Saturday, October 17, 2015

exotic space Crow

Crow, having all the advantages of being either a material or immaterial being depending on his mood, recently sojourned to one of the more exotic locales in our galaxy. You can see him here in the company of an otherworldly friend enjoying the sights on a moon of a gas giant planet that circles a star a few parsecs away from Betelguese - which is not the name the locals happen to know it by.

On his return he was amused to see the news that a strange phenomenon has been discovered by scientists monitoring the Kepler Space Telescope. The light pattern they saw seemed to indicate a big mess of matter circling the star (KIC 8462852 in astronomer speak) in tight formation.  This would be no big deal for a young star – things get pretty messy during the early stages of solar system formation.  The problem is that KIC 8462852 is not a young star, it's much older than our Sol and considerably larger too, and scientists seem to agree that all the potential explanations in terms of conventional physics and natural phenomena are found wanting. One astronomer, Jason Wright of Penn State University, blithely noted that the light pattern observed was consistent with a “swarm of megastructures”, and after examining the data more closely cautioned, “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Oops. That was the point where lots of people began to remember the Kardashev Scale* - the classification of possible civilizations depending on energy usage that basically looks like this:

Type I civilizations control all available energy on a single planet.
Type II civilizations control all available energy in a solar system (for example, using Dyson spheres).
Type III civilizations control use all available energy in an entire galaxy.

I'm pretty sure we can't build a Dyson Sphere yet but surely that will come soon now we've got Google Glass and the i-Phone 6S.

Crow: Hold on just a moment there. Your Earth doesn't even count as a Type I civilization yet. You can scarcely predict the weather more than a few days in advance, never mind control it. The only space travel humans have done is a couple of brief forays to the moon decades ago and every so often one of you goes to sit in the Space Station. You spend incredible amounts of energy and resources bickering over idiotic political boundaries and ideological differences. Environmental problems and global resource depletion are beginning to wreak havoc with our climate and infrastructure.  In 1965, Buckminster Fuller said that you had all the necessary technical knowledge then to create a globally sustainable civilization for everyone on the planet to live like billionaires. So why haven’t you?

Ah well, it's more likely than not the scientists haven't discovered a Type II civilization. Who says beings so far beyond human would even want to spend the time and energy to convert the power of an entire sun, never mind using up every scrap of material in the solar system and beyond as raw material for such a construct? Humans can only think like humans, after all, and you lot have barely begun to communicate with the other sentient beings that share the place with you. If you think about it for a moment there's a distinct possibility that advanced civilizations could decide that moving out into space in the traditional expansive convert-the-universe-into-computronium agenda is not be the best way to go.

Maybe they all got smart enough to enjoy the worlds where they evolved. Cold, dark, airless, vast and empty space may not be the right environment for living beings of any category. So far the machines you make seem to be much better at exploring and sending back news of what has been found. How likely is it anyway you will find a place better suited to you and us, your friends and co-residents?

Perhaps there is an advanced alien race that is enclosing their local star. If they plan on coming here next you people might be best off turning off the lights and staying very quiet.

God thought to hide his secrets in a secure place. ‘How about on the moon’ he reflected. ‘But then, one day human beings could get there, and it may be that those who arrive there would not be worthy of such knowledge. Maybe in the ocean or deep underground?’ But that again was dismissed for the same reason. Then the solution occurred to him – ‘I shall put my secrets in the inner sanctum of their own minds. Then only those who really deserve it and seek it will be able to find it.' **

*Nikolai Kardashev, Russian astrophysicist, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and is the deputy director of the Russian Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Not Kardasian - an entirely different kind of scale.

**Told by a tribal ayahuasca user.


Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Crow looks suitably impressive amongst the stars and please thank him for keeping us up to date. But it seems like it’s not wise for him to hang around too long just a few light years away from the red supergiant Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse may well become a supernovae in less than 100,000 years and at about 20 times the mass of the Sun, it’s going to cause quite a ruckus. In the meantime I’m sure Crow will uncover a few more interesting stars like KIC 8462852 so I look forward to hearing the next instalment.
Best wishes

Mauigirl said...

Very interesting. I truly believe there are aliens out there but it will be hard for our primitive society to ever reach them.

Tom said...

One feels suitably humbled realising that Earth is < Type 1. If we could guarantee that every baby grew to childhood, and thence to adulthood, perhaps we could then guarantee that Earth could follow suit. Then again, maybe not. Crow certainly looks an old salt up there.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay
A hundred thousand years? That's going to seriously interfere with Orion's looks, isn't it? Truth to tell, we chose Betelguese because it's such a cool name to type and pronounce. Besides, we needed to keep the location of Crow's alien friends a secret for the time being. We all know what happens when a human corporatocracy discovers such a place.
It will be interesting to hear more news about KIC 8462852 as the astronomers focus more attention that way.
Best wishes

susan said...

We may not even recognize them. Can you imagine an ant having any idea about larger mammals - never mind us?
Nice to see you again :)

susan said...

My all-time favorite science fiction books were written by Iain Banks who sadly died before his time a couple of years ago. The Culture (as Iain Banks described it) is characterized as being a post-scarcity society, having overcome most physical constraints on life and being an egalitarian, individualistic, stable society without the use of any form of force or compulsion, except where necessary to protect others. Many of his fans, including me, expressed a fervent hope it's a society he found (despite being an athiest) once he left this reality.

You noticed the salt, did you? I've run into the work of a few artists who are remarkably skilled in their use of the stuff. I tend to use it when I need to get something done fast. :)

marja-leena said...

Fascinating what humans dream up, perhaps to escape the reality of what they are doing on this earth but we do so love magical stories. And your magical art which popped right of the screen into my heart - wow!

susan said...

That's true, Marja-Leena, amazingly so. I'm so happy to know the picture made you happy :)

Andrew R. Scott said...

I saw that report. Expect it is just rubble but will be monitoring the further monitoring with interest. Expect other wondrous unseen things are closer than we think, although expectation is not belief.

Lovely picture.

susan said...

Ah yes, as Shakespoked in Hamlet.. we can't even begin to know how little we know.

Sean Jeating said...

This reminds me of an interwiew with the very gentleman the Asteroid 5097 is named after.

I asked if he considered the existence of an earth-twin possible, with humans like you and me.
Cutting his (brilliant/wonderful) answer short:
"Perhaps. It makes sense having two eyes, two arms, two legs, doesn't it? Therefore, probably they won't have three eyes.
However, the possibility we meet eachother is low.
See, the universe exists for 15 billion years, the earth for but 4,5 billion years, human beings for about one million years. And intelligent we are ... but what means intelligent? That there do exist other galaxies we learnt only 80 years ago. Alone the next star is so far away that Voyager in 80 years will have got closer by but one thousandth.
If the others are as intelligent as we are, it does neither help them nor us. And if they are more intelligent [he smiles] why should they contact us?"

susan said...

How true :)

As my dad used to say there's no sense in worrying about summat you can do nothing about - like the baggage retrieval system at Heathrow, for instance.