Archive for the ‘Exoplanets’ Category

Space Colonization For Real. And Why Humanity Needs It, To Keep On Being Human.

August 23, 2020

It’s fashionable among intellectuals of the lesser sort to spite technology. Of course, that’s perfectly idiotic, hypocritical, and base: they would not even exist without the technology and the capability to use it, which our ancestors developed, already millions of years ago… As a species. Yes, the arrogant thinker, thinking where no thought has been thought before, on which all of civilization rests, is a direct biological creation of exponentiating technology. That, and apple pie.

Arrogance is great, as long as it bears fruit, such as thoughts the commons find astounding,and one could not have had them otherwise. . But arrogance for the sake of denial bears no fruit.

Water at the poles of the Moon, where it condensates in perpetual shadows. (Artist representation).

What’s the spatial bodies we can hope to colonize? Well, it used to look real hard. If one had to lift water from Earth to space… We didn’t have the capability of launching all this water cheaply enough.

Friend Stephen Jones observed:

“Mars is our only potential candidate to colonize. Beyond our own solar system? Nope. We will never reach another solar system.”

Well, indeed, we need water, and lots of energy. Fifty years ago, it looked as if there was only one planet with water in the Solar System: Earth. Now we have found so much that we have to demonstrate life did NOT evolve out there in the Solar System. The same is true, even more so, with exoplanets. 

Now we know that Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, Pluto… have lots of water. Europa may have more than Earth (we don’t know how deep its ocean is). Some asteroids, comets, the poles of Mercury have water. It’s also very likely that the Moon water is usable. The largest asteroid, a spherical dwarf planet, Ceres, is a water rich body, with eruption of brine in several places. Once we have water, all we need is energy to make livable quarters. NASA is fully aware of all this.

Ceres is an ocean world where water and ammonia reacted with silicate rocks. As the ocean froze, salts and other telltale minerals concentrated into deposits that are now exposed in many locations across the surface. The Dawn spacecraft, which orbited it ever closer, also found organics in several locations on Ceres’ surface.

Altogether, Ceres seems to be approximately 40% or 50% water by volume, compared to 0.1% for Earth, and 73% rock by mass. So no more lifting water up there in space: it’s there already. We just need to get there, with lots of (nuclear) energy…

And how to get there? Well Elon Musk’s SpaceX has landed one particular rocket six times already (crushing down the price to orbit: it would take just one million dollars to repair and refurbish tat rocket, SpaceX says…). His Starship is supposed to be as reusable as an helicopter (revolutionizing point to point transport on Earth, no doubt) [1]. 

But the ultimate grail is portable thermonuclear fusion… Give us this, oh Lord, and the galaxy is ours… Nobody knows is that is feasible: the Sun is not big by accident. Thermonuclear fusion works better, the bigger the reactor. we are trying to do in a room what a gigantic Brown Dwarf can barely achieve. And Red Dwarf stars are eminently unstable… 

IF portable fusion is feasible, we will conquer the entire Solar System, and missions to proximal stars are imaginable, if we master hibernation (all sorts of rodents do it, after all…)

The philosophical question is why bother? 

Why to conquer space? The answer is simple: because it raises the bar of our understanding.  

An example? NASA just announced that its perpetually deferred new space telescope the James Webb, will be launched even later than last forecast (Fall 2021 now). Why? It’s immensely complex. To fit inside the fairing of the Ariane V rocket (or any rocket), it has to be folded. The mirror system and the solar shield enfold themselves in 180 different operations… This has to work 100% on 180 operations, as the telescope will be at the L1 Lagrangian point, where Earth and Sun gravitational attractions balance each other, 600,000 kilometers away, twice the distance of the Moon.  

So this telescope is perhaps the most complex machine ever. It uses several new and finicky technologies… And so it is throughout space exploration. New tech, all over. Mastering space forces us to master those technologies. We are in a debate with space, and it teaches us a lot, this demanding master.

Look at the blackouts and fires in California: both are all about energy management. Yes, there was not enough energy to take care of the forests. Now there is not enough energy to fight fires burning into groves of 3,000 year old trees. Space teaches us to optimize energy management… in particular of creating, and using energy as efficiently as possible.

Space forces tech to go higher, better. And only new tech will save us, the Earth, and our high mental and spiritual standards… 

Space is not a luxury, it’s not just a refuge from disaster, or reality. It is the future, because humanity is a force that goes. Up.

Patrice Ayme



[1] Supporting Elon Musk directly and indirectly, I was against: it looked like a case of celebritism. Now I am happy to report I was in error (as I already said). Supporting Elon Musk with beaucoup dollars is actually the best thing Barack Obama ever did. What characterizes Musk is the boldness of vision, the “ALL HOPE AHEAD!” attitude, what Charles Quint called :”PLUS OULTRE!”

Musk’s Starship, if he gets it to work, will revolutionize transportation (the Pentagon is going to be very interested). If there is no will to reach much higher, there is no way to change much deeper, this is true all over. If there is no will for a different, better world, there is no way, and there is not even any thought going that way. Instead, the “Inch’Allah” way rules all… Suivez la direction de mon regard…

Is Intelligence The Definition Of Quantum Life? … Spatial Consequences…

August 16, 2020


Obviously… As humanity gets beaten up by COVID 19, one may want to ponder how clever life is. Is COVID 19 a clever answer? To a question which was not asked enough? Do you, humanity, have enough decency to be clever enough to survive? What about space? How does life survives that? OK, it’s not exactly booming in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys. 

There are two aspects, contradicting each other, one disfavorable to life, the other favorable, which may not have been given enough weight in evaluating Advanced Intelligence in space. First the situation of Earth is special, very stable, in part from having a large Moon (compare with Mars’ wild rotation axis tumbling, with super winters, and super summers). Plus, the solar system is historically stable: no supernova exploded real close in the last 4 billion years. Many are the disasters possible, out there in space.

Disaster land: Scott, who discovered them, called Antarctica Dry Valleys the “valleys of death”. Katabatic winds regularly reach 300 kilometers per hour, and more, all the way down them… This is only 1,300 kilometers from the South Pole…

Red Dwarves, which are both most frequent and most unstable, are a case in point, with huge flares, Coronal Mass Ejections. They may be OK for human colonization, but biological evolution to multicellular level, is something else.


However, and in the other direction, it is likely that biological evolution is in great part a Quantum Process. Basically, to put it bluntly, the Quantum is intelligent (think about the interference pattern from the double slit: how does the photon know where to go? More prosaically, electrons find, Quantum Mechanically, the lowest energy solutions, as if they were little sorcerers: if that’s not clever, what is? This is used crucially in life forms extracting energy from the sun).

The delicate architecture of DNA is Quantum-sensitive to environmental conditions: if things change inside a cell, DNA can change in a selection-of-the fittest DNA. A process quicker than the selection of the fittest species, and which will appear as clever telenomic adaptation harnessing necessity beyond chance. 

So Quantum biology may be clever enough to survive in conditions which look impossible to us… Or even to be created in impossible conditions (think Red Dwarves).

The most sinister interpretation of the Fermi Paradox is not that civilizations don’t last. It is that they are in hiding, because it’s a jungle out there. That’s the Dark Forest theme found in many science fiction novels. Exploring Earth, Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and the closest star systems, should throw light on the subject. It’s possible that life is stuck at a very primitive level, all over. Indeed we don’t know how life evolved on Earth, thus, how likely the different steps… Quantum Computers should help with lowest energy solutions to find those probabilities…

The Antarctic Dry Valleys are basically deprived of life. However, there is some.

Researchers have discovered that Antarctica Dry Valleys are home to a variety of extremophiles (organisms that live in extreme environments). Among them are lichen and mosses, communities of microbes (including cyanobacteria), and nematodes (microscopic worms). Researchers continue to find and study these and other organisms and their adaptations, which allow them to survive in one of the most punishing environments on the planet. A natural question is: how well would they do on Mars? For that matter, is there life on the summit of Mount Everest? Everest has bare rock expanses, not far from the summit, in conditions reminiscent of the Dry Valleys. Now, of course the highest atmospheric pressure on Mars corresponds to 28,000 meters on Earth… (it’s at the lowest point of Mars geoid, 8,200 meters below it… A more subtle observation is that they may not have had enough space and time, and stable enough an environment to evolve…

Life is smart. Maybe that’s its definition. How smart? Our own expansion away from Earth will help us figure it out…

Patrice Ayme

Sun, Violent Stars, And Their Superflares

June 17, 2019

In the Chinese blockbuster movie “Wandering Earth“, the Sun goes red giant, and then Jupiter has a gravity spike (as the Earth swings by). Could it happen? According to today’s official physics, no. According to my own Sub Quantic Physics Reality (SQPR), yes. [1] Established scientists may smirk. However, smirking by established scientists or thinkers about imaginable science or thinking, all too often just exhibit their limited understanding of their own lack of understanding, and, or, imagination

A problem for our future conquest of the galaxy is that most stars are unstable Red Dwarves. I have argued it means we should be able to find lots of planets with very primitive life, as the most sophisticated type of life would be periodically eradicated. The past is hard to predict… except now we can look at it, with powerful telescopes… and read it.

Stars explode. Stars do also plenty of smaller, more sustainable flares and conflagrations…. The mass extinction level kill radius of a supernova (above) is at least ten light years. But to kill life in a solar system, a star can do, with much smaller explosions: the Earth is only 8 light minutes from the Sun…

When US astronauts went to the Moon, they found traces of a scorching superflare… so dreadful an idea, nobody evokes it anymore…

Studies by the US Kepler space telescope of  solar-type (G-type main-sequence), combined with Apache Point Observatory (APO) 3.5 m telescope spectroscopic observations and the European space telescope show that stars as old and sedate as the sun undergo “superflares”. Working from a sample of about 90,000 Sun-like stars, the researchers identified more than 1,000 superflares from about 300 stars.

The researchers thought these stars would be  rotating rapidly. Quickly spinning stars tend to have strong magnetic fields that easily get tangled up, bunching up, which is thought to kick off flares. However, a fast spin is apparently not a requirement for strong eruptions. Combining their brightness data with radius estimates from the Gaia satellite, the researchers were able to determine how fast their flaring stars were spinning. As expected, stars that rotate once every few days had superflares about 20 times as powerful as more slowly spinning stars like the Sun, which rotates about once every 25 days. However, Sun-like stars were still seen producing hazardous superflares.

A superflare could destroy lots of electronic on Earth (and adversely affect space explorers). Thus, the Sun has to be studied much more.

In September 1859, a solar flare sent a wave of charged particles washing over our planet. It triggered one of the most powerful geomagnetic storms ever recorded: the Carrington Event. As the particles slammed into Earth’s protective magnetic field, they triggered beautiful aurorae that stretched as far south as Hawaii and Cuba. But the Carrington Event didn’t just produce pretty lights in the sky. It also wreaked havoc on telegraph networks spread across North America and Europe. In fact, there are reports of the cosmically overcharged telegraph lines starting fires and shocking telegraph operators during the event.

Explosive activity on sun-like stars is tied to their age, and their rotation. The older, and the slower the rotation, the less explosive. Superflares with energies 5 × 10^34 erg occur on old, slowly rotating Sun-like stars (P rot ~ 25 days) approximately once every 2000–3000 yr, while young, rapidly rotating stars with P rot ~ a few days have superflares up to 10^36 erg.

That would mean energies 500 times that of the Carrington event… which was only 10^32 ergs… and would still be devastating today…[2]

In any case, constant disasters out there in space is my solution to the “Fermi Paradox” (evoking the aliens, “Where is everybody?”, joked Enrico, once at breakfast in the 1950s…)

And the more we look, the more we see how true that seems…

Philosophically speaking, that implies life on Earth we are busy destroying is much more of a miracle than is generally felt: watch all the plastic, all over, all the fossil fuels burned, etc…

Patrice Ayme



[1] In SQPR, Dark Matter can be lumpy (also an experimental fact). Also, it influences inertia and other forces, including gravity (hence Dark Energy). So crossing a Dark Matter lump may affect all forces. A gravity spike inside the Sun would cause high mass nuclides to fuse, as happen in Red Giant, or Supernovas…


[2] Most powerful supernova found: 10^ 45 ergs per second, or 10^ 38 watts, or 30 times the energy of the entire giant Milky Way (which is larger than Andromeda). So the most powerful flares are a billion times less powerful… But they tend to be directed in a particular direction… Mars lost its atmosphere from solar flares…


New Definition Of A Planet Makes Pluto A Planet

March 5, 2019

In the past, one distinguished among three sorts of bodies in the Solar System: planets, satellites, asteroids. However, it turned out that Pluto, once thought to be Earth sized, is much smaller… Although its atmosphere extends way out, it’s nearly extended as far as the diameter of Earth! Yet, some smart ass astronomer, greedy for fame as academic types tend to be, their feeding depends upon their renown, then made his claim to fame by demoting Pluto. He even sold T-shirts, I have one.

Planet means “wanderer”, in greek. Because the planets wander across the stars without reason which prehistoric men, or even the Greeks, could discern. Upon closer inspection (astronomer Tycho and his pupil Kepler), planets turned out to follow slowly changing ellipses.

The modern scientific sense of planet as “world that orbits a star” was prominent in Giordano Bruno’s cosmology, giving the sadists in the Vatican a reason to torture him to death for seven years (Catholic sadistic abusers are persistent, they have been around for nearly two millennia).

Very round, and very blue. Don’t tell me that’s not a planet. Real picture of Pluto from nuclear energized New Horizon Spacecraft, as it left the planet behind….

Pluto was loudly demoted, officially speaking, because it was argued that “Pluto didn’t clear its orbit”. The statement sounds superficially impressively scientific. But, as always in science, the devil lurks in a more careful examination of the situation. Actually, Pluto, as far as I can see, does clear its orbit. So this was an example of the “Big Lie Technique” dear to Hitler: the bigger the lie, the more it convinces people… Just like Obama fixing healthcare with “Romneycare“…

Pluto clears it so well it is accompanied by an entire cortege of satellites, including the relatively enormous Charon, a companion so large Pluto and Charon orbit around a common point exterior to Pluto.

Pluto is usually farthest from the Sun. However, its orbit is closer than Neptune’s orbit for 20 years out of every 248 years. Pluto got closer than Neptune on February 7, 1979, temporarily becoming the 8th planet from the Sun. Pluto crossed back over Neptune’s orbit again on February 11, 1999, resuming its place as the 9th planet from the Sun for the next 228 years. 

In truth (see Note), Pluto overflies Neptune orbit, when at closest point to the Sun. So the two orbits never intersect. One could introduce the notion of orbit disk (the part of the planetary plane of a planet inside the orbit). The intersection of the planetary disks of Pluto and Neptune have planar measure zero! (First Objection to the “clearing” notion).

Anyway, one may as well say that Neptune didn’t clear its own orbit (as Pluto occupies it sometimes, according to those who aren’t smart enough to understand the First Objection, namely that the orbits don’t cross).

Pluto could be more colorful than expected… Charon hanging through the blue haze, which is bue for the same exact reason as Earth atmosphere (Rayleigh scattering….) Mountains are made of water ice with very different properties than terrestrial ice (it’s much harder).

To satisfy all, it was decreed that Pluto was a “Dwarf Planet”… Other Pluto-sized objects have been found since, further out. But some have weird shapes… Some expected Pluto’s atmosphere to freeze down… But the New Horizon robot found it alive and well. The Pluto system has turned out to be very complex.

As one finds exoplanets, the possibility exists that Earth-sized satellites will be found in orbit around giant planets. As in the movie Avatar. Actually one may have been discovered (there is a controversy, as with all new scientific discoveries).

One will want to call Earth sized moons orbiting giant planets “planets”.

So what would be a planet? One can still use the official criterion brandished by the International Astronomical Union. And then I would add the following NEW criterion:

Worlds around giant planets do exist, and one may have already been found. (from variation of the light of the local sun, with slow downs and accelerations similar to those observed in Jupiter’s satellites in the 17C…)

An object large enough, and round enough, to hold an atmosphere all around its entire surface should be called a planet. That would make the giant asteroid Ceres NOT a planet: it doesn’t hold an atmosphere, and didn’t clear its orbit (it’s part of the asteroid belt). According to that definition Ganymede, which has an oxygen atmosphere, and a diameter of 5262 kms, is a planet, so is Titan (very thick atmosphere; 5150 kms diameter). Mercury, clearly a planet, has a diameter of 4880 kms, a tiny bit larger than Callisto, Jupiter second largest satellite… which also has a tenuous atmosphere.

Whether one wants to call large moons equipped with atmospheres planets is a matter of taste.

But, “Pandora” like world would be planets (Ganymede is 4.5 billion years old, at least as old as Earth… Plenty of time to evolve life…)

So what’s a planet? As Giordano Bruno said, a world. And certainly an atmosphere all around, especially if propitious to life, makes it a world. Pandora is a world, that is, a planet. It doesn’t matter that, as it turns around its sun, Pandora also turns around a hyper giant planet.

And certainly, Pluto is a world, too. A much smaller one, but still a world.

Worlds, here we come!

Patrice Ayme



Note 1;

Pluto has cleared its orbit. That’s why it’s so full of satellites….

Diagram of Pluto’s and Neptune’s orbit, on a distance scale in AUs.

Pluto and Neptune will never collide. You can see this in the image below, which shows a view as seen from the side as the planets orbit around the Sun.

Neptune is cleared of Pluto’s orbit, and reciprocally

Most planets only make small excursions in the vertical and radial directions, but Pluto makes large ones. Pluto at times will move closer to the Sun than Neptune, but it is always well “below” the orbit of Neptune when this happens. The orbits never actually cross the same point in space. Simulations have shown this is stable for the next 4 billion years.


Note 2:

Could one have an irregular shaped body with an atmosphere only in some basins? Probably, but unlikely to be naturally sustainable (one would need to make computer simulations taking into account the Roche limit, and Quantum effects on geological stress… Atmospheric pressure varies significantly on parts of Mars… which has giant high mountains, but also deep basins…)


Super Earths, Or How The Exponential Function Can Matter

April 23, 2018

We live in the times where exponentials have come to rule, as they never ruled before. Ignore at the risk of everything we claim to hold dear. As mathematically challenged Silicon Valley nerds put it, all too simplistically, the coming “singularity” looms. Simple minds do not much understanding create, though, so here a little elaboration…

An example of exponentials in action, is graciously offered by so-called “Super Earths“, giant versions of Earths, hundreds of which have been discovered in our neighborhood.

Before I get into this, a short lesson on the exponential.

The Ancient Greeks thought they knew mathematics, but they were prisoners of linear thinking (especially after the top intellectuals spurned non-Euclidean geometry and arithmetic). The exponential is the most obvious, most crucial to understand, most vital to handle example of nonlinear thinking.

An exponential is any function which grows proportionally to itself.

Our present “leaders” (Putin, Trump, Xi, Macron, etc.), and their underlings have no idea what an exponential is, and that it feeds on itself.

Civilizations get ambushed by exponentials. This is why they so often irresistibly decay: the effect is blatant, be it the Late Roman empire, Tang China, the Maya…  


Socrates:The unexamined life is not worth living“. That was HIS (wise) feeling. His own feeling. Others don’t have to share it. Actually vain, self-admiring, erroneous, hateful people detest nothing more than self-examination. They deeply dislike, hinder those, and what, promotes self-examination.

And tell me, Socrates, you who didn’t like knowledge you didn’t already have, and you thought everybody had, when did you learn about the exponential function? How can you know something that important you never even suspected existed? And, absent that tool of the spirit, you thought you could examine everything? How stupid was that? And you, out there, the ignorant admirers of Socrates and his ilk: you don’t even have the excuse to have been dead for 24 centuries! To extract you from the gutter, seize the exponential!


After discovering a few thousands exoplanets, Super Earths are, so far, more frequent than simple Earths (it may be a bias from our present telescopes, but I don’t think so…). If the Super Earth is slightly bigger than Earth, depending upon the nature of its core, its surface gravity doesn’t have to be much higher than Earth (I computed). However, the present article considers Super Earths were the gravity is much higher than on Earth…

“Super-Earth” planets are gigantic versions of Earth. In some ways, they are more likely to be habitable than Earth-size worlds: their thicker atmospheres protect them better from radiations, either from their parent stars, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, galactic core explosions, etc.. However, it would be difficult for any inhabitants on these exoplanets to access to space. At least with known, or imaginable technologies.

To launch a vehicle as light as the Apollo moon mission capsule, a rocket on a super-Earth such as (potentially inhabitable) Kepler 20b would require more than double the escape velocity.

To leave Earth (“⊕”)’s gravitational influence, a rocket needs to achieve at minimum the escape velocity vesc = s 2GM⊕ R⊕ ∼ 11.2 km s−1 (2) for Earth, and vesc ∼ 27.1 km s−1 for a 10 M⊕, 1.7 R⊕ Super-Earth similar to Kepler-20 b. Computation shows one would need a mass of about 400,000 metric tons, mostly due to the exponential demand of fuel. That’s 5% of the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt (still by far the Earth’s most massive monument, excluding utilitarian walls and dams).  

That means a chemical rocket there should have one hundred times the mass of one here (Apollo’s Saturn V launcher was 3,000 tons). However, that’s not a show stopper: our largest ocean-going ships are more massive than that, and a massive rocket is imaginable. So Hippke is not correct when he says that:

“On more-massive planets, spaceflight would be exponentially more expensive,” said study author Michael Hippke, an independent researcher affiliated with the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany. “Such civilizations would not have satellite TV, a moon mission or a Hubble Space Telescope.

This is of great practical interest. Research has revealed that Super Earths are abundant, and obvious targets for human colonization. They can reach up to 10 times the mass of our own Earth (after that, they retain light gases, and turn into mini Neptunes, unsuitable for direct colonization, although Pandora like scenarios are highly plausible). Many super-Earths apparently lie in the habitable zones of their stars, where temperatures can theoretically support liquid water on the planetary surface and thus, potentially, life as it is known on Earth. Although I have had reservations about this: I view the presence of a nuclear reactor inside the planet as necessary for life, since it provides with a magnetic shield, and the recycling of the atmosphere through plate tectonic, let alone continents… (Being in the water belt and the nuclear belt simultaneously is a miracle Earth’s biosphere profits from.)

This being said, it is true that some ways to access space that we potentially have, won’t happen on Super Earths. Rockets work better in the vacuum of space than in an atmosphere: super-Earthlings might want to launch from a mountaintop. However, the strong gravitational pull of super-Earths would squash down super Alps (it’s a pure application of Quantum mechanics). Super towers won’t be be feasible, either…

Using space elevators traveling on giant cables rising out of the atmosphere depends upon the strength of the cable material. The strongest (per unit of mass) material known today, carbon nanotubes, is just barely strong enough for Earth’s gravity (it is not at this point possible to imagine stronger materials, putting in doubt the feasibility of space elevators on super-Earths). Here is Michael Hippke (Submitted on 12 Apr 2018):

Spaceflight from Super-Earths is difficult:


Many rocky exoplanets are heavier and larger than the Earth, and have higher surface gravity. This makes space-flight on these worlds very challenging, because the required fuel mass for a given payload is an exponential function of planetary surface gravity, ∼3.3exp(g0). We find that chemical rockets still allow for escape velocities on Super-Earths up to 10 times Earth mass. More massive rocky worlds, if they exist, would require other means to leave the planet, such as nuclear propulsion.

Comments: Serious version of the April Fool’s idea (arXiv:1803.11384). Submitted on April 4th 2018
Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1804.04727 [physics.pop-ph]
(or arXiv:1804.04727v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)
  1. INTRODUCTION Do we inhabit the best of all possible worlds (Leibnitz 1710)? From a variety of habitable worlds that may exist, Earth might well turn out as one that is marginally habitable. Other, more habitable (“superhabitable”) worlds might exist (Heller & Armstrong 2014). Planets more massive than Earth can have a higher surface gravity, which can hold a thicker atmosphere, and thus better shielding for life on the surface against harmful cosmic rays. Increased surface erosion and flatter topography could result in an “archipelago planet” of shallow oceans ideally suited for biodiversity. There is apparently no limit for habitability as a function of surface gravity as such (Dorn et al. 2017). Size limits arise from the transition between Terran and Neptunian worlds around 2 ± 0.6 R⊕ (Chen & Kipping 2017). The largest rocky planets known so far are ∼ 1.87 R⊕, ∼ 9.7 M⊕ (Kepler-20 b, Buchhave et al. 2016). When such planets are in the habitable zone, they may be inhabited. Can “Super-Earthlings” still use chemical rockets to leave their planet? This question is relevant for SETI and space colonization (Lingam 2016; Forgan 2016, 2017).


Pessimistically, Hippke considered another possibility, a staple of science-fiction which originated in the very serious “Orion” project of the 1950s, an apocalyptic period: nuclear pulse propulsion. It works by detonating thousands of atom bombs below a shield cum shock absorber attached to the vehicle, hurling it through space. This explosive propulsion has much more lifting power than chemical rockets, and might be the only way for a civilization to leave a planet more than 10 times Earth’s mass, Hippke (naively) said.

However, slaying the radioactive dragon he himself brought up, such a nuclear-powered spacecraft would pose not only technical challenges but political ones as well, he said: “A launch failure, which typically happens with a 1 percent risk, could cause dramatic effects on the environment. I could only imagine that a society takes these risks in a flagship project where no other options are available, but the desire is strong — for example, one single mission to leave their planet and visit a moon.”

Unwittingly, Hippke then demonstrates the danger of the single mind (in this case, his!) Indeed the most obvious way to use nuclear propulsion is simply to run a liquid, even water, through the core of a nuclear fission reactor. That was tested, and it works extremely well… and very safely! It’s much less prone to failure than a chemical rocket.  On a planet with ten times the Earth’s surface, there would be plenty of space to do such dirty launches by the thousands.

Besides, it may possible to engineer absolutely giant thermonuclear PROPULSION reactors (thermonuclear fusion is easier, the larger the reactor: the exponential at work again; if we just made a fusion reactor that was large enough, it would certainly work). The radioactivity generated would be neglectable.

So we don’t have to worry about colonizing Super Earths… We just have to worry about weight (that is, surface gravity)….

But, here, now, we have to worry about all those exponentials going crazy. Last I checked, the Arctic ice was running one million square miles below its old minimum: at some point the so-far linear decrease of Arctic ice is going to decrease exponentially, as warming there is highly self-feeding (that’s why it runs already at twice the rate of the rest of the planet…).

And as usual, let’s remember what the arrogant, stupid imperial Romans never learned, and the Maya never reached: inventing completely new, liberating, energizing technologies is how, and the only way how, to break the strangulation from the ecological, political, economical and moral exponentials which smother civilizations. A most recent example is diffuse, dim light solar cells, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), a tech already in full deployment, which has just made spectacular progress in the lab.

Even language acquisition is exponential… Let alone thought system acquisition. You want to examine life, in ultimate depth? Learn to think exponentially!

The coming “singularity” looms. How to manage it? First by understanding what makes it tick, exponentials.

Patrice Aymé


Super Earths Galore?

March 5, 2017

[Original research, as usual, explaining in a bit more detail the preceding essay, its allusions, and its background: I pointed out that Venus failed as a livable planet because of its different internal composition. I turn then that argument around to demonstrate habitable large “Super Earths” are perfectly plausible, because “Super-Earth” does not have to mean “Super-Gravity”. I ponder the reasons pushing some astrophysicists to be so dead set against Super-Earths, and track that to the usual submission to the present plutocratic Zeitgeist.]


Usually, among astronomers, the term “Super-Earth” denotes a ROCKY planet with a mass higher than Earth’s. This does not imply anything about the surface conditions, habitability, or the potential presence of indigenous life.

In the Solar System’s icy gas giants Uranus and Neptune are 15 and 17 Earth masses respectively. My idea behind the concept of Super-Earths is to avoid “Gas Dwarfs”, also called “Mini-Neptunes”, by keeping the mass low enough.

What matters, to determine the livability of a rocky planet, is its surface gravity, and its composition regarding water and magnetism. It’s not as simple as Huyghens had it: “How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them.” -Christiaan Huygens (17th Century; Huyghens was financed by the tyrannical Super Plutocrat Louis XIV, an intriguing twist).

3,500 planets have been found around other stars (March 2017; the High Provence observatory found the first, and then the French satellite Corot found plenty, followed by NASA’s Kepler). A great percentage of them are Super Earths in the usual sense of being more massive than Earth, but less than Uranus.

In my terminology, a large Super Earth is not necessarily a gas giant. It may well be livable. (The reason to insist on all this is that I want money for super-telescopes, which are technically feasible, now; it’s just a question of money! If one listens to Siegel/Forbes below, one would decided to only finance financiers, since they pay more…)

According to my silicate composition argument, livable Super Earths with ten times Earth's mass are imaginable, because they could have Earth-like surface gravity... Astrophysicists paid by plutocrats don't think so (thus money is best spent on their sponsors... Instead of telescope!)

According to my silicate composition argument, livable Super Earths with ten times Earth’s mass are imaginable, because they could have Earth-like surface gravity… Astrophysicists paid by plutocrats don’t think so (thus money is best spent on their sponsors… Instead of telescope!)


Ethan Siegel, a celebrity astrophysicist who writes for Forbes magazine, disagrees with the whole mood behind the concept of “Super Earth”.

Siegel claims that Super Earths are never habitable, let alone earthly: “There’s no such thing as a ‘habitable Super-Earth’. Earth is pretty much the limit of how large you can get and still be rocky. Anything much larger, and you’re a gas giant.

Bemoans Siegel: “For a long time, we thought our Solar System was the template for the planets we’d find in the Universe. Inner, rocky worlds dominate the hottest part of the Solar System, with large, gaseous planets orbiting much farther out. The largest rocky planet was Earth; the smallest gas giant was Uranus; the mass difference between the two was a factor of 17, with Uranus having four times Earth’s radius. So it was quite a surprise when exoplanet discoveries started rolling in. Not only can planets of various sizes and masses appear anywhere in a solar system’s orbit, but of all the mass-and-size combinations out there, the most common type of planet is one we don’t have at all: a Super-Earth.

May these worlds be home to the realizations of our extraterrestrial dreams? Ethan Siegel arrogantly nix the idea: “… a cold, hard look at the scientific facts — and at the physics behind planetary science — puts the kibosh on that in no uncertain terms. In fact, the most up-to-date science tells us that the very idea that there is such a thing as a “Super-Earth” is a failing on our part.

Imagining What's On The Left, Kepler 22 b as a livable Super Earth is a "failing on our part" say Forbes employed astrophysicists. Massive wealth inequality caused by lack of infrastructure, though is, presumably not a "failing on our part".

Imagining What’s On The Left, Kepler 22 b as a livable Super Earth is a “failing on our part” says Forbes employed astrophysicist. Massive wealth inequality caused by lack of infrastructure, though is, presumably not a “failing on our part”.

Ethan Siegel again:

“The planets that we’re searching for, ostensibly, are the ones that are the most Earth-like: with similar compositions, atmospheres, masses, temperatures and other conditions to our world. But until we actually find life on another world — or learn a whole lot more about these planets we’re only beginning to discover — we can’t be sure which conditions are mandatory for intelligent life and which ones are mere happenstance. When we classify worlds as Earth-like, we look to their radius and how much energy they receive from their star.

In the past, we’ve typically said that if these worlds are approximately the size of Earth and receiving approximately as much energy-per-square-meter as Earth, these are likely Earth-like worlds. But this was an assumption that we made prior to having enough data to draw a conclusion… thanks to follow-up observations of their pull on their parent star, we’ve obtained the mass for hundreds of these worlds. And the conclusion they point to is damning.”

The basic argument Ethan (and others from MIT, etc.) hint to is that Super Earths have such a high surface gravity, they hang onto considerable amounts of hydrogen and helium. Then the atmosphere becomes crushing, life can’t develop.

Professor Ethan claims, without iron-clad evidence that:

… the transition from “rocky” world to “gaseous” world occurs at just twice the Earth’s mass. If you’re more that twice the mass of Earth and you receive the same amount of energy from your star, you’ll be able to hold onto a substantial hydrogen-and-helium envelope of gas, creating an atmospheric pressure that’s hundreds or even thousands of times as great as what we have on Earth’s surface. The hope that Super-Earth worlds would be Earth-like is shattered, and we can safely put Super-Earths, Mini-Neptunes and Neptune-like worlds into the same overall category… it’s important to remember that even calling a world a “Super-Earth” is evidence of our bias. “


All too many scientists tend to be biased about bias. Why the hysteria?

But I repeat myself: Ethan Siegel works for Forbes.

His preceding conclusion is, In My Not So Humble Opinion (IMNSHO), flawed: it depends upon surface gravity, hence hypotheses about a planet’s internal composition. Basically, those scientists scale up the composition of Earth to Super-Earth”. But we have no proof of that. Quite the opposite, we have indication to the contrary.  

I already talked about Venus. Venus is nearly Earth-size is Venus’ magnetic field is weak, and make the planet appear like a comet (observing with some instrumentation).

Venus shows us a probably different composition: it is less massive because it does have Earth’s heavy radioactive iron core:


Primitive Mathematics & Geology Show Surface Gravity Can Be Low On A Super Earth:

The argument is that a Super Earth will have such a high surface gravity that it will trap an excess of hydrogen. Indeed, a planet with twice the radius of Earth will have eight times the mass of Earth. However this multiplication by 8 of its mass m is  true if, and only if, the Super Earth has the same density as Earth. Earth has density 5.5, due to a heavy iron core with density 10. Silicate rocks have only density 3.

If a Super Earth had the same exact composition as Earth, doubling the radius r would change the surface gravity, which is proportional to: m/rr. If m is multiplied by 8 and r by 2, one sees that the surface gravity is multiplied by 2.

However, if the Super Earth is mostly made of Silicates, its mass will just be multiplied by 5, not 8. Thus its surface gravity will only augment by 25%.

If now one considers a super Earth with radius three times Earth, one sees it’s volume will be 27 times greater, but, if made mostly of silicates, its mass will be no more than 15 times greater. Meanwhile 1/rr is roughly 1/10. So the surface gravity, would be only 50% greater.

Thus one sees that Super Earths with surface areas roughly ten times Earth are imaginable.

One could argue that a huge metallic iron core is necessary to create a large magnetic field protecting against radiation, in particular solar storms which may strip the atmosphere (as happened on Mars). And thus one could insist that the preceding is unrealistic that way. But we are sitting next to a mighty yellow star. Red Dwarves, although subject to flares, thus capable of ejecting radiation, may, overall, be less corrosive than Sol (as their energy output is relatively tiny).

The best way to make sure that we cannot have habitable Super Earth is to construct huge telescopes… That means high taxes in the financial sector, that useless vampire (Reminder: Obama brought in all the guys who had deregulated FDR’s financial safeguards, under Clinton in the 1990s; FDR had put those safeguards in roughly 48 hours after becoming president in March 1933!)


A grander perspective: Why Is The Anti-Super Earth Crowd So Vociferous?

Ethan Siegel: “But if you insist on calling these worlds Super-Earths, the conclusion is inescapable: whether gaseous or rocky, a Super-Earth is no place for a human.”

I hope that considering my own logic, geophysical logic, Venus, Mars, the stridency of that conclusion is perceived to be unwarranted. Actually  Laura Schaefer of Harvard thinks that surfing on Super Earths is definitively a possibility. According to her computer simulations, it’s easier to have oceans and they last longer (ten billion years) on Super Earths with 3 to 4 times the mass of Earths…

Let’s comeback to the strident enemies of livable Super Earths: they suffer from a known malady. This is the usual problem: to become stars, or super-stars, super-scientists jump to unwarranted super-conclusions which are bound to becoming “trending” on the “social networks”. There is little difference between that general mood of people sure of “The First Three Minutes” (who was measuring time, then? “God”, Dog, or super-physicists?) and “Allahu Akbar” (who told them Dog was great, Dog Himself? A friend of theirs?)

This is the moral flaw of (super) tribalism, the “Will To Power”, hubris unbounded, the ardent desire to become top primate, Super Baboon: it flushes, with neurohormones any other worries, makes one feel as if one were god. They all want to be like Obama, get it all, presidency, right of life and death onto the world, multi-billionaire friends, Nobel, etc. Just to forget their pathetic little condition on the Third Rock from Sol.

Well, the deepest thinkers are made of sturdier stuff. Build those telescope, and search for livable Super-Earths. They are out there. Tax those financiers behind Forbes and all plutocrats. Or, rather, tax their robots: most orders in the financial markets are passed by robots which trade in a way that leads the markets: 90% of the robotic orders to buy or sell are cancelled before being enacted.

Build telescopes, not cynicism!

Patrice Ayme’