Monday, November 8, 2010

Stellar Dreamland

Away and afar
A dream I dreamed
when I was young

A guiding star
A dream I dreamed
My living song

The world, so big
Through a child's eye
The cosmos, so vast
Can we even surmise
The extent of our universe
And our place herein

A speckled night
A dream I dreamed
All my life, all along

Thursday, November 4, 2010

HAPI Drum!

My friend Amanda Hayes posted a video on Facebook of this instrumnet called a HAPI drum.  I totally want one.  These steel tongue drums have a super sweet sound.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Pale Blue Dot" and "On the Turning Away"

By far one of my most favorite videos on Youtube.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Thaw

Written and directed by Mark A. Lewis, The Thaw is a 2009 sci-fi horror flick that ran with the blurb "A research expedition to the Arctic discovers that a melting polar ice cap has released a deadly prehistoric parasite."

Val Kilmer and Martha MacIsaac play the lead roles in the film.  Kilmer is Dr. Kruipen, a scientist studying the effects of global climate change in the Canadian high arctic, and MacIsaac takes on the role of Kruipen's daughter, Evelyn, who is estranged from her father and reluctant to share time with him.  While on a research expedition, Kruipen and his team discover a mammoth that had been preserved by glaciers during the last ice-age but has now emerged due to glacial recession.  Very early in the film we learn that the mammoth's flesh bares a dormant parasite which wreaks havoc on Kruipen and his team.  The story jumps rather quickly to the main plot where Evelyn and a group of undergraduate students who have been selected to join Kruipen's research team are flown by Kruipen's helicopter pilot to the expedition base shelter in the arctic.  Upon their arrival they are surprised to discover they can't contact Dr. Kruipen.  Shortly thereafter, one of Kruipen's team arrives by ATV at the shelter, but she can't explain what has happened due a bizarre illness which appears to be getting worse.

That's pretty much the setup for the horror that ensues.  I won't give too much more of the specifics  away.  For a full synopsis, check out the Wikipedia article:
The Thaw on Wikipedia

The movie itself is just slightly better than average for a horror film.  One of the antagonists of the film, a student who is infected with the parasite, kind of destroys the plot.  As a case of bad writing, the character takes control of the group with a rifle which he hangs over his shoulder which is in no way threatening (if myself or a group with at least one or two brave people were involved that kid would have been knocked out, tied up, and gagged rather quickly).  There is a rather enjoyable amputation scene, but otherwise the film is fairly predictable and slow.

The parasite that is killing the characters of the film is a vertebrate organism which functions rather like a parasitic insect.  The male of the species causes a sore on a host which attracts females.  The female will lay eggs within the sore which pass through an egg stage before hatching and crawling into their host for nutrition.  The infected hosts' bodies are eaten inside-out by the insects.  This is a common strategy for life on our planet, especially amongst insects.  I think the idea of such a destructive parasite laying dormant in the flesh of a mammoth is probably why I enjoyed the film.  It is very possible that there are many forms of life which we have no remaining record of which may have had peculiar or unusual metabolic strategies or life cycles.  Also, it's fun to speculate how a biosphere similar to ours would react to the release of an organism or community which had not been active for a time that is long enough to allow the incoming organisms to overwhelm all of the surrounding biosphere, just like an invasive species taking hold of an environment.

I would definitely recommend watching this film if you enjoy sci-fi and horror, though it's definitely not great by any means.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Humans

“Altering man's bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space."  This is from an article by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline titled “Cyborgs and Space” which was published in 1960.  Today's article on discusses the possible necessity for humans to change their physiology to be better adapted for life beyond Earth.  

When we finally do begin colonizing the rest of our solar system, and possibly beyond, we may have to change our biological bodies.  Supplementing human physiology with technology and drugs or possibly genetically engineering space-adapted or planet-adapted humans may be the best means for allowing humanity to flourish in the universe beyond our ancestral grounds, even if it seems as though we're broadening the definition of humanity to include more than just one variant or even species. 

The human body cannot thrive in space for more than a short moment of time.  We need space suits to help us.  Our bodies are fragile and cannot handle very much strain outside of our normal operative condition.  Imagine if a type of human existed who could respire on the surface of Mars with only a regulator and who could handle extremely low pressure environments.  What if a breed of people were around who were composed of tissues interlaced on a biomechanical frame and supported by a mechanical exoskeleton?  Perhaps their respiration could be controlled in many different environments.  Perhaps they could survive in the vacuum of space.  I wonder if we may end up needing to engineer a human type that can handle large doses of radiation so that they can survive long duration trips beyond our solar system.  

Humanity is awesome!  What we have is special (at least, it is to us).  We have conscious lives, intelligent minds, and the ability to imagine.  We can imagine many possible futures.  We can imagine a future where different types of humans are living their lives beyond Earth.  But will we allow this to become a future any time soon? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sexy Saturn!

This is a super sexy image of Saturn produced by the Cassini spacecraft!  I have a class this semester for Planets, Moons, and Ring Systems.  Our professor, Larry Esposito, is a PI for the UV spectrometer instrument on Cassini.  I'm stoked to learn more about the formation of rings.  Saturn has always been my favorite planet.  Part of my quarter sleeve tattoo is a copy of the image Galileo drew in 1610 when he first saw Saturn.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Astrobiology - A Natural Philosophy?

In his book, Lonely Planets, David Grinspoon states "The odd status of astrobiology in the suite of sciences can, I think, be understood by realizing that it is not yet science, exactly, but still natural philosophy."

I think I felt a little opposed to this statement at first, as it seemed at first sight to debase astrobiology in the eyes of a young scientist.  Then, after thinking about the true nature of my interests in astrobiology, I realized I agree with Dr. Grinspoon.  A natural philosophy of astrobiology, as opposed to a natural science in the common connotation, may not only consider the scientific approach to the study of life in the universe, but may lead us to ask some much larger (or at least, much different) questions than objective science and modern scientific methodology can answer.  Taking a natural philosophy approach to the study of life means blending the science of astrobiology with the philosophy of astrobiology.  How can we come to know about life?  What questions must we ask to learn more?  Is the scientific method of modern times the best approach to learning about the unknown?  As a trained young scientist, I love the scientific method and the rigors of experimentation, but it may be that, for the time being, we need to take a step back and get to know ourselves while we try to learn about something else.  Galileo Galilei really upturned the age-old Aristotelian approach to the study of the natural world.  Galileo utilized experimentation to investigate prior speculations.  He was conducting science.  The natural philosophy of the past began to fade not too long after and modern science was born.  But perhaps we need a broader approach to the study of life.  Back to Dr. Grinspoon:

"During the Enlightenment, science grew out of natural philosophy and took on a life of its own.  In an unconstrained field like astrobiology, where our ignorance so outweighs our knowledge that we are not even sure how to ask the right questions, we can benefit from hearkening back to the earlier approach.  Our innocence in the ways of the universe demands that we be natural philosophers again."
-David Grinspoon, Lonely Planets 

Cosmobiology may be gaining some steam in regards to acceptance by the scientific body at large, but there is much about our integrative approach to the study of life that takes it beyond the scientific realm.
In some ways our past defaults to anthropocentrism show us that we may be too ignorant about some deeper truths in the vast universal ocean to really understand all that lies beyond our cosmic shores.  I'm in no way inciting the supernatural here, but it may be that we need to really open up the boundaries of modern science when it comes to exploring life beyond Earth because, otherwise, we may be blinding ourselves with our own forced ideologies and objections.

The question "Are we alone in the universe?" seems like it would warrant a simple 'yes or no' answer (and perhaps someday it will), but in the modern time our ability to begin elucidating an answer relies heavily on whether or not we can blend what we know with what we think we know and what we really don't know.  It's that last bit that gives us trouble.  How can we blend what we don't know into what we do know?  And how can we determine if what we think we know is true or false or something in between?  This is where the natural philosophy side of cosmobiology comes into play.  We can use the objective inquiry and rigorous experimentation and examination of science to chip away at little bits of knowledge and continue to feed our cumulative understanding, but, by taking a step back and examining the character of our study and how we've come to know what we know, we may find there is more to the question of the study of life beyond Earth than simply, "Are we alone?"

"An awareness of the limits of science is especially important when we skirt close to its edge." 
- David Grinspoon, Lonely Planets

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I wish he would have walked into the temple...

Touching Another Galaxy!

This is not photoshopped!  This is a picture of me touching a wall mural at Goddard Space Flight Center back in 2007.  We took the YCP Biology Club down to Goddard to see Science on a Sphere and check out the Goddard Center.

Getting this whole shebang started!

I've been meaning to start my own blog for the past couple of years (I mean, come on, all the cool kids are doin' it, right?).  Just a way to share my thoughts, experiences, and life with everyone and anyone.

I'm a young scientist, an astrobiologist, and a lover of life.  Get ready, 'cause here I come!

Update: 26 February 2015

Looking back over my blog over the last few years, it's been interesting to see how it's grown, and I've grown along with it.  I started this blog in 2010, when I was just beginning graduate school and still very unsure of what I wanted to do afterward.  Now, 4.5 years later, I know that I want to be an educator and a science communicator.  I want to share science and philosophy with people across our world and have conversations so that people can learn about me and I can learn about people.  This blog has helped me to start that process and to allow me to engage with a more diverse audience than I could have otherwise.  

This is an old post, so you may never see this, but, if you do check it out and find this update, than take this as my thank you for reading my blog.  Thank you from the depth of my being for reading my writing and for joining me on my journey through life.