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  • richardmitnick 7:01 am on July 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Groundbreaking for DUNE at SURF,   

    From FNAL: “Construction begins on international mega-science experiment to understand neutrinos” 

    FNAL II photo

    FNAL Art Image
    FNAL Art Image by Angela Gonzales

    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    July 21, 2017

    Media contact
    Andre Salles
    Fermilab Office of Communication
    asalles@fnal.gov
    630-840-6733

    Constance Walter
    Sanford Underground Research Facility,
    cwalter@sanfordlab.org
    605-722-4025

    1
    Ground is broken! Attending the underground ceremony today were, from left: Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer; Executive Director of Programmes Grahame Blair, Science and Technology Facilities Council; Professor Sergio Bertolucci, National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Italy; Director for International Relations Charlotte Warakaulle, CERN; Rep. Randy Hultgren, Illinois; Rep. Kristi Noem, South Dakota; Sen. Mike Rounds, South Dakota; Sen. John Thune, South Dakota; Associate Director of Science for High-Energy Research Jim Siegrist, U.S. Department of Energy; Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios; South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard; Project Manager Scott Lundgren, Kiewit/Alberici; Executive Director Mike Headley, Sanford Underground Research Facility; and Chair of the Board Casey Peterson, South Dakota Science and Technology Authority. Photo: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab.

    Groundbreaking held today in South Dakota marks the start of excavation for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, future home to the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.

    With the turning of a shovelful of earth a mile underground, a new era in international particle physics research officially began today.

    In a unique groundbreaking ceremony held this afternoon at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

    When complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

    At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota and a similar number of jobs in Illinois. Institutions in dozens of countries will contribute to the construction of DUNE components. The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce in the United States and worldwide.

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago, will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through Earth to Sanford Lab, where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos.

    Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detector, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye. Ever since their discovery 61 years ago, neutrinos have proven to be one of the most surprising subatomic particles, and the fact that they oscillate between three different states is one of their biggest surprises. That discovery began with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s, performed in the same underground mine that now will house LBNF/DUNE. Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002 for his experiment.

    2
    The DUNE neutrino beam will travel 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through Earth from Fermilab in Illinois to Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. Illustration: Sandbox Studio/Fermilab.

    DUNE scientists will also look for the differences in behavior between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why the visible universe is dominated by matter. DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

    But first, the facility must be built, and that will happen over the next 10 years. Now that the first shovel of earth has been moved, crews will begin to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detector. Large DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at European research center CERN, a major partner in the project, and the technology refined for those smaller versions will be tested and scaled up when the massive DUNE detectors are built.

    This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries. DUNE collaborators come from institutions in Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.

    QUOTES

    Energy Secretary Rick Perry

    “The start of construction on this world-leading science experiment is cause for celebration, not just because of its positive impacts on the economy and on America’s strong relationships with our international partners, but also because of the fantastic discoveries that await us beyond the next horizon. I’m proud to support the efforts by Fermilab, Sanford Underground Research Facility and CERN, and we’re pleased to see it moving forward.”

    Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, Office of Science and Technology Policy

    “Today’s groundbreaking for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility marks a historic moment for American leadership in science and technology. It also serves as a model for what the future of mega-science research looks like: an intensely collaborative effort between state, local and federal governments, international partners, and enterprising corporate and philanthropic pioneers whose combined efforts will significantly increase our understanding of the universe. The White House celebrates today with everyone who is bringing this once-in-a-generation endeavor to life, including the men and women providing the logistical organization and financial capital to set the project on the right foot, the physical labor to construct these incredible facilities, and the scientific vision to discover new truths through their work here.”

    South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard

    “This project will be one of the world’s most significant physics experiments conducted over the next several decades, and today’s groundbreaking is another milestone in the development of the Sanford Underground Research Facility.”

    U.S. Senator John Thune, South Dakota

    “The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility continues Lead, South Dakota’s, tradition of cutting-edge neutrino research, dating back to physics experiments at the former Homestake Mine in the 1960s. When completed, LBNF and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will attract some of the world’s brightest scientists to South Dakota and push the boundaries of basic research, not to mention support good-paying jobs in the historic mining region of the Black Hills. I look forward to seeing the facility’s completion and the groundbreaking experiments that will be done in the years to come.”

    U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, South Dakota

    “Today’s groundbreaking marks another significant step toward gaining a deeper understanding of the makeup of our universe. It is pretty remarkable that such world-class research continues to develop right here in Lead, South Dakota. When we began the process of securing an underground laboratory at South Dakota’s Homestake gold mine more than a decade ago, we were hopeful that it would lead to major advancements in particle physics and neutrino research. Today, those hopes are turning into reality as the Sanford Underground Research Facility, Fermilab and CERN join together to break ground on the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, which will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Today is a truly special day, and I thank everyone involved in this collaboration for the years of hard work they’ve put into this project.”

    U.S. Representative Kristi Noem, South Dakota

    “In breaking ground today, we move closer to uncovering a new understanding of how the natural world works. That new knowledge could have a profound impact, potentially leading to faster global communications, better nuclear weapons detection technologies and a whole new field of research. The future of science is happening right here in South Dakota.”

    U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, Illinois

    “The LBNF/DUNE groundbreaking once again puts the United States in a leadership position on the world stage, attracting scientists from around the globe to the only place they can do their work. Fermilab attracts top talent, employing nearly 2,000 in Illinois and providing a strong economic engine to our state. I commend the work done by the Department of Energy, Fermilab and Sanford Lab to bring together a strong coalition to serve the research needs of the international community. With great anticipation I look forward to the new and breathtaking discoveries made at this facility. What we all can learn together will be awe-inspiring and uncover the new questions that will drive future generations of scientists in their quest for greater understanding.”

    Director Nigel Lockyer, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

    “Fermilab is proud to host the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, which bring together scientists from 30 countries in a quest to understand the neutrino. This is a true landmark day and the start of a new era in global neutrino physics.”

    Executive Director Mike Headley, Sanford Underground Research Facility

    “The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority is proud to be hosting LBNF at the Sanford Underground Research Facility. This milestone represents the start of construction of the largest mega-science project in the United States. We’re excited to be working with the project and the international DUNE collaboration and expanding our knowledge of the role neutrinos play in the makeup of the universe.”

    Director-General Fabiola Gianotti, CERN

    “Some of the open questions in fundamental physics today are related to extremely fascinating and elusive particles called neutrinos. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility in the United States, whose start of construction is officially inaugurated with today’s groundbreaking ceremony, brings together the international particle physics community to explore some of the most interesting properties of neutrinos.”

    Executive Director of Programmes Grahame Blair, Science and Technology Facilities Council, United Kingdom

    “The groundbreaking ceremony today is a significant milestone in what is an extremely exciting prospect for the UK research community. The DUNE project will delve deeper into solving the unanswered questions of our universe, opening the doors to a whole new set of tools to probe its constituents at a very fundamental level and, indeed, even addressing how it came to be. International partnerships are key to building these leading-edge experiments, which explore the origins of the universe, and I am very happy to be a representative of the international community here today.”

    President Fernando Ferroni, National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Italy

    “We are very proud of this great endeavor of Fermilab as its technology has roots in the work undertaken by Carlo Rubbia at the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy.”

    Professor Ed Blucher, University of Chicago and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration

    “Today is extremely exciting for all of us in the DUNE collaboration. It marks the start of an incredibly challenging and ambitious experiment, which could have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe.”

    Professor Mark Thomson, University of Cambridge and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration

    “The international DUNE collaboration came together to realize a dream of a game-changing program of neutrino science; today represents a major milestone in turning this dream into reality.”

    Illustrations and animations of the LBNF/DUNE project and its science goals are available at:

    http://www.dunescience.org/for-the-media

    More information about the facility and experiment can be found at:

    http://lbnf.fnal.gov

    http://dunescience.org

    See the full article here .

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    Fermilab Campus

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. Fermilab is America’s premier laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Thousands of scientists from universities and laboratories around the world
    collaborate at Fermilab on experiments at the frontiers of discovery.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:23 am on July 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Dragonfly 44 an extremely faint galaxy, Globular Clusters for Faint Galaxies   

    From AAS NOVA: ” Globular Clusters for Faint Galaxies” 

    AASNOVA

    American Astronomical Society

    21 July 2017
    Susanna Kohler

    1
    This Hubble image of Dragonfly 44, an extremely faint galaxy, reveals that it is surrounded by dozens of compact objects that are likely globular clusters. [van Dokkum et al. 2017]

    The origin of ultra-diffuse galaxies (UDGs) has posed a long-standing mystery for astronomers. New observations of several of these faint giants with the Hubble Space Telescope are now lending support to one theory.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    2
    Hubble images of Dragonfly 44 (top) and DFX1 (bottom). The right panels show the data with greater contrast and extended objects masked. [van Dokkum et al. 2017]

    Faint-Galaxy Mystery

    UDGs — large, extremely faint spheroidal objects — were first discovered in the Virgo galaxy cluster roughly three decades ago. Modern telescope capabilities have resulted in many more discoveries of similar faint galaxies in recent years, suggesting that they are a much more common phenomenon than we originally thought.

    Despite the many observations, UDGs still pose a number of unanswered questions. Chief among them: what are UDGs? Why are these objects the size of normal galaxies, yet so dim? There are two primary models that explain UDGs:

    1. UDGs were originally small galaxies, hence their low luminosity. Tidal interactions then puffed them up to the large size we observe today.
    2. UDGs are effectively “failed” galaxies. They formed the same way as normal galaxies of their large size, but something truncated their star formation early, preventing them from gaining the brightness that we would expect for galaxies of their size.

    Now a team of scientists led by Pieter van Dokkum (Yale University) has made some intriguing observations with Hubble that lend weight to one of these models.

    3
    Globulars observed in 16 Coma-cluster UDGs by Hubble. The top right panel shows the galaxy identifications. The top left panel shows the derived number of globular clusters in each galaxy. [van Dokkum et al. 2017]

    Globulars Galore

    Van Dokkum and collaborators imaged two UDGs with Hubble: Dragonfly 44 and DFX1, both located in the Coma galaxy cluster. These faint galaxies are both smooth and elongated, with no obvious irregular features, spiral arms, star-forming regions, or other indications of tidal interactions.

    The most striking feature of these galaxies, however, is that they are surrounded by a large number of compact objects that appear to be globular clusters. From the observations, Van Dokkum and collaborators estimate that Dragonfly 44 and DFX1 have approximately 74 and 62 globulars, respectively — significantly more than the low numbers expected for galaxies of this luminosity.

    Armed with this knowledge, the authors went back and looked at archival observations of 14 other UDGs also located in the Coma cluster. They found that these smaller and fainter galaxies don’t host quite as many globular clusters as Dragonfly 44 and DFX1, but more than half also show significant overdensities of globulars.

    4
    Main panel: relation between the number of globular clusters and total absolute magnitude for Coma UDGs (solid symbols) compared to normal galaxies (open symbols). Top panel: relation between effective radius and absolute magnitude. The UDGs are significantly larger and have more globular clusters than normal galaxies of the same luminosity. [van Dokkum et al. 2017]

    Evidence of Failure

    In general, UDGs appear to have more globular clusters than other galaxies of the same total luminosity, by a factor of nearly 7. These results are consistent with the scenario in which UDGs are failed galaxies: they likely have the halo mass to have formed a large number of globular clusters, but they were quenched before they formed a disk and bulge. Because star formation never got going in UDGs, they are now much dimmer than other galaxies of the same size.

    The authors suggest that the next step is to obtain dynamical measurements of the UDGs to determine whether these faint galaxies really do have the halo mass suggested by their large numbers of globulars. Future observations will continue to help us pin down the origin of these dim giants.

    Citation

    Pieter van Dokkum et al 2017 ApJL 844 L11. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa7ca2

    Related Journal Articles
    See the full article for further references with links.

    See the full article here .

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    1

    AAS Mission and Vision Statement

    The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

    The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.
    The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.
    The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.
    The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.
    The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

    Adopted June 7, 2009

     
  • richardmitnick 5:49 am on July 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , I see skies of blue and clouds of white   

    From astrobites: “I see skies of blue and clouds of white” 

    Astrobites bloc

    Astrobites

    July 21, 2017
    Shang-Min Tsai

    Title: A Cloudiness Index for Transiting Exoplanets Based on the Sodium and Potassium Lines: Tentative Evidence for Hotter Atmospheres Being Less Cloudy at Visible Wavelengths
    Authors: K. Heng
    First Author’s Institution: Center for Space and Habitability, University of Bern
    1
    Status: Published on ApJL, open access

    Background

    Most astronomers hate clouds, except for those who study them. Not only our clouds on the sky ruin observing nights, clouds on other planets obscure everything underneath, too. When observing extra-solar planets during transit, different atoms, molecules or particles absorb light at certain wavelengths, making the apparent radii of the planets change as viewed with different colors — known as transmission spectroscopy. Although it is a powerful tool to infer the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, these clouds often hinder our efforts to understand such alien worlds. With clouds present at high altitude, only the atmosphere above the clouds can be seen and it is too thin to provide any spectral features (see this popular example). It turns out that a useful strategy for dealing with a problem is to avoid the problem. Valuable space telescope time could be saved if we could filter cloud-free objects from ground-based measurements. Today’s paper presents an index to quantify the degree of cloudiness for transiting planets.

    Aim

    The author first revisited how previous studies used the slope of transmission spectra caused by scattering (blue light is scattered more than red) to distinguish cloudy and dense atmospheres. Such dense atmospheres are more packed (with smaller scale height) and can produce flat spectra that are compatible with cloud-free hydrogen-dominated atmospheres. The author demonstrates that the scattering cross sections of gaseous molecules (e.g. hydrogen, nitrogen) and aerosols or condensates (cloud particles) have the same wavelength dependence. Measuring the spectral slope alone does not solve the ambiguity between clouds and atmospheric composition. With this motivation, the author proceeds to find a cloudiness index that does not depend on the spectral slope.

    Methods

    Sodium has large cross sections so it can produce a prominent spectral line without being abundant. It is, in fact, the first extrasolar atmospheric detection on HD 209458b. In a clear, cloud free atmosphere, the difference in transit radii between the line center and wing of sodium can be theoretically calculated. By measuring the actual difference in transit radii between the line center and wing (Δ Robs), the author constructs a dimensionless index (C) for the degree of cloudiness as the ratio of Δ R and Δ Robs. For an entirely cloud-free atmosphere, Δ R equals to Δ Robs and C = 1. Very cloudy atmospheres have C Gt 1. This cloudiness index is independent of the spectral slope, with the caveat that it is limited to planets with sodium or potassium line detections.

    2
    Figure 1: Cloudiness index plotted against equilibrium temperature (top), surface gravity (middle), planetary mass (bottom). The labels “W6,” “W17,” “W31,” “W39,” “H1,” “H12,” and “HD189” refer to WASP-6b, WASP-17b, WASP-31b, WASP-39b, HAT-P-1b, HAT-P-12b, and HD 189733b, respectively [from the featured paper].

    Application to data

    Figure 1 plots the cloudiness index (C) versus equilibrium temperature, gravity, and mass of the planets. The uncertainty of the cloudiness basically stems from estimating the scale height with the equilibrium temperature in the calculation, which is larger for colder planets. An interesting trend of decreasingC with increasing equilibrium temperature (a proxy for stellar flux) is seen in the top panel. If the trend is real, it implies that more irradiated planets tend to be less cloudy. Future measurements of sodium lines at higher resolutions and for a larger sample will confirm or debunk the trend. If the trend holds, the author suggests that we can weed out cloudy objects for the detailed survey of JWST, to avoid spending lots of time (and money) for uninformative, featureless spectra.

    See the full article here .

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    What do we do?

    Astrobites is a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy. Our goal is to present one interesting paper per day in a brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research.
    Why read Astrobites?

    Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.
    Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading Astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in a new area of astronomy.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:33 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EPIC 228813918 b, ,   

    From Universe Today: “Earth-Sized Planet Takes Just Four Hours to Orbit its Star” 

    universe-today

    Universe Today

    21 July 2017
    Matt Williams

    1
    Using data obtained by Kepler and numerous observatories around the world, an international team has found a Super-Earth that orbits its red dwarf star in just over 4 hours. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA

    The Kepler space observatory has made some interesting finds since it began its mission back in March of 2009.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Even after the mission suffered the loss of two reaction wheels, it has continued to make discoveries as part of its K2 mission. All told, the Kepler and K2 missions have detected a total of 5,106 planetary candidates, and confirmed the existence of 2,493 planets.

    One of the latest finds made using Kepler is EPIC 228813918 b, a terrestrial (i.e. rocky) planet that orbits a red dwarf star some 264 to 355 light years from Earth. This discovery raises some interesting questions, as it is the second time that a planet with an ultra-short orbital period – it completes a single orbit in just 4 hours and 20 minutes – has been found orbiting a red dwarf star.

    The study, which was recently published online [MNRAS], was conducted by an international team of scientists who hail from institutions ranging from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) to observatories and universities from all around the world.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:01 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Messier 13, , , , The Arecibo message,   

    From NYT: “Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.)” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    JUNE 28, 2017
    STEVEN JOHNSON

    A new initiative to beam messages into space may be
    our best shot yet at learning whether we’re alone in the
    universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?

    On Nov. 16, 1974, a few hundred astronomers, government officials and other dignitaries gathered in the tropical forests of Puerto Rico’s northwest interior, a four-hour drive from San Juan. The occasion was a rechristening of the Arecibo Observatory, at the time the largest radio telescope in the world.

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    The mammoth structure — an immense concrete-and-aluminum saucer as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall, planted implausibly inside a limestone sinkhole in the middle of a mountainous jungle — had been upgraded to ensure its ability to survive the volatile hurricane season and to increase its precision tenfold.

    To celebrate the reopening, the astronomers who maintained the observatory decided to take the most sensitive device yet constructed for listening to the cosmos and transform it, briefly, into a machine for talking back. After a series of speeches, the assembled crowd sat in silence at the edge of the telescope while the public-address system blasted nearly three minutes of two-tone noise through the muggy afternoon heat. To the listeners, the pattern was indecipherable, but somehow the experience of hearing those two notes oscillating in the air moved many in the crowd to tears.

    That 168 seconds of noise, now known as the Arecibo message, was the brainchild of the astronomer Frank Drake, then the director of the organization that oversaw the Arecibo facility.

    1
    Frank Drake

    The broadcast marked the first time a human being had intentionally transmitted a message targeting another solar system. The engineers had translated the missive into sound, so that the assembled group would have something to experience during the transmission. But its true medium was the silent, invisible pulse of radio waves, traveling at the speed of light.

    It seemed to most of the onlookers to be a hopeful act, if a largely symbolic one: a message in a bottle tossed into the sea of deep space. But within days, the Royal Astronomer of England, Martin Ryle, released a thunderous condemnation of Drake’s stunt. By alerting the cosmos of our existence, Ryle wrote, we were risking catastrophe. Arguing that ‘‘any creatures out there [might be] malevolent or hungry,’’ Ryle demanded that the International Astronomical Union denounce Drake’s message and explicitly forbid any further communications. It was irresponsible, Ryle fumed, to tinker with interstellar outreach when such gestures, however noble their intentions, might lead to the destruction of all life on earth.

    Today, more than four decades later, we still do not know if Ryle’s fears were warranted, because the Arecibo message is still eons away from its intended recipient, a cluster of roughly 300,000 stars known as Messier 13. If you find yourself in the Northern Hemisphere this summer on a clear night, locate the Hercules constellation in the sky, 21 stars that form the image of a man, arms outstretched, perhaps kneeling. Imagine hurtling 250 trillion miles toward those stars. Though you would have traveled far outside our solar system, you would only be a tiny fraction of the way to Messier 13. But if you were somehow able to turn on a ham radio receiver and tune it to 2,380 MHz, you might catch the message in flight: a long series of rhythmic pulses, 1,679 of them to be exact, with a clear, repetitive structure that would make them immediately detectable as a product of intelligent life.

    In its intended goal of communicating with life-forms outside our planet, the Arecibo message has surprisingly sparse company. Perhaps the most famous is housed aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft — a gold-plated audiovisual disc, containing multilingual greetings and other evidence of human civilization — which slipped free of our solar system just a few years ago, traveling at a relatively sluggish 35,000 miles per hour. By contrast, at the end of the three-minute transmission of the Arecibo message, its initial pulses had already reached the orbit of Mars. The entire message took less than a day to leave the solar system.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    8
    Voyager – The Interstellar Mission. THE GOLDEN RECORD.

    True, some signals emanating from human activity have traveled much farther than even Arecibo, thanks to the incidental leakage of radio and television broadcasts. This was a key plot point in Carl Sagan’s novel, ‘‘Contact,’’ which imagined an alien civilization detecting the existence of humans through early television broadcasts from the Berlin Olympic Games, including clips of Hitler speaking at the opening ceremony.

    9

    Those grainy signals of Jesse Owens, and later of Howdy Doody and the McCarthy hearings, have ventured farther into space than the Arecibo pulses. But in the 40 years since Drake transmitted the message, just over a dozen intentional messages have been sent to the stars, most of them stunts of one fashion or another, including one broadcast of the Beatles’ ‘‘Across the Universe’’ to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that song’s recording. (We can only hope the aliens, if they exist, receive that message before they find the Hitler footage.)

    In the age of radio telescopes, scientists have spent far more energy trying to look for signs that other life might exist than they have signaling the existence of our own. Drake himself is now more famous for inaugurating the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) nearly 60 years ago, when he used a telescope in West Virginia to scan two stars for structured radio waves. Today the nonprofit SETI Institute oversees a network of telescopes and computers listening for signs of intelligence in deep space.

    SETI Institute

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA

    A new SETI-like project called Breakthrough Listen, funded by a $100 million grant from the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, promises to radically increase our ability to detect signs of intelligent life.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    As a species, we are gathered around more interstellar mailboxes than ever before, waiting eagerly for a letter to arrive. But we have, until recently, shown little interest in sending our own.

    Now this taciturn phase may be coming to an end, if a growing multidisciplinary group of scientists and amateur space enthusiasts have their way. A newly formed group known as METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), led by the former SETI scientist Douglas Vakoch, is planning an ongoing series of messages to begin in 2018.

    9
    METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International has announced plans to start sending signals into space

    And Milner’s Breakthrough Listen endeavor has also promised to support a ‘‘Breakthrough Message’’ companion project, including an open competition to design the messages that we will transmit to the stars. But as messaging schemes proliferate, they have been met with resistance. The intellectual descendants of Martin Ryle include luminaries like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, and they caution that an assumption of interstellar friendship is the wrong way to approach the question of extraterrestrial life. They argue that an advanced alien civilization might well respond to our interstellar greetings with the same graciousness that Cortés showed the Aztecs, making silence the more prudent option.

    If you believe that these broadcasts have a plausible chance of making contact with an alien intelligence, the choice to send them must rank as one of the most important decisions we will ever make as a species. Are we going to be galactic introverts, huddled behind the door and merely listening for signs of life outside? Or are we going to be extroverts, conversation-starters? And if it’s the latter, what should we say?

    Amid the decommissioned splendor of Fort Mason, on the northern edge of San Francisco, sits a bar and event space called the Interval. It’s run by the Long Now Foundation, an organization founded by Stewart Brand and Brian Eno, among others, to cultivate truly long-term thinking. The group is perhaps most famous for its plan to build a clock that will successfully keep time for 10,000 years. Long Now says the San Francisco space is designed to push the mind away from our attention-sapping present, and this is apparent from the 10,000-year clock prototypes to the menu of ‘‘extinct’’ cocktails.

    The Interval seemed like a fitting backdrop for my first meeting with Doug Vakoch, in part because Long Now has been advising METI on its message plans and in part because the whole concept of sending interstellar messages is the epitome of long-term decision-making. The choice to send a message into space is one that may well not generate a meaningful outcome for a thousand years, or a hundred thousand. It is hard to imagine any decision confronting humanity that has a longer time horizon.

    As Vakoch and I settled into a booth, I asked him how he found his way to his current vocation. ‘‘I liked science when I was a kid, but I couldn’t make up my mind which science,’’ he told me. Eventually, he found out about a burgeoning new field of study known as exobiology, or sometimes astrobiology, that examined the possible forms life could take on other planets. The field was speculative by nature: After all, its researchers had no actual specimens to study. To imagine other forms of life in the universe, exobiologists had to be versed in the astrophysics of stars and planets; the chemical reactions that could capture and store energy in these speculative organisms; the climate science that explains the weather systems on potentially life-compatible planets; the biological forms that might evolve in those different environments. With exobiology, Vakoch realized, he didn’t have to settle on one discipline: ‘‘When you think about life outside the earth, you get to dabble in all of them.’’

    As early as high school, Vakoch began thinking about how you might communicate with an organism that had evolved on another planet, the animating question of a relatively obscure subfield of exobiology known as exosemiotics. By the time Vakoch reached high school in the 1970s, radio astronomy had advanced far enough to turn exosemiotics from a glorified thought experiment into something slightly more practical. Vakoch did a science-fair project on interstellar languages, and he continued to follow the field during his college years, even as he was studying comparative religion at Carleton College in Minnesota. ‘‘The issue that really hit me early on, and that has stayed with me, is just the challenge of creating a message that would be understandable,’’ Vakoch says. Hedging his bets, he pursued a graduate degree in clinical psychology, thinking it might help him better understand the mind of some unknown organism across the universe. If the exosemiotics passion turned out to be a dead end professionally, he figured that he could always retreat back to a more traditional career path as a psychologist.

    During Vakoch’s graduate years, SETI was transforming itself from a NASA program sustained by government funding to an independent nonprofit organization, supported in part by the new fortunes of the tech sector. Vakoch moved to California and joined SETI in 1999. In the years that followed, Vakoch and other scientists involved in the program grew increasingly vocal in their argument for sending messages as well as listening for them. The ‘‘passive’’ approach was essential, they argued, but an ‘‘active’’ SETI — one targeting nearby star systems with high-powered radio signals — would increase the odds of contact. Concerned that embracing an active approach would imperil its funding, the SETI board resisted Vakoch’s efforts. Eventually Vakoch decided to form his own international organization, METI, with a multidisciplinary team that includes the former NASA chief historian Steven J. Dick, the French science historian Florence Raulin Cerceau, the Indian ecologist Abhik Gupta and the Canadian anthropologist Jerome H. Barkow.

    The newfound interest in messaging has been piqued in large part by an explosion of newly discovered planets. We now know that the universe is teeming with planets occupying what exobiologists call ‘‘the Goldilocks zone’’: not too hot and not too cold, with ‘‘just right’’ surface temperatures capable of supporting liquid water. At the start of Drake’s career in the 1950s, not a single planet outside our solar system had been observed. Today we can target a long list of potential Goldilocks-zone planets, not just distant clusters of stars. ‘‘Now we know that virtually all stars have planets,’’ Vakoch says, adding that, of these stars, ‘‘maybe one out of five have potentially habitable planets. So there’s a lot of real estate that could be inhabited.’’

    When Frank Drake and Carl Sagan first began thinking about message construction in the 1960s, their approach was genuinely equivalent to the proverbial message in a bottle. Now, we may not know the exact addresses of planets where life is likely, but we have identified many promising ZIP codes. The recent discovery of the Trappist-1 planets, three of which are potentially habitable, triggered such excitement in part because those planets were, relatively speaking, so close to home: just 40 light-years from Earth.

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    If the Arecibo message does somehow find its way to an advanced civilization in Messier 13, word would not come back for at least 50,000 years. But a targeted message sent to Trappist-1 could generate a reply before the end of the century.

    Frank Drake is now 87 and lives with his wife in a house nestled in an old-growth redwood forest, at the end of a narrow, winding road in the hills near Santa Cruz. His circular driveway wraps around the trunk of a redwood bigger than a pool table. As I left my car, I found myself thinking again of the long now: a man who sends messages with a potential life span of 50,000 years, living among trees that first took root a millennium ago.

    Drake has been retired for more than a decade, but when I asked him about the Arecibo message, his face lit up at the memory. ‘‘We had just finished a very big construction project at Arecibo, and I was director then, and so they said, ‘Can you please arrange a big ceremony?’ ’’ he recalled. ‘‘We had to have some kind of eye-catching event for this ceremony. What could we do that would be spectacular? We could send a message!’’

    But how can you send a message to a life-form that may or may not exist and that you know nothing at all about, other than the fact that it evolved somewhere in the Milky Way? You need to start by explaining how the message is supposed to be read, which is known in exosemiotics as the ‘‘primer.’’ You don’t need a primer on Earth: You point to a cow, and you say, ‘‘Cow.’’ The plaques that NASA sent into space with Pioneer and Voyager had the advantage of being physical objects that could convey visual information, which at least enables you to connect words with images of the objects they refer to. In other words, you draw a cow and then put the word ‘‘cow’’ next to the drawing and slowly, with enough pointing, a language comes into view. But physical objects can’t be moved fast enough to get to a potential recipient in useful time scales. You need electromagnetic waves if you want to reach across the Milky Way.

    But how do you point to something with a radio wave? Even if you figured out a way to somehow point to a cow with electromagnetic signals, the aliens aren’t going to have cows in their world, which means the reference will most likely be lost on them. Instead, you need to think hard about the things that our hypothetical friends in the Trappist-1 system will have in common with us. If their civilization is advanced enough to recognize structured data in radio waves, they must share many of our scientific and technological concepts. If they are hearing our message, that means they are capable of parsing structured disturbances in the electromagnetic spectrum, which means they understand the electromagnetic spectrum in some meaningful way.

    The trick, then, is just getting the conversation started. Drake figured that he could count on intelligent aliens possessing the concept of simple numbers: one, three, 10, etc. And if they have numbers, then they will also very likely have the rest of what we know as basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Furthermore, Drake reasoned, if they have multiplication and division, then they are likely to understand the concept of prime numbers — the group of numbers that are divisible only by themselves and one. (In ‘‘Contact,’’ the intercepted alien message begins with a long string of primes: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, and so on.) Many objects in space, like pulsars, send out radio signals with a certain periodicity: flashes of electromagnetic activity that switch on and off at regular rates. Primes, however, are a telltale sign of intelligent life. ‘‘Nature never uses prime numbers,’’ Drake says. ‘‘But mathematicians do.’’

    Drake’s Arecibo message drew upon a close relative of the prime numbers to construct its message. He chose to send exactly 1,679 pulses, because 1,679 is a semiprime number: a number that can be formed only by multiplying two prime numbers together, in this case 73 and 23. Drake used that mathematical quirk to turn his pulses of electromagnetic energy into a visual system. To simplify his approach, imagine I send you a message consisting of 10 X’s and 5 O’s: XOXOXXXXOXXOXOX. You notice that the number 15 is a semi-prime number, and so you organize the symbols in a 3-by-5 grid and leave the O’s as blank spaces. The result is this:

    4

    If you were an English speaker, you might just recognize a greeting in that message, the word ‘‘HI’’ mapped out using only a binary language of on-and-off states.

    Drake took the same approach, only using a much larger semiprime, which gave him a 23-by-73 grid to send a more complicated message. Because his imagined correspondents in Messier 13 were not likely to understand any human language, he filled the grid with a mix of mathematical and visual referents. The top of the grid counted from one to 10 in binary code — effectively announcing to the aliens that numbers will be represented using these symbols.

    Having established a way of counting, Drake then moved to connect the concept of numbers to some reference that the citizens of Messier 13 would likely share with us. For this step, he encoded the atomic numbers for five elements: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorous, the building blocks of DNA. Other parts of the message were more visually oriented. Drake used the on-off pulses of the radio signal to ‘‘draw’’ a pixelated image of a human body. He also included a sketch of our solar system and of the Arecibo telescope itself. The message said, in effect: This is how we count; this is what we are made of; this is where we came from; this is what we look like; and this is the technology we are using to send this message to you.

    As inventive as Drake’s exosemiotics were in 1974, the Arecibo message was ultimately more of a proof-of-concept than a genuine attempt to make contact, as Drake himself is the first to admit. For starters, the 25,000 light-years that separate us from Messier 13 raise a legitimate question about whether humans will even be around — or recognizably human — by the time a message comes back. The choice of where to send it was almost entirely haphazard. The METI project intends to improve on the Arecibo model by directly targeting nearby Goldilocks-zone planets.

    One of the most recent planets added to that list orbits the star Gliese 411, a red dwarf located eight light-years away from Earth.

    On a spring evening in the Oakland hills, our own sun putting on a spectacular display as it slowly set over the Golden Gate Bridge, Vakoch and I met at one of the observatories at the Chabot Space and Science Center to take a peek at Gliese 411. A half moon overhead reduced our visibility but not so much that I couldn’t make out the faint tangerine glimmer of the star, a single blurred point of light that had traveled nearly 50 trillion miles across the universe to land on my retina. Even with the power of the Oakland telescope, there was no way to spot a planet orbiting the red dwarf. But in February of this year, a team of researchers using the Keck I telescope at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii announced that they had detected a ‘‘super-earth’’ in orbit around Gliese, a rocky and hot planet larger than our own.

    Keck Observatory, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA

    11
    Artist’s conceptions of the probable planet orbiting a star called GJ 411. Credit: Ricardo Ramirez.

    The METI group aims to improve on the Arecibo message not just by targeting specific planets, like that super-earth orbiting Gliese, but also by rethinking the nature of the message itself. ‘‘Drake’s original design plays into the bias that vision is universal among intelligent life,’’ Vakoch told me. Visual diagrams — whether formed through semiprime grids or engraved on plaques — seem like a compelling way to encode information to us because humans happen to have evolved an unusually acute sense of vision. But perhaps the aliens followed a different evolutionary path and found their way to a technologically advanced civilization with an intelligence that was rooted in some other sense: hearing, for example, or some other way of perceiving the world around them for which there is no earthly equivalent.

    Like so much of the SETI/METI debate, the question of visual messaging quickly spirals out into a deeper meditation, in this instance on the connection between intelligence and visual acuity. It is no accident that eyes developed independently so many times over the course of evolution on Earth, given the fact that light conveys information faster than any other conduit. That transmission-speed advantage would presumably apply on other planets in the Goldilocks zone, even if they happened to be on the other side of the Milky Way, and so it seems plausible that intelligent creatures would evolve some sort of visual system as well.

    But even more universal than sight would be the experience of time. Hans Freudenthal’s Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse, a seminal book of exosemiotics published more than a half-century ago, relied heavily on temporal cues in its primer stage. Vakoch and his collaborators have been working with Freudenthal’s language in their early drafts for the message. In Lincos, duration is used as a key building block. A pulse that lasts for a certain stretch (say, in human terms, one second) is followed by a sequence of pulses that signify the ‘‘word’’ for one; a pulse that lasts for six seconds is followed by the word for six. The words for basic math properties can be conveyed by combining pulses of different lengths. You might demonstrate the property of addition by sending the word for ‘‘three’’ and ‘‘six’’ and then sending a pulse that lasts for nine seconds. ‘‘It’s a way of being able to point at objects when you don’t have anything right in front of you,’’ Vakoch explains.

    Other messaging enthusiasts think we needn’t bother worrying about primers and common referents. ‘‘Forget about sending mathematical relationships, the value of pi, prime numbers or the Fibonacci series,’’ the senior SETI astronomer, Seth Shostak, argued in a 2009 book.

    SETI astronomer Seth Shostak

    ‘‘No, if we want to broadcast a message from Earth, I propose that we just feed the Google servers into the transmitter. Send the aliens the World Wide Web. It would take half a year or less to transmit this in the microwave; using infrared lasers shortens the transmit time to no more than two days.’’ Shostak believes that the sheer magnitude of the transmitted data would enable the aliens to decipher it. There is some precedent for this in the history of archaeologists studying dead languages: The hardest code to crack is one with only a few fragments.

    Sending all of Google would be a logical continuation of Drake’s 1974 message, in terms of content if not encoding. ‘‘The thing about the Arecibo message is that, in a sense, it’s brief but its intent is encyclopedic,’’ Vakoch told me as we waited for the sky to darken in the Oakland hills. ‘‘One of the things that we are exploring for our transmission is the opposite extreme. Rather than being encyclopedic, being selective. Instead of this huge digital data dive, trying to do something elegant. Part of that is thinking about what are the most fundamental concepts we need.’’ There is something provocative about the question Vakoch is wrestling with here: Of all the many manifestations of our achievements as a species, what’s the simplest message we can create that will signal that we’re interesting, worthy of an interstellar reply?

    But to METI’s critics, what he should be worrying about instead is the form that the reply might take: a death ray, or an occupying army.

    6

    Before Doug Vakoch had even filed the papers to form the METI nonprofit organization in July 2015, a dozen or so science-and-tech luminaries, including SpaceX’s Elon Musk, signed a statement categorically opposing the project, at least without extensive further discussion, on a planetary scale. ‘‘Intentionally signaling other civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy,’’ the statement argued, ‘‘raises concerns from all the people of Earth, about both the message and the consequences of contact. A worldwide scientific, political and humanitarian discussion must occur before any message is sent.’’

    One signatory to that statement was the astronomer and science-fiction author David Brin, who has been carrying on a spirited but collegial series of debates with Vakoch over the wisdom of his project. ‘‘I just don’t think anybody should give our children a fait accompli based on blithe assumptions and assertions that have been untested and not subjected to critical peer review,’’ he told me over a Skype call from his home office in Southern California. ‘‘If you are going to do something that is going to change some of the fundamental observable parameters of our solar system, then how about an environmental-impact statement?’’

    The anti-METI movement is predicated on a grim statistical likelihood: If we do ever manage to make contact with another intelligent life-form, then almost by definition, our new pen pals will be far more advanced than we are. The best way to understand this is to consider, on a percentage basis, just how young our own high-tech civilization actually is. We have been sending structured radio signals from Earth for only the last 100 years. If the universe were exactly 14 billion years old, then it would have taken 13,999,999,900 years for radio communication to be harnessed on our planet. The odds that our message would reach a society that had been tinkering with radio for a shorter, or even similar, period of time would be staggeringly long. Imagine another planet that deviates from our timetable by just a tenth of 1 percent: If they are more advanced than us, then they will have been using radio (and successor technologies) for 14 million years. Of course, depending on where they live in the universe, their signals might take millions of years to reach us. But even if you factor in that transmission lag, if we pick up a signal from another galaxy, we will almost certainly find ourselves in conversation with a more advanced civilization.

    7
    Carl Sagan holding the Pioneer plaque in Boston, in 1972. Credit Jeff Albertson Photograph Collection/UMass Amherst Libraries.

    It is this asymmetry that has convinced so many future-minded thinkers that METI is a bad idea. The history of colonialism here on Earth weighs particularly heavy on the imaginations of the METI critics. Stephen Hawking, for instance, made this observation in a 2010 documentary series: ‘‘If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.’’ David Brin echoes the Hawking critique: ‘‘Every single case we know of a more technologically advanced culture contacting a less technologically advanced culture resulted at least in pain.’’

    METI proponents counter the critics with two main arguments. The first is essentially that the horse has already left the barn: Given that we have been ‘‘leaking’’ radio waves in the form of Leave It to Beaver and the nightly news for decades, and given that other civilizations are likely to be far more advanced than we are, and thus capable of detecting even weak signals, then it seems likely that we are already visible to extraterrestrials. In other words, they know we’re here, but they haven’t considered us to be worthy of conversation yet. ‘‘Maybe in fact there are a lot more civilizations out there, and even nearby planets are populated, but they’re simply observing us,’’ Vakoch argues. ‘‘It’s as if we are in some galactic zoo, and if they’ve been watching us, it’s like watching zebras talking to one another. But what if one of those zebras suddenly turns toward you and with its hooves starts scratching out the prime numbers. You’d relate to that zebra differently!’’

    Brin thinks that argument dangerously underestimates the difference between a high-power, targeted METI transmission and the passive leakage of media signals, which are far more difficult to detect. ‘‘Think about it this way: If you want to communicate with a Boy Scout camp on the other side of the lake, you could kneel down at the end of the lake and slap the water in Morse code,’’ he says. ‘‘And if they are spectacularly technologically advanced Boy Scouts who happened also to be looking your way, they might build instruments that would be able to parse out your Morse code. But then you whip out your laser-pointer and point it at their dock. That is exactly the order of magnitude difference between picking up [reruns of] ‘I Love Lucy’ from the 1980s, when we were at our noisiest, and what these guys want to do.’’

    METI defenders also argue that the threat of some Klingon-style invasion is implausible, given the distances involved. If, in fact, advanced civilizations were capable of zipping around the galaxy at the speed of light, we would have already encountered them. The much more likely situation is that only communications can travel that fast, and so a malevolent presence on some distant planet will only be able to send us hate mail. But critics think that sense of security is unwarranted. Writing in Scientific American, the former chairman of SETI, John Gertz, argued that ‘‘a civilization with malign intent that is only modestly more advanced than we are might be able to annihilate Earth with ease by means of a small projectile filled with a self-replicating toxin or nano gray goo; a kinetic missile traveling at an appreciable percentage of the speed of light; or weaponry beyond our imagination.’’

    Brin looks to our own technological progress as a sign of where a more advanced civilization might be in terms of interstellar combat: ‘‘It is possible that within just 50 years, we could create an antimatter rocket that could propel a substantial pellet of several kilograms, at half the speed of light at times to intersect with the orbit of a planet within 10 light-years of us.’’ Even a few kilograms colliding at that speed would produce an explosion much greater than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki detonations combined. ‘‘And if we could do that in 50 years, imagine what anybody else could do, completely obeying Einstein and the laws of physics.’’

    Interestingly, Frank Drake himself is not a supporter of the METI efforts, though he does not share Hawking and Musk’s fear of interstellar conquistadors. ‘‘We send messages all the time, free of charge,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s a big shell out there now 80 light-years around us. A civilization only a little more advanced than we are can pick those things up. So the point is we are already sending copious amounts of information.’’ Drake believes that any other advanced civilization out there must be doing the same, so scientists like Vakoch should devote themselves to picking up on that chatter instead of trying to talk back. METI will consume resources, Drake says, that would be ‘‘better spent listening and not sending.’’

    METI critics, of course, might be right about the frightening sophistication of these other, presumably older civilizations but wrong about the likely nature of their response. Yes, they could be capable of sending projectiles across the galaxy at a quarter of the speed of light. But their longevity would also suggest that they have figured out how to avoid self-destruction on a planetary scale. As Steven Pinker has argued, human beings have become steadily less violent over the last 500 years; per capita deaths from military conflict are most likely at an all-time low. Could this be a recurring pattern throughout the universe, played out on much longer time scales: the older a civilization gets, the less warlike it becomes? In which case, if we do get a message to extraterrestrials, then perhaps they really will come in peace.

    These sorts of questions inevitably circle back to the two foundational thought experiments that SETI and METI are predicated upon: the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation. The paradox, first formulated by the Italian physicist and Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, begins with the assumption that the universe contains an unthinkably large number of stars, with a significant percentage of them orbited by planets in the Goldilocks zone. If intelligent life arises on even a small fraction of those planets, then the universe should be teeming with advanced civilizations. And yet to date, we have seen no evidence of those civilizations, even after several decades of scanning the skies through SETI searches. Fermi’s question, apparently raised during a lunch conversation at Los Alamos in the early 1950s, was a simple one: ‘‘Where is everybody?’’

    The Drake Equation is an attempt to answer that question. The equation dates back to one of the great academic retreats in the history of scholarship: a 1961 meeting at the Green Bank observatory in West Virginia, which included Frank Drake, a 26-year-old Carl Sagan and the dolphin researcher (and later psychedelic explorer) John Lilly. During the session, Drake shared his musings on the Fermi Paradox, formulated as an equation. If we start scanning the cosmos for signs of intelligent life, Drake asked, how likely are we to actually detect something? The equation didn’t generate a clear answer, because almost all the variables were unknown at the time and continue to be largely unknown a half-century later. But the equation had a clarifying effect, nonetheless. In mathematical form, it looks like this:

    N= R* x ƒp x ne x ƒl x ƒi x ƒc x L

    N represents the number of extant, communicative civilizations in the Milky Way. The initial variable R* corresponds to the rate of star formation in the galaxy, effectively giving you the total number of potential suns that could support life. The remaining variables then serve as a kind of nested sequence of filters: Given the number of stars in the Milky Way, what fraction of those have planets, and how many of those have an environment that can support life? On those potentially hospitable planets, how often does life itself actually emerge, and what fraction of that life evolves into intelligent life, and what fraction of that life eventually leads to a civilization’s transmitting detectable signals into space? At the end of his equation, Drake placed the crucial variable L, which is the average length of time during which those civilizations emit those signals.

    What makes the Drake Equation so mesmerizing is in part the way it forces the mind to yoke together so many different intellectual disciplines in a single framework. As you move from left to right in the equation, you shift from astrophysics, to the biochemistry of life, to evolutionary theory, to cognitive science, all the way to theories of technological development. Your guess about each value in the Drake Equation winds up revealing a whole worldview: Perhaps you think life is rare, but when it does emerge, intelligent life usually follows; or perhaps you think microbial life is ubiquitous throughout the cosmos, but more complex organisms almost never form. The equation is notoriously vulnerable to very different outcomes, depending on the numbers you assign to each variable.

    The most provocative value is the last one: L, the average life span of a signal-transmitting civilization. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna to defend a relatively high L value. All you need is to believe that it is possible for civilizations to become fundamentally self-sustaining and survive for millions of years. Even if one in a thousand intelligent life-forms in space generates a million-year civilization, the value of L increases meaningfully. But if your L-value is low, that implies a further question: What is keeping it low? Do technological civilizations keep flickering on and off in the Milky Way, like so many fireflies in space? Do they run out of resources? Do they blow themselves up?

    Since Drake first sketched out the equation in 1961, two fundamental developments have reshaped our understanding of the problem. First, the numbers on the left-hand side of the equation (representing the amount of stars with habitable planets) have increased by several orders of magnitude. And second, we have been listening for signals for decades and heard nothing. As Brin puts it: ‘‘Something is keeping the Drake Equation small. And the difference between all the people in the SETI debates is not whether that’s true, but where in the Drake panoply the fault lies.’’

    If the left-hand values keep getting bigger and bigger, the question is which variables on the right-hand side are the filters. As Brin puts it, we want the filter to be behind us, not the one variable, L, that still lies ahead of us. We want the emergence of intelligent life to be astonishingly rare; if the opposite is true, and intelligent life is abundant in the Milky Way, then L values might be low, perhaps measured in centuries and not even millenniums. In that case, the adoption of a technologically advanced lifestyle might be effectively simultaneous with extinction. First you invent radio, then you invent technologies capable of destroying all life on your planet and shortly thereafter you push the button and your civilization goes dark.

    The L-value question explains why so many of METI’s opponents — like Musk and Hawking — are also concerned with the threat of extinction-level events triggered by other potential threats: superintelligent computers, runaway nanobots, nuclear weapons, asteroids. In a low L-value universe, planet-wide annihilation is an imminent possibility. Even if a small fraction of alien civilizations out there would be inclined to shoot a two-kilogram pellet toward us at half the speed of light, is it worth sending a message if there’s even the slightest chance that the reply could result in the destruction of all life on earth?

    Other, more benign, explanations for the Fermi Paradox exist. Drake himself is pessimistic about the L value, but not for dystopian reasons. ‘‘It’s because we’re getting better at technology,’’ he says. The modern descendants of the TV and radio towers that inadvertently sent Elvis to the stars are far more efficient in terms of the power they use, which means the ‘‘leaked’’ signals emanating from Earth are far fainter than they were in the 1950s. In fact, we increasingly share information via fiber optics and other terrestrial conduits that have zero leakage outside our atmosphere. Perhaps technologically advanced societies do flicker on and off like fireflies, but it’s not a sign that they’re self-destructive; it’s just a sign that they got cable.

    But to some METI critics, even a less-apocalyptic interpretation of the Fermi Paradox still suggests caution. Perhaps advanced civilizations tend to reach a point at which they decide, for some unknown reason, that it is in their collective best interest not to transmit any detectable signal to their neighbors in the Milky Way. ‘‘That’s the other answer for the Fermi Paradox,’’ Vakoch says with a smile. ‘‘There’s a Stephen Hawking on every planet, and that’s why we don’t hear from them.’’

    In his California home among the redwoods, Frank Drake has a version of the Arecibo message visually encoded in a very different format: not a series of radio-wave pulses but as a stained-glass window in his living room. A grid of pixels on a cerulean blue background, it almost resembles a game of Space Invaders. Stained glass is an appropriate medium, given the nature of the message: an offering dispatched to unknown beings residing somewhere in the sky.

    There is something about the METI question that forces the mind to stretch beyond its usual limits. You have to imagine some radically different form of intelligence, using only your human intelligence. You have to imagine time scales on which a decision made in 2017 might trigger momentous consequences 10,000 years from now. The sheer magnitude of those consequences challenges our usual measures of cause and effect. Whether you believe that the aliens are likely to be warriors or Zen masters, if you think that METI has a reasonable chance of making contact with another intelligent organism somewhere in the Milky Way, then you have to accept that this small group of astronomers and science-fiction authors and billionaire patrons debating semi-prime numbers and the ubiquity of visual intelligence may in fact be wrestling with a decision that could prove to be the most transformative one in the history of human civilization.

    8
    Frank Drake in front of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank 300-foot radio telescope in West Virginia in the mid-1960’s.
    Credit National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    All of which takes us back to a much more down-to-earth, but no less challenging, question: Who gets to decide? After many years of debate, the SETI community established an agreed-­upon procedure that scientists and government agencies should follow in the event that the SETI searches actually stumble upon an intelligible signal from space. The protocols specifically ordain that ‘‘no response to a signal or other evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence should be sent until appropriate international consultations have taken place.’’ But an equivalent set of guidelines does not yet exist to govern our own interstellar outreach.

    One of the most thoughtful participants in the METI debate, Kathryn Denning, an anthropologist at York University in Toronto, has argued that our decisions about extraterrestrial contact are ultimately more political than scientific. ‘‘If I had to take a position, I’d say that broad consultation regarding METI is essential, and so I greatly respect the efforts in that direction,’’ Denning says. ‘‘But no matter how much consultation there is, it’s inevitable that there will be significant disagreement about the advisability of transmitting, and I don’t think this is the sort of thing where a simple majority vote or even supermajority should carry the day . . . so this keeps bringing us back to the same key question: Is it O.K. for some people to transmit messages at significant power when other people don’t want them to?’’

    In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.

    ‘‘I think we need to rethink the message process so that we are sending a series of increasingly inclusive messages,’’ Vakoch says. ‘‘Any message that we initially send would be too narrow, too incomplete. But that’s O.K. Instead, what we should be doing is thinking about how to make the next round of messages better and more inclusive. We ideally want a way to incorporate both technical expertise — people who have been thinking about these issues from a range of different disciplines — and also getting lay input. I think it’s often been one or the other. One way we can get lay input in a way that makes a difference in terms of message content is to survey people about what sorts of things they would want to say. It’s important to see what the general themes are that people would want to say and then translate those into a Lincos-like message.’’

    When I asked Denning where she stands on the METI issue, she told me: ‘‘I have to answer that question with a question: Why are you asking me? Why should my opinion matter more than that of a 6-year-old girl in Namibia? We both have exactly the same amount at stake, arguably, she more than I, since the odds of being dead before any consequences of transmission occur are probably a bit higher for me, assuming she has access to clean water and decent health care and isn’t killed far too young in war.’’ She continued: ‘‘I think the METI debate may be one of those rare topics where scientific knowledge is highly relevant to the discussion, but its connection to obvious policy is tenuous at best, because in the final analysis, it’s all about how much risk the people of Earth are willing to tolerate. . . . And why exactly should astronomers, cosmologists, physicists, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, biologists, sci-fi authors or anyone else (in no particular order), get to decide what those tolerances should be?’’

    Wrestling with the METI question suggests, to me at least, that the one invention human society needs is more conceptual than technological: We need to define a special class of decisions that potentially create extinction-level risk. New technologies (like superintelligent computers) or interventions (like METI) that pose even the slightest risk of causing human extinction would require some novel form of global oversight. And part of that process would entail establishing, as Denning suggests, some measure of risk tolerance on a planetary level. If we don’t, then by default the gamblers will always set the agenda, and the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of their wagers.

    In 2017, the idea of global oversight on any issue, however existential the threat it poses, may sound naïve. It may also be that technologies have their own inevitability, and we can only rein them in for so long: If contact with aliens is technically possible, then someone, somewhere is going to do it soon enough. There is not a lot of historical precedent for humans voluntarily swearing off a new technological capability — or choosing not to make contact with another society — because of some threat that might not arrive for generations. But maybe it’s time that humans learned how to make that kind of choice. This turns out to be one of the surprising gifts of the METI debate, whichever side you happen to take. Thinking hard about what kinds of civilization we might be able to talk to ends up making us think even harder about what kind of civilization we want to be ourselves.

    Near the end of my conversation with Frank Drake, I came back to the question of our increasingly quiet planet: all those inefficient radio and television signals giving way to the undetectable transmissions of the internet age. Maybe that’s the long-term argument for sending intentional messages, I suggested; even if it fails in our lifetime, we will have created a signal that might enable an interstellar connection thousands of years from now.

    Drake leaned forward, nodding. ‘‘It raises a very interesting, nonscientific question, which is: Are extraterrestrial civilizations altruistic? Do they recognize this problem and establish a beacon for the benefit of the other folks out there? My answer is: I think it’s actually Darwinian; I think evolution favors altruistic societies. So my guess is yes. And that means there might be one powerful signal for each civilization.’’ Given the transit time across the universe, that signal might well outlast us as a species, in which case it might ultimately serve as a memorial as much as a message, like an interstellar version of the Great Pyramids: proof that a technologically advanced organism evolved on this planet, whatever that organism’s ultimate fate.

    As I stared at Drake’s stained-glass Arecibo message, in the middle of that redwood grove, it seemed to me that an altruistic civilization — one that wanted to reach across the cosmos in peace — would be something to aspire to, despite the potential for risk. Do we want to be the sort of civilization that boards up the windows and pretends that no one is home, for fear of some unknown threat lurking in the dark sky? Or do we want to be a beacon?

    Correction: June 30, 2017

    An earlier version of this article misstated the impact a few kilograms traveling half the speed of light would have if they collided with Earth. The impact would be less than that of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, not more.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:40 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Earthquake offshore of Japan shakes crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, , , ,   

    From temblor: “Earthquake offshore of Japan shakes crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant” 

    1

    temblor

    July 20, 2017
    David Jacobson

    At 9:11 a.m. local time today, a M=5.8 earthquake struck offshore of Japan, near the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, which was crippled in the M=9 Tohoku earthquake in 2011. Fortunately this quake was not large enough to cause any new damage to the reactor, which is expected to take at least four decades to dismantle. Two of the reasons why no damage occurred is because the quake was offshore and at a depth of 35 km, meaning only light shaking was felt in populated centers of Iwaki (Pop: 357,000) and Fukushima (Pop: 294,000). The USGS PAGER system estimates that should there be any economic losses, they will remain extremely minimal.

    1
    This Temblor map shows the location of today’s M=5.8 earthquake offshore of Japan. Also labeled is the location of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, which was crippled in the 2011 M=9.0 Tohoku earthquake. Today’s earthquake was not large enough to cause additional damage to the plant, which will take at least four decades to dismantle.

    Japan is one of the most seismically active countries on earth. Just off the eastern coast of the country are two subduction zones. In the southern part of the country is the Nansei-Shoto (Ryukyu) Trench, where there Philippine Sea plate subducts beneath the Eurasian Plate at rates varying from 47-61 mm/yr. To the north, is the Japan Trench, where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North American Plate at rates as high as 90 mm/yr (See USGS map below). What is also evident in this map is that northern Japan is much more seismically active than the southern portion of the country. While much of this can be attributed to aftershocks from the M=9.0 Tohoku earthquake there is still a greater rate of seismicity in the north. Based on the location of today’s M=5.8 earthquake, and its shallowly-dipping thrust focal mechanism, it likely occurred on the subducting slab, making this a late aftershock of the 2011 Tohoku quake.

    2
    This map from the USGS shows the tectonic regime around Japan. Included in this maps are M=6.0+ earthquakes since 1900, relative plate motion vectors, the subducting slabs (red, yellow, and blue lines), rupture zones (green polygons), and aftershock zones (pink polygons) from large earthquakes. The location of today’s M=5.8 earthquake has been added to this map to illustrate that it is likely a late aftershock from the 2001 M=9.0 Tohoku earthquake. (Map from USGS)

    In terms of the seismic hazard of Japan, there are two schools of thought, which are heavily related to the recent seismicity and convergence rates. Below is a comparison of the Global Earthquake Activity Rate (GEAR) model, which is available in Temblor, and the Japan National Hazard Model. The GEAR model uses seismicity from the last 40 years and global strain rates to forecast the likely earthquake magnitude in your lifetime anywhere on earth, while the Japanese model estimates the likelihood of strong ground shaking. What is immediately evident is that the models are almost opposite one another. The GEAR model sees the lack of earthquakes and slower convergence rates near the Nankai Trough as an indication of lower seismic potential, whereas the Japanese model interprets it as an increased likelihood of a large magnitude earthquake. While it is entirely possible that a large quake could strike along the Nankai Trough, it should be pointed out that the Japanese model misses the hazard near the M=9.0 Tohoku earthquake, while the GEAR model shows an extremely high hazard.

    3
    This figure shows the Global Earthquake Activity Rate (GEAR) model, and the Japan National Seismic Hazard Model (J-SHIS). What is evident from these two models is that they are almost opposite one another.

    Regardless of which model better depicts the seismic hazard of Japan, what is clear is that nearly the entire eastern seaboard is susceptible to seeing M=6.75 earthquakes. This translates into an extremely high awareness among residents. It is because of this that Japan is at the forefront of seismic safety, and often considered the country after which other countries should model their earthquake preparedness.

    References [No links provided.]
    USGS
    Japan Seismic Hazard Information Station (J-SHIS)
    9News

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    You can help many citizen scientists in detecting earthquakes and getting the data to emergency services people in affected area.
    QCN bloc

    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

    BOINCLarge

    BOINC WallPaper

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

    Earthquake country is beautiful and enticing

    Almost everything we love about areas like the San Francisco bay area, the California Southland, Salt Lake City against the Wasatch range, Seattle on Puget Sound, and Portland, is brought to us by the faults. The faults have sculpted the ridges and valleys, and down-dropped the bays, and lifted the mountains which draw us to these western U.S. cities. So, we enjoy the fruits of the faults every day. That means we must learn to live with their occasional spoils: large but infrequent earthquakes. Becoming quake resilient is a small price to pay for living in such a great part of the world, and it is achievable at modest cost.

    A personal solution to a global problem

    Half of the world’s population lives near active faults, but most of us are unaware of this. You can learn if you are at risk and protect your home, land, and family.

    Temblor enables everyone in the continental United States, and many parts of the world, to learn their seismic, landslide, tsunami, and flood hazard. We help you determine the best way to reduce the risk to your home with proactive solutions.

    Earthquake maps, soil liquefaction, landslide zones, cost of earthquake damage

    In our iPhone and Android and web app, Temblor estimates the likelihood of seismic shaking and home damage. We show how the damage and its costs can be decreased by buying or renting a seismically safe home or retrofitting an older home.

    Please share Temblor with your friends and family to help them, and everyone, live well in earthquake country.

    Temblor is free and ad-free, and is a 2017 recipient of a highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (‘SBIR’) grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

    ShakeAlert: Earthquake Early Warning

    The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications by 2018.

    The primary project partners include:

    United States Geological Survey
    California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
    California Geological Survey
    California Institute of Technology
    University of California Berkeley
    University of Washington
    University of Oregon
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

    The Earthquake Threat

    Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

    Part of the Solution

    Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

    Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds, depending on the distance to the epicenter of the earthquake. For very large events like those expected on the San Andreas fault zone or the Cascadia subduction zone the warning time could be much longer because the affected area is much larger. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow and stop trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

    System Goal

    The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications by 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

    Current Status

    The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” test users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

    In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California. This “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

    This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

    Authorities
    The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

    For More Information

    Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
    rdegroot@usgs.gov
    626-583-7225

     
  • richardmitnick 3:23 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , M=6.7 earthquake near Greek and Turkish tourist hotspots likely ruptured the Gökova Fault, , ,   

    From temblor: “M=6.7 earthquake near Greek and Turkish tourist hotspots likely ruptured the Gökova Fault” 

    1

    temblor

    July 20, 2017
    Volkan Sevilgen
    Ross S. Stein
    David Jacobson

    1
    The Greek island of Kos sustained heavy damage in the 21 July M=6.7 earthquake. Both of the known fatalities in the earthquake occurred on the island. (Photo from: http://www.holidaypirates.com)

    The large earthquake struck at 1:40 am local time near the tourist meccas of Kos, Greece, and Bodrum, Turkey. It was preceded by a M=2.5 shock approximately 20 minutes before the mainshock. The earthquake occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 10 km, and strong shaking lasted for about 20 seconds. Despite this, there are only two confirmed fatalities, both of which were tourists. Based on reports, and pictures coming in from Greece and Turkey, the majority of damage appears to have occurred on Kos (see below), where there are currently over 200,000 holidaymakers, according to officials on the island. In addition to the two deaths, hundreds of people have been injured in both Greece and Turkey, with most of these due to falling debris and collapsing structures. Following the mainshock, there was also a small tsunami recorded by tide gages, with the sea dropping by up to 25 cm (1 ft) before cresting at about 5-10 cm (2-5 inches) above normal. While the USGS and European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre report the earthquake’s magnitude as 6.7, the Kandilli Observatory in Turkey assigns it a magnitude of 6.5.

    2
    Earthquakes are from the European Mediterranean Seismic Centre (EMSC), and the faults are from the Turkish Mineral Research and Exploration Institute (MTA). We have dotted in the likely westward extension of the Gökova Fault. However, Kurt et al (1999) propose a set of smaller faults offshore, which could have instead been activated in this event.

    3
    The Cactus Bar on the Greek island of Kos sustained heavy damage in the 21 July M=6.7 earthquake. (Photo from: http://www.thesun.co.uk)

    At least six centuries of quiet

    No large historical shock is known along this fault (based on the GEM Historical Earthquake Catalog), although in 1863, a M~7.5 earthquake occurred about 75 km (40 mi) to the south. The Bodrum Castle was built in 1402 by the Knights of St. John, and so over 600 years had elapsed without a large event.

    4
    Bodrum (source: http://bareboatsailingholidays.com/destinations/turkey/the-carian-coast/bodrum/)

    The earthquake focal mechanism released by the USGS is consistent with extension along a WNW-striking fault inclined about 56° to the Earth’s surface. This looks to us most consistent with the quake rupturing a western extension of the mapped Gökova Fault. If so, there remains a roughly 100-km-long (60 mi) unruptured section of the fault, with the potential to produce a M~7.3 shock. This entire area is currently filled with summer tourists enjoying the beaches and antiquities of this region, and so people should take precautions and remain outside of ancient stone buildings.

    The occurrence of large, damaging shock after a long hiatus is a reminder that active faults should be respected as sentinels of seismic risk, and we should build and prepare accordingly.

    References [Sorry, no links provided.]

    European Mediterranean Seismic Centre (EMSC)
    Turkish Mineral Research and Exploration Institute (MTA)
    Global Earthquake Model Foundation’s Historical Earthquake Catalog (GEM)
    U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
    Hulya Kurt, Emin Demirbag, Ismail Kuscu (1999), Investigation of the submarine active tectonism in the Gulf of Go ̈kova, southwest Anatolia–southeast Aegean Sea, by multi-channel seismic reflection data, Tectonophysics 305, 477–496 http://web.itu.edu.tr/kurt/publication_pdfs/A01-tectono99-gokova.pdf

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    You can help many citizen scientists in detecting earthquakes and getting the data to emergency services people in affected area.
    QCN bloc

    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

    BOINCLarge

    BOINC WallPaper

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

    Earthquake country is beautiful and enticing

    Almost everything we love about areas like the San Francisco bay area, the California Southland, Salt Lake City against the Wasatch range, Seattle on Puget Sound, and Portland, is brought to us by the faults. The faults have sculpted the ridges and valleys, and down-dropped the bays, and lifted the mountains which draw us to these western U.S. cities. So, we enjoy the fruits of the faults every day. That means we must learn to live with their occasional spoils: large but infrequent earthquakes. Becoming quake resilient is a small price to pay for living in such a great part of the world, and it is achievable at modest cost.

    A personal solution to a global problem

    Half of the world’s population lives near active faults, but most of us are unaware of this. You can learn if you are at risk and protect your home, land, and family.

    Temblor enables everyone in the continental United States, and many parts of the world, to learn their seismic, landslide, tsunami, and flood hazard. We help you determine the best way to reduce the risk to your home with proactive solutions.

    Earthquake maps, soil liquefaction, landslide zones, cost of earthquake damage

    In our iPhone and Android and web app, Temblor estimates the likelihood of seismic shaking and home damage. We show how the damage and its costs can be decreased by buying or renting a seismically safe home or retrofitting an older home.

    Please share Temblor with your friends and family to help them, and everyone, live well in earthquake country.

    Temblor is free and ad-free, and is a 2017 recipient of a highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (‘SBIR’) grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

    ShakeAlert: Earthquake Early Warning

    The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications by 2018.

    The primary project partners include:

    United States Geological Survey
    California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
    California Geological Survey
    California Institute of Technology
    University of California Berkeley
    University of Washington
    University of Oregon
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

    The Earthquake Threat

    Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

    Part of the Solution

    Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

    Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds, depending on the distance to the epicenter of the earthquake. For very large events like those expected on the San Andreas fault zone or the Cascadia subduction zone the warning time could be much longer because the affected area is much larger. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow and stop trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

    System Goal

    The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications by 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

    Current Status

    The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” test users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

    In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California. This “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

    This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

    Authorities
    The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

    For More Information

    Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
    rdegroot@usgs.gov
    626-583-7225

     
  • richardmitnick 3:00 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Blog Update June 30 2017,   

    From EHT: EHT Update June 30, 2017 

    Event Horizon Telescope/blog

    June 30, 2017
    Shep Doeleman
    EHT Director

    It is an exciting time in the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project. After many years of preparation, our team mounted a week-long observing campaign in April of this year that linked together 8 telescopes in Hawaii, the South Pole, Arizona, Spain, Mexico and Chile. This global array targeted two supermassive black holes, one at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and the other at the heart of Messier 87, a giant elliptical galaxy about 50 million light years away. For each of these black holes, the EHT has the magnifying power and sensitivity to form images of the mm wavelength light emitted by the hot gas near the event horizon. Data recorded at all the sites has been shipped back to two central processing facilities at MIT and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy where signals from all participating telescopes are being combined. The power of this technique is that the EHT delivers an angular resolution comparable to a telescope as large as the distance between the EHT sites.

    There are no guarantees of what the EHT will see. Eintstein’s General Theory of Relativity predicts that the EHT should see a silhouette formed by the intense gravity of the black hole warping the light from infalling hot gas. The dynamics of matter may also be detected as hot blobs of material orbit the black hole and shear into turbulent flows. But the proof will be in the team’s analysis of the data, and that is still just getting started. Because the collected data are combined long after the observations are made, the technique used by the EHT (Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI) is well known for its quality of delayed gratification.

    On the technical side, the EHT has broken new ground by making VLBI observations at the shortest wavelengths to date. And the array has been extended to bandwidths, or data capture rates, that are more than 10 times what was possible just a few years ago. Extension to include the South Pole Telescope means that the EHT is truly an Earth-sized instrument.

    Parallel advances in theory are providing direction for analysis techniques through detailed modeling and simulations of black hole accretion. Information on current EHT work in both of these areas can be found on this website.

    During the observations, EHT members at all sites ticked through detailed checklists each day to ensure things were ready: Hydrogen maser atomic clocks stable, high speed data recorders on line, signal processing instruments tuned up, synchronization to GPS complete. The EHT can tell if the position of an entire telescope is off by a millimeter, and if the timing of electronic systems are shifted by a trillionth of a second, so all of this matters. And after waiting over a decade to make these observations, you go through the checklist twice. The one thing beyond anyone’s control is the weather. At a central command room at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, weather data was collected each day from around the array and an often agonizing decision made on whether to fire off an evening of observations based on predictions and the experience of staff at all the sites. Will the heavy clouds surrounding a mountain top telescope dissipate, or will they settle in for the night? Is the weather risky at many sites, or maybe just one? And even if the sky above clears up, might ground conditions early in the evening leave a dish iced up and unusable? In the end, the weather was overwhelmingly excellent and we triggered 5 days of observing out of a possible 10-day window.

    So far, the data processing centers have confirmed that all the sites in the EHT worked well, except of course for the South Pole, where the hard disks used to record the data are being stored until the station re-opens in September and flights are allowed in and out. This is very welcome news, but at this stage no results on the two main targets, SgrA* and M87, are available. Over the coming months, the EHT team will continue data processing and refining analysis tools with focus then shifting to investigations of predicted strong gravity black hole signatures.

    The EHT website will be updated with developments, and also has background material, news, science results and educational resources.

    See the full article here.

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    Event Horizon Telescope Array

    Event Horizon Telescope map

    The locations of the radio dishes that will be part of the Event Horizon Telescope array. Image credit: Event Horizon Telescope sites, via University of Arizona at https://www.as.arizona.edu/event-horizon-telescope.

    Arizona Radio Observatory
    Arizona Radio Observatory/Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (ARO/SMT)

    ESO/APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX)

    CARMA Array no longer in service
    Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA)

    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)
    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)

    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory
    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO)

    IRAM NOEMA interferometer
    Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30m

    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano

    CfA Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array, Chile

    Future Array/Telescopes

    Plateau de Bure interferometer
    Plateau de Bure interferometer

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL

     
  • richardmitnick 2:00 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Cosmic high noon, , Supernova DES15E2mlf,   

    From UCSC: “Superluminous supernova marks the death of a star at cosmic high noon” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    July 21, 2017
    Tim Stephens
    stephens@ucsc.edu

    At a distance of 10 billion light years, a supernova detected by the Dark Energy Survey team is one of the most distant ever discovered and confirmed.

    1
    The yellow arrow marks the superluminous supernova DES15E2mlf in this false-color image of the surrounding field. This image was observed with the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) gri-band filters mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope on December 28, 2015, around the time when the supernova reached its peak luminosity. (Observers: D. Gerdes and S. Jouvel)

    The death of a massive star in a distant galaxy 10 billion years ago created a rare superluminous supernova that astronomers say is one of the most distant ever discovered. The brilliant explosion, more than three times as bright as the 100 billion stars of our Milky Way galaxy combined, occurred about 3.5 billion years after the big bang at a period known as “cosmic high noon,” when the rate of star formation in the universe reached its peak.

    Superluminous supernovae are 10 to 100 times brighter than a typical supernova resulting from the collapse of a massive star. But astronomers still don’t know exactly what kinds of stars give rise to their extreme luminosity or what physical processes are involved.

    The supernova known as DES15E2mlf is unusual even among the small number of superluminous supernovae astronomers have detected so far. It was initially detected in November 2015 by the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration using the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam

    Follow-up observations to measure the distance and obtain detailed spectra of the supernova were conducted with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph on the 8-meter Gemini South telescope.

    Gemini Observatory GMOS on Gemini South


    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile

    The investigation was led by UC Santa Cruz astronomers Yen-Chen Pan and Ryan Foley as part of an international team of DES collaborators. The researchers reported their findings in a paper published July 21 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The new observations may provide clues to the nature of stars and galaxies during peak star formation. Supernovae are important in the evolution of galaxies because their explosions enrich the interstellar gas from which new stars form with elements heavier than helium (which astronomers call “metals”).

    “It’s important simply to know that very massive stars were exploding at that time,” said Foley, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “What we really want to know is the relative rate of superluminous supernovae to normal supernovae, but we can’t yet make that comparison because normal supernovae are too faint to see at that distance. So we don’t know if this atypical supernova is telling us something special about that time 10 billion years ago.”

    Previous observations of superluminous supernovae found they typically reside in low-mass or dwarf galaxies, which tend to be less enriched in metals than more massive galaxies. The host galaxy of DES15E2mlf, however, is a fairly massive, normal-looking galaxy.

    “The current idea is that a low-metal environment is important in creating superluminous supernovae, and that’s why they tend to occur in low mass galaxies, but DES15E2mlf is in a relatively massive galaxy compared to the typical host galaxy for superluminous supernovae,” said Pan, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz and first author of the paper.

    Foley explained that stars with fewer heavy elements retain a larger fraction of their mass when they die, which may cause a bigger explosion when the star exhausts its fuel supply and collapses.

    “We know metallicity affects the life of a star and how it dies, so finding this superluminous supernova in a higher-mass galaxy goes counter to current thinking,” Foley said. “But we are looking so far back in time, this galaxy would have had less time to create metals, so it may be that at these earlier times in the universe’s history, even high-mass galaxies had low enough metal content to create these extraordinary stellar explosions. At some point, the Milky Way also had these conditions and might have also produced a lot of these explosions.”

    “Although many puzzles remain, the ability to observe these unusual supernovae at such great distances provides valuable information about the most massive stars and about an important period in the evolution of galaxies,” said Mat Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Southampton. The Dark Energy Survey has discovered a number of superluminous supernovae and continues to see more distant cosmic explosions revealing how stars exploded during the strongest period of star formation.

    In addition to Pan, Foley, and Smith, the coauthors of the paper include Lluís Galbany of the University of Pittsburgh, and other members of the DES collaboration from more than 40 institutions. This research was funded the National Science Foundation, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

    The Dark Energy Survey is a collaboration of more than 400 scientists from 26 institutions in seven countries. Its primary instrument, the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, is mounted on the 4-meter Blanco telescope at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and its data are processed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Funding for the DES Projects has been provided by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, U.S. National Science Foundation, Ministry of Science and Education of Spain, Science and Technology Facilities Council of the United Kingdom, Higher Education Funding Council for England, ETH Zurich for Switzerland, National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics at Ohio State University, Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University, Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos, Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico and Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the collaborating institutions in the Dark Energy Survey, the list of which can be found at http://www.darkenergysurvey.org/collaboration.

    See the full article here .

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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    1
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    5
    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:32 am on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,   

    From SETI: “The Biography of SETI Pioneer Jill Tarter, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is Released” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    July 05 2017

    Rebecca McDonald
    Director of Communications
    Rmcdonald@seti.org
    650-960-4526

    1

    Jill Tarter is the subject of a new book by Sarah Scoles, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was released yesterday. Jill is a pioneer in SETI research and currently holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the SETI Institute. Making Contact is not just for scientists and SETI enthusiasts, but truly is the story of Jill’s life and her life’s work.

    “This is one woman’s view of the roller coaster history of SETI explorations,” said Jill. “Sarah has told it with a fresh voice that makes me grin.”

    In Making Contact, Scoles examines the science behind the work that tries to answer the question, “Are we alone?” Jill was the inspiration for the character of Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact, a role played by Jodie Foster in the film, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Scoles tells Jill’s story, and also begins to wonder how a new generation of SETI research will look.

    “A fictional story about SETI, partly inspired by Tarter, has spurred so many people’s interests in astronomy and life in the universe,” said Scoles. “I hope the nonfictional tale of the actual search and the actual Tarter can do something similar.”

    Scoles suggests that without Jill, SETI programs, including the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and Breakthrough Listen might not exist.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Additionally, funding for SETI research has always been a challenge to obtain. Indeed, the SETI Institute’s own SETI program is funded entirely through private donations and receives no government support. Jill’s ongoing efforts continue to make groundbreaking SETI research possible.

    “Jill is not only a SETI pioneer, and world-class astronomer, her life and work have served as inspiration for an entire new generation of women in science, including many here at the SETI Institute” said Institute CEO, Bill Diamond. “Her toughness, tenacity and perseverance in a male-dominated field of enquiry are fully explored in this captivating biography of a scientist possessed by what is perhaps humankind’s greatest quest – answering that singular question – Are we alone?”

    Jill and Sarah will appear together on July 12 at the Cubberley Community Center in Mountain View, CA to discuss the book and new directions in SETI research. The presentation is part of the SETI Institute’s SETI Talks series and will also feature SETI Institute scientists Eliot Gillum and Seth Shostak. Tickets are available here.

    See the full article here .
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    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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