November 11, 2011

The Social Media aspect of SETI

Let me guess. You are on Facebook. Or you may be on Google+. And of course, you might be on twitter as well. Why? Is there is an added sense of "existence" gained by being connected on social media platforms?

Now I have that nagging feeling that Life itself is social. If Life arises somewhere, it will attempt to interact and seek others, and it will try to interconnect.

Life is Social. This mantra goes all the way down to the very basic constituents of life itself. From cells, to DNA strands, and proteins that seem to want to snap together, curl, mingle, and interconnect. This "social" behavior seems present at all levels of emergence, it bubbles up from neurons connecting with other neurons, all the way up to an entire civilization’s yearning to detect life on other worlds.

So why haven't we made contact yet? Where are they? The answer has been staring us in the face on the first paragraph of this post. We have not found the Social Media of the Cosmos. There is no friendster, myspace, facebook or google plus for any communicating civilization to join into and interact with. We are isolated. We are on an island. We are alone. Or maybe we are just lonely.

Perhaps we should also do a Search for "Cosmic Social Media", or even better, to build one ourselves. Lately, humanity has been tweeting from space aboard the ISS, and sharing wonderful pictures of earth from above. And on a good note, NASA has been attempting to build an Interplanetary Internet, which has been known as the “Deep Space Internet”.

A galactic internet platform is hard to build unless you have a good communications medium to begin with. But what would be the best possible kind of signal for outer space? Sadly, in the vast distances involved in deep space communications, light is a limiting factor. The Electromagnetic Wave is just too slow.

How do you create an intergalactic social platform for civilizations in a universe where the speed of light limits the communication? How would advanced civilizations build their internet in space?

Sadly we haven't discovered anything from the realms of physics yet that would make a good medium for communications in the vast distances of outer space.

Perhaps our particular universe is not conducive for communicating with other advanced lifeforms because our physical laws renders the communications medium too slow. Other universes might have been luckier with their speed of light that may be faster. But not in our universe. Perhaps, each universe yields a different answer for the Fermi Paradox depending on the limits imposed upon the lifeforms asking the question.

Sure, we may find signs and biosignature of other lifeforms on other planets, but making contact with intelligent exolife would be rare.

Are we doomed to be trapped in island planets, island star systems, and ultimately "island universes"? The universe keeps expanding. Galaxies are spreading ever farther from each other. Perhaps in the far future, we would simply mingle amongst “ourselves” within our local star system--with humanoid species on Mars whose roots are from the earthkind. They'd be the migrant "humans" who eventually adapted to the properties of their homeworld. The 'aliens' will be us. And the question of other intelligent life on other star systems and exoplanets could remain with us for a very long time. Perhaps even forever.

On a positive note gleaned from the realms of fiction, imagine if we found the planet Ballybran, and extracted the ‘Black Crystal’ that makes instantaneous communication possible. Imagine if the Ansible did become a reality, and when we turned it on we heard the Cosmos alive with chatter. By then, we have joined the Social Media of the universe, and finally we are truly not alone.

November 6, 2011

Our Expanding View of the Universe

Recently, I've started collecting Data Visualizations and Infographics about Exoplanets. You may see some of them randomly displayed in the Exoplanetology homepage. I use a third party tool called Vi.sualize.Us to make it quick and easy for me to tag images and share awesome exoplanet visualizations that i come across in the web.

For my latest entry, I'd like to share this nugget of Interactive Data Visualization about our expanding view of "The Visible Universe, Then and Now".

As you marvel at the new astronomical objects we have discovered, don't forget to compare how it looked like back then in the 1950's and how little we knew about the things around our star.

Exoplanets play a big part in the recent upgrades in how we see our universe. In just a mere decade, an entire generation of humans would realize that our earth is just one among billions and gazillions of planets out there.

Take a moment to wonder how much we have learned in such a short span of time. Was there any difference at all in how we behaved as a species? More importantly, take a moment to look into yourself and see how the new knowledge of other worlds changes your way of thinking and how you now see the world.

November 1, 2011

Trees and Exoplanets

Over the last weekend, I witnessed something I've never seen before: October snow in the East Coast! Never have I seen snow this early, and what I observed was quite intriguing.

As I was driving home, I saw branches breaking and falling dangerously on the streets. Apparently, the snow were piling up on the leaves, and as they became too heavy, the branches simply snapped.

It's only then that I realized why trees evolved the capability (or adapted) to shed leaves before winter comes, to avoid losing limbs or getting uprooted. Naturally, those who fail to adapt will perish. And what I’ve witnessed is only one among many mechanisms that the tree employs to prevent damage and survive during harsh winter weather. Shedding leaves also prevents the tree from losing moisture during winter--which tends to be drier than anyone would think. Of course in the context of this post, I am only referring to Deciduous trees.

Deciduous trees have developed specific adaptations to the seasons. We all know that seasons are linked to the tilt of the earth's axis from the orbital plane, and the eccentricity (or elliptical) orbit of the planet, among other things. This makes me wonder about the kind of adaptations that trees on other planets would have, depending on the characteristics of their home planet--which would have its own unique seasons.

There isn’t much information linking trees and exoplanets (as we haven’t detected any exotrees yet!). But some say that it’s possible to detect trees on other planets. And I heard that that there could exist trees with wild foliage on weird worlds with different light conditions. For example, a planet orbiting the habitable zone of a red dwarf would harbor trees with black foliage to capture as much energy as possible from the feeble light of their sun.

We can only imagine the amazing variety of trees that could exist on other worlds, which is a reflection of the diversity of exoplanets with different properties and characteristics.

See also: Plants and Exoplanets