Tag Archives: space

From Near to Far…Amazing Things are Everywhere

What a year! So far, we’ve had a landing on a comet, great results from Mars, many more exoplanets zeroing in on “goldilocks” zones… and now, across the next few months, NASA spacecraft close in on the two most wondrous and fabled dwarf planets…

pia19056_mainFirst up — Ceres: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft – after probing the giant asteroid Vesta – is getting super close to its planned orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres — due to arrive March 6. The “white dot” mystery grows. But I am especially interested in whether our probe finds evidence of a liquid sea under the thick, icy crust. If so, it will prove the “roofed water worlds” don’t need the tug of a nearby planet, in order to heat and melt subsurface water. It will change our notions of the abundance of liquid water in the universe.

new-horizons-plutoAnd…the New Horizon spacecraft is closing in on Pluto. Nine years after its launch, New Horizons will achieve closest approach on July 14, 2015, collecting data on the surface and atmosphere of the dwarf planet, its large moon Charon and four smaller moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.

Want your name and message to go onto the New Horizons probe? Uploaded into memory after it finishes its main mission and heads out of the Solar System? See (and join!) the New Horizons Message Initiative, headed by my friend the great space artist Jon Lomberg and his wife Sharona.

Want more wonders? Could there be life in the seas of Saturn’s moons? Cornell researchers have modeled methane-based lifeforms that could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Many have I got a great story on the back burner!

Meanwhile, we’re still receiving wonderful views of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta orbiter, and these should get even better, during coming weeks. A dream come true for this comet guy!

(Alas, they hope that the little Philae lander, which should have been nuclear, not solar powered) will get enough power in a few months, as 67/P streaks sunward. But that’s the same point when the rising push of escaping-subliming gas from below will likely shove the little guy out into space.)

== Visualizing Andromeda ==

andromedaFor stunning new imagery of our neighboring galaxy, see the high-definition Gigapixels of Andromeda, assembled by Cory Poole.

If there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, that means there are 100 stars for every Human Being! Manifest destiny! Let’s go get em!

Ooops, that just went out over the web… so the natives know we’re coming…

… in peace! Yeah, that’s the ticket. We come in peace. 😉

Seriously, read Phil Plait’s lyrical essay about how fortunate we are to witness such splendor. He writes of “the awe of the raw Universe laid out right in front of me.” Now revealed. By our own hands.

== Peering downward…and outward ==

Four newly launched Earth-observing satellites are now collecting data on global atmospheric conditions, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, allowing us to better understand our own planet.

A Kepler-discovered solar system with rocky planets is 11.2 billion years old and was born near the dawn of the galaxy. An amazing discovery with profound impact on our “Drake Equation” calculations of when both worlds and life might have first emerged. At a distance of 117 light-years from Earth, Kepler-444 is two and a half times older than our solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. “Which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”

A proposed space telescope, the Aragoscope, could potentially image at a far higher resolution than Hubble. See an interesting write-up on one of the exciting projects we’ve been seed-funding at NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program, designed to turn science fiction into reality through pioneering technology development. This one is a spectacular space telescope that might also be very cheap to build… and closely related to one I described in Existence.

In fact, see my earlier posting about a wide range of skyward wonders that are astronomically-good…

== And more! ==

Black-hole-swirlAstronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. This monster quasar shines (or shone 429 trillion times brighter than the sun.

Closest known flyby: An international group of astronomers has determined that 70,000 years ago a dim star is likely to have passed within our solar systems Oort Cloud — 52,000 astronomical units (AU) or 0.8 light years from the Earth. That is five times closer than Proxima Centauri.

To answer your next question: “98% of the simulations showed Scholz’s star passing through the Oort cloud, only one brought the star within the inner Oort cloud which would have triggered “comet showers”. Still, one is tempted to look for impact fluxes having gone up, 60-70,000 years ago.

An interesting thought that came up, at the AAAS discussions. That a top-ranked motion picture like Avatar can now cost about the same as an astronomical mission to discover thousands of real-life planets, like Kepler. Not suggesting a zero-sum tradeoff.

We need both. Now if only one could help the other….

== Mister Spock — the final farewell ==

Yes, it was good to have Leonard Nimoy among us. I won’t say Rest in Peace, because frankly, although I am a scientific dubious agnostic, I do hope he is not “resting,” but off on his next cool adventure. Maybe even where no one has been, before.

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Looking to Space…and Beyond

No roundup abouit space would be complete without mentioning the disastrous crash of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two… and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket. Are we under attack by UFOs? (Yes, silvery guys… I’m lookin’ at you.) Seriously, our sympathy to both teams and best wishes for recovery and future success.

== Space News ==

niac-videoIs suspended animation possible? Can we 3D print whole structures on the moon? How about swimming the ocean of Europa? Our leader at NASA NIAC – Jay Falker – explains the mission, to explore highly speculative ideas with small, seed grants. Watch this short video about NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I am proud to be on the board of advisors. YOU should be proud to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Art often interfaces with science, but not quite like this. As reported by Adam Rogers (my former ArchiTECHS co-star) in WIRED — The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar — it seems that the special effects team for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming (and much-awaited) film Interstellar consulted with another friend of mine — Caltech’s brilliant Kip Thorne, who supplied equations that Nolan’s team crunched and crunched… in order to show us what (according to Thorne) a Black Hole “will actually look like.”

This isn’t the first time that art rendered a best-image for science! One small, personal example: my doctoral dissertation, predicting how dust layers on comets would affect their activity, has been proved yet again with recent missions. But it was the novel Heart of the Comet that nailed the size and shape of Halley’s Comet, just before Europe’s Giotto mission confirmed both within 20%.

But this is just plain terrific. If you are like me, you are bouncing against walls with eagerness to see Interstellar! Both as fans and for what it may do to shatter the stunning cowardice toward new ideas that dominates today’s studio-Hollywood.

== More Comet News ==

Rosetta-probe-ESA-space1200Eau de comet? The Rosetta Probe sniffs Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — and detects odors resembling “rotten eggs and horse pee” — also known as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and formaldehyde.

Thousands of comets observed flickering in and out near the new solar system of Beta Pictoris.

Bizarre Pyramid on Comet 67P? “It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder’s cracks. But, of course, it is much too early to be sure,” comments researcher Holger Sierks.”  Um again, this is exactly as my thesis forecast, way back in 1980. (Hey, you’d preen about that too 😉

==Space Updates==

NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans. It’s about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon’s company has restored.

B6-12The Sentinel program – developing satellites that can warn in advance of medium/small asteroids on collision course – reveals in vivid detail what the U.S. Defense Department had heretofore (for unfathomable reasons) deemed secret — that from 2000 to 2013 there were twenty-six “nuke-level” incidents, when meteors of asteroidal scale exploded in the atmosphere, delivering from one to six-hundred kilotons of energy. A “city killer” strikes Earth once per century, though the greatest danger is if one of these events ever took place in a touchy region, possibly sending itchy trigger fingers racing for buttons.

Watch the video… then consider participating.

Want another worry? Earth’s magnetic north pole has been speeding up in its movement and this year passed its closest to true north. Interesting… and sci fi worrisome.

How cool is this? “Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.”

Meanwhile, I am helping my friend Jon Lomberg (creator of Hawaii’s famous “Galaxy Garden” and co-creator of Carl Sagan’s Voyager Record) in his effort to get a similar trove of human wisdom and art stored aboard the New Horizons probe after it finishes doing science, screaming past Pluto next year.

== And yet more inspiring science! ==

Scientific American asks: “Conspiracy theorists may wonder, why does NASA’s next major telescope director need top secret clearance?” Interesting indeed. “The Webb telescope is being planned as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer at some of the farthest reaches of space and time. The $8.8-billion observatory is due to launch in 2018.” Past Space Telescope directors did not need clearance. But in fact, I believe that this event has little to do with the Webb Telescope. Remember that NASA just took delivery of two Hubble class Keyhole space telescopes, no longer needed by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. I guess they want to be sure that, in converting those scopes for scientific work, sensitive tech does not leak . On the other hand, what if the Webb is being used as a civilian cover operation for next generation spook craft, just as the Hubble had been? Maybe an even bigger reason.

gamma-ray-burstsGamma Ray Bursters as cullers of life: “Only at the outskirts of the Milky Way, at more than 10 kpc from the galactic center, this probability drops below 50%. When considering the Universe as a whole, the safest environments for life (similar to the one on Earth) are the lowest density regions in the outskirts of large galaxies and life can exist in only ~ 10% of galaxies.” Interesting hypothesis. On the role of GRBs on life extinction in the Universe, by Tsvi Piran, Raul Jimenez.

Tiny diamond nano threads could someday support a space elevator?

Ten horrifying technologies that should never exist, by George Dvorsky, citing weaponized nanotechnology, brain hacking devices, weaponized pathogens…and more terrors.

Will “torpor” let us put astronauts into suspension (as in 2001, saving resources for deep space missions? As I mentioned earlier, this work is funded by us at NIAC… actually, one of the less plausible grants, in the next decade or two.  But good press!

7m9evHeh cute visualization to put things in perspective; How close is our closest neighbor, our moon “It’s tempting to think it’s much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer)….It turns out it’s far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare, ” notes astronomer Christian Ready. 

Here’s one rule of thumb.  The distance from Earth to moon is ten times Earth’s circumference.  So wind a measuring tape ten times round the equator.  That should do it.   In fact… now that I put it that way, I am starting to suspect….

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Steering the Future: on Earth and in the Heavens

Skype founder Jaan Tallin, in conjunction with the Gruber and Templeton Foundations, is sponsoring an essay contest: “How Should Humanity Steer the Future?”

HOW-SHOULD-HUMANITY-STEER-THE-FUTURE“Dystopic visions of the future are common in literature and film, while optimistic ones are more rare. This contest encourages us to avoid potentially self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom and doom and to think hard about how to make the world better while avoiding potential catastrophes. Our ever-deepening understanding of physics has enabled technologies and ways of thinking about our place in the world that have dramatically transformed humanity over the past several hundred years. Many of these changes have been difficult to predict or control—but not all. In this contest we ask how humanity should attempt to steer its own course in light of the radically different modes of thought and fundamentally new technologies that are becoming relevant in the coming decades.”

Ponder it!  But most of all, believe that we can steer the wheel of destiny. Cynics are of no use to anyone.

== The libelous distraction that scientists are lemmings  ==

EDGE-DENIAL-CLIMATEIn The Very, Very Thin Wedge of Denial, Phil Plait discusses one stunning disparity between the blog-claims of climate change deniers and the way that actual mode-consensus is achieved by real scientists, who can read data and understand the Navier-Stokes Equations.

Fox-centered denialists claim that the 97% of atmospheric scientists who agree that humans are altering the climate (less than 1% dissent) are doing so out of lemming-like herd mentality, chasing pathetic Al Gore inspired grants — never explaining how ditto-agreeing with a standard model will get any researcher even a penny. In fact, the top atmospheric scientists already have stable incomes (thank you) from their fantastically successful day-jobs creating (for example) the miraculous ten-day weather forecasts we now rely upon (much improved from a mere two hours, 20 years ago), or successfully modeling climate on six other planets. I know these guys and gals and lemmings they are not. Rather, top scientists are the smartest and most fearlessly competitive humans our species ever produced.

Plait offers an example of how the openly questioning competitive process works: “In 1998, two teams of researchers found evidence that the expansion of the Universe was not slowing down, as expected, but actually speeding up. This idea is as crazy as holding a ball in your hand, letting go, and having it fall up, accelerating wildly into the sky. Yet those papers got published. They inspired lively discussion (to say the least) and motivated further observations. Careful, meticulous work was done to eliminate errors and confounding factors, until it became very clear that we were seeing an overturning of the previous paradigm. It took years, but now astronomers accept that the Universal expansion is accelerating and that dark energy is the culprit.

“Mind you, dark energy is far, far weirder than anything climate change deniers have come up with, yet it became mainstream science in a decade or so. Deniers have been bloviating for longer than that, yet their claims are rejected overwhelmingly by climate scientists. Why? Because they’re wrong.”

twoda-brinAlas, Plait never mentions my own strongest argument against the denialist cult.  That their smug-pat jpegs and Fox-snips are all financed by the industry that will become less outrageously profitable if humanity develops more efficient energy systems. Promoting efficiency falls into the category of TWODA – or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.  Even if human generated climate Change were to prove 100% false, we would all be better off for taking reasonable measures toward energy efficiency… and those so vigorously preventing TWODA are enemies of our species, no matter how many twisted ways you rationalize or cut it.

== Science miscellany! ==

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) researchers are developing an electrodynamic tether designed to generate electricity that will slow down space-based debris.  Such a system features prominently in chapter one of my novel Existence, written when this notion was a glimmer in the eye of brilliant space engineer Joseph Carroll, who almost singlehandedly kept the technological doors open for this approach to solving problems in space.  It’s good to see the problem of space debris given serious attention, perhaps inspired by the movie GRAVITY.

In my fiction I have oft portrayed “gill masks” that allow a diver to extract oxygen directly from the surrounding water.  Has this miracle already arrived?  I would bet no.  But how cool if this actually works?

Ultrasound is one of several noninvasive methods that stimulate the brain. Another is transcranial magnetic stimulation, which apparently provokes more activity in the brain with magnets. A third is transcranial direct current stimulation, which uses electrodes to deliver a weak electrical current to the brain through the scalp. The new study suggests that ultrasound may be the best of the bunch.  (Though I still think reading is a more effective way to stimulate thinking. ) Oh what a brave (or interesting) new world.

cosmos-tysonThis spring will also see the premiere of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. According to Deadline, the series will debut on Fox on March 9th at 9PM, with bonus footage coming to the National Geographic Channel a day later at 10PM. Tyson’s show is a reboot of Carl Sagan’s revered Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, a short series with a broad scientific focus that first aired in 1980. Tyson’s Cosmos will explore the discovery of physics, with a promise to present complicated concepts in clear ways and with a proper dose of grandeur.

==Conquering the future==

Future Perfect - CoverwebSee The Future of Transportation, by Sci Fi author William Hertling (The Last Firewall).

The Guinea worm may be the next human pathogen to be eliminated.

Fellow author Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) on  Why the future of war will be even bloodier.  Ouch. Got… to… make… Star Trek…

For a view that progress is possible, see Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, by Steven Johnson.

== Looking outward…to Space! ==

Terrific footage of the new Chinese “Jade Rabbit” lunar lander, at touchdown and then letting the rover roll off, putting new human tacks onto Luna.  Congratulations!

inspiration_mars_headerDennis Tito has a backup for his plan to  take advantage of a once-per-30- years opportunity for a Free Return flyby past Mars — like Apollo 8 & 13, there would thus be no need to schlepp a landing capsule or return fuel, brining a human crewed Mars mission forward by perhaps 30 years. (Tito wants to send a “qualified, older married couple” and my wife reminded me we both have PhDs in Planetary Science and the kids are almost out of the nest!)

Alas, with less than 5 years to prepare, there seems no way Tito and his Inspiration Mars team can pull this off. Especially now that NASA has begged off Tito’s request for $700M and use of the new NASA heavy launch system. Still, all may not be lost.  “There is a backup to the proposed 2018 flyby to Mars mission which envisions a 2021 launch that would feature flybys of both Venus and Mars. That would add 88 days to the just over 500 day mission and would involve more radiation hazards to the two person crew.”  Also, since $700M is kind of chump change for such a major undertaking, Tito has begun talking to the Russians and the Chinese.

Including Venus may add some radiation hazard. But Yipe. To be first living humans to TWO planets? And I would get so much writing done, while huddled inside the water tank, hiding from cosmic rays!

nasa-funding-cutsSo…. Has there been a recent “collapse” in funding for planetary exploration? It appears to be so, at least in the United States.  Have a look at a simple chart from The Planetary Society showing how our efforts to explore outward, which had been rebuilding in the first Obama term, suddenly fell to pieces amid the battles over shutdowns and health care.  This merits your attention. (Though always look at such charts to see if the bottom was chopped-off!)

Redefining the Habitable Zone: Here is good discussion of the Sun’s “goldilocks” or Continuously Habitable Zone, where water might remain on the surface in liquid form for evolutionary time scales.  And a related article on the search for “life” exoplanets. Yet again we see that Earth might be exceptional in one way… that we skate near the inner edge of our sun’s CUZ. Which helps explain why even a little human generated greenhouse gas can make a real difference… and may help to explain the Fermi Paradox.

The European Space Agency plans to re-awaken the Rosetta Probe!  It has been dormant out at more than 4 AU, saving energy till the day its orbit could approach a comet from behind at a great distance (the only way it can be done: you listening Hollywood?)  The hope?  To “land” on the comet before it gets too active and study its physical characteristics.  Then, harpooned to the surface, attempt to ride out the violent passage by the sun that we described in HEART OF THE COMET.  Hoping to learn how much my doctoral dissertation got right!

moon-express Is Mining on the Moon’s Horizon? Moon Express, based in Mountain View, Calif., just unveiled the design for a small robot spacecraft about the size of a coffee table that it says could move about the moon’s surface powered only by solar panels and hydrogen peroxide. The company hopes to build the robot and send it to the moon by late 2015, win the $30 million Lunar X Prize from Google for the first privately funded moon rover, and eventually get around to putting on the moon an operation capable of extracting valuable minerals.  

Um what minerals are they talking about?  I know of none to be found in that wasteland that we can at-present use. Sorry, you luna-tics out there, but in the near term, asteroids are vastly the better bet… though I do approve of some continuing lunar activity!  The best possibility?  Let billionaires finance it with tourism junkets.  Call it money-recycling that will have a positive outcome.

Telescopes that unfold light weight plastic optics, these may open up a new era of astronomy or earth science — or spying — in space.

Kinda weird.  Using gravitational “microlensing” — an almost-fey capability that would have given George Ellery Hale the creeps — a team thinks they have found a candidate for a pair of bodies comprising a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system.  Wooof!

Most common exoplanets are weird ‘mini-Neptunes.’ “Mini-Neptunes dominate the inventory of 3000-plus planets discovered by Kepler,” says lead scientist and planet-hunter Geoff Marcy.  Worlds up to twice the size of Earth are dense and probably rocky, resembling our own planet. Those between two and four times Earth’s width are lighter, so are either wetter or gassy – more like versions of Neptune, which is itself four times Earth’s width.  Several observational bias effects make it difficult to make good statistical predictions based on the Kepler discoveries.  But every month we seem to have new “huh!” stuff to ponder!

Folks ask me for examples re my prediction of a looming “Age of Amateurs” in which ever-more expertise will be found in realms outside of the licensed professions… in avocations, retirees and so on. The trends are all around us, but nowhere more vividly than in amateur science.  See this especially vivid example of a passion for astronomy.  And yes, I portray this becoming dramatically important, in some fiction.

And finally. This optical illusion is so so SO worth your time.  I mean it.  You’ll thank me.

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Grand challenges, X-prizes and Mars volunteers: stimulating bold wonders

Grand challenges!  It’s an approach to stimulating research and technology that has been around for a while, stretching back to the British “longitude prize” of the 1700s.  Aviation medals and awards spurred rapid advances during the 1920s and 1930s and sparked breakthroughs in human-powered flight in the 1980s and 1990s.  One contest helped lead to creation of the “spaceship” sub-orbital craft that Richard Branson and Burt Rutan will soon use to offer spectacular jaunts for rich folks. (Something I portray evolving into an extreme sport, in Existence.)

xprizeNewer X Prizes – stimulated especially by Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation – include Qualcomm’s contest to develop a medical tricorder and Google’s prize for the first private group to land an autonomous mobile probe on the moon, as well as Nokia’s Medical Sensing prize.

One major advantage of the prize approach is that the funder does not have to pay anything till the mission is accomplished. The allure of a possible prize… plus potential renown, of course… is often enough to make private groups, companies, teams or individuals willing to take passionate risks, investing their own time and money — a style of bold endeavor that did very well by our ancestors, during the Age of Exploration and the later barnstorming era of air flight development.  Many fail, some spectacularly… a few succeed. And we all move forward.

So let’s crowd-source this. Do any of you have ideas for endeavors or goals that would be perfect for an X Prize? It should require modest to intermediate cost, with substantial potential rewards… but with risky odds of success that are not quite good enough to draw in the normal market forces of rational investment. And cool!  It should be cool enough to attract some millionaire/billionaire — and/or NASA or the White House (I know a guy) — to propose it as a Grand Challenge.  Or else, speak up with challenges that you’ve seen and found impressive.

== Mars One: why did I volunteer? ==

I  believe that a one way Mars mission is a viable-enough idea for some people to consider it, even knowing, as I do, that “one-way” has several possible connotations.

MarsOneOn the surface, the claim is that eliminating the huge cost of the return flight will allow instead the establishment of full, self-regenerating and sustainable life-support systems on the Martian surface, allowing the new “colonists” to live out a normal span in some comfort. You’ll strive hard upon arriving, unfold and deploy solar powered units that can produce food and other necessities, and voila, become the first human citizen of the Red Planet.  “One way” then means you’re happy to spend the rest of a reasonable lifespan exploring, maintaining the colony, and then greeting the next wave. There is a basic reality to this, knowing that all that time at low gravity has probably left you unfit for life on high-g Earth, in any event.

But, of course, this mission would have very low margins for error or the unexpected. Even if the sustainability modules work perfectly, the odds are still strong that “one-way” will also mean “short duration.” In which case your hard work won’t be wasted. It will have set the stage for followup missions which will use your base, build on and improve it… after they bury you. And future generations will erect a monument on that spot.

You’ll want very qualified people, who can have a decent stab at setting up the life support technologies and perhaps (despite long odds) surviving to greet the second wave. But the first wave volunteers must be realistic about those odds, and willing to go, anyway.

And many call that very idea insane. I admit that may be somewhat true… so? People who cannot imagine any reasonable person making that choice simply aren’t envisioning the wide range of human diversity. Nor do they comprehend the vast drama of the human past, during which history often pivoted around risk-takers.

Consider what I told my family. By the very earliest date that Mars One might launch, I expect to be a spry 75 year old, whose kids are already successfully launched, and who might yet spend a few years doing something truly remarkable.  I think you’ll find tens of thousands of people who – under those circumstances – will at least ponder it seriously.

inspiration_mars_headerThough I still cannot guarantee I would decide to actually go.  I’d need to see competence.  Lots of it.  And I still prefer Dennis Tito’s Mars Inspiration mission!

Oh, neither one is likely to fly. We’ll go, however, sooner or later.

And this conversation is well worth having.

== Science Potpourri == 

A TV network has posted an edited snippet I gave them. Getting a bit lyrical and big-picture, I describe how we are in a race to cross a dangerous zone…into the future.

The world’s smallest flying robot has fly-like agility – stunning size and flexibility breakthrough in use of piezo-electric materials.  So far, it draws its power and computation down hairlike cable.  But we will live in the world described in The Transparent Society  (1997) – one in which “insects” will fly into any building capable of spying.  What is to be done?If we’re going to be watched, then let’s watch the watchers.  We may not be able to stop elites from looking at us.  But at least, that way, we can have a say in what they do TO us.

NASA is raising awareness for its upcoming launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft with its Going to Mars Project. The MAVEN spacecraft is scheduled for launch this November, to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere; and mission managers have invited the public to submit literary messages.  Haiku to Mars! 

google-timelapse-100036806-galleryNASA’s Landsat imagery goes back to the 1970s. A partnership with Google has merged this  time-lapse data into Earth Engine, a cloud-based system that makes all of these images available and comparable. A spectacular tool now available to private groups and individuals, or anyone wanting a direct view of changes over time that we have wrought upon our planet.

Read a very thoughtful essay by the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, about our human destiny in space, colonizing the solar system and exploring the stars.

asterankAsterank has collected, computed, or inferred important data such as asteroid mass and composition from multiple scientific sources. With this information, they can estimate the costs and rewards of mining asteroids. Vivid and colorful (try the 3D version), it offers details on orbits and basic physical parameters are mostly sourced from JPL data.

Check out StarHopper, an intuitive app, similar to PlanetHopper that allows you to visually explore our universe. Soar through the star-filled void towards stars, asteroids, planets and all that our galaxy has to offer.

What does SETI stand for? What is its mission? A video I made for AskimoTV.

A quantum internet capable of sending perfectly secure messages has been running at Los Alamos National Labs for the last two and a half years.  The attraction? Any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping.  Quantum-secure encryption has been around a while but only point-to-point.  A distributed system is more difficult.

In a major medical breakthrough, researchers have developed particles that can be injected into a bloodstream to keep it oxygenated even when the lungs are not functioning at all and there is no access to a heart-lung machine. The micro-particles used are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, around two to four micrometers in length and carry about three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells. Beyond medical uses, imagine spies or seal who can “stay underwater for over 20 minutes? If a boat was to begin to sink, you could shoot yourself as the boat is going down to ensure you aren’t drowned in the under current of the sinking vessel.”

What do the “H” and “N” labels mean, in the designation of a flu virus? They stand for various versions of the coating molecules that the virus uses to latch onto and invade cells.  There are 144 possible combinations of coats, and this article explains that well.  What it doesn’t make clear is that there are other surface molecules that our bodies must also recognize, in order for immunity (or vaccination) to work.  Moreover, that says nothing about the core genetics of the virus, allowing it to hijack a cell once it is inside. This constitutes a whole other range of genealogies and one version of H1N1 may have a very different background than another.  Here’s to the professionals, at the front lines of this fight.

==Science and the Enlightenment==

IgnoranceThis nostrum is circulating, of unknown provenance but based upon an earlier snark by H. L. Mencken

      Philosophy is like looking for a black cat in a dark room.

     Metaphysics is like looking in a dark room  for a black cat that isn’t there.

     Theology is looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there — and proclaiming, “I found it!”

     Science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room…with a flashlight. 

Is that why so many hate science? Is the amorphous movement called “the Enlightenment” in its final days?  Assailed by forces of far left and right, by impulsiveness and and romanticism and egotism and also by portions of religion, by all of those who demand that their subjective obsessions take primacy over objective reality? Here is an interesting article, The Trouble with the Enlightenment about the philosophical history – and future prospects – of “enlightenment” terminology and the ambitiously modernist project that it represents.

Alas, the author neglects one of the crucial aspects: that the continental branch of enlightenment philosophers got drawn into styles of Reason that began replicating the mistakes of Plato. Only the pragmatic/empirical/ progressive offshoot – across the water – developed new tools to overcome our human propensity for delusion and self-persuasion.  Tools that are – in themselves – the targets of attack by those who want the Enlightenment to end.  Worth a look.

== And then More science ==

Energy efficiency is often a hard sell in the US. Energy efficient devices can require a bit more money up front, which is then paid back gradually often over the course of several years. But a new study in the latest edition of PNAS suggests that the problem isn’t only a matter of economics—instead, like so much else, energy efficiency has become politicized. Because they so strongly object to the thought of climate change, many conservatives won’t spend more for energy-efficient light bulbs if their packaging contains a message about cutting carbon emissions.  “Conservatism” has so drifted from its roots in “waste-not” attitudes of the Puritans or the money-saving notions of Barry Goldwater, that (the study shows) the very words “efficiency” and energy independence and even saving money on energy rouse active hostility in those on today’s American right. Alas.

And while I’m offending 1/4 of my readers… why are so many climate change deniers also into conspiracy theories  and laissez faire (not AdamSmithian) economics?

== Final Notes ==

Security expert Bruce Schneier appears to be coming around to recognizing what matters most. Transparency and Accountability Don’t Hurt Security—They’re Crucial to It.

I am glad to see Bruce zeroing in on the key terms “transparency” and “accountability.”  These are the core goals that coalesce in “sousveillance” or looking back at authority from below.  We just won a major victory, when both the courts and Obama Administration ruled that citizens have a powerful right to record our encounters with police in public places.

I’m glad Bruce has come to see that assertive application of reciprocal accountability needs to be our main focus.

A bipartisan bill would create a new scientific figurehead: the Science Laureate of the United States. It sounds nice, innocuous, harmless. But let’s not fool ourselves into imagining this portends a shift away from the War on Science… and against all of the “smartypants” castes, from teachers and scientists to medical doctors, economists, journalists, professors, civil servants, law professionals. Don’t count Rupert Murdoch out, yet. He seems awfully determined. (And there is a smaller but just as vehemently anti-science crowd among nostalgia junkies of the far left, as well.)

Face it, folks. This is not about that stupid, lobotomizing “left versus right” metaphor. It is folks who are rational and contingently reasonable versus outright crazy. It is future versus past.

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Obama on the importance of Curiosity…

I write this from Pasadena, where I just finished a public evening (that will be podcast soon on the site of KPCC FM radio) discussing with USC Professor Paul Rosenbloom  and the Planetary Society’s Mat Kaplan the future of artificial intelligence, uplifting dolphins, and good or bad types of singularities.  You know… small stuff.

Two weeks ago I spoke at Planet Fest (Why the Sudden Activity in Space?), prepping folks for the celebration of fantastic news, that we Earthlings were capable of sending a stunningly advanced robot that could lower itself by crane to the surface of Mars.

But there are implications that extend beyond science.

If you like being part of a civilization that celebrates science and intellect and progress… while willingly negotiating in openness and improving through the reciprocal criticism of faults… then you are behooved to lift your head, this season, and note the implications in politics.

It is no longer  the process we knew in the days of genteel scholars like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley — when politics was a matter of choosing between an array of policy recommendations based on competing, fact-driven arguments, finding compromises and practical mixes of solutions that blended private and enterprise initiatives with a closely watched and accountable democratic-consensus state.  That kind of politics is over in the United States of America.  At least it is during this, the third phase of the American Civil War.  One of the parties has been led – by some Australian and Saudi and American billionaires – down a path so biliously opposed to science and logic and facts that only about 5% of US scientists will have anything to do with it anymore.

(Indeed, my standard challenge is to name ONE broad professional caste of intellect and knowledge that is not under attack at Fox, from scientists to teachers, civil servants, law professionals, journalists, professors, medical doctors, economists… I can name a couple that Fox leaves out of its jihad against intellect… but can you? And if you cannot name one… even one… then can we take it as a proved trend?)

== What role Curiosity plays in all of this ==

In contrast, this is the kind of jovially supportive whimsey that we used to get from both parties… and maybe we will again, someday.  Scan this from last week… then go on to my reflection on the import of a single word.

President Barack Obama placed a congratulatory telephone call to the NASA team behind the Mars “Curiosity” rover, joking he might go for a Mohawk to emulate flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, and quipping that he needed to be told “right away” if the probe finds any little green men.

“If, in fact, you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away,” he said in the call. “I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list. Even if they’re just microbes, it will be pretty exciting.”

On a more serious note, Obama congratulated the team on Curiosity’s successful landing on the Red Planet a week ago and praised the technical skill required as “mind-boggling.”

“What you’ve accomplished embodies the American spirit, and your passion and your commitment is making a difference,” he said.”

“‘Curiosity’ is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that’s a human mission to the Red Planet,” Obama said.

And he pledged his “personal commitment to protect” government investments in science and technology.

== Okay, here’s a little reflection on a beautiful word ==

 I am reminded of the one moment that impressed me most about Barack Obama… during his victory speech after the election in 2008.  I listened carefully and shrugged as he said all the things we knew he had to say.  Some promises from his stump speech.  Some cordial words offering a handshake and negotiations to the other side.  The usual platitudes one must say, about courage, neighborliness, patriotism, progress, lifting our eyes to the horizon… yadda.  Good stuff, but expected.

I was listening for something else.  For the bits that any smart person would stick in, even though they weren’t expected or required.

Even a seasoned politician must feel a burning wish to insert a new thought now and then… even just one… that has nothing to do with politics, but instead what he, personally, feels to be missing.  Something – perhaps – that he deems to be desperately needed.

Then I heard it… when he listed eight national character traits essential for our success… and there, mixed in with seven expected ones was…

… curiosity…

Go back and  watch that speech again.  You’ll hear that word, which has no possible political redolence in the standard catechisms of the insipid left-right axis.  And yet, it is telling… and tells a rich allegory, in light of our nation’s recent, magnificent accomplishment, It also lays down before you the stark clarity of the core difference between two sides in this, our tragic Civil War.

It isn’t about “left” versus “right.”  It never was, and don’t let anyone get away with telling you it is.

This is future versus past.

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Looking backward — and then toward the future

Before looking onward to the future, let’s take a brief look back: “In any case, the 21st century is undeniably the century (that) science fiction built — if not in utter hands-on reality (though even that proposition is debatable, given the inspiration the genre has provided for influential scientists and geeks), then in the public imagination. Since the birth of genre SF in 1926, and for almost the next 75 years, simply to set a story in the third millennium AD was to signify extravagant extrapolation and a futuristic, far-off milieu when flying cars and food pills would reign — or dystopia would prevail. The year 2010 is automatically one of yesterday’s tomorrows.”writes Paul Di Fillippo, in “Is Science Fiction Dying?”

Aw heck, let’s add one more preening! I’m quoted in this BBC article: Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next: “In more recent times, author David Brin, in the 1989 novel Earth and in his other works, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces, and the decline of privacy. “The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless,” says Brin. “You then ask yourself: ‘What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'”

How do we project ourselves into the future? No matter how hard futurists try, their visions never quite match up to reality. In H+ Magazine, Valkyrie Ice points out the Top Five Errors in Predicting the Future
1. Tunnel Vision: extrapolating future changes, by giving too much weight to one line of technological innovation
2. Ideological slanting: imprinting today’s ethical or moralistic biases on the future
3. Linearism: imagining that technology advances in a linear fashion, rather than exponentially, or along several parallel tracks
4. Static Worldview: a failure to envision how technology will deeply alter society and culture
5. Unrealistic models of human nature: certainly what we view as ‘average’ will shift in the future

Ten predictions for News Media in 2011

Really Inspiring!

Meryl Comer and Chris Mooney make a strong (overwhelming, in fact) case thatinvestments in science and R&D nearly always prove to be the best possible way to advance the economy, to stimulate job growth, advance public health and improve our balance of payments. There are no excuses for not making R&D a top priority.  Which means that the party that sabotaged science in the United States for so long has no conceivable rationalization or eexplanation, other than deliberately sabotaging their own country.

And… Space News

One way to reduce launch costs: manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) – which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as ‘feedstock’ for rapid prototyping. (I did some preliminary work on this in the early eighties!)

Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon,Mars and Venus for potential agriculture.  Aeroonics is another possibility for soil less agriculture.

Project Icarus is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970’s conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.

Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky  — an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.

And… Science Fiction

The 100 best movie spaceships.

How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel?  Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels.

And…. The Economy

James Fallows comments on “The Chinese Professor” Ad from Citizens Against Government Waste.

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Statistics… and the statistics of joy… Important perspective!

About the ever-widening income gap, Frank Rich writes, in a New York Times article: Who will stand up to the super-rich? : “As Winner-Take-All Politics documents, America has been busy building a bridge to the 19th century – that is, to a new Gilded Age. To dislodge the country from this stagnant rut will require all kinds of effort from Americans in and out of politics. That includes some patriotic selflessness from those at the very top who still might emulate Warren Buffett and the few others in the Forbes 400 who  that it’s not in America’s best interests to stack the tax and regulatory decks in their favor.”

Uncle Sam needs you to solve America’s budget crisis: On this interactive site, you can choose which domestic and foreign programs to eliminate, and see how it affects the budget gap forecast for 2015 and 2030. You can choose to close tax loopholes, add a national sales tax, eliminate farm subsidies, cut military spending, or raise the Social Security age, and then share your plan online.

This really fascinating program (based at Northwestern U.) follows dollar bills and makes it possible to map connections among americans.  Interesting and easy to become a participant of “Follow George.”


The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one. Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life – with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life – or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it…See A History of Happiness.

And finally...
Here’s hoping that the end of the Naughty Oughts (I named em in 1998) will bring a decline in grouchiness, a return of reasonableness and fizzy can-do, ambitious problem-solving!  And may you and yours have their best decade yet. (Though the worst of those that follow…)

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What Will NASA Announce? And Other Wonders

The internet is abuzz about NASA’s coming Big Announcement on Bioastronomy. (Thursday Dec.2 at 2pm EST.) Speculation abounds, much of it suggesting that there will be news aboutsigns of life on one of the 500+ exoplanets that have been discovered, outside our solar system.  

Speaking as both an astronomer and a science fiction author… and as one who has long participated in these fields, having served on some of the relevant committees… I am most definitely interested and will be tuning in!  Still, I have to say that were this a matter for wagering, I would lean away from the trendy consensus.

For one thing, you can learn a lot just from the composition of Thursday’s panel:

Planned participants are:
–     Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA HQ
–     Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobio research fellow, U.S. Geol. Survey
–     Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, Goddard Space Flight Center
–     Steven Benner, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution
–     James Elser, professor, Arizona State University

Pause and consider. There are no exoplanetary astronomers. None. If there were new spectroscopic data about — say — exoplanetary atmosphere composition, wouldn’t there be an expert in that field?

Hence — and judging from the types of expertise represented — I would hazard to guess it may have to do with fresh discoveries in prebiotic and biotic chemistry. (One of the panel members has forecast imminent shortages of easily-mined free phosphorus on Earth. Will that be our next  resource crisis? See it described in my next novel — EXISTENCE.)

Of course, I could be out there, chivvying and pillorying my own contacts in the field.  I have plenty and would probably get the real deal, within hours.  But why spoil the suspense? Anyway, I want to stay on the “First Contact rolladex.”  That means not abusing privileges. So I’ll just tune in, like everybody else, and see!

Other Space News

One way to reduce launch costs: manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) – which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as ‘feedstock’ for rapid prototyping.  (I led the VERY FIRST pre-study of this general concept that was ever funded by NASA and the California Space Institute, back around 1984.)

Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon, Mars and Venus for potential agriculture.  Aeroonics is another possibility for soil-less agriculture.

Project Icarus
is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970’s conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.

Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky  — an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.

And  Science Fiction!

The 100 best movie spaceships.

How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel?  Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels.

And Miscellaneous Cool Stuff

The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one. Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life – with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life – or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it…See A History of Happiness.

Seems time for some inspiring songs!  Starting off, we went and saw Steve Martin and his bluegrass group perform this one in person, last month.  Second time it was done on their tour. Heh.

Daniel Radcliffe sings one of my old favorites, Tom Lehrer’s The Elements live on television. Now THAT is the way Harry Potter oughta be! A nerd who uses his brains as much a he does his ubermesch-demigod innate magical power!
In fact, if you’d like to see that fantasy (a brainy-nerdy Harry Potter, who fights for the Enlightenment and for the rest of us (!) see “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.” It’s an ongoing, web-published, not-for-profit (for obvious reasons) re-imagining of Dr. Rowling’s famed mythos… and it really is very, very very good.
Oh. Need anti-gravity or antimatter? How about immortality at $11 a gallon?

Fun abounds.

Only, next time… “Mr. Transparency” weighs in about Wikileaks!

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Truthiness, aliens and science

I’m quoted on Stephen Colbert’s Restoring Truthiness site: “Sci fi author David Brin: humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that we aging baby boomers are imposing on this country.”

And now I see that liberal so-’n-so Jon Stewart stole the title for his new guide book to the planet Earth (for aliens)? I am so ticked off over his hilarious tome-of-the-stolen-name that I won’t even link to it here!  You’ll have to google or amazon “Stewart” and “Earth” in order to rush & buy it for yourselves!  (Take that Stewart!)

In fact, I plan – on October 30 – to attend the local “Keep Fear Alive!” Colbert rally, in my hometown.  Find your own town’s satellite rally at www.rallymao.com.  And march in support of Stephen’s campaign to resist sanity!  If Stewart’s ilk have their way, Republicans and Democrats will go back to negotiating with each other, reason will prevail, science will thrive and we’ll resume modernist quests for progress. Heck, we’ll even start settling outer space… and my far-out tales of futuristic adventure will all become obsolete!  For the sake of my children, march with Stephen!

(Side note: for us realist-paranoids rallymao.com means “rally-my-ass-off” for the Colbert Nation.  Clearly that means it will be a great way to trim those extra pounds!  But for Stewart’s crowd of pinko namby-pambies, rallymao has another meaning! Did you notice the last three letters? It’s a code! Clearly, they’re congregating to support the murderous commie founder of Red China.  Ooh, that burns, even worse than discovering that Che-Ney was Russian for the “new Che Guevarra.” And he seemed such a nice fellow!)

(More about this at the end.)


Announcement to e-book readers! Reports of poor quality control have plagued the electronic versions of my books. Now it appears Bantam/Randomhouse is about to pull and recall all my books from Kindle and other e-readers, in order to re-do the editions.  Generally good news.  So please be patient.

Oh, have you heard? Tim Powers’s great book On Stranger Tides was bought by the producers of Part IV in the Pirates of the Caribbeanseries, starring Johnny Depp.   That bodes well for a hilarious film with some content for the mind and heart, as well!  And it couldn’t happen to a better book, or author.

Meanwhile, I just returned from the Royal Society’s gorgeous new conference facility, in the beautiful countryside outside London, where I participated in a debate over the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the silly notion that Earthlings should shout Yoohoo! into a dauntingly mysterious cosmos. On the blithe assumption that all advanced aliens will automatically be as beneficent as Californian and Canadian radio astronomers. Which proved ironic.  Illustrating the benign maturity they expect to find out there, three speakers in a row proceeded to use strawman arguments and ridicule against the three of us who were there to ask for serious discussion.  Although not one of us mentioned even a single “danger” in our proposal to expand the advisory panels to include historians, biologists, anthropologists, philosophers — our opponents evaded this simple suggestion, instead choosing to concentrate on mocking the notion of “danger!” Presenting lists of lurid alien invasion scenarios straight out of bad Hollywood thrillers (“Are they coming to take our water? Our women?”)

Above all, it seems that the core SETI community has acquired a deeply-felt and pervasive rationalized hatred of science fiction, bolstered by willful ignorance of the literary genre where most thought experiments about contact with alien life have taken place.

The irony is almost too rich.  A field that was engendered by science fiction, that had its roots in SF and that owes it everything, has turned inward, avoiding contact with most other human scientific specialties… so how will they deal with truly alien beings?  Above all, they offer only hackles toward the one literary realm that should be viewed as the R&D department of the entire field. Especially during the era when SETI has no palpable subject matter other than ideas.

From the Transparency Front — Eeek!  Creeped out, even though I both predicted this and expect it will be part of a generally good trend. With LOTS of irksome aspects to get used-to. Snoopers paid to catch shoplifters.

Past observations at visible and near infrared wavelengths had implied the presence of primitive carbon-rich materials on the moons  of Mars, which are usually associated with asteroids that populate the central part of the Asteroid Belt. But recent thermal infrared observations from Mars Express’ Planetary Fourier Spectrometer did not find any such evidence, instead finding signatures that match types of minerals identified on Mars’ surface.  Also low density and highly porous. This may be bad news.  But the Russians are persisting, fortunatley, in their space mission to Phobos.  Perhaps they’ll find resources – including water – making it one of the most valuable spots in the solar system.  Let’s hope.

Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style.

Hilarious: Glenn Beck’s words selling fear, set to a Donald Duck cartoon.

China has launched its second lunar orbiter.

Cyberweapons will continue to haunt us. The Stuxnet software worm – designed to destroy industrial control systems — may have been designed to target Iran’s nuclear program. It infected 45,000 computers worldwide, most in Iran. The next generation of malware could be a danger to power plants and electrical grids worldwide.

The building blocks of life may be constant throughout the cosmos: humans and aliens may share the same DNA roots: ten amino acids form at low temperatures and pressures – you don’t need a miracle to arrive at the chemical cocktail for life. (Actually, Leslie Orgel predicted this decades ago.) Ah… but life ITSELF?  Stay tuned, stay ambitious.  And actually READ the passages in Genesis about the Tower of Babel.  This time, we have auto-translation software on iPods!!!

Nobel Prize awarded to two University of Manchester physicists for work with graphene – a two-dimensional, one-atom thick carbon sheet extracted from graphite. Graphene is the thinnest, strongest material ever developed, nearly transparent, an excellent conductor of electricity & heat. Can be mixed with plastic to generate flexible solar cells, smaller, faster transistors, high-capacity batteries & ultracapacitors.

NTT DoCoMo has developed a tiny display that clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and provides navigation services or information about local shops.

Filming human embryos used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at an early stage in their development has allowed scientists to select those with the best chance of going on to develop into healthy babies, with an accuracy of more than 93%.

A new microphone system allows broadcasters to zoom in on sounds as well as sights, to pick out a single conversation.

A fascinating persepective suggests that our human ability to empathize broadly with other species… and perhaps even some of our intelligence… arose because of our 100,000 year co-evolution (perhaps a love affair?) with dogs.


It turns out that almost all the job growth  over the last year has come from those who have reached “retirement age” (whatever that is) continuing to work or going back to work. The total number of people over 65 who are employed has risen by 318,000 over the last year, accounting for nearly all the job growth

And… oh… Ack!  Share this with your Ostrich.

===  FINALLY, BE AROUND PEOPLE on 10/30/10! ===

Seriously folks. (Or not.) Find a place outdoors with lots of people, on October 30. Stephen Colbert says we should all be VERY afraid of being indoors or alone, or too quiet, that day!

He’s being vague, but some of his hints may imply some kind of alien pod-people replacement attack in which the invaders feel a need to avoid crowds of people who are chanting, marching, waving placard/signs and having fun.  Especially the placards. (Ask any alien invader; those signs can really sting, when they smack you on the antennae or the sucker-pads!)

Or  maybe it’s not aliens but something similarly fear-inducing. Anyway, Colbert has good instincts about these things.  So get OUT of the house and join one of Stephen’s fear-preserving rallies.  Go to the main one in Washington DC (the safest place from alien probes, that day), or in your own town, via www.rallymao.com!

(Or else join Jon Stewart and his militantly-moderate-reasonable-rational-politeness-troopers… if you really must.)

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