Busting Nemesis

As the Nemesis hypothesis states every 26 million years a long-period, dark stellar companion to our sun comes around and disrupts Oort Cloud objects.  The chaos that reigns supreme results in sending a number of comets into the inner solar system, where one usually ends up slamming into Earth causing mass extinction.  The idea had been put forth initially in 1984 by Daniel P. Whitmire and Albert A. Jackson IV and, despite the lack of supporting evidence, the hypothesis persists today.  

A number of survey studies have been done to locate any potential Nemesis objects out in the stellar neighborhood but those studies have uncovered a remarkable lack of anything in support of the idea.  The only evidence was the periodicity of the extinctions every 26(+/-) million years and the impact that killed off the dinosaurs.  

But, you know how some conspiracy types only need the initial idea… which results in the death of many windmills.  So, today I’ll simply put forth the one glaringly obvious mistake Whitmire, Albert and conspiraphiles have made in their mad pursuit of an idea.  All we need to do is take a look at the past extinctions and the possible causes (evidence-based) of each one.  

Starting 444 million years ago the end of the Ordovician period saw a loss of 86% of all sea life.  The majority of life on earth at the time were filter-feeding sea life.  This loss was not as instantaneous as the impact that killed Barney’s ancestors 65 million years ago and took about a million years.  The cause, as evidence shows, was likely a short ice age that lowered ocean levels.  It is suspected that the rise of the Appalachians exposed silicate rocks that sucked the majority of the CO2 out of the atmosphere.  This in turn dropped global temperatures even more.  Evidence renders the cause of the Ordovician extinction as a result of a comet from the Oort cloud as a bit silly, in my opinion.

375 million years ago the Late Devonian period saw the loss of 75% of species globally.  Scientists suspect it was new plant life that had just formed, whose roots disrupted the soil and released nutrients in the ocean.  This in turn caused algae blooms to suck the oxygen out of the water and suffocating the very successful trilobites, that incidentally survived the Ordovician fiasco.  Tough luck, little guys.  Other bottom dwelling life also found themselves dead.  This is a more Occam’s Razor friendly explanation.  There is no need for a Nemesis here, as the evidence we have does not point to an as yet unseen long-period dark companion.

The end of the Permian period, 251 million years ago, was one of the worst extinctions in earth history.  We very nearly wouldn’t even be here right now if it was just a wee bit worse than the 96% loss that we see in the fossil record.  This was so bad that it is often referred to as “the Great Dying”.  This event is characterized by a sweet little combination of events.  We’re talking a huge volcanic eruption, that reclassifies the worse we see today as mere farts by comparison.  This caused methanogenic bacteria to pump out that cute little greenhouse gas called methane.  Combined with hydrogen sulfide, and CO2 belched out by that massive volcanic event, the earth global temperatures soared, oceans acidified, life stagnated.  Though evidence is hard to come by, because the earth completely recycles land and sea floors over the course of 200 million years, the data we do have on this greatest of extinctions points to a local cause, not a stellar one.

200 million years ago the Triassic period found itself losing 80% of its life forms.  Though research into this particular event has not yet uncovered any clear cause, when we take the past 3 extinctions and their causes into consideration, the Triassic extinction is no longer a part of any pattern.  3 events makes a pattern, 2 events make a line and that is all we can say about the Triassic.

The end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago, is perhaps the most famous extinction event in earth history.  It makes sense, it is the most recent and the one that cleared the stage for mammals to take our place as rulers of this blue marble.  This event was punctuated with an asteroid impact that wiped out 76% of all life.  Most of that was right after the initial impact that caused a global fireball, that sucked up available oxygen, fried plant and animal life and covered the entire planet in a dust cloud.  We’re taking nuclear winter, starvation, death ,mayhem, dog and cats living together.

So, in five major extinction events we have 3 of them that have clearer causes than an evil stellar companion.  What we’re left with is one event, for which we have no good explanation, and one event caused by an object impacting the earth.  That’s 1 event that is clearly of extraterrestrial origin, and we don’t even know that it was a comet from the Oort cloud.  The conclusion is that there is no evidence for Nemesis, no reason to believe the idea possible.  There no reason to hypothesize a more elaborate explanation than those supported by physical evidence.  

But, what about the minor extinction events between those I explained above, namely Cambrian, Carboniferous, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Neogene?  Remember that nearly all these events have theorized/hypothesized causes from local processes and changes the earth was going through at the time of each extinction.  It just makes more sense than the sensational idea of an evil dark maid, that comes around every 26 million years to clean house. 

So far, we have not found Nemesis, and that is not for the lack of looking.  We used telescopes to peer into the darkness.  We detected the motions of stars in our local area.  We studied the data we collected and have not found a single shred of evidence for it.  If we do find a long-period red dwarf, or brown dwarf, or other object that can account for the motion necessary to disrupt the Oort cloud, I would give the idea more credit.  That certainly would not clinch the case and move it from highly unlikely to highly likely, merely from highly unlikely to a little less unlikely.  And that’s how science works.  Science is difficult.  To reflect the sentiments of Dan Brown, if it’s not painfully difficult, you’re doing it wrong.


The Wonder & Potential of Trappist-1

When the Spitzer space telescope was launched in 2003 few (if any) imagined that it would be used to find planets orbiting around the red dwarf star, Trappist-1. Yet that’s what the research group, headed by Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege, Belgium had done. Spitzer was not initially intended to find planets. It’s mission was to observe the universe in infrared wavelengths. The team that discovered the new worlds in Trappist-1, saw the potential in Spitzer and worked toward making this wonderful discovery possible. This find is amazing for many reasons, but those that I see that are at the leading edge are; three of the seven are nested beautifully in the habitable zone of the host star, and the strong suggestion of liquid water.

How water managed to get onto these three worlds is not completely known, however the team theorizes that the planets in question started further out from the star, where water ice was abundant during the system’s formation, and migrated inward to their current orbits. I’ve looked for the reasoning behind this and did not find any. However, I will take a rough stab at it. All seven worlds around Trappist-1 A influence each other gravitationally. They tug, pull and jostle one another as they circle the star in days-long orbits. This aspect of their behaviour tells me that these worlds would have been prevented from forming in the number and sizes they have so close to the star itself. If planets formed that close there would not have been that many. Some of the seven planets had to have formed elsewhere. In the end the matter that we see as seven planets would have formed perhaps three or four larger planets. But, this is not what we see.

Additionally, it is doubtful that water would survive so close to the star in ice form long enough to be delivered to the protoplanetary bodies. The water had to have been delivered further out where the star’s warmth could not melt, and evaporate, that water once the Trappist-1 A protostar began its core-burning, main sequence, life.

Whatever we discover about these planets is guaranteed to be extremely valuable, whether or not there is life on any or all of them. We are certain to learn more about how earth-like worlds form. The conditions required for stable orbiting, water bearing, life sustaining planets is turning out to be a very complicated story. The answers to the questions we ask will definitely lead to more complex questions. Discoveries such as this are the planetesimals that coalesce into a better understanding of how we got here, who and what we are and where we’re going.


Jupiter Is Not a Failed Star


Image taken by Micheal Larwood, amateur astronomer

It’s often said by educators that Jupiter is a failed star, that if it only had a little bit more mass it would be a second star in the Solar system. Then why is it that we are finding gas giant planets about 10 times its mass orbiting other stars? Now that doesn’t seem terribly much bigger than Jupiter until you realize just how large Jupiter really is. It has a volume of 1.43 x 10^15 (that’s 10 with fifteen zeroes) cubic killimeters. Over 1,300 Earths could fit inside it and it has a gravity well that extends so far that Jupiter prevented the asteroid belt from coalescing into a planet. It is even theorized that the gas giant may have allowed life to form on Earth (I may have an additional write up on that). But I digress.

How big of a gas giant can you get before there is enough mass to begin core fusion? Brown dwarfs are much more massive than Jupiter could ever dream of being but are still not really stars. They don’t fuse hydrogen. They sort of glow a bit in the red end of the spectrum, which is why they’re so hard to spot. They’re close, but not quite close enough. If anything, these brown dwarfs are the real failed stars, not Jupiter. In order to really shine like a star you need approximately 80 times Jupiter’s mass to really kick off that core fusion… the mass of a red dwarf star. So for there to be a Jupiter that acts like a second star in the Solar system we would need another 79 Jupiters worth of mass.

So, why is it that astronomers, experts in the field, still say that Jupiter is a “failed star”? I don’t buy the whole popularization of astronomy that science centers and planetaria use. I know the general public is ignorant of astronomical phenomenon and I get it that they may choose to be so. However, claiming inaccuracies like this is not doing the field any favours. You may capture some initial interest but you will find that you will more often lose that budding little amateur astronomer when they find out the truth. Their conclusion may be, “scientists lie”. Scientists lie? Where have I heard… ah yes… climate change denial. We are all familiar with what happened when scientists were undermined by politicians, corporations and shills of the oil industry. But I hear you… that wasn’t the fault of the scientists. Yet if you think about it you may realize that if much of the world reacted the way they did by denying the science behind climate change, how do you think people will react when a blatant misrepresentation of facts is so consistently and repeatedly perpetrated, no matter how small that “lie” may be? Exactly. Let’s stop trying to popularize science and discovery by issuing misleading/false facts and stretched truth. This is science… not politics.


The Mars Race – Getting There First at all Cost

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 metres deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere, and in some regions reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres.So, it appears that the Mars race is on. NASA, ESA, China, SpaceX, Boing and others are some of the top contenders for the prestigious claim to put people there first. No, Mars One doesn’t belong on this list simply because it really is a crap show and I honestly doubt their actual intent is to go to Mars. For Mars One, the colony they claim to want to start, if it is a sincere attempt and if it actually gets off the ground, will likely end up with all members dead within months (and I’m being generous). So this brings me to the following question. Should not survivability be tallied into the equation? It’s one thing to get there and plant a flag with a human hand – and not a robotic one – but it is quite another to have a permanent second residence for humankind. I’m sorry, guys, but if your crew dies, you should forfeit the prize.

Besides that, who would ever trust you to get them there and back safely next time? After all, if Mars One sends a hundred colonists to the red world and they all die of starvation, or toxicity, or radiation, or any number of other causes that we have not yet mitigated, then the venture was never intended to advance knowledge or have a second planetary home for humankind. The people you send trust that you aren’t just sending them to a sterile grave. It’s not necessary to rush it if five, ten or twenty years more of research and development will increase survivability.

There was a story from an amature writer many years ago that produced a piece of work where the scenario was that the Soviet Union had gotten to the Moon first, though it was a one way trip and the cosmonaut was doomed the moment he left Earth. In that situation, should the former USSR get the recognition of getting there first, or should there be a moral limit on the at-all-cost mentality? I supposed you could claim the prize of being first across the line even though you stumbled and collapsed at the end, but history has a brutal memory when it comes to failures of the epic nature Mars One heralds, and prestige was never awarded.

The more we humans involve ourselves in space the more morality will matter. Obviously we cannot treat other worlds like we have treated the Earth, because there may be many worlds within immediate reach that have alien life thriving on them. When the Galileo probe was finished at Jupiter NASA directed it into the gas giant rather than risk the probe contaminating Europa, which is suspected of harbouring sea life within a subsurface ocean. NASA is conscientious about how the search for knowledge can affect unknown ecosystems, and that it is part of their MO.

So, morality in our spacial endeavors is already being used today. Should that be limited in the name of knowledge? It is understood that with great risk comes great knowledge, but should that risk be human lives?

I know what you may be thinking, “isn’t space exploration an inherently risky business?”. Well yes, it is. You are never going to remove all risks, and that is true of any venture beyond current human experience. However, it is also responsible to do everything one can to reduce those risks to human, and extraterrestrial, lives. Trying to get to Mars too fast will inevitably trade off the safety we can employ for a bit of prestige. Money is nothing to lose… lives of the bold, though misguided, few who want to be the first humans on another planet is too high a cost. NASA may get there last, but they will get there safely. And that is as prestigious as you can get.


Open Minded Does Not Mean Believe Everything You Hear

headinsandDo you have an open mind? Wait. Before you answer you may need to properly understand what it really means to have an open mind. Urban Dictionary defines an open mind as, “… when even if you think you are right, you know that you can be wrong and are always willing to listen to and hear an opposing or contradictory view.” The Cambridge online dictionary defines it as waiting until all the facts are in before making a judgement. But, let’s tear apart the definition from Urban Dictionary first, because it troubles me somewhat.

There is a scale with definitely not right on one end and definitely right on the other. Most of us are somewhere between the two on most issues. Yet not all issues reside in that fuzzy, gray area. For example, I don’t need an open mind when someone says that the Moon is made of cheese. When I say it is not I do not need to look at the evidence presented by Mooncheesers, just in case there is new evidence in support of a Moon of cheese. Barring that non-zero quantum probability, that suddenly the Moon can turn into cheese, it most definitely is not made of Gouda, and I definitely do not need to entertain the idea. I can say with certainty that my claim is on the definitely right end of the scale. It is the same with hollow Earth, zig-zag-and-swirl and chemtrails. All three never should have happened, let alone gain acceptance by so many people. This is why I’m going with the definition provided by Cambridge. When all the evidence is in we can make a judgement and be quite sure that we have it right.

Is it closed minded to no longer have an interest in the paranoid ramblings of a few crazy people that hold true to an idea even after it has been shown to be completely false? No, it isn’t. It is simply logical to not waste time on a falsehood that has been shown to be such. Illuminati, chemtrails, alien abduction – and Moons made of cheese – may still seem possible by Urban Dictionary’s definition, but not with the Cambridge definition. The evidence is in, we’ve looked at it from the proponent’s point of view and the evidence is not compelling, and can even be said to be contrived to the point of deliberate misrepresentation.

I’ve been called closed minded before, this is not a new thing. I was once told by a friend of mine that he saw pyramids on the Moon through his telescope. When challenged to show me he would not and I was promptly accused of having a closed mind. I was expected to just believe it. This friend defined open mind as “believe what I tell you”. This was during a time when I was struggling with other crazy ideas supported by fabricated evidence, molded to fit a desired conclusion. These were crazy ideas I believed without the background checking that is now a fundamental part of my MO. Mind you, in my defense, the internet was not accessible to the general public as it is now, so I didn’t really have the resources.

The thing is, no one can use lack of resources as an excuse today. The internet is a tool that is only half used for some reason. People look for what supports their preconcept and never look for, or have a desire to believe, any evidence to the contrary. Many people seem to choose ignorance. They are not open to the possibility that they are wrong, and in many cases seem to be scared to death of it. I do not understand how this fear can exist at all. Would you not want to know if you are right or wrong? If you are scared of aliens, would you not want to seek out all the information in an effort to either confirm or deny that fear? If you are scared of chemtrails, would you not want to know if it is actually true? If you answer no to any of those three questions then you do not have an open mind. And if your mind is closed enough to answer no to any of those questions, then you are probably upset with me now for having a closed mind.

However, if you answered yes to all three, then you are ready to look at both sides of any issue and tease out the truth. You are ready to use your resources fully. You may not always get the answers you’re looking for and it may land you someplace in the gray area, but that is how proper inquiry works. That is how science works. You may not consider yourself a scientist, but if you look at all the evidence, weigh that evidence against the contrary with an objective eye, then you are, for all intents and purposes, a scientist and have an open mind. If you are not afraid of being wrong, or at least not entirely sure, of something you once held as absolute, then you are not closed minded.


Quantum Teleportation Is Not Teleportation

Exactly right, Quantum Teleportation (QT) doesn’t teleport anything. The thing is people have been fooled into thinking that QT is actually teleportation when it is simply copying. Therefore, a less misleading term would be Quantum Copying. I’m sorry this blows all your hopes of seeing the future unfold now, before your eyes, but truth is truth and we all have to accept that.

First let’s make clear what teleportation is. It is the transporting of an object from point A to point B by breaking the object down to atoms, streaming those atoms through the intervening space and reconstructing the object at point B. This is the same teleportation that had been popularized by science fiction. Think of Star Trek.

Now that we’ve properly defined what it is, we can now look at why QT isn’t the same thing. You see QT utilizes quantum entanglement, a nifty little feature of quantum mechanics that is best described as a linking of properties of subatomic particles no matter how far away they are in relation to one another. Thus if I have an entangled pair whatever I do to one immediately affects the other and causes it to behave exactly the same way. So, if I were to change the spin of an electron here its entangled electron partner across the universe will change its spin to be the same. This is perhaps a great way to get a rover on Gliese 581b, but for a person we have a bit of a problem.

If you have two quantumly entangled people what happens to one will happen to the other. So, now we have to add extra steps to the procedure of the so-called teleportation. One will need to disentangle the pair the moment the duplicate is created, so that if one dies the other doesn’t also die. But now we have two of the same person. One would need to destroy the original, after disentangling them, to avoid any existential issues. Yet, that’s like making a xerox copy of your chore list and shredding the original chore list. The copy is not the original, never was and never will be. Both may possess the exact same information, but the lists would still be different lists. Of course we can just not destroy the original, but that is not really teleportation because it doesn’t fit the transportation aspect, the you remaining you throughout the whole process part. The copy of you would still not be the original you. They are still not the same. Or are they? Don’t we also have to at least entertain the idea that the two people are exact duplicates? Not really, because this in no way resolves this issue into real teleportation, because of that annoying lack of transit.

I think part of the problem is our hope to see the future, as presented in science fiction, become reality. Maybe it’s hope that the dystopian mess we live in today becomes the utopian ideal of tomorrow, and high technology like this is a sign of that hope. Maybe it’s a love of wonder. Whatever the reason is, that causes your hope of advanced technology in the world of today, you need to temper that hope – that wish of something better – with healthy skepticism. You need to also realize that advancements in technology usually aren’t instantaneous. It takes many small steps to reach any milestone, and a lot of perspiration to make each step.

Will we ever reach the teleportation milestone? Probably. Will it happen tomorrow? Probably not, but there is a non-zero, quantum probability that it might. Whether it takes years, decades or centuries we will get there. Generations alive today may never bear witness to such wonders. But, understand that each laborious step along the way is a wonder in itself, not to be diminished by our hope of bigger things. We are the platform of future hope and wonder. What we do today, however small it seems to you, is more important than the destination, because without the baby steps the destination can never be.


Big Bang – Maybe Not?

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We thought we saw the mechanism that is thrusting all the galaxies away from each other, an effect we called the hubble expansion.  We thought it was because of a sudden explosion from a singularity that created space, matter and time.  We thought it would eventually slow down and then contract again.  Everything would come back together in a final Big Crunch and would return to a perfection that once was.  The Big Bang was a perfect theory.  

Then Dark Matter had shown it’s ugly face in the data, grinning like a mental patient, and throwing all our effort into question.  It screwed with us, because the totality of everything without Dark Matter was just the right amount of stuff to close the universe and bring it all together again.  Too little matter and the universe would expand forever, too much and it wouldn’t have a chance to form complex elements before being forced back to a point again.  Humanity could never be.  Dark Matter was something we didn’t want.  We didn’t order it, because it wasn’t even on the menu.  It took us completely by surprise.

But, we studied more, thought more, looked even further and even deeper, and what we found was Dark Energy.  A repulsive force that pushed everything away from everything else.  It is real.  It’s not an aberration in the data, and not an illusion.  Space is expanding at incredible speeds, taking all the galaxies with it, and it is accelerating.  Because nothing happens without energy, impossible levels must be powering it.  

This specifically messes with my head, because I’ve learned that you cannot have a net input of energy into a system (ie. law of the conservation of energy).  If the law is wrong then we’re dealing with the complete scrapping over two centuries of physics.  If the law isn’t wrong then the universe is not a closed system.  And if it isn’t a closed system, where is that extra energy coming from?




What Really Screws with My Head

Hubble "Most Important Picture Ever Taken" photo HubbleUltraDeepFieldImage.jpg

Don’t get me wrong I understand that it is, what it is.  What I mean by screws with my head is that it’s the kind of thing that grabs my attention in both hands and forces me to look because I tend to ignore it.  But I do know what it is.  It’s not the fact that there is light that has been in transit, non-stop for 13.6 billion years, and will be for 13.6 billion years more.  I can handle that.  Nor is it knowing that there is light that originated so far away that we will never see it in our lifetimes.  That isn’t a big deal for me either.  It’s not even that there are places in the universe so remote that they will forever be untouchable.  It’s a doozy, I admit, but not what does it for me.  It’s not even that light from there is being carried away, by accelerating space, faster than the speed of those photons.  That almost does it, but still falling a little short.  What really gets me, what really makes me pause, is that someone that far away looks around their universe and sees everything the exact same way I do.