Sifting the skies for “others”

Let’s talk sci and tech! So much cool stuff and so little time… so we’ll start by looking upward for this posting.

First… the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is planning to spend more than $1 billion on satellites that will offer internet access worldwide from space. My contacts at ViaSat confirm that something is in the works. People familiar with the project say the devices Google intends to use will weigh less than 250 pounds. The WSJ’s sources say the costs for the venture could top $3 billion. Among many other aspects, this could be the jiu jitsu move that allows Earth citizens to evade the censorship of national governments. And many other good things! But of course, there’s always a cost.


== Sift the skies for “others”! ==

JBIS-METI-SETI-DEBATE My paper on the search for – and worries about – alien contact is one of a dozen in the latest issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society – a special volume that is formatted as a debate over the controversial matter of beaming “yoohoo messages to ET.” It is a serious matter that should be discussed openly by humanity’s greatest sages, before a fascinated and participating world populace! Instead, a dozen or so zealots want to make the decision on our behalf, without a scintilla of consultation. The debate is here… though (for now) at a small fee that goes to a good cause…

… getting out there, ourselves.

aaic-nasa How We’ll Talk to Aliens: Now available from NASA for free download (print also available) is “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” edited by Doug Vakoch, with articles about a wide range of non-astronomical aspects of contact with ExtraTerrestrial Civilizations.

See more on Shouting to the Cosmos: SETI vs METI. 

Meanwhile, we learn about planets! Like… Godzilla earth? Here’s an interesting discovery of a rocky planet which has a mass some 17 times that of Earth. Combining transit-eclipse size measurements from the Kepler telescope with mass-tug effects from a scope in the Canary Islands, researchers showed that Kepler-10c cannot be a gaseous world but must comprise very dense material. Interestingly, the age of the host star (a red dwarf) is about 11 billion years old, which is early in the evolution of the Universe when generations of exploding stars have not had long to make the heavy elements needed to construct rocky planets. Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought.

== Piecing together the puzzle ==

Gravitational wave discovery faces scrutiny: Inspiring to witness science at work, both collegial and relentlessly competitive and self-critical. In this case, the BICEP results reported in March — suggesting that polarization in the cosmic background might reveal inflation patterns in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the universe — might have contained some flawed image processing assumptions. We can all wait and see. But the process is fascinating to follow in this excellent NATURE article.

Universe-simulationModeling the universe, starting with the Big Bang, only became possible with the advent of supercomputers, fantastic software and the realization of the existence of mysterious dark matter. Combining all of these resulted in what may be one of the great scientific achievements of our time — a model that portrays the Bang, then natural evolution into the cosmos we see today, with the same array of numbers of sizes and types of galaxies. If verified, it is a stunning validation of our current models and our growing ability as simulators… then creators?… in our own right.

See also this video about the simulation. I hope it’s valid.

It used to be generally thought that our solar system’s largest moon contained an ocean with ice on bottom and top. But crushing pressure on Ganymede could create up to three layers of ice, with different kinds in each layer. The densest and heaviest ice on Ganymede is called “Ice VI.” Hence, Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may have a multi-layered ocean of alternating ice and liquid water that resembles a “club sandwich,” according to NASA.

== We need … more SPACE! ==

spacex-dragonElon does it again. Unveils version 2 of the Dragon Capsule… this one capable of carrying astronauts. The fellow’s timing is amazing… just as the US and Europe are looking for a way to stop paying Russia for manned Soyuz transports carrying our astronauts to the space station.

And then…

The surprise donation to NASA of two identical space telescopes by the United States National Reconnaissance Office has put NASA in a bind. They are essentially brand new Hubbles… a super gift, but then comes the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to turn them into scientific instruments. Read about a petition to make use of these (potentially) amazing gifts for astronomy.


== Will OCO help cure madness? ==

NASA plans to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on July 1, 2014.  The OCO-2 mission will be NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.  I plan to be there! Additional information about the mission can be found on the NASA site. 

Why has it taken so long? There was an attempt to launch a climate satellite early in the Bush administration… a launch that mysteriously (even suspiciously?) blew up. After a second failure, budgets for climate science were slashed and satellites cancelled, while the GOP Congress passed measures eliminating Earth studies from the NASA mission and tried to do the same to NOAA! There were some interim sats and their work has universally confirmed global warming models, but at levels of accuracy that still allowed denialists to wriggle and squirm.

One can hope the new satellite will put doubts to rest and that mature citizens will rally behind whatever the science shows. One can hope.

Climate-change-report-2014Meanwhile, the most definitive climate change report so far has been issued by the US Government and it paints a serious-sobering picture… that climate change is already adversely affecting our lives and economy and picking up speed. The response? Not “maybe we should take prudent measures to prepare and ameliorate, just in case 97% of scientists prove to be right.” (Look up TWODA.)

No, the response is hatred of scientists and all “government.” Ponder that.

The question I have for (the recent, neo-crazy version of) conservatives is this: “Do you really want to base the entire credibility of your whole movement on obstinate rejection of science?” On a fabulated image that scientists know less, are dumber, more herd-like and less credible… than a hireling propagandist on Fox News?


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