March 20, 2013: This Week's Alien and Space News

Most of the news this week isn’t actually news.

It’s just a restatement or increased confirmation of what we already know:
Voyager I is getting further and further away? there’s an increasingly large number of Earth-like planets in the universe? sex in space isn’t exactly what sci-fi action thrillers make it out to be? there may or may not have been life on Mars? We knew all this. But there are always new implications to consider. Plus, the fact that space research is still continuing is at least a baseline of 'good news.'

And there is new news, too: laser satellites, ftw.

Heliocliff, or the Classification Game: The more we learn about space, the more we have to change our thoughts about the universe we had pictured before. A (relatively) recent wake-up call on this note was the demotion of Pluto, though the whole Copernicus and ‘we’re not really the center of the universe, guys’ will probably remain the biggest one until we find intelligent aliens. Voyager I has just introduced us to yet another classificatory gray area: it has exited the heliosphere, exchanging being bombarded by anomalous cosmic rays for galactic rays, and no one knows quite what to call space right outside the sun’s general domain. Is it really in interspace yet, or some thus-far-unnamed middle ground?

Mars Kind Of Has Water and Maybe Had Life, Part Infinity: Here’s some more evidence for our lack of uncertainty regarding exactly how watery and microbially-inclined Mars is, was, potentially is or was, or might have been in some alternate dimension… that last one might have been an exaggeration (if only because the last thing this investigation needs is the inclusion of a variable like a multiverse). But Curiosity has now collected evidence of hydrated rock in surprising places, and that this hydration may or may not have been fairly spread-out. While it ups the likelihood that life could have eked out an existence on Mars, it doesn’t prove there was any life there to do that. So this update isn’t exactly out of the blue, but a lack of weekly alien-related epiphanies is the price we pay for being constantly in the loop and not being in a Hollywood movie.

The Future of Laser Communication is Now: This one’s pretty cool. NASA’s about to set up its first laser communication satellite (LLCD), and I’m really hoping it works out well. The scientists are cautioning that it might be ridiculously difficult to get working well  -- LLCD will have to “point its very narrow laser beam accurately to ground stations across a distance of approximately 238,900 miles while moving.” But not only will it completely revolutionize terrestrial communication (I know, stereotypical phrasing, but it might just apply here) by making it six times faster, but communication between people in space and people on Earth would also dramatically improve. Which would get rid of that long delay between Mars and Earth for that colony we’ll eventually, maybe, possibly set up. This is awesome for two reasons: one, we’re getting closer to a level one on the Kardashev scale and, two, having a laser satellite system might stop those stupid arguments about how a solar power satellite is just a laser weapon waiting to happen.

Because we can't have nice things without the Joker
screwing them up.
Sex is a Bad Deal for Virtually Everyone in Space: That human reproduction in space would be gross, difficult, and dangerous in space has been mutually agreed upon by everyone who even momentarily considered the concept. But it turns out that humans (and mammals more generally) aren’t alone in that particular drawback to zero-gravity life. The pollen tubes in male plants, along with a lot of other pathways in the cell, have traffic jams when there isn’t gravity to keep everything organized and running smoothly. The upside? Even this nix is teaching scientists more and more about how terrestrial life evolved.

More and More Habitable Zone Planets, Part Infinity: This article has the same kind of feel as the one about Martian maybe-water and maybe-life, but I’m not nearly as exasperated with it. A researcher at Penn State has stated that we have even more Earth-sized Goldilock planets than we did just a few weeks ago, when the estimate before that was debunked. While initially as seemingly newsworthy as the wishy-washy status of Mars’ news, this build-up of articles increasing the number of potential Earths means that there’s an ever-growing number of planets we might one day branch out to (it also means our ability to sense these planets is constantly improving). This is good news any way you look at it.

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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.


Video: Is Pluto A Planet?

Here's a great little video from C.G.P. Grey. In it, Grey -- in his trademark fasted paced and informative manner -- explains the basic history of Pluto, some of the reasons why it was reclassified and the precedent for reclassifying planets.

What I really like about this video though is the fact that Grey doesn't just address the history of Pluto but also explains why there are problems classifying planets to begin with, as well as a very basic etymology of the word 'planet'.

As always, Grey's videos are definitively worth a watch and if you haven't taken the time to browse through his videos then you owe it to yourself to explore his channel.

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.