Science fiction may often focus on new planets, but we don’t even know much about our own. The Deep Carbon Observatory aims to change one not-so-small piece of our ignorance. The multidisciplinary group of scientists wants to better understand what happens to carbon deep inside the earth, including carbon caught up in living things. That’s right: there is life outside the thin zone that we think of as habitable.
The project is organized into four sections: Deep Carbon Reservoirs and Fluxes, Deep Life, Deep Energy, and Extreme Physics and Chemistry. Even their titles seem science-fictional.
I’m a biologist, so Deep Life is my favorite. The first guiding question for that section: “What’s down there?” How many science fiction tales have “What’s out/down/in/under there” as their guiding question?
Even the chemistry and physics are complicated. We can’t do experiments easily or at all because the temperature and pressure are hard to duplicate: Extreme Physics and Chemistry indeed, at pressures of hundreds of tons per square inch and 2500F.
Reservoirs and Fluxes has to do with movement of carbon into and out of the earth. Volcanoes, anyone? And plate tectonics, with chunks of crust sliding into the mantle and taking carbon with them. The deep carbon cycle operates on a huge scale, and we don’t know much about it.
Deep Energy is just as poorly understood. Our major energy sources are carbon compounds: oil and coal are fossil biological carbon. But it’s also possible that life isn’t needed to produce hydrocarbons, that these compounds are also formed in the deep crust or mantle.
Want to learn more? Living on Earth just interviewed DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen.
Dr. Hazen doesn’t talk about science fiction at all. But what do you think? Doesn’t this just spawn all sorts of science fictional ideas?
School, like most of everyday life, is at times boring and occasionally a waste of time. We can place blame for that squarely upon the education system and teachers, or share it with parents if we’d like to keep diplomacy in the PTA. But although it’s true that the adults who shape and deliver education as we know it are largely responsible for what we learn and how well we learn it while we are children, we have nobody but ourselves to blame for allowing ignorance to persist after we grow up.
No matter how dreadful your education experience was as a child, if you reached adulthood literate enough to use the internet, then you should find developing a passing acquaintance with basic science concepts both convenient and entertaining. The idea that learning should be fun and easy is so compelling that YouTube is positively swarming with video bloggers enthusiastically sharing knowledge.
Because I am a science enthusiast and a lifetime devotee of independent study, I’ve compiled a video playlist of some of my recent favorites in that genre. To eliminate some common misconceptions, the playlist opens with the definition of science. From there, it builds from some interesting basics about water and carbon, covers some of the science frequently botched by Hollywood and in other fiction, and demonstrates that girls plus math equals win. Then follows a musical interlude, but it’s all science, so it’s all good. The last few are a sampler of videos posted by universities and science publishers for viewers who prefer productions with bigger budgets.
(incorrectly but fittingly ascribed to Emma Goldman, feminist, activist, trouble-maker)
Those who know my outermost layer would consider me a science geek. I’m a proponent of genetic engineering, an advocate of space exploration, a reader and writer of science fiction. However, I found myself unable to warm to either transhumanism or its literary sidekick, cyberpunk. I ascribed this to the decrease of flexibility that comes with middle age and resumed reading Le Guin’s latest story cycle.
But the back of my mind gnawed over the discrepancy. After all, neither transhumanism nor cyberpunk are monolithic, they come in various shades of… and then it hit me… gray. Their worlds contain little color or sound, few scents, hardly any plants or animals. Food and sex come as pills, electric stimuli or IV drips; almost all arts and any sciences not related to individual enhancement have atrophied, along with most human activities that don’t involve VR.