Monthly Archives: December 2016

Life in the Clouds

I’ve spent many years extolling the virtues of life on a cold brown dwarf moon.  Similar to the Galilean moons of Jupiter, a moon orbiting a sub-brown dwarf would be warmed internally by the tidal forces generated by its proximity to such a powerful gravitational force.  Additionally, the sub-brown dwarf itself might provide some local heating, or at least an abundance of charged-particle strewn local magnetic fields to energise the sub-stellar environment.  So, a habitable environment on a moon seems a likely scenario.  If a cold, dark sub-brown dwarf were to be found orbiting the Sun at a great distance, then it neatly provides the grounding for extraterrestrial life on our doorstep (1).

This seems to me to be the simplest scenario for life in a sub-brown dwarf system.  There are complexities – tidally-locked moons (2), lack of light, and so on.  But the basics are there.


Another exotic possibility is that the sub-brown dwarf itself might harbour life.  The complex cloud systems in these failed stars can contain layers which are at room temperature, and abundant in water and other chemical goodies which could form the building blocks of life.  A team of astronomers from Edinburgh University have been considering this very point, wondering whether very simple life might be able to get going in the clouds of a cold brown dwarf (3).  This life might arise in two ways – either somehow evolving from scratch in the cloud environment, or originally being seeded into it by an impacting asteroid or comet.  Either way, conditions for life might be good, except for the lack of a solid surface to dwell on:

Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts...Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous. (4)

These ideas build upon work done by the late, great Carl Sagan (with his Cornell colleague E. E. Salpeter) on the potential for life in the clouds of the gas giant Jupiter, first considered back in the 1970s (5).  They envisioned giant ‘floaters’ filled with hydrogen bobbing through the Jovian atmosphere, tiny ‘sinkers’ and self-propelled ‘hunters’ which had evolved from the lazy floaters (6).  All very speculative, but presented in Dr Sagan’s inimitably compelling fashion.  Read More…

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Book Review: Ancient Giants of the Americas

Ancient Giants of the Americas: Suppressed Evidence and the Hidden History of a Lost Race
by Xaviant Haze
New Page Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-63265-069-6


My exposure to the concept of an ancient giant people in the Americas has been largely peripheral – reading materials that have crossed my path when I’ve researched the Anunnaki (often depicted as giants in Mesopotamian iconography).  I’ll admit to not having been terribly impressed by the disparate shreds of evidence of giant human skeletons depicted here and there on the Internet.  Having read this book, however, I find myself more open to the possibility that among the many indigenous tribes inhabiting both the South and North American continents were ‘mighty men of old’, ranging from 6′ – 8′ tall…perhaps taller. 

There’s certainly plenty of evidence to that end in historical accounts written by the European men who invaded these lands, wiping out so many of the indigenous peoples through war and disease.  This book does an excellent job of pulling all of those accounts together from the four corners of the Americas.  Together, the case seems compelling. 

Read More…

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Book review: ‘The Sagan Conspiracy’ by Donald Zygutis

Book review: ‘The Sagan Conspiracy’ by Donald Zygutis


Subtitled “NASA’s Untold Plot to Suppress the People’s Scientist’s Theory of Ancient Aliens”

New Page Books, 2017

ISBN 978-1-63265-058-0

Price; $16.99/£13.99

Carl Sagan was one of my heroes when I was growing up.  His hit TV show ‘Cosmos’ was truly inspiring.  Probably one of the reasons why I was drawn to science in the first place.  My copy of his eponymous book was a school prize, still on my shelves.  He came up with some great ideas, many of which were highly imaginative and, let’s be honest, pretty speculative.  It was part of his broader appeal to push the boundaries of possibility, particularly regarding the potential for extraterrestrial life.

Later in his life, he seemed to become more conservative, more sceptical, more apprehensive about the darkness of superstition.  These are natural changes as people age, of course.  I assumed that Sagan had lost that early zest, but I was wrong.  Having read this revisionist book, I realise now I was wrong about several things.

I always knew that Sagan had collaborated with the Russian scientist I. S. Shlovskii on a book entitled “Intelligent Life in the Universe” back in 1966, but I was unaware of the so-called Stanford Paper, which is the central plank of Zygutis’s book. 

The full title of Sagan’s 1962 Stanford Paper is “Direct Contact Among Galactic Civilizations by Relativistic  Interstellar Spaceflight”.  It pre-dated Erich von Däniken, and beat Zecharia Sitchin’s 1976 book “The Twelfth Planet” by a country mile.  How could that possibly be important, given the way Sagan seemed to vilify pseudo-scientists later in his life?  Read on…

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Cryovolcanoes on Ceres 

It’s been a little while since the Dawn probe imaged those mysterious ‘lights’ in the craters of the dwarf planet Ceres (1).  On first impression, these seem to be impact marks where brighter materials lying below the surface were exposed following meteoritic bombardment.  But they are uncommonly bright for an asteroid, so speculation about the nature of the materials involved has been rife in the planetary science community, and what it could mean for how the dwarf planet formed in the first place (2).  The bright spots, now widely thought to be salt deposits, have recently even been given names:

“The two most famous bright spots on Ceres have been given names. These once-mysterious spots are now thought by most scientists to be salt deposits. They’re now called Cerealia Facula (for the brighter of the two spots) and Vinalia Faculae (for the cluster of less reflective spots to the east). Both names are related to ancient Roman festivals.” (3)


But that’s not the only mystery on Ceres.  There is a growing consensus that there may be geophysical processes going on that are relatively recent (at least in terms of geological time periods): Read More…

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Down a Dusty Lane

Picking up on the mystery of how a massive Planet X could form beyond the outer confines of the Sun’s magnetic environment, as per my previous posts on the accretion of dust beyond the heliopause (1,2) and an exploratory scientific paper I published earlier in the year (3).  I’m searching for evidence, or at least some educated guesswork, about whether interstellar medium beyond the heliosphere of stars might be sufficient over time to build up substantial, gaseous planets loosely bound to their parent star systems.  Such planets might, I suggest, accumulate dust clouds and rings around them, undisrupted by the action of the solar wind trapped within the inner magnetic sphere of the solar system.


Even though this kind of accumulation could be gradually taking place over billions of years, creating a meaningful adjustment to the mass of a substantial planet over these kinds of time periods, it doesn’t seem likely that this kind of effect could take place if our current interstellar environment is anything to go by (although the unexpected presence of interstellar ‘fluff’ beyond the heliopause, described by NASA (4), and the intrusion of large grain particles into the outer solar system (5) do offer some evidence of what could be ‘out there’).

Last month, I looked at evidence of massive stars being aided in their development by the dumping of immense quantities of neighbouring nebula material onto them (6).  I wondered whether a similar mechanism might also be happening in interstellar space at the planetary level, based upon globular frameworks of nebula materials (like gigantic molecular clouds, and the like).

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