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  • richardmitnick 8:46 pm on June 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars), , Janice Bishop, Janice Bishop Explores Mawrth Vallis and Salt Ponds in Australia, , Mawrth Vallis, SETI Institute,   

    From SETI Institute: “Janice Bishop Explores Mawrth Vallis and Salt Ponds in Australia” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    June 06, 2017
    Janice Bishop

    Mawrth Vallis (Mawrth means Mars in Welsh) is a valley on the planet Mars, with a deep channel formed by water in Mars’ ancient past. In 2016, SETI Institute chemist and planetary scientist Janice Bishop made an interesting discovery about the composition of rock layers that form the valley using data collected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

    CRISM is an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which was launched in 2005 and remains in orbit around Mars searching for evidence of past water.

    CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) searches for the residue of minerals that form in the presence of water, perhaps in association with ancient hot springs, thermal vents, lakes, or ponds that may have existed on the surface of Mars.

    Even though some landforms provide evidence that liquid water may have flowed on the surface of Mars long ago, evidence of mineral deposits created by long-term interaction between water and rock has been limited.

    CRISM’s visible and infrared spectrometers track regions on the dusty martian surface and map them at scales as small as 18 meters (60 feet) across, from an altitude of 300 kilometers (186 miles). CRISM reads the hundreds of “colors” in reflected sunlight to detect patterns that indicate certain minerals on the surface, including signature traces of past water.
    The principal investigator (lead scientist) for CRISM is Scott Murchie from the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University.

    From an altitude of 186 miles above the surface of Mars, CRISM collects visible and infrared signatures of certain minerals, including those that hold traces of past water. Using this orbital spectral data from CRISM, Janice identified a unique material sandwiched between two clay-bearing strata. This new phase appears to be mixtures of sulfates and acid-altered clays. One of the puzzling parts of this investigation is that two kinds of sulfates have been identified here: an acidic Fe-sulfate called jarosite and a neutral Ca-sulfate called gypsum. These two sulfates are not normally found together because of their different pH requirements.

    CRISM is an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which was launched in 2005 and remains in orbit around Mars searching for evidence of past water. From an altitude of 186 miles above the surface of Mars, CRISM collects visible and infrared signatures of certain minerals, including those that hold traces of past water. Using this orbital spectral data from CRISM, Janice identified a unique material sandwiched between two clay-bearing strata. This new phase appears to be mixtures of sulfates and acid-altered clays. One of the puzzling parts of this investigation is that two kinds of sulfates have been identified here: an acidic Fe-sulfate called jarosite and a neutral Ca-sulfate called gypsum. These two sulfates are not normally found together because of their different pH requirements.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter credit: NASA

    Here on Earth, other scientists have found combinations of jarosite, gypsum, as well as halite and clays in the highly saline ponds found in the desert of Western Australia. Apparently, the high salt (S, Cl) level enables formation of these sulfates in this kind of environment. Janice and SETI Institute colleague Lukas Gruendler recently visited these salt ponds in the Archean Yilgarn Craton region of Western Australia looking for mixtures of clays and sulfates similar to those Janice discovered in some of the clay-rich regions of Mars.

    Janice and Lukas hold up the expedition flag.

    Janice and Lukas decided to study samples from three of these sites in order to characterize the mineralogy of the surface crust and the material down a few centimeters in the hopes of learning about environments that could help us understand this puzzling salty outcrop on Mars.

    Sample analysis will continue in Janice’s mineral lab here at the SETI Institute and will help learn more about both Earth and Mars.

    Janice collecting samples at a salt pond

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:01 pm on May 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI Institute   

    From SETI Institute: “Another smoking gun in the search for life in Enceladus’ ocean” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    April 13, 2017 [Nothing like being prompt on your own web site.]
    Franck Marchis

    This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    Today, NASA-funded scientists announced a major new step in the search for life on Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, thanks to new data collected by the NASA/ESA Cassini mission.

    Enceladus has attracted a lot of interest because it has an active pole that spews jets of material into outer space. During its last flyby over that pole, an instrument on board the Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of a biomarker—molecular hydrogen. This suggests that the ocean we know lies beneath the moon’s surface could indeed contain an ecosystem similar to the ones we find in deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Earth.

    Hunter Waite, a researcher at the Southwestern Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, is the lead author of a paper describing the findings in an upcoming issue of Science. In the piece, the team explains that the molecular hydrogen (H2) content was measured using Cassini’s INMS instrument, a mass spectrometer capable of sniffing the molecular composition of gas that it captures.

    During its last flyby of Enceladus on October 28, 2015, the spacecraft grazed the moon’s southern pole at 8.5 kilometers per second, just 49 kilometers above the surface. It crossed the active region where jets spew material from the ocean that we know is located below the icy surface. On three previous flybys, scientists had managed to measure the composition of the jets’ material, and detected molecules of water, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. During the October 2015 flyby, they used the instrument in a mode they hoped would allow them to measure the content of hydrogen molecules in the gas of the vents.

    They succeeded — Cassini detected molecular hydrogen.

    During Cassini’s deepest dive through the Enceladus plume, NASA-funded scientists discovered hydrogen gas in the material erupting from the Saturnian moon. Is there life down there? (Image Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    This is important because the gas is used by microorganisms, known as methanogens, to produce methane from carbon dioxide. Thriving ecosystems seen in the deep oceans of our planet near the volcanic hydrothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic ridge, for instance, depend on the production of energy using this chemistry.

    The scientists are very careful when discussing the origin of this molecular hydrogen. They show that the high concentrations measured are not compatible with a geological origin—in other words, such a large amount of molecular hydrogen couldn’t have been stored in the ice shell or in the ocean. Similarly, the scientists are confident that strong radiation on the surface of Enceladus can’t be the source of this molecular hydrogen. They conclude its source is probably hydrothermal reactions between water and rock, emerging out of active volcanism, as it happens in submarine hydrothermal systems on Earth. The source of this volcanism on Enceladus is still not fully understood, but it is probably related to tidal dissipation in the moon’s core, which is squeezed and warmed as the satellite orbits the gas giant Saturn. As with Europa, a moon of Jupiter, this heat warms up the interior, creating an ocean with hydrothermal activity and surface fractures from which materials can escape in space.

    It must be emphasized that the scientists did NOT report the detection of life in Enceladus’ ocean, but rather the detection of molecular hydrogen—the final piece needed to infer the presence of methanogenesis. A model including the characteristics of the ocean (temperature, pH, mixing ratio and composition) supports the idea that methanogenic life could survive in this environment. But thermodynamic models alone are not enough to claim that life is indeed present on Enceladus. In other words, “habitable” does not mean “inhabited,” and this distinction is important for astrobiologists.

    Deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the bottom of the mid-Atlantic ridge when methanogenic-based ecosystems thrive. Similar conditions may exist in the bottom of the ocean of Enceladus. (NOAA Photo Library).

    A targeted flyby of Enceladus occurred shortly after this one, on December 19, 2015. The team is probably analyzing more data, but it is not clear that the spacecraft’s INMS instrument was used again to collect observations. With the end of the Cassini mission scheduled for this September, the next step in the study of Enceladus and the understanding its habitability would probably be the design of a mission dedicated to the study of the satellite and the analysis of its jets.

    A mission concept called JET was proposed in the last NASA Discovery round of proposals but was not selected. This latest discovery may reactivate interest in sending a spacecraft dedicated to the study of this small (272-kilometer-radius) moon of Saturn. Enceladus and its warm hydrothermal vents could be the place where we one day find life. Microbiological life, most likely, but life—and I for one would be extremely happy with that.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:32 am on May 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Colossus project, , , , SETI Institute   

    From Centauri Dreams via METI International: “A ‘Census’ for Civilizations” 


    METI International


    Centauri Dreams

    May 17, 2017
    Paul Gilster

    We’ve been talking about the Colossus project, and the possibility that this huge (though remarkably lightweight) instrument could detect the waste heat of extraterrestrial civilizations.


    But what are the chances of this, if we work out the numbers based on the calculations the Colossus team is working with? After all, Frank Drake put together his famous equation as a way of making back-of-the-envelope estimates of SETI’s chances for success, working the numbers even though most of them at that time had to be no more than guesses.

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    SETI Institute

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

    Bear in mind as we talk about this that we’d like to arrive at a figure for the survival of a civilization, a useful calculation because we have no idea whether technology-driven cultures survive or destroy themselves. Civilizations may live forever, or they may die out relatively quickly, perhaps on a scale of thousands of years. Here Colossus can give us useful information.

    The intention, as discussed in a paper by Jeff Kuhn and Svetlana Berdyugina that we looked at yesterday (citation below), is to look out about 60 light years, a sphere within which we have numerous bright stars that a large instrument like Colossus can investigate for such detections. We’re making the assumption, by looking for waste heat, that civilizations living around such stars could be detected whether or not they intend to communicate.

    Image: Figure 1 from Kuhn & Berdyugina, “Global Warming as a Detectable Thermodynamic Marker of Earth-like Extrasolar Civilizations: The case for a Telescope like Colossus.” Caption: Man-made visible light on the Earth in 2011. From DMPS/NASA. The brightest pixels in this 0.5 × 0.5 degree resolution map have a radiance of about 0.05 × 10−6 W/cm2/sr/micron. Credit: Jeff Kuhn/Svetlana Berdyugina.

    Let’s take the fraction of stars with planets as 0.5, and the fraction of those with planets in the habitable zone as 0.5, numbers that have the benefit of Kepler data as some justification, unlike Drake’s pre-exoplanet era calculations. Kuhn and Berdyugina have to make some Drake-like guesses as they run their own exercise, so let’s get really imaginative: Let’s put the fraction of those planets that develop civilizations at the same 0.5, and the fraction of those that are more advanced than our own likewise at 0.5. These numbers operate under the assumption that our own civilization is not inherently special but just one of many.

    Work all this out and we can come up with a figure for the fraction of civilizations that might be out there. But how many of them have survived their technological infancy?

    Let me cut straight to the paper on the outcome of the kind of survey contemplated for Colossus, which is designed to include “a quantifiably complete neighborhood cosmic survey for [Kardashev] Type I civilizations” within about 20 light years of the Sun, but one that extends out to 60 light years. In the section below, Ω stands for the ratio of power production by an extraterrestrial civilization to the amount of stellar power it receives (more on this in a moment).

    From the paper:

    “…current planet statistics suggest that out of 650 stars within 20 pc at least one quarter would have HZEs [Habitable Zone Earths]. Assuming that one quarter of those will develop Ω ≥ 0.01 civilizations, we arrive at the number of detectable civilizations in the Solar neighbourhood ND = 40fs, where fs is the fraction of survived civilizations (i.e., civilizations that form and survive). Hence, even if only one in 20 advanced civilizations survive (including us at the time of survey), we should get a detection. Taking into account the thermodynamic nature of our biomarker, this detection is largely independent of the sociology of detectable ETCs.”

    Independent because we are not relying on any intent to communicate with us, and are looking for civilizations that may in fact be advanced not far beyond our own level, as well as their more advanced counterparts, should they exist.

    Suppose we detect not a single extraterrestrial civilization. Within the parameters of the original assumptions, we could conclude that if a civilization does reach a certain level of technology, its probability of survival is low. That would be a null result of some consequence, because it would place the survival of our own civilization in context. We would, in other words, face old questions anew: What can we do to prevent catastrophe as a result of technology? We might also consider that our assumptions may have been too optimistic — perhaps the fraction of habitable zone planets developing civilizations is well below 0.5.

    But back to that interesting figure Ω. The discussion depends upon the idea that the marker of civilization using energy is infrared heat radiation. Take Earth’s current global power production to be some 15 terawatts. It turns out that this figure is some 0.04 percent of the total solar power Earth receives. In this Astronomy article from 2013, Kuhn and Berdyugina, along with Colossus backers David Halliday and Caisey Harlingten, point out that in Roman times, the figure for Ω was about 1/1000th of what it is today. Again, Ω stands for the ratio of power production by a civilization to the amount of solar power it receives.

    The authors see global planetary warming as setting a limit on the power a civilization can consume, because both sunlight from the parent star as well as a civilization’s own power production determine the global temperature. To produce maximum energy, a civilization would surely want to absorb the power of all the sunlight available, increasing Ω toward 1. Now we have a culture that is producing more and more waste heat radiation on its own world. And we could use an instrument like Colossus to locate civilizations that are on this course.

    In fact, we can do better than that, because within the 60 light year parameters being discussed, we can study the heat from such civilizations as the home planet rotates in and out of view of the Earth. Kuhn and Berdyugina liken the method to studying changes of brightness on a star. In this case, we are looking at time-varying brightness signals that can identify sources of heat on the planet, perhaps clustered into the extraterrestrial analog of cities. A large enough infrared telescope could observe civilizations that use as little as 1 percent of the total solar power they intercept by combining visible and infrared observations. A low value of Ω indeed.

    Image: Figure 3 from the Kuhn/Berdyugina paper “Global Warming as a Detectable Thermodynamic Marker of Earth-like Extrasolar Civilizations: The case for a Telescope like Colossus.” Caption: Fig. 3. Expanded view of a representative North American region illustrating temperature perturbation due to cities (left, heated cities are seen in red) and corresponding surface albedo (right). From NEO/NASA.

    You can see what a challenge this kind of observation presents. It demands, if the telescope is on the ground, adaptive optics that can cancel out atmospheric distortion. It also demands coronagraph technology that can distinguish the glow of a working civilization from a star that could be many millions of times brighter. And because we are after the highest possible resolution, we need the largest possible collecting area. The contrast sensitivity at visible and infrared wavelengths of the instrument are likewise crucial factors.

    I’ll refer you to “New strategies for an extremely large telescope dedicated to extremely high contrast: The Colossus Project” (citation below) for the ways in which the Colossus team hopes to address all these issues. But I want to back out to the larger view: As a civilization, we are now capable of building technologies that can identify extraterrestrial cultures at work, and indeed, instruments like Colossus could be working for us within a decade if we fund them.

    We can add such capabilities to the detection of non-technological life as well, through the search for biomarkers that such large instruments can enable. More on that tomorrow, when I’ll wrap up this set on Colossus with a look at photosynthesis signatures on exoplanets. Because for all we know, life itself may be common to habitable zone planets, while technological civilization could be a rarity in the galaxy. Learning about our place in the universe is all about finding the answers to questions like these, answers now beginning to come into range.

    The Colossus description paper is Kuhn et al., “Looking Beyond 30m-class Telescopes: The Colossus Project,” SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation (2014). The paper on Colossus and waste heat is Kuhn & Berdyugina, “Global warming as a detectable thermodynamic marker of Earth-like extrasolar civilizations: the case for a telescope like Colossus,” International Journal of Astrobiology 14 (3): 401-410 (2015).

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    The primary objectives and purposes of METI International are to:

    Conduct scientific research and educational programs in Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

    Promote international cooperation and collaboration in METI, SETI, and astrobiology.

    Understand and communicate the societal implications and relevance of searching for life beyond Earth, even before detection of extraterrestrial life.

    Foster multidisciplinary research on the design and transmission of interstellar messages, building a global community of scholars from the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts.

    Research and communicate to the public the many factors that influence the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, with a special emphasis on the last three terms of the Drake Equation: (1) the fraction of life-bearing worlds on which intelligence evolves, (2) the fraction of intelligence-bearing worlds with civilizations having the capacity and motivation for interstellar communication, and (3) the longevity of such civilizations.

    Offer programs to the public and to the scholarly community that foster increased awareness of the challenges facing our civilization’s longevity, while encouraging individual and community activities that support the sustainability of human culture on multigenerational timescales, which is essential for long-term METI and SETI research.

  • richardmitnick 3:13 pm on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, , NIROSETI at Lick, SETI Institute,   

    From SETI Institute: “2016: A Year of Discovery at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute” And, Much Much More 

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    SETI Institute

    No writer credit


    2017 is well underway, building from all that was learned in 2016. The work of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute is detailed in 2016: Publications and Presentations of the SETI Institute, which can be downloaded here.

    Every day the scientific research that goes on at the SETI Institute tries to answer fundamental questions: How many planets exist that might support life? What is required for life to exist? How does life start? How does it evolve? In short, where did we come from and are we alone?

    Our team focuses on disciplines including space and planetary exploration, analogs, and observing and modeling the precursors of life in the depths of outer space. Each Carl Sagan Center research project is related to understanding the origins of life or the extent to which life may be present beyond Earth. Publications during 2016 were extensive and included Nature and Science as well as the Astronomical Journal, Astrobiology, Applied Physics, Journal of Chemical Physics, Icarus, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Aeolian Research and more.

    Sharing learning with the wider world is part of the mission of the SETI Institute. SETI Institute researchers speak at dozens of engagements each year, as well as write stories and be interviewed in the popular media. The breadth and depth of the science, combined with the impact and reach of our education programs help tell the whole story.

    2017 is shaping up to be just as exciting. Join us on our journey of exploration and discovery. Sign up for our e-news for the latest updates and information.

    See the full article here .



    The science of SETI@home
    SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

    Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

    Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SETi@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

    To participate in this project, download and install the BOINC software on which it runs. Then attach to the project. While you are at BOINC, look at some of the other projects which you might find of interest.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    Are We Alone?

    We are here.
    Circling one star among hundreds of billions, in one galaxy among a hundred billion more, in a Universe that is vast and expanding ever faster – perhaps toward infinity. In the granular details of daily life, it’s easy to forget that we live in a place of astonishing grandeur and mystery.
    The Breakthrough Initiatives are a program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?

    Where is everybody?
    So wondered the great physicist Enrico Fermi. The Universe is ancient and immense. Life, he reasoned, has had plenty of time to get started – and get smart. But we see no evidence of anything alive or intelligent in space. In the last five years, we have discovered that planets in the habitable zone of stars are common. Based on the numbers discovered so far, there are estimated to be billions more in our galaxy alone. Yet we are still in the dark about life. Are we really alone? Or are there others out there?
    It’s one of the biggest questions. And only science can answer it.
    Breakthrough Listen is a $100 million program of astronomical observations in search of evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. It is by far the most comprehensive, intensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for artificial radio and optical signals. A complete survey of the 1,000,000 nearest stars, the plane and center of our galaxy, and the 100 nearest galaxies. All data will be open to the public.
    Breakthrough Message is a $1 million competition to design a message representing Earth, life and humanity that could potentially be understood by another civilization. The aim is to encourage humanity to think together as one world, and to spark public debate about the ethics of sending messages beyond Earth.

    Can we reach the stars?
    Life in the Universe does not only mean extraterrestrials. It also means us. No other beings have yet visited us – but neither have we stepped out to the galactic stage. Are we destined to belong to Earth forever? Or can we reach the stars?
    If we can, the natural first step is our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri – four light years away.
    Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for a new technology, enabling ultra-light unmanned space flight at 20% of the speed of light; and to lay the foundations for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

    The Breakthrough Initiatives were founded in 2015 by Yuri and Julia Milner to explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective.

    Breakthrough Listen is currently operating on three telescopes

    Green Bank Radio Telescope

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Green Bank is currently funded by the National Science Foundation. But those funds are now threatened for the future. Please visit GBO, and see how you can help.

    Parkes Radio Telescope

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

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

    Lick has faced a funding crises created by the University of California. Please visit Friends of Lick to see how you can help.

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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  • richardmitnick 10:43 am on February 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Atmospheres can protect and nurture or they can destroy, “L” is for the longevity of a potentially civilized intelligent world, , , , , , , SETI Institute, The fate of Earth is indeed in our hands   

    From Many Worlds: “Do Intelligent Civilizations Across the Galaxies Self Destruct? For Better and Worse, We’re The Test Case” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    The Eastern Seaboard as seen from the International Space Station in 2012. (NASA)

    In 1950, while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, renowned physicist Enrico Fermi was lunching with colleagues including Edward Teller, Herbert York an Emil Konopinski. The group talked and laughed about a spate of recent UFO reports during the meal, as well as a cartoon about who might be stealing garbage can top.

    A bit later in the meal Fermi famously asked more seriously, “Where are they?” Sure, there were many bogus reports back then about alien flying saucers, but Fermi was asking what has turned out to be a significant and long-lasting question.

    If there are billions of exoplanets out there — as speculated back then but proven now — why have there been no bona fide reports of advanced extraterrestrials visiting Earth, or somehow leaving behind their handiwork?

    Many answers have been offered in the following decades — that we are alone in the universe, that the distances between solar systems are too great to travel, that Earth became home to life early in the galaxy’s history and other planets are only now catching up, that life might be common in the universe but intelligent life is not.

    I would like to focus on another response, however, one that came to mind often while reading a new book by the former holder of the astrobiology chair at the Library of Congress, planetary scientist David Grinspoon.

    This potential explanation is among the most unsettling: that intelligent and technologically advanced beings are likely to ultimately destroy themselves. Along with the creativity, the prowess and the gumption, intelligence brings with it an inherent instinct for unsustainable expansion and unintentional self destruction.

    I should say right off that this is not a view shared by Grinspoon. His Earth in Human Hands, in fact, argues with data and conviction that humans are more likely than not to ultimately find ways to work together and avoid looming global threats from climate change, incoming asteroids, depleting the ozone layer and myriad other potential sources of mass extinction.

    But his larger point is the sobering one: that the fate of Earth is, indeed, in our hands. We humans are a force shaping the planet that is as powerful as a ring of volcanoes, a giant impactor from space, the long-ago rise of lifeforms that could, and did, dramatically change our atmosphere and along the way caused near global extinction.

    It may sound odd, but as he sees it we are now the planet’s most powerful and consequential force of nature.

    Since the Industrial Revolution and the spread of technology over the past 200 years, humans have become the dominant force on the planet, says David Grinspoon, the first Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress. (Credit: Tony Steele)

    “What I’ve sought to do is describe what is reality on our planet,” Grinspoon told me. “Some people have been hostile and told me it’s arrogant to say humans have so much control over the fate of the planet, and I agree that it’s a sobering thing.”

    But the Earth has been and will be dramatically changed by us. The big question for the future is whether change can be for the better, or will it be unsustainable and for the worse.”

    While Grinspoon’s major themes involve competing paths for the future of our planet, they consistently are based on and informed by knowledge gained in recent decades about planets in our solar system and those very far away. The logic and track record of the search for intelligent life beyond Earth (SETI) also plays a role, as does the author’s relationships — initially via family in childhood — with Carl Sagan and some of the scientists he mentored.

    For instance, Grinspoon has studied Venus and the evolution of its atmosphere. He says that an understanding of the runaway greenhouse effect that created surface temperatures of 800 degrees F has been instumental in the study of climate change on Earth.

    David Grinspoon is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, and the author of “Earth in Human Hands.”

    Similarly, the disappearance of much of the Martian atmosphere left the once warmer planet frigid and likely lifeless. Sagan’s work on the dust storms of Mars, which have the effect of making the planet colder still, was an early scientific foray into understanding the importance of atmosphere and climate on a potential biosphere. So was Sagan’s work on the possible effects of atomic war — the globally life-destroying “nuclear winter.”

    The clear inference: Planetary atmospheres can change, as ours is doing now with major buildups in carbon dioxide. Atmospheres can protect and nurture, or they can destroy.

    And Exhibit A is the three rocky solar system planets in what is a slightly expanded habitable zone. But only one supports life.

    The buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans since the onset of the industrial revolution, Grinspoon writes, is a prime example of how intelligent people and their technology can unintentionally have a huge impact on nature and the planet. The jury remains out as to how humanity will respond.

    But Grinspoon also points to the way that nations around the globe responded to the discovery that the ozone layer was being depleted as an example of how humanity can repair unintentional yet potentially extinction-threatening challenges.

    It took a while, but the artificial refrigerants — chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — causing the damage were ultimately curtailed and then banned, and there are signs that the worrisome holes in the ozone layer are if not shrinking, at least no longer growing.

    The Drake equation, created by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961, assesses the probability of how many planets in our galaxy might have civilizations that can communicate. The last factor — the “L” for longevity — is considered key. Drake was one of the founders of SETI, and its effort to detect signals from intelligent life beyond Earth.

    This brings us back to the Fermi paradox, and the apparent absence of signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Fermi, and many others, have assumed that successful, technological civilizations elsewhere would have the desire and ultimately know-how to expand beyond their original planet and colonize others. Indeed, early SETI gatherings here and in the former Soviet Union took that drive to expand for granted, a reflection of attitudes of the times.

    This presumed drive to colonize was often discussed as either a kind of biological imperative or an acknowledgement that these “intelligent” civilizations are likely to have seriously damaged their own planets through unsustainable and hazardous growth. Either way, they would be on the move.

    Yet after more than a half century of listening for signals from these presumed intelligent and mobile beings, the SETI effort to detect such life via radio telescopes has come up empty. There are many potential reasons why, but let’s focus on the one introduced earlier.

    The pioneering Drake equation, first put forward in 1961, attempts to assess the probability of finding intelligent civilizations beyond Earth based on factors such as rate of star formation in the galaxy, the number of planets formed and then the percentage with life, then the number with complex life and finally intelligent and technologically-sophisticated life. But it’s the “L” at the end of the equations, says Grinspoon, that is widely considered the most important.

    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

    The “L” is for the longevity of a potentially civilized, intelligent world, or “the length of time over which such civilizations release detectable signals.”

    Of all the components of the Drake equation, which is filled with unknowns and partially known estimates, L is no doubt the least well defined. After all, no extraterrestrial life, and certainly no intelligent life, has ever be detected.

    Yet as describe by Grinspoon, “L” — which for Earth is about 200 years now — is the key.

    “Let’s say that it’s impossible for a civilization with very powerful technology to last for 10,000 years, or even 1,000 years. That makes the likelihood of ever making contact with them vanishingly small even if life and intelligence are out there. The chances of them being close enough to detect and communicate with are pretty much nil.”

    If the opposite is true, if it’s possible for a civilization to get over their technological adolescence, then they ought to be detectable. Actually, they could last for millions of years using their technology to enhance and protect the planet.”

    Planets face all kinds of dire threats, and catastrophes and extinctions are the rule. But if technology can be used intentionally for the benefit the planet — like protecting it from an asteroid or avoiding the next Ice Age – longevity would clearly improve greatly.”

    This interstellar view, he says, helps to see more clearly what is happening on Earth. Now that through our technologies we have become the prime movers regarding the planet’s health and safety, it is really up to us as a species to choose between allowing these “advances” to knowingly or unintentionally harm the planet, or to consciously use technology to make it better.

    Grinspoon does not see our current century as one when the effects of technology are likely to be intentionally positive. But he does see the movement towards a more sustainable planet to be irreversible, whatever blips might come our way. What’s more, he said, fossil fuels will be largely gone by 2100 and there’s reason to believe the world’s human population will have stabilized — two enormous changes that favor a longer-lived human civilization.

    “The long-held view that humans will always expand, that they will maintain that biologically primitive imperative, that growth is always good — it’s interesting to wonder if those assumptions aren’t inherently wrong,” he said.

    “I suggest that true ‘intelligence’ able to sustain itself involves an inherent questioning of those values, and that a more measured and strategic growth pattern, or even material stasis might be values that come with a more universal intelligence.”

    Whether that intelligence is on Earth or many hundreds of light years away.

    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 12:41 pm on January 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), , Observations of Ceres indicate that asteroids might be camouflaged, Pyroxene, SETI Institute   

    From SETI: “Observations of Ceres indicate that asteroids might be camouflaged” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    January 18 2017
    Science Contact:

    Franck Marchis
    Email: fmarchis@seti.org

    Media contacts:

    Nicholas A. Veronico
    Email: NVeronico@sofia.usra.edu

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

    The appearance of small bodies in the outer solar system could be deceiving. Asteroids and dwarf planets may be camouflaged with an outer layer of material that actually comes from somewhere else.

    Using data primarily gathered by SOFIA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a team of astronomers has detected the presence of substantial amounts of material on the surface of Ceres that appears to be fragments of other asteroids.


    This is contrary to the currently accepted surface composition classification of Ceres, suggesting that the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is cloaked by material that has partially disguised its real makeup.

    “We find that the outer few microns of the surface is partially coated with dry particles,” says Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute. “But they don’t come from Ceres itself. They’re debris from asteroid impacts that probably occurred tens of millions of years ago.”

    Ceres is considered to be both an asteroid and a dwarf planet, the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system.

    Ceres with bright spot ESO Harps
    Ceres with bright spot ESO Harps

    Astronomers have classified Ceres, as well as 75 percent of all asteroids, as belonging to composition class “C” based on their similar colors. But the mid-infrared spectra from SOFIA show that Ceres differs substantially from C-type asteroids in nearby orbits, challenging the conventional understanding of the relationship between Ceres and smaller asteroids.

    “By analyzing the spectral properties of Ceres we have detected a layer of fine particles of a dry silicate called pyroxene. Models of Ceres based on data collected by NASA’s Dawn…

    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft
    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft

    …as well as ground-based telescopes indicated substantial amounts of water-bearing minerals such as clays and carbonates,” explains Pierre Vernazza, research scientist in the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille. “Only the mid-infrared observations made using SOFIA were able to show that both types of material are present on the surface of Ceres.”

    Ceres’ surface is contaminated by a significant amount of dry material while its the area below the crust contains essentially water-bearing materials. The mid-infrared observations revealed the presence of dry pyroxene on the surface probably coming from interplanetary dust particles. The Internal structure of the Dwarf Planet Ceres was derived from the NASA Dawn spacecraft data. No image credit.

    To identify where the pyroxene on the surface of Ceres came from, Vernazza and his collaborators, including researchers from the SETI Institute and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, turned to interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) that are commonly seen as meteors when they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. The research team had previously shown that IDPs blasted into space by asteroid collisions are an important source of material accumulated on the surfaces of other asteroids. The implication is that a coating of IDPs has caused Ceres to mimic the coloration of some of its dry and rocky neighbors.

    Ceres and asteroids are not the only instance in which material transported from elsewhere has affected the surfaces of solar system bodies. Dramatic examples include the red material seen by New Horizons on Pluto’s moon Charon and Saturn’s two-faced moon Iapetus.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    Planetary scientists also hypothesize that material from comets and asteroids provided a final veneer to the then-forming Earth – a coating that included substantial amounts of water plus the organic substances of the biosphere.

    This study [The Astronomical Journal] resolves a long standing question about whether surface material accurately reflects the intrinsic composition of an asteroid. These results show that by extending observations to the mid-infrared, one can better identify the composition of an asteroid. According to Vernazza, “the detection of some ammoniated clays mixed with the watery clays on Ceres raises the possibility that the dwarf planet might have formed in the outer reaches of the solar system and somehow migrated to its current location.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:58 am on November 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From SETI Institute: “Did Early Earth Spin On Its Side?” 

    SETI Logo new
    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
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute,   

    From SETI and UNLV: “A New Species of Planetary System” 

    SETI Logo new
    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
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From Seth Shostak at SETI: “World’s Biggest Radio Ear” 

    SETI Logo new
    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 .

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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” 

    SETI Logo new
    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 .

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