June 24, 2011

On Gravity and Bones: Planetary Effects upon Humans on Other Worlds

Here's a follow up to my streak of posts that bring into focus some planetary insights gained from the gaming world.

I noticed that the physique of the protagonist Marcus Fenix is burly and juggernaut-thick. The same is true for the other characters of Gears of War. The sizes of their thighs is as big as huge logs.

Now why is that so? Allow me to propose my own hypothesis. The planet they're standing on must be slightly more massive than earth. The 26-hour day of planet Sera is another clue. Sera could be a super-earth! And we all know that bigger and more massive planets exert more gravity, which means more weight bearing down on its inhabitants. And being heavier means you need bigger bones and powerful muscles to support your weight and stand upright. Thus, you need bigger limbs on Planet Sera. This could probably explain why their nemesis, the Locust Hordes (presumed to be the indigenous natives on that planet) also come with grossly huge legs and wide arms.

Of course, in this post I particularly want to highlight the fact that a creature's physique is directly influenced by its home planet’s gravity, among other things. In contrast, a planet that has a lesser surface gravity than earth might produce animals that are taller and skinnier compared to earthlings.

So, if we ever start sending humans to settle on Mars, I’m sure that the second or third generation of marsian-humans who are born there will grow to be taller and less massive than their predecessors. While the first pioneering batch would probably suffer muscle degeneration and bone loss due to the fact that the surface gravity of Mars is only 38% of Earth's gravity. You'd feel approximately three times lighter on Mars! If you were 100 lbs on earth, you'd weigh only 38 lbs on Mars. So unless earthborn human colonists strap on weights and exercise a lot to counteract the effects of Mars’ feebler gravity, humans in its present form won’t stand a chance colonizing another world.

No, don't consider that last statement as a discouragement. Consider that as an incentive and a planetary challenge for us to find new ways to be human.

Humans on other worlds.

What if Earth Were Twice as Big?
Planet Sera (on Freebase)
Planet Sera (On Gears of War Wiki)

June 23, 2011

Exoplanetary Worms

As your emissary, I have gone to great lengths to bring you exographical discoveries from alien worlds. I even went to war just so I could report about exobiological creatures that I will encounter on my otherworldly adventures.

Of course, in my terms, “otherworldy” include the virtual realms of gaming. So today, I bring you exoworms from Gears of War! But first, here's some background info.

Recently on Earth, a species of extremophilic nematode worms (named Halicephalobus mephisto, after Mephistopheles, a nickname for the Devil) were discovered deep below the South African mines. It's the first multicellular organism to be found at such depths. The discovery challenged the assumption that deep subsurface ecosystems cannot support multi-cellular lifeforms because everyone assumed that underground environments several miles deep are too hostile because of the pressure, hot temperatures, and lack of oxygen and space.

Now scientists are saying that it may have implications in the search for life on other planets. And I couldn’t agree more! Especially when this discovery comes at the perfect time when I was slogging through the Gears of War series (on a tight deadline to prepare myself for the final installment to its trilogy).

That’s why after hearing the news of the 'devil' worms, I was distracted when I encountered the rockworms and riftworms in Gears of War. In the game's backstory set on an earth-like planet Sera, these riftworms were used by the nemesis Locust Horde to burrow directly underneath the cities of human colonies to sink them. Then I liked that these rockworms eat some bioluminiscent substance--which was subtly incorporated in the gameplay.

Suddenly, I began to think that exoplanetary worms aren’t so far-fetched anymore, especially when I remember the fact that the ancient animals here on earth were giants compared to their sizes now. (Ancient ants used to be the size of a hummingbird!)

In that regard, I would advise future human colonists to check deep underground before setting up their colonies on other planets.

That's all for now. Frag out!

Deep-Earth devil worms

June 13, 2011

The Titan Mines of Dead Space, and Science within Videogames

Last week, I had the utmost pleasure of viewing Saturn from several astronomer's powerful telescopes along the sidewalks of Highline Park in NYC, thanks to the members of Amateur Astronomer's Association (AAA). As I peered through the eyepiece of one of the refracting telescopes aimed at Saturn, I gasped at the tiny point of light near the the left tip of the inclined rings of Saturn. It was Titan.

There's something magical about getting a glimpse of a faraway place with your own eyes, especially when one has immersed within the virtual representation of that place. Right then and there, I knew that I had to post something about Titan and what i think of videogames as it intersects with reality.

The setting of the first Dead Space was inside a planetcracker mining ship called the Ishimura orbiting around an exoplanet named Aegis VII. But on its second release, the setting is on Sprawl, a city on a shard of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

The reasons for not going exoplanetary was explained in-game which I happened to capture during my foray into its narrative.

"Shockpoint drives were in their infancy, so extrasolar mining was out of the question--and the dangers of planetcracking were still unknown."

Despite being dismayed at DeadSpace2 being less than interstellar, it didn’t stop me from playing this wonderfully horrific game. In heart-thumping fashion I’ve finished its single-player campaign twice and reached Level 60 in multiplayer mode inspite of my horrible k/d ratio. (Note: i don't care about k/d ratio)

Apparently, in Dead Space 2’s multiplayer mode, there is a map called “Titan Mines” so it always reminds me of one of the most exotic worlds in our solar system.

Titan has liquid methane on its surface, with a nitrogen atmosphere sprinkled with some ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. However, none of these things were depicted in the game. The reason is that in the story, Titan has been dismembered into shards of rock by the planetcracker mining ship. So most of the action happens inside a tightly-controlled environment of the Sprawl.

The cold, freezing temperatures on Titan makes me wonder how the necromorphs would survive, until I remembered that the Titan Mines map setting is an underground mine. So silly me (again) the environment is tightly-controlled. Too bad for the science behind it--there isn't much. This is my complaint about Dead Space.

I wish more videogames would employ more science behind their settings. Mass Effect has done a great part in mixing ample astrophysics into their story, but we need more games to engage people in indirect learning. As technology becomes more and more powerful, and games strive to immerse gamers even more--the initiative to model reality will make Science an integral part of the gaming world.

Titan-like Exoplanets
Are there more Titans than Earths in the Milky Way?
Titan: Callisto with the weather
Sailing the Titan Seas
Aegis VII on Freebase

What it means to be "outside" our solar system

What started innocently enough as a single tweet (or retweet) led me to investigate further what is considered as being "outside" our solar system. Being "exo", so to speak.

So I wrote about it in a different process which employed a story-like way of presenting it. I tried storify and I found the process quite pleasing. It somehow aids the process of writing in a different way. It looks like I might utilize storify more in the future. I hope you'll enjoy the result of my quick investigation via twitter and storify which is embedded below.

June 8, 2011

Videogames and Exoplanets

So you've heard that planets are more numerous than stars? That discovery is mind-blowing by itself, but even more fascinating is how that exogasmic discovery was made. Dig deep into the technology behind Gravitational Microlensing and you’ll find out something playfully interesting; A graphics card originally intended for videogames was used to discover the rogue planets!

A member of the astrophysics team named Joe Ling has turned his love of computer games into a way of discovering the wandering planets in our galaxy. He took a $400 gaming graphics card and wired it into the team's computer, which sped up the process known as microlensing modelling.

Without the gaming card it would take hundreds of computers and cost thousands of dollars; and it would take one month to process on a normal desktop computer. But with the graphics processing unit inside the gaming card it only takes six hours.

Gaming not only inspires imagination and creativity, it's also a source of technological marvels as it constantly strives for deeper levels of immersion. No wonder I've been rekindling the joy of immersing myself into the virtual worlds of videogames even more. And I often find myself reflecting and realizing that there is no difference between "virtual" and "real". The intersection of Videogames and Exoplanet Science is just one proof of that metaphysical fact.

Planets Outnumber Stars
Intersection of Videogames and Exoplanet Science
Videogames: A Path to Reflection and Self-enlightenment (Kill Screen)

Planets Outnumber Stars

The idea that galaxies are littered with wandering planets is truly exogasmic. For quite some time I’ve been wondering whether planets outnumber the stars. Then the answer came which truly blew my mind away.

Evidence has been revealed that rogue planets--unbound exoplanets that do not orbit any star--are so numerous that they outnumber the stars!

Using the method called Gravitational Microlensing, it has been estimated that 400 billion rogue planets roam the Milky Way. Take note, the estimate does not include all the exoplanets that are hosted by stars, and does not even count rocky exoworlds that are less massive than Jupiter. And remember that this comes after the fact that red dwarf stars were found to be more numerous than previously thought. Add them all and you've got gazillions of exoplanets in the cosmos!

Do you remember when Carl Sagan mentioned that the stars outnumber the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world? Well, perhaps we need a new metaphor that includes not just the beach but the desert as well. Because planets outnumber all the grains of sand on Earth!

Rogue Planets (Centauri Dreams)
Milky Way Harbors Billiions of Orphaned Planets (AstroBob)
Unbound or Distant Planetary Mass Population Detected by Gravitational Microlensing (arXiv)

June 6, 2011

The Immer and the Out: A Review of Embassytown

Humans breathing off gasses from aeoli. Animals as sources of energy. Zelles that perspire electricity. Living biorigged tools and weapons. Beasts that defecate fuel. A town in the middle of an alien city. Welcome to the world of Embassytown.

On another world, comes a living city that straddles between the immer and the out. And from it comes a bagful of new words: biorigging, terretech, shiftparents, floaking, miab, autom, immer, sopor, augmen, exot, trunc, curio, biopolis, citynaut.

Never have I seen so many chopped words in a single novel (such as ‘autom’ which my brain tries to complete as ‘automata’) and never have I seen so many new ones invented from cropped words.

Clearly, China MiƩville had so much fun treating words like lego. Names weren't spared of this cut-half practice. After seeing so many names of characters being chopped into two constituents, I ended up doing the same thing to my name. I imagined each syllable as coming from each of the two hemispheres of my brain.

I swear I had no previous knowledge of Embassytown when I posted my inquiry about Exonoology. It was a few days later after I read that review by Ursula K. Le Guin that my ears, or fanwings, perked up. I suspected Embassytown had something to do with Xenoology.

Many science fiction stories may give you some pause as to how otherworldly beings think. But Embassytown explores the alien mind, their nuos, in relation to language and the symbols that come with it.

I remember my previous encounter with speculative biology such as that which I think comes from Alastair Reynolds; an alien reads by looking at two sets of symbols simultaneously from two different eyes. The information from each eye is merged by the alien mind to comprehend what was written.

We humans do the same thing for stereoscopic vision to perceive depth. But Mieville’s Embassytown takes it further in the domain of language. The Arieken 'words' are meant to be spoken simultaneously in a method called cut+half. Represented as fractions of words instead of numbers.

The alien hosts' communicative physiology is where the story started to build upon the conceptual level that connects Language with how the Ariekies perceive the world.

Simile was used to highlight the fact that metaphor influences how we think. To the aliens, simile is an actual living human that they need to reference in order to speak/think. That's where the protagonist's role comes in, Avice Benner Cho, an immerser-human.

Another class of humans are called the Ambassadors, the intermediary for communicating with the Arieken hosts. The ambassadors remind me of the conjoined twins who share brains. Each sibling can 'hear' or perceive the thoughts of the other, which makes me wonder whether their physiology can allow the to fuse into one consciousness, one mind, if they wanted to.

And the Ariekene hosts' Language is spoken from two vocal holes simultaneously (imagine talking and farting at the same time). Language for the Ariekei was both speech and thought. Truth. Hence they cannot lie.

Embassytown is cognitively engaging and it is a pure win as a soft scifi novel, and perhaps as an interstitial one, too. However, it could've been better. I longed for Mieville to describe more of the planet Areike, or more worlds from out of the immer for that matter.

At times, Mieville's writing has become difficult to read. I had to squint and re-read some passages twice. I had the feeling that Mieville himself was speaking Ariekan language (or got influenced by it).

Nevertheless, the novel is worth reading as it is very rich with metaphors and subliminal underpinnings. For a moment, I could glimpse conceptual references with the Bible (and the mode of reading it), starting with a character named EzRa. In short, if you enjoy thinking deep into concepts, then by all means, read this novel.

All in all, I love the novel's immer and the out, to which I can relate because Exoplanetology is all about the "out" and being immersed in the immer of otherworldliness. As such, Embassytown is a great work from an author who is now beginning to explore the science and the fiction of new worlds.