Astrobiology and SETI

A Test Case for Astroengineering

October 30, 2014

Last year the New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology program, set up by the John Templeton Foundation as a grant-awarding organization, dispensed three grants with a bearing on what Clément Vidal calls ‘Zen SETI.’ The idea of looking into our astronomical data and making new observations to track possible signs of an extraterrestrial civilization at […]

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Examining SETI Assumptions

October 28, 2014

If we’re trying to extend the boundaries of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, how do we proceed? A speculative mind is essential, and one of the delights of science fiction is the ability to move through an unrestricted imaginative space, working out the ramifications of various scenarios. But we have to prioritize what we’re doing, […]

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The Zen of SETI

October 27, 2014

The SETI challenge has often been likened to archaeology, and for good reason. In both cases, we are trying to recover information about cultures from the past. When Heinrich Schliemann dug into the numerous layers of Troy — and in the process inadvertently damaged precious remnants of later eras — he and his team were […]

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Primordial Origins of (Some) of Earth’s Water

September 29, 2014

With one interstellar conference in the books for 2014, I’ll be headed next for the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, whose upcoming gathering will be held in Oak Ridge this November. Last week’s coverage of the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston has allowed several interesting stories to back up in the queue, and I’ll spend […]

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100YSS: SETI, Sprites and Cutting Costs

September 23, 2014

Gatherings like the 100 Year Starship Symposium have tough organizational choices to make, and the solutions aren’t always obvious. A good part of any aerospace conference is involved in presenting papers, but do you set up a multi-track system or take a single-track approach? In Houston, the 100 Year Starship organization chose multiple tracks: We […]

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SETI: The Casino Perspective

August 19, 2014

I like George Johnson’s approach toward SETI. In The Intelligent-Life Lottery, he talks about playing the odds in various ways, and that of course gets us into the subject of gambling. What are the odds you’ll hit the right number combination when you buy a lottery ticket? Whenever I think about the topic, I always […]

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SETI: The Pollution Factor

July 24, 2014

We tend to assume that our mistakes as a species flag us as immature, a young civilization blundering about with tools it is misusing on a course that may lead to extinction. But assume for a moment that an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization goes through phases more or less like our own. If we’re sifting through […]

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A New Look at Sea Floor Astrobiology

April 16, 2014

How do you produce life on an early Earth bathed in ultraviolet radiation? The presumption when I was growing up was that the combination of chemicals in ancient ponds, fed energy by lightning or ultraviolet light itself, would produce everything needed to start the process. Thus Stanley Miller and Harold Urey’s experiments, beginning in 1953 […]

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SETI at the Particle Level

February 12, 2014

A big reason why the Fermi paradox has punch is the matter of time. Max Tegmark gets into this in his excellent new book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality (Knopf, 2014), where he runs through what many thinkers on the subject have noted: Our Sun is young enough that […]

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Habitability Around Ancient Stars

February 4, 2014

I see a lot to like about Abraham Loeb’s new paper “The Habitable Epoch of the Early Universe,” available as a preprint and now going through the submission process at Astrobiology. Not that it isn’t controversial, and for reasons that are patently obvious as soon as one digs into it. But the sheer chutzpah of […]

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