...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Day 2664: Flowers on the Moon


No, I have NOT blasted Daddy Richard into orbit!

This is SCIENCE and news that the European Space Agency has discovered a way to let marigolds grow on moonrock.

I'm sure you must realise that this is quite IMPORTANT if we are ever going to build a successful MOONBASE.

In the CARBON CYCLE, plants absorb CO2 and water and sunlight to make carbohydrates and oxygen; elephants and people and animals then eat carbohydrates and breathe oxygen to get energy and make CO2 and water as by-products. If you want to keep breathing you have to keep these in BALANCE.

Unfortunately, the Moon does not have any atmosphere at all. So we will still have to import lots of air and water in order for plants to grow, unless we are able to FIND some up there: deposits of WATER (or at least ICE) on the moon are much sought after as they would provide not just drinks but Oxygen for breathing and Hydrogen for rocket fuel.

But that wouldn't be enough on its own.

There is also a NITROGEN cycle, because all living things build their bodies out of PROTEINS which are big carbon-based molecules that are like carbohydrates BUT have extra NITROGEN as well as Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. Fortunately there is LOTS of Nitrogen about because the Earth's atmosphere is mostly (more than 70%, in fact) made of it! Unfortunately, plants CANNOT turn nitrogen GAS (N2) into protein directly; they need help to turn the Nitrogen into a NITRATE that they can absorb and use, help that comes either from special bacteria or occasionally from a blast of LIGHTNING! Nowadays they ALSO get help from FERTILISER.

So, you will need to ship a load of fertiliser to the Moon too. (Don't think I don't know what you're thinking!)

All of which makes it VERY SILLY for the Head of the ESA to dismiss lunar colonisation as "Science Fiction"; things are RARELY this difficult in FICTION!

Meanwhile, a Dr Watson of East Anglia has estimated that the chances of meeting another intelligent life form are "extremely low".

Clearly, he needs to try moving away from the University of East Anglia.

No, sorry, apologies to the good people of UEA, the thing is that this is a very SILLY estimate, because we have almost no EVIDENCE on which to base it.

For a start, it seems that Dr Watson has said that the chances of intelligent life emerging on a planet like Earth inside of four billion years are 1/10 (for the chance of simple single-celled animals evolving) times 1/10 (for the chance of complex cells evolving) times 1/10 (for the chance of complex, multi-celled animals evolving) times 1/10 (for the chance of an intelligent species with language evolving) which makes 1/10,000 or 0.01%.

Well, this is the sort of "plucking numbers from the air" that CREATIONISTS do when they want to "prove" life evolving by chance is "impossible". WE simply DO NOT KNOW what are the chances of self-replicating chemicals occurring (like DNA did on Earth). It may be VERY COMMON, it may even be CHEMICALLY INEVITABLE given the right mix of elements; or it could be remotely IMPOSSIBLY unlikely without some fluke event like a comet strike or passing Spaghetti Monster with a whim. Without assessing more than one Earth-like planet we aren't going to be able to find out, either.

Similarly, we are only BEGINNING to understand what drives evolutionary processes. Intelligence and language may be rare or common in terms of things that crop up, we can't be sure – although the distinct possibility that dolphins, whales, elephants and humans have all developed communicating intelligences ought to be taken into some consideration.

And even if these ever-so-arbitrary looking numbers are SPOT ON, we do not know even vaguely how may Earth type planets that there ARE even in our own galaxy.

But we do have some evidence that our planetary system isn't UNIQUE. So, since we're not living entirely by chance on an unnatural fluke, it's not unreasonable to assume that other systems of planets like ours have developed.

With at least two-hundred billion stars in the Milky Way (never mind any of the trillions of other galaxies) even if the chances of another star having a Solar-System-like system of planets are ALSO 1/10,000, there could STILL be over a THOUSAND worlds with intelligent life on them, probably avoiding us because of CRICKET!

Anyway, this ENTIRELY overlooks the possibility that it only takes ONE intelligent species to go INTERSTELLAR and the galaxy will be FULL of inhabited planets. Which brings us back to colonisation, and apparently it's quite urgent as there are only a billion years until the shops close. And melt.

1 comment:

0tralala said...

Erudite as ever, Mr Millennium. But on one small step for pendantry, the Moon does have an atmosphere. Just not much of one compared to ours.

I am reading Andrew Smith's Moondust at the moment and it is brilliant. Detailed blog post to follow when I'm done.