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Astronomers search for alien megastructures in satellite data

Astronomers search for alien megastructures in satellite data 90

The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite has been helping map the billions of stars in the Milky Way, and a group of astronomers is using the spacecraft’s stunning new star catalog to search for signs of highly advanced alien civilizations.

A team of scientists from Sweden’s Uppsala University and the University of Heidelberg in Germany combed Gaia’s first data release of a billion stars from September 2016. They then cross-referenced it with observations from the Australia-based Milky Way-watching RAVE project looking for differences in how far away the two observatories place certain stars.

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Artist’s representation of a crumbling Dyson sphere orbiting KIC 8462852.Danielle Futselaar/METI International

Simply put, the Gaia data shows how far away a star is by watching it move across a background of far more distant stars, an effect called parallax. RAVE data, on the other hand, estimates the distance of a star based on the properties of its brightness. So the scientists looked for stars observed by both Gaia and RAVE where the data seemed to disagree on the distance of a star.

The idea is that the disparity in distance measurements by the different instruments could be explained by the presence of a partial Dyson sphere, a structure that envelopes or partially envelopes a star to harvest its energy.

Science fiction has long envisioned huge alien megastructures like planet-size artificial spheres or rings or swarms of energy-collecting spacecraft. They’ve also been floated as a possible explanation for the strange dimming and re-brightening behavior of the now famous Boyajian’s Star, also known as Tabby’s Star or KIC 8462852.

Cross-referencing the data sets revealed a handful of stars in Gaia data that may possibly be circled by such alien megastructures. However, upon closer examination, the team determined that errors in the data could account for differing measurements in the case of all but one star named TYC 6111-1162-1.

The researchers used a third observatory to take a closer look at the star. They didn’t find evidence of alien megastructures, but instead of an unseen companion star, which could also account for the discrepancies in measurements. 

While they haven’t discovered advanced aliens just yet, the team maintains that their method of searching for possible Dyson spheres is still sound. They say the search will become even easier with future releases of Gaia data, which will provide both types of distance measurements for many stars. 

“We estimate that Gaia Data Release 3, currently scheduled for late 2020, should allow the technique to be applied to samples of (about 1 million) stars,” they write in a report uploaded to Cornell’s Arxiv repository of scientific papers.

Meanwhile, the second Gaia Data Release dropped on Wednesday, with a fresh batch of 1.7 billion stars to check for ambitious alien construction projects. If anyone finds anything, please notify Elon Musk. He’s always looking for fresh inspiration. 

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”


Also published on Medium.



Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 103
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

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How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

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It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

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Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars 107

The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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Possible “portals” to distant regions of the Universe found in space

Possible "portals" to distant regions of the Universe found in space 108

Scientists have found in space possible “portals” to distant regions of the universe. They could be some supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies. This is reported by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Society magazine. In theory, a spaceship can pass through such portals.

Russian scientists have found that black holes in very bright galaxies may be the entrances to these “portals” or “wormholes”. In theory, a spaceship can pass through such portals. However, they are surrounded by intense radiation, which negates the crew’s chances of survival.

The similarity between a wormhole and a black hole is that they have extremely strong gravity. However, as scientists believe, the body cannot get out of the black hole, falling beyond the event horizon, while the “wormhole” must have an exit somewhere else in space.

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So, experts say, the collision of two bodies inside a wormhole in images from space would look like an explosion. That is, the active galactic nucleus (AGN), which seemed to be such earlier, may in fact be the entrance to the “portal”.

Russian physicist Mikhail Piotrovich emphasizes that scientists still know little about the internal structure of the “wormhole.” Moreover, they are not even sure that such a phenomenon exists at all. In addition, the closest object similar to it is 13 million light-years away, so humans are unlikely to be able to reach it in the foreseeable future.

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