Astronomy on Titan: Living There

Have you ever wondered what the Universe looks like from elsewhere in it? What the Solar System looks from elsewhere in it? I have considered that for Saturn’s largest moon Titan, and I will describe what I’ve found in my next few posts here.

I will start with what one can learn without looking upward.

Titan’s surface gravity is about 1/7 of the Earth’s, a bit less than the Moon’s at 1/6. So it should be easy to jump upward one’s own height, at least in a shirtsleeves environment. But Titan’s surface temperature is around 95 K (-188 C, -289 F), and its surface atmospheric pressure about 1.5 bar (the Earth’s is 1.013 bar). This implies a column density 11 times the Earth’s. It is almost entirely nitrogen with some methane and some other gases.

So one would need the sort of pressurized and temperature-controlled environment maintained in manned spacecraft and space stations, the sort of environment proposed for colonizing the Moon and Mars.

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Exploring the Earth’s Interior

How did we learn about the Earth’s interior? I will channel my inner Isaac Asimov here, and explain how we did it.

One can do so by digging downward, and some mines have been dug to some impressive depths by ordinary standards. The champions are currently the TauTona and Mponeng gold mines near Johannesburg, South Africa, going down some 4 km (2.5 mi). But that’s barely a scratch compared to the Earth’s average radius of about 6371 km (3959 mi).

There are also tunnels excavated by various natural effects — caves — but those don’t extend very far down either. The deepest known cave is the Krubera Cave in the Abkhazia district of Asian Georgia, at about 2.2 km (1.4 mi).

So we have to use more indirect methods: magnetism, earthquake waves, gravity, eruptions and overthrusts, and meteorite composition.

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What looks like a stream of light between the ground and the clouds, and sometimes inside of clouds. It is followed by thunder, a loud noise.

Lightning can be very frightening, to the point that psychologists have invented a word for the fear of it: “astraphobia”. Lightning can also be dangerous. Lightning can injure and even kill, it can split trees, it can damage buildings, and it can start fires. It can also damage electrical components, and knock out electricity-distribution systems.

Not surprisingly, many people have considered it a weapon wielded by some deity, and sometimes even a deity itself. Wikipedia has a big list of lightning and thunder gods. The Greek god Zeus is well-known for throwing lightning, and the Germanic god Thor makes lightning with his hammer. We also find in Psalm 18:14 that the God of the Bible also throws lightning. Looking away from western Eurasia, some North American First Nations people considered it the flapping of a supernatural bird, the Thunderbird.

But something changed. What was it?

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The Big Five: Alternatives

Here I will discuss various alternatives to the Big Five personality model, and I will show that they all fit into it in some way or other. They are:

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The Big Five: Their Biology

There is some evidence of a biological basis for the Big Five personality traits, in the form of evidence of brain-activity variations corresponding to variations in four of the five.

There is also some evidence that Big-Five variations are partially heritable, and there is some evidence of differences between the sexes. However, the variations also have a strong environmental component, something that suggests that we may be able to shape our personalities to some degree.

Many other species also have personality variations, and some of these variations may be very old, dating back to the common ancestors of much of the animal kingdom.

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Five Dimensions of Personality

For centuries, and likely for as long as our species has existed, it has been recognized that different people have different personalities. Some people are very outgoing, some people are very reserved, some people are very calm and unflappable, some people are big worrywarts, some people are very diligent, some people are very careless, some people are very interested in new things, some people can’t stand anything new, etc.

But by the late twentieth century, psychologists have settled on the Five Factor Model, a.k.a. the Big Five (The Big Five (Wikipedia)). The model features five major personality traits, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, each with several subtraits. These traits are sometimes known by acronyms: OCEAN and CANOE.

It must also be noted that psychology has lacked Grand Unified Theories since the discrediting of Freudianism. So the Big Five model is a step forward in that direction.

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Food cubes: New or old?

In some science fiction, we will be eating cubes of food that are nutritionally complete but not very tasty. But are food cubes really a new thing? Or an old thing?

I will now try to clarify the concept. One can make food cubes by cutting some larger food item into cubes, but that is rather trivial. What is more interesting is some food item that can be given a cube shape as it is made. If it can be given such a shape, then it can be given other shapes, and we may more generally talk about shapeable foods.

The first known shapeable food was likely bread. Middle Easterners domesticated wheat around 11,000 years ago, and grinding stones are not much younger. This means that they were making flour, and likely also making bread from the flour. The first breads were likely unleavened breads or flatbreads, with leavened kinds following later. There are now numerous kinds of breads and breadlike foods, including crackers, biscuits, pretzels, cookies, pancakes, piecrust, cakes, and pasta, and breads have been made from other grains, like rye and American corn.

The next one is cheese. It was likely invented as a way of making milk edible and storable, and cheese-making tools go back 7,500 years. Some domestic animals are conveniently milkable, like bovines, water buffalo, sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys, and bovines, sheep, and goats had been domesticated not long after the domestication of wheat.

Advancing into recorded history, we find that tofu, soybean curd, was invented in China about 2,000 years ago. Advancing further to the Industrial Revolution, we find the invention of a variety of candies, like chocolates, and also gelatin desserts like Jell-O.

Most recently, Quorn have been developed. It is made from the mycelium of a soil fungus grown in a vat — that’s the strands that make up a fungus’s “body”. That may seem unappetizing, but there is a commonly-eaten fungus part. Mushrooms, which are the fruiting bodies of various fungi.

So it’s completely feasible with present-day technology to create nutritionally-complete food cubes. Start with cheese or tofu or gelatin or Quorn and fortify it with missing nutrients like vitamins.

But they don’t seem to be very popular, and I’ve yet to see anyone advertise their nutritionally-complete food-cube recipes.