Friday, 17 October 2014

Making Sense Of T'Kela

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 26 May 2013.

Would it really be possible to make a profit selling drink and spices after crossing interstellar distances at super-light speeds and negotiating with alien intelligences? It sounds like an astronomically expensive way to do it.

In "Territory," Nicholas van Rijn visits the planet t'Kela:

t'Kela's sun is a very old type M dwarf with few heavy atoms;

half an AU out, t'Kela is about 40% more massive than Earth with a low specific gravity but some iron and copper;

suns like t'Kela's emit so little ultraviolet that they do not energize "...primordial organic materials..." to interact very fast (David Falkayn: Star Trader, New York, 2010, p. 24);

so life starts slowly in the liquid ammonia oceans;

it usually uses carbon dioxide and ammonia to photosynthesize carbohydrates and nitrogen, the latter breathed by animals;

but, possibly because of some catalytic agent, life sometimes evolves differently, for example on t'Kela and, in another planetary system, Throra;

oceanic ammonia hydroxide contains some liquid water;

t'Kelan and Throran plants use gaseous carbon dioxide and "dissolved" water to photosynthesize carbohydrates and free oxygen;

animals reverse this process but a specialized molecule holds the released water in their tissues so that plants have to retrieve it from decaying organisms;

oxygen from plants attacks ammonia but slowly because solid ammonia sinks to the bottom of lakes and oceans where it is protected from the air;

gradually, "...ammonia and oxygen yield free nitrogen and water..." (p. 25);

water freezes, seas shrink, air loses oxygen, deserts grow;

on Throra, a bigger planet with a denser atmosphere, therefore more heat conservation, nitrogen-fixing bacteria halted the drying-out a billion years ago;

on t'Kela several thousand years ago, so much ammonia was lost that the greenhouse effect, dependent on carbon dioxide and ammonia vapor, was significantly reduced;

increasing quantities of ammonia solidified and fell to the bottom where they were protected from melting;

carbon dioxide seasonally condensed or even solidified;

plants, needing carbon dioxide and ammonia, died and animals with them;

continent-sized areas became barren, agricultural civilization was destroyed and nitrogen-fixing bacteria were annihilated;

higher animals will be extinct within a thousand years, all life in ten thousand;

however, human beings from Esperance will reintroduce nitrogen-fixing bacteria;

a microagricultural program using soil chemistry will produce a suitable ecology;

the Esperancians will also melt and electrolyze water, releasing oxygen both to refresh the air and to burn t'Kelan petroleum, thus generating carbon dioxide to strengthen the greenhouse effect;

released chemical energy will supplement newly installed nuclear power stations "' do the electrolysis and to energize the combination of hydrogen from water with nitrogen from the atmosphere, recreating ammonia.'" (p. 27)

The Esperancian Joyce explains this process, then t'Kelan society, to van Rijn, thus enabling him to deduce why t'Kelan and human psychologies differ. He articulates some basic insights about the evolutionary and biological bases of psychology but these will have to wait until a later post.

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