Watchful eyes, thoughtful mind

Earth and us ….. past, present and future ….. connected?

Intelligence? Life? December 24, 2009

Filed under: evolution,space research,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

A recent article on by Clara Moskowitz of reports on a new study that has found that the most probable place to find intelligent life in the galaxy is around stars very similar to our own sun. The researchers involved in this study talk about a Goldilocks region around a star in which a planet would be just right for life – not too close that its surface would be boiling, and not too far that it would be frigid either. The article goes on to say, “Indeed, sun-like stars seem to have the right balance: They are of high enough mass that they are more likely to host habitable planets, but they are of low enough mass that they live long enough for intelligent life to develop, and are not extremely scarce.”

As I read this article I couldn’t help but feel surprised at the conclusions the researchers had reached and the logic they had used for it. The entire argument is based on assumption that what we see here on Earth is what “life” is and the capabilities of human brain are what comprise “intelligence”. How reasonable is such an assumption? In my humble opinion, not at all. It just serves to highlight the egocentrism of us homo sapiens. Studies in various branches of biology in last few decades have uncovered living creatures in conditions that we did not expect to harbour life until then. These are called ‘extremophiles’. The most well known example is probably the whole ecosystem flourishing around the hydrothermal vents on the ocean floors, in either very acidic or alkaline conditions, in total absence of sunlight. And we keep finding more of them thriving under various conditions considered extreme for human beings. So is it logical for the scientists to talk about ‘the Goldilocks region’ mentioned above?

Slightly more difficult to refute is the definition of “intelligence”. Because it is hard to imagine what else, other than what we do, could be called intelligent. But I think it is easier if we consider the “signs of intelligence” that we look for rather than intelligence itself. And that’s how we have been looking for extraterrestrial intelligence so far. Can we detect any electromagnetic signals? Can we see any organised structures on other planets that don’t look natural? But who is to say that life forms with completely different physical structure to us and living on a planet that not necessarily has similar elemental composition as Earth and its atmosphere are to “progress” in a way recognisable to humans? We have various electronic devices transmitting signals because we have plenty of silicon. We have built the machines and structures we have because that’s what we could do with our 2 hands, 2 legs, one brain bodies. Our languages developed like they did because of the way our vocal organs evolved. If we take movies like Men in black seriously for a second, it is easy to see how any of those weird looking aliens could probably not achieve the same feats. All the ET themed movies so far are a bit misleading in the sense that they show the ETs coming to Earth in their own physical forms, different from ours. But they seem to be perfectly alright in the Earth’s atmosphere, breathing our air, walking comfortably under the influence of Earth’s gravitational field. So once again, the assumption is the conditions “back home” for them are the same. I think what was shown in the movie The day the Earth stood still is more logical. The aliens gather our DNA sample, make a placental tissue to encase themselves in during their journey to Earth and then “be born here on Earth” to be physically identical to homo sapiens.

[Image source here] Do you not think there is a chance that we have not recognised other intelligent life because we are looking for what is familiar to us? May be their buildings don’t look like ours. May be they don’t communicate using a form of energy (electromagnetic) that we can detect. And may be it is the same for them that they can’t recognise Earth as a planet inhabited by “intelligent” “life” because they’re looking for something completely different to homo sapiens. So is the universe designed such that all intelligent life forms remain isolated from each other? Or will we progress to a stage where we will find something that pervades all substance (living or non-living by our definition) of the universe?


Too mundane for space travel? October 22, 2009

Filed under: science,space research,technology — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
Who would have thought that a nickel and titanium “memory metal” known as Nitinol, recently popular for use in dental braces, would have been originally developed by NASA for aerospace uses! This new alloy does not crimp when bent and returns to its original shape as teeth shift! But that’s not the only invention that fascinates you with the fact that it was originally invented for space travel. A few days back I came across this article from that shares with its readers 13 such items that we use in our daily lives which were originally invented for space travel. They range from handheld video cameras to Zen perfume. Check it out!

TED Tuesday: Future of SETI September 22, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,biology,future,space research,TED — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
The SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter makes her TED Prize wish: to accelerate our search for cosmic company. Using a growing array of radio telescopes, she and her team listen for patterns that may be a sign of intelligence elsewhere in the universe.


Weirdest cosmological theories September 17, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,space research,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
Stephen Battersby of New Scientist gives a primer on the 10 most weird cosmological theories put forward by various individuals over the centuries.
  1. Clashing branes
  2. Evolving universes
  3. Superfluid space-time
  4. Goldilocks universe
  5. Gravity reaches out
  6. Cosmic ghost
  7. It’s a small universe
  8. Fast light
  9. Sterile neutrinos

Reading through these titles would have probably stoked your curiosity enough to click on the link above and read the whole article.


TED Tuesday: Fly me to Saturn August 25, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,biology,optics,space research,TED — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco shows images from the Cassini voyage to Saturn, focusing on its largest moon, Titan, and on frozen Enceladus, which seems to shoot jets of ice.

Carolyn Porco shares exciting new findings from the Cassini spacecraft’s recent sweep of one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus. Samples gathered from the moon’s icy geysers hint that an ocean under its surface could harbor life.



Hubble sees "bubble" July 30, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,optics,space research,technology,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
[Image source: New Scientist, Caption reads: The “Cygnus Bubble” nebula may actually be a cylinder that is being seen from one of its ends. This image was taken with the Kitt Peak Mayall 4-metre telescope in Arizona (Image: Travis A. Rector/U of Alaska Anchorage/Heidi Schweiker/NOAO)]

IT LOOKS like a soap bubble or perhaps even a camera fault, but the image at right is a newly discovered planetary nebula. […] The bubble, which was officially named PN G75.5+1.7 last week, has been there a while. […] “It’s a beautiful example,” says Adam Frank of the University of Rochester, New York. “Spherical ones are very rare.” One explanation is that the image is looking down the throat of a typical cylindrical nebula. However, it is still remarkably symmetrical, Frank says.


Sunday Spotlight: The Virtual Telescope July 26, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,optics,space research,sunday spotlight,technology — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
A few days back I got an invite to join a group on LinkedIn. It was called The Virtual Telescope Project, a name that interested me enough to go ahead and check out what was this all about. And once I was on the website, I knew I had to write a Sunday Spotlight on this particular service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory.

The homepage beckons you to enter the website with the message, “Enjoy the real Universe from your desktop, live!”. It is available in English and Italian. This project/telescope is a participant in the IYA2009 activities. The website is created and directed by Gianluca Masi. Here you will find out what makes Virtual Telescope a unique case in the world. The Virtual Telescope offers live shows and astronomical Labs, in real-time or with archived material (the latter being free).

I am very much looking forward to participate in their next live show on Monday 3rd August, which is in Italian. But … the fascinating beauty of the deep space is beyond spoken word.