Category Archives: Uncategorized

Of Clouds and Imaginary CGI…

Sometimes, my thoughts are in the clouds…

Alien life in the cloud tops of distant worlds is the hot topic…

Volcanoes rage across Hawaii, altering their local environments and adding exotic chemistries to the atmosphere. How much importance do clouds have as an ecological niche?

Listen to this episode of my podcast, AstroBiological, AstroBiological: Alien Clouds and Imaginary CGI https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/episodes/AstroBiological-Alien-Clouds-and-Imaginary-CGI-e1ifio

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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

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

Imagineering: Hiding in the Past

Hi all. A very recent post stated my intent to explore the notion of abandoned space-borne structures. Abandonment in general is a beautiful and melancholy place to find oneself in sometimes. Anyone who likes to explore lost and lonely places would no doubt be aware of a keen and poignant sense of displacement, coupled with a tangible sense of loss. When standing in the midst of an abandoned structure; whether it be a stone hut mouldering away amongst overgrown forest, a factory, with echoes of activity and enterprise whispering just beyond the reach of hearing or an entire town or city the urge to stand still and just listen to an awe inspiring silence is powerful.

Caught in the wake of history…

What about space? The universe represents the ultimate emptiness. We are a single technological civilisation clinging to a blue green dot. Looking out into all that space, it’s natural to assume there are others out there. That is to say, we refuse to believe we’re alone in all this.

Venus: from this?..
To this? An earth-sized graveyard, abandoned by life?

Science fiction of course explores this concept all the time. I think it’s difficult to find someone alive now who hasn’t heard of aliens or UFOs. As I mention in videos and posts from time to time, humans have always been at home with the notion of beings from other worlds. After all, angels, demons and gods are nothing new. A scientific field like astrobiology is really not an invention of the space age. It’s a little reductionist perhaps, if nothing else!

What do I mean by that?

The Forge of the Gods? The Garden of Eden is now a dusty cloud.

Well, human beings always have had a predilection for the transcendent. Dreamtime, Heaven, Valhalla, Elysium, call it what you will. This quirk in our nature is still highly apparent in this seemingly rational age. Trans-Humanism, Post-Humanism, the Singularity. All of these concepts and their enthusiastic uptake speaks of a human desire to exceed the limits of existence. Science fiction again has always skilfully catered to these tastes. The television show “Altered Carbon”; whilst a little uneven, succeeded in portraying a world where human consciousness can be transferred on cortical “stacks”. These are small devices which are embedded in a human brain and which “record” a consciousness. This allows people to hop bodies, or “sleeves”, simply by placing their stacks in different bodies. The human form is reduced to an avatar whilst the consciousness can theoretically live forever. The implications and possible permutations of this are rich pickings for storytelling indeed.

But I digress. I illustrate that humans still seek to go beyond the veil, to touch the face of something greater than themselves. Astrobiology doesn’t seek God. It seeks microbes. Or amino acids adrift in molecular clouds.

Are they the same thing?

I argue that such traces of hypothetical life (if found) are far more profound and important footsteps than we could ever imagine. I feel that reaching out and touching a trace fossil of some unknown creature on a distant exoplanet someday is far more akin to seeing “the face of God” than imaging the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

An electron micrograph of a plasmid. Image: Wikipedia

All of this happens in the vast abandonment of space. If life does exist elsewhere in the universe, or has existed, then the entire cosmos is an endless deserted factory floor.

What a metaphor this is. Image: earthporn.com

Something else lived in it. Something else was born in it. We are that to other observers in the universe. We exist in the distant past or future for others out there. We are hidden in the past perhaps, until the gaze of future observers is turned upon us.

I like to think that even though someday we may meet intelligent life (biological or mechanical), finding true life, emerging from the firmament would speak of a true higher order. One can always dream…

Ben.

Exploring Titan: a Channel Update

My tiny little channel lives! I’m almost at 200 subscribers.

UPDATE: 3rd APRIL 2018

200 Subscribers!

Back to the post.

That is peanuts, but it tells me this channel is definitely trending on an upward trajectory. My most recent video “A Brief History of Astrobiology” is doing well (hint, check it out!)

Watch it for an irreverant look at astrobiology over the ages.

My next one will take a closer look at Titan through the imaginary eyes of its discoverer; Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch astronomer who spied this mysterious moon in 1655. I plan on taking Huygens there for a grand tour. He may even meet his namesake!

huygens_astronaut
What would a 17th century stargazer think upon seeing his high tech namesake, at rest on a frozen plain on Titan?

The tale of Huygens incredible discovery, as well as his amazing mind is worth a single video, and so that’s exactly what this new one is, the story of the exploration of Titan, from 1655 up until some imaginary mission sometime in the late 2020s, when a drone flies through the thick soupy atmosphere of this exotic moon. Maybe (just maybe) a submarine will explore the methane seas that dot the moons northern expanses. I personally can’t wait for both to happen.

Titan boasts liquid hydrocarbon lakes at its north pole
This would be quite a view.

Here are a few screen shots from the upcoming video:

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A drones eye view of titan, seen through a veil of organic haze and interference.
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The drone takes wing, dropped into the atmosphere of Titan. One of the mysterious methane seas can be just discerned through the haze coating the landscape.
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A night time flight over a methane lake. Beneath the frigid surface a small submarine drone looks for signs of methane based aquatic life.

I’m super excited about this one, and I am sure it’s going to be a lot of fun. Stay tuned!

Ben.

An Accidental Ecosystem in Space

Update:

I’m always interested in podcasting, and I’ve created an episode of a tentative series on the Anchor app. It’s just this blog post read out. Convenient for those whom listening is a better way to digest content. Here’s the link:

Listen to my segment “Abandonment among the stars” on Anchor: https://anchor.fm/astro-biological/episodes/Ecosystems-in-an-Abandoned-Megastructure-e1e59n/Abandonment-among-the-stars-a3bp5i

Imagine this. It’s the distant future. Space travellers have discovered a huge structure in deep space. Let’s assume the travellers aren’t human. These beings have stumbled upon the greatest discovery in their history. A vast megastructure, hundreds of kilometres long, it’s a huge cylinder spinning slowly across interstellar space. The structure is a riotous collection of cyclinders, and other smaller structures seemingly thrown together. Tests on the structure reveal it’s very old: several thousand years at least. No signals or signs of current occupation can be found, and it’s determined after several years of examination and debate that the structure is abandoned.
An O’Neill cylinder, adrift in cyberspace.. A 3D model of a physical model I plan to build.
The very first team is sent on board…

What do they find?

The structure is derelict, to say the least. The team can safely determine this. There are no signs of intelligent life.

Mechanisms keeping the cylinder habitable are still somewhat operational. By some miracle of engineering the cylinder still has gravity as well.

But that’s not to say that life hasn’t found a way.
The structure is exploding with life!
The structure is essentially intact. It continues to rotate, driven by some unknown energy source and mechanism. It orbits a medium sized yellow star, lying just beyond the orbital path of the second planet out from this sun. The second planet is completely uninhabitable.
Image: Pixabay

There is a third planet from the Sun which seems habitable. Other expeditions are already exploring that world, and it seems this cylinder was built by whatever sentient beings once lived there.

Image source: Unknown
The structure is an oasis of life, all alone in the night. The builders may have long vanished, but the other organisms they brought on board: whether they be pets, food or pests, don’t seem to know they shouldn’t be here claiming this place as their own. It’s become an accidental ecosystem that has no business being out here and yet out here it is.

….

A couple of weeks I decided to do something different with all the video stuff I do. I did a livestream on facebook and periscope. The topic of my stream was the very question addressed above: what new ecosystems and organisms could arise in an abandoned, livable space station were the human occupants to disappear?

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Image: Pixabay

It actually really got me thinking. The whole thing began as a random question on Isaac Arthur’s Science and Futurism facebook group. To my surprise there were a lot of great comments and ideas in response to this question.

I’ve addressed this subject matter before. A blog post explored the nature of interactions between the natural world and those sad, abandoned places on the periphery of civilisation. It’s like discovering a completely new world when I stumble upon these “transitional” places. Imagine finding such a world like the cylinder orbiting Venus. Just how and in what direction would any life on board manage?

It’s a really interesting question, and ties into the nature of life and how it has spread across our own planet. Most life existing today hasn’t arisen spontaneously from the firmament. Nothing’s done that for around 4 billion years. No, life has migrated, hitched rides or been tossed about by catastrophe and happenstance. It has essentially gone where the wind blows, and taken root wherever it has landed. The theory of panspermia relies on this vagrancy to offer an explanation for how life might have appeared here in the first place. I personally think Panspermia is very plausible.

In some ways we’ve seen panspermia in action, from a certain point of view.

This is of course, a very tenuous observation I make, but the principle is the same, using the example of Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. This tiny little mound of dirt popping up from the waves is a giant ecological lab, an ongoing experiment that began over 150 years ago. All manner of species: some introduced, some native, were thrown together, on a barren little rock. Within decades, the island was a lush green paradise, with new ecosystems and new equilibriums. Quite amazing really, and Ascension Island represents a window into the greening of a dead planet such as Mars.

So. To return to the premise of this post. Explorers find a derelict space colony, now overrun by non human life. We’ve seen this on Earth too. Life is especially good at exploiting new niches. When the dinosaurs perished, the mammals that had lived in their shadow for 180 million years suddenly had an entire planet all to themselves. This resulted in the Tertiary radiation, a speciation event rivalling the Cambrian Explosion in the profusion of new species of mammal that suddenly appeared to exploit all this open space. Disaster ecology is an area of study devoted to this knack life has of adapting to catastrophe and finding new balances. Places like Ascension Island are one example of this. Others, like Chernobyl, are another.

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Life is doing nicely in the radiation soaked wilderness of Chernobyl. Image: James Beasley and Sarah Webster, National Geographic Creative

So what of my superstructure, adrift in orbit around Venus? It would take several posts to really give it some justice, and so that’s what I’m going to do. A few posts on the post human world in a self contained semi functional space colony.

I must admit I have not been active with this blog lately. I have been busier than usual with new work and things in personal life shifting and changing constantly. It’s never forgotten. This will be attended to, and posts are going to start going up on a more frequent basis. Stay tuned, keep reading and I’ll be writing soon.

Ben.

Astro-biological! A podcast, A group and A whole lotta love!

 

Hello hello!

I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks, working on a new Facebook group devoted to Astrobiology. So far it’s been fun, and people are responding to it. It’s not massive but there’s definitely a level of engagement which I’m enjoying. Hopefully  others are enjoying it too!

Hint: here is a link to the group:

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

I honestly am trying to push my channel but it’s stubbornly sitting somewhere in struggle town. While it’s running up the curb though I’m working on stuff.

A poll on my Facebook group indicated that people would be interested in a video about the denizens of Jupiter. What’s that you say? There’s life on Jupiter?

Well, as far as we know there isn’t, but I’m allowed to dream right? What form could such life take?

The idea has been around for some time. I am working on it right now. First things first though, TRAPPIST-1 deserves some love. Next up on the channel I’ll be exploring the TRAPPIST-1 system.