If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know I honor Solar holidays more than human ones. The former are directly linked with the seasons, obviously (and who doesn’t love seasons), but to me they’re about how much (or how little) sunlight we get.
If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know sunlight really matters to me. The skylight in my living room was a key buying point for my condo, and enough south-facing windows was always a requirement.
I may love the night and the lights, but I thrive on sunlight.
And as of 14:21 CST today (19:21 UTC), it’s officially fall (in the northern hemisphere), and we’ll all be getting less than a half-day of it. Daylight, I mean. As much as I love just about everything September brings, the Autumnal Equinox kinda bums me out.
Worse, as I explained last Vernal Equinox, the rate of change in day length is at its maximum. The breathtaking sprint of spring waking up is balanced by the equally quick slide into the cold darkness of winter. So the light is fading fast.
[I’m vaguely unhappy the notion that winter is coming now has a brain link forged to an HBO show I didn’t watch. The memes of modern life.]
Speaking of the coming cold, I watched a video Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder did with Dr. Rohin Francis, a cardiologist who also has a YouTube channel (Medlife Crisis). They did a pair of videos: In one he asks her non-scientist questions for her video. In the other she asks him non-doctor questions for his.
I only watched the one of him questioning her:
It’s generally low-level stuff. Any long-time serious fan of physics could have answered his questions. I was struck by one bit she touched on, when Dr. Francis asked why life on Earth was so close, comparatively speaking, to absolute zero.
Which, given the Planck temperature is ~1.4×1032 Kelvin, is a fair question. (The Planck temperature is the highest possible temperature.) Water boils at only 373 Kelvin. Given the temperature scale, that’s indistinguishable from absolute zero.
What struck me was the déjà vu. Lee Smolin had mentioned the same thing in his book, Time Reborn (see this post) so it was fresh in my mind. Yet another case of synchronicity.
The answer is that chemical bonding is only possible when matter is comparatively “frozen” — at high temperatures structures disassociate too quickly. (Dr. Hossenfelder notes that stars are a lot hotter. (And plasma has no persistent structure.))
The video is worth watching, although one might find it a paradox. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) The heart doc asks good questions. (Another good one was how we know quarks and electrons are fundamental, not composite.)
It seems likely we’re also near zero in terms of time. The universe is thought to be 13.77 billion years old, which might seem like a long time.
Some scenarios posit a Big Rip as soon as at 22 billion years which would put us past half the life of the cosmos. But most scenarios estimate a much longer lifetime — trillions of years or more.
If we take the lifetime of the universe to be two-trillion years then we are less than 1% into its lifetime. If that lifetime was a 24-hour clock, right now it would be just under 10 minutes past midnight. The whole day yet awaits.
We’re pretty close to zero when it comes to gravity and pressure, too. Our own Solar system has objects with gravities and pressures that would instantly crush us (black holes even more so). Even Earth has killing pressures.
It does seem most hospitable for life near zero. All the interesting stuff happens at one end of the scale. An interesting thing to ponder.
Clement, who wrote diamond-hard science fiction, is one of my favorite authors, so Iceworld is a favorite by a favorite.
It’s mostly told from the point of view of an alien (a specialty of Clement’s). For the first part of the book the reader is kept in the dark about that as well as about the frozen icy “alien” world that interests the character.
Who is Stallman Ken, an interplanetary narcotics agent. He finds it hard to believe any life, let alone intelligent life, could evolve in such a frozen hell, but apparently it has, and it’s the source of the most dangerous narcotic ever known. Smugglers trade with the natives for the drug using unmanned landers capable of withstanding the cold.
[Spoiler] During the occasional viewpoint shifts, we learn Ken is the alien, the “ice world” is Earth, and the narcotic is tobacco. (A bit interesting for a book written in 1953.) The smugglers have been trading “common rocks” (diamonds and other gems) for packages of cigarettes.
Which have to be specially handled because they instantly vaporize at “normal” temperatures.
(Ken is amazed that the air he breaths — sulfur — is a yellow solid on the ice world. We might think the same of the frozen oxygen on Pluto. A lifeform on Pluto would see water ice the same way we see granite.)
And, of course, even Stallman Ken’s home world is a frozen one compared to the Planck temperature. Even 10,000 Kelvin is a tiny fraction of that.
Dig out the winter coats! You-know-what is coming.
Stay warm, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.