Monthly Archives: October, 2012

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now…

The above title is a quote attributed to William Thomson, Lord Kelvin in the year 1900. But it is not what Thomson said. It really was said by Albert A. Michaelson, another great 19th Century physicist.

So what is the meaning of all this stuff? The fact that whenever a great scientist(s) proclaims that in our reality, there already has been all that has been discovered in Nature? That the self-same scientists are usually wrong when making such claims?

Yes to the above. And here in the early 21st Century, the more things change, the more they stay the same.:

Physicist Sean Carroll, speaking at James Randi’s “The Amazing Meeting”, tells how anomalous phenomenon simply can’t happen because the laws of physics are completely understood:

There are actually three points I try to hit here. The first is that the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood. There is an enormous amount that we don’t know about how the world works, but we actually do know the basic rules underlying atoms and their interactions — enough to rule out telekinesis, life after death, and so on. The second point is that those laws are dysteleological — they describe a universe without intrinsic meaning or purpose, just one that moves from moment to moment.

The third point — the important one, and the most subtle — is that the absence of meaning “out there in the universe” does not mean that people can’t live meaningful lives. Far from it. It simply means that whatever meaning our lives might have must be created by us, not given to us by the natural or supernatural world. There is one world that exists, but many ways to talk about; many stories we can imagine telling about that world and our place within it, without succumbing to the temptation to ignore the laws of nature. That’s the hard part of living life in a natural world, and we need to summon the courage to face up to the challenge.

There’s a lot of elements to like about the talk, and Sean Carroll is no doubt a smarter man than me, but the pre-emptive debunking of apparent anomalies in science (such as parapsychology and the evidence for the survival of consciousness) – in effect, saying that we need not even test these anomalies because the laws of physics are already understood and preclude them – left me thinking of another well-known scientist’s thoughts on the apparent completeness of science. Considering the alternative scientific viewpoints from the likes of physicist Henry Stapp, on theoretical explorations of the possibility of an afterlife, and Dean Radin’s recent work on conscious influence in the famous double-slit experiment, the famous (though possibly apocryphal) fin de siècle quote of Lord Kelvin immediately came to mind when contemplating Carroll’s pronouncements:

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

Within a few years, science was turned on its head by relativity, and followed by quantum mechanics. One can only wonder if current-day anomalies, such as those explored by parapsychologiests, might one-day lead to some similar revolution, this time involving consciousness or information as primary elements of the cosmos.

Although Greg is understandably mistaken about Lord Kelvin’s quote, he is spot on about Carroll’s proclamations and I am surprised that Carroll actually made such claims.

Well, maybe not. I guess it just shows the inherent uber-conversatism in science.

But in the general population, not so much.

I think we might be ready for a new physics that breaks Mankind out into the Universe and answers some of our questions about Consciousness, UFOs, ghosts and other paranormal activities.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/X5Fel1VKEN8

The Laws of Physics Are Completely Understood

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Quotes

As always, many hat tips to Greg Taylor’s Daily Grail.

Inexplicata: Mexico: Cylindrical Object Plummets into Volcano?

From Inexplicata:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the numerical value of a video is
incalculable, provided it is not a hoax. Prof. Ana Luisa Cid has very
kindly shared with us a video from the Mexico’s TELEVISA network showing the
precise moment at which a bright, cylindrical shape appears to plummet into the
smoking maw of 17,000 foot Popocatepetl on 25 October 2012. The volcano’s
eruption status is continuously monitored by Mexico’s CENAPRED agency.

VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWjdC_KYgEU

Historically UFOs have been linked to volcanos, especially in South American, which on average reports more UFO activity than North America.

Mexico: Cylindrical Object Plummets into Volcano?

Daniel Estulin’s 2012 Bilderberg Report

From Estulin’s Blog:

[…]U.S. economy and financial crisis in Europe

One of the key conclusions from the Bilderberg meeting: The U.S. will manipulate the fall of the U.S. dollar in value against the Chinese yuan. The thinking behind is that a devalued dollar will inflate away America’s debts and Obligations. Bilderberg is not particularly Concerned That the people are the guinea pig in all of this. What is being sacrificed is the purchasing power of the U.S. $.

It’s all part of Their Deal With Beijing to help inflate away its debts Washington, Beijing and give more say in the overall economy. That’s why Fu Ying, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs was invited to the Bilderberg Conference This Year. That’s why Huang Yiping, Professor of Economics, China Center for Economic Research, Peking University was invited to Bilderberg Also 2012. Collusion Between the U.S. government and the Chinese government is in progress. Others Who Have Actively participated in the discussion on the destruction of the U.S. dollar at the expense of the yuan are Chiense Cheng Li, Director of Research and Senior Fellow with John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution and Robert Rubin, Co-Chair of the powerful Council on Foreign Relations and Former Secretary of the Treasury.

Bilderberg group is made up of former members alliance NATO, USA, Canada and Western Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, former members of the Warsaw Pact minus Russia Have Been Incorporated into the organization. In the 1950s, Bilderberg Group was a very important element of the oligarchical structures of the cold war period Because It was a vehicle through private financier oligarchical Interests Which Were Able to Impose Their Policies on what are nominally sovereign Governments.

Today, Bilderberg is a medium of bringing together financial Institutions Which Are the World’s Most Powerful and Most predatory financial interests. And at this time, it is That Which combination is the worst enemy of humanity.

THUS, The Presence of Chinese Communist Party leaders is an extraordinary phenomenon Which Must Be Understood in terms of a US-China conspiracy meant to deflate away the value of the U.S. dollar. Now, it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. dollar loses its role as the world’s reserve currency. Bilderberg knows it is going to happen. The U.S. government knows it is going to happen. And the mainstream press knows it is going to happen. They WANT the dollar devalued so That the U.S. government can try and default on Washington’s domestic and International obligations through inflation.

Furthermore, Bilderberg is Concerned with yet another Lehman-type megashock – A Very Real Possibility of bank runs. As one Bilderberger said: “Europe and the U.S. are now on a collision course with a second Lehman-type megashock.”

As one European bankers present at the Bilderberg conference Stated, “If you think Europe’s Crisis and its deflated currency is going to help support the U.S. $, think again.” In fact, there was a general agreement at the Bilderberg meeting That the Fed will be called to the rescue to prop up Europe’s system failure by printing even more money, and THUS weakening the dollar in the long run.

It’s been a while since I posted anything about the Bilderbergers, but this past political season has reminded me that U.S. politicians are beholden to elite groups that are higher up on the food chain than they are.

No matter what political party they are members of.

And reminds me of reasons why I don’t like banksters very much.

Bilderberg Report 2012

One Way Interstellar Space Crews

Would you go on an one way interstellar trip to Alpha Centauri? ( Or Proxima if planets were found there? )

The question was put out to the public about one way trips to Mars recently, but interstellar travel is an entirely different animal due to the infinitely longer distances and travel times involved.

But according to Paul Gilster on the Centauri Dreams web site, filling a crew roster might not be a problem:

If you were offered a chance to make an interstellar journey, would you take it? How about a garden-variety trip to low-Earth orbit? I’m often asked questions like this when I make presentations to the public, and I have no hesitation in saying no. Though I’m no longer doing any flight instructing, I used to love flying airplanes, but getting into a rocket and being propelled anywhere is not for me. To each his own: I’m fascinated with deep space and hope many humans go there, and you can count on me to write about their missions and robotic ones as well while keeping my office right here on Earth.

The point is, the percentage of people who actually go out and take the incredible journeys and fly the dangerous missions is vanishingly low. But throughout history, there have always been a few intrepid souls who were willing to get into the canoes or the caravels or the biplanes and open up new territories and technologies. Thank God we have the Neil Armstrongs and Sergei Krikalyovs of this world. And somewhere in England there are the relatives of some young 18th Century adventurer who signed up as a cabin boy and wound up living out his life in Australia. People like this drive the species forward and put into action the yearning for exploration I suspect we all share.

I’ve told this story before, but in the past few weeks a high percentage of the people coming to this site are coming for the first time, so I’ll tell it again. Robert Forward was the scientist who more than any other argued that we study methods for reaching the stars, saying that it could be done without violating the laws of physics and would therefore one day occur. Forward’s son Bob told me what happened one night at dinner when he asked his father whether he would get on a starship if it landed nearby and he was asked to go out and explore the universe, with the proviso that he could never come back. Forward’s response was instantaneous: “Of course!”

To which his wife Martha could only reply: “What about us? You mean you would just leave your family and disappear into the universe?” That made Forward pensive for only a moment as he replied, “You have to understand. This is what I have dreamed about all my life.”

To be fair, if an Earth-type world was ever found at Alpha Centauri, the chances of ever traveling there would be extremely low. It’s just plain cheaper to build super-telescopes to zoom in and literally “scope-out” any kind of life forms and biospheres there. No environmental issues, no contamination and no astronauts need apply.

The only way a planet at Alpha Centauri will be touched by human beings is like in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar.’ An “unobtainium” element with extraordinary abilities would have to be found that would make the time, effort and investments cost-effective to exploit.

As in Solar System exploitation, the reasons to explore extra-solar worlds would have to involve a strong economic element. Even personal freedoms comes in at a distant second.

Deck Hands for a Four Decade Journey

Serving Media Mind Crap As Prime Rib

I haven’t said much about politics lately. In fact I haven’t spoken about it in a year I think.

To me, all politics is media crap served up on a steaming platter disguised as “prime rib” to sell products and brain-wash the low informed voter.

As Scottish science-fiction author Charlie Stross observes; “…for a period of several months, culminating on November 6th, mind-numbingly huge quantities of money will be spent on systematically lying to the US electorate. Meanwhile, the news media will make hay.”:

[…]

News—I use the word to describe the news distribution media—is not about informing us about newsworthy events going on around us. Rather, it’s about delivering captive eyeballs to advertisers who in turn pay the news media the money they need in order to keep on doing what it is that they do, which is to say, making a profit. There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. State-owned propaganda media are there to push a particular political agenda on behalf of their owners, but they’re vanishingly rare in the English language media. The BBC is a very peculiar entity, a halfway-house between a state-owned propaganda agency and a truly independent news organization funded by charter: but it’s in competition with the regular commercial capitalist news media, and so has been co-opted into their advertising-driven rat-race to such an extent that it would be unwise to look to it for an independent view. In general, the English-language media are beholden to advertising as a revenue source, and this skews the way the news is presented to us, the audience of eyeballs they wish to attract and capture.

The need to sell eyeballs to advertisers means that news agencies need to maximize their audience. And because real news is random, chaotic, and incoherent, a big part of their job is to come up with a comprehensible narrative—a grand story of the world around us which makes sense and which keeps us sitting on the edge of our chairs, coming back for more each evening or morning. News—I speak here of the drug, not the pushers—needs to be attractive, enthralling, and addictive. Bad news (stories of horrible things happening to other people) is better than good news (stories about nice things happening) because our primate brains are wired to pay attention to disasters: paying attention to the bloody smear the leopard made of our neighbour yesterday is an important survival skill, which is why to this day you encounter highway tail-backs near any accident site as drivers slow down and rubberneck. The news content is therefore carefully packaged as a downer and delivered to us via drip-feed, a brightly-coloured candy shell wrapped around the faecal bolus of advertising that it is designed to make us ingest.

And so: the US presidential election.

There is no news here. On November 6th, a lot of Americans will go to the polls and tick a box for a candidate. The candidates on offer do not differ by very much; they represent, at best, different factions of the ruling oligarchy. We peer at them and magnify their differences and get upset about the prospects of the disruptive change that letting the wrong one in will cause—but in reality, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney will unilaterally scrap the Pentagon, end the “war on terror”, or declare a Workers And Soldiers Soviet. Whoever occupies the Oval Office is a prisoner to the institutional interests of the various arms of the US government, and has to work with the Congress they’re given—remember who holds the purse strings? Truly disruptive candidates get filtered out of the system before the election campaign even gets under way: we saw a classic example of this during the Republican primaries this year as each anyone-but-Romney contender was paraded before the cameras for their fifteen minutes of fame before their flaws became too obvious and they were tossed on the scrap-heap of authenticity.

As a citizen of the U.K. Stross has a firm grip of the reality of U.S. politics and of the real rulers of the country – institutionalized corporate interests.

IMO, I could guess the ol’ U.K. operates much the same way.

After all, our country is descended from them.

Chefs in a city under siege

Elon Musk Interview

From Wired Science:

When a man tells you about the time he planned to put a vegetable garden on Mars, you worry about his mental state. But if that same man has since launched multiple rockets that are actually capable of reaching Mars—sending them into orbit, Bond-style, from a tiny island in the Pacific—you need to find another diagnosis. That’s the thing about extreme entrepreneurialism: There’s a fine line between madness and genius, and you need a little bit of both to really change the world.
——–
All entrepreneurs have an aptitude for risk, but more important than that is their capacity for self-delusion. Indeed, psychological investigations have found that entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-tolerant than non-entrepreneurs. They just have an extraordinary ability to believe in their own visions, so much so that they think what they’re embarking on isn’t really that risky. They’re wrong, of course, but without the ability to be so wrong—to willfully ignore all those naysayers and all that evidence to the contrary—no one would possess the necessary audacity to start something radically new.

I have never met an entrepreneur who fits this model more than Elon Musk. All of the entrepreneurs I admire most—Musk, Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings, Jack Dorsey, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and a few others—have sought not just to build great companies but to take on problems that really matter. Yet even in this class of universe-denters, Musk stands out. After cofounding a series of Internet companies, including PayPal, the South African transplant could simply have retired to enjoy his riches. Instead he decided to disrupt the most difficult-to-master industries in the world. At 41 he is reinventing the car with Tesla, which is building all-electric vehicles in a Detroit-scale factory. (Wired profiled this venture in issue 18.10.) He is transforming energy with SolarCity, a startup that leases solar-power systems to homeowners.

And he is leading the private space race with SpaceX, which is poised to replace the space shuttle and usher us into an interplanetary age. Since Musk founded the company in 2002, it has developed a series of next-generation rockets that can deliver payloads to space for a fraction of the price of legacy rockets. In 2010 SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and bring it back; in 2012 it sent a craft to berth successfully with the International Space Station.

It’s no wonder the character of Tony Stark in Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., was modeled on Musk: This is superhero-grade stuff. I sat down with him at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory to discuss how cheaper and (eventually) reusable rockets might someday put humans on Mars.

Chris Anderson: You’re not a rocket scientist by training. You’re not a space engineer.

Elon Musk: That’s true. My background educationally is physics and economics, and I grew up in sort of an engineering environment—my father is an electromechanical engineer. And so there were lots of engineery things around me. When I asked for an explanation, I got the true explanation of how things work. I also did things like make model rockets, and in South Africa there were no premade rockets: I had to go to the chemist and get the ingredients for rocket fuel, mix it, put it in a pipe.

Anderson: But then you became an Internet entrepreneur.

Musk: I never had a job where I made anything physical. I cofounded two Internet software companies, Zip2 and PayPal. So it took me a few years to kind of learn rocket science, if you will.

Anderson: How were you drawn to space as your next venture?

Musk: In 2002, once it became clear that PayPal was going to get sold, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, the entrepreneur Adeo Ressi, who was actually my college housemate. I’d been staying at his home for the weekend, and we were coming back on a rainy day, stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway. He was asking me what I would do after PayPal. And I said, well, I’d always been really interested in space, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do as an individual. But, I went on, it seemed clear that we would send people to Mars. Suddenly I began to wonder why it hadn’t happened already. Later I went to the NASA website so I could see the schedule of when we’re supposed to go. [Laughs.]

Anderson: And of course there was nothing.

Musk: At first I thought, jeez, maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place! Why was there no plan, no schedule? There was nothing. It seemed crazy.

Anderson: NASA doesn’t have the budget for that anymore.

Musk: Since 1989, when a study estimated that a manned mission would cost $500 billion, the subject has been toxic. Politicians didn’t want a high-priced federal program like that to be used as a political weapon against them.

Anderson: Their opponents would call it a boondoggle.

Musk: But the United States is a nation of explorers. America is the spirit of human exploration distilled.

Anderson: We all leaped into the unknown to get here.

Star Man

To put Elon Musk’s astronomical goals in perspective, here’s a look at some of his stellar achievements so far.—Victoria Tang

1983

At the age of 12, designs a videogame called Blast Star and sells it to a computer magazine for $500.

1995

After spending two days in a graduate physics program at Stanford, drops out to start Zip2, an online publishing platform for the media industry.

1999

Sells Zip2 to Compaq for $307 million.

2000

Forms PayPal by merging his new online-payments startup, X.com, with Max Levchin and Peter Thiel’s Confinity.

2001

Establishes the Musk Foundation to provide grants for renewable energy, space, and medical research as well as science and engineering education.

2002

PayPal goes public; its stock rises more than 54 percent on the first day of trading. Eight months later, eBay acquires PayPal for $1.5 billion. Musk founds SpaceX.

2004

Invests in Tesla Motors, a company that manufactures high-performance electric cars.

2006

Helps create SolarCity, which provides solar-power systems to some 33,000 buildings. Will serve as the company chair.

2008

NASA selects the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the reusable Dragon spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station after the space shuttles retire.

2010

Makes a cameo appearance in Iron Man 2. Director Jon Favreau cites Musk as an inspiration for Tony Stark.

2012

SpaceX’s Dragon becomes the first commercial spacecraft to berth with the ISS

———

Few people change the course of human history and less realize that witnessing that change is important. Mainstream science is slow to change and it takes a hard-headed individual to fight against it.

Musk is such an individual and it will be interesting to see him outsmart ignorant public and political forces to achieve his stated goal of making mankind a multi-planetary species.

It will be fun to watch!

Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars

Hat tip to Nasa Watch.

Artificial Life-Form Inventer Venter To Build Martian DNA Teleporter

From Technology Review:

Two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from the planet.

Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to equip his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for a similar task.

“We want to make sure an Ion Torrent goes to Mars,” Rothberg told Technology Review.

Although neither team yet has a berth on Mars rocket, their plans reflect the belief that the simplest way to prove there is life on Mars is to send a DNA sequencing machine.

“There will be DNA life forms there,” Venter predicted Tuesday in New York, where he was speaking at the Wired Health Conference.

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer, as would be required on an unmanned Mars mission. (Hear his comments in this video, starting at 00:11:01.) Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Venter, confirmed the existence of the project but said the prototype system was “not yet 100 percent robotic.”

Meanwhile, Rothberg’s Personal Genome Machine is being adapted for Martian conditions as part of a NASA-funded project at Harvard and MIT called SET-G, or “the search for extraterrestrial genomes.”

Christopher Carr, an MIT research scientist involved in the effort, says his lab is working to shrink Ion Torrent’s machine from 30 kilograms down to just three kilograms so that it can fit on a NASA rover. Other tests, already conducted, have determined how well the device can withstand the heavy radiation it would encounter on the way to Mars.

NASA, whose Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August, won’t send another rover mission to the planet before at least 2018 (see “The Mars Rover Curiosity Marks a Technological Triumph“), and there’s no guarantee a DNA sequencing device would go aboard. “The hard thing about getting to Mars is hitting the NASA specifications,” says George Church, a Harvard University researcher and a senior member of the SET-G team. “[Venter] isn’t ahead of anyone else.”

Venter has a great idea here, but it reminds me of a certain movie in which sequencing alien DNA wasn’t such a great plan.

Species !

Genome Hunters Go After Martian DNA

Alpha Centauri B has an Earth-Mass Planet !

From spaceref.com:

European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system — the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012.

Alpha Centauri is one of the brightest stars in the southern skies and is the nearest stellar system to our solar system — only 4.3 light-years away. It is actually a triple star — a system consisting of two stars similar to the Sun orbiting close to each other, designated Alpha Centauri A and B, and a more distant and faint red component known as Proxima Centauri [1]. Since the nineteenth century astronomers have speculated about planets orbiting these bodies, the closest possible abodes for life beyond the solar system, but searches of increasing precision had revealed nothing. Until now.

“Our observations extended over more than four years using the HARPS instrument and have revealed a tiny, but real, signal from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days,” says Xavier Dumusque (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland, and Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), lead author of the paper. “It’s an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit!”

The European team detected the planet by picking up the tiny wobbles in the motion of the star Alpha Centauri B created by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet [2]. The effect is minute — it causes the star to move back and forth by no more than 51 centimeters per second (1.8 km/hour), about the speed of a baby crawling. This is the highest precision ever achieved using this method.

Alpha Centauri B is very similar to the Sun but slightly smaller and less bright. The newly discovered planet, with a mass of a little more than that of the Earth [3], is orbiting about six million kilometers away from the star, much closer than Mercury is to the Sun in the solar system. The orbit of the other bright component of the double star, Alpha Centauri A, keeps it hundreds of times further away, but it would still be a very brilliant object in the planet’s skies.

The first exoplanet around a Sun-like star was found by the same team back in 1995 and since then there have been more than 800 confirmed discoveries, but most are much bigger than the Earth, and many are as big as Jupiter [4]. The challenge astronomers now face is to detect and characterize a planet of mass comparable to the Earth that is orbiting in the habitable zone [5] around another star. The first step has now been taken [6].

“This is the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a star like the Sun. Its orbit is very close to its star and it must be much too hot for life as we know it,” adds Stephane Udry (Geneva Observatory), a co-author of the paper and member of the team, “but it may well be just one planet in a system of several. Our other HARPS results, and new findings from Kepler, both show clearly that the majority of low-mass planets are found in such systems.”

“This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun. We live in exciting times!” concludes Xavier Dumusque.

ESO will hold an online press conference offering journalists the opportunity to discuss the result and its impact with the scientists:http://www.eso.org/public/announcements/ann12072/

It finally happened, an interstellar world, even though it’s not really a “garden” world like ours, it’s the first true earth-mass one discovered – and it’s only 25 trillion miles away!

Not only are scientists excited about the size – prevailing theory claims that there could be more rocky worlds out into Centauri B’s habitable zone waiting to be discovered.

I wonder if James Cameron is planning an expedition now?

Earth-Mass Planet Found Orbiting Alpha Centauri B

For those who like to read papers, here’s the original text – http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1241/eso1241a.pdf

Again thanks to Greg at the Daily Grail !

Hunting Dyson Spheres With Kepler Data

From kurzweilai.net:

med_fractaldyson_bowers

Geoff Marcy has received a grant from the UK’s Templeton Foundation to look for Dyson spheres, Paul Gilster writes on Centauri Dreams, the news forum of the Tau Zero Foundation.

Freeman Dyson hypothesized the vast structures over fifty years ago that could ring or completely enclose their parent star. Such structures, the work of a Kardashev Type II civilization — one capable of drawing on the entire energy output of its star — would power the most power-hungry society and offer up reserves of energy that would support its continuing expansion into the cosmos, if it so chose.

Marcy’s plan is to look at a thousand Kepler systems for telltale evidence of such structures by examining changes in light levels around the parent star.

Interestingly, the grant of $200,000 goes beyond the Dyson sphere search to look into possible laser traffic among extraterrestrial civilizations. Says Marcy:

Technological civilizations may communicate with their space probes located throughout the galaxy by using laser beams, either in visible light or infrared light. Laser light is detectable from other civilizations because the power is concentrated into a narrow beam and the light is all at one specific color or frequency. The lasers outshine the host star at the color of the laser.

The topic of Dyson spheres calls Richard Carrigan to mind. The retired Fermilab physicist has studied data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) to identify objects that radiate waste heat in ways that imply a star completely enclosed by a Dyson sphere. This is unconventional SETI in that it presumes no beacons deliberately announcing themselves to the cosmos, but instead looks for signs of civilization that are the natural consequences of physics.

Carrigan has estimated that a star like the Sun, if enclosed with a shell at the radius of the Earth, would re-radiate its energies at approximately 300 Kelvin. Marcy will turn some of the thinking behind what Carrigan calls ‘cosmic archaeology’ toward stellar systems we now know to have planets, thanks to the work of Kepler. Ultimately, Carrigan’s ‘archaeology’ could extend to planetary atmospheres possibly marked by industrial activity, or perhaps forms of large-scale engineering other than Dyson spheres that may be acquired through astronomical surveys and remain waiting in our data to be discovered. All this reminds us once again how the model for SETI is changing.

For more, see two Richard Carrigan papers: “IRAS-based Whole-Sky Upper Limit on Dyson Spheres,” Journal of Astrophysics 698 (2009), pp. 2075-2086 (preprint), and “Starry Messages: Searching for Signatures of Interstellar Archaeology,” JBIS 63 (2010), p. 90 (preprint). Also see James Annis, “Placing a limit on star-fed Kardashev type III civilisations,” JBIS 52, pp.33-36 (1999).

A recent Centauri Dreams story on all this is Interstellar Archaeology on the Galactic Scale but see also Searching for Dyson Spheres and Toward an Interstellar Archaeology .

The Dyson Sphere Hypothesis is an extrapolation of 1950s technologies and theories that claim that advanced societies will need more and more energy, spouting radiation and radio waves all over the place. Dyson theorized that civilizations as they grew should be detectable in the infrared radiation range, the waste heat being the thing that is the signature of a Kardashev II civilization.

Little did we realize then that as our technology advanced, it required less and less energy to supply it, and that’s not counting digital technology that doesn’t broadcast out into the Cosmos!

So is looking for Dyson Spheres/Swarms a waste of time? I don’t think so. Simply because of the fact that aliens by large might not think like humans and some might prefer a brute force approach of providing their civilizations the energy they require.

Plus stellar archaeology is cool!

Dyson sphere hunt using Kepler data .

Baumgartner Breaks Sound Barrier

From Sky.com:

A skydiver has made history by smashing the world record for the highest skydive after leaping from 128,097ft.

Daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the edge of space in a pressurised capsule suspended beneath a giant helium balloon. He then jumped out, freefalling for four minutes and 19 seconds before opening his parachute.

The 43-year-old Austrian also broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight after riding with the capsule 24 miles above New Mexico.

He also achieved the fastest freefall after reaching a top speed of 834mph (1,342km/h) and broke the sound barrier, according to mission spokeswoman Sarah Anderson.

The speed – revealed at a news conference a few hours after the leap – was significantly higher than that given earlier by a spokeswoman, who had put his maximum speed as 706mph (1,136km/h).

In this photo provided by Red Bull, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria is seen in a screen at mission control center in the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012.

Col Kittinger watches Baumgartner on a video relay at mission control

A minor problem had developed as Baumgartner’s capsule ascended when a heater failed on his helmet faceplate, which meant his visor became fogged when he exhaled. However, it was not enough to stop him jumping.

In a nail-biting event watched live around the world, Baumgartner stepped to the edge of the capsule and saluted the camera, before saying: “Sometimes you have to go up really high to realise how small you are.”

The biggest risk Baumgartner faced was spinning out of control, which could have exerted enough G-forces to make him lose consciousness.

At one point he appeared to have become unstable, but he managed to get himself into a flat, controlled position for the rest of the skydive.

The balloon lifts up during the ascent
The helium balloon after take off from Roswell, New Mexico

Temperatures of -68C (-90 Fahrenheit) could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit had failed.

He had been due to jump from 120,000ft, but the balloon went higher than expected, to just under 128,000ft.

The previous record for the highest jump was held by Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped at an altitude of 102,800ft (31,333m) in 1960.

Bamgartner’s leap was watched by Baumgartner’s tearful mother Eva and by Col Kittinger, who co-ordinated the jump from mission control.

Col Kittinger told the man who went on to break his record for the highest jump: “Our guardian angel will take care of you.”

However, the Austrian was unable to break Col Kittinger’s record for the longest time spent in freefall. Baumgartner’s total of four minutes and 19 seconds fell 17 seconds short.

The reason for the shorter-than-expected freefall was not immediately clear, although live commentary during the leap suggested he opened his parachute at an altitude above the 5,000ft level that had been announced in advance.

The Red Bull Stratos mission was the second attempt for the skydiver. An initial bid last week was aborted at the last minute due to the wind.

Felix Baumgartner

Some folks dismiss this as a corporate shill act just to sell an “energy” drink that’s full of sugar and caffeine. And they’d only be partially correct.

The fact is that Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos had to design the “spacesuit” from scratch, and with no help from NASA.

There is no doubt in my mind that private launch companies like Virgin Galactic,  XCOR, Bigelow and probably even SpaceX will show interest in the modern design of the suit with it’s emergency egress capabilities.

Kudos to Felix and Red Bull!

Space Jump: Felix Baumgartner Sets Leap Record

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