GJ 1214b: Probing the Atmospheres of Super Earths

Meet GJ 1214b: one of the most Earth-like planet ever found outside oursolar system. It’s not exactly Earth’s twin: It’s about six times bigger, a whole lot hotter and made mostly of water. But compared to the giant gas balls that account for nearly every other extrasolar planet everfound, it’s pretty darn close. And through a fortunate happenstance of cosmic geometry, astronomers will be able to study GJ 1214b in great detail.
GJ 1214b, first discovered in December 2009, is 2.7 times the size of Earth and 6.5 times as massive. Previous observations ofthe planet’s size and mass demonstrated it has a low density for its size, leading astronomers to conclude the planet is some kind of solid body with an atmosphere. The planet orbits close to its dim star, at a distance of 0.014 astronomical units. An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun, approximately 93 million miles. Its host star lies about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer). It is a faint star, but it is also small, which means that the size of the planet is large compared to the stellar disc, making it relatively easy to study. The planet travels across the disc of its parent star once every 38 hours as it orbits at a distance of only two million kilometres: about seventy times closer than the Earth orbits the sun. GJ 1214b circles too close to its star to be habitable by any ‘Earthly’ life forms.

[Image Details: Using a ground-based telescope, astronomers, including two NASASagan Fellows, made the first characterizations of a super-Earth’s atmosphere. A super-Earth is a planet up to three timesthe size of Earth and up to 10 times the weight.]

The atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet has been analysed for the first time by an international team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The planet, which is known as GJ 1214b, was studied as it passed in front of its parent star and some of the starlight passed through the planet’s atmosphere. We now know that the atmosphere is either mostly water in the form of steam or is dominated by thick clouds or hazes. The findings, reported are a significant milestone toward eventually being able to probe the atmospheres of Earth-like planets for signs of life.

To study the atmosphere, the team observed the light coming from the star as the planet passed in front of it. During these transits, some of the starlight passes through the planet’s atmosphere and, depending on the chemical composition and weather on the planet, specific wavelengths of light are absorbed. The team then compared these precise new measurements with what they would expect to see for several possible atmospheric compositions. This same type of technique has been used to study the atmospheres of distant “hot Jupiters,” or Jupiter-like planets orbiting close to their stars, and found gases like hydrogen, methane and sodium vapor.

In the case of the super-Earth, no chemical fingerprints were detected; however, this doesn’t mean there are no chemicals present. Instead, this information ruled out some possibilities for GJ 1214b’s atmosphere, and narrowed the scope to either an atmosphere of water steam or high clouds. Astronomers believe it’s more likely the atmosphere is too thin around the planet to let enough light filter through and reveal chemical fingerprints.

The team determined the planet, GJ 1214b, is either blanketed with a thin layer of water steam or surrounded by a thick layer of high clouds. If the former, the planet itself would have an icy composition. If the latter, the planet would be rocky or similar to the composition of Neptune, though much smaller.

This is the first super-Earth known to have an atmosphere. But even with these new measurements, we can’t say yet what that atmosphere is made of. This world is being very shy and veiling its true nature from us. A steamy atmosphere would have to be very dense – about one-fifth water vapor by volume — compared to our Earth, with an atmosphere that’s four-fifths nitrogen and one-fifth oxygen with only a touch of water vapor. During the next year, we should have some solid answers about what this planet is truly like.

That list of ingredients raises at least the possibility of life. With an estimated temperature of 370 degrees Fahrenheit, GJ 1214b is an unlikely incubator (Earth’s toughest extremophile, a microbe that lives in deep-sea volcanic vents, maxes out at 284 degrees) but it’s not impossible.

[Source: NASA/ESO]

Carnival of Space #179

Welcome to the carnival of space #179. If you have no idea what a carnival of space is, you can hit this page at Universe Today.

Imagine however a lunar base derived from S-IVB lander stages, as mentioned above. Each station would be the colonizable equivalent of Skylab on the ground– coverable with lunar regolith for radiation protection. With two men landing in the S-IVB, a very minimal 2 man personal reentry vehicle, imagine a version of the MOOSE (upper right) and a small two stage booster (perhaps the equivalent of the LESS on top of the MOBEV, see top center) with one of the reentry protection concepts from upper right, about 3.5 tons of the landed 7 ton payload would be the direct up return craft and reentry vehicle, (this is only HALF the weight of the 3 man Command Module alone that actually flew!) the rest supplies for expedition and colonizing the LASS lander.

Joseph Friedlander at Next Big Future site, talks about What was the best way to use the Saturn V to reach the Moon– in retrospect? An excellent discussion. Mr. Brian Wang discusses Vasimr 200 kilowatt plasma rocket achieves full power milestone.

To celebrate Mars Express’ recent mission extension to 2014, here[At Planetary Blog] are some cool pictures that it took of Mars’ inner and larger moon Phobos.

Steve Nerlich at Cheap Astronomy exudes a podcast on the origin of the oceans.

Online Schools hosts an article about space resources and also an introduction to black holes.

November 23rd, astronomers from the Asiago Novae and Symbiotic Stars collaboration announced recent changes in the symbiotic variable star, AX Persei, could indicate the onset of a rare eruption of this system. The last major eruption took place between 1988 and1992. In the (northern hemisphere) spring of 2009, AX Per underwent a short outburst that was the first time since 1992 this star had experienced a bright phase. Now AX Per is on the rise again. This has tempted astronomers to speculate that another major eruption could be in the making.

The AAVSO light curve of AX Persei from 1970 to November 2010. In the middle is the eruption of 1988-1992. The precursor outburst is the sudden narrow brightening left of the larger eruption. To the right of the light curve you can see the 2009 brightening event. Is this a precursor to a coming major eruption?

Symbiotic variable stars are binary systems whose members are a hot compact white dwarf in a wide orbit around a cool giant star. The orbital periods of symbiotic variables are between 100 and 2000 days. Unlike dwarf novae, compact binaries whose periods are measured in hours, where mass is transferred directly via an accretion disk around the white dwarf, siphoned directly from the surface of the secondary, in symbiotic variables the pair orbit each other far enough away that the mass exchanged between them comes from the strong stellar wind blowing off the red giant. Both stars reside within a shared cloud of gas and dust called a common envelope.

You can find more about it on Mike Simonsen’s blog Simostronomy.

Jupiter’s missing  belt to return? by Ian Musgrave

Cepheids are not such eclipsing binaries, being intrinsically variable, that is their fluctuating brightness comes from some process inside them. Cepheids literally shrink as they dim and swell as they brighten. In 1908,  Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1864-1921) discovered that Cepheids pulse at a rate governed by their brightness. This discovery, published in 1912, was based on painstaking measurements of 1777 stars’ characteristics recorded at Harvard College Observatory when Leavitt was employed as a ‘calculator’, a lowly paid female astronomer who performed mathematical calculations for the Observatory’s research staff. Sadly she received little credit for her work on Cepheids during her lifetime.

Colin Johnston has a excellent article on Cepheids which are massive, pulsating stars, valued by astronomers for the precise link between their brightness and steady pulsation. Let’s look at the history of Cepheid variables and how recent discoveries about these stars shatter established theories of stellar evolution.

The WISE mission has received a lot of press in terms of discovering nearby brown dwarfs, but it’s clear that finding low-temperature objects is a major investigation at many Earth-bound sites as well. That includes the UKIRT (United Kingdom Infrared Telescope) Deep Sky Survey’s project to find the coolest objects in our galaxy, an effort that has paid off in the form of a unique binary system. One of the stars here is a cool, methane-rich T-dwarf, while the other is a white dwarf, the two low-mass stars orbiting each other though separated by a quarter of a light year.

The twin objects are now known as LSPM 1459+0857 A and B, a binary that has held together despite the perturbations of the white dwarf’s history and the system’s own passage through the galactic disk. The paper notes that “This system is an example of how wide BD binary companions to white dwarfs make good benchmark objects, which will help test model atmospheres, and may provide independent means to calibrate BD properties of field objects.

Paul Gilster elucidates  some fascinating features of  Brown Dwarfs. Visit it at Centauri Dreams.

The Docrtine of  Mutually Assured Exclusion, and what will happen to our dreams of being a spacefaring civilization if we blow up each others’ satellites during a war and the resulting debris field that will prevent *anyone* from leaving Earth for a long time to come…

It’s a MAE MAE MAE MAE MAE MAE World…. by Shubber of  Space Cynics Blog

It’s a good news for space geeks. US Postal Service revealed designs for 2011 space stamps. The stamp’s design, which was quietly released last week by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), shows Shepard from his shoulders up centered between images of his rocket lifting off and his capsule above the Earth. The pair — or “se-tenant” — of space-themed stamps was revealed in the USPS’s annual report for 2010, which was posted to the postal service’s website Nov. 15. The two stamps are displayed with other commemoratives planned for next year as a lead in to the report’s financial section.

You can find out more about it HERE.

What might we see at Santa Maria..? BY Stuart Atkinson |The Road To Endeavour

Despite uncertainties in budget, Lockheed engineers are still thinking of
missions for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.  One possible mission would
take Orion to the Earth-Moon L2 point: Far side of the moon by Louise Riofrio

Another plan being discussed would launch Orion unmanned atop a Delta IV in 2013.  If successful, this mission into high Earth orbit would clear the way for a human asteroid mission around 2015.

Each day more exoplanets discovered and displayed in the news so often their findings. It is common to know the discovery of a new exoplanet, so-called Hot Jupiters, but, What is a hot Jupiter-like exoplanet?
Currently there are different techniques for the detection of these bodies around other stars: radial velocity measurement (distance or closer to the star to us) or the proper motion (motion with respect to bottom) of the star for transits (the planet passes between the star and us, causing a drop in the observed brightness in the star) or by direct observation. All these techniques have limitations as to the bodies that can detect, and that as technology improves (especially with the use of space telescopes and adaptive optics) this limit is reduced.[ Translated via Google Translate]
Francisco Sevilla of  Vega0.0 blog Discusses Exoplanetas de tipo Júpiteres Calientes.[Spanish]
Here is English version: Hot Jupiter Type Exoplanets.
Here is article on Dinosaur extinction mystery where Victor Babbitt proposes new theory regarding K-T Extinction.
Extinction in itself is, throughout geologic history, the norm rather than the exception.  The fact that many species perished in the aftermath of the many environmental calamities that occurred around 65 million years ago, (the Chicxulub asteroid impact and Deccan Volcanism) is hardly surprising.  The real question has always been the differential survival of species.  Dinosaurs were the dominant land animals for over 100 million years, the dominant herbivores, the dominant predators, ranging from chicken size to the largest land animals that ever lived, adapted to every environment, and living on every continent from pole to pole.  The question of  how this dominance ended is important, as it is fully possible that without this extinction, dinosaurs would still rule the earth, and mammals might still be rat sized animals rustling through the underbrush.
Cheers up!!

Fermi Telescope Finds Mysterious Giant Structure in Galaxy

It is really amazing to see it. Using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, scientists have recently discovered a gigantic, mysterious structure in our galaxy. This feature looks like apair of bubbles extending above and below our galaxy’s center. Each lobe is 25,000 light-years tall and the whole structure may be only a few million years old.

[Image Details:From end to end, the newly discovered gamma-ray bubbles extend 50,000 light-years, or roughly half of the Milky Way’s diameter, as shown in this illustration. Hints of the bubbles’ edges were first observed in X-rays (blue) by ROSAT, a Germany-led mission operating in the 1990s. The gamma rays mapped by Fermi (magenta) extend much farther from the galaxy’s plane.Credit:NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center]
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way. The feature spans 50,000 light-years and may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy. Astronomer Doug Finkbeiner said:

What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center. We don’t fully understand the origin.

The structure spans more than half of the visible sky, from the constellation Virgo to the constellation Grus, and it may be millions of years old. Finkbeiner and his team discovered the bubbles by processing publicaly available data from Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT). The LAT is the most sensitive and highest-resolution gamma-ray detector ever launched. Gamma rays are are the highest-energy form of light. Other astronomers studying gamma rays hadn’t detected the bubbles partly because of a fog of gamma rays that appears throughout the sky. The fog happens when particles moving near the speed of light interact with light and interstellar gas in the Milky Way. The LAT team constantly refines models to uncover new gamma-ray sources obscured by this so-called diffuse emission. By using various estimates of the fog, Finkbeiner and his colleagues were able to isolate it from the LAT data and unveil the giant bubbles. Scientists now are conducting more analyses to better understand how the never-before-seen structure was formed. The bubble emissions are much more energetic than the gamma-ray fog seen elsewhere in the Milky Way. The bubbles also appear to have well-defined edges. The structure’s shape and emissions suggest it was formed as a result of a large and relatively rapid energy release – the source of which remains a mystery. One possibility includes a particle jet from the supermassive black hole at the galactic center. In many other galaxies, astronomers see fast particle jets powered by matter falling toward a central black hole. While there is no evidence the Milky Way’s black hole has such a jet today, it may have in the past.

The bubbles also may have formed as a result of gas out flows from a burst of star formation, perhaps the one that produced many massive star clusters in the Milky Way’s center several million years ago. In other galaxies, we see that starbursts can drive enormous gas outflows. Whatever the energy source behind these huge bubbles may be, it is connected to many deep questions in astrophysics. Hints of the bubbles appear in earlier spacecraft data. X-ray observations from the German-led Roentgen Satellite suggested subtle evidence for bubble edges close to the galactic center, or in the same orientation as the Milky way. NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe detected an excess of radio signals at the position of the gamma-ray bubbles. The Fermi LAT team also revealed Tuesday the instrument’s best picture of the gamma-ray sky, the result of two years of data collection. NASA scientist Julie McEnery said:

Fermi scans the entire sky every three hours, and as the mission continues and our exposure deepens, we see the extreme universe in progressively greater detail.

[Source: NASA]

Carnival of Space #168

Welcome to the Carnival of  Space #168 and WeirdSciences. If you are visiting the carnival of space for the first time and you have no idea what a carnival of space is, you can try to go to Universe Today page.  Now it’s time to start the carnival of space:-

  • Discovery images of Neptune Trojan 2008 LC18Congratulations to Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo for identifying the first known L5 Trojan asteroid of Neptune! This story is not just interesting because it is a first-of-its-kind discovery, but because of the tricky way that the astronomers went about searching for it, and because of the collateral benefits that their search will have for the New Horizons mission.

Emily Lakdawalla at Planetary Blog has explained about the discovery of  Trojan Asteroid[and yeah, Trojan Asteroid itself too] with animation showing how this excelling discovery was made.

What? You can’t believe..? Dr. Ian O’Neill of Discovery Space has a stunning article delving much into the topic with high resolution images of moon obtained from LRO.

  • Interesting fact of the day: examining the fossil record suggests that mass extinctions on Earth occur approximately once every 26 million years (Myr). One possible explanation for this is a companion dwarf  star to the Sun on a 26 Myr orbit.

Emma at We Are All in The Gutter Blog, is seeking out the connections between mass exinction and so called Nemesis, a dwarf star based on a newly published research paper.

  • Steve Nerlich at Cheap Astronomy investigates the likelihood of Robonaut 2  refusing to open the pod bay door after it’s deployed on the ISS.
  • This is the light speed limit, which makes us too shy whenever we plan for a interstellar human mission. We can’t ignore the laws of special relativity, but we can still change the speed of  light.

Chris Dann of WeirdWarp Blog is elucidating whether it is plausible?

  • Wayne Hall at Kentucky Space is telling that the second Kentucky Space-built plug-and-play micro-G research rack will be turned up on ISS  Monday.
  • Jupiter’s moon IO is quite fascinating if you are talking about the possibility of exotic life. Jason Perry of Gish Bar Times, is exposing IO’s true colors based on datas obtained from Galileo. A well researched article!
  • Our universe is very mysterious. Astronomers are constantly looking into the past. No matter where you look out into space you are seeing things as they were minutes, hours or millions of years ago. Even at 186,000 miles per second, it takes eight minutes for light to reach us from the Sun. It takes four and a half years for light to reach us from the next nearest star, and millions or billions of years to reach us from other galaxies. So astronomers spend a great deal of time looking into the past.

Mike Somonsen of  Simostronomy Blog is focusing over future surveys to solve the mystery of universe. Really, an excellent article..!!

Alen VerseFeld of The Urban Astronomer blog has a entry featuring stunning discoveries made by LRO missions.

A ceiling full of sky, a beautiful historical  ceiling with an astronomical theme by Ian Musgrave and Peta O’Donohue of Astroblogger blog.

Daniel Sims of  Space Tweep Society Blog has a article providing more information about that contest. If you are interested in contest, please participate in it.

  • Bruce Irving of FlyingSinger blog is talking about Apollo 13 mission.
  • If, at first glance, the preceding account appears fanciful, it is because our thinking has not caught up with the engineering advances of the last few years. . .All the engines are either being developed or are programmed to be developed in the next few years. No new or exotic fuels are required. Indeed, our calculations reflect the sober degree of conservatism that should characterize a preliminary study. We believe that the feasibility has been shown. There remains now the intriguing task of doing the job.

David S.F. Portree of  BeyondApollo has a excellent article about Rosen and Schwenk’s moon mission.

Below are the two articles from Stuart Atkinson

Pradeep Mohandas of Parallel Spirals blog has a article  First anniversary of the Chandrayaan-I – LRO Bistatic Experiment today ,explaining more about that.

See the article by Paul Sutherland of SKYMANIA blog.

Enjoy!!

Carnival Of Space #147

Welcome to WeirdSciences and Carnival Of Space #147 . If you have no idea, what a carnival of space is , take a quick  guide to carnival of space at UniverseToday.

First I would like  to introduce WeirdSciences. WeirdSciences is a blog talking on wide range of subjects including astrophysics, latest researches, astrobiology and some cool stuffs like ancient astronauts and aliens.

I thanks to Fraser Cain of universe today to let me host  carnival of space this week. Lets start carnival of space #147. .

Grandma_by_Chase_SC2

  • Ian of Astroblog has

A Tour of the Exoplanets in Celestia Using the 3D space visulaization program celestia to tour the night skies as seen form selected exoplanets for you.

Phobos — The Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia and China!

OOPS, MISSING…

Dark Matter: We don’t understand everything.

Interesting post..

Carnival Of  Space #147 ENDS UP HERE. ENJOY FOLKS!! Thanks for stopping by…

Methane in Alien Planet: Life Could be Possible

The glow of methane has been detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter-sized alien planet orbiting close to its parent star.

Because the signature of glowing methane, which might be triggered in a similar way to Earth’s auroras, is so strong, it could help scientists better understand the atmospheres of exoplanets, if it turns out to be a common feature among them.

The detection was also made from a ground-based telescope and not space-based one, suggesting that many more detailed measurements of exoplanet atmospheres will be made in the coming years, possibly even the signatures of biological activity, researchers said.

Methane is belched out by certain kinds of microbes on Earth (as well as by big animals, such as cows), and scientists think this is one form that potential alien life could take. (Methane is also created through geophysical and chemical processes on Earth that have nothing to do with life.)

“That’s not where we are today, but that’s where we’re going,” said Mark Swain of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who led the team that made the methane discovery.

Glowing methane

Scientists detected this particular signature of methane in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet dubbed HD 189733b, which was one of the first exoplanets to have its atmosphere “sniffed” my spectrometers, which measure the range of light given off by a particular object and show the light signatures that are peculiar to different elements and molecules.

Water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane have already been detected in HD 189733b’s atmosphere, though that first methane detection had a different signature than the new one.

The new detection seems to be from the fluorescence of methane in the atmosphere of the planet. (An Earth analogue to this phenomenon would be something like the aurora borealis, Swain said.)

The finding, detailed in the Feb. 4 issue of the journal Nature, was unexpected if not a total surprise, as similar signatures have been seen in the atmospheres of bodies in our own solar system.

“It’s not particularly surprising since we have seen fluorescent methane in Jupiter, Saturn and even Titan,” said Seth Redfield of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., who was not involved with the finding, but has previously made detections of sodium in the same exoplanet’s atmosphere. Redfield wrote an opinion article about the new discovery in the same issue of Nature.

Understanding atmospheres

For the atmospheric signatures collected for exoplanets so far, astronomers have assumed that heat is what is causing the emission of various atmospheric constituents, as most are so-called hot Jupiters, which orbit very close to their stars and are bathed in large amounts of stellar radiation.

But heat can’t explain the fluorescence of methane. “The light is being generated by something other than heat,” Swain told SPACE.com.

But the energy source driving the emission is still a mystery.

“We don’t know the answer for that today,” Swain said, but he added that two possible sources where collisions with photons or charged particles from the stellar wind.  The solar wind from our sun is not known to cause methane fluorescence in any planets in our solar system.

But the fluorescence does tell astronomers something about the atmosphere of the planet: that the part where the fluorescence is happening is likely “very tenuous layers in the atmosphere of the planet,” Swain said.

This is because fluorescence is what in physics is called a non-locally thermodynamic equilibrium process.

So in an atmosphere that is in locally thermodynamic equilibrium, energy moves between particles primarily through collisions – this can happen because the atmosphere is thick and the molecules are relatively close together. This is the case in the lower portions of Earth’s atmosphere.

But when the atmosphere thins out, its molecules can become far enough apart that the time between collisions is long enough that energy can get to molecules through other means. A similar process occurs in the upper portions of Earth’s atmosphere, where things like the solar wind can collide with particles — this is what creates the auroras that flash over Earth’s poles.

So it’s possible that the signature of methane fluorescence from HD 189733b is coming from a different part of the atmosphere than the previous methane signature, though Swain cautions that it will take more observations and new atmospheric models to really characterize the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

Future detections

Swain and his team are already at work looking for this fluorescent signature in other exoplanets. If it turns out to be a common feature, “it could change how detectable these exoplanets are,” because the signature is strong and unique, Swain said.

Redfield said the finding is exciting because it adds to the list of known exoplanet atmospheric components, which are building up at a time when “we’re just getting use to finding exoplanets.” In a decade, exoplanet atmosphere detections will likely be as routine as exoplanet detections now are, he said.

Making more detections of methane in particular could be helpful because it can be a by-product of biological processes. Building a better understanding of what kinds of methane are out there and where in exoplanet atmospheres the gas occurs could help scientists determine which signatures are most likely to be related to alien biology.

“This is one step on a much longer journey,” Redfield said.

The finding is also exciting, both Swain and Redfield said, because it was made with a relatively modest-sized ground-based telescope, NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii, whereas most other atmospheric detections were made with space-based telescopes, such as Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The detections of atmospheres from the Earth’s surface can only be made in particular wavelengths of light that aren’t absorbed or scattered by the Earth’s atmosphere, but ground-based detections are an important complement to space-based ones because ground-based telescopes are much bigger — while Hubble is 2.4-m telescope, the Keck telescopes (also in Hawaii) are 10 meters in diameter. This means that atmospheres could be observed with more detail or at fainter objects.

This capability “is going to prove really, really critical to understanding these exoplanet atmospheres,” Redfield said.

Swain already has plans to use some bigger Earth-based telescopes in the future.

Video – Alien Habitable Zone

Complications in Search of Alien Life: Full Review

We probably already have the technology to find evidence of extra-terrestrial life forms and to even send out evidence of our own. If we don’t have this capability yet, we certainly will have achieved it within twenty years!

In order to best understand THIS presentation, it would be beneficial to have previously read my article on SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence)

That article enumerates the reasons that guarantee failure in existing SETI projects. But that failure does NOT mean that extra-terrestrial life and intelligence does not exist! It just means that we must approach the subject from a different direction.

A possible suggestion for doing this follows:

Speculate with me for a moment about the future for the Earth. Let’s say that all governments start to cooperate and that Peace generally rules the Earth (RIGHT!!!) Say, further, that the leadership of these collected societies have curiosity about distant planets and stars. They are aware of the astounding distances between these objects.

They know that sending a crew in a spaceship to even the nearest star would either take centuries or take phenomenal amounts of energy to accelerate the spaceship to near the speed of light and then decelerate it again, or both. As an interesting aside, no science fiction stories, TV programs or movies ever address this acceleration/deceleration issue. If the Enterprise could GO Warp 6 or whatever is one thing. When Captain Picard says “Engage!” everyone in the ship would necessarily be thrown against the rear walls of whatever rooms they were in! Even if the ship only accelerated at a modest 2 Gs, the ship would accelerate, but Newton’s Laws tell us that anything not bolted down would NOT! Like people within it! And at that moderately uncomfortable 2 Gs of acceleration, continuously, for a full MONTH, the ship would STILL not even be going 1/10 the speed of light!

During that month, every 200 pound man on board would struggle around as though his body was weighing 400 pounds! Their hearts would constantly be struggling to pump blood up to their brains, because that chore would also be around twice as difficult because of the constant 2 Gs of acceleration. In nearly every physiological sense, they WOULD each weigh 400 pounds during that month of acceleration. Einstein’s findings clearly establish that there is no way around this problem, which is technically referred to as “inertial mass”. And the month of DECELERATION, to slow back down, would ALSO cause all the people on board to experience the 2 Gs of acceleration, so they would again effectively weigh double their normal body weights!

The medical doctors on board would be busy! The number of heart attacks and strokes would certainly be very high during those periods of acceleration and deceleration! And this is only considering 2 Gs. Momentarily, a human can withstand accelerations of more than 4 Gs, but without a special “G-suit”, the blood that is in the legs and feet cannot be pumped back up, the heart is just not strong enough. Many early jet test pilots died because this was not known then. Without a blood supply to the brain, the pilot would pass out within a few seconds, and the test aircraft would go out of control and crash. So, even considering anything higher than 2 Gs is too dangerous (for humans) to even consider.

Granted, if our hypothetical spacecraft ever actually got up to the resultant 15,000 miles/second speed after that month at 2 Gs, and stopped further acceleration, everything would be fine! The people on board would not even have any sense of moving. Einstein proved that, too, and called it “relativity”. The problem here is in the accelerations and decelerations necessary to change the speeds.

Keep in mind that our space travelers had to be subjected to the 2 Gs acceleration, day and night, for a month, just to get up to slightly less than 1/10 the speed of light. At that (relatively slow) speed, any possible benefit from “warp” effects, of time slowing down (technically called time dilation) would be negligible. In order to actually benefit from that effect, more than a year of 2 Gs acceleration would be necessary, to get the ship up to a large enough fraction of the speed of light to start having a significant effect.

In addition to this, IF such a spaceship could ever actually get up to near the speed of light, there would be serious complications regarding “forward sensors” to detect objects that might be in the path of the ship. (The reasons for this reduction in effectiveness are fairly complicated and related to Special Relativity.) And even if such sensors alerted the crew to a planet ahead, there would likely be only a matter of seconds to try to change course to miss it.

If that object in the path was a rock the size of a baseball, it would likely be never sensed. If that rock was part of a debris field, like the asteroid belt in our Solar System, there might not be a clear path past all of them. Considering that it took many months to get up to that speed, stopping is NOT an option. Therefore, an impact with a solid rock, with a relative velocity of near the speed of light, would certainly occur. Such an impact is FAR beyond the structural strength of either the rock or any possible construction of the ship. This means that the rock would instantly pierce all the walls through the ship, front to back, the way a rifle bullet penetrates thin objects. Only, this baseball-sized rock is much more massive than a tiny rifle bullet, and it would be moving at 500,000 times as fast! Imagine the damage! All the air of the ship would immediately be lost. The very complex and expensive mission would immediately be over, and probably everyone on board would instantly die.

Actually, even a particle the size of a grain of sand would almost certainly blast tiny holes through the ship! You are probably familiar with the nightly flashes of meteors in the sky. They are due to sand-sized particles from space falling into the Earth’s atmosphere at around 20 miles/second speeds. If our ship that had taken the month to get to 15,000 miles/second speed ran into one of these tiny particles, the impact would involve 500,000 times as much kinetic energy of that meteor, since kinetic energy is proportional to the SQUARE of the velocity involved.

Science fiction stories often refer to “deflectors” that allegedly surround the ship with some energy field to push such things out of the way. There is a problem here! Consider again that baseball-sized rock, and it is up ahead of our spaceship, exactly in our path. Say, for example, it is currently at a distance from us that the Moon is from the Earth, around 240,000 miles. Keep in mind that the Moon is over 2,000 miles in diameter! We would clearly see a Moon-sized object at that distance. But would our sensors ALWAYS see every baseball-sized rock at that same distance? A single failure means that everyone instantly dies! OK! Say we have these awesome sensors, and we see that tiny rock ahead of us. If we are going anywhere near the speed of light, our equipment only has a little over one second to somehow push it aside. Now, that might be possible if it was right here, where we could actually push on it. But remember that it is critically important that we begin pushing it out of the way as soon as we see it, 240,000 miles away. No matter what mechanism you might invent, applying enough sideways acceleration to that object, at that distance, in a little over one second, is just not remotely possible, even with future REALLY advanced technology!

For these reasons (and others), it seems VERY unlikely that mankind will ever actually send expeditions to other stars.

There is that phenomenon called time dilation that DOES have an effect on this subject. IF the ship could somehow get up REALLY near the speed of light, the passengers within the ship would never know it, but time would pass more slowly for them (from things that Einstein taught us). After experiencing a year of the 2 Gs accelerating to the high speed on the way out, and another year of 2 Gs decelerating to stop to visit, plus the same two years on the way back, plus the actual travel time, yes, this could be in the realm of possibility. A crew traveling in such a way to the nearest star system (Alpha Centauri) might only be 20 years older when they returned to Earth.

That means that the crew of an expedition to a relatively nearby star MIGHT still be alive when they would return to the Earth. But, because of the time dilation effect, hundreds of years have passed on the Earth! The people and the governments that SENT them would be long dead and gone! The technology used to send them would certainly have become extremely obsolete during those centuries. On arriving back, the travelers might be treated as heroes, but their collected data would certainly be so primitive as to be a source of humor!

What information could they bring back that would have ANY value under those circumstances? What government (on any planet) would initially spend the countless billions of dollars on a project that had such great likelihood of failure, but even if it succeeded, would only have meager results many years after THEY all were dead? Since much of human activity is ego-driven, why would they sponsor such an involved and expensive effort, when THEY could not possibly receive any accolades for success and would certainly be blamed if the crew died during the trip? No way!

So, for many technological AND political reasons, we will certainly never send spaceships to the stars. (We WILL certainly someday send manned missions to Mars, and maybe to some asteroids, but probably nowhere else. In astronomical terms, they are relatively nearby) Does this mean that we will never have contact with any alien civilizations, if they exist? Not necessarily!

The Concept

Accepting that a living generation of society and of science could never benefit from such a trip is important. That shifts the ultimate benefit for some future generation’s intellectual growth.

Imagine that we take DNA material from a variety of people. We use existing technology to make exact duplicate DNA strings. Then we take one DNA string representing each of these people, and package them together and encapsulate all of it in a tiny capsule. DNA strands are incredibly tiny, and so all this protective capsule could be as small as a grain of sand.

We then make million or even billions of such capsules. We load all these countless capsules into a rocket’s payload bay, and launch it at a high enough initial speed so it goes into deep space. Many years ago, the United States launched the Voyager 1 and 2 and the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft into deep space. Now, around 25 years later, they are still only at the outer borders of our Solar System. In 20 more years, they may be completely free of the Sun’s influence.

Once out there, imagine the payload bay now intentionally bursting, disbursing the billions of capsules. Each capsule, now in deep space, would then be directed in a slightly different direction. Each would still be traveling “outward” from the Earth and Sun, with the rocket’s original velocity.

Over the eons afterwards, they would proceed, gradually spreading apart. Eventually, most of them would probably be gravitationally attracted to some star, and they would be then pulled in and destroyed there.

HOWEVER a certain small number of them might eventually be gravitationally be attracted to a PLANET rather than a star! Each capsule would be very small and light. IF that planet had an atmosphere, the capsule would hopefully slow down and not burn up like a meteor in that atmosphere. Ideally, it would float down through such atmosphere like a leaf or a dust grain or even a raindrop, and eventually settle on the surface.

Then What?

What would come next would depend on exactly what we sent out.

The First, Simpler Approach

IF it were just a capsule with DNA strings within it, there would be dependence on some society of the planet to have fairly advanced science and technology. They would have to first find the tiny capsule, and then recognize what it actually was. They would then have to have DNA knowledge and technology (similar to our own) where they would duplicate the DNA strings and implant those strings to enable them to grow living beings from them. The result of THIS would be HUMAN BEINGS on that planet! Possibly, not just on that one planet, but hundreds or even thousands of different planets!

The “earthlings” that would then live would then be necessarily in the company of technological people. This would enable the earthling to be able to learn a lifetime of experience from the residents of that planet. But what good would this new knowledge be?

Before the DNA strings were placed in the capsules, some changes would be made to an “intron” area of one of those strings. Introns seem to be unnecessary portions of the DNA strings, which might be earlier versions of genes. Changing an intron would apparently have no effect on the eventual creature. The changes made in the intron would be extremely obvious to those researchers that processed the DNA. It might have illogically long sequences of identical links, followed by some coded information somehow describing the Earth’s location.

Since the researchers would find this information during the fertilization of an egg, they would have plenty of time to analyze and understand it by the time the earthling was grown. At that time, they would certainly agree to aim a communication laser beam toward Earth with all the information the earthling wanted to pass along back to his original society on Earth!

He would never have been on Earth, but he would definitely be an Earthling, and he would contribute toward the knowledge of people on Earth about that one alien civilization! Others like him, on other planets of other stars, would hopefully similarly be sending their personal reports back toward the Earth. No actual “conversation” would really happen. He would never even know if anyone on Earth was actually listening for his report, possibly thousands or millions of years after the original rocket was launched!

This whole scenario is already nearly within our capability to initiate. It is also rather inexpensive to do, when compared with the staggering costs of hypothetical inter-stellar spacecraft. It COULD be done any day now! It probably SHOULD be done at some point within the next hundred years, because it is a really logical thing to do.

It would ALSO have a benefit of enabling the formation of a future civilization of human earthlings on some other planet, in the event that we manage to destroy ourselves here by war or catastrophic accident or disease.

We MUST remember though, that this is a VERY time intensive approach. Our rush, rush, rush attitude just wouldn’t cut it with something like this. Even if a few thousand of our little capsules actually DID float down through some planet’s atmosphere some day, that day is certain to be hundreds or thousands of years in our future. Maybe millions! And then, the capsule is pretty tiny. How long would it be before somebody FOUND it? (Many of them would probably by buried by dirt or fall in an ocean or ???) That could be thousands or millions of years MORE! The point here is that such a project would be for the LOOOOONG haul! Worse, maybe no one was there to find and scientifically analyze our tiny capsules!

Considering the Receiving End of Such a Project

OK. If this is so exquisitely logical to do, why not believe that some OTHER planet’s civilization has already done this? Maybe millions of years ago? It seems not only possible, but LIKELY!

THEREFORE I believe that the MOST LIKELY place to search for evidence of extra-terrestrial life is here on Earth!

On the shelves of storage rooms in museums and laboratories all over the Earth, there are countless artifacts that are peculiar. Are any peculiar enough to be or to contain a capsule with DNA strings from some distant, ancient civilization? We already have the technology to check on that. We are on the verge of being able to develop that DNA into a living being! Similar to Jurassic Park’s using preserved dinosaur DNA to cause an actual dinosaur to live today (which is getting VERY close to really being possible!), this premise would create an alien life form! Actually, several, because our scientists would certainly make duplicate copies, to try several attempts to increase the chance of one actually living.

This is such an intriguing idea, that I even wrote the outline of a screenplay of a novel based on the idea. Considering the amazing success of Jurassic Park a similar reality-based story where intelligent alien life forms would be created would seem to be at least as popular! I have been working on that project for several years.

Alternative Approaches to This Concept

There are even more sophisticated versions of this general concept possible. We have been considering the sending out billions of (simple) encapsulated DNA strings, which requires being found and then processed by a relatively advanced group of scientists. What if, instead, we send a capsule that has a shell that will eventually dissolve in an oxygen atmosphere, where humidity or moisture was also present? And then, after the capsule shell dissolved, the contents was not just a DNA string, but some (presently unavailable) technology where the DNA is in a fertilized egg of some sort, with appropriate nutrients included? Essentially, a technological equivalent of an egg?

THEN, the process would NOT need the intervention of local intelligent scientists to complete it. The being would be born on its own!

OK! This may be pretty difficult to assure for a creature as complex as a human. What if we just sent out earlier genetic versions, like mold spores? Such spores would have a decent chance of surviving and growing on this new planet, even if there had been no previous life there. Given a LOT of assumptions and a REALLY LOT of time, and assuming evolution occurs as science thinks it does, those life forms might eventually evolve into a complex, intelligent life form! Probably not entirely human in appearance, but possibly vaguely similar.

If evolution works as is generally believed, that means that the relatively simple task of sending capsules of “germs” like mold spores in our rocket scenario, could eventually result in the development of advanced, intelligent life forms on some remote planet. This approach would not just involve the thousands or millions of years of travel time to such planets, but then possibly billions of years of evolutionary development of those germs/spores.

Do you see the exciting possibilities of such a relatively simple project? Since we humans claim to want to ensure the continuity of our kind, and since we seem destined to yet annihilate most or all of us on Earth some day, doesn’t it seem exquisitely logical to launch such a rocket reasonably soon? It may be a billion or two years from now, but sentient beings might live on countless remote planets in the Galaxy, as a direct result of such a launch! They would be “our descendants” in very real ways!

Such civilizations might never even figure out where they came from! They might logically conclude that their initial life began as lightning strokes in some primordial ooze! And they would be unlikely to every even know about parallel civilizations on other planets that had a similar initiation, or about our civilization that enabled all of them.

Again, if we modified an intron in the DNA of the mold spores (mold spores don’t have many introns!) to have a statistically unlikely sequence, we might be able to embed a description of the location of the Earth and other important information about us. That intron sequence would then be passed along to ALL succeeding creatures (unless damaged by mutations), so that millions or billions of years later, an intelligent self-aware being could recognize that unusual sequence and know where the source of life on his planet actually originated!

Incoming, Revisited!

In the case of us on Earth, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this possibility, but since the Human Genome Project now has documented the sequences of all the sequences in our DNA, it might be worth looking carefully at our introns to see if there is any section that might appear “artificial.” The HGP findings include the fact that only a few per cent of our DNA strings are actually necessary for procreation. That means that the vast majority of our DNA are these apparently non-functional introns. Current research is focusing on the active genes, primarily for future medical benefits. I am suggesting that a serious effort be made at analyzing the introns, to see if any “peculiar” sequence is included. For example, if there was a string of thirty consecutive Guanine links (one of the four possible A, C, G, T), that would be statistically staggering! The chance of such a sequence occurring on its own would be around one in 430 or one chance in a billion billion, not even remotely possible. That would be a statistical guarantee that that sequence was artifically placed there, by an “ancient source civilization”.

If such a sequence was found, and similar sequences were found in lower creatures, this might suggest evidence for the original source of life on our planet. It might also explain several instances in Earth’s history where tremendous new diversity of life appeared, (evolutionary bursts) or even the appearance of birds when it is not entirely clear what other existing creatures they are most similar to. If a more recent capsule floated down into our atmosphere from some different planet (where there were a lot of birds) an evolutionary “burst” might not have been necessary.

Conclusion

Many of the thoughts of this article, as with all investigations of SETI, are mostly speculation. So few facts actually exist that no cogent presentation can be made without numerous assumptions. As I mentioned in my SETI article, many of the assumptions normally made regarding SETI are clearly incorrect. I believe that this discussion is likely to have much more firm foundation than much of SETI literature, because, as a Physicist, I have tried to base it on scientific principles and physical laws. However, that does not guarantee that my conclusions are correct!

I have never seen anyone present this perspective anywhere before. I believe it to be at least as valuable as previous articles and books on the SETI subject, so I hope that is has significant value.

It may turn out that, as science learns more, some or all of MY assumptions are incorrect. That’s how science proceeds. A theory is only considered valuable until a better one comes along. It may only BE of value in contributing toward that improved theory. That is my main hope here.

Schulze-Makuch, D. (2002). Search parameters for the remote detection of extraterrestrial life Planetary and Space Science, 50 (7-8), 675-683 DOI: 10.1016/S0032-0633(01)00121-0
CIRKOVIC, M., & BRADBURY, R. (2006). Galactic gradients, postbiological evolution and the apparent failure of SETI New Astronomy, 11 (8), 628-639 DOI: 10.1016/j.newast.2006.04.003

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