Humans require a 20 degrees environment. that's 250 degrees warmer than Pluto.

So, if humans lived there, their structures would melt the surface and sink.

−200 cracks all common metals. most spacecraft are currently insulated. What kind of architecture and technologies are necessary to live on cold planets? are they as difficult as living on +200 degrees planets?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There is a lot going on in this question. Can you edit it down to just the background information necessary to ask one question? I don't see how AI lifeforms are relevant to the engineering technologies required for low temperature habitations. Also, use units, -200 C and -200 F are not the same thing. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 24 '16 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ Like you’d notice the difference! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 24 '16 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ -200C does not crack metals, but they do lose their "self-regenerative" properties. Cracks that would normally form disappears at high temperatures, but instead they will accumulate at lower temperatures. As long as no brute force is applied to the metal, it would stay integral. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 24 '16 at 1:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "that's 250 degrees warmer than Pluto. So, if humans lived there, their structures would melt the surface and sink. So structures on Mars would perhaps have to be boats." Huh? This is very confusing. Why don't you try to slow down and spell out what you are thinking about more clearly. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Oct 24 '16 at 1:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Only steel is a bit brittle below -40°C (that depends a lot!), but you can make austenitic steel that works fine in liquid nitrogen. Common aluminum, if produced with some care, ist prefectly fine even in liquid helium. $\endgroup$ – Karl Oct 24 '16 at 17:01

For operating in very cold environments, you need a good insulator between you and the environment, and the ability to shed wast heat in ways that are not detrimental to you.

Building colonies in the form of a Dewar flask solves the first problem. The vacuum acts as an insulator and prevents heat from being radiated or convected to the outside. This can also make construction easier, the outer shell can be made of materials suitable for radiation protection from the space environment while the inner structure is optimized for human habitation.:

enter image description here

The second requirement is to dispose of waste heat. Even simple occupancy of a Dewar flask will make the interior quite warm, since every human radiates heat at a similar rate to a 100W incandescent lightbulb. Add computers and machinery and things get testy quite fast. A radiator, heat pipes or series of heat exchangers with the radiating surface mounted on struts high above the surface can radiate heat away (quite efficiently due to the large temperature differentials between the inside and outside).

Other tricks would be to ensure the surface of the container does not touch the ground or local environment. Insulated struts or struts with their own integral heat exchangers (radiating away from the local environment) can be used, much like how the Alaska Pipeline is held above the permafrost:

enter image description here

Depending on the environment you are in, it may be preferable to use foamed materials or aerogels to create a strong, lightweight, insulated liner instead of relying on a vacuum between the inner and outer shells, but the underlying principle is the same. The foamed insulating layer may have to be thicker than a pure vacuum, but will still work quite well.

  • $\begingroup$ I would also add that a bad insulator would be an efficient heat exchanger, since the huge temperature differential makes an active heat exchanger pretty useless. Except if there was no atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 24 '16 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ If you are already in a vacuum, you don’t need a dewer. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 24 '16 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz, no, but the question seemed to imply you were on the surface of a planet or moon. Even in space, you might want to do this so you can control the radiation of heat from the internal environment via your heat exchangers, rather than just radiating from the surface area of the ship or colony. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 24 '16 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ The surface of a planet or moon at 70K will have a wisp of an atmosphere like Pluto or Triton. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 24 '16 at 19:34

It depends on whether the planet (or whatever kind of body) has a dense atmosphere. Without air, you are the same as in a space ship: a thermos bottle! Without crunching the numbers, I would suppose that an atmosphere as tinuous as Pluto’s would not be a problem and fairly mundane insulation layer would work so well that you would still have to arrange for cooling of the living space!

Making it not melt into the ground is more challenging. You need stilts to minimise contact and prevent heat transfer. May I suggest towers anchored into the ground that don’t touch the actual building, qnd hang the building by thin wires from the tops of the towers. The only thermal transfer would be along the wires, which hqve a limited capacity, and they have more bulk from the top to the ground to cool back down.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.