How Should the World’s Governments Respond if We Detect an Alien Civilization?

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Image Credit: SETI

Science fiction is the realm where people traditionally wrestle with the idea of contact with an ETI (Extraterrestrial Intelligence.) But now, those discussions are migrating from science fiction into more serious realms. Academics are going back and forth, one paper at a time, concerning the response and geopolitical fallout from potential contact with an ETI.

The discussion is interesting whether you think it’s likely or even remotely possible that humanity ever contacts an ETI. And it might tell us more about humanity than it does about an ETI.

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Robots Might Jump Around to Explore the Moon

LEAP (Legged Exploration of the Aristarchus Plateau) is a mission concept study, funded by ESA, to explore challenging lunar terrains using ANYmal, a four-legged robot developed at ETH Zürich and its spin-off ANYbotics. Credit: ETH Zürich/Robotics Systems Labs (RSL)

How great are wheels, really? Wheels need axles. Suspension. Power of some kind. And roads, or at least swaths of relatively flat and stable terrain. Then you need to maintain all of it. Because of their cost many civilizations across human history, who knew all about wheels and axles, didn’t bother using them for transportation. Another way to look at it – much of human technology mimics nature. Of the simple machines, levers, inclined planes, wedges, and even screws are observed in nature. Why not the wheel?

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Science Fiction was an Inspiration for Many Professional Astronomers

Science fiction universe for Star Trek
The Star Trek universe occurs in the Milky Way Galaxy; this show and its memorable characters are cited, along with many other SF works as influences for scientists. Courtesy R.H. Hurt.

What do MINBAR, TARDIS, Cardassian Expansion, BoRG, DS9, Tatooines, and ACBAR all have in common? They’re names of astronomical surveys and software created by astronomers who say that science fiction (SF) influenced their careers. Those names are just one indicator of widespread interest in SF in the science community. It’s not surprising considering how many scientists (and science writers) grew up with the genre.

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The Rapid Changes We’re Seeing With the Earth’s Magnetic Field Don’t Mean the Poles are About to Flip. This is Normal

An illustration of Earth's magnetic field. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

One of the most interesting discoveries about Earth in the past few decades concerns the Earth’s magnetic poles. Paleomagnetic records show that the poles have flipped places 183 times in the last 83 million years. That’s about every 450,000 years on average, though there were ten million years between flips in at least two cases.

The Earth’s magnetic field is experiencing some rapid changes right now, but scientists say that has no relation to pole flipping.

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Solar Orbiter’s Pictures of the Sun are Every Bit as Dramatic as You Were Hoping

This is one of the new images of the Sun from the ESA's Solar Orbiter's closest approach on March 26th, 2022. Image Credit: ESA

On March 26th, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter made its closest approach to the Sun so far. It ventured inside Mercury’s orbit and was about one-third the distance from Earth to the Sun. It was hot but worth it.

The Solar Orbiter’s primary mission is to understand the connection between the Sun and its heliosphere, and new images from the close approach are helping build that understanding.

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Humanity Will Need to Survive About 400,000 Years if We Want any Chance of Hearing From an Alien Civilization

Standing beside the Milky Way. Credit: P. Horálek/ESO

If there are so many galaxies, stars, and planets, where are all the aliens, and why haven’t we heard from them? Those are the simple questions at the heart of the Fermi Paradox. In a new paper, a pair of researchers ask the next obvious question: how long will we have to survive to hear from another alien civilization?

Their answer? 400,000 years.

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The Strange Swirls on the Lunar Surface are Somehow Related to Topography

This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credits: NASA LRO WAC science team

The Moon is the most studied object in space. But our nearest neighbour still holds a few mysteries. One of those mysteries is the lunar swirls. These strange serpentine features are brighter than their surroundings and are much younger. They’re not associated with any specific composition of lunar rock, and they appear to overlay other surface features like craters and ejecta.

Scientists have been puzzling over the swirls for decades, and with lunar outposts looming as a real possibility, understanding these swirls takes on new importance. Now a new study finds a link between lunar topography and the swirls.

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It Turns out, the “Closest Black Hole” System Doesn’t Contain a Black Hole At All

New research using data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope and Very Large Telescope Interferometer has revealed that HR 6819, previously believed to be a triple system with a black hole, is in fact a system of two stars with no black hole. The scientists, a KU Leuven-ESO team, believe they have observed this binary system in a brief moment after one of the stars sucked the atmosphere off its companion, a phenomenon often referred to as “stellar vampirism”. This artist’s impression shows what the system might look like; it’s composed of an oblate star with a disc around it (a Be “vampire” star; foreground) and B-type star that has been stripped of its atmosphere (background).

One thousand light-years away is pretty close for a black hole. When researchers discovered a black hole at that distance in 2019, it caught the attention of other astronomers and other interested people. It was the first black hole-hosting stellar system to be seen with the naked eye.

But new research shows that it isn’t there.

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Ion Engines Could Work on Earth too, to Make Silent, Solid-State Aircraft

A new MIT plane is propelled via ionic wind. Batteries in the fuselage (tan compartment in front of plane) supply voltage to electrodes (blue/white horizontal lines) strung along the length of the plane, generating a wind of ions that propels the plane forward. Credits:Image: Christine Y. He/MIT

Ion engines are the best technology for sending spacecraft on long missions. They’re not suitable for launching spacecraft against powerful gravity, but they require minimal propellant compared to rockets, and they drive spacecraft to higher velocities over extended time periods. Ion thrusters are also quiet, and their silence has some scientists wondering if they could use them on Earth in applications where noise is undesirable.

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Stunning Photos from Air, Space and Ground of the Atlas V GOES-T Launch

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying NOAA's GOES-T satellite, launching for NASA's Launch Services Program, lifts off from from Space Launch Complex-41 at 4:38 p.m. EST on March 1, 2022. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance

NASA and NOAA now have a sophisticated new weather satellite in space. The GOES-T satellite launched on the powerful United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on March 1, and it will provide forecasters with high resolution weather imagery. It will also provide real-time monitoring of events on the ground like wildfires, floods and landslides, while monitoring atmospheric and climate dynamics over the Western US and Pacific Ocean.

The liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station of GOES-T (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-T) provided stunning views, and incredibly, other satellites looked down and captured the launch of the new satellite from space, such as this shot from its older sibling, GOES-16:

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