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NASA Pluto Probe May Carry Crowdsourced Message to Aliens

NASA Pluto Probe May Carry Crowdsourced Message to Aliens 86

A NASA Pluto probe may end up with one final mission after its work exploring the outer solar system is done — carrying a message to advanced alien civilizations.

NASA is considering allowing a team of researchers, teachers, artists and engineers to upload an interstellar message to the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft, which will perform the first-ever flyby of Pluto on July 14.

This project, known as the One Earth Message, is being led by Jon Lomberg, who was design director for the “golden records” that were placed aboard NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft before their 1977 launch to teach any aliens that might encounter the probes about humanity and its home planet. 

The goals of the One Earth Message are similar, but the new project would be a more global and collaborative effort, asking people around the world to contribute images, sounds and ideas for this farflung “message in a bottle.”

“This is really a chance to try to think about ourselves from the long perspective,” Lomberg told “We’ll never know if this extraterrestrial audience that we’re designing it for will receive it. But we do know that the people of Earth who participate, who play a role in it — it can literally change their lives.”

Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012, and Voyager 2 will join its twin in this rarefied realm soon. The two probes’ golden records are actual records — 12-inch-wide (30 centimeters) gold-plated copper disks that come with cartridges, needles and instructions about how to play them. The identical records contain 115 analog-encoded images, as well as audio of thunder and other natural sounds, music and spoken greetings in 55 different languages.

The One Earth Message, by contrast, would be digital. If NASA greenlights the project — the space agency has expressed enthusiasm but has yet to approve it officially, Lomberg said — the team will be allowed to beam 150 megabytes of data to New Horizons.

The One Earth Message would therefore hold about the same amount of information as Voyager’s golden records — perhaps 100 images and about an hour of audio, Lomberg said. (Videos would take up too much memory.)

“We’re writing a haiku, not a novel,” he said.

The digital format would allow the One Earth Message to be more flexible, layered and integrated than was possible with the golden records, Lomberg added. For example, the message could be changed over time by beaming more files to New Horizons. It could also include a map of the world, and every picture and every sound could be tagged to the spot from which it came. 

There’s another key difference between the Voyager and New Horizons efforts: While the golden records carry information chosen by a small committee (which was chaired by famed astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan), the One Earth Message would be a crowdsourced affair, with contributions from people around the globe.

“It’s not simply a photo contest,” Lomberg said. “It’s a process that’s going to find out what people want to send.”

Just as the One Earth Message’s content would be crowdsourced, a chunk of its funding would be too. (The team is not asking NASA to pay for the project.) Lomberg and his colleagues hope to raise at least $500,000 from people around the world via a Fiat Physica campaign, to build and maintain a Web presence and to figure out the best way to program the message.

Additional money raised would be used for education and outreach, among other things.

“The total budget is a couple of million [dollars], to do everything we’d like to do,” Lomberg said.

People would be able to contribute a certain number of photos for possible inclusion in the One Earth Message for free, he added. Anyone who wants to submit additional pictures would be able to do so, for a fee that would help cover the costs of the project’s website.

The One Earth Message Fiat Physica campaign runs through July 15. As of yesterday evening (May 17), the crowdfunding effort had raised about $12,000 of its $500,000 target. You can learn more about the campaign here:

The group is also looking for private support, Lomberg said. 

Drawing up a message designed to be understood by alien civilizationsis not a simple or straightforward task. For example, how would any hypothetical extraterrestrials that chance upon New Horizons even know that humanity is trying to say something to them?

“How can you send files so that aliens can figure them out? They’re not going to know what a jpeg is,” Lomberg said. “Our challenge is to find ways of coding the message so that it calls attention to itself as a message.”

But there’s plenty of time to work on such issues. The transmission to New Horizons would occur in July 2016 at the earliest, Lomberg said, and it could even be postponed until after the probe flies by a second faraway object in 2019 during a potential extended mission that NASA is mulling.

While the One Earth Message is designed to be interpreted by aliens, it’s a worthwhile exercise even if New Horizons zooms through space alone for all of its days, Lomberg said. The project, he stressed, has the potential to get people more excited about the New Horizons mission and space exploration in general — and possibly to bring people around the world together in a perspective-altering experience.

“For almost 40 years, I’ve seen how the Voyager record has inspired people,” Lomberg said. “It seems like it’s time for another generation to have that same type of inspiration.”




KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 97
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 98

A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 99
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

Why the universe does not fit into science 100

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.

Why the universe does not fit into science 101

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.

Why the universe does not fit into science 102

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 103

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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