For about three hours on Wednesday, Voyager 1 had left the solar system — before a rewritten news release headline pulled it back in. Voyager 1, one of two spacecraft NASA launched in 1977 on a grand tour of the outer planets, is now nearly 11.5 billion miles from the Sun, speeding away at 38,000 miles per hour. In a paper accepted by the journal Geophysical Review Letters, William R. Webber of New Mexico State University and Frank B. McDonald of the University of Maryland reported that on Aug. 25 last year, the spacecraft observed a sudden change in the mix of cosmic rays hitting it.
Cosmic rays are high-speed charged particles, mostly protons. Voyager 1’s instruments recorded nearly a doubling of cosmic rays from outside the solar system, while the intensity of cosmic rays that had been trapped in the outer solar system dropped by 90 percent.
The American Geophysical Union, publisher of the journal, sent out the news Wednesday morning: “Voyager 1 has left the solar system.” NASA officials, surprised, countered with a contrary statement from Edward C. Stone, the Voyager project scientist. “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space,” Dr. Stone said. He said that the critical indicator would be a change in the direction of the magnetic field, not cosmic rays, for marking the outermost boundary of the solar system. In their paper, Dr. Webber and Dr. McDonald (who died only six days after Voyager observed the shift in cosmic rays) did not claim that Voyager 1 was in interstellar space, but had entered a part of the solar system they called the “heliocliff.” The geophysical union then sent out another e-mail with the same article but a milder headline: “Voyager 1 has entered a new region of space.”
Eventually Voyager 1 will leave the Solar System and there will be no dispute about it.
In the meantime, mainstream science will learn and post about the outer edges of the Solar System as Voyager 1 creeps along at .00002 lightspeed ( 37,500 mph ) .
Of course there are those in mainstream media and science who believe that mankind will never leave the Solar System because they proclaim that spacecraft will never be built that go faster than that.
Already the Pluto probe New Horizon traveling at 54,500 mph is breaking Voyager’s speed record and will probably leave the Solar System before Voyager does!
I’m certain in 100 years star probes will be launched toward Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti that reach appreciable percentages of lightspeed bypassing all of our old interplanetary probes and perhaps in several centuries, mankind’s interstellar colonies will be picking up these old probes to study them, like old time capsules!
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
(Spies, Lies and Polygraph Tape) — The now infamous MJ-12 / MAJIC / Operation Majestic 12 Eisenhower Briefing Document, allegedly created to inform President Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower of contact with extraterrestrial visitors, is dated November 18, 1952.
CIA has been busy responding to the 25 Year Automatic Declassification Rule (don’t get too excited, as there are plenty of X25 Exemption paragraphs that have been redacted from the documents). Among the various releases are the “flying saucer” documents — and some of those documents have been converted into PDF format for easy viewing and archiving.
Of particular interest are the “Deputies’ Meeting” documents, which review the various topics discussed by senior CIA officials on a daily basis.
And among the topics of discussion in late 1952? The need to brief the U.S. President (Harry Truman) on the flying saucer problem.
For those interested in pursuing the real “flying saucer” material, here are a few items of possible interest, from CIA’s website, in PDF format:
18 November 1952, same date as the alleged MJ-12 Eisenhower Briefing Document, mentions “the original 12″ — probably not a veiled secretly coded reference to Majestic 12 members, but a nice coincidence none-the-less for hard-core conspiracy buffs.
Some of the documents look authentic because they have the authentic dating regime; ex: 18 November 1952.
I know this because at one time during my own military service I handled memorandums and other documents that used that standard.
Also these documents are still redacted, Mr. Bekkum is correct about that.
Did the U.S. government conclude that these UFOs were nuts and bolts spacecraft piloted by real aliens?
I think they surmised so, but you be the judge when you peruse these documents.
The late researcher of UFOs, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, once wrote that, “In one’s frustration it is all too easy to seize on an explanation of the “Men from Mars” variety and to ignore the many UFO features unaccounted for… We may be inadvertently and artificially increasing the significance of the conspicuous features while the part we ignore–or that which is not reported by the untrained witness–may contain the clue to the whole subject.”
I would also argue just as well that, in addition to part of the UFO enigma that remain hidden, there might be researchers in this field that do the same.
I recently attended the 2013 International UFO Congress as a speaker, as well as a panelist for a discussion with fellow researchers Stanton Friedman and Richard Dolan, where we discussed the state of ufology in the 21st century. The Congress, arguably the largest and most well-attended UFO conference anywhere in the world, is not only a proving ground for both the budding young researcher and the decades-in ufologist alike; it is also a breeding ground for new ideas and the formation of new hypotheses, which may eventually sow the seeds of new insight toward solving this enduring mystery.
International UFO Congress – Educating the World One Person at a Time
And yet, while there is this obvious mainstream component to the UFO research community, there is another more clandestine arm of the community that is less active before the public eye… but not all things that are “secretive” are necessarily nefarious or part of some grand dark conspiracy. In truth, it may be within the humble confines of Ufology’s “Shadow Research Community” that some of the more innovative thinkers exist, working out problems behind the scenes that many point-and-click researchers of today might overlook altogether.
No doubt, a statement of this caliber might be enough to anger many prideful UFO researchers at large (although I would argue that most serious UFO researchers will learn early on to rid themselves of any pride, lest they be crushed by the seething sensationalism in the mainstream media, and their overt approach toward the UFO community in general). But again, the notion of their being an underlying academic element that persists behind the mainstream study of UFOs–if one could ever call UFO research “mainstream” at all–is nothing new.
French Ufologist and computer scientist Jacques Vallee in his book Alien Contact by Human Deception argued that there were many private UFO researchers in academic circles–perhaps a few hundred he knew and had worked with–that studied the UFO problem intently, but without doing so publicly. Vallee referred to this as being a sort of “Invisible College” that has continued serious scientific study of UFOs, despite the fact that since the late 1960s, Edward Condon and his University of Colorado UFO Project helped determine that once and for all, the UFO mystery would forever be pseudoscientific.
Hynek and Vallee
Indeed, the general study of UFOs has largely been pseudoscientific, in that the largest body of serious research spanning the last several decades has been carried out by civilians, and often those with little or no academic or technical training suited for study of the phenomenon. While this has often been a point of criticism by scientists the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and many others, it also highlights yet another problem in the UFO field: the tendency for academics to push for debunking of UFO phenomenon or labeling it as pseudoscientific, while doing very little on their own accord to help further the serious scientific study of the phenomenon aside from waging an ongoing war of words.
To the credit of the academicians, it should be noted that to openly and publicly embrace the study of UFOs most often becomes equivalent to academic suicide in the Western world. There are many instances where professionals have been forced to choose between studying fringe subjects and maintaing a career by more conventional standards. Scientists such as Dean Radin, who lost his teaching position for openly discussing parapsychology, comes to mind, as well as members of the media like Angelia Joiner, who famously reported on the Stephenville, Texas UFO flap several years ago; the latter was eventually pinned into a position where she felt she had to resign as a reporter for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, in order to be able to continue following the UFO story.
Altogether, the problem here is that UFO research, by virtue of the fringe or “kooky” subject matter it has often become directly associated with, warrants blacklisting among professionals (especially scientists, university professors, etc). In my own experience, I’ve had numerous interactions with those in academia who reach out to me, often under aliases at first, to express interest not just in UFO research, but to share their own ideas and findings (albeit covertly) from an academic standpoint. The reasons these individuals would reach out to ufologists at all most often has to do, in my experience, with a hope for finding someone who will allow them to plead their case, but also that they might be able to influence or steer with their own professional observations. On both counts, this is usually a good thing, as it allows the academics to find others who won’t be so openly critical with the treatment of fringy subject matter, but the less technically skilled civilian researcher also gains insight from members of the scientific community.
Thus, while there is certainly a “trickle down effect” with regard to academics who occasionally reveal tidbits of insight to the publicly known UFO researchers, it could be argued that some of the most plausible and interesting insights into the field of ufology may exist behind the scenes, in what Vallee dubbed a so-called “Invisible College.” Today, could we ever get a serious, ongoing academic discourse on UFOs back into mainstream scientific circles… or is this even something that could ever be afforded the modern UFO research community, with an ever-growing divide that is occurring between the “believer” and “skeptic” diametric?
I actually don’t find it odd that there are some “mainstream” scientists working on the UFO mystery on their own time. After all that is what Jacques Vallee and Stanton Freidman did before devoting their studies of UFOs full-time .
The late J. Allen Hynek was a little different, he waited until he had a government pension before becoming a convert to studying UFOs on a full-time scientific basis.
Believe it or not, it is this “covert mainstream” that is fueling SETI, astroarcheology, astrobiological and advanced propulsion technology research.
Or perhaps, it’s the “science-fiction” collective consciousness?
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
(STARpod.us) — Imagine this, then pretend it isn’t real.
Professor Stephen Hawking was right, contact with an extraterrestrial alien civilization might be the end of us — but he was wrong about one thing: it is too late to avoid contact with ultra-intelligent extraterrestrial aliens.
They are here, now, and living with you, perhaps within you, in your home.
And their actions are utterly invisible.
Worse still, every human thought, every human response to this invisible terror is already known and is shared across an intergalactic telepathic mind-to-mind based Internet.
The above may sound like a science fiction tale, however the reality may be worse than our most feared imaginings.
To enter into this “Twilight Zone” of darkness we simply accept that the brief history of human scientific and technological evolution points to an ever-greater penetration of the human mind — and the probability, given the unfathomable vastness of eternity currently predicted by our best theories of the universe and beyond, of intelligent minds beyond our own.
Our deepest, inner thoughts and experiences are going to be turned inside out upon the world.
We enter this virtual reality with an understanding that an encounter with alien intelligence beyond our own is something we may not even recognize, if and when it happens.
And according to sources, some who have held high positions within the U.S. government, close encounters have already taken place.
It is this unseen, largely unheard and secret presence that haunts us like a secret society from the great beyond. Probing our actions — even before they are taken — the vast and disturbingly alien mind behind this unstoppable terror of invisible things surrounds us, watching and waiting, like an invisible guardian in a cosmic conspiracy written eons before our time.
The cover story for contact with this deeply disturbing intelligence was written in Hollywood: extraterrestrial biological entities arrived on Earth in flying saucers and maybe they even crashed a disk or two, which were later recovered by the government.
It is this wrap-over story that has been spread by a handful of former CIA-types including the recent revelation by Chase Brandon. According to Brandon, bodies and wreckage (presumably of an extraterrestrial alien origin) were indeed recovered in Roswell, New Mexico. Others have hinted of some deeply buried truth underlying the saucer tales, based upon hearsay from their more senior colleagues in intelligence. And this, so we are told, goes all the way to the top, coming from at least a handful of former CIA Directors.
But is there really any truth in the tales? At a minimum, we should begin our exploration of the unstoppable terror of invisible things with a brief examination of down-to-earth technologies from human sources. We will, for the time being, ignore that other Hollywood-inspired meme claiming the most advanced human technologies of the 21st century owe their existence to reverse engineered extraterrestrial technology.
There are other stories of possible relevance, tales of invisible things that sometimes show their face in brief and mysterious ways. They sometimes seem to speak to select groups of human beings, in particular scientific types, using a form of direct mind-to-mind communication.
Mental radio has been an essential element of the pop culture for decades, and once again appears to be just another meme invented in the fantasy of a Hollywood writer’s imagination. The situation is further complicated by the countless number of persons who have self-experimented on the core physical structure of the human mind — the brain — by ingesting a wide variety of chemical substances known to create hallucinatory effects.
Invisible things do not always remain visible: there are other stories and sometimes grainy and poorly photographed images of manifestations of unusual phenomena popping in and out of our consensus reality. Other highly questionable reports include observations of ordinary material objects moving under the force of an unseen source. Several persons I know have related to me stories of so-called psychokinetic motion, including one person who told me of a misadventure involving knives that were picked up off of a table and flung with extreme force into the wall. In this particular story, it was reported that the environment changed mysteriously prior to the psychokinetic event, and even space and time seemed distorted in some inexplicable manner.
Psychokinesis was once a concern for American intelligence agencies and their political handlers in Congress (and this is confirmed within the declassified government record). Once upon a time they even feared psychokinetic hacking of America’s missile arsenal launch codes.
Invisibility is no longer bound to the imaginative world of sorcerer Harry Potter. As physicists look deeper into the nature of quantum reality they are gradually realizing new and clever ways around what was once assumed to be insurmountable obstacles. The late Arthur C. Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey” is often referenced for having said any sufficiently advanced technology appears (on the surface to those who do not understand it) to be magic.
Cracking through the barriers of human ignorance and human fantasy does not come easily. But if we are indeed facing an unstoppable terror of invisible things — real, physical forces under intelligent guidance — then we need to prepare a response.
We are challenged in this effort by the anthropocentric nature of the human mind: Is is really possible to envision truly alien sources and methods? Or are we confined to describing the extraterrestrial alien droning of America?
Bekkum makes many valid points about possible alien interference with we human beings on Earth; the most important point is the immaterial way the interference would take place. No flying saucers, triangles or spheres need apply.
Remote control of human beings, i.e., possession, ( or avatars ) via of “mental telepathy” for lack of a better term, would be preferable to outright invasion and destroying turf. Especially if proxy colonization or species manipulation is part and parcel of the alien’s overall strategies.
Habitability is the measure of highest value in planet-hunting. But should it be?
Kepler and the other planet-finding missions have begun to bear fruit. We now know that most stars have planets, and that a surprising percentage will have Earth-sized worlds in their habitable zone–the region where things are not too hot and not too cold, where life can develop. Astronomers are justly fascinated by this region and what they can find there. We have the opportunity, in our lifetimes, to learn whether life exists outside our own solar system, and maybe even find out how common it is.
We have another opportunity, too–one less talked-about by astronomers but a common conversation among science fiction writers. For the first time in history, we may be able to identify worlds we could move to and live on.
As we think about this second possibility, it’s important to bear in mind that habitability and colonizability are not the same thing. Nobody seems to be doing this; I can’t find any term but habitability used to describe the exoplanets we’re finding. Whether a planet is habitable according to the current definition of the term has nothing to do with whether humans could settle there. So, the term applies to places that are vitally important for study; but it doesn’t necessarily apply to places we might want to go.Whether a planet is habitable according to the current definition of the term has nothing to do with whether humans could settle there.
To see the difference between habitability and colonizability, we can look at two very different planets: Gliese 581g and Alpha Centauri Bb. Neither of these is confirmed to exist, but we have enough data to be able to say a little about what they’re like if they do. Gliese 581g is a super-earth orbiting in the middle of its star’s habitable zone. This means liquid water could well form on its surface, which makes it a habitable world according to the current definition.
Centauri Bb, on the other hand, orbits very close to its star, and its surface temperature is likely high enough to render one half of it (it’s tidally locked to its sun, like our moon is to Earth) a magma sea. Alpha Centauri Bb is most definitely not habitable.
So Gliese 581g is habitable and Centauri Bb is not; but does this mean that 581g is more colonizable than Bb? Actually, no.
Because 581g is a super-earth, the gravity on its surface is going to be greater than Earth’s. Estimates vary, but the upper end of the range puts it at 1.7g. If you weigh 150 lbs on Earth, you’d weigh 255 lbs on 581g. This is with your current musculature; convert all your body fat to muscle and you might just be able to get around without having to use leg braces or a wheelchair. However, your cardiovascular system is going to be under a permanent strain on this world–and there’s no way to engineer your habitat to comfortably compensate.
On the other hand, Centauri Bb is about the same size as Earth. Its surface gravity is likely to be around the same. Since it’s tidally locked, half of its surface is indeed a lava hell–but the other hemisphere will be cooler, and potentially much cooler. I wouldn’t bet there’s any breathable atmosphere or open water there, but as a place to build sealed domes to live in, it’s not off the table.
Also consider that it’s easier to get stuff onto and off of the surface of Bb than the surface of a high-gravity super-earth. Add to that the very thick atmosphere that 581g is likely to have, and human subsistence on 581g–even if it’s a paradise for local life–is looking more and more awkward.
Doubtless 581g is a better candidate for life; but to me, Centauri Bb looks more colonizable.
A definition of colonizability
We’ve got a fairly good definition of what makes a planet habitable: stable temperatures suitable for the formation of liquid water. Is it possible to develop an equally satisfying (or more satisfying) definition of colonizability for a planet?
Yes–and here it is. Firstly, a colonizable world has to have an accessible surface. A super-earth with an incredibly thick atmosphere and a surface gravity of 3 or 4 gees just isn’t colonizable, however much life there may be on it.
Secondly, and more subtly, the right elements have to be accessible on the planet for it to be colonizable. This seems a bit puzzling at first, but what if Centauri Bb is the only planet in the Centauri system, and it has only trace elements of Nitrogen in its composition? It’s not going to matter how abundant everything else is. A planet like this–a star system like this–cannot support a colony of earthly life forms. Nitrogen is a critical component of biological life, at least our flavour of it.
In an article entitled “The Age of Substitutibility”, published in Science in 1978, H.E. Goeller and A.M. Weinberg proposed an artificial mineral they called Demandite. It comes in two forms. A molecule of industrial demandite would contain all the elements necessary for industrial manufacturing and construction, in the proportions that you’d get if you took, say, an average city and ground it up into a fine pulp. There’re about 20 elements in industrial demandite including carbon, iron, sodium, chlorine etc. Biological demandite, on the other hand, is made up almost entirely of just six elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. (If you ground up an entire ecosystem and looked at the proportions of these elements making it up, you could in fact find an existing molecule that has exactly the same proportions. It’s called cellulose.)
Thirdly, there must be a manageable flow of energy at the surface. The place can be hot or cold, but it has to be possible for us to move heat around. You can’t really do that at the surface of Venus, for instance; it’s 800 degrees everywhere on the ground so your air conditioning spends an insane amount of energy just overcoming this thermal inertia. Access to a gradient of temperature or energy is what makes physical work possible.
Obviously things like surface pressure, stellar intensity, distance from Earth etc. play big parts, but these are the main three factors that I can see. It should be instantly obvious that they have almost nothing to do with how far the planet is from its primary. There is no ‘colonizable zone’ similar to a ‘habitable zone’ around any given star. The judgment has to be made on a world by world basis.
Note that by this definition, Mars is marginally colonizable. Why? Not because of its temperature or low air pressure, but because it’s very low in Nitrogen, at least at the surface. The combination of Mars and Ceres may make a colonizable unit, if Ceres has a good supply of Nitrogen in its makeup–and this idea of combo environments being colonizable complicates the picture. We’re unlikely to be able to detect an object the size of Ceres around Alpha Centauri, so long-distance elimination of a system as a candidate for colonizability is going to be difficult. Conversely, if we can detect the presence of all the elements necessary for life and industry on a roughly Earth-sized planet, regardless of whether it’s in its star’s habitable zone, we may have a candidate for colonizability.
The colonizability of an accessible planet with a good temperature gradient can be rated according to how well its composition matches the compositions of industrial and biological demandite. We can get very precise with this scale, and we probably should. It, and not habitability, is the true measure of which worlds we might wish to visit.
To sum up, I’m proposing that we add a second measure to the existing scale of habitability when studying exoplanets. The habitability of a planet actually says nothing about how attractive it might be for us to visit. Colonizability is the missing metric for judging the value of planets around other stars.
This raises the ethical question of at which point do we as a race change the environment of an alien world’s biology in order to suit our needs?
Do we engage in biological genicide to seed a planet with Earth-life, or do we adapt ourselves to suit the exoplanet’s environment?
Or do we move on to another planet that is more “colonizable” as Schroeder suggests and totally build a habitat from scratch?
Hat tip to Centauri Dreams.
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 The Daily Galaxy:
The species that you and all other living human beings on this planet belong to is Homo sapiens. During a time of dramatic climate change 200,000 years ago,Homo sapiens (modern humans) evolved in Africa. Is the human species entering another evolutionary inflection point?
Paul Davies, a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative at Arizona State University, says in his new book The Eerie Silence that any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.”I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe,” Davies writes. “If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.”Before the year 2020, scientists are expected to launch intelligent space robots that will venture out to explore the universe for us.
“Robotic exploration probably will always be the trail blazer for human exploration of far space,” says Wolfgang Fink, physicist and researcher at Caltech. “We haven’t yet landed a human being on Mars but we have a robot there now. In that sense, it’s much easier to send a robotic explorer. When you can take the human out of the loop, that is becoming very exciting.”
As the growing global population continues to increase the burden on the Earth’s natural resources, senior curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Roger Launius, thinks that we’ll have to alter human biology to prepare to colonize space.
In the September issue of Endeavour, Launius takes a look at the historical debate surrounding human colonization of the solar system. Experiments have shown that certain life forms can survive in space. Recently, British scientists found that bacteria living on rocks taken from Britain’s Beer village were able to survive 553 days in space, on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). The microbes returned to Earth alive, proving they could withstand the harsh environment.
Humans, on the other hand, are unable to survive beyond about a minute and a half in space without significant technological assistance. Other than some quick trips to the moon and the ISS, astronauts haven’t spent too much time too far away from Earth. Scientists don’t know enough yet about the dangers of long-distance space travel on human biological systems. A one-way trip to Mars, for example, would take approximately six months. That means astronauts will be in deep space for more than a year with potentially life-threatening consequences.
Launius, who calls himself a cyborg for using medical equipment to enhance his own life, says the difficult question is knowing where to draw the line in transforming human biological systems to adapt to space. Credit: NASA/Brittany Green
“If it’s about exploration, we’re doing that very effectively with robots,” Launius said. “If it’s about humans going somewhere, then I think the only purpose for it is to get off this planet and become a multi-planetary species.”
Stephen Hawking agrees: “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space,” Hawking told the Big Think website in August. “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet.”
If humans are to colonize other planets, Launius said it could well require the “next state of human evolution” to create a separate human presence where families will live and die on that planet. In other words, it wouldn’t really be Homo sapien sapiens that would be living in the colonies, it could be cyborgs—a living organism with a mixture of organic and electromechanical parts—or in simpler terms, part human, part machine.
“There are cyborgs walking about us,” Launius said. “There are individuals who have been technologically enhanced with things such as pacemakers and cochlea ear implants that allow those people to have fuller lives. I would not be alive without technological advances.”
The possibility of using cyborgs for space travel has been the subject of research for at least half a century. A seminal article published in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline titled “Cyborgs and Space” changed the debate, saying that there was a better alternative to recreating the Earth’s environment in space, the predominant thinking during that time. The two scientists compared that approach to “a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to live on land.” They felt that humans should be willing to partially adapt to the environment to which they would be traveling.
“Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space,” Clynes and Kline wrote.
“It does raise profound ethical, moral and perhaps even religious questions that haven’t been seriously addressed,” Launius said. “We have a ways to go before that happens.”
Some experts such as medical ethicist Grant Gillett believe that the danger is that we might end up producing a psychopath because we don’t quite understand the nature of cyborgs.
NASA, writes Lauris, still isn’t focusing much research on how to improve human biological systems for space exploration. Instead, its Human Research Program is focused on risk reduction: risks of fatigue, inadequate nutrition, health problems and radiation. While financial and ethical concerns may have held back cyborg research, Launius believes that society may have to engage in the cyborg debate again when space programs get closer to launching long-term deep space exploration missions.
“If our objective is to become space-faring people, it’s probably going to force you to reconsider how to reengineer humans,’ Launius said.
From Centauri Dreams:
Building Structures That Last
A sense of that futurity pervaded our recent sessions at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in Huntsville. Several speakers alluded to instances in human history where people looked well beyond their own generation, a natural thought for a conference discussing technologies that might take decades if not centuries to achieve. We talked about a solar power project that might take 35 years, or perhaps 50 (much more about this in coming days).
The theme became explicit when educator and blogger Mike Mongo talked about getting interstellar issues across to the public, referring to vast projects like the pyramids and the great cathedrals of Europe. Cathedrals are a fascinating study in their own right, and it’s worth pausing on them as we ponder long-term notions. Although they’re often considered classic instances of people building for a remote future, some cathedrals were built surprisingly quickly. Anyone who has stood in awe at the magnificent lines of Chartres southwest of Paris is surprised to learn that it came together in less than 60 years (the main structure in a scant 26), though keep in mind that this was partly a reconstruction of an earlier structure that dated back to 1145.
Image: The great cathedral at Chartres.
With unstinting public support, such things could happen even with the engineering of the day, creating what historians now view as the high point of French Gothic art. Each cathedral, of course, tells its own tale. Salisbury Cathedral was completed except for its spire in 45 years. Other cathedrals took longer. Notre Dame in Paris was the work of a century, as was Lincoln Cathedral, while the record for cathedral construction surely belongs to Cologne, where the foundation stone was laid in 1248. By the time of the Reformation 300 years later, the roof was still unfinished, and later turmoil pushed the completion of the cathedral all the way into the 19th Century, with many stops and starts along the way.
Remember, too, that the cathedral builders lived at a time when the average lifespan was in the 30s. The 15-year old boy who started working on the foundation of a cathedral might have hoped to see its consecration but he surely knew the odds didn’t favor it. Humans are remarkably good at this kind of thing, even if the frenetic pace and short-term focus of our times makes us forget it. Robert Kennedy pointed out to me at the conference that the Dutch dike system has been maintained for over 500 years, and can actually be traced back as far as the 9th Century. The idea of technology-building across generations is hardly something new to our civilization.
The ‘long result’ context is an interesting one in which to place our interstellar thinking. Naturally we’d like to make things happen faster than the 4000-year plus journeys I talked about on Friday with worldships, though my guess is that as the species becomes truly spacefaring and begins to differentiate, we’ll see colonies aboard O’Neill-class cylinders holding thousands, many of the colonists being people who will spend less and less time on a planetary surface. At some point, it would be entirely natural to see one of these groups decide to head into the interstellar deep. They would be, after all, taking their world with them, a world that was already home.
Evolutionary Change in Space
Gerald Driggers is a retired engineer and current science fiction author who worked with Gerald O’Neill in the 1970s. I see him as worldship material because he has chosen for the last seventeen years to live on a boat, saying “It was the closest thing I could get to a space ship.” Driggers believes we can begin our interstellar work by getting humans to Mars, where they will be faced with many of the challenges that will attend much longer-term missions. We must, after all, build a system-wide infrastructure, mastering the complexities of power generation and resource extraction on entirely new scales, before we can truly hope to go interstellar.
And what happens to humans as they begin working in extreme environments? Evolution doesn’t stop when we leave the planet, as Freeman Dyson is so fond of pointing out. These are changes that should be beneficial, says Driggers. “Evolutionary steps toward becoming interstellar voyagers reduce the chances for human failures on these journeys. We’re going to change, and we will continue to change as we look toward longer voyages. The first humans to arrive around another star system probably won’t be like anybody in the audience today.” Responding to evolutionary change, Martians may make the best designers and builders of interstellar craft.
Image: Gerald Driggers discussing a near-term infrastructure that will one day support interstellar missions.
Get it right on Mars, in other words, and we get it right elsewhere and learn the basics of infrastructure building all the way to the Kuiper Belt, with active lunar settlements and plentiful activity among the asteroids. Along the way we adapt, we change. Driggers’ worst-case scenario has Martian settlements delayed until the mid-22nd Century, but he is hopeful that the date can be moved up and the infrastructure begun.
All of which brings me back to something Mike Mongo talked about. We are not going to the stars ourselves, but we can inspire and train people who will solve many of the technical problems going forward, just as they train the next generation. One of these generations will one day train the crew of the first human interstellar mission, or if we settle on robotics, the controllers who will manage our first probes. Placing ourselves in the context of the long result acknowledges our obligation to future generations as we begin putting foundation stones in place.
This is not the first time Paul Gilster and others have compared building interstellar ships and matching infrastructure to building pyramids and cathedrals. Both were long range projects in the human past that required multi-generational planning, money, political will and many generations of workers who never saw the end result.
Now, whether interstellar ships will be multi-generation, fast, slow or whatever in the end, they will result from human cultural biases and will be unique in this region of space.
In the end, they will be the result of many generations of human genius.
In what is its most targeted search to date, the SETI Institute has scanned 86 potentially habitable solar systems for signs of radio signals. Needless to say, the search came up short (otherwise the headline of this article would have been dramatically different), but the initiative is finally offering some quantitative data about the rate at which we can expect to find radio-emitting intelligent life on Earth-like planets — a rate that’s proving to be disturbingly low.
Indeed, by the end of its survey, SETI calculated that less than one-percent of all potentially habitable exoplanets are likely to host intelligent life. That means less than one in a million stars in the Milky Way currently host radio-emitting civilizations that we can detect.
A narrow-band search
The SETI researchers, a team that included Jill Tarter and scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, reached this conclusion after scanning 86 different stars using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. These stars were chosen because earlier Kepler data indicated they host potentially habitable planets — Earth-like planets that sit inside their sun’s habitable zone.
As for the radio bands searched, SETI looked for signals in the 1-2 GHz range, a band that’s used here on Earth for such things as cell phones and television transmissions. SETI also constrained the search to radio emissions less than 5Hz of the spectrum; nothing in nature is known to produce such narrow band signals.
Each of the 86 stars — the majority of which are more than 1,000 light-years away — were surveyed for five minutes. Because of the extreme distances involved, the only signals that could have been detected were ones that were intentionally aimed in our direction — which would be a deliberate effort by ETIs to signal their presence (what’s referred to as Active SETI, or METI (Messages to ETIs)).
“No signals of extraterrestrial origin were found.” noted the researchers in the study.”[I]n the simplest terms this result indicates that fewer than 1% of transiting exoplanet systems are radio loud in narrow-band emission between 1-2 GHz.”
Wanted: Alternative signatures
Despite the nul result, SETI remains hopeful for the future. Scanning potentially habitable solar systems is a fantastic idea, and it’s likely the first of many such targeted searches. At the same time, however, SETI will have to expand upon its list of candidate signatures.
It has been proposed, for example, that SETI look for signs of Kardashev scale civilizations, and take a more Dysonian approach to their searches. Others have suggested that SETI look for laser pulses.
Indeed, the current strategy — that of looking for radio-emitting civilizations — is exceedingly limited. Even assuming we could detect signals from a radio-capable civilization within a radius of 1,000 light-years, the odds that it would be contemporaneous with us is mind-bogglingly low (the time it takes for radio signals to reach us notwithstanding).
And as we are discovering by virtue of our own technological development, the window of opportunity to detect a radio-transmitting civilization is quite short. Looking to the future, it’s more than reasonable to suggest that alternative signatures — whether they be transmitted deliberately or not — be considered.
This is something SETI is very aware of, and the researchers said so much in their paper:
Ultimately, experiments such as the one described here seek to firmly determine the number of other intelligent, communicative civilizations outside of Earth. However, in placing limits on the presence of intelligent life in the galaxy, we must very carefully qualify our limits with respect to the limitations of our experiment. In particular, we can offer no argument that an advanced, intelligent civilization necessarily produces narrow-band radio emission, either intentional or otherwise. Thus we are probing only a potential subset of such civilizations, where the size of the subset is difficult to estimate. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is still in its infancy, and there is much parameter space left to explore.
The paper is set to appear in the Astrophysical Journal and can be found here.
I suppose this is the natural outreach of the Kepler planetary searches; to see if there are radio signals coming from some of these planets. But as Terence McKenna once said, “To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture-bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant.“
Words of wisdom. I think it’s a mistake to believe that civilizations will use radio to broadcast out into the Universe. Convergent theories of evolution aside, it’s not a proven fact that other intelligences would follow the same evolutionary path as humans and thus invent similar communication techniques.
Of course, time will tell.
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.