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  • richardmitnick 10:45 am on May 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Researchers Just Tested a Prototype Probe Designed to 'Sail' Between The Stars", Breakthrough Starshot initiative, Directed-energy light sail and a wafer-scale spacecraft (WSS), , , UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group (ECG)   

    From UC Santa Barbara via Science Alert: “Researchers Just Tested a Prototype Probe Designed to ‘Sail’ Between The Stars” 

    UC Santa Barbara Name bloc
    From UC Santa Barbara

    via

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    13 MAY 2019
    MATT WILLIAMS

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    UCSB

    At the University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers with the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group (ECG) are currently working on ways to achieve the dream of interstellar flight.

    Under the leadership of Philip Lubin, the group has dedicated a considerable amount of effort towards the creation of an interstellar mission consisting of directed-energy light sail and a wafer-scale spacecraft (WSS) “wafercraft“.

    If all goes well, this spacecraft will be able to reach relativistic speeds (a portion of the speed of light) and make it to the nearest star system (Proxima Centauri) within our lifetimes.

    Recently, the ECG achieved a major milestone by successfully testing a prototype version of their wafercraft (aka. the “StarChip”). This consisted of sending the prototype via balloon into the stratosphere to test its functionality and performance.

    The launch was conducted in collaboration with the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on April 12, 2019. This date was selected to coincide with the 58th anniversary of Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s orbital space flight, making him the first human to go to space.

    The test consisted of launching the prototype aboard a balloon to an altitude of 32,000 metres (105,000 feet) above Pennsylvania.

    As Lubin explained in an interview with UCSB’s The Current:

    “It’s part of a process of building for the future, and along the way you test each part of the system to refine it. It’s part of a long-term program to develop miniature spacecraft for interplanetary and eventually for interstellar flight.”

    The idea behind the StarChip is simple. By taking advantage of advancements in miniaturization, all the necessary components of an exploratory mission could be mounted on a spacecraft the size of a human hand.

    The sail component builds on the concept of a solar sail and developments made with lightweight materials; and together, they add up to a spacecraft that could be accelerated up to 20 percent the speed of light.

    For the sake of this flight, the science team that created it put the StarChip through a series of tests designed to gauge its performance in space and ability to explore other worlds.

    Aside from seeing how it faired in Earth’s stratosphere (three times higher than the operational ceiling of airplanes), the prototype collected more than 4000 images of the Earth.

    As Nic Rupert, a development engineer in Lubin’s lab, explained:

    “It was designed to have many of the functions of much larger spacecraft, such as imaging, data transmission, including laser communications, attitude determination and magnetic field sensing. Due to the rapid advancements in microelectronics we can shrink a spacecraft into a much smaller format than has been done before for specialized applications such as ours.”

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    Prototype StarChip tested by the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group. (UCSB)

    While the StarChip performed flawlessly on this flight, there are some massive technical hurdles ahead.

    Considering the distances involved – 4.24 light years (40 trillion kilometres; 25 trillion miles) – and the fact that the spacecraft will need to reach a fraction of the speed of light, the technological requirements are daunting.

    As Lubin said:

    “Ordinary chemical propulsion, such as that which took us to the Moon nearly 50 years ago to the day, would take nearly one hundred thousand years to get to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. And even advanced propulsion such as ion engines would take many thousands of years. There is only one known technology that is able to reach the nearby stars within a human lifetime and that is using light itself as the propulsion system.”

    One of the greatest challenges at this point is building an Earth-based laser array that would be capable of accelerated the laser sail.

    “If you have a large enough laser array, you can actually push the wafers with a laser sail to get to our goal of 20 percent of the speed of light,” added Rupert. “Then you’d be at Alpha Centauri in something like 20 years.”

    Since 2009, the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group has been researching and developing this concept as part of a NASA Advanced Concepts program called Starlight.

    Since 2016, they have received considerable support from Breakthrough Initiatives (the non-profit space exploration program created by Yuri Milner) as part of Breakthrough Starshot.

    Solar sail. Breakthrough Starshot image. Credit: Breakthrough Starshot

    Rather than creating a single spacecraft, the team hopes that their research will lead to the creation of hundreds and even thousands of waferscale craft that could visit exoplanets in nearby star systems.

    These spacecraft would do away with the need for propellant and would be able to make the journey within a few decades rather than centuries or millennia.

    In this respect, these spacecraft would be able to reveal whether or not life exists beyond Earth in our lifetimes. Another interesting aspect of the UCSB project involves sending life from Earth to other exoplanets.

    Specifically, tardigrades and the nematode C. elegans, two species that have been shown to be highly resistant to radiation, capable of handling the conditions of space, and capable of being cryogenically frozen and revived.

    This aspect of their plan is not unlike the proposal made by Claudius Gros of Goethe University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics.

    Appropriately named “Project Genesis,” the proposal calls for spacecraft propelled by directed energy to travel to other star systems and seed any “transiently habitable” exoplanets that are there.

    In short, life would be given a jumpstart on planets that are habitable but not inhabited.

    As David McCarthy, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCSB, explained, getting to the point where all is possible is a very iterative process.

    “The point of building these things is to know what we want to include in the next version, in the next chip,” he said. “You start with off-the-shelf components because you can iterate quickly and inexpensively.”

    With this high-altitude test complete, the UCSB group is aiming for a suborbital first flight next year. Meanwhile, advances in silicon optics and integrated wafer-scale photonics – thanks in part to research being conducted by UCSB’s electrical and computer engineering department – are reducing the cost of mass-producing these tiny spacecraft.

    In addition to interstellar travel, this technology could facilitate rapid, low-cost missions to Mars and other locations in the Solar System.

    Lubin and his fellow researchers have also spent years exploring applications for planetary defense against comets, mitigating space debris, boosting Earth-orbiting satellites, or remotely powering distant Solar System outposts.

    When it comes to directed energy, the possibilities really are staggering.

    See the full article here .


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    UC Santa Barbara Seal
    The University of California, Santa Barbara (commonly referred to as UC Santa Barbara or UCSB) is a public research university and one of the 10 general campuses of the University of California system. Founded in 1891 as an independent teachers’ college, UCSB joined the University of California system in 1944 and is the third-oldest general-education campus in the system. The university is a comprehensive doctoral university and is organized into five colleges offering 87 undergraduate degrees and 55 graduate degrees. In 2012, UCSB was ranked 41st among “National Universities” and 10th among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. UCSB houses twelve national research centers, including the renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on November 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Starshot initiative, , , NIROSETI-Near-Infrared Optical SETI instrument at Lick on The Nickel Telescope   

    From Centauri Dreams: “SETI in the Infrared” 

    From Centauri Dreams

    November 6, 2018
    Paul Gilster

    One of the problems with optical SETI is interstellar extinction, the absorption and scattering of electromagnetic radiation. Extinction can play havoc with astronomical observations coping with gas and dust between the stars. The NIROSETI project (Near-Infrared Optical SETI) run by Shelley Wright (UC-San Diego) and team is a way around this problem. The NIROSETI instrument works at near-infrared wavelengths (1000 – 3500 nm), where extinction is far less of a problem. Consider infrared a ‘window’ through dust that would otherwise obscure the view, an advantage of particular interest for studies in the galactic plane.

    NIROSETI team from left to right Rem Stone UCO Lick Observatory Dan Werthimer UC Berkeley Jérôme Maire U Toronto, Shelley Wright UCSD Patrick Dorval U Toronto Richard Treffers Richard Treffers Starman Systems. (Image by Laurie Hatch)

    Would an extraterrestrial civilization hoping to communicate with us choose infrared as the wavelength of choice? We can’t know, but considering its advantages, NIROSETI’s instrument, mounted on the Nickel 1-m telescope at Lick Observatory, is helping us gain coverage in this otherwise neglected (for SETI purposes) band.

    UC Santa Cruz Shelley Wright at the 1-meter Nickel Telescope NIROSETI


    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).jpg

    I had the chance to talk to Dr. Wright at one of the Breakthrough Discuss meetings in Palo Alto, where she made a fine presentation on the subject. Since then my curiosity about infrared SETI has remained high.

    Meanwhile, at MIT…

    Then this morning I came across graduate student James Clark, who has just published a paper on interstellar beacons in the infrared in The Astrophysical Journal. Working at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Clark is not affiliated with NIROSETI. He’s wondering what it would take to punch a signal through to another star, and concludes that a large infrared laser and a telescope through which to focus it would be the tools of choice.

    The goal: An infrared signal at least 10 times greater than the Sun’s natural infrared emissions, one that would stand out in any routine astronomical observation of our star and demand further study. Clark believes that a 2-megawatt laser working in conjunction with a 30-meter telescope would produce a signal easily detectable at Proxima Centauri b, while a 1-megawatt laser working through a 45-meter telescope would produce a clear signal at TRAPPIST-1.

    But nearby stars are just the beginning, for in Clark’s view, either of these setups would produce a signal that could be detected up to 20,000 light years away, almost to galactic center. All of this may remind you of Philip Lubin’s work, recently described here, on laser propulsion. Depending on the system in play, one of Lubin’s DE-STAR 4 beams would be observed as the brightest star in the sky from 1000 light years away (see Trillion Planet Survey Targets M-31 for more on this). The NIROSETI website makes the same observation about laser visibility:

    “The most powerful laser beams ever created (e.g. LFEX) can produce optical pulses with 2 petawatts (2.1015W) peak power for an incredibly short duration, approximately one picosecond. Such lasers would outshine our sun by several order of magnitudes if seen by a distant receiver. It can be shown that strong pulsed signals at nanosecond (or faster) intervals can be distinguishable from any known astrophysical sources.”

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    An MIT study proposes that laser technology on Earth could emit a beacon strong enough to attract attention from as far as 20,000 light years away. Credit: MIT.

    The kind of system Clarke is talking about is not beyond our capabilities even now:

    “This would be a challenging project but not an impossible one,” Clark says. “The kinds of lasers and telescopes that are being built today can produce a detectable signal, so that an astronomer could take one look at our star and immediately see something unusual about its spectrum. I don’t know if intelligent creatures around the sun would be their first guess, but it would certainly attract further attention.”

    In terms of current capabilities, we can think about Clark’s 30-meter telescope in relation to plans for telescopes as huge as the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope, now under construction in Chile, or the likewise emerging 24-meter Giant Magellan Telescope.

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    Giant Magellan Telescope, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    How and where to build such a laser is the same sort of issue now being analyzed by Breakthrough Starshot, which conceptualizes a series of small lightsail missions to nearby stars using laser beaming.

    Breakthrough Starshot image. Credit: Breakthrough Starshot

    Caveats include safety issues for both humans and spacecraft equipment. Clark suggests the far side of the Moon would be the ideal place for such an installation.

    With METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) continuing to be controversial, to say the least, whether or not we would ever choose to build an infrared laser as an interstellar beacon is up for question.

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

    But Clark’s analysis takes in the question of whether today’s technologies could detect such a signal if a civilization elsewhere put it into play and tried to communicate with us. As we’ve seen in other discussions of interstellar beacons, detection is highly problematic.

    “With current survey methods and instruments, it is unlikely that we would actually be lucky enough to image a beacon flash, assuming that extraterrestrials exist and are making them,” Clark says. “However, as the infrared spectra of exoplanets are studied for traces of gases that indicate the viability of life, and as full-sky surveys attain greater coverage and become more rapid, we can be more certain that, if E.T. is phoning, we will detect it.”

    We don’t know whether E.T. does astronomical surveys, but we know we do, and we are rapidly moving toward the study of small, rocky exoplanets through the spectra of their atmospheres. Thus Clark’s paper could be seen as a reminder to astronomers that an unusual signal could lurk within their infrared data, one that we should at least be aware of and prepared to analyze. A conversation between nearby stars at a data rate of a few hundred bits per second could eventually result.

    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 7:48 pm on September 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breakthrough Starshot initiative, , Yuri and Julia Milner   

    From UCSC Lick via Hong Kong Tatler: “Meet The Milners: Written In The Stars” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    From UC Santa Cruz

    via

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    Hong Kong Tatlar

    1

    September 15, 2018
    Sean Fitzpatrick

    There were too many uncanny signs in the life of billionaire philanthropist Yuri Milner for him to ignore a childhood calling. We travel to Silicon Valley to meet him and his wife, Julia, and find out about their quest to solve the question: Are we alone?

    There could have been a giant pyramid in California. In the late 1800s, James Lick, a property tycoon who had become California’s richest person, wanted to leave a legacy and took inspiration from Egypt’s pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza have long sparked the collective imagination, with some experts positing that they were built as afterlife launchpads, designed to send the soul of departed rulers shooting up into the stars.

    And, like a modern-day pharaoh, Lick wanted to be buried inside his creation, perhaps harbouring a hope that his soul would be sent on an eternal voyage through the cosmos. However, Lick was talked out of it by an astronomer friend who suggested that a more philanthropic legacy would be to fund the establishment of a world-class observatory.

    Perched atop San Jose’s Mount Hamilton, the Lick Observatory was officially opened in 1887 and housed what was at the time the world’s largest refracting telescope [see below]. But by then its benefactor had passed away; at the base of the telescope mounting—a thick metal column visible in the images on the previous two spreads—hangs a plaque that reads, “Here lies the body of James Lick.”

    UCSC Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft)

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    The couple in the image above are Yuri and Julia Milner, the modern-day philanthropists who are funding one of the projects at the Lick Observatory. Together they form a striking pair, looking as if they have walked out of the latest X-Men movie, he the gifted mastermind and she the lithe heroine with otherworldly powers.

    The Milners are well known in global tech circles; Yuri’s early investments in Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Spotify, Alibaba and JD, as well as his pioneering role in Russia’s nascent tech industry in the ’90s, have earned him a US$4 billion fortune and a place on numerous published lists of the world’s top tech titans. Through the company he founded, DST Global, Yuri has more recently invested in Meituan and Didi.

    But it is for their philanthropic projects that the Milners are perhaps best known. As founders of the Breakthrough Prize, the couple are committed to supporting science with awards and by raising its profile among the influential as well as the general public.

    Julia and Yuri, a former physicist, have pulled together a formidable network of supporters through regular gatherings at their sprawling Los Altos mansion, private screenings of science-themed movies and, surprisingly, through games of their favoured sport, badminton, which is apparently de rigueur in Silicon Valley circles. The couple take the sport so seriously that they receive training from a Chinese coach who worked with the US Olympic team.

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    The Breakthrough Prize is co-funded by a who’s who of Silicon Valley: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan of Facebook, Google’s Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki, the founder of genome-testing company 23andMe. The most recent addition is Tencent co-founder Pony Ma.

    With this calibre of patronage one would expect sizeable financial incentives and indeed there are: the Breakthrough Prize awards six prizes each year to outstanding scientists—four for work in the life sciences, one for physics and one for mathematics. Each award comes with a cash payment of US$3 million, nearly three times that of a Nobel Prize.

    Since 2012, the prizes have been handed out at a lavish event held in Hangar One, the iconic mid-century modern structure in Silicon Valley, which is televised live around the world. Hollywood stars, wrangled by Julia, and tech entrepreneurs, wrangled by Yuri, share the stage with boffins in what is often called the Oscars of science.

    Says Julia, “Who are today’s superstars? Hollywood actors, athletes, Instagram bloggers. Scientists are completely unknown to most people. We wanted—to put it very literally—to make them celebrities too, and in this way popularise science.”

    “If celebrity is the measure of our priorities as a civilisation, then we need science to be more represented because science should be one of the main priorities, if not the priority,” adds Yuri. “And celebrities are now the ones talking to hundreds of millions of people. If we don’t have scientists represented, then their message will get lost. And if their message is lost, there’ll be no public support for science.”

    But the Milners’ efforts to raise awareness are working. In 2015, the foundation created the Breakthrough Junior Challenge for teenagers with the winner receiving a US$250,000 university scholarship, US$50,000 for the teacher who inspired them and a US$100,000 upgrade for their school’s science lab.

    The inaugural recipient, a Cleveland-based 18-year-old named Ryan Chester, was honoured by his hometown in an unexpected way: “The mayor issued a decree for a day of the year to be named after Ryan, to celebrate science. That’s the type of thing we’re looking for. The word spreads,” explains Yuri. “We would like the next generation, the young people to watch this ceremony. And now we are thinking of branching out with a dedicated prize for high-school kids in China.”

    Aside from the Breakthrough Prize, the Milners’ foundation also supports Breakthrough Initiatives, highly ambitious projects designed to help find the answer to what they believe is the most profound question of our time: Are we alone in the universe? It is a question that has fascinated Yuri since childhood.

    Born in Moscow in 1961 to Jewish intellectuals, Yuri—who was named after Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who that same year became the first man in space—reaped the benefit of a well-stocked home library from a young age, “even before I went to school.” His favourite book and the one that inspired his lifelong fascination was Universe, Life, Intelligence, a seminal text by a Soviet astronomer, Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky. (The book also caught the attention of US astronomer Carl Sagan, who published an English-language edition; Sagan later gained global fame with the TV show Cosmos.)

    Carl Sagan NASA/JPL

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    Yuri’s passion led him to study theoretical physics at Moscow State University and then work as a physicist alongside Nobel Prize winners. Despite his passion, Yuri felt his contributions to the field were limited and he decided to change tack. In 1990, he took an MBA course at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, becoming the first non-emigre from the Soviet Union to do so. By the time the decade (and millennium) came to close, Yuri had shifted his focus completely onto the internet.

    It was during this period that he found himself at a Moscow gym, standing on a treadmill next to a tall, striking model by the name of Julia Bochkova from Siberia’s capital, Novosibirsk. The two clicked immediately, perhaps in part because she was undergoing a career change of her own.

    Since the age of 14, when she was scouted by an agency, Julia had travelled extensively, dividing her time between the world’s fashion centres, New York, Paris and Tokyo. “Then at about 20 years old I decided to stop my modelling career. Since I had made some money, I could leave and plan what to do next. So I lived in Moscow, where Yuri advised me to study photography,” she says.

    The advice proved to be sound: Julia’s successful studies and apprenticeships under notable artists culminated in her own exhibitions around the world and, in 2007, Julia was invited to participate in the prestigious Venice Biennale, where she was the youngest artist.

    For the show, Julia created an unusual work, one of the first “internet art” installations, Click I Hope, which displays “I hope” in 50 languages on a giant touch screen as well as the internet. As the words glide across the screen, viewers are encouraged to touch the ones in their own language, triggering a live tallied score.

    Although conceived before the Milners’ foundation, the work somehow pre-empts the sense of relentless hopefulness that imbues the Breakthrough Initiatives and the vastness of the search for life in the cosmos.

    For a couple whose work is mired so heavily in science’s immutable axioms of rationality and reason, a series of uncanny coincidences has occurred. When the couple relocated from Tel Aviv to Silicon Valley with their children in 2011, they bought a US$100 million mansion on a hilltop in Los Altos.

    The mansion boasts state-of-the-art technology, including a video-screen ceiling (which typically displays dramatic scenes of supernovas) as well as giant TVs in every room showing Nat Geo or Discovery, the preferred channels of the notoriously sleep-averse Yuri.

    But unbeknown to the couple at the time of purchase, the house played a historic role in the establishment of Seti, the organisation that takes its name from the acronym for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. A previous owner, who was a chief engineer at Hewlett-Packard, willed the house to Seti after his death in order to fund its mission.

    And, in another twist, Seti convened its very first meeting in 1961, which Yuri is quick to point out is the year of his birth.


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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    According to him, there’s never been a better time to engage in the search for alien life. Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft observatory, launched in 2009, has shown the world that there are many more planets than previously thought. “It turns out that there are many of them and almost every star-like sun has a planet like Earth, basically. It means that there are dozens of billions of planets like Earth in our galaxy alone. There are a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, so you multiply that hundred billion by dozens of billions and you get a very big number of possibilities. A few years ago, we didn’t know that. So now we know,” he says, with a nonchalance that belies the mind-boggling scale of his concept.

    The Milners’ Breakthrough Listen project is designed to harness the world’s best telescopes—from California’s Lick Observatory to the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and Australia’s Parkes Observatory—to look for signs of civilisation on one of those many, many billions of planets.

    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 facilities’ operators, mostly academic institutions, were only too happy to accept the foundation’s much-needed funding in return for usage time, especially since “in the last few years there’s been a dramatic improvement in our understanding of the odds and probabilities of [alien life] existing. So that’s why it’s harder and harder to believe that we’re alone. It’s not impossible but it’s less likely than it was a few years ago.”

    One criticism levelled at those searching for alien life stems from what is known as the Fermi paradox: if alien civilisation is so inevitable, then why haven’t we met them yet? Some have countered this with the suggestion that advanced civilisations can often cause their own destruction, a notion not inconceivable given our own relatively recent threats of thermonuclear conflict. With the current political climate charged by global tensions, how do the Milners see themselves?

    “We think about ourselves as the product of globalisation,” says Yuri. “We were born in Russia. I was born into a Jewish family and Julia was born into a Christian family. Julia had her modelling career in Europe and Japan. I studied at Wharton. Our kids were born in Israel and the US. We live in Silicon Valley. We spend time in Asia. So it’s hard for us now to really establish a key affiliation. We see one global civilisation. When you look at our projects, they all assume that our planet is one: we’re looking for [alien] civilisations. And if we establish communication, I don’t think we will be telling them about our different countries. We are not going to be talking about elections. We will be talking about what makes us human. In a thousand years we will be one world. And, by the way, a thousand years is a very short period of time in the 14-billion-year history of our universe.”

    The most astonishing manifestation of Yuri’s cosmic dream falls under Breakthrough Starshot, a US$100 million project so awe-inspiring that it dwarfs the unfettered ambition of James Lick’s giant Californian pyramid by several orders of magnitude.

    Breakthrough Starshot will research the possibility of manufacturing thousands of nano-spaceships resembling microchips. These could be blasted out into space towards Alpha Centauri, the star system closest to our solar system that could potentially harbour life on its planets.

    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

    As the chips hurtle past the celestial bodies at one-fifth the speed of light, they will capture information on their sensors and beam it back to Earth. The journey there will take about 20 years, and the data will take four years to get back to Earth.

    The hope is that it will include intelligence about alien worlds. The laser technology required to blast the chips is still being developed but the clock is ticking; the Milners hope to receive the information about Alpha Centauri within the lifetime of a generation.

    Like James Lick, they may never see the completion of their mission but, as Yuri explains, that is immaterial: “This laser beam will not only send probes to Alpha Centauri, it will continue. The most incredible revelation we realised through calculations is that this beam of light will be the first artefact of our civilisation that can cut across the whole universe. In other words, if there is another galaxy 10 billion light years away, in 10 billion years they will receive it and know that our civilisation existed—even if we don’t exist anymore. It will be something that we will leave behind and will never be erased. If we encode all of our knowledge in this powerful beam of light, it could be our civilisation’s ultimate legacy in the universe.”

    Credits
    Photography: Austin Hargrave | Styling: Tara Nichols | Hair and Make-up: Lisa Strutz | Producer: Joe Daley | Location: Lick Observatory, California

    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
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    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.

    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:29 am on January 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Starshot initiative, , , How Shooting For Alpha Centauri Will Change The World   

    From Ethan Siegel: “How Shooting For Alpha Centauri Will Change The World” 

    Ethan Siegel
    Jan 5, 2018

    Aiming for the nearest star would necessitate a whole slew of advances. Even if the mission fails, humanity wins by investing in itself.

    1
    The stars Alpha Centauri (upper left) including A and B, are part of the same trinary star system as Proxima Centauri (circled). Beta Centauri, the other bright star in this photo, is much larger and farther away. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Skatebiker.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    There have been some magnificent moments in NASA history, as well as some goals we’ve aspired to but haven’t yet realized. We’ve sent humans to the Moon, installing devices there and retrieving samples for the return home. We’ve sent probes to every planet in the Solar System, and to many asteroids, comets, and moons as well. We’ve even launched a few of them out of the Solar System, with more to follow. We’ve learned how to hunt for alien worlds, and our great observatories have helped us photograph and understand the Universe as never before. And our next great step, as a NASA team revealed at this month’s American Geophysical Union meeting, could be to travel to Alpha Centauri: another star. If we go for it, here’s how this project will change the world.

    2
    An artist’s rendition of Proxima Centauri as seen from the “ring” portion of the world, Proxima b. It would be over 3 times the diameter and 10 times the area that our Sun takes up. Alpha Centauri A and B (shown) would be visible during the day. It is completely unknown whether there are any planets around Alpha Centauri A or B at this time. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.

    The biggest advances, both scientifically and as a society, arise from attempting something grand, and striving to turn that into an accomplishment. When we first chose to go to the Moon, we knew we were undertaking an incredibly difficult challenge, one that would require the investment of billions of dollars, the efforts of thousands upon thousands of experts, and the development of both new technologies and new applications of known ones. The result? After eight years of striving towards a common goal, we accomplished what many thought was impossible: we set foot on another world.

    3
    Apollo 11 brought humans onto the surface of the Moon for the first time in 1969. Show here is Buzz Aldrin setting up the Solar Wind experiment as part of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong snapping the photograph. Image credit: NASA / Apollo 11.

    But that was really only the beginning. When you talk to people about spinoff technologies from the Apollo program, they can usually point to teflon and the space pen, but a huge number of everyday technologies that better our lives came as a direct result of that investment. We couldn’t have predicted them in advance, but here is a partial list:

    freeze-dried foods,
    cooling suits (from racecar drivers to medical patients),
    bodily fluid recycling (improving kidney dialysis),
    improved foam insulation (prevents pipelines from freezing),
    fireproof textiles (revolutionized firefighting gear),
    water purification improvements,
    metalized foil insulation (for home heating/cooling efficiency),
    hazardous gas monitoring,
    stadium domes/roofing,
    simulated earthquake and stress-testing improvements,
    solar panels,
    the automatic implantable defibrillator,

    where there are a great many more from Apollo alone.

    4
    The shuttle program and the International Space Station, among many others, also have their own suite of spinoff technologies. Interestingly, it’s been an additive process, as many of the Apollo technologies made the shuttle and the ISS possible. Image credit: NASA.

    Going to the Moon in the 1960s was a tremendous challenge given the level of technology at the time, but it’s nothing compared to going to another star system in the 21st century. Instead of traveling hundreds of thousands of miles, we need to travel approximately 4 light years: about 2,000 times as far as the Voyager 1 spacecraft has traveled. To get there in a human lifetime means we’d need to travel thousands of times faster than we’ve ever sent a spacecraft, at least a few percent the speed of light.

    5
    A logarithmic chart of distances, showing the Voyager spacecraft, our Solar System and our nearest star, for comparison. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

    NASA/Voyager 1


    Voyager 1- The Interstellar Mission gold plated disc

    Currently, there are only a few ideas that could work, with one outclassing the others.

    We could develop antimatter propulsion, but the amount of antimatter required is far more than humanity is currently capable of generating.
    We could perform an electromagnetic launch, where a long railgun-type mechanism accelerates a small object to a great velocity.
    Or, most likely, we could use the laser sail idea, where an array of powerful lasers converges on a highly reflective sail, potentially accelerating it up to 20% the speed of light.

    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

    6
    This artist’s rendition of a laser-driven sail might be the most promising way, given our current technology and the path forward, to send a human-powered device to another star. Image credit: Adrian Mann, via http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/projects/directed-energy-interstellar-precursors [link does not work].

    This last idea is the most promising, especially considering that humanity is already capable of constructing a laser array with sufficient power to send a microchip-sized device attached to an appropriately reflective sail to its destination.

    To construct such a laser array would necessitate a tremendous investment in the building of infrastructure in space. To develop the sails capable of reflecting enough light while withstanding the heat and maintaining their balance will require a tremendous advance in materials science and engineering. To withstand the journey through interstellar space at such high speeds, we’ll need to develop unprecedented shielding/deflection technologies. To slow down to sufficiently low speeds to take data will require a new kind of braking technology, which will likely also be developed in tandem with the laser sail. And to miniaturize the technologies capable of storing, recording, and transmitting information from the Alpha Centauri system back to Earth will likely mean we need to reach (or at least approach) the quantum limit for materials.

    7
    A 1:64 scale model of the JAXAIKAROS spacecraft

    Each of these is a problem where we can envision what the solution will look like, but we cannot yet know what concrete steps will lead to our ultimate success. We can envision many advances that will come about as a result of this investment, but there are many others that will be reaped that we cannot yet plan for. From computation to spaceflight technology to materials development to the civilian application of all that we learn, there’s a remarkable lesson here: focusing on the research and development necessary to make this trip will benefit humanity tremendously, even if the mission to Alpha Centauri ultimately fails.

    8
    The two sun-like stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, are located just 4.37 light years away from us and orbit one another at between the distances of Saturn and Neptune in our own solar system. Even in this Hubble image, however, they are simply oversaturated point sources; no disk can be resolved. Proxima Centauri is approximately 0.2 light years away from the main Alpha Centauri system, and is slightly closer to us at 4.24 light years. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

    If the only thing that comes out of a tremendous investment in this program is the ability to store a single bit of information with a single particle, it will have been worth it. We are so used to thinking of success as an all-or-nothing proposition that we forget that almost everyone we admire, from Colin Powell to Winston Churchill to Oprah to Thomas Edison, failed far more than they succeeded. As Henry Ford put it:

    Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

    9
    The way solid-state storage devices work today is by the presence or absence of charged particles across a substrate/gate, which inhibits or allows the flows of current, thereby encoding a 0 or a 1. In principle, we can encode the same information with a single quantum particle, but the technology is not there yet. Image credit: E. Siegel / Treknology.

    We can expect a great many failures whenever we attempt something great. Shooting for another star is something we’ve never put either our best minds or humanity’s resources towards, and it would be a tremendous endeavor if we did. But the greatest benefits to ourselves won’t come from what we learn upon arrival, but what becomes possible because we did the work to try and get there. If we truly band together and invest in solving a problem like this, the entire human race will be the winners, whether we make it to the next star this century or not.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

     
  • richardmitnick 4:15 pm on June 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breakthrough Starshot 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.

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    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 Starshot 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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