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Posted: 15 Apr 2015 08:55 PM PDT
Excerpt from techtimes.com
By Aaron Mamiit
Scientists have wanted to establish communication with alien life for the longest time, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts to do so.
The question of whether there is alien life somewhere in the universe has been the subject of debate for centuries. While sightings of UFOs and contact with aliens have been reported, scientists have uncovered no hard, scientific evidence that such alien life exists. As such, the accepted conclusion is that there are no aliens living beyond our planet Earth.
The current approach being used by scientists to establish communication with aliens has been to track radio signals in space that may be coming from alien civilizations. The method has largely been inefficient, with some scientists clamoring for a more active approach in reaching out to possible alien life.
Douglas Vakoch, a scientist from the SETI Institute, which stands for "search for extraterrestrial intelligence," proposed to The American Association for the Advancement of Science a different approach to trying to contact aliens under the so-called Active SETI program.
Instead of waiting to receive radio signals from alien civilizations, Vakoch believes that scientists would get a response if signals are sent out from Earth to show that the planet's inhabitants are looking to reach out to alien life.
"The most critical reason to add Active SETI to our search strategy is that this may be the right strategy that lets us make contact," Vakoch said.
Center for SETI Research director Seth Shostak made a suggestion for scientists to send out the contents of the Internet into outer space, with the massive collection of text, videos, sounds and images offering alien life that would be receiving the signals a glimpse of the civilization living in our planet.
Using a radio transmitter would not be efficient for the proposal as it would take too long, about a month, to transmit the contents of the Internet to outer space. Instead, scientists are looking to use a laser to beam out the contents of the Internet, which would be expected to be completed in only a few days.
The proposal of SETI, however, was not welcomed by all the attendees of the meeting. Some scientists voiced out their concerns that reaching out to alien life could expose humanity to a risk far greater than the reward of establishing communication with aliens.
Posted: 15 Apr 2015 08:50 PM PDT
Excerpt from newscientist.com
Mysterious radio wave flashes from far outside the galaxy are proving tough for astronomers to explain. Is it pulsars? A spy satellite? Or an alien message?
BURSTS of radio waves flashing across the sky seem to follow a mathematical pattern. If the pattern is real, either some strange celestial physics is going on, or the bursts are artificial, produced by human – or alien – technology.
Telescopes have been picking up so-called fast radio bursts (FRBs) since 2001. They last just a few milliseconds and erupt with about as much energy as the sun releases in a month. Ten have been detected so far, most recently in 2014, when the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia, caught a burst in action for the first time. The others were found by sifting through data after the bursts had arrived at Earth. No one knows what causes them, but the brevity of the bursts means their source has to be small – hundreds of kilometres across at most – so they can't be from ordinary stars. And they seem to come from far outside the galaxy.
The weird part is that they all fit a pattern that doesn't match what we know about cosmic physics.
To calculate how far the bursts have come, astronomers use a concept called the dispersion measure. Each burst covers a range of radio frequencies, as if the whole FM band were playing the same song. But electrons in space scatter and delay the radiation, so that higher frequency waves make it across space faster than lower frequency waves. The more space the signal crosses, the bigger the difference, or dispersion measure, between the arrival time of high and low frequencies – and the further the signal has travelled.
Michael Hippke of the Institute for Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany, and John Learned at the University of Hawaii in Manoa found that all 10 bursts' dispersion measures are multiples of a single number: 187.5 (see chart). This neat line-up, if taken at face value, would imply five sources for the bursts all at regularly spaced distances from Earth, billions of light-years away. A more likely explanation, Hippke and Lerned say, is that the FRBs all come from somewhere much closer to home, from a group of objects within the Milky Way that naturally emit shorter-frequency radio waves after higher-frequency ones, with a delay that is a multiple of 187.5
They claim there is a 5 in 10,000 probability that the line-up is coincidence. "If the pattern is real," says Learned, "it is very, very hard to explain."
Cosmic objects might, by some natural but unknown process, produce dispersions in regular steps. Small, dense remnant stars called pulsars are known to emit bursts of radio waves, though not in regular arrangements or with as much power as FRBs. But maybe superdense stars are mathematical oddities because of underlying physics we don't understand.
It's also possible that the telescopes are picking up evidence of human technology, like an unmapped spy satellite, masquerading as signals from deep space.
The most tantalising possibility is that the source of the bursts might be a who, not a what. If none of the natural explanations pan out, their paper concludes, "An artificial source (human or non-human) must be considered."
"Beacon from extraterrestrials" has always been on the list of weird possible origins for these bursts. "These have been intriguing as an engineered signal, or evidence of extraterrestrial technology, since the first was discovered," says Jill Tarter, former director of the SETI Institute in California. "I'm intrigued. Stay tuned."
Astronomers have long speculated that a mathematically clever message – broadcasts encoded with pi, or flashes that count out prime numbers, as sent by aliens in the film Contact – could give away aliens' existence. Perhaps extraterrestrial civilisations are flagging us down with basic multiplication.
But a fast radio burst is definitely not the easiest message aliens could send. As Maura McLaughlin of West Virginia University, who was part of the first FRB discovery points out, it takes a lot of energy to make a signal that spreads across lots of frequencies, instead of just a narrow one like a radio station. And if the bursts come from outside the galaxy, they would have to be incredibly energetic to get this far.
If the bursts actually come from inside the Milky Way, they need not be so energetic (just like a nearby flashlight can light up the ground but a distant light does not). Either way, though, it would require a lot of power. In fact, the aliens would have to be from what SETI scientists call a Kardashev Type II civilisation...
But maybe there's no pattern at all, let alone one that aliens embedded. There are only 10 bursts, and they fit into just five groups. "It's very easy to find patterns when you have small-number statistics," says McLaughlin. "On the other hand, I don't think you can argue with the statistics, so it is odd."
The pattern might disappear as more FRBs are detected. Hippke and Learned plan to check their finding against new discoveries, and perhaps learn something about the universe. "Science is the best game around," says Learned. "You don't know what the rules are, or if you can win. This is science in action."
If the result holds up, says Hippke, "there is something really interesting we need to understand. This will either be new physics, like a new kind of pulsar, or, in the end, if we can exclude everything else, an ET."
Hippke is cautious, but notes that remote possibilities are still possibilities. "When you set out to search for something new," he says, "you might find something unexpected."
Posted: 15 Apr 2015 08:43 PM PDT
Excerpt from huffingtonpost.com
Just how realistic is it to believe that humans will someday find evidence of extraterrestrial life?
NASA's chief scientist recently predicted that we'd find signs of life beyond Earth within a decade or so, but a new study by researchers at Penn State -- one of the most exhaustive of its type -- isn't very encouraging.
After surveying tens of thousands of galaxies surrounding our own Milky Way galaxy, the scientists turned up no sign of advanced alien civilizations.
"These galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have been filled with alien civilizations, if they exist," Dr. Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the university's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds and one of the researchers, said in a written statement. "Either they don't exist, or they don't yet use enough energy for us to recognize them."
Turning up the heat. For the research, Wright and his colleagues analyzed a vast catalog of observations made in 2010 by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope. The team looked at the heat emitted by the 100,000 "most promising" candidates of the all-sky catalog's nearly 100 million entries.
"The idea behind our research is that, if an entire galaxy had been colonized by an advanced spacefaring civilization, the energy produced by that civilization's technologies would be detectable in mid-infrared wavelengths -- exactly the radiation that the WISE satellite was designed to detect for other astronomical purposes," Wright said in the statement.
The hypothesis that advanced civilizations could be recognized by their waste heat was first put forth by renowned theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson in 1960, according toSpace.com.
Time to give it up? Despite his negative findings, Wright said his study, published April 15 in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, was "just the beginning," and that further research may yet turn up evidence of alien technology.
And other experts involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) told The Huffington Post that they're far from discouraged.
Dr. Avi Loeb, a theoretical physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., told HuffPost Science in an email that it's possible alien civilizations are hard to detect because they use much less energy than Dyson proposed.
"The limits reported in this study rule out the most extreme environmental impact possible for an extraterrestrial civilization that harvests a significant fraction of the starlight in its host galaxy," he said. "For comparison, our civilization processes only a thousandth of a trillionth of the energy output of the sun. Less visible civilizations are much more likely to exist, both in terms of the technological feasibility of energy harvesting as well as in terms of their energy needs."
Legendary astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter, the former director of the Center for SETI Research in Mountain View, Calif. and the astronomer on whom Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 film "Contact" was loosely based, agreed that efforts to find extraterrestrial life should continine.
"It's absolutely not time to stop," she told The Huffington Post in an email. "It's time to improve the sensitivity and specificity of these searches to be able to discriminate between signals produced by Mother Nature and those produced by engineers."
Posted: 15 Apr 2015 08:39 PM PDT
Excerpt from nbcnews.com
The calcite-encrusted skeleton of an ancient human, still embedded in rock deep inside a cave in Italy, has yielded the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever found.
These molecules, which could be up to 170,000 years old, could one day help yield the most complete picture yet of Neanderthal life, researchers say.
Although modern humans are the only remaining human lineage, many others once lived on Earth. The closest extinct relatives of modern humans were the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia until they went extinct about 40,000 years ago.
"The Altamura man represents the most complete skeleton of a single nonmodern human ever found," study co-author Fabio Di Vincenzo, a paleoanthropologist at Sapienza University of Rome, told Live Science. "Almost all the bony elements are preserved and undamaged."
The Altamura skeleton bears a number of Neanderthal traits, particularly in the face and the back of the skull. However, it also possesses features that usually aren't seen in Neanderthals — for instance, its brow ridges were even more massive than those of Neanderthals. These differences made it difficult to tell which human lineage the Altamura man might have belonged to. Moreover, the Altamura skeleton remains partially embedded in rock, making it difficult to analyze.
Now, new research shows that DNA from a piece of the skeleton's right shoulder blade suggests the Altamura fossil was a Neanderthal. The shape of this piece of bone also looks Neanderthal, the researchers said.
In addition, the scientists dated the skeleton to about 130,000 to 170,000 years old. This makes it the oldest Neanderthal from which DNA has ever been extracted. (These bones are not the oldest known Neanderthal fossils — the oldest ones ever found are about 200,000 years old. This isn't the oldest DNA ever extracted from a human, either; that accolade goes to 400,000-year-old DNA collected from relatives of Neanderthals.)
The scientists detailed their findings online March 21 in the Journal of Human Evolution.
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