Tractor beams make intuitive sense. Matter and energy interact with each other in countless ways throughout the Universe. Magnetism and gravity are both natural forces that can draw objects together, so there’s sort of a precedent.
But engineering an actual tractor beam is something different.
At least once, you’ve looked up at the night sky and asked the same longstanding question we’ve all asked at least once, “Are we alone?” With all those points of light out there, we can’t be the only intelligent beings in the universe, right? There must be at least one technological civilization aside from us in the great vastness that we call the cosmos.
25 years ago, the film Contact made its theatrical debut starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey and told the story of Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) who picked up a radio signal from the star Vega and how this discovery impacted not just herself, but humanity as a whole. Over time, she discovers the signal has embedded instructions sent by the aliens to build a device capable of sending one person into outer space, presumably to meet the Vegans.
Edward Stone is retiring after 50 years as Project Scientist for the Voyager mission. The twin spacecraft revolutionized our understanding of our Solar System, and Stone was along for the ride every step of the way. Both spacecraft are still going, travelling deeper into interplanetary space, and still sending data home.
But after a long and rewarding career full of achievements and recognition, Stone is moving on.
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.
SpaceX’s Starlink service is now available in Antarctica, according to a tweet from the National Science Foundation on the morning of September 14, stating, “NSF-supported USAP scientists in #Antarctica are over the moon! Starlink is testing polar service with a newly deployed user terminal at McMurdo Station. Increasing bandwidth and connectivity for service support.” SpaceX replied with a quote tweet saying, “Starlink is now available on all seven continents! In such a remote location like Antarctica, this capability is enabled by Starlink’s space laser network.”
Studying the universe is hard. Really hard. Like insanely, ridiculously hard. Think of the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life, because studying the universe is quite literally exponentially way harder than whatever you came up with. Studying the universe is hard for two reasons: space and time. When we look at an object in the night sky, we’re looking back in time, as it has taken a finite amount of time for the light from that object to reach your eyes. The star Sirius is one of the brightest objects in the night sky and is located approximately 8.6 light-years from Earth. This means that when you look at it, you’re seeing what it looked like 8.6 years ago, as the speed of light is finite at 186,000 miles per second and a light year is the time it takes for light to travel in one year. Now think of something way farther away than Sirius, like the Big Bang, which supposedly took place 13.8 billion years ago. This means when scientists study the Big Bang, they’re attempting to look back in time 13.8 billion years. Even with all our advanced scientific instruments, it’s extremely hard to look back that far in time. It’s so hard that the Hubble Space Telescope has been in space since 1990 and just recently spotted the most distant single star ever detected in outer space at 12.9 billion light-years away. That’s 30 years of scanning the heavens, which is a testament to the vastness of the universe, and hence why studying the universe is hard. Because studying the universe is so hard, scientists often turn to computer simulations, or models, to help speed up the science aspect and ultimately give us a better understanding of how the universe works without waiting 30 years for the next big discovery.
We’re about to reach a milestone that many thought we would never reach. After years of wrangling, cost overruns, threats of cancellation, and lobbying by the science community, the James Webb Space Telescope is only weeks away from its first images.
NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon brought back about 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of samples, including rocks, rock cores, rock, pebbles, sand, and dust. Scientists have studied those samples intently over the decades and have learned a lot. But they haven’t studied all of the samples.
In an impressive act of foresight, NASA left some of the samples unopened and in pristine condition. Why? Because they knew the technology used to study the samples would only improve over the decades.
Science fiction author Frank Herbert is renowned for the richly-detailed worlds he created. None of his work is more well-known than “Dune,” which took him six years to complete. Like his other work, Dune is full of detail, including the description of planet Dune, or as the Fremen call it, Arrakis.
Dune is an unforgiving desert world that suffers powerful dust storms and has no rainfall. Scientists who specialize in modelling climates set out to see how realistic Dune is compared to exoplanets. Their conclusion?
Frank Herbert did a great job, considering he created Dune in the 1960s.