- Organic Molecules in Sagittarius B2
- HAT-P-11b Weather Report: Sunny, Hot, Traces of Water Vapor
- Asteroid Mining: Water and Law
While doing time in college, a fellow-student informed me that the sun goes around Earth, not the other way around — because Joshua 10:12-13 says so. He may have been sincere, but I'm pretty sure he's wrong.
Oddly enough, I've yet to run into someone who seriously believes that Earth is flat, supported by pillars, as described in Job 9:6-7. I suspect that long distance telephone service to antipodal regions helped dispel that idea.
But if I assumed that certain parts of the Bible, like those verses in Job, were word-for-word true, exactly as a literal-minded American would read them: I'd have to believe Earth is flat.
If that were true, communications satellites would be hard to explain, space probes would have been crashing into the firmament, and a vast conspiracy would have been keeping 'the truth' from us. That seems — unlikely, to say the least.
I'll grant that I've never kept heading west until I circumnavigated the globe. My overland travels never took me beyond North America's west coast, and I've never actually seen places like New York City. For all I know, the world may end a few miles west of California. But again: that seems unlikely.
I take the Bible, Sacred Scriptures, very seriously. As a Catholic, I have to. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-133)
I also have to read the Bible, frequently:
"The Church 'forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112"That doesn't mean that I must believe that the Bible is a science textbook, written by someone with the viewpoint of a metaphor-challenged contemporary American. This is one of the best short descriptions of the Bible that I've seen:
"...Know what the Bible is – and what it isn't. The Bible is the story of God's relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation...."
("Understanding the Bible," Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)
I'm not upset at the idea that God thinks big, and apparently is not limited by the imagination of ancient Mesopotamians.
I also think that faith and reason, religion and science, get along fine: or should. (Catechism, 39, 159, 286)
Trying to replace faith with science, pleasure, or anything else, is idolatry: and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114)
As I've said before, I'd be impressed if God's creation was a tidy little affair, a few thousand miles across and no more than a few millennia old. As it is: I'm really impressed. (September 21, 2014)
"The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers"Wondering how things began and where we're headed is part of being human. Learning about God's universe is what we're supposed to do. (Catechism, 282-289, 2293)
(Catechism, 283) [emphasis mine]
(From Alma, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Complex organic molecule found in interstellar space"Iso-propyl cyanide isn't "organic" the way kumquats grown nothing but soil, manure, water, and sunlight, and are organic. In this context, "organic" means "of, relating to, or derived from living organisms;" or chemistry of or designating carbon compounds. (www.thefreedictionary.com)
Michael Eyre, BBC News (September 26, 2014)
"Scientists have found the beginnings of life-bearing chemistry at the centre of the galaxy.
"Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth.
"Its branched carbon structure is closer to the complex organic molecules of life than any previous finding from interstellar space.
"The discovery suggests the building blocks of life may be widespread throughout our galaxy.
"Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone...."
Scientists found iso-propyl cyanide in Sagittarius B2, one of the largest molecular clouds in the Milky Way galaxy, and the largest one near our galaxy's core. It's about 150 light-years across, has around 3,000,000 times as much mass as our sun, and is one of the galaxy's major 'star factories.'
"...The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.We're starting to understand how hydrogen gets converted into every other element, and how stars and planets form.
"Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is lead author of the research, which appears in the journal Science.
" 'Amino acids on Earth are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are very important for life as we know it. The question in the background is: is there life somewhere else in the galaxy?'..."
(Michael Eyre, BBC News)
In places like Sagittarius B2, radiation from newly-formed stars heats microscopic dust grains in the cloud: apparently causing chemical reactions that end in complex molecules like iso-propyl cyanide. And, maybe, given time and the right circumstances: life.
I've talked about secondary causes, life, the universe, and getting a grip, before. (July 15, 2014; December 6, 2013)
I don't think that there is life on other planets, or that there is not life on other planets. Right now, we don't know.
If we don't find life elsewhere in the universe, my guess is that there will be: as soon as we get out there, and decide that having other "Earths" would be a good idea. We're finding the raw materials, everything we need for terraforming, throughout the galaxy. And that's another topic. (October 11, 2014)
Meanwhile, I won't say that there can't be life on other worlds. That'd be as silly as claiming other worlds can't exist because Aristotle said so. (February 23, 2014)
- Molecular cloud
- Star formation
- Stellar evolution
- Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma)
(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, via NASA, used w/o permission.)
("A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist's depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA's Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets' atmospheres."
"Water Vapor Found on Small, Cloudless, Hot Planet"HAT-P-11b is another name for Kepler-3b, a roughly Neptune-diameter planet about 122 light-years away in the general direction of Deneb. A NASA press release calls it a "a warm world thought to have a rocky core and gaseous atmosphere."
Mary Beth Griggs, Smithsonian Magazine (September 25, 2014)
"NASA announced yesterday that water vapor had been detected on exoplanet HAT-P-11b
"NASA announced yesterday that a team of astronomers had detected water vapor on one small planet about the size of Neptune. The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature, were able to detect water vapor in the atmosphere of planet HAT-P-11b by looking at the changes in light as it passed in front of its star. They used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler telescopes for observations.
"As the BBC reports, this is the smallest planet whose atmosphere has been analyzed with this method. Previously, the method was applied only to large gas giants, the size of Jupiter. Smaller planets weren't large enough or had too many clouds to get good observations. Because HAT-P-11b had a clear, cloudless atmosphere, they were able to get a good look at the composition of the atmosphere: it's 90 percent hydrogen, with a good amount of water vapor thrown in...."
"Warm" in this case is an understatement, or maybe a euphemism. Instruments indicate that HAT-P-11b's temperature is around 878 Kelvin, or about 605 Celsius/1,121 Fahrenheit. That's very roughly midway between the melting points of lead and iron.
HAT-P-11b is not, by any stretch of the imagination, 'Earth-like.'
But this is the first time that scientists have detected molecules in the atmosphere of a planet this close to having Earth's mass.
(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, via NASA, used w/o permission.)
("Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes."
"NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exoplanet"Scientists found water in HAT-P-11b's atmosphere using a technique called transmission spectroscopy. It's related to absorption spectroscopy, another phrase you're not likely to hear every day. Here's how NASA describes it:
Felicia Chou, Whitney Clavin, Donna Weaver, Ray Villard, Michele Johnson; NASA press release (September 24, 2014)
" 'This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,' said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 'Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.'
"Clouds in a planet's atmosphere can block the view to underlying molecules that reveal information about the planet's composition and history. Finding clear skies on a Neptune-size planet is a good sign that smaller planets might have similarly good visibility...
"...Part of the challenge in analyzing the atmospheres of planets like this is their size. Larger Jupiter-like planets are easier to see because of their impressive girth and relatively inflated atmospheres. In fact, researchers already have detected water vapor in the atmospheres of those planets. The handful of smaller planets observed previously had proved more difficult to probe partially because they all appeared to be cloudy....."
(From NASA/ESA/STScI, via NASA, used w/o permission.)
("A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison."
"...a planet is observed as it crosses in front of its parent star. Starlight filters through the rim of the planet's atmosphere; if molecules like water vapor are present, they absorb some of the starlight, leaving distinct signatures in the light that reaches our telescopes...."The vertical lines above and below each "Data" dot show how high or low the actual data might be, with the dot showing what the scientists' instruments say.
(NASA press release)
Now that they've found indications of water vapor in HAT-P-11b's atmosphere, scientists will be using similar techniques on smaller exoplanets, including super-Earths. They've got a good chance of detecting water vapor and other molecules.
Finding evidence of oceans and life: that will take longer.
More about HAT-P-11b:
- "Water Vapor Found on Neptune-size Alien Planet"
Nola Taylor Redd, LiveScience (September 24, 2014)
(From Thinkstock, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(An imaginary scene:today's industrial equipment in a multiple star system.)
"The companies vying to turn asteroids into filling stations"Back in my 'good old days,' I thought the Outer Space Treaty of 1966 was well-intentioned, idealistic, and monumentally impractical.
Debbie Siegelbaum, BBC News (September 25, 2014)
"Private companies want to mine asteroids for fuel, and build filling stations in space. A bill now in front of the US Congress would help by allowing them to own what they discover - but it might, if passed, meet stiff international opposition.
"Chris Lewicki is trying to get water from a stone. A really big stone thousands of miles from Earth.
"The president of space mining firm Planetary Resources used to oversee robotic Mars missions at Nasa, but today he's betting big on asteroids.
"The chunks of matter hurtling through the cosmos are rich in valuable minerals, he says, but finding water could be like striking liquid gold.
" 'We can tell from telescopes that look out from mountaintops here on Earth that certain types of asteroids can be relatively abundant in water and water-bearing minerals,' he says...."
Saying that space exploration should be "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind" sounds good.
One problem is that one of the world's hundred-plus national leaders may think that any action he didn't order is a plot against his regime.
Then there are tightly-wound scientists who disdain any association with businesses, folks who dislike anything American, and others who still yearn for a 'worker's paradise.'
A few may even think a return to the 'good old days' of the 19th century is possible: and desirable. I'm not one of them.
For one thing, we can't go back. Time and change don't work that way.
For another: we learned why full-bore laissez-faire capitalism is a bad idea in the 19th century; and were learning why communism doesn't work in the 20th. Actually, I think communism would work: with people designed along the lines of naked mole rats, ants, or termites. In a society where the citizens are human, not so much.
The point is that we learned, and continue to learn.
(From Planetary Resources, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Planetary Resources' highly-optimistic infographic about "a modern day gold rush.")
Debbie Siegelbaum's article says that although Earth's moon may be off-limits for commercial operations, asteroids may not be covered by the four-decade-old treaty. She may be right.
In any case, I'm pretty sure that in the short term — the next few generations — legal and political wrangling over how folks should live and work in space will provide employment for lawyers, politicos, and bureaucrats.
I'm also pretty sure that we'll develop laws and customs allowing common-sense use and conservation of natural resources we find wherever we go: eventually.
But when the 1966 Outer Space Treaty is as old as the Code of Ur-Nammu is today — we'll probably still be sorting out tangles left by the previous generation's lawmakers.
I'm quite confident that they won't be the same tangles we have today. We have, over the eight millennia or so of written history, been learning from past mistakes. The pace has been frustratingly slow: but I think we have been making progress. (May 6, 2012)
Before getting to why 'water mines' would be so important: I agree with Luigi Taparelli. I think capitalist and communist theories don't pay enough attention to ethics, and I talked about that last Sunday. (September 28, 2014)
(From AFP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("A graphic shows Japan's planned launch of Hayabusa-2 to retrieve samples from asteroid 1999 JU3"
"...But why is water, which covers much of our planet, so valuable in space?Liquid hydrogen and oxygen are a very efficient rocket fuel. But whether they're the "most efficient" depends on definitions.
"According to Lewicki, it currently costs nearly $2bn (£1.2bn) per year to launch enough water - six tons per person - to sustain the six astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
"But, in addition to providing drinking water, H20 can also be converted into breathable air, and into fuel - liquid hydrogen and oxygen form the most efficient rocket fuel known to man...."
(Debbie Siegelbaum, BBC News)
For example, magnetohydrodynamics thrusters (MPDT) have — theoretically — specific impulses three times today's xenon-based ion thrusters, and 25 times that of liquid-fuel rockets. Much of that tech is still in the research and development stage, though.
Even further from practical applications — we know the physics involved in beamed core antimatter rocket motors: but haven't developed the technologies needed. Yet.
My guess is that we're decades, not centuries, from tech like MPDT. Beamed core rocket motors may take longer. Or not.
In 1903, when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published his work, we couldn't build interplanetary spaceships. today some folks are wondering when we'll go back to the moon. (May 17, 2013; Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 26, 2012))
By 2123, the first warp drive may be going through flight testing: or maybe not. And that is yet another topic. (May 24, 2013)
More of why I accept reality:
- "Scientific Discoveries: an Invitation to 'Even Greater Admiration'"
(September 21, 2014)
- "Tunguska and Chelyabinsk Airbursts: Risk, Rocks, and Readiness"
(November 8, 2013)
- "Asteroids, NASA, Congress, and Quarks"
(June 21, 2013)
- "Fusion Power, Terraforming, and Old Dutch Windmills"
(October 11, 2013)
- "Love, Technology, and Being Human"
(October 6, 2013)