June 19, 2019

21.04.11: Of Alien Flora and Maunder Minimums.

Some fairly thought provoking science has been coming out of the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting being held this week in Llandudno, Wales. One of the most interesting talks was by Dr. Robert Forsyth of Imperial College concerning a comparison of the current solar lull and the famous Maunder minimum of 1645-1715.

While the start of Cycle #24 has been sputtering, Dr. Forsyth notes that we only have to go back to the early decades of the past century to see similar minima. Cycle #23 showed a 22% percent reduction in solar wind activity compared with the previous cycle, and Dr. Forsyth places the odds of a profound long solar minimum at 8%, or about 1 out of 12. Indeed, if daily observations from Astroguyz HQ (see above) are any indication, solar cycle #24 is here in earnest.

The other tidbit that percolated to our attention was a thought experiment as to the nature of alien flora; in a piece entitled Could black trees blossom in a world with two suns? Jack O’Malley-James of the University of St. Andrews postulates how life might evolve to exploit energy resources around binary star systems. On Earth, photosynthesis has evolved to utilize the output of our single solitary star. In the study, scientists looked at the possibility of life on a world either distantly orbiting a close pair (think Tatooine of Star Wars fame) or a wide binary pair with the host planet orbiting one star. Said plant life would have a buffet of spectral options to utilize for energy production… would they appear bizarrely different? Would this adaptive behavior ripple up the food chain? Beyond just the pure science fiction aspect of the thought experiment, it may soon have pivotal applications as we begin to acquire spectra of exo-worlds over the next few decades… would we recognize the signature of alien biology if we saw it? All good reasons to follow NAM2011 and the thought provoking science it has been generating!

 

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