Monthly Archives: March 2018

Should We Fear Asteroids? There Are An Awful Lot Up There… And One Might Be Heading Right For Us.

There may be very large reason that Dinosaurs aren’t around. A giant ball of rock, metal and fire hurtling at thousands of miles an hour into the Earth. But that’s ancient history right? Well, maybe not. Asteroids are more common that you think. And if you keep an eye on the news, we might be in for a close call relatively soon. But just how big is the risk? And what can we do about it?

Warning: Giant Rocks ahead.

A Galactic Swarm of Killer Asteroids

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn, No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of? – William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

In a popular lecture, Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson jokes about his new name for ‘Near Earth Objects’. These ‘objects’ are giant rocks within our solar system or have an orbital path crossing it. Neil suggests something a little less technical, ‘Killer Asteroids’. And he isn’t wrong. Although most small rocks burn up in our atmosphere, the big ones are a real problem.

Current estimates suggest that there at least 150 million rocks  greater than 100m wide flying around our solar system. That number doesn’t even consider what is hurtling inward from deep space. Although most are unlikely a threat, we don’t get much notice when one decides to visit. But where do they come from, and how can we predict their journeys?

An Asteroids Home

‘Knowing it and seeing it are two different things’ Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Its easy to classify the home of an asteroid. You can say ‘comes from within our solar system’ or ‘comes from outside of it’. Within our solar system there is one large asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, likely formed of debris left over from the formation of the planets. At the edge of our system there is the Kuiper Belt, (or more accurately orb), a tremendous interstellar cloud of icy rocks.

Most of the asteroids we encounter come from these two sources, but rarely something can be hurtled our direction from far away. These ‘Deep Space‘ asteroids are the true travellers, often traversing billions of miles of deep space. They may come from a colossal rock reservoir called the Oort Cloud, although we haven’t directly observed it yet.

So what guides these things? Do they have it in for us?

Gravity’s Missiles

“Sometimes I think gravity may be death in disguise. Other times I think gravity is love, which is why love’s only demand is that we fall.” – Shaun David Hutchinson

Asteroids, like the planets, orbit based on the principles of Gravity. Gravity is inversely powerful with distance (i.e it gets weaker the further you go,) but also grows with size. Things are said to ‘have gravity’, although the force itself is not quite understood. Nonetheless we understand its effect in space. Objects will ‘orbit’ around larger ones, at a path and speed dependent on their initial velocity and the gravity of other objects around it.

Stable orbits (like ours around the Sun,) differ from those orbits of many objects ‘caught’  by gravity. ‘Long Period Comets‘ for example have highly elliptical orbits, flying far into space before returning. When a large object passes causes a gravitational flux, things can fly off course. For us, that means the occasional flurry of Asteroids from the Kuiper Belt or beyond.

So, is one coming for us? And what can do about it?

Yes, There Is.

Dan, we didn’t see this thing coming? Well, our object Collison budget’s a million dollars, that allows us to track about 3% of the sky, and beg’n your pardon sir, but it’s a big-ass sky. – Armageddon 

In 2004 Astronomers made a startling discover. A huge asteroid named Apophis seemed scarily likely to hit us. But after modelling its trajectory after a 2014 flyby, it seems its chances to hit us will diminish in future (first in 2029, then 2036.) What worried us the most was not that it exists, but that it was spotted so late.

We can only watch a tiny percent of the sky at a time, and we miss things a lot. Chances are that you knew nothing of 2004 BL86, a mountain sized asteroid that passed us by in 2015. In fact, NASA warns us that if a ‘Doomsday’ asteroid were to appear, we would have ‘zero warning’.  Our first sign would be a flash of light, quickly followed by death.  However, if we did spot one by chance, we would have decades notice.

And in the cold reaches of space, there are a lot of candidates.

So what can we do? Short of spending huge amounts of time watching the sky, can we blow them up like in Armageddon? Well actually Yes. NASA have actually begun the design of a spacecraft to deliver nuclear warheads. The target is Bennu, an asteroid with a 1/2700 chance of hitting us in 2135. Short of that, other plans could include using gravity to nudge an asteroid out of orbit.


Watch The Skies

So the news isn’t that great. If we spot one, we have a while to plan, but if we don’t, we are doomed. But don’t lose hope, the chances of being hit by something big enough to wipe us out are low, and technology is improving every day. Asteroids are just another evolutionary pressure, and at some point any spacefaring civilisation will have to learn to deal with them.

We have done well so far.

What’s Next?

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight.



Want To Wake Up Energised? Learn Now How Defining And Pursuing Your Vision Can Make All The Difference.

We know it’s hard. The alarm goes off, and you roll out of bed. Dreary eyed, you reach for coffee. It’s normal. But it may not be what you really want. But the worlds heroes are different for one reason. And with that secret, you will look forward to waking up and hitting the day running. What are you waiting for?


Forget Coffee, There is Something Much Stronger.

The secret is simple. Vision, Imagination and Perseverance.

Define Your Vision

‘I want to affect people like a clap of thunder, to inflame their minds with the breadth of my vision, the strength of my conviction and the power of my expression.’ – Rosa Luxemburg, Theorist and Activist.

The first question you can ask yourself is ‘Who do I want to help?’ or failing that, ‘What do I want to change?’ What can you ‘do’ to make the world a better place? It may not be big, your audience could be just one person. That’s enough. But like Elon Musk, it might be the world itself. No Vision is too small or too large. It’s what you wish to do that improves the world that makes all the difference.


Helping Others Can Be A Calling.

For example. You may want to make life better for your family, find a higher paying job or try a new career. You may want to solve climate change. As great or small as your Vision is, define it first.  Now own it, breathe it and live it.

Imagine Your Journey

‘The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot’ – Macklemore, 10,000 Hours, The Heist.

The first steps are always the hardest. But you have to know where you are going so you that you can point your feet. Try it now, imagine what it would be like to achieve your vision. What do you see? What does it feel like? What would every step along the way bring? Live your future right here and right now. Learn what you are willing to do to achieve it. What are you willing to sacrifice?


Imagine You Are Already There.

And most importantly, who will you be when its all done? Imagination is inspiration.

Persevere and Succeed

‘Accept hardship as a necessary discipline’ – Lailah Gifty Akita, Founder of Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation.

There is no doubt about it, Visions can be hard to achieve. There is no easy road, but that’s okay, each moment you fall is another you rise. There will be setbacks, lots of them. Probably more than leaps forward at times. But no worthwhile journey is ever simple, and its the challenge that makes you. It is the difficulty that sharpens your nerve, builds your resolve and error that shows the way forward.


Be Wiling To Go Beyond.

Be ready to attack, put in those hours, give it 100% and then some. Don’t wait, create, work, do, research, write, run, whatever it is. Every second spent pushing is one closer to that Vision. That picture in your mind is only a matter of time and effort.

So what are you waiting for?

What’s Next?

  • Read our Little Trick To Happiness.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of DebsErháld Borbáth, kxcd , T K R Roy. and Adrian Valenzuela. Check them out.




Do You Fear The Dark? This Short Story May Be Too Much For You. Inside; In The Corner.

There was something there.

Alex’s hairs stood on end, the feeling of cold spreading across his body in a wave. His heart began to beat faster, and he found his throat catch. He couldn’t see it clearly, but there was another shadow in the darkness. It was malformed, almost shimmering, like it couldn’t decide whether it was part of his world or not. He listened intently, and heard heavy breathing. His own. But there was something else, a high pitched rattle just below it.

There was something there.

He stopped moving, and reached up to his headlamp. The cold metal dug into his fingers as he felt for the switch. It was an unreliable thing, and now was not the time for it to fail.  His girlfriend, Jane, had nagged at him to replace it. She was right. He heard her voice in his head, uttering her proverbial warning. Over and over. ‘It’s dangerous, get a new one.’ He grimaced as his fingers found the switch, but couldn’t move.

There was something there.

His heart raced and his mouth dried up. All the old fairy=tales ran through his head, unbound, circling, spinning, growing. The folklore of monsters and witches filled his consciousness, red eyes and bloodied claws.  Beasts moving in the night, stalking, watching, waiting. He had been terrified as a child, watching the corner of his bedroom in the twilight. The covers had been enough. The high pitch rattle stopped.

There was something there, and it had seen him.

The darkness seemed to rush inwards, become focussed on the mass hiding within it. He began to pick out its contours. It was huge, muscular, and wide. Something moved, and he could swear that he could see wings. No! Wings? Why would it need wings? They were a mile below the surface. What creature would need wings down here? Could it see him? No, it was dark. Very dark.

Maybe that was why it was eating that darkness up.

The rattle began again, faster this time. Whatever it was, it was excited. Alex remembered the route behind him. ‘It’s dangerous’, Jane’s voice came again. It was a straight shot, 10 metres into the pothole. It couldn’t follow him there. But to get there he would need the lamp. And then it could see him. It would chase, and it would get him. He would be pulled into the darkness with it.

There was something there, and it was waiting.

He felt for the hammer on his belt. His adrenaline surged and the cold was all consuming. He found the handle, and pulled it slowly from its hook. It was tiny, but might be enough to get in one hit. Enough to shock it. It probably didn’t expect any resistance. It’s prey down here was tiny, rats, moles. Whatever scurrying things hid in the blackness.

But then why was it so big? What did it feed on? The darkness had almost disappeared, and had become something monstrous. Alex couldn’t quite understand it, and his brain riled at the sight. It threw it back up. Nothing in his fairy-tale could begin to explain it. The creature in the corner was nothing like the shadows in his bedroom. The fairy-tales were a lie, sugar-coating the horrors they told. Jane screamed ‘It.’

It was hanging against the wall, Long spindly arms, coarse and muscled, wiry black veins bulging from a deep azure skin. Huge long claws, maybe a metre, glinted in the still moments of rare light. They were caked in blood, sinew and skin. Its chest was pitted, the ribs carved starkly against its mottled skin. Huge legs, covered in feathers, ended in talons. And its face, oh fuck, its face.

It was smiling. It had a mouth, but it ended in a razor sharp beak. Its eyes were milky white, blind, but rolling left to right. Its head was raised, sniffing the air. Searching. The smile widening as it picked up Alex’s fear. A tongue, purple and thin, lolled from the corner of its maw. Its wings suddenly spread. Its face turned to Alex, and the milky white eyes fixed on his.

There was something there, and it was hungry.

Alex panicked. He flicked the switch, and for a brief second the cave was illuminated. He was in a nest. Bones lay in piles on the floor, torn rucksacks, skin, humans and animals. A little yellow cap with ‘Disney’ written on it. And somewhere in the mountain of gore, tiny white eyes stared frantically. He was in a nest, and mother was hungry. And mother filled his vision.

There was something there. ‘It’ he thought, the words tumbling over and over as the beast began to feed.

This story was written on the fly in around 15 minutes. In the corner across from me sits a copy of Stephen King’s  ‘It’. This was the first horror novel I ever read. I remember one thing distinctly, the feeling of unease. Nothing could ever be as terrifying as the question of what was watching. If you would like to learn more about fear, read my article on the subject.

Perhaps one day I can write a proper horror novel.

What do you think? Let me know!

Image courtesy of Beatrice Murch.

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  • Don’t look in the corner.






Is The Cosmos Truly Empty? Are We All There Is? Inside; We Answer Humanity’s Most Uncomfortable Question.

The Universe is much more vast than we can imagine. It has been expanding for over 13.8 billion years,  and some of the very light we observe in the night sky is older than earth itself. And with simple life easy to assemble, and the vast numbers of planets out there, we are forced to wonder. Are we alone? And if not, where is everybody? Well the answer is fascinating, and in some cases, quite terrifying indeed.

“I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.” – Arthur C. Clarke, Futurist and Writer.

The Fermi Paradox and Kardashev Civilisations

‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ – Alien, 1979

The paradox posed by the apparent absence of intelligent life is called ‘The Fermi Paradox‘. According to the ‘Drake Equation‘, a mathematical prediction of the number of intelligences out there, there should be at least 100,000 species with advanced civilisations.

To speak of ‘Advanced’ civilisations we must first define them. The Kardashev Scale helps us to understand civilisations by their level of energy use. To summarise it quickly, the higher the number, the more advanced the technology and greater the chance the species can travel across the Universe:

  • Type 0: Fails to completely harness power of local planet (us!)
  • Type 1: Harnesses power of local planet (interplanetary species.)
  • Type 2: Harnesses power of local star (interstellar species.)
  • Type 3: Harnesses power of resident galaxy (intergalactic species.)

Alongside the energy use and travel, each jump up the ladder is presented with new challenges. And part of this challenge is why we may not see life out there. With earth relatively young (4.5 billion years or so old,) and the universe so vast, some species may have billions of years head start. So why don’t we see intergalactic fleets? Where is the hidden message from the stars?

We approach the great filters.

Great Filters Of Life

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” – Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars IV

A ‘Great Filter‘ is a concept designed to explain the paucity of life in the Universe. It is a barrier to a species survival, and its nature is variable dependent on time. And depending on where in the species’ life it appears, it could easily explain our cosmic quandary. And if its happens late, offers a stark warning.

If a filter is early, say, at the transition from single celled to multicellular life, then we have done very well. We have overcome the major universal hurdle. But it also means that intelligent and complex life is exceedingly rare, and conversely single celled life could be everywhere. And given the distance of our nearest stars, and the time period we have been looking, chances are that us spotting another species is pretty much zero.

They are either very far away and their signals or ships have not reached us yet (consider that even at light-speed our nearest star is 10,000 years away,) or something else has claimed them in the mean time. They could have existed 10 billion years ago, and simply died out in a quiet corner far away.

The second most discussed time for a great filter is the transition from a type 0 to type 1 civilisation. At this time a species is likely playing with very dangerous energies, but still subject to internal warfare, religious zealotry and nationalism. It may very well be that no one ever gets this far, as they blow themselves up before they can. Who knows how many potential galaxy faring species have been wiped out in their own nuclear war?

I mean look at us, the leader of the free world is goading a nuclear power with Tweets.

Lost In Transition

“Can there be any question that the human is the least harmonious beast in the forest and the creature most toxic to the nest?”  – Randy Thornhorn, Author.

For us as humans, this is quite concerning. If the great filter is placed here, and the universe is silent, then our chances are pretty low. If in the whole of space time, given even the most restrictive metrics, we hear nothing, then it means most species cannot survive becoming a Type 1 civilisation. We assume here that the transition between 1-2, or 2-3, is easier as war is less likely. But yet, we see nothing to reassure ourselves.

It says something quite profound about intelligence. If life cannot readily pass this transition, it means that intelligence hits a wall. The intraspecies dynamics are too complicated to allow for general progress. The stupid wins out. Its not hard to imagine a far off civilisation annihilating itself over resources, religion or power struggles.

We are judgemental, prone to violence, capricious and short-sighted. If we imagine any of these species to behave like us, it tells a sad story.

But Have Hope

The Great filter only talks about survival, not intent and behaviour. The Universe could be teeming with intelligent life, but we haven’t seen it yet. And there could be good reasons for that.

Perhaps ‘they’ are already here, but we cannot see them. This could be because we simply don’t know what we are looking for. Radio waves are pretty simple, and an advanced species may have moved onto something more reliable. Our skies could be filled with alien messages, ranging from the profound to intergalactic cable, and we would have no idea.

They may not want to see us. Maybe they will only talk with Type 1+ civilisations, because anything less is a waste of time or dangerous. We wouldn’t extend a hand to a lion, so why would they consider us any better? We haven’t proved we can be peaceful even amongst ourselves.  An alien species would consider this option very seriously.

Or perhaps it simply isn’t worth it. Travelling interstellar distances takes generations of time and is likely very costly, and what can we offer? New technology, unlikely? Resources? Its probably cheaper to mine local asteroids. Philosophy, art, music? Perhaps, but what intergalactic government will commission an art research grant tantamount to a million year field trip?

Are We Alone?

‘The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” – Carl Sagan, Contact

Given what we know about the Universe, it seems very unlikely. Simple molecular life is probably not uncommon, but the absence of intelligent life is less reassuring. We may indeed be heading toward a fiery fate, or perhaps will be the first interstellar species out there. One day we might bypass Voyager 1 and say ‘Hello’ to ET first hand (or claw,) but for now it doesn’t seem too likely.

But don’t take it too hard. The Universe is grand, time long and life likely easy. There may be something out there, asking just the same questions. And one day, with a smidge of luck, we can answer those questions for them. Unless we decide to blow them up.

What’s Next?

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  • Learn more about great filters in this handy video by Kurzgesagt

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Image courtesy of Robert Sullivan


The above sources are true as of 18/3/17. If you would like to discredit them, feel free. It brings us closer to the truth, and I can always cry about it later.


Ever Wondered Who You Are? Stop Waiting And Find Out.

You are a human. One of billions alive today, and one of many more that have passed on. You are built of biological tissues that work harmoniously to stay alive, requiring energy to remain altogether, reproduce and, eventually, die. Given the apparent silence of the Universe (where are all the aliens?!) our type of ‘complex life’ seems very rare indeed. But who are you? Where did you come from? And where the hell is everyone else?


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – Genesis 1, The Holy Bible (New International Version.)

Whether you believe in God or not, the Universe had a beginning (or atleast a defined start to its current iteration.) Big Bang or Simulation, we are 13.8 billion years (or a few thousand if you are religious,) into its life. The Earth came into being around 4.5 billion years ago, likely due to the accumulation of interstellar particles under gravity. And this seems common, in the known universe planets number in the many trillions.

From this perspective, we are not that special. There are trillions of planets in a huge Universe (possibly one of many.) But, there is something that sets us apart (clue, its you.)

Molecules And Man

Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is’ – Albert Camus, Novelist, Playwright and Essayist

Over our relatively short stage-time (a tiny fraction of what the Universe will likely live before becoming an entropic, cold wasteland,) Earth has been home to something truly spectacular. Life. Whether it be the pet project of a deity (which Science would lead you to disregard,) or something to do with molecular replication, you cannot deny that it is special. Why? Because we haven’t seen it anywhere else (yet!)

Current theories propose that certain molecular configurations of highly reactive atoms (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen,) began to replicate due to their increased stability and preferential ability to induce change in free atoms floating near by. If you have studied biology, its a little like the ‘induced‘ reaction of enzymes. But on a simple level, becoming more complicated over time.

‘We are all survival machines, but ‘we’ does not mean just people’ – Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Chances are that this type of life is fairly common, as given the large numbers of planets out there, even with a tiny fraction of chance, some would have created the same tiny ‘creatures’ (if you will.) It may very well be that we spot such simple life on Saturn’s moon of Titan, or deep in Martian rock (and some suggest we already have!)

But when did these collections of molecules become more complex? And how? The symbiotic theory suggests that large molecules engulfed smaller to create the first eukaryotes (i.e. multicellular organisms,) which then coalesced to create those with different systems. These were ‘biological’, and relied on interactions between different parts to stay ‘alive’.

Evolution, the scientific theory that attempts to explain life, makes two strong points:

  1. Individual variation in a species will occur by chance (i.e when our genes replicate, they make mistakes, giving a different appearance, behaviour or some other trait.)
  2. If this individual variation is ‘adaptive’, i.e it means it will benefit the individual and species overall, it will likely become predominant in the species (sounds a bit like the molecules right?)

TLDR: Humans are just the current species specific iteration of a long chain or organisms. Cue the book burning.

Something Special (?)

Is mankind alone in the universe? Or are there somewhere other intelligent beings looking up into their night sky from very different worlds and asking the same kind of question? – Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist, Turtle-Neck Enthusiast.

So likelihood is we are the end result of endless generations of molecules, subject to evolutionary pressures and bound by the physical laws of the universe, slowly becoming more and more like us (and other creatures.) But this seems entirely natural, and almost inevitable.  But we don’t see it everywhere in the universe, and this is called the Fermi Paradox.

Actually, The Drake equation suggests that given even restrictive rules, there should be at least 100,000 to  15 million civilizations out there. Even with modifications, we should still see thousands.

SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence,) is a large array of radar dishes scanning the cosmos. It is pointed toward areas of interest, looking for radio waves from far-flung civilisations. These scientists look for certain signals, such as familiar universal numbers, primes, repeating patterns or something else irregular.) So far, aside from the WOW signal, nothing particularly special has turned up.

We seem to be alone.

But are we really? The Universe is very old, and the laws governing what we understand life needs aren’t very forgiving. We need a certain gravity, heat, energy and abundancy of atoms, time and space. The chances are that even with this caveat, life is out there. But we may never see it, and there are reasons why (stay tuned.)

Who Are You?

For now, when you ask yourself who you are, muse on our shared history. Don’t worry so much about social labels, age or race. If you dare, ignore species altogether. The answer is very humbling and can be expressed in one sentence.

You are a biomass of self-believing consciousness, built from familiar atoms under restrictive universal laws, tuned by selective environmental pressures, and just a small part of something much beyond your comprehension.

And that, for me at least, is pretty freeing.

What’s Next?

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  • Donate. Running this blog requires coffee.
  • Learn more about our history by reading Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything.’ (Seriously, do it!)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Image courtesy of Felix Jody Kirnawan


The sources above are true as of 17/3/18. Feel free to discredit them, it only brings us closer to the truth. My feelings won’t be hurt.




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