NASA’s big announcement yesterday makes me hopeful for the future. They found 7 rocky, roughly Earth-sized planets orbiting in (or close enough to with the correct percentage of greenhouse gases in their atmosphere) the Goldilocks Zone, orbiting a single Red Dwarf star. The seven planet’s orbits are spaced very closely together in order to achieve this, but aligned very evenly, and where a star like the Sun has a lifetime of 10 billion years, a Red Dwarf star has a lifetime measured between 1 trillion and 10 trillion years. If I was a Type II civilization, that’s the kind of stellar environment I would want to park my habitable planets in, and looking at TRAPPIST-1 it looks suspiciously like that’s what might be going on there. The range of size and temperature environments each planet is subject to would work particularly well for a multi-species civilization who’s members evolved on different planets.
How will we find out if that is what’s going on here? Without a wildly improbable series of breakthroughs in physics with the associated applied engineering needed to build Warp Drive Starships, or a visit to our solar system by someone who has already done that, we probably won’t find out for sure in our lifetimes. But next year the James Webb Telescope goes into orbit, with a full sensor suite specifically designed to tell us more about everything from the planets of our local solar system, to exoplanets, to distant galaxies. You can believe TRAPPIST-1 has been put high on it’s priority list of the things they want it to examine first. The spectrum’s from each of those planets will tell the tale; if the ones closer in have almost no greenhouse gases, the ones farther out have a lot, and they all show traces of oxygen and organic compounds like Methane, we may have neighbors. Which would pretty much mark this week as the most important one of any of our lives.
If you didn’t recognize the reference to Type II Civilizations, in 1964, Nikolai Kardashev came up with the Kardashev Scale which measured a Civilization by the amount of energy it could utilize, which would in part be a function of its level of technology. On that scale, we are technically a Type 0, although Carl Sagan refined it a bit and considered us a Type 0.7, possibly making it to Type 1 within a hundred years or so, assuming we survive that long. You can learn more about it at David Darling’s Kardashev civilizations or Guillermo A. Lemarchand’s Detectability of Extraterrestrial Technological Activities from way back in 1992 (which explains why the web site looks so primitive). I am also including a video from physicist Michio Kaku that explains it rather well.
Posted by the World Science Festival, this presentation is part of The Big Idea Series, and I could not stop watching it once I started. From the Big Bang to the Multiverse, they explore a wide range of ideas, all theoretically supported to some greater or lesser extent, and some of them even have some experimental results that support the possibility that they exist. This is fascinating stuff, and the implications keep getting more numerous the longer you think about them. The original panel and gathering happened as part of the 2009 World Science Festival, and was posted in 2015; enjoy.
This 360 degree VR formatted video from BBC News takes you on a brief tour inside the Large Hadron Collider, which is pretty much the most complex machine in the world. The folks over at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have done a lot of excellent science with this installation. Since I probably won’t get to visit the place in person, it is nice to have a virtual visit to play in the headset.
The Solar storm slamming into the upper atmosphere is creating some amazing aurora viewing conditions tonight. These displays will be visible as far south as Virginia according to Accuweather. They put together a very nice map showing what kind of viewing conditions you will have in the US and Canada which you can see at that link. Of course, it may also disrupt the power grid and interfere with satellite communications, but the solar flare is causing an amazing visual display across the northern sky. If you live in any of the places marked as fair or good viewing, head outside and look to the sky.
One of the modern holy grails in physics is the Higgs Boson, AKA The God Particle, and several weeks ago Cern announced they believed they had finally proven it exists. As in all such advances, some will only go so far as to admit that a Higgs-like particle has been identified, but even if it is not the elusive Higgs itself a major step along the road to understanding how the universe works has been taken. As complex as both the question and the means of answering it are, there is a simple explanation put forward by Assistant Professor Daniel Whiteson of the University of California that anyone can understand. And just to make it easier to follow, this excellent animation was assembled; thanks to Open Culture for the heads up on this one.
The Higgs Boson is often referred to as the God Particle for the simple reason that once they find and understand it, it could literally open the universe for us. The first video is Professor Michio Kaku giving a very brief introduction to the concept, and why the discovery is important. They came very close in December, and the actual discovery is expected, or at least hoped for, this year. The second video goes into a bit of additional detail on the concept of the Higgs Boson, which interacts with all but three other particles. Which means the discovery and direct observation of the Higgs could give us the key to the ToE (Theory of Everything) that Einstein spent his last 30 years working on, and pretty much every physicist since has taken a crack at. The key to time travel, FTL travel, as well as access to higher dimensions and parallel universes, this discovery could be the game changer that brings the future alive.