large asteroid once every 6,000 years, we could gradually nudge our planet's orbit far enough out to stay intact and even habitable. Or we could jump ship to another planet. Just a thought. (uk.arXiv.org)