‘Tis the Season…

So. It’s this time of year again. Cultists sing about elder gods stirring in their sleepsomething horrible is creeping down the chimney to eat your souls, skeletons dress in red robes and deliver presents (whether the original giver is available or not), things fall apartgiant robots roam the streets after sunset and aliens plot their invasions to Earth. You know, the usual stuff. And if we survive the season with our lives and minds intact, we can look forward to the new year.

And it’s looking like a pretty exciting year ahead of us. We’ll see whether Philae wakes up near 67P’s perihelion, what results Dawn brings about Ceres and how New Horizons‘ flyby of Pluto turns out.

Happy Christmas or whichever other festivity you’re celebrating. As for my Christmas wish for everyone: let’s keep working on gradually making this reality

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Source of Earth’s water: A little idea about D/H ratios

You couldn’t have missed the headlines: Due to Rosetta’s measurements of the ratio of hydrogen and deuterium in 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s water vapor, the hypothesis that Earth’s water had been brought here by comet impacts sometime around the Late Heavy Bombardment suffered a heavy hit, so to say. In short: Most comets have a much higher ratio of D/H (deuterium/hydrogen) than Earth. The only known exception is comet 103P/Hartley 2. Of course, we don’t know how representative the current sample may be of comets hitting Earth nearly four billion years ago, but it’s now supposed that Earth’s water had been more likely brought here by asteroid impacts (as most investigated asteroids have a D/H ratio similar to Earth), or possibly that most of our water has been here since Earth’s formation (only not always on the surface). According to seismic measurements, about twice as much water as is in our oceans, lakes, glaciers and atmosphere may be contained in high-pressure mantle rock. So far, it’s not very clear if this water gets to the surface due to tectonics or is stored there for billions of years. However, slow degassing of the mantle rock may have formed Earth’s oceans. We may not need to explain the abundance of water on Earth by impacts of other bodies after all. It’s still in the early stages of research, we shall see later how each of the hypotheses fares in the light of new results.

But summing this up is not why I’m writing this post – you can read so much more in any popular science article on the web. I have an idea, which may or may not be completely off – I’m not a geologist or a chemist, so I’d be glad if a more qualified person told me whether it’s really stupid, clever or somewhere in between. Suppose for a moment that comets had indeed brought most of our water on Earth. How do we get from an average comet’s D/H ratio to Earth’s?

That’s where mantle rock comes back into the game. Could it have been more depleted in water in earlier stages of Earth’s existence, only gradually enriched in it until reaching some equilibrium?

So. In this scenario, we have water with more deuterium in it than now and mantle rock gradually absorbing water from the surface reservoirs.

What intrigues me is this: Is there any reason why heavy water would be absorbed in the mantle disproportionately to water containing hydrogen atoms?

We don’t need to devise any kind of preferential intake into chemical reactions due to the little higher molecular height of water containing deuterium instead of hydrogen (I don’t even know of any inorganic chemistry process that would distinguish between izotopes well enough – some enzymes are capable of that, but let’s leave biochemistry aside here). When I discussed this little idea of mine yesterday, Professor Markoš offered an easy solution when he mentioned studies showing that normal water evaporates more easily than heavy water (suggested also by the very high D/H ratio on Venus). If we evaporate a significant portion of the oceans of “comet water” and the water still in its liquid form is being incorporated into the bedrock, we may get a disproportional amount of heavy water stored in the mantle compared to what’s left on the surface. The Earth cools, the water whose molecules haven’t dissolved and atoms reached the escape velocity, gradually rains back. The D/H ratio of surface water is now lower than at the beginning.

That’s it in a nutshell. Now, this scenario is far too simplified. We’d need to put some constraints on the intake of water into the mantle, rate of evaporating under the presumed temperature and atmosphere composition in the given time range, create a model, etc., and finally try to falsify the hypothesis by measuring D/H ratio in our mantle water. Which is, you know, kind of difficult to do…

What I’m interested in is: Is it at least remotely possible, or am I far off on this track? Geologists, chemists, astronomers – fire at will!

 

For those interested in D/H ratios in different parts of our solar system, this graph from Altwegg et al. 2014 shows it quite nicely:

DHratios

Book launch at Fenixcon

My newest novel, “Bez naděje”, is having a book launch ceremony at Fenixcon this Saturday afternoon. More info and a snippet from the novel (in Czech) is to be found here.

In another news, I’m invited as a speaker at University Pardubice’s seminar (on December 17) about the relationship of philosophy and science. I’ll be speaking about this topic from a biologist’s perspective, and if I have enough time, I’ll dive into the topics of formulation of hypotheses, development of science and (dis)advantages of reductionism a bit.

A new novel out in the stores!

I’ve got good news for my Czech readers: My new novel, set in the “Agent John Francis Kovář” adventure SF series, was published today. It’s called “Bez naděje” (“Hopeless”) and John finds himself in a world that really seems to be beyond hope: after a devastating pandemic, riddled with totalitarian regimes…

Ah, I hope you’ll forgive me for posting the official synopsis in Czech: “Nečekaná žádost o pomoc přivádí Johna Francise Kováře z říše Inků do současné Prahy ve světě po katastrofální pandemii. Chaos však postupně nahrazuje pořádek – nebo tvrdá diktatura? John se za pomoci odbojářů (jak se označují sami) či teroristů (jak je nazývají jiní) snaží najít autora záhadné žádosti, pravděpodobně bývalého agenta F.E. Při tom se však neodvratně zaplétá do boje v realitě, která idealistům neodpouští, kde je naděje vysmívaným pojmem a smrt blízkou společnicí.”

If action (or reading in Czech ;)) is not exactly your cup of tea, I may have some news for you as well in the near future…

The cover.

The cover.

An oasis of European short speculative fiction?

Editor Martin Šust has recently mentioned an interesting fact: As far as we know, the Czech Republic is the only European country with two professional monthly genre print magazines (XB-1 and Pevnost) and they’ve been together on the market for more than thirteen years now. Moreover, XB-1 and Polish SF magazine Nowa Fantastyka are the only European non-English magazines that publish foreign authors and can pay them professional fees (as well as translators and Czech and Polish authors, respectively). Russian Esli, which used to publish world authors too, was canceled in 2012. (However, there are luckily more European magazines full of interesting SF, especially online – just most of them are nonpaying.) Vlado Ríša, chief editor of XB-1, may be the longest-working European genre magazine editor: he’s been the chief editor of the magazine for more than eleven years. Jaroslav Olša, Jr., the Czech ambassador in South Korea and longtime SF fan and translator, later added that Japanese SF Magajin and Chinese Kche-sue wen-i are probably the only monthly SF magazines being published longer than Ikarie/XB-1 (Ikarie is the former title of the magazine, which couldn’t be used anymore when it changed its publishing house, but the publishing didn’t cease).

I must admit I have been quite oblivious of the SF magazines situation in the rest of Europe and pretty much anywhere else across the world except for the Angloamerican market, since the only languages in which I have a reading proficiency are Czech (plus Slovakian, which is very similar) and English; after I had finished grammar school, my German became too rusty for me to even read a newspaper. Martin’s information therefore surprised me a lot and made me even prouder to be a small part of the wider XB-1 team. It also made me appreciate the overall SF situation in the Czech Republic much more. I hope it stays this way or improves over time; both magazines suffered the risk of cancellation in the last couple of years, and though both recovered quickly, it showed us how fragile the short fiction market is.

SF has a long tradition in the Czech Republic. Pretty much everyone will mention Karel Čapek (in whose R.U.R. the word robot first appeared) but it goes into the 19th century as well (to some elements of the works by Svatopluk Čech, Jakub Arbes, Karel Pleskač and others). Historical Czech SF anthologies put together by Ivan Adamovič can give one a good idea about the kinds of speculative fiction written here since the end of 19th century. What about today? I’m under the impression that if some Czech authors wrote in English, their works would find a wide audience. Vilma Kadlečková’s ambitious SF saga Mycelium, Jiří W. Procházka’s early cyberpunk stories, Karolina Francová’s dark psychological SF novels… these are just a few examples of many. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately solely for Czech readers), they only write in Czech. I get it; an author can fine-tune the language best when using their native tongue. Writing in Czech and the ability to use everything the language offers may be a part of what makes them exceptional. But still… Sometimes I wonder how an anthology of Czech stories translated into English would do. Croatian authors did this when Eurocon was hosted in Zagreb in 2012. Their anthology Kontakt was a part of the materials at the con and it became widely available this spring when published by Wizard’s Tower Press thanks to Cheryl Morgan.

Since good translations into English are insanely expensive and such a project would be extremely risky, this idea might just fit into some utopian future – and SF, utopian especially, rarely predicts the future… but hey, it happens sometimes.

 

Authors and readers across the world: How’s the SF (in the broad sense of speculative fiction, not only science fiction) magazines situation in your country? How many writers from there publish in English? Do you think there’s been a good development recently? Have I missed something important above? Add what comes to your mind.

Science-fictional & real science

If we have seen further, it’s largely by standing on layers of previous errors.

I had a lecture last week about cognitive biases, their possible adaptiveness and also impacts on science. It also led me to think about the old “hyper-competent scientist” trope so typical for SF. Science-fictional scientists can often recite complex information verbatim and know the answer to every question, even if it’s unrelated to their subfield of research – but then again, there are few molecular biologists focused on studying only one class of receptors in SF. Science-fictional scientists are usually either “generalists”, or very well-informed about basically every single subject of their field. A biologist can easily identify any plant or animal, run various analyses, create a model of a protein’s active site as well as an ecosystem simulation. And if they by chance don’t know something, they are able to quickly look the relevant information up or find out.

Mwahaha.

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Review of Upgraded at Fantasy Scroll

I’ve reviewed Neil Clarke’s cyborg anthology UPGRADED for Fantasy Scroll Magazine; the review can be found here in the new issue of the magazine.

Czech readers can look forward to a Czech translation of the review at XB-1’s website (update: it’s here). And who knows, with some luck, the magazine might feature some of the stories from UPGRADED in the future if our editor picks some of them. There are certainly some stories which deserve to get to as many readers in as many languages as possible.