≡ Menu

Time Out

Over the past months, enough projects have piled up in need of attention that I finally have to decide to get serious about them. That means a short break here. No Centauri Dreams posts this week, therefore, with publication resuming next week on Monday or Tuesday. While I’m putting various things — some space-related, some not — in order, I’ll try to keep up with comment moderation, though it may get sporadic for a time. Meanwhile, do keep plugging into Heath Rezabek’s book survey as we try to isolate not only what books from my shortlist are the most useful, but also search for books you think should be on the list. Please add any titles you think worthwhile in the space provided on the survey form. I look forward to watching this survey grow, and to Heath’s reflections on it once it has grown to sufficient size. See you in a week.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ljk May 12, 2014, 11:04

    Looks like a good place to keep up on the relevant news while Paul deals with other things (best of luck, Paul). For starters…

    Sol’s “sibling” found – and it’s already asking for money and a place to crash:


    A nicely written article about why we are doing this, exploring space and wanting to visit another star and all that – and one example of what it takes to get the masses interested and feel connected to it:


  • Ron S May 13, 2014, 10:44

    Ok, I’ll add one:

    Human interest article about Geoff Marcy and team, and the early challenges of exoplanet science.

  • ljk May 13, 2014, 11:47

    Yes they were fictional but artist H. R. Giger created an Alien that was not only memorable but also plausible – though let us hope not:



    In other relevant news….

    This guy says we can understand ETI using math:


  • ljk May 13, 2014, 12:08

    Red Planet dreams

    Last week, British planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, best known as the principal investigator on the failed Beagle 2 Mars lander, passed away. Dwayne Day looks back at Pillinger and his controversial role on the ill-fated mission.

    Monday, May 12, 2014


    Building a bridge to space solar power for terrestrial use

    A long-running challenge to the concept of space-based solar power is the high costs inherent in generating it versus terrestrial alternatives. David Dunlop and Al Anzaldua examine approaches to develop key technologies and address the cost issue through a stepping-stone approach.

    Monday, May 12, 2014


  • Michael May 13, 2014, 13:38

    Warning poetry, not quite Vogon though (I hope)

    – Oh siblings of our Sun where have you all gone? –

    Once born in dark clouds as beacons of light, but all too soon you took flight.

    But now we come calling to hear your life’s stories

    And see any wonders you have under your bright lights.

  • Michael Spencer May 14, 2014, 7:20

    So! Daddy’s away and the kids are playin’!

    Over the years, many here have mentioned SF books as part of conversation, or simple exuberance on finishing a terrific book. It’s a fine tradition; many here have mentioned authors that I don’t know.

    With that in mind, let’s expand the topic a bit. Here are a few of my favorites; perhaps others will know of similar authors, or something entirely different:

    Jack McDevitt. Everything. The guy writes a book a year and keeps a very low key website (jackmcdevitt.com). After reading everything I bought all the audio, too.
    Scalzi’s Old Man War had new ideas and moved quickly. Others, not so much.
    Alistair Reynolds is another ‘everything’ writer: read everything. He writes Big Books.
    Elizabeth Moon and
    Iain Banks left us far too soon; fortunately he left wondrous legacy. Everything.
    Niven and Benford’s Bowl of Heaven includes startling new ideas. The story, though, reads a lot like Ringworld. Hmm…
    Nancy Kress Steal Across the Sky surprised me.
    Peter F Hamilton, like Reynolds, writes Big Books; far future interstellar society depending on trains? Huh? Did I mention the trains go through wormholes? And there are several other series, all great.
    Orson Scott Card has been difficult for me; I finally finished Ender’s Game, but other titles have proven impenetrable.
    Heinlein? I recently went through all of it; I still like it! (Except Friday, I suppose).
    Sawyer writes YA and nothing else as far as I can tell. But the guy has a knack for moving the story. Flash Forward was a pretty darn good time machine book; I slogged through WWW because, well, momma said finish what you start.
    Vernor Vinge: spider people? really? You don’t realize what they look like until well into the book. And then there are dog people, and many other terrific novels.
    Larson’s Steel World: fighting dinosaurs? Steel World is a very inventive war novel. In fact as far as I can tell that’s what he writes. Mach 1 isn’t as enjoyable but I’m sticking.
    Ramirez’ The Forever Watch imagines life aboard a sleeper ship to the stars but while it’s set there and people have developed psi, not much nuts and bolts SF.
    Asimov? Yea. I recently went through all FIVE Foundation novels. People! Do not attempt. Unless, like me, you can listen at 2X. It’s painful but obligatory.

    So there. What’s on your reading list?

  • william May 14, 2014, 17:36

    Just some recent thoughts that I’d like to pass on here. I just recently received in the mail a book from Amazon press concerning a collection of papers regarding open questions on Relativity Theory. I provided the link below:


    Additionally, the man who concocted the alien vistage for the movie “Alien” who just died recently got me to thinking about another impediment against long-term space voyages – namely Biologics. Even on low Earth orbit missions, there’s been a disturbing change in microorganisms that have been taken aboard the International Space Station.
    It turns out that normally harmless strep bacteria become much more highly virulent when they been exposed for a period of time in outer space. If the bacteria that naturally will accompany space travelers begins to develop ‘fangs’ then do we have a very formidable problem?

  • ljk May 15, 2014, 9:38

    Putting humanity and its home planet in perspective with the rest of the Universe once again:


    These need to be done on a regular basis, otherwise the species continues to think it is the reason and focus for all existence. I also think this little animation will do a similar job, plus I just get a kick out of it:


    The aliens have a surprisingly Western culture for being beings from another world, did you notice? And for some reason a human still needs to be part of the process of interstellar delivery when AIs would not only be able to get the job done, but clearly in a much better manner.

  • ljk May 15, 2014, 9:47

    The Case of the 5-Millisecond Cosmic Radio Burst

    Posted by Katherine Mack

    2014/05/14 10:49 CDT

    Topics: radio telescopes, astronomy, stars and galaxies

    Everyone loves a good mystery. In astronomy, there is nothing more exciting than an unexplained signal. Perhaps the most tantalizing, and most difficult, of astronomical mysteries are transients: signals that appear only temporarily or randomly, frustrating attempts at follow-up.

    The most recent transients on the scene, fast radio bursts (FRBs), are still defying explanation, and may hint at some of the strangest astronomical sources yet.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    As for fast radio bursts, the explanation is still anyone’s guess. The first FRB to be discovered, in 2007, was so strange and singular an event, it took years for the community to agree that it was anything more than an instrumental glitch. Known as the Lorimer burst, the signal lasted only 5 milliseconds, but the radio emission was stretched across a wide range of frequencies, indicating that interstellar plasma had dispersed the radiation in the same way a prism can spread out visible light into a rainbow. This suggested a truly cosmic origin for the burst — in order to be so highly dispersed, the signal must have passed through millions or even billions of light years of intergalactic clouds.

    For years, however, the Lorimer burst was in a class of its own. The second FRB wasn’t found until 2012, and that one only in archival data from the Parkes Radio Telescope, the same telescope through which the original burst was seen. When a few more bursts were seen at Parkes, through careful examination of real-time data, it became clear that whatever FRBs might be, they really were happening, and often. Early estimates of an event rate suggested there could be 10,000 bursts per day, occurring randomly in the sky, and blinking out quickly that they would be very easy to miss. The fact that only Parkes had ever seen an FRB was still troubling, though. Perhaps it really could be just some kind of instrumental glitch.

    So it came with some relief to the astronomical community when, in early April, astronomers saw a burst with the giant Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. This burst seemed consistent with the six already seen by Parkes, suggesting it was another glimpse at a new kind of astrophysical event. The question remains, however: what is it?

  • ljk May 15, 2014, 14:19

    Does Neptune have a hexagon at its south pole just like Saturn?


    And why not Jupiter and Uranus?

  • Glaas May 16, 2014, 9:45

    It’d be phantastic if they could trace the Sun 18 orbits backwards through the galaxy. But if we indeed have siblings only 110 light years away today, our orbit maybe never has been disturbed much.

    And concering alien math, here are two SETI talks were it is pointed out that it might not be so easy to understand alien math:

  • ljk May 16, 2014, 11:03

    Some reasons as to why we have yet to find ETI:


    Start of the True Space Age, by Adam Crowl:


  • ljk May 16, 2014, 11:12

    Weird Loner Exoplanet Orbits Far From Its Star

    By Ian O’Neill, Discovery News | May 15, 2014 03:24pm ET

    An exoplanet that orbits its star at a whopping distance of 2,000 times the sun-Earth distance — taking 80,000 (Earth) years to complete one orbit — has been discovered. As far as exoplanets go, that’s the most extreme orbit found to date.

    This exo-oddball was found during an observing campaign seeking out new worlds around a group of young stars. GU Psc, a star that is roughly a third of the size of our sun, was recently identified as a member of the AB Doradus group and became a ripe target for this exoplanetary search.

    Full article here:


  • ljk May 16, 2014, 11:15

    ‘Somewhere Important to Go’: The Need for Apollo 10 (Part 1)

    By Ben Evans

    In the annals of space history, few dates are more important than July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humanity’s first steps on the Moon. However, their triumphant landing on the Sea of Tranquillity was by no means guaranteed at the dawn of that momentous year. Following the deaths of three astronauts in a launch pad fire, the Apollo spacecraft did not even undertake its first manned test in Earth orbit until October 1968, yet President John F. Kennedy’s goal was met within just nine months.

    Forty-five years ago this week, the crew of Apollo 10 cleared the final hurdle for the historic landing, bringing their spidery lunar module close to the Moon … and leaving a question on many lips: Why did they not land? In reality, the race with the end of the decade was so close that astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan might indeed have been the first men to leave their bootprints in ancient lunar dust.


  • ljk May 16, 2014, 11:50

    Did you know the European Space Agency (ESA) just conducted a METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligences) project? No? Well, here are some details:


    For those who are concerned about what we send from this planet into the Milky Way galaxy, this stunt – by a major space agency no less – should be rather alarming.

    And NASA has been no less guilty in this regard:


  • ljk May 16, 2014, 12:29


    Supermassive Black Hole At The Centre Of The Galaxy May Be A Wormhole In Disguise, Say Astronomers

    And if it is a wormhole, this is how it would look…

    One of the most extraordinary objects in the Milky Way galaxy is Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A star). This small object is a bright source of radio waves in the constellation of Sagittarius that was discovered in 1974.

    Since then, astronomers have made numerous observations of Sagittarius A* and the stars nearby, some of which orbit it at very high velocity. That implies that Sagittarius A* is extremely massive and since it is so small it must also be hugely dense.

    That’s why many astronomers believe this object is a supermassive black hole lying at the centre of the galaxy. In fact, Sagittarius A* is about 4 million times more massive than the Sun packed into a volume not much bigger than the orbit of Mercury.

    But there is another explanation—that this massive dense object is a wormhole that connects our region of space to another point in the universe or even to another part of the multiverse. (Astrophysicists have long known that wormholes are allowed by the laws of general relativity and may well have formed soon after the Big Bang.)

    And that raises an interesting question. If Sagittarius A* is a wormhole, how can astronomers distinguish it from a black hole? Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Zilong Li and Cosimo Bambi at Fudan University in Shanghai.

    These guys have calculated that plasma orbiting a black hole would look different to the same plasma orbiting a wormhole. They have calculated the difference and even simulated the resulting images that should be possible to collect using the next generation of interferometric telescopes. In other words, if there is a wormhole at the centre of our galaxy, we should be up to see it within the next few years.

    The idea that a wormhole might exist at the centre of the galaxy is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In the early universe, quantum fluctuations may well have a connected different regions of the cosmos, creating wormholes that were preserved during inflation when universe increased in size by many orders of magnitude.

    The presence of a wormhole would actually solve a major problem of galaxy formation. In recent years, astronomers have observed what appear to be supermassive black holes at the centre of many galaxies. Indeed, many believe that supermassive black holes are necessary for galaxies to form in the first place— they provide the gravitational pull to hold galaxies together in their early stages.

    But if that’s true, how do supermassive black holes become so massive so quickly? After all, the one at the centre of our galaxy must have been in place about 100 million years after the Big Bang. That doesn’t leave much time to grow.

    A wormhole, on the other hand, is a primordial object formed in the blink of an eye after creation. So if wormholes did form in this way, they would be present in the early universe to trigger the formation of the first galaxies.

    That’s why telling one from the other is so significant— the difference provides important clues about the nature of the early universe.

    On the face of it, it’s easy to imagine that telling them apart ought to be impossible. After all, both black holes and wormholes sit behind an event horizon from which light cannot escape. There is no way of seeing what’s going on inside an event horizon.

    However, there is an important difference between black holes and wormholes— the latter is much smaller than the former and this is the basis on which Zilong and Bambi say they can be told apart.

    They consider a cloud of hot plasma orbiting each body and emitting infrared light. They then calculate the trajectory the light must take to escape towards Earth where it can be imaged.

    Because this light has difficulty escaping from the extreme gravitational fields of these objects, the image of the cloud of plasma becomes smeared out. But the difference in size between a black hole and a wormhole causes a crucial difference in this smearing. This distinctive pattern of smearing is the signature that astronomers can use to tell them apart.

    Nobody has succeeded in viewing Sagittarius A* in the optical or near infrared part of the spectrum. But that is going to change in the next few years.

    In particular, astronomers are building an infrared interferometer called GRAVITY at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. This device will be capable of resolving clouds of plasma around Sagittarius A*and spotting the unique signature of a wormhole, if one is there.

    These images will provide a fascinating insight into the nature of the massive dense object at the centre of our galaxy. The confirmation that it is a supermassive black hole will be important but the discovery that it is a wormhole will be mind-blowing.

    GRAVITY is being shipped to Chile next year and will hopefully be in operation soon after that. If there is a wormhole at the heart of the Milky Way, the likelihood is that we’ll find out in the not too distant future.

    Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1405.1883 : Distinguishing Black Holes And Wormholes With Orbiting Hot Spots

  • Michael May 16, 2014, 12:40

    @ljk May 15, 2014 at 9:47

    ‘As for fast radio bursts, the explanation is still anyone’s guess. The first FRB to be discovered, in 2007, was so strange and singular an event, it took years for the community to agree that it was anything more than an instrumental glitch. Known as the Lorimer burst, the signal lasted only 5 milliseconds, but the radio emission was stretched across a wide range of frequencies, indicating that interstellar plasma had dispersed the radiation in the same way a prism can spread out visible light into a rainbow.’

    There are plenty of flare stars out there, red dwarfs for instance. Could the ‘noise’ from these flares be lensed by the gravity of other stars and dispersed across a wider spectrum by their plasma coronas. The briefness could be account for by the velocity of each component.

    Flare time
    movement of flare star
    lensing star
    earth/sun movement

    Just a thought.

  • ljk May 16, 2014, 13:10

    Kepler Mission Manager Update: K2 Has Been Approved!

    May 16, 2014

    The team received good news from NASA HQ — the K2 mission, the two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft observing in the ecliptic, has been approved based on a recommendation from the agency’s 2014 Senior Review of its operating missions.

    The approval provides two years of funding for the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae.

    The 2014 Senior Review report is available at:


    Full news item here:


  • Eric May 16, 2014, 13:29

    Given the coverage of exo-moons on this blog, I thought other readers who didn’t see the following might find it as interesting as I did:


  • Securis May 16, 2014, 14:59

    A little heads-up:

    The first “real” trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was just released:


  • Lionel May 17, 2014, 13:00


    Re “Weird Loner Exoplanet Orbits Far From Its Star
    By Ian O’Neill, Discovery News | May 15, 2014 03:24pm ET”

    Thanks for the link (and others you posted) – though I think that this object, with surface temperature of 1070 degrees Kelvin is surely a brown dwarf and not a planet. By googling I find brown dwarf temperature range quoted as 700 to 1,300 degrees celsius

    Curious that this relatively high temperature accompanies an expected planet / brown-dwarf borderline mass of 9 – 13 Jupiter masses

  • Michael May 17, 2014, 14:53

    @ljk May 16, 2014 at 12:29

    ‘Supermassive Black Hole At The Centre Of The Galaxy May Be A Wormhole In Disguise, Say Astronomers’

    Although Einstein equations allow for the formation of ‘wormholes’ they are not stable by any stretch of the imagination.

    ‘If Sagittarius A* is a wormhole, how can astronomers distinguish it from a black hole? ‘

    They may find it difficult if the object is rotating at very high velocity as they can, I hope they took this into account.

    ‘But if that’s true, how do supermassive black holes become so massive so quickly?’

    There was an immense amount of gas during the early stages of the universes formation, some regions would have collapsed quickly with no stars required.

  • ljk May 17, 2014, 18:48

    Part 2 of the Apollo 10 story from AmericaSpace:


  • ljk May 19, 2014, 8:49

    Part 3 of the Apollo 10 story from AmericaSpace:


    Lots of wonderful little details one does not often read about. You actually get a feel for what it was really like to ride a cramped Apollo spacecraft all the way to the Moon and back.

  • ljk May 19, 2014, 9:08

    The Golden Record 2.0 Will Crowdsource A Selfie of Human Culture

    Inspired by a similar effort in the 1970s, the project wants your help in creating a portrait of humanity to send out of the solar system

    By Helen Thompson


    May 17, 2014


    To quote:

    New Horizons will likely only have a small amount of memory space available for the content, so what should make the cut? Photos of landscapes and animals (including humans), sound bites of great speakers, popular music, or even videos could end up on the digital record. Lin is developing a platform where people will be able to explore and critique the submissions on the site. “We wanted to make this a democratic discussion,” says Lin. “How do we make this not a conversation about cute cats and Justin Beiber?” One can only guess what aliens might make of the Earth’s YouTube video fodder.

    What sets this new effort apart from the original is that the content will be crowdsourced. “We thought this time why not let the people of earth speak for themselves,” says Lomberg. “Why not figure out a way to crowd source this message so that people would be able to decide what they wanted to say?” Lomberg has teamed up with Lin, who specializes in crowdsourcing technology, to create a platform where people from all over the world can submit content to be included on the record.

    Global “Selfie” to Be Beamed to Outer Space

    The crowd-sourced message will be uploaded to New Horizons spacecraft

    Rachel Hartigan Shea

    National Geographic

    PUBLISHED MAY 17, 2014

    If you had the chance to send a message to aliens in outer space, what would you say? What would you tell them about life on Earth? How would you explain who we are?

    These are not hypothetical questions.

    This summer, you will get that chance to send a message to other worlds.

    Jon Lomberg and Albert Yu-Min Lin, leaders of an initiative called New Horizons Message Initiative, announced Saturday at the Smithsonian Future Is Here Festival in Washington, D.C., that NASA has agreed to upload a digital crowd-sourced message to the New Horizons spacecraft.

    The content of the message will be determined by whomever wants to participate in the planet-wide project. The message itself will be transmitted sometime after New Horizons does a flyby of Pluto in 2015 and sends back the scientific data that it collects.

    If all goes according to plan, New Horizons will become the fifth man-made object to travel beyond the solar system—after Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. But it’s the only one of the five not to launch with a message for any alien travelers it might encounter along the way. The Pioneer spacecrafts bore plaques on their sides, and the Voyagers each carried golden records (and the means to play them).

    When New Horizons’ journey was being planned—it launched in 2006—other missions had been scrapped and the budget was extremely tight, explains Alan Stern, the principal investigator in charge of New Horizons.

    “I decided the message was the icing, not the cake, and we didn’t have the bandwidth for it,” he says. “Now I’m super in favor of this idea. It doesn’t cost massive amounts because there’s no hardware, just uplinking ones and zeroes.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    This message will be very different from the one Lomberg designed with Sagan almost 40 years ago. The golden record was created by an elite cadre of people over a breathless six weeks. The New Horizons message will be put together by as many people as choose to participate.

    “It was very presumptuous of Carl Sagan and the rest of us to speak for Earth,” says Lomberg, “but at the time it was either do it that way or don’t do it at all.”

    I have always found it interesting that Alan Stern says they just did not have the time to put together a message package like the ones for Voyager or even Pioneer – yet they had time for other trinkets to be placed onboard the probe, including the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh complete with a plaque. Do not tell me that getting NASA to approve of placing human remains aboard one of their deep space probes was a simple act, I do not care who it is.

    Here is an article on what is onboard New Horizons:


    I still think they should have asked some group to do something back before it was launched, but at least this current plan should be better than nothing. And may NO deep space mission ever leave again without some kind of information package for its future finders. You really want our artifacts floating around an unknown galaxy with no way to be identified or at least reassure its finders that the vessel is not dangerous? Some call card to the Milky Way otherwise.

    Here is another reason via article quote why we should have had something physical placed on New Horizons if we were serious about sending messages to ETI (or future humans) on the probe:

    “According to Stern, the spacecraft could outlive Earth. “The spacecraft will be in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Nothing can happen to it.” However, cosmic radiation may eventually corrupt the spacecraft’s electronic memory. The New Horizons message won’t last nearly as long as the metal missives attached to Pioneer and Voyager will.”

    And finally:

    The new New Horizons Message site, where you can give your one-word description of Earth and humanity:


    And although you did not ask, here are my numerous thoughts on preserving humanity through information stored aboard space vehicles:


  • ljk May 19, 2014, 10:04

    Part 4, the final part of the excellent AmericaSpace series on Apollo 10, the dress rehearsal mission before the big manned lunar landing just two months later:


    To quote:

    Perhaps Stafford might not have been quite so welcoming had he realized that Young had used some of his relatively private time, alone in Charlie Brown, performing his very first “bowel movement” in almost five days aboard Apollo 10.

    Consequently, when Snoopy’s ascent stage was jettisoned a few hours later, into permanent solar orbit, it carried with it a UN flag, a small flag from each state of the Union, the command module’s now-unneeded docking probe, a pile of empty food packets … and Young’s bag of fecal goodies.

    “We joked that Snoopy would have food, water, oxygen, organic material, all the ingredients for the creation of life,” Stafford later wrote with glee. “Maybe a few billion years from now, some kind of Snoopy monster, distantly related to John Young, will emerge from somewhere in the Solar System … ”

  • Michael May 20, 2014, 0:25

    ‘The new New Horizons Message site, where you can give your one-word description of Earth and humanity:


    My one word description of Humanity, once you take out all the strife!


    Synonym: Compatible

    ‘able to exist and perform in harmonious or agreeable combination

    “”two congenial spirits united…by mutual confidence and reciprocal virtues”- T.L.Peacock”

  • ljk May 21, 2014, 8:36

    Of course none of these words will mean anything to anyone who does not speak or understand the English language and is given no frame of reference. Plus I have the feeling these particular words will be repeated many times over: Earth, humanity, love, peace, God, Kardashian.

  • ljk May 21, 2014, 9:56

    Life in space is impossible

    Several recent movies have provided a negative view of space, including Gravity’s opening message that “life in space is impossible.” Dwayne Day compares those messages with the promise of an upcoming film, Interstellar, and the challenges of getting a positive space message out to the public.

    Monday, May 19, 2014


    To quote:

    One of the biggest and most praised movies of 2013 was Gravity. The film stormed the box office and received rave reviews and numerous Oscars, including one for best director. Although astronauts and spaceflight experts stumbled all over themselves to discuss the technical inaccuracies in the movie while praising it for its visual and excitement, what was lost in all the chattering is that Gravity is one of the most anti-space movies to come along in a long time. It may have done just as much damage to NASA’s image as the frequent reports during the October government shutdown that NASA was the “least essential” agency, based upon the determination that 97% of its employees should stay home.


    The pro-space movement has no single voice and no single message. At best it is stagnating, at worst it is losing ground. At the very least it needs to present a more promising and uplifting message to a much broader audience. It needs fewer arguments about rocket engines and less infighting and sniping and NASA-bashing. What it really needs is a positive message and a positive, likable messenger, and a major venue, like a big budget Hollywood movie, to battle the space-is-irrelevant message that seems to be taking hold in the culture.

  • ljk May 21, 2014, 10:02

    Review: Nearest Star

    Of all the billions of stars in our galaxy, the most important one is the one closest to us: the Sun. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of our knowledge of the Sun and the effects it has on climate and space weather.

    Monday, May 19, 2014


  • ljk May 21, 2014, 10:14

    Pluto-bound probe faces crisis

    NASA scientists scramble to find an object in the outer Solar System’s Kuiper belt in time for a close-up visit.

    Alexandra Witze

    20 May 2014

    Nearly 4.3 billion kilometres from Earth, and most of the way to Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is in danger of missing out on half of its mission. Project managers face a looming deadline to identify an icy object in the outer Solar System for the probe to fly by after it passes Pluto.

    A visit to a Kuiper belt object, or KBO, was always meant to be a key part of New Horizons’ US$700-million journey, which began in 2006. But there is only a slim chance that astronomers will find a suitable KBO with their current strategy of using ground-based telescopes — and securing time on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope is far from guaranteed.

    New Horizons will fly past Pluto in July 2015. Soon afterwards, it must fire its engines and set itself on course to fly past a selected KBO. Project scientists must identify a KBO in the next several months if they are to determine the necessary trajectory well enough for New Horizons to aim accurately and meet its target.

    “They’re running out of time,” says Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who is not involved in the mission. “We’re not just talking about science being lost — we’re talking about getting return on our investment.”

    Full article here:


  • stephen May 21, 2014, 10:40

    Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science Hardcover
    by Gregory Benford (Editor), George Zebrowski (Editor)

    Fiction and nonfiction by many noted authors.


  • Alex Tolley May 21, 2014, 14:18

    Re: Life in Space is Impossible.

    The first commenter on that post, A Adamson, makes a good point that one can interpret Hollywood’s offering in a completely reverse light.

    While I think there is truth in the contention that Hollywood depicts space as dangerous and a place to avoid in recent movies (compared to those of the 1950’s/60’s), I think it is also the case that Hollywood has depicted life in general as more dangerous and so we get many more movies about extreme danger that has to be escaped. Disaster movies being perhaps the extreme example. Therefore the relevant variable is not space, but what Hollywood produces.

    But perhaps more importantly, how do you depict space in a positive light without being boring? In historical terms, how many movies depicted discovering the Americas, or life in the early colonies? Perhaps what we need is an equivalent of Michener’s “Centennial”? Wasn’t that the basic idea in Clarke’s head as he started his collaboration with Kubrick?

  • william May 21, 2014, 18:17

    I just wanted to add my commentary to the list of comments concerning the ‘goodness or badness’ on various types of space movies. Most of them I find to be reasonably decent whether or not they are necessarily true to the concept of science seems to be rather immaterial.

    The newest addition of course that I’m speaking about is ‘Gravity’ and its presentation in the fact that orbital space work has risk. Of course it has risk! In the case of the International Space Station they do in fact require once in a while maneuvers to avoid even smalls size debris that happens to be in orbit. It’s not really agreed I guess whether or not a collision like that portrayed in the movie could occur in such a chain reaction fashion but the point of it is to hold the audiences attention.

    Other movies that I’ve seen such as ‘Prometheus’ is interesting from the standpoint, at least as I see it, that it portrays the hope that it will be found to perform long-distance exploration, putting aside here the elements concerning the aliens that they encounter. I’m sure that there is probably some type of life somewhere in the universe I’m not so sure of the intelligent variety but no doubt about it there will be risky planet falls someday in our collective futures.

  • william May 21, 2014, 18:42

    The Speed Of Gravity – Why Einstein Was Wrong

    The Speed of Gravity What the Experiments Say Van Flandern T. ,Physics Letters A, Vol. 250:1-11 (1998) – See more at:

    Abstract. Standard experimental techniques exist to determine the propagation speed of forces. When we apply these techniques to gravity, they all yield propagation speeds too great to measure, substantially faster than lightspeed. This is because gravity, in contrast to light, has no detectable aberration or propagation delay for its action, even for cases (such as binary pulsars) where sources of gravity accelerate significantly during the light time from source to target. By contrast, the finite propagation speed of light causes radiation pressure forces to have a non-radial component causing orbits to decay (the “Poynting-Robertson effect”); but gravity has no counterpart force proportional to to first order. General relativity (GR) explains these features by suggesting that gravitation (unlike electromagnetic forces) is a pure geometric effect of curved space-time, not a force of nature that propagates. Gravitational radiation, which surely does propagate at lightspeed but is a fifth order effect in , is too small to play a role in explaining this difference in behavior between gravity and ordinary forces of nature. Problems with the causality principle also exist for GR in this connection, such as explaining how the external fields between binary black holes manage to continually update without benefit of communication with the masses hidden behind event horizons. These causality problems would be solved without any change to the mathematical formalism of GR, but only to its interpretation, if gravity is once again taken to be a propagating force of nature in flat space-time with the propagation speed indicated by observational evidence and experiments: not less than 2×1010 c. Such a change of perspective requires no change in the assumed character of gravitational radiation or its lightspeed propagation. Although faster-than-light force propagation speeds do violate Einstein special relativity (SR), they are in accord with Lorentzian relativity, which has never been experimentally distinguished from SR—at least, not in favor of SR. Indeed, far from upsetting much of current physics, the main changes induced by this new perspective are beneficial to areas where physics has been struggling, such as explaining experimental evidence for non-locality in quantum physics, the dark matter issue in cosmology, and the possible unification of forces. Recognition of a faster-than-lightspeed propagation of gravity, as indicated by all existing experimental evidence, may be the key to taking conventional physics to the next plateau. Numerous experiments have shown that the force of gravity MUST propagate faster than the speed of light. Such speeds violate the theory of special relativity, which explicitly states that nothing may travel faster than the speed of light. If SR is wrong, so too must GR be wrong. Einstein was wrong. Newton’s gravity propagates at INFINITE speed, this is universally accepted as the basis for his theory, and it’s also the gravitational theory we used to calculate orbits and trajectories for the Apollo moon missions. Van Flandern raises some questions: Why do photons from the Sun travel in directions that are not parallel to the direction of Earth’s gravitational acceleration toward the Sun? Why do total eclipses of the Sun by the Moon reach maximum eclipse about 40 seconds before the Sun and Moon’s gravitational forces align? How do binary pulsars anticipate each other’s future position, velocity, and acceleration faster than the light time between them would allow? How can black holes have gravity when nothing can get out because escape speed is greater than the speed of light? For example, take the simple observation of the Earth in orbit around the Sun. If gravity was delayed to the speed of light, the Earth would fly off its orbit after a mere 1200 years. As viewed from the Earth’s frame, light from the Sun has aberration. Light requires about 8.3 minutes to arrive from the Sun, during which time the Sun seems to move through an angle of 20 arc seconds. The arriving sunlight shows us where the Sun was 8.3 minutes ago. The true, instantaneous position of the Sun is about 20 arc seconds east of its visible position, and we will see the Sun in its true present position about 8.3 minutes into the future. In the same way, star positions are displaced from their yearly average position by up to 20 arc seconds, depending on the relative direction of the Earth’s motion around the Sun. This well-known phenomenon is classical aberration, and was discovered by the astronomer Bradley in 1728. … If gravity were a simple force that propagated outward from the Sun at the speed of light, as radiation pressure does, its mostly radial effect would also have a small transverse component because of the motion of the target. … the net effect of such a force would be to double the Earth’s distance from the Sun in 1200 years. There can be no doubt from astronomical observations that no such force is acting. The computation using the instantaneous positions of Sun and Earth is the correct one. The computation using retarded positions is in conflict with observations. There can be no doubt that gravity does indeed propagate at a speed faster than that of light. This blatant violation of Einstein’s theories is so clear even a 10 year old can grasp it. Einstein’s theories must be rejected. It’s time for new cosmologies that can actually explain what we see in space without the need for black holes, dark matter, dark energy, wimps, machos, multiple dimensions, worm holes, pulsars that spin around 67 thousand times per second, and all other make believe fairy dust concocted by physicists. Plasma (electric) cosmology is one such cosmology. – See more at: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread571436/pg1#sthash.XAcZbLYn.dpuf

  • ljk May 22, 2014, 11:26

    Apparently the US government is having trouble dealing with the concept of alien life these days – which is not surprising considering their lack of education on the subject.

    The SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak and Dan Wertheimer spoke at a hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in Washington, D.C., to review the current state of the science related to the search for life in the universe.

    Some articles on the event here:




    Here is a video of the actual meeting, courtesy of C-SPA N:


    I have yet to watch this video but according to someone on Facebook who did, all was going well until one senator asked a question in relation to the Ancient Aliens television program and the whole thing soon devolved into a “circus atmosphere”. Sigh. I wonder if anything was actually accomplished?

    The other news item on the subject of aliens relates to a new book just released by NASA – which was then taken offline because of a single quote taken out of context.

    Thankfully the book is still available via the link below and it looks good. I know Douglas Vakoch who is heavily involved with plans on how we might really be able to make ETI understand us. Clearly he also needs to focus on the maroons in public office.


    NASA also dropped its SETI program back in 1993 after less than a year of operations due to the ignorant comments of a few senators, so perhaps this is not terribly surprising.


  • ljk May 22, 2014, 16:44

    Congress Asked Some Really Weird Questions at the Alien Life Hearing

    George Dvorsky

    Today 12:20pm

    Yesterday, SETI astrobiologists told the U.S. Congress there’s “close to a 100% chance” that aliens exist, adding that we might detect signs of life in 20 years. But things went south when the floor opened up for questions.

    Dan Werthimer, director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at SETI, were on Capitol Hill yesterday discussing the need for continued funding for the search for life in the galaxy. The gathering was a follow-up to a December 2013 hearing on the search for biosignatures in our solar system and beyond.

    Only a ‘cramped mind’ wouldn’t wonder

    Werthimer told the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that the possibility of microbial life on other planets is close to 100%.

    “It would be bizarre if we are alone,” Werthimer said. “It would be a cramped mind that didn’t wonder what other life is out there.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Both astronomers agreed that aliens likely exist in various stages of development and that there could be “a lot of advanced civilizations” as well. Thankfully, Werthimer did not advocate for an Active SETI approach, instead arguing that we should just “receive signals and see what’s out there,” adding: “My feeling is that we should just be listening.”


    Ancient Aliens? Really?

    But once the presentation was over, the floor was opened for questions. And that’s when things, for the most part, started to get a bit weird. Danielle Wiener-Bronner from The Wire reports:

    Rep. Suzanne Bonamici recalled the question a colleague, Rep. Chris Smith, posed during an earlier hearing. “What do we do when we find life on another planet?” She asked the alarmist question next, “What’s the plan? Do we announce it to the world?” Shostak shot back, respectfully, that people have thought for years that the government has a secret alien plan when, in reality, “nobody in the government shows the slightest bit of interest” in SETI’s activities. Zing.

    Rep. Chris Collins posed the question he thought was on everyone’s mind — “Have you watched Ancient Aliens and what is your comment on the series?”

    Shostak replied that he takes issue with the premise of the show, which posits that ancient artifacts suggest a long-ago alien visit to Earth. “Pyramids were built by Egyptians,” he said, and Werthimer added that “UFOs have nothing to do with extraterrestrials.” That was Collins’s only question. Rep. Bill Posey asked the scientists to discuss “Project Blue Book,” drawing a connection between UFOs and the search for life in spite of Werthimer’s note.

    It should be noted, however, that some members of the committee made more serious inquiries. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson asked how SETI research had contributed to other areas of science, and Rep. Donna Edwards asked for details on how the panchromatic telescope project would work.

    But its hard to shake the feeling that, for the most part, committee members stepped into the room with a view of aliens as imaginary humanoid beings waiting to talk to us, and walked out with that same view. Which has more to say about the state of our government than the state of our scientific advances.

    Ugh. I can imagine the mental face-palms being made by Shostak and Werthimer during the Q&A period.

  • Alex Tolley May 23, 2014, 9:16

    Watched the hearing on SETI. Obviously the committee doesn’t take this seriously and clearly did not do their homework, nor were briefed for the hearing. Their questions were juvenile, often off-topic, and certainly not to the point. One can only imagine what the schoolchildren in the audience thought of this.

    Lincoln’s admonition seems appropriate here: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

  • ljk May 23, 2014, 13:15

    My continual question is why did the politicians even bother? They weren’t knowledgeable and they weren’t really interested. Was it a token show to make the current Administration look like it cares about space science?

    My hope is that at least some members of the public will become interested and more aware of exobiology and SETI/METI. They will also see that at least some of its practitioners are educated and organized folks who resisted the urge to call out to the power-hungry sociopathic maroons we have elected to run our daily lives what they really are.

  • ljk May 23, 2014, 16:10

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets hearing on Hill

    May 22, 2014 by Robert Sanders

    Dan Werthimer, who directs Berkeley’s new SETI Research Center, summarized current efforts to search for extraterrestrial intelligence at a hearing today (Wednesday, May 21) of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    In a phone conversation from Washington, Werthimer noted that one limitation of merely scanning the sky for signals from ET is that, unless ET is deliberately attempting to signal other intelligent life, it relies on picking up signals accidentally leaked from other civilizations. Earth broadcasts of the TV series I Love Lucy have already reached the nearest stars, betraying our existence to any intelligent civilizations that may live there.

    But many advanced societies would probably limit such wasted energy, he said, either sending signals via fiber or in tightly focused beams. If these civilizations have colonized other planets in their solar systems, however, they would still have to send signals between planets, or at least use broad beams to track spacecraft. Werthimer and his SETI colleagues have embarked on a new project called “eavesdropping SETI,” where they listen only when two planets in a distant system are aligned with Earth, giving Earth a chance to intercept such targeted communications.

    “The Kepler mission has given us a ton of multiplanet systems to look at,” said Werthimer’s colleague Andrew Siemion, a research scientist at the Space Sciences Laboratory who holds joint postdoctoral appointments at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. In 2012, the team observed 75 such line-ups using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank telescope in West Virginia.

    They now plan a broader, more coordinated effort, dubbed the Panchromatic SETI Project, to observe the planets around all 30 stars within 13 light years of Earth in the northern hemisphere. To do this, the UC Berkeley collaborators will harness six different ground-based telescopes, including Arecibo, Green Bank and the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, to look for optical, infrared and radio signals simultaneously and for more extended periods of time.

    While admitting that “no confirmed exoplanet detections have been made around any of the stars in our sample,” Siemion said that “statistically speaking, we know that some of these stars should host habitable planets,” and this survey will be the first to put broad multi-wavelength limits on how common technological civilizations are.

    “We plan to use every technology we have available to us to look very, very closely at these 30 stars,” he said.

    Werthimer noted in his committee remarks that while “SETI programs use the world’s largest radio and optical telescopes to search for evidence of advanced civilizations and their technology on distant extrasolar planets,” two of the best – the Arecibo and Green Bank telescopes – are in danger of losing federal funding.

    “It’s unfortunate that the two largest radio telescopes in the world and that are best for SETI are in danger of closing their doors,” he said.

    LJK comments:

    THIRTY stars? Give me a break. If this is a test, fine. But if this is the real deal and they think not detecting anything after such a small sample says anything of importance about the existence of ETI, then this SETI project is yet another token effort.

    Professional astronomers and scientists, when are you going to get really serious about looking for intelligent beings beyond Earth? You have lots of good new data and much better technology, so that should no longer be an obstruction to doing real SETI.

    Are you still concerned about being ridiculed by your peers and the general public for looking for “little green men”? It is now the year 2014: We know there are trillions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, Dan W. said so during this meeting. Most of us no longer think that a deity made one world just for one species to worship it, and many of those who do think said deity exists also think many other worlds have intelligent inhabitants. SETI is a scientifically plausible way to search for ETI, with the additional comment that it can now be ramped up to include more than just radio as a means for detection.

    If you do find alien life, you know it will be the biggest event in human history. Money, fame, instant recognition, Nobel prizes, and more are an automatic guarantee – not to mention that little thing called expanding human knowledge on a cosmic level. So what is the hold up?

  • ljk May 23, 2014, 16:37

    Review: Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication

    · May 23, 2014


    If we were to receive a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence would we be smart enough to understand it?

    This book addresses a field that has been “dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists” and raises challenging questions about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. The contributors to this work draw on contemporary archaeology and anthropology, and suggest these tools will enable us to be prepared for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.

    The authors propose drawing on our rich knowledge of human use of symbols and information artifacts to communicate rather than the signal processing and information theoretic approaches employed in the majority of current SETI efforts. This idea has broader implications, for example, in the field of artificial intelligence. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven will be of interest to researchers in language understanding, text processing and general computational linguistics.

    As it delves into our ability to understand complex messages with unknown meanings, the book also touches on ideas of interest to anyone that dabbles in cryptography and steganography. The discussion of extra-terrestrial evolution was also interesting as it might also be considered a map of potential post human forms and instantiations. Also of particular interest to transhumanists will be the discussion of potential alternate forms of alien cognition and in particular the all too brief section discussing distributed cognition at the end of the book.

    Links to the book in various formats are here: