As the world plunges further into economic chaos and war being brought about by the world’s elites (few of which actually realizing they shot themselves in the foot), scientific endeavors funded by tax dollars have either reached a rather dystopian turn, or have gone to research that encourage an inward turning of human interests.
But there are still people who dream of an interstellar future for mankind and Paul Gilster is one of them.
In yesterday’s post on his Centauri Dreams site, the dream of finding planets around our closest interstellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, still is on the front burner and not about to be snuffed out yet:
Finding Earth-like planets around any star would be a stunning feat, and either Kepler or CoRoT may deliver such news before too long. But how much more exciting still if we find a planet like this around a star as close as Centauri B? After all, the Centauri stars are our closest stellar neighbors, close enough (a mere 40 trillion kilometers!) to conjure up the possibility of a robotic mission there and, if we play our propulsion cards right in the future, perhaps a manned trip as well.
Gregory Laughlin (UC-Santa Cruz), on the other hand, armed with a planet hunter’s insights, a passion for the Centauri system, and a realization that patience could tease out faint signals like these, traded ideas with Debra Fischer (San Francisco State) on the possibility of devoting years to an Alpha Centauri search. Fischer is now hard at work, using a telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. She works with a decommissioned spectrometer and other vintage equipment. Call it ‘Alpha Centauri on the cheap.’
On the cheap indeed, most money tied up in astronomical research is done either in NASA, DARPA, Pentagon with a little thrown toward Seth Shostak’s way.
It may take promising early data to get even this modest setup funded after National Science Foundation funds run out in November, but we’ll take the funding problem one step at a time. For now, the precision work continues, with software Fischer herself coded being used to filter out distortions of weather, instrumentation and stellar activity on the target stars to hunt for the minute shifts in wavelength that could signal the breakthrough discovery. If she pulls this off, Fischer’s patience may become legendary.
This is the only good thing about the advanced programming being developed by Microsoft and Google, the ability to clean out distortions made by the atmospheric glare, pollution, dust and lights from cities.
Actually, Microsoft and the Google-Plex are writing these programs to enhance their own new telescopes they are building for Google-Moon and Google-Mars in order to sell more realistic VR tourist jaunts to folks sitting in their Panopticon/Matrix prisons, er…living rooms.
Alright, maybe that’s a little paranoid. But with most of our tax money going to the Pentagon, DARPA and the growing domestic “spy on the public because there’s terrorists there” industry, I think we all should be a little paranoid.
It’s shaping up to be that if we’re going to the stars, it just might be folks like Branson and Musk pushing the envelope because there’s money to be made.
And if I remember right, most of Heinlein’s characters hated the government snooping in their privacy.