On The Subject Of Aliens And Mega-Structures

There’s this star out there that was spied by the Kepler Space Telescope with the ubiquitous title of KIC 8462852 that has created quite the buzz amongst astronomers due to the fact that it doesn’t seem to conform to anything they’d expected to find with Kepler.

In short, it’s something new and if there’s one thing scientists love the most, especially astronomers, is a new discovery.

When Kepler was launched in 2009 its primary mission was to stare at a field of stars looking for a tell-tale decrease in light that would indicate the presence of a planet orbiting around its parent star and, so far, Kepler has found thousands of planets in its field of view which will keep astronomers busy looking over the data for decades, if not centuries, to come.

When Kepler views a star that has a planet orbiting it the amount of light that dims is small – around 1% – when that planet comes into view. In other words, it’s a lot like spotting a firefly in front of a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon.

Kepler’s instruments are sensitive enough to pick up on this faint dip.

Which now brings us to KIC 8462852.

Kepler has detected a decrease in the light from this star at a whopping 22%. Whatever this object is that’s causing that big of a dip in the light from KIC 8462852, it’s many times larger than Jupiter.

Today I was watching a video from the CBS website and the reporter was talking to Michio Kaku, a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York and while he cautioned that KIC 8462852 needs to be examined thoroughly, that the scientists need to continue their studies for the foreseeable future, he seemed to imply that because this phenomena is unlike anything that would expected to be discovered by Kepler may in fact be…

…an alien mega structure.

For the record, I don’t believe this is some kind of alien construction – at least, not yet and certainly not without more study. I, like most people, prefer to wait until the data has been examined in detail and every possible alternative has been safely ruled out.

Having said that, I’m willing to entertain the idea (for this moment) that this object obscuring the light from KIC 8462852 by 22% is some kind of artificial mega-structure.

Two words: Holy Shit.

Two more: We’re Screwed.

This would be a civilization that can not only build structures in space larger than Jupiter but can also harness and utilize the energy from their parent star. This would be a civilization whose technology dwarfs ours by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. This would be a civilization for whom, if they’ve invested the same technology into war as they did in building their space structures, an invasion and occupation of our planet would be over with in a matter of minutes.

I am, of course, being very generous in my assessment that we could hold out for a matter of minutes against this kind of advanced civilization.

This is well above and beyond our own history of what happens when so-called lesser cultures come into contact with more advanced ones, such as Cortez and the Aztecs, the Native Americans and the first colonists from England in Virginia but, at a minimum, these cultures are of the same species and have virtually the same limitations.

A civilization that can harness the power of their own sun? This is more like a confrontation between Bambi and Godzilla – and we’re Bambi.

If this is an artificial structure constructed by an advanced alien civilization, we can’t hope to compete – let alone defend ourselves – with or against them should they one day decide that we’re sitting on a pile of something they want.

If this is evidence of an advanced alien civilization then it means this galaxy is populated by many more advanced civilizations and by civilizations even more advanced than the most advanced alien civilization we’ve discovered.

If this is evidence of an advanced alien civilization then we’re not only not alone in the universe, we’re completely at their mercy.

Some scientists have suggested that such advanced alien civilization may have evolved or transcended the concept of wars and exploitation of lesser civilizations and cultures. I find this line of reasoning naive at best and hopelessly delusional at worst. The Spanish Conquistadors were technologically advanced of the Aztecs but the history of that meeting clearly showed they hadn’t transcended war or exploitation.

Why would the aliens be any different?

We can’t afford to sit idly by and wait for the Capitana to drop anchor in the bay because by then it’s already too late and we’ve already lost – much like the Aztecs, much like the Native Americans and much like every other civilization and culture on this planet that has had the unfortunate circumstance of suddenly finding themselves at the mercy (if there ever was any) of a technologically superior one.

If this is evidence of an advanced alien civilization then we as a species are going to have to take a hard look at ourselves and decide where our priorities are really at.

Ronald Reagan once wondered aloud at a United Nations meeting that maybe in the face of a existential threat of a hostile alien race having arrived on this planet that we might put aside all our differences and come together to fight a common enemy.

If this is evidence of an advanced alien civilization we may, for the sake our own survival, continuation of our species and way of life overcome our differences or hope the aliens will show us compassion and mercy.

On The (Salt) Waters Of Mars

Monday morning the world was greeted by an announcement from NASA that (after much deliberation and careful examination of all their scientific data) the presence of liquid water on Mars has been confirmed.

I repeat: there is water on Mars.

Well, we kind of already knew this as NASA has been giving us hints in the form of pictures suggesting that Mars has water, mostly in ice form. There were also tantalizing pictures over the last 40+ years to suggest that water routinely flowed on the surface, as evidenced as far back as 1971 by Mariner 9 and you’d think with all that evidence staring us in the face NASA would have made this call a lot sooner than they did.

So why wait until now to call it? Scientists are a cautious lot. There could be any number of logical explanations as to why it appears there is liquid water on Mars. In the first place, it might not even be water – could be something liquid, certainly, but maybe not water.

Consider Saturn’s moon, Titan. Recent pictures from the Huygens clearly show what looks like lakes on its surface – but it can’t be water for a multitude of reasons, the least of which being Titan is a very cold place with surface temperatures dipping down to around -220 F.

Better put on your mittens.

In truth, the lakes of Titan are 75% ethane, 10% methane, 7% propane with smaller amounts of butane, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen and argon – all the ingredients you need to make hydrocarbon fuels.

I personally know a few Texas oilmen who would, on principle, try to recover as much of that as they could.

I remember once watching a documentary on PBS back in the late 70s where one of the scientists being interviewed opined that if we were to send any kind of a spaceship to Titan it would most likely have to be a submarine as it was theorized that the surface of Titan may predominantly be a vast hydrocarbon ocean.

Without the benefit of having seen the surface of Titan (it’s perpetually shrouded in an orange haze that makes spotting ground features impossible) he was nearly correct in his hypothesis when confirmation of the presence of liquid hydrocarbons by Huygens came in 2005, some 25+ years later.

Not a bad guess, really. The only reason this scientist even speculated about Titan is that while we couldn’t see it’s surface feature we could infer what it must be like on Titan’s surface from the composition of the atmosphere going as far back as 1944 by observations made from Gerard Kuiper (yeah, that Kuiper – as in the the name of the scientist for whom the famous Kupier Belt in our solar system is named for) and only because he had picked up on earlier work from a Catalan scientist named Josep Sola whose own work on Titan predates Kuiper’s by 41 years.

So as far back as 1944, at least, the hydrocarbon oceans of Titan have garnered much speculation and hypothesis until we actually went there to look for ourselves.

And that’s pretty much the reason why, even after all the pictures from 1971 forward of Mars that heavily suggested the presence of water, it took so long for the scientific community to come out and say it.

Scientists are a cautious lot, as it bears repeating. They don’t like being wrong (nobody does) and they only pronounce findings after all the data has been carefully pored over – a process that sometimes takes years or even decades.

Science – avoiding the term “slow” – is deliberate. And that’s really a good thing.

Now about this discovery…

It’s amazing to me that liquid water could exist on the surface of Mars at all considering what I understand about it.

Mars’ atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of the total atmospheric pressure of planet Earth (14psi).

While 14 pounds per square inch doesn’t sound like a lot, it matters a great deal as this is the only thing on this planet that keeps liquid in a liquid state, from water in the ocean to the blood in your veins and without it life would come to an end.

On Earth, water boils at 212 F because of our atmospheric pressure. As the pressure drops, that boiling point also drops along with it until you get atmospheric pressure so low that water would actually boil at room temperature (at 0.5 psi, water boils at 79 F).

The atmospheric pressure on Mars is 0.087 psi. At this pressure, water boils at 50 F.

So why doesn’t this surface water on Mars boil away?

Well, it does albeit a bit slower. The water on the surface of Mars isn’t exactly water – it’s more a incredibly salty brine, about as salty as the Dead Sea and just as lethal to a person if you decided to top off a glass of the stuff and drink it.

One gulp would most likely kill you, just like the Dead Sea.

Also, the water on Mars only comes out as liquid during the summer when it’s warm enough on the surface for it appear and, by the way, summer is 6 months long on Mars because a Martian year is two of our own.

The water is coming from…well, somewhere – most likely underground but in a frozen state and what water ice is near enough to the surface will melt when the temperature rises.

Recent photos sent back from the Phoenix lander on Mars in 2008 clearly show water ice at shallow depths that melted then evaporated just about as quickly as it was uncovered so (at least in some areas of Mars) you don’t have to dig very far to find ice.

As for the possibility of life…

Well, the odds of life on Mars are certainly better than they were prior to the discovery of liquid water on Mars as the general scientific community seems to agree on and maybe, just maybe, we will find a niche on Mars suitable to sustain Martian microbes.

The prevailing theory goes that there must be – between the cold ice below and the hostile surface above – a “Goldilocks Zone” where microbial and bacterial life could live and thrive.

I’m of the contrary position that this is probably unlikely, not dismissing the notion completely out of hand but I think if there is such a zone on Mars favorable to life we’re really going to have to go looking for it as it is likely rare such zones could exist on a planet where everything about it is hostile to life as we know and understand it, including the very soil of Mars which will have a go at killing you.

But there have been examples here on Earth where life has taken hold in the most unlikeliest of places from volcanic vents at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean where creatures – instead of living on sunlight and oxygen – thrive on heat and toxic chemicals to the Antarctic where it’s much too cold for us (or for most species on this planet) to survive but doesn’t seem to bother the denizens as they’ve gotten on just fine for unrecorded millennia and because of this I could very well be proven wrong.

I’m also not the only person taking a contrary position of the possibility of life on Mars as there are those in the scientific community who also feel the way I do about Mars and it’s precarious environment.

Because that’s what science and scientists do.

Well, any scientist worth their salt.

On The Subject Of Making A Prediction And Having It Come True

AMERICAN IDOL: Logo 2009. CR: FOX

Three years ago I made 10 predictions about 10 television shows with regards to how long they’d be on the air.

Today I am pleased to report that one of my predictions has come true: as of next year, American Idol is going off the air within the low-end boundary time frame I predicted it would happen:  at least 3 2/3 years.

Fox Television announced Monday that come January 2016, American Idol will be in its final season and summarily cancelled.

American Idol was without any doubt the most popular show ratings-wise. Dubbed “Fox’s Death Star”, Idol crushed any competition that dared to air the same time it did.

In 2006, Idol drew more than a staggering 36 million viewers for its season finale but since this peak, Idol’s ratings have steadily fallen to a paltry 11.6 million viewers.

One down, nine to go.

 

On Constantly Having To Tell These People They Have The Wrong Number…

wrong number

 

I just got a new phone for Christmas, a Samsung Galaxy Exhibit and it’s a great phone which beats the crap out of my old Crackberry Storm with my chief complaint about it being Samsung could so something about the battery.

I mean, seriously, stare at your email for about five minutes on the Samsung and lose 65% of your battery life.

Enormous. Power. Drain.

Apparently the number I was assigned belonged to someone else, some girl named Ashley and the only calls I seem to get (aside from my wife and family) are calls asking for Ashley.

Suddenly, I’m Ashley’s answering service. How may I help you?

This has happened about six times already since December 29th when the calls for Ashley started rolling in.  I keep having to explain every time these people call that they have the wrong number.

So far I’ve fielded 5 calls asking for Ashley from everyday people and 1 from  what sounds to be like a debt collector.

Ashley…have you not paid a bill for a while?

Ok, I don’t judge. In these hard economic times, everybody’s getting behind on their bills, and most of us are just barely keeping up (myself included).

My take on wrong numbers are like one-night stands: they make you feel like you’re the most loved and important person in the world and then they’re gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of telling these people they got the wrong number so I’m concocting ways to answer the phone when I see that it’s a wrong number coming in.

1. “Look, I just got the body in the trunk and I’m on my way out to the desert to dump it. Let me call you back when it’s done!”

2. “Where the fuck are you?!? Get your ass back home and help me take of these babies!” <make sure you have baby noises in the background>

3. “Pablo, honey?”

4. “Oh my god…didn’t you hear? Ashley died! We just got back from the funeral…”

5. Feign deafness/hard of hearing and get the name wrong horribly. “Shirley?” “Ashy?”

6. “This is Detective [make up your own name] from [make up police station/precinct]. We retrieved Ashley’s phone but we’re not sure where to find her. When was the last time you saw Ashley?”

7.  “Ashley? Oh…so that’s the name of the chick whose phone I jacked out of her car.”

8. “Ashley joined a cult. No, I don’t know when she’ll be back.”

9. “Wait a second, I’ll get her…[hold the phone away]..Ashley?! Whoa, Ashley, what are you doing with that gun? Put it down! PUT DOWN THE…”

10. “Yeah, this is her agent. For what? Oh, Ashley’s shooting a scene for a movie. The title? “Romancing The Bone 3″ and she’s doing a DP scene right now. Should I have her call you back?”

Ashley is so going to hate me for this.

On The Cure For A Dreaded Disease

vaccine

It’s a deadly liver disease that afflicts 3 million Americans. There are treatments for it that rank somewhere between “poke in the eye with a sharp stick” and “Spanish Inquisition”.

It’s name is Hepatitis C and it’s my happy duty to report that it’s now entirely curable.

Yes, you read it right – there’s a cure for Hep C.

Science Marches On.

But…there’s a catch – the drug, Sofosbuvir, comes with a hefty price tag: $1000 a pill or $84,000.00 plus the cost of the companion treatments that go along with it.

The drug company, Gilead, says this is a fair price bringing this medicine to market while activists are upset that the cure costs so much.

I can sort of understand the point. The cure for polio could have made Jonas Salk a billionaire several times over but instead he opted to selflessly offer the cure to the world free of charge. At the time, polio was killing and maiming people (mostly children) at alarming rates so, in a very real sense, it was the right thing to do but Big Pharma learned a very valuable lesson that day: there’s no profit in the cure.

Which brings me to a very interesting question, Gilead: why even develop the cure? Why not simply make a pill that allows people with Hep C to live with the disease for the rest of their lives?

Perhaps I just answered my own question.

 

On The Subject Of The Upcoming Album

the great day_album template cover

Well, I said I would get this done by Christmas but it nearly looked like I was going to have to push back on that due date. In the end, however, I managed to get the recording phase of this project done on December 23, two days ahead of schedule.

So, what next? Well, after I make a few changes to a handful of songs on the album it’s off to speak to some folks about getting their participation.

In the meantime, enjoy a cut off the upcoming album.