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Friday, September 18, 2015

The future of SETI is finally here, and why a Tech Plateu instead of a Singularity might help us detect Aliens!

It's unbelievable that soon we will have a SETI program running that can detect, within 200 light-years, any signal that was originally as weak as an aircraft radar ping is on Earth; it means that if there were such radars operating within 200 LY cube around these 10k normal stars (not counting brown dwarfs), they would be detected.

Of course you have to keep in mind that most SETI researches now believe that a sentient civilization may only exist in our current post-industrial primitive form (before hitting singularity or death) for a short time, so a negative signal would actually tell us a lot on the upper bound for how many such transitional civilizations are out there. 

But there are couple of additional reasons why this may just work; the most important than any - singularity never happens and technology rapidly plateaus then we would find a signal! 

Recently scientists have started believing that the black-hole singularity is actually no singularity; it is just a breakdown of our current physics under such extreme conditions. Similarly, we now know now that there is a limit for how dense and big our biological brains can get before they stop getting smarter. The speed of light is a fundamental limit not just for space-crafts making star-trek difficult at best, but is also a major handicap for how smart an AI can be, due to literally a speed limit on how fast processors can run (true an optical processor will be 100 times faster than an electrical one due to speed of light being higher than electric current, but it is not that much more). The promise of quantum computers seems more like relegated to specialized computations. Moors law has also come to an end for chip-densities as we hit the scale of individual atoms.

There are signs everywhere that the universe does not like singularity. However, it does not mean that things will not get really advanced tech-wise, it just means that there will be no singularity, and technology will advance much more at star-trek pace than at a pace that destroys our world and causes singularity as recently warned by several influential thinkers, including Ray Kurzweil,  Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking. Though there have also been thinkers such as Carl Sagan, and Michio Kaku that probably would agree to this more hopeful view I am proposing here.

Why would a tech plateau be good for longevity of Earth-like civilizations? It may give the needed time for our brains and social fabric to mature with technology thus preventing us from destroying ourselves. Contrary to what scientists estimate right now (see article above), we may keep using radars for 1000s of years (albeit in more advanced manner), and their intensity might increase as every ship, air-craft, car, and space-craft starts using self-driving robotic tech. Additionally our populations would grow because of longevity and cure of aging (no singularity needed there as the tech is relatively simple), yet our not-so-advanced tech requires huge resources making us easily expand within our solar system. This would again dramatically boost the number of such weak signals emanating from millions or billions of devices.

One could even imagine a cacophony of passive signals being the first one detected as they might add up to detectable range if there is a narrow band of transmission from billions of devices. I am not sure those if this "long-exposure" is used for radio telescopes; a quick search on google did not reveal such tech. Hmm a good question to ask Seth Shostak :-)

More advanced SETI hopes to broaden searches to anticipate high bandwidth laser communications which we expect to become common between devices in space and that would not attenuate but I think such a search would come out empty because the lack of dispersion of the signal, which makes it stronger, also makes it less likely that it would be pointed towards us for very long time.

So if we do find negative signal, it can also mean that singularity hits and the type of communications after it is reached are difficult to detect.

How can we distinguish the absence of signal at such a huge scale of search to imply that (a) civilizations are rare and short-lived, (b) civilizations pass through singularity quickly as Ray Kurzweil suggests, and stop using low-tech such as radar as they don't need it.

This is all thanks to the donation from the Russian billionaire:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Astronauts to enter Dragon in orbit soon- the world just changed!

At a significantly lower development cost, and per-launch cost than any government or government-funded program ever managed, Flacon 9's flawless launch today once again proved that under the right conditions, where engineers and entrepreneurs are allowed to focus on what they are best at (thanks to Elon Musk and helpful recent NASA policy on not blocking but enabling private launch development), wonders can happen to an area made inefficient for innovation by government bureaucracy and handicapped by a fickel-minded senate and congress.

Congratulations to all of the Space-X team, look forward to the next stop (ISS), upcoming Dragon COTS launches, and tests of the human-rated Dragon, which, like SpaceX has made no secret about, can land on "any solid surface in the solar system".

See more on:

Friday, January 20, 2012

A shaded sun-powered future for Earth

The huge decrease in sun-spot activity for the next few decades will be a big savior for us. See:


Nice ! I guess good timing. 70 years would be more than enough (if it lasts that long) for humans to get rid of fossil fuel burning. But I wonder if we become a Type 1 civillization and convert most of the solar power on Earth's surface to heat, would that not be identical to reducing Earth's albedo, and thus cause global warming any way?

Well, it depends on whether the new panels' albedo is lower than the average albeldo of the area on which they are installed, which will surely be the case since they will be installed in a lot in sunny, sandy places.

I can see us having to setup some really serious cooling solution for Earth then. Basically if you are consuming 40% of sun's light as a Type 0.4 civillizaion, and those panels an albedo of 0.2, i.e. only reflecting back 20% of light, then you will cause an albedo to reduce to 0.2 from present 0.3.

However, the reduction will be bigger if all the areas getting replaced are bright deserty land which is the case.

As you can see here, the people who answered this very good question just were trying to be politically correct here:

True, for our current energy consumption, we will actually end up cooling Earth by using solar power as the alternatives heat up Earth even worse (every ounce of CO2 released by burning fuel stays in the atmosphere for millenia before plants and rain can scrub enough out). But I am talking about Type 1 civillization. Of course all energy in the galaxy comes directly or indirectly from stars and our solar system is no exception; all secondary sources such as nuclear, coal, hydel, wind are derived either from out Sun's solar energy, from from the star that came before (in case of Uranium for example). So a Type 1 civillization has nowhere to go but to become a solar power behemoth, consuming all of the energy it can coming down to Earth, plus some more in Space (on Mars, Moon, orbital stations, nearby stars etc.)

So getting back to how to fix this albedo problem for a Type 1 solar power civillization, which would be us in 100 years, if Earth ends up say absorbing 10% extra heat from all it gets, you would have to shade 10% of Earth to cancel that effect out.

There are several creative early 21st century ways to cancel this effect:

- Zero Albedo Reduction law (ZAR law- OK I coined it firt here on this blog!) for solar panel install: Require the land where solar panels are installed to have 0 overall albedo change. How it is achieved is left to the installer to pick from, e.g.:

- (a) a checker pattern of highly refelective white mirrors (albeo close to 1) alternating the solar panels, in proportion of the ground's albedo.

- (b) shine electromagnetic radiation vertically up in the night in a non-visual but transparent spectrum. This could be radio waves and source for free SETI transmitters back up :-) just kidding- pointing it back at the Moon's poles where the new colony sits would be fun too (again kidding but this could actually work), just kidding. Why would you just not produce less using (a)?

- (c) albeo trading: you could simply install new shiny rooftops in areas of the world where you don't need as much power for other areas where u reduce albedo. Of course this would still cause local climate changes- heating up areas of product, cooling down areas reflected- in fact (a) and (c) together can provide a way to engineer climate.

However, by the time we become a Type 1 civillization, by early 22nd century, we would have a more advanced non-early-21st century way of doing the above :-) A checker pattern robotic self-maintaining and producing asteriod material based solar sun-screen parked in an orbit 1 million or so km away from Earth towards the sun (one of the lagrangian points I believe), and reduce solar insolation to Earth as needed.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Way to go Space-X: first wave of colonization of the solar system starts

I love the way they show Mars and then say: "This enables landing on any solid surface in the solar system.":

The future is (almost) here!

And this certainly helps complete the picture ;-)

The ability to abort launch all the way to orbit will change the way people go to orbit, and the way risk is perceived: this paves way for the first wave of colonization of the solar system. Finally!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Next Generation launch-abort system from SpaceX!

SpaceX has proposed a next-generation launch-abort system to NASA that makes the previous systems look primitive in comparison.

I have been following the COTS launch-abort system that got completed a year ago, and was always wondering why SpaceX did not just bid to use it, since that was the major thing needed for Dragon+Falcon9 to be human-rated. I always thought it was because Elon was interested in keeping their operations simple by keeping minimal dependencies to other agencies/suppliers - which he has repeatedly stated in several interviews,articles & presentations. One could also speculate that it was because Orbital, a competitor for Space-X, built it.

But turns out there was a much bigger reason, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that out the following from

"SpaceX has proposed an integrated launch abort system design, which has several advantages over the tractor tower approaches used by all prior vehicles:

  • Provides escape capability all the way to orbit versus a tractor system, which is so heavy it must be dumped about four minutes after liftoff.
  • Improves crew safety, as it does not require a separation event, whereas any non-integral system (tractor or pusher), must be dumped on every mission for the astronauts to survive.
  • Reduces cost since the escape system returns with the spacecraft.
  • Enables superior landing capabilities since the escape engines can potentially be used for a precise land landing of Dragon under rocket power. (An emergency chute will always be retained as a backup system for maximum safety.)"

Another related note; recently in his post-mission NASA breifing after the Demo Flight 2 of Falcon 9, Elon Musk had mentioned that they were thinking of controlled landing for future versions of Dragon. I was wondering why they were adding this complexity and how would they actually do that without making the Dragon system heavier- now we know the answer :-) (see above). They are going to use the launch-abort rocket and fuel to do that, since the launch-abort system comes back with the mission- not only does that provide full launch-abort capability all the way to orbit, it provides a free controlled landing! Brilliant!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What a great day today- Space-X & Dragon in Orbit!

SpaceX's follow on launch of Falcon 9 was a big success, and so was the splash down. I got up in the morning on the west coast (Seattle) just in time (T-6 minutes).

Watching the solid take-off of the Falcon 9 on a bright morning in Florida was an awesome sight, and knowing what it had riding on the top (first commercial manned-capable orbital spacecraft), and having followed SpaceX closely for a few years now, even if just on live webcams, made it more beautiful and inspiring than any other launch I have seen in the past, on either high-d or low-d video, because of what was riding on it: the dawn of a new era.

I was also glad to find out today that my predictions from June 2006 (see Slide 139, on the presentation in this related blog from 2006)
are still resembling reality 4 years later, given how hard it is to predict anything in this domain :-)

From that slide written in June 2006: "2021: Spurred by X-prize, NASA prizes and heating market competition, cost of large launcher that can launch humans to Moon and Mars drop radically with large, cheap private spacecrafts and launchers from many players from US, China, Russia, India. SpaceX is a prominent one among them. US scraps NASA launcher developments for Moon and Mars."

I can see now all that happening in 2021 more easily than even when I wrote it 4 years ago. Some of that is happening now, with the COTS missions in 2011.

Btw, Space-X now has Bigelow's inflatable habitats (Sundancer) on their launch schedule for 2014 on Falcon 9. And Bigelow is building 2 even much bigger ones. When they go up, in the next 10 years, the majority of the habitable volume and most of human launch capability into space would have both moved to just these two companies; Falcon 9's 9 engines are produced assembly-line style in very large numbers and Space X's factory is built to scale that up easily with demand. And Bigelow's plan is to move these stations into orbit around the Moon after that, or even to land the modules on the Moon for an instant base.

So yes, there is a real Version 2 Space Race on; not between India/China/US, but between goverment funded platforms (India and China) vs. commercial programs (US) where the government and private orgs are just launch and habitation buyers.

Way to Go Elon Musk and SpaceX. A hearty congratulations to the whole team!

I am excited and look forward to the COTS missions, and the coming into existence of the Flacon Heavy and even bigger boosters from SpaceX. They can realize their dreams now from the revenue that SpaceX generates from the NASA and other missions over the next 5 years.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gliese 581g: the first Earth-like habitable planet found around another star!

This is a big day. Mark the date Sep 29,2010 - for the history books! news link is here, and here is a link to the original paper announcing this discovery.

Over the next 3 to 10 years (thanks to Kepler and improving Earth optics), we should expect to hear more details about this one, and 100s more like this one, but with lots of variations (e.g. dwarf habitable moons- which CAN be easier to detect, by looking at secondary wobbles of the primary planet, but this is the first real one with just the right temperature, mass and everything.

Now we can finally start pointing our SETI telescopes in the right direction :-) Confirmation of life-signs might take another few years, using spectrometer and interferometer combinations, but the fact that Gliese 581g (look forward to a more personal, official name soon for this first habitable planet :-)), is smack in the middle of Gliese 581's habitable zone is awesome- no debates about habitability on this one, only the question about how much water is going to be there. That would determine whether it's a water-world with higher phase ice at the bottom of its oceans that completely block continental minerals from mixing, so that it turns out to be a water desert (also see, and where water dominates so much that life occurs in islands and pockets of minerals left over by asteorid impacts an dusts only), or whether it's an Earthly desert (where life has adapted to dewdrops and oases). In either case it would be awesome, and leave a lot of possibilities for a complex biosphere, and we should soon know which of the two scenarios is the real one, when we get measurements of this planet's atmosphere content (how much water vapor). If it has less water, that is probably better for this planet, as too much water can be a very big problem for advanced life to evolve in the 7 to 11 billion years current age for this planet. However, note that since the parent Sun can live virtually forever (this star is 50 times dimmer-than-our-sun red dwarf even though it has 30% of Sun's mass, which gives it a very long life), even if there is too much water, eventually enough water-loss because of the solar wind would cause Gliese 581g to have just the right amount of water eventually to have continents protruding out. I am really hoping it has some water though :-) and conditions point to that being the case , when combined with the fact that it is much heavier than Earth, and is smack in the middle of the habitable zone.

Regarding verification of how much water it has, and the atmospheric composition (which would hugely increase our confidence in imagining specific forms of life there), I predict that the discovery of this planet is going to motivate lot of smart astronomer-engineers to come up with ways to measure the atmosphere ASAP, even if TPF-I does not launch for another decade or two. I also believe that these discoveries, as they mount over the next 2-5 years, will force the urgency in funding for such a telescope, just like the Mars exploration program got a huge boost from the discovery of recent volcanism, rivers, oceans on Mars, and even more- the recent discovery of liquid water, water-runoffs, and methane on Mars.