Evolution Is A Voyage Through The Cosmos


Advancing science is not just fostering understanding, and power, it is also a teacher for our logical acumen, the lessons of whom can be carried all over human common sense and sensibilities

The classic movie “2001 A Space Odyssey” pretends that extraterrestrials made apes into proto-humans. Once proto-humans have reached the Moon, extraterrestrials tinker again with evolution. It was beautiful when written, but now it sounds rather silly and contrived: if evolution had reached the ape level, it would surely get to the human level, given a few million years… As it did: no need to intervene at this late stage; getting to apes was hard and took hundreds of millions of animal evolution, but once there, the mix of cultural and physiological evolution would reach a singularity of progress. 

Another flaw of “2001” was the assumption of extraterrestrial civilization: not only it is to be helpful, it is also unlikely to exist. Habitable planets are clearly in the millions, if not billions, in the galaxy. But conditions stable enough to enable a star traveling civilization are probably exceedingly rare.

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By the preceding I do not mean that it is boring out there, and that life on Earth was not influenced by the cosmos. Quite the opposite: it’s not boring, and the cosmic influences are not just great, but primordial.

Not only that, but the cosmic environment has an influence on evolutionary smarts. Yes, there is such a thing.

Official evolution theory in recent generations held that evolution was the fruit of chance (haphazard mutations) and necessity (a better adapted organism will reproduce better). This standard “Darwinism”, also known as “Selection of the Fittest”. It is unlikely that Darwin believed just in that evolution mechanism, since, after all, he went to Scotland to study Lamarck, the discoverer of biological evolution in its full many-million years’ glory (evolution itself was known and exploited by the Ancient Greek breeders…). 

Lamarck, after spending decades behind his microscopes, believed that there was a mysterious force for complexification, and that usage created evolution. Although the details are not in, we can guess how that happens.

DNA has weak hydrogen bonds at its core. Submitted to a changed cellular environment, those bonds will loosen and reform, enabling mutation. The changed cellular environment can arise from a changed ecology (something the animal consciously controls)… But it can also arise from other changes, such as a change of radiation levels.

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Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977 and flew by Jupiter and Saturn, targeting Titan. Voyager 2 was launched previously, in August 1977, but on a slower trajectory, and flew by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Thanks to gravity slingshot effects using the giant planets, both spacecrafts are now headed out of the solar system into interstellar space on hyperbolic trajectories (they are not coming back).

Nuclear powered, the Voyagers’ instrument suites have proven hardy. Few failed, and now five scientific teams, 45 years later, serve the VIM, the Voyager Interstellar Mission, an extension of the Voyager primary mission that was completed in 1989 with the close flyby of Neptune by the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

Humanity is heading for the stars. For real.

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Here is Science Magazine pondering in a long article why it would be a good thing to launch an Interstellar Probe (IP) going at the speed of the Earth-Moon distance every three hours: THE LONG SHOT

The Voyager probes raised perplexing questions as they exited the Solar System. Now, scientists have conceived new missions to interstellar space. (28 JUL 2022; by Richard Stone.)

Voyager found that 75% of the cosmic rays heading our way from interstellar space get filtered out in the heliosphere’s outer reaches. If the encounter with the next cloud squeezes the heliosphere all the way down to Earth’s orbit, life forms would be exposed to an intense radiation environment that would riddle DNA with mutations, Brandt says. (Brandt is John Hopkins APL space physicist and chief scientist on the Interstellar Probe mission concept study.)

There’s evidence of such an event around the time early hominids were just beginning to pick up stone tools, and Brandt muses on a possible connection. “Let that creep up your spine for a moment,” he says. In recent years, scientists have discovered iron-60 isotopes in ocean crust samples dating from 2 million to 3 million years ago. Iron-60 is not found naturally on Earth: It’s forged in the cores of large stars. So, either a nearby supernova blasted the heliosphere with the iron dust, or the heliosphere drifted through a dense cloud laden with iron-60 from a previous supernova. Either way, Brandt says, “The heliosphere was way in, and we had a full blast of galactic cosmic rays and interstellar matter for a long, long time.” To look for relics of other such events, IP could use plasma wave antennas to essentially take the temperature of nearby electrons. Hot regions might mark the blast paths of material from past supernovae.

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Philosophically, that is on the grandest scale of the plausible, what does this all mean? First that cosmic radiation may have been the good fairy which accelerated human evolution. No need for extraterrestrials as in “2001”, cosmic machinery had its hand in the growth of human intelligence. A rational aura from this is that radiation shouldn’t not just be correlated to fear (as X rays, radiotherapy, and carbon free nuclear energy already show).

Second, life on Earth is much more cosmos dependent than it looks: not just sun weather (sun explosions, sun activity, up or down), but also cosmic weather are not just important for humanity, they may have played a primordial role. 

Third, the Voyager probes were intended to take the first detailed pictures of the outer planets. They became the first interstellar probes thanks to their usage of the heat of three Plutonium cartridges to keep warm and generate electricity. Plutonium is mighty, but those Plutonium batteries are still running out of power. Due to radioactive decay converted into heat, the Voyagers’ Radioactive Thermoelectric  Generators are losing about .8% of their power output each year. So the heat was dialed down on some of the instruments, which remarkably kept working (the ultraviolet detector still works at minus 80 C while it was designed for a minimum of minus 35C… Same with the Cosmic Ray System on Voyager 2). 22 systems were turned off in Voyager 1 to save power over the decades (as of 2022 CE)… However the ducts for the hydrazine propellant keeping the spacecrafts’ High Gain Antenna aiming towards Earth cannot be allowed to freeze…

In any case, after 50 years, the on-going operations of the Voyagers is not just a testimony to great nuclear and electronic technology, but keeps on bringing unexpected discoveries contradicting previous logic, that is keep on bringing great science. 

Those who argue for shrinking civilization should be reminded of the feats tech can accomplish, and the understanding it leads to. It turns out indeed that some of the unexpected results of the Voyagers were unexpected because the logic used for these predictions was not subtle enough. With more subtlety in the computations, we get some of what the Voyagers showed to be true.

In cases like that, when reality shows us that our logic is coming short, what is established is the necessity for more rigorous and clever logic, and the mistake(s) that were done… And the lessons carry everywhere, especially in complicated fields such as politics, economics, sociology, the human sciences. 

Hard science forces us to learn to think better, when time and time again, little innocuous reasonings we thought were sufficient turn out grossly mistaken because of little details we overlooked… which, after all, were not that small in the consequences they bear.

Launch more Interstellar probes (China, heavens bless, is planning two…)

Humanity is a voyage to the great beyond. Claiming it’s not, and actively blocking the voyage, especially in the interest of anti-intellectual, parsimonious or puritan ethics, is inhuman.

Patrice Ayme

 

 




It turns out the shape of the diverse features here are not as expected, or even their nature. The Termination Shock turns out to be rather spherical (it was expected to be comet-like). Also it is less of a shock than expected. The Heliosheath (confusely named heliosphere above) turns out to be flatter than expected (thus why Voyager 2 came out of it faster than expected, as V2 plunges below the (sort of) plane made by the Solar System). In retrospect, many of these characteristics should have been expected, the logic previously used was not subtle enough.

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