"Humans are Latecomers as a Technological Species to Elusive Relics of the Big Bang"
|Dec 31, 2020|| 2|
This Week's Top News Stories
The Cosmic Dawn of Technology --Earth may well be a latecomer to the fraternity of technological civilizations, reports Harvard’s Avi Loeb for Scientific American. "We are late bloomers, cosmologically speaking. The first stars formed as early as a tenth of a billion years after the big bang. The sun formed 9.1 billion years later, merely 4.6 billion years ago, when the universe already matured to two thirds of its current age. The late birth of the sun marked the tail end of the star formation history of the universe."
Was That a Dropped Call From ET? --A spooky radio signal showed up after a radio telescope was aimed at the next star over from our sun, reports Dennis Overbye for The New York Times. "The radio signal itself, detected in spring 2019 and reported on earlier in The Guardian, is in many ways the stuff of dreams for alien hunters. It was a narrow-band signal with a frequency of 982.02 MHz as recorded at the Parkes Observatory in Australia. Nature, whether an exploding star or a geomagnetic storm, tends to broadcast on a wide range of frequencies."
Elusive Relics of the Big Bang –“Dark Matter is Composed of Primordial Black Holes,” reports The Daily Galaxy. “Ancient black holes would give us access to physics we would never otherwise be able to do,” wrote Dan Hooper, head of the theoretical astrophysics group at Fermilab, in an email to The Daily Galaxy. If primordial black holes are real, they’d have potential to solve a whole host of the biggest problems in cosmology, not the least being the mystery of dark matter, considered to be the backbone to the structure of the universe.
"WTF" --Ghostly Circles in Space Can’t be Explained by Current Theories --Among them was a picture of a strange circle of radio emission, hanging out in space like a cosmic smoke-ring reports astronomer Ray Norris for The Conversation. None of us had ever seen anything like it before, and we had no idea what it was, report scientists examining new images from pilot observations for the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) project, made with CSIRO’s revolutionary new Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.
What would Earth look like to alien astronomers? --A new paper asks which exoplanets could find Earth. Such worlds could be targets for SETI searches, reports Astronomy. Now, with updated information from the European Space Agency’s expansive Gaia catalog of nearby stars, two researchers have provided us with perhaps the best list yet of which alien worlds could have their eyes on us.
Alien Hunters Discover Mysterious Signal from Proxima Centauri, reports Scientific American --Strange radio transmissions appear to be coming from our nearest star system. Now scientists are trying to work out what is sending them.
The Cost of Visiting Earth May Be Too Astronomical For Aliens, reports Matt Williams for Universe Today. It’s the time and distance problem. Unless, of course an alien species has solved the pesky mortality, lifespan issue.
Why is Earth Still Habitable After Billions of Years? In Part, We're Just Lucky, writes astronomer Phil Plait for SyFy Wire --When you look around you, almost anywhere on Earth, you see life. Earth seems exquisitely supportive of life: We see it in the air, in the water, in the land, and even deep underground. But was that inevitable?
Did Viruses Create the Nucleus? The Answer May Be Near, reports Christie Wilcox for Quanta --An unorthodox symbiotic theory about the origin of eukaryotes’ defining characteristic may soon be put to the test.
A New Theory About the Monolith: We’re the Aliens, reports Jody Rosen for The New York Times. The appearance of a monolith in a hinterland is a satisfying reminder that the world remains very large.
The Year in Physics--Featuring paradoxical black holes, room-temperature superconductors and a new escape from the prison of time, reports Michael Moyer for Quanta.
Earth Is on Fire --Our planet is burning, both literally and figuratively, because of climate change—and COVID is no excuse to ignore it, reports Jordan Salama for Scientific American. "I'm 23 years old, and my entire generation has come of age in a world so defined by climate change and other forms of environmental degradation that it's sometimes been hard to fathom what an even more dismal future might look like. It has, that is, until the pandemic reared its ugly head. The fate of nature, like , so much else, has temporarily become an agonizing side story to COVID—and now the environment is a real-time plot followed mostly, I think, by those of us young enough to one day see the worst of it."
How a Software Map of the Entire Planet Could Change the World Forever, reports Aaron Frank for the Oxford Business Review. Why 3D map data is the technology infrastructure for the 21st Century --"3D maps like these are essentially software copies of the real world. They will be crucial to the development of a wide range of emerging technologies including autonomous driving, drone delivery, robotics, and a fast-approaching future filled with augmented reality."
On planetary change and human health --MIT anthropologist Amy Moran-Thomas reflects on the deep connection between planetary and human well-being, reports MIT News. “Listening and trying to learn from what people were saying, over the years I came to see human health and planetary health as deeply interconnected,” says Moran-Thomas, the Morrison Hayes Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT. “When I think of health now, I think of disarray in bigger ecosystems and infrastructures that’s also landing in human bodies.”
Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing --How we evolved to read is a story of one creative species, reports Lydia Wilson for Nautil.us. There was a long way to go from recording goods to writing great works of literature.
The Year in Biology --While the study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was the most urgent priority, biologists also learned more about how brains process information, how to define individuality and why sleep deprivation kills, reports John Rennie for Quanta.
Wild Things Space Invaders Season 2: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life (Best "Space" Podcast of 2020) --"“What’s the likelihood that, as we’re looking out into space, something else might be looking back at us?” asks Host Laura Krantz. "in recent years, armed with state-of-the-art technology and better information, the search for extraterrestrials overflows with exciting possibilities. Within our own solar system, astrobiologists search for the biochemical building blocks that might sustain microbes. Astronomers discover far-flung stars, orbited by planets that could be teeming with life. And astrophysicists point sophisticated (and expensive) telescopes toward the deep reaches of the universe, looking for anything out of the ordinary."
“Hidden in NASA Data" –Proof of Cosmic Objects Without a Hard Surface Confined Within an Invisible Boundary (2020 Most Viewed), reports The Daily Galaxy. Albert Einstein described black holes as strange objects “where God divided by zero.” An international team of astrophysicists has now confirmed that black holes are a distinct “species” from neutron stars –comparable to black holes in mass and size but confined within a hard surface, unlike black holes, an exotic cosmic object without a hard surface predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity that do not have a surface, and are confined within an invisible boundary, called an event horizon, from within which nothing, not even light, can escape.
“Superpositions” –The Cosmic Weirdness of Quantum Mechanics, reports The Daily Galaxy. “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you , you haven’t understood it yet,” said physicist Niels Bohr. The more we delve into the cosmic weirdness of quantum mechanics the stranger the world becomes. A state of quantum superposition is being in more than one place, or more than one state, at the same time –a single event can be happening both here and there, or both today and tomorrow. Caltech’s great theoretical physicist, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, was fond of noting that the ‘paradox’ of quantum mechanics is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be’.
"Losing Species" --The science behind extinction. A collection of research and insights from Stanford University experts who are deciphering the mysteries and mechanisms of extinction and survival in Earth’s deep past and painting an increasingly detailed picture of life now at the brink. “The fossil record is our only archive of past extinction events,” says Stanford paleobiologist Jonathan Payne. It allows researchers to examine directly which biological traits tend to lead to higher extinction risk under different circumstances, whether in the wake of an asteroid impact or volcanic eruption, or amid global warming.
This Week's Feature Story --“We have absolutely no idea what’s out there!”
From dark-matter life to billion-year old technological civilizations: In 2019, several leading astrophysicists from NASA to Harvard and Columbia universities have publicly announced their view that aliens are not science fiction: that advanced and ancient technological civilizations may exist but be beyond our comprehension or ability to detect. As early as the NASA Contact Conference in 2002, which focused on serious speculation about advanced extraterrestrial life, an attendee loudly interrupted the keynote speech with the observation that “We have absolutely no idea what is out there!”
In 2019, Harvard astronomers Avi Loeb wrote in his blog that aliens are not science fiction: “I don’t see extraterrestrials as more speculative than dark matter or extra dimensions. I think it’s the other way around.”
Law of Large Numbers
Enter Silvano P. Colombano at NASA’s Ames Research Center: “Our form of life and intelligence may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon “machinery.” Exoplanet discoveries made by the Kepler Mission (image above) have identified planetary system as old as 10.4 billion years (Kepler-10) and 11.2 billion (Kepler-444) providing a solid foundation for Columbano's speculations.
On average, every star in the Milky Way has two planets orbiting it. According to NASA, one-fifth of those stars have a planet that could be conducive to life as we imagine it. That translates into 50 billion potentially habitable planets just in the Milky Way – one of two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.
“If you’re going to say that there’s no chance we’re going to find any life elsewhere, you must think there’s something really miraculous about Earth,” says Seth Shostak at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “And that’s a suspicious point of view, that we’re just miraculously better than all the other planets.”
"Considering that the age of our solar system is about 4.5 billion years, earth-like planets could exist that are six billion years older than our own. Considering further that technological development in our civilization started only about 10,000 years ago and has seen the rise of science only in the past 500 years, Columbano observes that we might difficulty in predicting technological evolution even for the next thousand years, let alone six million times that amount.
Our form of life and intelligence, says Columbano, "may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon “machinery”. After a mere 50 years of computer evolution the human species is already talking about “super-intelligence” and we are quickly becoming symbiotic with computer power."
In other words, technological civilizations may exist but be beyond our comprehension or ability to detect, says Colombano who proposes that we may have missed signals when it comes to looking for UFOs. “While it is still reasonable and conservative to assume that life is most likely to have originated in conditions similar to ours, the vast time differences in potential evolution renders the likelihood of “matching” technologies very slim,” underscoring the obstacles to a “quick” discovery of signs of an advanced civilization in the Milky Way./
Visitors from the Dark Sector?
“If you dropped in on a bunch of Paleolithic farmers with your iPhone and a pair of sneakers,” says Columbia University astrophysicist, Caleb Scharf in Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence? “you’d undoubtedly seem pretty magical. But the contrast is only middling: The farmers would still recognize you as basically like them, and before long they’d be taking selfies. But what if life has moved so far on that it doesn’t just appear magical, but appears like physics?”
Scharf makes an even more exquisite leap, suggesting that "dark matter may be hiding life. That its could contain real complexity, and "perhaps it is where all technologically advanced life ends up or where most life has always been. What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation?"
But not resting on his speculative laurels, Scharf's beautifully not-politically correct mind does a double-twist swan dive off the high board and suggests that perhaps "the behavior of normal cosmic matter that we attribute to dark matter is brought on by something else altogether: a living state that manipulates luminous matter for its own purposes. Consider that at present we have neither identified the dark-matter particles nor come up with a compelling alternative to our laws of physics that would account for the behavior of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Would an explanation in terms of life be any less plausible than a failure of established laws?"
Visitors from the Milky Way?
“It’s possible that the Milky Way is partially settled, or intermittently so; maybe explorers visited us in the past, but we don’t remember, and they died out,” says Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, an astronomer at the University of Rochester and his collaborators in a 2019 study that suggests it wouldn’t take as long as thought for a space-faring civilization to planet-hop across the galaxy, because the orbits of stars can help distribute life, offering a new solution to the Fermi paradox. “The solar system may well be amid other settled systems; it’s just been unvisited for millions of years.”
Life in Infinite Space
“If space is truly infinite,” observes Dan Hooper, head of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, in At the Edge of Time, “the implications are staggering. Within an infinite expanse of space, it would be hard to see any reason why there would not be an infinite number of galaxies, stars, and planets, and even an infinite number of intelligent or conscious beings, scattered throughout this limitless volume. That is the thing about infinity: it takes things that are otherwise very unlikely and makes them all inevitable.”