Posts Tagged ‘alien life’

By EDWARD WONG

The Chinese government is relocating thousands of villagers to complete construction by September of the world’s biggest radio telescope, whose intended purpose is to detect signs of extraterrestrial life.

The telescope would be 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, in diameter, by far the largest of its kind in the world. It is called FAST, for Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, and costs an estimated 1.2 billion renminbi, or $184 million.

The mass relocation was announced on Tuesday in a report by Xinhua, the state news agency. The report said officials were relocating 2,029 families, a total of 9,110 people, living within a three-mile radius of the telescope in the area of Pingtang and Luodian Counties in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

Officials plan to give each person the equivalent of $1,800 for housing compensation, the report said. Guizhou is one of China’s poorest provinces.

Forced relocations for infrastructure projects are common across China, and the people being moved by officials often complain both of the eviction from their homes and inadequate compensation. The Three Gorges Dam displaced more than one million people along the Yangtze River, and the middle route of the gargantuan South-North Water Diversion Project has resulted in the relocation of 350,000 people to make way for a series of canals.

The Chinese government has announced ambitious plans for its space program, at a time when the American one is in retreat. China aims to put an astronaut on the moon and a space station in orbit. The FAST project is another important element in the larger plan.

The telescope is being built in a wide depression among karst hills. The depression is far from cities and ideal for picking up radio transmissions, the Xinhua report said. Scientists began looking for a site in 1994 and finally settled on the Dawodang depression.

If the truth is out there, then some Chinese scientists are confident that the giant telescope will find it. The current largest operational radio telescope is the 300-meter-diameter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, but FAST in Guizhou will far surpass that.

Li Di, a chief scientist with the National Astronomical Observatories under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily last year that “with a larger signal receiving area and more flexibility, FAST will be able to scan two times more sky area than Arecibo, with three to five times higher sensitivity.”

Last November, scientists successfully tested the telescope’s “retina,” which weighs 33 tons and is suspended 460 to 525 feet above the reflector dish, which was half-finished at the time, China Daily reported.

The telescope has 4,500 panels that are mostly triangular and whose sides measure 36 feet, the report said. Those create a parabolic shape. The panels move and, by doing so, alter the shape of the antenna, which is supposed to pick up radio signals from distant corners of the universe. Those signals would then be reflected to a focal point.

Mr. Li told China Daily that engineers were aiming to install all the panels by this June and complete debugging by September.

“Ultimately, exploring the unknown is the nature of mankind,” he said, adding that it was “as visceral as feeding and clothing ourselves.”

“It drives us to a greater future,” he said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/world/asia/china-fast-telescope-guizhou-relocation.html

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A large cluster of objects in space look like something you would “expect an alien civilization to build”, astronomers have said.

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish a report on the “bizarre” star system – suggesting the objects could be a “swarm of megastructures”.

He told The Independent: “I can’t figure this thing out and that’s why it’s so interesting, so cool – it just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

Speaking to The Atlantic, Mr Wright said: “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build. I was fascinated by how crazy it looked.”

The snappily named KIC 8462852 star lies just above the Milky Way, between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. It first attracted the attention of astronomers in 2009, when the Kepler Space Telescope identified it as a candidate for having orbiting Earth-like planets.

But KIC 8462852 was emitting a stranger light pattern than any of the other stars in Kepler’s search for habitable planets.

Kepler works by analysing light from distant places in the universe — looking for changes that take place when planets move in front of their stars. But the dip in starlight from KIC 8462852 does not seem to be the normal pattern for a planet.

Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale, told The Atlantic: “We’d never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”

In 2011 the star was flagged up again by several members of Kepler’s “Planet Hunters” team – a group of ‘citizen scientists’ tasked with analysing the data from the 150,000 stars Kepler was watching.

The analysts tagged the star as “interesting “ and “bizarre” because it was surrounded by a mass of matter in tight formation.

This was consistent with the mass of debris that surrounds a young star just as it did with our sun before the planets formed. However this star was not young and the debris must have been deposited around it fairly recently or it would have been clumped together by gravity – or swallowed by the star itself.

Boyajian, who oversees the Planet Hunters project, recently published a paper looking at all the possible natural explanations for the objects and found all of them wanting except one – that another star had pulled a string of comets close to KIC 8462852. But he said even this would involve an incredibly improbable coincidence.

A this stage Mr Wright, the astronomer from Penn State University, and his colleague Andrew Siemion, the Director of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), got involved. Now the possibility the objects were created by intelligent creatures is being taken very seriously by the team.

As civilisations become more technologically advanced, they create new and better ways of collecting energy — with the end result being the harnessing of energy directly from their star. If the speculation about a megastructure being placed around the star system is correct, scientists say it could be a huge set of solar panels placed around the star.

The three astronomers want to point a radio dish at the star to look for wavelengths associated with technological civilisations. And the first observations could be ready to take place as early as January, with follow-up observations potentially coming even quicker.

“If things go really well, the follow-up could happen sooner,” Wright told The Atlantic. “If we saw something exciting… we’d be asking to go on right away.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/forget-water-on-mars-astronomers-may-have-just-found-giant-alien-megastructures-orbiting-a-star-near-a6693886.html

Thanks to Kebmodee and David Frey for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

British astrophysicist and cosmologist, Sir Martin Rees, believes if we manage to detect aliens, it will not be by stumbling across organic life, but from picking up a signal made by machines.

It’s likely these machines will have evolved from organic alien beings, and that humans will also make the transition from biological to mechanical in the future.

Sir Martin said that while the way we think has led to all culture and science on Earth, it will be a brief precursor to more powerful machine ‘brains’.

He thinks that life away from Earth has probably already gone through this transition from organic to machine.

On a planet orbiting a star far older than the sun, life ‘may have evolved much of the way toward a dominant machine intelligence,’ he writes.

Sir Martin believes it could be one or two more centuries before humans are overtaken by machine intelligence, which will then evolve over billions of years, either with us, or replacing us.

‘This suggests that if we were to detect ET, it would be far more likely to be inorganic: We would be most unlikely to “catch” alien intelligence in the brief sliver of time when it was still in organic form,’ he writes.

Despite this, the astronomer said Seti searches are worthwhile, because the stakes are so high.

Seti seeks our electromagnetic transmissions thought to be made artificially, but even if it did hit the jackpot and detect a possible message sent by aliens, Sir Martin says it is unlikely we would be able to decode it.

He thinks such a signal would probably be a byproduct or malfunction of a complex machine far beyond our understanding that could trace its lineage back to organic alien beings, which may still exist on a planet, or have died out.

He also points out that even if intelligence is widespread across the cosmos, we may only ever recognise a fraction of it because ‘brains’ may take a form unrecognisable to humans.

For example, instead of being an alien civilisation, ET may be a single integrated intelligence.

He mused that the galaxy may already teem with advanced life and that our descendants could ‘plug in’ to a galactic community.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3285966/Is-ET-ROBOT-Astronomer-Royal-believes-aliens-transitioned-organic-forms-machines-humans-same.html#ixzz3pOiCcJY8

During a panel discussion on Tuesday, April 7 NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan had some exciting news:

“I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years,” Stofan said.

However, Stofan and the team of panelists were less sure about exactly where humankind will discover the first signs of alien life.

“I think we’re one generation away in our solar system, whether it’s on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star,” said another panelist member and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld.

Last month, Business Insider spoke with NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay about where he thought humankind would first find signs of alien life in our solar system. Surprisingly, the most likely place is not nearby or on any surface.

We need to start looking underground, according to McKay.

“Things are better below the surface,” says McKay, who is a senior scientist with NASA’s Planetary Systems Branch. She investigates where else life could exist in our solar system.

Unfortunately, designing and dispatching a lander that can dig deep beneath a planet’s surface is incredibly difficult and expensive. The only places scientists have drilled, collected, and examined samples beneath the surface is on the moon and Mars.

One place where we wouldn’t need to dig and drill is on Saturn’s tiny moon, Enceladus. It harbors a massive ocean underneath a thick layer of ice on its surface. Two different teams of scientists found compelling evidence there that indicates active volcanoes line the tiny moon’s seafloor.

McKay is excited about the prospect of Enceladus for another reason though. “Enceladus is most likely to give us an answer soonest,” he said. “The reason is Enceladus has a plume coming into space.”

In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft flew by Enceladus and spotted plumes of water vapor and other materials gushing out of its surface. If there’s life in the solar system, the first place we’re likely to find it is inside of those plumes, McKay said.

Sadly, Cassini is not equipped with the right instruments to detect signs of life in these plumes. And right now, NASA has no plans to dispatch another probe to Saturn or its moons anytime soon. That’s not stopping McKay and others from discussing what they’d look for there if they had the chance.

“I’d suggest that the best molecules to measure are amino acids, the building blocks of proteins,” McKay said during a live webcast hosted by The Kavli Foundation in January. “Life on Earth has made specific choices in amino acids. It uses a set of just 20 amino acids to build proteins, and those amino acids are all left-handed.”

Left-handed amino acids are chemically identical (meaning they have all the same atoms in the same amounts) to right-handed animo acids. The difference is that they are structured in a way so they’re mirror images of one another, just like how your right and left hands are the same shape but don’t line up when you put one on top of the other.

One of the outstanding mysteries in astrobiology is why RNA and DNA is only constructed from proteins built by left-handed amino acids. Regardless of why or how, this fact will come in handy during potential future studies of Enceladus.

“If Chris were to find amino acids in the plumes of Enceladus, the challenge becomes determining whether they are the products of a biological process,” Steven Benner, president of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, said during the webcast. “If he were to find that they’re all the same hand, that would be convincing, because that’s what makes the protein evolvable.”

For McKay, the excitement of the hunt is not just about discovering whether aliens exist. It’s discovering unique alien life that is completely different from life on Earth, which might be quite a bit harder since the building blocks of life are so complex.

“In my mind that’s the real question. Not, ‘Is there life on these other worlds?’ but ‘iI there a second genesis of life on these other worlds?'” McKay told Business Insider. “That’s a subtlety that’s not obvious until you think about it.”

A second-genesis of alien life could, in theory, have a completely different biomolecular structure from life on Earth. Right now, scientists debate whether or not life on Earth originated on another celestial object, like Mars, that then hitched a ride to Earth inside of a meteorite.

That is not a stretch to imagine, researchers say, since Mars was covered with liquid water around the same time that life is believed to have begun on Earth. If we do find evidence of life on Mars and it has the same DNA as us, then it’s probably our cousins, McKay told Business Insider.

If we want to find truly unique alien life, then we’ll have to travel farther than next door.

“As we go from Mars to Europa to Enceladus to Titan, as the worlds get farther away from Earth the conditions get less and less like Earth,” McKay said. “We’re more likely to find life that’s not related to us the farther out we go.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/where-were-most-likely-to-find-alien-life-in-the-space-2015-4#ixzz3Wlha9IoQ

Thanks to Da Brayn