Life-Bearing Rocks in Slow Motion

by Paul Gilster on September 26, 2012

I’ve been fascinated with Edward Belbruno’s work on ‘chaotic orbits’ ever since meeting him at an astrodynamics conference in Princeton some years back. The idea is to develop low-energy routes for spacecraft by analyzing so-called ‘weak stability boundaries,’ regions where motion is highly sensitive and small changes can create gradual orbital change. A low-energy route was what Belbruno used in 1991 to help the Japanese spacecraft Hiten reach the Moon using almost no fuel, a proof of concept about which the physicist said “It saved the spacecraft, and it saved my career.”

That comment came from a lecture to the Mathematical Association of America in 2009 that you can listen to here. It’s fascinating in its own right, but doubly so since Belbruno is back in the news with new findings on the idea of panspermia, and specifically that version of panspermia called lithopanspermia. In this hypothesis, elemental life forms are distributed between stars in planetary fragments created by asteroid impacts, volcanic eruptions and other disruptive events. Drifting through space, the fragments are eventually caught in another solar system’s gravity, some of them conceivably falling on worlds in the habitable zone of their star.

Read more: Life-Bearing Rocks in Slow Motion — Centauri Dreams

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