The Manual for Civilization is a crowd-curated collection of the 3500 books you would most want to sustain or rebuild civilization. It is also the library at The Interval, with about 1000 books on shelves floor-to-ceiling throughout the space. We are about a third of the way done with compiling the list and acquiring selected the titles.
We have a set of four categories to guide selections:
- Cultural Canon: Great works of literature, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy, etc
- Mechanics of Civilization: Technical knowledge, to build and understand things
- Rigorous Science Fiction: Speculative stories about potential futures
- Long-term Thinking, Futurism, and relevant history (Books on how to think about the future that may include surveys of the past)
Our list comes from suggestions by Interval donors, Long Now members, and a some specially-invited guests with particular expertise. All the book lists we’ve published so far are shown here including lists from Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Maria Popova, andNeal Stephenson. Interval donors will be the first to get the full list when it is complete.
Today we add selections from science fiction authors Bruce Sterling, David Brin, and Daniel Suarez. All three are known for using contemporary science and technology as a starting point from which to speculate on the future. And that type of practice is exactly why Science Fiction is one of our core categories….
The St. Louis area has problems. But there is also hope. The St. Louis Space Frontier, a chapter of the national Space Society, presents “Gateway To Space” in November.
Technology is rad
Interstellar molecule hunters have bagged a prize specimen by detecting the first branched carbon species and at a surprisingly high abundance. The finding is important because it increases the likelihood that the chemistry that occurs within the interstellar medium is capable of producing amino acids as a potential seed for life on Earth. Until now the only non-cyclic molecules found in the vast spaces between stars have had a straight-chain carbon backbone, whereas a branched structure is a key characteristic of amino acids found in living organisms.
The research team, from the Max Planck Institute of Radioastronomy and the University of Cologne, both in Germany, and Cornell University in the US, made its observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in Chile. The telescope array was trained on the star-forming region of Sagittarius B2, 27,000 light years from Earth that is notoriously rich in organic molecules.
The researchers detected a spike in the radio spectrum characteristic of the branched alkyl molecule iso-propyl cyanide. The team had previously made the first interstellar detection of its straight-chain sister molecule n-propyl cyanide.
‘In many of the meteorites we find on Earth there are amino acids and we would like to understand how these molecules form,’ says team member Arnaud Belloche. ‘There are many indications that these amino acids come from interstellar space but so far we have no direct evidence. The detection of this branched molecule connects interstellar chemistry with the molecular inventory of meteorites.’
It may be some time, however, before the first amino acid is detected in the interstellar medium. The relative abundance of the species needed to react to create amino acids is such that even the simplest amino acid would be present in only tiny amounts. ‘My guess is that at least the simplest one is probably there but the emissions are so fine that we cannot detect it yet,’ says Belloche.
Commenting on the finding, astrochemist Martin McCoustra of Heriot-Watt University in the UK, says: ‘The work adds to the growing body of evidence that complex organic molecules are readily formed in and on the icy grains found in the dense clumps of gas from which stars and planetary systems evolve.’
McCoustra adds: ‘Observations of these nitrile derivatives are particularly important for their potential links to prebiotic chemistry. What we see in the gas phase in this environment points to the contents of the icy rubble that will form cometry bodies in this nascent stellar system; comets which, in the case of our own Solar System, went on to seed the ‘Goldilocks’ environment of the young Earth with a prebiotic soup.’
NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exoplanet
Astronomers using data from three of NASA’s space telescopes — Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler — have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.
"This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth," said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. "Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories."
Clouds in a planet’s atmosphere can block the view to underlying molecules that reveal information about the planet’s composition and history. Finding clear skies on a Neptune-size planet is a good sign that smaller planets might have similarly good visibility.
In February 2013 a meteor streaked across the Russian sky and burst in midair near Chelyabinsk. A recent Physics Today article summarizes what scientists have pieced together about the meteor, from its origins to its demise. The whole article is well worth reading. Here’s a peek:
The Chelyabinsk asteroid first felt the presence of Earth’s atmosphere when it was thousands of kilometers above the Pacific Ocean. For the next dozen minutes, the 10 000-ton rock fell swiftly, silently, and unseen, passing at a shallow angle through the rarefied exosphere where the molecular mean free path is much greater than the 20-m diameter of the rock. Collisions with molecules did nothing to slow the gravitational acceleration as it descended over China and Kazakhstan. When it crossed over the border into Russia at 3:20:20 UT and was 100 km above the ground, 99.99997% of the atmosphere was still beneath it.
Because the asteroid was moving much faster than air molecules could get out of its way, the molecules began to pile up into a compressed layer of high-temperature plasma pushing a shock wave forward. Atmospheric density increases exponentially with depth, so as the asteroid plunged, the plasma layer thickened and its optical opacity rapidly increased. About one second later, at 95 km above the surface, it became bright enough to be seen from the ground. That was the first warning that something big was about to happen. #
How often are scientific articles that gripping?! Kring and Boslough provide some excellent descriptions of the aerodynamics of the meteor and its airburst. Be sure to check it out. (Photo credit: M. Ahmetvaleev; paper credit: D. Kring and M. Boslough; via io9, fuckyeahfluiddynamics)