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Transparent atmosphere link to intelligent life?

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#1 karstenkoch

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 10:54 AM

There's a good discussion on "the joy of visual observing" going on in the general observing forum. Several people have commented that visual astronomy feels like a much more intimate experience than imaging. I do agree, but I don't want to debate that point here. What I am curious about is the degree to which a transparent atmosphere might play a supporting role in the development of intelligent life. Does visual oberving feel so intimate for us because we share some of the same genes as ancestors who may have achieved intelligence in part because of their attempt to make sense of what they saw in the sky? Or am I way off base here and letting my thoughts wander off into fantasyland? :) Looking for any science-based, thought-provoking replies...

#2 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:34 PM

Perhaps related is that Asiimov sci fi story about a culture on a planet circling a star in a globular cluster. They had never seen the night sky because of so many bright nearby stars. However, on one occasion it somehow happens that the nearby stars are all of the other side of the planet and they see the night sky for the first time....and go insane.

#3 WaterMaster

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:52 PM

Does visual oberving feel so intimate for us because we share some of the same genes as ancestors who may have achieved intelligence in part because of their attempt to make sense of what they saw in the sky?


Interesting idea. I've often thought about what selective pressures might give rise to intelligence, or if intelligence is just a 'by-product' of some other trait that was selected for. No matter, really. And trying to tease that out of the fossil record would be a little tough :).

That being said, I think our fascination with the night sky has more to do with our hard-wired curiosity and desire to find patterns. I think it feels 'intimate' because the photons are sensed directly, while looking at photos involves 'higher' brain functions (we know we're looking at a representation, not the real thing).

#4 ColoHank

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 06:58 PM

I think our most distant ancestors were probably more concerned about that lion lying in wait behind the bushes than they were interested in the wonders of the night sky.

#5 llanitedave

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 10:21 PM

I agree. Astronomy is a side effect of intelligence, not a cause of it. On the other hand, the transparency of a planet's sky might have a great deal of influence on the kind of science and technology, and its rate of progress, that an intelligent civilization might develop.

#6 Pess

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 08:24 AM

I think eruptive intelligence had more to do with tool use. If you look around different species have marvelous adaptions in their anatomy -- essentially a built-in tool -- that makes them very efficient at one particular task.

For example, the wood pecker has a tool, his beak, perfectly adapted to bore holes in hard wood and does it better than any human could hope to do without tools.

As we develop generalized appendages (hands & fingers) that could do almost anything, but little well, then intelligence was heavily selected for to be able to devise tools that would amplify these generalized appendages for specific tasks.

(shrugs)

Pesse (Sure doesn't explain the smart aleck Dolphin though) Mist

#7 karstenkoch

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 12:55 PM

Hmm, thanks all, good replies. Yes, thinking about it some more, it does seem that the initial development of intelligence as an adaptation to our environment probably had very little to do with celestial bodies light years away and much more to do with the lion a few meters away as ColoHank points out! :) I guess it then follows that once intelligence reached full bloom in our species and we struggled to better understand everything around us, a transparent atmosphere made it possible (or at least much easier) for us to also (eventually) understand the heavens above us.

#8 ColoHank

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 01:18 PM

Perhaps related is that Asiimov sci fi story about a culture on a planet circling a star in a globular cluster. They had never seen the night sky because of so many bright nearby stars. However, on one occasion it somehow happens that the nearby stars are all of the other side of the planet and they see the night sky for the first time....and go insane.



I don't think they'd see much difference. A globular cluster looks densely packed to us owing to our great distance from it. If we, like Asimov's fictional characters, were right on the edge of a globular cluster, the vast distances between its constituent stars would likely be quite evident to us, and we'd probably consider them rather widely spaced.

Similarly, the Milky Way probably would look pretty dense from afar, but from our vantage point out on one of its spiral arms, not so much.

#9 Mister T

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 07:08 AM

I am thinking that on a planet in a globular cluster, it would be quite bright at night.

On earth we can see ~2000 naked eye stars on a clear night and many of them are on the dim side.

Imagine a sky filled with 100,000 to 1,000,000 Sirius-Magnitude stars :jawdrop:

#10 scopethis

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 08:23 AM

rats...no drive-in movies on that planet either...

#11 llanitedave

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 08:51 PM

I am thinking that on a planet in a globular cluster, it would be quite bright at night.

On earth we can see ~2000 naked eye stars on a clear night and many of them are on the dim side.

Imagine a sky filled with 100,000 to 1,000,000 Sirius-Magnitude stars :jawdrop:


Well, let's work on that for a moment. Using M-13, since it's fairly typical and convenient, we get a distance of 25,100 light years. According to This Source, it has a diameter of 145 light years, meaning a radius of about 73 light years. So, if you're drifting at the edge, half of the stars will be less than this distance, and half more.

The dozen brightest stars in M13 have visual magnitudes ranging from 11.95 to about 12.8, so lets say they average 12.5. At M13's distance, that gives them an absolute magnitude of about -2.

On average, 6 of those stars will be closer than 73 light years, and six further away. At 73 light years, a -2 magnitude star appears to be at visual magnitude -0.2: Bright, but less bright than Sirius. It would be a touch brighter than Arcturus. So there would be six of those brightest stars closer than that distance, and two or three of them might well be brighter than Sirius -- maybe even approaching Venus or Jupiter in brightness.

What about the majority of stars in the cluster? The great majority of those stars still lie on the Main Sequence, hovering around visual magnitude 18.5. That comes out to an absolute magnitude of about 4 -- a little brighter than the sun, but not much. Let's say there are 300,000 of these stars. Half of them will be fainter than magnitude 5.7 -- barely visible. At that density, you'd still have quite a sky glow on one side of your planet, but most of the stars would not be visible.

Of the stars closer to us than the center of the cluster, about 75% of those would be more than halfway to the center. That means that they'd be fainter than 4th magnitude.

You're now left with 37,500 stars brighter than 4th magnitude, and maybe dozens or scores brighter than Sirius. That's a far cry from the 100,000 Sirius-class stars, but we'd still be dealing with a pretty dazzling night sky on one side.

#12 Rick Woods

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 09:04 PM

Party pooper.

#13 scopethis

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 09:52 PM

wouldn't it be neat if all the stars in a globular cluster went super nova at the same time....

#14 petrus45

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 01:02 AM

One possible adaptive advantage promoted by having a transparent atmosphere is the ability to navigate.

So a transparent atmosphere would tend to select for spatial intelligence by giving a reproductive advantage to beings with the ability to navigate using the heavens. Those beings would become more adept at discovering and colonizing more of the planet and utilizing more of the planet's resources, as well as establishing logistic lines for transporting resources.

A transparent atmosphere also makes possible the concept of time measurement (days based on the sun, months based on the moon). The ability to use the natural time cycles of nature also would constitute an obvious adaptive advantage.

#15 Mister T

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 07:22 AM

:bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow:

#16 Pess

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 08:16 AM

One possible adaptive advantage promoted by having a transparent atmosphere is the ability to navigate.

So a transparent atmosphere would tend to select for spatial intelligence by giving a reproductive advantage to beings with the ability to navigate using the heavens. Those beings would become more adept at discovering and colonizing more of the planet and utilizing more of the planet's resources, as well as establishing logistic lines for transporting resources.

A transparent atmosphere also makes possible the concept of time measurement (days based on the sun, months based on the moon). The ability to use the natural time cycles of nature also would constitute an obvious adaptive advantage.


Pesse (Not to mention that girls really go for a guy in a Sailor suit.) Mist

#17 llanitedave

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 09:48 AM

Not when I was in the Navy they didn't... :(

They usually ran away, but they navigated pretty well while doing so.

#18 ColoHank

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 09:57 AM

One possible adaptive advantage promoted by having a transparent atmosphere is the ability to navigate.

So a transparent atmosphere would tend to select for spatial intelligence by giving a reproductive advantage to beings with the ability to navigate using the heavens. Those beings would become more adept at discovering and colonizing more of the planet and utilizing more of the planet's resources, as well as establishing logistic lines for transporting resources.



For most of human history, navigation hasn't been dependent upon a knowledge of celestial bodies, but rather on terrain. Furthermore, early human migration out of Africa and beyond wasn't purposeful; it was random and happenstance -- nothing more than the aggregate of countless decisions to follow some game animal over the next hill. Until very recently, even most sea-faring peoples were reluctant to lose sight of land, so they made their way by hugging the coasts or ice-shelves in their little boats.

#19 derangedhermit

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 10:54 AM

The good people of the planet Krikkit were happy and very civilized, without a star in the sky.

#20 petrus45

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 11:56 AM

One possible adaptive advantage promoted by having a transparent atmosphere is the ability to navigate.

So a transparent atmosphere would tend to select for spatial intelligence by giving a reproductive advantage to beings with the ability to navigate using the heavens. Those beings would become more adept at discovering and colonizing more of the planet and utilizing more of the planet's resources, as well as establishing logistic lines for transporting resources.



For most of human history, navigation hasn't been dependent upon a knowledge of celestial bodies, but rather on terrain. Furthermore, early human migration out of Africa and beyond wasn't purposeful; it was random and happenstance -- nothing more than the aggregate of countless decisions to follow some game animal over the next hill. Until very recently, even most sea-faring peoples were reluctant to lose sight of land, so they made their way by hugging the coasts or ice-shelves in their little boats.


Assuming you're right, maybe we haven't evolved much at all. Maybe astronomy is just a re-channeling of the hunter/gatherer inclination to chase an animal over the next hill. Sort of takes the grandeur out of it for me though.

#21 ColoHank

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 02:59 PM

Assuming you're right, maybe we haven't evolved much at all.



Exactly. I think you could take a newborn from a surviving stone-age culture (admittedly hard to find nowadays), immerse it in our 21st-century setting with access to decent healthcare and schools, and it'd do just fine.

#22 llanitedave

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 03:06 PM

Assuming you're right, maybe we haven't evolved much at all. Maybe astronomy is just a re-channeling of the hunter/gatherer inclination to chase an animal over the next hill. Sort of takes the grandeur out of it for me though.


We've evolved a lot in 6 million years, but not much in the past 10,000. Anyway, I enjoy chasing animals over hills (or did when I was fast enough to at least pretend to keep up with them), and I don't think there's anything at all wrong with the hunter-gatherer mentality. Seems to suit our adaptable ways just fine. If I were a hunter-gatherer, I'd still think the stars were grand. I appreciate that a trait that has adapted us well for one behavior has also pre-adapted us for something revolutionarily different. That's the kind of serendipitous opportunity that evolution takes advantage of, and I'm optimistic it can take us to the next level.

#23 ColoHank

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 03:37 PM

Indeed, it's possible to observe modern-day hunter-gatherers in the aisles of just about any department store.

#24 petrus45

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 04:18 PM

Indeed, it's possible to observe modern-day hunter-gatherers in the aisles of just about any department store.


They tend to hang out in the Classifieds section. However, just as a test, let's see what happens when I do this: :hamsterdance:

#25 dickbill

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 01:54 PM

Hi all, it's been a while.
I'd say a transparent atmosphere is necessary for photosynthesis, the basis for a sustained 'global metabolism' of our planet, which occurs in the visible.
I'don't know if IR-or longer wavelenght-based-photosynthesis
would be energetic enough to sustain hydrocarbon synthesis, probably not, and in the UV and shorter wavelenght, there is probably no 'molecular antenna' strong enough to do the job, i.e, a chlorophyle system working in the UV would be destroyed by the UV photon (could anybody confirm that?). So, i suppose hydrocarbon sysnthesis using an organic antenna works best between IR and UV and so the atmosphere had to be transparent in this part of the spectra.
The link to intelligent life is that only photosynthesis generates enough biomass to sustain 'higher' lifeforms. Also, since the energy gathered by the molecular antenna in grren plants or cyanobacterias goes all the way down to the photolysis of water, to release protons and oxygen (O2 as a byproduct), it's a good thing that organic photosynthesis released a byproduct transparent for organic photosynthesis.
There would have been no future for photosynthesis, had the photolysis of water opacified the atmosphere.
Even if the primitive earth atmosphere was not as transparent as today's, there still must have been enough transparency to initiate the process.






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