Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sweet Spot Worlds and Their Penumbra

Some planets are better than others. There are some worlds that are complete losers with bad air or no air, too hot or too cold, too much gravity or too little, too few resources, too high winds, too extreme seasons, too severe storms, too many volcanoes, nothing but water, nothing but rock, constant cloud cover and so on. Lots of things can be objectionable about a planet, if you are looking to colonize it. But every once in a while there is one that is just perfect. Or very close to perfect. Maybe a bit too much dust or some viral problems, but by and large, good enough to be colonized by just landing and taking possession. Let’s call these sweet spot worlds, as they sit in the nicest place on all the variables you might measure to tell you how suitable a planet is.

If you are one of the first civilizations to begin star-faring in the galaxy, being also of category 3, the ones who want to spread over the galaxy, and you find one of these worlds, your future plans crystallize immediately. You want the world as one of your first colonies. You find this world and realize you can follow the leapfrogging grand strategy for your colonization, and soon this world will be up and running and helping you with your mission in life. Getting your citizens onto the planet becomes the primary goal of your star-traveling activities. You have figured out how to do this, and know which one of the various options is best, send robots with genetic code, send embryos, send sleepers, send a normal crew in a city ship, send multiple ships in a convoy, do it in stages, or whatever. This is now on the top of your things to do.

You also need to add some other things to your to-do list. One is to make sure no other civilization, at least one that isn’t pretty identical to yours, gets there first. If there are different genetic codes that can lead to intelligent star-faring, or there are serious bifurcations in the way evolution can lead to intelligent life even on a planet like yours, then there may be other vastly different types of civilizations in the galaxy. If you inhabit different types of worlds, so your sweet spot world is in the loser bin for the other types, there is no need to hurry. But if a sweet spot to you is also one to them, you might want to get there first. You probably do not have any reverence for life itself, but you do have a meme that guides your choices. The component of it that relates to diffusion, in other words, star traveling and planet colonization, is strangely silent about assisting another type of civilization, perhaps with the wrong number to limbs or bodies that are unrecognizable to you without an alien anatomy guidebook (that’s alien to your civilization, not to Earthlings, as in all probability Earth’s sun has not yet condensed). The meme says you yourself go and colonize.

To be specific, this means that even with asymptotic technology and the knowledge of how to preserve your civilization for another billion years, you are in a hurry to get to the sweet spot planets. Those that formed in the same era as your planet did are your first order of business.

The second thing to put on your to-do list is to become the guardian angel of your new find. The value of this planet is high, and you might want to check for things that could spoil your plans. Is there an asteroid coming toward it that is so large it will convulse the planet? Do something, like alter the asteroid’s orbit.

Stars and planets do not spring into existence in the galaxy all at one time. Some form during the early phases of the galaxy, but after that there is a steady rate of solar system formation, concentrated in the spiral arms. When something really great forms, you want to know about it. It will take some hundreds of millions of years to form planets and clean out a solar system, but when that is done, you have a world which might become a sweet spot world. Can you accelerate the process by which the planet moves through its evolution to being just great? Do you need to respect the Great Filters and wait while life forms by itself? Why bother when you understand the process entirely and can do things to speed up the rate that it becomes ready for a quick colonization? Can you make sure the planet moves the way you want it to by affecting which direction it goes at each bifurcation point?

What do you do if you find a world which is close to being a sweet spot world, but is missing out on one or two factors? Call it a penumbra world, one living in the shadow of being perfect, and able to become one if you are lucky about which factor is off. There may be a large number of penumbra worlds for every sweet spot world in the habitable sector of the galaxy. If you don’t take advantage of the near-misses, you will not be doing what you can to diffuse and colonize. Is there too much U235 concentrated in the one sector of crust so you have a natural reactor and the photosynthetic biome keeps getting zapped? Do something to mitigate it. Is too much H2S leaking out of the crust and making the atmosphere smell bad? Maybe a genetically tailored organism would just love to absorb that stuff.

These activities, including spreading to the sweet spot worlds all over the galaxy, and making the most out of the penumbra worlds, converting them as possible into nice habitable planets, is not likely a billion year project, but more in the hundred million year time frame. If this guess is correct, when Earth starts being able to look for inhabited worlds in the local neighborhood, we might be shocked to find lots of them. We now think about searching and searching the galaxy, reaching as far out as we can, pushing the envelope of our astronomical instrumentation until we finally find a world with a biosignature, such as we recognize one. Then we know we are not alone. The opposite situation is beginning to seem more likely. Life is all over the place. The task of spreading it to the two classes of worlds able to support it was done long ago.

It will be a shock to find one life-bearing world in the galaxy, as we must rethink our position and our view of ourselves. As great as this shock might be, to find planets with not just biosignatures, but signatures of industrial activity, all around us, would be much greater. We would have to recognize we are just newcomers to a crowded community. Add this to the chance that we figure out we are a colony world, seeded in some other world’s slow motion colonization plan, and we then might envision a complete upset of how we see ourselves within a short time, like a century. Things that are very important to us, the monastery garb of our current version of society, might get shredded. While our current problems are certainly important and need our full attention, the tone of solving them would change. The question that would rise to the surface and begin to dominate our attention and our choices in how we solve problems would be different. It would be: “What would our neighbors think of us?”

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