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 The Upcoming Album

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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.

On The Subject Of The Next Album

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No rest for the wicked.

Today I’m pleased to announce that I’ve begun work on my second album hot on the heels of my first which was released on October 29th and is available on iTunes.

About this new album:

This is a concept album project that I’ve had in mind to do for a number of years and it’s about SETI – the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence and the work they do is exactly what their name implies: they use radio telescopes to scan the skies for evidence of alien radio/television broadcasts floating around the galaxy, much like our own radio/television broadcasts have been leaking out into space for the last 70 years that any alien civilization (within the 70 light-year bubble of radio signals originating from our planet) with the right receiver technology can pick up.

The concept is as old as radio itself when in 1896 Nikolai Tesla suggested that radio could be used to talk to intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy – and he was quite correct.

The United States government was so enamored with the idea of receiving radio transmissions from space that on August 21–23, 1924, Mars entered an opposition closer to Earth than any time in a century before or since. A “National Radio Silence Day” was promoted in the US during a 36-hour period from the 21–23, with all radios quiet for five minutes on the hour, every hour.

At the United States Naval Observatory, a radio receiver was lifted 3 kilometers above the ground in a dirigible tuned to a wavelength between 8 and 9 kilometers, using a “radio-camera” developed by Amherst College and Charles Francis Jenkins.

The program was led by David Peck Todd with the military assistance of Admiral Edward W. Eberle (Chief of Naval Operations), with William F. Friedman (chief cryptographer of the US Army), assigned to translate any potential Martian messages.

A 1959 paper by Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi first pointed out the possibility of searching the microwave spectrum, and proposed frequencies and a set of initial targets.

n 1960, Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake performed the first modern SETI experiment, named “Project Ozma”, after the Queen of Oz in L. Frank Baum’s fantasy books.  Drake used a radio telescope 26 meters in diameter at Green Bank, West Virginia, to examine the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani near the 1.420 gigahertz marker frequency, a region of the radio spectrum dubbed the “water hole” due to its proximity to the hydrogen and hydroxyl radical spectral lines. A 400 kilohertz band was scanned around the marker frequency, using a single-channel receiver with a bandwidth of 100 hertz. The information was stored on tape for off-line analysis. He found nothing of great interest, but has continued a pro-active involvement in the search for life beyond Earth for 50 years.

In those 50 years, however, no signs of alien broadcasts have been found and not for lack of trying. Technological and budgetary constraints have plagued SETI for years as the experiments they’ve tried to do were hampered by both a lack of time on radio telescopes and money to fund the project.

There are 400 billion stars in the galaxy and literally billions of radio frequencies in the spectrum that have to be listened to in order to achieve any degree of success finding an intelligent, radio-capable civilization. So far SETI has only been able to listen on a very narrow slice of the radio band in an even narrower slice of the sky with the existing equipment they do have.

Congress did agree to fund the project for 10 years in 1992 but the program was defunded and switched off a year later. Since then, SETI has had to survive on private donations.

And that’s where I’d like to help.

I often wish I could just back up a dump truck to SETI’s front porch and unload a pile of cash that could enable them to do the experiment properly for as long as they need to do it but, unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of money.

I can, however, do the next best thing.

For every dollar I make off this album I will donate half the proceeds of the sale to SETI and thanks to you, the listeners, you’ll be both supporting an independent artist and contributing to the advancement of humanity’s understanding of the universe.

On an interesting side note, part of my wish list in completing this album is to actually get the key scientists at SETI to make an appearance on this album, including the Grand Poobah himself – Frank Drake.

The idea is to have them speak on various aspects of SETI throughout the album to tell the story of SETI. No, guys, you won’t have to take any crash music lessons for this one (unless you can actually play a musical instrument, in which case I’m certainly open to the idea of having any of you contribute music to the work).

Well, SETI, if you’re interested – drop me a line here.

In the meantime, I leave you all with the first single off the new album “Jansky”.

PS The title of the new album will be “SETI – The Great Day”.