As a field, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence suffers from some rather significant constraints. Aside from the uncertainty involved (e.g., is there life beyond Earth we can actually communicate with?), there are the limitations imposed by technology and the very nature of space and time. For instance, scientists are forced to contend with the possibility that by the time a message is received by an intelligent species, the civilization that sent it will be long dead.
Harvard astronomers Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb tackle this very question in a new study that recently appeared online. Taking their cue from the Copernican Principle, which states that humanity and Earth are representative of the norm (and not an outlier), they calculated that if any transmissions from Earth were heard by an extraterrestrial technological civilization (ETC), it would take about 3000 years to get a reply.
Their stud, titled “Intelligent Responses to Our Technological Signals Will Not Arrive In Fewer Than Three Millennia,” recently appeared online and is being considered for publication. Whereas Siraj is a concurrent undergraduate and graduate student of astrophysics at Harvard, Prof. Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science, the Director of Harvard’s Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC), the Chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee, a bestselling author, and Siraj’s academic advisor.
Loeb is also renowned for theorizing that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, which flew past Earth in 2017, could have been extraterrestrial lightsail. This theory was originally put forth in a 2018 paper he co-wrote with postdoctoral researcher Shmuel Bialy (of the ITC). The arguments presented therein have since been expanded upon in Loeb’s most recent book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.
Prof. Loeb recently partnered with Dr. Frank Laukien and other colleagues to launch the Galileo Project, a multinational non-profit dedicated to the study of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). Siraj serves as the Director of Interstellar Object Studies for this project, and he and Loeb have published extensively on subjects ranging from black holes and meteors to panspermia and interstellar objects (many of which were on the subject of ‘Oumuamua).
For the sake of this study, Siraj and Loeb focused on a particular aspect of SETI, which they dubbed the Search for Extraterrestrial Responding Intelligence (SETRI). By this, they mean ETIs that would be motivated to message Earth in response to the detection of technological activity on our planet (aka. “technosignatures”). This addresses a question of growing importance to the SETI community.
In short, does humanity have a chance of ever hearing from an ETC before our civilization collapses or is wiped out by a natural disaster? As Siraj told Universe Today via email:
“It is important to estimate the response time from extraterrestrial responding intelligences (ETRIs) since such an estimate informs the nature of effective SETI searches — as well the implications of a confirmed signal if we ever receive one. The question we try to answer in our paper is: when might we expect our first cosmic conversation to take place?”
This establishes the first parameter of their study, which was the amount of time that humanity has been emitting detectable signatures. Of all potential technosignatures that have been considered to date, the most likely and most widely investigated by SETI researchers are still radio transmissions. In keeping with the Copernican Principle, we can assume that ETIs are also engaged in the search for signs of intelligence other than their own.
“The Copernican principle asserts that we are unlikely to live at a privileged time and so the likelihood of another habitable planet like Earth going right now through an analog of our first century of radio communication, given a few billion years of its history, is below one part in ten million,” said Loeb. “Therefore, a response is expected only within a large enough volume, containing more than ten million stars.”
It can also be safely assumed that an ETI would see radio signals as a possible technosignature and would be actively listening for them. The first long-range radio broadcast took place in 1901, when Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlantic broadcast from Cornwall, England, to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Since then, humans have been sending radio transmissions to space without thinking about the consequences.
This means that if there is a civilization within a hundred light-years of Earth with sensitive radio telescopes, they may have already heard from us. In short, we may have already “started a conversation” with an intelligent species and are just waiting for a response. Beyond this, said Siraj, they went with a number of parameters that were consistent with the Copernican Principle and the conditions under which life is known to flourish:
“[W]e considered ETIs able to communicate via electromagnetic radiation, located on Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars (aka, “life as we know it”). Furthermore, we considered radio signals (which at the speed of light) as well as physical probes, which would travel slower. We used the Copernican principle, which is inherently optimistic about the prevalence of life in the Universe, to establish a lower limit on the expected response time from ETRIs.
Transmission technologies can extend beyond radio waves to include other types of electromagnetic (EM) radiation, such as microwave lasers, X-rays, gamma-rays, and more. Since the only constraint is the speed of light – 299,792,458 m/s (1079 million km/h; 670.6 million mph) – it remains the fastest available option. It also means humans would only need to wait until the 22nd century for a transmission from a civilization located a hundred light-years away.
That being said, it is also possible that an ETC would choose to explore our planet more closely rather than send a transmitted reply. In this respect, Siraj and Loeb considered possibilities like the Voyager 1 and 2 missions, New Horizons, and the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. All of these robotic missions have or will enter interstellar space (or will in the near future) and could someday be intercepted by an ETC.
It was for this reason that the Pioneer Plaques and the Golden Records were created. However, it will take millions of years before any of these missions reach even the closest star systems to Earth. This means that if a civilization sent a probe to investigate Earth in response to radio signals from a hundred years ago, it wouldn’t arrive for hundreds of thousands of years. As Loeb explained:
“Although the latter response method results in physical contact with alien objects, it requires millions of years for the journey across a hundred light-years. This means that we still have a waiting time as long as the time that has elapsed since humans first appeared on Earth before we will witness chemically-propelled crafts in response to our radio broadcasts.”
Other possible concepts, like directed-energy propulsion (a la Breakthrough Starshot), could make the transit in much less time – at 20% the speed of light, it would reach Alpha Centauri in just 20 years. However, such concepts are effective for reaching the nearest star systems, but not stars 1000 light-years away within a reasonable timeline. As a final parameter, they considered just how many planets out there are likely to host an ETC.
“The Copernican principle asserts that we are unlikely to live at a privileged time and so the likelihood of another habitable planet like Earth going right now through an analog of our first century of radio communication, given a few billion years of its history, is below one part in ten million,” said Loeb. Working from this, they determined that a response could only be expected within a large enough volume, containing more than ten million stars.
Assuming that our galaxy is relatively homogenous in terms of the distribution of stars in its disk, this results in a volume of 1 billion cubic light-years (ly3) or one thousand light-years in any direction. This, in turn, entails a two-way travel time of more than two thousand years. This essentially means that if an ETC is aware of us and wants to talk, we would not be hearing from them until 4000 CE at the earliest. Or as Siraj summarized:
“We found that the fact that we have only existed as a technological civilization for about a hundred years means that, right now, we should not expect to hear back from an extraterrestrial civilization in response to our own signals. In other words, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that we could start a cosmic conversation.”
This conclusion is supported by previous research (conducted with the help of Dr. Frank Drake himself!) that indicated that within various parameters, a call-and-answer scenario would take longer than the average civilization’s lifespan. In other words, any signals we receive from an ETC (whether they are a response or an attempt to “start a conversation”) are likely to have been sent by a species that has since become extinct.
This, according to Siraj, is the most significant aspect of their study, which is that civilizations have a life expectancy (which they have a measure of control over). In essence, it underscores the importance of ensuring that humanity doesn’t succumb to self-destruction or a cataclysmic fate. “The big takeaway here is that we’d better get our act together and figure out how to survive long-term if we ever want to participate in a cosmic conversation!”
Further Reading: arXiv
Bird reports rose during lockdowns | Cornell Chronicle – Cornell Chronicle
Around 80% of bird species examined in a new study were reported in greater numbers in human-altered habitats during pandemic lockdowns, according to new research based on data from the eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
In the paper, “Reduced Human Activity During COVID-19 Alters Avian Land Use Across North America,” published Sept. 22 in Science Advances, researchers compared online eBird observations from the United States and Canada from before and during the pandemic. They focused on areas within about 100 km of urban areas, major roads, and airports.
Vast amounts of data from a likewise vast geographic area were vital for this study. The researchers used more than 4 million eBird observations of 82 bird species from across Canada and the U.S.
“A lot of species we really care about became more abundant in human landscapes during the pandemic,” said study senior author Nicola Koper of the University of Manitoba, which led the research. “I was blown away by how many species were affected by decreased traffic and activity during lockdowns.”
Reports of bald eagles increased in cities with the strongest lockdowns. Ruby-throated hummingbirds were three times more likely to be reported within a kilometer of airports than before the pandemic. Barn swallows, a threatened species in Canada, were reported more often within a kilometer of roads than before the pandemic.
A few species decreased their use of human-altered habitat during the pandemic. Red-tailed hawk reports decreased near roads, perhaps because there was less roadkill when traffic declined. But far more species had increased counts in these human-dominated landscapes.
The authors filtered pandemic and pre-pandemic eBird reports so that the final data sets had the same characteristics, such as location, number of lists, and level of birdwatcher effort.
“We also needed to be aware of the detectability issue,” said co-author Alison Johnston, assistant director of the Center for Avian Population Studies and Ecological Data in the Lab of Ornithology. “Were species being reported in higher numbers because people could finally hear the birds without all the traffic noise, or was there a real ecological change in the numbers of birds present?”
The study tested whether better detectability might be a factor in the larger bird numbers reported. If it was, the scientists expected that to be more noticeable for smaller birds, which are harder to detect beneath traffic noise. However, effects were noticed across many species, from hawks to hummingbirds, suggesting that the increased numbers were not only caused by increased detectability in the quieter environments.
“Having so many people in North America and around the world paying attention to nature has been crucial to understanding how wildlife react to our presence,” says lead author Michael Schrimpf, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba. “Studies such as this one rely on volunteer birdwatchers, so if you enjoy watching wildlife, there are many projects out there, like eBird and iNaturalist, that can use your help.”
The study was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada with in-kind support provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space – Californianewstimes.com
Give a few seconds (or a minute or two if needed) to startle and gaze at the Earth’s scenery from the recently launched SpaceX Crew Dragon above.
on Wednesday,Tied to the SpaceX Crew Dragon with one of the upgrades: Cupola. The transparent dome at the top of the Dragon Capsule provides the Inspiration 4 crew with the best views of the Earth that up-and-coming astronauts can dream of. This is the first time a cupola has been installed on a dragon. Dragons typically carry astronauts and cargo to the ISS, with docking ports at the top instead of windows.
A short video posted to the SpaceX Twitter account hours after the launch shows the cupola’s transparent dome against the Earth, which is a pale blue marble.
As the Crew Dragon orbits from a height of 585 kilometers (more than 360 miles), our planet is exposed to the sun and slowly roams around the orbs.
Inspiration 4’s crew (commander Jared Isaacman, doctor’s assistant, childhood cancer survivor Haley Arseno, aerospace engineer Chris Sembroski, African-American geology professor Sian Proctor) are in orbit for three days. Ride and stare at the cupola and the earth.
And did you say that the cupola is right next to the dragon’s toilet? Yeah, the view of the earth should be visible from the crew dragon’s bathroom. Isaacman told insiders Toilets are one of the few places where you can separate yourself from others with privacy curtains and have the best toilet windows of mankind. “When people inevitably have to use the bathroom, they will see one view of hell,” he said.
Astronauts who have been to space often talk about a phenomenon called the “overview effect.” Looking at the planet from above, the idea is that the way we think about the planet and the mass of humankind that depends on it will change. There may be a lot of revelation at the end of the Inspiration 4 journey, as I don’t know if they thought of it while sitting in the can.
The mission is the first mission to take off from the Florida coast on Wednesday night and be launched with four civilians. It is expected to return to Earth on Saturday and land in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space Source link SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space
Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico – Al Jazeera English
Fossilised footprints dating 23,000 years push back the known date the continent was colonised by thousands of years.
Footprints dating back 23,000 years have been discovered in the United States, suggesting humans settled North America long before the end of the last Ice Age, according to researchers.
The findings announced on Thursday push back the date at which the continent was colonised by its first inhabitants by thousands of years.
The footprints were left in mud on the banks of a long-since dried up lake, which is now part of a New Mexico desert.
Sediment filled the indentations and hardened into rock, protecting evidence of our ancient relatives, and giving scientists a detailed insight into their lives.
The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the United States Geological Survey recently analysed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from 22,800 to 21,130 years ago.
“Many tracks appear to be those of teenagers and children; large adult footprints are less frequent,” write the authors of the study published in the American journal Science.
“One hypothesis for this is the division of labour, in which adults are involved in skilled tasks whereas ‘fetching and carrying’ are delegated to teenagers.
“Children accompany the teenagers, and collectively they leave a higher number of footprints.”
Researchers also found tracks left by mammoths, prehistoric wolves, and even giant sloths, which appear to have been approximately at the same time as the humans visited the lake.
The Americas were the last continent to be reached by humanity.
For decades, the most commonly accepted theory has been that settlers came to North America from eastern Siberia across a land bridge – the present-day Bering Strait.
From Alaska, they headed south to kinder climes.
Archaeological evidence, including spearheads used to kill mammoths, has long suggested a 13,500-year-old settlement associated with so-called Clovis culture – named after a town in New Mexico.
This was considered the continent’s first civilisation, and the forerunner of groups that became known as Native Americans.
However, the notion of Clovis culture has been challenged over the past 20 years, with new discoveries that have pushed back the age of the first settlements.
Generally, even this pushed-back estimate of the age of the first settlements had not been more than 16,000 years, after the end of the so-called “last glacial maximum” – the period when ice sheets were at their most widespread.
This episode, which lasted until about 20,000 years ago, is crucial because it is believed that with ice covering much of the northern parts of the continent, human migration from Asia into North America and beyond would have been very difficult.
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