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Archive for the ‘space’ Category

Huma Abedin = Tory Foster

Posted by samgr on May 29, 2008

I’m sure someone has pointed this out, but aside from the well-established “John McCain looks like Saul Tigh” link, Hillary Clinton’s chief aide Huma Abedin looks a heck of a lot like Laura Roslin’s chief aide Tory Foster. Do the research yourself; it’s all there. SPOILER: Huma Abedin is a cylon.

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Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, politics, space, television, Tory Foster | 2 Comments »

The ‘Great Filter’: I Wish Stephen Jay Gould Were Still Alive

Posted by samgr on May 15, 2008

So there’s a really interesting article in the MIT Technology Review by Nick Bostrom which basically argues that finding evidence of extraterrestrial life in our own solar system would be the worst thing that could ever happen to humanity.

Loosely the argument is this: we now know the galaxy is full of planets, so the fact that we’ve seen no evidence of extraterrestrial INTELLIGENT life means that there is likely some kind of “great filter” that precludes the advancement of civilization to the point when it can colonize or otherwise broadcast its existence to the rest of the galaxy. If the great filter is in the past from a human standpoint—i.e. if it’s very hard for life to evolve complexity or intelligence, or even for life to arise in the first place— that’s good news for us. We’ve already passed through the filter because we’re lucky and awesome. If it’s in our future—i.e. if there’s some technological discovery that tends to wipe out civilizations (don’t switch on the LHC!!!)— then we’re in deep trouble. We’re unlikely to be the first civilization to make it through the great filter.

So, says Bostrom, if we find life on Mars or Europa, that’s bad news. The more advanced the life is, the worse news it is. If life evolved independently somewhere else, it’s statistically much less likely that the filter is in the past. So the expected lifespan of human civilization gets a lot shorter.

Now some thoughts from me. This all ties in with a lot of what Stephen Jay Gould writes about in Wonderful Life. He doesn’t use the “great filter” terminology, but he argues pretty forcefully that evolution of life on Earth is wildly improbable. He doesn’t seem to think that the ORIGIN of life is that wacky though; it’s more that the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms is very hard to achieve, and that the evolution of intelligence is in fact very unlikely.

So from Gould’s point of view (I would think), if we were to find some slime on Mars or even some jellyfish on Europa, that’s not quite as much of a disaster as Bostrom thinks it would be. Bostrom leans toward the great filter being the initial origin of life, where what Gould writes suggests that the filter is more likely one of the transitions along the very unlikely path from slime to us.

Another thing that interested me in Bostrom’s article was this passage:

“Now, it is possible to concoct scenarios in which the universe is swarming with advanced civilizations every one of which chooses to keep itself well hidden from our view. Maybe there is a secret society of advanced civilizations that know about us but have decided not to contact us until we’re mature enough to be admitted into their club. Perhaps they’re observing us as if we were animals in a zoo. I don’t see how we can conclusively rule out this possibility.”

This has always been something I’ve wondered about. To me, this seems almost as likely a solution to the Fermi paradox as the great filter dealy, but it’s true that there’s no real way to prove or disprove it for now. Something’s going on, in any case.

Posted in aliens, evolution, science, space | 1 Comment »

Titan Ocean! OMG!

Posted by samgr on March 20, 2008

I try to avoid writing posts that are just a link and commentary, but this is really cool. Analysis of Cassini data suggests that there might be a liquid water ocean under Titan’s mushy surface. If this is true, I think Titan just scooted in front of Europa as the best possible place to look for extraterrestrial life in our solar system. Titan is full of organic molecules, and the combination of organics and warm(ish) liquid water is pretty hopeful.

The downside is: how are we gonna build stuff there now? I’d always liked the idea of Titan as a place to colonize- Earthlike atmospheric pressure so we can build huge domes, availability of chemicals needed for agriculture, etc. But that’s no good if when we try to build a house on what we thought was the surface, it’ll sink through the crust with a loud SHLOOP and disappear into several miles of ocean. D’oh.

UPDATE: According to the NYTimes, the icy layer on top of the ocean is actually 50 or 60 miles thick, so maybe it’s not so much of an issue that things will shloop through it. Also, this says that Europa is still a better bet for life because the water has contact with volcanic rock, which would provide an energy source. What I don’t get is that if the water on Titan ISN’T heated by the core, where does the heat come from and why is it liquid…

Posted in science, space, Titan | 1 Comment »

Here’s an Important Question…

Posted by samgr on March 19, 2008

So here’s an important (but possibly dumb) question. How much radiation does melanin shield you from? What I’m getting at is this: let’s say a gamma ray burst hit the earth and wiped out a lot of our ozone layer. Would people with darker skin be better protected? Would humans all evolve to be black? Someone please answer this; I was wondering about it in the shower.

Also, let’s say we colonize (and maybe terraform) Mars. Since it has lower gravity and much more radiation, would Martians end up looking like Masai: really tall and really dark? Or is that a totally different kind of radiation than the kind melanin blocks?

Posted in Mars, science, space | Leave a Comment »

I’m Building a Theremin

Posted by samgr on March 9, 2007

This has nothing to do with space. Or does it?

We’re Building a Theremin

Posted in music, Open Source, space, technology, theremin | Leave a Comment »

Space Speech Analysis

Posted by samgr on March 8, 2007

Again, from my internship. Space has accidentally become my beat over there.

Bushes in Space

Posted in language, Open Source, politics, space | Leave a Comment »

Stuff I Wrote for Another Site

Posted by samgr on February 21, 2007

Check it out:

Jellyfish
Contraption: Part 1
Space Speeches
Contraption: Part 2

Posted in language, Open Source, science, sea life, space, technology | Leave a Comment »