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Astronomy

Can humankind find alien intelligent life?

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Humankind’s Space Age undoubtedly began in the 60’s. And 1961 can be seen as one of the most interesting years. First of all, Yuri Gagarin from the USSR made the first steps of mankind in cosmos and in the USA, astronomer Frank Drake formulated the famous equation that bears his name.

What is with this equation? Well, for those who have not yet heard of the famous Drake Equation, it tries to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations that could exist in the Milky Way and that could be contacted by us through our current electromagnetic methods.

Here’s how the equation looks like: N = Ns x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

It doesn’t look that simple, so we’ll explain briefly what each value of the equation stands for and what is its meaning.

  • N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with whom communication may be possible;
  • Ns = the average annual rate of star formation in our galaxy. Estimate is between 10 and 1;
  • fp = the number of stars that have planetary systems similar to our Solar System. Estimate is between 1 (each star has a planetary system) and 0.1 (one in ten stars has a system);
  • ne = the average number of planets that can support the emergence and the existence of life. Estimate is between 5 and 1.
  • fl = the number of planets on which life could occur at one moment in time. Estimate is 1.
  • fi = the number of planets on which intelligent life (civilizations) evolved. Estimate is 1.
  • fc = the number of civilizations that developed a technology which can be detected by other civilizations like our own. Estimate is 0.1 to 0.2.
  • L = the time in which a civilization reaches the capacity of communication with other stellar civilizations. Estimate is between 1000 and 100 million years.

If we carefully review each value of the equation, it is clear that none could be determined accurately by modern science. Furthermore as we move from left to right into the equation, estimating each factor’s value becomes controversial, so the latter elements are rather speculative and the values that a person would assign them might say more about that person’s beliefs than scientific facts.

There are dozens of scientific papers that deal with this equation and juggle with its parameters. One such paper stands out as it adds the well-established principles of statistical probability to the equation. In 2010, the Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone published in the Acta Astronautica journal his own version of the equation named the Statistical Drake Equation (SDE). Mathematically it is more complex and more robust that the Classic Drake Equation (CDE).

SDE is based on the Central Limit Theorem which states that having a sufficient number of random independent variables with finite mean value and dispersion, these variables will be distributed in an environment according to the Gaussian bell. So, all the seven parameters of the equation become independent positive variables.In his paper, Maccone tested his SDE using the parameters normally accepted by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) community, and the results could mean good news for the E.T. hunters.

Although the numerical results were not the primary objective of the astronomer, Maccone estimated that our galaxy could host 4,590 extraterrestrial civilizations. If we assign the same values to the Classical Drake Equation we get only 3,500. So, the SDE adds over 1,000 possible civilizations to the initial estimate. Also, SDE has an advantage over CDE, because it incorporates the concept of standard variation (or margin), a kind of margin of error for the mean values. In this case the standard variation is quite high – 11,195. In other words, the SDE states that in our Milky way galaxy could be between 0 and 15,785 extraterrestrial civilizations.

If these E.T. civilizations are at equal distances from each other, they could be separated, on average by 28,845 light-years.This value is much too high for us to communicate with aliens, even though the electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light (299,792.4 km/s). So, even with so many potential advanced civilizations, interstellar communication would still be a major technological challenge for us. However, according to SDE the average distance that we should expect to find intelligent life might be 2,670 light-years from Earth.

So there would be some slim chances that we can contact an alien civilization. At only 500 light-years the chances of detecting a signal from E.T. are almost 0. This is exactly the radius within which our current technology allows us to search for intelligent life radio signals.  So the “Great Silence” that radio telescopes detected so far is not daunting. Our signals must reach a little farther – over at least 900 light years – before they have a real chance to intersect with an advanced alien civilization.

Who doesn’t enjoy listening to a good story. Personally I love reading about the people who inspire me and what it took for them to achieve their success. As I am a bit of a self confessed tech geek I think there is no better way to discover these stories than by reading every day some articles or the newspaper . My bookcases are filled with good tech biographies, they remind me that anyone can be a success. So even if you come from an underprivileged part of society or you aren’t the smartest person in the room we all have a chance to reach the top. The same message shines in my beliefs. All it takes to succeed is a good idea, a little risk and a lot of hard work and any geek can become a success. VENI VIDI VICI .

Astronomy

It’s true that the Earth is not orbiting the sun right now

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Some of the diagrams and animations that show how the planets move around the sun are not quite accurate. To be more precise, they are making the planets’ orbits easier to understand so that teachers don’t have to explain barycenters to kids who are still getting used to the idea that Earth isn’t the only planet in the universe.

Most of the time, the way you learn about how planets move around the sun looks like the video below.

But this version is easier to understand. The Sun has about 1,048 times the mass of Jupiter, making it the largest object in the Solar System. However, gravity works both ways. For the same reason that the Earth pulls on itself, you pull on the Earth as well, though it is much smaller.

“Kepler’s third law describes the relationship between the masses of two objects mutually revolving around each other and the determination of orbital parameters,” NASA says.

“Think about a small star that circles a bigger star. The two stars actually move around the same mass center, which is called the barycenter. That’s always the case, no matter how big or heavy the things are. Using a massive planet to measure how fast a star moves around its barycenter is one way that planetary systems linked to faraway stars have been found.

To keep things simple, we say that the planets go around the Sun. But because the Sun has the most mass, the barycenter of the Solar System’s objects is usually close to it. However, because of Jupiter and Saturn’s orbits and effects, it is almost never inside the Sun. The paths look a bit more like the video below, which was made by planetary astronomer and science communicator James O’Donoghue.

Because of this, the Earth is not orbiting a point inside the Sun right now because the barycenter is not there. We are not going around the sun, but that point in space.

“Planets orbit the Sun in general terms,” O’Donoghue says on Twitter, “but technically, they don’t orbit the Sun alone because the gravitational influence of (mainly) Jupiter means planets must orbit a new point in space.”

“The planets do orbit the Sun, of course; we are just being pedantic about the situation,” he said. “The natural thinking is that we orbit the Sun’s center, but that very rarely happens, i.e., it’s very rare for the solar system’s center of mass to align with the Sun’s center.”

Things that are smaller, like planets and their moons, are the same way. The Earth and Moon go around a point about 3,100 miles (5,100 kilometers) from the Earth’s center. This path changes as the moon moves farther away from the earth.

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Astronomy

NASA’s flyby of Europa shows that “something” is moving under the ice

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Europa’s surface has marks that show the icy crust is vulnerable to the water below. The most important thing is that Juno’s recent visit shows what might be plume activity. If this is real, it would let future missions take samples of the ocean inside the planet without having to land.

Even though it’s been almost two years since Juno got the closest to Europa, its data is still being looked at. Even though Juno has been going around Jupiter since 2016, the five pictures it took on September 29, 2022, were the closest views of Europa since Galileo’s last visit in 2000.

Some might say that’s a shocking lack of interest in one of the Solar System’s most interesting worlds, but it could also have been a good way to see how things had changed over time.

Europa is the smoothest object in the solar system because its ocean keeps it from sinking to the surface. Still, it’s not featureless; Juno saw some deep depressions with steep walls that are 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 31 miles) wide, as well as fracture patterns that are thought to show “true polar wander.

In a statement, Dr. Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute said, “True polar wander occurs if Europa’s icy shell is separated from its rocky interior. This puts a lot of stress on the shell, which causes it to break in predictable ways.”

The shell that sits on top of Europa’s ocean is thought to be rotating faster than the rest of the moon. This is what true polar wandering means. People think that the water below is moving and pulling the shell along with it. Ocean currents are thought to be causing this. The currents are most likely a result of heat inside Europa’s rocky core, which is heated up as a result of Jupiter and its larger moons pulling on Europa and turning it into a large stress ball.

The ocean and ice could stretch and compress parts of the ice, which is how the cracks and ridges that have been seen since Voyager 2 visited were made.

A group under the direction of Hansen is viewing images of Europa’s southern half. The scientist said, “This is the first time that these fracture patterns have been mapped in the southern hemisphere. This suggests that true polar wander has a bigger effect on Europa’s surface geology than was thought before.”

Ocean currents are not to blame for all of Europa’s map changes. It appears that optical tricks can even fool NASA. Hansen said, “Crater Gwern is no longer there.” “JunoCam data showed that Gwern, which was once thought to be a 13-mile-wide impact crater and one of Europa’s few known impact craters, was actually a group of ridges that crossed each other to make an oval shadow.”

But Juno gives more than it takes away. The team is interested in what they’re calling the Platypus because of its shape, not because it has a lot of parts that shouldn’t go together. Ridges on its edge look like they are collapsing into it. The scientists think this might be because pockets of salt water have partially broken through the icy shell.

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The Europa Clipper would find these pockets to be fascinating indirect targets for study, but the dark stains that cryovolcanic activity might have left behind are even more intriguing.

“These features suggest the possibility of current surface activity and the existence of liquid water beneath the surface on Europa,” stated Heidi Becker from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There is evidence of such activity in the geysers of Enceladus, but there is still uncertainty regarding whether it is currently happening on Europa.

Engaging in such an endeavor would enable the sampling of the interior ocean to detect signs of life simply by flying through a plume and gathering ice flakes without the need for landing or drilling.

It seems that in the past, there was a significant shift of over 70 degrees in the locations of features on Europa’s surface, although the reasons for this remain unknown. However, at present, polar wander only leads to minor adjustments.

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Astronomy

The Sun emitted the largest solar flare in the past 20 years, resulting in power outages

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Solar Cycle 25 is decidedly more turbulent than its predecessor. The Sun is currently experiencing heightened activity, characterized by solar storms, coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms of unprecedented intensity in recent years. Currently, the sun has emitted its most powerful solar flare to date during this particular cycle.

The flare was quantified as an X8.7, indicating a considerably higher strength compared to the flares emitted last week. The event emitted highly energetic light in the extreme ultraviolet range, which resulted in the ionization of the uppermost layer of the atmosphere. Consequently, a radio blackout occurred over the Americas, adversely impacting aircraft and vessels that depend on signals with frequencies below 30 MHz.

Ionization of the atmosphere causes an expansion, resulting in increased drag on satellites in low Earth orbit. They will require strategic maneuvering to be moved away from Earth. Solar flares have the potential to interfere with satellite communications.

A gif of the Sun yesterday with two bright flashes corresponding to the flares on its limb

Sunspot AR 3664 is where it comes from. Last week, several strong flares were seen coming from this area, including the second strongest of this cycle at the time. The Sun also sent out a number of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which hit Earth and caused the beautiful auroral display we saw last weekend.

Back then, the sunspot was right on the side of the Sun that could be seen, and anyone could see it. It’s sixteen times wider than Earth! As the Sun turns, the spot is now on its side, so we can only see it from the side. We might have seen a bigger flare if it had happened last week.

“Another X-ray flare was made by Region 3664 as it moved past the western solar limb!!” It was an X8.7 flare this time, the biggest of this solar cycle! NASA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said in a post that any coronal mass ejection (CME) linked to this flare “likely WILL NOT have any geomagnetic effects on Earth due to its location.” “As always, please check our website for news!”

Today, as the CME moves past Earth, there may be a small rise in auroral activity. It’s too bad that nothing as exciting will happen as last Friday.

The solar cycle has a high point and a low point every 11 years. Around the peak, which could happen at any time, the most intense events tend to happen, but every once in a while, there are exceptions. There have been 10 times as many powerful flares this century.

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