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  • richardmitnick 10:58 am on November 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “Did Early Earth Spin On Its Side?” 

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    SETI Institute

    October 31 2016
    Matija Cuk
    Email: mcuk@seti.org

    Media contact:

    Seth Shostak
    Tel: 650 960-4530
    Email: seth@seti.org

    New theoretical modeling of the ancient history of the Earth and the Moon suggests that the giant collision that spawned our natural satellite may have left Earth spinning very fast, and with its spin axis highly tilted.

    Computer simulations of what followed the collision, sometimes referred to as the “big whack,” show that, following this event, and as the young Moon’s orbit was getting bigger, the Earth lost much of its spin as well gained a nearly upright orientation with respect to the ecliptic. The simulations give new insight into the question of whether planets with big moons are more likely to have moderate climates and life.

    “Despite smart people working on this problem for fifty years, we’re still discovering surprisingly basic things about the earliest history of our world,” says Matija Cuk a scientist at the SETI Institute and lead researcher for the simulations. “It’s quite humbling.”

    Since the nineteenth century, scientists have known that the Moon is gradually moving away from Earth and that or planet’s spin is simultaneously slowing down. The cause is the ocean tides raised by the Moon which slowly dissipate energy as they move across the ocean basins. This energy has to come from somewhere, resulting in a slowing down of Earth’s rotation, with our days very slowly getting longer.

    Previous calculations done over many decades always concluded that the Moon formed close to Earth, which at the time had a rotation period of five hours. This calculation later became the basis of the giant impact theory, in which the Moon formed from debris generated in a collision between proto-Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet.

    However, these calculations may have been missing some important physics. Four years ago, a paper in the journal Science by Cuk and Sarah Stewart (now at the University at California, Davis) suggested that post-impact Earth had a much faster spin, closer to 2 hours. A complex orbital interaction between the Moon and the Sun could have drained spin from the Earth-Moon system, causing an underestimate of Earth’s rotation. Note that a very fast early spin would eject more material from Earth into orbit during and just after the giant impact, producing a Moon that is similar in make-up to Earth’s mantle, as found by lab studies of lunar rocks.

    Since then, the plot has thickened as it was realized that tides within the Moon significantly affected its orbit during one part of its tidal migration. Today, the path of the Moon is tilted from Earths orbital plane by five degrees. Multiple theories have been offered to explain this tilt, but it was never considered significant enough to seriously challenge the idea that the Moon formed in a flat disk around the Earth. However, Erinna Chen and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz reported in 2013 that internal friction due to tidal tugs by Earth should have greatly decreased the Moon’s orbital tilt over billions of years. Cuk and Stewart quickly realized a clear implication that the orbit of the Moon once had a large tilt to Earth’s orbit, changing the story of its history completely.

    “We’ve been calculating the past orbit of the Moon wrong for over fifty years now,” notes Cuk citing the work of then-doctoral student Chen. “We ignored the fact that tidal flexing within the Moon can decrease lunar orbital inclination.”

    In the paper just published in Nature, Cuk and Stewart, together with Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland and Simon Lock of Harvard, propose a new solution to the mystery of the lunar orbital tilt, one that also explains the Moon’s Earth-like make-up. They find that, if Earth originally spun on its side with the young Moon orbiting around its equator, solar gravitational forces could both take spin away from the system and tilt the Moon’s orbit.

    Planets bulge at their equator due to their spin, and for every planet there exists a special distance at which an orbiting satellite would feel roughly equal torque from the planet’s equatorial bulge and the distant Sun. But if the planet has an axial tilt over 70 degrees, the satellite’s orbit will suffer from a kind of orbital confusion.

    When the planet’s equator and its orbit are nearly perpendicular, the satellite becomes confused about which way is “up”, and its orbit becomes elongated due to Sun’s meddling. In the case of our Moon, the varying distance from Earth on its eccentric orbit then triggered strong tidal flexing within the Moon which fought back against the efforts of Earth’s tides to push it outward, resulting in a stalemate. Such a stalemate can last for millions of years, during which Earth kept losing its spin while the Moon did not go into a wider orbit. Instead, its orbit became more tilted.

    Once the Earth had lost enough of its original spin, the Moon broke out of this stalled state and continued its outward journey. But as the Moon left this special distance, its torque on Earth’s spin axis righted the previously highly-tilted Earth. Finally, as the Moon continued its orbital migration outward, tidal flexing within the Moon shrank its orbital inclination, bringing the lunar orbit closer to the plane of the planets.

    Despite the complexity of this story, computer calculations suggest that it is the only complete explanation so far for the current orbital and compositional properties of the Moon.

    “This work shows that there are multiple ways a planet could get a small axial tilt, making moderate seasons possible. We thought Earth was this way because of the direction of the giant impact 4.5 billion years ago, but it looks like Earth achieved this state later through a complex interaction with the Moon and the Sun,” Cuk says.

    “I wonder how many habitable Earth-like extrasolar planets also have a large Moon,” he asks.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:02 pm on October 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI and UNLV: “A New Species of Planetary System” 

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    SETI Institute



    Oct 11, 2016
    Shane Bevell

    Artist’s rendition of a hot Earth-sized planet. (Courtesy of NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

    Using the most recent results from the Kepler space telescope, scientists from UNLV and the SETI Institute, which searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life, have identified a new kind of planetary system.

    UNLV astrophysicist Jason Steffen and SETI scientist Jeffrey Coughlin have shown that there must be a population of planetary systems whose formation or dynamical history are distinct from their counterparts across the galaxy. The results of their study, A Population of Planetary Systems Characterized by Short-period, Earth-sized Planets, will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The key feature of these systems is an isolated, very hot, rocky planet.

    “We’ve shown that a large fraction of systems with hot earths can’t have the same makeup as other planetary systems discovered so far,” Steffen said. “They aren’t like the solar system, they aren’t like most Kepler systems, and they aren’t false positives.”

    Hot Jupiters

    The best analogy, he indicated, is the population of hot jupiters — giant planets on three-day orbits that dominated the initial discoveries in the field two decades ago. Hot jupiter systems are widely viewed as having had a major difference in their formation and evolutionary past compared with other systems, and a variety of theories have been put forward to explain their origins. The number of hot earth systems is similar in number to the hot jupiters and may yield a similar advancement in our understanding of the processes involved in making planets.

    To identify this new group of planets, Steffen and Coughlin relied on the process of elimination. Starting with a sample of about 150 hot earth systems, they systematically tallied the number that could be from known origins – eclipsing binary stars, noise in the data, “typical” planetary systems, and other sources.

    “When we were done counting,” said Coughlin, “we still had about 20 percent that were left over — at least one in six of these systems has a different story to tell.”

    Prevailing Theories

    The scientists noted a few existing theories that may explain the origins of these systems. They may be the leftover planet cores of hot jupiters, where the giant planet lost its large atmosphere to the central star. They may be the consequence of interactions between the planets and the last vestiges of the gas disk from which they formed. They may result from strong dynamical interactions from a newly formed system where the planet’s orbit eventually passes very close to the central star and is captured as its orbital energy is dissipated through tides. Or, they could come from some other process not yet considered.

    While the origin of these systems is not known, more information about them should be forthcoming. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, which is slated for launch within the next few years, should find many similar systems that can be studied in more detail using ground-based instruments.


    (Kepler targets are often too dim for such follow-up observations). As scientists learn more about these systems, the information gathered should provide additional clues to their past, and help researchers better understand how unique our own solar system is, or isn’t.

    “We are hopeful that this, and future studies, will steer us toward a more complete picture of how planets form and how the systems then evolve.” said Steffen. “Finding and understanding different planetary systems can tell us a lot about our own origins and how we fit into that picture.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:05 pm on October 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Seth Shostak at SETI: “World’s Biggest Radio Ear” 

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    SETI Institute


    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak

    It’s now the biggest single-dish radio telescope on Earth. Settled down in the bumpy karst of China’s Guizhou province, about 1200 miles southwest of Beijing, this newest instrument for studying the heavens is very similar in design to the famed Arecibo dish, renown both for its science accomplishments and its performance in two popular films, “Contact” and “Goldeneye.”

    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China
    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China

    But FAST, the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, is Arecibo on steroids. The latter has a dish diameter of 300 meters, so FAST is, in principle, almost three times more sensitive. Put another way, it can reach 70 percent farther into space with the same sensitivity, which could increase the number of “targets” within its purview by roughly 4.6 times.

    These are merely brute-force consequences of FAST’s size, however. This new telescope, which is younger than its Puerto Rican cousin by more than a half-century, is also able to see more of the sky – up to 40 degrees from its “straight overhead”, or zenith, pointing. While Arecibo can track objects for as much as 40 minutes, FAST can do this for as long as 6 hours. That would gain it another factor of three advantage in sensitivity.

    In order to keep the telescope free of man-made interference, the government plans to relocate more than 9 thousand people living nearby.

    For the first several years, FAST will be in shakedown mode. After that, research on galaxies, pulsars, and other astronomical objects will begin, and foreign researchers will also have access. The Chinese have said that their new telescope will also be used for SETI, making it the most sensitive such device in the world in the frequency range of 70 MHz to 3 GHz. (Note that the Allen Telescope Array, used by the SETI Institute, has extended frequency coverage to 14 GHz.)

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 10:20 am on September 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Activity Report of the SETI Institute August 2016, , , SETI Institute   

    From SETI: “Activity Report of the SETI Institute August 2016” 

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    SETI Institute

    Sept 20, 2016
    No writer credit

    No image caption. No image credit.

    With the fall breezes beginning their appearances here in Mountain View, our Summer Interns have gone back to school after impressing us with their summer projects. However, SETI Institute scientists are still keeping busy. They continue to unravel more puzzles about our local celestial neighbors, as well as other worlds many light-years away. Every day, researchers at the SETI Institute are expanding both our knowledge and understanding in the quest to find life beyond Earth.

    This work includes publications in peer-reviewed journals, research presentations and speaking engagements, technical reports, intellectual property filings and more.

    As part of our outreach and commitment to share the Institute’s science and research, we present our monthly “Activity Report of the Carl Sagan Center” which catalogs the work of our scientists.

    In the August 2016 report, among the numerous publications you will see, “Planetary Candidates Observed by Kepler VII. “The First Fully Uniform Catalog Based on the Entire 48-month Data Set (Q1–Q17 DR24),” published by The Astrophysical Journal Supplement; “Shielding Biomolecules from Effects of Radiation by Mars Analog Minerals and Soils,” accepted by the International Journal of Astrobiology; and “M Stars in the TW Hya Association: Stellar X-Rays and Disk Dissipation,” revealed in The Astronomical Journal.

    Also in this report you will see ongoing participation by SETI scientists at conferences and events, including preparing for speaking opportunities such as a Kepler presentation at the Presidio in San Francisco, and asteroid discussions at Evergreen Community College in San Jose. One of our SETI Scientists also participated in the India Spaceward Bond Expedition with numerous stops across the sub-continent.

    Our quest belongs to all of humankind, and we’re making it easier for you to share in the excitement of discovery and exploration that is daily life at the SETI Institute!

    Download the complete report

    Peer-Reviewed Publications

    1. Bishop J. L. & Rampe E. B. (2016) Evidence for a changing Martian climate through Al/Si clay unit at Mawrth Vallis. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 448, 42-48.

    2. Cabrol, N.A. (2016) Alien mindscapes – A perspective on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Astrobiology, 16 (9), September 2016 Issue, DOI: 10.1089/ast.2016.1536.

    3. Coughlin J. et al. (2016), Planetary Candidates Observed by Kepler. VII. The First Fully Uniform Catalog Based on the Entire 48-month Data Set (Q1–Q17 DR24), ApJS, 224, 12.

    4. de Pater, I., Davies, A.G. & Marchis, F., (2016). “Keck observations of eruptions on Io in 2003–2005.” Icarus, 274, pp.284–296. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0019103516000579

    5. Draper, Z.H. et al., (2016). “The Peculiar Debris Disk of HD 111520 as Resolved by the Gemini Planet Imager.” The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 826, Issue 2, article id. 147, pp. (2016)., 826. Available at: http://arxiv.org/abs/1605.02771

    6. El Moutamid M, Nicholson PD, French RG, Tiscareno MS, Murray CD, Evans MW, McGhee French C, Hedman MM, and Burns JA. “How Janus’ orbital swap affects the edge of Saturn’s A ring.” Icarus 279, 125-140 (arXiv:1510.00434).

    7. Ertem G., C. P. McKay, R. M. Hazen (2016) “Shielding Biomolecules from Effects of Radiation by Mars Analog Minerals and Soils.” International Journal of Astrobiology, accepted.

    8. Harp, G. R., Jon Richards, Jill C. Tarter, John Dreher, Jane Jordan, Seth Shostak, Ken Smolek, Tom Kilsdonk, Bethany R. Wilcox, M. K. R. Wimberly, John Ross, W. C. Barott, R. F. Ackermann, Samantha Blair, (2016). “SETI observations of exoplanets with the Allen Telescope Array,” Astrophys. J. In press. http://arxiv.org/abs/1607.04207.

    9. Kastner, J. H., Principe, D. A., Punzi, K., Stelzer, B., Gorti, U., Pascucci, I., and Argiroffi, C. (2016). M Stars in the TW Hya Association: Stellar X-Rays and Disk Dissipation. The Astronomical Journal 152, 3.

    10. Konopacky, Q.M.,Marchis, F., et al., (2016). “Discovery of a Substellar Companion to the Nearby Debris Disk Host HR 2562.” Eprint arXiv:1608.06660. Available at: http://arxiv.org/abs/1608.06660.

    11. Lieman-Sifry, J., Hughes, A. M., Carpenter, J. M., Gorti, U., Hales, A., and Flaherty, K. M. (2016). Debris Disks in the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association Resolved by ALMA. The Astrophysical Journal 828, 25.

    12. Marsset, M., Marchis, F., et al., 2016. (107) 1. IAU Circ., 9282, 1 (2016). Edited by Green, D. W. E., 9282. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2016IAUC.9282….1M

    13. Steffen J., and J. Coughlin (2016): A new population of planetary systems characterized by short-period, Earth-sized planets. PNAS, Accepted Aug. 15, 2016.

    14. Teague, R., Guilloteau, S., Semenov, D., Henning, T., Dutrey, A., Pietu, V., Birnstiel, T., Chapillon, E., Hollenbach, D., and Gorti, U., (2016). Measuring turbulence in TW Hydrae with ALMA: methods and limitations. Astronomy and Astrophysics 592, A49.

    Intellectual Property
    SETI is currently reviewing another 23 technology developments for provisional patent submittal.

    Significant Events and Activities

    1. Andersen, D. and Jeff Moersch returned from work with Wayne Pollard mapping retrogressive thaw slumps and other periglacial features on Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg Island.

    2. Bonaccorsi, R. Rosalba attended the following events as SETI Institute’s representative.
    a) Opening ceremony and Flag Off of India Spaceward Bound Expedition
    (August 8) Lemon Tree, Delhi. Secretary Science & Technology and Earth Sciences (Harsh Vardhan), Secretary-DST, High Commissioner Australia, Ms. Harinder Sidhu, Director-BSIP Sunil Bajpai, President-MSA, J. Clarke, coordinators Siddharth Pandey, and Mukund Sharma attended the event.

    b) 2016 Spaceward Bound India Expedition Team member (Leh-Ladakh, August 9-19) Spaceward Bound Program-India team members included 32 researchers and educators from India, USA, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy. As in every SB expedition, the educators worked with scientist doing astrobiology research, as well as testing instruments and life detection protocols for planetary exploration. Educators learned hands on in the field and will bring the acquired knowledge back to their classroom. Several planetary analogue sites were scouted and sampled for further analysis by the team. They are:
    i. Hot springs/hydrothermal systems: (Panamik, Chumathang, and Puga) Barcane dune system & inter dune ephemeral ponds (Hunder Dunes)
    ii. Cold desert at high passes (KhardungLa and TaglangLa)
    iii. Saline, hyper-saline lakes and permafrost (TsoMoriri, Sumdo/Kiagar Tso, and Tso Kar) in Nubra Valley

    c) During and after the expedition the team engaged 5 schools in Leh-Ladakh, trained the teachers, and engaged undergraduate and graduated students from other two Institutes in Delhi and Lucknow.

    d) August 25t – September 5th “Visiting Scientist at the IBSP (Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany (Department of Science and Technology, India Govt.) in Lucknow. Post India Spaceward Bound Expedition, planetary analogue samples collected in the Leh Ladakh region are now analyzed in collaboration with IBSP colleagues Mukund Sharma and Binita Phartiyal. Samples’ biomarkers ATP and Lipid A are extracted from the analog samples and characterized using microscopy facilities at IBSP.

    e) First astrobiology-themed International Space Forum (August 21). The event was held at the Amity Institute of Aerospace Engineering (AIAE), New Delhi. Sessions included “Identifying key areas of collaboration and stumbling blocks for astrobiology research in India”; “Out Reach activity of Spaceward Bound India -2016”; and “Interactive Session with Students”. During the last two sessions I gave short talks about “Astrobiology opportunities at the SETI Institute & NASA Ames”; “Analytical detection issues of relevance to search for life elsewhere”, & summary of planetary analogue environments of interest to my own research. Dr. Ashok K Chauhan, Founder President, Amity Education Foundation and Chairman AKC Group of Companies; Dr. (Mrs.) B Shukla – Vice Chancellor, Amity University and Dr. Sanjay Singh, Director, AIAE inaugurated the Space Forum.

    3. Busch, M. The OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu is scheduled to launch on September 8. Bennu was previously characterized with Arecibo radar imaging; and has a series of potential Earth impacts between 2185 and 2200 that have not yet been ruled out. In addition to detailed characterization of Bennu and returning samples of it to Earth, O-REx should be able to reduce the uncertainties in Bennu’s trajectory to the point that the potential impacts are ruled out.

    4. Cabrol, N.

    a) NAI Team telecom for the organization of the scientific expedition in the Andes.

    b) Participated in the NASA Astrobiology Executive Council meeting on August 26.

    5. Caldwell, D.

    a) Revised and released Kepler “Data Release Notes 25” describing the final Kepler data processing release for all prime mission data Quarter-0 through Quarter-17. Co-Editor with Susan Thompson-Mullally. (https://archive.stsci.edu/kepler/release_notes/release_notes25/KSCI-19065-002DRN25.pdf)

    b) Headed SETI Institute REU program for July/Aug. Oversaw student research talks and final papers, arranged Lick Observatory & NASA Ames tours.

    6. The Carl Sagan Center Science Council met on August 22 to plan the roadmapping effort of the SETI Institute for the next year.

    7. Zalucha, A.: Successful simulation of a dust blob on Mars with MRAMS code, and successful model run of MRAMS on NASA Pleiades, which will allow for faster computing.

    Potential Highlights for the Website and/or PR

    Beyer, R. The New Horizons team has decided that his DPS abstract entitled “Landslides on Charon and not on Pluto” is newsworthy, and will be notifying the DPS Press officer for it to be included as part of the New Horizons press conference at the DPS meeting in Pasadena.
    Busch, M. Both the Frontier Development Lab program and the REU program have concluded for the summer. Presentations from the REU students summarizing their results have already been made public through the SETI Institute YouTube channel. Presentations from the Frontier Development Lab groups are available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6iyhdDSNFj8M_E-11CHERg .
    Doyle, L.

    Attended the Foundational Questions in Physics (FQXi) Conference, by invitation only, and presented a paper on their quantum astronomy experiment, which was very well received.

    Gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor newspaper about the new extrasolar planet around Proxima Centauri.
    The Exoplanet Group and Colloquium Series of the SETI Institute organized a panel on Proxima Centauri b with Natalie Batalha, Chris Burkhart, Eduardo Bendek, Tom Barclay on August 30. Below a short article including some pictures. Pictures are here:

    SETI is hopeful yet skeptical that Russians found aliens

    Marchis, F. Discovery of a second moon around (107) Camilla.

    Reviewed a book for National Geographic.

    Popular Publications
    Marchis, F.
     Blog post on Proxima Centauri b – Proxima Centauri b: Have we just found Earth’s cousin right on our doorstep?

     “Let’s be careful about this “SETI” signal.” http://cosmicdiary.org/fmarchis/2016/08/29/lets-be-careful-about-this-seti-signal/?utm_content=buffer44c44&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    Shostak, S.
     “Danger, Will Robinson,” Huffington Post, August 1, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-shostak/danger-will-robinson_b_11295702.html

     “Have We Detected an Alien Megastructure in Space? Keep an Open Mind,” August 12, 2016. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/12/alien-megastructure-tabbys-star-kepler-telescope

     Aliens on Line 1”, Air & Space Magazine, August, 2016, http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/aliens-line-one-180960067/?no-ist

     “The World Next Door,” August 24, 2016, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-shostak/the-world-next-door_b_11679870.html?utm_hp_ref=science&ir=Science

    Other Media / Interviews
    Nathalie A. Cabrol
    08/31 Interview with the “La Recherche” magazine (Search for Extraterrestrial Life) on August 31.
    08/23 Phone Interview with a Canadian radio on August 23rd about the article “Alien Landscapes,” published in Astrobiology.

    Seth Shostak
    08/4 Interview by Czech science radio show (simul-record)
    08/9 Interview about KIC 8462852, Pat Thurston, KGO Radio, San Francisco (ISDN)
    08/25 Interview by “Amy on the Radio” (Skype)

    Jill Tarter
    08/3 Film video for Asteroid Day web site
    08/22 Film with California Humanities
    08/25 Phone interview with Tommy Schnurmacher Show on CJAD 800, Montreal
    08/25 Phone interview with Leonard David

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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  • richardmitnick 9:01 pm on August 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A SETI Signal?, , , , , SETI Institute   

    From SETI Institute: “A SETI Signal?” 

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    SETI Institute

    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

    The RATAN-600 radio telescope, credit: nat-geo.ru

    A star system 94 light-years away is in the spotlight as a possible candidate for intelligent inhabitants, thanks to the discovery of a radio signal by a group of Russian astronomers.

    HD 164595, a solar system a few billion years older than the Sun but centered on a star of comparable size and brightness, is the purported source of a signal found with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, at the northern foot of the Caucasus Mountains. This system is known to have one planet, a Neptune-sized world in such a very tight orbit, making it unattractive for life. However, there could be other planets in this system that are still undiscovered.

    The signal seems to have been discussed in a presentation given by several Russian astronomers as well as Italian researcher, Claudio Maccone, the chair of the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent SETI Committee. Maccone has recently sent an email to SETI scientists in which he describes this presentation, including the signal ascribed to star system HD 164595.

    Could it be a transmission from a technically proficient society? At this point, we can only consider what is known so far. This is a technical story, of course.

    First, is the detected signal really coming from the direction of HD 164595? The RATAN-600 is of an unusual design (a ring on the ground of diameter 577 meters), and has an unusual “beam shape” (the patch of sky to which it is sensitive). At the wavelength of the reported signal, 2.7 cm – which is equivalent to a frequency of 11 GHz – the beam is about 20 arcsec by 2 arcmin. In other words, it’s a patch that’s highly elongated in the north-south direction.

    The patch from which the signal seems to be coming agrees in the east-west direction (the narrow part of the beam) with HD 165695’s sky coordinates, so that’s the basis of the assumption by the discoverers that this is likely to be coming from that star system. But of course, that’s not necessarily the case.

    Second is the question of the characteristics of the signal itself. The observations were made with a receiver having a bandwidth of 1 GHz. That’s a billion times wider than the bandwidths traditionally used for SETI, and is 200 times wider than a television signal. The strength of the signal was 0.75 Janskys, or in common parlance, “weak.” But was it weak only because of the distance of HD 164595? Perhaps it was weak because of “dilution” of the signal by the very wide bandwidth of the Russian receiver? Just as a pot pie, incorporating lots of ingredients, can make guessing the individual foodstuffs more difficult, a wide-bandwidth receiver can dilute the strength of relatively strong narrow-band signals.

    Now note that we can work backwards from the strength of the received signal to calculate how powerful an alien transmitter anywhere near HD 164595 would have to be. There are two interesting cases:

    (1) They decide to broadcast in all directions. Then the required power is 1020 watts, or 100 billion billion watts. That’s hundreds of times more energy than all the sunlight falling on Earth, and would obviously require power sources far beyond any we have.

    (2) They aim their transmission at us. This will reduce the power requirement, but even if they are using an antenna the size of the 1000-foot Arecibo instrument, they would still need to wield more than a trillion watts, which is comparable to the total energy consumption of all humankind.

    Both scenarios require an effort far, far beyond what we ourselves could do, and it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to target our solar system with a strong signal. This star system is so far away they won’t have yet picked up any TV or radar that would tell them that we’re here.

    Enter the Allen Telescope Array

    The chance that this is truly a signal from extraterrestrials is not terribly promising, and the discoverers themselves apparently doubt that they’ve found ET. Nonetheless, one should check out all reasonable possibilities, given the importance of the subject.

    Consequently, the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) was swung in the direction of HD 164595 beginning on the evening of August 28. According to our scientists Jon Richards and Gerry Harp, it has so far not found any signal anywhere in the very large patch of sky covered by the ATA.

    However, we have not yet covered the full range of frequencies in which the signal could be located, if it’s of far narrower bandwidth than the Russian 1 GHz receiver. We intend to completely cover this big swath of the radio dial in the next day or two. A detection, of course, would immediately spur the SETI and radio astronomy communities to do more follow-up observations.

    We will continue to monitor this star system with the Array.

    One particularly noteworthy thing about this discovery is the fact that the signal was apparently observed in May, 2015 (it seems that this was the only time in 39 tries that they saw this signal). The discoverers didn’t alert the SETI community to this find until now, which is not as expected. According to both practice and protocol, if a signal seems to be of deliberate and extraterrestrial origin, one of the first things to do is to get others to attempt confirming observations. That was not done in this case.

    So what’s the bottom line? Could it be another society sending a signal our way? Of course, that’s possible. However, there are many other plausible explanations for this claimed transmission – including terrestrial interference. Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it’s “interesting.”

    See the full article here .

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    • Matthew Wright 12:01 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I’d be surprised if it was aliens. Cool if it was – but the natural universe is stranger than we imagine. Possibly stranger than we can imagine.


  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on August 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, SETI Institute, Signal From Sun-Like Star 95 Light-Years Away   

    From NOVA: “SETI Investigating Signal From Sun-Like Star 95 Light-Years Away” 



    29 Aug 2016
    Tim De Chant

    Over the weekend, astronomers trained their telescopes a relatively close star, hoping for more evidence of a curious signal heard over a year ago by Russian radio telescope operators.

    First detected on May 15, 2015—but only just now reported to other SETI scientists—the 11 GHz signal appears to have originated from HD 164595, a star with 0.99 solar masses and known to have at least one planet orbiting it, a so-called “warm Neptune.”

    The Allen Telescope Array, one of the telescopes now observing HD 164595.

    The frequency of the signal is unlikely to be an astrophysical phenomenon, though scientists have yet to rule out terrestrial interference.

    Here’s Alan Boyle, reporting for GeekWire:

    “At least two SETI research groups are aiming to track HD 164595 tonight. The SETI Institute is using the Allen Telescope Array in northern California, while METI International is looking to the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama.

    Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama

    [Centuari Dreams’ author Paul] Gilster reports that the signal spike was detected more than a year ago, on May 15, 2015, by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya. That facility is in the Russian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, not far from the Georgian border.”

    Doug Vakoch, president of METI International, a SETI-affiliated group, expressed dismay in an email to Boyle that the report took so long to make its way to other scientists, saying that quick communication can help confirm the source or rule out interference. Vakoch’s team is among those now observing the star.

    The high frequency is what’s driving interest in the signal. Here’s Eric Berger, reporting for Ars Technica:

    “If this were a real astronomical source, it would be rather strange,” [astronomer Nick] Suntzeff told Ars. Although there are mysterious, high-energy astrophysical phenomenon called “fast radio bursts” that are seen at a few gigahertz, they last only 10 milliseconds or so (this event lasted longer). Unfortunately, he said, there is no information given about the strength of the signal as a function of frequency.”

    FRB Fast Radio Bursts from NAOJ Subaru, Mauna Key, Hawaii, USA
    FRB Fast Radio Bursts from NAOJ Subaru, Mauna Key, Hawaii, USA

    It’s possible that an 11 GHz radio signal could be ground-to-satellite communication or some unknown military transmission.

    For now, given the number of caveats attached to this signal, astronomers are downplaying the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

    See the full article here .

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    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

  • richardmitnick 8:56 am on August 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SETI Institute   

    From Many Worlds: “SETI Reconceived and Broadened” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    SETI’s Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, the focus of the organization’s effort to collect signals from distant planets, and especially signals that just might have been created by intelligent beings. (SETI)

    For decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and its SETI Institute home base have been synonymous with the search for intelligent, technologically advanced life beyond Earth.

    SETI Institute

    The pathway to some day finding that potentially sophisticated life has been radio astronomy and the parsing of any seemingly unnatural signals arriving from faraway star system — signals that just might be the product of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

    It has been a lonely five decade search by now, with some tantalizing anomalies to decipher but no “eurekas.” After Congress defunded SETI in the early 1990s — a Nevada senator led the charge against spending taxpayer money to look for “little green men” — the program has also been chronically in need of, and looking for, private supporters and benefactors.

    But to those who know it better, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California has long been more than that well-known listening program. The Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for Research is home to scores of respected space, communication, and astrobiology scientists, and most have little or nothing to do with the specific message-analyzing arm of the organization.

    And now, the new head of the Carl Sagan Center has proposed an ambitious effort to further re-define and re-position SETI and the Institute. In a recent paper in the Astrobiology Journal, Nathalie Cabrol has proposed a much broader approach to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, incorporating disciplines including psychology, social sciences, communication theory and even neuroscience to the traditional astronomical approach.

    “To find ET, we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods and deploy new tools,” she wrote. “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. Advanced intelligent life is likely plentiful in the universe, but may be very different from us, based on what we now know of the coevolution of life and environment.”

    With billions upon billions of galaxies, stars and exoplanets out there, some wonder if the absence of a SETI signal means none are populated by intelligent being. Others say the search remains in its infancy, and needs new approaches. The galaxy as viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/STScI)

    She also wants to approach SETI with the highly interdisciplinary manner found in the burgeoning field of astrobiology — the search for signs of any kind of life beyond Earth. And in a nod to NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which has funded most of her work, Cabrol went on to call for the establishment of a SETI Virtual Institute with participation from the global scientific community.

    I had the opportunity recently to speak with Cabrol, who is a French-American astrobiologist with many years of research experience working with the NASA Mars rover program and with extremophile research as a senior SETI scientist. She sees the SETI search for technologically advanced life as very much connected with the broader goals of the astrobiology field, which are focused generally on signs of potential microbial extraterrestrial life. Yes, she said, SETI has thus far a distinctive and largely separate role in the overall astrobiology effort, but now she wants that role to be significantly updated and broadened.

    “The time is right for a new chapter for us,” she said. “The origins of SETI were visionary — using the hot technology of the day {radio astronomy} to listen for signals. But we don’t exactly know what to look and listen for. We don’t know the ways that ET might interact with its own environment, and that’s a drawback when looking for potential communications we might detect.”

    Cabrol foresees future SETI Institute research into neural systems and how they interact with the environment (“bioneural computing,”) much more on the theory and mechanisms of communication, as well as on big data analysis and machine learning. And, of course, into how potential biosignatures might be detected on distant planets.

    The ultimate goal, however, remains the same: detecting intelligent life (if it’s out there.)

    Nathalie Cabrol, director of SETI’s Carl Sagan Center, wants to expand and update SETI’s approach to searching for intelligent life beyond our solar system. (NASA)

    But with so much progress in the sciences that could help improve the chances of finding evolved extraterrestrial life, she said, it’s time for SETI to focus on them as a way to expand the SETI vision and its strategies.

    “The purpose is to expand the vision and strategies for SETI research and to break through the constraints imposed by imagining ET to be similar to ourselves,” she wrote. The new approach will “probe the alien landscapes and mindscapes, and generally further understanding of life in the universe.”

    The Institute will soon put out a call for white papers on how to expand the SETI search beyond radio astronomy, with an emphasis on “life as we don’t know it.” After getting those white papers — hopefully from scientists ranging from astronomers to evolutionary biologists — the Sagan Center plans a workshop to create a roadmap.

    Cabrol was emphatic in saying that the SETI search is not turning away from the original vision of its founders — especially astrophysicists Frank Drake, Jill Tarter and Carl Sagan — who were looking for a way to quantify the likelihood of intelligent and technologically-proficient life on distant planets. Rather, it’s an effort to return to and update the initial SETI formulation, especially as expressed in the famed Drake Equation.

    The Drake Equation, as first presented in 1961 to a gathering of scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W. Va.

    “What Frank proposed was actually a roadmap itself,” Cabrol said. “The equation takes into account how suitable stars are formed, how many planets they might have, how many might be Earth-like planets, and how many are habitable or inhabited.”

    Drake’s equation was formulated for the pioneering Green Bank Conference more than 50 years ago, when basically none of the components of his formula had a number or range that could be associated with it. That has changed for many of those components, but the answer to the original question — Are We Alone? — remains little closer to being answered.

    “I’ve talked a great deal with my colleagues about what type of life can be out there,” she said. “How different from Earth can it be?”

    “Now we’re looking for habitable environments with life as we know it. But it’s time to add life as we don”t know it, too. And that can help augment our targeting, help pinpoint better what we’re looking for.”

    “We think one of the key issues is how ET communicates with its environment, and the great advances in neuroscience can help inform what we do. The same with evolutionary biology. Given an environment with life, we want to know, what kind of evolution might be anticipated.”

    A diagram of the proposed SETI “connectivity network” between disciplines showing the bridges and research avenues that link together space, planetary, and life sciences, geosciences, astrobiology, and cognitive and mathematical sciences. Cabrol describes it as an expanded version of the Drake equation. (Astrobiology Journal/SETI Institute.)

    These are, of course, very long-term goals. No extraterrestrial life has been detected, and researchers are just now beginning to debate and formulate what might constitute a biosignature on a faraway exoplanet or, what has more recently been coined, a “bio-hint.”

    In her paper, Cabrol is also frank about the entirely practical, real-world reasons what SETI needs to change.

    “Decades of perspective on both astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) show how the former has blossomed into a dynamic and self-regenerating field that continues to create new research areas with time, whereas funding struggles have left the latter starved of young researchers and in search of both a long-term vision and a development program.

    “A more foundational reason may be that, from the outset, SETI is an all-or-nothing venture where finding a signal would be a world-changing discovery, while astrobiology is associated with related fields of inquiry in which incremental progress is always being made.”

    Whatever changes arrive, SETI will continue with its trademark efforts such as SETI@home — through which enthusiasts can help monitor and read incoming data on their computers — and the radio telescope observing itself. [This article is incorrect in stating that seti@home is a SETI Institute effort. seti@home is a BOIONC project at Space Science Lab, UC Berkeley seti@home receives data from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico.] The Allen Telescope Array in Northern California came began its work in 2007 with 42 interconnected small telescopes. The SETI Institute had hoped to build the array up to 350 telescopes, but the funding has not been forthcoming.

    Cabrol is clearly a scientific adventurer and risk taker. During her extremophile research in Chile, she went scuba diving and free diving — that is, diving without scuba equipment — in the Licancabur Lake, some 20,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to be an unofficial altitude record high-altitude for both kinds of diving.

    With this kind of view of life, she is a logical candidate to bring substantial change to SETI. The new primary questions for SETI and the institute to probe are: How abundant is intelligent life in the universe? How does it communicate? How can we detect intelligent life?

    As she concluded in her Astrobiology Journal article:

    ‘Ultimately, SETI’s vision should no longer be constrained by whether ET has technology, resembles us, or thinks like us. The approach presented here will make these attributes less relevant, which will vastly expand the potential sampling pool and search methods, ultimately increasing the odds of detection.

    “Advanced, intelligent life beyond Earth is most likely plentiful, but we have not yet opened ourselves to the full potential of its diversity.”

    See the full article here .

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 3:24 pm on August 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From Seth Shostak at SETI: “Danger, Will Robinson” 

    SETI Institute

    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer


    The night sky, at least when you can see it, appears placid, serene and as inviting as a cold brew on a muggy afternoon.

    Don’t be fooled. The real universe is a nasty mélange of stuff that’s mostly scorching hot or bitterly cold. The blackness of space is shot through with lethal particles and radiation. Without doubt, the “final frontier,” often depicted as a beguiling playground for our Spandex-attired descendants, is deceptively treacherous.


    Not only that, it’s out to get you.

    How’s that? Well, you can start with the usual litany of heavenly harm: Asteroids that can mindlessly cannon our world, revenging their own destruction with ours, or solar flares, which could fatally sicken any humans who dare to rocket themselves to Mars. Then there’s Mars itself, which even on a good day is less hospitable than the worst environment on Earth.

    This cast of cosmic unpleasantries is well known. But there are other baddies whose malevolence is on a grander scale.

    Consider gravitational waves. Their discovery is trumpeted as perhaps the most significant science result of the past thousand days. The waves themselves are feebler than the Lichtenstein Navy, as anyone who has read about the LIGO instrument knows. But that’s because these waves come from far away. The slight shaking of space-time that made the headlines in February resulted from the collision of two black holes having a combined mass of five dozen suns. Their mutually assured destruction quickly released as much energy as all the stars in our galaxy have belched into space since Aristotle wrote rhetoric.

    That prodigious, black hole crash twiddled the cosmos here at Earth, more than a billion light-years from the collision, and it may also have let loose a burst of radiation which, if you were near enough to the action, could ruin your whole planetary day.

    It was an explosion of incomparable vigor, and explosions can be dangerous. But you may figure this is someone else’s problem, and maybe not even that. After all, who’s going to be hanging out in the vicinity of a pair of suicidal black holes?

    But there’s another threat that’s more worrisome: Gamma Ray Bursts, the result of a slightly different variety of cosmic mishap. When large stars die, they don’t go gently into the night. Single stars can implode, or two small, dead stars can collide. Either way, the resulting black hole is celebrated with a brief flash of gamma rays a million trillion times brighter than the Sun.

    Because most of this energy is shot out in two, oppositely directed beams, it’s highly concentrated. It could damage the atmospheres of planets even light-years away, which would be bad news for any biology.

    GRBs are not rare. Astronomers find a new one just about every day. And this points out the fact that the universe is a war zone in which random and lethal explosions occur in the star clouds of every galaxy.

    This has led some scientists to speculate that the majority of cosmic real estate is essentially a no man’s land for life. A recent suggestion is that GRBs rule out 90 percent of all galaxies for life, and even the Milky Way is probably barren except for its outer realms (where we are).

    That may sound like really bad news for biology. But wolves in the forest are bad news too, although there are still plenty of creatures out there. Only 15 percent of Earth’s surface is arable, but nonetheless, there are billions of humans. So sure, most cosmic real estate may be worthless, but that may be OK.

    However, the discovery of these mega-dangers does raise a maddening question: Why is the universe set up in such a way that GRBs don’t happen a hundred times more often, or aren’t a hundred times more energetic? After all, if that were the case, you wouldn’t be reading this.

    And there would be no one else able to read it either, in all the vast expanse of space.

    Are we that lucky? If you believe in multiple universes, then maybe the correct answer to that question is yes. Sure, most of these hypothesized, other universes would be sterile. But not ours: we’re just a winner in the most powerful of powerball lotteries, marveling at our fortune at being in a cosmos that is at least partially habitable.

    If this seems too contrived — if you’re not a fan of this idea — then science can’t help you. Yet.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: METI, SETI Institute, What would we look like to E.T.?   

    From METI: “SETI, Imagining Extraterrestrial Civilizations, and War” 

    Illustration by Rlevente.


    John Traphagan

    I’ve often thought it interesting that when SETI scientists imagine extraterrestrial civilizations, they usually think in terms of unified worlds that have one civilization. The image is very much unlike our world, in which we have multiple civilizations that are fractured and in conflict with other societies. The Brexit event of the past couple of days is a good example of just how fractured our world is as well as representing some solid data not in support of the idea that humans are becoming increasingly unified.

    When we imagine other worlds, we tend to take a distant view and create images that reflect a fictionalized, romanticized representation of life right here on Earth. Rather than fractured worlds with many civilizations like the one on which we actually live, many SETI scientists think in terms of what I call the Star Trek Imaginary, in which each world forms a civilization equivalent to a geopolitical unit on Earth. In other words, we think of alien worlds as unified political states or countries.

    There is a good chance that this is an inaccurate view of civilizations on other planets, but it still may be a useful way to think about extraterrestrial intelligence if only to deconstruct our assumptions about life on other worlds. Indeed, one way to use this image is to turn it around and think about Earth from the perspective of an alien world. This makes for an interesting thought experiment.

    Suppose ET planted some sort of observational device near Earth, say, 6,000 years ago. Somehow, they had noticed that there seemed to be an emerging civilization and thought it would be interesting to study how things evolved. ET doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on watching Earth and the observational device isn’t sensitive enough to show all the nuances of political machinations throughout human history. So the data are limited in detail. The result is a wide-angle picture of Earth throughout history that gives a general sense of what cultural evolution on Earth is like. ET will have learned quite a bit, actually, about how humans evolve and form societies over time, but a lot of the detail will be left out. They probably won’t get the nitty-gritties about the Brexit.

    So what would such a device tell ET? As I thought about this, I realized there would be one overwhelming image ET would get about Earth. And it’s an image we here—with our close-up picture of our own history—don’t usually associate with civilization on this planet.

    I think what ET might conclude is that Earth has been at war for about 5,000 years—pretty much non-stop. The first war in recorded history seems to have been in Mesopotamia around 2,700 BCE between Sumer and Elam, and from the outside it might look like it never stopped. Since that time, if one were to stand back a bit from Earth, there is a pretty good chance that warfare would be the dominant feature of human civilization. There is always war going on somewhere on Earth. It ebbs and flows in intensity. Sometimes it’s regional; sometimes it covers most of the planet. But it is always there and it might look like one long war from an outside perch. If you didn’t know all of the political and historical details, there would be no reason to assume that our history had been an endless string of wars rather than simply one really long one.

    From our perspective, this would not be a very accurate picture. Different societies have had on-and-off periods of war and peace. And we don’t tend to think about our civilization(s) as being characterized by a single war lasting 5,000 years, because we understand the geopolitical details in which there have been lots of wars over that time, not just one war. But if you look at Earth from the outside and treat human societies as a civilization, then it’s probably a reasonable conclusion about us. From the external—or in anthropology what we would call etic—perspective, human civilization might appear to be based on and characterized by a single war that has spanned almost 5,000 years.

    This raises the importance of seeing the difference between proximate and distant perspectives and the difficulties in imagining intelligent life and civilizations on other worlds when we don’t have a lot of data to work with (or in our current situation, without any data at all). SETI scientists often tend to impose their own assumptions about intelligence and civilization on imagined extraterrestrial worlds and those assumptions are shaped by ideas about the way our world is that: 1) may not be empirically accurate, and 2) are unlikely to reflect how we would look to outsiders.

    The devil is in the details, and we don’t have any of those, since we have no evidence of alien intelligence. But even if we do get evidence sometime, we probably won’t have much detail and we will need to be very careful to avoid imposing the Star Trek Imaginary—or any other set of assumptions—on what little data we receive. Standing back and trying to imagine what our world would look like to distant outsiders is a useful way of trying to control this tendency to imagine alien others in terms of romanticized images of ourselves.

    Perspective is important. It may well be that characterizing our world as being at war for 5,000 years is accurate, but it isn’t how we see ourselves and that, too, is an important piece of data about humans. Recognizing the potential disjuncture between how we see ourselves and how others might see us is a key component of trying to deflect, to the extent possible, our tendencies to infuse assumptions about intelligence and civilization drawn from our proximate understanding of and imagination about life on Earth into our speculations about intelligent life on other worlds.

    • Matthew Wright 4:16 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I agree. Our own situation is predictable given our nature as humans – arguably very much a product of our ape ancestry (chimps fight wars too) and of the way our species evolved. There’s a reasonably compelling argument that hunter-gatherer bands of around 150, the largest that a reasonable day’s walking could support, were cohesive. Larger bands were usually not and there was likely an evolutionary advantage in competition between bands of 150. Archaeological evidence points to wars in hunter-gatherer times, before agriculture emerged. It’s an interesting theory and if true, explains a fair amount including the way we’ve had to intellecualise stability into larger communities. Would aliens be the same? Highly unlikely. My take on aliens is that we might not even recognise them as such despite the way sci-fi often ideates them into better (human-style) societies.


    • Greg Long 7:56 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Completely agree.


  • richardmitnick 6:52 am on July 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From Nathalie Cabrol at SETI: “SETI Institute Calls for New Tools in Search for ET” 

    SETI Institute

    July 07 2016
    Nathalie Cabrol
    SETI Institute
    Email: ncabrol@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650-810-0226

    Seth Shostak
    SETI Institute
    Email: seth@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650 960-4530

    Bill Diamond
    SETI Institute
    Email: bdiamond@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650 960-4510

    The SETI Institute Director of Research, proposed a broader, multidisciplinary approach to the SETI search, beyond radio and optical modalities, in an article published today in the journal Astrobiology. “Are we alone in the Universe?” is the provocative question that inspires the scientific search for life beyond Earth. Today, we know definitively of only one planet that hosts life, and that is Earth. How can we find life, and in particular, intelligent life beyond our world?


    Alien Mindscapes – A Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” authored by Nathalie A. Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, suggests the need for a sea change in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, where the full complement of physical, biological, computer and social sciences are deployed in a quest to look for life as we do not know it. Cabrol asserts that “To find ET, we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods and deploy new tools. 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. Advanced intelligent life is likely plentiful in the universe, but may be very different from us, based on what we now know of the coevolution of life and environment.”

    Led by pioneers such as Frank Drake and Jill Tarter, SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – commenced in the 1960’s using radio astronomy to listen for signals from ET. Today, both radio and optical SETI searches seek signals generated by technology similar to ours. There are compelling reasons to continue with these endeavors, but equally compelling reasons to broaden the search criteria and expand the existing methodologies.

    In her paper’s call to action, Cabrol promotes the establishment of a Virtual Institute with participation from the global scientific community. The new SETI Virtual Institute will integrate our new knowledge to understand who, what, and where ET can be, and step beyond the anthropocentric perspective. New detection strategies generated by this approach will augment our chances of detection by identifying new survey targets. The purpose is to expand the vision and strategies for SETI research and to break through the constraints imposed by imagining ET to be similar to ourselves. This new endeavor will probe the alien landscapes and mindscapes, and expand our understanding of life in the universe.

    “The timing is right for SETI research around the world to open a new chapter in its history. The SETI Institute is taking the lead on this new path,” says Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “In the coming months, we will invite the US and international research communities to contribute to a new scientific roadmap for SETI. We will explore resources for the development of a Virtual Institute and an intellectual framework for projects focused on the advancement of knowledge on extraterrestrial intelligence.”

    See the full article here .

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    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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