Tags: seti

23

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Monday, November 11th, 2019

Cat encounters

The latest episode of Ariel’s excellent Offworld video series (and podcast) is all about Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

I have such fondness for this film. It’s one of those films that I love to watch on a Sunday afternoon (though that’s true of so many Spielberg films—Jaws, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, E.T.). I remember seeing it in the cinema—this would’ve been the special edition re-release—and feeling the seat under me quake with the rumbling of the musical exchange during the film’s climax.

Ariel invited Rose Eveleth and Laura Welcher on to discuss the film. They spent a lot of time discussing the depiction of first contact communication—Arrival being the other landmark film on this topic.

This is a timely discussion. There’s a new book by Daniel Oberhaus published by MIT Press called Extraterrestrial Languages:

If we send a message into space, will extraterrestrial beings receive it? Will they understand?

You can a read an article by the author on The Guardian, where he mentions some of the wilder ideas about transmitting signals to aliens:

Minsky, widely regarded as the father of AI, suggested it would be best to send a cat as our extraterrestrial delegate.

Don’t worry. Marvin Minsky wasn’t talking about sending a real live cat. Rather, we transmit instructions for building a computer and then we can transmit information as software. Software about, say, cats.

It’s not that far removed from what happened with the Voyager golden record, although that relied on analogue technology—the phonograph—and sent the message pre-compiled on hardware; a much slower transmission rate than radio.

But it’s interesting to me that Minsky specifically mentioned cats. There’s another long-term communication puzzle that has a cat connection.

The Yukka Mountain nuclear waste repository is supposed to store nuclear waste for 10,000 years. How do we warn our descendants to stay away? We can’t use language. We probably can’t even use symbols; they’re too culturally specific. A think tank called the Human Interference Task Force was convened to agree on the message to be conveyed:

This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it! Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

A series of thorn-like threatening earthworks was deemed the most feasible solution. But there was another proposal that took a two pronged approach with genetics and folklore:

  1. Breed cats that change colour in the presence of radioactive material.
  2. Teach children nursery rhymes about staying away from cats that change colour.

This is the raycat solution.

Monday, July 1st, 2019

8 DOM features you didn’t know existed - LogRocket Blog

If you ignore the slightly insulting and condescending clickbaity title, this is a handy run-down of eight browser features with good support:

  1. extra arguments in addEventListener(),
  2. scrollTo(),
  3. extra arguments in setTimeout() and setInterval(),
  4. the defaultChecked property for checkboxes,
  5. normalize() and wholeText for strings of text,
  6. insertAdjacentElement() and insertAdjacentText(),
  7. event.detail, and
  8. scrollHeight and scrollWidth.

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

The Golden Record

We asked you to tell us what you’d put on a new Golden Record. Here’s what you chose.

Ever thought about what you’d put on the Voyager golden record? Well, what are you waiting for? Your website can be your time capsule.

Monday, December 4th, 2017

The search for another intelligence (Upsideclown)

A wonderful short story from Matt. I can see this one staying with me.

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

ARP Observatory (@ArpObservatory) | Twitter

In July we started receiving audio signals from outside the solar system, and we’ve been studying them since.

Tweets contain sound samples on Soundcloud, data visualisations, and notes about life at the observatory …all generated by code.

ARP is a fictional radio telescope observatory, it’s a Twitter & SoundCloud bot which procedurally generates audio, data-visualisations, and the tweets (and occasionally long-exposure photography) of an astronomer/research scientist who works at ARP, who is obsessive over the audio messages, and who runs the observatory’s Twitter account.

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

[1701.01109] Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails

We examine the possibility that Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) originate from the activity of extragalactic civilizations. Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.

I’m guessing Paul Gilster may have thoughts on this.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Winston Churchill’s essay on alien life found : Nature News & Comment

Churchill, as it turns out, had some pretty solid ideas on SETI.

Churchill was a science enthusiast and advocate, but he also contemplated important scientific questions in the context of human values. Particularly given today’s political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill’s example: appoint permanent science advisers and make good use of them.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Contact

I left the office one evening a few weeks back, and while I was walking up the street, James Box cycled past, waving a hearty good evening to me. I didn’t see him at first. I was in a state of maximum distraction. For one thing, there was someone walking down the street with a magnificent Irish wolfhound. If that weren’t enough to dominate my brain, I also had headphones in my ears through which I was listening to an audio version of a TED talk by Donald Hoffman called Do we really see reality as it is?

It’s fascinating—if mind-bending—stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing that’s used to justify Deepak Chopra style adventures in la-la land, but Hoffman is deliberately taking a rigorous approach. He knows his claims are outrageous, but he welcomes all attempts to falsify his hypotheses.

I’m not noticing this just from a short TED talk. It’s been one of those strange examples of synchronicity where his work has been popping up on my radar multiple times. There’s an article in Quanta magazine that was also republished in The Atlantic. And there’s a really good interview on the You Are Not So Smart podcast that I huffduffed a while back.

But the most unexpected place that Hoffman popped up was when I was diving down a SETI (or METI) rabbit hole. There I was reading about the Cosmic Call project and Lincos when I came across this article: Why ‘Arrival’ Is Wrong About the Possibility of Talking with Space Aliens, with its subtitle “Human efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials are doomed to failure, expert says.” The expert in question pulling apart the numbers in the Drake equation turned out to be none other than Donald Hoffmann.

A few years ago, at a SETI Institute conference on interstellar communication, Hoffman appeared on the bill after a presentation by radio astronomer Frank Drake, who pioneered the search for alien civilizations in 1960. Drake showed the audience dozens of images that had been launched into space aboard NASA’s Voyager probes in the 1970s. Each picture was carefully chosen to be clearly and easily understood by other intelligent beings, he told the crowd.

After Drake spoke, Hoffman took the stage and “politely explained how every one of the images would be infinitely ambiguous to extraterrestrials,” he recalls.

I’m sure he’s quite right. But let’s face it, the Voyager golden record was never really about communicating with an alien intelligence …it was about how we present ourself.

Monday, December 26th, 2016

How a Couple of Guys Built the Most Ambitious Alien Outreach Project Ever | Science | Smithsonian

One might think sending messages to other stars would be a massive, expensive job. No. It isn’t. The Cosmic Call was essentially a crowdfunded hobby project.

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Discovery of peculiar periodic spectral modulations in a small fraction of solar type stars

We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an ETI signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis.

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Radio SETI Observations of the Anomalous Star KIC 8462852 (PDF)

We have made a radio reconnaissance of the star KIC 8462852 whose unusual light curves might possibly be due to planet-scale technology of an extraterrestrial civilization.

Nothing to report yet.

Monday, October 19th, 2015

SETI: A Networked Galaxy?

A fascinating guest post by Brian McConnell on Centauri Dreams: what if there’s a galactic equivalent to the internet, allowing civilisations to communicate with a system analogous to packet switching.

Unfortunately this kind of focussed signalling would be hard to detect. But on the other hand, it could explain the Fermi paradox.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy - The Atlantic

The most interesting anomaly uncovered by a Zooniverse project since Hanny’s Voorwerp.

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Project Kronos on Vimeo

A beautiful bit of design fiction.

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Archeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication edited by Douglas A. Vakoch

A free PDF download from NASA on all things SETI, specifically the challenges of interspecies interstellar communication.

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

The Last Pictures: Contemporary pessimism and hope for the future by Paul Glister

From the cave paintings at Lascaux to the Pioneer plaques and Voyager golden records to Trevor Paglen’s “The Last Pictures” project, Paul Glister examines the passage and preservation of art and information through time. Fascinating.

Or perhaps, as Paglen envisions, those who find a Pioneer Plaque, a Voyager Record, or one of our electromagnetic transmissions will be interested enough to search us out, coming upon a future Earth where all that is left of humanity are our terrestrial ruins and that artificial ring of geosynchronous satellites, with one of them having a particular golden artifact bolted to its pitted hull. In that scenario, about all that would be left for the visiting ETI to do in terms of learning about us would be grand-scale dumpster diving.

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

SETILive

This is not only the single most important human endeavour that you can participate in, it is also ridiculously gorgeous.

Science!

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

The Fermi Paradox, Self-Replicating Probes, and the Interstellar Transportation Bandwidth

Re-examining Von Neumann probes, reconciling their apparent scarcity with the Fermi paradox.

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Terry Bisson’s “They’re Made Out of Meat” on Huffduffer

A classic (very) short science fiction story that posits an interesting solution to the Fermi paradox.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Setistars

Would you like SETI to resume sweeping the skies in search of extraterrestrial life? Now you can put your money behind re-kickstarting that noble mission.