HG Wells, Attenborough, Martians and Tasmanian genocide


BRITISH MADE GENOCIDE: The last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right

This photo shows the last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Alien invasions and meetings with Stalin

The BBC TV adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds has finished. PETER FROST reminds us what a great socialist the author was

LAST SUNDAY saw the screening of the third and final episode of the BBC’s magnificent, if controversial, adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Wells’s classic tale of Martians invading Earth has long been a favourite of mine. It is a beautifully ironic analogy of British imperialism’s invasions of foreign lands. Gun in one hand, a bible in the other the British invaded so many places in order to colour the globe pink.

Soldiers and missionaries carried a whole arsenal of fatal secret weapons. Viruses and bacteria of diseases like influenza and even the common cold. These were endemic back home but unknown and deadly among folk who had never built up immunities to them.

By coincidence before I watched the first episode of War of the Worlds I watched David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary on the animals of Australia.

Attenborough focussed on two Tasmanian species. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial. Once widespread, today it is fighting hard in just a few Tasmanian locations to avoid total extinction.

He also showed amazing black and white footage of the very last Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf. The Thylacine, (Thylacinus cynocephalus), was a marsupial wolf and the largest carnivorous marsupial of recent times. That film showed the very last survivor in a private Hobart zoo before the species became totally extinct in 1936.

The documentary however didn’t mention another Tasmanian species that was wiped out by the arrival of the white man. They were the indigenous people of the island — the Tasmanians — a population of Aboriginal people known as the Palawa.

It was the tragic fate of the Palawa that inspired HG Wells to write War of the Worlds. Wells told his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British invasion on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?

So what of the BBC adaptation? I’ll leave most of that to TV reviewers more erudite than me. One widespread complaint was that the BBC adapters had added — horror of horrors — a woman hero.

The series opened with a hero, a journalist called George having left his wife, his cousin, to live with a woman called Amy in a small cottage called Lyndon near Woking, Surrey. Not one fact of the above can be found anywhere in the original book.

However H George Wells, a journalist, did marry his cousin and left her to live with a woman called Amy in a cottage called Lynton in Woking, Surrey.

It was at Lynton that Wells wrote the book and set the start of the Martian invasion in the countryside around the cottage.

What I want to do here is to remind readers what an incredible man HG Wells was. He always described himself as a committed socialist and wrote a wide variety of political writings — pamphlets, political books, newspaper and magazine articles — as well as novels and stories.

He was never afraid to use his novels and stories to advance his political opinions. Wells saw that socialism would abolish class barriers and foster equality of opportunity. Other writers such as Virginia Woolf berated him for using the novel as a vehicle for delivering his political ideas.

His novels took up diverse individual political issues. For instance The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) examined the fierce debates over vivisection. Ann Veronica (1909) deals with the struggle of the suffragettes for the vote for women.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he explained his political thinking was motivated by an awareness of the “incompatibility of the great world order foreshadowed by scientific and industrial progress with the existing political and social structures.”

For him the question was: how could politics and society catch up with the advances of science and technology? How could social and political institutions become more scientific, more efficient, more ordered?

As early as 1905 he described his ideal socialist society in his book A Modern Utopia. In it he paints a picture of a highly regulated world state where all property is state-owned, and where sexes are equal.

The Fabian Society were keen to have Wells on board. Despite some earlier differences with George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb he accepted an invitation to join the Fabians in 1903.

It would not be a happy time for the Fabians. They quickly realised that Wells could be a loose cannon. Openly criticising the Fabians from the beginning, in 1906 he shocked them with a paper called, unambiguously, The Faults of the Fabian.

In the paper Wells called the Fabian Society a talking shop for middle-class socialists, which lacked the appetite for real change. He argued Fabians should aim for mass membership and more radical reforms.

Wells’s love life and his reputed advocacy of free love didn’t go down well either. When In 1908 he advocated a wage for all mothers and the Fabians refused to adopt this as a policy, he left.

What Wells wanted was a single, socialist world state, a great world order, and it was no doubt to study this kind of development that he visited and championed the young Soviet Union repeatedly.

Wells visited Russia in 1914, 1920 and 1934. During his second visit his old friend and fellow writer Maxim Gorky arranged for him to meet and talk with Vladimir Lenin.

In July 1934, on his third visit to what had become the Soviet Union, he interviewed Joseph Stalin for the New Statesman. The interview lasted three hours.

He told Stalin how he had seen “the happy faces of healthy people” in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920 but he also raised some serious criticisms. Stalin, we are told, enjoyed the conversation.

During the second world war, Wells drafted a Universal Rights of Man that was published in the Times. This document and the advocacy he did around it led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times but never won.

He suffered for much of his life from diabetes and in 1934 co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association known today as Diabetes UK.

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of his books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. Prime minister Churchill famously described the rise of Nazi Germany as “the gathering storm”. He actually took the phrase from War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds has never been out of print since its original publication in 1897. Films, radio dramas, comic-books, video games, and many television series have been based on it.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Presented as a live, realistic set of news bulletins interrupting normal programming, supposedly terrified listeners had heart attacks and even committed suicide, though recent scholarship has suggested this is an urban myth.

Perhaps the greatest and most surprising tribute to the author and the book is that of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Goddard says his interest in rockets and space travel was first inspired by reading War of the Worlds aged sixteen.

Goddard would invent both liquid fuelled and multi-stage rockets that put men on the Moon and sent robotic probes to Mars — HG Wells would have wanted no finer tribute.

Spacecraft records Martian wind sound


This 7 December 2018 video says about itself:

Sounds of Mars: NASA’s InSight Senses Martian Wind

Listen to Martian wind blow across NASA’s InSight lander. The spacecraft’s seismometer and air pressure sensor picked up vibrations from 10-15 mph (16-24 kph) winds as they blew across Mars’ Elysium Planitia on Dec. 1, 2018.

The seismometer readings are in the range of human hearing, but are nearly all bass and difficult to hear on laptop speakers and mobile devices. We provide the original audio and a version pitched up by two octaves to make them audible on mobile devices. Playback is suggested on a sound system with a subwoofer or through headphones. Readings from the air pressure sensor have been sped up by a factor of 100 times to make them audible.

For full-length uncompressed .wav files, visit NASA.gov/sounds. For more about the InSight mission, visit mars.nasa.gov/insight.

Ancient organic molecules discovery on Mars


This NASA video from today in the USA says about itself:

The Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old. News Release: here.

From Chemical & Engineering News today:

Ancient organic molecules found on Mars

Curiosity rover also reports data on the red planet’s mysterious methane plumes

by Mark Peplow

Wherever life flourishes, it leaves a calling card written in organic molecules—and researchers have spent decades hoping to uncover these telltale signatures on Mars.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has now given those hopes a considerable boost after finding organic deposits trapped in exposed rocks that were formed roughly 3.5 billion years ago (Science 2018). The rover’s discovery at Gale Crater shows that organic molecules were present when that part of the red planet hosted a potentially habitable lake. It also proves that these traces can survive through the ages, ready to be discovered by robot explorers.

“We started this search 40 years ago, and now we finally have a set of organic molecules that tells us this stuff is preserved near the surface,” says Jennifer L. Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who led the study.

Curiosity gathered mudstone samples and gradually heated them to 860 ºC, using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to study the gases produced. It identified a smorgasbord of molecules, including thiophene, methylthiophenes, and methanethiol, which are probably fragments from larger organic macromolecules in the sediment. These organic deposits may be something like kerogen, the fossilized organic matter found in sedimentary rocks on Earth that contains a jumble of waxy hydrocarbons and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The organic compounds that were originally transformed into martian kerogen could have come from three possible sources—geological activity, meteorites, or living organisms—but Curiosity’s data offer no insight on that question. “The most plausible source of these organics is from outside the planet,” says Inge Loes ten Kate, an astrobiologist at Utrecht University, who was not involved in the research. She notes that roughly 100 to 300 metric tons of organic molecules arrive on Mars every year, hitching a ride on interplanetary dust particles. “Three billion years ago, it was much more hectic in the solar system”, ten Kate says, so there would have been much larger deliveries of organics via interplanetary travelers.

Curiosity had previously detected chlorocarbons in martian soil, which were probably generated by reactions with the abundant perchlorate found on the planet’s surface. In contrast, the mudstone samples have delivered “what we expect of natural organic matter,” Eigenbrode says.

Methane mystery

Meanwhile, the rover’s infrared spectrometer has been tackling the long-standing puzzle of martian methane (Science 2018). Orbiting Mars probes, along with telescopes on Earth, have previously seen occasional plumes of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, raising speculation that the gas could have come from geological activity or even methane-producing organisms.

Curiosity has taken methane measurements over 55 Earth months, spanning three martian years, which now reveal that the atmospheric concentration of the gas varies seasonally between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion by volume. “This is the first time that Mars methane has shown any repeatability”, says Christopher R. Webster at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who led the work. “It always seemed kind of random before.”

The rover also saw brief spikes in methane concentration to about 7 ppbv, which is consistent with previous remote observations of plumes, says Michael J. Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who has been chasing martian methane for more than 15 years but was not involved in Curiosity’s latest findings. “The ground-based detection is very important because it confirms the methane is there,” he says.

The methane’s source is still an open question. But Webster’s team says that the seasonal cycle rules out one of the leading suggestions: that organic molecules, delivered to the surface by meteorites and space dust, were broken down by ultraviolet light to produce the gas.

Instead, the cyclical nature of the data suggests that methane could be stored deep underground in icy crystals called clathrates and slowly escape to the planet’s topsoils. Laboratory experiments suggest that the soil could temporarily hang on to the gas, releasing more of it in the warmer martian summer to produce the seasonal cycles.

Mars’s newest satellite, the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), could help confirm that idea. It began to survey the whole planet for methane in April. “We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what they find,” Webster says. TGO should also measure the carbon isotope ratios in the methane it detects, which may provide hints at a biological or geological origin. And in 2021, ESA expects to land a rover on Mars that could drill up to 2 meters below the surface, where there might be better-preserved organics compared with the ones collected at Gale Crater, Eigenbrode says.

These lines of evidence could eventually help resolve questions about our own origins. Mars and Earth were once quite similar places, ten Kate says, yet life apparently failed to gain a foothold on the red planet. “Was there really no life on Mars, or did it just not survive?” she says. The answer could shed light on the crucial conditions needed to nurture the first life-forms on our own world.

See also here.

Opportunity rover waits out a huge dust storm on Mars. The 14-year-old craft has weathered storms before, but none this big, by Lisa Grossman, 5:56pm, June 11, 2018.

After 15 years on Mars, it’s the end of the road for Opportunity. The NASA rover’s surprisingly long mission moved Mars science past ‘follow the water’. By Lisa Grossman, 2:16pm, February 13, 2019.

A team of astronomers using data collected from the Mars Express spacecraft have published 29 low-frequency radar images collected between May 2012 and December 2015. Taken together, they reveal a change in the structure and the composition of the material beneath the surface of Mars’ south pole that so far has only one explanation: the presence of liquid water under the surface of the red planet. This is a milestone in the 54 years of Mars space exploration: here.

Humans living on Mars, where?


This 26 Febuary 2018 video, from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says about itself:

Suitable landing sites on Mars to start a colony, if you asked a plant

Selecting the perfect landing site for the establishment of a Mars colony will be essential for its success. Growing crops to feed the astronauts will be one of the key tasks on Mars.

Scientists of Wageningen University & Research have been working on how to grow crops on Mars for five years now. For the growth of plant species, even if it is going to be indoors, there are more and less favourable places.

Using as much as possible of the available resources on Mars including regolith and ice seems wise. Wieger Wamelink and student Line Schug therefore developed an optimal Mars wide landing map, seen from a plant’s perspective. Some of the ideal landing places coincide with past and planned landing sites, however some do not.

Can earthworms survive on Mars?


This 6 October 2017 video from the Netherlands is called Earthworm in Mars soil simulant.

From Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands:

Earthworms can reproduce in Mars soil simulant

November 27, 2017

Two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. Biologist Wieger Wamelink found them in a Mars soil simulant that he obtained from NASA. At the start he only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive at the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.

To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter. The poop and pee of the (human) Martian will also have to be used to fertilise the soil, but for practical and safety reasons we are presently using pig slurry. We have since been observing the growth of rucola (rocket) in Mars soil simulant provided by NASA to which worms and slurry have been added. ‘Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant’, said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

‘The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected’, added Wamelink, ‘but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand’. We added organic matter from earlier experiments to both sands. We added the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after germination of the rucola, we added the worms. We therefore ended up with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of organic matter which was added to all of the pots.

Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the moon. They thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil before they excrete it. This poo still contains organic matter that is broken down further by bacteria, thus releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for use by the plants. By digging burrows the worms also aerate and improve the structure of the soil, making watering the plants more effective. The latter proved to be very important in earlier experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil. Wamelink confirmed that: ‘the application of worms will solve this problem’.

To feed the future humans living on Mars or the moon the project Food for Mars and Moon aims to set up a sustainable agricultural system. It is based on the presence of soils and water (in the form of ice) on both Mars and the moon, and for Earth-based research we are using soil simulants delivered by NASA. The simulants originate from a volcano in Hawaii (Mars) and a desert in Arizona (moon). The experiments started in 2013. Nowadays we are able to grow over a dozen crops, the only species that has resisted our efforts so far is spinach. However crops such as green beans, peas, radish, tomato, potato, rucola, carrot and garden cress all seem possible. The crops were analysed for heavy metals and also alkaloids to check their safety for human consumption. After passing these tests we organized a dinner based on the harvested crops for the people that supported our research via the crowdfunding campaign.

For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world’s driest [Atacama] desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars: here.

Solar eclipse, other space news


This video from Wyoming, USA says about itself:

Watch solar physicists watching the eclipse | Science News

21 August 2017

This time-lapse video shows how a group of solar physicists and engineers studying the sun’s wispy atmosphere kept busy during totality, but also got to take a look at the corona with their own eyes. In the foreground, Paul Bryans and Ben Berkey uncover and cover the telescopes’ lenses, while Steven Tomczyk, Alyssa Boll and Keon Gibson record data and Philip Judge calls out the time.

Read more here.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Crowds gather to witness solar eclipse in Oregon

21 August 2017

Thousands watch in excitement as corona becomes visible: solar eclipse.

SO EVERYONE FREAKED OUT ABOUT THE ECLIPSE From your favorite celebrities to the president, eclipse fever abounded. Check out some of the incredible photos from the event that stopped productivity for a solid few hours across the country. Fox News host Shepard Smith went wild for eclipse coverage, and his colleague Tucker Carlson delivered this gem of a line, saying Trump looking at the eclipse without glasses was “Perhaps the most impressive thing any president has ever done.” [HuffPost]

And if you didn’t watch Bonnie Tyler sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart during the eclipse, you didn’t do the eclipse right.

The Parker Solar Probe was launched early Sunday morning and has begun its three-month journey to get closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft: here.

Mars has nighttime snow storms. Cloud cooling and speedy winds lead to rapid winterlike storms, simulations show. By Ashley Yeager, 11:00am, August 21, 2017.

Planet Mars’ origins, new theory


This video from the USA says about itself:

The origin of Mars: How running water and extreme weather made the Red Planet

2 December 2016

Professor James Kasting joins RT America’s Ed Schultz to discuss new evidence suggesting that running water and extreme weather patterns played a crucial role in the formation of Mars.

From Science News:

Mars may not have been born alongside the other rocky planets

New origin story could explain mystery of Red Planet’s makeup

By Thomas Sumner

7:00am, May 5, 2017

Mars may have had a far-out birthplace.

Simulating the assembly of the solar system around 4.56 billion years ago, researchers propose that the Red Planet didn’t form in the inner solar system alongside the other terrestrial planets as previously thought. Mars instead may have formed around where the asteroid belt is now and migrated inward to its present-day orbit, the scientists report in the June 15 Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The proposal better explains why Mars has such a different chemical composition than Earth, says Stephen Mojzsis, a study coauthor and geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The new work is an intuitive next step in a years-long rethink of the early solar system, says Kevin Walsh, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., who was not involved with the new simulation. “We only became comfortable within the last 10 years with the idea that planets move around, possibly a lot,” he says. “Planets may not have formed where we see them today.”

Mars, like Mercury, is a runt of the inner solar system, weighing in at only about a ninth of Earth’s mass. One of the reigning theories of planetary formation, the Grand Tack model, blames Jupiter for the Red Planet’s paltry size. In that scenario, the newly formed Jupiter migrated toward the sun until it reached Mars’ present-day orbit. A gravitational tug from Saturn then reversed Jupiter’s course, sending the gas giant back to the outer solar system (SN: 4/2/16, p. 7).

Gravitational effects of Jupiter’s sunward jaunt acted like a snowplow, scientists believe, causing a pileup of material near where Earth’s orbit is today. The bulk of that material formed Venus and Earth, and the scraps created Mercury and Mars. This explanation predicts that all the terrestrial planets formed largely from the same batch of ingredients (SN: 4/15/17, p. 18). But studies of Martian meteorites suggest that the Red Planet contains a different mix of various elements and isotopes, such as oxygen-17 and oxygen-18, compared with Earth.

Planetary scientist Ramon Brasser of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Mojzsis and colleagues reran the Grand Tack simulations, keeping an eye on the materials that went into Mars’ creation to see if they could explain the different mix.

As with previous studies, the researchers found that the most probable way of creating a solar system with the same planet sizes and positions as seen today is to have Mars form within Earth’s orbit and migrate outward. However, this explanation failed to explain Mars’ strikingly different composition.

Another possible scenario, though seen in only about 2 percent of the team’s new simulations, is that Mars formed more than twice as far from the sun as its present-day orbit in the region currently inhabited by the asteroid belt. Then as Jupiter moved sunward, its gravitational pull yanked Mars into the inner solar system. Jupiter’s gravity also diverted planet-making material away from Mars, resulting in the planet’s relatively small mass. With Mars forming so far from the planetary feeding frenzy responsible for the other rocky planets, its composition would be distinct. While this scenario isn’t as likely as Mars forming in the inner solar system, it at least matches the reality of Mars’ makeup, Mojzsis says.

Such a distant origin means that the fledgling Mars would have received far less sunlight than originally thought, a challenge to early Mars’ possible habitability. Without a sustained thick atmosphere of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the planet would have been too cold to sustain liquid water on its surface for long periods of time, Mojzsis argues. Though large meteorite impacts could have temporarily warmed Mars above freezing, the planet wouldn’t have had a consistently warm and wet youth similar to that of the early Earth, he says.

Confirming whether Mars really was born that far out in space will require taking a closer look at Venus’ mix of elements and isotopes, which the researchers predict would be similar to Earth’s. Venus’ composition is largely unknown because of a lack of Venusian meteorites found on Earth, and that mystery won’t be unlocked anytime soon: No missions to Venus are planned.