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  • richardmitnick 1:50 pm on June 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “If Extraterrestrials are out there, why haven’t we found them?” 

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    From SETI Institute

    Jun 18, 2018
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

    The Fermi Paradox, named for Dr. Enrico Fermi, describes the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the high probability that such alien life exists. AP

    “Where is everybody?”

    For those who want to understand why we haven’t found any space aliens, the Fermi Paradox is as popular as cheeseburgers. First proposed by physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950, this perennial head-scratcher rests on the idea that it would take only a few tens of millions of years for an advanced civilization to colonize the Milky Way — leaving their mark on every last star system in the galaxy.

    So why hasn’t some ambitious race of aliens done that? After all, the Milky Way is three times older than Earth, so they’ve had plenty of opportunity to finish the project. We should see outposts of someone’s galactic empire in every direction. Why don’t we?

    As Fermi put it, “Where is everybody?”

    A Russian physicist named A.A. Berezin recently addressed this cosmic conundrum in a short paper. He thinks he knows why we haven’t espied aliens. Mind you, he’s not the first. The Fermi Paradox has prompted dozens if not hundreds of explanations. One possibility is that colonizing the galaxy is simply too costly. Or maybe alien societies are out there, but we lack the instruments to find them. Others favor the idea that extraterrestrials find Homo sapiens inconsequential and juvenile — so they keep a low profile and avoid us.

    Berezin suggests something else. He presumes that at some point in the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang, an extraterrestrial civilization managed to develop the capability to travel between the stars. Soon thereafter, they embarked on a project to spread out. But as they — or their robot underlings — took over the galaxy, they eradicated everyone else. Some of this might have been inadvertent, in the same way that construction crews mindlessly obliterate ants.

    Does this sound like a variation on Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which Earth is unintentionally destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass? Well, it’s the same basic idea. But unlike Adams’ story, Berezin’s doesn’t make much sense. To begin with, it’s unclear how this suggestion really differs from the original paradox. If some ancient society of Galactans took over our galaxy (and maybe all the nearby galaxies too — there’s been time enough), why don’t we see evidence of that?

    By 200 A.D., the Roman Empire had infested nearly all the lands edging the Mediterranean. If you were living within the empire, you’d definitely know it — you could find fluted architecture just about everywhere. So if the Galactans have been all over the place, why don’t we notice? In addition, these hypothesized alien colonists couldn’t just sweep through the Milky Way once and leave it at that. A new species — such as Homo sapiens — might arise at any time, offering a new challenge to imperial dominance and forcing the Galactans to clean house again.

    Keeping control of the galaxy would be an endless project, and one that couldn’t be managed from some central “headquarters.” Even at the speed of light, it takes tens of thousands of years to get from one random spot in the Milky Way to another. Compare that to the response time for Rome — the time between learning that there was trouble afoot and getting their armies in place to confront it. That was typically weeks, not tens of thousands of years.

    Ask yourself: Would the Roman Empire have existed if the legions took centuries or more to trudge to Germania every time the troublesome Alemanni crossed the Rhine? Germania would cease being Roman before you could say “barbarian.”

    It seems clear that Galactans would have to adopt the Roman strategy: Station some defensive infrastructure throughout the Milky Way so it’s possible to deal with problems quickly. Sounds easy, but it would present a difficult logistical problem. How do you adequately maintain and update such a massive network when travel times are measured in millennia?

    Berezin’s idea of how to resolve the puzzle presented by the Fermi Paradox seems neither more convincing nor more plausible than many of the others. It replaces one paradox with another by arguing that the galaxy is, indeed, inhabited everywhere by a pervasive culture that presumably sprang up billions of years ago but somehow manages to evade all our detection efforts.

    The paradox continues to fuel many lunchtime conversations, which at least is a nice diversion from gossip or politics. But if we someday find a signal from space, Fermi’s question will become nothing more than an historical curiosity — a bit of misplaced musing that confounded Homo sapiens for a few decades.

    Meanwhile the aliens — and who could doubt they exist? — keep their own company.

    Originally published at https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/if-space-aliens-are-out-there-why-haven-t-we-ncna881951

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:30 pm on May 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “An Update on the Potential Habitability of TRAPPIST-1. No Aliens yet, but We’ve Learned a lot.” 

    SETI Logo new
    From SETI Institute

    April 24, 2018
    Franck Marchis, Exoplanet Research Chair, Senior Scientist

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

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

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    One year ago, I wrote an article about the remarkable discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, a system of seven temperate terrestrial planets orbiting an ultra-cool red dwarf star. This was an enormous astronomical discovery because these low-mass stars are the most numerous ones in our galaxy, and the discovery of potentially habitable planets around one of them led many people to speculate about the existence of life there and elsewhere in our galaxy around similar stars.

    This announcement also inspired a lot of additional studies by astronomers worldwide, who have used additional instruments and run complex models to better understand this planetary system and its potential for hosting life.

    One year later, it seems to me that the time is right to give you an update on what we’ve learned about this planetary system, which is located only 41 light-years from Earth.

    Better Understanding of the Planetary System

    Between December 2016 and March 2017, additional data on TRAPPIST-1 were collected using the Kepler spacecraft in the K2 program.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Kepler was designed to measure transits of exoplanets, but observations of TRAPPIST-1 were a huge challenge even for this remarkable planet-hunting spacecraft because TRAPPIST-1 is very faint in visible light.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    During its lifetime, astronomers have learned a lot about Kepler’s many capabilities, including better ways to reach the sensitivity necessary to detect the signatures of TRAPPIST-1-type transits (typically 0.1% the flux of the star). The authors of an article published in May 2017 in Nature were able to constrain the orbital period of the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h (P=18.766 days). Their work shows that the seven planets are, as suspected, in three-body resonances in a complex chain that suggests good stability over a very long period of time.

    Keep in mind that we do not see the planets but detect only their shadow using the transit technique that gives us a good estimate of a planet’s size and its orbit. However, to truly understand the nature of a planet, we also need to determine its density, and hence its mass. In an effort to estimate mass in multiple systems, astronomers have used a technique called transit-timing variations (or TTV). This technique consists of measuring a small shift in the timing of a transit caused by gravitational interaction with the other planets in the system. Using a new algorithm and a complete set of data, including data from both TRAPPIST and K2, a team of scientists has significantly improved the density measurements of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, which range from 0.6 to 1.0 times the density of Earth, or a density measurement similar to what we see in the terrestrial planets in our solar system. If we also consider the amount of light we receive from these planets, TRAPPIST-1 e is probably the most Earth-like one in the system. A paper published in February 2018 [Astronomy and Astrophysics] also included a discussion of the interior of these planets and suggested that TRAPPIST-1 c and e have large rocky interiors and -b, -d, -f, -g should have thick atmospheres, oceans, or icy crusts.

    Figure 2: Revised density and incident flux received by the TRAPPIST-1 planets (in red) compared to our solar system’s terrestrial planets (from Grimms et al. 2018)

    To understand a planetary system, we need accurate information about its most massive object, its star. Stellar astronomers have improved their knowledge of TRAPPIST-1’s star and now estimate its age to be between 5 and 10 billion years, which makes it older than our sun. This estimate is based on various methods, including the study of its activity, its rotation rate, and its location in the Milky Way. Its mass has also been revised to 9% the mass of our sun, which slightly affects the distance of the planet from the host star.

    While observing the TRAPPIST system, astronomers have also detected strong star- like flares (seen, for instance, toward the end of the K2 observations). UV monitoring by the Hubble Space Telescope and by XMM/Newton combined with modeling revealed that the inner planets may have lost a large amount of water, but the outermost ones probably retain most of theirs. The complexity of these outgassing models and interactions with the stellar wind, when combined with planetary masses, are key to understand the nature of TRAPPIST-1’s planets and their potential habitability.

    Dynamicists, who represent another important astronomical subdiscipline, have also taken an interest in this complex system. With seven planets surrounding a low-mass star, one can legitimately wonder about system stability. Their models show us that the system can be stable over billions of years, which is outstanding news if you want life to flourish there.

    New Experiments and Innovative Ideas

    We now have unambiguous proof of the existence of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, and we know about their orbits, their size, and their mass, but a lot still remains to be learned before we can claim that they have liquid water on their surface, and we need to know far more than that before we can conclude that these planets might be habitable, or inhabited.

    One of the key challenges to computing the surface temperature of a planet is the existence and composition of its atmosphere. The atmosphere can act like a blanket, warming up the planetary surface. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have attempted to detect the presence of rich hydrogen-dominated atmospheres around TRAPPIST-1 planets d, e, f, and g. Multi-color transit events taken in the near-infrared have ruled out such an atmosphere for planets d, e, and f. A H2-dominated atmosphere would lead to high surface temperatures and pressures, which are incompatible with the presence of liquid water. This negative detection suggests that these planets could have an Earth-like atmosphere with a temperate surface climate, which is more good news if, like me, you’re interested in habitability.

    Figure 3: The Hubble observations revealed that the planets do not have hydrogen-dominated atmospheres. The flatter spectrum shown in the lower illustration indicates that Hubble did not spot any traces of water or methane, which are abundant in hydrogen-rich atmosphere (Credit: NASA, ESA and Z. Levy (STScI)

    If life appeared on one TRAPPIST-1 planet at a time when it was hospitable, what are the chances that it spread throughout the entire system? Two astronomers discussed this hypothesis in a short article published in June 2017 and used a simple model for lithopanspermia (the transfer of organisms in rocks from one planet to another) to discover that the likelihood of that happening is orders of magnitude higher than for the Earth-to-Mars system. In compact TRAPPIST-1, the probability of impact is higher and the transit time between planets is shorter, which makes contamination among planets more likely. They concluded that the probably of abiogenesis (the appearance of life) is enhanced for TRAPPIST-1. Of course, this is pure speculation based on physical considerations that need to be backed up by observations, but it reinforced the importance of finding such compact mini-planetary systems elsewhere the galaxy.

    Life can exist on moons as well as planets, and a moon can be a significant contributor to the presence of life because its sheer presence can stabilize the planet’s axis of rotation and create tidal pools that may be necessary for complex molecules to form and interact. No moons have been detected around the TRAPPIST-1 planets, even though the Spitzer observations were able to detect a moon as large as Earth’s. Theoretical study shows that the inner planets (-b to -e) are unlikely to have small moons because of the proximity of their star and other planets. We are not yet able to detect the presence of a small moon circling one of the outermost planets, and will not be able to detect one without using bigger telescopes in space and on the ground.

    Induction heating is a process used on Earth to melt metal. It occurs when we change the magnetic field in a conducting medium, which then dissipates the energy through heat. Astronomers have known for a few years that M-type stars like TRAPPIST-1 have a strong magnetic field. A group of astronomers [Nature Astronomy] studied the effect of such a strong magnetic field on the interior of planets in a system tilted with respect to the magnetic field of their star. Assuming a planetary interior and composition similar to Earth, they determined that the three innermost planets (-b, -c, -d) should experience enhanced volcanic activity and outgassing, and in some extreme cases have developed a magma ocean with plate tectonics and large-scale earthquakes, comparable to Io, a satellite of Jupiter. Again, this result is extremely model-dependent since we don’t yet have a clear idea of the internal composition of those planets, which will directly affect the strength of the induction heating. However, if they are truly Earth-like in composition, they could be a hellish version of our own planet.

    Other scientists have also discussed the existence of significant plate tectonics and intense earthquakes in this system due to tidal stress introduced by planet-to-star and planet-to-planet interactions. If the activity is right, some of the TRAPPIST-1 planets could indeed be similar to Earth with the equivalent of continental plates, ocean floors, and active volcanoes, but one day we will need to take a picture to confirm this.

    What’s next?

    I have summarized some of the latest articles published over the past two years about the wonderful TRAPPIST-1 system. This list is not exhaustive and I probably missed some interesting ideas and new hypotheses about this complex system.
    But one thing is crystal-clear: My readings have left me (and a lot of other people) stoked about what we might find from additional observations with large ground-based telescopes, including an Extremely Large Telescope (like the TMT, ELT, or GMT), or the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

    TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, at an altitude 3,046 m (9,993 ft)

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

    Each of these facilities is needed to constrain our models and refine our understanding of this system. For instance, long-term monitoring of the system with these facilities will place further constraints on the presence of moons in the system. Using the accurate photometry made possible by JWST, astronomers hope to constrain planetary masses and orbits to a great accuracy, derive the composition of their atmospheres, construct crude temperature maps of all of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
    After 2020, if everything goes well with JWST and if the space telescope provides the superb data that we expect, we might have a crude map of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, similar to the rough image of Pluto made with Hubble Space Telescope and later validated by the New Horizons Spacecraft.

    Figure 4: A comparison between images of Pluto obtained by New Horizons by direct imaging and the Hubble Space Telescope by lightcurve reconstruction. Credit: NASA; (Picture combined and labeled by S. Hariri)

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    In less than two decades, nearby planetary systems like TRAPPIST-1 will become our cosmic backyard, and if everything goes as planned with missions like TESS, PLATO, ARIEL, and JWST as well as the ELTs, we will soon learn the secrets of those exotic worlds which, I am convinced, will surprise us by their diversity, just as our own solar system has surprised us over the past two decades, surprises us today, and will surely continue to surprise us in the future.
    Clear skies,

    Franck M.

    If you want to learn more about the TRAPPIST-1 system, check out some of those articles (all available for free on ArXiV).

    Boss, Alan P., Alycia J. Weinberger, Sandra A. Keiser, Tri L. Astraatmadja, Guillem Anglada-Escude, and Ian B. Thompson. 2017. Astrometric Constraints on the Masses of Long-Period Gas Giant Planets in the TRAPPIST-1 Planetary System. The Astronomical Journal, Volume 154, Issue 3, article id. 103, 6 pp. (2017). 154. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aa84b5.

    Bourrier, V., J. de Wit, E. Bolmont, V. Stamenkovic, P. J. Wheatley, A. J. Burgasser, L. Delrez, et al. 2017. Temporal evolution of the high-energy irradiation and water content of TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets. The Astronomical Journal, Volume 154, Issue 3, article id. 121, 17 pp. (2017). 154. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aa859c.

    Burgasser, Adam J., and Eric E. Mamajek. 2017. On the Age of the TRAPPIST-1 System. The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 845, Issue 2, article id. 110, 10 pp. (2017). 845. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aa7fea. de Wit, J., H. R. Wakeford, N. Lewis, L. Delrez, M. Gillon, F. Selsis, J. Leconte, et al. 2018. Atmospheric reconnaissance of the habitable-zone Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. Nature Astronomy, Volume 2, p. 214-219 2: 214–219. doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0374-z.

    Grimm, S, B-O Demory, M Gillon, C Dorn, E Agol, A Burdanov, L Delrez, et al. 2018. The nature of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets. Astronomy & Astrophysics. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201732233.

    Kane, Stephen R., and Stephen R. 2017. Worlds Without Moons: Exomoon Constraints for Compact Planetary Systems. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 839, Issue 2, article id. L19, 4 pp. (2017). 839. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa6bf2.
    Kislyakova, K. G., L. Noack, C. P. Johnstone, V. V. Zaitsev, L. Fossati, H. Lammer, M. L. Khodachenko, P. Odert, and M. Guedel. 2017. Magma oceans and enhanced volcanism on TRAPPIST-1 planets due to induction heating. Nature Astronomy, Vol. 1, p. 878-885 (2017) 1: 878–885. doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0284-0.

    Lingam, Manasvi, and Abraham Loeb. 2017. Enhanced interplanetary panspermia in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, issue 26, pp.6689-6693 114: 6689–6693. doi:10.1073/pnas.1703517114.

    Luger, Rodrigo, Marko Sestovic, Ethan Kruse, Simon L. Grimm, Brice-Olivier Demory, Eric Agol, Emeline Bolmont, et al. 2017. A seven-planet resonant chain in TRAPPIST-1. Nature Astronomy, Volume 1, id. 0129 (2017). 1. doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0129.

    Tamayo, Daniel, Hanno Rein, Cristobal Petrovich, and Norman Murray. 2017. Convergent Migration Renders TRAPPIST-1 Long-lived. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 840, Issue 2, article id. L19, 6 pp. (2017). 840. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa70ea.

    Van Grootel, Valerie, Catarina S. Fernandes, Michaël Gillon, Emmanuel Jehin, Jean Manfroid, Richard Scuflaire, Adam J. Burgasser, et al. 2017. Stellar parameters for TRAPPIST-1. The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 853, Issue 1, article id. 30, 7 pp. (2018). 853. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aaa023.

    Zanazzi, J. J., and Amaury Triaud. 2017. Initiation of Plate Tectonics on Exoplanets with Significant Tidal Stress. eprint arXiv:1711.09898.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


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  • richardmitnick 2:12 pm on April 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “Introducing “Ultima Thule”: NASA’s Ultimate Destination in the Kuiper Belt!” 

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    SETI Institute

    March 13, 2018

    Thule (here spelled “Tile”) as it appeared on a 1539 map. No image credit.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    NASA and the New Horizons team are pleased to announce that our target body in the Kuiper Belt, formally known as “(486958) 2014 MU69”, is being nicknamed Ultima Thule. The name comes from medieval mapmakers, where Thule (pronounced “thoo-lee”) was a distant and unknown island thought to be the northernmost place on Earth. “Ultima Thule” (which translates as “farthest Thule” or “beyond Thule”) has come to be used as a metaphor for any mysterious place “beyond the borders of the known world”. This is an apt metaphor for the tiny object, four billion miles away, that will be the next destination of the New Horizons spacecraft.

    The name was nominated independently by about 40 participants in the Frontier Worlds campaign, and was ranked very highly in the voting. Ultima Thule will serve as the unofficial nickname for MU69 through the flyby on New Year’s day, 2019. Later in 2019, we will work with the International Astronomical Union to establish a formal, permanent name for the body.

    Thank you to everyone who participated in the naming campaign! Now join us on our ultimate journey.

    –Mark Showalter and the New Horizons Science Team

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:46 pm on April 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol, , , , , Closest analogs of Mars that exists here on Earth, , SETI Institute   

    From SETI Institute: Women in STEM -“Nathalie Cabrol – Overcoming the Odds and her Search for Life on Mars” 

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    SETI Institute

    March 23, 2018

    Nathalie Cabrol

    Astrobiologist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute is featured in this Sunday’s NY Times [March 25, 2018] Magazine. The profile focuses on her most recent field expedition to one of the most remote and extreme environments on Earth – the high Andes of Chile, as well as the scientific questions that drive her work. However, it also explores some of the personal and professional challenges Nathalie has faced on her journey to becoming the scientist — and woman — she is today.

    The region of Chile visited on the field expedition described in the article is one of the closest analogs of Mars that exists here on Earth. Nathalie and her team traveled there to develop and test tools and instruments that will be sent to Mars to search for possible traces of ancient microbial life.

    Atacama Desert, Chile

    Nathalie’s research addresses questions such as: How will know what kind of life to look for on Mars and where to find it? How will we recognize what we’re looking for? And how will we understand it if we do find something?

    “Astrobiology research conducted in so-called Mars analog sites around the world, is an important part of the science we do at the SETI Institute,” said Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “Helen McDonald’s article in this past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine puts you squarely in the middle of the Atacama desert and the Altiplano of Chile – an analog site on Earth that informs us of conditions on Mars over 3 billion years ago. You can taste the salt in the dusty air and feel the crunch of crystalline gypsum giving way under foot as our NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) research team looks for primitive lifeforms in this vast, barren, yet spectacular landscape. The article is also a moving portrait of Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, NAI team leader and the head of research at the Carl Sagan Center here at the Institute. Reading Helen’s article, you’ll travel to early Mars, while also gaining insight into the passion and spirit of exploration that drives scientists like Nathalie.”

    Nathalie is the first woman director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute. As such, her vision and leadership are helping to guide the shape and focus of scientific research at the SETI Institute and driving towards creative and innovative strategies to conduct – and fund – the work.

    Nathalie has been with the SETI Institute since 1998, specializes in planetary science, and is deeply involved in efforts to explore and characterize Mars. She also develops exploration strategies for the moons of the outer solar system where the conditions essential for the origin and sustenance of life are present. She is conducting research at Mars analog sites in the Andes, and in particular the adaptation strategies of life in these extreme environments. Nathalie was the spokesperson for the selection of Gusev crater as the landing site for the Spirit Rover, and is a science team member for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission.

    Nathalie has published extensively in academic journals, most recently in the January issue of Astrobiology on the topic of the co-evolution of life and environment. She is the author of several books on the subjects of planetary science and terrestrial extreme environments. Nathalie is a Wings Worldquest Carey Fellow and was elected Air and Space Wings Worldquest Woman of Discovery. She is a frequent lecturer in both academic and public settings.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:25 pm on March 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Language arts, , SETI Institute, Speak like a human to ET   

    From METI: “Speak like a human to ET” 


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

    METI International


    Morris Jones

    Much attention in the METI world is focused on designing codes or languages that could be understood by extraterrestrials. We don’t think they would speak any languages commonly used by humans, so attempts are made to produce something close to a “universal language”. Mathematics heavily influences this process, and with good reason. It’s a more objective reflection of the universe, and taps into rules and laws that would apply to extraterrestrials as much as us. Addition works the same way on Earth and Proxima Centauri. But even the way humans interpret and communicate mathematics is subjective. It’s not only the code and symbolism we use. It could even reflect cognitive processes that could be unique to humans, and not necessarily shared by creatures with different minds.

    Other attempts at communication involve photographs and pictograms. But even these efforts can be less clear than we think. What we show, and what we expect to be interpreted, can be very different. People read different messages into the same image, even if they speak the same language. These differences can be profound between members of the same species. Imagine how this would affect communication between different planets!

    This analyst thus seeks to highlight a paradigm that approaches extraterrestrial messaging from another angle. Speak like a human! We don’t know how extraterrestrials think or communicate. Any effort we make in this regard is likely to have problems. But we know how humans communicate very well. Our languages and media (including all the arts) are vivid and profound. We have a lot to say, and the means to do so. Our systems are not always perfect, but they are effective.

    SETI and METI scientists love to invoke analogy in their considerations of extraterrestrials. We know about humans but we know essentially nothing about extraterrestrials. So it makes sense to work with what you have. Extrapolating human factors to extraterrestrials is hazardous, but it does have some degree of utility. There is likely to be a lot in common, even though there could be profound differences.

    Let’s apply this principle to communication. The languages of humans are known to us. They could even be more universal than we realize. Cognitive scientists and linguists claim that much of the basis of language seems to be hardwired into our brains, whether we speak Spanish or Swahili. There could even be principles of logic and information theory that mandate certain factors in communication, regardless of biology. Extraterrestrials may not think exactly the same way or communicate as we do, but they could still decipher much of what we want to say.

    Our languages are more than just means of communicating ideas. They presumably convey knowledge about the minds and societies that developed them. Some of these mechanisms are known to us, but others could be yet undiscovered by our own scholars. Extraterrestrials may know better. Furthermore, they could presumably conduct comparative linguistic studies with their own languages or those of other civilizations they have encountered.

    Furthermore, human languages are really a more open and direct way of saying what who we are. They are a part of us, and we should communicate our languages as much as we communicate anything else.

    See the full article here .

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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 11:34 am on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Are the aliens coming for us?, , , , , , SETI Institute   

    From SETI Institute: “Scientists say space aliens could hack our planet” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    February 26, 2018 [What took so long to get this into social media?]
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

    The 64-meter radio telescope at Parkes Observatory, Image credit CSIRO

    With all the news stories these days about computer hacking, it probably comes as no surprise that someone is worried about hackers from outer space. Yes, there are now scientists who fret that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society — not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture.

    How exactly would they do that? Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way — a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: “Do this for us, or we’ll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth.” Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants.

    Mind you, making a small star like the sun go supernova would be a mind-boggling trick — one that would impress astrophysicists (if any were left). As for the nanobots, I figure the aliens need only wait a century or two, and we’ll make the little devils ourselves, without any help.


    It’s indisputable that space aliens, if they do exist, might not be friendly. But it’s hard to think of things that we could do for agile, technically sophisticated aliens that they couldn’t accomplish more easily on their own. Imagine modern humans threatening Neanderthals with nuclear war unless they washed our cars. Would that make any sense?

    The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you’ve seen the 1996 film “Independence Day,” in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That’s about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor’s new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64.

    In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem. The Stuxnet virus that took out Iran’s enrichment centrifuges was designed to target a contemporary bit of software: the Windows operating system.

    If these nasty aliens are more than 40 light-years away, they won’t know that we have personal computers, let alone which operating system they should target. If they’re more than 80 light-years away, they won’t know that we have computers of any kind.

    Maybe they’ll try to disable our abacuses.


    It’s worth remarking that today’s SETI experiments — in which large antennas are used to search for signals from alien societies — are largely impervious to any of this chicanery. SETI receivers integrate incoming signals (which is to say, they average them) over seconds or minutes. That would turn any message into digital goo, and no pernicious content would remain. Yes, that’s a technical point, but I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever have computers susceptible to Klingon code.

    Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge — not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You’re a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that’s a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose.

    If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.

    Then again, aliens would likely have real trouble transmitting knowledge to us. In movies, extraterrestrials often communicate with us in colloquial English. But a real message from space is likely to be no more understandable than a digital TV signal would be to Guglielmo Marconi. An alien transmission is unlikely to be a Trojan horse — but it would at least tell us that there’s someone outside the gates.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 am on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From JHUAPL via EarthSky: “Pluto craft’s next target is Ultima Thule” 

    Johns Hopkins
    Johns Hopkins University

    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab bloc
    JHU Applied Physics Lab


    March 14, 2018
    Deborah Byrd

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    passed Pluto in 2015.

    With public input, the mission team has nicknamed the spacecraft’s next target – on the fringes of our solar system – Ultima Thule.

    This image shows New Horizons’ current position along its full planned trajectory toward MU69, now nicknamed Ultima Thule. The green segment of the line shows where the spacecraft has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft’s future path. Image via Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

    Some 115,000 people from around the world recently suggested some 34,000 possible nicknames for the distant object 2014 MU69, the next target of the New Horizons spacecraft, whose historic sweep past Pluto took place in July 2015. The New Horizons mission team announced on March 13, 2018, it has selected the name Ultima Thule – pronounced ultima thoo-lee – for New Horizon’s next target, a Kuiper Belt object officially named 2014 MU69. New Horizons will sweep closest to Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019. The mission team describes the object as:

    “… the most primitive world ever observed by spacecraft, in the farthest planetary encounter in history….”

    In a statement, the team explained their reasons for their choice:

    “Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means “beyond Thule” – beyond the borders of the known world – symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.”

    Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is New Horizons’ principal investigator. He said:

    “MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule. Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission’s next achievement. Since this will be the farthest exploration of any object in space in history, I like to call our flyby target Ultima, for short, symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA and our team.”

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69 – now nicknamed Ultima Thule – on January 1, 2019. This object orbits a billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto. Evidence gathered from Earth suggests it might be a binary (double) or multiple object. Image via NASA/ Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ SwRI/ Steve Gribben.

    NASA and the New Horizons team launched the nickname campaign in early November. Hosted by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, California, and led by Mark Showalter, an institute fellow and member of the New Horizons science team, the online contest sought nominations from the public and stipulated that a nickname would be chosen from among the top vote-getters.

    SETI Institute

    The campaign wrapped up on December 6, after a five-day extension to accommodate more voting. Of the 34,000 names suggested, 37 reached the ballot for voting and were evaluated for popularity. This included eight names suggested by the New Horizons team and 29 nominated by the public.

    The team then narrowed its selection to the 29 publicly nominated names and gave preference to names near the top of the polls. Names suggested included Abeona, Pharos, Pangu, Rubicon, Olympus, Pinnacle and Tiramisu. Final tallies in the naming contest posted here.

    About 40 members of the public nominated the name Ultima Thule. This name was one of the highest vote-getters among all name nominees. Showalter said:

    “We are grateful to those who proposed such an interesting and inspirational nickname. They deserve credit for capturing the true spirit of exploration that New Horizons embodies.”

    After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons team say they’ll choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects.

    Learn more about New Horizons, NASA’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, at http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

    New Horizons mission team members during the 2015 Pluto encounter. Expect more excitement to come when New Horizons encounters Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019!

    Bottom line: With public input, the New Horizons mission team has given the nickname Ultima Thule to the spacecraft’s next target, Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69.

    See the full article here .

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    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab Campus

    Founded on March 10, 1942—just three months after the United States entered World War II—APL was created as part of a federal government effort to mobilize scientific resources to address wartime challenges.

    APL was assigned the task of finding a more effective way for ships to defend themselves against enemy air attacks. The Laboratory designed, built, and tested a radar proximity fuze (known as the VT fuze) that significantly increased the effectiveness of anti-aircraft shells in the Pacific—and, later, ground artillery during the invasion of Europe. The product of the Laboratory’s intense development effort was later judged to be, along with the atomic bomb and radar, one of the three most valuable technology developments of the war.

    On the basis of that successful collaboration, the government, The Johns Hopkins University, and APL made a commitment to continue their strategic relationship. The Laboratory rapidly became a major contributor to advances in guided missiles and submarine technologies. Today, more than seven decades later, the Laboratory’s numerous and diverse achievements continue to strengthen our nation.

    APL continues to relentlessly pursue the mission it has followed since its first day: to make critical contributions to critical challenges for our nation.

    Johns Hopkins Campus

    The Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876, with the inauguration of its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. “What are we aiming at?” Gilman asked in his installation address. “The encouragement of research … and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pursue, and the society where they dwell.”

    The mission laid out by Gilman remains the university’s mission today, summed up in a simple but powerful restatement of Gilman’s own words: “Knowledge for the world.”

    What Gilman created was a research university, dedicated to advancing both students’ knowledge and the state of human knowledge through research and scholarship. Gilman believed that teaching and research are interdependent, that success in one depends on success in the other. A modern university, he believed, must do both well. The realization of Gilman’s philosophy at Johns Hopkins, and at other institutions that later attracted Johns Hopkins-trained scholars, revolutionized higher education in America, leading to the research university system as it exists today.

  • richardmitnick 9:10 am on February 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Phoning Home: Is Intelligent Alien Life Really Out There?, , SETI Institute   

    From Futurism: “Phoning Home: Is Intelligent Alien Life Really Out There?” 



    January 31, 2018
    Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

    Tag Hartman-Simkins/Stellan Johnson

    Despite an observable universe sprinkled with several trillion galaxies, each stuffed with a trillion planets, we see no evidence of anyone. No signals, no megastructures, no interstellar rockets. While astronomers routinely uncover puzzling objects in the sky, these always turn out to be manifestations of natural phenomena.

    Without mincing words, we can state that the cosmos has offered us no hint of the presence of beings as clever as, or cleverer than, Homo sapiens.

    It’s tempting to jump from this observational fact to a disappointing conclusion: There’s no one out there. That’s not to say that the universe is sterile. Most astrobiologists seem comfortable with the premise that life might be widespread. But their optimism doesn’t always extend to complex, intelligent life.

    It’s possible that we inhabit a universe whose occupants are mostly pond scum. After decades of seeing semi-humanoid aliens strut across the silver screen, it would be more than a little disappointing to think that the actual cosmic bestiary largely consists of plants and animals that are microscopic, or at best, no smarter than cane toads.

    That situation would make humans very special, a circumstance that seems at odds with the enormous amount of real estate available for life, as well as the billions of years since the Big Bang during which intelligence could arise.

    So, could there be a plausible explanation for why the universe seems so short on keen-witted company?

    Filtering Out Intelligent Life

    Economist Robin Hanson has suggested that life inevitably encounters a barrier on its evolutionary path to thinking critters – a Great Filter that keeps down the average IQ of the universe.

    What could this barrier be? Perhaps life itself is rare because it’s difficult to cook up in the first place. Maybe the transition from single-celled to multi-celled organisms is a bridge too far for most ecosystems. Possibly the emergence of intelligence is a fluke, like winning the Powerball, or perhaps all thinking beings inevitably engineer their own destruction shortly after developing technology.

    The idea that there are insurmountable hurdles in the path to intelligence leads to an interesting corollary. Consider the possibility that we’ll someday find microbes under the dry surface of Mars, or beneath the frozen ice of a moon like Enceladus or Europa. That would tell us that one hurdle – the origin of life – can be removed from the list. After all, if biology began on both Earth and another nearby world, then it’s a safe bet that it’s commonplace. No strong filter there.

    If we were to discover more sophisticated life somewhere, perhaps equivalent to trilobites or dinosaurs, that would also eliminate some of the postulated filters. Indeed, Nick Bostrom, at Oxford University, has said that it would be horrifyingly bad news to find such complex organisms on another world. Doing so would tell us that the Great Filter is in our future, not our past, and we are doomed. Homo sapiens will come up against a wall that keeps us from extending our dominion beyond Earth. Our species, as lovely and promising as it is, would would have a destiny that is short and dismal.

    The appeal of the Great Filter idea is that it takes a fairly limited observation – we don’t see any evidence of aliens in the night sky – and draws an astounding (if dystopian) conclusion about humanity’s destiny.

    Could the Great Filter Theory be Full of Holes?

    One could argue whether the various hurdles that have been suggested are really all that daunting. For example, the claim that the evolutionary step from insensate creatures to thinking beings could be incredibly unlikely.

    A premise of the Rare Earth hypothesis, put forward in a book by Peter Ward and Don Brownlee, published nearly two decades ago, is that the physical conditions of our planet are both finely tuned for our existence and seldom encountered elsewhere. Yes, smart creatures arose on Earth, but that’s because our planet is really special. However, the recent detection of thousands of planets around other stars suggests that terrestrial worlds are hardly in short supply. If there is a Great Filter, it’s not likely to be lack of suitable habitats.

    Other suggested barriers to intelligence are less easily dismissed because they depend as much on sociology as on astronomy. Many people seem almost proud to bray that humanity is going to Hades in a handbasket. If nuclear war doesn’t do us in, climate change will. But given that we have at least a chance of being smart about these threats and avoiding total self-destruction, it seems pretty clear that some reasonable fraction of alien societies will also be able to keep themselves alive and kicking for the long term.

    Indeed, it’s my opinion that the Great Filter idea falters not on the merits or otherwise of the proposed filters, but on the initial premise: Namely that, because we don’t see any evidence for other intelligence, we require some general mechanism to keep the cosmos short on sentience. Sure, it’s amusing to enumerate some of the difficulties in going from murky chemical soup to space-faring beings, but it seems far more likely that the problem here is a too-hasty conclusion about the prevalence of cosmic confreres.

    The efforts to find radio and light signals from other worlds, known as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has so far failed to uncover any hailing signals from aliens. But these experiments are both underfunded and still in their early days. Even if the universe is chock-a-block with transmitting societies, SETI could easily miss them, simply because of inadequate instrument sensitivity or the fact that only a small number of star systems have yet to be searched.

    A common, and regrettable, error is committed when people note that the SETI scientists have been toiling for more than 50 years without a discovery, as if that suggests that intelligence is rare. It doesn’t. Throughout most of that period, observations were restricted by the lack of telescope time or by receivers that could only examine small slices of the radio dial.

    In addition, it’s worth remarking that humanity is in the process of developing artificial intelligence, a technological trajectory that other sophisticated societies could very well follow. Unlike biological intelligence, AI can self-improve at tremendous speed. Also, there aren’t obvious limitations to the spread of machines throughout the cosmos. The implication of this observation is that the majority of the intelligence in the universe is likely to be synthetic. And machine intelligence might be small, localized, and cryptic.

    The absence of evidence would hardly qualify as evidence of absence. The Great Filter theory, in other words, could be no more than an appealing solution looking for a problem.

    See the full article here .

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    • stewarthoughblog 11:25 pm on February 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Tyson’s wild speculation that the presence of water justifies any conviction that life could be thriving wherever it may be found is intellectually insulting: water is one of, perhaps the, most common molecule in the universe making his statements more a faith-based proselytizing for naturalism and more funding for his personal career prolongation.

      SETI has proven itself a waste of money and resources. The “Great Filter” is a pop-science construct like analogies to winning the PowerBall lottery. The article fails, perhaps intentionally, to address the intractable naturalistic issues relative to the origin of life, which would have been a more plausible approach to consideration of the likelihood of any higher intelligence alien life form. The overly optimistic proposition of “pond scum” has as much viability at the myth of chemical evolution and Darwin’s “warm little ponds” or Oparin-Haldane prebiotic soup.

      This is not serious consideration of the title subject, rather pop-culture superficiality.


      • richardmitnick 6:52 am on February 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Everything you say about water may be true. The question is, do you think or believe that we are alone in the universe?


        • stewarthoughblog 10:39 pm on February 2, 2018 Permalink

          Thank you for your reply. Your question is profound, to say the least. I propose the following hypothesis, based on science and Christian philosophy. Please consider the following, not trying to be verbose:

          1. The complexity and nature of life makes any naturalistic origin to life impossible. The simplest organism known requires the precise nucleic coding of over 1.5 million letters, add all of the cellular functionality required, there are no naturalistic mechanisms or processes that come close to biochemical assembly, let alone the imbued “spark” of life.
          2.Consequently, there is no naturalistic sourcing of life, but the transcendent, extra-dimensional, trans-dimensional creator of the universe and life can do whatever he pleases, so the issue becomes:
          a. He created life on Earth and the angels and spirits in an alternate “multiverse.” The angels fell through free will rebellion, while humanity has done the same. The difference is angels to not receive redemption, while we do through Christ.
          b. Why God would reproduce either humans or angels with free will and intelligent consciousness is his business but does not seem to uniquely fit any plan and arguably conflict with what the Bible states regarding redemption, God’s exclusive stated purposes for humanity, and eternal life with him. It posits the additional need for redemption in the event of falling from God’s perfection.
          c. This raises the issue of whether God would create lower life forms for whatever purpose. Again, his purpose, but does not seem consistent with a greater plan as all the lower life forms were created on Earth to bio-form the planet to eventually support higher life forms, aka, humans, who are highly dependent on very fine-tuned planetary conditions.

          Bottom line, we are not alone in the universe because of God’s creation of angels, even if extra-dimensional, but the likelihood of carbon-based intelligent free will creatures is not impossible, but will never arise naturally and are purely God’s discretion.



  • richardmitnick 12:49 pm on January 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute via SPACE.com: “‘Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence’ Needs a New Name, SETI Pioneer Says” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute



    January 25, 2018
    Calla Cofield

    Jill Tarter at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which was used to search for communications signals from alien civilizations.
    Credit: Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA, at 497 m (1,631 ft)

    Astrophysicist Jill Tarter is one of the world’s best-known leaders in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. For 35 years, she served as the director of the Center for SETI Research (part of the SETI institute) and was also the project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, before its cancellation in 1993.

    Despite her longtime association with that four-letter acronym, Tarter says it’s time for “SETI” to be rebranded.

    At a recent meeting of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, held here at the University of California, Irvine, Tarter explained that the phrase “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field are actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be “the search for technosignatures,” or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations.

    “We need to be very careful about our language,” Tarter said during a presentation at the committee meeting on Jan. 18. “SETI is not the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We can’t define intelligence, and we sure as hell don’t know how to detect it remotely. [SETI] … is searching for evidence of someone else’s technology. We use technology as a proxy for intelligence.

    “[The acronym] ‘SETI’ has been problematic in history, and we should just drop [it] and just continue to talk about a search for technosignatures,” she said.

    Signs of life

    What constitutes a “technosignature”? Tarter reviewed some of the possibilities that she and other SETI scientists have proposed.

    “We have a pragmatic definition for technology, which is the ability to deliberately modify an environment in ways that can be sensed over interstellar or interplanetary distances, including the unintended consequences of that modification,” Tarter said. “Life does this, but it doesn’t do it deliberately.”

    One technosignature that scientists have been actively seeking for decades is communication signals. These could include signals used by members of an alien civilization to communicate with each other or attempts to communicate with other civilizations. The SETI Institute continues to search for alien communications in radio waves, using the Allen Telescope Array.

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

    (Tarter was the inspiration for the main character in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, which was adapted into a movie; in that story, aliens make contact with Earth via radio waves.) But recent SETI efforts have expanded to look for other mediums of alien communication, and SETI scientists have theorized that an interstellar civilization might use laser light to communicate.

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” which would mean that alien technology could be as mysterious and unexplainable to humans as technologies that appear in science-fiction TV shows and movies. That opens up a dauntingly large range of possibilities for what technosignatures might look like. What if an alien civilization were communicating via a mechanism that Earth-based scientists haven’t discovered yet? Would humans immediately recognize these “magical” technosignatures, or would we not see them as unnatural?

    Tarter said she prefers to focus on a slight alteration of Clarke’s prediction written by the futurist Karl Schroeder: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.”

    “[The system] will be so efficient that there will be no wastage, and [it] will appear to be natural,” Tarter said. If this prediction is correct, it might also be impossible for humans to identify technosignatures from very advanced civilizations. But Tarter uses it as a jumping-off point to brainstorm how scientists might identify technologies that have not yet reached that level of sophistication.

    In the field of exoplanet science, new techniques and new instruments are increasing scientists’ ability to study exoplanets and gather information about their atmospheres and surface conditions. The central focus in that field is to find habitable planets, or planets with “unintelligent” life-forms (like plants). Tarter said those tools could also provide the opportunity to look for signs of technology that artificially alters a planet’s climate or conditions.

    “As we begin to look for exoplanets and image them, you might get an unexpected glint, [because] maybe mirrors re cooling their planet, reflecting light away from the planet,” Tarter said.

    But a technosignature wouldn’t necessarily have to be the detection of the technology itself. The artificial alteration of a planet’s climate could be revealed simply because the planet in question is too close or too far away from its parent star to have the observed climate. A star system with multiple planets that all have similarly moderate, habitable climates, despite their particular proximity to the parent star, could indicate large-scale bioengineering by an intelligent civilization, Tartar said.

    “[An alien civilization] also might want to decrease latitudinal variation in temperature; maybe they want more of their planet to be nice and cozy,” Tarter said. “It’s going to take a lot of energy to do that, but I don’t know the physics that says you can’t.”

    Into the future

    The search for technosignatures is daunting, but Tarter says now is “a really opportunistic time” for it. The field is benefiting from new instruments and a wider array of instruments. SETI scientists are often searching through large volumes of data, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. Artificial intelligence and artificial “neural networks” can help aid this effort by combing through this vast data to search for signals that the scientists program machines to find and also allowing “the data to tell us what kind of signals are there,” Tarter said, which increases the odds of finding an unanticipated technosignature.

    Tarter listed multiple SETI projects and initiatives that are underway around the world. The most high-profile is Breakthrough Listen, a private initiative that has funded a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley to utilize various telescopes to search for signs of alien communication or other possible technosignatures.

    Breakthrough Listen Project


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

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

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

    The Berkeley group has led an effort to crack the mystery of Boyajian’s star, which has exhibited a very strange pattern of dimming and brightening. A few years ago, some researchers proposed that perhaps the strange light patterns were created by an alien megastructure orbiting the star — a fantastic example of a technosignature. Though that possibility has largely been ruled out, the Breakthrough Listen researchers are still working to understand this phenomenon.

    The challenge of searching for alien technosignatures may be daunting, but Tarter remains unwavering in her optimism for the search for life beyond Earth.

    “In 2004, Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen made a really bold statement: They said the 20th century had been the century of physics, but the 21st century would be the century of biology,” Tarter said. “I think they were right, but I don’t think they were bold enough. Because I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth and beyond.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:58 pm on January 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From QUB via The Conversation: “How we created a mini ‘gamma ray burst’ in the lab for the first time” 

    QUB bloc

    Queens University Belfast (QUB)

    The Conversation

    January 15, 2018

    Gamma ray bursts, intense explosions of light, are the brightest events ever observed in the universe – lasting no longer than seconds or minutes. Some are so luminous that they can be observed with the naked eye, such as the burst “GRB 080319B” discovered by NASA’s Swift GRB Explorer mission on March 19, 2008.

    NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

    But despite the fact that they are so intense, scientists don’t really know what causes gamma ray bursts. There are even people who believe some of them might be messages sent from advanced alien civilisations. Now we have for the first time managed to recreate a mini version of a gamma ray burst in the laboratory – opening up a whole new way to investigate their properties. Our research is published in Physical Review Letters.

    One idea for the origin of gamma ray bursts [Science] is that they are somehow emitted during the emission of jets of particles released by massive astrophysical objects, such as black holes. This makes gamma ray bursts extremely interesting to astrophysicists – their detailed study can unveil some key properties of the black holes they originate from.

    The beams released by the black holes would be mostly composed of electrons and their “antimatter” companions, the positrons – all particle have antimatter counterparts that are exactly identical to themselves, only with opposite charge. These beams must have strong, self-generated magnetic fields. The rotation of these particles around the fields give off powerful bursts of gamma ray radiation. Or, at least, this is what our theories predict [MNRAS]. But we don’t actually know how the fields would be generated.

    Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems in studying these bursts. Not only do they last for short periods of time but, most problematically, they are originated in distant galaxies, sometimes even billion light years from Earth (imagine a one followed by 25 zeroes – this is basically what one billion light years is in metres).

    That means you rely on looking at something unbelievably far away that happens at random, and lasts only for few seconds. It is a bit like understanding what a candle is made of, by only having glimpses of candles being lit up from time to time thousands of kilometres from you.

    World’s most powerful laser

    It has been recently proposed that the best way to work out how gamma ray bursts are produced would be by mimicking them in small-scale reproductions in the laboratory – reproducing a little source of these electron-positron beams and look at how they evolve when left on their own. Our group and our collaborators from the US, France, UK, and Sweden, recently succeeded in creating the first small-scale replica of this phenomenon by using one of the most intense lasers on Earth, the Gemini laser, hosted by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

    The Gemini laser, hosted by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

    How intense is the most intense laser on Earth? Take all the solar power that hits the whole Earth and squeeze it into a few microns (basically the thickness of a human hair) and you have got the intensity of a typical laser shot in Gemini. Shooting this laser onto a complex target, we were able to release ultra-fast and dense copies of these astrophysical jets and make ultra-fast movies of how they behave. The scaling down of these experiments is dramatic: take a real jet that extends even for thousands of light years and compress it down to a few millimetres.

    In our experiment, we were able to observe, for the first time, some of the key phenomena that play a major role in the generation of gamma ray bursts, such as the self-generation of magnetic fields that lasted for a long time. These were able to confirm some major theoretical predictions of the strength and distribution of these fields. In short, our experiment independently confirms that the models currently used to understand gamma ray bursts are on the right track.

    The experiment is not only important for studying gamma ray bursts. Matter made only of electrons and positrons is an extremely peculiar state of matter. Normal matter on Earth is predominantly made of atoms: a heavy positive nucleus surrounded by clouds of light and negative electrons.

    Artist impression of gamma ray burst. NASA [no additional credit for which facility or which artist].

    Due to the incredible difference in weight between these two components (the lightest nucleus weighs 1836 times the electron) almost all the phenomena we experience in our everyday life comes from the dynamics of electrons, which are much quicker in responding to any external input (light, other particles, magnetic fields, you name it) than nuclei. But in an electron-positron beam, both particles have exactly the same mass, meaning that this disparity in reaction times is completely obliterated. This brings to a quantity of fascinating consequences. For example, sound would not exist in an electron-positron world.

    So far so good, but why should we care so much about events that are so distant? There are multiple reasons indeed. First, understanding how gamma ray bursts are formed will allow us to understand a lot more about black holes and thus open a big window on how our universe was born and how it will evolve.

    But there is a more subtle reason. SETI – Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence – looks for messages from alien civilisations by trying to capture electromagnetic signals from space that cannot be explained naturally (it focuses mainly on radio waves, but gamma ray bursts are associated with such radiation too).

    Breakthrough Listen Project


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

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

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

    U Manchester Jodrell Bank Lovell Telescope

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

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    Of course, if you put your detector to look for emissions from space, you do get an awful lot of different signals. If you really want to isolate intelligent transmissions, you first need to make sure all the natural emissions are perfectly known so that they can excluded. Our study helps towards understanding black hole and pulsar emissions, so that, whenever we detect anything similar, we know that it is not coming from an alien civilisation.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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