2012 April 11 Wednesday
Intelligent Dinosaurs On Other Planets Hostile?

>Are we better off not meeting up with dinos which may have survived and evolved intelligence on other planets.

New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. "We would be better off not meeting them," concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Will some intelligences just be implacably hostile? Ronald Breslow is concerned about the geometry of their amino acids. But if they have a different geometry we won't be able to eat them and vice versa. Mutual toxicity. How's that a problem?

In the report, noted scientist Ronald Breslow, Ph.D., discusses the century-old mystery of why the building blocks of terrestrial amino acids (which make up proteins), sugars, and the genetic materials DNA and RNA exist mainly in one orientation or shape. There are two possible orientations, left and right, which mirror each other in the same way as hands. This is known as "chirality." In order for life to arise, proteins, for instance, must contain only one chiral form of amino acids, left or right. With the exception of a few bacteria, amino acids in all life on Earth have the left-handed orientation. Most sugars have a right-handed orientation. How did that so-called homochirality, the predominance of one chiral form, happen?

Breslow describes evidence supporting the idea that the unusual amino acids carried to a lifeless Earth by meteorites about 4 billion years ago set the pattern for normal amino acids with the L-geometry, the kind in terrestial proteins, and how those could lead to D-sugars of the kind in DNA.

"Of course," Breslow says, "showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did." He adds: "An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them."

I'm thinking T.Rex from another planet will want to hunt us down and kill us for sport even if we aren't edible.

By Randall Parker    2012 April 11 10:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2012 January 11 Wednesday
Most Of Milky Way Stars Have Planets

Why haven't the space aliens shown themselves to us? Gone extinct? Or headed our way in massive invasion armadas as soon as they detected our electromagnetic signals? Over a hundred billion planets in our galaxy waiting to be visited.

Six years of observations of millions of stars now show how common it is for stars to have planets in orbits around them. Using a method that is highly sensitive to planets that lie in a habitable zone around the host stars, astronomers, including members from the Niels Bohr Institute, have discovered that most of the Milky Way's 100 billion stars have planets that are very similar to the Earth-like planets in our own solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, while planets like Jupiter and Saturn are more rare. The results are published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature.

"Our results show that planets orbiting around stars are more the rule than the exception. In a typical solar system approximately four planets have their orbits in the terrestrial zone, which is the distance from the star where you can find solid planets. On average, there are 1.6 planets in the area around the stars that corresponds to the area between Venus and Saturn" explains astronomer Uffe Gråe Jørgensen, head of the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

If aliens are out there and warp drives are possible I would expect they would be here already - or their robotic explorer ships would be. Have all the surviving intelligent life forms survived by hiding? Are intelligent species so dangerous to each other that most of them learn to hide?

If biological species eventually get wiped out by artificially intelligent machines then I'd expect the robots to build up massive machine civilizations and perhaps go around snuffing out biological species. So where are the android invaders?

Even more fun: millions of planets in the Milky Way orbit two suns.

Astronomers using NASA's Kepler mission have discovered two new circumbinary planet systems – planets that orbit two stars, like Tatooine in the movie Star Wars. Their find, which brings the number of known circumbinary planets to three, shows that planets with two suns must be common, with many millions existing in our Galaxy.

"Once again, we're seeing science fact catching up with science fiction," said co-author Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Is that cool or what?

By Randall Parker    2012 January 11 09:17 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2011 April 26 Tuesday
SETI Alien Scanners Turned Off

If alien invasion armadas are approaching we aren't watching for their radio transmission signals.

Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that resemble giant dinner plates. The radio dishes in the Northern California mountains scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Deep in space word is getting around that the SETI Institute has stopped watching for aliens. So all the aliens in hiding are popping their heads out, hopping on their space scooters, and meeting up to make space jamborees with radio transmissions going in every direction. Yes, you read that right: The aliens are using this gap in our searching to get out and move around.

Think about it. If you've been hiding behind asteroids and moons trying to evade detection for years then finally you aren't being scanned for what are you going to do? Resume your trip to wherever you were going before you went into hiding.

So now is the time to watch for UFOs - unless the USAF hasn't stopped looking for them. The UFOs might all be hopping out from behind Mars to cruise down to Earth to frighten people hanging out in the countryside. Watch for an uptick in reports of alien abductions.

Here's from the SETI Institute front page about the radio observatory funding shortfall.

Federal and state funding cutbacks for operations of U.C. Berkeley’s Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO) force hibernation of Allen Telescope Array – In an April 22, 2011 email (PDF) to Allen Telescope Array stakeholder level donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson described in detail the recent decision by U.C. Berkeley, our partner in the Array, to reduce operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (and thus the Allen Telescope Array) to a hibernation state effective this month. NSF University Radio Observatory funding to Berkeley for HCRO operations has been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its former level and, concurrently, growing State of California budget shortfalls have severely reduced the amount of state funds available for support of the HCRO site.

Work for the US Air Force makes sense. Gotta help the USAF spot alien invasion fleets.

What next for the ATA? – The SETI Institute is working on numerous efforts to insure the Array comes back on line as soon as possible. Pierson’s email outlines potential work the ATA may be performing for the United States Air Force. Donor support is also needed to restart SETI observations on the Array. For the first time in history, SETI researchers are poised to use the ATA to examine the bounty of smaller planetary systems starting to be revealed by NASA’s Kepler Mission. We are also working with a consortium of big thinkers to develop exciting opportunities for the public to participate in the future of SETI, making the science much less vulnerable to government budget cycles. Watch for these future developments in the realm of our citizen science. In the interim, if you haven’t already done so, check out the early results of these efforts at setiQuest.org and setiQuest Explorer.

Worried you are going to wake up tomorrow with an alien invasion fleet camped out in your back yard? Or is your neighbor using the gap in radio telescope monitoring to send back reports of his reconnaissance of this plant? I figure there could be Vulcans living among us. Carl Sagan was probably a Vulcan in disguise sent to help orient ourselves more toward outer space and prepare us for First Contact.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 26 10:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2011 January 13 Thursday
Alien Spaceship Crash Theory And Tech Advances

What's the biggest argument against conspiracy theories of a US government cover-up of the existence of a crashed spaceship in a secret government lab? Think about it. There's an obvious way we could tell is such an event had happened decades ago. What is it?

My argument against an alien spaceship crash: If such a crashed spaceship existed it would have been at least partially reverse engineered, yielding amazing advances in technology, But the US government did not generate a very big jumps forward in technology. If the US government had extremely advanced alien technology to reverse-engineer the US government would have ended up getting some of that tech leaking out to industries that supply it. We could look back at the last 50 years of technological advance and spot advances that were much larger than any that happened. Therefore I doubt the existence of the secret crashed spacecraft secreted away in Roswell or Area 51.

Update: Answering some objections from the comments:

  • We do not stand in the same relationship to highly advanced aliens as cave men did to us. We understand the concept of the scientific method and that the physical universe is governed by physical laws. The cave men had no systematic approach to knowledge, little means to record knowledge, and no specialization of labor for the accumulation of knowledge.
  • Reverse engineering is not an impossible task. We use a large assortment of technologies that were developed over many centuries. Much of our technology would be easy for, say, Leonardo di Vinci to understand. Some alien tech would be within our grasp to understand.
  • One thing that would make our computer and biomedical tech hard for someone of a previous Earth century to reverse engineer is its very small scale. But we can study individual atoms. Unless aliens are creating complex tech at a subatomic level we will be able to study it at the smallest scale. Even if they've found a way to descend to the subatomic level and engineer there at least some of their tech will work at the atomic and larger level and therefore be accessible to our reverse engineering.
  • If alien construction materials had extreme strength and yet an analysis showed their atomic composition seemed incompatible with that strength that knowledge alone would enable materials scientists to focus their attention on questions related to how some combination of atoms could possibly be that strong.
  • Would aliens be so incompetent to crash a spaceship after building something that can travel between the stars? One idea: An alien race looking for a way to transfer technology to us without breaking a treaty against tech transfer could cause an intentional "accidental" crash as a way to give us something to study.
  • The competence of government conspiracies: What hasn't leaked? Could the US government pull off such a conspiracy for decades? Seems beyond its competence.
  • The rate of technological advance already shows signs of unnatural acceleration? The industrial revolution started a couple of hundred years ago and has accelerated even before the 1950s. Look at a long term graph of, say, computing power. It was rising even before Shockley discovered the transistor.
  • Where are the discoveries not obviously made by humans? Some small number of humans really are smart enough to discover things like the transistor. One can study the history of science and trace how many amazing discoveries were made. What technologies of the last 100 years were beyond the reach of the best humans scientists?
By Randall Parker    2011 January 13 10:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (77)
2010 December 01 Wednesday
3 Times More Stars Than Previously Thought

I suddenly feel very crowded. The cool dwarf stars have been undercounted. They've been staying in the background trying to avoid being noticed..

The biggest galaxies in the universe are elliptical galaxies. The largest of these hold over one trillion stars according to astronomical census takers, compared to 400 billion in our Milky Way. However, new research shows that elliptical galaxies actually hold five to ten times as many stars as previously believed. This means that the total number of stars in the universe is likely three times bigger than realized.

As soon as the news about these dwarf stars gets spread across the galaxies residents of their habital planets are going to be at much greater risk of interstellar invasions.

The universe already held a ridiculously large number of galaxies.

With as many as 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each with hundreds of billions of stars, the result – if it holds up – implies an enormous number of additional burning gas balls out there, with intriguing implications for explanations of how stars and galaxies form and evolve, researchers say.

Think of it this way: The list of very important human-authored novels is already a daunting burden for anyone who wants to be wise and well read. But if each of these galaxies have only 1 intelligent civilization then there are trillions of novels we really ought to be reading. Worse yet, the number of such novels just tripled.

A new NASA discovery of a bacteria that lives in severe conditions is seen by NASA scientists as upping the odds of life on other planets.

The bacteria has been found at the bottom of Mono Lake in California's Yosemite National Park which is rich in arsenic – usually poisonous to life. Somehow the creature uses the arsenic as a way of surviving and this ability raises the prospect that similar life could exist on other planets, which do not have our benevolent atmosphere.

These reports up the odds of alien invasion. The more life out there the more likely it has evolved higher intelligence. The more intelligent life out there the higher the odds that some of it evolved to have a foul mood about life and totally intolerant toward other intelligent life forms. Some of you are laughing and think you can avoid the alien invasion. But unless you happen to have a secret portal to a parallel universe I don't see any reason for complacency.

Update: You might wonder: What sorts of creatures come from planets orbiting around red dwarfs? I think the answer is obvious: Leprechauns. So the universe has many more leprechauns than previously suspected. They've been hiding - as one would expect.

The improbable leprechauns have had plenty of time to evolve.

"There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars," van Dokkum said, adding that the red dwarfs they discovered, which are typically more than 10 billion years old, have been around long enough for complex life to evolve. "It's one reason why people are interested in this type of star."

By Randall Parker    2010 December 01 10:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (29)
2010 October 28 Thursday
Earth Sized Planets Very Common

Raising hopes that somewhere out there a planet is going thru a creative musical phase akin to the 1960s level of Rock and Roll music.

Nearly one in four stars like the sun could have Earth-size planets, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study of nearby solar-mass stars.

UC Berkeley astronomers Andrew Howard and Geoffrey Marcy chose 166 G and K stars within 80 light years of Earth and observed them with the powerful Keck telescope for five years in order to determine the number, mass and orbital distance of any of the stars' planets. The sun is the best known of the G stars, which are yellow, while K-type dwarfs are slightly smaller, orange-red stars.

The researchers found increasing numbers of smaller planets, down to the smallest size detectable today – planets called super-Earths, about three times the mass of Earth.

"Of about 100 typical sun-like stars, one or two have planets the size of Jupiter, roughly six have a planet the size of Neptune, and about 12 have super-Earths between three and 10 Earth masses," said Howard, a research astronomer in UC Berkeley's Department of Astronomy and at the Space Sciences Laboratory. "If we extrapolate down to Earth-size planets – between one-half and two times the mass of Earth – we predict that you'd find about 23 for every 100 stars."

I know, some of you are worried about the many invasion armadas sent in response to receiving 1950s TV shows. But there's upside potential: alien Elvis fans might be on their way to visit Graceland.

Any aliens that show up are either going to be robots or long-lived creatures who have long mastered the most advanced biotechnologies for rejuvenation and tissue regeneration. So if they do not want to wipe us out they might be willing to help make us all young again.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 28 11:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 September 29 Wednesday
Habitable Planet 20 Light Years Away?

When will the invasion space ships from Gliese 581g arrive overhead and begin planetary bombardment?

Washington, D.C. Astronomers have found a new, potentially habitable Earth-sized planet. It is one of two new planets discovered around the star Gliese 581, some 20 light years away. The planet, Gliese 581g, is located in a "habitable zone"—a distance from the star where the planet receives just the right amount of stellar energy to maintain liquid water at or near the planet's surface. The 11- year study, published in the Astrophysical Journal and posted online at arXiv.org, suggests that the fraction of stars in the Milky Way harboring potentially habitable planets could be greater than previously thought—as much as a few tens of percent.

We need to create a planetary defense system to defend us against the Glieseans.

The lower end of its estimated range of surface gravity places it within a livable range for humans. Time to start building an invasion fleet of our own?

"Our calculations indicate that the planet is between 3.1 and 4.3 Earth masses, has a circular 36.6-day orbit, and a radius estimated between 1.2 and 1.5 Earth radii," remarked co-author Paul Butler of Carnegie's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

Its semi-major axis—half the length through the long direction of its elliptical orbital path—is 0.146 astronomical units (one AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun), and its surface gravity is similar to Earth's at 1.1 to 1.7 g.

20 light years means they are currently receiving our 1990 TV and radio show signals.

The planet does not spin on an axis. So the places to live on it are in perpetual twilight.

The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet's surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator"), with surface temperatures decreasing toward the dark side and increasing toward the light side.

"Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude," Vogt said.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 29 10:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2010 April 26 Monday
Stephen Hawking Cautions Against Alien Contact

Physicist Stephen Hawking says aliens who detect us might have hostile intentions.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach,” he said. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the native Americans.”

Here's a video of Hawking making these comments.

Richard Carrigan thinks we should look for artifacts of alien civilizations that are large enough to be detected at a distance.

A recent interesting paper from a scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory suggested an alternative to conventional SETI called “interstellar archeology.”

In essence, this involves passively scanning the cosmos for the equivalent of earth’s Egyptian pyramids, or the Great Wall of China – obvious signs of intelligent life that can be seen from space.

“Uncovering such an artifact does not require the intentional transmission of a signal on the part of the original civilization,” writes Fermi scientist Richard Carrigan.

Perhaps we could detect, for example, a Dyson sphere under construction. It would only partially block the light from a star.

If there are aliens out there then where are their space probes? One idea I've had about that is that long lived aliens might be really risk averse. They probably think like Hawking: Best to hide from possibly dangerous other species. In fact, the longest lived species probably are either invaders or hiders.

Even if most alien species are not hostile it would only take one species more advanced than us to detect us and send something to wipe us out.

Update: One might imagine that most intelligent species will be like us and dream of peaceful First Contact and mutually beneficial friendly relations between species. That might even be true. But it only takes one species that derives enormous pleasure from hunting that sees all other species as total outsiders for the rest of the intelligent species to be faced with a big problem.

Either extreme xenophobia or a great love of hunting combined with total disregard for others would be enough to drive a species to want to wipe out other intelligent species. Can we rule out the emergence of a species that would have a combination of characteristics that would lead to launching of planet killer probes? I would hesitate to rule out that possibility.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 26 11:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 March 01 Monday
Universe Still 13.75 Billion Years Old

The universe is not getting any younger.

Menlo Park, Calif.—Using entire galaxies as lenses to look at other galaxies, researchers have a newly precise way to measure the size and age of the universe and how rapidly it is expanding, on a par with other techniques. The measurement determines a value for the Hubble constant, which indicates the size of the universe, and confirms the age of the universe as 13.75 billion years old, within 170 million years. The results also confirm the strength of dark energy, responsible for accelerating the expansion of the universe.

These results, by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, the University of Bonn, and other institutions in the United States and Germany, is published in the March 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The researchers used data collected by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and showed the improved precision they provide in combination with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).

Think about it: If you want to live long enough to see the universe get a tenth of a percent older (and really, who doesn't) you are going to have to figure out how to stay alive for another 13.75 million years. Puts things in perspective. One would have to become extremely risk averse to stay alive that long. This risk aversion is probably why long lived super intelligences aren't revealing themselves to us.

People talk a lot about alien intelligences and whether they exist. A big question is, why the space aliens aren't here already and whether they are hiding and watching us. Here's what I'm thinking: Someone really really old, say a few hundred million years old, might have grown bored looking at the life forms that already existed and decided to sleep many millions of years waiting for some other form of intelligence to evolve.

Given the vastness of time I would expect some forms of intelligence to find ways to slow down their metabolisms and basically go time traveling into the future to meet (or at least observe from a safe distance) life forms unlike any they found on the planet they evolved on. Sleep in a traveling planet and look for signs of a solar system interesting enough to cruise near.

13.75 billion years is such a long time that sentient beings that came into existence hundreds of millions or billions of years ago should have found ways to maintain sentience for extremely long periods of time to carry out long term plans.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 01 10:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2010 February 28 Sunday
Alien Star Clusters In Milky Way Galaxy

Think about the implications: Intelligent alien species could have migrated into our galaxy from an older galaxy riding along with a star cluster.

KINGSTON, ON – As many as one quarter of the star clusters in our Milky Way – many more than previously thought – are invaders from other galaxies, according to a new study. The report also suggests there may be as many as six dwarf galaxies yet to be discovered within the Milky Way rather than the two that were previously confirmed.

"Some of the stars and star clusters you see when you look into space at night are aliens from another galaxy, just not the green-skinned type you find in a Hollywood movie. These 'alien' star clusters that have made their way into our galaxy over the last few billion years," says Terry Bridges, an astronomer at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada.

Six dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way: Are the aliens in them short in stature?

Galaxies have collisions with other galaxies and either combine into a single galaxy or exchange some mass. Did these alien star clusters from from accidental collisions? Or did some aliens contrive to eject their star clusters from their own galaxies aimed at the Milky Way billions of years ago? Maybe they were losing factions in battles in their own galaxies and escaped from otherwise certain destruction by riding away in star clusters.

Anyone understand the politics of alien star cluster escapes?

By Randall Parker    2010 February 28 04:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
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