David Kirkpatrick

July 12, 2010

Tiny satellites …

… are changing astrobiology research for the better.

Just check these things out:

Small satellites such as the commonly used 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm CubeSat are easier and cheaper to put into low-Earth orbit. Credit: Weber State University

Also from the link:

The biggest advantage of nano- and pico-satellites is that they are a bargain. Most of the cost saving comes at the launch stage. Unlike conventional satellites, they don’t need a dedicated launch vehicle where they are the primary payload. “They’re so small they can hitch a ride on somebody else’s rocket,” Santos says. NASA’s nanosatellite missions cost two million a piece as opposed to the tens of millions needed for a conventional satellite.

Their affordability also comes from being built with off-the-shelf electronic circuit chips such as microprocessors and radio frequency transmitters and receivers. These are the same components that are inside smart phones, hand-held Global Positioning System units, and digital cameras.

In fact, the miniaturization of electronics has been the driving force behind small satellite technology, making it affordable, says Twiggs. “Electronics today are much more power-efficient than electronics of the past; that helps us,” he says. “Ten or fifteen years ago we couldn’t have found the components for the price that we could’ve afforded.”

June 8, 2010

Life on Titan?!

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:19 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Obviously a lot more research needs to happen before we get too excited, but evidence of life on one of Saturn’s moons is still pretty exciting.

Have We Discovered Evidence For Life On Titan
Space Daily, June 8, 2010

Results from the Cassini mission suggest that hydrogen and acetylene are depleted at the surface of Titan, which, along with other studies, could indicate the presence of methane-based life.
Read Original Article>>

January 23, 2010

Nibiru, “Planet X”, 2012 and other doomsday hokum

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:15 pm

I’ve already blogged about how the movie “2012”‘s viral marketing campaign caused some irrational fear through fake sites purporting to be actual science organizations, and talk about “Planet X”, Nibiru, the Mayan calendar, the year 2012 and other doomsday scenarios continues.

Here’s a nice overview and quick take down of all that nonsense by astrobiologist David Morrison in the December 2009 Skeptical Inquirer.

From the second link:

As the story grows in complexity, many more doomsday scenarios are being suggested, often unrelated to Nibiru. These include a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, severe solar storms associated with the eleven-year solar cycle (which may peak in 2012), a reversal of Earth’s rotation axis, a 90 degree flip of the rotation axis, bombardment by large comets or asteroids, and bombardment by gamma rays or various unspecified lethal rays coming from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy or the “dark rift” seen in a nearby galactic spiral arm. A major theme has become celestial alignments, which fascinate laypersons. Supposedly, the Sun will align with the galactic center (or maybe with the Milky Way Dark Rift) on December 21, 2012, subjecting us to potentially deadly forces.


I continue to receive several email questions every day about Nibiru and 2012, sent to the NASA Web site “Ask an Astrobiologist”. See the sidebar for some examples received during just two weeks in May 2009. Many questioners are frightened, angry, or both. To my surprise, I have not seen much evidence that other scientists or skeptics are concerned about this growing outbreak of pseudoscience. More than a hundred past replies of mine are posted on the astrobiology Web site and also referenced on the NASA home page. A few news blogs such as Yahoo also provide truthful answers, but these are drowned out by the 2012 hysteria. I give credit to Wikipedia, which has several entries on Nibiru, including a very good overview of the pseudoscience under “Nibiru collision.” But questions keep streaming in, and I fear this will not be my last update on this subject.

February 15, 2009

Aliens amonst us

Yep, this is a total release dump and there’s one more to come. I couldn’t resist because a slew of very cool news came out of the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting today.

The release:

Cosmologist Paul Davies explores notion of ‘alien’ life on Earth

CHICAGO – Astrobiologists have often pondered “life as we do not know it” in the context of extraterrestrial life, says Paul Davies, an internationally acclaimed theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University. “But,” he asks, “has there been a blind spot to the possibility of ‘alien’ life on Earth?”

Davies will challenge the orthodox view that there is only one form of life in a lecture titled “Shadow Life: Life As We Don’t Yet Know It” on Feb. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His presentation is part of the symposium “Weird Life.”

“Life as we know it appears to have had a single common ancestor, yet, could life on Earth have started many times? Might it exist on Earth today in extreme environments and remain undetected because our techniques are customized to the biochemistry of known life?” asks Davies, who also is the director of the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In the lecture, Davies will present, challenge and extend some of the conclusions from a July 2007 report by the National Research Council. That report looked at whether the search for life should include “weird life” – described by the Council as “life with an alternative biochemistry to that of life on Earth.”

“If a biochemically weird microorganism should be discovered, its status as evidence for a second genesis, as opposed to a new branch on our own tree of life, will depend on how fundamentally it differs from known life,” wrote Davies in the Nov. 19, 2007, issue of Scientific American.

Davies and other pioneers who speculate that life on Earth may have started many times are wondering “why we have overlooked this idea for so long?”

The concept of a shadow biosphere, according to Davies, “is still just a theory. If someone discovers shadow life or weird life it will be the biggest sensation in biology since Darwin. We are simply saying, ‘Why not let’s take a look for it?’ It doesn’t cost much (compared to looking for weird life on Mars, say), and, it might be right under our noses.”

Davies, whose research is steeped in the branches of physics that deal with quantum gravity – an attempt to reconcile theories of the very large and the very small – is a prolific author (27 books, both popular and specialty works) and is a provocative speaker (he delivered the 1995 Templeton Prize address after receiving the prestigious award for initiating “a new dialogue between science and religion that is having worldwide repercussions”).

Among his books are: “How to Build a Time Machine,” “The Origin of Life,” “The Big Questions,” “The Last Three Minutes,” “The Mind of God,” “The Cosmic Blueprint” and his most recent book “The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the universe just right for life?” published in the United States under the title “Cosmic Jackpot.”

He is putting the finishing touches on “The Eerie Silence,” to be published in 2010 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the SETI Institute. According to Davies, the book is “a comprehensive fresh look at the entire SETI enterprise.”




Arizona State University
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Tempe, Arizona USA

April 17, 2008

3D imagery, Drake formula revision and a little futurism

Today’s roundup from KurzweilAI.net includes a miniature 3D camera, revisiting the Drake formula on intelligent life in the universe, and a group of predictions for the next 50 years.

How to create precision 3D images anywhere
KurzweilAI.net, April 17, 2008

The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering has developed a miniaturized, portable stereo camera that can create 3D images anywhere.

The “Kolibri CORDLESS” device includes a miniaturized LED-based projector that casts a pattern of stripes on the photographed objects. The geometry of the measured object can be deduced, by software running on a laptop, from the deformation of the stripes.

Uses include gathering evidence at the scene of a crime, measuring faces for medical applications, and measuring the dimensions of installed components in areas that are difficult to access.


Drake formula revisited
KurzweilAI.net, April 17, 2008

University of East Anglia scientist Andrew Watson has developed a new mathematical model of the probability of intelligent life in the universe.

His model, published in the journal Astrobiology, suggests the odds of finding new life on other Earth-like planets are low, given the time it has taken for beings such as humans to evolve, the remaining life span of Earth, and the low probability of the four independent evolutionary steps needed to create intelligent life (less than 0.01 per cent over four billion years).


The Way We Will Be 50 Years From Today
KurzweilAI.net, April 17, 2008

In the new book The Way We Will Be 50 Years From Today: 60 Of The World’s Greatest Minds Share Their Vision Of The Next Half-Century (Thomas Nelson, April 2008), Mike Wallace asks a group of visionaries, including 15 Nobel Prize winners, to describe the next half-century.

Among the forecasts:

– Our grandchildren will live to be 140 years old.
Diseases such as breast cancer and heart disease will be preventable or even wiped out.
– Each of us will have a copy of our own complete DNA sequence, incorporated into a highly accurate electronic medical record and can be accessible from anywhere.
– Schizophrenia and bipolar disorders will be well understood and treatable.
– People will be forced to marry others based on genotypes and those who are not authorized will be subject to tremendous tax burdens for any sick or disabled children.
– Humans will have exhausted most of the coal and oil reserves of the planet and added many pollutants to the environment.
– We may have lived through a nuclear war.

Essayists in the book include Nobel-prize-winner George Smoot, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Internetco-creator Vint Cerf, and futuristRay Kurzweil.