November 18, 2017

Review: Five Billion Years of Solitude by Lee Billings

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Where did we come from as a species, and where is the party headed? What’s the expiration date for life on Earth, and just how common — or rare — are we? Those are the big questions in modern day science. This week’s review tackles the latest thinking concerning all of these weighty subjects and more. Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by science journalist Lee Billings is a fascinating look at the state of the field. We’re talking astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence, a truly interdisciplinary endeavor that encompasses all of modern science from physics and astronomy to biology and psychology. [Read more...]

Life in the AstroBlogosphere: February 2014-How Many Space Relics Are Out There?

An artist’s conception of Pioneer 10 drifting silently around the galaxy.

(Credit-NASA).

The Drake Equation may be due an overhaul.

Its fun to sit and think how many extraterrestrial civilizations might be out there.  First expressed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1960, the Drake Equation frames the question of how many civilizations might in our galaxy for us to potentially communicate with in mathematical terms. [Read more...]

Book Review: Perfect Planet, Clever Species by William C. Burger.

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It is one of the biggest questions in science. How unique are we? Has the drama of life and intelligence played out countless times in the history of the cosmos, or are we so improbable that we are effectively alone? Either answer is a stunning relation. In this week’s review, Perfect Planet, Clever Species out from Prometheus Books, author William C. Burger uses some of the most recent cutting edge findings to tackle the question of how human intelligence arose. We’ve discussed the “Rare Earth Hypothesis” and reviewed the book of the same name. Proponents posit that the Earth and life on it are the result of a fortuitous set of circumstances, from the existence of plate tectonics to a large axis-stabilizing moon to a large gas giant world (Jupiter) “goal-tending” the inbound stream of comets & debris. [Read more...]

The Elusive Wow by Robert H. Gray.

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Nothing fires the scientific imagination like the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And likewise, no discovery would have further implications to our own existence and what it means to be human. Plus, it would just be darned interesting to get to know something about them. How unique are we?

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Review: Strange New Worlds by Ray Jayawardhana.


It’s weird to stop and think that we now live in a time that we know of the existence 573 new exoplanets, and by the time this cyber-ink goes to press, that rolling number will become obsolete. “In my day,” (my halcyon youth of the 70’s) Eight-tracks where still cool and astronomers guessed that exoplanets had to be common, but no one had as of yet found definitive evidence that this was indeed the case. [Read more...]

03.02.11: Kepler Hits Paydirt.

The Brave New Worlds of Kepler-11…  (Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle).

The number of potential exoplanets has more than doubled… in one press release! Wednesday at 1PM EST, NASA researchers have revealed the latest findings from the Kepler spacecraft. And what a mother lode… Today’s Kepler announcement jumps the number of exoplanet candidates to over 1,200. Keep in mind, that’s potential exoworlds needing confirmation. The results were based on 4 months of observation. [Read more...]

Review: The Cosmic Connection by Jeff Kanipe

Cosmic catastrophe seems to be trending today, much unlike the currently pallid 11-year sunspot cycle. Without a doubt, the next killer asteroid will top your Tweetdeck, although whether it will bump #TGIF and Paris Hilton remains to be seen. The Cosmic Connection: How Astronomical Events Impact Life on Earth, by Jeff Kanipe and out by Prometheus Books comes as a sort of impromptu trilogy of reviews, as fans of this space will remember our recent review of Death from the Skies! And our forthcoming review of Heavens Touch, due out next month. Do not confuse this title with Sagan’s Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective from 1973, which was complete with the trippy space age cover designed to pull in UFO buffs, but was Sagan all the way!

The Cosmic Connection shows how we are intimately related to the continual celestial goings-on all around us, and that we’re ultimately not immune to our stellar environs. I always like to point this out to the astrologically minded; the universe does indeed influence human affairs but not in the mundane way your newspaper horoscope might suggest. Instead, solar activity, supernovae, and even the evolving tilt of our own planet form a continuing ballet, and we’re all along for the ride!

The book opens with a deconstruction of our planet’s own complicated orbital behavior. Cycles such as the precession of the equinoxes the variation of the obliquity and fluctuation of our axial tilt all add up to a very complex affair, and that’s just for starters. Its hard to imagine that the “Goldilocks” epoch that we live in just happens to be stable and “just right” for us to thrive, and that this won’t always be so.

Even our own star, the Sun, is exposed for the notorious side it can sometimes exhibit. Its role in climate change is discussed; we thought that the “exorcism” of the Chamonix glacier, which was prone to advancing 100 acres per day in 1610, was an especially unique tale. The infamous solar season of 1859-1860 is also discussed; we have yet in modern technological times  to see a season quite as active as this one!

Think we know our own cosmic back yard? The Cosmic Connection will give you pause to think again. The chapter …At any time delves into the state and history of Near Earth Object (NEO) detection. For example, did you know that astronomers estimate that there remains perhaps 20,000 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) of the 140 meter or greater class to be discovered? In a timely fashion, the book makes mention of the October 5th 2008 impact in Sudan, the first time we’ve been able to spot an asteroid before impact. The author also lays out a template for increased funding and efforts towards detection. Of all the cosmic disaster death scenarios, killer space rocks are one of the few that we possess any means to do something about!

And as mentioned, I’ll bet that doomsday asteroid will trend on Twitter…

Even our place and epoch in the galactic scheme of things is addressed. True, a death dealing potential supernova candidate currently doesn’t lurk nearby in our local galactic neighborhood.The currently accepted “kill zone” is a radius of about 25 light years, and Spica and Betelgeuse, at distances of 260 and 425 light years, respectively are the nearest potential candidates. However, as we continue our 225 million year circuit about the galaxy, this will not always be the case. In addition, we bob up and down around the galactic plane, through largely unknown mediums of intergalactic dust. Our overall motion about the center of our galaxy is oblong, with our motion towards the solar apex in the constellation Hercules at about 12 miles per second. About 20 “Galactic Years” have passed since the formation of our solar system, and less than a hundredth of the past GY since the dawn of humanity. The author also points out that we may owe our placid existence to our current placement just outside of whats termed as the Local Bubble, an expanse of 300 light years across in the Orion Arm carved out by ancient supernovae.

All in all, its pretty remarkable to note the cosmic ingredients that go into an Earth as we know it; we live on a planet that orbits a relatively stable star, within its habitable zone, with a Moon to stabilize our tilt, in a supernovae free zone of our galaxy in just the right epoch. Of course, the Drake Equation has been given treatment, as it has here at Astroguyz… the sentiment echoes a recent controversial book, Rare Earth, which posits that our circumstances make life here unique. Of course, we are talking about life that know, as in carbon based, water-loving life…

In the end, the author presents a very convincing argument as to how our existence is intimately related to our evolving place in the cosmos. Consider it a sort of “volume two” in our cosmic review trilogy, Death From the Skies! being first and Heavens Touch to be forth coming. And next clear night, (we do our review reading on the cloudy ones!) be sure to check out the summer Milky Way (if you don’t suffer from light pollution) and thank your lucky stars that we’re here at all to appreciate our privileged place in space and time!

Beyond UFO’s by Jeffrey Bennett.

The topic of extra-terrestrial life is a controversial one. Indeed, it’s only been in the last decade or so that the subject has moved from the realm of science fiction into that of mainstream science. In Beyond UFOs: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Its astonishing Implications for Our Future, (Princeton Press), author Jeffery Bennett covers a wide swath of science, leading up to our present day understanding of the emerging field of exobiology.

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The Drake Equation: A Primer.

Nothing fires the ol’ mental juices like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Only recently has the very idea of alien life moved from the realm of science fiction to a possible science reality in our lifetimes.

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