July 31, 2009
At first, form is needed.
The doubt and inhibition must be dispelled.
Eventually, form is celebrated with joy,
And expression becomes formless.
In all fields of endevor, including spirituality, one must start out with certain structures, procedures, and forms. Even though one admires the seemingly effortless virtuosity of the masters, it will take some time before one can reach that level.
Take dance, for example. The novice student must drill constantly on the basics, isolating each step and movement with meticulous attention. Although the emphasis on structure may add to the beginner’s inhibition, it must be done. Eventually, the dancer will learn to let go. The steps will have become a natural part of movement. Then dance can be celebrated joyously. Our now mature dancer may even dance in a way that seems so spontaneous, so magical, that it will seem formless – or more precisely, the form will emerge with fluidity, grace, originality, and beauty.
The same is true of spirituality. At first, all the restrictions and practises seem quite constricting. Eventually, you reach a stage where meditation flows quite spontaneously. Every day is new, fresh, and full of wonderful insights. The beauty of the world then shows itself as it is, doubts fade away, and the banality of ordinary life is replaced by the awe and grandeur of the soul. This is true formlessness.
July 28, 2009
Age is covered with cosmetics,
Gray hidden with dye,
Confidence is sought in men,
Awareness deferred for the future.
She toils on her job,
Enduring tension and fatigue,
Subsisting on tranquilizers,
Pinning futile hopes on her children.
Many people allow themselves to be trapped into a miserable life. When we see this, we might think “How tragic,” but in actuality, they did it to themselves. We should all know how our lives are going, for we need only track the decisions that confront us every day.
There are people who think that it does not matter what they do. Or they shrug that they are victims of circumstance. That does not justify an unhappy life. Illness, stress, divorce, maladjusted children, and fear of death trap us.
Those who follow Tao do not want to end up in this way. They want to be free. They do not want to be victims. Therefore, although it is a difficult path, they constantly seek to expand the parameters of their lives. They do not suffer to be exploited or enslaved, and they will eschew what is considered “normal” in order to be happy.
July 28, 2009
The way life seeded is only a very vague sensation for me… One that I can only begin to recall in moments of stillness and solitude. But none the less… Time and effort has rekindled a flame of Knowing within, and having been fortunate enough to have been provided with a sound understanding of much of the pertinent biochemistry and scientific knowledge that is required to understand the mechanisms of Life, much of which was provided through a diligent education here on Earth, these crinkled instinctual flashbacks have now been washed and hung out to reveal a vibrant and colorful array of silk garments… Garments that are now blowing breezily in the winds of time… Drying into their light and natural flowing fabric for all of us to don and enjoy.
For the sturdy frames of empricial evidence that hold them for the moment, fit more aptly to the facts and memories we all hold inside than any fantasy that I could have hoped to conjoure up by myself. And as the very notion of empiricism proclaims, these are deductions based on a sound evidence supported by datum that any person can easily rediscover for themselves, given the time and inclination to do so…
So in this essay I will attempt to bring to the surface the basis of these recollections that stir deep within my intuition, for they have remained dormant in the very core of my being for long enough, awaiting to emerge as a caterpillar does after it has rested and metamorphosed into what it is was born to be.
Again, I will not attempt to cover every aspect of the complex cascade of biological and biochemcial interactions that make up what we know as Life here on Earth today… For that would take almost a life time of effort from us both… And also, perhaps I feel that this effort might only serve to baffle readers who do not have a firm grasp of chemistry. And as clairty is my main aim… I’d rather present just one notion of how the complex structure of a cell can easily come about in nature, without any divine help… Something that only requires a pin’s head of basic chemistry. But more so, it appropriately demonstrates how some of the basic physical properties of atoms and their respective molecules can give rise to seemingly complex organic structures that can “seem” to suggest divine intervention. But all it is, is really an extended game of that childhood favorite… Namely “Tag” or “It”. For if we were to journey back through time, we would all find that we have all engaged in a long line of intimate physicial contact with forefathers… Contact that immdiately joins back to our mothers, and then our mothers’ mothers, back to their mothers, etc… AND this will stem all the way back to the very first organisms present here on Earth!!! THINK ABOUT IT!!! What a game, eh? What a game…
While it would no doubt be a bonus to have at one’s command some basic chemistry to understand how the flow of this monumentous game of “tag” evolved from humble biochemical beginnings into what we now call Life, it is not essential… For once the basis of how complex forms can very easily arise in nature has been grasped, I trust you will begin to see how obvious Life is, and that it might well be more of a common and Universal occurence than some of us care to admit.
In many ways, this carries on directly from where I left off with “On The Formation Of Suns And Their Planets“… And rather than being the definitive version of events, it is more like a vague recollection that a grandson remembers of his grandfather relaying a day that he, as a child, spent by the seaside in his adolescent youth… A memory that harks back from a lifetime of experience, which is filled with and clarified through conjecture, inference and theory, about what any seaside visit was, is and would be like today… Thus remaining markedly true to the essence of what the experience is like.
Before life grasped its first foothold on the ladder of evolution’s rise after the monumental forces that came into play during accretion (the process that forged this solid spherical body that we know as Earth), most of the planet’s surface was probably still only a thin layer of rock lying over a sea of molten magma, much like heated milk in a pan develops a thin skin over it’s hot surface.
No doubt the Earth’s surface was also still being heavily bombarded by debris left in the heavens above. Meteors must have come colliding into this brittle mantle, with forces beyond that of what the strongest atomic weapons can muster, leaving scares like craters similar to those that riddle the surface of the moon. Perhaps even in some instances, where the Earth’s surface crust was thin enough and the meteor particularly large and massive enough, some of these collisions no doubt punctured the cooling surface screen, leaving a deep holes of open flame and molten rock.
Probably at this time, due to the particularly high surface temperature of the Earth’s crust, the atmosphere would have been filled with all sorts of vapour i.e. fair amounts of metalic fumes, such as aluminium, calcium, magnesium, and iron based elements and compounds, along with nirtogen, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and a lot of water vapour (there probably would have been no seas or oceans until the surface cooled to well under 100 degrees centigrade). And very probably there would have been quite a few volcanoes, along with seas of lava, spewing their noxious gases into the air. There was definitely no oxygen in the atmosphere what-so-ever at this time. And this is an important fact… Mainly because it will get us to ask the first question that will launch us onto our path of understanding where this infamous oxidizing agent came from.
So let’s not dwindle, but ask it… Where did all the oxygen that we observe today in Earth’s current atmosphere come from? Well… The answer is simple… Life. But before we launch into how Life as we know it could come about, there are two very imporant chemical aspects that we need to look at in order to understand how Life can function. Aspects that bestow certain properties, both physical and chemical, on certain molecules, which in turn allow specific molecules to act in very specific manners under the right conditions… It should be noted, that while these events might seem as though they are Life like reactions, thay are in actual fact only chemical occurrences. And this is something very important that needs to be born in mind i.e. that fine line that divides the rhelms of “natural chemical occurrences” and the “chemistry that makes up Life”.
1. Basic Chemicals, under the right conditions, can recombine easily forming the Complex Compounds found in all Living Organisms
Well… Before I go any further with this one, I would like to bring to your attention this article, entitled “What can pre-solar grains tell us about the solar nebula?“, as I think it will provide a good basis for what scientists have discovered was already there before our sun came about.
As we have already seen, stars are the forgers of the heavier elements i.e. they fuse hyrdrogen and helium into the heavier elements, all the way up to iron in their cores (if the stars are big enough, that is). So as one might imagine, there is probably a lot of heavier elements already floating around in space. Certainly it seems that “dense molecular clouds contain a wide variety of relatively complex organic molecules synthesized by radiation-driven chemistry in the gas phase and in icy grain mantles (e.g., Allamandola et al. 1988). Some of these molecules, such as those containing the OCN− ion, are more abundant in the spectra of protostars than in the spectra of background stars (Pendleton et al. 1999), suggesting that radiation-driven chemistry may be enhanced in the immediate vicinity of star-formation. Many molecules synthesized in laboratory experiments simulating conditions in molecular clouds are similar or identical to compounds found in primitive meteorites (Bernstein et al. 2001). There are clear isotopic signatures (e.g., high D/H) associated with organic molecules produced by radiation chemistry in cold molecular clouds and in dense, cold regions of an accretion disk (e.g., Sandford et al. 2001).” So again, our star was pretty much responsible for the formation of some of the complex organic compounds that the Earth “ate up” during accretion/the formation of the planets.
The finding of complex organics within comets that have come from interstella space has also been confirmed many scientific studies, one of which is entitled “Origin of organic matter in the protosolar nebula and in comets” – J. M. Greenberg, O. M. Shalabiea, C. X. Mendoza-Gómez, W. Schutte and P. A. Gerakines – Laboratory Astrophysics – April 2000.
Also, it has been noted by Stanley Miller in his paper entitled “A production of amino acids under possible primitive earth conditions. Science 117 (1953): 528-529″ that amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, arose among other small organic molecules very spontaneously in the lab by simply sparking a mixture of methane, hydrogen, ammonia and water.
It has even been noted that Observations of the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s moon, which is composed primarily of methane and nitrogen, show that photochemically produced hydrocarbon aerosols form a haze layer in the upper atmosphere that protects the lower atmosphere from photochemical destruction. Such a haze layer could also have been produced on the early Earth from outgassed methane and ammonia (Zahnle KJ. 1986. Photochemistry of methane and the formation of hydrocyanic acid (HCN) in the earth’s early atmosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research 91: 2819-2834, Sagan C, Chyba C. 1997. The early faint sun paradox: organic shielding of ultraviolet-labile greenhouse gases. Science 276: 1217-1221, Pavlov AA, Kasting JF, Brown LL, Rages KA, Freedman R. 2000. Greenhouse warming by CH4 in the atmosphere of early Earth. Journal of Geophysical Research 105: 11981-11990).
Also, a paper published back in 1974 demostrated how Base Pairs (commonly and importantly found in all genetic material here on Earth), along with other chemicals, like carboxyl terminated aromatic hydrocarbon chains occured simply by Fischer-Tropsch-type, catalytic reactions of CO, H2, and NH3 in the solar nebula, at 360–400K and (4–10)×10–6 atm Catalytic reactions in the solar nebula. The rest of the abstract reads: “The onset of these reactions was triggered by the formation of catalytically active grains of magnetite and serpentine at these temperatures. Laboratory experiments show that the Fischer-Tropsch reaction gives a large kineticisotope fractionation of C12/C13, duplicating the hitherto unexplained fractionation in meteorites. All of the principal compound classes in meteorites are produced by this reaction, or a variant involving a brief excursion to higher temperatures. (1) normal, mono-, and dimethylalkanes (2)arenes andalkylarenes; (3) dimericisoprenoids from C9 to C14; (4)purines and pyrimidines, such as adenine, guanine, uracil, thymine, xanthine, etc.; (5)amino acids, including tyrosine and histidine; (6)porphyrin-like pigments; (7) aromaticpolymer with –OH and –COOH groups. These reactions may also have played a major role in the evolution of life: first, by converting carbon to a sufficiently non-volatile form to permit its accretion by the inner planets; second, by synthesizing organic compounds on the primitive planets whenever CO, H2, NH3, and clay or magnetite particles came together at the right temperature. Similar reactions in other solar nebulae may be the source of interstellar molecules, as first suggested by G. H. Herbig. Ten of the twelve polyatomic interstellar molecules have in fact been seen in these syntheses or in meteorites.” (Edward Anders, Ryoichi Hayatsu and Martin H. Studier – Implications for interstellar molecules and organic compounds in meteorites – Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres – Volume 5, Numbers 1-2 / January, 1974 – ISSN 0169-6149 (Print) 1573-0875 (Online)).
Either way one looks at it, organic compounds can easily be made in variety of ways… Much of the complex organic chemicals could have even arrived here from meteors and space debris that crashed to Earth in the final stages of accretion, just as the Earth was cooling. Perhaps some of it was even formed, as Stanley Miller demonstrated, when the atmosphere, which contained nitrogen, ammonia and methane, became saturated with water and lightening storms streaked through the air.
2. Fatty Acids form vessels under the right conditions – the basis for all cellular Plasma Memebranes
Firstly… What is a fatty acid? Apart from being mention in E. Anders et al.‘s paper entitled “Implications for interstellar molecules and organic compounds in meteorites” as an “aromaticpolymer with –OH and –COOH groups”, a fatty acid is basically a long chain hydrocarbon molecule, that has a hydrophilic end (one that likes polar solvents, such as water) and another end that has hydrophobic properties (that do not like polar solvents and tend not to dissolve in them).
As any good chemist can see, each of these carbon spined molecules has a carboxyl group at one end (which effectively means carbon and oxygen based atomic structure). It is this carboxyl group that is hydrophilic i.e. it likes water and so will dissolve into aqeuous solutions.
The polarisation of these carboxyl groups occurs because of specific trait of oxygen… Namely that all oxygen atoms are extremely electronegative i.e. they pull electrons towards them. This usually occurs because the nucleaus of an oxygen atom is densely packed, and so has a “concentrated” positive charge within its nucleaus. This “concentrated” positive charge is what makes oxygen so reactive i.e. it is the reason why Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Gemini 3), Ed White (Gemini 4), and Roger Chaffee (Mercury 4) were burned alive in a lunar module on the launch pad when they were operating in a pressurised, 100% oxygen atmosphere after a spark from the consol started a flash fire that burnt everything inside. And what a tragedy that was… R.I.P. It is also the reason why iron rusts readily in air. This highly positive nucleaus tends to strongly attract the electrons of any other atoms that do not have their own electrons as tightly bound to their own nucleaus OR are willing to share electrons to gain atomic stability by molecularly “sharing/giving” electrons.
A copy of this period table in .pdf format can be downloaded here.
While I won’t go into depth on this “sharing/giving” of electrons in molecular structures, I will mention the following. Strong electronegativity is usually a trait noticed in the elements found on the right hand side of the periodic table, especially in the Halogens (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine and astatine), and most of all it is seen in the Noble gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon). However, as the Noble gases have a complete/full electron subshell, they are energetically very stable and, thus, are very unreactive, which can be seen through their high ionisation energies i.e. the energy needed to remove one electron from their natural elemental state. Thus the noble gases exist in nature as basic atoms. The Halogens, however, are very reactive… They almost have a full subshell, and only need one electron to gain good stability. Thus they are driven to grab whatever they can… And when these elements are found to exist naturally, they do so in a diatomic structure where one fluorine atom shares an electron with another fluorine atom. Next… As we move left from fluorine to oxygen… We will notice a similar reactivity. This time though, oxygen is shy of two electons from a complete outer electron subshell. Thus it also will pull two electrons away from another atom(s) to complete its own outer subshell.
All atoms do this i.e. they will either try give electrons aways if the only have a few in an outer subshell in order to reveal the underlying and complete electron subshell, OR they will take atoms to finish their own nearly complete subshells. Elements on the left of the periodic table tend to give away electons… While elements on the right side of the table tend to attract electrons. This can be clearly seen through the ionisation energy chart below, where elements on the left hand side of the table require much less energy to remove their outer electron than those on the right hand side…
Carbon lies in the middle of period 2… And, as a result, carbon is not that electronegative i.e. it doesn’t snatch electrons off other atoms like di-atmoic flourine or oxygen would. It shares beautifully within itself and can give rise to amazingly complex structures i.e. there are many allotropes of carbon such as diamond, graphite, lonsdaleite, fullerenes, amorphous carbon, carbon nanotubes, etc… all of which are very sturdy and stable.
So, bearing all this in mind, lets get back to that carboxyl group. A carboxyl group is a carbon atom that is attached to an oxygen atom by a double bond, to a hydroxyl group (OH) by a single bond and to an R group (R being anything that will bind via a single bond to a carbon atom).
As the oxygen atom is extremely electronegative, so it pulls the electron away form the hydrogen atom allowing the charge to dissociate i.e. allowing the hydrogen atom to become positive and the oxygen atom to become negatively charged. This becomes a Status Quo of sorts i.e. a hydrogen atom attached to a relatively electronegative atom is a “hydrogen bond” donor. This electronegative atom is usually fluorine, oxygen, or nitrogen. And an electronegative atom such as fluorine, oxygen, or nitrogen is a hydrogen bond acceptor, regardless of whether it is bonded to a hydrogen atom or not. An example of a hydrogen bond donor is ethanol, which has a hydrogen bonded to an oxygen atom, which in turn is bonded to an ethyl group. And an example of a hydrogen bond acceptor which does not have a hydrogen atom bonded to it is the oxygen atom on diethyl ether. Plus, as water’s molecular formula is HOH, it too has this same charge dissociation going on within its molecular make up. This essentially means that “hydrogen bonding” can easily occur between water molecules and carboxyl groups. If you want to know more about “hydrogen bonding” please click here. Now… Going back to what we were saying about fatty acids… From all this… It should be pretty easy to see that the carboxyl group end is going to be quite soluble in water.
Right… So far so good. However, we now have to contend with the other end of the fatty acid i.e. the non polar, aliphatic tail, which does not dissolve in water… Why does this aliphatic tail not dissolve? Well, the first thing that can be noticed is that there is no electronegative atom present that can share its electrons with a polar liquid like water… Rather it is basically just a long chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms branching off it. But even though it will not dissolve in water, this long hydrophobic tail will dissolve beautifully in non polar organic solvents, such as benzene, pentane and hexane. As these non polar organic solvents are not very likely to be found in an aqueous solution, what happens (given the right pH and conditions) is that the tail ends clump together and attract eachother. Why? Well… That’s somewhat easy. As these aliphatic hydrocarbon tails are essentially like non polar organic solvents, they will separate out together for stability i.e. it requires less energy for these tails to amass together to form a lipid bilayer, than it would for them to remain continually repelled in an aqueous solution.
As you can see, this lipid bilayer allows the hydrophilic carboxyl groups to remain exposed to the aqueous solution in which they are dissolved, while the aliphatic tails are (in a sense) dissolved in themselves i.e. they use the non polar organic nature of their own bodies to join together in a more stable fashion. In this structure, they need less kenetic energy to exist within the vibrating water molecules. It’s just like if one takes pentane and water and shakes them vigerously up together… They intermingle for a while; but eventually they separate out into their respective bilayers i.e. water and pentane.
When these lipid bilayers get large enough, then they can flex beautifully in an aqueous solution, forming cup shapes and even spherical vessels where there is a distinct inside and outside of the vessel, as seen in this movie and in the below diagram.
Now… Bearing in mind that celluar Life uses the basis of this structure to house their internal working parts in nearly all types of Life today… Is this really Life? Or is this just physical chemistry finding it own kenetically stable energtic existence? Even today, nearly all bacteria (gram positive or gram negative) have this lipid bilayer underneath their outer coats, which is called a “plasma membrane”.
And even though we are jumping the gun somewhat on our “star dust” to Life hypothesis… This bilayer is found everywhere in cellular Life today. One very important thing that any vessel does, whether a wooden box or a lipid bilayer, is it concentrates the internalized objects/chemicals into a self contained storage/eco-solution… This is obviously very handy for the following two reasons:
i) It allows the compartment/vessel to become isolated from the surrounding environment i.e. if one stores an open deck of cards on the table, if they are knocked then they can disipate around the room, and even some can get lost. The same is so with checimals inside a lipid membrane. If there was no lipid membrane keeping these chemicals inside themselves, then a lot of the chemical concentrations needed to ensure a healthy internal working cellular order would simply diffuse away into the surrounding environment. Higher concentrations usually means stronger, more vigerous reactions.
ii) These compartments/vessels also keep out unwanted objects that might get mixed up in and/or disrupt the internal cellular workings/make up.
So now we see the bigger picture, of how easily these relatively complex organic compounds form in our solar system, it becomes quite obvious how chemicals like Ribonucleic acids and other organic precursors could have got “trapped” in these fatty acid vessels and started “doing things” together in their “artificially” closed (and now higher concentration) environments.
Once all the water in Earth’s atmosphere condensed out into seas and oceans and a stable hydrosphere came about (near on 300 million years after the Earth’s formation, so scientists estimate), these fatty acid vessels, some of which had managed to form in rock pools that had been filled with high enough concentrations of prebiotic organic chemcials (whether by evaporation from the Sun’s heat removing water, thereby concentrating the organic solutions, OR if the watery pools formed in rocks that had high concentrations of organic matter already present), started to “tick-over” in little recuring reactions. No doubt some of these reaction would have taken millions of years to form, and in the muddle of these prebiotic chemcial reflexes that were occuring in these vessels, some (out of the millions OR billions occuring) would have unwittingly begun to make chains of repeatable molecular reactions… Reactions that ticked over in cycles, repeating simple little chemical additions and alterations, forming new compounds that could sustain themselves in an ever internalised little fatty bubble, a float in a rock pool or sea. Either way, this dawn of life is a vague memory… But it is beautifully captured by the National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting’s 10 minute TED talk.
So what are these Stromatolites that Frans Lanting talked about? Stromatolites (from Greek στρώμα, strōma, mattress, bed, stratum, and λιθος, lithos, rock) are layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria (commonly known as blue-green algae) and include some of the most ancient records of life here on Earth. There is plenty of evidence that these cyanobacteria were the first abundantly successful life forms to exist on/colonize Earth i.e. their fossils are found in almost all ancient rock strata from the Precambrian time period, the oldest period of history, occurring just after the Earth was formed.
The Proterozoic is a geological eon of time, which represents a period before the first abundant forms of complex life evolved on Earth. The name Proterozoic comes from the Greek “earlier life.” The Proterozoic Eon extended from 2500 megaannum (or Ma for short) to 542.0 ± 1.0 Ma (million years ago), and is the most recent part of the old, informally named ‘Precambrian’ time period.
The Proterozoic consists of 3 geologic eras, from oldest to youngest:
Several well-identified events occured during the Proterozoic era. These events are defined as:
a) The transition to an oxygenated atmosphere during the Mesoproterozoic period. This has been linked to the cyanobacteria that colonised Earth successfully i.e. the first basic organisms to have bloomed en masse here on Earth.
c) The Ediacarian Period (635 to 542 Ma) which is characterized by the evolution of abundant soft-bodied multicellular organisms i.e. especially Trichophycus pedum in particular, which are found commonly throughout the fossil records of this time period.
But I am jumping the gun on to complex Life… So let’s just reiterate where we’re at. Once successfully replicating single celled organisms arrived, it was inevitable that more complex forms of life would eventually follow and evolve, using similar flows throughout this arduous and intricate molecular chemical interplay. Cycles of organic chemistry, repeating over and over again into ever deeper grooves of being, slowly iterating as errors and/or modifications gave rise to better sustainability via a process of natural selection… All the time, this Life (or these chemical reactions) would slowly but surely evolve, working their way through the cycles of seasons, tides and planetary influences here on Terra firma… Little strange attractions being tugged into and out of sync with their natural instincts, tweeking them into ever more majestic developments of chaotic chance… Chance chemical structures/Life forms that were “doomed” from the outset to harmonize with the environmental shifts and changes persented to them… Until one cell started working with another, making Life’s chemistry easier to bear, so that they could share their labors and efforts, and so building up into complex forms, that naturally worked so well, unquestionably following the patterns of chance that all natural phenomena, like mountains, rivers and snow flakes, flow with.
Here we see the natural progression of events in a timeline that depicts the stages of Earth’s own formation along with its natural biosphere and subsequent chemistry, into what we now call “Life”. And as life started to replicate the chemicals that it needed to ensure its own survival, so they too graciously gave up the toils of their Life’s labor as excrement i.e. oxygen, organic by products, etc… and eventually their bodies. As these fell away, their forgotten remnants started to build up… Oxygen, a by product of cyanobacteria, became a prominent part of Earth’s atmosphere, and provided a new path for Life’s chemistry to walk along. More fatty acids were eventually sysnthesised in creatures, and provided sources of fatty acids for future generations from which to build themselves. Such a deep and interconnected biosphere…
When one looks at it like this… Isn’t it pretty obvious that the probability of some chemicals on other planets (planets which have the right chemical make-ups, in the right proportions, located in the right temperate orbits around their stars) will also “probably” be bearing/rearing life of some form or another? Because when you see the chemistry of atoms, and understand these phenomena will occur wherever the atoms reside, it suddenly becomes all about probability…
But no doubt Earth is special. Why? Well… Intuitively for me, what sets Earth apart from all the other Life in the Universe currently, is that we have been fortunate enough to evolve to the stage that we are at today i.e. we are developing perceptive stances about what we really are, stances that are becoming free of “fantasical” reasons and stories about how we got here… We know Life is not that special i.e. there are probably loads of Earth like planets out there in the “infinity” of space and time that bear Life in one form or another. But what I do sense is that we have come somewhat further than other life forms i.e. we reside on the cusp of knowing what we are, and so can now glimpse just how fortunate we are to be here in a rational way, away from Religious idealogies.
Religion was born from that old human need to know and understand, a need that empiricism has help some us quench, if only we cared to look at it without fear… I’m not saying Religion is bad because of this… It has allowed us to celebrate the Universe “truly” as we could only have hoped to back in past times; times where our perceptive stance was only partially enhanced through limited and basic machines/tools of observation… Enchanced so that we could only see a slightly wider part of the truth via our limited reasoning, which still couldn’t guide us to see beyond the strong emotional and instinctual ties of hunter gatherer times. But these are old values in many ways. We no longer need to wage wars on one another… We are now standing at the threshold of a new dawn, where we can all make that change for the better. No doubt it will not be easy… But then again, it never has been easy. just as struggle to get here today was inevitable, so it will be for us to overcome ourselves. But there is hope! So far we have made it through all the odds… That mountain of improbabilty is immensely taller than Olympus Mons. And we are well up onto its side…
In my humble opinion, we should not become complacent now we have reached this comfortable zone of a consumerist society, or even stop challenging ourselves with the truth. Let us let go of the old values… And begin to work together, just as all the single celled organisms once agreed to do in order to build bigger, better and more harmonious structures for existence… Why? Well, we are part of the Universe that has been afforded this great chance to experience itself; to see the beauty in the cosmos, and within ourselves… Do we owe it to ourselves to push off and find new shores for harmony? Shores where we can be humbled by the truth, and work with it to deeply heal our own Earth… An Earth where we only know about 15% of all the speicies in existence…
So… How can we begin this journey towards truth? I would propose by adopting empirical views about our surroundings, ones that we can all agree upon, to delve into our natural environment and accurately document all of the speicies here on Earth, observing in the process how they all interlink and work together to sustain themselves… And then we can begin to develop compasion towards ideals that we may not understand as well as we should currenly. Because to see all the life that is here on Earth, AND to understand how it interconnects, interrelates, and lives off of itself, will show us just how connected we are to everything around us… And we may eventually begin to fathom how much we are reliant on this Earth. How, in actual fact, it is nothing more than a closed off ecosystem in the inky black void of space and time… So delicate, so sensitive and so fragile.
Perhaps we might then keep in check our personal ideals and reinvent our consumerist tendancies towards a sustainable future, thereby cultivating a purer soul that is driven by Love and Understanding, and so follow the obvious patterns that life has so ingeniously shown us, through its own fractal design. Many things will be sacrificed… Ignorance, selfcherishing and other obsolete ideaologies… But then, these seemingly “important” things always were sacrificed at one time or another in order to move on.
This time of plenty that we currently find ourselves enjoying will not always last. Impermanence is the way of the Tao. Just as there was another impact on Jupiter last month, where a comet or asteriod smashed into the gaseous giant’s atmosphere, leaving a scare the size of Earth’s Pacific ocean, there will be other impacts on other planets, perhaps even our own. So maybe we should start to prepare for this eventuality, thinking about it while admiting the fear of it, but controlling our emotional terror of the truth… That we all could die at any moment… Or be plunged into a long darkness of famine, destitution, drought, scarcity and want. We should always be aware of this… Because if we honestly feel our destiny is out among the stars, we will need to be honest with ourselves. But then again… If we feel we have strived hard enough to get here now, and only care to bask on Life’s beach of an Earth as long as we can get away with it, then we are going about it perfectly. Afterall, what we do with our future is ultimately up to us… But when we see how far we’ve already come… Doesn’t this inpsire one to go all the way, as best as we can? Because too many give up just as success is about to come to them…
Lastly, I came across this documentary on YouTube called “Origins – How Life Began” just the other day, which I feel covers some important aspects of what I have breifly touched on above. It is beautifully pieced together, using some very neat analogies i.e. 24 hour clock of Earth’s entire history, as well as some really up to date ideas on how life could have come into being i.e. the impact pressures within comets forming polypeptides out of any amino acids trapped in the ice, etc… and it is narrated by the astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for PBS’s “NOVA science NOW” science documentary series. So if you have a spare 55 minutes, I’d highly recommend viewing it:
From all of this… I would offer the reader who has got this far one thought to deeply ponder on. Should we all look at Life as nothing more than a complex interplay of biochemical reactions and processes that work together, responding to their environments as best as they can, settling into structures and cycles that provide the greatest energetic stability possible? After all, apples don’t fall upwards, do they!? They fall down… Towards the ground, where they gain an equilibrium in their own potential energy. This is the nature of all things: to find equilibrium.
Perhaps these chemical vats that we call bodies, filled with the atomic essence derived from eons of star dust/soot, are more like an orchestrated collection of independent reactions, beautifully structured into a flowing composition of input and output? If you are having trouble visualizing this, then please watch the following video of Dr Bruce Lipton, as he beautifully discusses these reations, demonstrating how perception comes about from the complex interplay of chemicals within out bodies:
Looking at how the cell switches on and off genes, through the use of complex cellular machinery, to work around and respond to the environment is pretty amazing.
So I think we should be bold, and go fishing, with the expectation that whatever happens in our journey for the truth, we will learn from it. It might end sooner than we have expected… Or we might span the Universe majestically and grow beyond our wildest dreams. Hell… We may even discover something about Life’s origins by being willing to accept the origin of Life as an emergent phenomenon arising from a very complex chemical environment, one that was forged in the hearts of ancient stars in the inky black void of space and time… And on this journey, we therefore might take a chance to test this hypothesis, and find that similar reactions can be reproduced in the laboratory, simply by trusting the laws of chemistry and physics to do the work for us. Jack Szostak is starting this journey. Perhaps he’s realized that what we have got to loose is… Nothing. And what we have got to gain… Is everything.
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question: “Is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say: “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” … and we kill those people. Ha ha, “Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as ONE. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would do many times over, not one human being excluded, and we can then explore space together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
Bill Hicks – Comedian (possibly prophet?) – December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994
“The Universe could so easily have remianed lifeless and simple – just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not – the fact that life evolved out of literally nothing, some 10 billion years after the Universe evolved literally out of nothing – is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. And even that is not the end of the matter. Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of comprehending the process by which they comprehend it.”
Richard Dawkins – Evolutionary Biologist of Oxford University – March 26, 1941 – Present
July 26, 2009
Organic molecules from first cosmic clouds,
Millions of years in the midst of eternity.
We sprang from the primordial;
Our spirituality came in the evolution.
There is strong evidence that human beings evolved from basic early molecules. Thos molecules were formed from the gases and birth process of stars and planets. Those stars and planets were in turn formed by the first movement of the universe. That first movement of the universe came from nothingness. So we are on the crest of a certain wave of evolution.
Narrowing it down to the human situation from the cosmic, our minds represent the ultimate expression of who we are. Further, spirituality is the ultimate expression of the mind. One might say, therefore, that spirituality is not a belief, mental contruct, or opinion. Rather, it can be considered a function or outgrowth of evolution.
If spirituality is simply a function of life, the edge of a cosmic ripple, then where is it going? We don’t know. Like the universe, it is still expanding into unknown territory. We can decide to cooperate and go with that wave, or we can ignore our spirituality and thereby ignore one of the basic meanings of being human. If we choose to engage in the full process of being human, then we will truly fulfill our part in the universe’s evolution.
July 19, 2009
This following article I have lifted from a webpage (see the end of this article to find out the webpage) as I feel it adequately carries on to explain, via the process of Abiogenesis (namely, the chemical evolution of molecular interplay that leads to life), how life might have come about from all the star/atomic dust that settled on, and made up, this planet. So to follow on where “On The Formation Of Suns And Their Planets” left of…
A team of biologists and chemists is closing in on bringing non-living matter to life.
It’s not as Frankensteinian as it sounds. Instead, a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building simple cell models that can almost be called life.
Szostak’s protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn’t anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the universe.
While his latest work remains unpublished, Szostak described preliminary new success in getting protocells with genetic information inside them to replicate at the XV International Conference on the Origin of Life in Florence, Italy, last week. The replication isn’t wholly autonomous, so it’s not quite artificial life yet, but it is as close as anyone has ever come to turning chemicals into biological organisms.
“We’ve made more progress on how the membrane of a protocell could grow and divide,” Szostak said in a phone interview. “What we can do now is copy a limited set of simple [genetic] sequences, but we need to be able to copy arbitrary sequences so that sequences could evolve that do something useful.”
By doing “something useful” for the cell, these genes would launch the new form of life down the Darwinian evolutionary path similar to the one that our oldest living ancestors must have traveled. Though where selective pressure will lead the new form of life is impossible to know.
“Once we can get a replicating environment, we’re hoping to experimentally determine what can evolve under those conditions,” said Sheref Mansy, a former member of Szostak’s lab and now a chemist at Denver University.
Protocellular work is even more radical than the other field trying to create artifical life: synthetic biology. Even J. Craig Venter’s work to build an artificial bacterium with the smallest number of genes necessary to live takes current life forms as a template. Protocell researchers are trying to design a completely novel form of life that humans have never seen and that may never have existed.
Over the summer, Szostak’s team published major papers in the journals Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
that go a long way towards showing that this isn’t just an idea and that his lab will be the first to create artificial life — and that it will happen soon.
“His hope is that he’ll have a complete self-replicating system in his lab in the near future,” said Jeffrey Bada, a University of California San Diego chemist who helped organize the Origin of Life conference.
Modern life is far more complex than the simple systems that Szostak and others are working on, so the protocells don’t look anything like the cells that we have in our bodies or Venter’s genetically-modified E. coli.
“What we’re looking at is the origin of life in one aspect, and the other aspect is life as a small nanomachine on a single cell level,” said Hans Ziock, a protocellular researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Life’s function, as a simple nanomachine, is just to use energy to marshal chemicals into making more copies of itself.
“You need to organize yourself in a specific way to be useful,” Ziock said. “You take energy from one place and move it to a place where it usually doesn’t want to go, so you can actually organize things.”
Modern cells accomplish this feat with an immense amount of molecular machinery. In fact, some of the chemical syntheses that simple plants and algae can accomplish far outstrip human technologies. Even the most primitive forms of life possess protein machines that allow them to import nutrients across their complex cell membranes and build the molecules that then carry out the cell’s bidding.
Those specialized components would have taken many, many generations to evolve, said Ziock, so the first life would have been much simpler.
What form that simplicity would have taken has been a subject of intense debate among origin of life scientists stretching back to the pioneering work of David Deamer, a professor emeritus at UC-Santa Cruz.
What most researchers agree on is that the very first functioning life would have had three basic components: a container, a way to harvest energy and an information carrier like RNA or another nucleic acid.
Szostak’s earlier work has shown that the container probably took the form of a layer of fatty acids that could self-assemble based on their reaction to water (see video). One tip of the acid is hydrophilic, meaning it’s attracted to water, while the other tip is hydrophobic. When researchers put a lot of these molecules together, they circle the wagons against the water and create a closed loop.
These membranes, with the right mix of chemicals, can allow nucleic acids in under some conditions and keep them trapped inside in others.
Just to recap on the basic chemistry behind a lipid’s ability to form vessels:
That opens the possibility that one day, in the distant past, an RNA-like molecule wandered into a fatty acid and started replicating. That random event, through billions of evolutionary iterations, researchers believe, created life as we know it.
In a paper released this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mansy and Szostak showed that the special membranes, fat bubbles essentially, were stable under a variety of temperatures and could have manipulated molecules like DNA through simple thermal cycling, just like scientists do in PCR machines.
The entire line of research, though, begs the question: where would DNA, or any other material carrying instructions for replication, have come from?
Many researchers have tried to tackle this problem of how RNA- or DNA-like molecules could have developed from the amino acids present on the early Earth. John Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Manchester, published a paper last year demonstrating one plausible way that RNA could have spontaneously been created in the prebiotic world.
Once such molecules existed, Szostak’s lab’s demonstrated in a Nature paper earlier this summer that nucleic acids could replicate inside a protocell (pdf).
But while many scientists agree the protocell work is impressive, not every scientist is convinced that it contributes to a reasonable explanation for the origin of life.
“Their work is wonderful inasmuch as what they are doing can be,” said Mike Russell, a geochemist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It’s just that I’m uneasy about the significance of it to the origin of life.”
Russell argues that the very first life-like molecules on Earth would have been based on inorganic compounds. Instead of a fatty acid membrane, Russell argues that iron sulfide could have provided the necessary container for early cells.
But UCSD’s Bada pointed out that it as unlikely we will ever know how life actually began.
“[Szostak's] point, and how we all view it, is that it’s a nice model, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened that way,” he said.
Szostak suggested that even if life could theoretically or did begin some other way, his lab’s hypothesis was (at least) experimentally plausible.
“We’re now pretty much convinced that growth and division could occur under perfectly reasonable prebiotic conditions in a way that is not some artificial laboratory construction,” he said.
And actually, the most intriguing possibility of all may be that the protocells in Szostak’s lab do not closely model earthly life’s origins. If that’s true, human beings, ourselves the product of evolution from the most primitive organisms, would have created an alternative path to imbuing matter with the properties of life.
“What we have in biology is just one of many, many possibilities,” Szostack said. “One of the things that always comes up when people talk about life and universal qualities is water. But is water really necessary? What if we could design a system that works in something else?”
Havign worked in the Biochemistry Industry for nearly 4 years of my life, primarily as a lab assistant in a PCR based research and development company, it dawned on me how the Earth, after its formation, probably became one big biochemical soup that some how developed billions and billions of tiny fatty acid vessels that housed natural PCR reactions, which then progressed on into an Abiogenesis reaction all of its own… When one sees how easily DNA can be made in a test tube, one begins to understand that it really isn’t such a special thing that DNA (or other genetic material) is found in all life here on Earth. From the above article I feel one can easily begin to get an idea of how life acquired a foot hold on this beautifully temperate “third rock from the sun” in the oceans of water that precipitated once the Earth begn to cool from the monumentous forces of accretion.
If you are curious about the webpage that I lifted this article from, please click here.
As a “bonus” to top this blog off, I discovered this interview with Jack W. Szostak the other day, which addresses his work on Protocells.
July 19, 2009
One side of the ridge is cold and foggy,
The other is hot and dry.
Just by choosing where you stand,
You alter your destiny.
Those who follow Tao talk of desinty. They define destiny as the course or pattern of your life as it spontaneously takes shape. They do not think destiny as a preordained set of circumstances. There is no rigid script for this mad stage that we are on.
Those who follow Tao then talk of location. by this, thy mean something as literal as where you situate your house or where you stand politically. They think that these factors are very important. Let us imagine for a moment that you had a job offer in another city far from where you were born. You move there with your family. Do you think that your life would change? We refine this perception: If you went into a different profession, it would change your outlook. If you lived in one neighborhood or another, you would be a different person. Every choice you make changes you.
No matter how minor or great, you must make choices each and every minite that passes. The irony of life is that it is a one-way journey. You cannot go back, you cannot make comparisions by trying one way and then another. There are no double-blind studies when it comes to your own life. Therefore, only wisdom will suffice to guide you.
July 17, 2009
Don’t let a thread fall without noticing it.
Don’t rake dry brown leaves carelessly.
Think how difficult it was
For something to take this existence.
Frugality is lauded in almost every culture. Nearly all of us have been taught to conserve and save. Those who do not waste and yet do not become misers are most admirable.
We can be aware of conservation everyday. We should think whether what we discard can be reused or recycled. We should consider whether our expenditures ar really necessary. We should be aware if we are wasting our time and efforts on frivolous activities. We should not abuse our environment with garbage, pollutants, and recreational activities.
Conservation is impossible without a sound understanding of the wholeness of cycles. Unless we remember how precious something is, how much effort it took for it to come into being, we will not value it. Unless we think about its proper transformation into its next phase – a leaf withering, a flower browing, a lake drying up – we will not know our relation to it. Everything lives or dies in its own time. We too are part of the same cycles, only we have the option of contemplating and acting within that context. To do so with grace and awareness is the essence of one who follows Tao.
In this brief essay describing Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle”, my aim is to highlight the not so obvious workings of nature’s flow… For even I, when originally presented with Heisenberg’s marvel of observation, did not fully grasp the basic principle behind the magic of Quantum mechanics. In fact this basic idea took several years of careful study and checked thought before I accidentally stumbled over the essence of Heisenberg’s ideal in the darkness of my, then, unilluminated mind.
And what a marvel of an ideal it is… For one of the very first times in Physics, an observer has become aware of a very important and much overlooked fact i.e. that how he/she perceives the environment around him/her, directly affects the way in which he/she measures it… If one is uncertain of one’s observations, even if these uncertainties are nearing such miniscule amounts as to seem almost totally insignificant in the fine-spun scheme of the “seemingly” preceise human world… This overlooked resolution will inevitably breed an error into calculations built from these measurements, and a fallacy will extrapolate further down the line, mixing other erred insights together, until a cascade of awkward “blunders” comes awkwardly into the light.
When dealing with the preceision of universal flow, the dot of an electron truly becomes a point which has a definite position in space, but neither size nor shape. And so, when something is so small and specific, especially in comparision to our somewhat large and cumbersome bodies, we can all too readily overlook the details at play in its fate and think nothing of it. Just as Edward Lorenz had discovered in the winter of 1961, when running a computer simulated weather system; his assumption that 3 decimal place numbers, which had been rounded off from 6 decimal place number enteries, should not make any difference to the output of the simulation… How wrong he was! For there is the crux of the matter; that small errors prove catastrophic to the final results. In 1979 Lorenz entitled a paper he wrote examining this phenomenon, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” and the title has avidly carried the magic held within Chaos’ own never ending and never repeating flow. Today this sensitive dependence on initial conditions is referred to as “The Butterfly Effect.” For these seemingly minor oversights on current input data tallied up over time to yield vastly different outcomes; outcomes that were/are totally unpredicatable.
So… Could Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Priciple” be the initial realization that, when something is so small and sensitive to its surrounding environment i.e. the electron, which is sensitive to minute charges and other influential magnetic fields, like the magnetic fields that come from the human body, or from a mains plug, some electric lights, or simply another atom’s atomic charge, etc… Then how could we as humans ever hope to accurately reproduce any of the intricate workings inside the Universal mechanisms of matter without this spill over from the world around us? For all of these charges and electromagnetic fields deeply affect one another in an almost infinitely long chain of cause and effect (something the that Buddhists have duly understood and noted within their theory of Interdependent Origination)… And if the things we are studying are “unimaginably” sensitive to initial conditions, while we seem so robust… Then it is my fear that we may never have the chance to precisely understand Universal harmony.
And this beckon’s the question… If we could never really hope to grasp the abstruse nature of reality (if only because of it’s sheer complexity), then is there any point in studying it as certainty? Or are we doomed to make approximations of reality for the rest of eterntiy? For example, if a swiss watch maker, through flaws in his own perception of time AND/OR errors in his manufacture of watches, could never make an accurate watch, would there be any point in continuing his trade? Perhaps he could continue trading if there was a steady demand for inaccurate timepieces… But these would not suite the purpose of knowing the precise time. But then again, are not all watches only approximations of the perfect ideal of a watch i.e. the perfect watch that keeps perfect time based on the daily rotation of the earth around its axis? But as you have seen in the previous post, not even the heavenly spheres move with a precise certainty or symmetry. And every two years or so, I notice my own watches and clocks, whether digital or analog, drifting out by a few minutes… So as chaos theory predicts, are all things prone to chaotic cycles? Where the details, when observed on the microscopic scales, are really vast expanses away from the perfect ideal?
It is here that Heisenberg’s uncertainty priciple philosophically comes into its own… Because if one cannot know the precise position and momentum of a particle at a given instant, mainly due to its stupendously small size in relation to the observer, then its exact path, and so it’s exact future position, could never be realistically, NOR accurately determined. And when something is not accurate… Then it is in essence marginalized or wholly inaccurate. So in essence, Heisenberg’s argument reiterates what Edward Lorenz’s simulated weather system demonstrated… That every concept only has meaning in terms of the experiments used to measure it. And as these measurements would be imprecise as best; that is, in comparision to the size of the particle being measured, and any other subtle external forces that might effect it’s passage or being in this chaotic world of charge… Then we must agree that things which cannot be measured really or exactly, and thus elude any real bearing on their trajectory or course that they might take here in life… And thus these observations would surely hold no real meaning in physics, as physics, being a science based on exactitude, was designed to yield exact results that could provide workable models of the universe that exists around us. So… It must be noted that the path of a particle has no meaning beyond the precision with which it is observed.
Here I ask… Is this not what Kurt Gödel discovered with his incompleteness theorems? That ultimately there is the romantic notion that man imposes on his environment i.e. what he expects it to do, whether using self referential axioms to describe its expectant flow, or construct arbitary statements about what it actually is… Only later to discover that it is nothing like what he imagined it to orginally be? Perhaps we are doomed to make these approximations for all eternity when we observe the Lilliputian and Herculean levels of reality (this is where my idea that the implications of the Mandelbrot set could guide us into better modes of understanding regarding a universal truth, demonstration ever finer, more complex structures within and without, infinitely into and out of “precision” itself). Perhaps Georg Cantor was onto something with his idea of varying degrees of infinity, limited only by scaling factors i.e. the infinitely large might never hope to realize the infinitely small?
But I digress… Once one gains a firm grasp of the basic facts that Heisenberg proposed, I would beckon them to recap on Deng Ming-Dao’s lesson on mindfulness, entitled “Make A Single Point.” Again, I do not want to lecture, but rather encourage the reader to think about the two separate ideas and find their own method of sewing them together… For to continually mend holes in the fabric of people’s perception could be misconstrued as being sanctimonious, which could never be further from my intentions. Rather I am happy to quote certain others’ works who have more pertinently and eloquently touched on aspects of this puzzel over the years, with a hope that the reader’s mind will naturally settle on the splendor lying behind the complex and distracting facades of catechism.
And also… With the hope that, rather than giving a tidbit to an inquisitive mind, perhaps the mind might find a mode for sewing new ideas into firtile folds of the brain’s structure and reap them in future times with reason’s sythe. For to give a man a fish, you might feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
The Uncertainty Principle
“The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.”
It was in Copenhagen, in February of 1927, that Heisenberg developed his uncertainty principle, while working on the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics. In his paper about this principle, he used the word “Ungenauigkeit” (imprecision). Heisenberg realized that the uncertainty relations had profound implications. First, if we accept Heisenberg’s argument that every concept has a meaning only in terms of the experiments used to measure it, we must agree that things that cannot be measured really have no meaning in physics. Thus, for instance, the path of a particle has no meaning beyond the precision with which it is observed. But a basic assumption of physics since Newton has been that a “real world” exists independently of us, regardless of whether or not we observe it. (This assumption did not go unchallenged, however, by some philsophers.) Heisenberg now argued that such concepts as orbits of electrons do not exist in nature unless and until we observe them.
With this idea, Heisenberg drew profound implications for the concept of causality, or the determinacy of future events. Schrödinger had earlier attempted to offer an interpretation of his formalism in which the electron waves represent the density of charge of the electron in the orbit around the nucleus. Max Born, however, showed that the “wave function” of Schrödinger’s equation does not represent the density of charge or matter. It describes only the probability of finding the electron at a certain point. In other words, quantum mechanics cannot give exact results, but only the probabilities for the occurrence of a variety of possible results.
Heisenberg took this one step further: he challenged the notion of simple causality in nature, that every determinate cause in nature is followed by the resulting effect. Translated into “classical physics,” this had meant that the future motion of a particle could be exactly predicted, or “determined,” from a knowledge of its present position and momentum and all of the forces acting upon it. However… The uncertainty principle denies this, Heisenberg declared, because one cannot know the precise position and momentum of a particle at a given instant, so its future cannot be determined. One cannot calculate the precise future motion of a particle, but only a range of possibilities for the future motion of the particle. (However, the probabilities of each motion, and the distribution of many particles following these motions, could be calculated exactly from Schrödinger’s wave equation.)
Although Einstein and others objected to Heisenberg’s and Bohr’s views, even Einstein had to admit that they are indeed a logical consequence of quantum mechanics. For Einstein, this showed that quantum mechanics is “incomplete.” Research has continued to the present on these and proposed alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics.
One should note that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle does not say “everything is uncertain.” Rather, it tells us very exactly where the limits of uncertainty lie when we make measurements of sub-atomic events. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle constituted an essential component of the broader interpretation of quantum mechanics known as the Copenhagen Interpretation.
The Copenhagen Interpretation
Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle in February 1927 while employed as a lecturer in Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen. Bohr, who had been on a skiing vacation, returned to the institute to find Heisenberg’s paper already in draft. Forwarding the paper to Einstein at Heisenberg’s request, Bohr complained to Einstein that Heisenberg’s approach was too narrow and his gamma-ray microscope was flawed, although the result was correct. For Bohr, the uncertainty relations arose not merely from the quantum equations and the use of particles and discontinuity. Waves and particles had to be taken equally into account, and the scattering of light waves by the electron was also crucial. When Heisenberg corrected his thought experiment, it only confirmed the results.
In Bohr’s words, the wave and particle pictures, or the visual and causal representations, are “complementary” to each other. That is, they are mutually exclusive, yet jointly essential for a complete description of quantum events. Obviously in an experiment in the everyday world an object cannot be both a wave and a particle at the same time; it must be either one or the other, depending upon the situation. In later refinements of this interpretation the wave function of the unobserved object is a mixture of both the wave and particle pictures until the experimenter chooses what to observe in a given experiment. (Remember that, according to Heisenberg, the path of an object first comes into existence when we observe it.) By choosing either the wave or the particle picture, the experimenter disturbs untouched nature. Such favoritism unleashes a limitation in what one can learn about nature “as it really is.” This limitation is expressed by Heisenberg’s uncertainty relations, which, for Bohr, were related to what he was now calling “complementarity.” Complementarity, uncertainty, and the statistical interpretation of Schrödinger’s wave function were all related. Together they formed a logical interpretation of the physical meaning of quantum mechanics known as the “Copenhagen Interpretation.”
Heisenberg vehemently objected at first to Bohr’s views. Insisting on the primary use of particles and discontinuity, he refused Bohr’s suggestion that he withdraw his paper, which was already in press. He did, however, append a paragraph alerting readers to Bohr’s views and admitting the error regarding the resolution of the microscope. The battle with Bohr grew so intense in the early months of 1927 that Heisenberg reportedly burst into tears at one point, and even managed to wound Bohr with his sharp remarks. Obviously, there was much at stake for the 25-year-old.
By the fall of 1927, matters had completely changed. Heisenberg’s job situation was settled upon his appointment to the University of Leipzig. And Bohr presented to a conference at Lake Como, Italy, his complementarity argument. A month later, in October 1927, Born and Heisenberg, speaking to the Solvay physics conference in Brussels, Belgium, went so far as to declare quantum mechanics to be complete and irrevocable.
Not everyone agreed with the new interpretation, or with Born and Heisenberg’s statement about future work. Einstein and Schrödinger were among the most notable dissenters. Until the ends of their lives they never fully accepted the Copenhagen doctrine. Einstein was dissatisfied with the reliance upon probabilities. But even more fundamentally, he believed that nature exists independently of the experimenter, and the motions of particles are precisely determined. It is the job of the physicist to uncover the laws of nature that govern these motions, which, in the end, will not require statistical theories. The fact that quantum mechanics did seem consistent only with statistical results and could not fully describe every motion was for Einstein an indication that quantum mechanics was still incomplete.
The objections of Einstein and others notwithstanding, Bohr, Heisenberg and their colleagues managed to ensure the acceptance of their interpretation by the majority of physicists at that time. They did this both by presenting the new interpretation on lecture trips around the world and by demonstrating that it worked. The successes of the theory naturally attracted many of the best students to institutes such as Heisenberg’s, some coming from as far away as America, India, and Japan. These bright students, nurtured by the Copenhagen doctrine and educated into the new quantum mechanics, formed a new and dominant generation of physicists. Those in Germany and Central Europe carried the new ideas with them as they dispersed around the world during the 1930s and 1940s in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.
The equations developed by Heisenberg, Schrödinger and their colleagues give us all a glimpse into the nature of reality… But that’s not just all. They are also the essential tools of modern work in key areas of practical technology – including the electronics you are using to read this text. Thousands of physicists use the equations of quantum mechanics every day to understand and improve computer components, metals, lasers, the properties of chemicals, and so on and so on. Many important physical effects, from fluorescent lights to the shape of a snowflake, cannot be understood at all without quantum mechanics.
Even the Uncertainty Principle isn’t “merely” philosophy: it predicts real properties of electrons. Electrons jump at random from one energy state to another state which they could never reach except that their energy is momentarily uncertain. This “tunneling” makes possible the nuclear reactions that power the sun and many other processes. Physicists have put some of these processes to practical use in microelectronics. For example, delicate superconducting instruments that use electron tunneling to detect tiny magnetic fields are enormously helpful for safely scanning the human brain…
So when something tends to be used with great success to yield desired results… We know it has some basis for being at least as right as it can be for the moment. Perhaps our brains, when we observe the flow of thoughts through them and atune them to finely honed points of focus, might one day function more precisely than they do presently? Food for thought, no doubt…
July 5, 2009
Make the mind
A single point.
The key to any meditation is to concentrate the mind into a single point. There are many methods for doing this, from singing, to listening to holy words, to contemplative procedures. But the end result is the same: to focus our minds sharply.
A point has a definite position in space but neither size nor shape.
A point marks an actual place in time, such as a point of departure.
A point is the very essence of something, as in the point of an idea.
A point is a coordinate for navigation.
A point is the dominant center, as in the principle point of perspective.
A point determines our outlook, as in a point of view.
Once the mind is made into a single point, it takes on the above attributes. In contrast, a mind that is not focused is dispersed over a wide area. Its thoughts are scattered, its energies are in disarray, and it cannot move clearly in any direction. It is at the mercy of a thousand influences and it is easily disoriented. The result is confusion, ignorance, unhappiness, and helplessness. A mind that is clearly focused, however, receives all things and can abide in utter tranquility. It is no exaggeration to say that its world revolves around it. It no longer has to chase after all that appears before it.
July 2, 2009
This will be a basic blog about the dawn of our solar system and how it came into being… Here I aim to tackle the dawnting process of accretion theory and, in doing so, demonstrate what a hostile environment a solar system can be during planet formation, and therefore, what an amazingly fortunate occurence it is that We i.e. all of life on Earth, are here, today, alive and well, basking in the warmth of our nearby by star, the Sun.
Just the other day… I was in a waiting room reading my way through a National Geographic in the line of time before my appointment. And I stumbled over the following article:
In some ways I was gob smacked when I read this i.e. that the super fine, almost particulate, lunar dust that, when touched with the bare hands would, permiate the epidermis so deeply you couldn’t get it out with a thousand washes… And it actually smelt like gun powder!!! How odd, I thought!? I mean, as the moon has no atmosphere, and basic laws of combustion require there to be a fuel and an oxidant present, how could there ever be any fire in the vacuum of space!? But then, when I thought back to my physics and astronomy 101, I realised that this was hardly surprising bearing in mind the forces that precipitated planet formation, and even star formation, as well as the undiluted Sun’s rays vigerously beating down over the long lunar days.
As we all know so well from looking at the amazing images from the hubble telescope… The Universe around us is littered with pockets of molecular and particulate clouds. As Professor Hal Levison from South West Research Institute once said, “It’s amazing when you really consider that all the planet’s in the solar system, the Earth and the rest of the rocky planets, the cores of the giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, and the majority of the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, formed from material that is very fine pieces of dust… About the consistency or size of particles in cigarette smoke…” Pretty amazing stuff, that this super fine material actually makes up the planet that we’re now standing on… ??? I know… Total sci-fi! Forget about the parting of the Red Sea… This stuff is even stranger than fiction!
Thought fiction it is not… And to confirm this, in a recent BBC interview with Eugene Cernan, conducted for The Sky At Night’s celebration of “The Last Man On The Moon”, Commander Cernan mentioned that this super fine lunar dust just was just everywhere, being integral to making the moon’s surface appear the way it was seen i.e. smooth. “The surface (of the moon) was covered with dust. It’s like graphite. It’s a grey material and it penetrates everything. In places, it’s two or three meters deep… In other places, it’s just a film on top of the outcropping rocks… But it covers everything! It’s what makes the mountains, the big massifs that surrounded us, look somewhat smooth. But if you could blow away the lunar dust, it’d be very rugged outcrops.” So this dust… This space dust… The stuff that makes up stars and planets… Was pulled in by the moon’s gravity after the main bulk of the moon had accreted together, as the massive body drifted around with the Earth in its orbit, hoovering up the very last parts of the disk left… And as this dust left to moon, it accumulated on its surface, filling in all the gaps between the jagged rocky mass of the moon’s main bulk of a body… So simple and so elegant, when one thinks about it. And something that gives us a real insight into the accretion process, as first suggested by Victor Safronov, which confirms and allows us to see how planetary bodies are formed… Which has been preserved (thanks to a lack of atmosphere and weather on the moon) almost as meticulously as the time it finished… And when this is seen, it also allows us to see that the surface of the Earth is somewhat unusual too, in that most of the surface dust that might have been left like this, is now mixed up with water and moisture from out atmosphere, forming a “paste” or “mud” that Life managed to get a foothold in. Okay… Perhaps I’m racing away a bit… So let’s get back to basics.
Where did this dust come from???
Well… Let’s firstly, let’s take a brief look at where this dusty, nebulous material “supposedly” comes from…
Basically, it is said, and rightly so, that cosmology is the branch of physics that asks the grandest questions. After all, few questions within science can equal the impact of: “Where does the universe come from?” or “What is the fate of the universe” or “Where does the matter we are made of come from?”
But perhaps even more exciting than asking these questions is the fairly recent power that we have of answering them, at least partially, through a rational study of nature.
Most of us learned in high school that matter is made of atoms and that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. What we don’t usually learn in high school is that to each particle of matter there is another particle, an “anti-particle,” which is essentially the same as the particle but with opposite electric charge.
Thus, the negatively charged electron has its “anti-electron,” called a positron, which has positive electric charge; the proton has an anti-proton, and so on. Now comes the interesting part. According to the laws of particle physics, matter and antimatter should be present in the universe in equal amounts. And yet, we have ample observational evidence that, at least in a very large volume that surrounds us and extends far beyond our galaxy, there is much more matter than antimatter.
When particles collide with their anti-particles, the effects are devastating; they both disintegrate into electromagnetic radiation, their energy carried away in neutral particles called photons. In other words, if there were as much antimatter as matter in the universe, we wouldn’t be here to ask grand questions. The universe is somehow unbalanced, biased toward the existence of matter over antimatter. One of the greatest challenges in modern cosmology is to unveil the roots of this cosmic imperfection.
As with any scientific explanation, we need a few “basic ingredients,” a minimum amount of knowledge from which to build our models. The first ingredient we need is the Big Bang model of cosmology. According to this model, a small fraction of a second after the “beginning,” many kinds of particles and their anti-particles, in equal amounts, roamed about and collided with each other immersed in tremendous heat, as in a cosmic minestrone soup.
In the hot cosmic furnace of the Big Bang, many different types of particles were being cooked, not necessarily the familiar quarks (the constituents of protons and neutrons) or electrons. As the universe expanded and cooled, a sort of selection mechanism not only biased the creation of quarks and electrons over other types of particles, but also generated the excess number of particles over anti-particles. Surviving the annihilation with their antimatter cousins, these excess particles organized themselves into more complex structures, until eventually atoms, mostly hydrogen, were formed when the universe was about 300,000 years old.
But this is still a somewhat vague idea as to really what happened, as the particle physicists are still “out to lunch” formulating their theories about the creation of the universe, while CERN conducts ever more probing experiments into the nature of matter with the LHC, etc… So for the moment, the mystery as to how the mass in the universe came into being i.e. all this hydrogen, is above and beyond what the aim of this essay is all about.
So let’s return to the matter at hand… Namely that of the formation of stars and planets from nebula. These super fine clouds come in many forms, and are found abundantly throughout our Universe. And the two of the most commonly found types of these clouds are nebula and molecular clouds… Let’s take a look at an example of each:
1. Horsehead and Orion Nebule
This picture was taken from the APOD website, where the following expalnation was given:
“Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky’s most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. They appear in opposite corners of this stunning mosaic taken with a digital camera attached to a small telescope. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion’s belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region in this deep field image of the same region.”
2. Molecular Cloud Barnard 68
Again, this picture was taken from the APOD website, where the following expalnation was given:
“Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured above. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has recently been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light.”
These nebula (a word that is derived from the Latin word for “cloud”; pl. nebulae or nebulæ, with ligature or nebulas) are interstellar clouds of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and plasma. Originally nebula were a general name for any extended atronomical object, including galaxies beyond the Milky Way (some examples of the older usage survive; for example, the Andromeda Galaxy was referred to as the Andromeda Nebula before galaxies were discovered by Edwin Hubble). Nebulae often form star-forming regions, such as in the Eagle Nebula. This nebula is depicted in one of NASA‘s most famous images, the “Pillars of Creation“. In these regions the formations of gas, dust and other materials “clump” together to form larger masses, which attract further matter, and eventually will become big enough to form stars.
Below are some interesting ideas as to how this could occur:
Cue accretion theory… This happens as a cloud of gaseous material and dust contracts under the force of gravity. Spinning mass forms a disc, probably with a bulge at the centre where a warm protostar undertakes a gestation period. And then eventually the central region of this locality collapses under the hostile force of gravity, and allows the centre to continuously heat, as the ambient gases continue to gather toward its core, providing more mass and so more gravity. From then on, the protostar dispenses and radiates much of its heat and ejects matter outward from its polar regions, where the disc itself offers little restriction to this process. And during this period, a lot of the protostar’s dust and debris is removed toward the newly forming solar-system’s periphery. From there, fusion commences at the star’s core, and so the star begins its active nuclear life. And an interesting criteria for the commencement of active nuclear life is that, only stars that are 6 percent or more than our Sun’s mass can ever hope to attain the temperature and pressure in the core which is required to initiate fusion.
So… Just to touch base with this idea… What exactly is a star?
Stars are hot bodies of glowing gas that start their life in Nebulae. They vary in size, mass and temperature, diameters ranging from 450x smaller to over 1000x larger than that of the Sun. Masses range from a twentieth to over 50 solar masses and surface temperature can range from 3,000 degrees Celcius to over 50,000 degrees Celcius.
The colour of a star is determined by its temperature, the hottest stars are blue and the coolest stars are red. The Sun has a surface temperature of 5,500 degrees Celcius, its colour appears yellow.
The energy produced by the star is by nuclear fusion in the stars core. The brightness is measured in magnitude, the brighter the star the lower the magnitude goes down. There are two ways to measuring the brightness of a star, apparent magnitude is the brghtness seen from Earth, and absolute magnitude which is the brightness of a star seen from a standard distance of 10 parsecs (32.6 light years). Stars can be plotted on a graph using the Hertzsprung Russell Diagram.
So as we can see, there are small stars and larger stars, each having slightly different life cycels in relation to the speed at which they burn their fuel, some varience in life stages, and the color with which they shine… So lets take a look at the two main types of star.
1. Small Stars – The Life of a Star of about one Solar Mass.
Small stars have a mass upto one and a half times that of the Sun.
Stage 1 – Stars are born in a region of high density Nebula, and condenses into a huge globule of gas and dust and contracts under its own gravity. See images above of Nebulae.
Stage 2 – A region of condensing matter will begin to heat up and start to glow forming Protostars. If a protostar contains enough matter the central temperature reaches 15 million degrees centigrade.
Stage 3 – At this temperature, nuclear reactions in which hydrogen fuses to form helium can start.
Stage 4 – The star begins to release energy, stopping it from contracting even more and causes it to shine. It is now a Main Sequence Star. The nearest main sequence star to Earth is our Sun.
Stage 5 – A star of one solar mass remains in main sequence for about 10 billion years, until all of the hydrogen has fused to form helium.
Stage 6 – The helium core now starts to contract further and reactions begin to occur in a shell around the core.
Stage 7 – The core is hot enough for the helium to fuse to form carbon. The outer layers begin to expand, cool and shine less brightly. The expanding star is now called a Red Giant.
Stage 8 – The helium core runs out, and the outer layers drift of away from the core as a gaseous shell, this gas that surrounds the core is called a Planetary Nebula, as seen below.
Stage 9 – The remaining core (thats 80% of the original star’s mass) is now in its final stages. The core itself becomes a White Dwarf, and the star continues to cool and dim. When it stops shining altogether, the star effectively becomes a dead star, which is also known as a Black Dwarf.
Let’s just recap on that with this animation:
2. Massive Stars – The Life of a Star of about 10 Solar Masses
Massive stars have a mass of 3x times or more than that of the Sun. Some are even 50 times that of our own Sun’s mass!!! If these figures are proving slightly too abstract to visualize, the please do check out the following video (something that helped me visualize this a bit better):
So… Looking at the life stages of a massive star, we can observe the following:
Stage 1 – Massive stars evolve in a simlar way to a small stars until it reaches its main sequence stage (see small stars, stages 1-4). The stars shine steadily until the hydrogen has fused to form helium (it takes billions of years in a small star, but only millions in a massive star).
Stage 2 – The massive star then becomes a Red Supergiant and starts off with a helium core surrounded by a shell of cooling, expanding gas. The massive star is much, much bigger than a small star in its expanding stage.
Stage 3 – In the next million years a series of nuclear reactions occur forming different elements in shells around an ever progressively denser core, which is made up of iron.
Why iron? Well, if you really are curious about the physics behind this, and want to know more about how the various chemical elements that we use in our bodies came into being, then I’ll let Professor Jim Al-Khalili work his magic in this brilliant BBC documentary, entitled ATOM – The Key To The Cosmos (Part 2).
Stage 4 – The core collapses in less than a second, causing an explosion called a Supernova, in which a shock wave blows of the outer layers of the star off. (The actual supernova shines brighter than the entire galaxy for a short time). During a Supernova, any planetary system that the star might have had would be blown into atomic dust. Nothing would survive.
Stage 5 – Sometimes the core survives the explosion. If the surviving core is between 1.5 – 3 solar masses it contracts to become a tiny, very dense Neutron Star. If the core is much greater than 3 solar masses, the core usually contracts to become a Black Hole.
Again… Let’s have a quick recap with an animation:
So as you can see, there are marked differences in the way stars live out their lives, either as a wise old small star, eating his fuel in a slow and steady banquet of burning delight… OR as a greedy, headonistic, and perhaps even gluttonous massive star gorging themselves silly on whatever they have, as if there were no tomorrow.
An interesting thing about stars is (something that you saw in Professor Jim Al-Khalili documentary ATOM) that they are the forges for the heavier elements i.e. they fuse the basic matter of hyrogen and helium into heavier elements, going all the way up to iron (if in a massive star). Once iron is reached, it is really impossible for the star, no matter how large it is, to form heavier elements. However, once a massive star explodes in a Supernova, the forces and energies from this explosion are so violent and powerful that they actually fuse some of resulting heavier atoms already present (upto iron) together to make the heavier elements such as copper, zinc, silver, gold, lead, bismuth (oh, amazing bismuth), etc… So in essence, the more of these massive stars that there were in a region of space, the greater the proportion of heavier elements that will be found in the Nebula clouds of that region. Bearing in mind the probablity with which these stars occur, this data can in many ways give one an idea as to how old the universe might actually be. And bearing this in mind, astronomers “think” that the universe is about 14 to 15 billion years old. But I digress…
Once a star forms, then the dust cloud (that has been spun out into a disc surrounding the epicenter) either disappears entirely – OR – forms embryonic planets. Let’s take a look at a diagram showing this:
This daigram was borrowed from The University Of Oregon
It is during this period of planetoid formation that the solar system becomes a particularly dangerous and active construction site. Debris, basically made up of rocks, particluate dust, etc…, of all shapes and sizes slowly swirls around the star which is now burning brightly in the center. And as it spins around the star, so it languidly clumps together under it’s own gravitational pull over eons (to get the idea of how long, when a mass is small, it’s gravitational pull is very small too). But as these clumps get bigger and bigger, so they start to tug eachother with greater and greater gravitational forces. This slowly dislodges alot of the debris from their fixed orbits around the star, and sends them into somewhat chaotic orbital paths, whereby they swallow up other smaller debris, or either are swallowed up themselves by larger debris. As these collisions (which are very, very, very much more powerful than the most powerful of atomic weapon anyone has on this planet) go on, they start to produce ateroids, which in turn produce larger asteriods, and so on… Until after enough time, these cascading collisions eventually yield dwarf planets, and sometimes even planets.
This daigram was borrowed from The University Of Oregon
As you can imagine, these asteroid collisions are no longer in perfectly circular orbits… Rather they are tugging eachother further and further off a central and circular course, as the diagram above shows. Until eventually dwarf planets and planets orbit around our sun in off kilter, but none the less, stable (for some time period at least) orbits. Here I want to digress from the main theme of this blog for one moment, and retrace my steps back to a previous blog I wrote on strange attractors… No doubt, you can see how these orbits will exude a chaotic pattern of sorts, having be tugged and pulled and realligned so many times, that they now wobble with cycles that are simple rotations around the star, but also possess cycles within these rotations i.e. cycles of wobbles around the star. These inner cycles are no doubt in turn subtle and minutely modified/affected by the tugs of other planets as they align or pass near one another. Chaos’ hand is even at play with Earth’s orbital destiny, as Henri Poincare demonstrated in 1903.
But back onto theme… During this time of planetary formation… The colossal collisions that result between two bodies/asteroids slamming together at speeds in excess of 25,000 mph yeild so much energy and heat that the resulting unified body can often liquify into a molten mass, much like lava. So, in effect, these bodies will have a molten inner core and surface to them.This is something we commonly notice within planets such as the Earth, where we are not close enough to the Sun to melt our surface (as is the case with Mercury), and yet we have a liquid core of magma.
There is a current theory that a Mars sized planet smashed into the proto Earth and allowed the formation of our moon. During this impact, as hot silicate vapour surrounds the new planetary body, and slowly cools into solid particle disc. As these particles orbit around the new Earth, they too accret, giving rise to the lunar body we all know so well today.
Here I think it would be a good time to introduce a documentary that is narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson for the “NOVA scienceNOW” series on PBS. It rather beautifully shows the immensely turbulent time that a planet goes through during its own formation.
But let’s forget about Life just for now… As you can see, Planetoids develop when matter swirling around an emerging star forms small pellets which collide and make larger bodies, we just called ‘Planetoids’. They coalesce at that point to form large planets with tracks of mostly empty space between them. And in the inner system, light gases are blown away by the star’s radiation to leave large rocky planets, and moons behind. To illustrate this I’ve borrowed the follwing diagram from NASA/JPL-Caltech.
This diagram compares our solar system to the Epsilon Eridani System which is just under 11 light years away from us. The caption that follows this diagram is as follows:
“This artist’s diagram compares the Epsilon Eridani system to our own solar system. The two systems are structured similarly, and both host asteroids (brown), comets (blue) and planets (white dots).
Epsilon Eridani is our closest known planetary system, located about 10 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. Its central star is a younger, fainter version of our sun, and is about 800 million years old—about the same age of our solar system when life first took root on Earth.
Observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show that the system hosts two asteroid belts, in addition to previously identified candidate planets and an outer comet ring.
Epsilon Eridani’s inner asteroid belt is located at about the same position as ours, approximately three astronomical units from its star (an astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun.). The system’s second, denser belt lies at about the same place where Uranus orbits in our solar system, or 20 astronomical units from the star.
In the same way that Jupiter lies just outside our asteroid belt, shepherding its rocky debris into a ring, Epsilon Eridani is thought to have planets orbiting near the rims of its two belts. The first of these planets was identified in 2000 via the radial velocity technique. Called Epsilon Eridani b, it orbits at an average distance of 3.4 astronomical units—placing it just outside the system’s inner asteroid belt.
The second planet orbiting near the rim of the outer asteroid belt at 20 astronomical units was inferred when Spitzer discovered the belt.
A third planet might orbit in Epsilon Eridani at the inner edge of its outermost comet ring, which lies between 35 and 90 astronomical units. This planet was first hinted at in 1998 due to observed lumpiness in the comet ring.
The outer comet ring around Epsilon Eridani is denser than our comet ring, called the Kuiper belt, because the system is younger. Over time, Epsilon Eridani’s ring will become wispier like the Kuiper Belt. Its comets will collide with each other and break up, or get pushed out of the ring by the gravitational influences of planets.”
Here is a diagram that shows the layout and names of our own asteriodal belts:
“An illustration depicting the inner Solar System, from the Sun to Jupiter. Also includes the Main Asteroid Belt (the white donut-shaped cloud), the Hildas (the orange “triangle” just inside the orbit of Jupiter) and the Jovian Trojans (green). The group that leads Jupiter are called the “Greeks” and the trailing group are called the “Trojans” (Murray and Dermott, Solar System Dynamics, pg. 107).”
To give you an idea of just how similar (if somewhat smaller) these asteriods are to their dwarf planet and planet counterparts, I offer an interesting tidbit. Originally 243 Ida was discovered on 29 September 1884 by Johann Palisa and was named after a nymph from Greek mythology. Like all main-belt asteroids, Ida’s orbit lies between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Its orbital period around the Sun is 4.84 Earth years, and its rotation is 4.63 hours. Ida has an average diameter of 31.4 km (19.5 mi), and it is irregularly shaped and elongated, apparently composed of two large objects connected together in a shape reminiscent of a croissant. Apart from its surface being one of the most heavily cratered in the Solar System, featuring a wide variety of crater sizes and ages, on the 28 August 1993, when Ida was visited by the spacecraft Galileo, which was bound for Jupiter, a very interesting discovery was made… Apart from it being the second asteroid to be visited by a spacecraft, it was the first found to possess a satellite or moon!
Ida’s moon, Dactyl, was discovered by mission member Ann Harch in images returned from Galileo. It was named after creatures which inhabited Mount Ida in Greek mythology. Dactyl is about 20 times smaller than Ida, at a little more than a kilometer in diameter. Its orbit around Ida could not be determined with much accuracy. However, the constraints of possible orbits allowed a rough determination of Ida’s density, which revealed that it is depleted of metallic minerals. Dactyl and Ida share many characteristics, suggesting a common origin.
“This color picture is made from images taken by the imaging system on the Galileo spacecraft about 14 minutes before its closest approach to asteroid 243 Ida on August 28, 1993. The range from the spacecraft was about 10,500 kilometers (6,500 miles). The images used are from the sequence in which Ida’s moon was originally discovered; the moon is visible to the right of the asteroid.”
Dig it… “…its surface being one of the most heavily cratered in the Solar System…” Is it any wonder that many of the moons which are now cold and dead bear so many scars from their time of creation? Can you imagine all of the dust, debris, small asteriods, etc… that went crashing into their surface over the 4 billion year period that our solar system has been here? Certainly enough to clear up most of the inner solar system and outer solar system.
And the abundance of crater riddled surfaces is something that very much astonished the Voyager 2 team when they visited the outer planets and looked at their moons.
I’m going to easily mention more than five other objects that bear the marks of creation on their surface for all to see without even straining. And there are many more besides this in our solar system.
“Color differences on Mercury are subtle, but they reveal important information about the nature of the planet’s surface material. A number of bright spots with a bluish tinge are visible in this image. These are relatively recent impact craters. Some of the bright craters have bright streaks (called “rays” by planetary scientists) emanating from them. Bright features such as these are caused by the presence of freshly crushed rock material that was excavated and deposited during the highly energetic collision of a meteoroid with Mercury to form an impact crater. The large circular light-colored area in the upper right of the image is the interior of the Caloris basin. Mariner 10 viewed only the eastern (right) portion of this enormous impact basin, under lighting conditions that emphasized shadows and elevation differences rather than brightness and color differences. MESSENGER has revealed that Caloris is filled with smooth plains that are brighter than the surrounding terrain, hinting at a compositional contrast between these geologic units. The interior of Caloris also harbors several unusual dark-rimmed craters, which are visible in this image. The MESSENGER science team is working with the 11-color images in order to gain a better understanding of what minerals are present in these rocks of Mercury’s crust.
The diameter of Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (3030 miles). The image spatial resolution is about 2.5 kilometers per pixel (1.6 miles/pixel). The WAC departure mosaic sequence was executed by the spacecraft from approximately 19:45 to 19:56 UTC on January 14, 2008, when the spacecraft was moving from a distance of roughly 12,800 to 16,700 km (7954 to 10377 miles) from the surface of Mercury.”
2. Earth’s moon
“Full Moon view from earth, taken in Belgium.”
3. The moons of Mars
“The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took two images of the larger of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, within 10 minutes of each other on March 23, 2008. This is the first, taken from a distance of about 6,800 kilometers (about 4,200 miles). It is presented in color by combining data from the camera’s blue-green, red, and near-infared channels.
The illuminated part of Phobos seen in the images is about 21 kilometers (13 miles) across. The most prominent feature in the images is the large crater Stickney in the lower right. With a diameter of 9 kilometers (5.6 miles), it is the largest feature on Phobos.
The color data accentuate details not apparent in black-and-white images. For example, materials near the rim of Stickney appear bluer than the rest of Phobos. Based on analogy with materials on our own moon, this could mean this surface is fresher, and therefore younger, than other parts of Phobos.
A series of troughs and crater chains is obvious on other parts of the moon. Although many appear radial to Stickney in this image, recent studies from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter indicate that they are not related to Stickney. Instead, they may have formed when material ejected from impacts on Mars later collided with Phobos. The lineated textures on the walls of Stickney and other large craters are landslides formed from materials falling into the crater interiors in the weak Phobos gravity (less than one one-thousandth of the gravity on Earth).”
“Enchanced-color image of Deimos, a moon of Mars, captured by the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on 21 Feb 2009.”
4. Jupiter’s moon Callisto
“Bright scars on a darker surface testify to a long history of impacts on Jupiter’s moon Callisto in this image of Callisto from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. The picture, taken in May 2001, is the only complete global color image of Callisto obtained by Galileo, which has been orbiting Jupiter since December 1995. Of Jupiter’s four largest moons, Callisto orbits farthest from the giant planet.”
5. Two moons of Saturn
“What has happened to Saturn’s moon Iapetus? A strange ridge crosses the moon near the equator, visible near the bottom of the above image, making Iapetus appear similar to the pit of a peach. Half of Iapetus is so dark that it can nearly disappear when viewed from Earth. Recent observations show that the degree of darkness of the terrain is strangely uniform, like a dark coating was somehow recently applied to an ancient and highly cratered surface. The other half of Iapetus is relatively bright but oddly covered with long and thin streaks of dark. A 400-kilometer wide impact basin is visible near the image center, delineated by deep scarps that drop sharply to the crater floor. The above image was taken by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft during a flyby of Iapetus at the end of 2004.”
Hell! There are even 150 impact craters that can still be seen here on Earth!!! Let’s look at five of the most obvious:
I think you’re beginning to get the idea now… That these celestial bodies (which have had their surfaces preserved since their creation i.e. because they are free from weather erosion, geothermal activity, tectonics, etc…) are riddled with a history of immense bombardment from debris during their creation. Even those planets and moons that apparently have little or no trace of this bombardment left (due to surface erosion, weather conditions and tectonic movement) were still battered just as much when they were young. In fact, the larger a dwarf planet or planet becomes, the greater the gravitational pull of its mass, and so the more bombardment it is likely to receive. It’s almost as if they gobble up as much as they can the bigger they get. And, to get a real perspective on the down pour of debris, you have bear in mind… Most of these immense impacts would have been enough to seriously disrupt life on Earth, if not extinguish it totally… If it was around back then, that is. I mean… A sizeable impact, if from a big enough asteriod that is travelling fast enough, could hit the atmosphere and blow most of it off into space… And when it fuses into the Earth, the energy could liquify the Earth’s land into one big molten rock all over again, or maybe even shear it into two separate pieces. So when you think about what those astronauts discovered i.e. that moon dust smelt like burnt gunpowder… I mean… It’s not really any surprise, what with all those impacts yielding so much energy, and then all the dust being blasted daily by the direct rays of the Sun!!!
As you can see… The solar system was quite a brutal place when it was forming… So, for us to have come about is quite an improbable event, when you think about. One tug to many from its near neaighbors and the Earth would/could go sailing off into the Sun OR off into outerspace.
Apparently for solar systems to form in the way that ours did i.e. with the 8 planets and various dwarf planets, is a highly improbable event!!! HIGHLY IMPROBABLE… And then, as if all that improbabilty wasn’t enough… That solar wind that blew away all the remaining gas and dust, which was left lying around after accretion, out towards the edges of the solar system… A solar wind consisting of electrons and ions, which travels out from the sun in all directions at speeds of more than 500 kilometres per second… A wind that can char the suface of a planet and leave most organic matter exposed to its powerful glare simply a frazzelled piece of carbon… Well. It doesn’t just stop at blowing away particulate dust, let me tell you. It does equally as good a job of blowing off atmospheres from planets too. But… Would you believe… Thanks to the fact that we have a magnetic field around our Earth, our atmosphere is portected! And so life the Earth’s surface are spared the full brunt of harmful solar rays. Rays that have irraditated the lunar dust for over four billions years, leaving it smelling like gun powder, as Eugene Cernan smell after his lunar landing.
“So what?” I hear some of you say… Well. Mercury, Venus, Mars and Pluto, all fairly small, low gravity planets much like the Earth, have no magnetic field to buffer the Sun’s solar winds. In fact, when Voyage 2 turned around to look at the planets, it could see streaks of their atmospheres being blown off in these solar winds. And when we’ve looked at the suface of these planets, they too are parched, ionised and burnt. So what would we do without the Earth’s magnetic field? Fry basically…
And then… As if to add more to the equation. There’s the question of chemical proportions and compositions… On the Earth’s moon they found that nearly all the lunar rocks studied were depleted in volatiles (such as postassium or sodium) and were completely lacking in the minerals found in Earth’s water. But here on Earth… It just so happens that we have all the right elements, in the right proportions AND with the right conditions… Something that was AMAZINGLY fortunate to kick start Life off. Yes… Just the right conditions!!! You know when you hear others moan about it raining, or it being too hot… Well. The Earth is currently orbiting on average (as we have seen the Earth does NOT orbit in a perfect circle around out star) at about 150 million km away from the Sun. But… If the Earth had been tugged another 10,000,000 km outwards, it would be harshly cold most of the time… Or if it was another 10,000,000 km closer to the Sun, it would be a lot hotter. So… During that chaotic time (where the odds were stacked so high against us being where we are in our solar orbit), a time of accretion for all the bodies in the solar system, it’s near on a divine miracle that we are here now, right in the sweet spot of the temperate ranges suitable for optimum life.
No doubt the habitable zone would fluctuate depending on the star’s type and size. Massive stars would expend much more heat and so a planet that might harbor life would have to be much further away from it’s sun. And if orbiting further away, it would mean longer years, where winters on a planet with a tilted axis (like Earth’s own) might stretch on for up to five Earth years. Who knows how this would affect the life on the planet i.e. whether it would be as vibrant and diverse as our own, or only able to support the most hardy organisms that might need to hibernate for those five bitterly cold Earth years.
And then there are issues to consider relating to the size of the planetary systems star… Larger stars burn for half as long… Or even much less than half as long. So would this shorter time period allow Life on a planet harbouring it to evolve into something like ourselves i.e. sentient and intelligent beings? Or would it go to Supernova before this evolutionary leap could happen, and so destroy all the solar system’s Life forms?
Just one last thing that I will mention here… As a tribute to their blanket of strong gravitational fields that protect us by lowering the probability that we will get hit by any accretion debris still traversing the solar system… Are the four… YES! Not one, or two, nore three… But four gaseous giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. With out these, there would be a much, much higher incidence of space debris colliding with the Earth causing mass extinctions on a global scale a lot more frequently than they currently do occur. Basically each collision with an object of 1 km in diameter would be like a reset button for Life. So… A BIG, EXTRA MASSIVE BIG UP to the gaseous giants!!! “What the hell does mean?” Well… Wasn’t that one of the most amazing sights when Jupiter caught Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 – that rouge comet that was shooting in and out of our solar system (as comets do)?
“Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9, formally designated D/1993 F2) was a comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994, providing the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of solar system objects . This generated a large amount of coverage in the popular media, and SL9 was closely observed by astronomers worldwide. The collision provided new information about Jupiter and highlighted its role in reducing space debris in the inner solar system.”
This was a prime example of how the planets were built… That July, Jupiter grew that little bit extra, and its gravitational pull got that little bit stronger…
So… Bearing ALL of that in mind. Just how fortunate do you think we are that we are now here??? Forget you winning every lottery ever… And forget the money that would come from winning every lottery in every country since the idea of a lottery started up. The figures and odds on this one are way, way, way more stacked against us. This experience of Life that we have going on here is FUCKING PRICELESS!!! You are some of the most fortunate atoms in the Universe… Some of the most fortunate pieces of star dust to walk a planet, to be given Life! You have come through ALL odds… And you are standing in the temperate zone of a solar system, who’s initial conditions were WAY MORE destructive than all the atomic wars we could have waged by now. And… You are now reading this… A token to that huge mountain of improbability. So now you are here, standing on its summit, savouring and enjoying this awesome view… Don’t you ever, EVER DARE forget it. Cause it’s a dark, harsh, inky black void of a desolate space off this planet… One that, if you ventured into it, it would make you realize just how amazingly beautiful and hospitable a place the Earth truly is.
But hell… What would I know!?!? Even though I can write about all of this, it still doesn’t compare to what it’s actually like out there… I mean, who could talk about it any better than those who actually left the Earth to fly to the moon? So I’d like to bring your attention to an amazing film that was made recently…
If you are enthralled by this and want to know more… More about what processes brought you, Life and the Earth and planets into being… Then please do yourself a favour, and check out the BBC’s documentary called “The Planets.” It’ll bring you closer to home about what a fortunate being you truly are. Hell… Let’s push the boat out. What fortunate beings we all truly are!
And if you still need more (heaven forbid)… Then also check out Bill Bryson’s “A Short History Of Nearly Everything.” Then maybe… Just maybe, you might be getting a good idea about the bigger picture of things, and how STUPIDLY damn imporbable it is that you are here, reading this now…
After all that… If you have grasped just how fortunate you really are… Then do yourself a favour and look at what you’re doing with your life… And why you’re doing it. Because, when you know how rare and improbable we all really are, then it really does become a wonder why many of us numb ourselves with consumerist needs/habits/modes of out dated thinking… I mean, WAR… Why? Poverty… Why? Greed… Why? Because when you are standing in the garden of Eden, having seen the partched empty deserts of the moon and other planets… And you TRULY know that this is an immensely fortunate occurence, that we are all standing here becoming aware of who and what we really are, you should ask yourself… Very seriously and very honestly… “ARE YOU FUNCTIONING PROPERLY???” Because if someone gave you the blue prints on how to make a wooden chopping board when needed to mend your motorbike… How the fuck are you going to do a proper job? When you’re given the garden of Eden, a glistening pearl filled with various lifeforms in the infinite black void of space and time… Which has limited resources… Where all life, weather, and other phenomena are interlinked in a highly sensitive cascade of interconnected chaotic cycles, habits and variences, almost all of which are centered around far too many “strange attractor” basins to even begin to imagine… Forging phase space patterns, the likes of which only “God” has seen… How do you think you are going to affect this garden while looking at the world through the eyes of the blinkered consumerist mode of money and self centeredness… Positively… OR detrimentally… I mean… If you think the motor bike is like a chopping board… Would you be treating it correctly? THINK ABOUT IT!
“Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes, it obstructs your vision.”