Too beautiful not to run immediately, this image of the Corona Australis region (be sure to click to enlarge) shows a relatively nearby hotbed of star formation. The Coronet cluster at its heart is a loose cluster of several dozen stars, all of them young but ranging widely in mass.
Here we’re looking at the Coronet in different wavelengths. The purple areas come from X-ray observations made by the Chandra observatory. The Spitzer Space Telescope contributes its infrared data, shown in orange, green and cyan. Regions like this offer valuable clues to star formation. Credit: NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/CfA.
Next on my stack of reading material is Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre’s Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs (Forge, 2007), an overview of current thinking in robotics and artificial intelligence. Publisher’s Weekly notes the following, which is sure to be controversial:
[The] concluding argument, that consciousness and the intellectual power of the human mind emerge from the complexity of the brain, and thus cannot be reduced to the functioning of its individual components, leads them to doubt, convincingly, that robots (machines that mimic humans) and cyborgs (man-machine hybrids) will ever amount to more than sophisticated tools, enhancing human life but never replacing it.
Centauri Dreams agrees and looks forward to working through the arguments put forth by two powerful thinkers whose take on the future has ever been thoughtful and invigorating.
An older title that deserves to be on your shelf is Timothy Ferris’ Seeing In the Dark, a deeply satisfying study of modern amateur astronomy. Those whose roots go back to 3-inch reflectors in the backyard will be stunned to see how powerful the range of amateur tools has become, including the use of CCD (charged coupled devices) for observations that not long ago would have been restricted to professional observatories. Don’t miss Ferris’ PBS documentary on these matters, scheduled to run September 19th at 8 PM Eastern Standard Time. And be sure to check the content-laden support site.
A good idea a long time coming: The European Science Foundation, working with other organizations including the European Space Agency, will convene a conference in Vienna to bring scholars from the space sciences and the humanities together. Humans in Outer Space – Interdisciplinary Odysseys will look at the philosophical implications of contacting alien civilizations. Other issues addressed will be how space exploration is presented to the public and engaged in cooperatively by space-faring nations.
Here’s Luca Codignola (University of Genoa), a historian who looks at contact with extraterrestrial species in the context of past encounters:
“The so-called ‘Columbian Exchange’ that took place around 1492 was a typical case in point. It changed the Western way of conceiving the globe; it forcefully challenged its theology; it allowed for a free flow of bacteria, germs and microbes that almost wiped out the American peoples.”
Participants will discuss historical parallels like these, long examined by historians and ethnologists, in a SETI context when the two-day meeting begins on October 11. This meeting is reminiscent of the 1983 Los Alamos sessions that spawned the outstanding Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience (Berkeley, 1985), whose essays continue to shed light on possible outcomes as we look to human expansion into the cosmos.
Interstellar migration can look a long way off when you’re living in a space-capable civilization that seems to be spinning its wheels. But the Google Lunar X Prize should spur those with big dreams and ready cash. Landing a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon is going to be no easy matter, but the first Ansari X Prize showed what could be done by a determined aviation community. Keep the dreamers engaged and great engineering should follow. Centauri Dreams applauds the sheer pluck of this renewed venture and anticipates great things to follow.