Archive | July, 2013

The ORIGINAL Origin Myth of Western Man of the 21st Century – Chapter 4

Life

lightningCloudWater is extremely simple stuff. two atoms of hydrogen – the Original Stuff – combined chemically (as opposed to fused atomically) with one atom of oxygen. Simple. “Hydrogen” means “water creator”; if you burn it in oxygen, that’s what you get.

But there wasn’t much free oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere at first. Mostly, ammonia and carbon dioxide. And, as you will soon see, we needed water to make oxygen.

There are two possible sources of water for the early Earth. One is the rocks that accreted to form the planet. Linda Elkins-Tanton, a geologist at MIT, analyzed meteorites, which are not unlike the rocks that first formed the Earth. Her results indicated that there could easily have been oceans on Earth at the time of the impact that caused the Moon merely using the water that was trapped inside the rocks. And it would have come out, too. In this time of accretion, the planet was mostly molten. The water would have immediately boiled. The atmosphere would have quickly become heavy with water vapor. Even considering the kind of splash something almost the size of Mars could make, there could have been oceans of water on the surface of the Earth within a hundred million years of its formation.

The other theory focuses on the impacts themselves. Comets are known to be mostly water ice. And there are many who believe the early earth was struck repeatedly by numerous comets.

So, there you have it. A million years of rain or a sustained barrage of comets. Think it over, while I wheel in the next diorama.

As I said: Life.

3.9 gY old fossils don’t lie, folks. If the organism showed up in a box of cream cheese you got today, it’d be called “contamination” and you’d throw it away, but there it is. A tiny fragment of a green slime called “cyanobacteria”. My great-granny and yours.

Cyanobacteria is one of several icky plants that breed in the shallows all over the planet. I’m not familiar with any of them. I’m told, though, that they are responsible for most of the oxygen in our atmosphere, and that they consume most of the carbon dioxide as well, and in that context I truly love green slime and wish it well forever. They function via the magic of photosynthesis. Just like your lawn, skunk cabbage and corn, they eat the carbon dioxide and spew out good clean oxygen,

How it got here is one of those enduring questions we may never know the answer to. If you thought you’d find it here, you’re going to have to revise your estimates. However, I see you’ve got the hookah filled and the wine jug going around, so why don’t I just sit down here on the floor with y’all for a minute and see what we can come up with?

For instance: there’s two big possibilities. Did Life spontaneously generate on Earth, or did it come from … Out There? Everything else here came from Out There; I’d guess Life did, too. Rode in on one of those meteorites, or maybe, you know, one comet splashed splashed down in a warm, nurturing ocean…

Once, years ago, I remember, somebody floated an idea that, if you made up a really thick soup of amino acids and then shot a high-voltage zetz through it, some of the aminos would begin swimming on their own  Or something like that. Hmmm…

omg. I googled, “If you put lightning through amino acid soup you will create life”. Here’s what I got. Wikipedia says, Alexander Oparin and J. B. S. Haldane hypothesized “that conditions on the primitive Earth favored chemical reactions that synthesized organic compounds from inorganic [stuff].” In 1953, then, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted experiments (at the U, of Chicago and U.C.S.D.) where they simulated their understanding of Early Earth’s atmosphere and sent some charge through it. They produced more amino acids than occur in nature. Nothing swam by, of course, because they weren’t silly fools like me, they were actual chemists. They had made organic substances out of inorganic material.

Since then … well, we don’t like to talk about it out loud, but there’s a Big Business in synthetic nucleotides, which are, like, the stuff DNA’s made of. No way you can make an amoeba out of it, let alone  blue-green slime, but I’m not talking theory here, There’s corporations you can buy stock in that are doing this.

Making an amoeba in a laboratory isn’t the same thing as making one appear in your backyard goldfish pool, either. Let’s drift back to the primordial Shallow Sea a moment.

Let’s say that life came into existence on its own, through Cause and Effect, like everything before it and after it. That would imply either that conditions here are profoundly unique and ideally suited for life, or that conditions here are, by and large, pretty normal, and so is life. We have observed planets with very similar physio-chemical conditions as Earth. There’s a list of them, and it’s growing daily.

Let me modify my original statement. This is the Universe of Cause, Effect, and Life.

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I’m going to end my Myth here. Unlike my model, the Bible, whose tale wanders into the Adventures of Adam and Eve in Paradise, and its numerous sequels, I am not concerning myself here with Good and Evil. I am concerned with the topic, as is most of our population. More and more, our survival as a species appears linked to it, and if not, the entertainment value is surely undeniable.

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The ORIGINAL Origin Myth of Western Man of the 21st Century – Chapter 3

UNIVERSEc1750As stated elsewhere, The Universe is big, so big that talking about its bigness is simply ridiculous. It’s so big that no one will hazard a guess on how many galaxies are lost within it, so big that … well, enough of that. Besides it’s getting bigger all the time.

So when physicists insist that, when It Started, the whole thing fit comfortably on a needle’s point and left room for another umpteen gazillion universes besides, you could perhaps excuse yourself for feeling ill.

Faced with this bizarre concept, my third impulse (after “pshaw”, and “Another round here”) was to go dig up Edwin Hubble, discoverer of this peculiar state of affairs and ask him, “Yo, what gives?” Recently, however, I learned he would simply point down the row and say, “Hey, man, I din’t do nothin. Get him – Georges Lemaitre. It’s all him, man, him and his pal, uh, Herman Einstein, there. Whatever.”

It took me a while to find Lemaitre, so few had ever heard of him. But eventually, there he was. Turns out, he was a priest.

Buried under a headstone shaped like a cross (draped with a marble banner that said, in Latin, “I told you so, you lousy bastards”) was the rather large Belgian who published the first paper laying out the expanding universe in minute detail.

Not only did Lemaitre, a theoretical physicist as well as a priest, prove on paper that the universe had to be expanding, he also showed how it tied to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Although that relationship is completely obvious to me (relativity::constant growth, know what I mean?), it took Einstein a while to catch on. “Your calculations are impeccable,” he wrote Lemaitre after reading his paper, “but your physics is [stinko][1].”

Unfortunately, Einstein was one of the few outside Belgium who subscribed to the journal in which Lemaitre’s paper was published. So when Hubble published, two years later in Nature, he got all the creds. So much for vows of humility, eh, Padre?

(For the record, besides not even having heard of Lemaitre’s work until after he published, Hubble’s proof was built on actual observation, not mere theory. So there.)

Lemaitre’s paper also postulated the then-unpopular postulation that the Universe started with (wait for it) a Big Bang! Lemaitre called it something else, of course, La fissure dans l’oeuf cosmique, or hypothèse de l’atome primitif, or l’éternuement explosif, or something equally blithe and French, but Einstein still didn’t buy it.

Presently, Einstein came around. In 1935, he and Lemaitre traveled to California together for a seminar. When Lemaitre finished giving his paper, Einstein was seen to stand and applaud. He was even quoted as saying, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.” Other witnesses, however, demur; Einstein was referring to the priest’s Argyle socks, they say.

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The Birth of Stars, Solar Systems, and the Earth

The Milky Way may just be the oldest galaxy in the Universe. It came into existence as a Galaxy no more than half-a-billion years after The Beginning – oops; I meant ‘”the beginning”. Probably, this gave the Universe just barely enough time to expand enough to accommodate a galaxy-sized disk of quarks, which is how the Milky Way started out.

Universes expand, you see, and at a standard rate[2], but galaxies do not.It’s really so simple, it could be calculated by any 6th grade arithmetic student with a calculator that operated in the tens of billions.

Unfortunately, I have no such well-equipped 6th graders on my staff. A 4th grader (working off the books) came up with a number that was clearly preposterous, and so I had to discipline him. I had him text “I am not responsible for this nonsense” 250 times to his mother. I felt she was responsible. She was not, as you might imagine, amused.

Before there were galaxies, then, there were stars. They came into existence on their own in an entirely dark and remarkably small Universe filled entirely with quarks which, as hydrogen, clumped together and acquired gravity, compressed, heated up and began to fuse into helium. These stars probably had no planets, since all there was so far was hydrogen. Conversely, many of them might have been huge for the same reason. These “dawn stars” were short-lived. Their explosive deaths scattered heavier elements for later generations to use.

The Sun came on the scene 9 billion years later. The Milky Way was mature by them, and experienced. It had never married, though, and retained its youthful spiral shape.

According to the Manchester Guardian’s Kate Ravilious, a supernova exploded *right near* a cloud of galactic dust. The shockwave heated the cloud and jarred it into movement, and also peppered it with a mass of heavier elements. It began to spin. Its central glob slowly accumulated hydrogen. The glob grew massive, compressed and heated. Eventually its core began to fuse into helium, and the Solar System was born.

You don’t need me to go into planetary formation, do you? Good. We will now proceed directly to The Freaky Stuff.

It’s about another half-billion years later. Earth and the other Rocky Planets have formed, generally, by accumulating rocks and mini-planetoids which fell into them. Well: along comes this sub-planetary rock a little smaller than Mars and WHAM! it bashes into Earth. Damn near destroys it. Shit flies everywhere. Mostly, though, it falls back to Earth, including most of the nasty ‘toid. Some of it, though, gets together on its own. This is the Moon.

About another half-billion years goes by in peace and tranquility.

To recap, then: for about a billion years, Jupiter has been moping around in its own orbit about three-and-a-half times as far from the Sun as we are. But then, Jupiter and its partner-in-crime Saturn fell into a resonance with the Sun. You know what that means.

Well, neither do I, but I bet it’s pretty wild. Like, the Sun being hurled through space like an Olympic hammer or a giant rotten tomato at some galactic-sized schmuck like Rick Perry,

Fortunately, we never found out. Instead, Jupiter left its orbit. It slowly (along with its partner-in-crime Saturn) began moving in towards the Sun, until it got to around one-and-a-half times as far from the Sun as Earth, roughly the orbit of Mars. (Explanations as to the disposition of Mars at this time are vague. Mars hadn’t formed yet. Mars and Jupiter exchanged orbits, sort of a time-share thing. I don’t know.) Jupiter (and Saturn) hung out for a while. Then they toddled on back whence they’d come, plus some. Jupiter today is 5 times as far from the Sun, and Saturn nine times as far from the Sun, as we are.

Astronomers like this because it explains Certain Things to them:

1) Mars isn’t just a Small Planet; its growth was stunted by malnutrition. All the good minerals and stuff needed for a rotund, zaftig planet were only there at the time Jupiter was. As such, Earth and Venus got to benefit. Bummer for Mars, man.

2) Some of the asteroids currently employed in the Belt of that name are icy. Some are not. Astronomers,  hung up on this, think it happened when Jupiter (and its pic Saturn) was inside the Belt, so to speak, and the asteroids were pushed deeper into space, thereby freezing their asses off. I could care less.

I don’t like it, because it doesn’t explain where Mars was. But maybe that’s just me.

 


[1] The second part, about the letter, is true. The first part of course is ridiculous.

[2] The standard rate of universal expansion is known as the Hubble Constant, originally put forward by Fr Lemaitre.

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