Finding ET in the Data

by Paul Gilster on April 17, 2013

As we saw yesterday, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) has been the source of data for a number of searches for unusual infrared signatures. The idea is to look for the artifacts of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, under the assumption that a sufficiently advanced culture will be capable of engineering projects that could be detected from light years away. A Dyson sphere, existing either as a completely enclosed star or as a swarm of artifacts around a star, is but one example of such engineering, but it’s a sensible one to look for because it represents a way to maximize energy. It’s also theoretically detectable because of waste heat in the infrared.

These days, though, we have not just IRAS but the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Spitzer space telescope providing us with infrared data. Richard Carrigan’s pioneering work on interstellar archaeology is now complemented by searches funded by the New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology program, set up by the Templeton Foundation and administered by the University of Chicago. The program has been created to provide grants in areas ranging from our universe’s role in a possible multiverse to the detection of intelligence beyond our Solar System. The team of Jason Wright (Pennsylvania State) and colleagues Steinn Sigurðsson and Matthew Povich is one of three grant winners in a tuned up Dyson artifact hunt.

As described by Stephen Battersby in Alien Megaprojects: The Hunt Has Begun, a recent article in New Scientist, this search should be able to expand Carrigan’s observations thousands of times farther, with the ability to detect a Dyson sphere around a Sun-like star almost anywhere in the galaxy. And this gets us into interesting terrain. From the article:

Even such a wide-ranging hunt may not be ambitious enough, according to Wright. He suspects that interstellar travel will prove no harder than constructing a sphere. An alien civilisation with such a high level of technology would spread out and colonise the galaxy in a few million years, building spheres as they go. “I would argue that it’s very hard for a spacefaring civilisation to die out. There are too many lifeboats,” says Wright. “Once you have self-sufficient colonies, you will take over the galaxy – you can’t even try to stop it because you can’t coordinate the actions of the colonies.”

A good point. And if this is the case, we would expect to find Dyson spheres, assuming we’re correct in thinking they represent a reasonable way to maximize the collection of energy. “To find one or a few Dyson spheres in our galaxy,” Wright goes on, “would be very strange.” In other words, there are either going to be a lot of them or none at all, and if there are a lot of them, then we might consider taking the hunt into extra-galactic territory. Wright tells Battersby that a galaxy colonized by a Kardashev Type III civilization should show up as a big, bright object in the infrared data from WISE, clearly flagged by virtue of the fact that it has no optical component.

How likely is it that things like Dyson spheres will ever be built? Wright has written about this on his AstroWright site, from which this quote:

…despite all of the advances in medicine, economics, and civilization generally, we are still growing as a species exponentially. We have long left Malthusian limits behind, and have shown that technology will progress faster than our resource demands. But no technology can give us more energy than hits the Earth until we start talking about spaceships (except for nuclear energy, which is an ultimately finite resource; fossil fuels are, ultimately, just stored energy from sunlight that hit plants millions of years ago, so, again, finite). We will continue to grow as a species until we hit a free energy resource limit, and then in order to further grow we will have to start collecting more solar energy. And we will have to start emitting that energy as waste heat. And that trend, too, will then have to proceed exponentially…

The consequences are interesting to contemplate.

Indeed. The approach is speculative and obviously depends on how an advanced civilization builds its energy collectors. Dyson spheres are one thing, but a thin ring of artifacts around a distant star is not going to be easily flagged even in the WISE data. A second survey, this one with a different approach, is in the hands of Princeton’s Lucianne Walkowicz, who with her four co-investigators will be looking through Kepler data for unusual patterns of variability. Here we’re in familiar territory with the analysis of light curves that has proven so productive in detecting exoplanets.

Will Walkowicz’ team find something spectacular? After all, their proposal is titled “Stellar Lighthouses: Decoding Signatures of Advanced Civilizations in Precision Stellar Photometry,” and any signature of something artificial around a distant star is going to change everything. But this is a search for more than Dyson spheres, just as ‘interstellar archaeology’ comprehends much more than a single postulated technology.

Suppose a distant civilization is using microwave beaming to drive spacecraft, or modifying its star’s makeup to prolong its life? Steinn Sigurðsson, blogging from the New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology conference in 2012, recalled an old Analog story about the discovery of unusual stars, so bizarre that they demand immediate investigation. One turns out to have a convective zone spiked with manganese and one is bright green. The conclusion is that extraterrestrial pranksters are spiking the stars to draw attention. Who knows what may turn up, but as Walkowicz tells Battersby: “We know what transits, starspots and flares looks like, so we are looking for any variation we can’t explain through known astrophysics.”

Geoff Marcy (UC-Berkeley) is also in the hunt, working with the University of Hawaii at Honolulu’s Andrew Howard and John Johnson (Caltech) on the same kind of signal via Kepler data. The data, of course, are already in our possession, though we keep adding to the database. But it’s a fascinating speculation that we may already have detected signs of an extraterrestrial civilization without even realizing it. The hunt for astronomical anomalies means combing through vast amounts of data with a clear view of our own preconceptions and how they might mislead us. Marcy’s team will doubtless find unusual variability in a number of objects that can be explained through conventional means, but finding the inexplicable will get everyone’s attention.

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{ 40 comments }

Jer April 17, 2013 at 15:25

Though a dramatic and epic super project, I am not convinced that a centralized and immobile power system like a star within a dyson object, regardless of its potential, suits the ambitions of an advanced space-faring civilization. I am tending to think of a power system that can be more convenient and de-centralized – perhaps portable (in a sense) future fusion or even anti-matter energy sources. I see humanity as a constantly transient and expanding species, always moving but still wanting to remain gregarious. If all our energy needs and social grouping needs, likely in the thousands to millions can be provided by a mobile energy source , I believe that would be preferable. What is a desirable population size to keep together yet move around? Sentimental things such as sunsets (or whatever the elements within a dyson object would provide) could easily be replaced by any number of fabricated/authentic experiences. Suns would be like small towns, happy to be from one and be concerned by one, but not necessarily required to remain near or be confined to one. Combined with near-immortal life spans and comparable ambitions, taking the time to ‘sprawl’ around a sun seems antithetical to our inherent exploration tendencies. Though, perhaps a sun would be needed to energy-fund a super project – warp-bubble drive?

NS April 17, 2013 at 15:46

“there are either going to be a lot of them [Dyson Spheres] or none at all…”

There have already been a few hunts for Dyson Spheres, with negative or (occasionally) ambivalent results. Does that suggest there aren’t any?

Sedjak April 17, 2013 at 17:02

A civilization that could build Dyson spheres may have already tapped into the vacuum energy, or at least cohere the quantum fluctuations of it, to obtain possibly many orders of magnitude greater energy than some measly fusion in a star. If we are on the cusp of usable nanotechnology then maybe they have surpassed femto or atto-technology to achieve these ends. This might be a “quiet” technology, releasing little waste heat. Now, how to detect all that?….

Gavin April 17, 2013 at 18:35

Not to sound too much like a hippy here, but I don’t think Dyson spheres are what we should be looking for, though I see nothing wrong in funding research into finding them. Wright’s quote, “We have long left Malthusian limits behind, and have shown that technology will progress faster than our resource demands” is especially chilling to me, because it implies that we have already SOLVED the problem with our own resource demands, which is ridiculous. Global warming anyone?

I believe, while it might take a number of generations to come to pass, that there is a more reasonable level of affluence that is sustainable on planet Earth, and we have long surpassed it, causing irreparable damage to our ecosystem. While technology will continue to advance, we, as a civilization, will eventually come to the realization that in order to balance our energy and consumption needs, we need a smaller footprint on this planet, in order to allow it to regenerate and become useful to us again, as bio diverse capital.

What has all this got to do with Dyson spheres? A smaller, <5 b population civilization would be able to satisfy most of its resource and energy needs without such grandiose engineering, even if they did have the ability to do it. A significant increase in population would necessitate the colonization of other, fertile planets, and the resources needed to build structures to spread civilization among multiple worlds would be easily accessible from asteroids.

I can't see the necessity for building Dyson spheres because I simply can't see the need for that MUCH energy. A civilization with such high energy demand would certainly destroy its own environment, and itself, before it were ever able to conceive of a method to obtain such high amounts of energy.

Dan Ibekwe April 17, 2013 at 18:47

NS wrote “There have already been a few hunts for Dyson Spheres, with negative or (occasionally) ambivalent results. Does that suggest there aren’t any?”

Possibly there aren’t, NS.

In *this* galaxy.

Wojciech J April 17, 2013 at 18:53

NS-surprisingly the Dyson Sphere searches have come out quite positive with several candidates, including one quite strong candidate once.

Wojciech J April 17, 2013 at 18:57

As to the article-very interesting, and I am glad that people are finally taking this approach, although I disagree with the “constant expansion” theory proposed by Wright, which we have discussed here on this website numerous times(with both sides never agreeing). These attempts(and Dyson Spheres are just one of many objects we could search for-some others seem more sensible, but I wouldn’t exclude Dyson Sphere categorically) will perhaps finally shift focus from radio detection(which by now is quite known to be rather unlikely to succeed) to detection of visible signs of alien life and civilizations which we could vastly improve within couple of next decades with future telescopes.

GaryChurch April 18, 2013 at 5:04

“I simply can’t see the need for that MUCH energy. A civilization with such high energy demand would certainly destroy its own environment, and itself, before it were ever able to conceive of a method to obtain such high amounts of energy.”

I simply cannot see a starship being built without a huge energy infrastructure. Manufacturing small black holes or beam propulsion demands it.

Why would they destroy themselves? They might leave their homeworld alone like a nationa park and visit while billions live in space in habitats (my favorite is Bernal Spheres).

David C April 18, 2013 at 9:19

Jer, you make some good points about mobility and smaller power sources to support mobility. But the fact is, whether we use it or not, our sun is already drenching the solar system with energy, as are other suns drenching other systems. Mobile power sources and greater utilization of the home star’s energy fountain are not mutually exclusive. We will be colonizing the solar system before we colonize any exoplanets and inside the solar system the sun will remain our greatest source of energy. Same is true with advanced civilizations in other systems. Looking for system-sized solar energy capture projects makes good sense.

A. A. Jackson April 18, 2013 at 10:07

@Gavin
I think you have identified the flaw.
I think Wright is wrong about defeating Malthusian limits. Exponential growth , as applied to population dynamics , was only a preliminary approximation.
See this:
Ignoring Population Structure Can Lead to Erroneous Predictions of Future Population Size
http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/ignoring-population-structure-can-lead-to-erroneous-15128671
I am not against looking for ultra advanced civilization structures but if they are not found then apply Sagan’s observation “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,”
Population growth in advanced nations in this world have declined, in some political entities , such as Europe, it is even negative. Average global birth rates have declined slightly.
Future human population dynamics is hard to predict but after several false alarms it now looks like the Earth will hit a hard carrying capacity limit.
From United Nation’s studies and many others there is the estimate that world population should stabilize by 2050 , even the extreme prediction that it will decline to a steady state… look up the articles on Wikipedia , especially the references.
Several science fiction writers have written stories where the quantity of world population came into equilibrium but the quality of civilization continued to rise. ‘Quality’ is hard to characterize , I could only refer to SF writers for various ideas.
Highly advanced civilizations may very likely not leave a ‘bull in a china shop’ signature.
I am totally convinced that a prediction of even what we will do as a complex advanced civilization is totally undecidable . (If civilization can even reach that level!)
I repeat the observation of someone who modified Clarke’s 3rd law:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable.”

(By the by Paul, Clarke may have gotten his inspiration for this from SF writer Leigh Brackett
“”Witchcraft to the ignorant, …. Simple science to the learned”
“The Sorcerer of Rhiannon”, Astounding February 1942, p. 39- Leigh Brackett.)

jade star April 18, 2013 at 11:04

Can you update us as to any searches for wormholes? In the past you referenced the 1995 paper “Natural Wormholes as Gravitational Lenses,” Physical Review D (John Cramer, Robert L. Forward, Gregory Benford et al.) http://www.arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/9409051 as well as the 1988 paper “Wormholes in spacetime and their use for interstellar travel: A tool for teaching general relativity,” American Journal of Physics 56 and the more recent 2007 paper “Astrophysics of Wormholes” (Nikolai Kardashev and Igor Novikov) – http://eprintweb.org/S/search/25302/A8

Has any recent work been done in the detection of a wormhole’s double brightening signature as outlined in “Gravitational Microlensing by the Ellis Wormhole” (F. Abe) http://arxiv.org/pdf/1009.6084.pdf

I’d be very interested in knowing if there are currently any searches for wormholes as alien archeology are underway. Are there?

Paul Gilster April 18, 2013 at 12:14

jade star, I’m not aware of a current wormhole search using the methods of Cramer, Forward et al., but if I run into such, I’ll write about it here. The Cramer paper basically says ‘this is what the signature of a wormhole might look like, so if you run into this while doing other work, you might want to note it.’ But I don’t know of anyone specifically looking for this signature right now.

A. A. Jackson April 18, 2013 at 13:13

@jade star

There is also this:
Observed Effects of Gravitational Microlensing of Stars by a Spatial–Temporal Tunnel.
Bogdanov, M. B., Cherepashchuk, A. M., Astronomy Reports; Dec2002, Vol. 46 Issue 12, p1002, 8

The lensing effects of wormholes , if due to negative matter, are defocussing.
There is no dedicated program to such as your ask , it will have to piggyback off the lensing and micro-lensing observing programs.

Paul Gilster April 18, 2013 at 13:57

A A Jackson writes:

(By the by Paul, Clarke may have gotten his inspiration for this from SF writer Leigh Brackett…

Nice catch! That does sound persuasive!

ljk April 18, 2013 at 14:16

Paul Gilster said on April 18, 2013 at 12:14:

“jade star, I’m not aware of a current wormhole search using the methods of Cramer, Forward et al., but if I run into such, I’ll write about it here. The Cramer paper basically says ‘this is what the signature of a wormhole might look like, so if you run into this while doing other work, you might want to note it.’ But I don’t know of anyone specifically looking for this signature right now.”

Sadly, I have trouble imagining many professional astronomers wanting to risk their careers and reputations by either publicly noting or even just among their colleagues an object that might show traits of being a wormhole. Perhaps in the most abstract way, but not right out. Many of them still consider anything that hints of aliens to be childish and beneath them, so that is another factor.

I believe similar requests were made for those who operate neutrino telescopes. My comments above go equally well here. Thankfully once again astronomy can rely on its experienced amateurs to come to the rescue where the professionals fear to tread. Of course if one is found expect them to say they knew it all the time, etc.

Anyone in the SETI field willing to take a whack at this? It has to be less expensive that maintaining a radio telescope.

Just as astronomers once ignored and scoffed at exoplanets which were bigger than Jupiter circling their suns in a matter of mere days or even hours because we KNEW Jovian worlds could only exist in the outer regions of the solar systems, we probably have exotic cosmic objects and events and signs of ETI activity literally flashing and dancing before our eyes and instruments. However, our ignorance, limitations, and paradigms continue to keep us from recognizing or acknowledging such things.

NS April 18, 2013 at 14:24

Wojciech J, can you cite the Dyson Sphere searches that have had positive results? The ones I’ve seen have generally been negative or occasionally ambiguous. I do agree that they aren’t as completely negative as (say) radio SETI searches where literally every signal is eliminated, but I haven’t seen a ‘Wow’ result from the Dyson Sphere searches either.

Wojciech J April 18, 2013 at 15:43

NS:Iras 20369+5131 is the strongest candidate up to date.

http://www.fas.org/spp/eprint/starry.pdf

Greg April 18, 2013 at 16:03

““To find one or a few Dyson spheres in our galaxy,” Wright goes on, “would be very strange.””

Looking at present day technologies such as meta-materials, I can’t see how a civilization at least a millennial more advanced than we are would not be using the technology on a large scale. Meta-materials would allow almost total control of the light from their star. There still would still be infrared from waste heat but that too could be redirected and very likely harder to find. My guess is it would be next to impossible to detect a Dyson Sphere.

Jer April 18, 2013 at 22:17

David C says: “…We will be colonizing the solar system before we colonize any exoplanets and inside the solar system the sun will remain our greatest source of energy….”
Of course. But once we start talking dyson objects, I believe that we have entered that phase and span of human civilization (or any race) where we look upon Earth (or other home planet) as a quaint playground where we spent our childhood, such a long time ago and such a small part of history. By that time I would say that the vast majority of society, such as it is, will be outside the solar system and for the millennia afterward. I would further say that the vast majority would be and will continue to be between stars. Is a star really a destination that we will clump around or even seek to visit? I foresee society as just being an uncountable number of dispersed population clumps each with its own character and self-sustaining systems utterly unconcerned with the whereabouts of others. I doubt that stars will even be trading posts or energy stations, except for a small number of near-automated super projects or scientific curiosities. As with the importance of the campfire to our primitive ancestors that cannot imagine not gathering around a pit or hearth, we will look back at stars and their ‘gathering’ gravitational system with a sentimental thought only, as it will be the in-between light-years that we shall inhabit and travel, though they be great – nomadic for the rest of time.

NS April 19, 2013 at 0:19

Wojciech J, thanks for the link. Reading that and the original paper (as best I could understand it!) I’d still call it ambiguous rather than ‘Wow’. Hopefully searches of the WISE mission data will give us more information.

GaryChurch April 19, 2013 at 3:08

“Future human population dynamics is hard to predict but after several false alarms it now looks like the Earth will hit a hard carrying capacity limit.”

I doubt that; Considering the vast areas of unused land, the vast amounts of solar energy resources in sunbelts, that “hard limit” will always go up.

Ronald April 19, 2013 at 10:20

Gavin: I agree with almost everything you say except: “A significant increase in population would necessitate the colonization of other, fertile planets”.

No, I really don’t think so. Problems on any particular planet will nearly always need to be solved on that planet (and maybe its direct vicinity), also because that will be by far the most cost-effective.
I believe that planets in other planetary systems will be (terraformed and) colonized for two major reasons:
1) Long-term risk-spreading and survival of our species and civilization.
2) To spread our earthly life (or modifications of that) and intelligence to other, potentially suitable worlds, particularly if those worlds are not yet inhabited by (higher) life.

Eniac April 19, 2013 at 16:38

Jer:

I would further say that the vast majority would be and will continue to be between stars. Is a star really a destination that we will clump around or even seek to visit?

Except, there is quite literally nothing between the stars. I doubt even the most advanced technology will be sustainable on empty space alone. No material, no energy, no life. I think you’ll find as many people living permanently between the stars as there are fish swimming in the desert.

GaryChurch April 19, 2013 at 20:11

“-there are fish swimming in the desert”

There are frogs in the desert- under the ground in suspended animation waiting for a little rain. In my experience analogies usually do not hold up well for space and I try to stay away from them.

So space could be full of beings frozen for transits lasting centuries or millenia.

Wojciech J April 20, 2013 at 5:28

Regarding a green star, this reminds me of the novel Learning the World by Ken Mcleod, where humanity has been building habitable orbitals near other stars, and scientists from other civilizations have been unable to explain why stars change their color over hundreds of years…

Dmitri April 20, 2013 at 14:15

@Paul Gilster ” … The Cramer paper basically says ‘this is what the signature of a wormhole might look like, so if you run into this while doing other work, you might want to note it.’ But I don’t know of anyone specifically looking for this signature right now.”

@ljk “Sadly, I have trouble imagining many professional astronomers wanting to risk their careers and reputations by either publicly noting or even just among their colleagues an object that might show traits of being a wormhole. Perhaps in the most abstract way, but not right out. Many of them still consider anything that hints of aliens to be childish and beneath them, so that is another factor.”

Paul, ljk – Russians launched in 2011 a radio telescope Радиоастрон (RadioAstron, Spektr-R) with diameter of 10m and resolution 1000 better than the Hubble which flies on elliptical orbit apogee close to Moon. From the myriad of the scientific goals one of them is openly detection of wormhole entrance. They acknowledge it’s hypothetical object but the technical capability is sufficent to detect such enormous object. I’ll just paste relevant information and links so you both could check this out. Luckily they publish monthly bulletins on their progress.

Official site – http://www.asc.rssi.ru/radioastron/index.html
English wiki – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spektr-R

In 2014 they plan to launch Spektr-UV (Ultra violet spectrum) and later Spektr-G (gamma spectrum) telescopes.
—————————————————————–
http://ufn.ru/en/articles/2009/11/e/similar.html
“Radioastron: a radio telescope many times the size of Earth. Research program
N.S. Kardashev
Astro Space Centre, Lebedev Physical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation

A number of ground-based radio telescopes and one in a terrestrial orbit with the apogee at about the Earth — Moon distance have been combined to make an interferometer that provides the angular resolution up to a few microarcseconds for exploring astronomical objects such as pulsars, star formation regions, and black holes. Black hole horizon physics, cosmic ray acceleration regions, and the hypothetical *wormhole entrances* are becoming accessible to study for the first time.”

The goal of the project is to carry out investigat ions of various types of astrophysical objects of the Universe with an unprecedent high angular resolution in the centimeter and decimeter wavelength bands. Such resolution is attained by the 10 m Space Radio Telescope (on-board of the Spacecraft Spectr-R) working together with the largest ground radio telescopes in the interferometer mode.
• Galactic nuclei (supermassive black holes, event horizon,
particles acceleration, ultimate brightness temperatures, Faraday
rotation, magnetic fields, cosmic rays, superluminal motion).
• Cosmology effects; redshift dependence of various physical parameters of galactic nuclei; dark matter and dark energy effects.
• Star and planetary systems formation, masers and Megamasers.
• Stellar mass black holes and neutron stars.
• Interstellar and interplanetary media.
• Fundamental astrometry and development of the high precision celestial coordinate frame.
• Development of the high precision model of the Earth gravitational field.

Their recent achievement is detection of the biggest water mazer which is in their March report:
“Galactic water masers
Successful detection of interference fringes for the water maser in the high-mass star formation region W3 IRS5 located in the Perseus arm at a distance of 1.83 kpc is reported. Correlated signal was obtained with space radio interferometer baselines between the orbiting 10-meter antenna Spektr-R and the 40-m radio telescope in Yebes (Spain) and 32-m ground radio tele-scope in Torun (Poland). Observing session was held on 2 February 2013. The long projected baseline length (5.4 Earth diameters, about 69 000 km) at the frequency of the water maser transition (22 GHz) corresponds to an angular resolution of about 40 arcsec. This is equiva-
lent to a linear resolution of 0.074 AU (11 million km) for W3 IRS5. This result represents the highest angular resolution ever obtained in bservations of water masers. The observations are part of a RadioAstron campaign to explore the existence of very compact maser structures.”

Jer April 20, 2013 at 18:26

Eniac says: “…I doubt even the most advanced technology will be sustainable on empty space alone. No material, no energy, no life…”
And yet it would seem to be the entire purpose of this blog to postulate the creation of such a perpetuating system, if we are to be decades or even centuries away from a star. Of course I don’t see starting a sustaining technological population from and within nothing as likely in the near-term. But once you have that essential bit of energy, matter, and know-how together, I believe it will grow into a fully perpetuating and thriving population system, not just existing in nothing, but moving through it – to the point where you could eject and return the original materials and energy – just living -and even growing- off the remainder – the ‘interest’ as it were. I suppose it would depend on how useful the original materials, how accessible the energy, and how sophisticated the ‘know-how’. A solar-free energy society? I believe it.

ljk April 22, 2013 at 9:43

Dmitri said on April 20, 2013 at 14:15:

“Paul, ljk – Russians launched in 2011 a radio telescope Радиоастрон (RadioAstron, Spektr-R) with diameter of 10m and resolution 1000 better than the Hubble which flies on elliptical orbit apogee close to Moon. From the myriad of the scientific goals one of them is openly detection of wormhole entrance. They acknowledge it’s hypothetical object but the technical capability is sufficent to detect such enormous object.”

Thank you for this wonderful news, Dmitri. My apologies for assuming that general Western attitudes on this subject when it comes to the professional science community extends to other scientists across the globe. The Russians have always been in the top tiers when it comes to theoretical physics and thinking outside the box. I am glad to see this has not changed.

ljk April 22, 2013 at 9:54

Interstellar space is not empty. We are now discovering there are many “rogue” worlds drifting through the galaxy, perhaps hundreds of billions of such bodies. While the ones found so far are super Jupiters they probably come in all sizes, including up to brown dwarfs (what is the “lifetime” of a brown dwarf anyway?). Are they useful when it comes to resources perhaps? Could some of them be Worldships?

There is also hydrogen in deep space, though granted it is very thinky scattered, which is why the Bussard ramjet would need a huge collector to fuel its fusion propulsion system. Have there been estimate revisions as to how much hydrogen permeates interstellar space? If there is more than once thought, perhaps this might useful to the Bussard concept and other similar interstellar vessel designs.

As we are seeing with the two Voyager probes, our knowledge of what lies just beyond our Sol system keeps being revised with each new data return from those vanguard vessels, which were not even really meant to explore that far into deep space.

As for space civilizations not requiring a planet and a sun to function, there is the idea of building one around a black hole. If I recall correctly, they could dump their refuse into the black hole and, thanks to the weird physics of the region, get back more energy than they put in from the trash process.

Dmitri April 23, 2013 at 5:31

@ljk

RadioAstron is a brainchild of Nikolai Kardashev (Николай Кардашёв), the same person to whom jade star referred “2007 paper “Astrophysics of Wormholes””. The same person who came up with the three types of galactic civilizations. Spekter-R was 30 years in making, a plan devised in 70s/80s. Initally he thought up a radio telescope a kilometer in diameter. Later the interferometer approach reduced the size into the current one. Everyone will appreciate a technical solution with 27 petals which allow to reach as big as a 10m parabola dish in space. The RadioAstron was made in colloboration with many countries but it’s regarded as a national scientific pride project. After it was sent to space it took 1,5 years to test and make sure it works. I was in anguish why there so little news on this – they don’t want to ring the bells when they’ve been fully operation half a year. The merit is that RadioAstron has an atomic clock onboard – 2nd time in history, 1st time for Russians ever. And it works! As the primary mission is to observe black holes and its properites absolute timing precision is a must. They don’t hope to see BL per se but the hope to see what BL will be like, especially to see its shadow. Thanks to the atomic clock the precision they’ll obtain by interferometer with ground telescopes will be unprecedented. The frequences RadioAstron listens in are on 92cm, 18cm, 6cm, and 1.35cm – impressive. The Russians actually will make the telescope available for wider sience community and the ones who are dead serious in studying the black holes, vicinities or other properties must apply as this is the best instrument up there for a long-long time.

Now regarding the unorthodox thinking and doing science. That holds the candle with caveates – russians are especially good at devising solutions and deliver but exceptionally bad pitching or profit on it. The Super FlyWheel scientific basics was researched over 40 years by Nurbei Gulia (Нурбей ГУЛИА). He was ridiculed and despised by peers and now at 90 he has long dropped the research but preaching SFW as the most reasonable solution for ICE cars instead of hybrid EV or pure EV. In the 80s he even made a bus on the principle but went down in history in vain. if you look at monies NASA throws at high energy storage systems and Super FlyWheel solutions it’s just sad how a man dedicated a life for it just gave up.

The actual creator and father of the stealth technology, F-22 Raptor, B-2 etc. , was devised by Petr Ufimtsev (Пётр Уфи́мцев) in the 50s after he finished the university. The Russian superiors rejected the work, declassified and he was reassigned. The book was translated into Czech and that translation landed on Lockheed Martin engingeers lap. They went berzerk as this is what they lacked. Anyway, the USA has it and Russians don’t. Petr Ufimtsev is nowadays just an ordinary lecturer in a Californian university and moved to the States in the 90s. Life is a bitch. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petr_Ufimtsev

The most recent work on Black Holes and properties is made by Nikodem Poplawski in 2010 who resides in Indiana University. He is keen on White Holes as well. Wormhole or not wormhole, there are some lunatics in the Western world who vouch withe the head for their field of study. :)

GaryChurch April 24, 2013 at 19:59

“-russians are especially good at devising solutions and deliver but exceptionally bad pitching or profit on it.”

I am a huge fan of Russian military technology- starting with the Kalashnikov. Having had to clean my M-16 for several years (the dirtiest weapon ever made) I am critical of the way Americans sometimes buy stuff more by chance than deliberate design- and refuse to discard bad ideas once the investment is made. We do some things right though- like liquid hydrogen as a propellant. Sadly we do many other things wrong- like not building boosters like the AJ-260

The ability to combine the qualities of east and west seems to elude civilization; socialist committee design and capitalist profit driven design both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Dmitri April 25, 2013 at 7:29

@GaryChurch “socialist committee design and capitalist profit driven design both have their advantages and disadvantages”

Ways of thinking are congenital and curbed by society’s acceptance. Americans tend to look what money can buy. Russians tend to deliver requested for what they’ve got. For reason the saying goes “God save me from the friends, the enemies can handle myself”. Adversaries become in long run (close) friends because you have to know them in details. The grass is always greener on the other side. It’s not an optical illusion. Manure tend change shape, size and texture but it’s there. Verdant meadows show the overall breathtaking picture but experience tells you the manure is there. Why spoil the view with nastiness of reality if you are enjoying the moment. Stands the ground here as well. The Cold War stand off is still lingering and drives in some sense the urge to become again the nation they were once. The difference now is that it’s perceived as historical past and nowadays advances are looked at as collaboration, co-operation and mission financing. The way Russians think, act and perform is more person driven. It might produce ruthless leaders or heavy-handed ones. The biggest merit of this is personal accountability. Not in Stalin’s way but still ruthless enough to get under your skin for good – be good, deliver, be resourceful. There is I and there is WE and there is WE DID IT. Socialist society and quinquennial was a rigid oppressive structure where a person to salvage its sanity will seek weak spots, cracks, loopholes. This social structure makes strong personalities, makes want to prevail, stand up, deliver the final word. As Americans see good things in Russian progress, same goes in the opposite way – all bad and distressing are there but not in America. US Army has showed and pitched the Excalibur projectile – 15 degree off and still hit’s the target. $300K a bang. Russians had working precision ammunition in 1980. The principle designer went to see how the Soviet Army is withdrawing from Afghanistan and what they do. Back then the artillery, self propelled artillery used 3 shells – first to get the target, second to make sure they got the target, and third to make sure noone really survived. The principle designer made to the army superiors and insisted on taking the precision ammunition on stock although the shell was in late development state and had only developers’ testing done. It was accredited later in 1985. The projectile was called Сантиметр (Centimeter, nowadays Сантиметр-M, Смельчак, Краснополь). It reduced overall shell usage around 65%. There was occasions where a second shot needed to be fired but in principle the ones who had the upgrade made the work in one fire. The secret was no more no less than add minature retro rocket booster which will correct the path 5 seconds before impact and was laser guided. Now it has a modification where any old ammunition shell could be retrofitted into precision one. Not the Excalibur but precision and cheaper upgrade than replacing all old ones.

The long afraid ICBM SS-18 or R-36 (NATO – Satan) fiber carbon hull was just 10 years ago weaved manually because they didn’t have proper equipment to automate the process. The closest commercial analogy is Lexus LFA supercar where only looms capable of automate fiber carbon weaving was a product of a German company where the loom cost €10mln apiece. In world there is no more than 5 such looms. The catch was that the R-36 factory had unpaid utility bills. The facility was privatized and the land lord had to switch off all the utility services. It was a big news on Russian TV channels. I don’t know what is worse – not being able to knock off the lights in America due to arrears or invest into 100% of world’s capacity of specific looms to sell cars in the states for $350K.

As usually – it’s complicated. It depends.

The other day I listened to Vladimir Gavrin (Владимир ГАВРИН) interview on TVRoscosmos Youtube channel. He is the head of Gallium-Germanium Neutrino Telescope built back on 1961, which results were so astonishing that some of Los Alamos scientists on Heavy Water Neutrino Telescope collaborated with them on their experiment – in the height of Cold War. To make quantum leap with the telescope he needs a $1mln to produce a pure artificial neutrino source by enriching Chrome-50 isotope with purity 97% and bombard it in a nuclear reactor with heavy neutron beam to get neutrinos. I might get arrears and no utility service but lack of $1mln funding for fundamental science can’t comprehend. He put the neutrino case in the nicest way – It takes 40 000 years for a photon to reach from the core of the Sun to the surface. It takes minutes for a neutrino to ascend from the core of the Sun. We could see the Sun’s interior processes on-line, in real-time. Imagine the same for all other stars. No ETI can hide from it.

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A neutrino and a photon walk into a bar. And for the next 60 nanoseconds the neutrino complains about how dark it is.

GaryChurch April 25, 2013 at 8:59

“The Cold War stand off is still lingering and drives in some sense the urge to become again the nation they were once”

The cold war toys are such an enjoyable study in design. Tanks, Fighters, and Submarines being the main subjects. The nuclear submarine fleets are especially interesting to me because they have elements of spaceship design and many technologies that transfer. One notable application being the use of submarine hull construction techniques transfered to monolithic solid rocket boosters. http://www.astronautix.com/fam/aj260.htm

A pair of 325 inch boosters would have delivered a mind boggling 30 million+ pounds of thrust (plus whatever the core stage between the two of them added). It would have taken a launch base the size of a minor pyramid pumping the water volume of a small river down its sides to dampen the vibration from such a monster.

Such a launch vehicle boosting several hundred tons to the Moon 8 or 10 times a year is what we should have been doing for those 30 years the space shuttle was wasting. Sad……but we could do it right now if we wanted. And asteroid interdiction is a good reason to divert a chunk of the DOD budget from those cold war toys that are no longer needed but still being funded.

http://www.astronautix.com/engines/325solid.htm

GaryChurch April 25, 2013 at 9:12

“-the Bussard ramjet would need a huge collector to fuel its fusion propulsion system. Have there been estimate revisions as to how much hydrogen permeates interstellar space?”

An awesome concept analoguous to the way we use oxygen from our atmosphere in our terrestrial engines. But I have read this idea has long since been discredited. Even if there was a way to collect the hydrogen I am skeptical of fusion working anywhere except those two places I often mention. Too bad.

Dmitri April 27, 2013 at 3:49

An illustrative TEDxTalk video on how old-school scientists and astronomers made recent progress in their field. The video reintroduced me with Russian science and space science current state. In Russian w/ English subs.

Vladimir Lipunov is the head of MASTER telescope net – Russian first fully automated sky watching telescope network. Good bite for weekend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76xlaDEdvYA

Eniac April 27, 2013 at 22:18

LJK, Jer: Yes, there will be ships plying interstellar space, possibly for long periods of time. But that is not (quite) the same as living there permanently. Any ship, even a slow worldship, will have consumable fuel that it relies on for propulsion AND “base metabolism”, and which will have to be replenished sooner or later. To do that, you have to visit a star. A rogue planet might do, but then again, that really is not too much different from visiting a star. In the end, the most economical thing to do is to just stay near the stars (or planets), except when embarking on a new colonization project.

GaryChurch April 30, 2013 at 3:18

“Any ship, even a slow worldship, will have consumable fuel that it relies on for propulsion AND “base metabolism”, and which will have to be replenished sooner or later.”

If ship and crew is frozen it can coast for a very long time. The only “base metabolism” needed might be some way to repair dna damage to the frozen. Considering what little radiation would leak through a mile or so of ice, “Sooner or later” could be in the millions of years.
But eventually the hard radiation outside would break down the hull and even nanomachines repairing dna use some energy so yes, replenishment would be necessary. How long could such a trip travel? This brings back up Clarke’s ideas on Deep Time.

Dmitri April 30, 2013 at 19:09

Although this post does not connect with the subject directly and the ones which do are past of active discussion, I feel I should post it here anyway. As ljk and GaryChurch replies on Russian technical advances lingered I feel that the post connects with the ET and human space exploration. In a sense it’s up-to-date if regard the yesterday’s Virgin Galactic successful powered flight and Denis Tito plans of Mars fly-by by 2018.

1) @GaryChurch – “I am a huge fan of Russian military technology- starting with the Kalashnikov.”

I would advice take time and watch Russian TV series Strike Force (Ударная сила) of 2004-2008. They cover all the advances and downfalls of their military program purely from military aspect as well as space militarization one. For a start the episode of the Russian Spiral project – reusable combat space vechicle, the direct response to American X-20 Dyna Soar, which later became basis for Buran space shuttle – is more than good enough.

Burt Rutan’s vision of SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo is direct realization of the Spiral project. All the military objectives the Spiral space plane should have had accomplish strongly reminds the current X-37B automated space vehicle and all the activities it does. 40+ years on we just bearly starting to implement such technology. The only major caveat is a need for Russian interpreter. The hassle will be worth it. Maybe it’s already available in the States on DVDs, Netflix or in other media formats with English voice over / subs. Just my 2 cents.

Ударная сила №115: «Космический навигатор» (17.04.2007) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyRgdmJWTD0

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2) Just fortnight ago Roscosmos YT channel run a documentary on human social cost becoming a woman astronaut both in NASA and Roscosmos. I would say the most professional contemporary documentary on the subject ever. It just puts all the details and requirements of becoming a modern (woman) astronaut in its places. Shortly put the thing is one can’t become an astrounaut less than in 8 years after the one has been accepted. The earliest what one can expect is 15 years before your first flight. Even then there is a chance that the one will be a member of the backup team. It’s perfectly ok you won’t make to space at all despite all your efforts, years and training. Same caveat as previois – grab a Russian interpreter, sorry no subs. Worth the hassle.

Femine Space (Женский космос (фильм)) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8OjOH7snC8

2018 is 6 years from now. Denis Tito clearly expressed his plan is to fly by 2018 but even if they won’t make it by then they still strive make progress toward the goal. If he is serious about the flight, then he must already have at least the candidates but better if the winner couple is already selected. Something does not fit w/ the big picture.

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3) There is a unique documentary on Russian first Mars mock-mission performed in the 60s. The crew of three man had to be in total isolation for 366 days. The project was top secret that even their relatives didn’t know where they were nor would anybody be responsible – the existence of the project would have been rejected and everything related to it denied – in case of fatal concequence or incurable total mental breakdown. The crew members were selected by psychological incompatibility merits between them plus the simulated stress situations. Shortly it was miracle the project ended, the participants are alive today and they didn’t go mental or actually *killed* each other during the simulation. In this case I mean the full meaning of mental meltdown, ending in assylum, no grudge after the years etc. The results were so brutal that these project were suspended until Mars500 happened. The goal was achieved – to simulate the extreme limits humans can endure during long closed space missions. Very well in the spirit of the era where the human life for sake of science, country and the people was not much worth. The conditions of Mars500 were much-much more laxed and worked towards participants well being but still useful. The first simulated Mars mission resulted later around 10 000 scientific papers. Just to get the feeling how serious the risk of mental breakdown is on board of the ISS there is Grey Tape, an analogy of straitjacket that the crew memeber must be restrained in case of meltdown or danger to others. Russian have made an extra trip to Soviet space module and brought mack to Earth a cosmonaut from the sapce station. It wasn’t revealed when, who, why just acknowledgment of the happened fact.

This is the only source no other media or English voice over.
To See Mars And Not To Go Crazy (Увидеть Марс и не сойти с ума) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqmi9v4E3P8

If the Danes w/ Mars One or Denis Tito w/ his project are dead serious about Mars missions, they *must* work on psychological aspect of the mission and it requires a team to work with.

Most critical piece of the undertaking is not technology or the vehicle but sane human mind. Even the most trained one can go berzerk in space. Applies for any other manned space trip. Don’t know what contingency plans Virgin Galactic has for such cases.

NASA and Roscosmos have agreed that in 2016 a team of two (a russian, an american) will spend one year (2 missions) on board of ISS, which should be part of human interplanetary simulation. Can’t recall the names but they are already selected and approved. As they both jokingly put it – it’s like greeting and sending off the realtives who come visit us.

Dmitri April 30, 2013 at 19:21

To sum up the ET part – if suddenly a mothership full of ETs would pop-up (and they miscalculated their mental capacity for the trip) then most probable outcome will look District 9ish rather than Independence Daysh.

Tom Kalbfus May 6, 2013 at 18:59

I can think of a way a ringworld might be created. the first thing to build would be the tracks upon which it sits. For a star like Alpha Centauri A, this would call for a solar mass worth of Tungsten, I don’t think there is enough tungsten to be found in nature for this project within say 21 light years, so we basically manufacture the tungsten in the 100 nearest star systems through nucleosynthesis or heavy ion fusion. The produced tungsten is then accelerated towards the Alpha Centuari system, the speeds would be comparable with that of the Voyager 2 spacecraft, that means the tungsten would arrive at the Alpha Centauri System in tens of thousands of years, multiple star system flybys would then alter the course of the material approach so that it coincides with the Alpha Centauri A-B orbital plane, and the arrival of each bit of material would be times so that it passes close by Alpha Centauri B for a reverse gravitational assist capture orbit around Alpha Centauri A, all this material would then be gathered and formed into parallel ring maglev tracks with a radius of 184,375,961.81 km or 114,565,911.21 miles. Each track is 25.9 miles wide and 52 miles thick with each seperated from its neighbor by 25.9 miles, Trusses would hold the tunsten rings apart and on parallel tracks around the A star. Total mass of this would be about equal to 1,000 Jupiters. While this is being constructed about 1 Jupiter’s worth of material would be inbound along the spin plane of the tungsten tracks. (There are 19,305 parallel tungsten tracks spanning the 1,000,000 mile width of the to be constructed Centauri Ringworld.)

The material would fly in at a velocity tangential to the tungsten tracks of about 1,344.66 km per second or 835.5 miles per second. The pieces of ringworld floor would approach the tungsten track tangentially and the tracks would magnetically lock onto them and keep the pieces spinning around the star A at 835.5 miles per second creating a centripetal acceleration of of 9.80665 meters per sec squared, close enough to acceleration due to gravity at Earth’s surface. As each panel is caught by each track it is shifted from the outside to the inside of the tracks and then connected together to make a single ringworld floor and walls to hold in atmosphere, in addition rocks soil air and water would also be brought in in a similar fashion. No need to accelerate each piece up to spin speed on sight, they arrive already traveling at the proper speed, which also happens to be 1/223 of the speed of light! A ringworld rotation would take ten days. Ten stationary shadow squares, perhaps light levitated from the star would provide night at 12 hour intervals for sections of the ringworld. The ringworld and the star would simultaneously bob in opposite directions for ringworld wide seasons while this is going on. The skin around each tungsten track would rotate with the ringworld and the tungsten tracks would be enclosed by them, and this skin would act as radiator surfaces to shed the excess heat from the ringworld floor, and also provide climate variation which would otherwise be absent.

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