Category Archives: SETI

Misc: A better Metorite Pen + Space Jobs + Churchill and Aliens + NASA spinoffs

Some items in my posting queue:

** The METEORITE Pen by B. Smith & Co. — Kickstarter 

Participants in this crowd-funding campaign will help get a meteorite penmaker venture off the ground and get discounts on pens as well.

We are proud to offer you a Kickstarter exclusive first edition B. Smith & Co. fountain pen. Our Meteorite pen manufacturing process has been completely redesigned to more elegantly highlight the cosmic beauty of this rare material. You will enjoy it for a lifetime. 

Your fountain pen will be meticulously handcrafted with high quality black titanium plated hardware featuring pen and cap barrels encrusted with actual Campo del Cielo meteorite that had traveled across the cosmos, in space, for billions of years. It crashed to earth in a fireball 4,000-6,000 years ago before being discovered more than 400 years ago.

Each pen will be carefully fitted with a fine point two-tone stainless steel nib manufactured in Germany by Jowo, one of the world’s largest suppliers of fountain pen nibs, and will include two methods of filling the ink supply– a standard cartridge and a piston converter.

Please keep in mind that every order is individually handcrafted and therefore no two pens will be exactly alike, although they will look very similar. We take great pride in our craftsmanship and guarantee your pen will be just as beautiful as you would expect, hopefully more!

** Space Job Fair – Bernd Weis founded this service 

to enable everybody to launch a career in space-related companies. I work day and night to get more companies to participate and to present their openings, to get more universities involved, and to help companies at every stage to find the best possible candidates.

The Space Job Fair grew in less than 1 year from a virtual only event to a full university hosted job fair. With having a hybrid career event, where companies can promote their openings and candidates can present themselves, we created a unique experience to get value for everyone participating. Hybrid means, it is hosted by a university and all presentations are streamed online and a participation is possible from everywhere (internet access required). Our modular and hybrid approach enables us to deliver an easy yet powerful sourcing solution and give universities the chance to bring more international openings to their students.

** Winston Churchill’s essay on ET
Churchill was a soldier, a wartime leader, an author, a historian, and a talented participant in various other vocations. Turns out he was also quite informed about scientific topics and recently an essay was found that he had written in 1930 on the possibilities of life beyond earth:

From the end of Churchill’s piece:

“[W]ith hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible. I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”

BTW: My wife and I recently listened to the audio version of Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard. It’s a wonderfully well written account of just a few of the amazing episodes in an amazing life.

**  9 NASA Inventions That You Actually Use Every Day – A list of some NASA spinoffs.

ESO: Very Large Telescope to search for planets in Alpha Centauri system

Here is a new article from ESO (European Southern Observatory):

VLT to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri System

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

The foreground of this image shows ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The rich stellar backdrop to the picture includes the bright star Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to Earth. In late 2016 ESO signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the VLT instrumentation to conduct a search for planets in the Alpha Centauri system. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. [Larger images.]
ESO, represented by the Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives, represented by Pete Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The agreement provides funds for the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument, mounted at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for potentially habitable planets around Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to the Earth. The agreement also provides for telescope time to allow a careful search programme to be conducted in 2019.

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. The video is available in 4K UHD.  This ESOcast Light takes a quick look at the main facts and why this is an important step for the future.

The discovery in 2016 of a planet, Proxima b, around Proxima Centauri, the third and faintest star of the Alpha Centauri system, adds even further impetus to this search.

Knowing where the nearest exoplanets are is of paramount interest for Breakthrough Starshot, the research and engineering programme launched in April 2016, which aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven “nanocraft”, laying the foundation for the first launch to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

This image shows the closest stellar system to the Sun, the bright double star Alpha Centauri AB and its distant and faint companion Proxima Centauri. In late 2016 ESO signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the VLT instrumentation to conduct a search for planets in the Alpha Centauri system. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. [Larger images.]
Detecting a habitable planet is an enormous challenge due to the brightness of the planetary system’s host star, which tends to overwhelm the relatively dim planets. One way to make this easier is to observe in the mid-infrared wavelength range, where the thermal glow from an orbiting planet greatly reduces the brightness gap between it and its host star. But even in the mid-infrared, the star remains millions of times brighter than the planets to be detected, which calls for a dedicated technique to reduce the blinding stellar light.

The existing mid-infrared instrument VISIR on the VLT will provide such performance if it were enhanced to greatly improve the image quality using adaptive optics, and adapted to employ a technique called coronagraphy to reduce the stellar light and thereby reveal the possible signal of potential terrestrial planets. Breakthrough Initiatives will pay for a large fraction of the necessary technologies and development costs for such an experiment, and ESO will provide the required observing capabilities and time.

The new hardware includes an instrument module contracted to Kampf Telescope Optics (KTO), Munich, which will host the wavefront sensor, and a novel detector calibration device. In addition, there are plans for a new coronagraph to be developed jointly by University of Liège (Belgium) and Uppsala University (Sweden).

Detecting and studying potentially habitable planets orbiting other stars will be one of the main scientific goals of the upcoming European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Although the increased size of the E-ELT will be essential to obtaining an image of a planet at larger distances in the Milky Way, the light collecting power of the VLT is just sufficient to image a planet around the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

The developments for VISIR will also be beneficial for the future METIS instrument, to be mounted on the E-ELT, as the knowledge gained and proof of concept will be directly transferable. The huge size of the E-ELT should allow METIS to detect and study exoplanets the size of Mars orbiting Alpha Centauri, if they exist, as well as other potentially habitable planets around other nearby stars.

Videos: SETI for very non-human-like ETs + SETI at Harvard + SETI in optical wavelengths

** In this video, British science writer Philip Ball advocates a search for extraterrestrials based on the assumption that they share extremely little with humans in terms of biology, ways of thinking, etc (via Leonard David)

** Here is a Google talk by Paul Horowitz of Harvard about, “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence“:

Paul Horowitz visited Google’s office in Cambridge, MA to discuss the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project at Harvard University.

Establishing an electromagnetic communications link across a thousand light-years presents unique technological challenges. In his talk, Prof. Horowitz visits some highlights of the science and technology of SETI — Do THEY exist? Is communication possible? What is the best way? Is this just completely insane? — and describes interesting searches his project and others have been doing.

Paul Horowitz is a Research Professor of Physics and of Electrical Engineering at Harvard, and is co-author of The Art of Electronics.

**  The SETI Institute takes many approaches to the search for ET. Here is a talk by Eliot Gillium about looking for optical rather than radio signals from ET – A Novel Approach to OSETI:

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is a blind search across many dimensions—space and time being the most obvious. Every good SETI researcher does their very best to make the minimal reasonable assumptions, but time and resources are always limited, so various strategic optimizations have been adopted. A potentially more efficacious approach is to simply cover as much of the search space as possible. The SETI Institute has made this the starting point of their ambitious and groundbreaking idea to survey the entire night sky, all night, every night at optical wavelengths. This talk will further detail the motivation and planned operation of this new instrument, a panoptic eye for interstellar laser pulses.


Video: The radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the SETI Institute

A review by Gerry Harp of SETI Institute radio telescope observations, new technologies, and plans for the coming years:

From 2009 through 2015, the SETI Institute used the Allen Telescope Array to observe stars with high probability of hosting exoplanets. Nearby stars were chosen based on radial velocity observations that indicate planets, and a more distant set of stars were chosen from the Kepler Space Telescope’s list of probable and confirmed exoplanets. By choosing stars that have planets we hoped to improve our chances for finding ET in our radio telescope observations. In this talk Dr. Harp will describe the novel technologies developed for this search by the SETI Institute and what we have learned from the last six years of SETI observations. Dr. Harp will also consider future directions the SETI Institute may take to improve on this search in the coming years.

The history of the “Cosmic Call” – a SETI outreach project

Here’s an interesting article about the transmission in 1999 of a carefully assembled message to whomever might reside at nine sun-like stars 50-70 light years from the solar system: How a Couple of Guys Built the Most Ambitious Alien Outreach Project Ever: You might think it takes vast governmental resources to launch an extraterrestrial communication effort. Nope – Smithsonian Magazine.

Some technical details about the project and the construction of the message: