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.
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…
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)…
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?
Find me on my facebook group, where astrobiology is the name of the game!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I embarked on my own YouTube journey some two years ago. To say it’s been a frustrating and agonising ride could be rightly called an understatement. Video production has presented me with a massively steep learning curve. I know full well I haven’t come anywhere near perfecting my craft, but it’s one of those labour of love things. Which is one of the reasons I still do it.
Initially I started the channel with an interest in talking about general science topics. As time went on I realised that in all realism this wasn’t working for me. The subscriber count is still tiny, and the lifetime views number in the very low thousands. This is all part and parcel of finding my feet. Again, this is all part of that learning curve. Since “rebranding” the channel a few months ago I feel I’ve gained a new perspective on the whole affair.
In that time the monolithic behemoth that is YouTube (Google) has made it fairly clear that small channels aren’t worth their time. A sense of malaise has set in among small channels and I have to admit it’s hard to fight off sometimes.
Zero prospects for monetisation at this point. Well technically not zero, but a statistically insignificant chance of a small channel getting through the ever shifting goal posts YouTube places before us.
I don’t begrudge larger channels their success. It is hard work, I’ve learnt that much. They obviously have done the hard yards. We little guys generally know this is the path we must take too. But sometimes an uphill battle becomes something else, and you need to find another reason to continue.
My channel is AstroBiological. I look at astrobiology. It’s a fun topic but a niche one. I do it right now because I like it. Other channels like mine deserve notice and so I implore the reader to peruse this catalogue of fine educational content, created by WeCreateEdu; a Slack.com group dedicated to giving educational YouTubers the help and resources they need to find their feet. I’m nowhere near there yet, but others are. There are plenty of good people in this list, and all some of them want is for you to watch and enjoy what they have really worked hard to create. It’s a labour of love for many, so there’s an extra sting when they go unnoticed.
If you’re an educational YouTuber yourself, let’s all work together and help each other toward whatever dream motivates us.
Hi all. I haven’t put up a post in a few weeks. Sorry to anyone who follows this blog and enjoys my occasional rant. I have been in several states of mind about many things lately and they’ve all been taking me off my game. Personal issues and growing realisations about many aspects of my life and childhood have dissolved my focus. YouTube continues to be a struggle and source of frustration and almost daily I vacillate between continuing with it or giving it the heave ho.
This indecisiveness and inability to properly process any defeat (no matter how trivial) makes me realise that life has damaged me a lot more than I ever realised. As a man I’ve been guided down the path of disregarding these things, but I do see that I think I’ve seen a little bit more catastrophe in my life than I’ve realised and it’s left it’s mark.
It isn’t just the channel. I realised the other day whilst driving to work that one thing both of my parents failed miserably at was bolstering myself and my siblings. Dad was better at it than Mum, but the one lease on that really stuck with me was the ability to easily accept defeat and be comfortable with a deeply sub par life.
My second wife has been instrumental in helping me see these things. She has fought tooth and nail, and has given her blood and guts (literally) to be there for me. Far more than any before her she has been steadfast and worked on bolstering me. With her help and perhaps a bit of therapy I can actually be what I’m supposed to be. I’ll make the channel work, but if it doesn’t who cares? Life’s too short to agonise about things that at the end of the day just don’t matter.
Until next time, bringing you the Universe in plain human:
It’s another picture perfect day here in Adelaide, South Australia. Despite the fact that Autumn has been with us a few weeks now I’m getting uncomfortably hot. I’m lying on my stomach on a small marina, my face hanging over the edge and inches from the water.
As is the (annoying) habit of our cat I’ve simply dropped down and parked myself right in the walkway. Why?
Jellyfish. Lots of them.
Getting out and looking for little beasties to photograph is a passion of mine. If I’ve managed to randomly bump into some caterpillar or spider I’ve never seen before, then I pretty much have to clear my diary. I am not a professional photographer by any stretch, but it’s getting out there and seeing these things that’s important. Whilst walking along the wharves in Port Adelaide the sight of thousands upon thousands of jellyfish in the water has me reaching for my cameras, which are always in my car.
This swarm seems extremely out of place. I’ve already done a live stream on Periscope showing the good folks of Internet land this odd phenomenon, and now it’s time to really try and do it some justice.
A Jelly Family Tree
First off, these graceful creatures are Moon Jellies. They are extremely common in Australian waters. I have observed them now in the Port River in St Vincent’s Gulf, South Australia and in Darling Harbour, Sydney, New South Wales. Moon jellies are a favourite food for many turtle species. Being easy to both eat and catch I could understand why. I was actually asked this very question during my live stream. One thing that heartens me during these live streams (and that I notice while watching others) is that people really like animals. In fact, wildlife seems to bring people together in a very positive way.
There’s some kind of take home message in this, don’t you think?
Moon Jelly is the common name for Aurelia aurita, a species found globally. Jellyfish, along with sea pens, corals, anemones and hydra belong to the animal phylum Cnidaria. Approximately 10000 animal species belong in this group, and all are exclusively aquatic. Cnidaria are an extremely ancient group, with jellyfish fossils up to 500 million years old being discovered. Fossils believed to represent the Cnidarian crown group predate the Cambrian by around 200 million years. Cnidarians represent the oldest multi-organ animals known.
The moon jellies, like all scyphozoans; or true jellyfish, posess cnidocytes. These are specialised barb like cells which on coming into contact with prey (or anything for that matter) penetrate and inject venom into the recipient.
These particular jellies are almost harmless to humans. In fact, it’s said that the only way to feel a sting from a moon jelly is to kiss one.
Australia is however home to several species of jellyfish which are far more dangerous. We do posess our share of dangerous animals. Some of the most lethal venom on Earth can be found in Australian waters. From the tiny Irukandji jellyfish;
To the Box jellyfish:
The moon jellies gathered here in the Port River are weak swimmers at best and so are often found collected in estuaries and inlets in this way, caught by the tide. Observing these jellies showed them seemingly moving as one: the group seemed to surge in one direction, oscillating back and forth in a manner reminiscent of group behaviours: much as flocks of birds appear to move about as one. Empirical observation would seem to bolster this. The bell structure of most jellies seemed to point in the direction movement.
This is interesting. Jellyfish, along with other cnidarians, appear to have no (or at least very rudimentary) brains. They clearly have nothing we would recognise as a brain. Instead, their bodies are essentially a loosely interwoven collection of simple nerve networks, reacting and interacting with each other for the purposes of responding to stimuli.
This decentralisation of “administrative duties”, or biological anarchy is seen in some rather more advanced creatures. Octopuses are one example. It is now well known that octopuses are extremely intelligent, but these amazing animals are now thought to sit somewhere outside the traditional brain/body divide we have accepted as a basic paradigm of our own physiology. Not only do octopuses have a brain, but their tentacles operate independently, acting with their own intelligence. Essentially the entire body of an octopus is it’s brain. Is this a feature of marine organisms and the result of marine existence?
While jellyfish could hardly be called intelligent, are we not giving them enough credit? Does living in an environment as featureless and homogenous as the ocean necessitate a particular brand of spatial intelligence and information processing?
Imagine a line representing a scale. This scale is that of intelligence: in particular the gradation from true brainlessness and pure instinct displayed by, say, bacteria to “higher” intelligence in which all memory, learning and response is coordinated by a complex central nervous system ( a brain. Think “human”).
On this line an octopus seems to sit somewhere beyond halfway. Able to perform complex tasks, and armed with a unique “whole body” intelligence the octopus is gaining a whole new respect.
The jellyfish appears to act wholly on pure instinct and autonomic response. I observe a swarm blindly clustering in a protected estuary and wonder. Decentralised nervous systems enable a different flavour of response to external stimuli. It speaks of a wholly different pathway by which intelligence could rise in the ocean. Terrestrial and marine environments could not be any more antithesis to each other. Land changes much more and over shorter periods of time than the sea. The land is a much harsher place in many ways. Organisms living on land have been forced over evolutionary time to undergo many more changes in order to survive: hard eggs, legs, and a much greater reliance on eyesight to name a few. Life in the ocean is vastly more stable. Does the existence of organisms such as horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, sponges and sharks, which have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years give testament to this stability?
Where could a creature such as the jellyfish go, given time? The octopus, a simple mollusc, is an impressive example of a non human and quite alien intelligence. Do other forms of awareness and behaviour (that shown by jellyfish) constitute some new paradigm we haven’t recognised yet, and from which intelligence may someday emerge?