6.23.2012

The World As It Will Be, Would Be, and Might Have Been


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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.

June 23, 2012: Alien and Space News


This week’s news is not particularly Earth-shattering – in more ways than one – but continues the investigation into Mars and general space exploration that have been worthy of note throughout the past several months. The studies into Mars return to the question of water rather than life forms and Mars missions; NASA scientists are experimenting with gravity in the ISS, simulating asteroid and Mars landings underwater, and ensuring that at least one more asteroid won’t kill us all.

Mars Was Once More Like Earth: That sentence itself is nothing incredibly new; favorable comparisons between terrestrial and Martian land structures, composition, and water levels have almost always been made. But now scientists have analyzed meteorites from Mars’s mantle that landed on earth about 2.5 million years ago and they found that water levels in Mar’s old mantle were almost within the same range of parts per million of water levels here. They’re not quite sure what exactly this means yet, and how far it can help us understand more about Mars, or planet formation, or the commonality of water on any given solid planet, but it’s certainly interesting.

Mars Is Almost a Traditional White Wonderland: It’s snowing on Mars. Of course, it’s not watery snow – as entertaining as that would be – but frozen bits of carbon dioxide. The atmosphere on Mars is mostly carbon dioxide, so there are CO2 snowflakes, CO2 snow clouds, and CO2 snow drifts so big on Mars’s poles that its gravity shifts a bit each Martian winter. And this is keeping MIT, not NASA, pretty busy.


Centrifuge Sent to NASA’s Gravity Lab: Experiments in pharmaceuticals and biology have already lead to a few amazing things – potential ways to block infection from superbacteria and the new leads in cancer research are at the top of the list. And NASA is sending equipment into space to increase these efforts. The centrifuge is going to be in NanoRacks in the International Space Station, and one of the goals will be figuring at ways to outfit humans for long-duration missions.

Speaking of Preparing for Long-Duration Space Missions: As far as sending people into actual space, NASA hasn’t done much for than plan for the last several years. But at least they’re making strides to train people for these plans. Just yesterday a NASA mock mission just off of Florida concluded, having used the underwater conditions to mimic missions on an asteroid or Mars. Which at least is a step in the right direction, since they plan to have a mission on an asteroid sometime this decade and a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

 There Will Be No Shattering Earth in 2040 – At Least From One Source, and Probably:  A lot of science fiction novels begin on the premise that the Earth was struck by an asteroid and then they continue on to describe the terrible things that arose from that disaster. Of course, reality has also shown the catastrophic effects of asteroids, so scientists and NASA are quite a bit motivated to make sure that that doesn’t happen to us anytime soon. This motivation hasn’t yet coalesced into a way to stop an asteroid or to some sort of survival plan in the event of such an apocalypse, but we’re at least keeping track of asteroids heading our way. And happily, observations at the Goddard Space Flight center estimate that we have about a 99% chance of not getting hit by 2011 AG5. Which is good, because it’s big enough to really cause problems.

Want to share all the good (and bad) 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 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.

6.22.2012

Earth -- Not Even 'Mostly Harmless'





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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.

6.21.2012

Larry Niven on Why We Need a Space Program




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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.

6.19.2012

What the Nation Needs Now




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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.

Earth-Grown Bacteria


Transitioning from an earth-based society to a space-based society presents thousands of challenges. The isolation, radiation and detrimental effects of reduced gravity are usually some of the first issues considered – and rightfully so. However, many astrobiologists are concerned with a problem we've yet to solve on earth: invasive species.

The introduction of invasive species can wreck absolute and unpredictable havoc upon an entire ecosystem. You don't have to look very hard to see numerous examples. Zebra Mussels, Water Comb Jellies, Feral Goats, and Wild Boars have all had absolutely massive effects on environments in the past 50 years.

If we as humans have such a huge problem keeping these animals from spreading to other areas of the earth, imagine how difficult it is to keep micro-organisms like bacteria from spreading across other planets.

What?

It turns out that bacteria are pretty much everywhere and, thus, really difficult to completely remove. Not only that but there are millions of different types of bacteria, some of them are so resilient they fall into completely different categories of life.. For example, scientists have discovered what have been dubbed extremophiles, ridiculously resilient organisms. Some of these organisms – usually micro-organisms – have a level of resilience that would generally be considered absurd.

In Japan, scientists have tested the ability of some fairly common bacteria to survive under additional gravity. How high could they survive?

Over 400,000 times earth's gravity. That's not a typo. That's a four followed by five zeros.

For comparison, unaided humans will pass out at around 4 times earth's gravity. Strangely, gravitational forces in the 400,000g range are only found in a couple of places in the universe, mainly very large stars and supernova shock-waves.


In other words, it's quite likely that there are numerous types of bacteria capable of surviving for short periods of time in space and probably capable of sustaining life on planets we would deem inhospitable.

And we've already messed up.

Following a breach of proper procedure the Surveyor 3 moon probe was found to have Streptococcus mitis – a common bacteria – on the camera lens alive and well, two years after the craft had last been on earth. While it’s entirely possible that the bacteria was transferred to the lens during the retrieval process, it nevertheless demonstrates our own failure to adequately prevent the transmission of microbial life forms.

So why is this bad?

The idea of alien life forms hitching a ride on human spacecraft to get to earth is called backwards contamination, and has been explored in numerous books, movies, and essays. This obviously has the potential to be a serious problem – but seeing as we've yet to find any sign of life on other planets, this isn't really immediately pertinent.

More important – in the short term at least – is forwards contamination, or earth-based bacteria moving to other planets. There are two main harms that can arise from this. First is the possibility of a false positive, or terrestrial life being brought to another planet then later “found” and deemed alien life. While the odds of this happening are admittedly small (considering that alien life is unlikely to have evolved into the same life-forms found on earth), as the time between seeding a planet and “finding” the life increases, the odds of a false positive increase due to the life forms having more time to adapt to their environment and diverge from their terrestrial counterparts.

The other, more serious possibility from forward contamination is the devastation of an alien planet or ecosystem. Even if a planet has no living ecosystem, by contaminating the planet with terrestrial life, study of the planet as it was before contamination becomes much more difficult. For example, is some probe traveling to Venus was contaminated with a heat resistant bacteria, capable of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, the Venus of 100 years would look very different from the Venus of now and destroy scientists chances to study the affects of a run-away greenhouse effect as well as numerous atmospheric studies.

What can we do?

Assuming we want actual people to visit planets, there isn't a whole lot we can do other than be careful. Humans have an absurd amount of bacteria in and on us, many of which are necessary for our health and life so it’s not really feasible to remove them. Having said that, there are some basic precautions that can be instituted.

Using redundant cleaning stations is a common idea. Another popular idea is some sort of rapidly altering sterilization system, the idea being that even the most hardy of bacteria are generally only resistant to a few different types of sterilization techniques. With this, after some astronauts don their suits, they're bombarded by a plethora of different extreme phenomena including severe cold, intense heat, high radiation levels, and a highly acidic or basic compound, all in quick succession.

With the astronaut protected by the suit, anything outside of the suit would be nearly completely destroyed due to the rapid and intense changes in the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, this process would require some sort of suit that could completely protect the astronaut from each of these phenomena, something that is currently not feasible.

Sterilizing probes and other unmanned vehicles is quite a bit easier, though still remarkably difficult. Even though there isn't a human in need of protection, some pieces of equipment can be surprisingly fragile, making the idea of a rapidly changing environment still a challenge.

It's also important to remember that there are naturally certain times we need to be more careful about sterilization than others. For example, the Committee on Space Research puts far more stringent requirements on sterilization when sending something to Europa than it does when sending a probe to Mercury.

Luckily, there is a general consensus among the scientific community on the importance of proper sterilization techniques and, hopefully, this will culminate in us not destroying the ecosystem of the first planet we find alien life on.

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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.

6.16.2012

June 16, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News



The news for this week has several different adjectives attached to it. There’s the exciting, the Martian, the punchy, and the scathing (but that's a review for Prometheus that mocks a few answers to the Fermi Paradox, so it's not exactly news). The whole week has a touch of Brady Bunch to it, actually – Martian, Martian, Martian.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

In all seriousness, this has been an action-packed week for space in general. China’s being pretty active on this frontier and sending the first woman astronaut of the country into space, not to mention going through with their fourth mission with humans. NASA’s working things out with European space missions, and SpaceX is settling into their new role.

But the alien news has been pretty unique, too, this week. The scientific community is responding to the proposed Martian colony, the Curiosity rover is being fine-tuned and discussed, and Saturn’s moons are getting a bit of attention.

An Obstacle to Starting a Martian Colony – The Landing: People are taking larger payloads on Mars seriously, even if it’s not all about human colonies and we're not yet taking larger payloads to Mars. This article describes what the heart-stopping landing is like, why the relatively ancient parachute technology we have isn’t going to cut it for much longer, and an idea on how to fix it. The idea? The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Project, which won’t just make payloads larger and landings better, but will also make landings at higher latitudes possible.

Where Our Curiosity Should Begin: That advanced landing system isn’t in effect yet, and that could cause problems for Curiosity, the rover landing on mars this August. NASA is trying to find the balance between putting the rover closer to its final site for operations and making sure it’s not damaged by a too rocky terrain. Curiosity’s main purpose is to see if there are signs of Mars ever having had life, or ever having had conditions suitable for life.  Provided its landing isn’t too far on the rocky side of things, August 5 is the big day.

Some Cookery Shenanigans: Here’s where the punchy adjective comes in. Scientists are concerned that the Teflon in the drill on Curiosity will contaminate the soil and potentially confuse the sample results. Christian Science Monitor opened this article with a joke about ancient alien cookware, which is cute. And allowable, since the NASA scientists don’t think this contamination will be that much of a problem. Not that there’s that much we can do about it now, seeing as how the rover left last November.

Let’s Focus Our Curiosity Elsewhere: A large portion of the focus in all the recent Mars focus is the question of past or possible life. Rovers have searched for organisms, and the idea of ‘left-’ and ‘right-handed’ life has been thrown around quite a bit recently. For Curiosity, the search of life is looking in a different sort of direction: geologically. Rather than search for life that may or may not exist and may or may not be trackable with rovers, August and onward will be filled with the search for locations that are potentially viable. And, at the moment, Gale Crater’s Mount Sharp, which has a geologic history of Mars’ latest 3 billion years in theoretically clear layers, is that place.
  
A Clue to Titan’s Lakes: Titan, Ganymede, and almost any other moon mentioned in relation to potential extraterrestrial life or viable conditions have traces of methane. Titan, however, just got a bit more interesting than the more usual theoretical discussions. It has tropical lakes and ponds from methane condensing in the atmosphere, but the mid-latitude bodies of… liquid might be due to underground reservoirs. This means there are unexamined pockets for potential life that might not even have to factor in the rather difficult atmosphere.

Want to share all the good (and bad) 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 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.

6.13.2012

How Would Humanity React to Microbial Life


One of the best parts – for me at least – about reading alien invasion novels is seeing how individuals, groups, and society as a whole responds. It's fascinating to read about normal people thrust into abnormal circumstances and have to cope with the consequences.

However, even while there are probably thousands of books that wonderfully examine how various cultures and societies would react to an alien invasion, there are surprisingly few books examining how the mere existence of alien life might affect earth. And I don't mean in some sort of strange, “Aliens need to wipe out the Earth/Solar System/Galaxy in order to build a Casino/Highway/Giant Light-bulb.”

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow, turned on the news, and learned that NASA discovered alien life on Europa. Real, actual extraterrestrial life. It's not intelligent, or even self-aware, but under Europa's ice NASA found huge colonies of algae. How do you think people would respond? Would there be rioting? Would anthropocentric religious groups decry it as a lie? Would there be a wave of unity as humanity realizes that we need to stand as one?

Well, according to Seth Shostak, “In a sense, we've run that experiment.



Here's an interesting little article from The Guardian that contains pieces of an interview with Seth Shostak, Chief of SETI or the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. While the article mostly just goes over what SETI is and some of the difficulties it faces, it's interesting to hear Shostak's theory on what would happen following the discovery of basic extraterrestrial life.

Quoted directly from The Guardian:

“In 1996 there was an announcement by NASA that they had found dead microbes in a meteorite that had come from Mars. No doubt it had come from Mars; the doubt was whether these were really microbes of course but, at least for the couple of days of that story, the assumption was: NASA is announcing this, these are reputable scientists...It was the biggest science story of the year – people didn't riot in the streets. Nor did peace and brotherhood break out."

Honestly, I'm not sure if I would rather have Shostak be right or wrong on this point. It would be terribly disappointing if nothing happened following the discovery of alien life. Naturally I feel that the revelation of extraterrestrial life would be one of the most important moments in humanity's development; the day when we might truly begin to think about what it means to be human, what it means to live on Earth, and what it means to be hurtling through space on an insignificant rock.

Unfortunately, knowing the general apathy that humans show time and time again to any discovery that doesn't directly impact them, I find myself leaning towards Shostak's prediction. Though I suppose we can always hope that the first extraterrestrials we discover are intelligent and come to visit us. That might be a tad more difficult for even the most apathetic to ignore.

And what do you think? Do you Shostak is correct in his assessment of humanity? Do you think people would more or less ignore the discovery of extraterrestrial life unless it directly affects them? And what would you rather have, a humanity that calmly accepts alien existence, or a humanity where mayhem, rioting, and social disorder arise from discovery of extraterrestrial life? If you can answer any of these please leave a comment.

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.

6.09.2012

June 9, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News


The big news this week, save for one thing, has been the rather large lack of alien news. There’s been no noise on the ongoing Martian life debate, no money for NASA, and no life in Gliese 581. However, in some sort of interesting twist, Mars and aliens have been represented nonetheless. Mars One has proposed a no-return Martian colony to start in about ten years: there might not be Martians, but humans might become the first aliens we know about.

NASA’s being a bit dramatic but I can’t blame them: With the wonderfully surreal title of ‘Scientists to Hold Bake Sale for NASA Saturday,’ this article is all about the protest that happened earlier today. Scientists had planned a series of slightly pathetic and sarcastic fundraisers like bake sales and car washes to generate funds. I appreciate the combination of snippiness and sincerity, and hopefully it’ll bring attention to the fairly massive budget cuts NASA is facing. Of course, maybe if NASA stopped chopping away at their actual space activity and, you know, success, their funding wouldn’t be at such a risk.

The bad news is that the system didn’t pick up signals, but the good news is that the system works: This article is kind of a mixed bag. Gliese 581 has been a big name in habitable zone topics since it’s a solar system with a red dwarf and six planets (one of which might be Earth-like). SETI’s been using the Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) to do targeted searches for signals; unfortunately, it can’t pick up weak signals the equivalent of our daily radio signals, but it should pick up things sent towards Earth purposefully.


Humans to become aliens, and then maybe Martians: This isn’t an article, but instead a website entirely dedicated to the rather awesome idea of a Mars colony. It’ll be continuously growing, and there will be no chance to return to Earth. This is all incredibly exciting, if slightly dampened by the idea that a large part of the funding will be generated a by reality show of the colony. But even this is potentially a good thing, as reality show watchers might learn something, and people in space are pretty physically incapable of having sex-related drama. Also, because the humans going on this trip will never be back on Earth, maybe they’ll adapt the identity of Martians. Even if they don’t, they became the first known life to visit a different planet, and we’ll have an odd sort of alien invasion on our hands.

As a whole it hasn’t been an overly exciting and newsy work. Even the serious consideration of a Mars colony is only a theoretical attempt without even solid baseline transforming the idea into reality. But there’s always hope that there’ll be more news about aliens and space in the next week (or in the next ten years).

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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.

Baptizing E.T.


One of the most common archetypes of the sci-fi genre is the religious character who refuses to believe aliens could possibly exist and so makes things worse for everyone involved. While it's certainly possible such characters might exist in reality, it's reassuring to read something like this:


If you can't read the article, basically one of the Pope's astronomers made a statement in 2010 reiterating a previous announcement from the Vatican that alien life would not conflict with the Bible, nor would the church discriminate if the aliens wished to convert.

While I've never been a huge fan of the Vatican – or organized religion in general – I'm kind of glad to see some theologians actually considering the religious ramifications of alien contact. While the idea of baptizing an alien might seem a bit strange, its always nice to see the addendum, “if it asked,” especially when one remembers certain former Central-American Catholic missionary practices.

In general, I find the idea of how different religious groups might respond to alien contact absolutely fascinating and would love to read more on the subject. So, can anybody recommend any good books, blogs, papers, articles, or movies that discuss or examine how different types of people might respond? What about how different religions might respond? 

And what do you think personally? Do you think alien contact would turn the religious world on its head? Do you think the concept of aliens could be easily integrated into most human faiths? Are some religions completely opposed to the possibility of alien life? If you can answer any of these please leave a comment.

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.

6.06.2012

A Salute to Ray Bradbury and a Review: The Martian Chronicles


The Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury. Collection of short stories.

“There was Earth and there the coming war, and there hundreds of thousands of mothers or grandmothers or fathers or brothers or aunts or uncles or cousins. They stood on the porches and tried to believe in the existence of Earth, much as they had once tried to believe in the existence of Mars; it was a problem reversed. To all intents and purposes, Earth now was dead; they had been away from it for three or four years. Space was an anesthetic.”

This is not only a review of a collection of short stories about Mars colonization, but also a salute to one of the most prolific and excellent science fiction writers the world has seen. Ray Bradbury, who died last night at the age of 91, created dystopian literary works like Fahrenheit 451 and over 600 short stories that included themes of aliens, the future, artificial intelligence, and pretty much everything else we consider part of the science fiction helm.

He carved a path for sci-fi into mainstream literature with such flair that not only did he connect the disparate worlds of rural America and high-technology futures and create hundreds of worlds outside of the typical Cold War-extraterrestrial trope, an award was created in his honor for screenwriting by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

And so, at the moment when both a great author has died and Mars One has announced plans for an actual Mars colony, here’s a review of The Martian Chronicles.

The Premise

We're the alien invaders.


This very interconnected group of short stories acts as a novel to present a one hundred year history of humans colonizing Mars. The book begins with a series of failures for humans to survive contact with Martians – who kill them coldly, jealously, and empathically. Once humans have successfully taken root in this strange new Martian world, Bradbury explores the widening distance between people and the Earth they left behind, as well as their connection to the alien world they now call home.

Eventually, however, the call of Earth is stronger than the call of Mars, and humans leave to live out their final days in a catastrophic war taking place on Earth. Only a few stragglers and survivors remain (or arrive at) Mars, and these last few remnants of the space-going human civilization become truly Martian.

Each story is taken from a different perspective, full of different protagonists and characters that reference the same general event but only occasionally overlap. The stories follow each other chronologically and, with only a timeline of events and the same human condition to hold them together, portray the struggle of Earth people fighting to become Mars people.

A large theme throughout the book is the echo of the Martians that died before colonization really began, leaving behind echoing spirits, their architectural ruins and bits of culture, and the geographic strangeness of a world already claimed and named by a species that evolved with the land.

Who Should Read This Book?

Each individual story can be taken on its own, and they range from the blissfully nostalgic to the horrific to the apocalyptically dismal. But many of the stories carry out the same interests, so I’d recommend this story to anyone who:

-          Is curious about other alien races
-          Likes reading about potential colonies on different planets
-          Wonders how people will interact with extraterrestrials, or even just the evidence of other extraterrestrials
-          Is interested in exploring humans’ connection to Earth
-          Wants to read about space travel from a more social and quasi-historical point of view
-          Likes alien stories full-stop

Final Verdict:

This story – or, rather, collection of stories – definitely has something for everyone, and probably the majority of stories have several somethings for everyone to be interested in. As a whole, this story probes technology, human civilizations, our reaction to Martians or other extraterrestrials roughly our intellectual equals, and how long we can remain tethered to Earth before other planets become our homes.

The Martian Chronicles is about 250 pages, and only 7.99 on Amazon – not a bad price for a few days of interesting reading that you can read again and again.

If you’ve read The Martian Chronicles or another alien-related book by Ray Bradbury, be sure to leave a comment with your opinion about it or any of the extraterrestrial themes it might have contained!

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.

6.05.2012

How Would Aliens See the Universe?


Vision is the detection of light and the conversion of that signal into electro-chemical impulses for neurons to interpret. That, for all that we humans instantly conceptualize light as eyeballs and the visible light spectrum and color and movement, leaves a lot to the imagination.

Even just on Earth, we have creatures with completely vestigial eyes in the deep ocean, and creatures like the anglerfish and shark who are attracted to light and can sense motion but not much else.

Then there are humans and all sorts of mammals that can see ‘visible light’ with varying levels of acuity. This spectrum covers light wavelengths of 390 to 750 nanometers, and it’s probable that we see these wavelengths because they are within the ‘optical window’ of the electromagnetic spectrum that the atmosphere lets through to the surface. We can see red to violet, and that’s about it.

We see the galaxy like this.


We can’t really see ultraviolet and infrared, which are the sections on either side the visible spectrum. This range includes ‘thermal’ light, or heat vision. Rattlesnakes, for example, can see fuzzy objects but also have heat-sensing pits that detect thermal radiation. It’s not like they see thermal images in shades of red, yellow, and purple (like heat vision is typically depicted) but if they did it would look like this:


Since rattlesnakes use this to search for prey at night, when deserts get pretty chilly, any aliens with this kind of sight would probably be predators, live in a desert environment – like Mars, but with advanced life – and maybe their soldiers have color-vision goggles.


Let’s go back to that optical window for a second. A lot of electromagnetic waves are blocked by the atmosphere. The waves that make it through are 300 nm (ultraviolet light) to 1100 nm, or thermal infrared. Some radio waves can also make it through. This window of light largely accounts for why we are so limited (I say this like vision isn’t awesome), and humans can’t even see all that we might have been able to, or might be able to in the future.

Other animals, on the other hand, can see much, much more. Bees and other insects that hunt for pollen can see ultraviolet light (300-400 nm). Birds can, too, and they also have patterns in their feathers that can only be seen in ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light and beyond is also seen by the mistakenly overlooked and incredibly super-powered mantis shrimp.

And then there’s the placement of eyeballs. It’s not incredibly likely that aliens would be like that demented thing from Pan’s Labyrinth, where it sucks eyes into its hands and chases after little girls (though I’m not nixing the possibility). But maybe it’ll only have eyes on one side, like an adult flounder. Maybe it’ll have front-facing eyes, like we do, in order to have depth perception and see in three dimensions. Maybe a lot of aliens will have eyes on either side of their head so they have panoramic vision. Or eyes like flies, or eyes like the mantis shrimp where each individual eye can see in 3-D.

Or maybe none of these. Maybe have alien senses that we’re not capable of, and we have senses they’re not capable of. Who knows?

If you’d like to take a closer look at the galaxy through different wavelengths (like x-ray, gamma, or microwave), take a look at the webpage.

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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.

6.04.2012

What To Do If You Make First Contact



I'm not a huge fan of simply posting pictures made by other people but I ran across this fairly nice guide while visiting io9.com.

I'm really fond of this picture. The creator obviously put quite a bit of thought and research into this project and it shows. The portion discussing communication is particularly nice as often-times the difficulty in communicating is ignored.

There are a couple of key flaws with Mr. ian@union.io's --the creator-- picture, though. For one thing, while he's probably correct about the importance of staying humble and not expressing a belief the universe was made for us, explaining this to any aliens would be incredibly difficult. More than likely, their measurement of our own humility would stem not from an explicit statement but rather, from study of how humans behave in general – in which case we are probably doomed.

Furthermore, while drawing a series of organisms increasing in complexity might make sense to us humans to describe evolution, the fact that most of us lack any sort of formal art training means our drawing will probably be totally unrecognizable. Even more, if the aliens value scaling models and drawings properly then any creations we make are going to be completely unintelligible to them. Unfortunately I can't think of any superior methods of communicating these ideas than what ian@union.io has presented us so naturally it might be best to defer to him.

So what do you think of the image? Do you think Mr. ian@union.io offers any good suggestions? Do you think there are any mistakes? How would you attempt to communicate if you were abducted by extraterrestrials? Be sure to leave a comment with your opinion!

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.

6.03.2012

Tsiolkovsky and Russian Cosmism Are Nicer Answers to the Fermi Paradox



“The planet is the cradle of intelligence, but it is impossible to live forever in the cradle.” — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky



Most answers to the Fermi Paradox fall on a spectrum of horrifying to boring. This is not all that unexpected, since we humans tend to either think that there isn’t any intelligent extraterrestrial life (or else that it can’t feasibly reach Earth) or that it represents some sort of threat. The Zoo Hypothesis, which really is one of the least terrible of the negative possibilities, lead to all sorts of grotesque and frightening possibilities in an earlier post.

However, every once in a while, there is an optimistic answer to Enrico Fermi’s question of ‘Where is everybody?’: that intelligent and advanced aliens are just leaving us alone so we can find our own place in the universe. They don’t want to cause panic or strip us of our chance for individual advancement. This research-based study delves into an early space-based philosophy in the Soviet Union that says humans and aliens might just get along, after all.

(This might mean no alien invasion novels, but it also means no alien invasion, and I’m all for that.)

Soviet Union scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky believed in this optimistic potentiality. The space portion of science fiction – not to mention a pretty massive chunk of both aerospace and 20th century history – is all caught up in Cold War schisms. So Tsiolkovsky didn’t have a huge impact on modern Western imaginings of aliens. But he didn’t have that much of an impact on Soviet alien conceptualizations either. As much as Russia was pleased with his nonfictional science, and even some science fiction about space flight, they didn’t much care for his belief in a universe full of aliens with fairly homogeneous civilizations that were just waiting to see what advanced civilization humans would come up with.

There was, however, a whole branch of science fiction/philosophical thought called Russian Cosmism in the late 19th century and early 20th century that sought to connect humans with the cosmos at large. The tone of this school of thought was positive: space was a frontier in which people could seek and attain something like perfection. Tsiolkovsky put his particular spin on this, thinking that intelligent life would be everywhere in the universe and that, initially, these intelligent societies went into space and pulled less advanced peoples into their way of life (which is cool, for all that Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s Endread a review here --  alternately subscribes to and condemns the concept).


These aliens would no doubt be aware of humans on Earth, and we could certainly use a hand up. This poses two challenges that Tsiolokovksy answered in “The Planets are Occupied by Living Beings,” and “Natural Principles:” one, that we haven’t found them, and, two, that humans would become, however advanced, another homogeneous branch of intergalactic civilization.

We haven’t found these aliens, Tsiolkovsky wrote, because our technology is pretty primitive and because our probable reaction to aliens far more advanced than ourselves is likely to be equally primitive. To this end, aliens are hiding until they know our reaction won’t be some sort of international societal collapse or war and until we have sufficient technology to find them or travel the galaxy – something that would hopefully coincide.

Aliens haven’t adopted us, Tsiolkovksy also wrote, because they don’t want society to stagnate, regardless of how seemingly perfect it might be. Like in Turtledove’s short story The Road Not Taken (in which pretty much everyone has gravity-based technology and so kind of stagnated, but humans didn’t so we came up with nuclear weapons), societies technologically evolve differently, and the universe might lose something if everyone conforms to the same intergalactic societal paths. I’m not sure if this argument is worth all the suffering on Earth that some alien foster parents couldn’t have hypothetically gotten rid of, but, according to Russian Cosmism and Tsiolkovsky, a lot of more advanced people do think so, so...

In “Natural Principles,” he wrote:

Why don’t the beings of happy planets deign to come down to us? Why don’t they pity us, and replace us with higher beings, destroying us so that we can then arise in their perfect image?…If they didn’t expect anything of a high level from us, then they wouldn’t have tormented us for so long. Apparently, there is hope that something worthwhile will develop from us. They know better. We doubt, but they know. We can bring a new and wonderful stream of life that will renew and supplement their already perfected life.

As far as theories that both answer Fermi’s Paradox and don’t excessively creep me out, this one does pretty well. I’m fond of the idea that aliens are benevolent, advanced, and not about to blow up Earth for anyone’s good. This also poses a lot of interesting philosophical questions on a more micro-level on Earth, like the United States’ trend of remodeling regions in the name of democracy (I’m going to assume that this is actually the motive just to probe this question), advancement versus traditional culture, individuality versus community, and how we should present ourselves to hypothetical aliens out there.

This is some pretty heavy stuff, and Russian Cosmism is all about a kind of blissful societal improvement through space travel. I like it.

Any opinions about Russian Cosmism? Tsiolkovsky’s writings and his ideas about why aliens haven’t contacted us yet? If you want to spread some space-utopia love, be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon---one click and extraterrestrials lose a little negative creep factor.

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.

6.02.2012

June 2, 2012: This Week’s Alien and Space News


The short SpaceX vignette of the last few weeks has ended, but more SpaceX news is sure to come. Also in the news this week was a continuation of the Martian life argument, a short segue to the question of life on Europa, and some questions about the viability of the human form in space.

While this hasn’t been a terribly exciting week for aliens, seeing as how we’re increasingly nixing Mars from the list of places in the solar system with life, it’s been an incredibly interesting week for the progress of humans in space. Both as a mobile, scientific society and as a specific organism with biological limitations.

Fully Successful, Part I: SpaceX’s Dragon landed successfully off the coast of Baja California just a few days ago. Not only does this represent Dragon’s first complete and successful mission to the ISS (its second overall), it clears the way for a lot more low-orbit space activity.  Dragon and SpaceX at large might become the go-to thing for all ISS and space cargo trips, and a steady, easy way to ship cargo loads might lead to more than just the ISS in terms of a permanent human presence off of Earth.

Mars Does Not Have Life… This Week: Yeah, more Mars. There’s been a lot of focus on methane production on the planets and moons that might just have life, and scientists are trying to figure out if it’s caused by geology, biology, or something else entirely. It was something else entirely: UV light breaking down carbon compounds in meteors. The 200 to 300 tons of methane produced every year on Mars are due (in probably their entirety) to the Sun breaking down carbonaceous everything in alien rocks peppering the planet’s surface. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily account for all of the methane on Mars, so the game is still on.


We Might Not Have Mars, But There’s Still Europa: Mars wasn’t the only spot on our list of lively probables in the Solar System. Jupiter’s Europa, where an icy sulfur landscape might host tiny life, is the potential destination of NASA and European Space Agency missions. To prepare for these missions, scientists have been studying extremophiles in Canada’s Borup Fjord Pass and identifying signs that we can search for in the future.

First Spine, Now Eyes: Primarily, this article is about the potential damages space flight and microgravity can cause to vision and eye anatomy. NASA scientists are looking to see if enzyme polymorphisms are behind the changes. Then, presumably they’ll look for a biological cure, seeing as how nutritional effects have already been taken off the list of possibility. If you remember the research over microgravity’s causing spinal degeneration – which was solved by genetically modifying mice – there’s a chance this, too, might be solved by altering genetic make-up. This could lead to the artificial evolution of certain humans into different species based initially on occupation. It's a stretch right now, but entirely possible.

SpaceX Is After the Next Frontier: Military Contracts: The ULA (United Launch Alliance) has monopolized military launches in the past, but SpaceX is now trying to get in on that market. This has lead to questions over certifications, criteria, and the viability of SpaceX’s success. It also means space travel is an industry filling up with competition and branching out beyond basic markets. In the long-term, and even the short-term, the space industry is increasingly becoming an actual industry.

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 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.

Review: Childhood's End


Childhood’s End. Arthur C. Clarke. Novel.

“'There are many things we have had to hide from you, as we hid ourselves for half our stay on Earth. Some of you, I know, thought that concealment unnecessary. You are accustomed to our presence: you can no longer imagine how your ancestors would have reacted to us. But at least you can understand the purpose of our concealment, and know that we had a reason for what we did.’”

This book is a ridiculous mind-fuck, probably because it is simultaneously as repulsive as it is interesting, and because it makes me want to keep reading at the same time as it makes a face-palm continually necessarily.

Before I get too far into reviewing the book, I’m going to set the stage a bit by going over what we humans are really capable of. For example, we can see – but we can’t see overly far overly well (like any hawk or predator of choice can) and we can’t see outside of a certain spectrum of light (give it up for the mistakenly overlooked and incredibly superpowered mantis shrimp). We can interact and observe in at least 3 dimensions – but we have problems really getting into detail beyond that. And our brains degrade and we die far more quickly than we’d like and we can’t comprehend incredibly new things that well beyond a certain peak age.

But that’s what evolution and more science and better understanding of how to learn are for, and, damn, this book makes me angry because it is so good but still wrong. So, the premise.

The premise:

Fairly benevolent and unimaginably advanced aliens take over Earth. They seize control of the world and make it a single nation-state in a way that isn’t at all reprehensible and leads to immediate good. Clarke probes the issues of independence and conflict this would cause, but also summarily notes that when the whole future of the Earth is nothing more than a small-time administrative project for people wildly more powerful than us, we’d probably adjust fairly quickly.


But the invasion and complete eradication of violence/war/hate/what-have-you isn’t the main thrust of the book. It turns out (in a vague mystery novel sort of tone, but I’ll go over it without ruining it) that these aliens are just protecting Earth so that a future generation of humans can suddenly evolve and be the Next Big Thing in the universe.

Apart from the whole pseudo-scientific psychic theme to this, I don’t really have a problem. I mean, it’d be nice if aliens swooped in and taught us ways to maximize our resources and conditioned a couple generations to play nicely with others so we could join some intergalactic community without there being some obscure motive -- but they could also want to see what we evolve into, if they’re really that interested.

Then things in the book go horribly wrong. This (psychic) evolutionary jump happens in a single generation, and a bunch of children are no longer homo sapiens. How do the remaining homo sapiens respond to this? They start killing themselves and are psychologically scarred into not reproducing. The psychic no-longer-human children then blow up the Earth as they’re playing and experimenting with their powers.

The fuck? No.

There are other species on Earth (millions, actually) that don’t deserve to die, humans wouldn’t immediately assume there is no evolutionary future, or even that evolutionary growth is the only reason to continue propagation of the species, and Clarke’s little psychic babies should have better things to do than blow up Earth just to see what happens.

But – and this is a strange and important but – the book is good besides the plotline in the latter half. It’ll make you insane curious about details that humans are trying to discover. The people’s responses to an overwhelming force when we’re hardly an immovable object are oddly… resonant. And there are several scenes which detail bits of other alien worlds that are beautiful and enthralling. The whole thing is deeply existentialist, especially as characters scramble to have some sort of purpose in a world where others control the solutions and all needs are met.

Who Should Read This Story:

This book puts a positive (kind of) spin on Fermi’s Paradox, explores a bunch of alien worlds, and questions the limitation of human biological awareness. So, I’d recommend the book to anyone who:

       - Is curious about human reactions to a benevolent alien invasion
       - Sees space as the future frontier for humans
       - Likes imagining different alien world and perspectives
       - Wants a good psychological/intellectual thrill

Final Verdict:

The plot is worth hating but the book is awesome. That sort of conflict alone makes it something worth reading.

It’s about 200 pages long, and written in 1953 (so there’s some residual cultural ‘blah’ from that time but the predictions on technology are surprisingly accurate), and it is certainly a staple in alien-based science fiction. Plus, it’s only ten dollars for a physical copy on Amazon.

As much as I rag on the plot, and parts of it are certainly worth ragging on, it’s potentially important to note how much we don’t and, currently, can’t understand about the universe, let alone the people who do understand it. There’s also some interesting Kardashev Scale ideas thrown in, which is interesting, since that didn’t exist until 1964. (And I can’t even tell how much of that is purposeful, since Clarke also plays around with the idea of time in weird ways.)

Have you already read Childhood’s End? Have you read something similar and want to recommend it for a review? Leave a comment if you liked it, hated it, or have something to say about all the ideas involved!

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.