Another potpourri of science wonders! After an announcement or two… and a brief re-look at METI.
First – announcing: a first round of videos are now up from the Starship Symposium at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, with speakers Peter Schwarz, Freeman Dyson, Patti Smith, Geoffrey Landis, Neal Stephenson, Robert Zubrin and Chris Lewicki… all about the prospects for some child born today to possibly becoming an interstellar voyager. Sublime …
… and… Mythbehaving is a way-fun site filled with interesting podcast interviews and other goodies. I gave them an hour recently and it went pretty well, with only one or two foot-in-mouths mixed in with lots of ideas. About science fiction, dystopias, augmented humans, science, movies, advice-for-writers, clues to piercing propaganda and so much more! Good for your daily commute.
And scroll downward if you want to skip past the METI stuff to a pile of terrific links about science wonders! Seriously, some of the news is spectacular.
==METI Redux ==
But briefly, back to the ridiculous. A week or so ago I called for public and media attention to zero in on a pack of fools who arrogate a right to speak for all of humanity, and who for ego and brazen profit, are deliberately altering a major physical attribute of our planet, veering our descendants onto a destiny path that they might later regret — and all of it without even a scintilla of scientific responsibility or subjecting their schemes to collegial criticism or review.
Some expressed surprise over my opposition to METI or “Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.” Snarkers and trolls called me “paranoid” for demanding the responsible equivalent of an adversarially questioned environmental impact statement and peer-reviewed due-diligence – exactly as every biological researcher does, every year — before deciding such things on behalf of all of humanity. Paranoid? Heh, people who say that have clearly never read anything I’ve written, in a long life spent exploring every concept of the “alien”, via science and fiction. Okay, it’s made me keenly aware of the vast range of what’s possible, good, bad, indifferent or weird.
Folks who would sneer at Shell or Exxon for claiming “nothing can go wrong” at a stockholder meeting, while wriggling out of responsibility for “unlikely” outcomes that later prove devastating, are happy to plunge ahead with blaring stunts that might pose a small but real chance of causing our descendants deep regret.
The “discussion” at most of the sites that carried this imbroglio, including Science2.0, consisted largely of arm-waved “of course” assumptions, especially appeals to the “cat’s out of the bag” or the “Barn Door” excuse that Earth has already been noisy for a long time… and not one person did any reading to see if that Hollywood myth is … actually… true. (Hint: real scientists, using real equations, find that “I love Lucy” became background static within half a light year after departing Earth.)
But it is not the “danger” that motivates me, nor all the other top figures in the SETI field who have resigned from major commissions in protest over what Carl Sagan and Frank Drake and others denounced as faddish foolishness. No, it is the callow rudeness of ignoring every procedure of adult science. Zealotry is no substitute for maturity. For-profit scamming is no substitute for actual science. Rudeness is no substitute for common courtesy. I don’t blame the snarkers for knowing nothing about how science works; but the purported “scientists” pulling these stunts… aren’t scientists.
Oh… have a look at one of the “winning” animated gif and messages Lone Signal is beaming out, to represent us. Never mentioned: these “selections to represent humanity” are chosen on a pay basis, a for profit biz, using a radio telescope paid for with our tax dollars, to emit #$@! like this.
But there is a sensible wing. Let’s expand the number of telescopes that are looking and listening! For example: a young Equadorean astronomer is trying to drum up interest in building a “second Arecibo” in his homeland. of course I am very interested in a second Aricebo, though most attention is going to the Square Kilometer Array which will go to South Africa with some facilities in Australia.
I am even more interested in the other end, expanding SETI to amateurs! Finding a millionaire who would fund (for only a couple of million dollars) the creation of a turn-key amateur radio telescope that 5000 hobbyists might easily afford to erect in their backyards. With just a few thousand, we would then cover all of the sky, all of the time and catch most transient events, quickly notifying larger observatories to steer their antennae onto the source and catching it before it goes away. Naturally, this would help SETI to become much more serious and effective, but it would have many other great benefits.
Only now dig this postscript about the “Lone Signal” dopes: as it turns out, their refurbished radio telescope cannot do what they advertise, so it is also a scam. Basic calculations by the Benfords show that they will not deliver anywhere near the on-target visibility that they claim. In other words… sigh… never mind.
== Onward to REAL science! ==
What we should be doing, while learning as much as we can about the cosmos, is becoming a civilization that deserves contact with anyone decent out there… and that is mighty enough to withstand contact with anything indecent. And it is happening! For example:
Take the 3-D printer revolution. Combine it now with another burgeoning trend, research aimed at creating digital avatars that contain much of your personality, that can emulate you. What starts to take shape? How about a possible precursor to Kiln People in real life? See: This man is not a cyborg. Yet.
Check out this 3 minute retro-type humorous video about Planetary Resources and their aim to mine asteroids. Boy bazillionaires can afford some fun stuff. But do participate — help fund Arkyd, the first publicly accessible telescope on Kickstarter!
Met a fellow who is helping to develop “tri-alpha fusion” power. This method will use a much simpler magnetic pinch system than the absurdly and hopelessly ornate Tokamak to fuse protons with Boron 11, in a reaction that releases three alpha particles (hence the name) or Helium3… but with almost no neutrons. That last item is crucial, because it eliminates most sources of radioactivity and destruction of the container lining. Here’s hoping.
Physicists are in a lather. They found the Higgs Boson, right where theory predicted it — but then uncovered theoretical quirks showing that they should not have discovered it, even though they did. Is this proof that we live in a cosmos that is merely one bubble in a fantastically ginormous “multiverse”? Humbling beyond humbling.
== And more wonders… space! ==
Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf and the star closest to our system, will pass in front of two background stars in the next few years, offering opportunities to do great science by “micro-gravitational-lensing.”
Have astronomers found “bruises” or traces of past collisions with other universes?
== Biology and all that! ==
The naked mole rat lives about 10 times longer than mice. And unlike lab mice, 95 percent of whom die of cancer, the mole rat is impervious to the disease. A sugar, called hyaluronan, binds cells together. While all animals have hyaluronan, the mole rat’s version is unusually large: about five times the size of that found in humans, and it pretty clearly is the key. Interesting. But then why don’t other species do this?
Along similar lines… a possible “cure” for PTSD? Scientists identify a gene in traumatized mice that is also linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans – and find that a drug can treat symptoms in mice by triggering a key brain receptor.
And… Your gut bacteria can affect your brain… apparently.
A fascinating re-appraisal of the timing of Homo sapiens’ arrival in Europe and the very quick extinction of Neandethals. Seems compatible with my speculations in EXISTENCE.
Go placidly because getting upset a LOT might affect your unborn grandkids. “Your ancestors’ lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.” In other words, Lamarck – and Greg Bear – may get a last chuckle and mom’s craziness may never be escaped.
Study shows correlation between language and altitude. Yes, altitude.
At Teardrop Glacier, high in the Canadian Arctic, 400 year frozen plants have sprung back to life. The glaciers in the region have been receding at rates that have sharply accelerated since 2004, at about 3-4m per year. That is exposing land that has not seen light of day since the so-called Little Ice Age, a widespread climatic cooling that ran roughly from AD 1550 to AD 1850.
== And back to space and sci fi ==
Michio Kaku at his very best: “How does science fiction influence scientific research?”
Kerbal Space Program is a space mission simulator game. The player takes command of a space program run by little alien-ish creatures called Kerbals. The player can build and customize rocket ships to blast off the planet and then attempt to fly their ships through space to reach other planets and moons. And half of the staff of JPL are – apparently – addicted, even though it’s only in prototype!
== A tsunami of technology! ==
OrCam, an Israeli start-up, has developed a camera-based system that gives the visually impaired the ability to read easily and move around freely. OrCam reads text and recognizes faces, locates bus numbers, monitors traffic lights, and identifies objects, products and places, and uses sound (via bone conduction) to convey information.
The foc.us gaming headset claims to improve a gamer’s abilities by stimulating specific areas of the brain with a low electric current. Computer human interfaces abound. Welcome to your borg future.
Speaking of which… a telltale quirk in brainwaves appears to correlate in toddlers with later diagnoses of autism.
Researchers at Bell Labs in New Jersey say they’ve used compressive sensing to build a camera that needs no lens and uses only a single sensing pixel to take photographs. What’s more, the images from this camera are never out if focus. The same approach works for other wavelengths of light such as infrared and millimeter waves. It takes time to acquire the data for each image. So the camera only creates images of still scenes.
And… saving the most-stunning for last. This is simply incredible. Scientists have taken the first atom-by-atom pictures, including images of the chemical bonds between atoms, clearly depicting how a molecule’s structure changed during a reaction. Click and see. If you know any chemistry, you’ll be stunned.
I mean dang. Wow.