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  • richardmitnick 12:47 pm on March 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A Martian magnetosphere ?, , , , , INVERSE, , Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop   

    From Inverse: “An Artificial Magnetic Shield Could Make Mars Habitable (Again)” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    March 2, 2017
    Rosalie Chan

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    The Martian atmosphere is a decimated shred of what it once was, thanks to the fact that a disappearing magnetic field allowed solar winds to pummel the red planet’s skies over millions of years. So naturally, one solution to making Mars more habitable may be to resurrect its magnetosphere — and it’s a crazy idea NASA scientists are actually looking into.

    At Wednesday’s Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop at the NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green spoke about how this magnetic shield would work.

    “It may be feasible that we can get up to these higher field strengths that are necessary to provide that shielding,” Green said. “We need to be able then to also modify that direction of the magnetic field so that it always pushes the solar wind away.”

    A planet’s magnetic field is a barrier against solar winds that can do serious damage to the atmosphere. A robust atmosphere that keeps a planet warm enough and pressurized enough to sustain liquid surface water will be stripped away by solar winds in a relatively short time. As the atmosphere goes, so does the water — which is precisely what is thought to have happened to Mars a long time ago.

    NASA’s idea involves implementing a magnetic dipole shield consisting to Mars L1, an orbit between Mars and the sun. This shield, which would generate an artificial magnetic field, could reduce solar wind stripping and radiation, as well as restore Mars’s atmosphere, making it more balanced and suitable for humans.

    “Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars,” Green said.

    In addition, this shield could possibly create an environment to melt the water in Mars’s polar caps. However, the team still needs to do further testing.

    About 3.5 billion years ago, Mars had a significant amount of water, and the planet was covered in lakes and running rivers. But after rapid climate change, the planet is now desolate. The planet has extreme temperatures, sometimes reaching as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as pressure waves throughout the day.

    Over its history, Mars lost 85 to 90 percent of its atmosphere. Right now, most of its atmosphere is carbon dioxide, while oxygen leaves the atmosphere and is carried away by solar winds.

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    This chart shows the five most abundant gases in Mars’ atmosphere. Noimage credit.

    The research team conducted atmospheric simulations of Mars to see how the magnetic shield would affect Mars’s climate, including over extreme solar wind events.

    They found that increasing the magnetic dipole would stop solar wind stripping. However, increasing the surface pressure doesn’t have a large effect on Mars’s global temperature and it increases dust in the atmosphere. But in some cases, the equator heats up and the polar caps collapse, causing CO2 ice caps grow and stabilizing Mars’ climate.

    “This is not terraforming as you may think of it where we actually artificially change the climate but we let nature do it, and we do that based on the physics we know today,” Green said. “This tells us that perhaps we don’t have all the physics in the model we need. We have a little more work in this area.”

    To continue with the research, the team plans to continue modeling Mars’s climate to look at radiative effects of ice clouds and trace gases. However, Green believes we can change Mars to have a similar climate to Earth.

    “The solar system is ours,” Green said. “Let’s take it. And that of course means Mars, and for humans to be able to explore Mars together with us doing science, we need a better environment.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:22 am on December 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Evolution Made Really Smart People Long to Be Loners, , , INVERSE   

    From Inverse: “Evolution Made Really Smart People Long to Be Loners” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    December 6, 2016
    Sarah Sloat

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    Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock (2010), IMDB

    Psychologists have a pretty good idea of what typically makes a human happy. Dancing delights us. Being in nature brings us joy. And, for most people, frequent contact with good friends makes us feel content.

    That is, unless you’re really, really smart.

    In a paper published in the British Journal of Psychology, researchers Norman Li and Satoshi Kanazawa report that highly intelligent people experience lower life satisfaction when they socialize with friends more frequently. These are the Sherlocks and the Newt Scamanders of the world — the very intelligent few who would be happier if they were left alone.

    To come to this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the survey responses of 15,197 individuals between the ages of 18 and 28. Their data was a part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health — a survey that measures life satisfaction, intelligence, and health. Analysis of this data revealed that being around dense crowds of people typically leads to unhappiness, while socializing with friends typically leads to happiness — that is, unless the person in question is highly intelligent.

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    Source http://www.reddit.com

    The authors explain these findings with the “savanna theory of happiness,” noting how different our world is than that of our Pleistocene-era ancestors. The savanna theory of happiness is the idea that life satisfaction is not only determined by what’s happening in the present but also influenced by the ways our ancestors may have reacted to the event. Evolutionary psychology argues that, just like any other organ, the human brain has been designed for and adapted to the conditions of an ancestral environment. Therefore, the researchers argue, our brains may have trouble comprehending and dealing with situations that are unique to the present.

    The two factors that differ the most between ancestral and modern life are population density and how frequently humans socialize with friends. Today, most of us are around more people and spend less time with friends than our ancestors. But not the exceptionally smart among us: The authors argue that less intelligent people are affected by the savanna theory more than highly intelligent people.

    “In general, more intelligent individuals are more likely to have ‘unnatural’ preferences and values that our ancestors did not have,” Kanazawa tells Inverse. “It is extremely natural for species like humans to seek and desire friendships and, as a result, more intelligent individuals are likely to seek them less.”

    The survey results also revealed that smarter people were less likely to feel that they benefited from friendships, but they actually socialized more than less intelligent people.

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    Source tardischasingcompanion.tumblr.com

    Intelligence is believed to have evolved as a psychological mechanism to solve novel problems — the sort of challenges that weren’t a regular part of life. For our ancestors, frequent contact with friends and allies was a necessity that allowed them to survive. Being highly intelligent, however, meant an individual was more likely to be able to solve problems without another person’s help, which in turn diminished the importance of their friendships.

    Because highly intelligent people do not necessarily prefer what their ancestors would have wanted, they are more comfortable in urban settings, the authors write. Historically, people tended to live comfortably in groups of around 150: the typical size of a Neolithic village was 150, Roman military units were usually 120 men, and the average company size of a World War II army was 180. Densely packed urban centers, in contrast, are thought to bring about isolation and depression because they do not foster close relationships. But a busy, alienating place has less of a negative effect on more intelligent people.

    “In general, urbanites have higher average intelligence than ruralites do, possibly because more intelligent individuals are better able to live in ‘unnatural’ settings of high population density,” says Kanazawa.

    That certainly doesn’t mean that if you enjoy being around your friends that you’re unintelligent. But it does mean that the really smart person you know who spends much of their time alone isn’t a sad loner — they probably just like it that way.

    Photos via Giphy (1, 2), IMDB

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:06 am on November 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: INVERSE, ,   

    From INVERSE: “Japan Reveals Plan to Build the World’s Fastest Supercomputer” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    November 25, 2016
    Mike Brown

    Japan is about to try and build the fastest computer the world has ever known. The Japanese ministry of economy, trade and industry has decided to spend 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) on creating the fastest supercomputer known to the public. The machine will be used to propel Japan into a new era of technological advancement, aiding research into autonomous cars, renewable energy, robots and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

    “As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast,” Satoshi Sekiguchi, director general at Japan’s ‎National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said in a report published Friday.

    The computer is currently called ACBI, which stands for A.I. Bridging Cloud Infrastructure. Companies have already begun bidding for the project, with bidding set to close December 8. The machine is targeted at achieving 130 petaflops, or 130 quadrillion calculations per second.

    Private companies will be able to tap into ACBI’s power for a fee. The machine is aimed at helping develop deep learning applications, which will be vital for future A.I. advancements. One area where deep learning will be crucial is in autonomous vehicles, as systems will be able to analyze the real-world data collected from a car’s sensors to improve its ability to avoid collisions.

    The move follows plans revealed in September for Japan to lead the way in self-driving map technology. The country is aiming to secure its position as world leaders in technological innovation, and the map project aims to set the global standard for autonomous vehicle road maps by getting a head start on data collection. Self-driving cars will need 3D maps to accurately interpret sensor input data and understand its current position.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on November 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: China Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, Chinese Researchers Contain Energy of an 'Artificial Sun', , INVERSE   

    From INVERSE: “Chinese Researchers Contain Energy of an ‘Artificial Sun’ “ 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    November 10, 2016
    Tonya Riley

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    In February, Chinese researchers met a milestone by creating a nuclear reactor plasma that reached a temperature of 50 million Kelvins (50 million degrees Celsius), which was three times the heat produced by the sun’s core. Now, they’re reporting that they’ve managed to actually contain the energy the reactor produces for an entire minute, bringing them closer to a fully functional “artificial sun” and future of sustainable thermonuclear energy.

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    The experiment was conducted using the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak
    , an experimental thermonuclear reactor at the Institute of Plasma Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The reactor, which was completed in 2006, replicates the energy of the sun through creating a plasma, a hot ionized gas where atoms fuse together to create large amounts of energy. This is different from nuclear energy created by fission, which a reaction causes atoms to divide rather than merge.

    In September, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) won a bid to take over 9 percent of ITER’s nuclear power research. Details of the agreement, including a budget and a supplement agreement for the design of a steam-condensing tank, were finalized in November.

    ITER, which comprises China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States as members, was launched as an international joint experiment in fusion in 1985. According to its website, the coalition aims to “prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers the sun.” Ultimately, ITER wants to create a reactor that can produce 500 megawatts of fusion output for 400 seconds. While Chinese researchers did not reveal the exact length of the most recent test, they say it was longer than 102 seconds, the record set in February.

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    ITER tokamak

    The United States initially committed to building roughly 9 percent of the ITER project and, as of 2016, has spent $3.9 billion on it on research for tests that won’t occur until 2020 at the earliest. In 2015, researchers at MIT announced a design for a new nuclear fusion reactor that is able to produce a magnetic field strong enough to contain large amounts of plasma in a relatively tiny fusion reactor.

    Private companies have also become major players in the fusion energy game. California-based companies General Fusion and Tri Alpha Energy have attracted nearly half a billion each in venture funding. With China’s latest advancement, however, ITER could still be on track to reach its 2035 deadline.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:40 am on July 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Finding E.T., INVERSE,   

    From INVERSE: “Alien-Hunting 19 Years After ‘Contact’ “ 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    July 12, 2016
    Sarah Sloat

    Jodie Foster’s Eleanor Arroway and her mission would be less of a joke today.

    One of the most realistic parts of Contact is the blatant sexism that the brilliant young astronomer Eleanor Arroway encounters throughout the 1997 extraterrestrial-hunting film. The rumored inspiration for Arroway — Jill Tarter — said in 1999 that author Carl Sagan, who wrote the novel the movie was based off of, “included many of the ‘character-building’ experiences that are common to women scientists studying and working in a male-dominated profession, so Ellie seems very familiar to me.”

    SETI Jill Tarter
    Jill Tarter

    Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan

    “Character-building” in this scenario is being a prominent SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) astronomer who has to deal with backward dudes who think your scientific expertise is laughable science fiction and won’t take you seriously because you’re a woman. Great.

    SETI Institute

    But for a movie that ends up with our protagonist on an intergalactic pseudo-beach chatting with an alien posing as her father, you may be surprised to know that what Contact nails doesn’t stop there. Contact’s realism is a reflection of the fact that Sagan knew what he was talking about. Until her breakthrough, Arroway lives a convincing life as a scientist — working out of the same observatories as real SETI researchers, fighting for funding, and hunting for alien life by listening for radio signals between 1,200 and 3,000 MHz from systematically selected stars.

    But what makes Arroway’s discovery of alien-transmitted communication from the star Vega awesome material for a Hollywood blockbuster is that it’s sold as a fantasy. Sagan knew the real science going on behind the fiction he created, but people who bought movie tickets didn’t. People in 1997 didn’t believe in SETI initiatives any more than the antagonists Arroway encountered.

    If Contact was to get a remake today (but seriously, no) it wouldn’t be able to instill the same sense of bewildered wonder. And that is a very good thing, namely because the work that Arroway portrays in the film is finally getting its due as a respectable field of science. Contact has proven to be prescient in 2016 (save for the actual we’ve-gotten-a-message-from-aliens part).

    Take billionaire Yuri Milner: In Contact Arroway’s work (and eventual voyage to Vega) is saved by the financial intervention of Dr. Hadden Suit, whose wealth seemingly has no bounds. Suit works from the shadows, moving the pieces in Arroway’s life, without the public knowing of the alien-hunting science going on behind closed doors. Comparatively, Milner is a real life financier who has made his intentions to help find evidence of extra-terrestrials extremely public.

    In 2015, Milner announced his Breakthrough Listen initiative in collaboration with the SETI program at the University of California, Berkeley — a $100 million project that uses telescopes to listen for extraterrestrial radio signals and search for laser signals.

    Telescopes in the Breakthrough Listen initiative
    UC Observatories Lick APF
    UC Observatories Lick APF

    NRAO/GBT radio telescope, West Virginia, USA
    NRAO/GBT radio telescope, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory
    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory

    In January, he announced another $100 million dollar project with Breakthrough Starshot, an enterprise that plans to send laser-powered lightsails to the star system Alpha Centauri with the eventual goal of encountering life in deep space. That line, in any other year, would seem straight-up ridiculous.

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    A Breakthrough Starshot solar sail.

    But things are a bit different in 2016. Arroway probably would not need to patiently break down how radio signals work to suits in the U.S. government when they begin to investigate her work; they’d probably already know what’s going on. Just look at the development of the FAST telescope being built in China, which Zheng Xiaonian of the Chinese Academy of Sciences says will have “the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life.”

    FAST Chinese Radio telescope under construction, Guizhou Province, China
    FAST Chinese Radio telescope under construction, Guizhou Province, China

    But mainly, a scientist of Arroway’s caliber wouldn’t have to take the same sort of inane criticism. SETI researchers are increasingly aware that they are no longer fringe weirdos. SETI communications director Seth Shostak told Inverse in January that, “I think there may be truth to SETI being taken more seriously by the public and it may be a consequence of the discovery of exoplanets filtering down to the public.”

    And while funding for exploratory science continues to be a struggle, SETI has been able to continue — and even increase — its programs. While it continues to monitor radio waves, sometimes with help of public laptops, SETI is also able to use optical instruments to look for lasers and light patterns that could signify the presence of aliens.

    In fact, on Thursday, SETI’s Institute Director of Research Nathalie Cabrol published a proposal arguing for further developing alien-hunting techniques, specifically through the establishment of Virtual Institute with “new detection strategies.”

    “To find E.T., we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods, and deploy new tools,” said Cabrol in a press statement. “Never before has so much data been available in so many scientific disciplines to help us grasp the role of probabilistic events in the development of extraterrestrial intelligence. These data tell us that each world is a unique planetary experiment.”

    Cabrol’s words are comparable to that of Arroway’s, who praises the “acquisition of technology” as the catalyst for finally making contact probable. The good news for us: Cabrol is real, and one day, contact with aliens might be too.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:25 am on July 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE,   

    From INVERSE: “Scientists Disproving Alien Megastructure Hypothesis Made a Discovery 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    June 29, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    A joint investigation between scientists from the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute and METI International resulted in the discovery of exactly zero radio transmissions emanating from KIC 8462852, aka Tabby’s Star, aka that “alien megastructures” star everyone freaked out about late last year.

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    Tabby’s star
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    Star KIC 8462852 in infrared (2MASS survey) and ultraviolet (GALEX).

    According to new findings published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, we still haven’t found signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Our cold streak continues.

    In case you don’t remember, there was a big hooplah last fall when Jason Wright, an astronomer at Penn State University, dropped a small suggestion that strange stellar light patterns glowing from Tabby’s Star, nearly 1,500 light-years away from Earth, were caused by “alien megastructures,” a catchall phrase for materials artificially placed in orbit. Since then, study after study has basically put that hypothesis to rest, with more reasonable ideas like a family of weird comets garnering more and more support based on new data.

    But science is about making confirmations, so the dutiful scientists at the SETI Institute and METI international came together and used the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama to determine whether or not the strange dimming patterns were caused by intelligent extraterrestrials, as well as use the Allen Telescope Array in California to measure whether the star system was spewing out any radio signals indicative of advanced technology.

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    Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, Province of Chiriquí, Panama

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

    “We were looking to see if there are intentional laser signals being beamed at us,” says METI International research and study coauthor Douglas Vakoch. He tells Inverse he and his colleagues were looking for the kinds of signs of technology that us humans on Earth might be capable of building and using to broadcast our presence to the rest of the universe.

    Unfortunately, they did not find any radio signals, and the optical signals found were less than encouraging. No optical signal of a particular period pattern was measured, and the power of the light pulsing from Tabby’s Star didn’t seem characteristic of a laser signal. “If there is a large laser facility kicking out signals of 5 mega-joules or stronger, we would have been able to detect those,” says Vakoch. “We didn’t.”

    Vakoch emphasizes that the results don’t totally discount alien life living in the star system. He and his team were using Boquete during Panama’s rainy season — “the worst possible time,” he says. He acknowledges that the results “don’t say for sure there aren’t extraterrestrials out there.” It’s always possible E.T. is sending weaker signals out or exhibiting patterns stretching across a larger timeframe.

    “But we can say that within the scenario where we could have possibly gotten a signal, we didn’t get one,” says Vakoch.

    Disheartening, sure, but there’s a strong silver lining to the new findings. While SETI research around the world centers in large part around the measure of radio signals, the new investigation allowed the scientists to flex their optics muscles and get practice at looking for signs of E.T. across other frequencies as well. “If we get a signal, there may be different sources of information at different frequencies, so we need to be ready to jump on that,” said Vakoch.

    Moreover, the study demonstrated the feasibility of using even a modest-sized optical telescope to conduct SETI observations. This runs counter to the whole “bigger is better” mentality that permeates space science, and Vakoch thinks the new methodological approaches he and his colleagues outline in their paper illustrate a new model for doing SETI research that is more efficient and sustainable. He says a major goal of METI International, after all, is to answer “how do we sustain the search going forward” as funding for these types of projects drop or become thinned out over more and more initiatives.

    “We still don’t have a natural explanation for what is going on” with Tabby’s Star, says Vakoch. And he doesn’t find that particularly discouraging. “This is the type of ambiguity we can expect if we really got a signal from E.T. It will be a slow unfolding and grappling of the data. So we continue to search for answers.”

    See the full article here .

    READ ABOUT MORE SETI RESEARCH HERE

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    Air & Space

    June 2016
    Damond Benningfield

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    The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia may pull in an alien signal. (Jiuguang Wang)

    Dan Werthimer doesn’t mean to be rude, but he’s getting ready to eavesdrop on the neighbors.

    For decades, astronomers have been listening for messages sent to us—a “Hello, is anyone out there?” signal from intelligent aliens. But now Werthimer is about to get nosier; his team at the University of California at Berkeley is conducting the first search for communities on other worlds that are speaking to one another—between planets and even across star systems. And to do it, he has two of the world’s largest radio telescopes and support from a planet‑hunting optical telescope.

    Thanks to a new initiative announced last July, Werthimer’s team will begin searching for extraterrestrial civilizations, using instruments with greater sensitivity and scanning across a wider range of frequencies than any SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project to date. Called Breakthrough Listen, it began earlier this year and will continue for a decade at a price tag of $100 million. “It’s a lot of money, a lot of telescope time,” says Werthimer. “We’ll be able to look at a hundred billion radio channels simultaneously. A big problem in SETI is we don’t know on what frequency ET might be transmitting, so the more channels you can listen to, the better chance you have of finding” a communication.

    It’s an incredibly exciting time scientifically,” adds Werthimer’s colleague Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley’s SETI Research Center and another Breakthrough Listen leader. “Something like one in five stars has an Earth-like planet…. And our ability to look for different kinds of signals from intelligent civilizations on those planets is growing by leaps and bounds.”

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    Andrew Siemion eyed the Green Bank Telescope, in the 13,000 square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, as ideal for SETI research in 2010. (Dr. Andrew P.V. Siemion)

    Even with improvements in technology, though, SETI has remained a tiny area within the field of radio astronomy. “In the entire world, there are probably fewer than 12 people who do full-time SETI research,” according to Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer for the SETI Institute in nearby Mountain View.

    But that small cadre of researchers, with the help of a few dozen part-time SETI dabblers, has plowed through an impressive number of projects. They have scanned the skies at radio and optical wavelengths for intentional messages from other civilizations. Researchers have picked through data from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope for evidence of vast architecture eclipsing part of a star’s light. (The public release of one star’s odd light curve last year generated a round of speculation about alien mega-structures. Sadly, followup observations have suggested that the more likely explanation is a swarm of comets.) And they’ve looked for super-civilizations producing copious amounts of waste heat in the form of infrared energy. And the ideas never stop coming: There is a proposal to search for alien probes and artifacts in the solar system (possible payoffs but expensive) and another to listen for signals in beams of neutrinos or the recently discovered gravitational waves (far beyond current technology).

    The bottleneck is never a lack of ideas,” says Shostak. “The problem has always been funding.”

    From the first search for extraterrestrial signals—Frank Drake’s Project Ozma in 1960—SETI has struggled to be taken seriously by traditional funding agencies. Modest NASA studies in the 1970s and 1980s were criticized by the U.S. Congress; in 1993, legislators axed what was meant to be NASA’s long-term sky survey after just a year. Since then the field has survived, barely, primarily on private funding sources.

    Then last summer, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced he would foot the bill for the biggest alien hunt in history. “In the 20th century, we stepped out from our planet—to space, to the moon, to the solar system,” Milner said at a press conference for Breakthrough Listen last summer. “In the 21st century, we will find out about life on a galactic scale…. It is time to open our eyes, our ears, and our minds to the cosmos.” Among the luminaries endorsing Milner’s project that day was astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

    Milner, named after first-human-in-space Yuri Gagarin, was studying physics at Moscow University in the 1980s when the entrepreneurial spirit first hit him. He started buying American-made personal computers and reselling them in local shops, then ventured to the United States to get an MBA. After briefly working at the World Bank, he returned to Russia and began investing in businesses, parlaying the purchase of a small factory into the takeover of the country’s largest Internet company. With that move as an entry to the world of technology, Milner organized a venture capital fund, DST Global, which became an early investor in Facebook, then Twitter, Groupon, and Airbnb, along with major companies in India and China. According to Forbes, by the end of 2015 Milner amassed a net worth of $3.3 billion. In happy news for non-billionaire scientists, Milner started a foundation in 2012 that awards three $3 million prizes annually—the largest academic prize in the world—for achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics.

    He also refuses to give interviews about his latest investment, so we can get a sense of his intentions only from the people now running the Breakthrough Listen project. “He studied physics, he studied the same kind of books in school that I did, so he knows a lot about SETI,” says Werthimer. “He really appreciates all the subtle nuances, and he asks a lot of great questions. He knows the chances that we might find something are slim. But he speaks about this in the long term. He’s in it for the long haul.”

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    The Nickel Telescope at California’s Lick Observatory (with SETI’s Dan Werthimer, second from left) will look for lasers. Being used in the Niroseti project (Laurie Hatch)

    Werthimer was already in it for the long haul—he’s been working on SETI for decades, although his original love was the hardware, rather than the research. He’s been a tech junkie since his school days, when he joined the Homebrew Computer Club in California, where his fellow members included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. “We were kind of messing around in our basements, and we made the very first desktop,” Werthimer says. “Everybody in that club got filthy rich except for me, because I wanted to use the computers to do astronomy. But I got really good at computing. I built a lot of cool machines that were in some ways better than the Apple, but I never thought about selling them.”

    Werthimer began to build instruments that collect and analyze radio signals from space, and eventually started SETI@Home in 1999, a program that harnesses the background processing power of any computer it’s installed on to help sift through portions of the massive amounts of data from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

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

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA
    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    And although his work hasn’t revealed any alien civilizations, Werthimer isn’t bothered by the silence. “I wouldn’t be in this field if I were not an optimist,” he says. “We’ve covered maybe a billionth of the parameter space. We can rule out super-civilizations that want to conquer the galaxy”—whew—“but we can’t rule out civilizations like ours.”

    Siemion too developed an early interest in science and technology. “I did a report when I was in third grade on a book by Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time,” he says. “When I got to Berkeley I was looking over possible research opportunities, and I discovered that there was a SETI group. I had an ‘aha’ moment—I knew immediately that that’s what I would do.”

    Siemion led his first SETI project while he was still a graduate student. He got the idea in 2010, while he was attending a meeting at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Project Ozma. Attendees were re-creating Ozma, which originally used a small radio antenna at the Green Bank location, with the observatory’s new 300-foot-diameter Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. While Ozma took about 150 hours of telescope time, the re-creation required only a few seconds to scan the same amount of sky.

    “I started thinking: Why not do some real SETI with the telescope,” Siemion says. “On the plane back to San Francisco, I met in the aisle with a few other people, and we decided to write a proposal.” The idea was to look at star systems in which the Kepler space telescope had discovered planets. “We actually received not the best grade from the time allocation committee at Green Bank,” he says. “They gave us a C, because I think they were a little bit suspicious about whether we would actually be able to do it, but luckily, even though it wasn’t highly ranked, we still got the time.”

    Breakthrough Listen will take advantage of the data from Siemion’s work with Green Bank, but more importantly, it comes at a crucial time for the observatory. Constructed in a valley in the West Virginia mountains, the Green Bank Telescope opened in 2000 as part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is funded by the National Science Foundation and runs several facilities, including the Very Large Array in New Mexico and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, in Chile (“The Universe’s Baby Boom,” Aug. 2013).

    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico.
    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array

    But in 2012, NSF issued a report on the next 10 years of astronomy research that recommended pulling Green Bank’s funding by 2017, because some of its research abilities are duplicated at larger facilities like the VLA and Arecibo Observatory. Now SETI—usually the research area struggling for funding—has come along with Breakthrough Listen at just the right moment, providing a reason and the means to keep the telescope operating while its staff looks for additional funding.

    5
    Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announces Breakthrough Listen last July alongside Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, and Ann Druyan. (Breakthrough Initiatives)

    One of Green Bank’s advantages is that it’s cocooned in the 13,000-square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, where radio transmitters, cellphone towers, wifi networks, and other technology are limited by state and federal regulations. Scientists there would have an easier time determining if a signal in their observations is a message from another planet rather than a local teenager’s text. “One of the hardest things to do is tease out a signal from another civilization in the radio observations,” says Karen O’Neil, the Green Bank Observatory site director. “There are a lot of repeating patterns, but they’re all man-made.”

    Green Bank’s receivers are so sensitive they can detect the crackle of spark plugs in a gasoline-powered engine, so only diesel vehicles are allowed within a mile of the dish. The microwave oven in the observatory’s cafeteria sits inside a shielded box, and once the telescope even picked up interference from a small current generated by a wet dog lying down on an old heating pad. Staff members drive around in a pickup truck equipped with scanning equipment to track down stray electromagnetic signals, and sometimes lend a hand to help repair or replace offending devices in nearby businesses and homes.

    SETI is using some of the project funding to expand Green Bank’s computer capabilities far beyond those of any previous radio SETI project. The system will be able to process and store as much data in a single day as existing projects do in a year or more. Then it’s sent out to the SETI team at Berkeley and SETI@Home volunteers for analysis. The extra processing and storage capabilities are necessary because Breakthrough Listen will scan billions of radio channels between 1 and 10 gigahertz. Earlier surveys have been able to scan no more than a few hundred million channels at a time, with about half the spectral range. “We probably have a trillion times better capabilities today than when I started 40 years ago,” says Werthimer.

    That sensitivity should allow the telescopes to pick up intelligent signals not meant for us, something that couldn’t have been done before the Kepler mission provided astronomers with exoplanet locations. “There’s speculation that an advanced civilization might colonize another planet in its own solar system, like we might do with Mars,” says Werthimer. “They might send messages back and forth between planets, and we could pick up the signals when they line up with Earth.” In addition to the nearest million stars to Earth, the SETI group will monitor the densely packed center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 27,000 light-years away. “Our solar system is about five billion years old,” says Werthimer. “Some stars are 10 billion years old, so there could be some very advanced civilizations out there.” And finally, Breakthrough Listen will stretch its search out even farther, to 100 nearby galaxies where super-civilizations might be blasting messages between solar systems.

    7
    SETI will tune into Planet -452b (concept opposite) and other exoplanets found by NASA’s Kepler. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

    While the Green Bank Telescope searches in the northern hemisphere, Breakthrough Listen will use the Parkes Telescope near Sydney, Australia, to search the southern sky. The 210-foot movable dish is best known for transmitting most of the Apollo 11 moon landing video for the worldwide television broadcast (the event was fictionalized in the 2000 movie The Dish). The project will use about 20 percent of the observing time on each telescope, a jump from the few dozen cumulative hours SETI usually gets annually to thousands of hours.

    The third facility SETI is using will look instead of listen. The Automated Planet Finder, a 96-inch optical telescope at Lick Observatory, outside San Jose, California, will devote 10 percent of its time to searching for interstellar lasers.

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope
    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope

    “If we took our own highest-powered lasers and paired them with our largest telescopes, we could send a beam that would outshine the sun by a factor of 10 at a distance of 1,000 light-years,” says Siemion. “Perhaps other civilizations are doing that to contact other civilizations, or to transmit a large amount of information.” It would be the equivalent of a Galaxy Wide Web.

    8
    The Parkes Observatory in Australia (opposite) is Breakthrough Listen’s outpost to eavesdrop on alien communication between star systems. (Daniel Sallai)

    Of course, not everyone is optimistic about the chances of Breakthrough Listen or any other SETI project finding evidence of neighboring civilizations, but not necessarily because they don’t believe in aliens. “Listening for intentional messages seems like a lost cause,” says Paul Davies, a researcher at Arizona State University and author of The Eerie Silence, a book that posits that current searches for intelligent life are flawed. “I’ve argued that we should be looking for other things: beacons, or probes, or alien artifacts in our own solar system. We have no idea how a super-civilization would manifest itself. It could be genetic—we could find signs in terrestrial biology…. There’s a good chance we might be alone in the universe. So we should search, but we shouldn’t spend a lot of money on it.”

    Even Werthimer doesn’t expect to hear from extraterrestrials anytime soon. “I’m optimistic in the long run,” he says. “We Earthlings are a young, emerging civilization. We’re just getting in the game, so a thorough search will take a while…. We probably won’t see anything in the next 10 years, so we’ll have to devise a new plan after that. Maybe, if the trend in computing power keeps going, we’ll find ET in 30 years.”

    In the meantime, let the eavesdropping begin.

    See the full article here.

    Prelude to the Breakthrough Project

    UC Santa Cruz
    From UCO Lick
    March 23, 2015

    Hilary Lebow

    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.

    8
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    “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.

    4
    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)

    “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.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:08 am on June 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE   

    From INVERSE: “CO2 Concentrations Won’t Dip Below the 400 PPM Again”… 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    June 14, 2016
    Jacqueline Ronson

    …Not in your lifetime anyway.

    Until very recently, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide below 400 parts per million were all you had ever known. They were all this planet had known for millions of years. But those days are gone, and they’re not coming back any time soon according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.

    The benchmark of 400 ppm is arbitrary, but worth noting because it represents a huge increase over what the planet has seen in millions of years. For the past 800,000 years, excluding the past century, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has varied between 180 and 280 parts per million. Then humans figured out how to burn fossil fuels for energy, and CO2 levels took off from there. Some researchers have suggested that 350 ppm is a “safe” level for the humans, plants, and animals that have adapted to life on this planet as we know it.

    What’s most shocking is how quickly the planet has gone from one where 400 ppm is unheard of, to one where levels below 400 won’t be seen again for the foreseeable future. There were some instances of readings over 400 ppm in 2012 and 2013, but the first time the planet sustained readings over 400 for a full month was barely a year ago, in March 2015.

    1
    Global CO2 concentrations go up and down seasonally, but on average they are increasing at an increasing rate.

    The CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere cycle up and down every year with the seasons, as great northern forests suck up large quantities of carbon in the spring and summer. But the overall upward trend is clear, and the gap between being seasonally above 400 ppm and permanently — almost nonexistent.

    Thanks to a particularly strong El Niño, researchers believe we won’t dip back below 400 ppm for a very, very long time. The problem is, once CO2 gets into the atmosphere, it can stay there for centuries or even millennia. The major way it comes out of the atmosphere is by being dissolved into the oceans, which has its own consequences for the health of the planet. So even though human emissions have flattened out, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to grow at an increasing rate. Reversing the trend will take dramatic decreases in fossil fuel burning, and probably negative emission technologies like carbon capture and storage, too.

    The consequences of global climate change may be dramatic and irreversible, or they may be incremental. Either way, it’s time to start saying your goodbyes to Planet Earth as you once knew it.

    Maybe say your first goodbye to your cousins the Bramble Cay melomys, a rat-like rodent that is the first confirmed mammal to go extinct because of climate change. This species of melomys lived exclusively on Bramble Cay, a tiny coral island off the northern coast of Australia. Rising sea and storm surges inundated the cay with salty water often enough to kill off the vegetation the little guys depended on for food. The floods may have also drowned the melomys in large numbers. Researchers surveyed the island in 2014, and found no evidence of survivors.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:57 pm on May 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE, The Case for Abandoning Miami   

    From INVERSE: “The Case for Abandoning Miami and the Rich Fools Building Mansions on the Beach” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 31, 2016
    Jacqueline Ronson

    1
    Map of Miami, FL, USA

    Thousands of miles of U.S. coast are threatened by erosion, storms, and rising seas. Left alone, the barrier islands that protect coastal plains from New York to Mexico would do just fine adapting to climate change. Storms would eat away at the front edge of the islands, but throw sand over the backside, resulting in more elevated bulwarks closer to the shore. The problem is that humans love beaches and pay extravagant prices to live on these natural barriers. The rich are harder to move than sand.

    Valuable properties with powerful owners control vast sections of coast so governments, in their thrall, build enormously expensive seawalls that inevitably speed the erosions of beaches, which are replaced artificially at mounting cost. It’s the vicious cycle of sunbathing, and Orrin Pilkey says it’s a loser’s game. Miami is doomed.

    Pilkey, a retired Duke University professor, has been telling people to back the hell away from the ocean since the 1970s. His latest treatise, Retreat From a Rising Sea, co-written with his son and daughter, argues that a migration away from the world’s coast is inevitable, and that the sooner policies encourage people and infrastructure in that direction, the less painful the move will be. Pilkey told Inverse about what needs to be done, and why there’s no hope for Florida.

    Why is it a futile effort to protect coastal homes and development?

    How much would it cost to build 3,000 miles of seawall along the East Coast of the U.S., not to mention the rest of the world? On a barrier island, you have to build seawalls on all sides of the island. Where are we going to get the money for that? Then the problem becomes that seawalls destroy beaches. We saw this back in the early ‘70s in Miami Beach, where basically there was no beach left, before they nourished it.

    2
    A rising tide creeps up on homes in Nags Head, North Carolina.

    Nourishment is very costly. We just recently nourished a beach north of Rodanthe, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks, for two miles, and it cost $10 million for each mile. And the beach lasted, really, about a year. I mean that’s an extraordinarily bad case, but these are multi-million dollar projects without exception, and in Florida they might last seven years, in North Carolina three years, New Jersey two or three years. And then, when sea level rises, this cost is going to increase and the lifespan will decrease.

    How big is this problem globally?

    There are 10,000 Inupiat Eskimos in Siberia, Alaska, and Northern Canada that are, because of a combination of sea level rise and melting permafrost, need to be moved. And we’re starting to look at moving them. Then there are the atoll nations of the Indian and Pacific Oceans — there, there’s about a million inhabitants, and a number of them are already moving.

    The biggest problem of all is on the world’s deltas. The Ganges delta is the most famous problem. There are several million people on this delta that need to be moving, not only directly because of the rising sea level, but because as the sea level rises, the frequency of storms and the effect of storms increase — the storms extend further inland. On deltas, the problem is that they are all very low-lying. And they are usually sinking. So besides the Ganges delta, there’s also the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, where 100-and-some-thousand people died in that last hurricane.

    3
    India hopes this fence will keep expected climate refugees out of the country.

    There’s the Mississippi delta, where we’re planning to move one small village. Overall, we have hundreds of millions of people in deltas that will have to be moved. In India, they’ve already built what they call the Great Wall of India, the massive double barbed wire fence with concertina wire and all that stuff, to try to keep out the Bangladesh people who will be fleeing sea level rise.

    You’ve been advocating for a retreat for long time. Is anyone listening?

    For the most part it’s falling on deaf ears. Not only on the part of the individuals buying property, but on the part of the politicians. We even have politicians in the state of Florida, for heaven’s sake, that are denying sea level rise. One of the things that’s said by a lot of politicians is, ‘Well I’m not a scientist so I can’t really evaluate this.’ It’s so irresponsible on the shoreline issue, because so many people are going to be hurt because of sea level rise.

    After Hurricane Sandy, there were some little bits of good stuff going on. Like the purchase of houses that were threatened, and would be threatened in the next hurricane again, on Staten Island, New York, where they paid the price that the house would have been worth before the storm. There are a few places where they have decided not to allow development in New York. There’s little bits and pieces like this, just about everywhere there’s little pieces, except for North Carolina, perhaps, where we’re really dragging behind, and of course Florida, which has the biggest problem, and does the fewest things about it.

    How did it get so bad in Florida?

    You have hundreds of miles of high-rise lined shoreline. What are you going to do about this? You can’t move the buildings — there’s no place to move them to, and the cost of moving 20-storey buildings makes it highly unlikely that they’ll even be moved. So two things can happen. A hundred years from now we’ll have these islands lined by very, very high seawalls on all sides, or they’ll be offshore fishing reefs of some kind. There’s just no other long term future for much of the high-rise lined shoreline in Florida.

    4
    Seawalls won’t protect Miami high-rises forever.

    Miami is sitting on top of the Miami limestone, and it’s a 50-75 foot thick, highly porous limestone. It is so porous that there are little ponds within Miami where you can actually measure tides. There are little one-centimeter or less rises in these ponds that correspond to the tides offshore. So, the point is, you can build seawalls, you can build levees, you can build dikes, and it won’t have any impact whatsoever. The city is flooding.

    I believe that we are going to respond to a catastrophe and not in a planned fashion, I’m at a loss as to what they’re going to do in a big storm. Many of the high rises will survive, but access to them will be gone, and of course if you built seawalls, there will be no beach. We have two choices, and I figure we’re going to pick the worse choice.

    If I was king of Miami, I would immediately stop some of the multi-billion dollar developments that are going on. Or at least I would tell people: ‘Go ahead and build, but let’s face it, it’s not going to work. Your streets are going to be flooded on a frequent basis in a few decades.’

    Why is it so hard to get people to be proactive on this?

    The problem is fundamentally we have very wealthy and very important and very powerful people living along the shoreline. In North and South Carolina, the wealthy islands are controlling coastal management in the state. There are wealthy people on all the islands, but the super wealthy ones are the ones that have the money to influence the politicians and so forth. That’s so hard to overcome. The politicians in the coastal zone are beholden to these wealthy people.

    We’re starting to pay some attention, not in any big way — and cities like Miami, which are doomed, are completely ignoring the problem. It is amazing to me that big time development continues in the city of Miami, when it’s all going to go away.

    Are you hopeful that people are going to start the retreat before things get really bad?

    I’m not hopeful. We have two choices — we could move back now, and respond now in a planned fashion, in the context of what we know is going to happen, or what we suspect is going to happen. Or we can respond in response to catastrophes — that is, big storms. And that’s what I think will happen.

    That will be really apparent in the Carolinas especially. A lot of damage will occur if another 1962 Ash Wednesday storm occurs. It will be hell. I’m hoping that one crisis will do it — one really bad storm.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on May 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE, Recent Kepler release of planets   

    From INVERSE: “Identify 1,284 New Exoplanets in One Fell Swoop” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 12, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    Before Tuesday, there were no shortage of theories about what NASA’s discovery announcement would entail. (Full disclosure: I was responsible for much of that speculation.) Then Tuesday hit and we found out exactly what the big news was: NASA scientists just confirmed the identify of 1,284 new exoplanets in the universe — including nine planets that have the potential to be habitable to life.

    It’s an announcement that has already inspired scientists and ordinary individuals around the world to ponder whether we might seriously find extraterrestrial life soon enough. But the new study raises an interesting question: what changed between the last few years and now that allowed scientists to identify so many new exoplanets all at once? Did all of these planets just show up at once? Did we develop better technology? Did the Kepler Space Telescope miraculously get better (after weirdly almost breaking down)? What gives?

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The answer: It all comes down to a new method of validating exoplanet candidates that provides ”astrophysical false positive probability calculations” for such objects, according to a new paper* published in the latest issue of The Astrophysical Journal. Basically, the new method ascribes a number to every object found by Kepler that determines the likelihood that object is an exoplanet, and not an “imposter.” Call it a planet score. The higher the number, the more likely it’s a planet.

    The new method only allows an object to move from the “candidate” category to “exoplanet” if Kepler researchers can say so with 99 percent reliability or higher.

    1
    This is an artist’s conception of Kepler-20e, the first planet smaller than the Earth discovered to orbit a star other than the sun. A year on Kepler-20e only lasts six days, as it is much closer to its host star than the Earth is to the sun.

    We should slow down at this point and expound on exactly how astronomers find and evaluate potential exoplanets. Basically, through Kepler and a few other instruments**, scientists stare at distant stars and measure the brightness of light emitting from those balls of fiery energy. When a star has a planet in orbit, its brightness will dim as that planet transits past it in relation to the telescope we’re using to watch it (a recent, albeit small, example is Mercury passing in front of the sun). As long as that dimming isn’t just a technical error, it’s a sign that something is passing through the neighborhood. A consistent dimming occurring regularly over time is further evidence it might be a planet.

    In the past, scientists had to pore over the brightness numbers along with assessing a variety of different data that might be attainable, like radio velocity observation or high-resolution imaging. Unfortunately, doing that kind of work is extremely time consuming, and we don’t always have the resources to find what we need.

    So in this day-and-age, we turn to computers for help. Timothy Morton, a Princeton researcher who studies exoplanets, developed a new method for exoplanet validation that combines previous exoplanet observations and the current brightness measurements scientists are gathering with Kepler.

    There are two kinds of simulations. The first looks at how the dimming compares to that from known exoplanets and imposter objects. The second goes a step further and deduces whether dimming is indicative of exoplanet behavior given what we already about how exoplanets are distributed and laid around the Milky Way.

    The two simulations are used to determine the statistical likelihood the object in question is an exoplanet. It’s a faster way of doing this work — and by all accounts, it’s even more accurate. In fact, the method is actually being used to verify previously confirmed exoplanets and determine whether they might actually be false-positives.

    This is crucial for the direction of future exoplanet research. The work accomplished since Kepler’s launch in 2009 has been huge in illustrating just how many other worlds exist in the universe — and it has given humans a staggering amount of hope we may find another habitable planet, or even alien life.

    NASA is already getting ready to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in late 2017, and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

    NASA/TESS
    NASA/TESS

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Both will play a pivotal role in exoplanet investigations by acquiring lots more data that we’ve ever dealt with. Morton’s model will help our scientists on the ground sift through that data and identify potentially habitable exoplanets faster than we could have hoped.

    Photos via NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech, NASA/JPL-Caltech

    *SCience paper:
    FALSE POSITIVE PROBABILITIES FOR ALL KEPLER OBJECTS OF INTEREST: 1284 NEWLY VALIDATED PLANETS AND 428 LIKELY FALSE POSITIVES

    **The only other telescope that is specifically referenced, NASA/Spitzer, is referenced in the Science paper.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on May 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , INVERSE, ,   

    From INVERSE: “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Puts Astronomers at Odds, Not in Conflict” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 3, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    Researchers can’t agree on when we’ll find alien life or how we’ll find it. But they are talking it out.

    Seth Shostak, director for the Center of SETI Research at the SETI Institute, once told an audience he was speaking to that he bet humans would find signs of extraterrestrial life within two-dozen years. At a panel entitled “When Will We Find Life Beyond Earth? hosted by the SETI Institute today, he doubled-down on that bet. Based on what exoplanet researchers have been discovering these days, he explained, “current wisdom is that one in five stars may be a locale for life.” The reasonable conclusions based on reasonable extrapolation? We’re going to find life soon.

    But reason sometimes splinters. What was most remarkable out the panel — other than that it was attended by a murderer’s row of astronomical minds — was how much well reasoned disagreement there was. Even the éminence grises of the SETI community, people who have worked together and seem to respect each other, agree on shockingly little. . The event, however, underscored a truth about extraterrestrial, exoplanet, and astrobiology research that isn’t always expressed well to the public: Scientists in the field agree on fact, but not their significance.


    Access mp4 video here . 1 hour 13 minutes

    Shostak, in case you haven’t already discerned, is avowedly optimistic about the finding extraterrestrials — especially intelligent extraterrestrials. His life’s work is dedicated to listening in for radio signals originating from an intelligent source, and he’s very encouraged by the direction the research is going.

    He analogizes SETI research to looking for a needle in a haystack a daunting task, yes, but only if you dont know what you’re. In his mind, there are three major questions: how big is the haystack, how fast we’re able to look through the haystack, and how many needles there are in the damn thing. Shostak thinks we already have answers to the first two — we know relatively how big the universe is and how many stars there are, and we’re able to scan outer space like never before.

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

    Our speed at conducting SETI experiments doubles every five years — “and they keep getting faster. We will go through a mission star systems,” within the next two-dozen years, so hes holding tight to his bet.

    So the only question is, how many needles are there anyway — i.e. how many alien civilizations are out there?

    That’s a question better suited for the the other three panelists. Up next: Fergal Mullally, a scientist working with the Kepler Space Telescope at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Given his role, Mullally is primarily interested in exoplanets. He thinks the data from Kepler has created two major effects.

    The first: “In our galaxy, we now know there are more planets than stars out there,” he says.

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

    Whereas we previously thought of planets as a rare phenomenon, “we now know [planets] are very common.” And the data shows that an estimated two to 25 percent of those star systems are thought to have an Earth-like planet.

    That’s incredible, but lets remember that’s a huge range. Plus, the definition of “Earth-like” encompasses a lot. When scientists use that phrase, they aren’t talking about blue oceans, rolling green hills, and amber waves of grain. They might simply be talking about the bare-bone things that make Earth, well, Earth — liquid water, an atmosphere with some trace amounts of oxygen, a rocky surface, and temperatures that aren’t boiling or causing water to instantly freeze. It’s not a settled science, said Mullally.

    Meanwhile, you have Nathalie Cabrol, an astrobiologist and the director for the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, specializes in an understanding of what we might find in the solar system.

    Our Solar system, NASA/Chandra
    Our Solar system, NASA/Chandra

    And for her, the key potential demographic of alien life is microbes. “You do have to think of life as a continuum,” says Cabrol — and that means remembering that life starts out as primitive, single-celled organisms.

    Cabrol may be the most vocal enthusiast about astrobiological research on Mars than any other scientists. “This is the first place where we have started to look at habitability,” said Cabrol. “And were going to start to look for life [there] soon, actually.

    Last but not least, the panel feature Mark Showalter, the senior research scientists at the SETI Institute, in the role of skeptic. According to him, life on other planets might be extremely common, or extremely rare. “We don’t know” he said. He emphasizes that it took two billion years to go from single-celled bacterial to multi-cellular humans. And he questions the logic that intelligence is foreordained. When you take into account energy and metabolism, “big brains are not the natural end state of evolution, he said.

    Overall, Showalter thinks we need to take into account the mathematical biases that run contrary to the optimism espoused by the other three panelists. In a tongue-in-cheek compromise, he expressed his belief the odds of finding E.T. were 50-50.

    Nevertheless, the search for alien life will continue with unbridled excitement. And how could it not? We’re finding more and more exoplanets that look that might be habitable in some capacity.

    Habitable planets Current Potential Planetary Habitability Laboratory U Puerto Rico Arecibo
    Habitable planets Current Potential Planetary Habitability Laboratory U Puerto Rico Arecibo

    Even private citizens are gearing up to get in on the search, such as in the recent launch of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

    What’s perhaps most exciting, however, is that we don’t know what might stumble upon. The possibilities are nearly endless. “We are searching for something we don’t know,” Cabrol told the audience Tuesday. And, in a sense, that’s always been true.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
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