Space

Next year, scientists will send messages to search for aliens

For the last half-century or so, astronomers around the world have been scanning the cosmos with massive radio telescopes in hopes of finding some sign of intelligent life. This network of alien-hunters comprises the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), but despite all their efforts, the interstellar radio waves have remained quiet. One might even say too quiet. Depending on who you ask, first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization might happen any day now. Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, has famously predicted that we’ll hear from ET within the next two decades. Others, such as the Cornell University astronomer Yervant Terzian are less optimistic — his probabilistic calculations place first contact in about 1,500 years, assuming there’s anyone left on Earth to receive the call. But many SETI astronomers aren’t content with only scanning the airwaves for signs of ET. Instead, they think we should also be actively reaching out to the cosmos on behalf of planet Earth. These astronomers occupy a controversial niche within the SETI community known as Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligences, or METI. At the forefront of this group is Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, a research group dedicated to designing and sending messages intended for extraterrestrial recipients. Vakoch and his colleagues at METI International are fighting an uphill battle. Aside from all the technical problems that come with trying to contact aliens, many SETI astronomers think it’s a bad idea. The METI opposition group, which includes scientists like Stephen Hawking, argues that since we have no idea what ET might be like, sending a message into the cosmos comes with a huge existential risk. If the aliens happen to be friendly, no problem. But if they’re hostile, that means we’re essentially sending out a beacon that says “ATTACK HERE.” A lot of ink has been spilled over whether or not actively attempting to make contact with extraterrestrials is advisable. But despite the arguments to the contrary, Vakoch said he’s not worried. “One of the reasons people are so afraid of METI is that it seems riskier to do something than to do nothing,” Vakoch told me over email. “When we try to evaluate the risks and benefits of an unknown situation where we have little or no actual data, we fall back on the most vivid images that come to mind. But just because the first images of alien contact that come to mind are horrific, that doesn’t mean they’re realistic.” By 2018, METI International hopes to begin sending messages into space. This immediately presents a host of problems, such as: how do you design a message for a species that is totally unfamiliar with any language on Earth? Over the last 50 years, a number of solutions to this problem have been proposed, ranging from full-fledged mathematical languages to rudimentary chatbots, music, or pictograms. For the most part, SETI scientists are in agreement that the message will have to be strongly rooted in mathematics and physics, since these are likely to be the only two types of knowledge we have in common with the ET.

Perhaps…perhaps not.  Regardless, it’s definitely risky….

NASA’s Voyager probes, 40 years out, are brought near in ‘the farthest’

Forty years ago, NASA launched twin robotic explorers on a mission to travel farther out than any spacecraft had gone before, and today, they continue to be our most distant emissaries. The story of those probes, and of the people behind them, is the focus of the aptly-titled documentary, “The Farthest,” airing Wednesday (Aug. 23) on PBS. The Voyager probes, referred to by numerical designators “1” and “2,” revealed the outer planets of our solar system and then continued to sail beyond. Voyager 2, which was the first to launch on Aug. 20, 1977, visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 departed Earth on Sep. 5, 1977, overtook its counterpart, and was the first to arrive at Jupiter and Saturn. Three and a half decades later, on Aug. 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first craft to cross into interstellar space. It is the farthest of humanity’s creations, about 13 billion miles (21 billion km) from the sun, and it is still sending data. “There are two parts to Voyager,” said John Casani, who in 1977 was the project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “There’s the part of getting the thing designed, tested and put together so it is working right, getting it to the launch pad and getting it launched. The really interesting part happens after that.” “That is where the clock that is counting down to 40 years starts, at liftoff,” said Casani, in an interview preceding an early screening of “The Farthest” at Space Center Houston in Texas on Aug. 1. “Voyager really is an amazing mission. Not only because it lasted so long, but it really, for the first time, gave anybody a picture of what the solar system out beyond Mars was like. We had no idea,” he said. Casani is featured in “The Farthest,” along with more than 20 other engineers, scientists and citizens who contributed to the Voyager mission 40 years ago. “Space films can be challenging because they can be very impersonal. This one sort of goes to the other extreme,” described Jared Lipworth, consulting producer with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, which collaborated with the Ireland-based production company Crossing The Line to present the film. “There are just so many of the people who were involved who have stories to tell,” he said. “So, it really became as much about the people as it did about the mission.” That includes Casani and Frank Locatell, an engineer who led the design and development of the Voyager propulsion module and, for the year prior to launch, was responsible for the flight readiness of all the mechanical hardware on both probes. “I think Voyager represents an evolutionary step in human development. I don’t think that’s a stretch [to say],” Locatell told collectSPACE. “Voyager is a story about science, and about the application of science and what that application could mean on our development as human beings.” “When Voyager was launched, I don’t think we had any idea about some of the really strange worlds we detected out there,” said Don Gurnett, the principal scientist for the plasma wave instrument that provided the evidence that Voyager 1 had left the solar system in 2012. “I remember after going by Jupiter and Saturn, being invited to science fiction conferences to talk about the worlds we discovered out there.” “It wasn’t just the planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — but a whole collection of moons. I lost count, but there are some 30 or so moons,” Gurnett said. In addition to revealing the details of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s known satellites, Voyager 1 and 2 found three new moons at Jupiter and four at Saturn. Voyager 2 found 11 unknown moons at Uranus and six at Neptune.

And that’s just the beginning!  To read the rest of this article, click on the text above.

Solar Eclipse: The big event is finally here

After months of anticipation, planning and hype, the Great American Eclipse finally arrived on Monday. Americans with telescopes, cameras and protective glasses staked out viewing spots along a narrow corridor from Oregon to South Carolina to watch the moon blot out the midday sun Monday in what promises to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history. Eclipse-watchers everywhere — and millions peered at the sun — fretted about the weather and hoped for clear skies for the first total solar eclipse to sweep coast-to-coast across the U.S. in practically a century. The total solar eclipse, which happens around the globe once a year, will last just two and a half minutes, much shorter than other eclipses, according to Astrophysicist & Hayden Planetarium Director, Neil Degrasse Tyson. “Perhaps a hundred million people will see it—that’s a great thing,” Tyson said…

It was truly amazing!!  If you missed it, you really missed it.  But, you can click on the text above for some photos and videos.  Also, we recommend going to:  http://www.space.com for more solar eclipse goodies.    🙂

Aliens could conquer Earth by following ‘dangerous’ maps NASA ‘foolishly’ sent into space

Back in the optimistic early days of space exploration, everyone thought it was a great idea to offer aliens a chart telling them how to find Planet Earth. But now the man who sent four maps into deep space fears this decision could prove to be disastrous. Frank Drake, an American astronomer and famed alien hunter, worked with NASA to design maps which were placed inside Pioneer 10 and 11 as well as Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. All four of these spaceships have now left the solar system and are speeding through deep space. The plaque placed aboard the Pioneer craft shows a man and a woman alongside a basic map which plots the position of Earth compared to a distant pulsar stars, which are bright and long-lasting so could still direct aliens our way if they are found millions of years from now. Voyager was fitted with “golden records”, which can be played to reveal natural sounds and even images from Earth. A similar pulsar map is engraved on the front of the records. Frank Drake now fears it may have been a bad idea to send the maps into space.

To find out why, and read the rest of this article, click on the text above.  Things that make ya go, “hmmmm…”      🙂

Alien ships near Saturn? Ex-NASA scientist claims of their existence

A former NASA engineer at the Ames Research Center claims aliens are in our solar system and they are creating rings around planets like Saturn. Dr. Norman Bergrun, who previously worked at NASA Ames Research Center has recently made comments that UFOs are hiding in the rings of Saturn. According to conspiracy theory channel, SecureTeam10, which obtained Bergrun’s comments, the alien ships have been here for some time. “Alien spacecraft are proliferating in our solar system and around these ringed planets,” Bergrun is quoted as saying on the video. Bergrun also noted the aircraft are by the other ringed-planets in the solar system, including Jupiter and Uranus. SecureTeam 10, which has nearly 900,000 YouTube subscribers, often runs conspiracy theory-based videos. The organization describes itself as the “source for reporting the best in new UFO sighting news, info on the space cover-up, and the strange activity happening on and off of our planet.” Bergrun wrote the 1986 book entitled “Ringmakers of Saturn.” The book highlights that there are massive alien ships around Saturn (which Bergrun dubs “ring makers”), including ones which have actually created some of the rings around the gas giant. This is not the first time Bergrun has made comments like this, having done so previously in 2016. Click here to see the video in its entirety:

And you be the judge…

NASA bombshell: Government agency admits it can’t pay for humans to go to Mars

NASA has long said it would be able to send a manned mission to Mars, sometime during the 2030s. Now, in a bombshell announcement, the space agency has admitted it can’t afford the price tag. On July 12, during a propulsion meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, the agency’s chief of human spaceflight, said the funds just are not there for a mission. “I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is … at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars,” Gerstenmaier said, according to an Ars Technica report. “And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.” NASA could not be reached for additional comment for this story. For the 2017 fiscal year, NASA has a budget of $19.5 billion, a figure that many scientists have cried is inadequate. The proposed total Federal budget for 2018 is $4.1 trillion. For several years, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has derided NASA’s budget. The cost of a manned mission to Mars has varied greatly in recent years. In 2012, the head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Brent Sherwood, said it could cost approximately $100 billion over 30 or 40 years. Director of the Mars Institute Pascal Lee recently said it could cost up to $1 trillion over 25 years. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has also come up with a cost for a manned mission to Mars. He estimates it would initially cost $10 billion per person to get a colony up and running, but believes the cost could drop to $200,000, according to a paper published by Musk in June 2017. Part of the cost drop could be reusable rockets, something SpaceX and Musk have been working on perfecting. Using private industry may be the way to go for humanity to get to Mars, at least according to some in the Trump administration. Vice President Mike Pence recently said, “American business is on the cutting edge of space technology.” Pence has also spoken at NASA, calling for a return to the Moon, saying, “America will lead in space once again.”

Let’s hope so.  But, it certainly won’t happen at the current, pathetic, funding levels.  As many of you know, here at The Daily Buzz we’ve been calling for the doubling, if not tripling of our space budgets, both civilian (i.e. NASA) and military (i.e. U.S. Air Force’s Space Command and the U.S. Army’s Space & Missile Defense Command or “SMDC”), since day one.  Of course we’re also for consolidating efforts, and using those funds more efficiently, as there is far too much waste in our federal budget.  BUT, in order to keep pace with adversarial nations like Russia, and China (which is making tremendous leaps in space), we need to invest in those programs…while also partnering with private U.S.-based companies like United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin, and SpaceX.

Does dark energy exist?

Newsflash: the universe is expanding . We’ve known that since the pioneering and tireless work of Edwin Hubble about a century ago, and it’s kind of a big deal. But before I talk about dark energy and why that’s an even bigger deal, I need to clarify what we mean by the word “expanding.” The actual observation that you can do in the comfort of your own home (provided you have access to a sufficiently large telescope and a spectrograph) is that galaxies appear to be receding from our own Milky Way. On average, of course: galaxies aren’t simple creatures, and some, like our a-little-too-close-for-comfort neighbor Andromeda, are moving toward us. This recession is seen in the redshifting of light from those galaxies. The fingerprint frequencies of certain elements are shifted down to lower frequencies, exactly like they are for the Doppler effect. But to explain the cosmological observations as a simple Doppler shift requires a few head-scratching conclusions: 1) We are at the center of the universe; 2) Galaxies have preposterous mechanisms that propel them through space; and 3) The universe conspires to make galaxies twice as far away from us move exactly twice as fast. That seems like a bit of a stretch, so astronomers long ago reached a much more simple conclusion, one powered by the newfangled general theory of relativity : the space itself between galaxies is expanding, and galaxies are just along for the ride. Edwin Hubble established the expansion of the universe by cataloging nearby galaxies (after discovering that there is such a thing as “nearby galaxies”). But the story of dark energy doesn’t get told by neighborhood redshifts. The game of cosmology in the latter half of the 20th century was to go deep. Way deep, which is challenging because deep-space objects are a little dim. Thankfully, nature gave scientists a break (for once). A certain sub-sub-subclass of supernova explosions , known as Type 1a, has two useful characteristics. Because Type 1a supernovae tend to happen from roughly the same scenario — a white dwarf accretes gas from an orbiting companion until a critical threshold is reached, a nuclear chain reaction goes haywire and boom — they have roughly the same absolute brightness. By comparing the observed brightness of a Type 1a supernova to the known true brightness (calibrated using handy nearby sources), a little high-school trigonometry reveals a distance. But wait, there’s more! Since Type 1a supernovae contain the same mix of elements, we can easily identify their fingerprint frequencies and measure the redshift, and hence a speed. Distance and speed all in one measurement. How convenient. Type 1a supernovae are relatively rare — only a small handful will light up each galaxy every century. But since there are so many galaxies in the universe, they’re constantly popping off somewhere. And they’re insanely bright, too. For a few weeks, a single explosion can outshine its entire host galaxy. That’s hundreds of billions of stars for those of you keeping track. As the light travels to our telescopes from a distant supernova, the expansion of the universe will stretch it out to longer wavelengths. The further in the past the supernova exploded, the longer the light has traveled to reach us, and the more stretching it has accumulated. So a single supernova redshift measurement gives us the total amount of universal stretch in the intervening billions of years between us and the explosion. By performing multiple measurements at multiple distances, we can build a cosmic growth chart, mapping the expansion of the universe as a function of its age. And that’s where dark energy enters the fray. In the 1990s, after a decade of technology development, the stage was finally set for supernovae to shed some light on the expansion of the universe. Specifically, its deceleration. In a universe full of matter, the expansion should slowly be wearing out as its gravitational pull tugs back. We didn’t know how much matter was in the universe, but a measurement of the cosmic growth chart would help pin it down. Easy, peasy. At first the results were promising: two competing groups both provided initial results of a detectable deceleration rate, but with necessarily large error bars (they were just getting started, after all). But in the coming months, things started to go downhill. As more supernovae data came back from the surveys, the measured deceleration shrank. Then vanished. Then reversed. It appeared that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. Both groups frantically tried to figure out the bugs in their data-analysis pipelines. Surely something was amiss, and each was worried that the other group might steal its thunder by publishing a sound measurement while it was still fiddling with its codes. But the data refused to budge. Nervously, cautiously, the groups reached out to each other: “Do you see what we see?” It was then that the groups began to appreciate what the universe was telling them. Two competing teams, using different telescopes, different datasets and different methodologies, were independently coming to the same conclusion. Our universe wasn’t slowing down, but speeding up . They published their work almost 20 years ago. In the meantime, after several independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion, they shared in a Nobel Prize for their unexpected discovery. The name for that observed phenomenon — dark energy — sticks with us today, but we still don’t understand it. We don’t know why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, but we do know that it does accelerate. Learn more by listening to the episode “Does Dark Energy Exist? ” on the Ask A Spaceman podcast, available on iTunes and on the web at http://www.askaspaceman.com . Thanks to Mike N., @al_mcclintock, Philip A., Walt A., Cheryl B. and Vick K. for the questions that led to this piece! Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and facebook.com/PaulMattSutter .

Fascinating!!     Astrophysicist Paul Sutter at The Ohio State University is responsible for that outstanding science lesson.       🙂