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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SETI: Part 5 What We Should Do About Outer Space

It is entirely possible that We are the only intelligent life in the entire Universe.  However, there are possibly 1, followed by 24 zeros, planets out there:

Million 1,000,000 (6 zeros)
Billion 1,000,000,000 (9 zeros)
Trillion 1,000,000,000,000 (12 zeros)
Quadrillion 1,000,000,000,000,000 (15 zeros)
Quintillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (18 zeros)
Sextillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (21 zeros)
Septillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (24 zeros)
Octillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (27 zeros)
Nonillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (30 zeros)
Decillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (33 zeros)

Or a septillion.  Also, our Universe began 13.8 billion years ago, and our Milky Way galaxy apparently formed not long thereafter, perhaps only 0.2 billion years later.  Our solar system is only 4.6 billion years old, so there could well be extraterrestrial civilizations 9 billion years older.  In consideration of Homo sapiens only appearing perhaps 0.2 billion years ago, and our ability to communicate into space just recently, the "ether" must be supersaturated with streams of alien signals, if we can only detect and understand them.  However, if no one has yet seen or measured Dark Matter and Energy, which form 96% of what exists around us, it is maybe understandable that these messages have not yet been captured.

Parts 1 to 4 of this SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) series provided the background for what now should be limits to what we can justifiably do today regarding Outer Space.  Humankind by nature dreams and imagines beyond reality.  Religion is but one such relic of antiquity.    

But there is at this phase of our evolution no point for any one nation to waste precious resources to fecklessly venture into space.  We just don't have the capability to do much for any good reason, anyway.  Let the super rich take vacations to the Moon for $300 million, as just proposed by Elon Musk.  The risks are inordinate, but the challenge almost worthy of their courage and wealth.  The investment of tax revenues, however, requires reasonable sanity and elements of feasibility.

Co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, has provided $30 million to build the Allen Telescope Array, located at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 mile northeast of San Francisco.  Forty two dishes have been operational, but 350 were originally planned.  The SETI Institute, with management by the SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), but funding shortfalls continue to beleaguer the effort.  There will be 42 antennas by this summer.  Lots of science goals, but nothing has been found.

So, for now, forget Mars.  Avoid multi-billion hardware exploits.   Something like the $100 million (R&D cost only--the actual project, if deemed doable, will run into the many billionsBreakthrough Starshot, proposed by Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner seems worthy.  With Stephen Hawking, Al Worden (former director of NASA's Ames Research Center) and other eminent dignitaries, Milner  wants to send a thousand nano spacecraft to Proxima Centauri b In short, these would be micro-sails carrying StarChips propelled by ground-based laser beams.  The key here is that no human life will be lost.  Once launched, there should some feedback photos of hopefully earth-sized planets in 25 years, for the StarChip will be accelerated to a speed of 134,000,000 miles per hour (20% speed of light, whereas Voyager, which has been heading somewhere for almost 40 years, "only" travels at 38,000 MPH).  If these numbers boggle your mind, that is the nature of space.

Milner has a range of Breakthrough initiatives, all to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  Breakthrough Listen, also funded at $100 million, for example, has already begun, and will search over a million stars for artificial radio or laser signals.  Breakthrough Message is creating a message representative of humanity and Planet Earth.  A $1 million pool to competitively be provided

Governments will no doubt be asked to contribute if Starshot and Listen attain any kind critical mass movement.  At $1/person/year, a sum of $7 billion/year can be generated to support these efforts.  The USA will no doubt, over the reclined body of Donald Trump (but he won't be in office if these projects gain traction), be asked to subside the less able nations, but in consideration of the $54 billion President Trump will seek to enhance the Defense budget, when we already spend more for war than the next  eight nation, combined, or the $1.5 trillion ultimate cost of the F-35 lemon, these progressive space investment into the future of our country and globe can be justified.

SETI funding should be restored to the NASA budget.  Senator Richard Bryan about a quarter century ago specifically prevented NASA from supporting SETI.  NASA has been sneaking money to the SETI Institute by renaming things, but the support has been small.  Ten percent of the $20 billion NASA budget should be devoted to SETI.  Now is not the time to advocate such nonsense in the Trump era, for he wants to rid the government of humanities and the art, but the time will come when all this will make sense.  

There will be a Part 6 on what will aliens look like.  Maybe later this week.


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