MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
I know that while the panic button has been pressed again with regard to COVID-19 and in the midst of a global pandemic and all of its social and economic fallout that our minds are probably again focusing on all of the precautions we have to make during the so-called peak period.
The thing that is most interesting is that while the CDC was telling is the peak would be in May, we reported that a cooler spring may have pushed the peak to June.
Well, we were right, and those who have been listening know that we try and get the news out long before the mainstream in order to help people who seem to be sore vexed on the issue of the pandemic.
I know that many of you want to focus on a lot of these immediate earthly woes but scientists, those who don’t have investments in vaccine voodoo are now focusing on some very interesting things that are transpiring.
Scientists are hell bent on having a celestial payoff in 2020 and as you might expect, there are those who are saying that this may be the lynch pin in having us care about something else other than our petty differences.
When you talk about virus or viral spreads, you either can rehash COVID-19 case numbers or you can dig in the other headlines that have now confirmed that there should be “at least 36 alien civilizations” in our galaxy. Not ten, not a thousand, or a billion, but 36. There you have it, three dozen other sets of intelligent life dotting our cosmic neighborhood, this I believe is easier to understand then some number with a gazillion numbers behind it.
Given a convergence of ground and space-based capability, artificial intelligence/machine learning research and other tools, are we on the verge of identifying what is universally possible for life — or perhaps even confirming the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
There are also new studies and earth shaking revelations that have now been documented that give us new insight as to how an alien civilization may find its way to us and believe it or not it has something to do with the use of black holes.
Back when the movie Interstellar was in theaters, one of the most eminent scientists of our generation, Kip Thorne, was the science advisor. Six years ago the science behind the movie was known, barely feasible, but based on known science, and speculative.
One of the features employed in the film is gravitational slingshots. This is a phenomenon actually employed in space missions. Space is very, very big. Even the solar system is huge and interstellar distances are vast. The distances are so large that they are often measured in relation to the time taken by light to traverse them. Thus the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.22 light years away ie. at the massive speed of 186,000 miles per second it would take light 4.22 years to cover the distance. It is convenient to label the speed of light c, and nothing can travel faster. Mars is about 15 light minutes from Earth.
The distances even within the solar system are so large that rockets simply cannot carry enough fuel to travel fast enough to cover the distance in a reasonable time. The solution is to use gravitational assistance.
This fact has also contributed to the argument that perhaps alien life as advanced as they may be – probably may not have enough fuel to find earth without a little help.
In 1969, British physicist Roger Penrose suggested that energy could be generated by lowering an object into the black hole’s ergosphere—the outer layer of the black hole’s event horizon, where an object would have to move faster than the speed of light in order to remain still.
Penrose predicted that the object would acquire a negative energy in this unusual area of space. By dropping the object and splitting it in two so that one half falls into the black hole while the other is recovered, the recoil action would measure a loss of negative energy—effectively, the recovered half would gain energy extracted from the black hole’s rotation. The scale of the engineering challenge the process would require is so great, however, that Penrose suggested only a very advanced, perhaps alien, civilization would be equal to the task.
Two years later, another physicist named Yakov Zel’dovich suggested the theory could be tested with a more practical, earthbound experiment. He proposed that “twisted” light waves, hitting the surface of a rotating metal cylinder turning at just the right speed, would end up being reflected with additional energy extracted from the cylinder’s rotation thanks to a quirk of the rotational Doppler Effect.
But Zel’dovich’s idea has remained solely in the realm of theory since 1971 because, for the experiment to work, his proposed metal cylinder would need to rotate at least a billion times a second—another insurmountable challenge for the current limits of human engineering.
Now, researchers from the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy have finally found a way to experimentally demonstrate the effect that Penrose and Zel’dovich proposed by twisting sound instead of light—a much lower frequency source, and thus much more practical to demonstrate in the lab.
\In a new paper published today in Nature Physics, the team describe how they built a system which uses small ring of speakers to create a twist in the sound waves analogous to the twist in the light waves proposed by Zel’dovich.
This experiment now confirms a 50-year-old theory describing how an alien civilizations could exploit a black hole in order to come in contact with planet earth.
Those twisted sound waves were directed towards a rotating sound absorber made from a foam disc. A set of microphones behind the disc picked up the sound from the speakers as it passed through the disc, which steadily increased the speed of its spin.
What the team were looking to hear in order to know that Penrose and Zel’dovich’s theories were correct was a distinctive change in the frequency and amplitude of the sound waves as they traveled through the disc, caused by that quirk of the Doppler effect.
The linear version of the Doppler Effect is familiar to most people as the phenomenon that occurs as the pitch of an ambulance siren appears to rise as it approaches the listener but drops as it heads away.
Using these waves and these experiments we could understand how advanced alien life forms can use black holes for enough energy to blast them into our galaxy.
It’s at times like these, that you can almost hear the collective sigh from astronomers and astrobiologists who realize that they have to roll up their sleeves to gently, politely, carefully try to explain why these headlines and news stories are being ignored when they are on the verge of finding the real biological and technological signals of alien life.
Avi Loeb, the chair of the Harvard astronomy department said in a statement:
“Technosignatures relate to signatures of advanced alien technologies similar to, or perhaps more sophisticated than, what we possess, Such signatures might include industrial pollution of atmospheres, city lights, photovoltaic cells (solar panels), megastructures, or swarms of satellites.”
Loeb’s collaborators say that the discovery of myriad exoplanets in recent years has the potential to shake up SETI research.
Now the problem is where to look to find these techno and biological signatures.
An initial study will scan the skies for signs of extraterrestrial solar panels and pollutants, according to the team — two possible indicators of the presence of technological activity beyond Earth.
Loeb says that “The nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, hosts a habitable planet, Proxima b,”
The planet is thought to be tidally locked with permanent day and night sides. If a civilization wants to illuminate or warm up the night side, they would place photovoltaic cells on the day side and transfer the electric power gained to the night side.”
By looking for specific wavelengths, the astronomers are hoping they could get a chance of spotting sunlight reflecting off those hypothetical solar panels.
Polluting gases in the atmospheres of other planets could also indicate the presence of intelligent life. To Loeb, a different civilization would show “detectable signs of artificially produced molecules,” like refrigerant gases we’ve released into Earth’s atmosphere.
Loeb adds that he fundamental question we are trying to address is: are we alone?” But he also adds that even if we are alone right now, were we alone in the past?”
Right now, in science, the question of whether we are alone in the universe or not is crying out for some kind of answer. Perhaps more so than at any time in recorded human history. There is a confluence of reasons for this sense of urgency and importance.
For one thing we now know that planets are fantastically abundant in the universe and are potentially the best incubators of the complex chemistry associated with life as we understand it. We’re also getting closer to being able to evaluate some of these other worlds, these exoplanets, with a fidelity of data that could reveal rudimentary signatures of life, through its chemistry and the changes it wreaks on a planetary environment. Simultaneously there is a resurgence of interest in the quest to look for evidence not just of life but of technological life; either emitting structured information in radio waves or laser pulses, or sculpting its surroundings in ways that reflect intent and sophistication.
Consequently, many scientists are actively looking for ways to incorporate even the tiniest hints or clues that come from new data or insights to see if we can’t come up with statistically meaningful statements about the likelihood of life elsewhere; from microbes to advanced civilizations.
It is those assumptions that gets us back to the headline-grabbing statements about 36 alien civilizations. These headlines are based on a new study by two respectable scientists, Tom Westby and Christopher Conselice at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. What these researchers actually say is that, based on a very specific calculation there is an argument to be made for the possible existence of anywhere between about half a dozen to over 200 civilizations capable of communication in our galaxy.
In this case two “principles” are suggested: a Weak Astrobiological Copernican Principle and a Strong Astrobiological Copernican Principle. The weak one is a scenario where, because of what we witness on Earth, it is assumed that planets only form intelligent life after they reach an age of 5 billion years. The strong one says that intelligent life has to form between 4.5 and 5.5 billion years into a planet’s existence, as it seems to have on Earth. The justification for choosing these figures is that if Earth is not special (as the modern form of the Copernican Principle would have it) then we would expect other life-bearing worlds to follow suit on average. The estimated number of alien civilizations derives from these constraints, after combination with the computed statistics of exoplanets and their properties.
Arriving at those figures involves a number of steps. Some are to do with a detailed astrophysical analysis to evaluate the likely number of stars and planetary systems of particular ages and elemental compositions. It turns out, for example, that stars in our galaxy are, on average, about 9.8 billion years old—not surprisingly matching the age of the era during which most stars were formed.
But other steps involve assumptions that are extremely tricky to justify, and highly contentious. This is not to unduly criticize the study, because it is entirely open and honest about these assumptions and is a stimulating contribution to these questions. Nonetheless, the assumptions are the weak link, as are similar ones in almost every paper ever written on this topic.
This is where senior scientists who criticize studies of little green men get angry.
Anthropomorphizing alien life or comparing that life to earth life is posing some problems for scientists.
We have this tendency to have an emerging sense that life and its planetary environment are inextricably entwined. Every piece of Earth’s deep environmental history is a complicated story of the interactions and interdependencies of life and planet; of geochemistry and biogeochemistry. As a result, the trajectory of life here may only be partially reproducible anywhere else in the cosmos—even assuming the same chemical toolkit, the same information-bearing molecular structures and biochemistry, and the same rules of selection and evolution.
The nature of intelligence, or technological capacity, also tends to be conflated with the idea that life, on average, seems to become more complex over time. It has been posited that the improvements of prediction that complexity enables (the projection abilities of neural nets and brains) is one item at the root of this tendency. If an organism can guess the future better it ought to survive better. But, of course, there are living forms, from bacteria to plant life, that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of millions, even billions, of years.
Any assumptions about properties like intelligence, sovereignty or agency that we make is based on what we currently know about life on Earth—and this is what becomes a “turn off” for some scientists.
There is also the biggest turn off of all and that is tying everything together and projecting our concepts of spirituality on the extraterrestrials.
To import those assumptions to quantitative analyses of the likelihood of civilizations elsewhere seems like a stretch in most cases.
Although there is value to the intellectual exercise as preparation for when the time comes that we, perhaps, have more data to go by or that the aliens will somehow fulfill the cliché of landing on the White House lawn .
And perhaps too there is value to anything that, in the days and nights of the coming months, causes us to momentarily pause and think about the bigger picture. To find a little breather by contemplating the endless possibilities and stories of societies and civilizations as they unfold across cosmic time.