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No Posts Until 26 October

As mentioned in Friday’s post, I’m taking a week off. The next regular Centauri Dreams post will be on Monday the 26th. In the interim, I’ll check in daily for comment moderation. When I get back, we’ll be starting off with a closer at Jason Wright’s recent paper out of the Glimpsing Heat from Alien Technologies project at Penn State, with a focus on interesting transiting lightcurve signatures and how to distinguish SETI candidates from natural phenomena.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Danangel October 19, 2015, 19:53

    Thanks for all the great articles, Paul.
    Just one suggestion: Let the comments wait for a few days and take some real time off. We’ll all survive. ;)

  • Paul Gilster October 20, 2015, 8:03

    A good thought! But I can’t help myself from checking in now and then. Too much interesting conversation going on in the comments!

  • Michael Spencer October 20, 2015, 8:15

    My wife is in India for her annual 5 week study- and guess what she does a dozen times a day? You guessed it…

  • Paul Gilster October 20, 2015, 9:29

    Michael, your wife must be as compulsive as I am!

  • ljk October 20, 2015, 11:33
  • RobFlores October 20, 2015, 15:13

    When, you comeback that Sci News, about microbes 4.1 billion yrs looks
    like a candidate subject.

    I don’t think it changes anything much. but…
    as far as advanced life goes.

    1) It affirms the need for liquid phase H2O. this is a big filter.
    For a planet to have a large swath of flowing water for a duration of few
    billion years is no certainty when considering all possible orbits a terrestrial planet might have, close in to its primary.

    2) There is the matter of photosynthesis. This potential discovery will increase the LENGHT of time it took for organisms on earth to incorporate Magnesium into a chlorophyl structure, and find new way to get energy.
    The gap maybe as much as 3 billion years between Chemotrophs and Blue Green algae. Seems like another BIG filters to advanced life to me.

  • P October 20, 2015, 19:05

    Dedicated Alpha Centauri exoplanet smallsat design/proposal:

    http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3241&context=smallsat

    Phil

  • Jim Strom October 21, 2015, 15:42

    @RobFlores:

    [Disclaimer: I’m not a professional scientist, so the following might be ridiculous for all I know]

    Yes, I can see how even older microbes could put another check in the rare-Earth column and disfavor expecting signs of intelligence in the Keppler data. But there is another way to look at it. How variable is the time-to-intelligence — how much variation is there in the time for intelligent life to evolve on a planet?

    Treat the time-to-intelligence period as a variable that depends on _rate_ of evolution plus random events. Assume that the _rate_ of evolution changes. It has on Earth, as a function of time. But more importantly, also assume that the rate of evolution can vary not just with time, but also with other factors.

    In other words, assume that for any abiogenesis, the rate of evolution increases over time, but does that rate follow a fixed path, or can the rate follow different curves on different planets? If the rate increases faster on some planets, then intelligence would tend to emerge faster on those planets. So what kinds of things could affect the rate of evolution?

    Start with abiogenesis, which is just the phenomenon of self-replicating molecules emerging through time and many combinations of molecules. From that point, what drives the rate of evolution – if anything – and how? Environment (“environment” in the broad sense, i.e., temperature, chemicals, radiation, etc.), life itself, and cataclysms seem to be at least some factors to consider.

    In a primordial environment, things might be very stable and uniform. Let’s say the environment doesn’t really change for a billion years. Just a warm soup of chemicals in a stable solar system, stable orbit, etc. If that hypothetical planet is static and uniform, then limited adaptations would emerge: for instance more efficient energy conversion. The most efficient life forms (quasi-cells, protobacteria, simple self-replicating organic molecules) will reproduce more and will dominate. Nonetheless, in the hypothetical uniform and stable environment where pressures and opportunities are few, evolution might be “slow” and maybe even has a low complexity limit (the rate of evolution might hit zero).

    If a planet’s environment changes from static/uniform and becomes dynamic/diverse, with say rapid environmental fluctuations in many locations (think moving icesheets, diverse geologic features, changes in atmospheric or oceanic composition, massive volcanoes, barrages, unstable axis of rotation, etc.), more potential adaptations become advantageous, and the rate of evolution might increase. Perhaps a planet that cools and stabilizes quickly but has extremes in climate and many extreme environmental niches could see early “fast” evolution. Whereas a boring planet with somewhat static uniform temperatures and conditions sees “slow” evolution until things change.

    Life itself probably affects the rate of evolution. At the least, we know life can change the environment. And per above, that can change the rate of evolution. Maybe once life reaches a certain stage, life increases the diversity and rate of change in the environment, which in turn increases the rate of evolution. There could be a kind of feedback blossoming: life diversifies, so the environment diversifies/changes, so life diversifies/changes more, so the environment diversifies/changes … and so on. So time-to-intelligence could have a possibly long but variable “kick-off” phase followed by a more predictable “evolution-phase” once it gets past the kick-off phase. If the rate of evolution becomes more sensitive and susceptible to increasing once life reaches a certain stage, that adds to the _variability_ of the rate of evolution. The right factors past a certain stage might significantly increase the rate of evolution and intelligent life could evolve relatively quickly.

    One of those factors could be planetary cataclysms (“resets”). Those can affect time-to-intelligence directly and by affecting the rate of evolution. As to their direct affect, I don’t think much is known about the frequency or effects of random events like large impacts, radiation baths, changes in orbit, changes in the planet’s star, etc. But at the least, such random events probably add some variability to the time-to-intelligence period.

    But extinction events might also increase the rate of evolution. You have a planet with complex life (animals) and there is a “filter” event. The event doesn’t sterilize the planet but (i) creates new ecosystems/environments, (ii) removes a lot of competition, (iii) keeps some complex life in existence to seed evolution from an advance starting point, and (iv) also acts as a huge filter to weed out lifeforms that are not sufficiently adaptable. All factors could increase the rate of evolution. The last factor in particular, if you think of “adaptable” in a different sense than just being able to live in varying conditions.

    Suppose survivors of a filter event survived because they were more adaptable. But take that a step further. Suppose they were more adaptable at the time of the event because they had more efficient evolution mechanisms (e.g., they have a high rate of non-fatal mutations, or greater accumulation of information in their DNA). You could argue that this must be true, since all life at the time of the event have had the same amount of time to evolve. In any case, suppose the survivors have a higher rate of evolution (they can evolve faster) than the non-survivors. A partial-reset favoring those organisms/animals could greatly increase the overall rate of evolution of life on that planet.

    I think that some have suggested that Earth’s past extinction events indicate a rare Earth. But such partial-reset events at least increase the variability of the time-to-intelligence number. And, counter-intuitively, mass-extinction events might _accelerate_ evolution.

    So there’s a notion of rate of evolution, and – handwaving aside – it’s not clear how or why that rate changes, particularly for settings and quasi-lifeforms that we can’t observe, like ancient Earth. For intelligent life to evolve, it might not be necessary for evolution to flow from abiogenesis through certain fixed stages of certain long periods of time. Instead, the rate of evolution (and hence time-to-intelligence) might be highly variable from one planet to the next.

    Regarding the odds of a Keppler star hosting intelligent life, I’m not sure how a highly variable time-to-intelligence period (vs a long minimum like 4 billion years) factors in, but it could be a factor, depending on the assumptions you plug into the Drake Eq.

  • Jim Strom October 21, 2015, 16:48
  • TLDR October 21, 2015, 19:31

    Phil, interesting paper! As Alpha Cen’s A&B components begin to separate after next year, ACESAT and other instruments (ESPRESSO for instance) will be poised to capture the satellites of our closest neighbors. I’m pretty excited about that.

  • TLDR October 21, 2015, 19:34

    Today’s news delivers definitive proof of quantum entanglement or “spooky action from a distance” (SAFD). It might explain the radio silence that we are noticing in the interstellar void. Maybe once you master communication via SAFD, then old fashioned radio waves will become unnecessary.

  • RobFlores October 22, 2015, 14:14

    Jim Strong:

    I think the large filters for complex/intelligent life are in the past. Except for
    one. Once a civilization becomes an interplanetary/off home world
    it will pass the last large filter IMO.

    I think Fermi’s approach ignores the multitude of ways
    complex life could be smashed to non-life, not just a reset to evolution.

    The passing of time over millions of years in addition to
    giving a stage for life to arise, will also bring destructive natural
    events to high probability occurrence.

  • Horatio Trobinson October 22, 2015, 20:51

    Have a nice week.

    Just came across this interesting take on popular news media

    PUBLIC RELEASE: 20-OCT-2015
    Most earth-like worlds have yet to be born, according to theoretical study
    NASA/GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/nsfc-mew102015.php

    Excerpt:
    Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won’t be over when the sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets — 92 percent — have yet to be born.

  • Hiro October 22, 2015, 22:22

    The Drake equation must be modified in order to put a reasonable estimate on how many advanced civilizations out there, especially the last two terms. First, we don’t have any right to make universal rules which force advanced civilizations to obey those rules. Second, there is no penalty if someone decides to violate those rules, because we have zero power. Third, eavesdropping on quantum communications from far far away is extremely hard without getting caught. Honestly speaking, we don’t even have the technologies at this moment.

  • Antonio October 23, 2015, 7:01

    Stando, a questo articolo, saremmo soli, e unici, nell’Universo…
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10011792&fileId=S1473550415000415

    Saluti da Antonio Tavani

    Translated by Google Translate as: “According to this article, we will be alone, and unique in the Universe …”

  • ljk October 23, 2015, 8:49

    Humans are likely unique, but if the article is implying we are the only intelligent beings in the entire Universe, then it is way too early to make such a declaration.

  • ljk October 23, 2015, 9:09

    When SKA is ready by 2020 it can and should be another valuable tool for SETI:

    https://www.inverse.com/article/7337-the-square-kilometer-array-may-be-our-best-hope-for-finding-alien-life

    And speaking of SETI, the ATA is already looking at WTF 001 ahead of the VLA’s planned observations for January of 2016:

    http://phys.org/news/2015-10-seti-alien-kepler-star-kic.html

    As the article states, we can add to our data points that this sun does not behave like a typical variable star – whatever typical is when it comes to celestial objects any more.

    My observation and question is: Kepler examined a very narrow field of the sky and in the process discovered this very unusual celestial phenomenon. So, does this mean we just got very lucky or are there a lot of stars in our galaxy surrounded by large masses of something? And if they are artificial, does this mean we are in the middle of a galaxy-wide construction site? And are we the ants?

  • Jim Strom October 23, 2015, 12:05

    Antonio, thanks for the link. Looks like a good read.

    Here is another take on it. Evolution is not so much a chaotic process, but rather is an information accumulation process. When modeled based on information theory, DNA is just a chemical capture of a billions of years of conditions on Earth. Start with life building blocks, and life, over eons of time, shapes to the envieonment, and “learns” from the past. Think of lifeforms as the sensors, and DNA as the recording media. If that is how life works, then each planet that has those building blocks should capture similar information over time. If a planet is very uniform and static, then there won’t be as much information in the DNA or equiv, and life won’t evolve as rapidly or with as much complexity; the planet imprints itself on the continually existing and adapting life.

    My admittedly limited view is that intelligent life will evolve if a planet with building blocks is sufficiently complex/dynamic as well as long-lived. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC18257/

  • Rafik October 23, 2015, 23:55

    If Quantum Entanglement is real, as announced recently, this may be a reason for the “great silence”.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-22/einstein-was-wrong3a-spooky-entanglement-is-real/6876262

    The implications of “instantaneous” effects over distance could render radio communications obsolete.
    We just need to have “entangled” objects placed in each location we want to communicate with.

    This could also have implications for ETI, in that rather than evolving in effective isolation as it spreads out in colonies throughout the galaxy – ETIs could remain in real time communications with all other “colonies”.

  • Michael October 24, 2015, 11:47

    @Rafik October 23, 2015 at 23:55

    ‘If Quantum Entanglement is real, as announced recently, this may be a reason for the “great silence”.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-22/einstein-was-wrong3a-spooky-entanglement-is-real/6876262

    The implications of “instantaneous” effects over distance could render radio communications obsolete.
    We just need to have “entangled” objects placed in each location we want to communicate with.

    This could also have implications for ETI, in that rather than evolving in effective isolation as it spreads out in colonies throughout the galaxy – ETIs could remain in real time communications with all other “colonies”.’

    This is quite correct we do have entanglement, when you adjust one the other adjusts BUT and it is BIG BUT both frames of reference are moving so the other ‘sent’ particle will do the same. For example the earth is rotating and so the other particle must rotate as well so it may hit something and our particle must now undergo a change as well, it gets messy.

    Off topic but could dark energy and dark matter have anything to do with the communication process? After all the first few moments of the universes creation were greater than the speed of light -the inflation period.

  • Mark Zambelli October 26, 2015, 13:05

    “If Quantum Entanglement is real, as announced recently, this may be a reason for the “great silence”.”

    Yes, Quantum Entanglement is a real thing but as far as I recall it still can’t be used for communications because of that whole ‘causality’ stuff ;)

    QE is just the ticket for building a quantum computer however.

  • Horatio Trobinson October 26, 2015, 14:15

    Hey @Mark Zambelli
    and others who brought up the topic of quantum communications.

    I’m curious about this.
    Is it scientifically conceivable that at some point we may be able to use a combination of quantum effects, including quantum entanglement and quantum teleportation, to develop so-called FTL communications?

    I know that this is very much experimental and some of the claims we see in popular media are often misleading at best, but this recent release from NIST got me thinking.

    “NIST Team Breaks Distance Record for Quantum Teleportation”
    http://www.nist.gov/pml/nist-team-breaks-distance-record-for-quantum-teleportation.cfm

    I know the hype factor is non-zero here (NIST is not a stranger to the need of fighting for a better budget) .
    Whatever NIST did was done over a controlled channel, which is nowhere near the conditions that one would have in the impossibly harsh outer space.
    So I’m wondering how much science is there to even fathom the possibility of space quantum communications and how much of it is …. put bluntly, totall utter BS.

    Cheers!

  • Mark Zambelli October 27, 2015, 9:01

    The problem with QE is that no information can be transmitted faster than ‘c’. Performing a measurement on the local ‘end’ of the setup determines the state of the distant ‘end’ but in order to make sense of the randomly determined state, both ends would have to compare notes and this is limited by ‘c’. So no good for communication.

    When you measure your end you have determined what the distant state is but that information does no good when the distant end is in orbit around Alpha Centauri… you’d be limited to sending your info on a four year journey so that the distant measured state can be put into context.

    My electron is measured to be spin-up and I instantly know that her distant electron must therefore be spin-down… but so what? My measurement was randomly determined and it’s this randomness that prevents using this effect for communication. Einstein was wrong yet causality is protected anyway so he needn’t have worried.

    Two entangled electrons seperated in spacetime are still a single quantum system and to us this seems to imply spooky goings-on… maybe our notion of ‘seperation in 3d space’ is flawed at a fundamental level and we might have a better understanding with physics that’s currently just beyond our reach.

    And inflation is no good either. Information is limited to crawling through space at ‘c’… space can expand at whatever ‘speed’ it wants as this has nothing to do with the fundamental speed limit ‘c’.

    I’ll yield as perhaps someone more fluent in quantum physics could get this across better?

  • Horatio Trobinson October 27, 2015, 10:31

    @Mark Zambelli

    Thanks for your explanation, that helps.

    This is possibly beyond the scope of Centauri Dreams, but “FTL communications” if possible would have vast repercussions on how we search for intelligent life, and how we set out to colonise space ourselves.
    So, however far-fetched it may seem at this point, it seems like something to keep an eye on.
    I currently don’t have access to these papers but I’ll sign up to see what are the latest developments on the basic science.

    Food for thought at least:

    http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1367-2630/17/8/083034/meta

    http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v10/n4/abs/nphys2930.html

  • Mark Zambelli October 27, 2015, 13:18

    @ Horatio

    Food for thought indeed. I certainly like the idea of ftl-comms and you are correct to point out what a gamechanger that would be; you are also correct to surmise that the general media is hopeless at getting crucial ideas across, tending to data-mine these things just to extract the most sensational spin on the idea… oh and refrain from those annoying little ‘facts’ that get in the way.

    There’s tons of stuff on the interweb for you to get a flavour of what quantum entanglement is all about… the excellent ‘Veritasium’ has a 9min vid here which is a good one… https://youtu.be/ZuvK-od647c entitled “Quantum Entanglement and Spooky Action at a Distance”. Well worth perusing.

  • Ron S October 27, 2015, 14:23

    Mark: “Two entangled electrons seperated in spacetime are still a single quantum system and to us this seems to imply spooky goings-on… maybe our notion of ‘seperation in 3d space’ is flawed at a fundamental level and we might have a better understanding with physics that’s currently just beyond our reach.”

    Not so much “flawed” as often misunderstood by many. Photons have absolutely zero respect for human intuition.

    Photons do not exist in spacetime in any way that is meaningful to time-like creatures such as ourselves. Think of them more as relationships between quantum events with different spacetime coordinates. The photon has no experience of space or time. It doesn’t travel *through* spacetime; it connects two events *in* spacetime .

    As you say, it’s a single quantum system. We have yet to discover all the rules of the game. Action at a distance may be nothing more than a human prejudice.

    Disclaimer: I am not a physicist. I only know enough to be dangerous.

  • ljk October 28, 2015, 9:39

    Is the exoworld Alpha Centauri Bb no more real than Pandora and without the multibillion dollar box office receipts?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3290027/A-ghost-Earth-like-planet-Alpha-Centauri-Bb-spotted-orbit-closest-star-just-ILLUSION.html

  • Mark Zambelli October 30, 2015, 12:00

    @Ron
    Quite right with the photon example of yours… they (and all massless particles) just don’t show respect! ;) … those electrons (and by inclusion all other particles with mass) that I referred to, however, at least have some decency to appreciate concepts of length and time :D

  • Michael October 30, 2015, 15:37

    @Mark Zambelli

    ‘And inflation is no good either. Information is limited to crawling through space at ‘c’… space can expand at whatever ‘speed’ it wants as this has nothing to do with the fundamental speed limit ‘c’.

    Unless we understand space-time (what is it) we will never know what controls the universe. Dark energy, matter and Dark matter may be manifestations of the same forces just distorted in time-space.

    As for FTL comm’s, if we had faster than light communications would we not be Gods! We would know the out come before it has come to be.

    @Mark Zambelli October 30, 2015 at 12:00

    ‘Quite right with the photon example of yours… they (and all massless particles) just don’t show respect! ;) … those electrons (and by inclusion all other particles with mass) that I referred to, however, at least have some decency to appreciate concepts of length and time :D’

    Mass and energy are mutual interchangeable and therefore subject to the same forces, electrons and matter (mass) for that mater just have more energy associated with them and therefore entropy (time dependant).

    Einstein never said it was wrong, he just could not believe it! God does not play with dice. Even Geniuses beliefs can be proved wrong, Even by their own theories, such is Fate.

    The Universe is stranger than anyone could possibly have imagined.