I’ve transferred my blog posts to a new site, https://jjoshh.com/. Please refer here for all future posts.
I’ve transferred my blog posts to a new site, https://jjoshh.com/. Please refer here for all future posts.
After months of working on it, our paper is finally submitted. Now all we have to do is wait for the rejection (I’m kidding😬).
In other news, ES3001 Astrobiology began last week. I’d say its going well. Last week was good; this week I thought was questionable. I’m disappointed because Tuesdays lecture didn’t go as smoothly. I thought I was ready, but I found myself stuttering and I rushed through the material. I hope to do better on Thursday. The bright side of rushing on Tuesday is that it leaves me more time on Thursday when we discuss alternate chemistry of life. This was a topic a lot of them had interest in, so I’m hoping to use the extra time to fluff it up a bit using the papers mentioned in the book.
With that in mind, lets talk about the chemistry of life!
Lets start with the basics.
CHNOPS are the six major elements life uses. Of course, life uses other elements in other ways, but these are the main ones we care about.
Carbon of course is the back bone of life. Carbon is ideal because it forms stable bonds with a number of elements, but these bonds, while stable, are still sufficiently weak to allow for them to break when needed. It can form double and triple carbon bonds which encourages increased diversity in the type of molecules it forms. Of course, it can also form long chains, or polymers, as life is prone to do.
Silicon is often considered an alternate to carbon. It lies below Carbon in the 14th column of the periodic table which allows it share several characteristics with carbon. Silicon is more reactive than carbon. That is to say, the bonds break more easily and require less energy. It has a nature to share and accept more electrons than carbon, and can form more bonds. This means the diversity of molecules it can form is even higher thna carbon. However, all this makes the bonds very polarized.
All in all, the lack of stability may make life harder to maintain itself because the compounds are less stable. Silicon is also larger, so some things become harder like ring compounds or double/triple bonds as with carbon. Finally, it forms rocks with oxygen.
A more likely chemistry with silicon might be a hybrid with carbon, called Silanes. They are made up complex silicon and hydrogen bonds which can substitute of organic groups allowing for more stability, but they are not very common in natural world.
However, the biggest problem with silicon is the availability of oxygen which is one of the most abundant elements in the solar system.
Other sources have their own problems too. Germanium is the same as Si. Halogens (Cl/F) too unreactive. Metals form weaker ionic bonds (opposed to covalent). Then oxygen and boron are too readily bonded to carbon which is abundant.
Life needs a solvent because the molecules of life need a liquid to react in. Something that can allow for high enough concentrations but also allow them to move around easily. Obviously, water meets this requirement. Its polar; the easiest way to think about it is like a magnet. It makes it easy to dissolve salts and organics which are useful to life.
It also has the benefit of taking a lot of heat to change its temperature (this changes for different liquids). It makes it more stable and useful in controlling temperature (i.e. evaporate cooling by sweat). Of course, water is also special because ice floats. If it sank, it would allow lakes to freeze much more quickly, killing life.
Life could use other solvents. They each have their own caveats. I don’t have a lot of time to expand on this, so I will leave it with a table. I may come back to it to elaborate when I have more time.
My apologies, this is another thing I don’t have time to discuss very much. However, phosphorus is a key part of DNA where phosphate links together sugars to form the backbone of DNA. This backbone is what the bases or letters of life link to. Some have suggested the earliest forms of life used Arsenic, but that its less stable to hydrolysis.
I recently sent off my manuscript to the coauthors for review. Our goal is to finish up the final revisions to submit it in time for Icarus’ Special Cassini edition issue. I also received an offer to teach Astrobiology in the Winter 2019 term. Beyond that, have been granted funding to travel home (abroad) to Atlanta for the summer where I will work with my old adviser Dr. Britney Schmidt and her PhD student Jacob Buffo on a project I touched on in June 2018. Although, first I have to finish proctoring and grading for Earth Rocks this semester.
I have my work cut out for me, and I think we are the point where I’m in need of a good old timeline to set some goals for myself.
The manuscript has been sent to the coauthors. We have to make revisions to their suggestions. Then we have to send it to the Cassini team to repeat the process before the actual submission in January.
I applied to teach Astrobiology (I think a 3rd year course) in lieu of Catherine next semester. I got the offer (which I was expecting), so I can officially say I will be teaching it next semester. Catherine has generously offered me all her material for the lecture and labs. However, I still have to prepare for the lectures and decide if there are any changes I want to make. I suppose this all will seem obvious, but I think it’s necessary to approach this large problem step by step to avoid issues.
I have to organize the course material (Class site, etc.). Then create a timeline for the different subjects. I need to decide when lectures are covered and how to fit labs around them. The class project needs deadlines set up. These are all initial steps that need to be taken this month.
Even though I have the lectures, I need to sit down and develop my own approach for each lecture. That means, reading through each respective chapter and making sure I have an idea of what I am presenting it and how I want to communicate it. This is the most taxing thing I think. I need to begin this this month as soon as possible because I want to make sure I’m not falling behind with the course. Ideally, I’ll have 4 weeks (8 days) worth of material lined up, but I still need to make sure I have a clear plan on how to continue the process as the semester continues.
I have plans to change at least one of the labs. I need to get into contact with a professor at the University of Washington to get started. That may or may not happen, but I need to start working on that. With that in mind, I want to work through at least some of the labs to see if there is room for improvement. Particularly the one I helped make two years ago. I’d put these tasks as lower priority because what we have works, I’d just like to see if we can make it better. I’ll translate it to excel later.
I’m going to use some of the content I proposed this internship for background.
Dr. Schmidt and her team have been studying the Antarctic ice as an analogue for the Europa ice-ocean interface. Mr. Buffo has been developing a model of this boundary on Earth where it can be tested and validated, and then a few parameters are changed for application to the Europa environment. It follows the interactions between the salt impurities and the ice. One thing we see on Earth, is that even when the water-ice is pure, salty brine layers may still form within the ice.
Dr. Schmidt, Mr. Buffo, and I are working to apply his model to Titan melt ponds to better understand how the organics will be collected in the ice. The biggest obstacle in applying this to Titan will be substituting Titan organics for the salty brines being modeled on Earth. It requires an understanding of their physical properties in water. Some assumptions will need to be made, but we believe this will help improve Dragonfly’s search for biomolecules on Titan.
I did a rough plan for the internship, which will extend between Monday May 13th, 2019 and Friday August 30th, 2019. chose the middle of May to allow ample time for finals to be completed and processed at both universities. The nearly 4-month internship is meant to provide abundant time for learning, troubleshooting, and application. I ended it in August because classes at Western University begin in September.
Below is a plan for while I am there.
That’s probably not new for Catherine, but for others it may be. It’s also nice to have it here to reference more easily. I still take it a step further, because May is a ways away and I need to begin looking at this more closely. Realistically, I’ll be tackling the very problems that are listed above, but nevertheless I’ll write out clear deadlines to strive for.
Several years ago, I submitted a paper for my undergraduate work with Dr. Schmidt mapping crevasses or fractures on Helheim glacier. This observational paper was rejected. Firstly, it was my first attempt and there is plenty of room for improvements writing wise, but more fundamentally, they needed more. They need use to analysis our results and to quantify them.
Dr. Catherine Walker, Britney’s one time post doc, was going to do modeling using them. I’m not sure where that went, but we wanted to get my work published as well. More specifically I want to. I began working on quantifying these results. I had hoped to get it done much sooner. That has not happened. There has been a lot of troubleshooting mixed with long bits of no progress do to other responsibilities by all parties involved. We have all tried to return our eyes to this to bring it to fruition. I have been working with undergraduate student Kathrine Udell who has done similar work to what I’ve done. Shes done other types of mapping in addition to fractures. I did not. However, I’ve worked to get results for my glacier, Helheim and for her’s, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier.
I should take a step back and say, I’ve developed a code in matlab to quantify the maps. Katherine has helped me refine it to both improve our results and identify the best way to present the data. Presentation has been the biggest hurdle. Deciding how to talk about this type of data. This is already become more detailed than I intended, but long story short, I developed a grid to measure the fractures across the glacier. We’re looking at including orientation as well. This is a quick view of the most recent output.
I don’t want to get lost in the methodology, but the point is, we reaching our close. We don’t plan on working on this over the summer because we intend it to be submitted by then, so I need a plan. I need a plan that somehow gets me a paper with all I have ahead of me.
I need to run these dates by them, but I like them and think its reasonable. Up to now, I haven’t done much with the paper. I’ve been so lost in the methodology; we have finally reached a point where we are comfortable with the approach we are using. Obviously, this is my lowest priority, but it’s something I need to think about. I’m glad I at least have something written out there.
Update: I’ve discussed this with my adviser, and I’m being too ambitious. I need to postpone this until the summer.
How long has it been? A while I’m sure, so let’s recap. Let’s start with last week. I went to bed last Sunday with a splitting headache. Was I dehydrated? I must have been for it to have been so bad. Come to find out the next day, I had a serious case of the flu. Barely able to get out of bed, I suffered miserably. It was probably the worst I’ve had it in years. Even when I tried to rest, I was miserable. Naturally, it made for a bad work week. I could barely manage enough energy to make food let alone work. I tried to TA Tuesday; that was a mistake. I didn’t stay long. Hopefully, none of the students got sick. I didn’t make the same mistake Thursday, but I was mildly better. Or rather, I had to be. I had an application that I had intended to do at the start of the week but was unable to do. Now I made myself do it. I submitted the application to work in Atlanta with Dr. Britney Schmidt and her student for a about four months from mid May to the end of August. Hopefully, it gets accepted.
Prior to that, I visited Mexico with my mother and older sister on a cruise. I had a great time visiting with my family and exploring the underground river caves in Mexico. We also explored some awesome Mayan ruins as well.
For Halloween, I was Winifred Sanderson. My sister and her boyfriend were Tina and Gene from Bob’s Burgers (see cover photo).
I am applying to be the instructor for the course in Astrobiology. Lets hope I get the job. I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but there is an update happening to the Astrobiology Primer. The primer is a guide to learning and teaching leading concepts in astrobiology. I have signed up to help. It is still in its early stages. Most of the chapters have been developed, and we are decided on who will be the editors vs authors of chapters. I hope to help author parts of it. More to come later.
In other news, I got an updated draft of my manuscript to Catherine a few weeks ago, but there’s more to do there. That is my priority this week. I’ll add updates on this as things progress before our meeting Wednesday.
I’ve updated all of the figures so all is left is to deal with words for the next few days. That keeps me on track to update by the end of the week I think. Here is a quick review.
I updated my methods and results to include stereo data measured using a new method. I have to go back and make a few more changes. The way I discuss the results needs improving, but the figures are done like I said (at least for now). Work in progress.
I spent the last week touring Meteor Crater in Arizona. It was a unique opportunity sponsored by LPI that gave us unprecedented access to meteor crater to aid in our understanding of impact cratering processes. It began with 3 days of touring the crater followed by 4 days of investigating a particular problem.
This was lead by the lead scientist at Meteor Crater and the head scientist at LPI (the Lunar and Planetary Institute).
We toured along the east rim then back again along the west rim viewing the crater from two different perspectives. On the second day we explored the interior of the crater. The beauty of Meteor Crater lies in its location and how well preserved it is.
Think about the Grand Canyon. It’s only ~150 km away from Meteor Crater, and in fact they both lie on the Colorado Plateau which means the geologic layers are the same (at least before impact).
You may have already learned that the Grand Canyon is like a picture through time. Cosmos, a Space Time Odyssey illustrated this with an nice animation that separates each layer to highlight how each different layer has a different history for how it formed.
Meteor Crater penetrated through to the top 3 or four layers, Moenkopi, Kaibab, and Coconino. You can learn more about these in D. Kring’s guidebook (2017), but they each speak to a different environment by which they form. Coconino likely formed by sand dunes. Kaibab formed when Arizona was covered by a sea of varying depths (with fossils). Moenkopi formed during a time of a flood plain, similar to the Florida Everglades.
What happens when impacted is that the impactor (~30m in size) penetrates ~30m below the surface releasing large amounts shock pressures into the ground that rebound into the meteorite.
It acts like poking a pen through paper. The paper breaks and the ring bends back. In fact, they bend back over one another, folding. The result is that the lowest layer is folded on top of the other layers inverse to how they are normally layered. The diagram below shows the “fold hinge” having been mostly blown out in ejecta while the Moenkopi remains. However, overtime, this hinge is eroded (as well as the upper layer) and it becomes more difficult to see.
This overturned rim consists of a part of the blanket of ejecta that extends outside the crater.
This overturn is idealized. Sections eroded. Some shear; sections of Kaibab are missing between Coconino and Moenkopi because it slid outward further into the ejecta blanket. Furthermore, Kring suggests there were likely two other types of ejecta. A base-surge unit of the finest particles thrown up by as ejecta that is the last to fall and coat the rim and ejecta. This unit is known to exist from atomic bomb testing that formed craters. The other unit, which actually was the target of our research project, was known as Fall-out or Fall back ejecta.
Fallback material is a layer of debris that is deposited over the overturned ejecta/rim. Kring describes its radial extent as unknown in the field book, but in person he made it seem as though its radial extent would be minimal. He described it as highly shocked material that is shot nearly straight up into the air before falling back down. This suggests that the layer it produces should be a mix of material, rather than distinctly inverted layers of the original target rock (see figure below). The idea that it goes straight up suggests it can’t extend too far out (without further modification).
Our research objective of this trip was to investigate region of possible fallback material by mapping its extent and identifying key characteristics within it. This means looking for key things like moankopi above the two layers (when it should be below) or evidence of high impact pressures with things like shocked Coconino.
Note, a previous version of this blog went into more detail about the project. I regret that decision. The blog wasn’t meant to expose too many details about the project, especially with the potential for publication. I have a habit of discussing my research openly, and I realize this is a unique situation that deserved more discretion.
I wish I had a clearer idea of what to expect going into this. The first 3 days or so are introduction. The next day is an applied field project to expose us to the area and investigating a problem. We measured ejected boulders to calculate their velocities. Then we moved on to this project, but the transition went from being guided to self ran. There wasn’t a clear distinction that, hey, from here on out you’re guiding yourself. That lead to a bit of confusion at the start, and even Kring blowing up at us, even going so far as to call us “by far the worst group of students I’ve ever had,” after telling us we were picked for this very competitive school because were believed to be the best of the best. That bothered me and several others. That isn’t how you teach. That isn’t how you motivate. What’s worse, I have to ask myself do I really want to talk about this here? Because, I could risk throwing away my chance to get another field school sponsored by Kring or LPI. At the same time, the thought that I’d be willing to work with someone who would treat me this way makes me feel…pathetic.
Note, images of Meteor crater are not to be reproduced for professional use. Images must legally be obtained by contacting Meteor Crater enterprises.
Last Friday was one of many deadlines for which I was set to have a new draft of my manuscript (of my masters research) to my adviser, Dr. Catherine Neish. I was set back by a problem with my newest results that I noticed as I was discussing (i.e. writing) about them. To recap, I have measured crater morphometry (diameters, depths) using SARTopo, a low resolution topography on Titan. Then I compared it to Catherines stereo results (of higher topography) to ensure the low resolution data was reliable. I then replicated her results because the methodology of the measurements were different. Hers being an average of the entire 2D regions. While mine are averages of individual profiles (up to 8). Obviously, these results would differ, especially if there are fluctuations in the topography. However, I noticed that one of my crater measurements was significantly lower than Catherine’s.
At first, I assumed it was differences in the methodology. After all, the point of me doing this was because we feared they would be different, but I studied it closer by looking at the 8 individual measurements I took to make sure the lower result was just a matter of averaging lower areas. This wasn’t the case though. Every profile was significantly lower depths which didn’t add up. It ended up being a simple problem. I was weighting scaled images. As in, I used black and white images where the white region was the max height and black the min height. This will not give precise measurements and will skew the data.
All in all, it wasn’t that off, but for Shikoku it was. That meant I had to go back extracted precise text file matrices of the data. I had another issue in this process where I was using the wrong file for Shikoku to extract the data. Stereo files vs radar images have different resolutions. That’s how I was differentiating them. Except, Shikoku had several 1404m resolution files; this wasn’t the case for the others. I started to use the wrong one. I don’t think this was the problem originally because I used an image already made (by Catherine I assume). Still, the problem is now resolved.
These updates and fixes have significantly improved my results. Before, they all lied below or within error of SARTopo, but some of them disagreed with Catherine’s results. Now they are more in line. That is, Foresti and Hano are unnaturally low compared to SARtopo (~110 and 70m respectively). This has been explained before; there is a problem in the stereo processing where it likely doesn’t have enough representative features in the radar images to identify a difference in the two. Before, Hano was comparable to SARTopo, and I figured Catherine’s results were just because there was significant variance in the topography (some very low and very high) regions. Although, this isn’t what I find. Its around 50-70m in each profile, never reaching 100.
All the others lie slightly above SARTopo results, but they lie well within the margins of error. The highest are observed with Soi and Shikoku (+80 and +90m respectively). All in all, this is the result we were looking for. The results are slightly higher because SARTopo does average the results downward. Dr. Livio Tornabene actually made a point to point this out in my Thesis notes where he pointed out a paper that proved this was happening on Mars with two different topography sources. This is something I’m adding to the manuscript because it is relevant, and they actually take terrain to floor depths too.
Despite being slightly lower, they lie within the error, so these results can be considered reliable. Here is a plot of the values. Neish stereo results with a square, H18 results with triangle, and SARTopo with circle. The 6 stereo craters are color coded along with corresponding SARTopo. If there is no stereo, the SARTopo values are left grey. One last thing I want to point out is that every stereo measurement (save Forseti, which is not reliable) is higher using my (H18) method. This is what I expected. Neish and others used an averaging of a region of floor and rims, but we used peaks. Therefore, you’d expect the highest points in Neish and others to be lower, or at least I did.
I hope to have the manuscript sent to Catherine by Friday. Next week I will be gone to go to the meteor crater field camp. As far as future work goes, I’ve emailed McMaster about working with them to do some tests on the production of long chain polymers in a cold wet environment like Titan’s. I may end up emailing Dr. Britney Schmidts student at GA Tech about modeling impurities in a freezing water melt lens, but I have a meeting with a few people in that group tomorrow. I’ll begin my inquiry there.
This is not a research update. This is a long facebook post I decided to turn into a short blog post. I have very strong beliefs, but usually I try to let the reporters do the reporting. Except this time, they’re not reporting enough about something they should be.
There was only one White House press briefing in September. This is not normal, yet no one is talking about it. I first heard about it in a brief segment on NPR’s Politics podcast. Except even there, there was no real coverage. Rather, it was one reporter expressing her surprise (in a sentence or two) at the lack of interest. I don’t like to rely on CNN as my source here (even though we’re dealing with a simple fact) just because people on the will be more likely to dismiss its importance from mere association (a success of Trump’s targeting them as biased). Unfortunately, they’re the only ones talking about it. That speaks to how little press it’s getting.