Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Joe Jervis's Joe.My.God blog always has interesting things besides current LGBT politics and assorted local NYC phenomena.  Here's a recent entry on:

A planet has been discovered in a distant solar system that exists in the same kind of sweet spot (astronomers call it the "goldilocks zone") for temperature in relation to its sun as the earth has with our sun.  It's been given the name Kepler-22b and the astronomical community is excited as it appears to be the best discovery yet of a planet that could sustain life similar to that on earth.  The Kepler solar system isn't something that can be viewed by telescopes from earth.  It was discovered by the Kepler Telescope out in space and the images of all six planets, including K-22b, that rotate around a star said to be very much like earth's sun were relayed back to earth.

There's no indication yet as to what kind of surface, if any, the planet has.  In fact, because it's almost three times the size of earth, there's speculation that it might be a completely gaseous body.  But the conjectural depiction of K-22b above shows it with an earth-like atmosphere, clouds indicating the presence of water on the surface below.  The key for the discoverers is the possibility of finding water, which was stressed several times in their report as requisite for the existence of life.  And life, it should be kept in mind, could mean anything from microbes to intelligent beings.  

I found all this very interesting, so I made the following comment on the item:
"All this talk of where liquid water could exist is all well and good, but it totally ignores the fact that life of some kind or other (which could take all sorts of forms other than sensate beings) might be based on something other than water.  It is an intriguing possibility, no?  We are used to thinking aquacentrically (have I just coined a term?) but shouldn't fail to consider other possibilities, life based on other than carbon and water that might exist outside what we consider a solar system's habitable zone."

Joe's blog has an enormous following; 150 to 200 comments on an item is not an unusual occurrence, which doesn't allow for much discussion as new comments pile up fast.  I was surprised and delighted, therefore, when a small clutch of comments specifically discussing my point developed very quickly.  I'm obviously not a scientist (don't let my 32 years at MIT fool you), and I've never been much into science fiction (beyond my addiction to Captain Video and His Video Rangers on TV as a kid) but I found the responses fascinating.  Here are some excerpts;

"While other kinds of life have been hypothesized - other chemistries (silicon-based life is a scifi staple), electromagnetic/plasma, even nucleonic life in neutron stars -  carbon-based life is all we have any real experience with.  I have read of biochemists and physicists putting forward explanations why carbon-based chemistry is "favored" (it's so hard not to anthropomorphize) as the basis for what we recognize as life.   

"I'm curious to know whether researchers would even be able to easily recognize other kinds of life, given the "bias" all our techniques and technologies have toward carbon-based life.   I think it woud really fantastic just to encounter different encoding mechanisms than DNA/RNA while still being carbon-based." ~justinw

"If -- as is theorized -- the Earth got all of its water from comets, it stands to reason that the same could happen in other solar systems too." ~pch1013

"Let's not forget about "photonic-based" life!!!! Just watch the documentary, "Bride of Chaotica!" for ALL the proof you need!  ;) " ~Guest

"I know you are kidding... but just for the sake of reality a photonic based life form is not possible.  Photons have no mass and thus travel at 'c' (light speed).  Anything with mass (like a lifeform) can not travel at 'c' by definition.  Also note that from the 'perspective' of a photon, there is no time (e.g., the photon dies the moment it was created - from its perspective, even if it traveled for 13 billion years from our perspective).
Basically... it really sucks to be a photon." ~KaneHau

"Justinw, great points. Through my misspent youth I have devoured a lot of Sci-Fi. Several books explored different biology's, I can't remember there titles right off hand. Some posited Electromagnetic Solar based life, IOW's we are just cockroaches living in the walls. Methane based, poor power to mass ratio opposed to oxygen burners. Copper based vs iron based metabolism, again power to mass, Life universally, if evolutionary controlled would tend to favor Carbon, Iron, Oxygen life forms as these would be the most efficient (successful) evolutionary paths. Good old Carbon will form bonds with just about anything, kind of like me after 4 drinks. (different story)." ~Mike O'Beirn

One thing I've been noting more and more as today's Republican party declines into madness is how at odds it is with traditional Republican policies and values to which it frequently offers reverent homage.  Clearly, despite its lionization of the Founding Fathers, the Party and its members forget Separation of Church and State and many now are even denying there ever was such a doctrine.  George Washington, perhaps the ultimate F.F. is on record (see November 29 blog entry) as saying that the government should be completely free of the influence of clergy.  And except for the homophobia, none of the current candidates has anywhere near the understanding of Ronald Reagan that they claim.
I was delighted to find the above example by Teddy Roosevelt, perfectly understanding the need for Separation of Corporation and State.

Another item from J.M.G. about an apartment tower complex that has caused some understandable shock and opposition.  Scheduled to be completed in Seoul, Korea in three years, the architect's rendering appears below.

"An architecture firm said Friday it “regrets” a bizarre design for two high-rises in Korea reminds people of the twin towers exploding on 9/11. A mockup shows two soaring skyscrapers connected in the middle by a “pixelated cloud” that evoked the clouds of debris that erupted from the iconic World Trade Center towers after terrorists flew planes into them. “What the hell were these architects thinking?” asked the headline on a Gizmodo article about the plans for the Seoul apartment buildings. MVRDV, which is based in the Netherlands, insisted in a statement that it didn’t notice the uncanny similarity that struck many observers instantly."

The moment I saw this picture, and before I had read a word of the above text, the only thing I could think of was 9/11.  Particularly given the intense speculation in the architectural community about why the towers had fallen, I find it hard to believe an architectural firm of obviously international stature could not have been aware of what they were proposing. 


And a tag line to today's rather serious post:

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