Satellite Surfing

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Satellite Surfing

The sun is expanding and eventually the Earth will be toast. However, scientists have come up with a cunning plan….

Forget the ozone layer. If you thought global warming was caused by pollution and rampant deforestation, get set to be scared – Earth has a bigger problem.

The sun is expanding. The fireball that is mildly overheating us right now will toast us, then roast us to cinders, then engulf us. This isn’t a piece of apocalyptic astrology but the conclusions of a study by astronomers Don Korycansky of the University of California, Michigan University’s Fred Adams and Gregory Laughlin of NASA.

Luckily, the scientists have come up with an answer. As the sun gets hotter, all we have to do is move the Earth. They calculate that an asteroid 62 miles across, passing close to our orbit, would bounce us further into space like a billiard ball. It’s called the ‘slingshot effect’ and is the same high-velocity physics which saved the astronauts of the Apollo 13 mission when they used the Moon’s gravity to hurl themselves back to Earth. All we have to do is find the right asteroid and deflect it towards us. We’d better get the aim right, because if a 62-mile wide lump of inter-planetary rubble slams into Yorkshire, none of us will have to concern ourselves with global warming anymore.

Space isn’t all bad news. Two US companies – Starband and DirecPC – have satellite dishes which pick up internet signals. The dishes require a clear view of the southern horizon, so they’re little use to urbanites. But to Americans on farms or in the suburbs, the system represents affordable high-speed connection. Installation of Starband costs about Ł400, with a Ł40-plus monthly rental. DirecPC, launching later this year, could be cheaper. Users will get download speeds of upto half a megabyte per second – about 10 times faster than your average modem.

Signals travel 44,000 miles from the internet server, up beyond the atmosphere and into space, then back to your dish. That’s taking the long route, but at the speed of light, it’s a short trip of less than a second. The delay is to much for video-conferencing or even sophisticated gameplay, but it’s acceptable for long-distance phonecalls and irrelevant to email and online chat.

I predict satellite weblinks will soon be the norm, enabling anyone to connect at high speed to the internet wherever they are, even on the move.

The Alpine global positioning technology in my car can pinpoint my position to within a few yards anywhere in Europe – the same satellites could soon deliver websites at lightning speeds to my notebook. Oh, and don’t worry too much about those US astronomers and their expanding-sun-theory – the first effects aren’t expected to hit us for another thousand million years.


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