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"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me." - Isaac Newton
Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives
Mystery Roar from Faraway and Long Ago Detected
Our world may be a giant hologram
// Case Focus //
Biocosm: A Universe Alive With Life? We May Soon Find Out...
Central whorl of Messier 101, a galaxy in the nearby Andromeda group - click to enlarge
Amidst all the other stories in the news these last weeks, you may have missed the successful launch of the Kepler satellite from Florida on March 7th (see launch video), but when the the results of this mission start coming in it could be very big news indeed, and change the way we think of our place in the universe.
Ecology and the environmental movement are all about biology, biological systems and ecosystems, and living in sustainable harmony with the biosphere of which we are part. The question of whether this biosphere is a unique accidental fluke, or is a manifestation of the essentially bio-philac nature of the cosmos is an important one, if only to provide us a larger frame in which to appreciate our experience on Earth.
In the last few years, we have discovered some 300 exo-planets, that is, planets orbiting other stars. But these have been of the gas and ice giant kind, whose presence could first be teased from data by our limited methods of detection. The Kepler will examine 100,000 nearby stars, and will be able to ascertain the presence of 'small' 'rocky' planets- like our earth- in the sweet spot distance from their home stars. Astrophysicist Alan Boss, speaking at the Commonwealth Club recently, said he expected Kepler to locate 'hundreds' of earth-like planets, of which a high percentage will sport some kind of life. Then we can narrow it down to nearby worlds for a closer look and listen.
The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems - a report by the by the National Research Council (NRC) for NASA and the NSF
"The purpose of this study is twofold:
1. To evaluate the possibility that nonstandard biochemistry (i.e., biochemistry different from what we find as the universal biochemistry on Earth) might support life in known solar system environments and conceivable extrasolar environments; and
2. To define broad areas that might guide NASA and the National Science Foundation to fund efforts to expand knowledge in this area."
(This, the report states, to serve two purposes: exploration for ET life forms, and 'planetary protection'.)
or view summaries and read chapter by chapter at the National Academy Press site
Podcast: The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems (listen)
Complexity theorist James Gardner argues that the universe shows every sign of being especially configured for the development of complexity, life, and intelligence; he goes so far as to suggest the universe could been deliberately designed by a super-intelligent being or beings in a prior cosmic cycle. "Biocosm" is based on Gardner's articles appearing in the Journals of Complexity and the British Interplanetary Society. (see bio)
"James Gardner tackles the biggest of the Big Questions head on: Why is the universe bio-friendly? This stunning fact cannot be shrugged aside as an incidental quirk of nature, but deserves a deep and satisfying explanation. Gardner skillfully interweaves some of the most provocative ideas at the forefront of science to outline a possible explanationand how extraordinary his explanation turns out to be!"- Paul Davies, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Australian Center for Astrobiology
Is There Anything Else Out There?
A fascinating NPR roundtable w/ Paul Davies, Peter Ward, Ariel Anbar, and Barry Bloomberg... (audio)
SETI@Home is a scientific experiment that uses internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data, and reports signals of interest. And the interface is really cool to watch!
(download and get started with SETI@Home)
Google Sky views, from left: the 'Voorwerp', blue galaxies, a galaxy in different wavelengths - click to enlarge
What Google Earth has done for our home planet, Google Sky does for the visible universe. You can now literally explore our cosmic habitat from the safety of your own home, on your computer, through an intuitive visual interface. You can explore throguh the Google Sky website, or from within Google Earth 5.0.
Galaxy Zoo 2 is now online, and it's cooler than ever; you can run through galaxy classifications easily in point and click mode, the visuals are great, and you can save your own favorite galaxies to your own gallery, all the while contributing to this massive community effort.
Some individual objects have also gained a lot of attention; the most famous of these is the 'Voorwerp', discovered by Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkle (at left).
(story: BBC) / Hanny at the (GalaxyZoo Blog)
Here is an excellent in depth article at Physics World on Galaxy Zoo 2 (PhysWorld)
And in this Scientific American podcast, Yale astrophysicist Mark Schawinski talks about Galaxy Zoo : (listen)
2009 has been declared the Year of Astronomy (view website)
To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Physics World has
devoted the whole of its March issue to the exploration of the cosmos.You can download a pdf here
"That's 500 billion planets out there, and bear in mind there are 100 billion other galaxies. To think this [Earth] is the only place where anything interesting is happening, well, you have got to be really audacious to take that point of view."
- Seth Shostak, SETI senior astronomer
"All glory to this Supreme Creative Pulsation of Consciousness which is the abode of flashing, unparalleled delight, whose majesty of path extends to far regions, from the Earth up to Siva, which is variegated by the display of various states of creation, maintenance, and withdrawal; and of whose extension this universe is just a minute particle." - Ksemaraja, 10th c.
Evolution as Bio-Thermodynamics
Humans and Aliens Might Share DNA Roots
Most detailed map of Universe charts 125,071 galaxies
Ancient Cosmic Superstructure Defies Theory
Did Life Begin In Space? New Evidence From Comets
Cosmologist Explores Notion Of 'Alien' Life On Earth