Categories
GeekWire

Arecibo makes plans for new message to aliens

Arecibo Message
A global contest will give the 1974 Arecibo Message a reboot. (Arecibo Observatory Illustration)

The Arecibo Observatory today kicked off a student-focused competition to design a new message to beam to extraterrestrials, 44 years to the day since the first deliberate message was sent out from Arecibo’s 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope.

“Our society and our technology have changed a lot since 1974,” Francisco Cordova, the observatory’s director, said in a news release. “So if we were assembling our message today, what would it say? What would it look like? What one would need to learn to be able to design the right updated message from the earthlings? Those are the questions we are posing to young people around the world through the New Arecibo Message – the global challenge.”

It’s not just about the message, however: Competitors will have to solve brain-teasing puzzles posted on Arecibo’s website in order to qualify, get instructions, register and submit their designs. Along the way, they’ll learn about space science, the scientific method and Arecibo’s story.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Was interstellar object an alien sail? Not so fast

'Oumuamua
An artist’s conception shows what the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua might look like. (ESO Illustration / M. Kornmesser)

‘Oumuamua is long gone from the inner solar system, but the mystery surrounding the interstellar interloper has been rekindled, thanks to a research paper written by two Harvard astronomers.

The paper, suggesting that the cigar-shaped object could have been an alien light sail, sparked headlines as well as skepticism from colleagues claiming that the astronomers were jumping to conclusions.

Among the skeptics is Doug Vakoch, who heads up METI, a San Francisco-based organization devoted to the study of alien contact. (The acronym stands for “Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”)

“I’d love to think that ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial spacecraft that whipped past Earth, propelled by a stream of photons hitting its solar sail. But we need to be wary of conjuring up an explanation that fits the data gathered at one point in time, when we have no opportunity for follow-up observations,” Vakoch told me in an email.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA turns to the search for technosignatures

Image: Alien megastructure
An artist’s representation  shows a megastructure known as a Dyson sphere capturing the energy from a distant star. Such a structure could create observable technosignatures pointing to the civilization behind its construction. (Credit: Danielle Futselaar / SETI International)

It’s been a quarter-century since Congress cut off NASA funding for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, but now the space agency is revisiting the topic under another name: technosignatures.

“I’m excited to announce that NASA is taking the 1st steps to explore ways to search for life advanced enough to create technosignatures: signs or signals, which if observed, would let us infer the existence of technological life elsewhere in the universe,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a tweet today.

The search is the focus of a workshop taking place this week at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, with experts on the search for exoplanets, artificial radio signals and other potential pointers in attendance. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is due to give a welcome message.

That’s a far cry from 1993, when a congressional effort spearheaded by Sen. Richard Bryan killed off NASA’s 10-year SETI program, which was known as the High Resolution Microwave Survey, or HRMS. “This hopefully will be the end of Martian hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense,” Bryan declared at the time.

Since then, much has changed.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Court filings link observatory shutdown to porn

Sunspot Solar Observatory
The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope is the centerpiece of the Sunspot Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. (National Science Foundation Photo)

A federal search warrant indicates that the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico and surrounding homes were evacuated this month not because of alien visitation, but because of a child pornography investigation.

The warrant and an accompanying affidavit lays out the details of an FBI investigation that came to focus on a janitor who worked at the observatory atop Sacramento Peak, which serves as America’s national center for ground-based solar physics.

The details make for a story that has more in common with the police blotter than with the UFO tales and solar doomsday warnings that were spawned by the observatory’s previously puzzling 10-day closure.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Why was solar observatory closed? (It wasn’t aliens)

Sunspot Solar Observatory
The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope is the centerpiece of the Sunspot Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. (National Science Foundation Photo)

After days of fighting rumors about alien visitations, the managers of the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico say they’re reopening the facility — and have shed more light on the reason for its 10-day security-related closure.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Imagine intelligent aliens on water worlds

Undersea exploration
A future mission to Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, could send a probe through the ice to explore what’s thought to be an ocean beneath. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

Instead of cave dwellers gathered around a campfire, roasting mastodon meat, imagine an octopus tribe floating around a hydrothermal vent at the seafloor, boiling lobsters.

That’s the scenario sketched out by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Germany’s Technical Institute Berlin who’s also an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and Washington State University.

In an essay published today on Smithsonian Air and Space magazine’s website, Schulze-Makuch notes that a fair number of potentially habitable planets could have surfaces completely covered by oceans. Could life arise on such planets? And if so, how technologically advanced could such species become?

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Scientists revise scale for weighing E.T. contact

Image: Jill Tarter
SETI pioneer Jill Tarter pays a visit to the Allen Telescope Array in California, one of the prime sites for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. (Credit: SETI Institute)

For almost 60 years, efforts to pick up signs of extraterrestrial civilizations have yielded a big fat zero, but there have been plenty of false alarms to contend with.

To provide a reality check, the International Academy of Astronautics adopted a 1-to-10 rating system for claims of contact, known as the Rio scale, back in the early 2000s. Now a group of astronomers is proposing a “Rio 2.0” scale that brings the reality check up to date.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How will we get our message across to E.T.?

Beaming signals to GJ273 b
Astronomers and artists sent a binary-coded radio transmission in the direction of an extrasolar planet known as GJ273 b in 2017. (METI International Illustration / Danielle Futselaar)

LOS ANGELES — Last year, scientists sent a binary-coded message telling the aliens what time it was. Next year, it’ll be the periodic table of the elements. And someday, they hope to transmit a universal language that even extraterrestrials might relate to.

“I think we should treat this as a multigenerational, true experiment as opposed to an observational exercise, like archaeology,” said Doug Vakoch, a veteran of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence who is now president of METI International.

Vakoch and other researchers, including linguists, gathered here this weekend at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference to consider the content for future messages to E.T.

In the process, they considered the meaning of language as well.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

So what if we find alien life? Don’t panic!

TESS spacecraft
An artist’s conception shows the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, monitoring a distant star and its planets. (NASA Illustration)

AUSTIN, Texas — If extraterrestrial life exists, there’s a chance we’ll detect it sometime in the next 20 years. And then what? A recently published study suggests that most folks will take the news calmly, if they care at all.

“How would we react if we find that we’re not alone in the universe? This question has been the cause of great speculation over the years — but, until now, virtually no systematic empirical research,” Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University, said today in Austin at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In a study published by Frontiers of Psychology, Varnum and his colleagues suggest that revelations about life beyond our planet will be viewed more positively than negatively.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Scientists will seek signs of aliens’ bad behavior

HabEx telescope and sunshade
An artist’s conception shows the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission’s space telescope and its starshade. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

Global warming and nuclear blasts may be bad for humanity, but astrobiologists say they could be good indicators of the presence of intelligent life on distant worlds.

Such signatures of risky biological behavior should therefore be included in the list of things for future space telescopes to seek out, researchers say in a white paper prepared for the National Academy of Sciences.

The strategy would add a contemporary twist to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, reflecting the view that Earth is transitioning into a technology-driven geological era some call the Anthropocene.

“Examining the Anthropocene epoch through the lens of astrobiology can help to understand the future evolution of life on our planet and the possible evolution of technological, energy-intensive life elsewhere in the universe,” the researchers write.

Get the full story on GeekWire.