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Comment You are a gentleman and a scholar. (Score 1) 1521

Rob Malda, thank you so much for making this site and working so hard to make it the heart of the Open Source Software/Internet Security/Freedom of Information news beat. I can only imagine how stressful it was to maintain quality and balance time/personal life issues with a site of this magnitude. My hat is off to you, Sir.

I've been O.C.D. tailing Slashdot for about 10 years; this site has been the source of much education and a lifelong interest in science, technology, programming, education, freedom of speech, businesses and even government for me. There's nothing quite like hordes of technology masterminds with personality disorders debating furiously until nothing but hurt feelings and rock bare truth remains. The discussions here have been a font of wisdom that I hope remains online forever.

I have a gigantic list of Ask Slashdot threads and various other legendary comments that I will cherish as tomes of barely tapped, limitless technical wisdom. Each thread was sparked by a headline, and then built up by hundreds of deeply interested, knowledgeable, passionate people as well as many times as many fools, whose unappreciated role of making horribly flawed arguments made for golden opportunities to dispense hard-earned real-world understanding. I gleaned much from the sidelines.

Comment Re:lol (Score 1) 248

If you are more than idly interested in learning about SETI, they have a youtube channel here: http://youtube.com/user/setiinstitute/

They aren't looking for wasteful noise from neo-technological civilizations (but we'll take any unnatural signal we can get!). As you've pointed out, that might occur for a very limited period of time before their physicists move on to better communication technologies. But don't make the assumption that these people are "short sighted," (SETI is 50 years old) or aren't criticizing their own techniques, or actively exploring new ideas. They're looking for broadcast devices, robotic beacons, communications nodes, cross-talk between interstellar routers, gigantic mechanical artifacts, etc. The holy grail would be an alien satellite designed specifically to attract the attention of developing civilizations, like the one in Contact.

There are really good reasons to look in the radio spectrum. The radio range has a noted trough of low noise in 1-10GHz, which is an excellent candidate for communications, if not outright shining a beacon out to the farthest distances. It also penetrates mollecular clouds (and our atmosphere, for that matter) easier than optical and higher frequency light, which scatters easily, and doesn't take nearly as much energy to generate as X-ray and Gamma ray radiation. You will need an EE to further explain.

We may not be prepared to guess at alien biology or sociology, but we do get to project what we know about physics. "They" refers to technologically advanced civilizations.

- Some civillizations may be well beyond anything we can fathom (interdimensional beings, control over gravity, faster-than-light communication). But if they do exist (and that's a big leap), there's very little chance that they are the only other civilizations in the universe. If we make the assumption that "life is out there." We can expect there to be a tremendous variety of life forms and civilizations and some may be within our detection capabilities.

- They all most likely use electromagnetic radiation for communication, since it's the de-facto fastest way to move information through space. Cite wormholes or entanglement if you like, I'm not ignoring the possibility. The algorithms SETI uses pick out general anomalies in known radiation patterns. Even technologies we can't possibly understand have a good chance of emitting some kind of interesting radiation as a side effect.

- They will probably choose communications techniques that are easy to detect against most background sources and will certainly need to be very robust to get through the interstellar medium (charged particles) in the case of an interstellar signal. We might even make assumptions about the kinds of engineering practices another advanced civilization would employ: redundancy, longevity, efficiency. These can help constrain the behaviors we look for.

- If they have at least one outpost beyond their homeworld/star (even a satellite in their own solar system), they will be using directed communication. That means their directed beam is slowly sweeping out a wobbling, circular path across their sky. If we're lucky, and that direction is in line with our star, we might pick up a hint of their artificial signals.

- As the poster above mentions, we are made of some very common materials in the universe and in similar proportions (obviously profoundly more dense on average). That leads to a sound assumption about how life might be elsewhere. At the very least, this is our only /example/ and it's a good practice to focus on planets whose properties are not stupendously hostile to our form of biochemistry.

Comment Re:What exactly.. (Score 1) 248

I don't usually feed trolls (or sock puppets), epsecially not this tired old argument, but I'm feeling saucy.

No, the researchers will declare that they have found an atmosphere on another planet unlike anything we can explain with modern science. They will explain their methods for trying to fit the data to natural conditions and point out where the models don't fit. Then they will posit that life is one possible explanation. Speculations will fly in the scientific community, some credible, some not. The popular science media will decisively pick up on the "we may have found life!" headline, neglect to link to the original paper, and publish the least credible ideas with quotes from dubious scientists not even peripherally involved in the project. Some radio host will learn how federal tax dollars were received by the university funding the research and immediately declare that the government is wasting your money searching for aliens. Then people like you will take your opinion to the internet in legion.

Comment Re:What exactly.. (Score 1) 248

I was actually mixing up two techniques in my knee-jerk reaction to comment after skipping the article, heh. However, Kepler and SETI go together like beer and hot dogs and the groups collaborate (that's what the ATA was supposed to be doing). SETI has been surveying stars in the milky way galaxy all along, but they have had to make speculations about habitability, the presence of worlds, etc. But now they have data as a basis. These are presumably not just stars with planets, but ones with planets in the habitable zone, or planets near the mass of Earth. With JWST they can get spectrographic data which will allow them to be able to isolate rocky worlds, or worlds with interesting atmospheres, narrowing the search further.

You are correct, this project is for doing targeted radio measurements (a broader range of searches than their usual algorithms) on stars with known exoplanets that are good candidates for bearing life.

Comment Re:What exactly.. (Score 1) 248

Kepler is the pioneer for the effort, cataloging good candidates for further study. They have something like 2 more years worth of observations to make before it's done with its primary mission. The reason most of the planets we know about right now are super-jupiters close to their stars (and we're just now discovering super-earths) is because we haven't observed enough transits for the longest orbit candidates. Nearer bodies orbit faster, so we have the data for them early on. More exotic planets will come out of Kepler in the following years.

I thought the Kepler mission had the resolution to capture enough of the detail in the "fuzz" at the edge of the transits, but maybe I'm mixing up theory and a handful of other missions. I do know for a fact that this will be one of James Webb Space Telescope's tasks:


Here is a talk about some of Kepler's latest findings (1/10/2011)
"Catching Shadows: Kepler's Search for New Worlds"


Comment Re:What exactly.. (Score 2) 248

They're going to take a while to capture the data on each planet, since they can't watch continuously with an earthbound telescope. They may only have a window of a few days to capture a transit on some target planets, so it will take multiple transits to get that much data for all of them (the project will last a year). I believe they get the most valuable data when the planet first passes into the star's disk and then again as it leaves, as this gives some sense of differentiation between different parts of the atmosphere.

Comment Re:What exactly.. (Score 5, Informative) 248

Over the planet's transit over the face of the star, from our angle, the light interacts with the atmosphere of the planet before passing through to be seen by our telescopes. The light is broken down into component frequencies to determine the chemicals present and their relative concentrations in the atmosphere. Some chemical signatures can be understood as the the result of natural processes, while others do not seem to occur without the influence of biological processes. We are looking for 'unnatural atmospheres' modified by exotic processes that cannot be readily explained under natural conditions.

Comment Knock it off with the pseudoscience (Score 5, Informative) 277

Here's a link to the abstract just to nip all this 3rd and 4th hand speculation about flood myths and Atlantis: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/657397

It's great for bringing public attention but not so great for highlighting the actual science behind the pop sci article.

Comment Welcome to Scientific Progress (Score 3, Interesting) 271

I woke up this morning and read the news with the blue side of the stereo glasses: "Short-sighted fear-mongering populist pandering pointlessly nationalistic republican running for re-election attempts to derail human progress again."

Then I flipped to the red lens: "National hero fights valiantly to defend capitalism and national security against communist regime seeking to steal American jobs, overthrow American space technology superiority and likely launch weapon of mass destruction into orbit."

After I had my coffee, I took off the goggles and rubbed my eyes.
"The United States has moved forward with its planned defunding of an aging method of launching cargo into space, diverting all available funds to more fruitful robotic missions and more complicated manned spaceflight projects. Meanwhile, other nations and even private enterprises are developing their space programs. NASA is looking to avoid spending more of its limited resources by taking advantage of technology which is already under significant development by other technologically capable societies. With cooperation from every advanced space-faring nation, all of Human civilization stands to benefit from shared scientific developments made by each other's civilian and scientific programs."

I've considered the "you don't understand what the Chinese are capable of!" and the "we're funding an oppressive regime!" and the "you really think they're only using this for civilian technology?" angles, and I remain unconvinced that they carry any real weight. I'm willing to be convinced, but I stopped being mystified by big political words in high school, the Red Scare is a sad chapter of our history, the Russians' and subsequent space-faring nations' contributions to our own space exploration ambitions have been fruital for everyone and from the L2 Legrangian point at >60,000 kilometers, we are all just a single, interdependent colony of ants on the surface of a tiny ball of dirt.

Comment Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (Score 1) 133

Really? These funds aren't your tax dollars. They are Google's private contribution. If congress had decided to give Khan $2m you would have a real position to debate their judgment.

Research is the expansionist force at the boundaries of science. It's critical to understanding the previously unknown. We're talking about a man making instructional videos about foundational math and science and making it available for free to the world with no strings attached. Your position is that this is somehow /dangerous/.

Comment Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (Score 1) 133

Less-than optimal teaching methods are nothing new to any form of education. That is hardly justification to discourage their use in the absence of better methods, especially when the less-than-optimal methods are vastly more accessible and largely accurate. Research into the human brain's powers of cognition, learning, intelligence and emotion are likely to be an ongoing research area in science for the breadth of human civilization. I wouldn't advise waiting for their resolution to begin making those fruits available for consumption. Reeducation is a small price to pay for elevating minds out of plain ignorance.

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