Category Archives: Astrophysics

The Problem with Star Wars

The problem with Star Wars and Star Trek and many other “Star blah blah blah” type story lines is this: where are the robots?

No, I’m not talking about the cute comic-relief characters, nor am I talking about the droid-wars robots.

Here’s the thing, Space Is Hard. Even Elon admits this. Biologically based creatures die — really easily — in space. They die if they don’t eat, don’t get liquids, don’t get enough to breathe, get squeezed or stretched or ripped. Biological creatures are fragile. A biological military force, or agents, or workers or what-have-you would be a society’s LAST resort. The first thing a sentient species would do when they start exploring space is to build up the biggest, baddest, smartest, most versatile space-force using ROBOTS they could.

People? We’re not gonna use PEOPLE — hell no!

Look, Humans suck at space. Right now about 1 out of 20 rockets we launch BLOW UP! And that’s good. That’s the best we’ve gotten so far. Imagine if 1 out of every 20 commercial flights that took off from airports just today BLEW UP!  About 100k flights occur everyday. Imagine if 5000 of them exploded in the last 24 hour. Hell No!

So, between our really really bad track record for sending rockets into space and our super-duper track record for flying airplanes, we have a long way to go.

Now, let’s examine our robotic and computer track record. We’ve got some amazing technology there. Robots are going to be replacing humans for most manual labor, and most complex logistics and management in the next 20 years.

Let’s think about this. Humanity will have an amazing robotic work force and superior artificial intelligences in just another generation.

But we won’t have a reliable means of space travel for at least two or three generations.

By the time we can blast around the solar system (or galaxy) in a Millennium Falcon humans will have constructed an incredible robotic space-force. And with that space-force we would be sending ROBOTS out with vast AIs in our space craft to do our exploring, and our patrolling and our space war fighting. We wouldn’t send frail, easy to puncture organic HUMANS! Hell No!

Extraterrestrial Sentient Species in our galaxy would be even smarter than us. They would have even better robots and artilects. They would never use their biological selves to do the work robots would do so much more effectively.

That’s the problem with Star Wars and Star Trek. Their story lines rely on bags of animated organic chemicals and not robots; which is just — implausible.


Mars != Humanity’s salvation

Let’s go to Mars! I’m all for it.

But let’s not make the mistake of pretending that a Martian colony represents some human lifeboat failsafe; that it could be a ‘offline humanity backup’ ready to return society to Earth in case of a total apocalyptic event. Let’s face it, the worst day on Earth will beat the best day on Mars — when it comes to survival — every time.

The likelihood that an ELE (extinction level event) will kill EVERY human on the planet, is pretty darn small. While the likelihood that an ‘uh-oh!’ moment on Mars will kill every Martian is much much higher.

Eukaryotic life has existed continuously on this planet for 2.5by. On Mars — never. Even through massive extinction level events, earth was livable within a few years to decades later. You screw up on Mars – game over! You crawl out of your cave on Earth after 20 years – hey fresh start. And look, O2 to breath for free and H2O to drink. And I don’t have to wear a spacesuit to go take a pee outside. (Not that you’d ever do that on Mars…)

Things that might go wrong on earth that would require a human society reboot:

  • Bio-terrorist attack? Nuclear winter? Killing everyone? Extremely unlikely.
  • Snowball earth would take centuries to develop, not much of a ELE there.
  • Super volcano? Mega asteroid? Both would come with warnings, plenty of time to distribution billions of dollars of resources in underground locales around the globe (or on the moon).
  • Sun death? What? In like 5b years? Like humanity is gonna even survive the next U.S. election cycle…

If Musk was sincere about saving humanity, and he was serious about doing it soon, then he should probably build an ark on the Moon and keep it stocked with a Svalbard Seed Vault and a couple of IBM Watsons full of all the information to rebuild society. Oh and maybe a few ten thousand embryos of a few hundred different species of animals, not to mention embryos of humans. Maybe get a couple of dozen caretakers up there too. Then, a generation or so after the planet gets wiped – send down a part of the Ark to kickstart society. If you ‘really’ wanted to protect the continuity of the human species — that’s the way to do it.

Probability speaking, the odds that a Martian colony will survive long enough, off or on its own, be able to package up every possible resource a new Earth based human colony will need, send it back successfully, to land successfully, in a location that is now “fit for humanity” is so astronomically small that to speak of it as one of the primary reasons to build a Martian colony is ludicrous.

Elon Musk’s scenario puts the “successful isolated backup drive” on Mars, out, realistically, to at least five generations. We could build the Lunar Ark in one.

Point is, you wanna create a backup drive? Either make one here where you’ve already got all the resources to do so. Or, if you’re drop-dead convinced that Earth will get clean-slated, then build a lunar back up system. The Lunar Ark system could work!

Humans – unique in Universe

This is a collection point for such information.


I keep a running list of reasons why Earth-Humanity are unique in the Universe. Here is my partial list. It’s incomplete and merely presents food for thought.

Earth is unique. We read about these immense numbers of galaxies, stars and planets and just *know* that there are other “earths” out there. But it will become more and more evident and publicly accepted that Earth is exceedingly unique. The list continues to grow regarding factors that make it so, but here are a few.

• Sol is singular, not a binary star system. It’s estimated up to 1/2 of solar systems are binary.  This cuts the number of possible stars for Sol like systems by 2/3s.
• Sol’s position in the galaxy is out in an arm away from the chaos of inner galaxy turmoil.
• Sol’s wave path as the Milkyway revolves allows it to miss much of the disruptions in the galaxy. (Local bubble)
• Earth’s distance from Sol, Goldilocks zone, LOTS of liquid water.
• Earth’s neighbors, Jupiter’s asteroid cleaning.
• Earth’s impact from Theia resulting in a much denser iron/nickel core.
• Earth’s extensive magnetosphere (due to this larger than normal magnetic core).
• Luna’s very large size and its influence on Earth’s rotational / axial stability, not to mention tides (tide pools enhance life generation possibilities).
• The asteroid belt delivering asteroids, comets and meteors and their H2O and elements.

Here are some chemical aspects of Earth that make it unique

• Earth’s H20 to land ratio.
• Earth’s land distribution (large continents, not islands).
• Earth’s high quantity of radioactive elements within the planet interior.
• Volcanism continuously recycling minerals and elements.
• Early life starting 3.5bya, clearing the oceans of toxins.
• The tilt of Earth providing seasons.
• Ozone without which DNA would be rendered inert.
• The transition of prokaryotic to eukaryotic life.

And here are some reasons why Man is unique on this Unique earth.

• 2.5 billion years of hydrocarbon deposition.
• Humanity’s survival through and benefit from disease, we are robust.
• The decimation of prior dominant classes of animals and the rise of mammals.
• Fire both its discovery and the existence of burnable material for boosting our nutritional uptake and our ability to manipulate elements.
• Broad variety of available metals useful for life and industry and eventually the construction of communication capabilities.
• The configuration of the continents that gave rise to grasses that gave rise to agriculture.
• The existence and development of draft animals without which agriculture would not have arisen.
• Humanity had to survive, and in general, avoid having its electricity systems (generation, grid, transformers) being devastated by CMEs (coronal mass ejections).

And no doubt many more.

We are unique.

• I agree that the numbers favor life, lots of life, in the Universe. What I’ve tried to explore, over the years of gathering this list, is that the trek of humanity to the stage we enjoy today is one of tenuous happenstance. I find that many folks I’ve spoken with haven’t examined the special situational sequence of events and configuration of planetary, ecological, and geological factors that humans leveraged to get to this point in our evolution.

Take trees for instance. Where would humanity be if it were not for the existence and diversity of trees? The implications are manifold. If there are alien intelligences out there living on planets where trees or their substitute, do not exist… could they discover fire? Build shelter? Build ships? Construct tools and machinery of thousands of kinds? Produce charcoal for smelting? Produce methanol as a fuel? I realize that such a statement is highly anthropocentric. But still, imagine humanity without the ability to leverage wood as a resource. Wither wood, would we have ever reached the state we thrive in today?

It’s factors like that, in that list as well as others I’ve identified, that simply invite one to step back and think about how incredible humanity’s path to technological advancement really is.

• As I alluded to, the argument for life vs intelligent, electromagnetic capable life are two different things. Lots of life — sure. Intelligent life? Who knows. I simply list factors which many people do not take into account when examining humanity as an EMC (electromagnetic capable) species. A similar species to us would have to have enjoyed similar serendipity. That’s all my point is trying to provide. For instance, fuel for fire is necessary to smelt the metals that an EMC life-form might leverage to build their technology. Not to mention the fact that such metals must be readily available. Things like that.

• What’s unfortunate about SETI is that it’s focused on radio. It appears that even for humans, radio is a transition technology. The recent fervor regarding directed energy propulsion — lasers — to push tiny space craft out to the stars speaks of using lasers to communicate to and from said space capsules. If we’re already looking to use lasers to talk between us and our crafts or our colonies then it would seem we need to start to switch SETI over to capturing pulsed light transmissions; if we want to starting “listening” to aliens who might be using light to talk.

• Theia’s impact delivered more than just iron and nickel to Earth’s core (producting an extra large magnetosphere) but also (probably) delivered additional carbon, nitrogen and sulfur — chemicals which, like oxygen and hydrogen, are volatile and tend to get boiled off during a planet’s accretion phase (forming from the solar system’s proto-disc).

• Tidally locked planets and moons would lose their magnetosphere (the dynamo engine within a molten cored planet). Without this magnetic shield solar and cosmic radiation would ravage any life that had arisen on the planet.



Drake Equation, more on the topic

The Drake Equation, as you must all know, is a way to guestimate how prominent intelligent life might be in the Milky Way Galaxy.


I have briefly searched on this forum for the following association but I must have missed it…

I posit that Dr. Dartnell’s recent article on Aeon regarding the link between fossil fuels and the ultimate fruition of humankind into a species capable of grand civilizations may be a factor in the Drake Equation.

That is, do intelligent electro-magnetic energy manipulating species require some massive, stored energy source, provided at just the right time in their evolution, to push them into advanced technologies? Technologies capable of the manipulation of electromagnetic energy and the eventual support of said species’ distribution into its solar system and eventually its galaxy?

If extra-terrestrial intelligences don’t get a super cheap energy boost, like humans got from fossil fuels, will they fail to evolve into EMEM species? (electro magnetic energy manipulator).

In direct support of this supposition is the assumption that such nearly free energy (coal, crude oil and natural gas) has given humanity the ability to explode its population beyond a threshold point; expanding to a critical state where the chain reaction of ideas blending with ideas from millions of people supported by the food made available by fossil fuels, allowed humanity to blossom through the industrial revolution, the computer revolution and now the information/knowledge revolution.

Fossil fuels = food = lots of people = lots of idea = EMEM species.

And therefore, without nearly free energy (NFE) any alien intelligences would never evolve to the level humanity has attained.


Future success lived in the present

A theory of “future success lived in the present.”

Mars One, that downright crazy attempt to put actual people on Mars in the next N years, has convinced 700+ people that they are special enough to die en route, die from radiation poisoning, die from habitat collapse, die from 100 other probabilities. They actually convinced over 200k but selected only 700 for training.

What are these 700 thinking? What brand of lunacy have they swallowed to think that this is a good idea? I think I have an plausible answer (and this applies to explorers, experimenters, visionaries of every kind.)

These people live in world of projected future success.

Certain unpleasant death awaits those of these 700 who are chosen (if this project ever actually gets off the ground). How can you proceed with that knowledge? I posit that they are envisioning their future selves as successful heroes, as explorers having completed their mission and are now members of an elite history populated by the great discoverers of humanity’s past.

They see some future version of themselves participating in the parades, the accolades, and they are living in that false projected world and not the reality that has marked them for death. They have already won. These people have envisioned a fantastical future of their success and now live in this bubble of forecasted triumph.

I reconsidered all the real explorers of historical note and wonder if they too did not live in some future fantasy world of a victorious conquest and momentous return.