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Posts Tagged ‘extraterrestrial life

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • Centauri Dreams notes that the Milky Way Galaxy, though vast, is actually quite dim. People positioned outside of it wouldn’t see much.
  • D-Brief notes the discovery of a planet orbiting one of two stars in a reasonably close binary system at an Earth-like distance. Good news for Alpha Centauri?
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper on the exoplanet systems of subdwarf B stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper examining the methane reservoirs on Titan.
  • Far Outliers notes recent commentary suggesting that Russia would prefer Ukraine not develop a capable modern state, since that could weaken Russian influence.
  • Language Hat shares a list of 55 peculiarities of Canadian English.
  • Language Log disproves the argument that Canadians are more apologetic than others.
  • Marginal Revolution notes controversies over fracking in Australia.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the interesting results of a lawsuit lodged against a bar by a former employee claiming sexual and religious harassment.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how modernization in Russia is threatening minority ethnic groups, and looks at Russian Orthodox-tinged militias in Ukraine.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • blogTO shares pictures of the lineups for free food on Canada Day at Mandarin’s buffet restaurants.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper identifying three thousand nearby red dwarf stars as potential sites of Earth-like exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a sober assessment of the Chinese space program.
  • The Frailest Thing considers the import of Facebook’s experiment on its user base by noting the ability of complex systems to undergo unexpected catastrophes.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Google’s social network Orkut, big in Brazil and India but absent elsewhere, will be shutting down at the end of this September.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that anti-gay activists are pleased with the Hobby Lobby ruling.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Adam Block shares pictures of colliding and interacting galaxies.
  • Seriously Science notes that not only do spiders have different personality types, but that these types contribute to the maintenance of their physical cultures.
  • The Signal notes ongoing research into data recovery methods and issues with compact discs.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes cases where putting the victim on trial does matter. (Records of past violence are noteworthy.)
  • Towleroad notes an economist observing that homophobia has an economic impact and points to an upcoming Irish referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015 that’s quite likely to pass.
  • Window on Eurasia quotes a Ukrainian about Russia’s issues with a separate Ukraine and notes a statement by Kaliningrad’s government claiming some Ukrainian refugees in Russia might be anti-Russian activists in disguise.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Discover‘s Collideascape notes that, even as agricultural land is falling worldwide, the productivity of this land is increasing even more sharply.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper examining the extent to which saline water might make cooler planets better for live, and to another paper suggesting that planetary magnetic fields are so importance for life (and oxygen levels) that brief reversals in the history of Earth have led to mass extinctions.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a Ukrainian report that the country’s military has captured a Russian tank.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that vehemently anti-gay Minnesota archbishop John Nienstadt is being investigated for allegedly having sexual relationships with men.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that, despite economic collapse, there are some jobs (like low-paying fieldwork) that Portuguese just won’t do.
  • The New APPS Blog’s Gordon Hull notes the gender inequity involved in the recent Hobby Lobby ruling in the United States.
  • pollotenchegg maps the slow decline of Ukraine’s Jewish population in the post-1945 era.
  • Speed River Journal’s Van Waffle writes eloquently about his connections to and love of Lake Erie.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs links to a cartographic examination of the time spent by French television news examining different areas of the world.
  • Towleroad notes a faux apology made by the Israeli education minister after attacking gay families.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Jonathan Adler notes the future of contraception coverage under Obamacare.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on fears that Crimean Tatar organizations will soon suffer a Russian crackdown, and suggests that the West should reconsider its policies on Belarus to encourage that country to diversify beyond Russia.

[LINK] “A New Mantra: Follow the Methane — May Advance Search for Extraterrestrial Life”

Universe Today’s Shannon Hall notes advances in the search for atmospheric methane on exoplanets. This biomarker, present on worlds like Titan among potentially very many others, can now be detected at a distance of light-years in a whole variety of environments.

The search for life is largely limited to the search for water. We look for exoplanets at the correct distances from their stars for water to flow freely on their surfaces, and even scan radiofrequencies in the “water hole” between the 1,420 MHz emission line of neutral hydrogen and the 1,666 MHz hydroxyl line.

When it comes to extraterrestrial life, our mantra has always been to “follow the water.” But now, it seems, astronomers are turning their eyes away from water and toward methane — the simplest organic molecule, also widely accepted to be a sign of potential life.

Astronomers at the University College London (UCL) and the University of New South Wales have created a powerful new methane-based tool to detect extraterrestrial life, more accurately than ever before.

[. . .] Sergei Yurchenko, Tennyson and colleagues set out to develop a new spectrum for methane. They used supercomputers to calculate about 10 billion lines — 2,000 times bigger than any previous study. And they probed much higher temperatures. The new model may be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of Earth, up to 1,500 K.

[. . .]

The tool has already successfully reproduced the way in which methane absorbs light in brown dwarfs, and helped correct our previous measurements of exoplanets. For example, Yurchenko and colleagues found that the hot Jupiter, HD 189733b, a well-studied exoplanet 63 light-years from Earth, might have 20 times more methane than previously thought.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO posts a history of the Toronto Islands, and how a peninsula became an archipelago.
  • Crooked Timber makes the argument that cross-national intelligence undermines national democracies.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that there may be a hundred million worlds in our galaxy capable of supporting life.
  • Imageo shows the startling depth of the drought in California.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the victim of a gay-bashing in New York City allegedly by members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish street patrol is suing them.
  • Language Hat announces that twenty previously unknown Pablo Neruda poems have been found in Chile.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the increasing walkability of Los Angeles.
  • Registan notes continuing issues for women in Azerbaijan.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog is skeptical of the possibilities that the Donetsk basin in the east could be reconciled to wider Ukraine after this war is over, raising the spectre of Catalonia in post-Franco Spain.
  • Spacing Toronto shares a story of an investigation to an unscenic pair of billboards placed at the intersection of Davenport Road and Bathurst Street.
  • Torontoist notes a local protest by migrant rights’ activists against the shutdown of the temporary foreign worker program.
  • The Transit Toronto blog commemorates the end of the 28 Davisville bus route.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • blogTO’s Derek Flack posts photos of beach scenes in Toronto dating back a century or more.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly offers ten tips for tourists visiting New York City.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that life on planets can influence the effective size of the circumstellar habitable zone, expanding it inwards or outwards.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to an Economist article arguing that the English language has become the common language of the European Union’s citizens.
  • Eastern Approaches comments on the life of Polish general Wojciech Jaruzelski.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ PO Neill notes that the European Monetary System predating the Euro was associated with booms and busts in Ireland, among other countries.
  • Kieran Healy notes a study suggesting that the success or not of crowdfunding and other online collaborations is strongly determined by whether or not people make initial large contributions.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on the ethics of immigration and border control.
  • At the Planetary Science Blog, Joseph O’Rourke summarizes a paper suggesting it’s reasonably likely that Pluto has plate tectonics and subsurface oceans, derived from the impact that created its binary partner Charon.
  • pollotenchegg maps turnout in the recent Ukrainian election.
  • Strange Maps notes that the Belgian province of Liège looks in outline quite a lot like Belgium.
  • Torontoist notes that the policies of the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak would bode ill for Toronto if they won the upcoming election.
  • Window on Eurasia links to an author who predicts only hard and soft authoritarianism for Russia.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • io9 notes that apparently circumbinary planets and their moons–planets orbiting two stars which themselves closely orbit each other–might be better-suited to life than planets orbiting single stars.
  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster reacts to Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep, an imagining of a far future where slower-than-light travel is compensated for by hibernation technology.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to Kevin Luhman’s discovery paper for nearby brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
  • A Fistful of Euros reports on the Ukrainian release of intercepted communications between the Russian ambassador and separatists.
  • Mathew Ingram describes the role played by blogger Eliot Higgins in, through his sterling research, is undermining traditional models of journalism.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair reports on the linguistic diversity within greater Tibet.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen predicts that Russia will undermine the Ukrainian government to the point that the entire country will align with Russia, not just fragments.
  • John Moyer makes the case for reading Beowulf. (It’s like Die Hard!)
  • The New APPS Blog notes that some Fox affiliates seem to be cutting oddly to commercials whenever the new Cosmos mentions human evolution.
  • Otto Pohl notes the Soviet Mennonite writers of the 1930s.
  • Savage Minds starts a discussion (through Alex Posecznick) about the ways in which anthropologists resemble hipsters.
  • Window on Eurasia links to a few article, one describing the current events as a delayed reaction to the Soviet split of 1991, another noting the de-Ukrainianization of Crimean schools, another noting Crimea’s potential for instability, another observing persecution of religious minorities including Ukrainian Catholics in Crimea, and noting separatism among the Karakalpak of western Uzbekistan.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders if one way to deal with the overaccumulation of wealth by elites is to get them to spend it in vast showy projects, like a crash program for nuclear fusion or a colonization of the upper atmosphere of Venus.
  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of the nearby and literally ice-cold brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin argues that a recent American court case regarding a whistleblower highlights a tension between an individual’s freedoms as a citizens and limits as a private individual.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers suggesting that a star’s circumstellar habitable zone could expand inwards if a planet is different from Earth, one pointing to slower-rotating planets and the other to lower-mass planets than Earth.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the fascinating recovery of evidence of hunting nine thousand years ago from the bottom of Lake Huron.
  • Writing at the Financial Times‘ The World blog, Edward Luce is worried about Narendra Modi.
  • Language Log comments on browser plug-ins and other like things which adjust text to fit prescriptivist dictates.
  • James Nicoll seems much less impressed than the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin in the idea of science fiction writers being criticized for their ideologies.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that a chart suggesting there’s a low chance of civil war in Ukraine actually suggests no such thing on closer analysis.
  • Towleroad notes that Russia’s anti-gay laws are now being implemented in Crimea.
  • Window on Eurasia’s links warn of the need for NATO to defend its own, highlight Belarus’ stated interest in a foreign policy that balances the European Union with the Russian sphere, and quotes Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemilev on the Crimean Tatars’ continued dissidence and hope for rescue.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • At the Broadside Blog, Caitlin Kelly promotes Greenwich Village’s Bleecker Street, in New York City, as her favourite street.
  • The Crux argues that the apparent existence of multiple planets capable of being broadly Earth-like argues ill for our future. (The question “where is everybody?” becomes much more worrisome if it appears that there should be people out there already.)
  • Cody Delistraty writes about the ways in which travel can be a negative phenomenon, unmooring people.
  • Edward Hugh, at A Fistful of Euros, is pessimistic about Spain’s economy.
  • Joe. My. God. shares video from a New York City cat cafe.
  • Language Log reports on the exceptional difficulties of Macartney’s mission to China in the late 18th century in writing Chinese.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that the legacies of the Cold War are still felt in central Europe, in the movement of deer herds which do not cross the German-Czech border.
  • Towleroad reports on the grief of a lesbian couple in Iowa after their adoptive son died in the care of his parents.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the unstable and questionable nature of the “Russian world” model and observes the sympathies of some in Tatarstan for Crimean Tatars.

[FORUM] What is your answer to the Fermi paradox?

Over at the New APPS Blog, Eric Winsberg reacts to the discovery of Kepler-186f–a roughly Earth-sized planet that is in the right location around its red dwarf star to potentially be habitable–by revisiting the Fermi paradox. If there are suitable Earth-like environments where technology-using intelligences like ourselves could develop, where is everyone?

I’ve discussed this topic in the past. I remain intrigued by Keith Wiley’s 2011 paper arguing that, at this stage, we really lack the data necessary to disprove the existence of advanced civilizations. All we can say is that we don’t think that there are any megascale constructions–Dyson spheres, for instance–in our local neighbourhood and that there are no civilizations making loud broadcasts that we’ve picked up. Winberg has come up with six possibilities.

One is that there is any substantial chance at all of life arising at all on a planet with conditions more or less like ours. I admit that it is possible for this premise to be false, but I don’t begin to see how that could be. Given the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone, let alone our local cluster, the needed probability here would be so tiny.

The second is that there is no substantial chance of life in general evolving into a life form that has the intelligence and other capacities required to create technology. This also strikes me as implausible.

The third is that given enough time, such a life form would eventually be capable of colonizing a nearby planet. This one seems very likely to be true, given that such a capacity does not even seem wildly out of reach for us.

The forth is that such life forms aren’t extremely unlikely to _want_ to colonize nearby planets. Given that life forms tend to grow exponentially in number, and the fact that planets have finite resources and a finite capacity to absorb waste, this also seems like a tough one to deny.

The fifth is that some such life forms would colonize planets exponentially. That is, for example, each colonized planet would go on to colonize two more planets. Or even 1.1 more planets, on average. To make the paradox go away, one would have to deny that a single intelligent life form that had a large head start on us ever did this.

Sadly, it seems to me that the easiest premise to deny is this sixth one: intelligent life forms are never able to develop the technology, cooperative effort, etc. required to colonize a planet BEFORE they either use up all the resources, or capacity to absorb waste, of their home planet.


Written by Randy McDonald

April 21, 2014 at 2:17 am


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