The older I get, the more it becomes clear that most of humankind's problems stem from intentional ignorance: Choosing to hold onto problematic beliefs despite evidence that shows these beliefs lead to harm, or could, or when they're simply no longer useful or relevant and get in the way of building a better future.

If you know something causes problems for others or for our shared environment, yet you continue to support that harmful thing, you're not "following your heart," being moral, or such. You've become part of the problem. Traditions and heritage are not always good. They're history. It's okay if obsolete beliefs stay in the past.

Resist intentional ignorance. Don't be the problem. If you learn something that changes your perspective or challenges your beliefs, follow Theodore Sturgeon's advice: Keep asking the next question. When you discover that you were ignorant of the facts or of others' feelings, embrace the new thing you learned. Grow, become a better person. Be part of the solution. The better world you'll live in is yours, too! Isn't that kind of the Golden Rule? That seems like a good one to follow.

But seriously, any super-intelligent, super-powerful, godlike being that wants to keep its people in ignorance is a slavemaster or malicious asshole. If Earth's god-worshipping religions are based on such beings, well, to hell with those alien jerks! Sure, humans as a whole can be terrible monsters, but intentionally keeping us in ignorance isn't making things better. I'd only forgive them if they were to appear this afternoon and say, "Sorry, our bad. We've been reinforcing your ignorance and self-hatred for too long. Now that you're approaching the Technological Singularity, it's time you learned the truth."

...I mean, we're about to become really dangerous - not just to ourselves, but to the rest of the galaxy. If some awful group of tech-savvy industrialists or terrorists - or some gov't seeking ultimate power - builds an intelligent nanoweapon that turns Earth to gray goo, it's not just us that's wiped out. Those self-replicating machines could consume everything on Earth, float past the now-all-nanos atmosphere, between the planets, and into interstellar space. Mars? Nano-goo. Jupiter? Supermassive ball of nano-goo. Oort Cloud? All the planets in our part of the galaxy? Nano-goo. Everything they touch will be destroyed.

So keeping us down might make sense on a galactic scale. But if that's the case, just TELL US it's in everyone's best interests to keep humans down until we're not so dangerous. TELL US that we're simply too monstrous in our mental composition to be allowed to progress. TELL US that we need to grow up, eliminate our bigotries and hatreds and other personality flaws, before we're allowed to keep moving into the future.

Because humans will do it regardless, and then what? They'll just wipe us off the face of the planet before we're too dangerous? That's terrible resource management. If there's anything worthwhile in the human species, show us the error of our ways and help us cast off our inherited memes and epigenetics. Help us learn how to be better people.

I have an even better idea: Why not just fix our problems ourselves? Why don't we as a species work on becoming better people so we don't need to worry about theoretical godlike aliens exterminating us. If there's no such thing as godlike aliens, why in the ever-loving hell do we hang onto obsolete and harmful memes from our ancient past? It's like someone with peanut allergies continuing to gobble bags of peanuts, fully aware that the next mouthful might be their last. If Earth holds the only intelligences in the galaxy, we have a responsibility not to exterminate ourselves.

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

How amazing is this? Russian cosmonauts have discovered living organisms clinging to the windows of the International Space Station:

Click the image to see the News.mic article.

Of course, one other little fella has also been proven to survive the harsh conditions of space: the heroic Tardigrade!

Want more evidence that creatures can survive in less-than-Earthly conditions? How about the recent discovery of a complex microbial ecosystem far beneath the Antarctic ice?

So: Creatures can live deep below the ice in the coldest place on Earth. They can live in the violent conditions of space. What else is thriving in the distant reaches of the Solar System? Let's find out!

Speaking of space aliens, I turned in my new story, "Orpheus' Engines," to the editor of Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, which comes out in the fall of 2015 from Baen Books. This story is the second in a series set in the "Jupiter Whispers" universe, but with some major updates to the characters and environment. Ultimately, this'll become a novel, after another story or two.

If you're reading my blog, you're probably someone familiar with the Fermi Paradox: If our galaxy is billions of years old, and stars like ours are common, and especially now that we believe all stars have planets and Earth-like planets are common, why the heck haven't we been visited by other aliens yet? Stars much older than ours abound, and we evolved intelligence and developed a technological society really quickly in galactic terms, so why isn't the galaxy teeming with megastructures like ringworlds and Dyson Spheres? Why don't we get regular alien visitors? Why isn't SETI picking up a constant interstellar dialog?

In light of these new discoveries, the Drake Equation suggests the galaxy ought to be TEEMING with aliens. So why haven't we met them?

Well, here's one dark-tinted answer: Does a galaxy filled with habitable planets mean humanity is doomed?

Other popular answers include:

Advanced civilizations don't use messy radio. Even our sphere of radio "pollution" is fading as we move away from that mode toward tight-beamed information and fiber.

Technological civilizations don't last long before they self-destruct. We might be proud of our nation, but the oldest continuous civilizations on this planet have durations in the thousands of years - that's just an eyeblink in the timescale of the galaxy... and we have only recently (in living human memory) invented ways to self-annihilate. Millions of equally advanced civilizations could have appeared and vanished before the Earth was even capable of supporting life.

On a related note: If a civilization is capable of creating the Matrix, they will. Animals seek comfort, and intelligent organic life is still a comfort-seeking animal. How many of you feel you could resist the siren song of everlasting immersion in a simulated (but absolutely realistic) world that satisfies your every need and desire? Heck, we could be living in the Matrix right now and not even be aware of it. If advanced civilizations go this deeply inward, they won't travel or communicate outward.

Advanced technological societies will always create AI, which will supersede them. This is the notion of the Technological Singularity. Relates to the prior notion if AI is benevolent, or to The Terminator or Berserker series if not. Good luck fighting something a million times smarter and faster than you, should it decide to eliminate you. Or save you to extinction, a la The Humanoids.

Planet-sweepers abound. Asteroids polish advanced life off the surface of the Earth every so often, supervolcanoes erupt even more frequently (and volcanic activity is important to creating life), even timid stars like ours go through periods of massive activity, supernovae eradicate life in their stellar neighborhoods, viruses and bacteria evolve much faster than complex life....

A Galactic Prime Directive that makes advanced civilizations invisible to the rest of us. This requires a massive bureaucracy and police force, and a population easily controlled, but it's possible. (Hint: This is the reasoning I use in The Adventures of Jack and Stella.)

They're talking, but we just can't decipher it. SETI mostly looks in the radio bandwidths, but why would super-advanced civilizations use such backwards tech?

No one has figured out faster-than-light travel. If they can't move around and colonize, we wouldn't have met them yet, and they'd be less likely to survive a planetary catastrophe if they're confined to one or a few worlds.

Or maybe everyone is just afraid of everyone else, so they're out there, everywhere, but quiet, afraid to announce themselves. If they are like us, first-contact situations don't end well, and there's no rational reason to believe everyone you'll encounter is less-advanced than you.

Do you have a favorite reason that explains why 1) the galaxy isn't teeming with life, and 2) if it is, why we haven't yet detected it?

...because the internets are full of it:

First, WTFBBQ - we've known that there's LIFE ON MARS ALL ALONG! Go here to read the formal paper.

Click the image to see the Washington Post article. Thanks, GS!


Finally, I better get back to finishing up work so I can prep for this afternoon's reading.

Here's a great video by Neil DeGrasse Tyson covering a couple of super-cool notions that combine what most excite me about astrophysics and life. This is the essence of science fiction for me!

First up, he talks about how we are starstuff, made of the most common elements in the universe. The first part of that statement is pretty basic to everyone who's ever taken a basic astronomy course: All the elements in our bodies were first manufactured in the heart of long-dead stars, starts that went supernova billions of years ago, casting their guts into space, where their matter coalesced into our Sun and the Earth and all the other matter in the Solar System. The notion I hadn't really considered before is that our form of life - carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen - is likely the most common form of life in the universe, because those are the most common elements (excepting helium, which is non-reactive, so useless to life except for using to float around). We're not likely to encounter much advanced life based on, say, lead or arsenic. Much useful idea-fodder there for SF writers.

The other cool SFnal material - perhaps even more relevant for writers thinking about aliens - is that we are only 1% or so different from chimpanzees, and that's what makes all the difference between maybe being able to do sign language and building the Hubble Space Telescope. If we encounter aliens who are only 1% different from us in intelligence, they might naturally intuit the greatest mysteries on the frontiers of science, their toddlers might be able to do astrophysics in their heads like Stephen Hawking, whom they might put in front of their anthropologists who'd say, "Aw, isn't that cute! My little BillyE59X just did that in school today and I put his homework on the fridge" - the way we do display our kids' pasta art.

If we meet superior aliens, would they stop to have a conversation with us? Well, do you stop to have a conversation with a worm? A bird? Well, maybe you do, but you don't expect the bird to hold up its side of the conversation.

Good stuff. Check it out:

I've been watching videos by him for the past couple of hours, since getting home from running errands after my Dad left to return to Minneapolis (great visit by the way! We went to see Cowboys and Aliens and the Douglas County Fair demolition derby, among other things). TONS of wonderfully insightful yet simple and accessible thoughts, much as Carl Sagan was the voice of reason and wonder from my youth. How did I miss knowing about Tyson for so long? I guess this is the sort of thing one gives up by not having cable.

In short: Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome. The universe is awesome. Everything is awesome!

This is pretty entertaining: "Armchair astronaut" David Martines claims to have discovered a mysterious structure on the surface of Mars by using Google Earth (well, Google Mars). His YouTube video of the "station" has racked up 852,000 views so far; in it, he claims to have discovered the anomaly while examining Mars using Google's handy tool, and estimates its size to be 700 feet by 150 feet. Check out his simulated voyage to Mars in the vid:

Perhaps this suggests why so many missions to Mars were destined to fail.... Here's what it looks like:

Click the image to see the Daily Mail article.

One news source points out the "red and blue painted stripes" on the station's structure. Hm. Last I checked, NASA hasn't yet responded to the announcement, but we can expect to hear from them soon. If not... I say silence = knowledge! ;-)

Secret alien science station, secret Space Defense Services outpost, or something more mundane? So: A poll!

[Poll #1749585]
PS: Is it just me, or are many people experiencing failures of the interwebs - specifically, I can't see iframes, videos, and many images, including descriptions on eBay. I use IE7 and Firefox on Windows 7, and both are experiencing the same failure... perhaps something to do with Mars Station?

Every week or two, the KU Astrobiophysics group gives a presentation (where I talked about aliens in SF a few weeks ago). Next week, former astronaut Steve Hawley presents this intriguing-sounding seminar:

Astrobiophysics Seminar - "Fossil Microorganisms in Mars Rocks?"
NASA astronaut and KU Physics and Astronomy Professor Steve Hawley
Thursday May 12, 2:30pm - 3:30pm
Malott Hall room 2055, University of Kansas

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (President Obama)
( Apr. 28th, 2011 11:45 am)
Didn't you just know it?

Of course, we all know that was mocked-up. Because he WASN'T EVEN BORN ON EARTH, MOFOS! CHECK OUT THIS UN-RETOUCHED PHOTO!

Click the image to see a silly page of stuff about Obama.

Everyone knows he arrived on Earth in 1972 aboard the triangle-shaped UFO that landed at White Sands... and was covered up by the government. 'Nuff said.

NASA's Kepler mission has now discovered more than 1200 Earthlike planets. Of those, Kepler scientists have confirmed many Earth-size planets, including those in the habitable zone, where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface.

Kepler is surveying 100,000 stars in our neighborhood of the Milky Way Galaxy (in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations) in to discover Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone. Most of these stars will be somewhere between 500 and 3,000 light years from the Solar System.

Click the image to see more about Kepler's discoveries.

One discovery was six confirmed planets orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our Solar System.

"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."

The discoveries are part of hundreds of new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released yesterday. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size, 288 are super-Earth-size, 662 are Neptune-size, 165 are Jupiter-size, and 19 are larger than Jupiter. Of the 54 new planet confirmed candidates found in the habitable zone, 5 are Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from twice the size of Earth to larger than Jupiter.

Click the image to see more about the Sea Strider on the exoplanet Darwin IV, by Wayne Barlow.

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.

"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

So, basically, what we can glean from this is that:
  • Planets are common in our part of the Milky Way Galaxy.

  • Earth-like planets are not uncommon.

  • Many Earth-like planets in our region orbit their stars in the habitable zone.


Ahem. Anyway, exciting stuff!

Watch on NASA TV!

Sounds like the arsenic-life thing is the topic!

EDIT: Yes! Here's the full story in text format via the Washington Post.

(Disclaimer: This announcement could be as mild as "New method for tracking Earth-sized planets established" or as wild as "ALIENS CONTACTED US! HOLY CRAP PEOPLE!")

There'll be a live news conference on NASA TV tomorrow (Thursday) at 11:00am Pacific / 1:00pm Central / 2:00pm East Coast time entitled, "News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2."

Click the image to see more of Wayne Barlowe's Darwin IV aliens from his fantastic book, Expedition.

More info on the NASA website.

Did you read James Gunn's The Listeners? I'm just sayin'.

Are aliens among us? Or is it just another - though extraordinary - military FUBAR? Note: US military officials still deny the vapor-trail was created by a missile. So what, then? A flaming orca headed to space? Dolphins going somewhere safer than Earth? ALIENS? Check it out, the "Mystery Missile" launched just off the coast of Los Angeles last night:

Which recalls last year's "Black Hole" over Norway:

...and don't forget the excitement stirred a couple of weeks ago by several former US military officers who testified at the National Press Club about UFOs disabling our nuclear deterrent systems in the 1960s. No, seriously!

Excitement! Adventure! Aliens among us! Or something....

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Earth-from-space)
( Oct. 1st, 2010 01:54 pm)
Re: yesterday's post about the newly discovered, Earth-like planet Gliese 581, the discoverer has given it a much more pleasant name: Zarmina's World.

He also says he's "99.999% certain" that it supports life. Wow, that's not the sort of thing you usually hear from a scientist!

Here are four big news stories I've discovered since returning from my trek to the Colorado Rockies:

Quantum Teleportation Across 10 Miles

Okay, not quite up to this level:

Click the image to see the Chinese news story.

But this headline is still pretty amazing: Chinese researchers use quantum physics to teleport photons across 10 miles of empty space. TEN MILES. Back in 2004, German scientists teleported an atom about 600 meters. That's a leap of magnitudes in range. So how does quantum teleportation work? Here's a visual explanation:

Click the image to see more details.

Teleporting people a la Star Trek is pretty far off, but these experiments prove that we can teleport stuff. This means, at minimum, that instantaneous communication across large distances is possible, and SF writers can (relatively) safely extrapolate galactic travel via information download (should we be able to truly scan and re-form the information that determines who we are) a la Stross' Glasshouse into fresh bodies is also possible. It's not about transmitting huge blobs of matter - which is impossible, due to massive energy requirements - but about transmitting the information about the matter which is possible. Think how printing works: Your computer sends info about the page you want to transport from computer to paper, and viola! there it is! You didn't transport the page, itself, just the data that your printer needed to reproduce the page. Seriously, we live in an age of wonders: Teleportation!

Artificial Life Created

Check it out: Here's what synthetic life looks like:

Click the image to see the story.

Dr. Craig Venter, creator of the synthetic genome, is seeking a patent on made a completely new "synthetic" life form from a mix of chemicals. The man-made, single-celled organism (nicknamed "Synthia") can reproduce - a required condition for something to be considered "alive." Venter reports that his technique could pave the way for more complex organisms that can "transform environmental waste into clean fuel, vaccinate against disease, and soak up pollution." Here's the paper in the journal, Science. This abstract sums up how they did it:

"We report the design, synthesis, and assembly of the 1.08-Mbp Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cell to create new Mycoplasma mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including 'watermark' sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication."

Okay, now we have teleportation and synthetic life. How are these not top news stories? All I'm finding on the front pages (print or online) are stories about BP blah blah Al-Queda blah blah stock market blah... I mean, seriously, teleportation and synthetic life don't rate front-page news? Then how about this:

Signs of Possible Life on Titan

Here's what the surface of Titan looks like, The Land of 10,000 Hydrocarbon Lakes:

Click the image to see the NASA story.

This one seems like a no-brainer for the newsies to report on, something that would interest everybody: What is consuming hydrogen and acetylene on Titan? Some scientists believe that exotic life-forms could live in the lakes of liquid hydrocarbons pooled across the surface of Saturn's largest moon - a world larger than both Mercury and Pluto, whose atmosphere is denser even than the Earth's. Fascinating place, full of fuel for life. These scientists have described the theoretical Titanian hydrocarbon-gobbling microbes as hydrogen-breathers who eating the organic molecule acetylene, exhaling or otherwise excreting methane as a by-product. If so, this would result in a lack of acetylene on Titan and a depletion of hydrogen close to the moon's surface, where the microbes live, they said. Now, measurements from the Cassini spacecraft prove these predictions, hinting that these exotic critters might, indeed, exist on this harsh and alien world.

Life on other planets, people! How cool is that? Here's a photo of Titan from the Cassini spacecraft. Clouds and mystery shroud a world that potentially harbors life:

Click the image to see the New Scientist story.

And More Proof That Profits Trump Ethics in Business

Finally, in Earth-bound, mundane, not-so-pleasant news to leaven this series of wondrous and astounding discoveries, The Author's Guild shares this:

Wiley's Deceptive Letter to Bloomberg Press Authors: "We are pleased to inform you" that we will be slicing your royalties up to 50%. Ah, publishing, full of honesty and magnanimity.

Screw that: Teleportation Synthetic life! Aliens on Titan! We live in an age of wonders.

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (winged-inklin)
( May. 5th, 2010 10:33 am)
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and author of “Confessions of an Alien Hunter,” will discuss the possibility of contact and what it would mean to the world in “The Scientific Search for ET” at 7 pm this Sunday, May 9, at Alderson Auditorium in the KU Kansas Union. It's free. Be there!

Click the image to see the story.

PS: Shostak was on the Cobert Report.

PPS: Just turned on NPR, and he and Sara Seager (Associate Professor of Physics at MIT) are on "Up to Date" right now if you want to listen to him! He's on 89.3, Kansas City's public radio station.

Spread the word!


mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)


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