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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#173 - Jim Al-Khalili - Znamya

This week we chat with awesome British theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili, author and familiar voice and face to all fans of Science, He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey. We Also chat about the Znamya and geoengineering our way out of a climate emergency.


“It drives me nuts that our food specialist insist on giving us the same number of chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch puddings, when the laws of physics dictate chocolate will disappear much faster. No one gets a vanilla craving in space ....or on earth.”
Scott Kelly

Happy Birthday

1964 – Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly

Sethus Calvisius originally Seth Kalwitz (21 February 1556 – 24 November 1615), was a German music theorist, composer, chronologer, astronomer, and teacher of the late Renaissance.

George Ellery Hale died Feb 21st 1938 discovery of magnetic fields in sunspots, planning or construction of several world-leading telescopes; namely, the 40-inch refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory, 60-inch Hale reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, 100-inch Hooker reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson, and the 200-inch Hale reflecting telescope at Palomar Observatory and developing CALTech into a leading research university,

Guest Prof. Jim Al-Khalili

A fab interview where he runs down the basics of our understanding of physics in general. He’s written many books about physics, that I can vouch ARE BRILLIANT!!! He has a new one out on 10 March 2020, The World According to Physics on Princeton University Press

He also recently wrote a Sci-Fi called Sun Fall

2041 and the world as we know it grinds to a halt. Our planet seems to be turning against itself - Earths magnetic, is failing . . .world governments have concealed this rapidly emerging Armageddon. But a young Iranian hacktivist stumbles across the truth, and it becomes a race against time to reactivate the earth's core using beams of dark matter.
As a small team of brave and brilliant scientists battle to find a way of transforming theory into practice, they face a fanatical group intent on pursuing their own endgame agenda: for they believe mankind to be a plague upon this earth and will do anything, commit any crime, to ensure that the project fails . . .And so bring about humanity's end.

We love the idea of speculating on a possible candidate for Dark Matter, getting into a Sci-Fi book and then with a bit of luck you can say “ yeah I was writing about this 10 years ago” or as I like to call it the Vince Cable gambit




Jim Al-Kalili interviews Myles Allen about Global Climate change, or as Myles calls it a "Climate Emergency" it’s a fab podcast episode, I recommend it. Anyway, it got me thinking about solutions and actions.

There is a groundswell that we are in the midst of a Climate emergency and this has led to groups like Extinction Rebellion and we shall talk about these late on. But what can we do to mitigate Climate change?

Well to solve the problem entirely we need to start to grab the carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up, Obviously, the greatest machine ever would be one that made pristine sheets of Graphene while taking that carbon out form the atmosphere, problem solved we can all relax. We also need to start getting to a point where we are no longer increasing the carbon atmosphere.

But what happens when you make yourself ill as a human usually you need a temporary intervention, a plaster (band-aid) or maybe some medicine, and then you might have to change your lifestyle to get back to full health again.

Maybe the solution to Global Climate change is the same, maybe we need a plaster while we sort out how we change our lifestyle for the better. This is where Geoengineering comes into the mix.

Geoengineering I guess is the plaster and not necessarily the solution. And I was intrigued the Andrew Yang a presidential hopeful who recently dropped out of the race, was probably the first serious candidate to talk about Space Mirrors as part of his climate change policy. As opposed to Bernie Sanders’ “Green New Deal,” which is the first to explicitly exclude nuclear energy, geoengineering, and carbon capture technologies.

So Space Mirrors, what’s the deal?

Essentially you put a giant mirror in space and increase the Earths Albedo, you reflect light back into space and prevent that nice warm light ever entering the atmosphere and heating it up.

So just how feasible is this, well we’re not sure, Andrew Yang, for example, proposed an 800 Million budget to do the research as part of his plan.

Basic Principal

Build a mylar sail in space that can either bloke light or reflect light to a place on earth that might need it!

In term of cooling the planet, bizarrely the first version of this idea was for Venus to geoengineer Venus for human habitation, but by 1989 James Early of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was proposing to use one to combat the burgeoning topic of Global Warming. A "space shade" 2,000 kilometres in diameter at Lagrangian Point L1 which would cost in the $trillion range. And it was so large it would probably be only practical if you made them on the Moon due to the rocket launches required otherwise.

Ever since these Space mirrors have popped up in government meeting, with a prominent player being Lowell Wood a Doctor of Geoengineering and an astrophysicist and the most prolific inventor in US history even beating Thomas Edison. His Controversial “patent hoover” company Intellectual Ventures has a lab specifically for looking at new geoengineering tech, and also “Global Good” project for people like Bill Gates.

Wood reckons that you would only need to reflect away about 1% of the sunlight to get the crisis under control again.

This would require 600,000 square miles (1,600,000 km2) in a single area or several smaller ones, probably made of Wire Mesh Mirrors.

Despite the Huge cost, many scientists have argued we should study these concepts as they are important. After all, the cost of climate change could be considerably more.

A few things to think about, yes making 100 of 1000s of space mirrors sound ridiculous, but a single car factory does this job with much more complicated cars!!

Building on the moon and using mass driver to launch could be a real advantage as it avoids expensive rocket launch, but maybe Starship will make this type of space access cheap enough to even make that unnecessary.

There isn’t any risk-off weaponising as know one equips armies with torches to all to concentrate their light beams on the enemy, at best you’ll warm them up, there are plenty of far more effective weapons, like guns (essentially the world is booby-trapped to utter destruction already with Nuclear bombs, so that ship has already sailed)

You could reflect sunlight to dark areas without beaming any of the infrared, so part of the world could receive light without global warming.

You could shade light in interesting ways, depending on need, but cutting out the infrared is mostly what you have to do, so shouldn’t affect crops

On the ground, you wouldn’t actually notice the sunlight difference

Bad points,

  • Unintended climate change, unpredicted weather patterns

  • It does require supercomputing to be able to control these things

  • Masking the real problem

  • Make people complacent

  • Space debris already a problem, and a problem for deployment

  • Astronomers getting their view blocked

Has it been done

Yes!! Once

Vladimir Syromyatnikov is best known for designing docking mechanisms for manned spacecraft like the one that linked Apollo-Soyuz test flight, Shuttle-Mir and ISS docking mechanisms. he proposed the idea and was also very interested in Solar Sails

Znamya (means Banner)

The Znamya-2 space demonstration experiment was conducted on February 4, 1993. Znamya-2 was the first solar sail deployment in space. The 20-meter (66 feet) thin-film structure was successfully deployed from the Progress M-15 cargo spacecraft by the use of centrifugal force. It was deorbited on 7 February and burned up during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean at around 08:03:35 GMT.

The main goals of the Znamya-2 experiment were:

  • Verify the concept of the system,

  • test stability and other characteristics of the structure, control the large thin film structure in the space environment,

  • conduct New Light experiment to illuminate the night side of Earth.

The following operations were performed after Progress M undocked:

  • Manoeuvring the Progress into the desired position, • deployment of the thin film structure,

  • dynamic stability test of the rotating flexible structure with the reflector,

  • attitude control of the spacecraft,

  • New Light experiment,

  • jettisoning of the film structure after completion of the experiment.


The planning process for a UK launch facility is currently receiving bombardment form Extension Rebellion, however, please check out the following fact check sheet.

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