5.29.2012

Creating a Standard Protocol for Conversing with Aliens


As a whole, we have a rather spotty history when it comes to trying to communicate with aliens.

METI is the ‘speaking’ part of alien communication as compared to SETI’s ‘hearing’ part of it all, and everything people have purposefully said to space has been pretty unorganized. It’s also been anthropocentrically biased.

There has been a bit of buzz about standardizing alien-bound messages. According to a 2011 article in the journal Space Policy entitled, “A protocol for messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence,”

Since the Arecibo message of 1974, the handful of METI broadcasts have increased in content and complexity, but the lack of an established protocol has produced unorganized or cryptic messages that could be difficult to interpret.

The most recognizable examples of our efforts to send messages to any extraterrestrials include that Arecibo message, the Cosmic Call, the Teenage Message, and ‘A Message from Earth,” all of which were sent in different directions to places we thought might have life. The Arecibo message consisted of:

1. The numbers one to 10;
2. The atomic numbers of the five elements hydrogen (H), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), and phosphorus (P), which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA);
3. The formulae for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA;
4. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA;
5. A graphic figure of a human, the physical height of an average man, and the human population of Earth;
6. A graphic of the Solar System;
7. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the physical diameter of the transmitting antenna dish.

There are a number of problems with this. First, the graphics: we don’t know if any aliens out there will perceive reflected light the same way we do, or if they will even have eyes. Even if aliens can see with some degree of equivalence to our own abilities, images of the solar system -- let alone the image of a species they don’t know -- doesn’t do them or us much good.

The numeric information might also be a problem. It was transmitted in binary, so at least people out there don’t have to decipher our arbitrary numbers, but binary might still be different from their own conceptualization of numbers or might be basic enough to be seen as so much static.

(If you really want to critique this message, you can take a Steven Hawking perspective discussed in another post and consider that giving intelligent and potentially hostile extraterrestrial information about us is a bad idea. We ‘told’ – told meaning someone might receive it in 25,000 years – aliens where we are, what our technology consists of, what we look like and how many of us there are, and what our genetic material consists of. If this information could end up in the hands of an enemy equipped to come visit us, we did something potentially very, very stupid.


But the Earth has been leaking radio waves for quite a few decades now. I’d rather us send out messages with some degree of ‘welcome and hello’ in them than what we regularly consider entertainment. And I’m not even thinking about TV right now.)

The other messages consist of audio collections – in all sorts of languages – and images. And, according to that same article, we really should set up parameters to be a bit better about what we send; not only do we not really organize the destination of our signals, we don’t repeat them, allow for different reception mediums, or do that well in ensuring the messages aren’t filled with indecipherable cultural eccentricities.

The article advocates for METI having a standardized protocol, which would:

provide constraints and guidelines for the construction of a message in order to maximize the probability that the message is understood. A METI protocol will consider several factors, including:
 • signal encoding;
• message length;
• information content;
• anthropocentrism;
• transmission method;
• transmission periodicity.

Signal encoding would mean not relying on just binary and also selecting more hypothetically ‘common’ wavelengths for broadcasting; the message should also be as simple as possible, which might be a bit of a bummer because it also has to be short. Not only would brevity be cheaper, according to this article, but it would make repeating the signal far more doable, which makes the signal look less like an accident and more like a message.

Brevity would also force us to cut down on cultural stuff. Have you ever heard about Ekman’s studies on basic emotions? Basically, he brought photographs of people from other cultures showing basic emotions to the culturally isolated Fore tribesman in Papua New Guinea. They were able to recognize the expressions denoting emotions like sadness, anger, fear, and happiness, and this list was later expanded. From this, Ekman concluded that many basic emotions might be universally expressed in identical ways.

This does not apply if aliens don’t have faces.

Considering we also have the ‘cross-race effect,’ where people of different races have problems analyzing more complex ideas and expressions, anything culturally or socially demonstrated is probably a waste of time. It’d be best to stick with things we can communicate scientifically or mathematically – this also might help establish our intelligence.

To this end of eradicating cultural… fluff… in potential METI messages, the article includes a mention of METI’s website www.DearET.org, where people can suggest messages and test out others. This site is more to garner interest in extraterrestrial communication than to do anything, but, really, so is sending a pretty degradable radio message 25,000 light years away from Earth.

So, what should we do to better communicate with any aliens out there? Shorter messages, clearer, more objective and universally (really universally) translatable concepts, and repetition of those messages in diverse, common mediums.

Or, in a Stephen Hawking sort of way, nothing at all.

But it’s really too late for that.

Want to share the news about METI activity and sending beacons across the galaxy? Please recommend this post on StumbleUpon -- all it takes is a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.26.2012

May 26, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News


First and primary in the news: Space X’s Dragon made it to the International Space Station. This is so incredibly major that it has a bunch of news derived from it – like space law, for one. With the combined efforts of SpaceX and Planetary Resources (provided they actually work out), laws about resources, travel, and ownership in space could be the next big bureaucracy, and might go a long way to shuttling us up the Kardashev Scale.

Alien and space news for this past week also features a bit about organic chemistry, aliens in science fiction movies (spurred on by Men in Black III of all things, but actually interesting), and some spin-off technology.

And SpaceX Is Off!: After a few delays, the world finally saw the first commercial space operation of this magnitude. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft did a few test maneuvers in space and then was berthed to the International Space Station in order to switch out new and used supplies. Dragon will come back down to Earth – probably to a great deal of earned applause – on May 31.

This Is Cool, But Let’s Take a Moment Here: We can’t let a week go by without that Mars debate making an appearance, and here it is – Mars has organic, but not biological, carbon. Hold up a second and Wikipedia this: organic = with carbon. Come on, now, reporters; this point should be made with a bit more specificity. However, all that aside, this new paper says organic (carbonic!) chemistry has been happening, or had been happening, on Mars, and that’s pretty exciting.

Space Is Good for the Body – Again: A lot of unrelated good has come from space travel. The most recent example of this (before now, that is) was the forming of potential cancer-curing medicine into little dots for better distribution in a patient’s tissue. Now scientists are developing ways to use plasma to minimize hospital infections. It might even work against super-bacteria that even antibiotics can’t do much against.

All Hail the Bureaucracy – Though There Might Be a Purpose After All: We already have the international 1967 Outer Space Treaty, an International Institute of Space Law, and a bunch of other documents. But this will not be enough, especially without all the international and privatized stuff going on outside the atmosphere. Some issues already focus on legal statuses of crew and equipment, informed consent, and – most immediately important – the transport of humans, which only Russia is really able to consistently do. That’s right: the time has come for space lawyers.

MiB Is Even More Useless Than Might Have Been Previously Imagined: Say what you want about the first Men in Black movie; anything except for a saga explicitly about time travel (and even then) that has traveling to the past be the plot of a third movie is doomed to stupidity.  But it, along with all of the other alien invasion movies expected this summer (I’d exclude Avengers because it doesn’t really count as an ‘alien invasion movie,’ but it supports my point), involves the idea that aliens want to enslave, invade, or otherwise usurp parts of the Earth. This, according to SETI’s Tarter, is incorrect, largely because intelligent aliens capable of reaching the Earth probably don’t need our resources or manpower. We've mentioned this before. If anything, they’d come to investigate whatever novelty we have (which we really might not have that much of, if advanced alien species exist).

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

Review: Solaris


Solaris. Stanislaw Lem, 1961. Novel. Approximately 266 pages.

"Solaris was widely regarded as a planet endowed with life - but with only a single inhabitant...The ocean spoke in the language of mathematics...This led scientists to believe they were dealing with a thinking monster, that it was some kind of protoplasmic sea-cum-brain grown so vast it covered an entire planet."

Background

Stanislaw Lem is probably one of the most thought-provoking sci-fi writers in the world. While most of his works cover a simple idea - the impossibility of true communication between humans and a truly alien being - the sheer number of ways Lem is able to discuss and examine the idea is wonderfully energetic to anybody tired of aliens more human than extraterrestrial. Naturally, this means when reading a Lem piece expect it to be weird, unsettling, and at times downright scary.

Solaris was written in 1961 in Poland. Luckily for those of us who don't speak Polish, Solaris has been translated into English on multiple occasions (admittedly of various qualities) and has even been made into three movies -- none of which are fantastic -- and several truly professional quality audio books.

Solaris explores a very interesting --and mildly depressing-- idea: there might be some intelligent creatures in the universe that we are simply incapable of ever understanding on even the most basic levels. The story shifts from science fiction to psychological thriller to exploratory essay to borderline nightmare-inducing horror multiple times throughout the entire novel giving an overall strange and surreal feeling to a simple concept.



Premise

The central plot of the story revolves around the existence of a planet dubbed Solaris. Solaris defies many of the basic laws of planetary motion -- such as maintaining a stable orbit in a system that should have forced the planet out of orbit and into one of its two stars. This naturally leads to a great deal of study into the planet. However, while the planet first appears to be covered almost entirely by a single, large ocean, it is later determined that the ocean is in fact a single living organism, aware of several applications for various mathematical principles that even space-faring humans don't possess.

Unfortunately every attempt at studying and communicating with the planet has been met with complete failure. The organism never responds to stimuli in the same way and often doesn't react at all. This basically causes scientists to simply watch the planet and catalog what it does without ever understanding how or why the planet performs in such a way. Eventually, a group of scientists decides to perform an unapproved experiment and bombard the planet with large amounts of X-ray radiation. The planet responds by creating a personal hell for each of the scientists in a vaguely I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream fashion.

The plot builds as the scientists on-board the orbital station attempt to come to terms with the strange planet and its terrifying effect on reality. The strange nature of the planet, combined with its eerie defense systems, unpredictable actions, and monstrous size, make the novel worth a read if nothing else.

Who Should Read This Story

Solaris is worth a read if you're:
Interested in reading one of the sci-fi classics
A fan of Stanislaw Lem
Interested in strange and unsettling books
Looking for aliens that aren't simply "humans with horns"

Final Verdict

Everything considered, Solaris certainly deserves to be the classic that it is. With interesting characters, a wonderful premise, and a memorable plot, Solaris is definitely one of the best sci-fi books around. At times some of the translations can get a bit strange and might feel just a bit off but modern translation techniques seem to have removed most of the issues present in earlier editions. It's also fairly cheap, always a plus. You can buy it off Amazon here You can also get an audio-book translation here -- though I can't really comment on the quality of the translation as I haven't heard it.

Lastly, don't forget to leave a comment if you've read the book or like the idea. What do you think about truly alien aliens? Do you think not being able to communicate with an intelligent life-form would be depressing? Do you think scientists in reality would behave in a similar manner to those in the book?

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

5.22.2012

Copernican and Tychonian Simulations of the Solar System



Here’s a cool find.

This simulation of the solar system, while not explicitly related to extraterrestrial invasions, is certainly worth taking a look. Not only does it model the solar system chronologically (not by scale), but it shows a few of the barriers to space exploration that are fairly in-house.

Namely, the Asteroid Belt, the distance -- even though the model isn’t to scale, it still depicts the sheer amount of distance we have to struggle through to get anywhere new --  and the Tychonian model of the Solar System.

That last bit articulates a long-standing mental issue with exploring the Universe rather than a physical one, but it’s just as valid. And, in the context of how we might categorize extraterrestrial life and a few rather fixated rules of physics, us thinking we’re the center of things might still be a problem.

You can also find how the solar system is aligned on a certain date (and, yes, we’re all tempted to see if the planets pull a Tomb Raider on December 21, so you won’t be alone).

If you think this simulation was worth investigating and is worth sharing, be sure to recommend it on StumbleUpon with just a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

Yale Has Calculations About Other Earths and Science Beyond Science



Lots of colleges, especially now, have gotten into free online lectures. MIT has the most, Berkeley has the most that are easily accessible, but Yale has the nicest format. They also have a course called Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics, which is particularly relevant.

The last lecture is an awesome sort of culmination of the whole lecture and brings up a lot of topics all wrapped in issues of space exploration, aliens, and even alternate dimensions of a sort. He – Professor Bailyn – begins by talking about an earth-like planet discovered in 2007 and analyzes the features of the planet through calculations. It’s a pretty neat and direct way to understand what makes an Earth-like planet Earth-like.

Bailyn then moves on to theories about extraterrestrial life, and how likely it is. Any study of that particular question involves moving past the bias we have about terrestrial life as we know it. We might often think that our kind of biological life is formed to exist in this universe and that this is somehow significant, but it’s not; it merely means that no other form of life could exist (or is known to exist), so ours was this universe’s default.

In any other universe, any other form of life – or maybe even ours, again – will be the default.

Speaking of other universes, this is where the science beyond science kicks in. There are various theories that what we now consider the laws of physics might be breaking down. There are other theories that black holes spur new universes, black holes which are created by stars.

And ours may or may not be the original universe.

These are just the basics of what the lectures go into, and the details of the interlocking possibilities of the alternate universe, other alien theory are all in the lecture. (And there are 23 other really decent lectures to listen to.

If you think this lecture was worth watching and is worth sharing, be sure to recommend it onStumbleUpon with just a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.21.2012

Review: MAXO Signals: A New And Unfortunate Solution to the Fermi Paradox


MAXO Signals: A New And Unfortunate Solution to the Fermi Paradox. Charles Stross, 2005. Short Story

If you will help me, [please] transmit the [symbol: meta-signifier: MAXO header defining communication protocols] for your [empire/civilization/polity]. I will by return of signal send you the [symbol: process][symbol: data] to install on your [empire/civilization/polity] to participate in this scheme. You will then construct [symbol: inferred, interstellar transmitter?] to assist in acquiring [ownership signifier] of [compound symbol: inferred, bank account of absent galactic emperor].

The quote and this poster should give you a pretty good idea of the premise.

Background

Charles Stross is one of the most prolific writers of hard science fiction in the modern era with dozens of award winning works to his name. Stross is also quite fond of posting his works online for free, always a plus for us readers who prefer to read a few of the author's pieces before purchasing more of their work.

MAXO Signals was written and published in Nature magazine in 2005. The story itself sits at just about 800 words making it remarkably short. In fact, Stross once complained the reason for the story's short length was because Nature mandated the piece must fit on one page, a tough challenge for any writer. Thankfully, Stross overcame this dilemma and presented a very short, very humorous take on how a modern problem might appear in the future.

Premise

Due to the length constraints facing Stross, the story is incredibly simple. Basically, the story is told through a memo to sent to an authority figure. The memo, details several messages that were received, the methods used to decode them, the basic linguistic info about the messages. Attached to the memo is one of the messages that has been nearly entirely decoded, along with a additional memo that the message not be responded to.

That's it. The story is incredibly short and really fairly simple. However, it's always nice to see a new take on a solution to Fermi's Paradox and this idea is certainly a fun one.

Who Should Read This Story 


MAXO Signals is worth a read if you're:
Looking for a quick sci-fi read
A fan of Charles Stross
Looking for a free read
Interested in Fermi's Paradox solutions

Final Verdict


Altogether MAXO Signals isn't going to win any awards for best sci-fi story. It will however, deliver an interesting, slightly tongue-in-cheek ride that will certainly cause anybody who's had a full inbox from spam to nod their head  whispering, "I can see that happening." Even if you aren't a huge fan of short stories, that fact that it's free certainly makes it more appealing. If you're looking for it for free you can check out a PDF of Nature Magizine here. Or, if you feels like buying this and several other great short stories - including several I've reviewedclick here

Also, remember to leave a comment after you read the story. Tell us what you think about the idea of intergalactic spam. Will spam always exist? Will it make the transition to intergalactic levels?

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

Review: Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s


Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s. Adam-Troy Castro. Novella.

“‘You’re not going to enjoy this next bit except in retrospect. Later on you’ll think of it as the best moment of your life–and it might even be–but it won’t feel like that when it happens. It’ll feel big and frightening and insane when it happens. Trust me now when I tell you that it will get better, and quickly . . . and that everything will be explained, if not completely, then at least as much as it needs to be.’


“It was an odd turn of phrase. ‘As much as it needs to be? What’s that supposed to--'


“That’s when the barge reached the top of the rise, providing us a nice panoramic view of what awaited us in the shallow depression on the other side.


“My ability to form coherent sentences became a distant rumor.”


The rate of doubling our technological advancement, according to numerous laws about semiconductor improvement, computational efficiencies, and faster network connections, is about every 18 months. So things are getting faster, more technical, and, in many ways, better very quickly. Going to the moon was a massive undertaking, and the power usage that went into that venture is now an everyday amount. We send probes to other planets and moons and, as much as I comment on how people are frequently planning to send software to Mars to study it, people are frequently planning to send software to Mars to study it.

And while Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s isn’t precisely saying to stop and smell the roses, the novella is saying that technology can’t account for everything, and that people might be a little happier if there was a bit more awe and tolerance for the world(s) around us.

Premise:

The narrator is an old man who tells his story in a series of flashbacks as he journeys to the colonized moon to track down friends from when he was working at the first permanent moon base. He knows he’s dying, and he wants some sort of closure for the weirdest, most wonderful part of his life.

The flashbacks are about when he was an astronaut on the moon, working on a permanent scientific base and, immediately, he raises a good point. Visiting the moon would be awesome – and seeing the Earth from the moon defies description – but living there long-term would massively suck: quarters would be cramped, basic maintenance would be the most important and all-consuming task, and you live in perpetual fear of the one tiny mistake that would kill everyone.

All the people get run down and run the risk of falling out of love with the moon, but one thing keeps them going: Sunday night yams at Minnie and Earl’s.

And I’m not going to tell you what that means, except that the explanation of it brings up the limitations of science in a pretty interesting way.

In between the flashbacks, as the much older narrator is tracking his past down, you also get to see the colonized moon from the perspective of someone who worked to make that happen and isn’t too thrilled at the theme park it’s become.

Who Should Read This Story:

This story (if you couldn’t tell) isn’t really about alien invasions, but is instead about the we interact with science and space exploration. So, I’d recommend this story to anyone who is:

-          Looking for a story to read for a couple of hours
-          A fan of both feel-good and thought-provoking books
-          Curious about what the future might look like

Final Verdict:

Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s will make you smile almost as much as it will make you think and, even though I don’t do sweet, this story is really good. It’s a ~20,000 word read that hits on a lot of themes – progress, history, commercialism, rejection of civilization, and the psychology of interaction – in a pretty creative way. It’s free at this link here (and everywhere the title is a hyperlink, really), which makes everything even better.

There’re also gratuitous Ray Bradbury references, which always score extra points.

If you've read the book and have something you want to add, or you know of another science fiction story that can relate to alien invasions, be sure to leave a comment!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.19.2012

May 19, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News



This was just an alien-packed week. Generally, I have four or five articles that tend to draw on human space exploration just as much as they draw on any extraterrestrial-oriented news. But this week is a bit different. Not only is there the constant question of life on Mars, researchers in the Arctic are trying to figure out if methane in the solar system might be indicative of life. There’s also news about advancing observation technology and SpaceX’s plans to come back strong – I had to throw some regular old space travel in there. The week is topped off by a list of top potential alien planets, and a thrown gauntlet. 

That’s right, science fiction lovers. We have been challenged. …And space scientists were also challenged. (That article is last on the list if you want to take a look.)

Before the Moment of Truth for Space X: Sadly, privatized space travel hasn’t been doing too well in the news these past weeks. But SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is back on the itinerary, and it’s bringing food and school science projects with it. Not only is the capsule bringing supplies, the astronauts at its destination are going to put it through its paces and see if the Dragon made the cut. So we’ll see Space X, we’ll see.

BOLD Goes to Mars to Find Out What Happened in 1976: The Mars question shows no sign of being settled any time soon, especially since concerted efforts for people to actually go to Mars are on some sort of permanent hiatus. But a new Mars mission set for 2018 will be primarily dedicated to finding signs of life. And, in order to cover all of our bases, the spacecraft will be taking nutrients for ‘left-handed’ and ‘right-handed’ life (which hearkens back to the space dinosaur article from a while ago) in order to see if there’s ‘left-handed’ life, ‘right-handed’ life, or no life at all.

A List for Likely Life: Every so often a new list of planets and moons we think might have life comes out. Generally, they all have the same basic essentials – Enceladus, Titan, Europa, and occasionally Mars. This is the list as of May 16, so it’s worth a look in light of new theories and analyses. 

Lobsters in Space! Or Just Their Eyes: With a sort of ’80s B-movie title that just drags you in, this article discusses the relatively long-used practice of copying lobsters’ narrow eyes to see images based on light coming from  many different angles. These newer lobster eyes could observe everything from gamma-ray bursts to merging black holes to the more mundane but equally important possibilities of ammonia leaks around the International Space Station.

Methane for Life, Life in Glaciers: A lot of moons in the solar system are covered in ice that is kilometers thick, and some of them have a good deal of methane. Because of all the ice, they’ve largely been considered as void of life or else with extremophile microbes in some potential water bodies beneath the ice. But NASA researchers are now investigating the organic production of methane to see if life could survive in ridiculously low temperatures after all. And, based on what researchers have found on the margins of Arctic ice, life might not only exist but exist in ridiculously high amounts of variety.

The Bounds of Both the Possible and the Impossible Have Been Challenged: We’ve created a lot of what science fiction has described: satellites and space exploration, Mars probes and moon travel. Of course, thanks to people who walked in both worlds of sci-fi production and technological invention like Robert Bussard, this advancement was pretty quick. But, according to this article, some constants will never be possible: time travel, high-speed space travel, even too much travel outside of the solar system. At the same time, science fiction has missed some important technological stuff in reality – like the Internet.

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.13.2012

May 13, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News


NASA has been strangely active this week. Maybe it’s because their budget is getting cuts the like of which they haven’t seen since 2008. Or maybe it’s because they realized both privatized American companies and the governments of other nations are kind of kicking their asses. Other trends in space and alien news this week include the fairly perpetual themes of finding Earth-like planets, theories about alien life, and, oh yeah, pretty much everyone kicking federal (and state, thanks to Texas) American ass when it comes to space exploration. The space news has been pretty interesting -- if you go to our Interesting Sites, you can check out a few hubs for this information -- but the more alien-related news of the past week more evokes an exasperated 'come on, already.'

And here are a few representative news pieces for the week preceding May 13, 2012:

‘Is Texas forfeiting the private space race?’ Why yes, yes they are: SpaceX might have had a few difficulties in the past few weeks, but they’re still high on the list of private companies that rock. Texas, however, doesn’t seem to so. Despite being home to the Johnson Space Center, the state isn’t really acting all excited about potentially having a space port – a space port. SpaceX is trying to keep Texas in the space exploration business, and Rick Perry’s government is ‘no comment’-ing their way into oblivion. So the article’s titular question quickly becomes rhetorical.

Some Valuable Information and a Face-Palm: This article discusses both the line between life and not life, as well as could be considered alien life. The former as a sort of precursor to the latter: we all have some idea of what is commonly considered ‘life’ – self-reproduction, heritage, evolution/natural selection – and the article’s professor Gerald Joyce focuses on that second one for the argument. The pieces of information that make specific structures aren’t new for any modern life. Pretty much everything (and I’m hedging here just in case this is one day not the case) started in Earth’s primordial soup. What alien life might be is something made from completely new pieces of information, or from pieces so removed from everything that they’re unrecognizable. And this is all awesome until Joyce says that we’ll only find life if we make it like a Gepetto or find it like a Columbus. Columbus. We need to keep any and all references to that particular person far removed from any discoveries of new worlds.

NASA: Adapting to Contemporary Scientific Trends: I’m probably a bit unfair to NASA at the best of times – cumulatively, the administration has accomplished quite a lot of amazing stuff. So here’s an article about the Spitzer Space Telescope, a telescope conceptualized 40 years ago that’s pretty good at searching for things we’ve only recently started to take into consideration. The telescope is capable of measuring the surface conditions on planets far away from our own solar system. The first example? Planet 55 Cancri e, a super Earth water world where the whole cover layer of water is super-critical (both liquid and gas). NASA plans on launching an even better telescope in 2018, so they get some kudos.

More News About the Planetary Vastness of the Universe: While another article about the potential number of potentially life-bearing planets is not as exciting as finding just one more that definitely is life-bearing, this slow expansion of our acknowledgement about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life is pretty nice. The number of exoplanets has bumped up again, too. From just one in 1995 to hundreds or maybe (maybe) thousands in the last year or so, scientists have proposed a pretty whopping, and unspecific, number of a ‘few hundred thousand billion’ lively Earth-like planets. In the Milky Way alone. That’s a pretty gutsy thing to put up in a scientific journal.

Want to share all the news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is  a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.07.2012

Review: They're Made Out of Meat


They're Made Out of Meat. Terry Bisson, 1990. Short Story 

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."

"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat." 


Premise

Bisson is one of those authors who will write about any type of science fiction. Bears discovering fire, the reshaping of the american mid-west, the death of all green life on earth, and of course extraterrestrials.

They're Made Out of Meat is basically a short story where aliens demonstrate a variation of chauvinism very similar to Carl Sagan's concept of carbon chauvinism. Its a short, entertaining read told entirely through dialogue that attempts to give a possible solution to Fermi's Paradox. While the idea of non-carbon based life is not a unique idea to Bisson, I've yet to see the concept presented in such a simple, humorous way.

The story itself is fairly basic, two aliens tasked with finding, classifying and contacting all sentient life discuss the strangeness of our own carbon-based bodies. That's it. It's short, simple, and wonderfully entertaining. If anything its only real weakness is its length. After finishing it I couldn't help but wish the story was longer. The aliens mention other species throughout the universe with fantastic anatomies and strange metamorphic bodies but we're never introduced to these with anything more than an off-handed mention. Some might say the premise isn't really suited for a longer piece and that by keeping the story short, Bisson keeps the story from overstaying its welcome but that doesn't really solve the issue. Then again, maybe the best stories are the ones that leave you begging for more.

Who Should Read This Story

Anyway I recommend this story if you're:
Looking for a thought provoking short story
A fan of the strange and unusual ideas
Looking to kill 5 minutes reading a humorous story

Final Verdict

Basically They're Made Out of Meat is a sweet little ride that presents an interesting idea in a strangly intriguing manner and does an excellent job making the reader wish it didn't have to end. Oh, and the story is free on Bisson's website. Click here to read it. You can also find it, along with several other Bisson short stories in this short story collection.

And of course, if you've read this story please give us your opinions on it by leaving a comment. And don't forget to subscribe and add us on Facebook and Twitter if you liked this post.

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

5.06.2012

This Week's Space and Alien News: May 6, 2012


This week has been filled with some grim news, some good news, and some old news. The old news might win out in terms of volume – there’s still a lot of theorizing about Mars without a lot of action to back anything up, and that goes double for the existence of any aliens – but the good news is pretty spectacular. If there were awards for the most visually exciting space and alien news, it would have to be given to the last article listed, but I’ll let you imagine that for yourselves.

All in all, this week wasn’t a particularly exciting one, especially compared to the still news-worthy news about Planetary Resources – in fact, the lack of exciting news is an important part of this week’s happenings. But science is making pretty steady progress towards connecting our world with outer space, and that’s still cool.

Also, how did any of you like that supermoon last night?

Space Helps Heal Cancer: This statement might be an exaggeration because it’s not space itself that is particularly curative; space, however, is the environment in which medicine with the potential to halt cancer’s growth can be manufactured. With microgravity, Dennis Morrison’s Microencapslation Electrostatic Processing System-II experiment was better able to encapsulate anti-cancer drugs and genetically engineered DNA than any system on Earth. If this drug works – which it seems to, since it allows for direct application on the tumor instead of something like chemotherapy – then two things will happen, and both are awesome. One, this opens a new frontier in cancer research and we’ll be that much closer to finding a good cure; two, we’ll have industries that depend on being in space to operate, and space-based things will slowly (or quickly!) become a major part of our daily lives.

Earth – Atmosphere  = Mars?: I know. More ‘Mars Kind Of/Maybe/Don’t Get Your Hopes Up Has Water’ news. But there are so many different angles of study, and NASA hasn’t really consistently studied any of them, that pretty much all possible ways of studying our Martian data are viable.  This time, scientists (from Georgia Tech, not NASA) are trying to figure out what Mars’s past atmosphere might have been like, and if standing water might have been possible millions of years ago. And maybe, just maybe, there was life there then, too.

Damn You, SpaceX: SpaceX has been the poster child for privatized space everything for so long that it’s hard to see them mess up. But all of the potential trips to the International Space Station that the news (and I) were crowing about last week are now put on hold due to some technical difficulties. Not only is that first cargo run – a fairly monumental event – off schedule, it has yet to be rescheduled. That sounds pretty ominous for SpaceX.

Abiogenesis, Maybe Not So Much: All of the good news about habitable zone planets in the last few months have created a possibly ridiculous amount of optimism about finding extraterrestrial life. That hope was stymied a bit when an article last week said that we really have nothing to base our expectations on – and, really, we don’t. This article, however, says that maybe it’s just abiogenesis that’s so rare, and maybe all the species on Earth just got ahead start in our little corner of the galaxy. And it, despite balancing between the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ camps, is still rooting for the ‘yes’ side.

This Isn’t Alien News, Just The Best Incentive I’ve Ever Heard Of: The University of Warwick saw our possible end, and it was crunchy. It has long been postulated that the Earth will one day be consumed by an enlarged Sun; having been scheduled for billions of years in the future (probably long after there’s no such thing as humans anymore), however, most people aren’t too concerned. But a new study documents four dying stars feasting on their surrounding planets and causing all sorts of debris, shattering, and all-around destruction. So. It’s never to early for us to get started on that whole space colony plan.

Want to share all the news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is  a click!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

5.03.2012

TED Talk from Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life?




Mars. Titan. Kepler-22b. All of these and millions more have made the list of potential life hot-spots.

But what about Saturn's moon Enceladus?

While not quite the feature item in most extraterrestrial news,  planetary scientist (and occasional sci-fi movie advisor) Carolyn Porco has kept a close eye on the moon through NASA's Cassini-Huygens space probe, which has taken extensive photographs of the moon's south pole region.

There, says Porco, are water geysers and organic chemical compounds. The potential saltiness of the water -- as seen through images, since we haven't quite gotten there yet -- means that the water and the moon's rocks are in some sort of contact, which is key for the formation of complex chemicals that might just make conditions there ripe for life.

Though the surface of Enceladus would be pretty unbearable for humans, not all life might find it so. Also, heated underground water (the geysers are coming from somewhere) could also be an environment to inspect. This also brings up the popular questions of: what if there is intelligent life that evolved to be entirely aquatic? How would they operate? How could we communicate with them? Could they travel in space?


Enceladus probably won't have answers to those questions; no one does. But the moon is interesting, and certainly worth keeping an eye on.


And Porco finishes her quick video in the spirit of the new and privately owned company Planetary Resources by holding out hope for some space tourism. Which is always a good note to end on.


Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.