Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Technology Under Pressure

It was mentioned somewhere else that technology determines many features in an alien civilization. You could say that the development of some new technology exerts pressure on a civilization to change and adapt to it. The pressure might come via competition, for example, if one textile-maker in a clan figures out a new dye, members of other clans which trade with this clan might prefer textiles using this dye, and the textile-makers in the other clans would want to be able to get some, and perhaps would engage in some investigation or even some spying to bring the new dye technology over to their villages.

Pressure goes the other way as well. It comes from the Malthusian pressure that all alien societies evolve with, as Malthusian behavior is the behavior that drives evolution. Until late in the technology pathway, when that behavior might be deliberately modified, it exists and provides an impetus to use technology. It prevents the abandonment of technology, making its development a one-way street, with only a few exceptions, occurring perhaps through war or pestilence reducing the population.

The process is straightforward, but it has its own quirks. Someone develops an advance in technology, such as a better slingshot for hunting birds or whatever edible substitute there is that flies around on their planet, and uses it to increase the sustenance level of his/her/its clan. Two things happen. Assume the technology spreads all over the alien world, to all the hunters, over some period, maybe a thousand years. The first thing that happens is that the clans which have the technology have hunters which can support more offspring. The growth rate of the clans' population is jacked up a tiny bit. Of course, there are incredible randomizing effects that go on relative to population, such as weather and climate, predators, migration, floods and volcanoes, battles, personal disputes, and many more. But all in all, after all the random factors are averaged out, the population growth rate is a bit bigger, maybe 0.01% per year as opposed to 0.009% without the new slingshot technology. The clans with it grow in numbers, Malthusian-style, until the saturation effect happens, and there aren't enough birds available to satisfy the successive generations of hunters, and maintain the growth rate bump-up. So the growth rate drops back, but the population is larger because of the technology.

Now they actually need that technology to maintain their numbers. If slingshot-caught birds are not still added to the catch, the higher numbers cannot, on the average, be sustained. Again, there are so many random factors that have to be averaged over that listing them would be distracting, but on the average, they need the technology. They feel the pressure to use it, as without it there would be more hunger. In other words, they depend on the technology, and risk their numbers on its continued existence and availability.

Thus, the response to technology is to use it, and it creates a dependence, and it cannot be easily abandoned. This just keeps going on, but it takes on a new aspect. What happens when the technology begins to lose its productivity? In the slingshot situation, if the type of plant needed for the handle becomes less and less viable, due to some mutation of pests, and there is no substitute, what must happen? There are two choices for the clans facing this problem and one is to slide back to their previous level that existed without this particular technology, but the other one is to force the development of some alternate technology, such as snares. If snare technology is developed and can replace the slingshot productivity, they can maintain their numbers, averaged of course. So it can be said that the use of technology provides not just a pressure to not abandon its use, but to develop other technology, as technology sometimes disappears of its own accord.

When the alien civilization enters the agricultural grand transition, and grows whatever crops grow on their planet, their numbers will also increase. They can't stop farming. They can't stop husbanding domesticated animals. Whatever other parts there are of their agriculture, they can't be abandoned unless the civilization is willing to suffer a population decline.

The same process works when the alien civilization enters and passes through the industrial grand transition. Now they are dependent on whatever their planet affords for technology in this period, most likely the use of metals and other fabricated materials, energy sources such as hydrocarbon fuels, agricultural supplements gained by mining, and so on. Old functions such as transportation and new functions such as communication become completely enabled by some portions of technology, and there is no going back. The civilization now is not just being changed by technology, it is being made totally dependent.

When the genetic grand transition is entered and progressed through by the alien civilization, their dependence on it grows even stronger. In the earlier phases, if some horrendous event occurred, some aliens might fall back on the hunting traditions of their civilization, but after the genetic transformations that the genetics revolution makes possible, that becomes increasingly untenable. Genetic optimization for life in large arcologies, almost but not quite hermetically sealed, with most experiences generated artificially, will not maintain the abilities that the alien species evolved with. Perhaps the alien citizens could struggle to maintain some of these skills, but having a full set and having the training be realistic and stressful enough might not happen, especially in a civilization where work was off-loaded to robots, automation and intellos. Perhaps the civilization's members, being by this time universally more intelligent, would evaluate the risk of technological failure and decide there was too much redundancy for that to happen and that their risk analyses were even better than needed to maintain the current state of affairs.

This conclusion may be utterly true, but the point is that technology does not just change society, it transforms it not only into having ways that use it, but into having ways which depend on its continued existence and continued functioning. By the end of the genetic grand transition, there is no fall-back escape, unless there was some specific choices made. One choice, to ensure the continuity of the species in the event of something completely unexpected and unforeseen, would be the establishment of what has been called the 'left-behinds', alien citizens not taken into the arcologies, not upgraded genetically, not made part of the normal course of events in the civilization, but simply left behind at an early stage of technology. There are likely many ramifications of such a choice, and perhaps we can investigate them later.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Weathery Problems

Alien civilizations who push the knowledge of technology a bit farther that we have eventually reach what we term 'asymptotic technology'. This is the ultimate state, when the alien civilization knows just about all that science can offer, and has the engineering knowledge to boot about how to turn it into useful items for the use of the members of their civilization. It is akin to omniscience, but it has limits, imposed not by the characteristics of the alien civilization, nor by the gaps or errors in their knowledge, but by the very nature of the universe.

Asymptotic technology is universal, meaning that every alien civilization that ever existed will reach the exact same body of knowledge, as it does not depend on any details of the civilization, but upon the details of science and engineering. This also means that exactly the same limits will impact each and every alien civilization, not counting the ones who become extinct early in their progression or who run into problems such as Malthusian idiocracy. Those who are successful get to exactly the same point in technology, and then according to the principle of technological determinism, their societies will conform to the same technology and have a great deal in common with every other alien civilization that gets to the same peak.

The same limits to asymptotic technology hold no matter when the alien civilization encounters them. They are hard limits, and if an alien civilization gets far ahead in one subspecialty of science and hits a limit, it is going to be stuck with that limit until the end of its existence. Asymptotic technology does have an order to it, as some advances require technology from other branches in order to proceed past some thresholds, but these are not so restrictive that they insist that each subspecialty only can arrive in some particular sequence. It is the limits which are universal and there is some flexibility in which ones are bumped into first.

The same technology limits impact our work here, meaning both the work that Earth's scientists do, and also the research we are attempting to pull together on alien civilizations. As an example of the first, we use the old, old example of the weather. No one in touch with modern media doubts that weather forecasters have a very hard problem predicting weather for more than a few days, if that. Some generic climatological averages exist for long term predictions, describing the year and perhaps some correlations between different aspects of a year's climate, but to predict rain thirty days in advance simply is not even attempted. The reason for this is thought to be well-known.

We are nowhere near the asymptotic limits of computational power, as evidenced by what we call Moore's law, which says something to the effect that computational power is growing at an exponential rate, or at least used to be. So if we jump ahead to the future, can we expect that when computational power grows ten or a hundred times as great as it is now, we will be able to predict rain thirty days in advance? Predictive power will certainly improve, but will it be incremental, a few percent improvement in short term forecasts, or an order of magnitude in the accuracy of predictions way out in time from the current time? The former. Because computational power is not the only obstacle to weather calculations. Data is another one. Without a corresponding improvement in data, computational power applied to existing data would accomplish nothing at all. Data means having a compendium of all those variables that affect local weather, meaning temperature, humidity, pressure, velocity, cloud cover, composition, and perhaps others everywhere in the atmosphere from the surface through the exosphere, in three dimensions. With all that data, plus data on solar impact, orbital variables, surface temperatures, and likely oceanic data as well, computational models would have a better starting point. If models became improved as well, so the computational fluid dynamics needed to make the computations were as sound as could be, they might make the best possible effort toward computing rain thirty days out.

There may be a snag, relating to scale. Just exactly how precise in three dimensions does this data have to be? We don't have a clue as to whether a data collection system would have to collect data every kilometer horizontally and every hundred meters vertically, or whether it might need twice or four times that much, or perhaps more? This is the sensitivity problem. Do the predictions work if they are averaged over a kilometer, or only over a hundred meters?

For lack of a better word, let's call a three-dimensional problem with heavy computational requirements and very heavy data requirements a 'weathery' problem, i.e., a problem like the weather. There are several others, and they impact the scientific work that is needed to provide some answers to questions posed by studying alien civilizations. That means that there will be some questions without answers for a very long time.

One such problem relates to the formation of stars from gas clouds. It is certainly possible for scientists to build models of one or two-dimensional star formation, but gas clouds are non-uniform. Even if all the brilliance in the world was focused on the problems of nuclear fusion under immense pressure, and the results were astonishingly promising, there is still the problem of analyzing any particular star, or stars with three-dimensional clouds originating them, which is a weathery problem.

Suppose we understand that the presence of sufficient uranium and thorium resources on a rocky planet are critical to an alien civilization getting to a final level of technology. Determining the separation of uranium ores on the upper crust of some arbitrary planet is a weathery problem, and developing conditions for it to happen is a very difficult assignment. Assessing if fusion is possible, at least in the form we are experimenting with it on the largest experiments so far, is a weathery problem. If it were not, it would be possible to calculate just what would work; but it is and so experiments have to be conducted.

Figuring out how the two disks evolve, the galactic disk and a planetary disk, are weathery problems. Even N-body problems can be called weathery problems, and examples of multi-planetary mutual perturbations and globular clusters are included. Problems in what we call soft sciences, psychology, economics, sociology and even neurology are all computationally difficult, if there were already any computational models, which there are not in most cases. Each of these weathery problems will not easily be solved, not with the next ten years of computer development nor the next ten years of observations or data collection. In each case, some sage speculation is needed. That is the best that is possible, so the study of alien civilizations is not going to look like atomic physics any time soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Types of Governance in Alien Civilizations

Governance can be by whom or how. Why would this be important? Because those who govern, at the right time, get to set the policy for the alien civilization, and if they do it right, the policy will last for generations. In particular, with some pretty good luck, these policies might endure in force all the way up to the time when space travel becomes possible, and then, if the policy for star travel promoted it, it could be done. With people governing at this key but early time who disdain star travel, and if they possess an understanding of how to set memes for their civilization that will last for very long periods, there will be none. So, if we are trying to figure out which alien civilizations may set forth on the long, long voyages to other star systems, we might first try to figure out who's likely to be in charge and then what their preferences might be.

Why isn't this direction of inquiry just a speculative nightmare? Wouldn't it be better just to stick to drawing impressive models of star ships? Questions like what kind of engine to use and where to put the radiation shielding seem to be more amenable to analysis.

There is one problem with just drawing models of star ships. Who's going to pay for the large cost of building them? Why wouldn't they spend their money on other things, like habitats on planets in their own solar system, or some more gigantic observatories or improvements in the cities the aliens live in? This kind of decision is part and parcel of any civilization, and without a widespread decision on making this investment, it wouldn't be done. No matter how pretty some alien engineer draws his models of star ships, and even how realistic they might be, if the governing authority of the civilization thinks it's just a stupid idea to go to other stars, or if there is some basic meme that all young aliens learn stating that star travel is not their game, there is going to be nobody interstellar visiting Earth, or leaving behind evidence of their visit, or even giving off signatures of star ships passing nearby.

So, while it might be ever so entertaining to look at someone's visualization of an alien star ship, or even to watch an animation of it, this really isn't the nub of the problem. The only reason someone should look at star ship designs is to see if there are any physical impossibilities that prohibit it. This would override any alien civilization's fervent meme to go star traveling. They would find out, soon enough on they pathway to asymptotic technology, that you just can't do that. Barring that outcome of design, coming up with interesting ways to configure the conn or the power units doesn't have much value toward figuring out if anybody is going to show up here on Earth.

Before actually trying to deduce anything about alien governance in the meme-writing period, perhaps it would be a good idea to come up with some basis for the deductions. Intuition, as we all know, is completely faulty, but a good defense against it is to try and figure out some principles, get those laid out, and then use them to derive something more detailed. So, given we know for certain absolutely nothing about any alien civilization, what could possible be some principles that could be defended?

We do actually know something about alien civilizations in general, so the best way forward might be to try and come up with something generic that might occur most of the time. We understand about how technology determines the structure of a civilization, and there is actually a name for this principle: Technological Determinism. Not too original but it does capture the concept. We understand about the stages that technology might proceed through, as one determines the basis for the next. Alien civilizations which have the potential to reach the peak of technology have to move from their original evolved state through a hunter grand transition, then an agricultural grand transition, then an industrial grand transition which includes both mechanical and electronic/optical portions, then a genetics grand transition closely coupled with a neurological grand transition. Along the way they figure out how to run a civilization, with subjects like economics and sociology, but not anything like what we use these terms for. We understand many of the likely details of these slow, gradual revolutions, and many of the implications of them.

We understand what might be called the most exciting time of their existence, which is the middle part of the genetics grand transition. It is exciting because people are using genetics to become more and more intelligent, and this social upgrading of intelligence on a wide scale puts an end to many of the problems that beset civilizations, such as war and population control, resource usage and behavioral codes. We also expect that policies will be put in place at this time, and the neurological grand transition will provide the technology, the knowledge so to speak, about how to make these policies universally accepted. Yes, it could be screwed up and fail, leaving everyone to figure out their own opinions on policy; with high levels of intelligence, most alien citizens should come up with the same results, with some exceptions.

One exception is the meme for star travel. There is nothing in physics or astronomy or chemistry or communications or neurology or genetics or anywhere else that dictates to an alien civilization what it will do about star travel. This is predicated on the assumption that it is physically and practically possible. So, if there is any widespread agreement on it, it must come via the memes set up by whoever is in charge of such a task.

Here's another principle that might be useful. Some aliens would be altruistic in this exciting time, but most should be still interested in their own welfare and prosperity, or that of certain circles, perhaps small or perhaps large. So, the implication from this is that if we want to understand the choice for star travel in a typical alien civilization, we need to understand who is in charge, and what their personal benefits might amount to. Sounds pretty simple. We understand from technological determinism how an alien society might be divided up into castes, for lack of a better term, and we know their functions in the alien society, so we might get a clue as to what choices they might make for star travel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rural Galactic Neighborhoods

Previous posts have commented on the different galactic neighborhoods, and the likelihood of finding alien civilizations in them. There are perhaps five: the galactic bulge, the galactic disk, globular clusters, intergalactic space, and the galactic halo. The bulge might be divided into the area near the central black hole and the outer regions. One can also divide up the disk into the inner part and the sparsely populated outer disk, which might frivolously be referred to as the rural part of the galaxy.

About 90% of the stars in the galaxy are in the bulge, and this is not such a good area for the origination of life and the development of an alien civilization. The reasons are two: there is a lot of higher energy radiation there, which disrupts biological cells and molecules, and planetary orbits are affected by the high rate of stellar encounters. Stars often lose their planets, meaning that there would be a large density of rogue planets, planets flying loose in the galaxy with a star to orbit. Planetary formation might be disrupted during the initial formation of the planets in a planetary disk, but that process is short, order of a hundred million years or less, and the planets hang around for billions of years, or until some passing star pulls them into the void between stars. One thing that is good about the galactic bulge is that it has a lot of metal there. Metal, to astronomers, is every element beyond helium. You need metals to make rocky cores for planets, or rocky planets in general, or rocky satellites. There aren’t any totally non-metallic satellites, as the mass of satellites is not enough to hold onto hydrogen or helium.

In the theory of satellite formation suggested in this blog, that they form at Lagrangian points of planets, and migrate into capture, they could not form in a non-metallic planetary disk. The planets would simply collect all the hydrogen and helium in the disk and there would be simply a solar system with gas giants, of the size of Neptune and larger.

In the theory of life origination suggested in this blog, with a satellite impact on a rocky planet, life doesn’t get started. This is of course redundant as life is mostly composed of metallic elements. Hydrocarbons without carbon?

Globular clusters are low in metals, meaning not good places for life to originate. Halo stars have average metallicity, as they are simply ejected stars, and likely most of them come out of the bulge, where metallicity is average or better. Intergalactic stars, on the other hand, if they form from small clouds of gas which has not yet undergone metal enrichment from earlier generations of stars, would just have the gas giant planets. This means that the intergalactic travel discussed in another post would face this additional hardship. Too few of these stars have been detected, much less analyzed, to see if they are just bulge stars given a much higher velocity than others, or whether they are the ejection elements of globular clusters. They could also be the stars left behind from the orbiting of dwarf galaxies, which lose outer stars on every close passage to a large galaxy like the Milky Way, or Andromeda for that matter.

That leaves the disk. There is a metallicity gradient in the disk, with higher metallicity being found nearer the bulge. The cause of this is not the same as for a metal gradient in a planetary disk, with the gravity of the central star or cloud serving to provide a potential energy gradient that different elements would exist in and migrate in. There is little gravity gradient in the galactic disk, as the gravitation of the disk is such that the variation in gravity from the distance to the central bulge is modified and reduced. Instead, it is a question of stellar generations. In the bulge and inner parts of the disk, there have been several generations, especially of hot stars, which simply generate metals and leave them in the remaining gas cloud. Every time a galactic spiral wave sweeps through the gas of the disk, it makes large stars, and these stars live and die quickly, producing metals. The waves come by on the order of a couple of hundred million years, and the hot stars’ lifetimes are about the same, so there have been many generations of hot stars in the inner part of the disk, where we live.

In the outer part of the disk, gas is too tenuous to support spiral waves, and thus fewer hot stars are generated and less metal produced. This means that the ‘rural’ parts of the galaxy, or any galaxy not just the Milky Way, is home to stars and solar systems, but mostly gas giant planets with no satellites. This means that estimates of the number of possible solo planets in our galaxy are significantly high. If Earth astronomers do surveys of our nearby stars and get an estimate of how many Liquid Water Zone (LWZ) planets there are, and someone takes that percentage and multiplies it by the number of stars in the galaxy, the estimate of potential homes for alien civilizations will be much too high.

Cross out the stars in the bulge, or on the innermost edge of the galactic disk which neighbors the bulge, eliminate the halo stars and the globular clusters, don’t include the intergalactic stars even though their numbers may be very surprisingly high, and throw out the outer region of the galactic disk, and you find maybe 5% or less of the stars in the galaxy are candidates on the basis of galactic neighborhood alone. The percentage of stars with a planet in the LWZ should be reduced as well, to get rid of the stars with too short a lifetime or red dwarfs owing to several factors.

The LWZ planets, with the right kind of star, is only the starting round in figuring out the number of solo planets. If the life origination hypothesis advocated here, which involves a large satellite impact, is correct, there are some more orders of magnitude reduction probably necessary. As usual, Earth science has lots and lots to do before any solid scientific estimates can be generated. In a hundred years or two this should all be resolved.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Donkey Sanctuary

Aruba has had European colonization for over five hundred years. It is an arid island, not suitable for many crops, and not suitable for many animals. One animal which did fit in was the donkey, which was adopted widely as the means of transportation and conveyance until the introduction of the automobile. A large number of the donkeys on the island were abandoned, and became wild creatures, living off the cactus and other native plants. They mostly died off from a disease in the 1970’s but since then bounced back. They wandered the roads and were often hit by cars or suffered other human abuse.

The Donkey Sanctuary was set up in 1997 to gather up these wild donkeys and care for them, which they have been doing since then. An Aruba animal control policeman will see that any wild donkey caught will be brought there. They provide routine veterinary care and special care for injured or ill animals. They have adopted care guidelines for the animals they have on site.

The first guideline is that all animals are sterilized, rendered unable to reproduce. Wild animals and most populations of animals are Malthusian, and will breed whenever they have sustenance provided or available. This is the nature of wild creatures, and is part of the essential factors that make evolution work. However, for any given budget, Malthusian creatures will breed to the limits made possible by the sustenance, assuming sustenance includes all necessities such as food, water, freedom from predators, health care, and so on. It would be simply impossible to maintain the sanctuary if sterilization were not mandatory.

There are similar animal care facilities all over the world, in large numbers but likely uncounted. Some only deal with injured animals, but those which house breedable populations are all forced by financial constraints to use the same first guideline: all animals are prevented from breeding. There are facilities for cats, dogs, birds, horses and other familiar animals, and others for exotic and unusual ones. Some are government supported, others depend on contributions, some have bequests; all must have the same guideline.

Alien civilizations have to make a transition from an evolutionary past to a post-genetic future, and how they do this may determine other characteristics of their civilization. This means they must solve the Malthusian dilemma. They start out Malthusian, as are all creatures who evolve, and somehow they must make decisions as to how to stop being Malthusian. This is civilization-wide. If half the alien population decides to stop being Malthusian and limit their population, and the other half decides to not stop Malthusian, the only change is that the population grows at a slower rate in relative numbers. In absolute numbers, it is only a generation or two before the population will be the same magnitude as if the entire population forewent changing into non-Malthusian behavior.

An alien population which is trying to maintain its grip on resources, and control their consumption rate so that the civilization can last long enough to make other sources available, has several tools at their disposal. The first is necessarily recycling, as it offers a many-fold increase in the duration of the resources, at any fixed usage rate. However, if recycling is used, and the Malthusian segment of the alien population simply uses the increased availability of resources to increase population many-fold, no real increase in the duration of the resources has been accomplished. The same holds for other solutions to resource scarcity. One which was discussed in detail here was interplanetary mining and the shipment of some key types of resources down to the home planet. Again, with a Malthusian population, this only makes a short increase in the duration of resources.

The point at which this decision on population control is made is not firmly fixed in time, but likely occurs somewhere between the time when the ability to restrict reproduction becomes technologically possible, in a mass way and with little side effects, and the time where industrial or other external gestation becomes possible. At this point, it would not be expected that the population has yet benefited from the increase in intelligence offered by the genetic grand transition. Thus, the changes that should happen, provided there is a universal intelligence upgrade, are not in place and would not affect the result.

First must come the realization that population increase cannot continue indefinitely. To understand this probably requires a certain level of intelligence, education, training in how to think, and possible a background that makes it possible to pose the question. If this realization never becomes nearly universal, the alien civilization faces a perhaps insurmountable problem. The fork in the road of societal development, where one path leads to Malthusian idiocracy and the other to asymptotic technology, is finally encountered. Perhaps a key variable that conditions the choice made, not necessarily explicitly but as an action or group of actions taken by the alien civilization, is the percentage of the population that has this level of intelligence and so forth during this interim period. If it is small, such as 10%, the adherents of the change will have little capability to convince the remaining 90% to abandon the ways of the past thousands of years and strike out into the new world of wholly depending on technology for the continued existence of their population. The 90% - 10% case is obvious as well. Things in the middle are not.

The prerequisites for the decision to go with the technological future, being intelligence, education, training, and a background that leaves the mind open to change, might be expected to be correlated with affluence. Affluence is likely to be correlated with other attributes, it the population is heterogeneous, either regionally or simply genetically. In the latter case, if idiocracy has been been increasing with time, there may be a point where the population is too far gone to make this switch and rescue themselves from sharing the fate of non-sentient Malthusian populations.

There are plenty of reasons why aliens who are not particularly intelligent may try to resist any call to voluntary population limitation. Technological benefits, to someone who does not comprehend technology, can be considered highly risky, especially if there are individual aliens or alien groups who are benefiting from the stall in acceptance. This would depend on some tricky details of how the particular alien civilization has structured itself. Recall that individual goals in not-universally-intelligent people could be quite random, depending on some particular events or themes in their upbringing as young aliens, and they could be anti-technological or they could be acquisitive or able to amass other benefits they desire by channeling the perhaps inevitable fear of technological change, especially biological change.

The best that can be said without some much deeper understanding of generic societal development is that the Milky Way may have a mixture of alien civilizations, some which have achieved asymptotic technology and gained the ability to travel from star to star if they wish, and others which have crashed and collapsed, after reaching some level of technological advance. This depends not only on how their civilization developed, but how heterogeneous it was and also what their home planet had for resources. It might be possible to delve deeper into these questions and gain a better handle on the likelihood of these two divergent outcomes, but that remains for another day.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Gas Giant Moons

A previous post talked about how Earth’s moon might not have been formed from a circumplanetary disk, but instead at a Lagrangian point in the planetary disk, specifically as another condensation of mass in the band of gas and particles at the orbital radius of the Earth. Then it migrated, impacted, and what remained did not have enough energy to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth, so it remained as a satellite. Having co-rotational velocity means it would impact with a relatively slow velocity, all the better to form a satellite rather than escaping into the distance.

What about other moons, using those in our solar system as examples? If, for example, Galilean moons initially formed in the band of gas at Jupiter's orbital radius, at the Lagrangian points or between two other moons, say Europa between Callisto and Ganymede, and one by one they migrated toward Jupiter, what would happen? How could they switch from being co-orbiting planetesimals to being planetary satellites? Crashing into the upper atmosphere of the planet would certainly tend to do that. What has to happen for something to be captured in orbit is for the velocity to be reduced, as by gas drag, and then the orbit circularized or for smaller objects, the perijove has to be raised so it doesn’t continue to enter the upper atmosphere.

Tides are often blamed for orbit circularization. A planet that rotates faster than the orbital period of a satellite will tend to circularize it, as the most velocity transfer occurs near the perijove. Adding velocity at the lowest part of the orbit will push that part outward, as more velocity means more distance. The semi-major axis of the elliptical orbit would increase, but this would also mean that the orbit would shift toward the perijove, lowering the apojove.

Having a deep atmosphere means that there is plenty of opportunity for tidal interactions. On Earth we are familiar with oceanic tides, but there is also one in the atmosphere. It doesn’t amount to much because Earth’s atmosphere is not massive compared to the planet or the ocean, much less than one percent of the ocean’s mass. But on a gas giant, a huge portion of the mass of the planet is atmosphere, just waiting for some nice satellite to come along and tug on it.

There is nothing preventing bodies from elsewhere in the solar system, not in the planet’s original disk nor in a disk around the planet, from being captured; it is simply a bit chancier. All of the non-Galilean satellites of Jupiter are small, and most of them have orbits which are not circular at all, even not prograde or in the equatorial plane around the planet. A large planet coming from a co-orbital location does not have to wind up in the equatorial plane of the planet, at first, but if the planet is rotating rapidly, it will be an oblate spheroid, and that means that there is more gravitational tugging near the equator, so the orbital plane may slowly tilt down toward the equatorial plane as it circularizes. Small intruding satellites might lose their solar orbital velocity, dropping it down to jovian orbital velocity, if they caught some gas drag in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, or perhaps, less likely, got a gravitational slingshot hit from passing near one of the large moons.

Tidal interactions do not affect small moons very much as the tidal mass that is moved in the atmosphere of Jupiter is proportional to the mass of the moon, and the gravitational attraction proportional to the square of the mass of the moon. With a small moon, there simply hasn’t been enough time to circularize.

With Saturn, there is one large moon, Titan, with 96% of the total satellite mass. Like the four Galilean satellites it is prograde, near Saturn’s equatorial plane and in a circular orbit. Its orbital period is longer than the day of Saturn. This does not necessarily mean it was captured as a co-orbiting planetesimal, but it does not have any characteristics that would indicate it could not be. The next four largest moons might also be.

For Uranus, the five largest moons are all orbiting in the equatorial plane of the planet, tilted extremely as it is. They have prograde, circular orbits, with orbital periods longer than Uranus’ day, meaning tidal pulls would have tended to circularize them. Neptune is the exception: it has one large moon, Triton, but Triton is neither in Neptune’s equatorial plane nor is it prograde. The orbit is nearly circular, but this does not explain the anomalous orbital plane and direction.

As a planetesimal approaches a co-orbiting planet from the rear, i.e. from the direction of the orbit opposite to the planet’s motion, it speeds up and this would tend to move it outward in orbital radius. This means that it would enter a prograde orbit around the planet, if gas drag and tidal forces were able to accomplish that. If the planetesimal approached from the front, meaning from the direction in which the planet was approaching, it would also increase speed and slide outward, but this would lead to a retrograde orbit. Tidal effects will destroy a satellite in a retrograde orbit, after sufficient time, and this may explain why there are few large moons in our solar system that have this. If the satellites that entered retrograde orbits around the other planets did so when there was more gas for drag, they could have disappeared already, leaving only Triton lingering here. This much detail calls for some simulation work, however.

Speculating about the origin and capture of the major satellites of planets in our solar system doesn’t immediately indicate any reason to think that capture of a co-orbiting planetesimal would be rare or difficult, and this indicates that other solar systems around other stars may have had the same phenomena at work. All this discussion points to one conclusion: having Earth-like worlds with large satellites following a mild impact event is not easy to rule out, and therefore it is not easy to rule out that there are alien civilizations arising through the early life origination method all over the galaxy.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Origin of Moons

One of the interesting parts of the theory of the origin of life proposed in this blog involves the impact of a planetesimal into the proto-Earth to create some of the unique conditions that are required for the origination of life. This impact had to be mild enough to not destroy the proto-Earth, shattering it, and a relative velocity of the order of orbital velocities might be too much.

An output of the theory was that the origination of life would be rare if the impact of planetesimals onto planets was rare, and common if this class of impact was common. So, which is it, both common or both rare? Obviously, this affects how likely it is for aliens to find us and send something our way.

One example that comes to mind relating to things hitting Earth are the various impacts by asteroids. Nothing huge has hit that we know of, but some substantial asteroids, notably the Chicxulub one that cratered in the Yucutan, have had a major effect on existing life on Earth. The Chicxulub asteroid came in with orbital speed, but was only of the size of 10 kilometers. For reference, the diameter of the moon is 3500 kilometers. Anything with a size like that impacting with orbital speed has so much kinetic energy the planet would be disassembled.

This impact happened to the Earth early in its history. Somewhat before that time, there was a planetary disk, busy condensing into the sun and the planets. To review, there was a large gas cloud, rotating, that was supported in its volume by thermal motions. As it cooled and shrunk, gravity became more important and it condensed. Rotation kept increasing because of angular momentum, and centripetal force began to replace gas pressure as the supporting force. Regrettably, centripetal force only works in the direction perpendicular to the axis of rotation, so the gas cloud has to collapse down to an oblate spheroid and then into a planetary disk.

Disks are nice, but they are not stable completely. Once the disk gets thin enough, some axisymmetric instabilities form and bands of gas separated by fairly sparse bands form. There is shear motion between two adjacent bands, but with a space between them, no angular momentum is coupled, and the bands start to be somewhat independent. These gas bands also are unstable to gravitation, but in the non-axisymmetric sense: blobs start to form. These are the protoplanets.

What exactly happens during this gas blob to protoplanet phase? Gas moves around the band to become more dense at the blob, and the blob begins to have some condensation. The core of the planet is starting. The rest of the gas in the band doesn’t really care if there is condensation or not, as the gravitational force from an uncondensed blob and a condensed blob are about the same. Think about the Lagrangian points relative to the condensing gas blob. These are points where there is no gravitational force pulling them either one way in the band of gas or the other way. They are equilibrium points.

You may recall that three of the Lagrangian points are co-orbital with the gas blob that causes them. They form an equilateral triangle, with one point being exactly opposite the gas blob’s location in the orbit, and the other two closer by. These are three points where gas could collect to form, what else, but planetesimals. Things are about to get very interesting.

Thus, in one band of gas, we are likely to see a large blob condensing out into a planet, and three blobs condensing out to become small planetesimals. Other blobs in different gas bands are jostling these four objects gravitationally, so they don’t just sit there gathering more gas. Some planetesimals may scatter out of orbit and be lost, but one or more may migrate around the band and wind up at the big gas blob. If one does, it isn’t moving very fast relatively, certainly not with a relative speed anything like orbital velocity. It just moseys along, picking up a little extra relative velocity when it gets close enough to the gas blob to feel the gas blob’s pull. The gas blob may already be condensed into a planet, if the condensation process can speed up enough once it gets started compared to the time taken for the planetesimals to migrate to a closer location.

This scenario has exactly what is desired. A low relative velocity, large mass body is about to impact a proto-planet. It’s Theia and Earth, and here is a way in which it might happen, all courtesy of the Lagrangian points. The impact velocity would be of the order of the free-fall velocity, actually a bit larger because both bodies are large enough to provide gravitational acceleration to the other. For the moon to form from this impact, it is necessary that the impact trajectory be not dead-on, and not so far out as to be only a tangential touch, but some grazing angle. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to suspect that such a trajectory would not be possible from the approach of a co-orbiting planetesimal.

What does this imply? It implies that the existence of a planetesimal with minimal relative velocity is something that might emerge in the formation of any planet. As opposed to being a rare event, where something just happened to fly in from farther out the solar system, and just happened to have an elliptic orbit where the velocities at time of impact closely matched, we have an ordinary, run-of-the-mill event, where most planets have planetesimal neighbors sharing their orbit and likely to slide around to an impact scenario. Large moons are not rare, or at least, not so extremely rare as would be required by the asteroid impact scenario. Then the origin of life, by the early life hypothesis touted elsewhere in this blog, is not necessarily unusual, and we might have aliens in the galaxy not too far from us.

It does imply that the search for large moons might be bumped up in priority. We detect planets around other stars using the wobble method, and perhaps with another order of magnitude improvement in the digging out of a wobble signal from the noise of the star’s own instabilities, we could detect the presence of large satellites, with a mass ratio similar to that of the Earth-moon system. There is nothing else in our solar system with anything near that ratio. Similarly, for transiting planets, with one or two orders of magnitude improvement in finding signals in the stellar noise, we might see an Earth-moon analog around some other planet.

Doesn’t this remind you of the days when no one could see exo-planets, and the existence of aliens was, among other things, wholly dependent on speculations that there were lots of them? Now, if the early life hypothesis is correct and a moon is necessary, with impact included, the existence of aliens might be dependent on the existence of a large planet-moon system. Just when astronomers were so proud of themselves for finding all these exo-planets, we up the requirements for them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Evolution Sometimes Doesn’t Work

Evolution is one of those common ideas so often discussed that you cannot grow up without learning about it. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that beneficial mutations are selected by fitness competition, allowing a species to gradually adapt better to its environment. The concept is not that a species keeps getting better and better, but that it becomes better suited to the environment it lives in, so it can survive and reproduce better. It has nothing to do with the generation of greater intelligence, except so far as intelligence is a general tool that helps organisms with it to survive and reproduce. For a species that is living in an environment with a wide variation of attributes, seasonal or otherwise, intelligence is useful in changing behaviors to match the changes in environment, but it is by no means the only way genetics can arrange for that.
If we are trying to figure out if an alien civilization can arise on various planets around the galaxy, it would be good to understand as much as possible the role of evolution, as life originates in a very simple form, and there are perhaps millions of mutations that have to be successful if someday, something produces a starship. The simple idea of mutation and selection seems reasonable in the abstract. Consider some scenarios. There is a population of a billion aliens. In one of them, a mutation happens which does something beneficial. Does that mutation spread through the population? Just to get started, did the mutation happen in an alien already near the top of the heap and likely to reproduce anyway? If the number of offspring is set by the society in which the alien lives, this mutation provided no benefit whatsoever. The next generation will have the same number of copies of the particular alien’s genes whether or not the mutation happened, and whether or not it has noticeable beneficial effects. So social conventions can completely override the fitness effect.

Suppose it actually does have some effect on the reproductive rate of the alien in which it arises. Instead of the societal standard of 3.0 offspring on the average, this mutation raises it to 3.1 . So, if the mutation happens ten times, there might be some small percentage change of its population in the society. One more alien out of a billion has a new gene. Exactly how many generations will it take before it becomes widespread? This depends on the social conventions, the degree of luck in reproduction, the existence of other genes that also are competing, and much else, but perhaps a hundred or a thousand generations later some scientist might see some measurable effect.

Let’s just consider one other factor: competing genes. Instead of a population with identical genes, suppose there is a wide diversity. Then, in the particular alien we were discussing before, after a mutation happens, all his genes, whatever they are, are simultaneously competing in the fitness completion, if there is one in his society. After a hundred generations, which of the thousand diverse genes he has comes out a winner in the population count game? Could be any of them. With a diverse set of genes and a large population, there is no way for a single mutation to rise to the top. There is too much stochastic variation in the generation-to-generation sweepstakes.

Consider a contrary situation. In the beginning of the hunting grand transition, aliens are living in small groups, with largely homogeneous genes. Now, when a mutation happens that has a noticeable effect on either survival or reproduction, it has a chance to compete in the fitness race and win, and then the incidence rate of the new gene in the small group can go up. If this happens enough times, so that there are several positive-acting new genes over some period of time, the group might be so successful that it divides, and now there are two groups with the improved genes. In small groups, with fairly homogeneous genes, mutations can in a few generations become widespread and begin to infect the whole population. But in large, genetically heterogenous masses, the statistics are against it. Too many competing genes make the selection of any particular one much less likely. So also do the memes of society, which might dictate who reproduces and how many offspring they have.

This seems to imply that evolution is a great thing for producing initially intelligent creatures, but then when this intelligence allows them to pass through the agricultural grand transition and start to hugely grow in numbers, and form large cities with very heterogenous genetic mixtures, it stops working. The genetic pool stops improving, and what benefits that existed in it earlier may or may not remain. The upshot of this is that only if there is something that might be thought of as societal momentum, or inertia, will the society continue to improve. Genetics via evolution just about stops working after the hunting grand transition, and intelligent design doesn’t become available until after the genetics grand transition. This means there are many years, perhaps thousands, in which the alien civilization is stuck with the genes they managed to develop before all this civilization started. If those genes and the gene pool that they are enmeshed in are enough to push technology all the way to the genetic discoveries that allow intelligent design to step in where evolution failed, then we might see an alien civilization develop star ships. If instead, it doesn’t make it, then the fallback position is idiocracy, which is the inevitable result of a situation of relative affluence, meaning fitness isn’t eliminating anyone, and a negative correlation between intelligence and reproductive rate. Understanding the limitations of evolution to pull an alien species out of the primitive, non-rational morass that all species evolve in, into the post-Baconian period where technology is moving forward at jet speed, will help us understand if it is likely that we will find alien species at least as smart as we are, and possibly more advanced.

Once the genetics grand transition gets going, then besides technology rocketing forward, intelligence and other beneficial genetic and memetic phenomena will also, and there will be a feedback effect from intelligence into technology development. This implies that the final grand transitions might be completed very fast, and after that, the alien civilization will in short order transform itself according to the rules it sets for itself, likely, efficiency and other ones similar. Since these transformations will be rocking society, it is hard to see that they would simultaneously be doing much in the space travel arena. Perhaps that gets put off in most alien civilizations that hit the jackpot until after asymptotic technology wraps up. This makes sense in another way as well, as space travel is an expensive enterprise, so why not wait until technology is finished before starting projects in this area?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Origin of Fossil Fuels – A Third Option

Fossil fuels seem to play a decisive role in the industrial grand transition. There is no known substitute to take an alien civilization from depending on plant materials and perhaps some moving water or atmosphere to the next level of energy consumption. Fossil fuels makes an ideal shift from plant materials, as they can be burned for heat and the heat energy used in many, many ways. There is no giant jump of technology, as there is in going from fossil fuels to fission. You just dig them up and burn them. Yet this source of concentrated energy makes possible the change from an agricultural society to an industrial one. The basic key is energy. The vast stores of fossil fuels we have on Earth makes the large technology advance we have seen in the last two centuries possible. On a planet with no or little fossil fuel, the indigenous alien civilization is going to be stuck on a plateau.

Thus, the origin of fossil fuels is an important block of knowledge in determining how many alien civilizations there might be in the Milky Way with star travel capability. An alien civilization can have given up using fossil fuels long ago, but if the planet they originated on did not have any, they would not have star travel capability. Like the origin of life, this gap in our knowledge seriously interferes with our ability to determine the likelihood of aliens visiting.

There are two currently popular theories of the origin of fossil fuels here on Earth. One theory, the biotic, says that hundreds of millions of years of vegetation was buried and decomposed, forming the basic carbon compounds that are fossil fuels today. The various organic compounds that biological organisms consist of were gradually broken down by the heat and pressure of being deep underground, and by some chemical mechanism, the oxygen and nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium mostly migrated out of the pools of gas and liquid hydrocarbons that remained. Solid sources did much the same, but the process in some areas was incomplete. The gas and liquid pools were trapped underground by sedimentary layers, or even salt layers, deposited on top of them, sealing them into the ground until discovered and piped out for energy use.

The other theory is that the masses of hydrocarbons were present since the planet was deposited, and took their own time to separate and segregate, much like various types of rocks do. Gold separates out into nuggets, but it was likely that no gold nuggets plopped down on the planet as it was forming. The heat and pressure of the formation assisted in the separation, and pools formed, rising upwards until stopped by a layer or two of impermeable rock. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that both processes are feasible and have occurred, but it isn't known what fraction of a planet's mass, or specifically Earth's, comes from either, any more than it is known how much of these hydrocarbons still are hidden, deeply buried in the mantle.

Perhaps these hydrocarbons were formed in a third way as well. Here on Earth, we figure that there was a strike of a large planetesimal that created the moon. This would have been an astoundingly ferocious impact, and the heat and shock wave of the impact may have made some major chemical changes in the carbon dioxide and water components of the atmosphere, producing hydrocarbons, which were later buried. What was left of the Earth would have been very active volcanically, producing carbon dioxide as volcanoes are wont to do, which would continue to react with the remaining water to produce more of the same. Was this a large source? Did the vulcanism go on for tens of millions of years? Hard to say.

Let's consider the extreme case, in that impact formation accounts for most hydrocarbons which later becomes fossil fuel. The biotic and abiotic mechanism do work, but only for a small fraction of the amount present on Earth. What does this mean?

It means that fossil fuels in large abundance, large enough to power an industrial grand transition, might be as rare as the likely almost unique impact that made the moon. No one has made any estimates, or at least none are popularly discussed, for how common such an impact would be in some ensemble of planetary disks and solar systems. Probably the requirements for fossil fuel production are not as stringent as those for the early life formation theory, but still they require something big to hit the planet fairly dead on, and leave a planet behind, rather than some smaller clouds of planetesimals, such as the asteroids in our solar system.

There is a bit of a synchronization here, in that if the conditions for life to originate are a narrower subset of those to produce fossil fuel, any alien civilization which manages to get up through the agricultural grand transition will find itself on a planet with a wonderful reserve of the fossil fuels it needs to march through the next grand transitions. It also means that finding suitable planets to seed for the eventual evolution of life will be difficult, if the goal is to have a planet in which an advanced alien civilization, capable of star travel, could some day develop. No fossil fuels, no star travel.

Lacking fossil fuels dooms an alien civilization to not only fall short in technology, but even if some miracle happens and they do pursue technology slowly and steadily, they would be trapped on their home planet. They might be living in a solar system where a nearby planet had suffered an impact early in its life, forming scads of fossil fuels, and they couldn't get there to take advantage of it. Without large sources of energy, such as provided by fossil fuels, the technology they figured out could not be translated into large engineering projects, such as interplanetary mining. Their population would stay small, and their productivity would be small. Together this means there is no rescue for a planet without fossil fuels.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Billion Year Flower

There is a plant from the North American deserts called the century plant, as it does not bloom for decades after the seed roots, hence the nickname. The plant is like other blooming plants in most respects, in that it spreads seeds, the seeds take root or fail to, but it does not produce seeds annually. Instead, these plants take a long time to grow in the desert before being ready to themselves bloom and close the cycle.

If we consider that there could be alien civilizations existing in our galaxy which have chosen as their space travel meme the propagation of life to lifeless planets, otherwise capable of supporting life, we have an analog to the century plant on a million times longer timescale. Such an alien civilization would essentially be spreading its seeds wherever was appropriate, and then allowing the enormous time to pass in the expectation that some seeds would take place, evolution would happen, intelligence would arise, civilization would dawn and technology would be discovered, leading to a civilization capable of space flight, which might undertake the same mission.

The century plant dies after it spreads it seeds, and surely an alien civilization would not last even a small fraction of the time it takes evolution to generate all the millions of mutations that are required to produce intelligent creatures. They would have to possess some knowledge that their seeding efforts were not doomed to failure; in other words, they would understand all the evolutionary processes that would have to take place in order to produce a successor alien civilization. They would also have to understand the environment of the planet upon which they started a seeding experiment. They would like to know that no planetary upsets were going to happen which would doom life on the planet, although if one is speaking about life, it is hard to imagine a planetary catastrophe that would eliminate all life on a planet. Maybe there would be multiple serious die-offs, from episodes of volcanism or something else, but nothing to eliminate every last living cell.

They would also have to know that the star around which the planet was orbiting would behave itself and not turn into a red giant before the necessary time for evolution had run its course, but that is something easy to understand. Even we on Earth have these estimates. Other problems such as approaching and detonating supernovas would have to be dealt with on a probabilistic basis. A one percent chance of a supernova nearby is not enough to stop them from betting on some potential planet.

Thus, armed with asymptotic technology and as much data about the planet as they could economically gather, they could make the decision on whether to spend the resources to send a seeding probe out. If the analogy with the century plant has any merit, they would send out as many as they could comfortably afford.

We have already talked at length about the preparations that would reasonably be made to do seeding, and some of them, the development of a prototype space probe with seeing capability, would be amortized over all the probes than an alien civilization could send out. Only the first one would have the mountain of expenses associated with developing reliability or regeneration able to handle these long flights. After that, it would just be a matter of copying the first one, and heading it to another solar system.

Think for a minute. It is a wholly different point of view between trying to find a new planet to move your civilization to and trying to seed multiple planets in the expectation that something similar to your civilization would arise on one or more. Which one would an alien civilization choose?

Recall that memes of any sort are not derived from some laws of the universe or figured out as an optimal something or other. They are absolutely arbitrary, as the figuring out of all science and everything else does not tell an alien civilization what to do. They have to decide themselves, and in some posts in this blog is was considered that it would be done during the genetic grand transition, before universal high intelligence became available, and some choices could be made and programmed into the culture by the leaders of the time.

These leaders might be thinking about the survival of the civilization, and use available observations to tell them if there were any life-bearing planets within a reasonable travel distance from their home solar system that could be occupied. At this point in Earth's history, we don't quite know if there would be any or many. If there were none, then the new life on barren planets meme might be the only choice that they could make, other than to die in place, go extinct from one cause or another. If there were some possibilities, perhaps the average alien civilization would shoot for the first of these alternatives.

Some timescales might make sense here. The longest lived alien civilizations, on one solar system, might go on for something like a million years, provided they had all the possible advantages and did all the right things at all the right times. If they moved sometime during that period, they might need to find one new well-equipped solar system every million years, or a thousand worlds in a billion years. Could they find that many? New solar systems are created in abundance with every rotation of the spiral waves in the galaxy, which means that if they can last through a couple of hundred worlds, they might find themselves surrounded by a bevy of new planets. But they would have to wait hundreds of millions of years for life to develop on some new worlds, to make them habitable. So perhaps the number of a thousand worlds is a good estimate of how many they would have to have available to them in order to survive indefinitely.

The fellows who adopt the other strategy for seeding life might decide to do it another way, and become what was called in an earlier post, interstellar nomads. In the series of posts on interstellar nomads, it was contemplated that they could be using this way of life to do seeding, instead of being simply a way for a small number of aliens from a former civilization to continue their existence.

Either way, it seems seeding does not appear to be a ridiculous alternative, and no reason to dismiss it has jumped out. More investigation needs to be done.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Intelligent Design and Evolution

In a previous post, the situation where an alien civilization becomes smart enough to conquer the challenges posed by genetics and other biological intricacies, and becomes able to design complex life forms and bring them into existence was discussed. For that civilization, evolution was the old way of life forming, and served just as a database from which they can unlock some secrets of genetic coding.

It is quite possible that the same or a similar alien civilization would take on a much more difficult and much more tenuous project, that of seeding life on a previously lifeless planet. This is the most extreme seeding scenario that an alien civilization could undertake. More moderate ones might have them tampering with the genetic codes on some planet where life had already originated and progressed, up to some plateau. The alien civilization could be the way that life on that planet overcomes the plateau and leaves it behind. But surely the most difficult situation of all is one in which a lifeless planet is chosen by some alien civilization as a new home for life.

In another post, alien civilizations were divided up, parameterized so to speak, into categories that related to what their goals were for space travel. They ranged from colonizing sweet spot planets with their own civilization all the way to colonizing lifeless planets with life of some sort. Also included was the null goal of doing no space travel at all. Recall that the question of why a particular alien civilization would want to do this is not answerable by logic and reason, but only by accident of history. Alien civilizations all find out they have no destiny, except what they set for themselves. Some may choose spreading life around the galaxy.

We on Earth are very, very far from understanding if this goal is even possible, but that does not prevent us from thinking about it. Is it possible that an alien civilization could start life on a lifeless planet, one that would, except for their intervention or that of some other alien civilization, never have even the simplest single cell biological organism living and reproducing on the planet. In other words, are there planets which could sustain and evolve life, without ever having been able to originate it? If the origination process is really a fluke of one or more rare events happening, then it could certainly be possible for life to continue where it could not start.

In this blog, the early life origination hypothesis was discussed, in some detail. This involves the changes in a planet that might happen if there was a planetesimal impacting it, at the right time in its age, at the right mass, speed, center of mass distance and direction of motion. The composition of the planet and planetesimal have to be right, and of course the planet has to stay in the liquid water zone (LWZ). Suppose there is such a rare combination of conditions that has to exist in order for life to originate. If the planet were never impacted, but simply continued to orbit its star in the LWZ, it might have enough free energy its oceans from volcanic activity to provide energy for some chemotrophic cell, and have enough chemical resources in the ocean for reproduction as well. Maybe some special regions or areas, such as mudflats or the vicinity of sea vents were necessary for life to survive and reproduce. If an alien civilization could predict such conditions, and scan their nearby exo-planets to find some planets that had them, they could send over a simple probe able to inject such cells into the right areas, and then go and plop into the ocean and rust to bits.

If you were tasked with doing this project, you would want to know as much about the target planet as possible. In yet another post, what could be seen with a large spaceborne telescope, or an array of them, was investigated. Quite a lot can be seen, but the limits were drawn on the wrong side of the pre-existence of life question. It would likely not be observable from remote distances whether or not there were already chemotrophs floating around in the seas of the target planet, enjoying themselves and making themselves busy with evolving into something even better.

If life cannot originate without having a large moon still hanging around the planet, this would make the problem simple. Something like a large moon would be easily observable. So, if the impact hypothesis is correct, and conditions are so stringent that an orbiting moon has to be left in place in order to have origination of life, then they would know.

If there was no moon, then they would have to face the question of their own uniqueness. If the galaxy had lots of alien civilizations like them, looking for planets to seed with life, they wouldn't know if their chosen target planet had already been visited a hundred million years before by a seeding probe from another alien civilization, which was successful. Since the transition from chemotrophs to photosynthetic cells takes that long, there would be no observables left over for them to see.

They could decide to send an initial probe, able to take samples from whatever location was the known habitat of chemotrophs, and then send messages back to the home planet saying that the planet was pristine, or somebody had already gotten there first. However, this would be a waste of resources. Such a communicating probe, with such investigatory powers, would probably be much more massive than a simple seeding vessel, so the most efficient and economical path forward would be just to send the seeding vessel outwards. Nothing would be lost. They could not expect to find out if their seeding venture worked, because working involves a very long wait time. Evolution has a scale of a billion years, and if things go wrong after the first two or three hundred million, the target planet reverts to lifelessness, just as it had been before the seeding venture. So the benefit to the seeding alien civilization is not the self-congratulations for a job well done, life started anew, but instead in knowing that they took a gamble on preserving life in the galaxy, and maybe it took.

There is no hope for the home planet to be able to predict their own success at seeding. A billion years is so long in terms of galactic events, and even stellar and planetary events, that stochastic effects swamp any attempt at prediction. Just consider trying to predict if a supernova was going to go off within lethal range of the target planet. Type 2 supernovas come from stars with short lifetimes, and the gas clouds in the Milky Way would make such a star, and then it would move around relative to a circular motion around the galaxy with some additional random velocity, interacting with both the general gravitational field of the galaxy, which is not uniform, but also with the gravitational attraction of other stars. Where it would wind up when it was ready to blow its top is totally unpredictable. Even the location of type 1 supernovas wouldn't be predictable. The same holds for many other perils. Thus, the alien civilization is not in the seeding game for glory in its own lifetime, but for the sense of trying to do what the thing they should do, according to their own memes.

There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of whether such a venture could be undertaken with a good chance of success, or whether it is simply close to impossible. Perhaps we can, at some later date, figure out some of the options. Until then, we have to still consider we might have been the target planet. If some alien civilization took an intelligent design for a single celled organism and deposited here on Earth some millions of years ago, rather millions of centuries ago, and then depended on evolution to produce us, we should thank them for the gamble.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Evolution and Intelligent Design

The obvious occurrence of intelligent design for life forms is after the genetic grand transition, when the function of genes are known, perfecting an ontology is possible, and the ability to supply an incubator or the equivalent for any organism is present. Once all this knowledge becomes available, it would seem very strange for an alien civilization to decide to not use it. Why would the alien civilization decide to have its next generation worse in many ways than they could be? The quality of life in the alien society is very closely correlated with the quality of the genetics, and the associated training, of the new aliens. Why would the alien civilization decide to have a worse quality of life? Why would they want to have anything biological in their civilization poorer than could be done with genetics?

So the expectation is that evolutionary genetics will be replaced, gradually, during the genetic grand transition, by intelligent design. Intelligent design is not the same as the controlled breeding that starts in the agricultural grand transition, when plants and animals are experimentally modified to be better suited to the needs of the alien civilization. This process takes many generations of organisms to complete and often only one quality or perhaps a few are being selected for. Intelligent design, on the other hand, takes comparatively no time at all, once the knowledge is accumulated, and selects for all qualities at once.

Evolutionary genetics typically modifies a few genes on a single chromosome. Of course, life on the alien planet would have chromosomes, which is simply a label for blocks of genetic coding within a cell. Intelligent design could modify multiple genes on multiple chromosomes at once, or it could be done by designing novel chromosomes. Any other genetic material within a cell could be modified as well.

Intelligent design works backwards from how evolution works. With evolution, some mutation happens, perhaps one genetic code letter is changed, or perhaps some chromosomal rearrangement happens. Then gestation happens, if the change is viable, and the organism is free to see if it is fit enough to reproduce those mutations. The environment of the planet is the laboratory in which this testing is done. With intelligent design, some specifications are set for the organism that is desired, and then some algorithms would be used to determine what genes on what chromosomes would produce the result. The choice of coding would certainly not be unique, and a huge combinatorial assortment of genetic arrangements could produce organisms meeting the specifications.

In another post, it was considered that genetics and the intelligent design would become an art form in an alien civilization, where individual organisms could be created as artistic artifacts, and even whole ecologies could be designed and created. The concept of zoo and art museum would be combined, where the animals and plants would be designed and produced for the purpose of display, and alien citizens could visit such a locale of biological art when they wished some diversion in this area. There is no reason to assume that art would not pervade all areas of technology or rather design. Biological art is only one type of art which is not only unknown to us, but almost inconceivable or unimaginable. It could be the most common type of art in an advanced alien civilization, yet we here on Earth cannot comprehend what it would be like. Biology is so much more flexible than paint on canvas or tastes in a bottle, that it is quite reasonable that it would become part of the milleu of all alien citizens. Instead of flashy buildings, interesting creatures might abound in an alien civilization, perhaps in controlled environments or perhaps mingling with the alien population. We are very far from being able to visualize this particular effect of the genetic grand transition, any more than the other effects.

There is some more freedom in creating organisms by intelligent design than in evolution, as ones done by intelligent design are temporary, and do not have to be able to reproduce. They would be created in some sort of industrial or biological gestation equipment, and be as unique as the inventor wanted. There might be competitions in designing the softest grass or the tastiest fruit or the most sonorous insects or anything else, which the necessary limitations on how long was available for design and how must AI assistance was allowed and so on.

A common thing to say on Earth nowadays is that common people are richer than kings of five hundred or a thousand years ago. It might be common to say on an alien planet that everyone is living a richer life than the most fortunate person living before the genetic grand transition. Scarcity of resources is perhaps our most common measure of good fortune, but when resources become abundant after the various grand transitions on an alien planet, the common measure might be richness of experience, and there is absolutely nothing we can imagine which would compare with what these civilizations experience. Harking back to the original concept of this blog, perhaps an advanced alien civilization is so rewarding to live in that absolutely no one, not a single alien, would even think of wasting his time by taking a long space voyage. Home is just so incomparable that travel in a space ship is inconceivably horrible.

Intelligent design builds on evolutionary design in the sense that the information necessary for the genetic revolution is derived or at least starts from the genetic information in existing, evolved, organisms. Exploring existing genetic code is one of the ways in which genetic knowledge is accumulated. The genetic revolution does not stop with evolved genes, but moves from them to ones which are synthetic, ones evolution never experimented with. Nor does it stop with single coded organisms, as chimeras would be created, with perhaps a even larger variety of creatures being possible with them. Once the technology of creating chimeras is mastered, then industrial uses of biology might be facilitated, meaning that manufacturing of anything would not be automated, but something else. We on Earth don't have a word for this. Automation refers to something accomplished with some sort of robotics, but what exactly could be used as a word to describe something accomplished with a genetically designed, possibly chimerical, organism. “Chigenation?”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Life on a Phase-Locked Planet

Phase-locking of a liquid water zone (LWZ) can happen when the parent star is a red dwarf. The phase locking is of the rotation of the planet, where the tidal interactions on the planet itself couple its spin into its orbit. The planet’s orbit is not phase-locked into the parent star’s spin.

What this means is that the dipole moment of the planet’s mass distribution is permanently pointed toward the star. There is a subsolar point where the center of the star is directly overhead at all times. Someone standing there any time would get sunburn on the top of their head. More accurately, because red dwarfs put out little UV, it would be likely that the person would find their scalp getting sweaty. It also means that as far as solar illumination goes, there is at any point on the lit side a direction pointing toward the subsolar point. The star is always there. Everything is quite constant on a planet of this type. Unlike the Earth, where illumination varies a lot over a day and over a year, it doesn’t vary at all there, assuming there are no variable clouds. If the atmosphere can absorb enough stellar energy to heat it up as hot as the surface, there would be no convection driving some sort of axisymmetric circulation. If the atmosphere is sufficiently transparent and the albedo of the surface is not too high, surface heating of the lower layer of air would cause air to rise in some cylindrical area around the subsolar point, and spread uniformly outward, before descending into the wind heading toward the subsolar point. This circulation might spread a bit into the dark side, but the constancy of temperature there would not allow it to penetrate all the way to the opposite side of the subsolar point.

Thus, someone on the planet, with circulation going, who faced the wind, would always have the sun at his back. This very symmetric pattern could be upset by tectonics.

If the planet did not cool into a fairly smooth surface, but had gone through a period of tectonic activity, there could be mountains obstructing the circulation’s flow near the surface. This could either simply modulate the flow toward the subsolar point or induce some rotary motion to the air as it approached the subsolar point. The important part of the wind is that it should be constant. There is nothing on the planet to induce seasons or anything else similar. Perhaps there could be some inherent instability in the air layers, but there is no obvious reason why there should be.

Since it was initially postulated that this planet is in the LWZ, there should be some place where the water sits. If it is on the outer edge of the LWZ, the subsolar point should be the area where water is present in liquid form, and then at some distance from the subsolar point, there would be ice. There is a boundary in the LWZ where the subsolar zone gets too hot to support liquid water. It would be a hot desert. Approaching the inner edge of the LWZ finds the planet with desert on the illuminated side, with some liquid water on the dark side.

How much relief would there be in such a planet? The processes by which a planet segregates its interior into a solid core and a liquid mantle do not much depend on the type of star or the type of orbit. Instead it depends on the materials forming the planet, and how much heat was generated within it by the condensation process. The gas cloud that formed the solar system would likely have been smaller in total mass, so that it only formed a M-class star, perhaps 10% of Earth’s sun’s mass. The planetary disk may have been proportionally similar in mass, so that only some smaller planets formed. But to concentrate on an Earth-sized planet in a less dense disk could easily mean that the mass forming the Earth-size planet had to fall in from a larger radius. If instead the disk was as dense as other planetary disks, but simply smaller in outer radius, then the mass inflow would come from shorter distances. Larger distances would mean more heat to be dissipated, and vice versa. So there easily could be more heat initially that Earth or Venus had, and then the same segregation would happen, and the same variation in crustal thickness in different parts of the planet’s surface.

This implies that some red dwarf planets could have a high plateau near the subsolar point, which in turn means that there could be dry areas surrounded by a circular sea. The inrushing circulation of air would pick up moisture from the sea, and when the air rose in the circulation, it might get cold enough to rain. Thus, there could be land regions of constant rain near the subsolar point. Otherwise the rain would fall upon the sea.

Where on any of the planetary types could life originate? If the Early Life/ Organic Oceans hypothesis is true and is the only path for life to form, then without a possibility of impact of a large planetoid, there would be no life on a red dwarf planet any more than there would be for any other planet. If other pathways to life hold, such as the Late Life/ Sea Vent Hypothesis, the constancy of the oceans would assist a bit in the formation of life. A lack of tidal forcing on the planet’s mantle might make a sea vent exist for much longer than on a more ordinary planet. One aspect of the Late Life/ Sea Vent hypothesis is that the formation of the initial membranes for life is a very low-probability process, and more stability, if there is much, could assist in this.

This does not mean that life would ever advance far on a red dwarf planet. Perhaps the biggest barrier would be photosynthesis, which occurs because of the low level of blue photons in the spectrum of the star. Without such photons, finding a way to produce energy would be much more difficult. Advanced life is all about replicating organic forms finding energy to power their life. On such a planet, it would simply not be there. Thus, the conclusion is that for most red dwarf planets phase-locked to the star, there are no special conditions promoting the formation of life, except for one, and in that case, only simple life is likely. No aliens will be coming from red dwarf origin planets.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Did Disease Make Technology Development Possible?

Technology develops because there is some spare time available, at first, for work by otherwise employed people on technology. In an alien civilization in its period before the hunting grand transition, the age when plant and animal parts and stones provided the materials for technology, alien adults may have had time to develop stone and other tools. On Earth, this was a very long span of time, millions of years, and covered not just the development of stone and other natural tools, but also the feedback effect of these tools on the evolution of humans.

Evolution takes a long time, not the development of the technology. In order for the brain to increase in size and complexity, and for hands to develop for more careful use of objects, there first has to be random mutations of the right kind, which could take millions of years, and then many generations of life for these mutations to be selected out.

Labeling this period the Stone Age doesn’t really do justice to what was happening. Perhaps the “Brain Age” would be more appropriate.

After the Stone Age, an alien civilization has to embark on a long, slow process of developing technology, and adapting its social arrangements to that technology. Technology necessarily has to develop initially in directions that pay off by increasing the reproductive rate of the population developing it, so what might be called social evolution can take place, and the sum of genetics and technology can evolve toward the next higher plane. This means technology has to be developed to assist in satisfying basic needs, although there might be some special cases. Basic needs involve surviving the climate, so clothing and shelter are included, and food preparation is included meaning pottery, cutting implements and fire control, and weapons for both hunting and combat between clans.

At some point, the technology gets to be at a level that specialization of labor starts off; not everybody makes their own pots and knives and textiles and other things, but there is exchange within the clan. However that is implemented, what is happening is that castes are starting to be developed, as noted in another post. These would be inevitable in any alien civilization crawling up the first stages of the technology ladder. Who’s paying for this?

In a bit earlier times, a hunter might be providing food for four or five people, one family. When clans formed, this was possible through hunting large animals on Earth, and there is no reason to suspect it would not happen on exo-planets as well. But by the time the castes or at least specialization of labor gets going, the same hunter has to be supporting maybe ten others. Productivity has to increase in this field. At this point, there is absolutely no concept of the development of technology. The guys who are making the pots are not trying to figure out how to improve their clays. They are doing what they know how to do, and if something does happen to improve the technology in their area, it is by random chance and social evolution, rather than some primitive scientific method. So it goes slowly.

How did Malthus let this happen? How did specialization of labor get started? When the hunters productivity went up, and one hunter could feed more people than was required to maintain the population, why didn’t the population just jump right up to absorb all this productivity, and incidentally keep the castes from forming? That’s what Malthusian populations do. They increase to fill the available food and other essential sources.

Perhaps the answer is that the rate of population increase is not simply governed by the food supply, or the existence of shelter or some other basic need. Perhaps it is controlled by disease. If it is the situation that the population of young aliens is reduced by disease well below the otherwise possible growth rate, then an increase of productivity in hunting or any primitive technology wouldn’t make Malthus happy, but instead population would approximately stay constant.

Put in terms of a mathematical example, assuming there are two genders in an alien civilization, if an alien of the gender that bears offspring can only produce four on the average before dying from disease, then food and textiles and other things won’t have much direct influence on the population. Two of these would not survive, on the average, to adulthood, because of the effects of disease as well. This means that disease might be the means by which a civilization can develop, or come into existence. Without disease, castes wouldn’t be able to form to take advantage of the excess productivity of the hunting population. Without disease, technology would be at a dead end, because of Malthus. Malthus, in the simple form of his theory, did not consider that there could be constraints on reproduction rate that overwhelm productivity increases, rendering the growth rate of populations, in certain circumstances, close to zero.

There really doesn’t have to be an exact equality of reproduction, so populations stay constant, but it has to be low enough for excess productivity to go into social organization rather than population increase. Since technology increase is incredibly slow during the last bit of the Stone age and the next few centuries, this means it is approximately constant, but then as the rate of technology picks up, it might increase a bit. On Earth, population, as far as it can be estimated, did very slowly increase during these periods, although census-takers were remarkably few and far between.

This little bit of conceptualization may help to understand how an alien population of sort-of-intelligent creatures could get started on the road to becoming an alien civilization, which requires them to get through the long hunting grand transition and then into the agricultural grand transition, assuming they have the analogous resources to what humans on Earth had. Instead of early disease being looked at as a burden and a decelerator of technology, perhaps it should be looked at as the very thing which enables alien populations to develop a civilization and start to follow the pathway to asymptotic technology.

Disease is endemic on Earth, although not many surveys have been done to see its prevalence in wild animal populations. Immune systems rise to battle it, but evolution of disease goes on just as well. If we on Earth ever get done with figuring out human disease, as caused by micro-organisms and a few multi-cellular creatures such as tape-worms, we might turn our talents to figuring out the diseases that afflict the population of large wild animals. Pet populations have been examined quite a lot, and would provide a fine basis for studying this area. Then the hypothesis proposed in this post might be better understood and evaluated.

There could be a substitute for disease that limited early populations on Earth and which would do so on alien exo-planets, but it is hard to figure out just what it might be. Large predators? Climatic effects, such as terrible temperature changes? Doesn’t seem to be as likely as disease.