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

Our Message to Aliens

Back in the early 1970s, the Pioneer space probes were launched into space to study Jupiter, Saturn, and the farthest reaches of the Solar System. Attached to the probes are the 'Pioneer Plaques', gold-anodized aluminium plates containing symbolism which is designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft, 'just in case' another civilization ever came across them. Designed by SETI pioneer Frank Drake and Carl and Linda Sagan, the plates portray two human beings of either sex, as well as other pertinent information:

Pioneer plaque

In recent years however, many scientists have expressed their concern about the possible danger in 'reaching out to aliens' via projects such as Active SETI. Just last year Stephen Hawking speculated opinion that advanced aliens might well use up all the resources of their home planet, and "become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

With that in mind, here's a revisioned plaque for any future space probes. Head to the link to check out the plaque in all its awesomeness, but to give you a hint, it contains this:

Our New Message to the Aliens

I feel like Nadir’s drawing is the sort of Pioneer Disc that Stephen Hawking would send out—and what a great movie that would make. Picture this: A galactic federation receives threatening boasts of superiority from probes sent out from across the galaxy, and prepares for the worst. At the climax of the film, they find out that a scared man in a wheelchair was behind it all. That’s Twilight Zone shit right there. I want movie rights!

Bring it!

Aurora as Seen from Space

Whoah! Check out this magical timelapse created from still-shots taken on-board the International Space Station on September 17, which are all available at The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth (ISS029, Roll E, Frames 5865 to 6210, for those that don't believe this could be real). As one commenter on YouTube says, you almost expect unicorns to start flying around in shot - truly otherworldly.

Had to update my "Ten Amazing Timelapse Videos feature with the new addition. So now it's not ten, it's twelve...though I don't think anybody will be complaining.

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Life Looks for Life

There are few people who can inspire with their words like the late Carl Sagan. Here he is on the search for alien life:

The video is part of 'The Sagan Series', a project by Reid Gower to pay tribute to the celebrated science educator. Well worth taking the time to work your way through all the videos - a moving and inspirational combination of words and images.

Around the World in 80 Seconds

Care to fly around the Earth, as seen from the International Space Station?

This short timelapse video was created by science educator James Drake from a series of 600 photographs available online at NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth, and features spectacular views of city lights at night, lightning from storms, the thin line of Earth's ionosphere, and sunrise from space. Wow.

Note that, despite the title of this post, this is not a 'normal speed' view from the International Space Station. Even at its velocity of approximately 28,000km/hr, the ISS takes roughly 90 minutes to do a full orbit of the Earth (around 43,000km at its orbital height).

By the way, if you want to surprise yourself, find a globe and measure 350km on the ground, then stand it up vertically. That's the height the ISS orbits at...you'll find it's barely what you'd call 'space', it really just skims the globe.

(h/t Universe Today)

Saturn V

Oh Cassini, you've done it again (click image for larger version):

Five Saturnian Moons

A quintet of Saturn's moons come together in Cassini's field of view for this portrait.

Janus (179 kilometers, 111 miles across) is on the far left. Pandora (81 kilometers, 50 miles across) orbits between the A ring and the thin F ring near the middle of the image. Brightly reflective Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across) appears above the center of the image. Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea (1528 kilometers, 949 miles across), is bisected by the right edge of the image. The smaller moon Mimas (396 kilometers, 246 miles across) can be seen beyond Rhea also on the right side of the image.

This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane. Rhea is closest to Cassini here. The rings are beyond Rhea and Mimas. Enceladus is beyond the rings.

The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 29, 2011. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometers (684,000 miles) from Rhea and 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles) from Enceladus.

My only complaint is that it's not high enough res for my desktop. For more information and Saturnian eye candy, visit NASA's Cassini website, and also the CICLOPS imaging team page.

Underwater Aliens

If cephalopods didn't exist, I'm not sure any science fiction writer could have imagined them. Underwater aliens, right here on Earth:

Money quote from the research into camouflage: "We're behind the eight-ball, as it were, if we think the world looks like how we see it. There's much more information there, and other animals see it very differently."

Footprints of Alien Technology

It's no secret that I enjoy reading the scientific musings of Professor Paul Davies, so I'm definitely looking forward to getting my hands on this new paper, titled "Footprints of Alien Technology". In it, Davies suggests that we should not be blind to the possibility that there may be traces of alien technology to be found on Earth or elsewhere in our own Solar System:

If alien civilizations do, or did, exist, their technology will impact their environment. Some consideration has been given to the detection of large-scale astro-engineering,Monolith on the Moon such as Dyson spheres. However, a very advanced technology might leave more subtle footprints requiring sophisticated scientific methods to uncover. We must not overlook the possibility that alien technology has impacted our immediate astronomical environment, even Earth itself, but probably a very long time ago. This raises the question of what traces, if anything, might remain today. I shall consider the possibilities of biological, geological and physical traces, and suggest ways that we might search for them.

Unfortunately, to read the full article you'll have to purchase it, for the low, low price of just $31.50 (making this article today rather timely). If anybody has seen a copy floating through the internet tubes, be sure to let me know... [update: I have a copy now - Grailsourced!]

In the meantime, check out this review of the article at Space Archaeology, which adds some context via links that are worth following.

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Touched - A Documentary on Alien Abductions

With the recent passing of Budd Hopkins, I thought it might be worth posting something that gives an insight into 'alien abduction' research. So here is the entire, award-winning 2003 documentary Touched, directed and produced by Laurel Chiten. Touched sits apart from other mass-market cable documentaries on this topic that trade in hype and gullibility, and instead does a great job of looking at the human story behind the phenomenon:

A few years ago, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, a leading researcher in the alien encounter phenomenon, approached me after seeing my recent film The Jew in the Lotus. He wanted me to consider making a movie about encounters with these alien life forms. I told him no. I knew next to nothing about alien abduction, had no interest and thought it was all rather foolish. Then, he invited me to meet some of the people who claim to have had these experiences. They seemed rather normal and spoke about their feelings of connection and longing for these uninvited intruders to return. I had stumbled into a world filled by people who had been touched by something ... and had their lives blown apart because of it. I was mesmerized. I feel that I was abducted by John Mack.

This started my journey into the lives and minds of alleged abductees around the world, and into my own personal journey through skepticism, fear, insomnia, fascination, confusion and led to many many questions.

...As there is no conclusive physical proof, the debate as to whether these stories are true or not could go on forever. Instead, I became more interested in the people — those who have had their lives both torn apart and transformed by this experience.

What happens when the unexplained intrudes into our lives, and how do lives and relationships respond when credulity is strained to a breaking point? This is the leading question I set out to explore. This is a film about the human experience — about longing for connection and fear of separation.

If you would like your own personal copy, and/or want to reward the film-makers for their presentation of the topic, you can purchase the documentary on DVD from Amazon.com.

Life on Mars 100 Years Ago

We've come a long way: one hundred years ago, on August 27 1911, the New York Times reported the confirmation of intelligent life on Mars:

Life on Mars in the New York Times

According to a telegram dated Aug. 17, from Flagstaff Observatory, Arizona, Dr. Percival Lowell announces the rediscovery of two new canals of Mars, which were seen for the first time at the last opposition in 1909. The canals are now very conspicuous, and attracting world-wide attention because of their startling significance.

...That the new canals were not a mere illusion or vagary of the imagination is proven by the fact that they are again visible, but they are as great a problem now as they were when first seen in 1909. Canals a thousand miles long and twenty miles wide are simply beyond our comprehension... We can scarcely imagine the inhabitants of Mars capable of accomplishing this Herculean task within the short interval of two years.

I should note though that by 1911 the 'Life on Mars' story was getting quite old. Percival Lowell had been pushing this barrow for quite some time - he first publicized his theory back in 1895 with a series of papers and a book titled, simply, Mars. But he also was building on earlier observations by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli and other speculation about the Red Planet during the 19th century.

It has to be remembered that, on the back of the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th century, the 'plurality of worlds' (ie. extraterrestrial life) was an exciting and quite mainstream assumption right up into the early 20th century - especially in the immediate wake of Camille Flammarion's book on the subject and the likes of H.G. Wells popularising the idea and implications of a hostile civilization on Mars (Wells himself no doubt influenced by Lowell in part in the first place, creating a self-feeding meme of sorts). So, while such stories might seem a little silly to us today, we should be able to grasp that - in an era well before humans drove remote-controlled robots on Martian soil, and orbiting probes photographed the planet's surface in minute detail - this sort of story would be perfect fodder for the newspapers of the day.

Then again, perhaps we haven't come so far at all...

(h/t The Renaissance Mathematicus)

RIP Budd Hopkins and Stuart Miller

Double-dose of sad news today - the passing of not one, but two well-known identities in the 'alien' research field. Firstly, well-known 'alien abduction' researcher Budd Hopkins has passed away, aged 80:

I’m very sad to announce that Budd Hopkins died today, August 21, at 1:35 pm. Budd had been under hospice care for about three weeks, at his home in New York. Budd HopkinsThe combination of liver cancer and pneumonia led to his death. His daughter Grace Hopkins-Lisle and I were with him almost continuously during these past weeks. He was not in any pain throughout any of the process, and he received the best possible care and loving support from those closest to him. Today he gradually slipped away, and simply quietly stopped breathing. He died peacefully and without any struggle, with Grace, Grace’s husband Andrew, and me by his side.

Thanks to all of you for being such strong supporters of this extraordinary man, who has contributed so much to our lives, in so many different ways.

Leslie Kean

Along with the late John Mack, Budd Hopkins was among the best-known researchers in the 'abduction' field, having been one of the pioneers in the research of these strange experiences, beginning back in the 1970s. In the past year his methods and theories had come under heavy attack from his ex-wife Carol Rainey, though friends were quick to come to his defence: Fortean author and researcher Jerry Clark described Hopkins as "a kind and compassionate man", who was one of the first to be "moved by the suffering of abductees, shunned and ridiculed by others to whom they recounted their experiences... Just by listening to them and respecting their testimony, Budd did them a service." For a sense of who the man was, and where his research was leading him, have a listen to this Binnall of America podcast interview with him from 2009.

The other bad news filtering out over the weekend was that British UFO researcher, writer and publisher Stuart Miller had died in a motorcycle accident. Stuart MillerStuart did a great job covering all angles of ufology in his online magazine UFO Review, and later in his (sadly short-lived) print publication Alien Worlds. Nick Redfern has posted his thoughts on Stuart's passing, and Paul Kimball has a nice write-up of his personal experience with Stuart over at his blog, describing him as "one of the truly good guys in ufology...a genuinely good man, full of joie de vivre, wit, humour, and a true spirit of adventure and humanity. He will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him."

Stuart's passing is a real tragedy, and our thoughts go out to his family at this difficult time.