The Habitability of the Early Titan Ocean

Dragonfly and Titan’s Astrobiology

The lead scientist on the Dragonfly Mission to Titan, Dr. Zibi Turtle, standing in front of a model of Dragonfly.

The purpose of this blog is to explore an idea I had about how we can understand the astrobiology of Titan’s early system, specifically in it’s oceans. Not a lot is known about Titan’s early system because it’s surface is very young (at most 1Gyr). Nevertheless, loose constraints have been proposed for Titan’s history, and from those, there is the potential to explore the deeper implications on the habitability of Titan. Dragonfly is planning to visit Titan in the 2030s primarily to investigate its potential to harbor, or foster, life. Titan’s conditions make it rich in organics, and when mixed with liquid water, biomolecules, like amino-acids form. I’ve talked about this before, but here I want to think about a different aspect of Titan’s habitability. That is its ocean.

Titan has great conditions for the origin of life. It does not have great conditions to sustain it. In the melt of it’s impact craters, liquid water may flourish for decades, even centuries, but it won’t last. It’s ocean is likely beneath a 100km thick ice crust. The ability for life at the surface to make it down is unlikely. On going work has shown that it is possible, but it’s still limited. However, it has been hypothesized that Titan’s shell hasn’t always been so thick. A thinner shell will likely be more apt at overturning (like say Europa). This would suggest a great deal of mixing. Unfortunately, we don’t even know if Titan had it’s large reserve of organics during this time. If it did, the higher impact rates likely facilitated a great deal of mixing. We just don’t have the data needed to know this for sure, and we may never. Nevertheless, we have made a great deal of progress at expanding the picture of Titan’s past, and despite the limitations, I think we can make that picture a little clearer.

Episodic Outgassing

Figure 2 of Tobie et al 2006 of the potential history and outgassing of methane from Titan’s interior.

A while back I wrote blog post about Titan’s likely history of outgassing driven by it’s evolving interior. This is likely the biggest hurdle in constraining Titan’s history, but it is necessary to get a good estimate of organic production. Therefore, the first step in getting that estimate is to consider the various processes that would have instigated the outgassing of methane. This can likely be modeled, assessing the stability of methane and/or other volatiles in the interior. Once the most likely causes are constrained, we next have to consider the timing of said causes. The evolution of the core is something that can be modeled. It can be constrained, at least to a range of possible scenarios. This might lead to a range of potential outgassing profiles, but as with anything, it will provide limits by which to work from. I recognize that these cannot be constrained absolutely, but we can create reasonable scenarios, based on evidence, by which to work from. This could be a project unto itself: categorizing the possible range of outgassing events in Titan’s history. From there, it’s a photochemical problem.

Photochemical Production and Deposition

Figure 4 of Krasnopolsky 2009 showing ionization rates for different sources at different depths

Models exist to predict the production rate of various organics in todays conditions. Of course, to understand production through time, these models would need to account for changing solar radiation and atmospheric conditions. The former is likely the easiest to constrain. The latter would likely entail using available information to make predictions of how atmospheres would act under various methane loads. For example, Tobie et al 2006 explains how the initial outgas would saturate the atmosphere and soak the surface with methane. Models can be used to predict the thermal profile of the atmosphere, which would effect it’s thickness. Therefore, it should be possible to ascertain an estimate of an atmospheric profile to model production under. This process would be repeated at different points in time (or possible designed to evolve with time), and, if feasible, performed for a range of outgassing profiles.

A more difficult task may be to predict deposition rates. This has been attempted to some extent (e.g. Lara et al., 1993), but this is a process that is not well understood (or at least that is my impression). Furthermore, slight fluctuations in atmospheric conditions, likely well within our ability to constrain it, may effect the process, but ultimately, we will have to make the best estimate possible.

Impact Cratering of Surface Overturn

Figure 10 from Korycansky and Zahnle 2005 of Titan cratering rates

Cratering rates are one of the more well understand aspects of Titan’s history. With this, we can use existing models (or perform our own) to predict how much overturn occurs for impactors of varying size. This will allow for estimations of total mass transfer over time. Alternatively, it may be as simple as estimating the rate of complete surface turnover. This may be one of the easier tasks. We take a given shell thickness and impact it with impactors of a range of sizes. Each impactor can be estimated to overturn some area of the surface. A Monte Carlo approach (if I am remembering that correctly) could be used to predict how long it would take for the entire surface to be overturned.

Chemical Evolution in Titan’s Ocean

With that, we would have an estimate of organic material transferred, and from there, we can predict the rate of changes and the abundance of organic material. This is necessary information to understand 1) how likely life is to arise in this environment and 2) how sustainable an environment it is through time. In my imaginary proposal, this would be less of a dedicated project and more of a large scale overview of habitability of the environment using existing information about the evolution of organics at these conditions. As for sustainability, abundance of organics may decide whether life can thrive given the resources available.

Concluding thoughts

I recognize that this post contains both a lot and very little at the same time. This is likely an impossible thing to try and accomplish, nor would many be likely to consider it a valuable use of resources given all the unknowns. I still think it presents a fascinating problem. Like many big problems, it would necessarily be incremental, either performed by many, or slowly by one. I’m positing this because I’m finishing my PhD (hopefully) in a year, and I need to start thinking about post-doc ideas. This problem stuck out to me. This blog post is my first attempt to really think through it and put pen to paper (if very loosely). This is an embarrassingly outlandish idea riddled with problems, so hopefully there is something here I can work with because I am honestly terrified to discuss it with my lab tomorrow.

Madam Speaker by Susan Page ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My interest in Madam Speaker and Susan Page

Susan Page of USA Today

Susan Page is an American journalist and biographer and the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today. Prior to Madam Speaker, Page published another biography titled, the Matriarch, a biography on Barbara Bush. I haven’t read this biography, but it is on my to-be-read shelf. I have a great admiration for Nancy Pelosi, which I will explore in a bit, but the big reason I wanted to read Madam Speaker (and eventually the Matriarch) was because of my history with Susan Page. She isn’t a major celebrity journalist. That is, she doesn’t host any television segments or any podcasts. However, she is a semi-frequent guest on some public radio/broadcasting shows. In fact, it was on NPR’s the Diane Rehm Show (now the 1A) that I first heard her discuss various political topics. I think this was around 2011-2012, when I first started listen and it made me want to be the kind of person who listens to NPR. I figured, I could try. Next thing you know, I actually really liked it.) The Diane Rehm Show was the first show I really became attached to, but in 2016, Diane Rehm retired. I really hoped Page would be her replacement (as did many others), but it went to a new face. All in all, I really like where the 1A is now, but it left me wishing there was more amazing reporting by Page to enjoy. Which is why, when I learned that she had written a book (the Matriarch), I knew I had to read it.

Diane Rehm of the Diane Rehm Show

Not long after buying the Matriarch, I realized Page was writing a new book. I did what I often do; I looked for an advanced reader copy. Sadly, it wasn’t on NetGalley, so I emailed the publisher. They didn’t answer. A few months later, I sent a snarky email (that I now wish was more cordial) about how the least they could do is say no. I quickly got a response apologizing, explaining there had been a change in employment that lead to my email being lost. The representative said “Sure!” to my request and asked for my address. I was shocked. I’ve never actually gotten a physical review copy before, so many many thanks to the publisher both for the opportunity and sheer thrill of getting to review the physical copy.

My thoughts on Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

As I alluded to before, I have great respect for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I say that because I know many (on the left and right) have great animosity toward her). I recognize she is the quintessential politician, but I always thought there was more to admire than to hate. Even her fiercest opponents acknowledge and respect that Speaker Pelosi. Many on the right characterize her as a far leftist, but in modern times, many on the left say she hasn’t gone far enough. The tendency in politics to draw a binary is very strong. A person is good or bad with no room for complexity. I am far from unbiased, but I try to acknowledge that fact. I could go all in about the ins and outs of what I think and why, but there is nothing I can say that isn’t already explained by Page, more coherently than I could ever could.

Page vs Speaker Pelosi

Let me be clear, I don’t think Page wrote this biography to bolster the Speaker’s image. Nevertheless, it’s hard to read this and not see the respect, and likely admiration, that Page has for the Speaker. Regardless of if you agree with Pelosi’s politics, her achievements as speaker are unmatched in recent history. There will be those who disagree, but it’s important to separate animosity for politics from animosity for Pelosi. Furthermore, there will be those that judge Pelosi in a way they never would a man doing the same things. When I speak of her achievements, it assumes a mutual respect, if not for Pelosi’s politics, then of the system of governance itself and what that system is capable of in it’s most idealistic state. I often think of Leslie Knope (in the shows later seasons) and her pure belief of what government can do even if it fails to be as pure as we would like. I recognize many do not hold that view, but you don’t have to agree to appreciate why or how one might find Speaker Pelosi admirable.

Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation

Overall, this book is about about Pelosi’s life as a whole, but it feels centered on her time in politics. Pelosi’s early life is merely a filter by which to better understand Pelosi as a politician. However, it’s no secret that Pelosi is very guarded. Page compares Speaker Pelosi with First Lady Barbara Bush when she asks to see their transcripts from high school. The first lady laughed at the triviality of it; the Speaker scoffed and refused. That guarded persona is present throughout the book. Page’s attempt to work around it is one of the best parts about the book. Early on in Pelosi’s life, it seems hard for Page to separate fact from narrative when the facts are so sparse, but as the Speaker gets further into her political life, Page is able to dig deeper into every situation beyond what Pelosi is saying in their interviews.

Then congressional candidate Nancy Pelosi waves in front of her headquarters in San Francisco on April 7, 1987.

This likely makes the Speaker sound calculating or deceptive, but I would argue against that, nor does Page portray the Speaker that way. All Page does is present the Speaker as she is in a way that is intended to appreciate the subtleties of her character and motivations. She never tells you what to think, but she does her best to provide you with the information for you to make your assessment yourself. I’m leaving with an emboldened respect for the Speaker, but I’d be naïve to think my own bias doesn’t shape my view of the book. I wonder what others will think. Pelosi isn’t an angel, but no one is. The fact is, this book, in my view, conveys the fundamental motivations of the Speaker that feel true and pure.

Reflecting on Madam Speaker and Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Taylor Testifying Before the House Budget Committee on HIV/AIDS Funding, March 6, 1990

One thing this book achieved was convincing me that Pelosi is far more liberal than I gave her credit for. Time and time again she has advocated for liberal causes, from the moment she took office. Even with the healthcare bill, I got a different perspective with this book. She very much wanted a much more liberal version of the bill. She was not happy with the bill that got through. However, a series of unfortunate political events stole that win from her. She was so close and a small shift in power made it impossible. In fact, everyone was ready to give up. Obama’s own administration wanted to get past the failure. The fact that we have anything is only because the Speaker chose to do what could be done. I knew she was responsible, but I never truly appreciated just how far she wanted to go or how close she got to it. Speaker Pelosi is the epitome of what I want in a leader. She is competent, effective, and realistic. She doesn’t waste tears on what might have been; she asks what can be. She is not a god. Although, what she’s able to achieve sometimes gives that impression.

Speaker Pelosi, like Secretary Clinton, is not very personable, nor is she a very open person. Human instinct is to distrust those kind of people. That doesn’t mean our instinct is always trustworthy. So much of the good that has happened in the last few decades is thanks to Speaker Pelosi. This book conveys that, and if you’re not liberal, it conveys that Pelosi is a formidable opponent that the left is lucky to have had.

To read or not to read

illustration New York Times Book Review

From an average reader’s perspective, I thought it was written well. I listened along with Page’s narration of the book, and it was just as well narrated. Page uses her journalistic voice, but she isn’t afraid to insert emotion or inflection where necessary. What’s more, the book was just as engrossing as it was fascinating. I sat there reading about everything Pelosi did during Trump’s presidency, eager to find out if she was successful, only to remind myself, you lived through this, and it failed. That really speaks to how well the book is crafted, for me to feel like I am reliving this but from the Speaker’s perspective. For those of you who don’t read a lot of political nonfiction, I think this will be an easy book to read and enjoy.

Big picture, I’d give this between 4.5-5 stars (final rating determined after sitting on it a bit). Anyone interested in Speaker Pelosi, either as a supporter or an avid opponent, should consider reading this. I can’t promise you’ll leave with as positive a view of her as I have, but you’ll leave with a better understanding of who Speaker Nancy Pelosi is.

Upgrading to an M1 MacBook Air

This summer I ended the year with a little extra cash on hand than I expected from my yearly expenses. As I am prone to do, I got the desire to splurge. My mind went rolling. A drone? A new PS5 (I still want that one, despite my inconsistency using my PS4)? A new iPad? My last iPad is from 2013, and it doesn’t even get updates anymore. That’s when my eyes got set on an iPad Pro.

Upon a bit of research, I learned that it can’t do the things I need it to do (coding, modeling, etc.), but it isn’t for lack of power. The iPad Pro has Apple’s newest self designed chip, M1. Realistically, the chip wasn’t that revolutionary. It was really just the next generation of Apple’s iPhones and iPads that had their own Apple made chip. Over the years, its performance has gotten progressively better, even outpacing Intel’s own chips. The revolution is that it is now the chip in Apple’s Mac computers. Now, it’s marketed as the power of the Mac inside of the iPad (not that you can do anything with it), but really, it’s the power of the iPad inside of the Mac.

A graph of Apple’s in-house chip’s performance change with time compared to Intel.

Objectively, the M1 chip isn’t some power house of core’s and ram. It’s actually rather tame by today’s standards. It’s true magic comes from it’s efficiency that it gets from integrating the CPU, GPU, and RAM into one chip. Everything is faster and more efficient. This has lead to Apple’s lowest Mac’s matching (and sometimes besting) it’s highest end intel alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t invincible. It can’t handle huge graphics needs or extreme computing, but anything you could do on Apple’s MacBook Pro 16 inch you can do on the M1 (even on the MacBook Air, without a fan).

That said, the M1 isn’t meant to replace Apple’s highest end Macs. In fact, it’s highly rumored that a much more powered M1X chip, with double or even quadruple graphics power, is imminent. This is what I want. It was highly speculated that these would be announced at Apple’s June event, but it never happened. We may be looking at an October or November release. I didn’t want to wait (out of excitement and promising my little brother my gaming laptop to use with his new VR headset). I decided to settle on M1, and when the next one comes out, I’ll assess my finances and decide if I want to upgrade (either with a second device or selling this one).

I decided to buy the MacBook Air, which may be a surprise to anyone familiar with the Air. It isn’t known for its power. Historically, it is slow and way too hot because of how compact it is. With this new chip, it easily rivals the Pro and even the desktop alternatives. The trick is it doesn’t have a fan, so when it comes to heavy prolonged usage you will see minimal performance loss due to thermal throttling. That’s harder to achieve than you think, and it’s likely minimal power loss anyway. Everything you can do on the Pro you can do on the Air nearly perfectly. If something crashes on the Air, it will probably crash in the Pro. The only thing I haven’t managed to do is play Call of Duty because the CPU gets too hot. I can easily run my research modeling and even do 4k video editing. There are plenty of benchmarks showing that on YouTube.

The purpose of this post is to compare the performance of this computer to my other computers. I’ve taken 4 of the most intense tasks I’ve done in the last year or so and reproduced them on each computer with timestamps to measure each computer’s progress. Before we get into those, let’s stop and consider which computers I have to compare.

Predator Helios 300Intel Core i7 (6 Cores)NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 (6GB RAM)16
Surface Book (First Generation)Intel Core i5 (4 Cores)NVIDIA GeForce dGPU (1GB)8
Mac Mini 2014Intel Core i5 (2 Cores)Intel Iris (1.5 GB)8
M1 MacBook AirM1 (8c)M1 (8c*)16
The computers I work on (or have worked on)

My Predator Helios 300 computer was a gaming laptop I bought back in 2018. I don’t do a lot of gaming on PC (I’m a playstation player), but I wanted to give it a try. Plus, I thought it would be nice power to have, especially for my TV. Sadly, it wasn’t as great as I hoped. Despite its spec-ed out graphics, it blipped a lot connected to my 4k TV. It struggled with Photoshop and Premiere pro. You might ask, why use both at the same time? Well, I processed a video while making clip art for YouTube. Little did I know, the hours it took to process a video was not normal, or at least not anymore with the M1. This computer is still great, as you will see in the benchmarks; it comes the closest to the M1 in many aspects. Nevertheless, I was itching for an upgrade and my little brother wanted a gaming PC for the Oculus Rift he got for Xmas. That’s why I decided not to hold off for the M1X.

The Surface Book was the first generation tablet-laptop combo from Microsoft that I got in 2016. It is a great computer in a lot of ways. The screen was beautiful, and the sound was amazing. It was great for note taking and had a good processor for it’s time. Considering it’s compact size, it had decent graphics (1GB RAM) too. I paid for the dedicated graphics in the keyboard. That was still 5 years ago, and as you will see, it has aged. It also has (and had) it’s share of issues. The screen always detached from it’s keyboard base. It got very hot, and that caused the lithium batteries to expand and wrap the screen. I used it that way for 2 or more years because I assumed it was the screen that was thermally warped. I realized while searching for a new laptop that it was the batteries that was the issue. The computer wasn’t safe to keep using. I ended up ripping the screen off and taking the batteries out. It still works (with a broken but visible screen). Still, it doesn’t work great for my everyday use. It’s slow for research and virtually useless for Youtube. YouTube was another reason I wanted the M1, but I will get to that.

Lastly, I have access to a Mac Mini (2014 edition) in our research lab. It’s been a decent computer for the five years I’ve been here. It might be time for Catherine to consider upgrading (and the M1 isn’t a bad upgrade 😉). In fact, the M1 seems to have double the performance of the 2018 Mac Mini based on most benchmarks. It has its own dedicated graphics (1.5GB RAM), but it has only two cores in its processor. Those cores are easily used. For these tests, I made sure to close out over as much as I could (even OneDrive and google remote desktop). Of course, I don’t think it’s wrong to expect some level of multitasking on the work computer–something it isn’t very good at. One of my goals in this post is to demonstrate that an upgrade is warranted. I won’t lie (I can’t without fudging the results); it isn’t the worst computer in the mix. Then again, that’s a low bar. The Mac Mini is the absolute best value Mac. It has the same specs as the MacBooks and other M1 Macs, but it’s the most inexpensive and with better cooling than the laptops. Sure, the boost in performance is minimal, but it’s the best way to optimize performance. You can also get up to 16GB of RAM to help future proof the laptop. It’s worth noting, while the M1 is the first generation of it’s kind, the kind of jump in performance we and efficiency is largely due to the transition to the integrated chip. The new chips will always be better, but this is going to maintain its performance edge for quite a while. If you’re willing to invest a bit more, there will likely be a Mac Mini Pro with the M1X by early next year (if not late this year), but you don’t need to spend that much to see a huge boost in performance.

I wend the M1 MacBook Air 8c CPU and 7c GPU. The tests I have here are for the same specs with 8c GPU. I bought a spec-ed out Air but decided it wasn’t worth spending so much more for a minimal performance boost. 7c GPU isn’t going to be out-down in any significant way with one more core. I started to get an 8GB RAM option; literally bought it and returned it. I figured it was worth testing it, but I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Everything I’ve heard suggests the M1 is really good at optimizing with less to give the performance of what normally requires more. Still, I didn’t want to risk it. I don’t plan to stick with this as my main laptop for an extended period of time (either get a secondary device or sell this one), but I also want to be prepared if that ends up needing to happen. I hate the idea of upgrading to lower specs (which I’ve done with the GPU). I’d like to be able to do more as time progresses. I’d also like room to have a solid virtual Windows Machine if need be). I ended up getting a refurbished base MacBook Air (i.e. 7c GPU, 256GB SSD) but with double the base RAM (i.e. 16GB vs 8GB) and I did it for only $140 USD more. Normally double RAM costs $200, but I got 10% discount in the Apple Education Store and a larger discount because is refurbished. I could run these specs and see if the single core makes a difference, but I don’t think it’s worth it. These results still prove my point that an upgrade was warranted.

My first test wasn’t an intense task (despite what I said before). I wanted to compare performance on basic tasks, so I timed how long each computer took to plot my most recent results for my Pluto research. The table below shows the M1 doing the best followed by my Predator, the Mini, then the Surface Book. This one was easy enough to redo, so I also show the results for my final MacBook Air (with 7c GPU) and it was about 10-20ms slower. These were all done with no multitasking. That said, I did have a statistics program running on the Macs to see what this (and the other tests) used CPU, GPU and Memory-wise. All in all, this may seem small, but small things add up. The M1 chip makes everyday tasks way quicker. This is one of it’s best features because was much as we love power, we aren’t running high end tasks 24-7.

ComputerTime (ms)
Predator Helios 300172
Surface Book (First Generation)313
Mac Mini 2014287
M1 MacBook Air121/~140
Time to plot some figures I made to present my most recent results.

Now let’s take a step back from my Pluto Results and see what it was like doing the research. In this first tasks, I timed how long it took to load the DEM data from .txt files into MATLAB, saving them as sorted .mat files to use to get results. Every computer has an SSD main drive (which I made a point to run the models on for optimal performance), except for the Mac Mini which has a dated “Fusion Drive”. I’m not sure what that is exactly. In addition to hard drive speed, this is just a matter of loading and processing large amounts of data. As before, the M1 did the best, being more than 4x faster than my Surface Book and 15x to 25x faster than the Predator and Mini respectively. Note, “Step” is just a random location that I placed a time stamp. I didn’t have an easy metric to use for this comparison.

Once the .txt files were loaded into MATLAB, I loaded my crater list from ArcGIS. This was just a .txt file with crater sizes and locations. Then I use the size and location to pull DEM data from that crater (and it’s terrain). Then I turned the 2D DEM into 8 DEM profiles, saving these for each crater. I did this by crater, marking how long it took to process each crater. The craters are sorted from smallest (800) to largest (1), so you can see the computers speed through the first craters and slow as it gets to the larger craters that have large DEM files with longer processing times. The Surface Book is by far the worst. The others are more closely packed, but the M1 still out did the others at ~3.5hrs vs ~4.25hrs and ~5.25 hrs for the Predator and Mini respectively. This kind of speed is not trivial.

Loading DEM data for 800 craters (#1-800)

Lastly, we take a step away from my Pluto work to take another look at my Titan melt pond modeling. While the other tests look at data processing, this looks at modeling. These models never push the CPU to make processing, but the differences in performance are abundantly clear nevertheless. It was a surprise to see the 2 core CPU in the Mac Mini out perform the other computers, but it still pales in comparison to the M1 which completed a 5m model in less than half an hour. That is an hour shorter than the Mini, an 1.5hrs quicker than my gaming laptop, and more than 2 hours faster than my Surface Book. This was particularly interesting for a few reasons. I always wondered which computer was quickest with this model because I had to do it so many times. While my first round is finished, I will be doing this again which is why it is nice to have a faster computer to do it. Although, I wouldn’t mind that M1x for it too. For a bit more context, this model is an ice model that tracks a layer of water as it is freezing. The flattening of the lines isn’t a performance issue. As the ice thickness it takes more time steps to freeze at deeper depths. These results were by far the most shocking. I just didn’t expect the M1 to perform that much better. Honestly, I thought I made a mistake, but I don’t think it is. The computer is just that good.

Modeling an ice sheet over a liquid water layer as it freezes from 5m thick to 10m thick.

In conclusion, the M1 works wonders for with my research. My research isn’t the most performance heavy, but clearly it had room to improve. Part of me wonders if I even need a computer with M1X processor. I really want one in hopes it will help, but the MacBook Air already works wonders and without a fan to keep it cool. The beautiful, compact, quiet, and cool (temperature) MacBook Air is quite the computer. You don’t know just how annoying heat and fan is until you live life without it. Another reason this computer is so great, as I alluded to earlier, is because of how much easier it is for my YouTube work. My Predator worked. It was easy enough to edit, but it shuddered often and took a very long time to export the project into a final video file. Now, I am experimenting with filming and editing in 4k on a MacBook Air with no problem! It is so seamless. I have been in such a slump with YouTube and editing on the M1 MacBook Air was a genuine pleasure. I don’t see the M1X improving my YouTube needs, but it would expand my abilities for research. That may mean its faster with my current tasks or allow for even more intense task to consider exploring. My dream is to have a Mac powerful enough to do all my work and Windows based tasks on a virtual platform (e.g. ArcGIS). All we can do is wait and see. Will I upgrade or will I decide my MacBook Air is all I really need? Although, that doesn’t do much for you now does it? Maybe you ought to upgrade too.

What I’d like to read in June | Pride Month TBR

Today I wanted to have a relaxed blog to discuss the books I’d like to read in June. May was not a great month for reading. I’ve been in the US with family which meant my routine was messed up. My routine is how I manage to read so much. It isn’t always easy, and going from a year of isolation to living with people just disrupted that routine. As a result I finished one book, How to Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. It was the Hugo (and maybe Nebula?) winning Novella for 2020. It was great, but that was an order of magnitude less pages than I expected to read.

It happens. I am trying not to stress too much about it; all I can do is march forward. Nevertheless, I have at least one month left in Georgia (if in a different environment now), so I may not read as much as I would like. I have a plan, but it has been significantly shortened based on what I initially had hope to read. We will see if I get to all of them. I am hoping that the Queer Lit Readathon will help encourage me to read, at least for that one week of June (6th to 12th). I could probably read 3-5 books during that time if I am able to pivot from “visit mode” to “reading mode” for that week. Outside of that week, I need to finish the two other books I started in May. One is very long; the other was a book I was buddy reading with a group of people and the timing wasn’t right. More about those below.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

The Tale of Genji is considered by many to be the oldest novel ever written dating back to the year 1000. It’s exact date is not known because it was written in almost a serialized fashion by a nobel woman, Murasaki Shikibu (with some debate on if that was the person). It follows the son of an emperor, Genji who gains a reputation for being a womanizer. For more of my thoughts, keep up with my YouTube videos. However, this examines the life and culture of the Japanese Empire during this time. It is a fascinating work that has been more compelling than I originally anticipated it to be. The reason I haven’t finished it (in addition to the change of environment) is it’s length. The book is maybe ~1300 pages, but it is compacted. The audiobook is 72 hours long. Even listening at double speed, it is long. I tried pacing myself…that fell through. To put it in perspective, a modern epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson is about half as long as this book. It has become somewhat repetitive, but I still want to give it a try.

Survivor by Octavia E Butler

Survivor is book four in the Patternist series by Octavia E Butler (who is OEB?). It follows a group of gifted individuals, similar to X-Men, as they are controlled by a problematic god-like figure. Each book is a standalone, and every one is slightly different. Survivor is very different from the rest. In fact, OEB calls it her Star Trek novel, and that wasn’t a compliment. This book was published once discontinued at OEB’s request. She is immensely dissatisfied by it. I managed to get my hands on an ebook copy by Sistah Scifi for the OEB Slow Read. Part of this journey was to analysis it and understand why OEB didn’t like it. If you are OEB fan, I highly recommend checking out the discussion we had about it on ONYX Pages. It is pretty short, and I hope to finish it before the Queer Lit Readathon. The only reason I didn’t was because I was reading along with other people and the last session was when I was traveling to my dad’s which proved harder to navigate than I had hoped.

Queer Lit Readathon

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

This is Rivers Solomon’s newest book. If you don’t know of Solomon, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are, in a lot of ways, the modern equivalent to OEB. Their writing is deliberate and precise while simultaneously being engrossing. this is one I have meant to read for months because I got an e-arc for it, but it is out now. It follows a young woman who has just escaped a religious cult, 7 months pregnant. This fantasy-scifi-horror novel follows her as she tries to survive with them. Previously, Solomon has explored the history of race and racism, patriarchy, and gender (Solomon is theirself nonbinary). It will be interested to see how those intersect with religion in this work.

Into the Drowning Deep (and Rolling in the Deep) by Mira Grant

Mira Grant is the pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, one of, if not my favorite author who does excellent Sci-Fi and fantasy and horror. Into the Drowning Deep is a science journey to explore (or that finds) mermaids. It follows to twins, and I don’t know much more beyond that. I’ve heard this leans heavy into the science side, so I am psyched. Rolling in the Deep is the prequel short story or novella that I would like to read in conjunction with this.

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Wild Beauty is one of the few novels I intend to go in completely blind about. McLemore is a young adult nonbinary author who writes stories that use magical realism and often tell, or retell, a fairytale type narrative. They are one of the few young adult writers who I enjoy because it is unique its writing style and always remarkably beautiful in its narrative style.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is another author is rising in the ranks to be a favorite (honestly all the authors in my Queer lit readathon are). Emezi is also nonbinary, and like McLamore, has a uniquely beautiful writing style. This book is a scifi-horror tale that seems to mirror the Tuskegee study that used and abused black participants in the name of science. I have heard great things about this one and am very excited to get to it.

James Baldwin Novel

Back in February I decided to read one of Baldwin’s early works from this Library of America Collection. I decided to pick using a quantum number generator which ended fairly well. I ended up reading his short story collection Going to Meet the Man, and I can’t stress how shocked I was at how amazing that collection was. I was really nervous because Baldwin is such a huge author, and first impressions are really important. A bad one may mean I ignore his other works because I expect them to have the same effect on me. I am beyond excited to read another book by him. I intend to use the QRNG again, but I won’t choose until later. If you have a vote, feel free to comment because I may make audience choice an option for the QRNG.

NetGalley Reads?

Lastly, I have a lot of e-ARCs I need to read and review. My reading slump this last month will most effect reviewing these because they are a lower priority to my physical TBR. Nevertheless, if this month proves to be a much more successful month, the next book(s) I pick up after this list will be my NetGalley set, likely queer books.

Gutter Child by Jael Richardson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Gutter Child was a fascinating and amazing book by Canadian author Jael Richardson. This is Richardson’s first novel, preceded only by her memoir, The Stone Thrower. I had not heard much about this book before it’s release. It was from Richardson herself that I heard of it. She was leading a discussion on the 2020 Canadian Reads competition on her Instagram feed, and it was there that she mentioned her forthcoming book next year. I did not look into what the book was about–not even its genre. However, I ordered it and requested in on NetGalley to review because of how much I appreciated her discussion on the Canada Reads novels. Fast forward to 2021 and imagine my surprise upon learning that this was the type of science fiction light dystopia that I really like in books. For whatever reason, I was expecting some mundane narrative, historical or contemporary. I was thrilled to learn it was more speculative because of how thought provoking these types of books often are. Right away, I realized this was going to be an awesome book from the writing to genre and topic.

The book is set in a fictional world with similarities to our own. The Gutter people are a group of indigenous people who were colonized by a Euro-type settler. By the time our story begins, we see the Gutter people segregated and discriminator against, forced to live as slaves to work off the debt their ancestors accrued when they fought back against the settlers. Our perspective follows that of a young girl who was taken from the Gutter people and given to one of the Colonizers to raise as their own. There are heavy racial themes in this book, and I believe our main character is brown skinned. However, race is not the key identifier for this caste system. Rather, Gutter people have marks embedded on their hands.

The story follows our young protagonist as she’s forced to learn the truth of her world, a truth she has been shielded from by her adoptive mother. The story is fast paced and depressing. As our main character learns the truths of her world so do we. This book is an analysis of the horrors done by colonizers throughout history, to bother black and indigenous peoples. In fact, some of the ideas explored are of crimes that are, at best, only recently stopped. It’s this mirroring of real world issues–both modern and historical–that really makes the book shine.

Since I read the book, I’ve heard several great reviews. Njeri from ONYX Pages review is one checking out for sure!

Finalizing the work on Pluto’s Craters

Examples of volatiles modifying Pluto’s surface.

Way back in March I wrote about my upcoming work at LPSC. I recommend you check that out for a full introduction to this, but I will give a quick run down before I get into the major details of this post. Pluto’s crust is thought to be entirely water ice. However, the extremely low temperatures lead to other ices being stable on the surface. The primary ices are carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), and nitrogen (N2). We know ice can be very malleable on geologic timescales (e.g. glaciers on earth, craters on Europa), but the rates of medication vary based on the ice parameters and the conditions of the surface. Water ice on Pluto is extremely rigid and strong, but the same cannot be said for the other ices. They are both more prone to viscous relaxation (i.e. flattening due to gravity), and at least nitrogen is known to cycle from the surface and into the atmosphere (and losing some of its supply in the process). My work posits impact craters as a means to constrain the ways in which these ices would contribute to the modification of craters. As I discuss in my previous post, the two processes primarily effecting impact craters is escape erosion (like nitrogen) and relaxation. The extent to which this modifies the craters will depend on what ice the crater is made of. My work using the degradational state (how shallow is the crater) to constrain what type of ice the crater must be formed in, and we use the surficial compositional data to test (or more aptly, constrain) what the ice is made of. This gives us information about the volatile content in the region of the crater and the history of these volatiles.

A sketch of an upcoming figure where I discuss the way would expect impact craters to modify based on the type of ice it forms in. Left is right after formation and right is theoretically today. Orange Highlighter is used to demonstrate where would expect to measure “pure” ice on the surface, and orange stripes are used to show where we would expect it to be biased by surficial deposits.

In my previous post, we conclude that H2O, N2 and CH4 ices are the most likely to have craters form within them. In my figure I show a serious of possible scenarios. 1) a crater formed in a very thick layer of N2. Over time this would easily relax (flatten) and the N2 is almost certainly lost as well, leaving no trace today. 2) The same situation occurs, but in CH4 ice. This is both stronger and less likely to escape away. Nevertheless, it will still relax on the timescales of the solar system (i.e. Pluto), so we would expect to see a crater formed in CH4 ice that is shallower than expected. 3) Imagine scenario 1 but the crater dips into the bedrock H2O ice, creating a crater formed in an upper layer of N2 ice and a base of water ice. The water ice is too strong to relax, and the N2 will likely be loss. Therefore, we are likely left with a crater that appears to be formed in H2O but is significantly degraded. 4) we reimagine scenario 3 with CH4 instead of N2, and the upper layer doesn’t escape. In fact, we are left with a pristine crater that appears to be formed in CH4 ice. Then, 5) (not shown) we have the standard scenario of a crater formed in pure water ice which would be unlikely to modify at all.

As the title suggests, I am working on finalizing this work and compile it into a publisher manuscript. I had completed most of the work by LPSC. There were two major steps left for me to complete it. 1) I needed to figure out how small to go in the craters I measured; I only measured down to 15 km sized craters because of time constraints. 2) I needed to add a step in the code to remove the terrain slope (large scale topographic variations that craters likely impacted into). This would essentially put the terrain at ~0 km and leave only the crater topography. I did this when I measured Titan impact crater depths, but I didn’t for Pluto do to time constraints. This is a major step because it requires me to redo all the measurements I’ve done. This isn’t hard, just tedious. At 8 profiles for each crater with over 300 hundred craters, that’s thousands of crater profile measurements. Alternatively, I could use the profile positions (assuming I saved them) that I measured for each profile and automate it to find the height at those same positions. I would love some feedback on that idea, but right now I am planning to do it all manually. I have added the step in the code to remove the terrain slope which leaves the step of processing the craters again (one way, or another).

Sadly, we are not done yet. After presenting at LPSC, my conclusions prompted me to consider a major assumption of mine. That is, are the surficial composition measurements reflective of the underlying ice? The surface is covered with material, including surficial ices. I posit in this work that there are only so many possible formations a crater can form, and it speaks to the type of ice it needs for that crater shape to be viable. The compositional data is intended to act as further confirmation, with limited reach. Nevertheless, I wanted a way to demonstrate this is a fair assumption, so I started to consider what type of measurements I could take to test this claim. Let’s take another look at my figure above.

My figure demonstrates where we would expect to measure the highest amounts of the ice the crater is formed in with orange highlighter. In the areas of orange strips, this is expected to be covered, at least in part, but surficial deposits. My work at LPSC considered the crater composition of the rim to rim. That is, we would expect to include some of the purist and most biased regions of the crater. If I want to test whether these measurements are reflective of the crater ice layer, I should be able to measure the composition in each region and show the rims are richer in the predicted ice than the floor of the crater. With 300+ craters, the big question is how do I do that? I could map precise regions in ArcGIS, but that would take so much time. Still, it is likely the most accurate approach. The alternative, that I am currently working on, is to import the data to MATLAB. I can automate the process and take measurements of set sizes around the rims (10%, 20%, etc). Except, I don’t know how wide to make this. Nevertheless, I am currently in the process of doing this. The other option is to process the eight topographic profiles and mark where I want the rim and flow to be measured. This would take about as much time as in ArcGIS. I wish I could just do that with the points I use to take the depth measurements, but the region where I tell it to look for the peak rim is not necessarily what I would constitute the entire rim. Why? Simply put, profiles get really weird.

Now, here I am. The main purpose of this post is to think through what I am doing and request feedback. Although, after writing this I am beginning to think the best option is to map these regions in ArcGIS but only do it for the largest 100 craters (or some sufficiently large sample size). I don’t necessarily have to test all the craters, but in this scenarios I might want to focus on the craters richest in N2 and CH4, seeing as these are the ones where the assumption applies. Now I am very disheartened because I’ve spent days working to do this process in MATLAB, and I am seriously considering switching to ArcGIS because I literally talked myself into it. Let me know what you think!

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

3.5 Stars out of 5 stars

A great discussion about the history of String Theory and the recent ideas in the field

I’m a fan of String Theory, but I came to this book more than two decades after it was written. Because of that, one thing bugged me throughout this book. How much has actually changed in one of the most fringe areas of physics? The book starts out with a recap of basic physics (i.e. quantum vs relativity). The problem is I am familiar with all the ideas explored in this book. I’ve read all but Brian Greene‘s newest book, Until the End of Time, before this, and that, coupled with all the other material I’ve consumed, made the recap feel more distracting than anything. While I am a big proponent of constantly reconsuming things, especially ideas outside your realm of expertise, this book is necessarily less well developed as everything that has come since. The sign of a good scientist and author is to learn how to communicate better with time. It isn’t particularly bad, but it was easy for me to zone out.

Clip from “Loose Ends” where Greene gives basic intro to what String Theory is.

Then we get into string theory. Even here, most of the major ideas I was familiar with. I was hoping to leave this book with a better appreciation of the finer details of the theory, but I found it was most effective at communicating the broad ideas. Then the finer details were really hard to get through and failed to make a lasting impression. I feel like this book would have been a much more positive experience if I had read it earlier in life because it would have been an excellent introduction to the field and precursor to Greene‘s own follow up book, The Fabric of the Cosmos. I do think it is time I return to Greene‘s other novel, The Hidden Reality, which was the first book of his I ever read; that was with very little background.

If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, I highly recommend watching the Loose Ends video I posted at the top of this post. For a brief review, string theory is a theory that the smallest things of nature are these tiny vibrating strings of energy, where the vibration of each string is what defines the type of particle it is (e.g. quarks, neutrinos, electrons, etc.). These strings can perfectly reproduce our current model of particle physics, but it comes at a cost. 1) it requires the existence of many more dimensions, and 2) it suggest all of our particles have a twin symmetric particle. Why don’t we see these other dimensions? They are small and folded in onto one another. If you have a problem with the idea of tiny dimensions, I found it helpful to remember our current 3D space used to me much much more constricted before they began to expand. They don’t say this explicitly, but my mind figures, perhaps the process of expansion only applied to the 3 dimensions we see. I wonder what Greene would say to that logic? Take it with a grain of salt. This theory is fundamentally mathematical, and we have yet to show it experimentally.

An example visualization of how smaller dimensions may be curled up on themselves out of view from us.

The physic’s true success is in connecting Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity because the math of the two fundamentally disagree with one another (i.e. I think in particular situations like a black whole with large gravity in and very small spaces). The true beauty, as Greene suggests, is not that it necessarily needs to be a description of reality; it is that String Theory proves the two laws are reconcilable. It may be that this is not necessarily the true description of our reality. Nevertheless, it shows that a connection can exist. Now is it worth believing? That’s where things get really complicated.

A diagram from the Loose Ends video above. The math connects the two fundamental, conflicting, sides of physics. That is, general relativity and Quantum Mechanics. However, above the third row there is no experimental data confirming this.

The theory itself, I love despite my issues with the book. It’s a fascinating concept with compelling motivations. There are many Goodreads reviewers who seem to approach string theory with a level of cynicism. Some who dismiss it because they struggle to understand it. Others who dismiss it because it breeches into the currently unknowable. However, there is a strong argument to be made about using the information we have available to best describe the nature of the universe. As we strive to improve these descriptions we can push ourselves forward in hopes that it can be improved further. That may or may not happen. The problem I have with opponents to this theory is that they seem comfortable dismissing a theory that may very well be the nature of reality simply because the physics is so difficult to constrain. Such a mindset will merely ensure that what is currently unknowable remains unknowable.

The Large Hadron Collider was hoped to show indirect evidence for String Theory. The energies and technology needed to observe strings are far outside our wheelhouse, but string theorists had hoped the energy at the LHC would be enough to produce the larger by products of the theory, the symmetric particles that we have yet to observe. This did not happen. However, string theorist had already noted it may be more difficult to reach the energies needed than those achieved with the LHC. The simplest explanation as to why string theorists were unable to simply make a fixed prediction of what energies are needed to produce the predicted particles is that there are a large array of possible configurations of string theory. At one time, it was small enough to brute force the process, but we now recognize far too many solutions exist to truly test them. It is, in that way, currently unfalsifiable. Nevertheless, we are brought back to the point I made before: it is still the best way we have to describe reality.

If you are interested in this topic, you could read this book. It’s worth noting most people I see enjoyed this book much more than myself. However, there is an ample supply of more recent resources you can pursue too, or you could read the book and follow up with the most recent discussions available. Here are some of the resources I sought out. The first video I posted at the top of the blog was a fantastic discussion about the history and current state of SH hosted by Greene at the World Science Festival in 2019. Sean Carroll did a discussion with Greene, where Brian Greene put his bets at String Theory being a real description of reality at 50/50 shot (obviously an off the cuff comment). This was a great casual discussion. Another episode of Sean Carroll‘s podcast had a more formal, string theory specific, discussion as well. Lastly, Greene discusses String Theory, black wholes and other topics with Leonard Susskind (one of the founders of String Theory) in the late 2020 on the WSF YouTube channel.

Of these, if you are coming in blind, I would recommend you check out the WSF YouTube discussion first. If you’re someone more familiar with it, you may find these other resources interesting too. Lastly, there is, of course, Greene‘s adaption of this book on PBS which I have not watched, but I will soon.

The first episode of the Elegant Universe on NOVA (also available on the PBS site, see above link)
Sean Carroll Discussion with Brian Greene
Sean Carrol discussion on String Theory with Dr. Clifford Johnson
Greene discusses an array of topics with Leonard Susskind, including string theory.

Volatile degradation of Pluto’s craters

This is an introduction review for what I cover in my upcoming LPSC oral presentation (2555).

examples of geology on Pluto

Anyone familiar with Pluto knows it has a diverse range of geologic features. I show just a few of these in the figure above. The range of terrains that exist on Pluto diversifies it’s surface giving it a unique beauty, even compare to other worlds like Mars or Venus (that’s a science fact). I cannot help but compare these images to the picture of Pluto I had in my mind growing up. The picture I had was define by the episode of the Magic School Bus when the Friz takes the kids on a Journey through the solar system. At the end, they visit Pluto (considered the last planet in the Solar System at that time). It was this dark desolate place similar to the moon or Mercury.

Pluto as seen on the Magic School Bus

New Horizon’s shattered that picture in my mind, and I think the difference between the two is part of why I love Pluto so much. It proved to be much more than I ever expected. Why is that? Perhaps it was a lack of imagination. The team at the Magic School Bus failed to consider how significantly volatiles might modify the surface.

More images of Pluto focusing on the role of volatiles

Much of what we see on Pluto’s surface are in fact driven by volatile processes. Anyone moderately familiar with Pluto is likely to know about Sputnik Planitia, the giant lake or sea of N2 that traps heat and produces beautiful convection cells. There are other lakes, dendritic networks, glacier flow. All of this exists because the volatiles methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen are unstable at Pluto conditions. This range of modification can be studied and quantified on an individual basis, but on a global basis as well. That is, we can consider how it shapes Pluto’s crater population which can work as reference point for how much degradation is occurring.

The focus of this post will be on Stern et al., 2015’s work looking at how Pluto’s volatile inventory can be responsible for the loss of craters. The figure shows how erosion will decrease the crater population count (R) and erosion with relaxation. What does this mean? When we think erosion, we think slow degradation driven by the removal of material, usually through the application of a physical force. Stern et al is referring to the loss of material to the atmosphere, I think by sublimation. Pluto is thought to have loss a great deal of volatiles over time. They enter the atmosphere and get sputtered away by various means. To be clear, Pluto’s bedrock is water ice. Stern et al is referring to craters that form in thick layers of volatile ice, specifically N2. These structures will fade away, and with it, the crater itself. Similarly, craters that form in N2 (or even CH4) ice will relax on the timescales that Pluto has existed. Relaxation will flatten craters, but rims are retained, but those rims can easily be loss.

Stern et al. 2015 estimates how much the overall cater population (R ~ crater count) would be modified by varying amounts of erosion (top) and erosion with relaxation (bottom).

I want to take this discussion a bit further because it suggests we can make predictions about the type of craters we should expect to find. Obviously, craters formed in pure water ice should be retained. Craters formed in sufficiently thick N2 ice (as thick as a crater depth) may relax on the order of thousands of years (millions at the most). Craters formed in thick CH4 ice would not be as conducive to relaxation. At the temperatures observed on Pluto, we might expect this to happen on the order of billions of years. We may see some craters entirely degraded (or flattened), but there may be some that are partially relaxed. CH4 is also less volatile than N2, so the structures would not be as susceptible to loss. This implies we should expect to see craters rich in methane and partially degraded, likely because it is formed in methane ice.

The temperatures expected on Pluto (left) and the relaxation rates of ices (right).

There are other in-between states to consider as well. What about craters that form in a thick layer of N2 or CH4 but not so thick that the crater can relax. In this instance, the crater base would be made of water ice. This base would uphold the other ice, preventing the crater to relax. However, N2 ice is likely to still erode away. Therefore, we will likely see partially degraded craters, depleted in N2 and CH4 (beyond surficial deposits) because they are the remnants of a dual ice crater. With CH4, the ice will be less conducive to erosion, so we might expect to see fairly pristine craters rich in CH4 because they have a water ice base.

These predictions have been tested by New Horizons. We have elevation data and compositional data as well. The compositional data is surficial, so there are limitations to what we can say about a crater. However, it offers first order constraints on what is present and what type of ice the crater may be formed in. We have used this data to study the degradation of craters on Pluto and relate them to the volatile abundances in their region. In doing so, we can constrain the volatiles in the region and the history of volatiles on Pluto.

Check out our talk at the 52nd LPSC to see our results!

Extra Ordinary: Harvard’s Avi Loeb’s absurd claims

Extraordinary claims with flimsy evidence

Image from ES3001.2021.Lab5 (article linked in image)

In 2017, an interstellar object by the name of Oumuamua passed into our solar system. Scientists were baffled by its characteristics: thin and flat with a rotation. It didn’t quite fit the expectations of an interstellar object (e.g. a comet like object), and as with everything in science, it garnered a lot of interest. One paper (Bialy and Loeb, 2018) studied it to understand what may be the cause of some of its more unusual aspects. The paper focuses on completely natural origins, but in the second to last paragraph, Loeb posits that it may be of extraterrestrial origins.

Image from ES3001.2021.Lab5 (paper linked in image)

The discussion feels largely out of place. We have a completely reasonable set of science that suddenly pivots to make extraordinary claims it never tested. It is entirely possible that this was ET technology, but the evidence is no where near the level necessary to take it seriously. The fact that this paper got published is mind boggling. The conclusion is based largely on argument from ignorance (e.g. a god of the gaps). I’m not proposing it isn’t something worth investigating. Hell, maybe it is worth mentioning that it could be something more fantastical, but you would need to add that we would have to invest a great deal more to get the evidence needed to prove such a claim. That is not the direction he takes it, and when challenged, he only doubles down. He has even gone so far as to write an entire book on the topic.

He is using his position as a Harvard professor to bolster these pseudoscientific ideas that we have been visited by aliens. He has defended this believing he has a right to talk about it. Scientists can’t always control how the media will represent our work, but we do have a say in how we do it. He dismisses this responsibility, driven by his own desire to believe he’s made this amazing discovery. He ends up warping the publics perception of the field and energizes fringe perspectives. It hurts the scientific search for ET life, the cause he claims to be pursuing.

A fundamentally flawed perspective

Recent discussion of the material in his book with questions and discussion with other experts after it is over.

With the release of his new book, Loeb has been doing a great deal of publicity. He claims the goal isn’t to sell books (which it is selling) but to educate the public. I do want to read this book, but it is more out of a desire to debunk his arguments (or be convinced if his argument is sufficient). I don’t want to give money to a man who is doing a great deal of harm to the search for ET life. For now, I decided to start with listening to his arguments in a few of his publicity appearances, such as the one here. He presents the topics in his book for an hour and follows by answering questions from the public and other experts in the field. I highly recommend you watch it. It reveals the flaws in his argument and reflects on his own character in other ways.

I want to break down some of the key arguments he made in the presentation and discussion because it is built on non sequiturs, strawman arguments, and false dichotomies.

He spent at least a third of his time talking about how likely it is that there is life, and he calls the mainstream community arrogant for requiring extraordinary evidence because of it. He acknowledges the very real arrogance that is needed to think we are alone. That, however, is a non sequitur because the likelihood of there being other life in the universe has no bearing on whether there is sufficient evidence that Oumuamua is itself life.

The real arrogance is in his attempt to present his findings as revolutionary. Just a year or so before Oumuamua, Loeb entered the field of SETI by participating in a new project to send a light sail to a nearby star. Here he is entering the field convinced he found unprecedented evidence that all the other scientists, who’ve spent their lives on SETI, failed to find. He dismisses scientist bloggers and other amateur astronomers in what is fundamentally an argument from authority. He dismisses everyone who disagrees with him, and they’re the ones who are arrogant. How many times did he talk about how amazing an accomplish this is (from identifying Oumuamua to the number of books sold, that he insists he doesn’t care about)? It reeks of Donald Trumpism but with Intellectualism to back it up. The irony is that he dismisses those he doesn’t deem on his level despite himself not really being a a part of the SETI community.

Let’s go back to how he dismisses requirements for extraordinary evidence. He talks about how these scientists are against investing in interstellar investigations (the false dichotomy of requiring more evidence means we can’t consider it worth investigating). The requirement of evidence does not mean we don’t want to find evidence (strawman argument). If anything, our belief that we will (and our desire to) find evidence is all the more reason to have a high standard of evidence. After all, we are motivated to find evidence we want to see, and it is our recognition of the unlikelihood of such a find that makes us recognize that such a find would require a great deal of evidence.

Several of the scientists on this panel have spent their lives advocating for the search for ET life. He is only getting pushback for making extraordinary claims with flimsy evidence, but he tries to paint these scientists as afraid, sheep, or against SETI (ad hominin). He insists he is just following the evidence, that he is open to listening to other ideas and new evidence. However, it is not the responsibility of the bloggers or fellow scientists to prove it isn’t aliens. He made the claim, and he has the burden of proof. He posits that we have to advocate for SETI to increase funding, but again, this is a fundamental false dichotomy: that we should have to lower our standards of evidence for SETI to be worth investing in. The fact that it could be aliens and we would never know is just as compelling as wildly claiming this was aliens. Sadly the fact remains, we don’t have the evidence needed to say this is actually aliens. It is worth changing that in the future, but we shouldn’t have to spread pseudoscience in the processes.

The arrogance of Avi Loeb

Loeb mansplains SETI to Dr. Jull Tarter (see video below; article linked in image)

I mentioned above that his arguments revealed flaws in his logic and character. I have alluded (or overtly acknowledged) his own arrogance and sense of self importance. In that same webinar, Loeb is confronted by Dr. Tarter about the basic need for extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, and he proceeds to get extremely emotional, talking over her and mansplaining the basic need for SETI. Frankly, he made a fool of himself (that’s putting it kindly). If he had taken a moment of self reflection, he would see he’s being challenged by one of the few people who has advocated for SETI funding and research for her entire career. Except, he can’t. He is so deep in his own need to be right, that he ignores everything she says and projects his own strawman argument over it. It was demeaning. Of course, it is consistent with his entire presentation, where he attacks scientist bloggers like Dr. Tarter.

The article linked in the image shares Loeb’s apology to Dr. Tarter after he rightfully received criticism.

“As many of you may know, I gave the Golden Webinar on the late afternoon of Friday, February 12, 2021. The webinar, which will be posted shortly on YouTube, lasted 75 minutes and in the Q&A portion I spoke in a manner that was inappropriate to a colleague, Jill Tarter. I apologized to Jill Tarter afterwards and we had a friendly exchange subsequently. My apology to her is attached below.

I am sorry that this Q&A exchange offended some of you. That was not my intention. As many of you know, I am deeply committed to support the SETI work pioneered by Jill, and to the promotion of women and minorities in science.”

Avi Loeb, sent to Harvard Center for Astronomy mailing list

This sort of non-apology does not take responsibility for his actions. He apologized if it offended you; he doesn’t acknowledge the blatantly sexist way he acted.

I realize that I was too quick in my response to your excellent comment today and I apologize for it. After reflecting about it, I realize that I should have said that I greatly appreciate your past contributions to promoting this cause and I am delighted to join forces with you and push the envelope further. My criticism is, of course, focused on the limited support that SETI is receiving from federal funding, which should be increased considerably to reflect the public interest in the subject.

Avi Loeb, sent to Harvard Center for Astronomy mailing list

I am sure this is the “company line”, but under pressure, the flaws in his logic and approach shine through.

The segment of Dr. Jill Tarter questioning Loeb

Research Update 2-2-21

When was my last research update? I think it was in November, so let’s take a moment to catch up. If you’re curious, I did use a Dice-QNG, but I got the “pick myself option.”

Pluto research at LPSC
52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

I began the year updating my Pluto remote sensing project results for an LPSC abstract with Catherine and Dr. Veronica Bray. This was a bit of a bumpy ride because the process wasn’t as streamlined as I had hoped. I had to do a good deal of editing to process the data again. I am not sure how much of it was past mistakes versus me not remembering exactly the process I had set up. I am 85% sure it was the former. Nevertheless, I spent a couple weeks getting it ready to streamline the process to produce more results. The results I had on my poster were not complete due to a mistake during the project that I had to rush to finish. Nevertheless, I persisted. I realized part way through processing the results that I did not need to process all of the data. I only needed enough to represent the greater population. In the end, I got a good amount of data; it was enough to write the abstract and apparently get me a talk. I am not particularly excited about another virtual talk.

Paper Drafts and Updates
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In December, I got my paper out to my co-authors. I got feedback in early to mid January, after my LPSC abstract was up. In addition to the feedback from co-authors, I presented to the Dragonfly astrobiology group who had some recommendations. There were no major revisions on behalf of the co-authors. However, the Dragonfly group and Catherine recommended I amend my results to include a smaller concentration, 1 ppt (0.1%) HCN. The basic idea being that may be how low the actual HCN content will be. My co-authors also recommended I update one of my temporal graphs to have consistent color bar limits, but that was much easier.

I was a little nervous about the addition. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to accomplish, but it’s always a hurdle to feel finished and have to dive back in. I got the sf2 (mushy layer model) results fairly quickly, and the only other step was the 2D heat transfer model. When I approached this, I decided to reproduce my other results too. I had made an assumption my first go around that did not get a great response from the co-authors. They didn’t push back against it, but they were confused. Ultimately, I decided it was better not to use that assumption. It’s not worth fixating on what the assumption was, but since I was reproducing my results, I figured I would do so at a slightly higher resolution.

This proved unnecessarily difficult. I don’t think the results appear particularly smoother. What’s more, I had to lower it again for 100 ppt melt of 250 m thickness because the melt started reaching 250+ ppt as it froze, which is outside the boundaries the model has to use to approximate the amount frozen in the ice. This was resolved by using as lower resolution, simply because it did not become as concentrated in larger increments. There was another issue of results not being convertible to a matlab .mat file. I didn’t understand why originally, but now I recognize the file size was too large, and not because of my increment size or my melt sheet size (although the latter plays a role), it was my time steps were all saved magnifying the file size. Then a larger melt sheet has more time steps, which led to my largest melt sheet files continuedly not working. Clearly, I figured it out. Yay me.

Some additional changes I made was to make the HCN concentration axis (x) to be logarithmic. The upper and lower profiles are now distinct in the figure. Unfortunately, this may prove somewhat problematic. The profiles are not as distinct across the initial concentrations used. It is hard to say whether this is limits in the model (it is at very low thermal gradients) or an actual characteristic of HCN. The other result figure is updated as well with constant limits on the color bars, and it definitely improved the figure. One of the coauthors expressed dislike for the jet-color map. I meant to change it, but I forgot. It just doesn’t seem worth recreating this figure for that.

Upcoming Plans
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I have made corrections to some comments in the paper, but I need to finalize that. I had hope to get to that by the end of January, but the figure updates too more time for the reasons I mentioned above. I am going to try and get it done today and tomorrow. I would say Friday, but I need to grade Friday. I also need to get this out so we can get one more round of edits to send it for publication. I also need to switch my attentions back to Pluto because I have about a month to get a substantial update to that project. I think that is enough time. With the MATLAB process streamlined, it is mostly tedious work to do (i.e. mapping, extract crater depths, etc.). Lastly, I need to sit down and get a review of something Rick requested as a part of my comps exam follow up. I am going to aim to do that at the group meeting following the deadline for my LPSC presentation submission. I don’t know when that is. I don’t even have an email (that I know of) telling me I got a presentation.

Do I have a healthy vegan diet?

A year or so ago, I read Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll. It talked about the wonders of the quantum number generator. I really don’t want to write anything today, but if I am (because I have to for my group meeting), I figured why not make it fun. I could write a research update (1), or about a book I need to review (2), or try to review a paper (3), or why not chat about the upcoming Biden Presidency (4). Or I could just pick the one I most want to do and be done with it (5). All I have to do, is ask the quantum RNG.

Position of the American Dietetic Association (ADA): Vegetarian Diets [and vegan]

I want to talk about what it means to be healthy as a vegetarian or vegan. As with anything, the key to a healthy diet is diversity of foods. This is hardly a full review of the science; I’m discussing a report by the American Dietetic Association from 2009. Nevertheless, the paper is a systematic review of the existing literature, and this blog will be a broad review of the key nutrients vegans need to pay attention to with a discussion of my own approach in what I eat. I won’t get too deep into my eating patterns outside of these main nutrients. There is plenty left to talk about.

Generally speaking, vegans and vegetarians may be considered healthier than meat eaters. This may be true when it comes to heart disease, cholesterol, cancer, hypertension and so on. However, I want to be especially careful with my claims her because correlation is not causation. Attributing these traits to veganism is like attributing diabetes to sugar. One does not produce the other, but one may beget a pattern of eating that does. That is why it is so important to ask whether my own diet really reflects the ideal way of eating. Either way, I still have to make a point to be healthy.

Vegetarians and vegans often have a lower body mass index, consume less saturated fats and more fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, and soy products. This basic fact already disagrees with my own diet. I consume a great deal of saturated fats. Don’t get me a wrong, I try to ensure I buy oils that are very low in sat fats, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a major part of my week to week diet. I do eat a decent among of fruits, soy, and veggies, but I could use more nuts I think. They key take away is that the ADA says there is a clear benefit to a nutritionally adequate vegan or vegetarian diet.

A vegetarian is a person who doesn’t eat meat or fish. Vegans excludes egg, dairy and other animal products, but variation does exist among vegans. The authors suspect the abundance of key phytochemicals (fiber, potassium, vitamins C and E, etc.) combined with lower sat fat and cholesterol is likely a big reason for this. I suspect I am benefiting from many of these benefits, but there are clear risks I face being officially obese with a moderately high fat intake. That said, the lower risk of heart disease persists even after removing the effect of BMI. I think something I would benefit from is a consistent tracking of my sat fat intake over several months to get a realistic look at my fat intake.

The paper goes on to break down various nutrients that are often a point of concern for meatless diets. First and foremost is protein. The do a deep dive into the various forms of protein in a veggie diet, but the key take away is that protein is easily found in a veggie diet, and the boy processes it just as effectively as with meat. What’s more, meat, especially red meat, is where a lot of saturated fats are consumed. Even my diet, I doubt, compares to that someone who often eats beef.

Fatty acids are an area where vegans may be somewhat low, and these are important for cardiovascular, brain and eye health. However, I make a point to consume a great deal of soy, vegan butter, canola oil, and various forms of plant based milks fortified in these. Canola oil is a great example of a way I try to limit my sat fat intake because it is one of the lowest sources of sat fat among oils, replaced by key fatty acids. It is worth noting that the body does not consume these plant based fatty acids as effectively. However, the ADA seem to think it need not be a major point of concern. I don’t think this is something I need to change, but I wouldn’t mind a check on my fatty acid levels to be safe.

Iron is similar to fatty acids in that plant based sources are hard to consume, and it is recommended that plant based eaters consume nearly twice the amount of iron. This is not a point of concern. I eat a great deal of cocoa, beans, etc.

Zinc isn’t something I’ve thought much of. It doesn’t seem to be a major problem, but the ADA notes that the intake varies significantly. I am not prepared to say weather I consume the right amount of this, but I definitely get some based on the sources they list.

The most surprising fact to me, when I first read this, was how difficult it is to get iodine as a vegan. I learned a while back to use iodized salt, and I try to make a point to use it fairly regularly. As with all this, I suppose I could stand a test of my iodine levels.

Calcium is another nutrient that is specifically under recommended levels for vegans (on average). It leads to vegans being more likely to suffer bone fractures due to weaker bones. This isn’t something I think much about, but that is because I consume fortified plant milks which has the same bioavailability as regular milk (at least soy). I also consume greens (broccoli and kale) and tofu which are good sources as well.

Vitamin D is something I assumed I was fine with, but rereading this has me rethinking it. I have not had much sunlight, especially this last year, and the sources of vitamin D seem to be exclusive to some plant based milks. I need to rethink my vitamin D intakes and consider whether supplements are necessary (something I am very hesitant with).

B12 was the first major nutrient I made a point to consume. This is a major underrepresented nutrient for vegans, and we have to consume fortified foods with this. I get a good deal from my plant based milk, but I remember reading (not in this paper) that its bioavability isn’t as high as in regular milk. I may be remembering that wrong. In either case, I make a point to consume fortified nutritional yeast. Although, I did just learn not all nutritional yeast products are fortified in B12, so that is definitely something I must continually check. One point of concern is that I don’t consume nutritional yeast consistently. I usually make vegan cheese that will last a couple months. Then I may go a month or two without it. From what I’ve read, it takes time to become depleted, so hopefully I stay within range, especially with my fortified milks. Nevertheless, I really need to discuss this with a doctor (which I have yet to do).

Overall, non meat diets are just as effective as meat ones. Vegans may have the hardest time, but a balanced diet is still possible. What’s more, you don’t have to take supplements if you’re willing to put in the work. Of course, a healthy diet takes work regardless of if you’re vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or a meat eating monster (that’s a joke). There is a great deal to understand health wise, and they do a much deeper dive into the health benefits later in the paper. I may discuss that at another time.