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Friday, July 24, 2015

EARTH 2.0 AND SETI


The Star Advertiser had a major article this morning written by Jim Borg (right) taking over half of page A3 about Kepler-452b, dubbed Earth 2.0 (above painting by Danielle Futselaar of the SETI Institute), a like-size exoplanet that could hold  the ingredients for life, located 1400 light years away.  

Mind you, if that planet had intelligent life, and 1400 years ago decided to communicate with Planet Earth, which means we would receive that signal approximately today, if we had the capability to respond, their return message to us would take at least 2800 years to be received.  Jesus Christ, if he really existed, lived around 2000 years ago.

There are a few intriguing characteristics of Earth 2.0 (another artist concept of Kepler-452b to the right, and more below):
  • revolving around a star about the size of our Sun
  • is the smallest extrasolar planet circling a Sun-size-like star and
  • has a year of 385 days.
It is remarkable that astrophysicists can determine so much detail of a virtually infinitesimal object so far away.  

Yet, I find this discovery disappointing.  As much as they know, scientist have no idea if the planet is rocky or gaseous, and have no clue about the atmosphere.

Any regular of this blog site knows by now that I have long (40 years or so) been chiding NASA, for they in the 1970's banished a concept I advanced when I worked at the Ames Research Center to cheaply detect the first exoplanet (it was more than two decades later that the first one, 51 Pegasi b,  was actually announced), plus, more so, at the same time also determining the atmospheric composition.

Of all the coincidences, a colleague of mine earlier this week sent me reference to the recent development of a new instrument capable of detecting intelligent signals from outer space.  According to the lead scientist, Shelley Wright of the University of California at San Diego:

Pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from greater distances. It also takes less energy to send the same amount of information using infrared signals than it would with visible light.

While I think the odds of an intelligent society many light years away purposefully targeting our planet with a laser is remote, any civilization even  only a few centuries or millennia older might well have the capability to send their signals to ALL the exoplanets in their nearby universe.  So the utilization of a special device to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) messages is a worthy endeavor.  Space lights to the right.

It occurred to me, though, that, as current extrasolar detection schemes have no way to also measure the atmospheric composition of these potential earth-like planets, I wondered if Dr. Wright's instrument could be enhanced to measure optical frequencies.  It was almost half a century ago that I attempted to frequency double laser light to convert optical to ultraviolet frequencies, so, surely, there must be a way today for doubling, or even quadrupling, frequencies in the infrared into viewable frequencies.  The reason why you need to enter the optical spectrum is that the monochromatic radiation from lasing planetary atmospheres fall in that range.

So, I decided to communicate with Dr. Wright:

Dear Shelley:

A colleague of mine somewhat affiliated with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii sent me reference to your Near Infrared Optical SETI Instrument.  You're not old enough yet to remember back four decades, but that was a period when I first became involved with SETI at the Ames Research Center.  More so, as my 
  • then recent assignment was at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion.
  • after gaining a PhD in biochemical engineering where for my PhD dissertation I built a tunable laser which could not yet be purchased,
  • following up on my earlier chemical engineering studies at Stanford where Arthur Schawlow came when I was a junior...
...I met with Charles Townes (sister married Schawlow), who was at the University of California at Berkeley because I decided to test out an idea I had related to Townes' contention that planetary atmospheres lased.  Jack Billingham and Barney Oliver allowed me to dabble in suggesting an optical (NASA had pretty much then determined that the microwave portion of the spectrum had to be the focus) instrument that was based on finding the first extrasolar planet.  NASA'S problem was that they confused detecting signals from space with finding the first planet beyond our solar system.  Worse, they chose the combination of indirect measurements and the poor odds of transit.  Anyway, it took almost twenty years after I left Ames for the first extrasolar planet to be discovered.

The Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer--PAT, of course--was predicated on the nearly monochromatic laser emissions from extrasolar planets being tracked to both verify the existence of the planet while determining the atmospheric composition.  I was not absolutely sure if the intensity of the resultant monochromatic radiation could outshine the starlight, but my reading of your articles gives me hope.   No current detection techniques can do both.

I hope I have not lost you yet, but the purpose of the above is to interest you in expanding the use of your device to do more than SETI.  Sure, continue your efforts, but the probability of an ET civilization many light years away pointing their message to Planet Earth has to be very low.  While you're doing all that, however, why not also find an array of extrasolar planets while determining their atmospheric composition?  NASA, "advised" by the aerospace industry, compelled by the nature of our free enterprise system, mostly wants to expend billions to accomplish a task that I envisioned in the middle seventies as economically possible from Earth.  I have a similar gripe about our defense spending and have become a peace advocate.  Read one of my Huffington Post articles on my 10% solution.

As a final aside, I once helped Carl Sagan gain his first funding from the U.S. Congress for SETI.  I have pretty much discarded my calculations, for I fifteen years ago retired from the University of Hawaii as a professor of engineering and director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute.  I still maintain an office on the Manoa Campus, writing books and serving as cheerleader for the Blue Revolution and other ventures.  Chapter 4 of my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity is on SETI, but I have serialized that book in my Daily Blog.

Aloha.

Pat

While it's only been a couple of days, no signals yet from San Diego.  I feel confident, though, that some message will be returned within 2800 years.

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Typhoon Halola at 80 MPH will weaken a bit and threaten Japan and South Korea over the weekend, but current computer models have the eye remaining in ocean space, until making landfall on Monday between Niigata and Akita:




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