Dear Mudge, Shitty Odds

Dear Mudge,

I think we mortals spend far too much time contemplating The End.

It seems as soon as our consciousness settles in, at about thirteen or fourteen, we begin to visualize, explore and worry about our final moments and the fraction of a nano-second thereafter. Here we go again with having brains far-too-big-for-our-own-good.

Dogs don’t contemplate death. Parrots, pandas, and porcupines live for the moment and the moment only. Maybe elephants and dolphins consider their future expiration, but I doubt it.

Why us? Why are we morbidly enthralled with The End?

I don’t know. But since we’re here, talking about our collective demise, I’m gonna bore you again with more big-picture pontificating… Namely: Fermi’s Paradox and how humanity’s end, or at least its technological collapse, is preordained.

The Holocene is ending. The window for humanity’s bloom was brief and frankly anomalous in the epoch-spanning scheme of things: CO2vsTemp_Holocene

That blue squiggle up there at the right, hovering around 0C, is the Holocene—an unusually long (for us), warm period in Earth’s history. During that tiny window of geological time civilization came to be.

Whether the Holocene ends and temperatures begin to drop, or the anthropogenic CO2 humanity continues to pump into the atmosphere overrides it and we head into a new PETM (Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maxima) the Holocene is toast, in a manner of speaking. But while it lasted, the Holocene was one of a long line of fortuitous accidents benefiting—us.

There are so many serendipitous events that undergird the existence of life, first of all, and secondly, humanity and humanity’s technological position in the Universe, that, just being here is a fucking miracle. The factors that make up our “luck” are mind-blowingly extensive. Here’s my go-to mind-trick for explaining this miraculous streak of good fortune: Imagine flipping a coin 70 times and every flip lands up heads.

That’s 1 / 2^70 = 2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·
2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2 =
1,180,591,620,717,411,303,424 = 1 SEXTILLION

The odds of us (technologically existing) are 1 out of 1 sextillion.

I’ll not bore you further with the source of all these coin flips, but things like: Goldilocks zone, distance from galactic center, our G2V sun, Theia/Moon, rocky planet, ice comet bombardment, 3 billion years of biological life cleansing the seas and depositing vast stores of carbon (oil/coal/nat.gas), trees, grass, livestock—are all factors from which these flips are derived.

Now that I’ve got you crying for The End…

Given all the “luck” we’ve had getting here, and it’s been a stunning chain of events, that luck can’t possibly hold. The party is most definitely coming to an end.

As we know, there are a couple of dozen excellent ways for that to happen. Will it end in an instant or a tortuous dwindling of resources; a massive calamitous extinguishing BANG! Or a crippling thwack against our infrastructure leaving ragged remnants to piddle along for millennia? Who’s to know?

But, the odds are against us. So, toot your horn, raise a glass, sing a song, love the one you’re with…

Then again, who fuckin’ cares how it all ends? None of us make it out of here alive.

Stewie the Stoic would remind us however, that…

[Addendum: The Fermi Paradox tie-in? Humanity enjoyed a string of incredible luck. Any other intelligent life, arising in the Universe, would require an equally improbable run of happy coincidences. Therefore, the question regarding the absence of life we see in the Universe (Fermi’s Paradox) can be answered by our own improbable existence. We are a most outrageous cosmic accident.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fermi’s Paradox: Theia & the Volcano

Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system sits atop a tectonically dead Mars.

OlympusMons

Mars is tectonically dead as it’s not as large as Earth, has a much smaller molten core and did not get hit by a Theia-like planet early in its formation. Eventually its electro-magneto engine slowed to a near stop, its core cooled, its volcanoes froze up.

Theia was the Mars sized planet that is theorized to have hit Earth early in the history of the solar system.

Theia

When Theia hit, much of its own iron & nickel core was transferred to Earth. The remainder of that planet was strewn around Earth in a massive debris disk that eventually formed the Moon.

Moon

This rare incident is most likely the prime reason life exists on Earth.

What did this impact contribute toward our humanly existence?

Firstly, an extra large iron/nickel core which provides the massive molten dynamo which drives the Magnetosphere. The Magnetosphere protects Earth from both solar and galactic winds (radiation). Winds that would blow our atmosphere away just as they did on Mars. This extra iron/nickel core also continues to contribute to the amount of magma on which the tectonic plates float.

And this impact gave us the Moon — the largest (in comparison to its host planet) moon in the solar system. And most likely a very rare sized moon for most of the galaxy/universe—especially for Goldilocks distance, rocky planets like Earth.

The existence of the Moon may actually be more important to our health and well being than we think.

The moon is like a shield that has obviously absorbed thousands of asteroid impacts in its history, many which would have struck Earth.

The Moon’s size means that it adds to tectonic flexing of Earth’s inner molten core thereby stress-heating the mantel (which is important, more on this later).

The Moon’s size also induces the tidal movement of Earth’s vast water system, a thing that probably aided the formation and rapid evolution of coastal life.

But back to the extra heavy iron/nickel core donated by Theia…

Earth’s tectonic plates and their constant movement–pulling and crushing together–contributes in multiple dimensions to the recycling of critical life sustaining elements. Vulcanism allows buried carbon, sequestered by hundreds of millions of years of plant growth and death, to be blasted back into the atmosphere as CO2. Which is a good thing. Without Carbon recycling the Earth would have froze and never emerged from its deep freeze.

Plate tectonics create mountain ranges—mineral-rich rock lifted into the sky where weathering erodes the rock and all the elements of life, allowing these minerals to drain into streams, rivers and the oceans where algae and zooplankton can consume them and thrive.

Continental plates and volcanoes keep the planet alive by recycling nutrients and green house gasses. There is the water cycle, the carbon cycle and the nutrients cycle—two of which would not happen without active tectonic plates and volcanoes.

However, this activity comes at a cost. Volcanoes and massive lava flows have destroyed millions of square kilometers of plant and animal life most likely contributing to if not causing most of the past extinction events. Even relatively small eruptions: Toba, Yellowstone, Krakatoa, Taupo, and hundreds of others cooled the planet, sometimes five to ten degrees Centigrade. A decades long volcanic winter would be no fun for a young technologically burgeoning species.

Theia and her contribution helped provide the environment where humanity could exist. But it also doomed us to live on a dangerous planet that has proven it regards life not at all.

We’re here because of Theia. A rare incident in the Cosmos. Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all. We are unique in the Universe. But if Earth’s volcanoes have anything say in the matter, being unique may mean being dead.

Fermi’s Paradox: Space Crap

Did you know the FCC is one of the agencies that governs satellites and the potential for them to turn into space crap. That’s a technical term: everyone knows aliens empty their sewage lines and dump their garbage before they streak off at FTL speeds.

Starlink

The more humans shoot stuff into LEO (low earth orbit) the higher the probability that eventually, that stuff smacks into other stuff and then game over. Millions of itty-bitty specs, screaming around the planet, that will fuck-you-up if they hit you. No more space access for humanity for centuries. Not at least until they find a way to launch a Jedi laser garbageman to clean up the mess.

But more than this, the fact that space crap (rocks, pebbles, dust, astrophysical-shrapnel) circling in quantity any habitable planet, will pretty much preclude any intelligent species from ever getting off the surface and up into orbit.

Add this to the reasons Fermi’s Paradox is not a conundrum.

Earth is 2^70 unique—a coin, flipped 70 times, all landing heads—unique.

 

Writer’s Log: Time & Calendars

TatooineClock

Do your stories transpire in hours, days, weeks, months and years? Do your characters say, “give me a minute,” or “just a second?” Are your characters old if they have reached the “age” of 80 or more?

Your answers might vary if you’ve every tried to write a science fiction or fantasy tale.

Humanity’s time and calendar are entwined as one. 3600 seconds makes up an hour. Twenty-four hours makes up the day. A day is the smallest celestial unit which we tally together in blocks that make cultural sense. The month was based on the revolution of the Moon about the Earth. And the year, the Earth’s trip around the Sun as documented by our calendar.

When we write, we seldom consider such things. Only rarely do we stop to think that our protagonist might use some other measurement of time to mark the passing of their life. To this theoretical challenge, most would say, “Why bother confound the story? It’s the concept of time that is contained within our minutes and seconds, our days and weeks.”

True. A day on Tatooine may take an Earthly 41.82 hours to rotate about its axis, but so what? An hour is an hour, doesn’t matter how long it “really” is.

“What time is it, C3PO?”
“Sir, I am versed in six-thousand measurements of time, to which…”
“Shut-the-fuck-up, you sanctimonious Oscarian-statue wanna-be.”
“Well, I never…”
Hero’s journey protagonist gives the robot a threatening look.
“It is ten-ten pre-noon, local Tatooine time.”

But what if we wanted to create a Universal measurement of time? One that would be exact no matter what planet or moon or star-bound journey one found oneself upon.

Turns out the concept is moot. And it’s due to the fact that time is relative.

For what purpose do we use time and the associated calendar? Planning. When the time zones were laid out across the United States, it was the railroads that set the clocks. They did so for efficient scheduling. When sundials, and stone henges were created, it was to plan for meals and plantings—many of which had religious foundations—when do we know to do a thing?

What would we do with a Universal time constant? Perhaps plan our conversations with extra-planetary colonies? Or use Le Guin’s ansible to speak across the vacuum of space using Quantum Entanglement? Well, we have to recall that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity included this concept: that time, itself, is relative. To us, here on earth, a second is 9,192,631,770 radioactive oscillations of Cesium 133. But, to anyone traveling at some distance from us, to or away, at some fraction of the speed of light, their actual measurement of time would be different; their oscillation count would change—relative to ours.

Their “second” would be different from our “second” and although we could probably calculate how those two seconds might differ, why bother? The work involved would not provide any meaningful payoff.

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the use of English-word time measurement in stories. What does an Orc know of the “hour”? The Thranx the minute? An Arrakis second? But it turns out, such a controversy existed only in my mind. It IS the story that transcends all mundane human assumptions. Tell a good tale and such frivolous details dwindle away in the telling.

 

 

 

Apocalyptic Scenario 7.b

Surrounding the Arctic Ocean, the continental shelf harbors thousands of gigatons of of methane in the form of methane hydrate, fire-ice. This substance, methane gas surrounded by water ice, forms when microbes eat organic sediment and release methane (like in the bowels of a bovine) which gets trapped by high water pressure and low temperature.

Were just five of these gigatons of methane to be released into the atmosphere the concentration would double methane’s current contribution of 25% of global warming.

Fifty gigatons would wreak an environmental catastrophe. Five hundred, released in a continuous stream around the Arctic would induce another PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum).

Deep beneath the East Siberian Sea stretching across the straight into the Beaufort Sea and around to the Barents Sea the earth is shifting. Tectonic forces have been pulling apart the crust, magma is seeping upward, and now the once frozen methane hydrates are thawing. Swelling. Bubbling to the surface.

Vents along the Siberian coast crack open and haphazard lightening strikes have ignited the plumes of methane. Volcanoes of flame burn hundreds of meters into the sky. What doesn’t burn, drifts high into the atmosphere where it traps the reflective solar energy. The Arctic has become a tepid bath. Greenland’s ice cap and its hundreds of glaciers steam and melt. Measurements along the Eastern Seaboard measure an inch a month sea level rise.

Life is about to experience Sauna Earth.

Bring your beer and spruce brushes because we’re gonna get sweaty.