From Centauri Dreams:
Existential risks, as discussed here yesterday, seem to be all around us, from the dangers of large impactors to technologies running out of control and super-volcanoes that can cripple our civilization. We humans tend to defer thinking on large-scale risks while tightly focusing on personal risk. Even the recent events near Chelyabinsk, while highlighting the potential danger of falling objects, also produced a lot of fatalistic commentary, on the lines of ‘if it’s going to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Some media outlets did better than others with this.
Risk to individuals is understandably more vivid. When Apollo 8 left Earth orbit for the Moon in 1968, the sense of danger was palpable. After all, these astronauts were leaving an orbital regime that we were beginning to understand and were, by the hour, widening the distance between themselves and our planet. But even Apollo 8 operated within a sequenced framework of events. Through Mercury to Gemini and Apollo, we were building technologies one step at a time that all led to a common goal. No one denied the dangers faced by every crew that eventually went to the Moon, but technologies were being tested and refined as the missions continued.
Inspiration Mars is proposing something that on balance feels different. As described in yesterday’s news conference (see Millionaire plans to send couple to Mars in 2018. Is that realistic? for more), the mission would be a flyby, using a free return trajectory rather than braking into Martian orbit. The trip would last 501 days and would be undertaken by a man and a woman, probably a middle-aged married couple. Jonathan Clark, formerly of NASA and now chief medical officer for Inspiration Mars, addresses the question of risk head-on: “The real issue here is understanding the risk in an informed capacity – the crew would understand that, the team supporting them would understand that.” Multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, a one-time space tourist who heads up Inspiration Mars, says the mission will launch in 2018.
Image: A manned Mars flyby may just be doable. But is the 2018 date pushing us too hard? Image credit: NASA/JPL.
We’ll hear still more about all this when the results of a mission-feasibility study are presented next weekend at the 2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference in Montana. Given the questions raised by pushing a schedule this tightly, there will be much to consider. Do we have time to create a reliable spacecraft that can offer not only 600 cubic feet of living space but another 600 for cargo, presumably a SpaceX Dragon capsule mated to a Bigelow inflatable module? Are we ready to expose a crew to interplanetary radiation hazards without further experience with the needed shielding strategies? And what of the heat shield and its ability to protect the crew during high-speed re-entry at velocities in the range of 50,000 kilometers per hour?
For that matter, what about Falcon Heavy, the launch vehicle discussed in the feasibility analysis Inspiration Mars has produced for the conference? This is a rocket that has yet to fly.
No, this doesn’t feel much like Apollo 8. It really feels closer to the early days of aviation, when attention converged on crossing the Atlantic non-stop and pilots like Rene Fonck, Richard Byrd, Charles Nungesser and Charles Lindbergh queued up for the attempt. As with Inspiration Mars, these were privately funded attempts, in this case designed to win the Orteig Prize ($25,000), though for the pilots involved it was the accomplishment more than the paycheck that mattered. Given the problems of engine reliability at the time, it took a breakthrough technology — the Wright J-5C Whirlwind engine — to get Lindbergh and subsequent flights across.
Inspiration Mars is looking to sell media rights and sponsorships as part of the fund-raising package for the upcoming mission, which is already being heavily backed by Tito. I’m wondering if there is a breakthrough technology equivalent to the J-5C to help this mission along, because everything I read about it makes it appear suicidal. The 2018 date is forced by a favorable alignment between Mars and the Earth that will not recur until 2031, so the haste is understandable. The idea is just the kind of daring, improbable stunt that fires the imagination and forces sudden changes in perspective, and of course I wish it well. But count me a serious skeptic on the question of whether this mission will be ready to fly on the appointed date.
And if it’s not? I like the realism in the concluding remarks of the feasibility study:
A manned Mars free-return mission is a useful precursor mission to other planned Mars missions. It will develop and demonstrate many critical technologies and capabilities needed for manned Mars orbit and landing missions. The technology and other capabilities needed for this mission are needed for any future manned Mars missions. Investments in pursuing this development now would not be wasted even if this mission were to miss its launch date.
Exactly so, and there would be much development in the interim. The study goes on:
Although the next opportunity after this mission wouldn’t be for about another 13 years, any subsequent manned Mars mission would benefit from the ECLSS [Environmental Control and Life Support System], TPS [Thermal Protection System], and other preparation done for this mission. In fact, often by developing technology early lessons are learned that can reduce overall program costs. Working on this mission will also be a means to train the skilled workforce needed for the future manned Mars missions.
These are all good reasons for proceeding, leaving the 2018 date as a high-risk, long-shot option. While Inspiration Mars talks to potential partners in the aerospace industry and moves ahead with an eye on adapting near-Earth technologies for the mission, a whiff of the old space race is in the air. “If we don’t fly in 2018, the next low-hanging fruit is in ’31. We’d better have our crew trained to recognize other flags,” Tito is saying. “They’re going to be out there.”
In 1968, faced with a deadline within the decade, NASA had to make a decision on risk that was monumental — Dennis Tito reminded us at the news conference that Apollo 8 came only a year after the first test launch of the Saturn 5. Can 2018 become as tangible a deadline as 1970 was for a nation obsessed with a Moon landing before that year? If so, the technologies just might be ready, and someone is going to have to make a white-knuckle decision about the lives of two astronauts. If Inspiration Mars can get us to that point, that decision won’t come easy, but whoever makes it may want to keep the words of Seneca in mind: “It is not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It is because we dare not venture that they are difficult.”
There are a lot of nay-sayers out yonder decrying Tito’s idea as suicidal and a waste of money. But as recently as a couple of months ago questionnaires were sent out asking for volunteers to sign up for a one way trip to Mars (Mars One), even if there’s a better than even chance of dying at any moment of it.
The results were astounding.
Tito’s idea of sending an older married couple is nothing short of public opinion genius and if successful, could be the format of any future Mars colonization efforts.
Not to mention the technologies needed for the crossing.
From Centauri Dreams:
What happens to us if our SETI efforts pay off? Numerous scenarios come to mind, all of them speculative, but the range of responses shown in Carl Sagan’s Contact may be something like the real outcome, with people of all descriptions reading into a distant message whatever they want to hear. Robert Lightfoot (South Georgia State College) decided to look at contact scenarios we know something more about, those that actually happened here on Earth. His presentation in Huntsville bore the title “Sorry, We Didn’t Mean to Break Your Culture.”
Known as ‘Sam’ to his friends, Lightfoot is a big, friendly man with an anthropologist’s eye for human nature. His talk made it clear that if we’re going to plan for a possible SETI reception, we should look at what happens when widely separated groups come into contact. Cultural diffusion can happen in two ways, the first being prompted by the exchange of material objects. In the SETI case, however, the non-material diffusion of ideas is the most likely outcome. Lightfoot refers to ‘objects of cultural destruction’ in both categories, noting the distorting effect these can have on a society as unexpected effects invariably appear.
Consider the introduction of Spam to the islands of the Pacific as a result of World War II. The level of obesity, cancer and diabetes soared as cultures that had relied largely on hunting, farming and fishing found themselves in the way of newfound supplies. Visitors to some of these islands still note with curiosity that Spam can be found on the menus of many restaurants. Today more than half of all Pacific islanders are obese, and one in four has diabetes. On the island nation of Tonga, fully 69 percent of the population is considered obese.
Lightfoot mentioned Tonga in his talk, but I drew the above figures from the World Diabetes Foundation. Can we relate the continuing health problems of the region to Spam? Surely it was one of the triggers, but we can also add that the large-scale industrialization of these islands didn’t begin until the 1970s. Imported food and the conversion of farmland to mining and other industries (Nauru is the classic example, with its land area almost entirely devoted to phosphate mining) meant a change in lifestyle that was sudden and has had enormous health consequences.
Objects of cultural destruction (OCDs) show their devastating effects around the globe. The Sami peoples of Finland had to deal with the introduction of snowmobiles, which you would have thought a blessing for these reindeer herders. But the result was the ability to collect far larger herds than ever before, which in turn has resulted in serious problems of over-grazing. Or consider nutmeg, once thought in Europe to be a cure for the plague, causing its value to soar higher than gold. Also considered an aphrodisiac, nutmeg led to violence against native growers in what is today Indonesia and played a role in the creation of the East India Company.
But because SETI’s effects are most likely going to be non-material, Lightfoot homed in on precedents like the ‘cargo cults’ of the Pacific that sprang up as some islanders tried to imitate what they had seen Westerners do, creating radios out of wood, building ‘runways’ and calling for supplies. In South Africa, a misunderstanding of missionary religious teachings led the Xhosa people to kill their cattle, even though their society was based on herding these animals. Waiting for a miracle after the killings, a hundred thousand people began to starve. Said Lightfoot:
Think about contact with an extraterrestrial civilization in this light. There will be new ideas galore, even the possibility of new objects — plants, animals, valuable jewels. Any or all of these could be destabilizing to our culture. And just as they may destabilize us, we may contaminate them.
I think the most powerful message of Lightfoot’s talk was that this kind of destabilization can come where you would least expect it, and have irrevocable results. Tobacco, once used as a part of ritual ceremonies in the cultures where it grew, has become an object of cultural and medical destruction in our far more affluent society. Even something as innocuous as a tulip once became the object of economic speculation so intense that it created an economic bubble in 17th Century Holland and an ensuing economic panic.
What to do? Lightfoot told the crowd to search history for the lessons it contains about cultures meeting for the first time. We need to see when and why things went wrong in hopes of avoiding similar situations. If contact with an extraterrestrial culture someday comes, we’ll need a multidisciplinary approach to identify the areas where trouble is most likely to occur. A successful SETI reception could be the beginning of a philosophical and scientific revolution, or it could be the herald of cultural decline as we try to re-position our thinking about the cosmos.
I don’t think the radio searches of SETI will produce anything; there’s a better chance that UFOs are ET spacecraft and eventually black ops corporations will reveal that they’ve been back engineering their hardware for years.
That being said, on the off chance that ET contact does happen, in any form, cultural cross contamination is bound to happen. Whether some cargo cults will form because of contact is moot, because in my opinion, that’s how the world’s religions were formed in the past.
From Centauri Dreams:
One of the benefits of constantly proliferating information is that we’re getting better and better at storing lots of stuff in small spaces. I love the fact that when I travel, I can carry hundreds of books with me on my Kindle, and to those who say you can only read one book at a time, I respond that I like the choice of books always at hand, and the ability to keep key reference sources in my briefcase. Try lugging Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary around with you and you’ll see why putting it on a Palm III was so delightful about a decade ago. There is, alas, no Kindle or Nook version.
Did I say information was proliferating? Dave Turek, a designer of supercomputers for IBM (world chess champion Deep Blue is among his creations) wrote last May that from the beginning of recorded time until 2003, humans had created five billion gigabytes of information (five exabytes). In 2011, that amount of information was being created every two days. Turek’s article says that by 2013, IBM expects that interval to shrink to every ten minutes, which calls for new computing designs that can handle data density of all but unfathomable proportions.
A recent post on Smithsonian.com’s Innovations blog captures the essence of what’s happening:
But how is this possible? How did data become such digital kudzu? Put simply, every time your cell phone sends out its GPS location, every time you buy something online, every time you click the Like button on Facebook, you’re putting another digital message in a bottle. And now the oceans are pretty much covered with them.
And that’s only part of the story. Text messages, customer records, ATM transactions, security camera images…the list goes on and on. The buzzword to describe this is “Big Data,” though that hardly does justice to the scale of the monster we’ve created.
The article rightly notes that we haven’t begun to catch up with our ability to capture information, which is why, for example, so much fertile ground for exploration can be found inside the data sets from astronomical surveys and other projects that have been making observations faster than scientists can analyze them. Learning how to work our way through gigantic databases is the premise of Google’s BigQuery software, which is designed to comb terabytes of information in seconds. Even so, the challenge is immense. Consider that the algorithms used by the Kepler team, sharp as they are, have been usefully supplemented by human volunteers working with the Planet Hunters project, who sometimes see things that computers do not.
But as we work to draw value out of the data influx, we’re also finding ways to translate data into even denser media, a prerequisite for future deep space probes that will, we hope, be gathering information at faster clips than ever before. Consider work at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK, where researchers Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney have managed to code Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets into DNA, in which form a single sonnet weighs 0.3 millionths of a millionth of a gram. You can read about this in Shakespeare and Martin Luther King demonstrate potential of DNA storage, an article on their paper in Nature which just ran in The Guardian.
Image: Coding The Bard into DNA makes for intriguing data storage prospects. This portrait, possibly by John Taylor, is one of the few images we have of the playwright (now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London).
Goldman and Birney are talking about DNA as an alternative to spinning hard disks and newer methods of solid-state storage. Their work is given punch by the calculation that a gram of DNA could hold as much information as more than a million CDs. Here’s how The Guardian describes their method:
The scientists developed a code that used the four molecular letters or “bases” of genetic material – known as G, T, C and A – to store information.
Digital files store data as strings of 1s and 0s. The Cambridge team’s code turns every block of eight numbers in a digital code into five letters of DNA. For example, the eight digit binary code for the letter “T” becomes TAGAT. To store words, the scientists simply run the strands of five DNA letters together. So the first word in “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” from Shakespeare’s sonnet 18, becomes TAGATGTGTACAGACTACGC.
The converted sonnets, along with DNA codings of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the famous double helix paper by Francis Crick and James Watson, were sent to Agilent, a US firm that makes physical strands of DNA for researchers. The test tube Goldman and Birney got back held just a speck of DNA, but running it through a gene sequencing machine, the researchers were able to read the files again. This parallels work by George Church (Harvard University), who last year preserved his own book Regenesis via DNA storage.
The differences between DNA and conventional storage are striking. From the paper in Nature (thanks to Eric Davis for passing along a copy):
The DNA-based storage medium has different properties from traditional tape- or disk-based storage.As DNA is the basis of life on Earth, methods for manipulating, storing and reading it will remain the subject of continual technological innovation.As with any storage system, a large-scale DNA archive would need stable DNA management and physical indexing of depositions.But whereas current digital schemes for archiving require active and continuing maintenance and regular transferring between storage media, the DNA-based storage medium requires no active maintenance other than a cold, dry and dark environment (such as the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which has no permanent on-site staff) yet remains viable for thousands of years even by conservative estimates.
The paper goes on to describe DNA as ‘an excellent medium for the creation of copies of any archive for transportation, sharing or security.’ The problem today is the high cost of DNA production, but the trends are moving in the right direction. Couple this with DNA’s incredible storage possibilities — one of the Harvard researchers working with George Church estimates that the total of the world’s information could one day be stored in about four grams of the stuff — and you have a storage medium that could handle vast data-gathering projects like those that will spring from the next generation of telescope technology both here on Earth and aboard space platforms.
I am not a geneticist or biologist of any kind so I can’t write a good review about the technology or wisdom of such a storage method other than to say that biological systems tend to break down over long periods of time, even small dots of DNA.
I can understand the information carrying capacity of DNA; livings things require googols of information in order to operate their bodies and reproduce, so putting vast amounts of generic info into DNA does make sense.
I would suggest making a virtual model of a DNA molecule, storing it in a crystal and loading the info that way. It would last longer IMO.
Gary S. Bekkum, government researcher and author of Lies, Spies and Polygraph Tape, posts quite frequently about his special brand of UFO, alien threat theories and government involvement. Lately Robert Bigelow, the Skinwalker Ranch and U.S. government alphabet soup agencies have been items of interest on his site. I find his special brand of UFO/Alien theories refreshing and provide just enough out-of-this-world science to maintain plausibility:
(Spies, Lies and Polygraph Tape) — In the 1990s, aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow purchased a remote ranch in Utah where strange paranormal experiences had become a way of life. Bigelow’s National Institute Discovery Science (NIDS) team soon descended on the ranch in search of an alleged source behind the strange stories told by the previous owner.
The attack, although not unexpected, was intense if brief.
According to sources, one of Bigelow’s scientists experienced a close encounter of the most unnerving kind.
Like the smoke monster on the fictional ABC TV series “Lost,” an eerie fog had appeared, described as “a multiple intelligence manifested in the form of a dark shadow or cloud-type effect which had an unusual turbulence effect when it shrunk to a point and disappeared.”
We approached Bigelow adviser Dr. Eric Davis, a physicist who had, in 2001-2003, surveyed the field of teleportation, including reports of supernatural teleportation, while under contract by the U.S. Air Force.
With regard to Skinwalker-like reports of anomalous mind-matter interactions, Davis advised the Air Force, “We will need a physics theory of consciousness and psychotronics, along with more experimental data, in order to test … and discover the physical mechanisms that lay behind the psychotronic manipulation of matter. [Psychic] P-Teleportation, if verified, would represent a phenomenon that could offer potential high-payoff military, intelligence and commercial applications. This phenomenon could generate a dramatic revolution in technology, which would result from a dramatic paradigm shift in science. Anomalies are the key to all paradigm shifts!”
Davis told us, “NIDS folded in October 2004 and ceased routine intensive staff visits to the ranch back in 2001. I was the team leader from 1999-2001.”
“There were multiple voices that spoke in unison telepathically,” Davis candidly explained, regarding the Skinwalker attack, “The voices were monotone males with a very terse, threatening tone … Four senses were in their control so there was no odor, sound, smell, or touch, and overall body motion was frozen (as in the muscles that would not respond). Afterwards, when completely freed from this event — after the dark shadow disappeared — there was no lingering or residual odors, sounds, etc. in the immediate environment.”
Was Bob Bigelow’s remote ranch possessed by an evil supernatural entity?
“How do you interpret that?” I asked Davis. “Sounds like the Exorcist?”
“It does sound like it,” Davis responded, “But it wasn’t in the category of demonic possession. More like an intelligence giving a warning to the staff by announcing its presence and that they (the staff) were being watched by this presence. Demonic possessions are not short lived nor as benign as this, and they always have a religious context.”
What, exactly, was behind the reported experiences at Skinwalker Ranch? Was an unknown and highly capable and intelligent entity guarding its territory?
This is extremely interesting, because as I was perusing the InnerTubes this morning, I ran across various things DARPA was working on and some of them were telepathic research ideas. I wonder if Bekkum’s “Core Story” theory of government involvement in aliens and UFOs are an influence on such researches?
I’d like to open up a discussion talking about manipulating the mind & body using genetic engineering & cybernetic implants (FACT VS FICTION). This may sound a bit far fetch as there are many fiction stories regarding this type of subject, although fiction can reveal truth that reality obscures.
What does the encyclopaedia tell us about Supersoldiers?
Supersoldier is a term often used to describe a soldier that operates beyond normal human limits or abilities. Supersoldiers are usually heavily augmented, either through eugenics (especially selective breeding), genetic engineering, cybernetic implants, drugs, brainwashing, traumatic events, an extreme training regimen (usually with high casualty rates, and often starting from birth or a young age), or other scientific and pseudoscientific means. Occasionally, some instances also use paranormal methods, such as black magic, and/or technology and science of extraterrestrial origin. The creators of such programs are viewed often as mad scientists or stern military men, depending on the emphasis, as their programs will typically go past ethical boundaries in the pursuit of science and/or military might.
In the Past
Has any anyone/organization tried to create a program dedicated towards creating SuperSoldiers?Yes. From what history has told us with regarding groups/organizations creating a super soldier program the first well known groups that had interest in this were the Nazi’s. In 1935 they set up the spring life, as a sort of breeding /child-rearing program. The objective of the “spring life” was to create an everlasting Aryan race that would serve its purpose as the new super-soldiers of the future. Fact –The average Nazi soldier received a regular intake of pills designed to help them fight longer and without rest although these days it is now common for troops battling in war that take pills.
Modern day What Super soldier Projects are in progress in this time & day? DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is currently working on projects from what today’s news tells us.
What does the encyclopaedia tell us about DARPA?
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.
A daily mail article around 13, 2012 talked about DARPA currently working on a Super-Solider program as of this moment, it is surprising that DARPA is becoming more open towards the public perhaps to become more acceptable within the public. Article explains:
Tomorrow’s soldiers could be able to run at Olympic speeds and will be able to go for days without food or sleep, if new research into gene manipulation is successful. According to the U.S. Army’s plans for the future, their soldiers will be able to carry huge weights, live off their fat stores for extended periods and even regrow limbs blown apart by bombs. The plans were revealed by novelist Simon Conway, who was granted behind-the-scenes access to the Pentagon’s high-tech Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Although these sources are from the conspiracy site Above Top Secret and the information is three months old, this ties in with Bekkum’s story and not only would super soldiers be formidable against regular Earth armies, they mind prove good cannon fodder against alien invaders who are pure telepathy, for a while maybe.
There is no way to prove this as truth of course, but I’m providing just enough info so you can research this on your own and come to your own conclusion.
What do you think?
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.
As always, many hat tips to Greg Taylor’s Daily Grail.
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.
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 . 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 . 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 , 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 . 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  around another star. The first step has now been taken .
“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?
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 !
From Huffington Post:
Nothing kills a career faster than being branded a kook, and in many circles, that’s what you are when you admit you’ve seen a UFO.
The stakes are raised, of course, if we’re talking about academic communities, and even more so among astronomers — people who study the skies.
With the career suicide stakes for astronomers so high, some UFO researchers believe many of them are hesitant to step forward. Certainly, the Air Force’s Project Bluebook– the last officially announced government study of unidentified flying objects — concluded that five percent of the cases investigated could not be immediately explained away.
Nevertheless, one nationally renowned astronomer, Derrick Pitts, tells The Huffington Post that it might be time for a thorough study of unexplained aerial phenomena.
(Courtesy of The Franklin Institute)
“If you say, ‘Let’s pursue an investigation of UFOs so we can identify where these alien spacecraft are coming from,’ then people go, ‘What? I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.’ But if you say, ‘Let’s look at what the possibilities are that, at one time, there were environments where life possibly could have developed on Mars,’ then everybody says, ‘Oh, yeah, I want a piece of that,’” said Pitts, senior scientist and chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.
Pitts, pictured at right, is also a NASA Solar System Ambassador. He told HuffPost about the idea that most serious astronomers give no credence to UFO reports.
“I can speculate about what many astronomers would say if you ask them that question. Many of them would say, ‘I haven’t seen anything, so I can’t say that they exist. I can’t say that this five percent are alien spacecraft.’ But if you ask them in the same breath, ‘Would you be willing to engage in a research project to figure out what these things are,’ I don’t know what that answer would be.
“I’d say, yeah, let’s find out, let’s take a look at it, because here we have a phenomenon that causes a tremendous amount of interest. Why not try to understand what it is?”
A careful look at historical records reveals how astronomers have, indeed, not only endorsed efforts to study the UFO phenomenon, but in many cases, have themselves seen unexplained objects for which they couldn’t account.
In the late 1940s, astronomer — and UFO skeptic — J. Allen Hynek became the scientific consultant to Project Blue Book. During the nearly 20 years that Hynek was charged with explaining away UFO reports, he prepared a “Special Report On Conferences With Astronomers On Unidentified Aerial Objects.”
Included in the study of 45 astronomers was a general feeling that “if they were promised complete anonymity and if they could report their sightings to a group of serious, respected scientists who would regard the problem as a scientific one, then they would be willing to cooperate to the very fullest extent.”
Watch J. Allen Hynek discussing astronomers and UFOs
Hynek later went on to coin the phrase, “close encounters of the first, second and third kind,” which described the various types of UFO reports made by people. As the director of the Center for UFO Studies, he was also the technical consultant — with a cameo appearance — in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Also in 1977, astrophysicist Peter Sturrock created a survey based on responses of members of the American Astronomical Society concerning UFOs. One respondent wrote: “I find it tough to make a living as an astronomer these days. It would be professionally suicidal to devote significant time to UFOs. However, I am quite interested in your survey.”
A year after Sturrock’s survey, Hynek found himself addressing the United Nations, pictured below, on the topic of continuing global sightings of UFOs.
“If it were not worldwide, I should not be addressing … these representatives from many parts of the world,” Hynek told the UN Special Political Committee in 1978. “There exists a global phenomenon the scope and extent of which is not generally recognized. It is a phenomenon so strange and foreign to our daily terrestrial mode of thought that it is frequently met by ridicule and derision by persons and organizations unacquainted with the facts.
“Yet, the phenomenon persists; it has not faded away as many of us expected it would when, years ago, we regarded it as a passing fad or whimsy. Instead, it has touched on the lives of an increasing number of people around the world.”
Joining Hynek at that milestone UN initiative to try and get the world body to create an internal UFO committee was astronomer Jacques Vallee, portrayed by Francois Truffaut in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“We are beginning to pay the price for the negative and prejudiced attitude with which our scientific institutions have treated sincere witnesses of UFO phenomena,” Vallee told the U.N. delegates in 1978. “Lack of serious, open-minded research in this field has encouraged these witnesses to think that science was incapable of dealing with the phenomena.
“This attitude has led many people to seek answers outside the rational pursuit of knowledge to which science is dedicated. Only an open exchange of information on the subject could now correct this dangerous trend.”
Vallee, pictured above, closed his remarks at the United Nations, saying, “All the great nations of the world are represented on this committee. Let us keep in mind that the UFO phenomenon may represent an even greater reality. It is our choice to treat it as a threat or as an opportunity for human knowledge.”
Watch Jacques Vallee discussing UFOs at the 2011 Global Competitiveness Forum in Saudi Arabia.
Toward the end of his life Hynek pretty much recanted his work with Project Blue Book and adopted the extraterrestrial hypothesis to explain UFOs. Mainstream science ignores this fact and chalk this up to Hynek just getting old and senile.
Hynek might have gotten old, but he was in no way senile.
As for Vallee, he adopted John Keel’s view that UFOs are a form of mass cultural manifestations of collective consciousness – i.e., a form of leprechauns, witches, elves, angels and demons.
Vallee’s ideas might have merit, but so did Hynek’s in my opinion.
And until the UFO phenomenon is studied with science, that’s all these views are going to be.
Ideas and theories.
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
The biggest challenge in mounting a space mission to another star may not be technology, but people, experts say.
Scientists, engineers, philosophers, psychologists andleaders in many other fields gathered in Houston last week for the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss launching an interstellar voyage within 100 years.
“It seems like it would be so hard, and the biggest obstacle is ourselves. Once we get out of our way, once we commit to this, then it’s a done deal,” said former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor LeVar Burton, who is serving on the advisory committee of the 100 Year Starship project.
The initiative hopes to spur the development of new propulsion technologies, life support systems, starship and habitat designs, as well as myriad other necessaryinnovations, to send a vehicle beyond our solar system — where no manmade object has yet traveled — and to another star. As the closest stars to the sun are still light-years away, such a feat will be daunting. [How Interstellar Space Travel Works (Infographic)]
But Burton wasn’t the only one who said the most difficult part of interstellar spaceflight may be corralling public and governmental support, and getting the right thinkers to work together to attack the problem.
“I think the greatest challenges are going to be what the greatest challenges in anything are, and that’s the people piece,” said former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who was the first African-American woman to travel to space. Jemison is heading the new 100 Year Starship organization, which was founded with seedmoney from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“The really exciting thing and the scary thing is I know I can’t do it by myself, but there are a lot of people who want to help,” Jemison added.
Interstellar spaceflight for humanity isn’t inevitable, she said — merely imperative.
“We could screw it up,” Jemison told Space.com. “We could decide not to do it. But I can tell you what, if we don’t figure out how to do it, then we probably aren’t going to be around to worry about whether the sun turns into a red gas giant. Unless we find some focal aspiration that pushes us further, that helps us see ourselves as a species that we should be cooperating with, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Plus, if human beings can solve the challenges of interstellar spaceflight, in the process they will have solved many of the problems plaguing Earth today, experts said. For example, building a starship will require figuring out how to conserve and recycle resources, how to structure societies for the common well-being, and how to harness and use energy sustainably.
Perhaps the 100 Year Starship Symposium should partner up with the Build The Enterprise Project? They have a 100 year timeline also and I couldn’t think of a better marriage.