We're running out of Plutonium-238, which is critical for space exploration. We have about 36 pounds left, Curiosity took 11 pounds from our stock.
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Posted 21 September 2013 - 08:27 AM
Doesn't the sun shine pretty much every day in space?
Posted 22 September 2013 - 03:47 AM
Yes, but there is more limited power as you go out. We really can't use them past Jupiter, and I believe that there are limited applications there as well. One reason to not use them on Curiosity is probably the size of the rover and having to deal with dust storms.
Posted 22 September 2013 - 10:58 AM
Sunpower goes down by the square if the radius - so when you're talkin the distances involved even just with the solar system - there is a tiny fraction of the sunpower available at earth compared to the sunpower available at jupiter - imagine the tiny fraction available at Neptune / Pluto...
Posted 22 September 2013 - 11:35 AM
Even at Pluto, the sun would appear extremely bright, about magnitude -19, but it wouldn't appear much more than an extremely bright star.
Posted 28 September 2013 - 11:45 AM
Hmmm. I wonder if the North Koreans and maybe even the Iranians realize they may be the only plutonium-238 producers left and have a sellers market?
EDIT: Yes, I read the article. My comment was intended only to create a sense of irony as the article says: "U.S. production came primarily from two nuclear laboratories that created plutonium-238 as a byproduct of making bomb-grade plutonium-239."
Edited by phrelin, 28 September 2013 - 11:50 AM.
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Posted 31 October 2013 - 11:23 AM
I received the current issue of The Planetary Report, and there was an article about this topic. I don't believe the article is available to non-members of the Planetary Society, but the podcast where he discussed it is available.
The US is now making more Plutonium-238, about 3 pounds a year. The Department of Energy is the only one allowed to make it, but NASA has to pay for it out of their planetary sciences budget, at a cost of about $15 million a year. Congress has denied the DOE's requests for the funds.
It's worth the reminder that what they are creating is Plutonium-238 and not -239. 238 cannot be used for nuclear weapons. It just doesn't work. This is what gets me when I am forwarded the whole "margarine is one molecule away from plastic" warning. Even if it was true, one neutron in an atom can make a very big difference, or add one atom to a molecule and change the bonds, you go from pure water to a deadly chemical.
Posted 01 November 2013 - 10:07 AM
I received the current issue of The Planetary Report, and there was an article about this topic. I don't believe the article is available to non-members of the add one atom to a molecule and change the bonds, you go from pure water to a deadly chemical.
Pure water is a deadly chemical. It kills thousands every year, mostly through accidental inhalation...
Posted 01 November 2013 - 02:04 PM
Ok, true. Though drinking a glass of pure water the normal way does not cause the same symptoms as hydrogen peroxide. A relative thought they had an argument against me by saying, if is so dangerous, why do they sell it at every drug store. He seemed to forget the dilution factor. But chemistry can be a strange science.