OWL and Computer Technology 



7/16/2003

OWL - The Overwhelmingly Large Telescope
    The OWL has appeared in the news again today:  Astronomers debate the Universe  - BBC. This telescope plan originated in the UK, but has now been embraced by the European Union. With a mirror aperture of 100 meters, it will be 20 times as large as the 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar.  It will be located on Mt. Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert, which already hosts the Very Large Telescope, and other huge telescopes, making it the New astronomy capital of the world | csmonitor. ...

Owl, Eso     With adaptive optical enhancements, the OWL would have a maximum magnification of about 20,000 to 30,000, bringing the alpha-Centauri star system to an apparent distance of about 1,000,000,000 miles (1,620,000,000 kms.) as seen by the naked eye). At that distance, Alpha Centauri A  would be about 1/8th the sun's and the moon's apparent size, subtending about 3.6 minutes of arc, and Alpha Centauri B would be about 1/12th of the sun's apparent size. However, Alpha Centauri A is about half again as bright as the sun, so they'll be quite a show. Also, planets the size of Jupiter ought to show up brightly and visibly. 
    Image enhancement techniques might greatly sharpen the OWL's vsion.

    Given this kind of capability at this time, I could imagine interferometric telescopes that can actually map nearby stellar systems, and conceivably, even resolve features on their planets. Certainly, planetary moons ought to be detectable. 
    Over the next few centuries, I would expect gigantic "telescope farms" in solar orbits. These interferometric telescopes would explore the emissions of the planets of nearby stars. This would be a lot quicker and cheaper than going there, and it would have the added advantage of passive surveillance that wouldn't tip our interstellar neighbors to the fact that they were being investigated. (Given our own record of interaction with less-advanced civilizations, I'm not quite sure why we think that societies that are more enormously more  technologically advanced than ours are something that we'd want to find... like learning that the monsters under the bed are really there.)
    The light from the Keck twin 10-meter (400-inch) telescopes located on Hawaii's Mauna Kea (Twin Super-scopes Join Forces to Spy on Newborn Solar System... - FirstScience),  is combined interferometrically 
to provide the equivalent of a single 85-meter telescope. 
    It seems reasonable to suppose that four OWL telescopes at the corners of a square one kilometer on a side might be able to resolve an Earth-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri system. And systems with larger separations might begin to see major features on these planets.
    One technique that might present itself over the next few decades might be instantaneous communication by quantum entanglement. This could be a reason we haven't heard from anyone out there might be that they communicate with each other with no propagation delays by employing quantum entanglement. And they might not have an interest in communicating with a species that is so primitive that it uses electromagnetic radiation for communication, or because (a la Fred Saberhagen's "berserker robots") there is something so terrible that no wiser civilization wants to betray its presence.
    One potential problem with instantaneous communication or instantaneous material transfer is that by accelerating at the receiving end to relativistic speeds, transferring back to our point of departure, and then decelerating to match the speed we had at our starting point, we would find that we had transferred to either the past or the future at our starting point.
    One possible way this might be accomplished with a minimum of paradoxes would be if we were to be transferred to an infinitesimally different time track (world line) than the one we were on (per the "many worlds" hypothesis in quantum mechanics). Of course, this would open the option of exploring alternate worlds, and might replace interstellar travel as the preferred venue for exploration. However, it would raise the question of why we haven't had visitors from alternate worlds (assuming that we haven't).
    Feedback with zero propagation delay would make it possible to remotely control, as though it were right next door, equipment on Mars or even in other stellar systems .



Computer Technology
    Today, for the first time, I encountered mention of plans for the 15-nanometer node... chips with features 1/9th the size of those on current chips: Jury still out on 157-nm lithography - El. Engr. Times , Heard on the Beat: Intel looking at nano-imprint litho? - Silicon Strategies., Intel keeping options open at 32-nm node - El. Engr. Times.  Fifteen-nanometer chips would permit the fabrication of 64-gigabit DRAM memory chips, and might enable the incorporation of terabyte memories on desktop computers... or in robotic devices. Furthermore, there is mention of several generations beyond the 32-nanometer insertion node.
    The 32-nanometer node is targeted by Intel for 2009. If Intel keeps up the pace, 22-nanometer features will appear in 2011 (Intel says it is already producing 20-nanometer prototypes), 15-to-16-nanometer chips in 2013, and 11-nanometer chips in 2015.
    It's amazing to me that semiconductor technology can remain feasible down to such minute sizes. Ten years ago, there were learned predictions that once circuit features got below about 200 nanometers, bulk properties such as wires and transistors would leak because of quantum-mechanical effects.
    There seem to be no show-stoppers for at least 10 more years, and 10 years is as far ahead as we've ever been promised, and well beyond anything that was suggested in the latter nineties.
    One might justifiably ask:  why should we want more capable computers? Aren't computers already capable enough?
    To me, the answer to that is revealed when we look at the processing power that nervous systems possess, and what it will take to replicate their capabilities. Also, what's important is probably not the speeds of desktop computers but the speeds of low-cost microprocessor chips that are found in the world around us. Then, too, if you asked computer owners in 1993 whether computers were fast enough, many of them would have said "yes", but you probably wouldn't find many people willing to go back to a 486, with 4 MB of RAM, a 14.4 kb modem, and an 80-megabyte bard drive (and no speakers or CD drive).
    A century from now, what we have today will seem too quaint and tiny for words.












Home

Future Index