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Fear of What’s Out There Causes Big Split Among Space Scientists

by Peter Fimrite            February 25, 2019                   (sfchronicle.com)

• A faction of the San Francisco-based SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has split off to form METI, or Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. While SETI traditionalists believe humans should only look and listen for extraterrestrials to avoid tipping off evil aliens, the METI group intends to broadcast messages to space aliens. The clash is the first major division in the tight-knit community of astronomers, astrophysicists, philosophers, psychologists and science fiction writers who are convinced intelligent beings are out there somewhere.

• SETI has been searching in vain for radio signals or some other sign of life beyond Earth from its Bay Area Mountain View headquarters for 35 years. Astrobiologist Douglas Vakoch, who split with the METI group, says, “What if [the ET’s] position is, ‘No, you are the ones who are new to this game. You send us a signal first.’” METI will employ radar and laser technology to beam more powerful multi-directional messages into space.

• SETI astronomers are worried that less-then-friendly extraterrestrials might be more inclined to enslave Earthlings and mercilessly plunder and destroy Earth. “We wonder whether the galaxy that we are in is maybe a dark forest, where it is dangerous to scream because there are creatures out there unhappy with new life forms,” said astronomer Andrew Fraknoi. “You don’t want to advertise your presence in a dark forest.” Stephen Hawking was among those who warned that aliens “may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

• Vakoch formed METI after a vote in 2014 by the SETI Institute board rejecting his plans to broadcast messages. Vakoch and his supporters reason that any predatory civilization would probably have detected us by now, since our radar, radio and television signals would long ago have signaled our presence. They began sending active signals into space in 2017. “We may have to target hundreds and thousands and maybe millions of stars before we find anything.” Says Vakoch. “I view this as a reflection of the natural growth of SETI.”

• Using Earth’s current technology, it would take 80,000 years for an astronaut to reach the closest star, Alpha Centauri. Fraknoi speculates that self-replicating civilizations could travel through space for thousands of years and still be alive to tell about it when the trip is over.

• Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute who supports Vakoch’s work, says that given the enormous distances, we may never find intelligent life if we don’t get out there and look for it. “No transmissions into the sky because there might be nasty aliens out there.’ That’s just paranoia. Paranoia is not a good long-term policy.”

• The issue moved to the forefront in 1989 when SETI scientists published a declaration of principles on how international leaders should be consulted before anyone replies to an ET signal. A committee of the International Academy of Astronautics took it a step further in the 1990’s, urging consultations with world leaders before anyone attempts to broadcast a powerful message into space that is likely to be detectable by alien life.

• “Human history is littered with examples of societies disrupted by direct contact with others, even when it was led by idealistic missionaries,” Says Michael Michaud, former director of the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. “Ignore the Hollywood scenario of reptilian aliens landing on Earth’s surface to conquer our planet. They would not need to use futuristic weapons; the correct pesticide would do.”

[Editor’s Note]  Could the real purpose for these “scientists” to labor in vain for decades be to simply to create a disinformation campaign to make people believe that ‘smart people’ are actively looking for alien beings, and since they haven’t officially found any, then we can presume that there are no aliens out there?  Mainstream science willfully denies the ample proof that dozens of different extraterrestrial species have visited the Earth over the past seventy years. Some alien species are positive and some are negative. The positive ones abide by a galactic law of non-interference with a low-level developing species such as we humans on Earth. The negative ones however, which do include the Draco Reptilians, couldn’t give a hoot about galactic law. But their M.O. is not to wipe us out and take over the planet. They prefer to keep us mind-controlled, determining what we are allowed to know, and using us as slave workers to generate an economic and industrial resource that they can exploit to continue to build out their own secret space program, off-world bases and colonies. Also, the system is set up so that humans must perpetually endure emotional fear, confusion, hardship, conflict and war, in order to create a form of energetic sustenance called ‘loosh’, which the higher negative Archon beings require. If we all woke up, turned to the loving Creator, and denied these negative beings all of this negative energy, this perverted system would collapse virtually overnight.

 

A cosmic rift has opened between Bay Area astronomers and a splinter group of San Francisco stargazers who are hell-bent on contacting space aliens, hang the consequences.

       Douglas Vakoch

The schism pits the traditionalists, who believe humans should only look and listen for extraterrestrials to avoid tipping off evil aliens, against a rebel faction that wants to broadcast messages to intelligent beings, assuming they are altruistic.
The battle is so heated that one prominent scientist quit the Mountain View group known as SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, to form METI, or Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

    Andrew Fraknoi

“We’ve always assumed the extraterrestrials were looking for us,” Vakoch said. But “what if their position is, ‘No, you are the ones who are new to this game. You send us a signal first.’”

SETI has been searching for radio signals or some other sign of life beyond Earth from its Mountain View headquarters for 35 years, but with nothing to show for its effort, Vakoch and other restless alien hunters are insisting on a more active search, including employing radar and laser technology to beam more powerful multidirectional messages into space.

The problem, many SETI astronomers warn, is that, instead of an intergalactic kumbaya, intelligent extraterrestrials might very well be more inclined to enslave Earthlings and mercilessly plunder and destroy Earth.

Those who adhere to this dark theory imagine humanity as a childlike form of life lost in an Amazonian jungle crawling with skulking predators, said Andrew Fraknoi, a SETI Institute board member.

                  Seth Shostak

“We wonder whether the galaxy that we are in is maybe a dark forest, where it is dangerous to scream because there are creatures out there unhappy with new life forms,” said Fraknoi, an astronomer who will be teaching a course in April called Aliens in Science and Science Fiction at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute. “With every strong signal we send out, we advertise our presence, and you don’t want to advertise your presence in a dark forest.”

The clash represents the first major division in the traditionally tight-knit community of astronomers, astrophysicists, philosophers, psychologists and science fiction writers who are convinced intelligent beings are out there somewhere.
Vakoch and his supporters, including some astronomers at SETI, call the dark forest analogy silly. Any predatory civilization would probably have detected us by now simply by analyzing our atmosphere, they reason. Humans, Vakoch said, have been using radar, which can purportedly be detected 70 light-years away, since World War II. Television and radio signals would long ago have signaled our presence to malevolent space ruffians, he said.

          Michael Michaud

Unconcerned about an invasion of intergalactic invertebrates who are out for our heads, Vakoch adapted a transmitter and used a Norwegian observatory in late 2017 to send a message 12.4 light-years away to Luyten’s Star, a red dwarf with a large planet in the constellation Canis Minor.

He spent years developing the message, combining mathematics and the fundamentals of language that he believes even a blind alien could understand. It was the first of what Vakoch hopes will be many signals sent by his group.
“Our goal is to say we are interested in making contact,” Vakoch said. “We may have to target hundreds and thousands and maybe millions of stars before we find anything. I view this as a reflection of the natural growth of SETI.”

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The Exoplanet Next Door

by John Wenz                    (astronomy.com)

• Since first detecting a weak signal from our Sun’s closest neighbor, Proxima Centauri (only 4.24 light-years away) in 2013, a group of astronomers from Germany, France and Chile who call themselves the “Pale Red Dot Team’ have been looking for – and have found – an Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of that star. Proxima was monitored closely for subtle variations on the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS instrument over a series of nights from January 19 to March 31, 2016. By a process called radial velocity that looks for Doppler shifts in a star’s light due to the tug of a planet, the researchers could estimate the mass and orbital frequency to zero in on a planet, which they named Proxima Centauri b (PCb). Their findings were published in the science journal Nature last summer.

• Turns out that PCb is quite Earth-like. It slightly bigger and is roughly the mass of our planet and is located in just the right “Goldilocks zone” in relation to its star where, if it has an atmosphere, liquid water could exist on the surface. The exoplanet’s distance from its star is only one-fifth the distance from Mercury to the Sun. But Proxima Centauri is only a little larger than Jupiter, considered the runt of the litter in the Alpha Centauri system.

• The reason that the five billion year-old PCb planet revolves so quickly around its star is because it is tidally locked to it. The same side of the planet faces Proxima Centauri at all times, much like the same side of the Moon faces Earth at all times. But if PCb still has an atmosphere, it could reach temperatures up to 86° F (30° C) on its sunlit side, and -22° F (-30° C) on its darker side, bringing it into quite Earth-like temperature ranges. But if, for some reason, PCb has lost its atmosphere, the lack of atmosphere could have evaporated any water on the planet long ago, leaving a cold, barren planet of -40° F (-40° C).

• The key to preserving an atmosphere would be the existence of a magnetic field. Researchers have gone back and forth whether a tidally locked planet could have a core that stirs with its rotation, thus generating a magnetic field. The magnetic field shields the planet from the worst excesses of its star, which then settles into a state of relative dormancy. The Pale Red Dot astronomers believe that as a planet migrates closer to its sun while creating a magnetic field, this magnetic field could remain active even after a planet gets so close to become tidally locked to its sun.

• Astronomers need to observe the planet in greater detail in order to further characterize it. Planets are so small, the signals are so weak, it almost needs its own dedicated telescope. Currently, no instrument in space or on the ground is sensitive enough to pick up reflected light from older and smaller planets. But the James Webb Space Telescope currently under construction might be a mega-telescope that can actually detect biosignatures, or even molecules, in the atmospheres of other planets. Other proposed methods of getting deeper into a planet’s biosignature include ‘stellar suppression’ which blocks the surrounding light of the star, and infrared.

• “To find (a habitable planet) around the nearest, best-studied star … maybe we’re just really lucky, or maybe there really are just billions of M-dwarf planets out there waiting for us to find them,” says Elisabeth Newton, a Kavli post-doctoral fellow at MIT who studies red dwarf, or M-dwarf, systems. Nearly every star is suspected to have a planet. Some of those could be habitable. If it ends up that PCb is barren, then perhaps we’ll have better luck looking at the next star over, Barnard’s Star.

 

The hunt for exoplanets has, in some ways, been about the hunt for an Earth-like planet – something warm where water could exist. Headlines tout each discovery as “the most Earth-like planet yet.” Many of those planets are far away.

But a new discovery published August 24 in Nature hits closer to home, with an Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of its star. What’s more, that star is Proxima Centauri, only 4.24 light-years away. That means that there is no solar system that will be closer to Earth in our lifetimes.

And so far, the exoplanet, named Proxima Centauri b, is shaping up to be quite Earth-like, roughly the mass of our planet and in just the right place where, if it has an atmosphere, liquid water could exist on the surface.
This is as in our backyard as it gets.

“I think it actually marks a transition,” Jeffrey Coughlin, a SETI Institute scientist not involved in the study who assembles the Kepler catalog, says. “Twenty years ago, we were finding the first exoplanets and it was totally exciting,” he says. Then there was the Kepler telescope, which found thousands of planets, including some in the habitable zone, and some within a few dozen light-years of us.

And now there’s a planet of 1.3 Earth masses right next door, zipping around its star in 11.2 days. Its distance of 4,349,598 miles (7 million kilometers) from its star may seem tiny, at just one-fifth the distance between Mercury and the Sun, but Proxima Centauri is the runt of the litter in the Alpha Centauri system. At a diameter of 124,274 miles (200,000km), it’s only 1.43 times the diameter of Jupiter.

So how was there a planet hiding around the closest star to us, just waiting to be discovered? The simple answer: Finding a planet is really hard. Kepler found thousands of planets by staring at 145,000 stars in a minute region of the sky at the tail end of Cygnus, waiting for the 1 percent chance a planet would directly pass in front of a star and cause a dip in its light, in a method known as transiting.

But the problem with the Proxima Centauri planet is that it doesn’t transit — at least not from our vantage point. In order to witness a transit, the orbital plane of the planets must be at or near our line of vision, but not all solar systems have the same orientation. A star might have all of its planets aligned at a 90-degree angle from us, with the planets orbiting in such a way that they never pass in front of their star for our telescopes to see. While some planets have been found by direct imaging (that is, appearing in a photo along with its star) it’s not possible of yet with Proxima, a 5 billion year old planet. Unless the planets are very young and very large, no instruments are currently capable of directly imaging these planets.

How to find a planet (that doesn’t want to be found)

That’s why the Pale Red Dot project, tasked with finding a planet around our nearest neighbor, had to turn to indirect — but reliable — methods of detection. The researchers chose radial velocity, a process that looks for shifts in a star’s light due to the tug of a planet, sometimes called the Doppler shift method. Subtle movements of gravity cause the light of a star to move toward the blue end of the light spectrum, which means it’s moving toward us, or the red end of the spectrum, which means it’s moving away. Based on those changes, researchers can give a mass estimate, and the frequency gives an idea of the orbit.

The planet itself was found over a series of nights from January 19 to March 31, 2016, during which Proxima was monitored closely for subtle variations on the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS instrument.

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