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Notes & Queries 8/4/07

With the Phoenix Mars lander now on its way, it’s interesting to see how communications will be handled during the crucial descent phase next spring. So that the final thirteen minutes to the surface will be well monitored, Phoenix will transmit a continuous data stream to NASA satellites already in orbit around Mars. And the European Space Agency’s Mars Express will play a key role, its elliptical orbit offering a vital communications window. How networking is established on and around Mars presages the day when networks link probes throughout the Solar System, sparing us the need to dedicate antennae like Goldstone’s to single spacecraft and making data acquisition far more efficient.


I had never heard of the Grupo Independente de Radio Astronomos, but Melbourne’s The Age says they have transmitted messages into interstellar space, joining messages including pictures and music that have already been sent by Alexander Zaitsev and team at the Evpatoria radio telescope in the Ukraine. Is ‘brightening’ the visibility of our civilization a dangerous risk, or have we already flagged our presence through radio, television and military radar signals? Centauri Dreams leans toward the former view, and argues that at the very least international discussions should involve representatives from many nations and disciplines before further messages are sent. The Age‘s backgrounder offers thoughts from some of the key players in this debate.


Can the magnetic field of a rapidly rotating neutron star cause a disturbance in surrounding plasma that moves faster than light? It’s a controversial notion, but one that may not violate relativity. To find out how, read this Los Alamos Monitor story about the work of one Andrea Schmidt, whose work was presented at a recent Los Alamos Symposium. One snippet: “Just like the people in a ‘wave’ – where individual fans stand up to make a rapidly moving wave around a football stadium – the individual electrons and nuclei do not themselves move faster than the speed of light, but the disturbance they create can easily exceed it.”


The Lifeboat Foundation offers a short report by scientific advistory board member Robert Shapiro on the case for going to the Moon. Shapiro references Martin Rees, whose dark view of our current state suggests that civilization has no more than a fifty percent chance of surviving until the year 2100. Centauri Dreams doesn’t share Rees’ dark assessment, but emphatically agrees with Shapiro that a nearby sanctuary serving as a kind of civilizational ‘backup’ is in the best interest of the species. The Moon could be a significant first step, provided we have the wisdom to take serious advantage of our renewed presence there.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • AGeek August 4, 2007, 19:53

    Regarding our advertising our presence by radio broadcasts, consider what we are already doing at our modest technological level: finding planets orbiting other stars and determining their properties (mass, composition) without any aid from the locals, if there are any.

    Any alien life form sufficiently advanced to not only pick up our broadcasts but also to get itself over here and make trouble can surely do better than that. It does not need our help to determine the presence of planets orbiting our sun and their basic properties.

    So if what it wants is the planets (for lebensraum or for raw industrial materials or for routing interstellar highways or watever) we are doomed anyway.

    It would take an alien life form specifically interested in US, not in what we have, for our radio broadcasts to make any difference. And frankly, what kind of use would such an alien life form have for us? The old thing about green bug-eyed monsters kidnapping scantily clad blondes and going ***…?

  • ljk August 4, 2007, 21:14

    The first Library on Mars is on its way with Phoenix.

    You can read about the Visions of Mars DVD here:


    Even if something happens to Phoenix, hopefully the disk will
    survive long enough for future explore to find and play it. The
    disk may even have items lost by that time which our descendants
    would not have otherwise.

    This is why I advocate putting some kind of significant message
    on every deep space mission, more than the gimmick of lots of
    signatures, to be sure.

    For example: The Rosetta mission to land a probe on a comet
    in 2014 carries a disk with thousands of human languages on it,
    more than a few of which may be otherwise extinct by the time
    it is found. Future historians, linguists, and certain cultures will
    be very grateful they were preserved in this manner, away from
    our planet and its long record of destroying the past.


  • Robin Goodfellow August 6, 2007, 4:19

    It’s fascinating how we have this infrastructure at Mars now. Even after losing MGS and even after the failures of MPL, MCO, and Beagle 2 we still have 3 operational orbiters and two rovers on the planet, with another lander on the way. One month from this Saturday will mark 10 years of continuous operations at Mars. These are the tentative first steps of interplanetary civilization. Today you can send a spacecraft to Mars and you can consider not including a high gain antenna because of the local communication infrastructure available there. This is a remarkable thing, but it is just the first step. Hopefully these continuous operations will extend into the future indefinitely and increase in capability over time as they blend into manned missions and permanent human habitation.