Another Earth?

We just get used to seeing those magnificent images of Pluto, then we find an attempt to upstage it with the discovery from the Kepler space telescope of a planet circling a star (Kepler 452) of similar size to our sun at a similar distance to us. More specifically, it is 1.046 times as far from a star that is 1.037 times the mass of our sun. The star is approximately 6 Gy old (our sun is approximately 4.56 Gy old) and it has a moderately higher metallicity than our star. In the absence of a greenhouse effect, it would have an average temperature of about minus 8 degrees Centigrade, which is a little warmer than Earth would be. The orbital eccentricity is quite low, although because the discovery was by transiting, this is a little less certain. So far there is only one planet known, but we can draw little from that. Look up the number of times we see a transit of Venus, and that is in our system, and solar systems are more or less in a plane, at least for significant planets.

So, what do we know about such a planet? The short answer is, not much more than what is listed above. However, if I assume that my theory of planetary formation is correct, as outlined in my ebook “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis”, this is most likely to be an Earth equivalent. The alternatives would be an ice-world, such as something dislodged from the Jupiter orbits, but this is less likely because the eccentricity would be expected to be higher. If it were a rocky planet, as an earth equivalent, it would have formed in the same way Earth did, and should have granitic continents, and a good layer of water. Here I have the first uncertainty. According to this theory, the first stage of the accretion of a rocky planet involves small rocky material being cemented together with material separated during the hot phase of stellar accretion, and it is this cement that separates early and forms the continents. When the planet gets big enough, it accretes everything by gravity, and this material mainly forms basalt. How much basalt depends on how much rock is around, how much water is available to set cement, and how long it grows. This latter length of time is dependent on how soon the star expels the accretion dust, and our star apparently did this rather quickly. This rocky planet is somewhat bigger than Earth, so it may have a greater fraction of basalt. Venus has a higher fraction of basalt, presumably because it grew later, in part because the temperatures were hotter and it is harder to set the cement, which is why it is smaller than Earth.

Materials such as nitrogen and carbon (essential for life) are accreted as solids, and become volatile on reaction with water within the planet. (In my view, it is because in reactions involving water, hydrogen reacts faster than deuterium, which explains why Venus has high levels of deuterium in the atmosphere.) So, what about this planet? Because we don’t know how long the star stayed accreting, I cannot predict how much water would be there, but there should be a reasonable amount, as apart from hydrogen and helium, water is one of the most common ingredients of the material that forms stars, and it accreted at a similar temperature. Similarly, the nitrogen and the carbon are dependent on the temperatures reached in forming the star, and since the star is about the same size as sol, the planet should have accreted similar amounts of carbon and nitrogen.

So, what would it be like? I would expect continents just like those on Earth but because the gravitational field on the surface would be stronger (because the planet has more mass, being roughly twice as big as Earth) the mountains would not be as tall. The climate would be similar, but perhaps a bit warmer (because the star is slightly hotter and bigger) and trees would be shorter and thicker. The distribution of continents is important, because if this is unsatisfactory, even if there are large seas, there can still be a lot of desert.

Accordingly, I think the prospects for life there are quite strong. So, why do we not see signs of intelligence, given that it has had a lot more time to evolve? There can be many reasons. If the star is 1.5 billion years older, it has possibly formed and died out. It could be there, but is somewhat disinterested in us. It could be studying us. There is no way of knowing, short of going there, and that is not going to happen any time soon.


What have we learned about Pluto so far?

New Horizons has caught our attention, or at least it should have. Pluto is about 5,874,000,000 km from the sun, or 39.26 times as far from the sun as Earth is. The reason I say “about” is that the orbit is eccentric, and sometimes is closer to the sun than Neptune is, but it is an orbital resonance with Neptune, so it will never collide with it (unless something else disturbs the resonance). The space craft flew by Pluto at about 50,000 km, so think of the triumph of getting that accuracy. The cameras can see objects down to about a kilometer in size.

Pluto is actually smaller than our moon, and has only 18% of our moon’s mass, but because it is about 1/3 ice, it has more water than Earth. When Pluto gets closer to the sun, it has a weak atmosphere of nitrogen, and probably some carbon monoxide and maybe methane and argon. As it gets further from the sun, these gases snow out. The surface temperature varies, but is in the order of minus 230 degrees Centigrade. That much we knew.

Pluto has an interesting history, in that it was predicted by Percival Lowell in 1915 based on deviations found in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Neptune itself was discovered because the orbit of Uranus did not follow Newton’s laws exactly, but it would if there were another giant planet pulling on it. Accordingly, astronomers could predict where Neptune would be, they looked, and there it was. A triumph for physics. However, Neptune’s orbit was still not right, so Lowell predicted a further planet, calculated where it should be, and Clyde Tombaugh found it in 1930. Another triumph! Nevertheless, this shows an important fact, namely just because you can predict something that turns up, that does not mean the basis of the prediction was correct, as Pluto is far too small to account for what Lowell calculated. The discovery was a happy accident.

So, what have we discovered about Pluto? In my opinion, so far, not a lot, but that is mainly because most of the data will not come in for months. We have corrected Pluto’s size, but that is not a huge achievement. However, the images have given us a lot to think about. The one thing that has surprised us is that Pluto is geologically active, and far more so than anyone might have expected. I have seen statements that it must have been essentially resurfaced about a hundred million years ago. I am not too sure about that, as it is based on crater count, and I doubt anyone has any good data on collisions that far out. Furthermore, if the bodies out there are largely icy, and Pluto’s surface is mainly ice, then because collision velocities will be a lot slower out there, it is possible that collisions will not excavate a crater, but rather the energy will melt the ice, it will flow, then re-freeze, thus not forming a crater. Nevertheless, the mountains, canyons, and the flat areas are indicative that there has been significant internal heat. That could come from a number of sources, such as radioactive decay, collisions, one of which may have formed the moon system, and possibly even a little chemistry.

The heat may not have to be intense if it is uneven, because it would volatalise gases such as nitrogen, and that would create a lot of internal stress. Another form of internal stress may come from freezing water. If the outer layers are largely free of rock, that having sunk to the core, then because water expands a little on freezing, that “little” will be magnified into quite a change of length over the circumference even of a dwarf planet, and with nowhere to go, there could be considerable additional warpage. That is unlikely to account for all the mountains, etc, but it may add to the cause and magnify it.

What do we think we know about Pluto? Try this link:
Here, they argue Pluto grew in the region of Jupiter/Saturn, and with Uranus and Neptune, were thrown out into the outer solar system, where there is not enough material to grow. I don’t believe that, because I don’t believe the standard theory of planetary formation, which starts off by assuming that the dust accretes into planetesimals by some unknown mechanism, and these collide to form larger objects, and finally, planets. The reason the outer giants had to start in the Jupiter/Saturn region is that collisional probabilities are too low to get giants much further out under this mechanism. In my “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis”, I argue the first step is actually based on physical chemistry, essentially the same mechanism as forming a snowball, and the planets form at temperatiures where the various ices assist. Ion this theory, Pluto, and the other Kuiper Belt objects formed by the same mechanism that Neptune formed, but because the temperatures were starting to get too low, accretion was slow, but because they were far enough away, they did not get “collected” by Neptune.

So, will we find out more? Basically, we now have to wait for more data, but in the meantime we should congratulate NASA on a truly great achievement. They still have “the right stuff”.

Logic, and the premises behind Greece’s decision to accept greater austerity.

Greece has voted against austerity, then in a true example of democracy at work, the government has decided to accept even more austerity from the EU than they rejected. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but there are two interesting developments. The first is the IMF has apparently warned the Eurozone members that what they are imposing on Greece simply will not work. The second is that the European Commission is proposing to use the mothballed European stabilization mechanism to provide the money for the bailout. This means that all EU members have to pay to protect the Euro, irrespective of whether they use it. Great news for Britain, whose objections are being turned away by, as you might guess Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister. The mess was caused at least in part by German banks, Germany got the ECB to save them at the expense of Greece, and now Germany wants to spread the consequent price. A vote in the EU will mean all the euro users will vote to minimize their own payments. Truly, democracy at work, where self-interest beats the numerically inferior over the head as often as they can get away with.

The question then is, why did Greece not simply pull out of the Euro? Logically, it should do whatever it can to better its situation, but it seems to have done the opposite. I saw an item on the web by Dimitrios Giokas that claimed there would be twelve devastating consequences if Greece returns to the drachma, and perhaps this sort of reasoning led to this form of stupidity. Let us look at these devastating consequences.
1. Rapid devaluation of the drachma against other currencies. The answer to that is to let it float. Yes, it may drop dramatically at first. In the mid 1980s, a New Zealand government under financial strain (although not as bad as Greece’s) floated the dollar and in an hour or so, it lost over a quarter of its value. Basically, the speculators piled in and shorted it. But, at a later date, they have to cover their bets, so within a month, it started to rise again. Note that none of the speculators will have drachma, so they have to cover quickly.
2. The devaluation will lead to skyrocketing inflation. That is sheer speculation, and it depends on government policy. Hitler defaulted, introduced a new currency, and there was no inflation. On a milder side, when the New Zealand dollar lost a quarter of its value, yes, there was some inflation, but not excessive inflation. On the bad side, as one commentator noted, Greek governments are not very good at doing things, so this one is up in the air. It is not necessary, but it could happen.
3. Capital flight and a sharp increase in non-performing loans. First, there will be no significant capital flight, because it has already flown, and in any case, that can easily be stopped. As for non-performing loans, who owns them? If weak companies go bankrupt, that is sad, but does anyone seriously think that more austerity from Merkel is going to save them?
4. In such an eventuality the wage and pension freeze payment will be inevitable. Not necessarily because the money to pay wages have to come from somewhere, but so what? As for a pension freeze, Merkel the merciless is imposing pension cuts. The author says there will be social unrest. There will be social unrest if there is more austerity. There is no way it would be worse with the drachma, and it might be better. The real danger is with greater austerity the pain level is too great and Greece has a military coup to put in more effective policy implementation. (Whether it will be is beside the point; coups always believe they are the solution, even if they are not.)
5. Gross domestic product will likely shrink to about 2/3 of the current level. Why? Where did this figure come from? I cannot help thinking that this author made up figures to make his case. In any case, bowing to austerity will greatly increase the debt load, and GDP has been calculated to drop by at least 10% of current by respectable economists.
6. The public debt of Greece, totaling 322 billion euros, will increase automatically. Um, if you default, the debt vanishes. Yes, you do not get credit, but so what? The interesting thing about 322 billion euros is, if you are going to default, you do not have the problem: the other banks do. They get nothing if they impose conditions on you that make it impossible to pay back anything.
7. Even if, after bankruptcy, a partial debt restructuring follows, it will not be painless. It will be accompanied by a new rescue package (only from the IMF now) and very burdensome fiscal adjustment measures. Not if you default. Certainly, you get no credit, but remember, you were always in a no-win situation.
8. There will be an equal increase of private debt through the skyrocketing of lending and depositing rates in an effort to control inflation. Interest rates will have to be high, but who is lending? You cannot lend drachma if you haven’t got any, so euros will have to return. There will have to be controls, and some of the regulations will not be pleasant for some, but stamping down on speculators will probably keep this under control.
9 Suffocation of import business due to a weakened market and lack of credit. Certainly, but this is to some extent what is required to get the Greek economy back on its feet, and it is hard to see greater austerity leading to an import boom.
10. Failure of imports will bring shortage of essential items on the market. The “essential items” noted are food, and this is serious. If other countries absolutely refuse to provide Greece with any access to foreign currency, it is in a serious mess, but do countries want to be known as the countries that are starving the Greeks out of spite?
11. Invasion of predatory foreign investors. Not a problem. Prevent them from taking advantage of the situation. Note also that under Merkel’s proposal, 50 billion Euros of Greek assets will be sold. Why is this not a predatory invasion?
12 Diplomatic and economic isolation of Greece, and a problem with defence. Certainly there will be consequences, but defence is not a problem. Greece will remain a member of NATO, and even if Germany would be reluctant to help, can you think of any neighbor that is just aching to take on the US military?

To summarize, in my opinion, people who think like Giokas are stuck in thinking that Greece has to follow their rules. That does not have to be the case. Recall that Germany defaulted several times in the 1920s, then Hitler stabilized it. Quite simply, foreign predators were told to leave, now. Repayments of debt were not paid. Inflation did not go rampant, in fact rather dramatic inflation was stopped. There was no capital flight, and no businesses were allowed to suffocate. Capital flight did not occur, fraud stopped, speculation more or less stopped, and everyone played by the rules to stabilize the country. Of course, this was in part because there was Oranienburg for those who refused to cooperate, and that might be a step too far for Greece, but even under lighter enforcement of rules, you can get out of this. Argentina did. It is not easy, and if the Greeks want to live well, then they will have to accept work and taxes, but there will also be new opportunities. The Greeks have to take them when they arise.

The real problem for Greece is that it has to persuade the Greeks to work competitively and to pay their taxes. There has to be a stop to consumption based on borrowing, and replaced with consumption based on work. There has to be investment and Greece has to develop a more education-based economy. That is the real problem for Greece, but austerity is not going to help in the slightest.

Greece votes, and now what?

As the Greek economic crisis continues, it might be worth pausing to consider another downside, which is the world is not quite as robust economically as some might think. We have now had record low interest rates for quite some time, and only too many have become used to them. In New Zealand, the problem is housing and businesses carrying too much debt. Yes, debt looks very enticing when interest rates are low, but if the person is fully committed and is carrying as much debt as he can afford, then if income drops, or interest rates rise, then they cannot pay. Greece is in this situation now. It had far too much debt in 2008, and by 2010 it was in trouble. The Europeans, and particularly Germany, insisted on austerity. They paid the interest through advances that were added to the debt, which did Greece no good, but the GDP also contracted by something like 25%. Now, as an example of the problem, suppose both your debt and your total income (or GDP) is 100 units, and let us say you repay 5% interest. Now, someone gives you 20 units to repay the 5% over the next four years, at which point you owe 120 units, and at 5%, that requires 6 units per annum. You may notice you are three units short from the initial loan. Now, suppose out of the nation’s 100 units, your tax collects 25 units per annum, where before 20% of your income went on interest, now it is 24%. But, now, thanks to austerity, your GDP has collapsed by 25%, so now your tax collects only 18.75 units, and interest repayments are now 32% of your income. But a large number of your costs are the same. So, how can you get off this death spiral? The figures are very favourable, as the interest being charged on Greece is probably closer to 10% and the debt is a much higher fraction of GDP.

There is another important point behind these figures. As represented, above, the real debt total has not increased, other than through the money offered as “help”. In other words, the “help” coupled with these austerity conditions inevitably lead to economic death. It is just simple mathematics.

But Greece could grow its economy, you say. They should get to work and stop being lazy. Anyone who says that should specify what work they should do. Youth unemployment in Greece is currently running at up to 60%, and that is not because the young are lazy, but nobody can afford to hire them. Productivity is too low, and the reason lies in the nature of the Greek economy. Unfortunately, Greece has few natural resources and it has a relatively poor educational system. The net result is that it lacks technological advances, and with few resources, it has few exports. Even agriculture has its problems because the Greek terrain is not exactly the best. So any exit plan from this crisis has to either write off a lot of debt, or get a number of new industries or means of earning money externally.

Some say, sell assets. Greece still has some islands and ancient monuments. My view on that is, if you have a severe case of typhoid, it does you no good to cut off your legs. If you are ever going to get back on your feet, you need feet to get back on. As for the German case that the Greeks should pay their debts, it should be recalled that Germany has defaulted seven times since 1800. Even if they bleat and say (correctly) that at least some were due to the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles, and was imposed on them by rapacious foreign governments, then they might recall that now as they deal with Greece. They might also recall that in 1950 Greece was one of the countries that let Germany off its latest default. They might also recall that some of Greece’s current debt was incurred to save German banks from the consequences of their follies. But don’t bet on a generous outcome.

Greece has voted to avoid increased austerity. Greece has argued the only way to repay its debt is to increase its GDP. It cannot do any more; it needs help, or it needs to exit the Euro, straight away. In my opinion, the best option is for Greece to exit the Euro, but stay within the EU, and the sooner they get on with it, the better.

Grexit? More on the Greek crisis

The Greeks are having a hard time right now. Yes, in the past their governments have made some fairly poor decisions, and from what one gathers, the wealthy Greeks made an art form of tax avoidance. However, their main problem arose on entering the Euro zone, when their economic problems were significantly massaged by major US banks, which put the problems off balance sheet for the moment. Now the government at the time was clearly at fault, but the banks that did the massaging must hold equal or more blame, and the European community was not blameless either, because they should have checked things for themselves. If the Brussels bureaucrats could not work out the true financial status of Greece, why were they getting those high salaries?

In 2010 and 2012, Greece accepted hundreds of billions of euros from European creditors. This was not the gift you might imagine, as its major purpose was to pay back the major northern European banks that held the debt. Greece got very little, but the banks had their hides saved. My question is, why did the banks make such loans in the first place? Nevertheless, the banks were protected, and the money used was added to the Greek debt. The economic wizards within the IMF and in northern Europe presumably predicted that austerity would lead to substantial growth, and the debts would be repaid, despite interest rates approaching 10% when the same economic organizations were seeing central banks issuing loans approaching 0% interest.

What eventuated was a tragedy for Greece. According to Time magazine, Greece lost 26% of its GDP through austerity, child poverty rate is over 40%, about 20% of Greeks cannot afford proper food, while their attempts at improving their situation through austerity has led to spending cuts and tax increases of 30%. Pension qualification has risen to 67. Yet thanks to the very high interest rates and the collapse of the Greek economy, the debt problem has risen by 75% or thereabouts since 2008. That austerity simply has not worked.

So, what now? Had Greece received the 7.2 billion euros, that money will be added to Greece’s debt, and almost all of it would have been used to repay the IMF in June, and the ECB paynments due in July and August, at which time the same problem will re-emerge, but 7.2 billion euros bigger.

So, what could Greece do? They proposed some reforms that included raising taxes on the rich. Brussels rejected that immediately. You can’t tax the rich! Why not? The official answer is, it would suppress growth, but there is no evidence of any growth arising from investments by the rich, so that hardly counts. I suppose there is an argument that it would not do much good anyway, because the rich probably don’t pay taxes in Greece. If they are really rich, no doubt they are registered in the Caymans, or somewhere else.

But for me, I am still of the opinion that Greece should default and leave the euro zone. It does not export all that much to Europe anyway, and its major industries are shipping and tourism, neither of which is likely to be affected. Agriculture is only about 3% of its economy, and this is probably largely consumed internally. There is no doubt there would be acute problems for Greece then, but right now they have severe problems. I support the first law of holes: if in a deep one, quit digging. If the problem is nearly twice as bad after 6 years of austerity, how is more austerity going to help? Any move made must lead to an improvement in the longer term. And it is not as if the rest of Europe will invest in Greece and start new business. Nope, they go to Asia, for cheaper labour and no Brussels imposed regulations.

If they do this, there is no doubt it will go badly for Greece. The real question is, if they don’t, will it be better or worse? The mathematics are quite clear. The debt is growing exponentially, and it is almost certainly past the point of possible repayment. Greece has not got the capacity to support such loans, so the only question is, what medicine will it take, and when.

Having written that, I have just seen an article written by the Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz. You may say, what do I know about economics, but you cannot say that about him. Three quotes from the article follow:
(1) “The Greek economy has been undergoing unconscionable torture at the hands of its European creditors.”
(2) “The economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and has had such catastrophic consequences.
(3) “It’s not about money. It’s about using “deadlines” to fore Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies.”
I rest my case. At least for a week.