A Universe in Plain Human

Podcasting! It’s surprising how easy it is to create podcasts. Using at least a smartphone and the Anchor FM app it is possible to produce your own fully fledged talk show, news show, or any thing you want!

I’ve recently begun this journey and so far it’s been fun. Right now the shows are a loose collection of items of interest from daily astrobiology headlines and readings of my favourite posts from this blog.

I’m yet to explore what’s out there, but there’s a lot.

The beauty of Anchor is it lets you podcast anywhere you want. There is a desktop version which lets you upload prerecorded audio files to their site.

I’m beginning to use Audacity, a freely available software package to add some more complexity to my productions:

Here is the latest upload.

Listen to this episode of my podcast, AstroBiological, AstroBiological: Metal Madness, Visiting 16 Psyche https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/episodes/AstroBiological-Metal-Madness–Visiting-16-Psyche-e1i4f9

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Twisty Twirly Ribozyme! What Is?

This post is also available in podcast format on the Anchor app, which is available on IOS and Android:

https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/embed

https://anchor.fm/s/2561178/podcast/rss

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All life depends on information storage and transmission. No ifs or buts. DNA is the weapon of choice these days. It carries the alphabet of life, coding for almost every single permutation of biology that exists. Once, however, it may have had a more versatile forerunner.

RNA, or ribose nucleic acid, is now relegated to worker bee status in the cell. Whilst DNA lords over it’s cellular domain, providing the instructions for just about every single activity in the cell, RNA is now involved in DNA replication, via the processes of transcription and translation. Billions of years ago, however, RNA may have been much, much more.

To explain how, I have to stray from the script a little and talk about the other major players of the cell: proteins. Think of a cell as a kitchen. Where DNA is an executive chef, pretty much doing nothing but writing menus, and telling everyone how things should be done, the proteins are the poor saps slavishly working to the chef’s bidding. Proteins are the kitchen-hands, dishwashers, line cooks and general slaves of the cell.

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A recipe is great. If someone is around to make it. Image: Pixabay

If you were to look at a protein, you’d wonder why. They have a crazy variety of forms. Just imagine your cat had found a ball of yarn and left a tangled web of yarn all over the floor.

Picture the tangle. That tangle is a shape, really. It’s no different to a square, or a human head or banana or one of those weird dices that Dungeons and Dragons players use. Shape is the key word here. All proteins perform a discrete function. This function is directly tied into the shape of the protein. Most proteins look something like that mess of yarn on the floor. But it goes a little deeper than that.

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This is a very particular shape. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ok. So shape equals function in protein. How does RNA or DNA matter here?

If you picture DNA you’re probably seeing some kind of twirly, ladder like structure. That’s pretty much what a DNA molecule is: a twisty ladder; otherwise known as a double helix. DNA’s single function: information storage, is tied into this configuration. RNA is a bit different. It’s one side of that twisty ladder, or a single strand. RNA still works well as an information storage molecule. That’s how it is involved in DNA replication. Short snippets of mRNA, or messenger RNA carry instructions vital to the whole proceeding. Viruses actually use RNA as their core genetic material, not DNA.

RNA has one extra special feature. It can fold and twist into bizarre shapes like protein can. These shapes can bestow upon some RNAs the properties of a special class of proteins called enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts, meaning essentially they just make stuff happen. They kick-start biological reactions, ensuring that the cell works at all. It’s believed that some RNAs can do this, folding and twisting into new forms which are called ribozymes.

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Enter the twisty bread. Or a protein molecule? Image: Pixabay

Ribozymes are catalytic like enzymes. In the primordial brave new world of ancient Earth there were no complex cells with grand genetic machinery and a retinue of proteins doing DNA’s bidding. Life hadn’t figured out this nifty little double act yet. Back then it was the Wild West. Every bit of biological stuff floating around had to be a generalist, able to do many things: A jack of all trades if you will. RNA may have been one of these generalists. This one little ability of RNA: it’s tendency to get bent out of shape, may have been a boon to the very first life on Earth.

Anchor FM is super fun and easy to use. Download it for yourself! If I can do it, anyone can.

Whilst you’re still here, an article from fellow bloggers moosmosis outlining the central dogma of molecular biology, as alluded to in this post:

https://wp.me/p75pke-1z

Planet Building: Possible?

If you don’t want to read, then listen! I have put this post up on a podcast I’m doing, available on Anchor FM, as well as certain other outlets.

https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/embed/episodes/Planet-Building-e1ff39

If anyone has read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” quadrilogy they would have been struck by some of the big ideas hidden within Douglas Adams’ deadpan humour. One of the heavy concepts that stuck with me was the idea of planet building. According to the story, Earth as we know it today is a planet sized super computer, built to perform one task: to figure out the meaning of life. A planetary architect named Slartibartfast is entrusted with overseeing the rebuild of Earth after it’s destroyed due to a galactic scale clerical error.

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Planet building.

Possible? Why not? According to prevailing theories, planets mainly form via the process of accretion. Simply put, particulate matter adrift in molecular clouds clumps under the inexorable pull of gravity, forming ever larger clumps that clump to ever larger clumps and so on. Eventually a planet or star is the inevitable result.

A newly formed exoplanet (in the dotted circle) orbits a newly formed, newly discovered star: CS Cha. Image: Space.com

Why couldn’t this be done artificially? Would it be even possible? If it’s just a matter of throwing lumps of crud at other lumps of crud and hoping they stick, then why couldn’t it be?

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Scenario:

It’s the future. Humanity lives and works in space. The asteroid belt is the new frontier or wild west. Chunks of formerly useless rock are now homesteads or villages. Distances are not overly tyrannical. An asteroid is typically only a few light seconds from another. However, asteroids can be moved. Bigger asteroids like Ceres, Vesta or Eros would comprise the main hubs of commerce and trade in this new world.

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A new frontier… Image: Maciej Rebisz

Smaller settlements such as these “homesteads” could make life easier for themselves in terms of travel times (and therefore fuel costs) to larger, more important settlements by moving closer. In the frictionless, zero gravity environment that is space this wouldn’t be too technically difficult.

Scenario:

Time has moved on. The asteroid belt is a thriving collective of trade networks and conglomerates of smaller settlements. Smaller asteroids now cluster around larger ones like space junk in low earth orbit. Economically, this proximity is making things easier for everyone, and lots of people are getting rich.

Just imagine though if humans disappeared. The zombie apocalypse hit outer space and spread to all corners of the solar system.

(That’s the fun explanation)

Every living human is gone, and the asteroid belt is now a vast ghost band, forming a wreath around the sun, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. There are all these swarms of asteroids now adrift, all artificially brought closer together by generations of enterprising human beings No course corrections keep them from colliding and so many of them are doing just that. Orbits decay, and tiny chondrite specks plough slowly into larger planetesimals.

See where I’m going with this? Over time, natural accretion would naturally lead to planets forming, or at least a large moon sized object. In millions of years the solar system could have a tenth planet (let’s just sneak Pluto back into the club. Don’t tell anyone!)

Planet Building! Essentially a garbage planet could form from the artificially placed asteroids and other objects now in very close proximity and drawn by the slow but inescapable pull of gravity.

I think it’s an exciting idea: a real megastructure! The ultimate megastructure!

What next?

This post was inspired by a chance statement in a video discussing space colonies on Isaac Arthur’s Science and Futurism youtube channel. Check it out. Isaac has a huge catalogue of lengthy discussions on some really interesting concepts. Here is a link to the relevant video if you’re interested:

Last but not least, here are links to the social media for Maciej Rebisz, the talented artist behind some fantastic space artwork, including the asteroid colony about halfway down the post.

facebook – https://www.facebook.com/maciej.rebisz

twitter – https://twitter.com/voyager212 – general updates

artstation – https://www.artstation.com/mac – art

society6 – https://society6.com/macrebisz – prints

Join me on my facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AstroB/

And on YouTube. I’m not quite up to the standard of the venerable Mr Arthur (yet), but I’m working on it. Help me on this journey and subscribe!

http://www.youtube.com/c/BensLab

Some New Directions

Hey all. I’m finally excited about something for the first time in awhile. I recently received a tablet from my LOVELY wife. It’s a Wacom Intuos Pro. I have been wanting an art tablet for years now. I had one once, but it was a slow, crappy little thing on slow crappy little computers. This one is a bit more high end.

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The best present ever. Creativity.

This thing has opened up creaking doors in my brain, which I thought had fused shut. It’s even been helping me in a therapeutic sense. I have had some pretty dark years recently, and they have taken their toll. This tablet has enabled my mind to properly elucidate and crystallise several things which have been weighing me down…

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I’ve always loved cartooning, and this guy, whilst new, brought back some memories…

Sometimes art can give a form to nameless and shapeless fears. It can help you contain and control them, by capturing them on paper (so to speak)…

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Innocence lost…
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A nameless monster..

This tablet is already hard at work, helping me with my next video, which takes a look at how a quaint little engine from the nineteenth century could help us take a real look at the surface of Venus!

Lots of things sloshing around in my head! The video is shaping up to be a lot of fun! I hope you can check it out when it’s up! I will start putting up artwork as it comes. Here’s the thumbnail for the video..What do you think?venus video thumbnail

Find me on my facebook group, where astrobiology is the name of the game!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AstroB/

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