[rNASA Selects Proposals to Advance Understanding of Space Weather NASA has selected three proposals for concept studies of missions that could help us better understand the dynamic space weather system driven by the Sun that manifests near Earth. Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-selects-proposals-to-advance-understanding-of-space-weather
NASA Selects Proposals to Advance Understanding of Space Weather NASA has selected three proposals for concept studies of missions that could help us better understand the dynamic space weather system driven by the Sun that manifests near Earth. Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-selects-proposals-to-advance-understanding-of-space-weather
[rNASA Awards Contract Modification for Research, Development, Engineering Support NASA has awarded a contract modification to Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, to maintain APL’s capabilities to execute robotic space missions for the agency through the full mission life cycle, from mission concept and formulation through data analysis. Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-contract-modification-for-research-development-engineering-support
Where Is Everyone? 4 Possible Explanations for the Fermi Paradox
As we go on with our everyday lives, it’s very easy to forget about the sheer size of the universe.
The Earth may seem like a mighty place, but it’s practically a grain within a grain of sand in a universe that is estimated to contain over 200 billion galaxies. That’s something to think about the next time you take life too seriously.
So when we gaze up into the starry night sky, we have every reason to be awestruck—and overwhelmed with curiosity. With the sheer size of the universe and the number of galaxies, stars, and planets in it, surely there are other sentient beings out there. But how come we haven’t heard from them?
This question has come to be known as the Fermi paradox. Named after Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, the paradox describes the seeming contradiction between the potential for intelligent life in the cosmos and the fact that we have yet to detect any.
Other scientists like Frank Drake have attempted to quantify the statistical probability of life existing elsewhere in the universe. By taking into account factors such as the estimated number of sun-like stars, habitable earth-like planets and a conservative assumption of life developing in those planets, the Drake equation estimates anywhere between 1,000 and 100,000,000 radio-communicative civilizations in the Milky Way alone.
So the question has to be asked: where is everybody?
Here are a few possible explanations.
It Takes Time and Space—a Lot
One common explanation for the Fermi paradox is that it simply takes lots of time for any decipherable signals to travel across the cosmos. It also takes time (billions upon billions of years at best) for any species to become advanced enough for interstellar communication, intergalactic space travel, and possible colonization. Their signals may not have reached ours, and ours may not have reached them. Given the size of the universe and the pace of evolution, we may simply need a special kind of patience—the kind that transcends generations.
In fact, we may be living in a “rural” or detached part of the Milky Way galaxy. Some scientists have suggested that any advanced civilization will rely on maximizing their information and intelligence processing technologies. As a result, such civilizations may choose to set up their massive supercomputers and technological warehouses at the outer regions of the Milky Way where they can better manage heat waste.
Technical Difficulties: We Can’t Read Their Signals
Most sci-fi and Hollywood blockbusters have traditionally depicted extraterrestrial beings as very human-like, often with vertebrate features or similarities to other species on Earth. However, we have no reason to assume that life elsewhere in the universe will have taken the same pathway of evolution as ours. There’s no reason it would look or operate like life as we know it. To anthropomorphize the idea of extraterrestrial beings is a failure of intelligence.
While organizations like SETI have focused on sending and detecting radio signals, it could be that extraterrestrial species have taken a completely different technical approach. Other advanced civilizations may be sending out signals, but we don’t have the technology to detect or decipher them as they are beyond our current understanding of physics. Their language, mathematics, realities, scientific understandings, and consciousness could be beyond anything we can imagine.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson asks us to “imagine a life form whose brain power is to ours as ours is to a chimpanzee’s. To such a species, our highest mental achievements would be trivial.”
The opposite could also be true; any species that has detected our signals so far has simply not been able to recognize or decipher them as coming from another civilization.
The Transcension Hypothesis: They Are Already Here
One of the major assumptions of the ideas discussed so far is that all advanced civilizations will be motivated to explore and colonize the observable universe. It could be, however, that the species that venture out into a seemingly cold, hostile, and dark universe are the ones that are doomed for failure.
Such is where truly advanced civilizations, the ones that tap into both complex intelligence and higher consciousness, would choose to venture inwards rather than outwards. Proposed by futurist John Smart, the transcension hypothesis posits that a “universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced technologies into what may be called inner space.”
The increasing power of computing combined with the possibility of uploading our minds into machines could mean that advanced civilizations may upload their minds onto quantum particles and exist in the fabric of spacetime. Such entities may already be around us but impossible to detect. And if not, they may very well be harboring near black holes at the center of the Milky Way, a region Smart calls the “galactic transcension zone.” This hypothesis may sound outrageous, but it is aligned with the current technological pathway of humanity.
The Zoo and Planetarium Hypotheses
In contrast, proponents of the zoo hypothesis suggest that aliens who are more advanced than we are are not only observing us from afar, but have us locked into a kind of “celestial cage,” leaving us off-limits from any other advanced civilization. They may be doing doing so in order to allow humanity’s natural biological and social development.
Finally, there are those that force us to question our very assumptions about the reality we live in. The planetarium hypothesis posits that our understanding of the universe represents a mere illusion that has been created by civilizations that have the ability to manipulate matter and energy at cosmic scales. In other words, what we consider an objective understanding of the universe could be a subjective species-wide illusion.
The simulation hypothesis makes a similar proposition: that we are living in a computer simulation being run by a post-human civilization.
Are We Alone in the Universe?
All these thought-provoking hypotheses aside, we may have to entertain the possibility that intelligent beings like us are simply rare in the universe. It could very well be that we are one of the first species to make it this far. After all, 99 percent of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct, and we are the only species that has ever been able to leave the planet.
While this may sound incompatible with the statistics of Drake’s equation, it may very well be aligned with our understanding of the development of the universe. The Phase Transition hypothesis suggests that the conditions to support life as we know it may have “just” fallen into place. This may be the first time life has been allowed to evolve, uninterrupted by cosmic threats and astrological disasters, into an advanced civilization.
On the face of it, this possibility may be terrifying; we could allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by an intergalactic loneliness. On the other hand, this insight could contribute to a positive transformation of how we perceive and treat one another as living beings. It can motivate us to treat our planet and all life that lives on it with the recognition that we will not find such prosperity elsewhere in the cosmos.
As Carl Sagan famously put it, “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
Source: Singularity Hub:
[rNASA to Provide Coverage of Hurricane Dorian NASA will be tracking Hurricane Dorian throughout this Labor Day weekend. The agency will provide status updates on the storm as it nears Florida and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the state’s central east coast, as well as updated video and imagery. Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-provide-coverage-of-hurricane-dorian
Nuke Mars? Here Are Some (Hopefully Better) Alternatives
Scientists and science fiction writers have been toying with the idea of terraforming Mars for the better part of a century. Turning the red planet green is seen as a crucial step towards humankind becoming an interstellar species.
One recent suggestion is that it could be done by launching nuclear weapons at Mars. The explosions would, in theory, release CO2 and create a greenhouse effect, thereby increasing its frigid temperatures.
It sounds wild, bordering on crazy, but so do many of the other ideas that have been floated about how we could potentially make Mars support human life. Each has its own merits and challenges, but a common factor for all is that they need exponential technologies to advance before being viable.
Nuking Mars hit viral take-off recently when Elon Musk tweeted that we should considering using nuclear weapons to terraform the Red Planet. It’s an idea Musk has floated several times over the last few years, and now it’s got its own t-shirt. Musk himself has since seemed to backtrack a bit, stating that he wasn’t suggesting nukes are the only way to go, only that we should be open to exploring a wide range of options.
Perhaps we should start by scratching nukes off the list entirely. Ethical and legal issues aside, it would probably require us setting off about 3,000 nukes over Mars a day, for about 7 weeks. Long before we’d be finished, we’d run out of nukes.
For other ideas, we can turn to sci-fi writers and scientists, including Carl Sagan and NASA. NASA released On the Habitability of Mars: An Approach to Planetary Ecosynthesis in 1976, which highlights genetically engineered photosynthetic organisms and melting the polar ice caps as potential ways of greening Mars.
We’ll get back to how NASA feels about terraforming Mars today, but first let’s meet some of the other possible ways we could go about it.
Meet the Candidates
Asteroids likely played a central role in making Earth the green planet it is today. We could potentially try doing the same to Mars by hurling either many smaller or a few massive asteroids at the planet. The assault with celestial bodies would release masses of CO2, as well as possibly water.
If it were a cooking recipe, using mirrors to terraform Mars would go as follows: build a range of massive space mirrors with a diameter about the distance between Washington DC and Philadelphia. Reflect the sun’s rays onto Mars to vaporize CO2 trapped on the planet in order to trigger a greenhouse effect. Bake until ready.
Genetically engineered microbes could be a way to produce a breathable atmosphere on Mars via the microbes’ photosynthesis. They would face harsh living conditions, but the recent Israeli mission to our moon is testament to how hardy microbes are. An unknown number of tardigrades were on board the craft and they might still be alive (and if so, they’re probably wondering what just happened to them).
We may also try a frontal industrial revolution-style attack. It would involve setting up factories on the planet with the sole purpose of producing gases such as methane, CO2, and CFCs, alongside water vapor, and releasing them into the atmosphere. A distinctly tongue-in-cheek article has suggested that the same could perhaps be achieved by the wholesale “export” of fossil fuel company decision-makers to Mars.
Not in the Clear
The proposed ideas are still more akin to drawing snow forts on a piece of paper than practical solutions. A central issue for them all is whether the necessary materials are found on Mars or in its general vicinity. For some, like asteroids, the answer is no (although there’s an abundance of them between Mars and Jupiter). Others, such as the materials needed for construction of giant mirrors, remain more unclear. The same applies to the amount of water or greenhouse gases trapped in Mars’ rocky surface, without which most terraforming processes would likely stall.
Other issues also still need to be addressed. For example, the magnetic field surrounding Mars is less extensive than the one surrounding Earth. Consequentially, the planet’s ability to “latch on” to atmospheric elements and block harmful solar radiation is lower. In other words, we need to find a solution or risk seeing much of the atmospheric elements produced during terraforming processes drift off into space.
With that in mind, it may not come as a surprise that a NASA study from 2018 looked at the last 20 years of spacecraft observations of Mars and concluded that it is not possible to terraform Mars with present-day technology. It goes on to say that “any such efforts have to be very far into the future.”
Of course, not all such efforts need to be far off in the distant future. If and when we decide to set up permanent residency on our red neighbor, it need not be a wholesale operation. The first step will likely be creating biodome structures using, for example, bubbles of silica aerogel that can mimic Earth’s atmosphere.
Enter Exponential Technology
You might well be asking, “if it’s so difficult, why bother trying to terraform Mars?” There are a series of answers, including:
- The non-answer: that’s an excellent question
- The Everest response: because it’s there and we might be able to do it
- The depressing reply: we’re using up our current planet and may need a new one
- The Star Trek retort: because it’s the first step in boldly going where no one has gone before
Whatever your preferred response, it looks likely that colonizing the red planet on a global scale will require terraforming, which isn’t currently technologically viable. In the short term, we would do well to focus on fixing the human-caused risks that could be making Earth’s environment more like that of Mars or Venus.
However, if exponential technology has taught us anything, it is that progress often happens faster than we expect. Colonizing Mars through terraforming may be viable sooner than we think.
Exhibit A is a small thought experiment. Imagine going back a few decades and proposing a story outline to a science fiction writer. The story would feature a serial entrepreneur. First, he helped make money virtual, before founding a company making electrical (semi) self-driving cars and a reusable space rocket enterprise. He was about to fly people on tourist trips around the moon. Oh, and his newest idea is to terraform Mars using nuclear weapons. That writer would likely dismiss the premise as so unbelievable that it wouldn’t make for a good story.
Yet here we are—in real life.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
Source: Singularity Hub:
[rNASA Awards Contract for Flight Dynamics Support Services NASA has awarded the Flight Dynamics Support Services (FDSS) III contract, a small business set-aside, to OPR, LLC of Beltsville, Maryland, to provide flight dynamics support services to, and related service support for, the Engineering and Technology Directorate’s Mission and Systems Analysis Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Green Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-contract-for-flight-dynamics-support-services
[rNASA Invites Students to Name Next Mars Rover Red rover, red rover, send a name for Mars 2020 right over! NASA is recruiting help from students nationwide to find a name for its next Mars rover mission. Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-invites-students-to-name-next-mars-rover
NASA Invites Students to Name Next Mars Rover Red rover, red rover, send a name for Mars 2020 right over! NASA is recruiting help from students nationwide to find a name for its next Mars rover mission. Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-invites-students-to-name-next-mars-rover
[rNorth Carolina Students to Speak with NASA Astronaut on Space Station Students in North Carolina will talk live this week with a NASA astronaut currently living and working aboard the International Space Station. Source: NASA Breaking news http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/north-carolina-students-to-speak-with-nasa-astronaut-on-space-station