Skip to content
Project Nahual Logo

Project Nahual

The blog

In this blog I will explain my journey on this project and maybe share some other thoughts if they ever come to my mind.

The project

The project is in its first steps and best described by the blog article “On Project Nahual”. Have a look and maybe let you inspire yourself.

Me, myself and I

Who is “I”? I’m Jannik Baumgart. I am from germany, currently working at a medtech company and am a space nerd by heart.

  • On aquatic life

    Informatics is a great science. When you want to do it yourself, all you need is a computer, which merely everyone has at home.

    Physics is very supportive, when you have a little bit of money to spend. With lego-technic or countless other beginner-friendly building sets for electric or mechanic installations, you can even get into robotics.

    You want to do biology? This could get a little more difficult. The green companions (e.g. plants) of some of my friends are impressive. However, when you want to go deeper or to be more specific smaller, you will stumble on unusual problems.

    Some time ago, I got inspired from an article of a university project, where students were tasked to build and maintain the cheapest possible bioreactor and grow a population of a specific bacteria culture. As my education was heavily biotechnology related, I always feel the desire to get back to it.

    Out of this inspiration and desire, I tasked myself to grow phytoplankton on a budget. These merely small and simple organisms allow us to live on our wonderful earth. They are responsible for around 50% of all oxygen generated on our earth. Fuck trees (just kidding, please don’t). Source

    Man, these fuckers kept me busy for a long time. While aquarium or fish tank hobbyists have green algae as a personal enemy, they were astoundingly difficult to get on their own. They mostly work like regular plants. You don’t need to water them (obviously), but if you want them to grow, you need to supply them with fertilizer and trace elements. In a usual aquarium, this is mostly given and as you want more complex organisms to grow, algae are usually not a thing you want to see. They are an indicator for unhealthy or wrong concentrations of required fertilizers or trace elements. With this in mind, you will mostly see articles about how to avoid algae. This is probably the reason why it took me so long and puzzled me so many times.

    To start the project, I ordered some chemicals to be able to mix my own fertilizer, as I read, that most aquatic plant fertilizers are mixed to avoid algae growth. Reaching back to the start of the article, when you go down the Chemistry route, you will definitely land on some lists. My ordered chemicals came from Bulgaria, had big Cyrillic letters on the package and were labeled as “cosmetic ingredients”. If the police ever searches my home, I probably would need to explain, that I am not intending to build bombs. This article is a safety measurement. On a site note, Chemistry is made for masochists. If you know, you know.

    Now, my first big error was getting the concentration of chemicals hilariously wrong. I did not research about realistic concentrations, so my shot in the blue was probably around the hundredfold of a sensible concentration, which is pretty toxic for plant growth. My god, I am glad, I did not set up an aquarium for fishies. I spotted the mistake eventually, when I looked up sensible concentrations. Source

    The second and probably longest phase of the project was the technical setup. I wanted to make my aquarium mostly remote-controllable or at least schedule-able with a Raspberry Pi. The concrete goal was to add fertilizer regularly in controlled amounts. I tried to build pumps out of 3D-printed parts and some spare parts lying around. I got my first steps of 3D-printing, which was very fun. However, in the end, I just bought pumps. Unfortunately, I had problems with those as well. They were specified to work with 3V to 3.7V. Without actually pumping medium, this specification is correct, but in practical use they sometimes had difficulties to start. After extensive troubleshooting to my circuit design, I just used 5V. I guess, I’m a newbie on many things here, but you have to start eventually.

    “Okay, setup’s finally fine. Why do I still have no algae?!” – Yeah, turns out, you need to start somewhere. I finally ordered an already established colony of algae to start my batch. While you probably always have algae in an established aquarium, you won’t have, when you start with tab water. This might seem self-explanatory, but actually many organisms float around in the air you breathe. Ever wondered where mold comes from? I started this project with the expectation, that algae will also be literally everywhere. It might be, but now I think, that you need to be very patient to get a colony growing.

    This is the culture (Scenedesmus sp.) I finally bought, when no other problem could be identified. I usually tried it with tab water or water from local lakes. Maybe this would work, If I had more know-how or time. Even a large colony takes time to produce biomass.

    Now look at them producing tiny little bubbles of oxygen. I also think, the rocks help for the algae to be “comfortable”. I don’t exactly know why.

    The complete assembly of devices and glasses usually sits in a flask-holder. However, it looks so eerily like a bomb (cables and lights and fluids and tubes), that I will not share a picture.

    This was a side project, which took some pressure from Nahual. My work schedule currently forbids working wholeheartedly on Nahual (also because I’d like to have a private life). Feel free to comment or contact me if you know a lot or nothing at all about algae. Either way, discussing science is always fun.

    All pictures and sources to download:

    Direct link to post and comments:

  • On plans

    So, sometimes life goes not exactly like you plan it to be. On closer look, it rarely goes as expected. Depending on how you feel about live and curiosity, this is usually a good thing. In the last blog post, I told you about the plans I had with the WSA-ENLIL model. Spoiler alert: plans changed.

    In the first steps of Project Nahual, I familiarized myself with solar wind with the help of the WSA-ENLIL model. To start an actual simulation of an artificial Martian magnetic shield, I tried to get my hands on the source code of this WSA-ENLIL model. I dug through the internet without success. The only option would be to request a run with specific parameters, though defining such specific parameters (e.g. ones who actually weren’t intended by the creator) is impossible without an extensive documentation or the source code. I found this option at the Community coordinated modeling center (CCMC) run by NASA.

    In an old school attempt, I wrote an email describing my issue to the CCMC model hosts. And someone answered! Someone from NASA wrote me an email. This absolutely made my week and is still absolutely awesome. Unfortunately, they could not help me with my request of the WSA-ENLIL model. It is not open source, only model runs can be requested. But they told me about an alternative, the Space Weather Modeling Framework (SWMF) created and maintained openly with the University of Michigan. Welp. So now they not only answered, they also supported me. And the SWMF apparently is an absolutely powerful tool. The documentation is insanely good and I immediately had the feeling, that it will make my simulation efforts a whole lot easier. I’m currently doing baby steps with a program designed for super computers by absolute experts in their field.

    It took me quite a while to get the model up and running on my system. This is also a work in progress for me, since the options are basically unlimited. However, to again show you something I had the model produce 3D-data of the earth’s magnetosphere. Enjoy, but don’t use it for any scientific purposes. I am by no means sure, I gave the model physically authentic input.

    So after releasing the last blog post, I would’ve never guessed, where my project would lead me. You can be sure, that I love this path, though. My plan for the next one is a bit vague. Since in the meantime some people of the real life told me “I have no idea, what you are doing there”, I’d like to give some insight about how using this model actually looks. But we will see about the future.

    Direct link to article and comments:

  • On Project Nahual

    What the project is all about and what it will be

    Solar wind barrages onto our atmosphere every second. It consists of charged particles, which get heavily influenced by the magnetic fields of earth and sun. The interaction between solar wind and the earthly magnetic field results in the wonderful phenomenon of polar lights. A well more hidden effect of the earthly magnetic field is its protection aspect. It deflects and redirects the charged solar wind particles, which otherwise might strip away our atmosphere. Once again we can thank our planet for the Home it provides to us.

    A picture of northern lights by wikipedia user Varjisakka under creative commons licence
    Northern lights by Varjisakka under creative commons licence

    When we look up to the sky, we find a planet which lived this fate. Our neighborly planet Mars is assumed to have a significant atmosphere a long time ago. It might have lost it due to many erosion effects, of which the drag of the solar wind is one of.

    As I learned about the eroded and lost natural Mars atmosphere I was very sad, because it essentially makes any future terraforming efforts worthless. Without a magnetic field any artificial atmosphere on Mars would erode just like its natural one.

    For a long time I thought terraforming Mars would be impossible and our closest neighbor cannot be a Home for us. One day in the far past of my life I heard from an idea, which stuck with me. James Green from NASA proposed at the NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop the concept of a powerful magnet placed at the L1-Lagrange point between Sun and Mars. It would act as a shield for the Martian atmosphere. I was intrigued, kept the idea for a long time and began to search for more but did not find satisfying results.

    An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size generated at L1 – a point where the gravitational pull of Mars and the sun are at a rough equilibrium — allows Mars to be well protected by what is known as the magnetotail. The L1 point for Mars is about 673,920 miles (or 320 Mars radii) away from the planet. In this image, Green’s team simulated the passage of a hypothetical extreme Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejection at Mars. By staying inside the magnetotail of the artificial magnetosphere, the Martian atmosphere lost an order of magnitude less material than it would have otherwise. (J. Green)
    Magnet shield proposed by James Green from NASA at the NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop – article link

    While there are proposals for this topic, as far as I know nobody actually analyzed the solar wind as source of the problem. Any designs orientate heavily at the structure of the earthly magnetic field. I want to deep dive into the plasma dynamics of the solar wind to maybe find a more efficient solution. The scope of Project Nahual is a comprehensive proposal for a Martian solar magnet shield.

    For a first step I wanted to have an accurate description about solar wind. The most promising dataset is the one given by the WSA-Enlil model from the NOAA. I created a visualizer, which goes beyond the basic 2D one provided. However like I mentioned in the last blog article I will probably need a dataset specific for this purpose as well as a deep understanding of the model itself to advance in this project.

    Apart from technical problems like having a magnetic field, which might need the size of a planet, or modeling the solar wind accurately enough, a realization would require huge investments. Because of this a practical project scope is far out of reach for me. Nevertheless I want to add to our understanding of our solar system. In the spirit of the always welcoming space community I want to share my ideas and my progress, even if I possibly will not find a feasible or even doable solution.

    Join me, ask me, discuss with me or just read. Our fascination for the stars shines bright and I am happy to be here.

    All sources, articles and pictures to download: On Project

    Direct link to article and comments: