A Space Exploration First and SETI Ramblings
This photograph is another historic first in space exploration. The big orange blob in the centre is a star, prosaically named 1RXS J160929.1-210524. It’s a k7 dwarf star which means it’s a little smaller and cooler than our Sun. It’s about 500 light years from Earth, so we are seeing this star as it was just a few decades after the new world was discovered (well, rediscovered) by Columbus. In any event, here’s the historic part. See that little orange dot at the upper left? That’s a planet orbiting 1RXS J. This is the first photograph ever taken of a planet orbiting another star using visible light from a ground based telescope. This is something that in my youth was thought to be impossible, but science just keeps moving along. It’s not a terribly interesting planet, at least from any practical standpoint. It’s hotter than Jupiter, larger than Jupiter, and orbiting at a vastly greater distance from its sun than our Jupiter does. Its heat comes from the fact that it’s a new planet, maybe only some five million years old. Still, this is one cool photograph in my estimation, but I am a bit of a space exploration nerd.
In other space exploration news I’m still crunching slowly through the book on SETI I’m reading. And while our efforts to find aliens have come up snake eyes with every roll, it’s not quite as bad as it may seem. That’s because our efforts to locate alien civilizations are pretty much exclusively oriented towards looking for beacons. IE we are looking for aliens who have set up giant radio frequency transmission stations to announce to the galaxy that “here we are.” As any astute person can imagine, there’s a lot of assumptions underlaying our search. First we’re assuming aliens would use radio frequencies to attempt to communicate in. Second we’re assuming they would go to a lot of trouble to build such a transmission device, beaming a powerful radio signal in all directions is no mean feat. So why are we looking for what admittedly seems like a long shot? Because it’s all we really have the technology to listen for right now. I am reminded of the story of Nasrudin and the lost key:
Once, a man found Mulla Nasruddin searching for something on the ground outside his house. On being asked, Nasruddin replied that he was looking for his key. The man also joined in the search and in due course asked Mulla: ”Where exactly did you drop it?” Mulla answered: ”In my house.” ”Then why are you looking here?” the man asked. ”The light is better out here,” replied Mulla.
Granted we may eventually find a beacon, but it’s probably not our best option. We could set up a radio receiver to carefully listen for things like military radars and carrier waves and other accidental alien made microwave noise from nearby stars. Alas a receiver that sensitive is a bit out of the SETI budget right now, so we’re stuck with optimistically listening for beacons.
Another tidbit I picked out from the book is that radar searches of the Lagrange points didn’t find any alien probes parked there. (I discussed Lagrange points in an earlier post.) Well, to be more accurate, they didn’t find anything bigger than a metre across. Well, who says an alien probe has to be bigger than a meter across? Aliens with advanced technology might be able to build a perfectly fine probe in a small package so to speak. So I still think more efforts should be made to search various Lagrange points in the Solar System. It’s just such a logical place to park a probe if one wanted to monitor the Solar System. Well, one logical place. It’s also been pointed out that something orbiting in the asteroid belt would be a good place to hide. (And no, the asteroid belt isn’t this seething mass of colliding boulders as is shown on so many incredibly lame sci fi shows and movies, snarl.) The point here is that a huge probe would look like a small asteroid, so for all we know we’ve already spotted alien probes in the solar system. We just haven’t recognized them yet.
Lastly, since this seems to have turned into a pure SETI post, I’ve decided that I’m even more convinced that aliens either don’t exist, are so rare they might as well not exist. My thinking here is that even in our first few decades of space exploration we have left very obvious signs of our presence on two bodies in the Solar System already, not to mention dozens or hundreds of defunct probes and space junk floating around in space. And some of this stuff is going to persist for a long time, the tracks made by the rovers on the Moon will be visible from orbit for hundreds of thousands of years. And the landers and such on the Moon will be around for millions of years. The stuff on Mars won’t last as long, but still, there will be obvious signs we were there for centuries at least. My point here is that in a few short decades we have left a lot of debris around the Solar System. Well, if interstellar travel is at all feasible and there have been aliens visiting the Solar System, they’ve sure been careful not to leave anything behind. High resolution images of the surface of the Moon and Mars have been public for a long time, and lots of people have gone over these images with a fine tooth comb … and found buttkiss. That’s not to say we won’t find something some day, but if we really lived in a Star Trek or Star Wars type galaxy with aliens flitting all over the place in starships, shouldn’t there be more junk laying around?
I mean, one can go to the smallest remote island on Earth, and there will be human made debris washing up on the shore. Granted we haven’t looked on all the “shores” of the Solar system yet, but I’m more convinced all the time now that aliens fall into the same class as Bigfoot or Nessie, it’s getting awfully hard to explain the lack of empirical evidence. So one can safely go see the new Predators movie, knowing full well that the chances of actual hostile aliens showing up to use us for target practice is negligible.
Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and is most definitely a historically important image. Credit: M. van Kerkwijik / R. Jayawardhana / D. Lanfreniere / Aura / Gemini Observatory. Next week, more weird entertaining stuff and lesser known paranormal phenomena. The Bimini Road, Tatzelworms, Ica Stones and all the rest.)