David Kirkpatrick

August 23, 2010

A tip for seekers of ET life — look for AI

Via KurzweilAI.net — I think is very sound advice. Of course even though I wholeheartedly support the efforts of SETI and other science-based searches for extraterrestrial life, I’m pretty skeptical we are going to come across any ET intelligence, biological or artificial.

Alien hunters ’should look for artificial intelligence’

August 23, 2010

Source: BBC News — Aug 22, 2010

The odds favor detecting alien AI rather than biological life because the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence  would be short, says SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak.

He also says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy — the only things he says would be of interest to the machines — would be in plentiful supply. That means the SETI hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centers of galaxies.

Photo of Allen Telescope Array: SETI Institute

Update 8/25/10: Here’s more on this story from PhysOrg.

June 3, 2010

Spirit Mars Rover news

To join today’s post on the next generation of Mars rovers, here is news hot from the inbox on a current Mars rover.

The release (not from the link):

NASA Rover Finds Clue to Mars’ Past and Environment for Life

PASADENA, Calif., June 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover hold evidence of a wet, non-acidic ancient environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

An outcrop that Spirit examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic.

NASA’s rovers have found other evidence of formerly wet Martian environments. However the data for those environments indicate conditions that may have been acidic. In other cases, the conditions were definitely acidic, and therefore less favorable as habitats for life.

Laboratory tests helped confirm the carbonate identification. The findings were published online Thursday, June 3 by the journal Science.

“This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and a co-author of the new report. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place.”

Spirit inspected rock outcrops, including one scientists called Comanche, along the rover’s route from the top of Husband Hill to the vicinity of the Home Plate plateau which Spirit has studied since 2006. Magnesium iron carbonate makes up about one-fourth of the measured volume in Comanche. That is a tenfold higher concentration than any previously identified for carbonate in a Martian rock.

“We used detective work combining results from three spectrometers to lock this down,” said Dick Morris, lead author of the report and a member of a rover science team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The instruments gave us multiple, interlocking ways of confirming the magnesium iron carbonate, with a good handle on how much there is.”

Massive carbonate deposits on Mars have been sought for years without much success. Numerous channels apparently carved by flows of liquid water on ancient Mars suggest the planet was formerly warmer, thanks to greenhouse warming from a thicker atmosphere than exists now. The ancient, dense Martian atmosphere was probably rich in carbon dioxide, because that gas makes up nearly all the modern, very thin atmosphere.

It is important to determine where most of the carbon dioxide went. Some theorize it departed to space. Others hypothesize that it left the atmosphere by the mixing of carbon dioxide with water under conditions that led to forming carbonate minerals. That possibility, plus finding small amounts of carbonate in meteorites that originated from Mars, led to expectations in the 1990s that carbonate would be abundant on Mars. However, mineral-mapping spectrometers on orbiters since then have found evidence of localized carbonate deposits in only one area, plus small amounts distributed globally in Martian dust.

Morris suspected iron-bearing carbonate at Comanche years ago from inspection of the rock with Spirit’s Moessbauer Spectrometer, which provides information about iron-containing minerals. Confirming evidence from other instruments emerged slowly. The instrument with the best capability for detecting carbonates, the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, had its mirror contaminated with dust earlier in 2005, during a wind event that also cleaned Spirit’s solar panels.

“It was like looking through dirty glasses,” said Steve Ruff of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., another co-author of the report. “We could tell there was something very different about Comanche compared with other outcrops we had seen, but we couldn’t tell what it was until we developed a correction method to account for the dust on the mirror.”

Spirit’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer instrument detected a high concentration of light elements, a group including carbon and oxygen, that helped quantify the carbonate content.

The rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last three months. Spirit has been out of communication since March 22 and is in a low-power hibernation status during Martian winter. Opportunity is making steady progress toward a large crater, Endeavour, which is about seven miles away.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rovers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

April 19, 2010

SETI to release radio data on search for extraterrestrial life

Hot from today’s inbox, news from SETI that tremendously expands the brainpower brought to bear on its massive collection of radio telescope data.

The release:

SETI Institute Announces Public Availability of Radio Telescope Signal Data in Latest Milestone for Director Dr. Jill Tarter’s 2009 TED Prize Wish to Enlist all Earthlings in Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 19 /PRNewswire/ — SETI Institute, an interdisciplinary scientific organization that explores the nature of life throughout the universe, announced that starting today it will make large quantities of astronomical radio telescope data accessible to astronomers and other scientists as part of an effort to build a global community of searchers for evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Today’s announcement represents the latest milestone in SETI Institute’s mission to facilitate mass collaboration in the search for civilizations beyond earth.  The radio telescope data will be released by setiQuest, a program formed in 2009 after SETI Institute Director Dr. Jill Tarter was awarded the 2009 TED Prize, whose benefits included $100,000 and the assistance of the global TED community to help realize her “One Wish to Change the World.”  Accepting the prize, Dr. Tarter asked the TED community to “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

After months in development, the setiQuest program has reached the point where it is able to invite the global scientific community to access radio signal data collected by SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA).  Commissioned in 2007, the Allen array is operated jointly by SETI Institute and the University of California at Berkeley. It is a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) telescope array designed to conduct surveys for both conventional radio astronomy by the university, as well as for SETI Institute’s research.

SETI Institute analyzes the ATA radio data in real time with special software to detect technological signals from a distant extra-terrestrial civilization.  The process is analogous to listening to one hundred million radios, each tuned to a different channel and attached to an antenna that is highly sensitive to just one millionth of the sky, to find faint signals.

To date, SETI Institute’s methods have focused on the search for what are called narrowband signals. One of the benefits of opening the ATA data to the global scientific community is to invite development of techniques to analyze broadband signals.

The radio telescope data will be made available through setiQuest’s website, www.setiquest.org, in the form of files containing streams of data samples from specific targets in space. Data can be accessed by registered participants in the setiQuest program.  SETI Institute hopes that by making the ATA data widely available, scientists around the world will develop new and innovative ways to process the massive quantities of radio signals streaming from space every second.

SETI Institute search programs have processed data in real time and discarded it shortly after the observation. They are capturing these new data sets to invite the public to expand the search. Now, setiQuest will provide a day’s worth of ATA data each week, and will leave the data on its website for up to six months.

While astronomers and specialists with experience in digital signal processing (DSP) may by the likely initial population of scientists and technologists with an interest in setiQuest, the program welcomes scientists and technologists of all disciplines.  Those interested in learning how they can be part of the setiQuest project can find more information at www.setiQuest.org.

For more details of the progress of Dr. Tarter’s TED Prize wish, visit http://www.tedprize.org/jill-tarter/.

About SETI Institute

The mission of SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. At SETI Institute biologists, physicists, chemists, astronomers, ecologists, planetary scientists, geologists, engineers, technologists, and educators join forces in the quest to find life elsewhere. This includes the search for potentially inhabited planets in our Solar System and beyond, laboratory and field investigations of the origins and early evolution of life, and studies of the potential of life to adapt to future challenges on Earth and in space. For more information about SETI, visit www.seti.org.  For information about setiQuest, visit www.setiquest.org.

Source: TED Conferences

April 3, 2010

Reaching out to ET …

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:22 pm

… here’s one idea.

From the link:

Or perhaps people shouldn’t bother composing a message at all. Another scientist, astronomer Seth Shostak, has proposed that we just broadcast everything on the Google servers out to aliens.

“Instead of trying to think of what’s fundamental, just send them a lot of data and let them sort through and find the pattern,” Vakoch said.

Vakoch discussed some of the issues around interstellar message composition in a recent paper in the journal Acta Astronautica.

March 6, 2010

A realistic look at a close encounter of the third kind

This post from J. Storrs Hall at Nanodot, the blog of the Foresight Institute, offers a dystopian, and realistic, view of how mankind’s first encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence will likely play out.

Hall’s premise is the most likely first visitor will be a civilization commanding “full-fledged nanotech” and “hyperhuman AI.” Given that construct we won’t be welcoming emissaries of  an alien race, we’ll be facing its resource seeking nanobots that will likely be looking to loot our solar system of raw material and harness the sun with a Dyson sphere. Kind of makes you long for little green men, hostile or not, eh?

From the first link:

Star travel is expensive; it costs on the order of a ship’s own mass in equivalent energy to get it up to relativistic speeds. Any culture capable of that will be at least a Kardashev Type I civilization, and most likely a Type II.  And the reason they’ll be doing star travel is to work their way up towards Type III.  Any sentient creatures that actually get here will be nanotech-based robots, not water-based organisms.  They won’t have spacecraft, they’ll be spacecraft.  They will be unlikely interested in thecarbon-poor mudballs of the inner solar system, but reap abundant carbon from the outer planets and carbonaceous asteroids to build Dyson-sphere-like structures around the orbit of Mercury.

We simply aren’t going to see less sophisticated visitors due to the starship paradox: send a starship out now with all Earth’s current technological resources behind it, and then wait and send one in 50 years with full nanotech.  The second one gets there first.

For more background reading, here’s an explanation of the Kardashev scale cited above. And for a little reassurance Hall’s outcome isn’t all that inevitable read the comments at the linked post.

March 2, 2010

Going beyond radio in the search for ET

I’ve been a longtime supporter of SETI’s efforts, but I also welcome any new ideas in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. These ideas from Paul Davies sound worthwhile.

The release

Widening the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been dominated for its first half century by a hunt for unusual radio signals. But as he prepares for the publication of his new book The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone?, Paul Davies tells Physics World readers why bold new innovations are required if we are ever to hear from our cosmic neighbours.

Writing exclusively in March’s Physics World, Davies, director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in the US, explains why the search for radio signals is limited and how we might progress.

As Davies writes, “speculation about SETI is bedevilled by the trap of anthropocentrism – a tendency to use 21st-century human civilisation as a model for what an extraterrestrial civilisation would be like… After 50 years of traditional SETI, the time has come to widen the search from radio signals.”

Questioning the idea of an alien civilisation beaming radio signals towards Earth, Davies explains that even if the aliens were, say, 500 light years away (close by SETI standards), the aliens would be communicating with Earth in 1510 – long before we were equipped to pick up radio signals.

While SETI activity has been concentrated in radio astronomy, from Frank Drake’s early telescope to the more recent Allen Telescope Array, astronomers have only ever been met with an (almost) eerie silence.

Davies suggests that there may be more convincing signs of intelligent alien life, either here on Earth in the form of bizarre microorganisms that somehow found their way to Earth, or in space, through spotting the anomalous absence of, for example, energy-generating particles that an alien life form might have harvested.

“Using the full array of scientific methods from genomics to neutrino astrophysics,” Davies writes, “we should begin to scrutinise the solar system and our region of the galaxy for any hint of past or present cosmic company.”

Following the publication of his book, The Eerie Silence, Davies will be giving a Physics World webinar at 4pm (BST) on Wednesday 31 March. You can view the webinar live at http://www.physicsworld.com or download it afterwards.

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Also in the March edition:

  • Getting intimate with Mars – robotic rovers are starting to unravel the secrets of the red planet but, according to one NASA expert, we would discover so much more if we brought samples back to Earth.
  • The Hollywood actor Alan Alda, star of M*A*S*H and The West Wing, who has a deep and passionate interest in science, is now part of an innovative US project to help scientists to communicate.

:

February 20, 2010

Frank Drake on revamping the search for ET

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:23 am

Via KurzweilAI.net — Sounds like a decent idea, and when Drake talks about searching for extraterrestrial life people better be listening.

Drake wants off-world listening post for alien messages
New Scientist Space, Feb. 18, 2010

SETI founder Frank Drake wants to take the search for aliens about 82 billion kilometers away from Earth, where electromagnetic signals from planets orbiting distant stars would be focused by the gravitational lensing effect of our sun, making them, in theory, more easily detected.

Gravitational lenses could also be used to increase the range of transmitted signals.
Read Original Article>>

February 10, 2010

The Drake equation and the multiverse

The well-known Drake equation, created by Dr. Frank Drake in 1960 to predict the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way, gets an upgrade to take into account the concept of multiple universes. Turns out our knowledge is so limited as to make the exercise essentially impossible.

From the second link:

But there’s a problem: this is not an equation. To form a true Drake-like argument, Gleiser would need to assign probabilities to each of these sets allowing him to write an equation in which the assigned probabilities multiplied together, on one side of the equation, equal the fraction of universes where complex life emerges on the other side.

Here he comes up against one of the great problems of modern cosmology–that without evidence to back up their veracity, many ideas in modern cosmology are little more than philosophy. So assigning a probability to the fraction of universes in the multiverse in which the fundamental constants and laws satisfy the anthropic principle is not just hard, but almost impossible to formulate at all.

Also:

Gleiser’s take on the Drake equation for the Multiverse is an interesting approach. What it tells us, however, is that our limited understanding of the universe today does not allow us to make any reasonable estimate of the number of intelligent lifeforms in the multiverse (more than one). And given the limits on what we can ever know about other universes, it’s likely that we’ll never be able to do much better than that.

January 26, 2010

SETI eying upgrade

Via KurzweilAI.net — If you’re not familiar with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Life) program, it’s an effort to do just what its name implies. A major part of the effort is the SETI@home screensaver that uses home computer CPU downtime to crunch numbers from Earth-bound radio telescopes in a distributed computing project. I ran SETI@home on a box several generations ago (computer-wise on my end) and found the data analysis weirdly fascinating to watch.

Putting a radio observatory on the far side of the moon would provide a lot more benefits than seeking alien life forms, but that would be a pretty cool byproduct.

SETI founder Dr Frank Drake outlines ambitious plans
Wired Science, Jan. 25, 2010

A radio observatory on the far side of the moon to eliminate Earth-based radio interference and gravitational microlensing to view alien planets are among the projects for detecting extraterrestrial intelligence proposed bySETI pioneer Dr. Frank Drake.
Read Original Article>>

October 19, 2009

Pollution and ET

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:57 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — An interesting and novel idea on searching for extraterrestrial life.

To spot an alien, follow the pollution trail

New Scientist Space, Oct. 19, 2009

Light pollution from cities and the presence of CFCs and other artificial compounds in the atmosphere (indicated by absorption at characteristic wavelengths) could be signs of intelligent life on alien planets.

Read Original Article>>

September 18, 2009

New equation for extrasolar life

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:18 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — An updated Drake equation. Ah, aliens …

New ‘Drake equation’ for alien habitats

Cosmos, Sept. 17, 2009

A new equation under development by planetary scientists at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England aims to develop a single index for habitability elsewhere in our galaxy based on the presence of energy, solvents such as water, raw materials like carbon and whether or not there are benign environmental conditions.

Read Original Article>>

August 14, 2009

Texting aliens

Well not quite, but this release from the wee hours of the morning grabbed my attention.

The release:

Send an Interstellar SMS During National Science Week

CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 14 /PRNewswire/ — Australians will have the opportunity to send text-like messages to potential intelligent life beyond Earth thanks to an initiative to be launched today to mark National Science Week.

From today until 5.00 pm Monday, 24 August, the public can visit www.HelloFromEarth.net to post goodwill messages that will be transmitted to the nearest Earth-like planet outside our Solar System likely to support life.

The planet – Gliese 581d – is eight times the size of Earth and some 20 light years away (194 trillion km). It was first discovered in April 2007. Due to its size, it is classified as a ‘Super Earth’.

Messages sent during the 2009 National Science Week will arrive in the planet’s vicinity by around December 2029.

Messages can be no longer than 160 characters and will be transmitted from the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, with the close cooperation of NASA.

Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research entered the first message at the launch of National Science Week at Questacon in Canberra, which read:

“Hello from Australia on the planet we call Earth. These messages express our people’s dreams for the future. We want to share those dreams with you.”

“What better way to discover the limitless possibilities of science than to give Australians the opportunity to try to seek contact with other intelligent life forms,” Senator Carr said.

“As a child I, like many Australians, stared up at the stars and wondered what was out there. Now science has allowed me to send a personal message that may answer that question.

“This is one way that we are stimulating debate around big questions in science, such as whether life exists outside Earth, and generating enthusiasm about science, which is what National Science Week is all about,” Senator Carr said.

The spokesperson for HelloFromEarth.net and editor of the Australian science magazine COSMOS, Mr Wilson da Silva, said the project had excited global interest.

“We’ve secured incredible support from around the globe, including NASA – people are really excited about this,” Mr da Silva said.

“It’s like a ‘message in a bottle’ cast out into the stars. What’s interesting is not just whether there’s anyone listening, but what the public will say to intelligent life on another planet, given the opportunity.

“Hello From Earth is our way of showing that science can make the impossible possible. We have been to the Moon and now, we can speak to the stars.”

The Hello From Earth site is a National Science Week initiative of COSMOS and has been developed with the support of Questacon, CSIRO, NASA, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Post-Detection Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics.

National Science Week is Australia’s largest national festival. Now in its 12th year, the event celebrates the nation’s scientific achievements, creates awareness of the importance of science and encourages students to pursue a career in science.

The 2009 festival runs from 15-23 August and includes over 800 events Australia-wide.

“National Science Week is an opportunity for Australians of all ages to learn about the wonders of science in a fun and exciting way,” Senator Carr said.

“From schools, universities and research laboratories, to community libraries, town halls and local theatres, National Science Week celebrations will be accessible to everyone.”

National Science Week is proudly supported by the Australian Government and partners CSIRO, the Australian Science Teachers Association, the ABC and shac Communications.

More information about National Science Week events and initiatives is available at www.scienceweek.gov.au.

  Links to images/ animations

  Artist’s impression of the planetary system Gliese 581
  High resolution still image
  http://bit.ly/CjQXy

  Illustration of Gliese 581 star system vs Earth’s solar system
  High resolution still image
  http://bit.ly/dawsN

  Video animation of Gliese 581d, the target planet
  Standard Definition, High Definition 720p25,
  and ultra High Definition 720p50.
  http://bit.ly/14uDLG

  Video animation of the star system Gliese 581, including the target
  planet
  Standard Definition, High Definition 720p25,
  and ultra High Definition 720p50.
  http://bit.ly/E7tjl

Source: Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and
Research
   
Web Site:  http://www.hellofromearth.net/

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
www.asu.edu