Solar Voodoo: Burnt Offerings to the Sun

In 2017 the Solar Orbiter will be sent to stare directly at the sun, proving that nothing is dumb if you’re smart enough. We’re throwing an outer space gris-gris of space age titanium and burnt bone at the source of all life. We’re rocket shamans.

The shaman cyborg material is in the heat shield: titanium with its surface oxide layer blasted off to be replaced with black calcium phosphate. Aka bone char. The burnt bones of animals. You might think the heat shield should be shiny but in space the big problem isn’t staying warm, it’s keeping cool. There’s no material around you to conduct or convect heat, only space (hence the nam). Insulate yourself and you’ll bake long before you eventually freeze. Which will only happen because you’ve stopped generating heat, caring about temperature, and breathing. Since the Solar Orbiter’s systems generate their own heat it’s more important that they be able to radiate than reflect.

The surface coating isn’t paint: the black calcium phosphate takes the oxide’s place in chemical bonds, creating an armor of dead metal material to stand up against the source of all life. The burnt bone skin is made by Irish company Enbio and is rather brilliantly (and exactly oppositely to brilliantly) called “SolarBlack“.

We’re reducing the sun’s bounty to burnt ash and offering it back to learn more about existence. It’s a scientific sacrament. And will work a lot better than burning good animals for greek gods. Who are good model here, because we’re tackling Apollo like ancient heroes: pitting everything we’ve ever learned (from cave paint to aviation metallurgy) against an awesome power in the heavens.

We’re studying the Alpha and Omega, the source of all life, the shining light in the sky which gathered up our land and sea, which stirred the soup until it started moving around by itself, and even now bathes it with warmth and every way of surviving. Every movement you’ve ever made, every thought you’ve ever had, the creator is there. Because the adenosine triphosphate bonds you’re breaking to exist were all made with solar energy. Which is also the inevitable end of our world. When it swells up red-faced, like a middle-aged Zeus, it will burn our Earth bare of anything even approximating life.

Art often envisages a god as shafts of sunlight, or a blazing ball in the sky, and it turns out the metaphor wasn’t wrong, it was revesed. The sun doesn’t describe a creator. The creator is a description of the Sun.

I love the combination of space-age and cave-age technology. Because they’re both still technology. And they both still work. Sticks still work, and no matter how advanced your iPhone it won’t help when you need to prod something. There are doubtless other ways to make black calcium phosphate, but it’s still best to let something else do most of the work. Biological organisms are still the masters of nanofabrication. Just think of it as an extreme form of smelting.

And I love the idea that the mission to our big star will sit on the outer-space menu with another little star beside it.

Solar Orbiter(*) 1 billion

*This item is not vegetarian.


Space is the Place with

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