A topic about outer-space and everything in it, from little green men to big spirally galaxies

Flying Amongst Galaxies: Your Personal Total Perspective Vortex

In his wonderful fictional series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the late Douglas Adams introduced the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’ – a machine built by inventor Trin Tragula, who after being constantly nagged by his wife to “Have some sense of proportion!” (sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day), decided to build a machine “just to show her”. Into one end, he plugged the whole of reality (in classic Adams fashion, extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake), and into the other he plugged his wife, so that she would be shown in one instant “the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it”. To his horror, Trin Tragula realized that this single, devastating shock had completely annihilated his wife’s brain, but to his satisfaction “he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion”.

I don't have any fairy cake on hand, but the above video is pretty close to being a Total Perspective Vortex: it's an accurate 3-dimensional model and animation created out of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), showing some 400,000 galaxies in their actual position in the Universe.

High resolution and full-screen recommended! Remember: each of those points of light is a complete galaxy, each with 100 billion stars or more within them. And in case that all doesn't blow your mind enough, it's worth pointing out that this 3D representation only includes all objects out to redshift 0.1 - roughly 1.3 billion light years from Earth, about 1/10 of the distance to the edge of the known Universe. And the perspective given in this video is actually impossible, as to see the Universe in this way would require traveling at many times the speed of light.

(via @UnlikelyWorlds and Lights in the Dark)

Are Super-Intelligent Aliens Hiding Within Our Atoms?

Virus molecule

Okay, so that headline sounds pretty off-the-wall, and considering it's a Daily Grail headline then you know it's pretty weird! But that's exactly the question put forward by artificial intelligence researcher Hugo de Garis, who wonders whether the advanced artificial intelligences of extremely old alien civilisations might end up harnessing the vast computational power offered by sub-atomic elements, a hypothetical technology he labels 'X-Tech':

X-Tech provides a potential solution to the Fermi Paradox ("where are all the nonhuman civilizations?") ... maybe they're not out there living on other planets, but rather living inside atoms and particles! Perhaps we should be looking inside “elementary” particles because creatures constructed at these tiny scales would operate hugely faster, at far greater densities, and with vastly superior performance levels. We may need a paradigm shift away from outer space to inner space, from SETI to SIPI -- the Search for Infra Particle Intelligence!

...as one scales down, in general, performance levels increase dramatically. Hence one can readily speculate that any nano-based artilect [de Garis's monker for advanced 'artifical intellects'], sooner or later, will not be able to compete with his femto-based cousins, and will probably downgrade itself as well. This logic applies all the way down (to Plank-tech?). Hence we come inevitably to the following dramatic conclusion.

The hyper intelligences that are billions of years older than we are in our universe (which is about 3 times older than our sun), have probably “downgraded” themselves to achieve hugely greater performance levels. Whole civilizations may be living inside volumes the size of nucleons or smaller.

When I first had this idea, about a decade ago, I chuckled, but now I take it very seriously, because there seems to be so much logic behind it.

De Garis notes that once this idea is thought about seriously, the current SETI paradigm seems very 'provincial'. "Extra terrestrials (ETs), who might be primitive enough to bother sending radio signals to beings like us," de Garis says, "are NOT the most intelligent specimens in the universe. The really smart ones I suggest are very very tiny."

I have to say, reading about this concept at Centauri Dreams did bring to mind some of the shamanic stories about intelligences hiding within plant DNA, DMT etc. In particular, an experience that Dennis McKenna related where he was given a vision that was "a water molecule’s eye view of the process of photosynthesis", before hearing a voice behind his left shoulder quietly chiding him: "You monkeys only think you’re running things".

Fun speculations to riff on!

Link: SETI at the Particle Level

Ancients - A Timelapse Video That Follows a Cycle Unbroken Since the Dawn of Time

Long-time readers will know I'm a sucker for astronomical time-lapse movies. 'Ancients', by Nicholas Buer (music composed by Shudan), is one of the best I've ever seen. Fullscreen the hell out of it!

This film follows the ancient cycle of sunset, to night, to sunrise. A continuous loop of perpetual movement that has been unbroken since the dawn of time, and the only true constant in our lives.

I shot this film over 12 days around the San Pedro de Atacama region of Northern Chile. San Pedro is an oasis town in the Atacama and sits at an altitude of 2600m. The town is a great base to explore the fascinating landscapes that surround it, and everything just goes up and up.

The Atacama is well-known for what are arguably the cleanest, darkest skies on Earth. The dry air adds an extra transparency and this coupled with the altitude creates a night sky like no other. I visited at a time when Venus was situated quite close to the centre of the Milky Way; an astronomical event that only takes place every 8 years or so. I also timed my visit with the Autumn equinox which is a good time of year to capture Zodiacal light; the celestial phenomenon caused by sunlight scattering interplanetary space dust in the Zodiacal cloud. It stretches across the ecliptic and glows for a short while after sunset like a UFO beam and I was lucky enough to witness this every night I stepped out into the dark.

As always, I recommend taking the time to truly comprehend what we're looking at in a clip like this: pretty much our entire galaxy, and millions of stars beyond. Blows my mind every time I grasp that fact.

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield on Belief, Spirituality, and Alien Life

Chris Hadfield

Astronaut Chris Hadfield is currently on the publicity trail promoting his book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (Amazon.com / Amazon UK), and as a result there are a number of fascinating interviews with @Cmdr_Hadfield in various places around the internet that touch on fun topics such as belief, spirituality and alien life. For instance, in a recent NPR interview Hadfield remarked on how being on the 'outside' of the planet looking in certainly brings with it spiritual feelings:

I think what everyone would find if they could be [up in space] - if they could see the whole world every 90 minutes and look down on the places where we do things right, and look down where we're doing stupid, brutal things to each other and the inevitable patience of the world that houses us - I think everybody would be reinforced in their faith, and maybe readdress the real true tenets of what's good and what gives them strength.

Hadfield's words bring to mind the 'Overview Effect', which transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it.

Yesterday, everyone's favourite astronaut also stopped in to one of our favourite podcasts, the Joe Rogan Experience, for a relaxed and in-depth chat. It's one of my favourite JRE episodes, because Joe doesn't freak out about it all, and as a result the feel of the interview is like you're sitting down having a beer and chatting with an everyday guy, who just happens to have flown in space on multiple occasions and spent around half a year living on the International Space Station, and thus has some amazing experiences and insights to share with you.

One such insight was inspired as Hadfield looked down at the erupting Mount Etna below him:

It was a really clear reminder of the fact that most of the planet is super-heated lava and magma, so hot that the rock is liquid and plastic. And we just live on this little chilled crust, like the top of a porridge pot...we just live on this little thin bit on the top that is crust.

And when you tip it the other way around and look up, half of the atmosphere is in the first three miles. Three miles. Think about it, people go for a three mile run - and really the whole habitable atmosphere is three miles. Above 15,000 feet it's hard to even live.

So we live on this little bit of cooled crust, and this little sliver of air, and we think it's guaranteed. We think we're invincible right, and we think the whole universe is here to serve us. And we're like bacteria in a corner, just found a little niche that'll support our life.

You can watch/listen to the full one hour interview here:

Throw in Hadfield's first-hand description of what it feels like to ride a rocket into space (a journey that takes less than 9 minutes, reaching a speed of 5 miles per second), his thoughts on our use of fossil fuels, and whether there's life out there, and it's compelling stuff. I'll even forgive him and Joe for singling out UFO researchers as the focus for criticism about belief systems.

And just to round out the Chris Hadfield appreciation post here on TDG, here's his uber-popular rendition of Bowie's "Space Oddity" (18 million views on YouTube), in case you're an alien being and haven't seen it yet:

Keeping Up with the Open Mindians: Alejandro Rojas Takes the Kardashians to Area 51

Are you a fan of Reality TV shows involving the obscenely-rich & famous? Hardly the kind of question you'd expect to find at The Grail, I know --We all have our guilty pleasures, don't we?-- because if you are, then you might have seen the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, in which the celebrity family took a little road trip adventure to the (now officially acknowledged) Area 51, with Open Mind's Alejandro Rojas & Travis Walton --yes, THE Fire in the Sky Travis Walton!-- as their chaperones.

In the video below, Rojas explains how this surreal juxtaposition of the mundane & the other-worldly came about, and his overall opinion of rubbing elbows with the Beverly Hills jet set. You'll also hear why Walton decided to go along for the ride as well:

Personally, I don't know if looking for more exposition to the UFO phenomenon by way of involvement with celebrities is such a good idea. After all, it's not as if there aren't plenty of famous actors & singers willing to publicly reveal their interest in the topic; but has that had any actual impact in the overall acceptance of UFOs in our culture? At the end of the day, most of these individuals haven't attained their popularity & lofty status because of their opinions ...or even their intelligence.

And there's also the risk that having a celebrity on your team can seriously backfire --just ask Stuart Stevens, one of the top advisers in Mitt Romey's presidential campaign in 2012. Empty chair anyone?

Then again, I've always been of the opinion that one of the main problems with UFOlogy as a movement, is that it tends to take itself too damn seriously. Sure, a show like Keeping Up... is hardly Emmy winning material, but it helps to give a lighter & more approachable aspect to the phenomenon, and who knows? maybe it would even prompt some N00bies to search about the subject as a bonus.

Hey, at least there weren't any night-vision scenes involved, right?

The Weather on Jupiter and Saturn: Cloudy, With a Chance of Diamonds

A Diamond Rain Is Gonna Fall...

Gentlemen, if you're looking for a nice rock to put on your lady's finger, you might be on the wrong planet: scientists have hypothesized that on Jupiter and Saturn it may just rain diamonds, and form oceans of the stuff:

Astrophysicists have calculated that the conditions on the two biggest planets of the solar system are enough to produce stable oceans made from diamond.

They claim that powerful lightning storms in the planets’ atmospheres cause particles of carbon to form, which then drift down though the gas. As the carbon falls, it is crushed by the enormous pressures that exist on the two planets, causing them to form dense chunks of diamond.

At even greater depths, the scientists say the diamond will eventually melt to form liquid diamond, which may then form a stable ocean layer.

Full article: Diamonds May Fall as Rain on Jupiter and Saturn

The Rise of Xenoarchaeology: Searching for the Ruins of Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Death Star

Forget that controversial History Channel show: the ruins of ancient alien civilisations may well exist beyond our atmosphere, and scientists are keen to go and search for them. The field of xenoarchaeology - the search for the material remains of extraterrestrial cultures - was once mainly a science fictional concept, but in recent times there has been much progress in nailing it down firmly to the realm of science present. Over at Aeon Magazine, Paul Gilster (of the Centauri Dreams blog) has posted a wonderful essay documenting some of the efforts being made to search for such 'relics', from Dyson spheres through to asteroid mining ventures. He also touches on the philosophical side of the search, noting the difficulty in predicting what these relics might be, when we are searching for something that is, quite literally, alien to us:

All of these searches ask us to put ourselves in the minds of beings about whom we know absolutely nothing. The physicist David Deutsch has flagged this as a problem for prediction of all kinds, not just those involving SETI. According to Deutsch, we can distinguish between ‘prophecy’ and ‘prediction’, with prophecy being the discussion of things that are not knowable, while prediction deals with conclusions that are based on good explanations of the universe. As prognosticators from Thomas Malthus to the Club of Rome have demonstrated, we may be able to identify problematic trends in the present that can be extended into the future, but we cannot know what knowledge we will acquire in the future to manage those problems. This is why no scientific era has succeeded in imagining its successor. The scientists of the late 19th century discovered this firsthand, when confronted with the emergence of quantum theory and relativity early in the early 20th. Both theories raised questions earlier theorists couldn’t have even formulated.

In the context of interstellar archaeology, the problem is that we have no analogues in our experience for what advanced cultures might create. Patience is the byword as the effort proceeds, the same patience that Heinrich Schliemann’s successors have used to master the art of sifting through rubble, with careful digging and delicate brushwork sweeping aside soil to uncover the shape of a fragmentary artifact. Interstellar archaeologists are tasked with sifting through gigabytes of data, not layers of soil, but the principle is the same.

Where do you think the best place to look for alien ruins might be? Earth, our Solar System, or distant suns and galaxies? And what should we be looking for? A fascinating topic.

Link: Distant Ruins: Scientists used to scan the skies for messages from alien civilisations. Now they go looking for their ruins

Comet ISON is not a UFO Armada

Comet ISON

History never repeats, right? Longtime Forteans will remember well the tragic Heaven's Gate cult, in which members committed mass suicide in 1997, hoping to release their souls so that they could travel to an alien spacecraft that was said to be accompanying Comet Hale–Bopp. Well, with the impending arrival of the much-anticipated Comet ISON, a number of websites have gone into overdrive (e.g. this one) claiming that the new comet is accompanied by...alien spacecraft.

Thankfully, NBC science reporter Alan Boyle has set the record straight over at his Cosmic Log blog:

It all started with a series of images captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 UVIS instrument on April 30. Various exposures were combined to produce a widely distributed color picture of Comet ISON against a background field of stars. When Internet sleuths took a close look at the archived image, it looked as if there were three separate objects hiding in the glare of ISON's coma.

Was ISON breaking up? Was the comet being escorted by two alien spacecraft? No. Just no.

Richard White, principal investigator for the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, explained that the image was a composite, created by averaging the data from three separate camera exposures. The three objects are just different views of Comet ISON's nucleus.

"The comet itself does not have three pieces," White wrote. "They are an artifact from adding up the separate exposures. The comet does not look the same in each exposure because both the comet and the Hubble telescope are moving during the exposure. The comet is blurred, just as a picture taken out the window of a moving car will be blurred."

Although for those that want to believe, this will probably just be part of the conspiracy. If so, don't listen to those Illuminati-NASA mouthpieces...listen to history - comets have always caused humans to start the doom-talk, so perhaps this time around let's dial back the hysteria a bit and enjoy the sky show instead? At least until high-ranking politicians start boarding rockets...

Link: Is Comet ISON a UFO? Hubble's scientists do a reality check

Vale Pedro Ferriz (1921-2013)

Pedro Ferriz Santa Cruz has passed away today at the age of 92.

I'm aware that to most people visiting this site that name is unfamiliar, yet to many UFO enthusiasts in the Spanish-speaking world, Ferriz is nothing short of a legend. Not only was he one of the first to investigate & popularize the topic in Mexico with his TV program Un Mundo nos Vigila (A World is Watching Us), but he was also a pioneer in Latin American telecommunications. During his long career he managed to interview many of the most important figures of the XXth century --among them Werner Von Braun-- and he was also responsible for covering the lunar landing of Apollo XI.

In the field of UFOlogy he was a close friend & associate of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and in 1977 he organized the 1st international UFOlogy congress in Acapulco, Guerrero, which managed to gather the leading investigators in the field --Jacques Vallée, John Keel, Salvador Freixedo, Fabio Zerpa, Enrique Castillo Rincón, Walter Andrus, Hynek, William Spaulding & Ray Stanford.

Ferriz never shied away from expressing his opinions with regards to UFOs, even at the expense of the warm-hearted puns he would occasionally receive in the Mexican media; although nothing as mean-spirited as the way the subject is often ridiculed in the United States or the UK.

There's an anecdote Don Pedro was fond of telling that illustrates this point perfectly: In 1974, during a brunch organized by Mexico’s National Association of Broadcasters in which president Luis Echeverría had been invited as the guest of honor, a few of the attendees started teasing Ferriz with some UFO jokes; but the teasing stopped altogether, when president Echeverría raised his voice and said "I have seen a UFO" in front of the whole perplexed audience. He then proceeded to describe the sighting of a pencil-like 'mothership' which allegedly caused a blackout in the city of Cuernavaca in 1965 [Head over to Open Minds to read the rest].

In fact, when in 1978 Grenada was trying to lobby a UN resolution for the organization of an international effort to study UFOs, Mexico was being informally proposed by some members as the nation to head the initiative. In the preamble of his co-authored book Los Ovni y la Arqueología de México (UFOs & Mexico's Archeology) Don Pedro describes the meeting he had with the next president of Mexico (José López Portillo) who asked him if he would be interested in leading the UN project [See EDIT below]. We all know the initiative fizzled out when Gairy was ousted in Grenada, but this goes to show just how much respect Ferriz enjoyed in the highest echelons of Mexican politics --Srsly now: how many UFOlogists can you name who have received messages of condolences from presidents when they passed away?

Go on, take your time.

Some 28 years or so ago, due to those inscrutable forces that shape the destinies of men, the book I mentioned above fell on my hands. And my life was never the same*.

Now that I'm about to turn 40, I find myself still immerse in the search for answers to questions which governments & scientific organizations still refuse to acknowledge, either because of sheer ignorance or cowardice. I still keep raising my eyes to the stars up above, and feel myself in awe by its sheer vastness. It's in those moments of humbling realization when it's easy to imagine that another world is keeping an eye on us.

Descanse en Paz, Don Pedro. Thank you for opening my eyes, my mind --and my heart.

________________________

(*): Head over to the Intrepid Blog, where you can find an essay I wrote about Los OVNI y la Arquelogía de México, a jewel of a book which should be reprinted & translated to other languages.

________________________

[EDIT] Tonight I went to pick my copy of Los OVNI y la Arqueología de México, and I realized I made a serious mistake: It was in 1972 when a group of Americans requested the intervention of Mexico to launch an international effort to study UFOs. The president at that time was Díaz Ordaz, although Don Pedro does not specify the reason why the initiative didn't prosper.

The reason I became confused is because in that paragraph UN Secretary General U-Thant gets mentioned --U-Thant was particularly interested in the UFO phenomenon, and believed "it stood second in international scientific importance only to Vietnam" [Reference]. In any case, my error illustrates how Don Pedro enjoyed the friendship of several presidents of Mexico.

Solar Wind Chime - Listening to Real-time Spacecraft Data Here on Earth

Our Sun emits a constant stream of charged particles from its upper atmosphere that is known as the 'solar wind'. This supersonic stream of particles, which creates our Solar System's 'heliosphere', varies in speed and density over time, and designer Helen White has created a novel way of experiencing this solar phenomenon. She has created a 'solar wind chime' using real-time data from an instrument aboard a NASA spacecraft launched 16 years ago:

Solar-wind Chime turns solar wind data into sound. The sound is generated by electromagnets oscillating a series of tuned aluminium tubes at their resonant frequencies. The 12 electromagnets are powered by driver boards controlled by an x-OSC...

...Solar wind speed is measured by the Solar Wind Electron, Proton and Alpha Monitor (SWEPAM) instrument aboard Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft currently observing the Sun. The data is sent back to groundstations and published by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre in a text file on an FTP site with only a few minutes delay.

...As the sun’s activity ebb’s and rises over the course of hours, days and months the chimes ambiently reflect this.

Link: "Solar-wind Chime: Listening to the sun using spacecraft, electromagnets and x-OSC"