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  • richardmitnick 10:50 am on October 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , , , Still a ways to go   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “New tool helps scientists better target the search for alien life” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

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    © iStock

    02.10.18
    Sarah Perrin

    An EPFL scientist has developed a novel approach that boosts the chances of finding extraterrestrial intelligence in our galaxy. His method uses probability theory to calculate the possibility of detecting an extraterrestrial signal (if there is one) at a given distance from Earth.

    Could there be another planet out there with a society at the same stage of technological advancement as ours? To help find out, EPFL scientist Claudio Grimaldi, working in association with the University of California, Berkeley, has developed a statistical model that gives researchers a new tool in the search for the kind of signals that an extraterrestrial society might emit. His method – described in an article appearing today in PNAS – could also make the search cheaper and more efficient.

    Astrophysics initially wasn’t Grimaldi’s thing; he was interested more in the physics of condensed matter. Working at EPFL’s Laboratory of Physics of Complex Matter, his research involved calculating the probabilities of carbon nanotubes exchanging electrons. But then he wondered: if the nanotubes were stars and the electrons were signals generated by extraterrestrial societies, could we calculate the probability of detecting those signals more accurately?

    This is not pie-in-the-sky research – scientists have been studying this possibility for nearly 60 years. Several research projects concerning the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) have been launched since the late 1950s, mainly in the United States.




    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley


    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)


    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    The idea is that an advanced civilization on another planet could be generating electromagnetic signals, and scientists on Earth might be able to pick up those signals using the latest high-performance radio telescopes.

    Renewed interest

    Despite considerable advances in radio astronomy and the increase in computing power since then, none of those projects has led to anything concrete. Some signals have been recorded, like the Wow! signal in 1977, but scientists could not pinpoint their origin.

    Wow! signal

    And none of them has been repeated or seems credible enough to be attributable to alien life.

    But that doesn’t mean scientists have given up. On the contrary, SETI has seen renewed interest following the discovery of the many exoplanets orbiting the billions of suns in our
    galaxy. Researchers have designed sophisticated new instruments – like the Square Kilometre Array, a giant radio telescope being built in South Africa and Australia with a total collecting area of one square kilometer – that could pave the way to promising breakthroughs.

    And Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner recently announced an ambitious program called Breakthrough Listen, which aims to cover 10 times more sky than previous searches and scan a much wider band of frequencies. Milner intends to fund his initiative with 100 million dollars over 10 years.

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    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


    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    “In reality, expanding the search to these magnitudes only increases our chances of finding something by very little. And if we still don’t detect any signals, we can’t necessarily conclude with much more certainty that there is no life out there,” says Grimaldi.

    Still a ways to go

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    Schematic view of the Milky Way showing six isotropic extraterrestrial emission processes forming spherical shells filled by radio signals. The outer radii of the spherical shells are proportional to the time at which the signals were first emitted, while the thicknesses are proportional to the duration of the emissions. In this example, the Earth is illuminated by one of these signals. ©Claudio Grimaldi.

    The advantage of Grimaldi’s statistical model is that it lets scientists interpret both the success and failure to detect signals at varying distances from the Earth. His model employs Bayes’ theorem to calculate the remaining probability of detecting a signal within a given radius around our planet. For example, even if no signal is detected within a radius of 1,000 light years, there is still an over 10% chance that the Earth is within range of hundreds of similar signals from elsewhere in the galaxy, but that our radio telescopes are currently not powerful enough to detect them. However, that probability rises to nearly 100% if even just one signal is detected within the 1,000-light-year radius. In that case, we could be almost certain that our galaxy is full of alien life.

    After factoring in other parameters like the size of the galaxy and how closely packed its stars are, Grimaldi estimates that the probability of detecting a signal becomes very slight only at a radius of 40,000 light years. In other words, if no signals are detected at this distance from the Earth, we could reasonably conclude that no other civilization at the same level of technological development as ours is detectable in the galaxy. But so far, scientists have been able to search for signals within a radius of “just” 40 light years.

    So there’s still a ways to go. Especially since these search methods can’t detect alien civilizations that may be in primordial stages or that are highly advanced but haven’t followed the same technological trajectory as ours.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

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  • richardmitnick 11:31 am on September 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , NASA Technosignatures Workshop, , ,   

    From Science Alert: “NASA Has Announced The Next Step in Their Hunt For Alien Life” 

    ScienceAlert

    From Science Alert

    30 SEP 2018
    MATT WILLIAMS

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    (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    We’re closer than ever before.

    NASA is targeting technosignatures in its renewed effort to detect alien civilizations.

    Congress asked NASA to re-boot its search for other civilizations a few months ago. Their first step towards that goal is the NASA Technosignatures Workshop, held in Houston from September 26th to 28th, 2018.

    If you’ve never stared out to space at night and wondered if there are other civilizations out there, well…that’s difficult to understand.

    One of humanity’s most ancient and persistent longings is to know if there are others out there. Though it may seem like a long shot, the attempt is irresistible. And NASA’s newest attempt involves technosignatures.

    What are Technosignatures?

    Technosignatures are simply evidence of technology. They’re the effects or signature of technological use. The most obvious example might be radio waves, but some experts in technosignatures reject those, because the universe is riddled with radio waves produced by natural sources.

    SETI was the original search for alien civilizations. But SETI was more or less a search for intentional radio signals sent by another civilization. This new search will be different in scope. Technosignatures are the unintentional signals that provide evidence for a technological civilization.

    Technosignatures include laser emissions, indications of massive megastructures like Dyson Spheres, or, sadly, highly-polluted atmospheres.

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    An artist’s concept of a Dyson sphere, built by an advanced civilization to capture the energy of a star. Image via CapnHack, via energyphysics.wikispaces.com.

    At the Technosignatures Workshop, they also talked about detecting megacities on other planets through their heat signature, and detecting satellites orbiting other planets.

    But in each of these cases, any technosignatures would likely not jump right out at us. It will require some advanced sleuthing techniques to determine if what searchers are detecting are in fact technosignatures.

    That’s why NASA held the workshop. Presenters outlined the current state of the field in detecting technosignatures, what the most promising avenues of research are, and what investments can advance the science of technosignature detection.

    A major stated goal of the workshop is to understand how NASA can support the whole field through partnerships with both private and philanthropic partners.

    There’s precedent for partnerships in the search for the detection of technosignatures. The SETI effort was a NASA program up until 1993 when Congress reigned it in.



    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    Since then, other organizations and wealthy people like Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, have kept SETI going.


    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    But now NASA is back in the game, and their Technosignatures Workshop is their first step in a renewed effort to detect other civilizations.

    This new effort comes on the heels of major discoveries in the past few years. For a long time we didn’t know if other stars had planets in their orbits, or if our Solar System was unique. But the Kepler mission changed all that.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Kepler has discovered over 2,600 exoplanets and is still going. And Kepler has only searched a tiny portion of the sky.

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    (NASA/Kepler)

    With that data in hand, there’s no reason to think that exoplanets aren’t plentiful throughout the galaxy and the universe. Congress must have realized that, and decided to urge NASA to search some of the newly-discovered exoplanets for evidence of civilizations.

    Telescopes now in the design and construction phases will allow us to image exoplanets, to study their atmospheres, and potentially detect hot-spots on their surfaces.

    We may even be able to use the transit method to detect any satellites orbiting another planet. Nobody knows what we’ll find, but it’s hard not to get a little excited.

    There’s a lot of work to be done. Scientists will have to decide the best way to proceed. But once they get going, it promises to be a very exciting endeavour.

    And then there is

    Breakthrough Listen Project

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    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

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 4:07 pm on September 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , SETI Institute in the news September 6 - September 12 2018, SETI Scientists Detect Mysterious Radio Bursts with Help from AI   

    From SETI Institute: “SETI Institute in the news September 6 – September 12, 2018” 

    SETI Logo new
    From SETI Institute

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    No image caption or credit.

    SETI Scientists Detect Mysterious Radio Bursts with Help from AI.

    Breakthrough Listen, a program to search for intelligent extraterrestrial communications, recently announced exciting results in an effort to apply machine learning to the challenge of signal detection.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

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    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

    The team examined mysterious repeating light pulses called fast radio bursts, or FRBs. An algorithm called a “convolutional neural network” was applied to a large amount of data collected by the Green Bank Telescope on a particular emission, FRB 121102, the only one known to emit repeated bursts. While researchers who scoured the data collected in 2017 showed 21 bursts in their report, reanalysis with the algorithm revealed a stunning 72 additional bursts that were previously undetected.

    The lead author of the paper [The Astrophysical Journal] announcing these results is UC Berkeley doctoral student Gerry Zhang, and co-author Dr. Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute, Berkeley SETI Research Center Director and Breakthrough Listen Principal Investigator was quoted extensively following a SETI Institute press release about the findings. MSN emphasized the intriguing phenomenon’s unknown source:

    “The nature of the object emitting them is unknown,” SETI said, adding: “There are many theories, including that they could be the signatures of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligent life.”

    Newsweek highlighted Dr. Siemion’s remarks on the potential machine learning holds for research:

    “[Zhang’s] work is exciting not just because it helps us understand the dynamic behavior of FRBs in more detail,” remarked Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research Center Director and Breakthrough Listen Principal Investigator Andrew Siemion, “but also because of the promise it shows for using machine learning to detect signals missed by classical algorithms.”

    And Science Daily noted that the data might eventually allow scientists to determine the origin of these mysterious bursts:

    Just as the patterns of pulses from pulsars have helped astronomers constrain computer models of the extreme physical conditions in such objects, the new measurements of FRBs will help figure out what powers these enigmatic sources, Siemion said.

    “Whether or not FRBs themselves eventually turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the Universe around us,” he added.

    The SETI Institute has been applying machine learning to its work in a number of exciting initiatives, including using the IBM Cloud and AI algorithms to analyze signals identified by the Allen Telescope Array, and using the advantage of the ATA’s wide frequency coverage in combination with the IBM Cloud to conduct new types of observations on wide-band signals from exoplanets.

    MSN: Alien signals spotted from galaxy 3bn light years away
    Newsweek: FRBs: Dozens of Repeating Radio Signals Discovered Coming from Galaxy 3 Billion Light Years Away
    Science Daily: Artificial intelligence helps track down mysterious cosmic radio bursts
    Astrobiology Magazine: Artificial Intelligence Helps Breakthrough Listen Find New Fast Radio Bursts
    SETI.org: Artificial Intelligence Helps Find New Fast Radio Bursts
    Space.com: Mysterious Light Flashes Are Coming from Deep Space, and AI Just Found More of Them
    BGR: Scientists hear dozens of mysterious radio signals beaming through space
    RT: AI detects ‘mysterious repeating’ signals from ‘alien galaxy’ 3 billion light years away
    Sky News: SETI scientists spot 72 signals ‘from alien galaxy’ 3bn light years away
    ArXive: Fast Radio Burst 121102 Pulse Detection and Periodicity: A Machine Learning Approach

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    There’s No Place like Home: What Earthlings Can Learn from Space Travel

    A recent editorial in the journal Science opens with the question: “How much of the planet should we leave for other forms of life”? However, meeting certain targets for contrived “protected areas” may not be the best approach. Nathalie Cabrol, astrobiologist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, responded to the editorial in a Space.com article:

    “Now we are talking about a bioengineered world, we are not talking about a planet anymore; we are talking about a national park on a planetary level and it’s not a biosphere anymore,” Nathalie Cabrol, an astrobiologist at the SETI Institute, told Space.com. “We are going to create an artificial bubble when what we had was a beautifully working natural system.”

    Cordoning off land into controlled environments may create problems, and the Space.com article touches on the troubled history of experiments in artificial biospheres. The challenge of creating manufactured habitats holds significant implications for space travel – if we cannot support life on Earth, the odds of doing so elsewhere appear grim. John Rummel, a former planetary protection officer at NASA and senior scientist at the SETI Institute, points out that artificial biospheres may be useful for research, but:

    “Even at best, any biosphere that we could construct for centuries to come is going to be a mere shadow of what we have every day on the Earth,” he said.

    Rummel, who describes our planet as “a wonderland”, emphasized the peril of treating space travel as a refuge from the consequences of our behavior on Earth:

    …if we continue to lose biodiversity here on Earth, space exploration may slip out of reach, Rummel said, as species losses ripple through food webs and cause accelerating change. “The very basis of the economies and support systems on the Earth that allow us to envision going elsewhere with both robots and people, those are the things that are in jeopardy.”

    Cabrol warns, “we are not going to fix any of the problems that we have on Earth by going to Mars,” but goes on to suggest that there may still be valuable insight gained as we face the dangers of exploring inhospitable worlds such as the red planet:

    “Maybe what Mars is going to give us is a consciousness of how beautiful, precious, fragile Earth is.” Cabrol said. “We should not use planetary exploration as an escape.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:30 am on August 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , EU RadioNet Programme, , The Rebirth of Radio Astronomy   

    From WIRED: “The Rebirth of Radio Astronomy” 

    Wired logo

    WIRED

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    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)
    Brian R. Kent/NRAO/AUI/NSF

    In the early 1930s, Bell Labs was experimenting with making wireless transatlantic calls. The communications goliath wanted to understand the static that might crackle across the ocean, so it asked an engineer named Karl Jansky to investigate its sources. He found three: nearby thunderstorms, distant thunderstorms, and a steady hiss, coming from … somewhere.

    Jansky studied the hiss for a year, using a rudimentary antenna that looked like toppled scaffolding, before announcing its origin: The static was coming from the the galaxy itself. “Radio waves heard from remote space,” announced The New York Times in May 1933. “Sound like steam from a radiator after traveling 30,000 light-years.” Janksy had unwittingly spawned the field of radio astronomy.

    Today, a replica of Jansky’s scope sits on the lawn in front of Green Bank Observatory, one of the four world-class public radio telescopes in the US.

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    Replica of Grote Reber Radio Telescope at National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.
    Date 6 September 2009
    Source Own work
    Author Jarek Tuszyński



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Along with the Very Large Array [above], Arecibo Observatory, and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), it is the legacy of a boom time in federal investment in the field that began in earnest after World War II.

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft)

    NRAO VLBA


    NRAO/VLBA

    In the past several years, though, the National Science Foundation has backed away from three of those instruments. In 2012 the NSF published a review recommending that the foundation ramp down funding to Green Bank—just 11 years after it was finished—as well as the VLBA, which can resolve a penny from about 960 miles away. Three years later, the foundation asked Arecibo for management proposals that “involve a substantially reduced funding commitment from NSF.”

    Now, the future of those scopes—instruments that map the gaseous threads that connect cosmic neighborhoods, penetrate the dust shrouds surrounding not-yet stars, and probe way-warped spacetime—is in question. “Radio astronomy is really, really unique in the kinds of astrophysics that we can study,” says Brian Kent, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    That work is far from stopping. But support for pure science in the US is always complicated, since it relies on the good graces of federal agencies and annual budgets. As funders balance building and operating new scopes with the old, while giving grants to the astronomers who actually use those instruments, something’s gotta give. And no matter what it is, the science will not be the same.

    Building massive radio telescopes—which today cost anywhere from around $100 million to more than $1 billion—actually began as a cost-sharing measure. In the 1950s, the nascent radio astronomy community realized universities couldn’t afford to build their own scopes—at least not ones of high enough quality to drive the field forward. So in 1956, the United States formed the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, building a succession of telescopes in Green Bank that it could loan out to scientists from around the country. In Puerto Rico, construction on the 300-meter Arecibo observatory began in the 1960s, and it became the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. In the 1970s, the NRAO started building the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

    Most recently, NRAO helped create the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, in Chile.

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    It cost more than a billion dollars to build, with the NSF contributing around $500 million, and another approximately $40 million per year to operate it. But it’s worth it: In US astronomy, interferometers, or telescopes like ALMA made of many smaller antennas, are currently more popular with scientists than big single-dish scopes, says NSF astronomy division director Richard Green. “We really try to be responsive to community interest,” he says. Interferometers provide higher resolution—crisper pictures of smaller areas—and can investigate many of the same celestial phenomena.

    Giant single dishes do still hold astronomers’ interest—especially those that want to map large gassy portions of the sky, find and monitor pulsars, and catch the faint emissions that interferometers, which are less sensitive, can miss. Still, when push came to budget cut, the big single dishes, Arecibo and Green Bank, were the ones to go.

    Now, as the NSF gradually decreases funding to Green Bank and Arecibo, the observatories have had to solicit support elsewhere—primarily through pay-to-play private partnerships. A SETI project [Breakthrough Listen, supported by Russian Billionaire, which also involves Parkes Radio telescpe in Australia, and the Automated Planet Finder at UCSC Lick Obsevatory on Mt Hamilton, CA, USA]and a collaboration of pulsar astronomers searching for gravitational waves are helping to keep Green Bank afloat. The Russians are ponying up to communicate with their science spacecraft. And the VLBA has netted Navy money, partly to keep track of Earth’s tilt.

    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

    This, a different kind of cost sharing, is a business model the agency can turn to to keep older telescopes online. The NSF still, for the moment, funds part of their time—“open skies” hours available to anyone’s good ideas; the rest of the time, the scopes are subject to their customers’ whims. That’s the trade-off right now, says Joseph Pesce, NSF’s program director for NRAO (NSF split Green Bank and the VLBA off from the observatory in 2016). “We are able to keep the facilities running,” he says. “That’s a good solution to this problem.”

    And it could leave room—ideally—for building up other resources astronomers are interested in, like array-based scopes.

    There is a new facility potentially on the horizon: The Next-Generation VLA (the VLA itself, while upgraded, is 40 years old). As currently envisioned, the ngVLA’s many antennas will together have 10 times the sensitivity and resolution as the VLA, at a wider range of frequencies. The primary array will have 214 18-meter antennas, spiraled across New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. Nineteen smaller ones will sit close to the center, and 30 18-meterers will constellate the continent.

    With the ngVLA, the hypothetical instrument’s project scientist Eric Murphy says astronomers could make high-def movies of solar systems as they come together—something previously out of reach because the dust surrounding the baby planets obscured their birth, and because radio images weren’t sharp enough. They could capture the collisions that cause gravitational-wave events, up to 650,000,000 light-years away. They could find more molecules that precurse biology in still-forming star systems.

    The conditional tense, though, is key. Before it can be realized, a committee has to deem it important in the 2020 Decadal Survey, a priority plan that astronomers make every decade. If it gets a high ranking—and then funding—construction would start around 2025.

    But it’s expensive: $1.5 billion just for construction, of which the US would pay half, and $75 million a year to operate. For comparison, Green Bank cost about $135 million in today’s dollars to build and costs around $10 million to operate. “It might all get shot down tomorrow, but for now, it’s fun,” says Murphy.

    If it does get shot down, he says, the team could scale the plans back or just keep running the VLA. At the other sites, members of the radio astronomy community are helping make older telescopes new again: They are developing a new Arecibo receiver that would game-change its view, and a Green Bank collaboration is working on a receiver called Argus+ to make, among other things, fast, detailed maps of molecules in galaxies and places where new stars are forming. In 2011, the VLA got a $94 million electronics upgrade and a new name that no one uses: the

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    . “But 40-year-old dishes become 50 years old,” says Murphy, “and things become more difficult.”

    In a hypothetical future in which the US has a 50-year-old VLA—and a partially or fully privatized Green Bank, VLBA, and Arecibo—American radio astronomers will have less they can do from their own backyard. “There is only one Green Bank; there is only one Arecibo; there is only one VLA,” says Kent. “Without those facilities working together in concert, we don’t have the kinds of tools scientists, engineers, and educators need.”

    But radio astronomers—always kind of a scrappy, rogue element within the cosmic establishment—will likely continue to find ways to keep their telescopes open, operating, and updated. It’s part of their scientific heritage.

    See, after Karl Jansky did his phone project, Bell didn’t care so much about this astronomy stuff. The lab moved Jansky on to other projects. But in Wheaton, Illinois, a guy named Grote Reber became obsessed.

    In his backyard, Reber began to build his own radio telescope. Its dish, completed in 1937, was 31 feet across—a length dictated by the boards available at the local hardware store.

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    Amateur radio astronomer Grote Reber´s 9 meter (31.4 ft) parabolic radio telescope antenna, which he built in his backyard in Illinois in 1937. This was the second radio telescope ever built (after Karl Jansky’s dipole array antenna), the first parabolic radio telescope and the first large parabolic dish, serving as the prototype for large dish radio telescopes built after World War 2. Its construction and the sky survey Reber did with it helped found the field of radio astronomy.
    http://www.nrao.edu/whatisra/hist_reber.shtml
    Author Grote Reber

    He published the first map of the galaxy’s radio emissions, a contour plot that looks like a sky cephalopod. For around a decade, Reber was the world’s only active radio astronomer.
    4
    Reber surveyed the radio radiation from the sky and presented the data as contour maps showing that the brightest areas correspond to the Milky Way. The brightest part is toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy in the south. Other bright radio sources, such as the ones in Cygnus and Cassiopeia, were recognized for the first time.

    The contour diagram at left is copied from “Galactic Radio Waves” by G.Reber, which was published in Sky and Telescope, Vol.8, No.6, April, 1949. The diagrams are plotted in galactic coordinates in which the galactic equator runs horizontally. Most of the radio radiation is in or near the galactic equator. The vertical axes are galactic latitude in degrees. The horizontal axes are galactic longitude, in which the direction toward the center of the galaxy has longitude=0.

    In the years from 1938 to 1943, Reber made the first surveys of radio waves from the sky and published his results both in engineering and astronomy journals. His accomplishments insured that radio astronomy became a major field of research following World War II. Research groups in many countries began building bigger and better antennas and receivers to follow up on Reber’s discoveries.

    When the National Radio Astronomy Observatory started up, in the 1950s, it bought Reber’s telescope and relocated it to Green Bank, right across the street from Jansky’s duplicate—a reminder to support each other’s science in the face of establishment adversity or ambivalence.

    [This article comes at a very important time
    http://www.iram-institute.org/EN/news/2017/140.html

    News
    EU RadioNet Programme Received Funding from the European Commission
    January 16, 2017

    EU RadioNet

    RadioNet, the European Programme for radio astronomy, has been awarded a grant of 10 million Euro for the next 4 years from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to perform a comprehensive, innovative and ambitious suite of actions that fosters a sustainable research environment. RadioNet’s main aims are to ensure that key developments in radio astronomy are supported on a European wide basis and that access to world class radioastronomical facilities is provided to European researchers. RadioNet brings together 28 leading radio astronomical research laboratories from 13 countries.

    As one of RadioNet’s major partner institutions, IRAM will be the leading participant and coordinator of AETHRA, a joint research programme that will exploit cutting edge technologies with the aim of improving instrument performance and observing speed of next generation receivers for the NOEMA, IRAM 30-meter telescope, ALMA and APEX facilities. At the same time, IRAM will be committed to offering Transnational Access, a European initiative for scientists from all over the world, whose aim is to facilitate access to the IRAM facilities and enable scientist to conduct research at the forefront of technological innovation.

    What we face is the same kind of results as when Congress in 1993 killed the Superconducting Super Collider [SSC], a particle accelerator complex under construction in the vicinity of Waxahachie, Texas. This, the largest blunder in High Energy Physics [HEP], leterally handed off HEP to CERN in France and Switzerland which built the Large Hadron Collider which found the Higgs boson, which wold have been found at the SSC.

    3
    Tracing the path of the particle accelerators and tunnels planned for the Superconducting Supercollider Project. You can see the main ring circling Waxahachie.
    Date late 1980s
    Source U.S. Department of Energy]

    LHC

    CERN map


    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    Arecibo is no longer the largest radio telescope in the world.

    FAST radio telescope, now operating, located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China, https://astronomynow.com

    [Completely forgotten in this article is the work of Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs, who discovered the background radiation from the Big Bang.

    Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, AT&T, Holmdel, NJ USA with the Holmdel horn antenna

    The 15 meter Holmdel horn antenna at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey was built in 1959 for pioneering work in communication satellites for the NASA ECHO I. The antenna was 50 feet in length and the entire structure weighed about 18 tons. It was composed of aluminum with a steel base. It was used to detect radio waves that bounced off Project ECHO balloon satellites. The horn was later modified to work with the Telstar Communication Satellite frequencies as a receiver for broadcast signals from the satellite. In 1964, radio astronomers Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation with it, for which they were awarded the 1978 Nobel prize in physics. In 1990 the horn was dedicated to the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark.

    This type of antenna is called a Hogg or horn-reflector antenna, invented by Albert Beck and Harald Friis in 1941 and further developed by D. C. Hogg at Bell Labs in 1961. It consists of a flaring metal horn with a reflector mounted in the mouth at a 45° angle, so the antenna receives radio waves at a 90° angle to the horn axis. The reflector is a segment of a parabolic reflector, so the antenna is equivalent to a parabolic antenna fed off-axis. This type of antenna has characteristics that make it a good radio telescope: it has very broad bandwidth, the aperture efficiency can be calculated accurately, and the horn shields the antenna from electrical noise coming from angles outside the beam axis, so it picks up little thermal ground noise.
    Date June 1962
    Source Great Images in NASA Description
    Author NASA

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:37 pm on December 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, Breakthrough Star Shot, , , For astronomers the biggest problem with E.T. is not the occasional claim of a mysterious light in the sky but the fact that we are not constantly overwhelmed with them, How dare we think that the physics we have today is all that there is, , Scientists are also trained to look at nature with ruthless rigor and skepticism, Scientists are not the killjoys in all this., , U.F.O.'s   

    From NYT: “U.F.O.s: Is This All There Is?” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 29, 2017
    Dennis Overbye

    1
    A U.F.O. in New Mexico in 1957. For astronomers, the biggest problem with alien visitation is not the occasional claim of mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we’re not constantly overwhelmed with them. Credit Bettmann, via Getty Images

    Hey, Mr. Spaceman,

    Won’t you please take me along?

    I won’t do anything wrong.

    Hey, Mr. Spaceman,

    Won’t you please take me along for a ride?

    So sang the Byrds in 1966, after strange radio bursts from distant galaxies called quasars had excited people about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

    I recalled those words recently when reading the account of a pair of Navy pilots who were outmaneuvered and outrun by a U.F.O. off the coast of San Diego back in 2004. Cmdr. David Fravor said later that he had no idea what he had seen.

    “But,” he added, “I want to fly one.”

    His story was part of a bundle of material released recently about a supersecret $22 million Pentagon project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, aimed at investigating U.F.O.s. The project was officially killed in 2012, but now it’s being resurrected as a nonprofit organization.

    Disgruntled that the government wasn’t taking the possibility of alien visitors seriously, a group of former defense officials, aerospace engineers and other space fans have set up their own group, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science. One of its founders is Tom DeLonge, a former punk musician, record producer and entrepreneur, who is also the head of the group’s entertainment division.

    For a minimum of $200, you can join and help finance their research into how U.F.O.s do whatever it is they do, as well as telepathy and “a point-to-point transportation craft that will erase the current travel limits of distance and time” by using a drive that “alters the space-time metric” — that is, a warp drive going faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s old cosmic speed limit.

    “We believe there are transformative discoveries within our reach that will revolutionize the human experience, but they can only be accomplished through the unrestricted support of breakthrough research, discovery and innovation,” says the group’s website.

    3
    A U.F.O. spotted by Navy pilots near San Diego in 2004. Credit Department of Defense

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for progress on telepathy or warp drive, but I agree with at least one thing that one official with the group said. That was Steve Justice, a former engineer at Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works, where advanced aircraft like the SR-71 high-altitude super-fast spy plane were designed.

    “How dare we think that the physics we have today is all that there is,” he said in an interview published recently in HuffPost.

    I could hardly agree more, having spent my professional life in the company of physicists and astronomers trying to poke out of the cocoon of present knowledge into the unknown, to overturn Einstein and what passes for contemporary science. Lately, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

    The last time physicists had to deal with faster-than-light travel was six years ago, when a group of Italy-based physicists announced that they had seen the subatomic particles known as neutrinos going faster than light. It turned out they had wired up their equipment wrong.

    So far Einstein is still the champ. But surely there is so much more to learn. A lot of surprises lie ahead, but many of the most popular ideas on how to transcend Einstein and his peers are on the verge of being ruled out. Transforming science is harder than it looks.

    While there is a lot we don’t know, there is also a lot we do know. We know how to turn on our computers and let gadgets in our pocket navigate the world. We know that when physical objects zig and zag through a medium like air, as U.F.O.s are said to do, they produce turbulence and shock waves. NASA engineers predicted to the minute when the Cassini spacecraft would dwindle to a wisp of smoke in Saturn’s atmosphere last fall.

    In moments like this, I take comfort in what the great Russian physicist and cosmologist Yakov Zeldovich, one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, once told me. “What science has already taken, it will not give back,” he said.

    Scientists are not the killjoys in all this.

    In the astronomical world, the border between science fact and science fiction can be very permeable, perhaps because many scientists grew up reading science fiction. And astronomers forever have their noses pressed up against the window of the unknown. They want to believe more than anybody, and I count myself among them.

    4
    Since the asteroid named Oumuamua was first noticed flying through our solar system in October, researchers have been monitoring for alien signals, so far to no avail. Credit M. Kornmesser/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    But they are also trained to look at nature with ruthless rigor and skepticism. For astronomers, the biggest problem with E.T. is not the occasional claim of a mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we are not constantly overwhelmed with them.

    Half a century ago, the legendary physicist Enrico Fermi concluded from a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation that even without warp drive, a single civilization could visit and colonize all the planets in the galaxy in a fraction of the 10-billion-year age of the Milky Way.

    “Where are they?” he asked.

    Proponents of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, have been debating ever since. One answer I like is the “zoo hypothesis,” according to which we have been placed off-limits, a cosmic wildlife refuge.

    Another answer came from Jill Tarter, formerly the director of research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We haven’t looked hard enough,” she said when I asked her recently.

    If there was an iPhone sitting under a rock on the Moon or Mars, for example, we would not have found it yet. Our own latest ideas for interstellar exploration involve launching probes the size of postage stamps to Alpha Centauri.

    In the next generation, they might be the size of mosquitoes. By contrast, the dreams of some U.F.O. enthusiasts are stuck in 1950s technology.

    Still, we keep trying.

    Last fall when a strange object — an interstellar asteroid now named Oumuamua — was found cruising through the solar system, astronomers’ thoughts raced to the Arthur C. Clarke novel Rendezvous With Rama, in which the object was an alien spaceship. Two groups have been monitoring Oumuamua for alien radio signals, so far to no avail.

    Meanwhile, some astronomers have speculated that the erratic dimming of a star known as “Boyajian’s star” or “Tabby’s star,” after the astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, could be caused by some gigantic construction project orbiting the star. So far that has not worked out, but none of the other explanations — dust or a fleet of comets — have, either.

    A pair of Harvard astronomers suggested last spring that mysterious sporadic flashes of energy known as fast radio bursts coming from far far away are alien transmitters powering interstellar spacecraft carrying light sails. “Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence,” the astronomer Avi Loeb said in a news release from Harvard. “Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”

    U.F.O. investigations are nothing new. The most famous was the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which ran from 1952 to 1970 and examined more than 12,000 sightings.

    Most U.F.O. sightings turn out to be swamp gas and other atmospheric anomalies, Venus, weird reflections or just plain hoaxes. But there is a stubborn residue, a few percent that resist easy explication, including now Commander Fravor’s story. But that’s a far cry from proving they are alien or interstellar.

    I don’t know what to think about these stories, often told by sober, respected and professional observers — police officers, pilots, military officials — in indelible detail. I always wish I could have been there to see it for myself.

    Then I wonder how much good it would do to see it anyway.

    Recently I ran into my friend Mark Mitton, a professional magician, in a restaurant. He came over to the table and started doing tricks. At one point he fanned the card deck, asked my daughter to pick one, and then asked her to shuffle the deck, which she did expertly.

    Mr. Mitton grabbed the deck and sprayed the cards in the air. There was my daughter’s card stuck to a mirror about five feet away. How did it get there? Not by any new physics. Seeing didn’t really help.

    As modern psychology and neuroscience have established, the senses are an unreliable portal to reality, whatever that is.

    Something might be happening, but we don’t know what it is. E.T., if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting to take my ride.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:53 am on October 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , , ,   

    From Futurism: “First Contact With Extraterrestrials Might Be a Very Good Thing” 

    futurism-bloc

    Futurism

    March 16, 2017 [Another plum comes to social media.]
    Neil C. Bhavsar

    1
    Getty Images

    The Debate

    When many people look at the stars, they see a vast, unbound infinity that fills them with a feeling that’s difficult to describe but impossible to forget. That feeling pushes humanity to want to explore the great unknown reaches of space in the hopes of discovering that we aren’t alone in it.

    But let’s assume for one moment that extraterrestrial life does exist. Should we really be trying to contact it?

    Some view the idea of reaching out to extraterrestrials as dangerous. In fact, Stephen Hawking made a strong point against the idea of making contact by comparing it to the Native Americans’ first encounter with Christopher Columbus and the European explorers, a situation that “didn’t turn out so well” for the former civilization. Hawking went on to note that advanced alien life could be “vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

    While that does sound like it could be a possibility, not everyone agrees with Hawking. In fact, many have equally convincing arguments in support of contact with aliens.

    Nothing to Lose

    To some, the question is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we want to meet other intelligent lifeforms? That’s the thought shared by the people at the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute.

    SETI Institute

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

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab

    [Not a part of the SETI Institute.]

    In fact, SETI is now far more proactive in its search for alien life than ever before.

    Initially, the organization focused on passively looking for signals indicating signs of intelligent life, but now it is taking action in the form of METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence).

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

    METI International sends greetings to specific locations in space in the hopes of alerting alien astronomers of our existence.

    Though Hawking and others worry that our interstellar friendship search will lead to the annihilation or subjugation of our species as a whole, Douglas Vakoch, the president of METI International and a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies, strongly disagrees with this assertion. He believes that claims that we should hide our existence as a species are unfounded. After all, we have already leaked nearly 100 years of transmissions from radio and television broadcasts as electromagnetic radiation.

    Vakoch goes on to note an inconsistency in Hawking’s reasoning. He asserts that any civilizations able to travel between stars will absolutely have the ability to pick up our “leaked” signals. By that logic, they must already be aware of our existence and are simply waiting for us to make the first move. Vakoch urges us to test the Zoo Hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox through standard peer-review methods, insisting that we target nearby star systems 20 or 30 light-years away with repeat messages to generate a testable hypothesis within a few decades.

    NASA estimates that there are 40 billion habitable planets in our galaxy. While he strongly urges caution in making first contact, even Hawking is curious as to whether any of those planets beyond our solar system host life. To that end, he has launched a $100 million initiative to seek out 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

    If we ever do find extraterrestrial life, either through Hawking’s search, SETI, or any of the number of other projects in the works, we might just want to take a beat before saying “Hello.”

    See the full article here .

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    Futurism covers the breakthrough technologies and scientific discoveries that will shape humanity’s future. Our mission is to empower our readers and drive the development of these transformative technologies towards maximizing human potential.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:13 am on October 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , , , ,   

    From New Scientist: “We still haven’t heard from aliens – here’s why we might never” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    26 April 2017 [Where did this come from? Just found in social media.]
    Leah Crane

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

    THE most ambitious search so far for extraterrestrial intelligence has released its first data – and there are no aliens yet. The lack of success could be explained by the result of a new approach to calculating the likelihood of detecting alien signals. This calculation suggests we might never make contact, even if extraterrestrial life is common.

    The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been active for decades.

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    SETI Institute

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

    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab

    Breakthrough Listen aims to be the largest, most comprehensive search ever. [Using only three telescopes? There are a lot more available.]

    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

    The $100 million initiative uses three of the world’s most sensitive telescopes to look for alien signals from the 1 million closest stars to Earth and the 100 closest galaxies.

    “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” says Seth Shostak at the SETI Institute in California. “But we don’t know how many needles are there.”

    Breakthrough Listen team members have analysed the light from 692 stars so far. They have found 11 potential alien signals, none of which remained promising after further analysis.

    “It’s the beginning of a very exciting time,” says Avi Loeb at Harvard University. “But while it’s exciting, it’s still very risky. We could find nothing.”

    That’s exactly what an assessment by Claudio Grimaldi at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne predicts.

    Most methods for calculating the likelihood of detecting alien signals start with an expected number of sources. Instead, Grimaldi started with what volume of the galaxy could be reached by alien signals, a value that requires fewer assumptions about the nature and abundance of extraterrestrial life.

    Grimaldi assumed that signals from an extraterrestrial emitter might get weaker or be blocked as they travel, so they would only cover a certain volume of space. It’s relatively simple to calculate the probability that Earth is within that space and so able to detect the signal. “Not all signals can be visible at the same time – only those that intersect with the Earth,” says Grimaldi.

    He found that even if half of our galaxy was full of alien noise, the average number of signals that we would be able to detect from Earth is less than one (Scientific Reports, doi.org/b562).

    This implies that, even if there are lots of aliens out there, we might never be able to hear from them. But some researchers take umbrage: Grimaldi’s method still requires you to plug in numbers for how far alien signals could be detectable and how long they last – neither of which is known.

    “You have to make some assumptions about what the aliens are doing in all these calculations, unfortunately, and the data set that we have with alien activity is fairly sparse,” says Shostak. Our only example of intelligent life is on Earth, and there’s little reason to expect that ET resembles us.

    But, says Loeb, extraterrestrial signals should be no harder to find than other astronomical events.

    “The question of whether you can detect a signal has nothing to do with whether it’s artificial or natural, and astronomers routinely detect lots of kinds of signals,” he says.

    “In SETI, theory is great, but observation is the gold standard,” says Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, which aims to send messages to extraterrestrial intelligence.

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

    It’s not difficult to think up a different signal that we would be able to detect, he says.

    For example, if there were alien life at the TRAPPIST-1 planets, just 40 light years away, they wouldn’t need particularly advanced technology to contact us.

    A size comparison of the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, lined up in order of increasing distance from their host star. The planetary surfaces are portrayed with an artist’s impression of their potential surface features, including water, ice, and atmospheres. NASA

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

    It seems implausible that we would miss their call.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:40 pm on June 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , Cosmic Modesty’ in a Fecund Universe, , ,   

    From Centauri Dreams: “‘Cosmic Modesty’ in a Fecund Universe” 

    Centauri Dreams

    8

    June 30, 2017
    Paul Gilster

    I came across the work of Chin-Fei Lee (Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan) when I had just read Avi Loeb’s essay Cosmic Modesty. Loeb (Harvard University) is a well known astronomer, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a key player in Breakthrough Starshot.

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

    Breakthrough Starshot

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

    [And, don’t forget Breakthrough Listen

    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

    His ‘cosmic modesty’ implies we should accept the idea that humans are not intrinsically special. Indeed, given that the only planet we know that hosts life has both intelligent and primitive lifeforms on it, we should search widely, and not just around stars like our Sun.

    More on that in a moment, because I want to intertwine Loeb’s thoughts with recent work by Chin-Fei Lee, whose team has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to detect organic molecules in an accretion disk around a young protostar. The star in question is Herbig-Haro (HH) 212, an infant system (about 40,000 years old) in Orion about 1300 light years away. Seen nearly edge-on from our perspective on Earth, the star’s accretion disk is feeding a bipolar jet. This team’s results, to my mind, remind us why cosmic modesty seems like a viable course, while highlighting the magnitude of the question.

    What Lee’s team has found at HH 212 is an atmosphere of complex organic molecules associated with the disk. Methanol (CH3OH) is involved, as is deuterated methanol (CH2DOH), methanethiol (CH3SH), and formamide (NH2CHO), which the researchers see as precursors for producing biomolecules like amino acids and sugars. “They are likely formed on icy grains in the disk and then released into the gas phase because of heating from stellar radiation or some other means, such as shocks,” says co-author Zhi-Yun Li of the University of Virginia.

    1
    Image: Jet, disk, and disk atmosphere in the HH 212 protostellar system. (a) A composite image for the HH 212 jet in different molecules, combining the images from the Very Large Telescope (McCaughrean et al. 2002) and ALMA (Lee et al. 2015).

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    Orange image shows the dusty envelope+disk mapped with ALMA. (b) A zoom-in to the central dusty disk. The asterisk marks the position of the protostar. A size scale of our solar system is shown in the lower right corner for comparison. (c) Atmosphere of the accretion disk detected with ALMA. In the disk atmosphere, green is for deuterated methanol, blue for methanethiol, and red for formamide. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Lee et al.

    Every time I read about finds like this, I think about the apparent ubiquity of life’s materials — here we’re seeing organics at the earliest phases of a stellar system’s evolution. The inescapable conclusion is that the building blocks of living things are available from the outset to be incorporated in the planets that emerge from the disk. That certainly doesn’t count as a detection of life, but it does remind us of how frequently the ingredients of life manage to appear.

    In that context, Avi Loeb’s thoughts on cosmic modesty ring true. We’ve been able to extract some statistical conclusions from the Kepler instrument’s deep stare that let us infer there are more Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of their stars in the observable universe than there are grains of sand on all the Earth’s beaches. Something to think about as you read this on your beach vacation and gaze from the sand beneath your feet to the ocean beyond.

    But are most living planets likely to occur around G-class stars like our Sun? Loeb reminds us that red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1, both of which made headlines in the past year because of their conceivably habitable planets, are long-lived, with lifetimes as long as 10 trillion years. Our Sun’s life, by comparison, is a paltry 10 billion years. Long after the Sun has turned into a white dwarf after its red giant phase, living things could still have a habitat around Proxima Centauri and TRAPPIST-1. Says Loeb:

    “I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, because its value will likely go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: “Is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the sun?” By surveying the habitability of the universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the big bang to the death of the last stars in 10 trillion years, one reaches the conclusion that unless habitability around low-mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri or TRAPPIST-1 trillions of years from now.”

    ESO Pale Red Dot project

    ESO Red Dots Campaign

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

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

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    But of course, one of the reasons for missions like TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite),

    NASA/TESS

    is to begin to understand the small rocky worlds around nearby red dwarfs, and to determine whether there are factors like tidal lock or stellar flaring that preclude life there. For that matter, do the planets around Proxima and TRAPPIST-1 have atmospheres? There too the answer will be forthcoming, assuming the James Webb Space Telescope is deployed successfully and can make the needed assessment of these worlds.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    ” …very advanced civilizations [Loeb continues] could potentially be detectable out to the edge of the observable universe through their most powerful beacons. The evidence for an alien civilization might not be in the traditional form of radio communication signals. Rather, it could involve detecting artifacts on planets via the spectral edge from solar cells, industrial pollution of atmospheres, artificial lights or bursts of radiation from artificial beams sweeping across the sky.”

    Changes to the traditional view of SETI abound as we explore these new pathways. In any case, our technologies for making such detections have never been as advanced, and work across the exoplanetary spectrum, such as the findings of Chin-Fei Lee and colleagues, urges us on as we try to relate our own civilization to a universe in which it is hardly the center. As Loeb reminds us, we are orbiting a galaxy that itself moves at ~0.001c relative to the cosmic rest frame, one of perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

    Either alternative — we are alone, or we are not — changes everything about our perspective, and encourages us to deepen the search for simple life (perhaps detected in exoplanetary atmospheres through its biosignatures) as well as conceivable alien civilizations. Embracing Loeb’s cosmic modesty, we press on under the assumption that life’s emergence is not uncommon, and that refining the search to learn the answer is a civilizational imperative.

    See the full article here .

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    Tracking Research into Deep Space Exploration

    Alpha Centauri and other nearby stars seem impossible destinations not just for manned missions but even for robotic probes like Cassini or Galileo. Nonetheless, serious work on propulsion, communications, long-life electronics and spacecraft autonomy continues at NASA, ESA and many other venues, some in academia, some in private industry. The goal of reaching the stars is a distant one and the work remains low-key, but fascinating ideas continue to emerge. This site will track current research. I’ll also throw in the occasional musing about the literary and cultural implications of interstellar flight. Ultimately, the challenge may be as much philosophical as technological: to reassert the value of the long haul in a time of jittery short-term thinking.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:15 pm on June 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , , The Case for Cosmic Modesty,   

    From SA: “The Case for Cosmic Modesty” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    June 28, 2017
    Abraham Loeb

    1
    The Parkes radio telescope in Australia has been used to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Credit: Ian Sutton Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

    “There are many reasons to be modest,” my mother used to say when I was a kid. But after three decades as an astronomer, I can add one more reason: the richness of the universe around us.

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    Prior to the development of modern astronomy, humans tended to think the physical world centered on us. The sun and the stars were thought to revolve around Earth. Although naive in retrospect, this is a natural starting point. When my daughters were infants, they tended to think the world centered on them. Their development portrayed an accelerated miniature of human history. As they grew up, they matured and acquired a more balanced perspective.

    Similarly, observing the sky makes us aware of the big picture and teaches us modesty. We now know we are not at the center of the physical universe, because Earth orbits the sun, which circles around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself drifts with a peculiar velocity of ~0.001c (c is the speed of light) relative to the cosmic rest frame.

    Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt

    Many people, however, still believe we might be at the center of the biological universe; namely, that life is rare or unique to Earth. In contrast, my working hypothesis, drawn from the above example of the physical universe, is that we are not special in general, not only in terms of our physical coordinates but also as a form of life. Adopting this perspective implies we are not alone. There should be life out there in both primitive and intelligent forms. This conclusion, implied by the principle of “cosmic modesty,” has implications. If life is likely to exist elsewhere, we should search for it in all of its possible forms.

    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

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

    Breakthrough Starshot

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

    Our civilization has reached an important milestone. We now have access to unprecedented technologies in our search for extraterrestrial life, be it primitive or intelligent. The search for primitive life is currently underway and well funded, but the search for intelligence is out of the mainstream of federal funding agencies. This should not be the case given that the only planet known to host life, Earth, shows both primitive and intelligent life forms of it.

    Our first radio signals have leaked by now out to a distance of more than 100 light-years and we might soon hear back a response. Rather than being guided by Fermi’s paradox: “Where is everybody?” or by philosophical arguments about the rarity of intelligence, we should invest funds in building better observatories and searching for a wide variety of artificial signals in the sky. Civilizations at our technological level might produce mostly weak signals. For example, a nuclear war on the nearest planet outside the solar system would not be visible even with our largest telescopes.

    But very advanced civilizations could potentially be detectable out to the edge of the observable universe through their most powerful beacons. The evidence for an alien civilization might not be in the traditional form of radio communication signals. Rather, it could involve detecting artifacts on planets via the spectral edge from solar cells, industrial pollution of atmospheres, artificial lights or bursts of radiation from artificial beams sweeping across the sky.

    Finding the answer to the important question: “Are we alone?” will change our perspective on our place in the universe and will open new interdisciplinary fields of research, such as astrolinguistics (how to communicate with aliens), astropolitics (how to negotiate with them for information), astrosociology (how to interpret their collective behavior), astroeconomics (how to trade space-based resources) and so on. We could shortcut our own progress by learning from civilizations that benefited from a head start of billions of years.

    There is no doubt that noticing the big picture taught my young daughters modesty. Similarly, the Kepler space telescope survey of nearby stars allowed astronomers to infer there are probably more habitable Earth-mass planets in the observable volume of the universe than there are grains of sand on all beaches on Earth. Emperors or kings who boasted after conquering a piece of land on Earth resemble an ant that hugs with great pride a single grain of sand on the landscape of a huge beach.

    Just over the past year, astronomers discovered a potentially habitable planet, Proxima b, around the nearest star, Proxima Centauri as well as three potentially habitable planets out of seven around another nearby star TRAPPIST-1.

    ESO Pale Red Dot project

    ESO Red Dots Campaign

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

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

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    (And if life formed on one of the three, it was likely transferred to the others.) These dwarf stars, whose masses are 12 percent and 8 percent the sun’s mass, respectively, will live for up to 10 trillion years, about a thousand times longer than the sun. Hence, they provide excellent prospects for life in the distant future, long after the sun will die and turn into a cool white dwarf.

    I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, because its value will likely go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: “Is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the sun?” By surveying the habitability of the universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the big bang to the death of the last stars in 10 trillion years, one reaches the conclusion that unless habitability around low-mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri or TRAPPIST-1 trillions of years from now.

    The chemistry of “life as we know it” requires liquid water, but being at the right distance from the host star for achieving a comfortable temperature on the planet’s surface is not a sufficient condition for life. The planet also needs to have an atmosphere. In the absence of an external atmospheric pressure, warming by starlight would transform water ice directly into gas rather than a liquid phase.

    The warning sign can be found next door: Mars has a tenth of Earth’s mass and lost its atmosphere. Does Proxima b have an atmosphere? If so, the atmosphere and any surface ocean it sustains will moderate the temperature contrast between its permanent day and night sides. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in October 2018, will be able to distinguish between the temperature contrast expected if Proxima b is bare rock compared with the case where its climate is moderated by an atmosphere, possibly along with an ocean.

    A cosmic perspective about our origins would also contribute to a balanced worldview. The heavy elements that assembled to make Earth were produced in the heart of a nearby massive star that exploded. A speck of this material takes form as our body during our life but then goes back to Earth (with one exception, namely the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, which were put on the New Horizons spacecraft and are making their way back to space).

    What are we then, if not just a transient shape that a speck of material takes for a brief moment in cosmic history on the surface of one planet out of so many? Despite all of this, life is still the most precious phenomenon we treasure on Earth. It would be amazing if we find evidence for “life as we know it” on the surface of another planet, and even more remarkable if our telescopes will trace evidence for an advanced technology on an alien spacecraft roaming through interstellar space.

    References, some with links, some without links.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, ApJ 837, L23-L28.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, MNRAS (in the press); preprint available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1702.05500

    Lin, H., Gonzalez, G. A. & Loeb, A., 2014, ApJ 792, L7-L11.

    Loeb, A. & Turner, E. L. 2012, Astrobiology 12, 290-290.

    Guillochon, J. & Loeb, A. ApJ 811, L20-L26.

    Anglada-Escude’, G. et al. 2016, Nature 536, 437-440.

    Gillon, M. et al. 2016, Nature 542, 456-460.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, PNAS (in the press); preprint available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1703.00878

    Loeb, A., Batista, R. A., & Sloan, D. 2016, JCAP 8, 40-52.

    Kreidberg, L. & Loeb, A. 2016, ApJ, 832, L12-L18.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on June 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , ,   

    From Red Dot: “Is there life around the nearest stars? 

    Red Dots

    13th June 2017
    Avi Loeb

    1

    Is there extra-terrestrial life just outside the solar system? The recent discovery of Proxima b [1], a habitable Earth-mass planet next to the nearest star, opened a unique opportunity in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    It is much easier to study nearby habitats for life, either by remote sensing of the feeble radiation signals from biologically-produced molecules (e.g. oxygen) or by sending spacecrafts that will image the planet’s surface or collect samples from its atmosphere through a close encounter. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, announced in April 2016 (and whose advisory committee I chair) aims to send lightweight (gram scale) probes to the nearest stars at a fifth of the speed of light, so as to inform us of nearby life-hosting environments within our generation. To properly select the Starshot targets, we would like to know which nearby stars host habitable planets like Proxima b. The treasure of data expected from the Red Dots campaign will be invaluable for guiding and motivating the Starshot project.

    2
    Artistic’s conception showing the Starshot project concept. A laser beam propels a light sail towards a nearby exoplanet such as Proxima b. The sail carries on its center a lightweight probe with several measuring instruments. Starshot will start soon the first five-year phase of technology demonstration at a funding level of $100M, provided by the entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner (Credit: Breakthrough Starshot).

    The chemistry of life as we know it requires liquid water, but being at the right distance from the host star for a comfortable temperature on the planet’s surface, is not a sufficient condition. The planet also needs to have an atmosphere. In the absence of an external atmospheric pressure, the warming of water ice transforms it into directly into gas phase rather than liquid. The warning sign is just next door: Mars has a tenth of the Earth’s mass and lost its atmosphere. Does Proxima b have an atmosphere? If so, the atmosphere and any surface ocean it sustains, will moderate the temperature contrast between its permanent day and night sides. In collaboration with Laura Kreidberg, we showed [2] that the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in October 2018, will be able to distinguish between the temperature contrast expected if Proxima b is bare rock compared to the case where its climate is moderated by an atmosphere.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star with 12% of the mass of the Sun. Another dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, with 8% of the solar mass, was discovered recently [3],[4] to host 3 habitable planets out of a total of 7 and if life forms in one of the three it will likely spread to the others [5].

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

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Such dwarf stars have a lifetime that is up to a thousand times longer than the Sun. Hence, they provide excellent prospects for life in the distant future, a trillion years from now, long after the Sun will die and turn into an Earth-size cold remnant, known as a white dwarf. I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, since its value is likely to go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the Sun? By studying the habitability of the Universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the Big Bang to the death of the last stars in ten trillion years, I concluded [6],[7] that unless habitability around low mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near dwarf stars like Proxima or TRAPPIST-1 ten trillion years from now. This highlights the importance of searching for life around these nearby red dwarf stars, namely the Red Dots campaign. Finding bio-signatures in the atmospheres of transiting Earth-mass planets around such stars will determine whether present-day life is indeed premature or typical from a cosmic perspective.

    References [no links provided]:

    Anglada-Escudé G. et al. “A Terrestrial Candidate in a Temperate Orbit Around Proxima Centauri”, Nature, 536, 437 (2016).
    Kreidberg, L. & Loeb, A. “Prospects for Characterising the Atmosphere of Proxima b”, ApJ, 832, L12 (2016).
    Gillon, M. et al. “Temperate Earth-Sized Planets Transiting a Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star”, Nature, 533, 221 (2016).
    Gillon, M, et al. “Seven temperate terretrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1”, Nature, 542, 456–460
    Lingam, M., & Loeb, A. “Enhanced Interplanetary Panspermia in the TRAPPIST-1 System”, PNAS, in press (2017); arXiv: 1703.00878.
    Loeb, A., Batista, R. A., & Sloan, D. “Relative Likelihood for Life as a Function of Cosmic Time”, JCAP, 8, 40 (2016). “
    Loeb, A. “On the Habitability of Our Universe”, chapter for the book “Consolidation of Fine Tuning”, edited by R. Davies, J. Silk and D. Sloan (Oxford University, 2017); arXiv:1606.0892

    See the full article here .

    It seems to me that the author should have made mention of the Breakthrough Listen Project, a modest initiative using ground based telescopic assets.

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



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    and

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

    Not to mention also missing

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative Observatories

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Red dots is a project to attempt detection of the nearest terrestrial planets to the Sun. Terrestrial planets in temperate orbits around nearby red dwarf stars can be more easily detected using Doppler spectroscopy, hence the name of the project.

     
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