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How To Tell The World You’ve Discovered An Alien Civilisation

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After countless fictional scenarios of humans making contact with alien civilisations, you’d think we’d be prepared for actually discovering one. But finding intelligent life beyond the Earth is clearly likely to be one of the most shattering moments in the history of our species.

So if you’ve just discovered an alien civilisation, how should you go about breaking the news? This is a momentous task, and I have been involved in developing some guidelines for the scientists who are involved in searching for extraterrestrial life. The research is due to be published in the journal Acta Astronautica.
With the millions of dollars currently being invested in initiatives such the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), some would argue it is only a matter of time before we do come across intelligent life.
I’m personally not convinced, but pessimism isn’t enough to abandon a search. The scientific method requires us to test our hypotheses with observation and experiment – regardless of our initial prejudices.
If we ever do find signs of intelligent life, I don’t expect it to be a message from an alien civilisation or a landing party.
It will probably be something a little more prosaic, such as signs of artificial pollution in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. It may even take the form of enormous structures built in space to collect energy and provide habitats.
I showed in some work a few years ago that we would be able to see such megastructures in exoplanet transit data, such as that gathered by the Kepler Space Telescope.
True enough, Kepler did see weird objects such as Tabby’s Star, KIC 8426582, with features similar to those predicted would come from artificial structures. But like most astronomers, I’m still a sceptic – a swarm of comets around Tabby’s Star producing incredible changes in brightness is still the more sensible interpretation.
What’s really encouraging about this, though, is that it shows SETI can be done “on the cheap”, taking advantage of publicly available astronomical data to search for aliens. For a pessimist like me, this seems like a much more appropriate strategy.
The flurry of internet activity surrounding Tabby’s star – blogs, tweets, news stories and the Kickstarter campaign to encourage the public to support further observations – demonstrate how different the world has become since SETI began around 60 years ago.

Super-connected world

If evidence of extraterrestrial life ever came to us from the stars, what should the discoverers do next? This is something astrobiologists have pondered for decades.
In 1989, a committee of SETI scientists even drew up a set of post-detection protocols to guide scientists through the steps after discovery.
These steps include getting your colleagues to verify the discovery, and notifying “relevant national authorities” (precisely who this means is unclear to me), followed by the scientific community and then the public via a press release.
However, this set of guidelines was written before the age of the internet. Back then, we got our news via the paper or the TV screen. Even 24-hour news was in its infancy.
Nowadays, the news world is a fragmented sphere of articles placed on our devices and in our feeds via a variety of social media tools, shared by our friends and family. Data flows extremely rapidly, and easily gets amplified and distorted.
That is why my colleague Alexander Scholz and I decided to take another look at the issue, asking how the SETI post-detection protocols should change to reflect our super-connected world.
We quickly realised that scientists need guidance before starting the experiment, let alone after making a detection. It is now common practice for new scientific projects to set up a blog about their work, and this will be essential for SETI.
The blog should include a clear description of what a certain project will do, and what the criteria are for a successful detection, a false positive and no detection. This would help journalists and the public alike to avoid misinterpreting the results.
The individuals involved need to be credible communicators of their work, so maintaining good digital presence in the early stages is very helpful. We also recommend they update their security settings to protect against nefarious individuals broadcasting their personal information – which is sadly a real risk these days.
If a team is lucky enough to make even an unconfirmed, tentative detection, they must be sure to have nothing to hide. Leaks are unavoidable, and alarmingly rapid. Nobody wants an “aliens found” story that turns out to be false. The best way to do this is to publish data immediately.
If it’s very clear that the detection is unconfirmed, and natural or man-made causes can’t be ruled out, then there is no room for conspiracy theorists to wail about the scientists’ collusion with the men in black (an accusation flung at me more than once). It also gives other scientists the chance to check the work, and verify the detection.
Of course, we’ve all seen some of the comments on YouTube or other media sites – there are numpties everywhere, and there is seemingly no stopping good scientific discussion being twisted into inexplicable diatribes and vile hate speech. Therefore, the most important piece of advice for scientists is to be involved in the conversation.
If a publicised detection turns out to be false, the team should immediately make a public statement making it clear that no aliens have been discovered and why. They should even publish a paper retracting it if they have to.
But whoever discovers intelligent life should also prepare for it to swallow up the rest of their life – there isn’t going to be time for much else. Their new job will instead be to help humanity come to terms with its new identity, as just one of multiple intelligent civilisations in the universe.
Duncan Forgan, Research Fellow, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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There’s one last place Planet Nine could be hiding

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A study recently submitted to The Astronomical Journal
continues to search for the elusive Planet Nine (also called Planet X),
which is a hypothetical planet that potentially orbits in the outer
reaches of the solar system and well beyond the orbit of the dwarf
planet, Pluto.

The goal of this study, which is available on the pre-print server arXiv,
was to narrow down the possible locations of Planet Nine and holds the
potential to help researchers better understand the makeup of our solar
system, along with its formation and evolutionary processes. So, what
was the motivation behind this study regarding narrowing down the
location of a potential Planet 9?

Dr. Mike Brown, who is a Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of
Astronomy at Caltech and lead author of the study, tells Universe Today,
“We are continuing to try to systematically cover all of the regions of
the sky where we predict Planet Nine to be. Using data from Pan-STARRS
allowed us to cover the largest region to date.”

Pan-STARRS, which stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid
Response System, is a collaborative astronomical observation system
located at Haleakala Observatory and operated by the University of
Hawai’i Institute of Astronomy. For the study, the researchers used data
from Data Release 2 (DR2) with the goal of narrowing down the possible
location of Planet Nine based on findings from past studies.

In the end, the team narrowed down possible locations of Planet Nine
by eliminating approximately 78% of possible locations that were
calculated from previous studies. Additionally, the researchers also
provided new estimates for the approximate semimajor axis (measured in
astronomical units, AU) and Earth-mass size of Planet Nine at 500 and
6.6, respectively. So, what are the most significant results from this
study, and what follow-up studies are currently being conducted or
planned?

“While I would love to say that the most significant result
was finding Planet Nine, we didn’t,” Dr. Brown tells Universe Today. “So
instead, it means that we have significantly narrowed the search area.
We’ve now surveyed approximately 80% of the regions where we think
Planet Nine might be.”

In terms of follow-up studies, Dr.
Brown tells Universe Today, “I think that the LSST is the most likely
survey to find Planet Nine. When it comes online in a year or two it
will quickly cover much of the search space and, if Planet Nine is
there, find it.”

LSST stands for Legacy Survey of Space and Time, and is an
astronomical survey currently scheduled as a 10-year program to study
the southern sky and take place at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in
Chile, which is presently under construction.

Objectives for LSST include studying identifying near-Earth asteroids
(NEAs) and small planetary bodies within our solar system, but also
include deep space studies, as well. These include investigating the
properties of dark matter and dark energy and the evolution of the Milky
Way galaxy. But what is the importance of finding Planet Nine?

Dr. Brown tells Universe Today, “This would be the 5th
largest planet of our solar system and the only one with a mass between
Earth and Uranus. Such planets are common around other stars, and we
would suddenly have a chance to study one in our own solar system.”

Scientists began hypothesizing the existence of Planet Nine shortly
after the discovery of Neptune in 1846, including an 1880 memoir
authored by D. Kirkwood and later a 1946 paper authored by American
astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, who was responsible for discovering Pluto in
1930.

More recent studies include studies from 2016 and 2017 presenting
evidence for the existence of Planet Nine, the former of which was
co-authored by Dr. Brown.

This most recent study marks the
most complete investigation of narrowing down the location of Planet
Nine, which Dr. Brown has long-believed exists, telling Universe Today,
“There are too many separate signs that Planet Nine is there. The solar
system is very difficult to understand without Planet Nine.”

He continues by telling Universe Today that “…Planet Nine explains
many things about orbits of objects in the outer solar system that would
be otherwise unexplainable and would each need some sort of separate
explanation.”

“The cluster of the directions of the orbits is the best know, but
there is also the large perihelion distances of many objects, existence
of highly inclined and even retrograde objects, and the high abundance
of very eccentric orbits which cross inside the orbit of Neptune. None
of these should happen in the solar system, but all are easily
explainable as an effect of Planet Nine.”

More information:
Michael E. Brown et al, A Pan-STARRS1 Search for Planet Nine, arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2401.17977

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‘October Surprise’: Russia To Launch Nukes in Space

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The ‘national security threat’ announced on Wednesday is
about Russia planning to launch nuclear weapons in space, causing some
to speculate whether it’s really an election year ploy.

The panic began when House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner
(R-Ohio) asked President Biden to declassify information about a
“serious national security threat”.

Modernity.news reports: The weapon would reportedly be designed to be used to take out satellites.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) responded by telling reporters he wanted “to assure the American people, there is no need for public alarm.”

The big, scary threat is serious business and involves a space-based nuke controlled by evil dictator Putin, but it’s also “not an immediate crisis,” according to what three members of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee have told Politico.

Okay, then. Just for election season, is it?

Zero Hedge reports: “So, the question is – was this:

a) a distraction from Biden’s broken brain, or

2) a last desperate attempt to get more funding for anything-but-the-US-border, or

iii) a path to pitching Putin as the uber-bad-guy again after his interview with Tucker Carlson.”

Just by coincidence, Mike Turner recently returned from Ukraine having lobbied for billions more in weapons and aid for Zelensky’s government.

Some questioned the timing, suggesting it might all be a deep state plot to keep American voters afraid when they hit the ballot box.

Speculation will now rage as to whether this is “the event,” real or imagined, that billionaires and elitists the world over have been building underground survival bunkers in preparation for.

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