SOX 6 Return of the Weird Guy

As an avid reader for SOX, you probably know all about our legendary focus and mental stability, hence this week’s Quote of the Week!!!! Apparently we’re making this a thing now. As a brief overview of the week, we scared off a possible friendly group to cite in our report, we made some incredible advancements in our simulation code, ditched VULCAN and slid into Dr Zita Martins’ DMs.

Quote of the Week: 

“You know, I’ve always wanted to break a  group” – Joe Head

This masterpiece of a quote came after the Great Meme Lord Dr Sobral suggested we collaborate with the group HELP. This research team has spent the past 6 weeks scouring through exoplanet data and so would be a useful source for when we start using similar data. Naturally this group is hard working, intelligent and mentally stable. So Joe wanted to break them. Sadly, I fear he scared them off when he asked them about their favourite flowers and the colour of their eyes. Now they won’t even read our love letter 😦 

A sudden turn of events!!!! Mid writing this and crying, we received a reply! We shall meet with them Monday and come bearing a whole new love letter!!!! They won’t know what hit them. I think it was the poem Joe wrote:

Fig.4 – A visual representation of the romantic, smooth talkin’ you can expect from Joe Head. You’ll find his sweet moves very purrsuasive….

Having sent off an email to Dr Zita martins requesting a meeting to go over the biochemistry in our theories of extraterrestrial silicon life, we received a prompt reply; we now have an internet rendezvous, if you will, with the lovely lady. This will prove to be a huge milestone in our project, hopefully marking the end of the theory era and the beginning of the data analysis era! Sounds like an occasion to pretend to drink with Sobral if ever there was one. 

My previous statement about ditching the 3rd party software VULCAN was a little bit of click-bait I won’t lie. We had planned on using a 3rd party simulation to ensure the accuracy of Ben & Ross’ code however many of these software required certain variables without descriptions of what they are. As you can imagine, this is very frustrating especially since we were looking for accuracy. The software VULCAN seemed promising however as we began to learn to use it, Ben and Ross had a breakthrough with their code, allowing them to determine variations to a reasonable degree of accuracy! This means that the need for a 3rd party simulator is not needed and we can spend more time perfecting the theory and the current simulation instead of playing around with weird simulators. 

The simulation seems to accurately([f]ish) calculate the maximum and minimum temperature variations on an exoplanet. Unfortunately, QTiPlot has decided to make plotting logarithmic lines of best fit nice and impossible. Here we see Ben trying to utilise the last 20 minutes of his free trial by plotting as many random best fit lines as he can:

Fig.5 – The famous 20 minute rush!!!

At least we have a mew resource for learning about semiconductor physics, an important quality of Silicon and useful for the 313 Solid State module, taught by the one and only, Britney Spear;

Fig.6 – Dr Sobral’s reaction to Britney Spears’ guide to semiconductor physics

While Big Ben was working hard with Ross on that crazy code, Joe and Lucy made a start on the report. It has been said that Joe finds it hard to take things seriously at times so writing a professional report may indeed prove a challenge for him. How will he cope?! He probably won’t. Lucy on the other hand is a PRO writing person, she just needs to remember to cite things and fact check with that genius guy Joe… As well as this, Xinyi made some remarkable progress on looking into silane based compounds for life, it seems as though it may well be a possibility! We’ll need to discuss a little more with Dr Zita Martins on Wednesday, wish the team good luck!!!!

Gotta Catch ’em up

Previously on SOX… (remember to read in that cool advert, deep voice, you know the one)
Ben and Ross tackle a python to get it to run code
Lucy spends 8+ hours trying to get python to work before realising python is incorrectly installed
What is silicon life? How does it work? Does anybody know? We don’t! (or do we?…) Find out more with the Joe and Xinyi show!
Ned sits on many keyboards

As of this week (week 5, the sad week in which my french buddy drowned. I scratched Joe’s foot for a week after I heard that un-deux-trois cat sank), we reached a stage where in terms of theory for life, we have 3 habitable zones to look for and in terms of the program, it produces data that can almost accurately depict night/day cycles of an exoplanet based on measurable and predictable data. 

In terms of Benedek & Ross’ code, it is at a stage where it produces a temperature against time graph of a certain location (or locations) on the planet. The script determines the energy loss and energy gain of the location and calculates the temperature curve based on that. The program determines the temperature curve based on: obliquity of the planet, radius of the orbit, radius of the planet, the star’s luminosity and the albedo of the planet. The program neglects the atmosphere/greenhouse effect, therefore it produces temperatures slightly lower than the actual data. The simulation is more reliable when not asked to simulate extreme conditions (for example north pole), as the simulation does not include heat redistribution of the surface of the planet. Now they’re working on determining how the composition and the thickness of the atmosphere creates the greenhouse effect and how it changes the temperature of the planet. The next steps for the code is to take into account greenhouse effects as they would raise the overall temperature of the planets.

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Fig. 2: A graph showing the temperature change of an Earth-like planet over 3 years, created by Big Ben’s code!

For the 3 possible zones, we’re looking into one hot with a protic solvent (a solvent that breaks into H^+ and negative ions) such that tectosilicates or biogenic silica might become more reactive, one cold with a aprotic, non-polar solvent (N_2 or CH_4) for the long chained silanes and polysilicon halides which under other conditions is too explosive. The other zone we would like to look at is more comparable to earth conditions, hosting organic silicon crossover compounds that can host the same functional groups as organic compounds. In the coming weeks, we will look into these three zones in more detail to determine more specific requirements.

In terms of tangents, the group has been incredibly focused with no distractions. At all. Except when Joe and Lucy realised that using geothermal energy to ionise certain silicon based materials that might also hold Nitrogen or Helium allowing them to shoot lasers. Laser aliens could also feed their young with the energy from that if they were autotrophs. Here is a scientific diagram I made with my own two paws to describe this effect:

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Fig.3 – We’re probably not insane

So no tangents at all. Oh yeah we also spent a few hours talking about european folk metal but that doesn’t count, a cat gotta waste his time somehow and that e-mail to Zita was already written up!

On a more serious note, we did hypothesise that silicon based organisms could be autotrophic, feeding off thermal energy, chemicals or light from their surroundings similar to deep ocean fish and plants. This is a little more complex than we need to go for determining conditions but it is interesting & could be helpful in future work.

On an optimistic note, Xinyi made lots of progress in researching possible solvents, in terms of more protic solvents, it could be possible to use Sulfuric, Silicic or Hydrochloric acid meanwhile the cooler planets may be able to use liquid nitrogen, methane or even ethane. In terms of a more earth-like zone, possible solvents could even be water or maybe ammonia! After we look at the reactivity of certain materials with these, we can determine possible solvents then use their melting and boiling points as a range of habitable temperatures.

SOX – Silicon based Organisms on eXoplanets

As the most important member of the group, it’ll be me, Ned Head, who shares the progress and inner functions of the project SOX (Silicon-based Organisms on eXoplanets). In this project, the bald looking thumb cats in the photo below are gonna try to find the conditions at which a silicon based life could form and whack that into the Drake equation.

Fig.1 – Project SOX after whooping the Yankees at football and volleyball and sports. Left to right: Joe Head, Communications lead and Ned Supervisor; Lucy Cryer, Administrator and Report lead; Xinyi Zhou, Data and Theory lead; Ned the Cat, Distraction and Cuteness lead; Benedek Kovacs, Co-ordinator and Programming lead; Ross Booker, Error Analysis lead and Coding Aid; Dr David Sobral, Lecturer/lead for PHYS369.

Silicon compared to carbon is like a scraggy ginger tom compared to a gorgeous Tabby (like myself). In that, I mean they have almost identical outer electronic structure so can form analogous compounds to what we see in biochemistry. However these are often either explosively reactive or sit there like a block of quartz. In our research, we will be analysing the properties of possible silicon biochemistry and using that to compare how silicon life may change certain cosmological values, such as the Habitable zone, and values in the Drake Equation.

Overall, there are a few catflaps to pass before we can get our result. Firstly, we need a theory on what kind of chemicals & compounds might make up silicon based life. Lucy, Xinyi and Joe are chewing on that one and waiting for a meeting with Dr Zita Martins (Astrobiologist that can hopefully correct their awful chemistry understanding). Meanwhile, Benedek and Ross aren’t just napping and beating up the neighbor’s dog, they’re working on an atmospheric simulation of an exoplanet which produces a surface temperature profile based on various different parameters. This simulation will also take into account day and night cycles, as well as seasonal change. By comparing these new temperature simulations to the requirements for a silicon based life, we can determine a new habitable zone and search the NASA exoplanet archive and determine how common possible host planets are.