A Mighty Solar Wind May Power Us Up
Scientists at Washington State University have developed a semi-practical plan to take advantage of the solar wind that blows our way.
Most people have heard the term "solar wind" but are misinformed as to exactly what kind of action is blowing out from the Sun and down in our direction.
Minus an atmosphere, the solar wind isn't a "wind" as we would normally think of it, but instead a stream of charged particles that are spit out from the Sun's upper atmosphere all day, every day. These particles "blow" outwards toward not only our little blue orb but all of the other items in the solar system, offering a potential chance for capture and use as an energy source by industrious humans.
The Washington State thinkers offer a solar wind capture solution - not in the form of a large and dangerous space-turbine, but a solar "sail" that would include a length of charged copper wire and a receiver. Their calculations indicate that a small 10 meter sail could capture enough energy to power 1,000 homes, and a large-scale, 8,400 kilometer sail could generate one billion billion gigawatts of power, 100 billion times the power we currently need to power all of our expensive electronic gadgetry.
The problem right now doesn't lie in collecting the power, but in getting it back to Earth where it can actually be used. Once collected by the sail, a portion of the energy would be dumped into the copper wire to create a solar wind capturing magnetic field, but the rest would need to be returned to Earth via laser beam.
The issue? Earth would be a freakin' looong way away.
Even with the best laser technology available, the beam would disperse over the millions of kilometers between the sail set-up site and an Earth-bound receiver location, losing a great deal of the energy it contained.
Our stalwart scientists admit that their research is focused just what could be accomplished rather than exactly how to accomplish it, a feat they will leave to those other anti-social aspirants, engineers.
This is one power idea that may eventually blow us all away.
Source: Discovery News
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