Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Interesting Planet is an Electrochemically Active Planet

What makes Earth Interesting?

And as we are increasingly able to look at other planets within our own solar system, and at solar systems around other stars—what makes a planet interesting?  And by interesting, I mean “ability to support life.” And by life I mean….link toNASA Astrobiology webpages as a starting point.

What steps do we need to take to develop an “interesting-ometer”—a remote sensor of a planetary’s interesting behavior?  How do we even start asking the questions necessary to create such a device?

I suggest electrochemical disequilibrium as a starting point.   “Interesting” in a planetary context means “out of electrochemical equilibrium”.  It may not be the only measure of interestingness. It may not even pan out as the root cause of our planet’s interestingness (so a planet that has life that is purely photochemical with no electrochemistry can also be called interesting by my first definition, but it might fail the test for electrochemical disequilibrium.)

But this starting point is useful. It allows us to frame questions and do this in ways that can be measured and quantified, by combining theory, lab experiments, and observations of the Earth in planets.

Electrochemistry is important in other ways too—we extract most of our energy from reactions that involve electron transfer; and even with the electron transfer step is not rate limiting (as in combustion of fossil fuels). It was electron transfer processes that generated the fossil fuels in the first case. Specifically the electron transfer processes associated with life.

So, even if we fail in our quest to define a planet’s “interestingness” as electrochemical disequilbrium we will have spent our time studying an interesting, important, and relevant process. And we will be less likely to be taken in by the next crop of bogus scientific quacks who come up with false electrochemical solutions to our worldwide energy problems.

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