Fictional Fantasy Baseball – The Studyball Kurmudgeons
Rarely do I freely venture into the land of mathematics, but as that pertains to statistics, one could say there is love, not anger, death and PAIN. I’m not sure my endeavors serves any other purpose other than to fascinate my brain and make it work in a different way to figure out the solution to a problem, but regardless of notoriety, the task is noble. Back in the good ol’ days I was writing equations while manic that Excel couldn’t resolve, because they were written stupidly and abhorrently complex, ah yes, sweet memory… wait, this is a not good memory… however, I was able to do most of what I wanted, but not all. Fortunately I have found a middle ground between epiphany and practicality. The mechanism of my learning has been a logical argument within Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets): IF/AND.
Excel allows one to look at or through data in a variety of ways, and boy is there a lot of data around Baseball. I take real 7-day MLB sums from players across the league and the results tell me something about how my own scoring configuration might balance, or scale in certain areas, as appropriate. The things that are hard to write equations for are those that modify or scale a result, or have an array of possible outcomes but somehow need to all be accounted for. Building a massive array by entering all the possible outcomes is not practical when dealing in hundreds. Equations need to be sleek, quick and able to return a sensible answer under any circumstances.
My task over the last couple of days was to make a logical equation using AND, IF or both, and try to weight the ERA over a game period like ranking the scoring/yardage surrendered by NFL team defenses. ERA becomes a scaling reward for low totals, and becomes a worthless (or a negative total) after 4. I had a similar equation already written for the NFL spreadsheet but all the values and references had to be changed.
=SUM[this is just the mechanism that will total the result as an integer]
(IF([condition/test],[result if Y],[result if N]
IF(AND[condition/test],[result if Y],(IF(AND[nested IF as negative response triggers second criteria in the next argument while building off the previous argument, as long as AND is present]
My initial equation looked like this:
=SUM(IF(D1=0,””,(IF(D1<.001,[value cell 0],(IF(D1=0,[value cell 1](AND(D1<.99,D1>.001,[value cell 2],(IF(AND(D1<1.99,D1…….. so on and so forth, moving the needle higher as the ranges of ERA are graded as they fall between one of the equations areas. But I was acting like there was a value below zero I had to be worried about, which is a product of using the equation from the NFL Fantasy Scorecard where those values are possible in the net yardage equation. After taking notice of the parameter change, I rewrote the beginning.
There is a little “housekeeping” to settle up front, taking into account all numbers that COULD BE RENDERED on the spreadsheet. The D1, lets just say is the cell where the manual ERA will be entered on the sheet.
This specific line means, if D1 has no value in it, show nothing (represented by a text quote with no text “”) since zero is an ERA value there should be nothing to render if the cell is empty.
After the above action, the next is to squarely assign a value to 0, since bridging ranges on it is problematic. The, the lowest value in the first range, mathematically expressed in greater-than less-than form. This can be repeated over and over, laying one on top of the other as the N condition until a result is returned.
The whole equation on the spreadsheet itself looks like this:
Those values triggered a result dependent on the integer in the cell, and were located on a separate page within the file:
The parallel between the NFL DEF/ST is undeniable because it is pretty much the same fucking thing. Beautiful how those two very different stats have a parallel in that scale, plus the way that can be whittled until bare at times, much like watching one’s team getting tired in the 4th quarter,defending the lead… this should give something additional for my nonexistent owners to fuss about. I wish there was someone who would fuss.
Making the equation and seeing the result it had on the scorecard was very rewarding, adding a boom-or-bust possibility to the pitcher’s slots on the roster. I like potential, and I like unexpected, crushing agony. Both remind me of how nice normal is.
Now I have a new scaling toy to play with, but another though I had is that pitchers aren’t the only ones with an ERA these days. Position players are now often used as a bullpen if a game is out of reach for example, and the manager wants to save his relief bullets. This could be hell for your average owner, when suddenly your 2B throws 17 pitches and has 4 ER with zero K, HR allowed and a 9.00 ERA!!
I know I have said at other times that I was “satisfied” with the tinkering of the scoring. I wanted to do a “past 7 days” filter so I could see what a scoring summary might look like for that interval. I had whole season numbers, but I wanted the Head-to-Head games to be competitive, not boring and incrementally relevant despite the season’s length. I saw what a above average season point output would look like, and there were clearly some areas that needed adjusting.opportunity to scale some things back. The I ran a new set of season numbers with mid level talent and tinkered with the balance some more.
The latest set of numbers came from a pretty high-output names, and some not so much. I think this latest tinkering is the best to date, since I am very concerned with the individual games not being monotonous. I also added a handful of “high level” achievement in the game, like a grand slam, a no hitter… etc.
The overall model is balanced enough to keep things competitive among similarly knowledgeable players, mind you. The bonus FPs from a big play is probably enough to lift someone who is trailing late, or crush your foe into the turf with a massive play that sets you on the path to victory.
Let me first show you the scorecard, which was totally redone as of last time I wrote about it.
95% of that is real data from active players over the last week, and it helped me to see where the final adjustments to the scoring were to be made. With the recent live-data scenario, I can say that the current scoring setup promotes intense and interesting games, and that’s the main point. Here are the (maybe) final scoring tweaks.
Clearly position players other than pitchers do well in this mode, but the pitchers come out looking like NFL fantasy quarterbacks. When they’re hot, they’re lighting everyone up and things are generally: yay! When they’re not, they become a vast, expanding black hole consuming all nearby fantasy points if they stray too close.
Big plays get rewarded, sometimes massively. Emongously. Trabookafred!
Maybe one day I might run this league… probably not though.
It’s just fun to think about.
Another, differently shaped golden trophy would look nice in my castle.
I was reading over my last post and I didn’t like the way the roster was breaking down into relevant and irrelevant levels of worth/value. Nearly every roster spot should have ways of achieving success based on a focused study of statistical output.
With that in mind, I went after trying to understand how the points were being accumulated, and how my weights were amplifying/deflating some values over others. I decided on a core format style which I feel would make for the best type of gameplay: steady accumulation with rare bursts of point gain interspersed. This likely leads to close games decided decisively (on one scoring event) or juggernauts demolishing their foes as they “go off” for big points. Steady accumulation on events like walks, singles, strikeouts (pitchers), assists, RBI or runs scored keep things close, hopefully, allowing for talented drafters to show how they set their lineups well in anticipation of big games for a given player. Only 7 bench slots means you can’t keep one of every position player on your bench for replacement, you will be FORCED to play the wire, like all good owners should if they expect to do well.
So, after some tweaking, I came up with a scoring set I like. I added Innings Pitched (.1 rounded down, .2 rounded up) as a trickle stat for pitchers that makes them better producers on a consistent basis. I changed the value of some of the offensive stats to neuter the distance between them and pitchers. The result is a dog that won’t impregnate any other dogs ever again.
So, the output of this needed to be judged somehow with actual data, which I provided the scorecard long before I began tweaking values. I have included my sample line up card here so we can look together and see how the values are expressed as fantasy points. Please note, this data is the ASB benchmark I have mentioned in other posts. The idea here is to highlight a “best case scenario” data-set to judge how high, potentially, the ceiling of exclusivity can go. On a game-to-game basis, this is going to be a more interesting thing to see. Looking towards a high point of 7,000+ fantasy points of season accumulation, and an unknown number of games in which to disperse them. I am THAT unfamiliar with the format that right now, I don’t know how long a MLB fantasy season is, or how frequently “games” occur as daily would be impossible. I can imagine daily maintenance being necessary, but having as many match-ups as there are games is a nauseating thought.
In my first post I talked about my points of emphasis in the game itself, and among the values that have endured to arrive at the final cut is Pickoffs. A rare but consequential event, the point value of which is devastating. 12 points for this event is the most heavily weighted event I score in this league template. Why? Because it’s a tease. Like picking a really good punt/kickoff returner in the NFL, you’re hoping your lousy pitcher redeems himself because his Pickoff move is phenomenal. Will he reward you with an unprecedented point total, or will he leave you starved for an event that, at best occurs less than 20 times a year for the league leaders? If he goes off, your cushy seat to victory is more likely than it was a minute ago, but your bet is on the rare event, or the steady churning motion of a consistent, winning pitcher with no rad move to first.
I have achieved a balance that now seems both competitive and enjoyable. It is the best I have achieved in my limited experimentation with the format, and really brings an element of uncertainty to drafting. I also foresee players making (nearly) irrelevant contributions due to lousy performances being more harsh than in the NFL. A zero is never ever wanted, but expected from time to time, but maybe in this league three days of .25 fantasy points might be just as terrible, if not worse.
Maybe one day I will know. It’s a fun to think about.
For the sake of comparisons, I ran a simulation based on an actual head-to-head matchup, which in the regular season collect data over 7 days or so. I wanted to see what a high-output production would look like, which would be an approximation of having a “good week.” See below, though this is an unlikely final lineup, it is a possible one, and definitely a Cubs fan.
Looking over the 7 day output, I can see now that with 18 roster slots, some of those position players are bound to crater, while one or two others rocket up. These scores remind me of the FNFL scale which goes something like this:
0 – 5 = Wretched
6 – 10 = Minimal
11 – 15 = Average
16 – 20 = Above Average
21 + = Exceptional
We had a “200” barrier in my Detail Oriented league a few years ago… whoever gets there first is almost certain to win. That seems accurate as reflected here, but the flexibility of upward expansion for some of the roster slots seems outstanding. I like the way this looks, but also recognize how vital fielding the right players is, and making sure your roster is up to date. The restricted bench makes for a more competitive free-agent market, inciting wire competition.
It has been my experience in designing fantasy scoring systems for the NFL that the weight of every statistical category must be appraised in respect to the total items being scored, roster positions available and some form of biased incentive.
It can be said, as a baseline, common events should not be comparable in worth to rare events. It is this weighting that defines the terms of competition, and an aspect I particularly relish. I have beliefs about what aspects of a given sport are more difficult to achieve versus things that should occur and do occur regularly/often. What I cultivate in participants is a similar respect for the remarkable and an interpretive invitation to strategize.
As I develop my thoughts on how to apply my prior FNFL experience to the FMLB format, I intend to be true to my signature preferences and unique interpretation of the sport (s). MLB tends to be more statistically dependent (developed) and maybe even drowning in an excess of interpretations and comparisons. I hope to cut through the bullshit and boil my league rules down to the essential, and the remarkable. The mundane have been exiled!
I use a combination of elements to determine what value to assign things: (commonality/frequency + subjective difficulty + game-flow based significance = relative weighted value). Through this, you should begin to see my perturbed view of the sport, and what makes it interesting.
Some of my preferences become apparent with how harshly things are penalized, or how they are rewarded. Based on an ideal set of player’s 2018 All-Star Break statistics (relative mid-marker), the draft will see offensive players going first, but relief pitchers among the second wave. See below for the impact on how the team should be built in terms of available point scoring potential.
Difficult plays and stats that are hard to earn are weighted, but more heavily towards the remarkable. Outfield Assists for example, as I have stated in previous posts, are pretty fucking awesome. Clearly there are more points to be scored as an offensive player, but that seems to follow logic in terms of actual gameplay. Still, I see that, if there was to be a draft, I could see multiple strategies towards some desired stat-cultivation effort to specifically target a course towards relevance, and the postseason. Plays that cause outs, or kill rallies, or erase runs are dealt with harshly.
Depending on what is being scored/weighted, the roster needs to reflect a discipline to balance, and an incentive for a diverse live draft by fairly distributing point-earning opportunities across positions. As you can probably tell from the scoring table listed above, there are some positions on the lineup card that are going to be, generally, better contributors than others. The roster below is ordered in terms of fantasy point scoring weight/ideal projected point output potential (Great, High, Average, Low-ish)
There would be 7 bench slots, rounding out the active roster at 25. There’s a certain nostalgic symbolism I wish to also encapsulate, (see the 5 man rotation, the 7th, setup and closer slots). I feel like there are 4 starting outfielders on every Major League team as a baseline based on logic, and the nature of the positions. I did not feel it necessary to be specific about the outfield positions as this level of specificity doesn’t add to the fun and makes drafting arduous because of the constraining requirements of the roster slot. In my build, OF gets to be more useful, potentially, based on a freedom to load RF or CF or whatever your preference.
C has become like FNFL TE to me now. Hit or miss, boom or bust, this roster slot looks like the one that will inevitably fuck me somehow. C rates low, even with All-Stars driving the stats, but they seem like to do so in bursts rather than consistently. Plus, this is another roster position that is most-likely to have a savvy backup on real MLB rosters.
I foresee infielders (with the exception of C1/2) being hard to find after some trends have been established. I have often wondered about free-agency and waiver pickups in FMLB. Maybe this will be something I learn about later, or maybe not at all.
Well, I think this league would be fun, but this will never happen, more than likely. Good things to think about though, and that’s really all I’m trying to do. I just want something to feel good about, and excited I guess. Things have been really hard lately, and my energy is running dangerously low. I’m going to need help soon, and this little exercise has been one of my coping activities to help myself think about something positive and fun while also innocuous. Thank you.
I have been watching sports for a long time and am also a very data-horny person in general. Fantasy Football was a good fit, but weekly single matchups are very stressful.
Theoretically, Baseball is much less strenuous, though still very inside-knowledge dependent. Also, because of the unusually long season, presents a more gradual advancement towards some final playoff-like confrontation. I’ve had a look at the formats available, and I think I like Head-to-Head the best. Comprehensive approach to stat calculation presents an uncomfortably large swath of statistical accumulation to process and deliberate about, as Rotisserie would seem to indicate. For me, the contest would have to be rooted in the more elegant aspects of the sport, and values achievements of significance, skill or consistency above others. I’d like to discuss a few of these, and why I believe they should be weighted in some way, and specifically tracked in the H2H format:
(Outfield) Assists: The outfield assist might be my favorite play in all of Baseball, because it requires perfect body-mechanics to execute effectively. Also, having a runner thrown out at home, or caught trying to leg-out a double or triple is flaming-hot fried action. It doesn’t get much sexier than that. The deep outfield assist is easily the hardest throw to make in all of MLB (in a close second: the throw from third base foul territory to first before the runner is also a cannon-shot).
Double Plays: These coordinated exchanges can be stressful, improbable and miraculous at times. Among my favorites are the Strike-out/Throw-out, a long 6, 4, 3 or the Fly-out/Throw-out DP. When executed, they represent a tight-knit unit of infielders who can turn-two under any number of precarious, low-success probability circumstances.
Strikeouts: Obvious choice, but also a critical stat for determining the “overpoweryness” of a pitcher, which is a thing I like to track. Strikeouts looking, if they could be divided and weighted from strikeouts swinging, should be a tick or two more valuable than the latter. Either hitters get duped into thinking the pitch is junk, or they swing at something appealing that rapidly becomes junk on its way to the plate. Either way, very satisfying as an observer (except when it’s my guy who strikes out).
Pick-Offs: Though relatively uncommon, it should be a requirement of pitchers to have a sneaky pick-off move. It’s a skill thing, because pitchers should also be effective as fielders from the mound. Pick offs are particularly sweet because it’s the pitcher erasing his own mistake, and also requires a player who is not only good at throwing 90 feet from the windup or stretch, but also slinging it fast to first to nab some unsuspecting, or leaning-too-far-to-second individual.
2-Out Runs Batted In: This is all about clutch. Hitting when it is most needed, driving in critical runs… its the sort of thing that light a fire under a team. This would up the RBI value in that scenario by a large degree. There is no more important single statistic for a player, in my mind, than this one. This is the stat that wins games.
Doubles: Why doubles? Because they are a lot like home runs, just on a different, more arduous trajectory. A double requires a batter to suddenly take flight around first to ensure the hit is not squandered as a single. Triples are fun, but they’re really mostly just poorly fielded doubles, which isn’t a miraculous thing IMHO. Doubles are also a good judge of power, and almost certainly boost nearly every relevant stat an offensive player can accumulate.
Home Runs: Chicks dig the long ball, and so do I. Though, if possible the Inside-the-Park-Home-Run would be astronomically more valuable than your standard home run. They are also a rating of power, and is often the engine behind RBI. Simply put, home runs are spectacular, and they are a part of the shiny entertainment value of the sport at its core. Players tend to fall into grooves seeing the ball well, and HR tracks that trend as well.
Stolen Bases: A feat of quickness, timing and keen observation skills. They also have a chance to be very effectual in the course of the game, and stealing home would obviously be massively valued over any other base, not just in statisitcal value but in the “feat of skill” aspect. For me, “manufacturing runs,” which is a “small-ball” concept of persistence and timely quickness is entertaining. Teams that don’t have the higher Batting Averages tend to steal more bases, and finding a player that hits well and steals bases is optimal.
Defensive Scoring Categories
Win = 5.5
Save = 7.75
Hold = 3
Assist = 2.75 (OF = 4)
Double Play = 4.25
Pick-Off = 5.25
Strikeout = 1
Loss = (-2.5)
Blown Save = (-9.5)
Error = (-.75)
Home Run Allowed = (-1.25)
Offensive Scoring Categories
Run Scored – 1
Run Batted In – 1.25
Single – 1.5
Double – 2.75
Triple – 3.25
Home Run – 5
2-Out Runs Batted In = 2.75
Stolen Base = 1.5 (Home = 2.75)
Caught Stealing = (-2)
Strikeout = (-1.25)
Grounded Into Double Play = (-3.75)
Under terms such as these, I think a low-maintenance league might be fun… but the scope of invested time on research is daunting to say the least.
Roster size is of importance as well, and I have that consideration when amplifying the point totals. It’s a scaled-down version of the standard model:
Total = 25
That sort of describes what I fancy about MLB… there are many little corners of statistical fascination and rarity that please my brain. The fact that Baseball is so heavily dependent on stats plays a big part in why it smells interesting and so, I just keep sniffing it. I like to sniff the smoodge.
Good day Blog.
In this article, we are going to have a detailed discussion on a variety of thoughts pertaining to the developmental potential of life in general, and the chances of a genesis that took place somewhere other than on Earth. The subject matter revealed in the following paragraphs is explored using scientific theory, factual observations and heretical speculation on my part. If you are reading this, then the content below should be absorbed with the intent to stimulate thought, and not conclude or prove. I doubt anyone who reads this blog anymore believes a fucking thing I say anyway.
Now, to be clear, the term “genesis” is a tad loaded. One thing both scientific and religious definitions have in common is that the burden of proof does not weigh them down. As of this article, Humans have not been able to duplicate the circumstances in which life first formed. They have even gone down to the level of exploring the interactions between individual proteins and amino acids, yet the actual moment of genesis remains unobserved. So, we have a “before” scene where there is this warm organic goop all hanging out in a tidal pool somewhere on a prehistoric shore, mingling. Then, there’s a gap where something happens to make life possible but no one knows what it is, we will call this section “poof!” Then, the “after” scene is basically the start of the evolutionary process which has led to the diversity we know today. Humans have reverse engineered the shit out of every organism they can find, then they did the same thing to all the dead ones too. Two of three isn’t so bad, right?
Therefore, when we talk about life on other planets, we are making a big assumption that the spark of genesis is really there and we just don’t understand it. Because we have this sandwich of knowledge around the missing meat, we can infer what might be possible based on the trajectory of the evidence before and after. Despite the incompleteness of the theory, one can’t fault innovation and imagination simply because of a particularly perplexing missing piece.
Having provided that perspective, I’d now like to open your mind to a series of fantastical possibilities. Given what we know for certain, we are able to make very educated inferences about the future based on the facts at hand. That’s why we can have a discussion about genesis and extraterrestrial life, because we are open to understanding the vastness of why and the unexplored reaches of how. To fully immerse oneself in this topic is also to embrace a sense of burgeoning community. If life is more common than simply here on this planet, we will not be alone anymore.
Even if we don’t quite understand the exact nature of genesis, we can still open several more theory doors to the chance that the spark of first life might take hold in a variety of chemical mediums, or arise from organic molecular combinations we have not seen in our biology. Maybe even life different in fundamental coded structure from Humans and our (so far) unique DeoxyriboNucleic Acid genetic sequences. That would be quite a scientific revelation indeed, and also joyous in a very relieving way. Think of all the things we could learn from other intelligent life. How that discovery would change humanity is something I’d like to see.
Let us now go on a journey through our local solar neighborhood. There are some places, right nearby, where life might be happening or has happened pretty recently. We are investigating most all of these objects with scientific instrumentation. Whether having the right ingredients for life, or being a delivery system of the ingredients for or life itself, there are many places extraterrestrial organisms could already be taking hold.
The planet has deteriorated far beyond the point in which life was likely flourishing and the environment was habitable. Now, however, it’s a piece of overcooked iron toast. The atmosphere is nearly gone, and the surface has been under relentless assault from solar wind and cosmic background radiation for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years. There is no powerful magnetic field stopping the bombardment, and no way Mars can even feasibly hang on to the Carbon Dioxide it has now. Radiation alone renders the top several feet of the surface saturated by unhelpful charged particles. Almost every single life form on Earth would die is several ways, within a few moments of being exposed to the surface of Mars. That being said, there is a significant measure of difficulty to overcome in theorizing about how life could still be happening there. Since only a tiny fraction of particularly durable organisms and bacteria (maybe something like a Tardigrade [which can repair its own D.N.A.]) from Earth would stand any sort of chance of survival, we have no model for where or what to look for as far as identifying an environment on Mars that enables life rather than tries to kill it.
Human beings on the surface are likely to be the deciding factor in determining whether the red planet has or had life. I believe it will only be proven or not by direct observation and laboratory-level intense scrutiny… something probes and rovers cannot provide. In this Human colonization of Mars imaginary scenario, there are nearly endless chances to explore, sample and test to see if life had ever come to exist on Mars. Once we determine when it had or if it had life, we might then also compare the mechanics of Martian life to our own. If we share the same genetic code, there would be a strong possibility that life as we know it would have originally had one genesis. That is, if after radiocarbon dating the sample, a determination can be made about who was first. Since we share the same genetic code, we can infer that the “genesis” that took place on Earth might have been an invasion and eventual global takeover.
Four billion years ago, as the Earth was mostly a molten slag-ball, Mars may have been teeming with life. It had oceans, protection from solar radiation, and all the conditions plus time life would have needed to develop in some way, and achieve diversity. Maybe at some point during Mars’ prosperity, a piece of the surface could have been blasted out into space during a meteor impact. Within that Martian crust would have been some trapped microbial life, stowed away and frozen into stasis by the vacuum of space. It must have been an organism small and durable enough to survive the journey through Earth’s atmosphere, but once warm and on the surface, life for the Martian organisms began again. This burning thought-wagon postulates that there was only one genesis… the one that happened on Mars billions of years ago. That would make you, so-called Earthling, a 2nd generation Martian colonist.
Recently, NASA has announced the discovery of complex organic molecules in a few places across Gale Crater (which NASA has been exploring for 6 years), and also, that there are seasonal Methane plumes which increase in the Martian summer, and decrease in the winter. The cause is unknown at this time, but potentially an indicator of organic processes taking place in a subsurface capacity (there is a chance this outgassing might be a geologic mechanism of some kind as well). The Curiosity Rover recovered a sample rich with organic molecules, having only drilled 4 inches into the rock it was testing. 4 inches? The radioactive bombardment upon those 4 inches of exposed rock has been extreme to a degree we could not possibly comprehend behind our magnetic field. Yet, the sample they tested was still loaded with some of the most crucial building blocks of life. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars lander will be equipped with a drill that can penetrate 6 FEET below the surface, free of the influence of the irradiated zone. in 2020, there is a real chance of identifying subsurface microbial life, bringing the final question of whether life is possible on other planets into focus.
Once the first images of these worlds came in from the Voyager missions, the questions began mounting as to the nature of the Gas Giants and their moons. They have always been a source of fascination, and we made them a priority in our exploration of the outer solar system. Later missions to the two largest planets in the neighborhood revealed many hopeful signs that environments existed, beyond Earth, that might support life.
There are a few mechanical characteristics at work here that help to make theorizing about life in these remote places possible: both of these icy moons are orbiting planets vastly larger than they are (the Gas Giants Jupiter and Saturn, respectively), and they are affected by the potent gravitational attraction of their planetary parents. Both Europa and Enceladus are tugged on consistently with what are known as tidal forces. Jupiter physically pulls Europa’s surface closer to it while the moon rotates on its axis. That deformation creates tectonic friction deep inside the moon, and the small cores are able to stay warm.
The disproportionately strong gravity of their Gas Giant parents provides a continual source of internally driven convection. That heat subsequently melts large amounts of frozen water ice that comprises the outermost layers of each. Water is one of those things that has certainly been entwined in our evolution, and may be necessary for genesis to take place elsewhere.
Life can persevere even in the most extreme environments, which is why we think it could be happening in the subsurface oceans of Europa and Enceladus. A great example of how this could be possible so far from the sun and under miles of ice comes from the discovery of volcanic “black smoker” vents in the of the oceans of Earth. These remote outcroppings of volcanic heat and minerals have entire ecosystems developed in close proximity to the warmth, cut off from everything around them on the seafloor. Undersea volcanic vent habitats prove that sunlight is not necessary for life, and energy through heat can provide the spark needed to create diverse organisms. If similar conditions are going on right now in the deep oceans of these frozen moons, there could be a plethora of complex life with a starting point at a fissure releasing volcanic heat and nutrients on the seafloor. In the expansive layer of liquid water, where there is heat and organic molecules are mixing around, life has a promising chance to develop if it hasn’t already.
A potential (thus far unfunded) mission to Enceladus would be a prolonged orbital survey which would collect a sample from an erupting geyser, a phenomena recently observed and a chance to sample some of the liquid water underneath the icy exterior. Chemical analysis through observation, as well as direct sampling for organic compounds might answer a great many questions about the potential (or current) habitability of the water trapped between the crust and the core. The Enceladus Life Finder would do, well, pretty much what it says, if ever the project is embraced.
This one is more about something I personally suspect, but the scientific community has largely not all that excited about. These objects would present evidence in the transfer theory where life can survive in space and through re-entry.
Asteroids of this type, like 101955 Bennu (may collide with our planet at some point this century), are made of a lot of organic matter unlike most other asteroids comprised of Iron and Nickel. The things we think these types of asteroids are made out of pose a lot of questions about the ability, or even possibility of life being able to hitch a ride, travel through the vacuum of space, and survive re-entry through an atmosphere. If genesis did not take place on Earth, we may want to consider the possibility that life was already started somewhere else, and just happened to land on Earth at the right time. Even if there is no way life could have survived on or in it, asteroids like Bennu may have provided the final ingredient needed for genesis to take place in the sludge pools near Earth’s early oceans.
We are going to pay a visit to Bennu this year with the OSIRIS-REx. mission, which is well on its way to intercept later in the fall. It is a two-component mission: most of the probe’s time will be spent in orbit, photographing and analyzing. One of the eventual mission objectives will be to extend a sample gathering arm to recover surface material, then, In 2023, return the sample to Earth for study.
These tiny little fragments of some larger object in the solar system’s early history are valuable relics that may point to when “first” genesis took place… maybe long before Mars, at the very beginning of our celestial formation. Or, they could prove to be loaded with useful organics that without, life may not have even been possible on our planet.
Okay, so here’s where the imagination and theoretical factors are going to kick in.
Titan is a very strange place in a lot of statistical ways, but similar in a significant, visual way. Titan has a thick atmosphere of Nitrogen, like Earth, but also is so cold that Methane clouds pass by overhead, condense and rain down on the land, and fill seas of liquid Methane and Ethane that cover parts of the planet, much like Earth’s oceans. There are storms, wind, and features that from above, look strikingly similar to surfaces on a planet where weathering and water erosion pervade. Most of the mountains on Titan are made of hard, frozen water ice, trapped in that state on the surface with a frightening daytime temperature of -291 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, what exactly about this place gives rise to life? Where’s the heat? Where is the primordial sludge?
Given there is still a lot to be learned about astrobiology, it is probable to assume that if life is possible beyond the Earth, that it may come to rise in a variety of circumstances, and possibly, in unique ways we have not yet been able to conceive of. Titan is overloaded with useful organic molecules, which is a good start. Is it possible that because all the pieces might have been there for just as long as the Earth has been around (roughly), that some form of life could be gleaning an existence off the limited energy resources available? Unlikely, yes, but not at all inconceivable.
There is also a chance that the internal friction of Saturn’s gravity on Titan has allowed for there to be active geology (hence the lack of craters). It is clearly not an inert ball of frozen Nitrogen and water. Saturn’s pull on Titan allows for Methane to exist in all three stages of matter, and liquid organic molecules are useful when constructing biologic life (as we know it). Whether the heat-energy exists somewhere in a subsurface cavern or deep ocean trench remains to be seen. One can’t simply ignore that the ideal primordial soup may exist somewhere other than Earth, and be a home to life in a way we can’t yet fully understand.
Coming up in the not too distant future, NASA intends to send the Titan Mare Explorer to Titan which will patrol the liquid Methane oceans with a wide variety of above and below surface instrumentation, in search of life that may be hidden there. The mission may also integrate a submarine functionality to explore the deeper places of Titan’s Methane seas.
This one kinda combines our sense of mystery and limited understanding of the contributions to existence provided by this region of the solar system. One of the unanswered questions that seems to be puzzling scientists is: where did all the liquid water on Earth come from? How did we get so much? Some scientists think Comets carried it in from the outer solar system during the Late Heavy Bombardment, but there also a lot of research debunking that. However, it can undoubtedly be true that that material Comets and K.B.Os. are made out of contain a lot of organic material, and water (even if its the wrong kind). While having Long-Period Comets collide with the planet is a bummer, the things they leave behind could have greatly contributed if not been directly responsible for life on Earth in the cooling that occurred in the millennia thereafter.
But is there life clinging to existence in a frozen stasis in the distant fringes of the sun’s influence? Did life come from this place originally, long ago, and make its way in towards the sun as gravity distorted orbits? Is it out there now, hiding, waiting to be found?
The real trouble here is that the objects we are discussing are unimaginably far from us to do much more than observe. New Horizons is going to photograph and spectrograph a few of them, but they will not be landed on or otherwise extensively studied up close. As I write this now, that novel probe is an additional 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, headed for another object. The likelihood of life in these places though is inconceivably small. From what we know about life, energy plays a big role in it getting going. There’s almost no energy out there, in the deep cold. The sun is far away, and not providing enough pull or warmth to think active geologic processes are somehow happening by those means. Life would need to have formed with an astonishingly low energy requirement, and from our current models, that doesn’t make sense. Some have thought in situations of binary systems, like Pluto and Charon, that the significant tidal forces could be the reason we observed so much new surface geology and vastly different landscapes on Pluto. That fact, at least means there’s warmth somewhere, enough to melt the frozen Nitrogen and give Pluto the aura of an atmosphere (and blue skies overhead). The possibility of life is low, and the sliver of imagination is that, just a little tiny sliver.
Sadly, objects located in the extended fringe of the sun’s influence are particularly hard to study up close. Landing something on them seems unlikely, as the E.S.A. discovered in its failed Rosetta landing. Now, the interstellar object in question for the Rosetta mission landed on a Short-Period Comet that was not that far from us, in contrast to where most of the Comets’ buddies are hanging out. Nevertheless, the idea of studying something so potentially volatile and with low gravity presents all sorts of challenges for future Astronomers to ponder. We did, however, crash a probe into a Comet many years ago, and we have also collected organic molecules from their gaseous tails. We know they are made of stuff we have on Earth, but it is unclear what sort of impact (no pun intended) they had.
As far as missions go, getting out to the Kuiper Belt requires a lot of time, and an insane amount of speed. New Horizons, the mission NASA/JPL that gave us all the information we have on Pluto, essentially did a super high-speed drive by at 36,373 miles an hour. Going into orbit around a K.B.O. is not possible at that speed without a DRAMATIC slowdown… which means the probe had to carry more fuel so it could burn some to enter orbit… fuel is heavy and adds extra weight… more weight will make it take longer to get the spacecraft going fast… you see where this is gong. These K.B.O. missions are streamlined, because getting out there as quickly as possible still takes 10 years. The mechanics of landing (more likely, crashing) something on the surface of a Kuiper Belt Object are brutal, and the obstacles to success abound. Even if the spacecraft just fired off a little scientific projectile type instrument of a form, it is uncertain if the descending probe and the spacecraft could be oriented for communication long enough to recover the observations before it got too far from the transmitter.
I think this region will remain unexplored and not fully understood for generations to come.
Sadly, I don’t think we can draw any; that’s not what these conversations are about. We read, think and wonder. The engine of the imagination roars for a time, then is quiet. I love to sit back and think about all the fascinating things we don’t know, but are trying to figure out. The observable universe is still, fundamentally, not comprehended. Mechanically, we can’t explain why, just like we can’t explain how genesis happened. As a male, I do like conclusions and things that could be considered “done.” Awe for the world has a lot to do with an appreciation and respect for the unknown, and is also a challenge to the interpretation of ourselves in this world. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but that’s not going to stop me from thinking about what the answer could be. The exercise is in exploration, and I do hope you come back and read some more as we will be ranging all over the spectrum with discussion topics.
Thanks for reading, come back again soon for another exciting and imagination-provoking topic.
Images credit: Wikipedia