Join the Search for the Lost Cities of Ancient Peru

Earlier this month I posted a TED talk by (and additional documentary about) 'space archaeologist' Sarah Parcak. That TED talk was a rather brief overview of the million dollar TED prize winner and her plans for 'citizen archaeology' via satellites, but the above talk is more recent, and devoted to discussing the start of the project, in particular its focus on lost archaeological sites in Peru:

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of lost ancient sites lie buried and hidden from view. Satellite archaeologist Sarah Parcak is determined to find them before looters do. With the 2016 TED Prize, Parcak is building an online citizen-science tool called GlobalXplorer that will train an army of volunteer explorers to find and protect the world's hidden heritage. In this talk, she offers a preview of the first place they'll look: Peru — the home of Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines and other archaeological wonders waiting to be discovered.

You can sign up to be a beta tester, and receive updates on the project, at the GlobalXplorer website. More details about the venture can be found in the article "Finding the legendary lost cultures of ancient Peru".

Related stories:

News Briefs 30-08-2016

It could be worse...

Thanks Kat and @djp1974.

Quote of the Day:

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams.

Gene Wilder (as Willy Wonka, from Arthur O'Shaughnessy's Ode)

Researchers Announce Discovery of a Signal Coming from a Star in Hercules

Not aliens...but aliens

An international team of researchers has revealed the detection of “a strong signal" coming from the direction of a star in the constellation of Hercules (HD164595). The signal was picked up by the RATAN-600 radio telescope at the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science.

As always, there are a number of possible mundane explanations for the 2.7cm wavelength 'transmission' - which was originally detected last year on May 15 - ranging from passing satellites through to micro-lensing of a background source. But it's still definitely worth looking for a repetition of the signal, and SETI researchers are no doubt cautiously excited.

No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.

Signal detected coming from vicinity of HD 164595

HD 164595 is just under 100 light years from Earth, and an exoplanet (HD 164595 b) has previously been detected orbiting the star. As Paul Gilster notes at Centauri Dreams, the planet is "0.05 Jupiter mass with a period of 40 days, considered to be a warm Neptune on a circular orbit". But there could also be other, still undetected planets also orbiting HB 164595.

Geekwire science journalist Alan Boyle spoke with SETI researcher Douglas Vakoch about the announcement, and he confirmed that his team will be taking a look at HD 164595 as soon as possible, using the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama. Not only purely out of interest and excitement, but also because SETI protocols require it:

Standard SETI protocols call for confirmation of possible signals from a separate observatory. This helps ensure that the original signal didn’t arise from a technical glitch in the original observatory, and it helps rule out a hoax perpetuated by some enterprising graduate students targeting a SETI experiment.

In the past, plans for SETI follow-up observations have focused on confirmation of the original signal, seeking a repeat signal at the same frequency. That’s a critical step for confirmation – and we don’t yet have evidence that this sort of follow-up has happened for HD 164595.

In addition, we need to be alert to the possibility than if we do really find a signal from an advanced civilization, they are also transmitting at other frequencies than the one where we first detected them. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for follow-up SETI observations at both radio and optical frequencies, to be launched as soon as we detect a credible candidate signal at any frequency.

Be sure to read the full articles at both Centauri Dreams and GeekWire via the links below.

Link: An Interesting SETI Candidate in Hercules (Centauri Dreams)

Link: They’re not saying it’s aliens, but signal traced to sunlike star sparks SETI interest (GeekWire)

News Briefs 29-08-2016

You're capable of great things...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

We are meant to be the ones who decide what happens to us: as voters, as consumers, as lovers. But that’s not true any more. We are what gives networks their power: they use our ideas of meaning to determine what will happen to us.

David Runciman (review of Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus)

News Briefs 26-08-2016

For those planning to support the Grail soon, I've now added a permanent block to the right sidebar with quick links to our Patreon and PayPal accounts. Cheers!

Thanks @AnomalistNews and @DanzierLea.

Quote of the Day:

Belief is the enemy.

John A. Keel

Government Deception Operatives Conclusively Linked to the 'UFO Summer' of 1947

Roswell UFO Newspaper Headline

In his ongoing research to clarify the extent Cold War spy games influenced public perception of the UFO phenomenon, writer and former intelligence analyst James Carrion recently linked military deception planners to the UFO wave of 1947. His latest blog post cites declassified documents that conclusively demonstrate how a career intelligence officer, part of a high-level unit now known to have been specifically assembled to execute strategic deception operations, petitioned the FBI for assistance investigating flying saucers. Given the purpose of the unit, titled the Joint Security Control Special Section, and details of the documents quoted, Carrion concludes there would have been no other reason for the interaction with the Bureau than to actively promote a deception plan.

The post is well worth the time to absorb and digest. It contains several relevant points of interest, including key aspects of the career of Col. Carl Goldbranson. The colonel trained extensively in military deception and, according to author and historian Thaddeus Holt, engaged in deception activity during the 1940s and until the end of his career. Holt documented Goldbranson to be one of the most skilled deception planners in the Allied service in his 2004 book, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War.

Carrion reports Col. Goldbranson to have been the senior member of the deception-tasked Joint Security Control Special Section at the time he was advising FBI personnel on incidents of flying disks. Carrion explained:

This July 21, 1947 FBI memo is extremely important. It unequivocally documents the connection between US strategic deception planners and early UFO events by relating how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events. Goldbranson was a WW2 member of Joint Security Control and one of its principal deception planners.

Carrion continued:

The Special Section of JSC consisted of only seven individuals including Goldbranson who as a full bird Colonel would have been the senior member. So for those who question the importance of Goldbranson to this analysis, only one question need be answered. What are the odds that the senior member of the principal US organization and specific section charged with planning and implementing U.S. strategic deception is on record in FBI official memorandum, getting his hands dirty in the UFO controversy of 1947? Goldbranson had no reason to be involved unless he was actively promoting a deception plan.

For those unfamiliar with James Carrion's work, he focuses on the 1946-47 time frame. He cites declassified documents and related materials to present forensic historical analysis. Carrion proposes that a small group of U.S. intelligence personnel masterminded deception operations surrounding reported UFOs for a variety of purposes designed to create military advantages. Learn more in his free book, Anachronism, and keep an eye out for his forthcoming work, The Roswell Deception.

I've followed James Carrion's research rather closely, including summarizing some of it in my recently published book along with an interview he graciously provided. Some highlights of his work, in my opinion, include demonstrating the 'ghost rockets' saga conclusively involved aspects of deception; a discontinued classified operation, Project Seal, was misrepresented to be ongoing and consisting of developing an airborne weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb; and, now, Carrion shows deception planners were conclusively linked to the UFO summer of '47.

Critics of Carrion's work typically cite unrelated UFO cases or peripheral circumstances. Rarely do they directly address the material presented. Arguments are common that Uncle Sam couldn't be responsible for all reported UFO phenomena, in spite of the fact Carrion is simply sharing what he is learning about the specific 1946-47 era.

A primary point, as far as I'm concerned, is that Carrion's findings justify further research into the extent public perception of the UFO phenomenon was exploited at the time. It's clear that it happened - relevant questions revolve around how much, why, the specific instances and the consequences.

Jack Brewer is the author of The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community. He blogs at The UFO Trail.

News Briefs 25-08-2016

I should know better...

Thanks @AnomalistNews and @ProjectArchivis.

Quote of the Day:

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

The Limits of Growth, 1972

The Planet Next Door: Astronomers Find Earth-Like Planet Orbiting in the Habitable Zone of the Star Closest to Us

Artist's impression of the view from Proxima b

Well this is big news. In recent years there has been much excitement every time a new 'Earth-like' exoplanet has been discovered by astronomers (exoplanets are planets orbiting other stars). However, with many of those discoveries being very distant, making exact measurements difficult, there has been much speculation as to how Earth-like, and how habitable, those planets really are.

But today (after a few embargo breaks last week), astronomers have announced the discovery of perhaps the ideal 'Earth-like' exoplanet candidate, orbiting the star Proxima Centauri (one of the three stars that make up the 'left pointer' of the 'Southern Cross' constellation):

There’s a new standard in town, and its name is Proxima b. This planet has just about everything we’d want in Earth 2.0: It’s just a speck bigger, with only about 30 percent more mass than Earth (or slightly higher, depending on its orbital geometry); it’s almost certainly a genuine rocky planet; and it orbits smack in its star’s habitable zone.

The best part, though, is that Proxima, the planet’s star, is right next door, just 4.3 light-years away (130 times closer than Kepler 186f), the single closest star to our sun. Astronomers across the globe are drooling. We’ll be able to take actual pictures of it, to search for clues of life, within a decade.

Let's be clear about why astronomers are so excited, by ticking the relevant boxes:

  • Very close to Earth size.
  • Orbiting in its star's 'habitable' zone (the 'Goldilocks' zone...not too hot, not too cold)
  • Orbiting the star closest to Earth

The 'actual pictures' the article above is describing would be from an Earth-based telescope - the European Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile. But given the third point above - Proxima b is 'just' 4 light years away - and the fact that the Starshot project financed by Russian billlionaire Yuri Milner (as part of his 'Breakthrough Initiatives') was already aiming to send a space probe to Alpha Centauri in coming decades, there is the possibility we could have an actual robot visiting the planet within some readers' lifetimes. For continued updates on this idea, I recommend keeping an eye on the excellent Centauri Dreams website.

On a skeptical note, however, we should also remember that - for all our excitement about Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System - we actually have two very Earth-like planets right beside us. One, Mars, appears to be devoid of life, and would require significant engineering for humans to live there. The other, Venus - as this Discovery article notes - "would surely be hailed as the most Earthlike exoplanet known" if we found it orbiting another star:

It is just 5% smaller in radius and 15% smaller in mass. It is almost the exact same age as our planet, and gets its warmth from an identical star. The only thing that’s a bit off is that it orbits a bit closer to its star than Earth does, so it receives nearly twice as much radiation. On the other, it also reflects away a lot of that radiation. Its theoretical (equilibrium) temperature is just below freezing, so with a little natural greenhouse warming it would be quite an inviting place.

Instead, Venus is "a profound enigma". While all the variables tell us it should be a hospitable place for life (and at one time, scientists have found, it may well have been), in the present day it is "more like hell on almost-Earth".

Understanding why that is–why our planet went right while Venus went terribly wrong–is crucial for finding out whether habitable planets are common or rare throughout the universe.

So, while we should be genuinely excited about this new discovery, we should also be wary when reading headlines like this (otherwise excellent) piece at The Atlantic: "An Epochal Discovery: A Habitable Planet Orbits Our Neighboring Star". Proxima b is in the 'habitable zone'...but it remains to be seen whether it is actually habitable.

Links:

News Briefs 24-08-2016

Oops!

Quote of the Day:

How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.

Christiaan Huygens