CONTRARY BRIN: Gaining perspective: imaging Earth – and deep space

Modeling this planet. Having cut my teeth long ago on the Whole Earth Catalogue, and later having written a novel called Earth, I’m a bit of a sucker for macro planet modeling projects. Here’s one of the latest that’s just a crowd sourced mapping to Supplement Google Earth… Soar.Earth is a digital atlas of world maps, crowd-sourced from individuals, organizations, and the broader community.

WIRED co-founder Kevin Kelly – whose lavishly huge and beautiful photography 3-volume set Vanishing Asia I have blogged about before – is also working on an Earth modeling project. He asked me for others to look at.

Then there are speculative Earth models that take scenario-based, rather than science-fictional approaches. Here’s one recently inaugurated by Benjamin Bratton and the Berggruen folks – the Antikythera project.  And another – Earth2 -developed at UCSD. (They have some problems with both concept and funding, but you may find it interesting.)

A much larger scale and SFnal and vivid portrayal of the near future – one I contributed a fair amount to – is Earth 2050. Just be wary, since it’s key sponsor is Moscow-located Kaspersky.

Envisioning space: Here’s a compilation of 21 Cosmic websites you need to visit – stunning images from the scale of our solar system – to the scale of the known universe, and much more.

== Astronomy updates ==

The first water exo-worlds? Planets that seem likely to orbit their red sun very closely and to have thick layers of high pressure water and steam! The inferences through modeling are amazing. Such smart folks, we sometimes make.

Comparing 17 nearby, almost-identical twins to our sun, scientists measured the fine structure constant in the most precise astronomical test ever performed. Next, they’ve recently identified new solar twins much further away, about half way to the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In this region, there should be a much higher concentration of dark matter.

Gorgeous. NASA’s Webb Space Telescope revealed once-hidden features of a protostar within the dark cloud L1527, only visible in infrared light. The protostar itself is hidden from view within the “neck” of this hourglass shape. An edge-on protoplanetary disk is seen as a dark line across the middle of the neck. Light from the protostar leaks above and below this disk, illuminating cavities within the surrounding gas and dust.

This is a real time-lapse video of planets orbiting the star HR 8799, 133 light years away: four super-Jupiter worlds dancing around their sun. Amazing! Images collected at the Keck Observatory, processed by William Thompson. (Thanks Corey Powell & Mike Gannis.)

And it makes some weird sense… that our sun’s 11 year activity cycle) actually 22 yeas) might be due to a dark matter planet whose 11 (or 22) year elliptical orbit takes it diving through the Sun’s interior at that rhythm, disturbing things with its gravity.  I have doubts that these passages would not leave detectable effects upon each entry and exit, though.

== Deeep… and flashy… space! ==

Sometimes a black hole that’s eating a nearby star spews superheated jets, accelerated to nearly the speed of light and rarely they’re pointed directly at us. Which was the case for 2022cmc,  the brightest and most distant tidal disruption event yet-known; its source is a supermassive black hole about 8.5 billion light-years away. Twenty-one telescopes around the world viewed the jet in the X-ray, radio, optical, and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Deeper? Astronomers using the Webb have discovered galaxies whose light left them toward us only 350 million years after the Big Bang. Our understanding of the first billion years after the Big Bang is extremely limited, and finding earlier and earlier objects can help shed light on this crucial time of formation.

== “Fermi” explanations get repetitive… ==

Groups of scientists and commentators keep discovering (aha!) explanations for what I in 1983 called “The Great Silence” – well before the coining of the far less apropos “Fermi Paradox.”

Up near the top of popularity among notions, the “Great Filter” theory — as in “filtering out” various forms of life — argues that other civilizations, possibly several, have existed during the life of the universe. But they all destroyed themselves before they could make contact with Earth. According to a paper by a team of researchers based at NASA’s JPL: “The key to humanity successfully traversing such a universal filter is… identifying [destructive] attributes in ourselves and neutralizing them in advance.”

Only been writing about this most of my life. And I do agree. In fact, my own #3 hypothesis is that humans appear to be rather exceptionally logical, peaceful and cooperative and smart, compared to most kinds of mammals. We even escape the noxious/toxic effects of male reproductive strategies in perhaps 1% of our civilizations! And that 1% was responsible for almost all genuine progress. NOT my favorite fermi theory because, well, we are still (especially human males) pretty damned unreasonable and reflexively dumb.

This Isaac Arthur episode is very interesting about the Gaia Hypothesis.  Though it seems worth mentioning that my novel Earth is about this at many levels… weak, moderate or strong Gaia, it’s got ’em, including a scientifically plausible (if rather a reach) way that the bulk mass of the planet might become sapient. I know Isaac has read it and hence I feel a bit puzzled, since several notions from the book would seem to be branching pertinences. But his channel is superb.

Oh, and this. A civilization on a tidally locked planet orbiting close to a red star would likely have huge numbers of solar collectors along the rim zone facing sunward, some reflecting light into the shadow zone. I wonder if such collectors might have visible techno-signature effects on telescopes aimed to track those planets nearing opposition.

== The Moondoggle, redux ==

As implicit in this Nikkei (Japan) article, the current Artemis ‘race to the Moon” is a horrible, valueless symbolism junket, imposed on us by a horrible, valueless symbolism junkie. It will waste billions on a wretchedly expensive throwaway, obsolete rocket system, justified by blithering nonsense about “lunar resources.”

I eviscerate the insanely never-justified yammers about ‘lunar resources’ in this podcast  .. as well as whether any such ‘resources’ (again, mere fantasies) could possibly be utilized best by astronauts stomping about.

Mind you, I am all in favor of US efforts to advance lunar robotics. The one and only lunar resource of near term value is (possibly) some polar ice deposits and we’ve funded robotic mining studies at NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program – (NIAC). Along with studies of farside robotic radio telescopes. And studies to robotically explore possible lava tube caves. Fine. As for non-robotic endeavors, I favor the earlier NASA lunar endeavor to build a ‘Gateway” space station in moon orbit, with a dozen good uses. Like #2 below.

But this Artemis ‘race’ to throw away billion dollar behemoth rockets in order to plant symbolic footprints on a sterile plain of poison dust? Bah!

1. The U.S. and Japan have begun exploring asteroids, where the real wealth of the Solar System can be found. These are steps forward that only the U.S. & Japan (with some European help) can take! Why not focus on doing things that only we can do?

2. Humans are going back to the moon, anyway! Soon hordes of Apollo-wannabe tourists will be rushing there, eager for their manhood-ritual ‘bar moonzvahs.’ So? Let’s rent ’em hotel rooms on the lunar orbiting station and then rent them landers for their photo ops!

3. “Beating China in a race to land on the moon“?  Sure let’s humiliate a Rising Power, shaming them at their moment of “today I am a man” accomplishment! So, so wise to do (not)! Seriously, how’s such a pueril, low-minded and fundamentally nasty imperative gonna serve any benefit for the West, or America or taxpayers? Other than the typically MAGA-Trumpian motive of grabbing a “Nyah Nyah!” moment?

(Far better, have a rocket and lander ready to come and assist, should they need rescue or aid!)

4. Even with cost-spreading ‘partners’ there’s no way this helps us. NASA will have to share technologies with every partner. And we benefit from that how?

Oh, it’s too late to back out now. Another idiotic Trumpist-“Shelby” moondoggle that aliens might have imposed on us, if they wanted to slow down our real advances into space.

In fact, Trump’s one first rate appointee, NASA Administrator Bridenstine, managed to insulate NASA’s science departments from depredation for Artemis, and I wish Biden had found a way to make use of him.

== …and finally… ==

My former Caltech classmate – U. of Colorado Astronomy Prof Doug Duncan – is hosting a gathering event for those wanting to view the April 8, 2024 Great Texas Solar Eclipse, with interesting speakers and ideal positioning. He also has an inexpensive product – app and filters– to let your cell phone snap an eclipse.

It may not be too soon to start planning for it!


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