First, on a volcano in Italy:
TO ANCIENT Romans the Phlegraean Fields hosted the entrance to Hades. In modern times it is better known as the site of a "supercolossal" volcanic eruption 39,000 years ago.
Will we see the next disaster coming? That's one of the questions an ambitious drilling project hopes to answer by sinking boreholes into Campi Flegrei, as the giant collapsed volcanic crater is now called. Starting as early as next month, the Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project is planning to drill seven holes in the region (see map).
Interesting project. There's concern that if they drill into- or close enough to- a magma chamber it could cause a problem, up to and including the possible triggering of a eruption
Several incidents have plagued similar projects. In June, the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), which aims to tap geothermal energy from hot magma, had to be stopped. At 2104 metres down, magma streamed into the borehole, causing a small explosion as the drilling fluid vaporised. That project is on hold, though it will start again in 2011 with a new borehole, says Guðmundur Ómar Friðleifsson of the IDDP. And in 2005, researchers working on a drilling project in Hawaii got a fright when magma hotter than 1000 °C leaked into the borehole.
"Under unfavourable conditions, contact of the drilling fluid with magma could be very dangerous," says Ralf Büttner, a volcanologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany. "It is even theoretically conceivable that, ultimately, a major eruption could result."
the all the arguing you could expect about the idea. Which leads to this statement:
In any case, the Campi Flegrei drilling is unlikely to hit magma. Boreholes are expected to reach a maximum depth of 4 kilometres, around half the depth of any known reservoirs, according to Jörg Erzinger of the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam (GFZ). Even if magma flows into a borehole, Ulrich Harms, another GFZ scientist, argues it would not necessarily be dangerous. "Situations like that provide exceptional insights," Harms says.(bold mine)
Please understand, I like the idea of research into how things work, and when they might; it's just that this causes me to imagine one of those "Uh, pro- PROFESSOR!" moments.
The other is light sail research. Which is a good idea; EVERY way of going out there should be worked on. My only problem is the pessimism of the guy:
Whether humans could ever take these trips depends on just how starry-eyed one’s view of the future is.
Dr. Friedman said it would take too long and involve too much exposure to radiation to sail humans to a place like Mars. He said the only passengers on an interstellar voyage — even after 200 years of additional technological development — were likely to be robots or perhaps our genomes encoded on a chip, a consequence of the need to keep the craft light, like a giant cosmic kite.
I think that, if after 200 years, we're still at the point of "We can only send instruments out", we're screwed. Of course, he may just be playing "Let's not push this thing too hard right now"; I hope so.