Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What can one expect from a star?

updates at the end: Oct. 15, 2015 | Jan. 16, 2016

So, as reported yesterday in The Atlantic, the light-blocking pattern from a recently-noticed star (2011) is now certified as singularly strange:
When I spoke to Boyajian on the phone, she explained that her recent paper only reviews “natural” scenarios. “But,” she said, there were “other scenarios” she was considering.

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”
I remember reading about precisely such an expectation by astrophysicists in 1996. It’s credible to presume that if we can conceive something as possibly actual, it’s probably actual somewhere, given that our star system is relatively very young.

So, inquiring minds that want to know are aiming to point the Very Large Array that way in January.

Stay tuned. (Here’s the entire Atlantic story)

Oct. 15, 2015

When I posted this, the story was fresh. 24 hours later, The Atlantic story is everywhere, and the upshot is that speculations about “alien technology” are silly. But the point to take to heart is that each year of astronomical research is only finding more and more evidence for presuming that sooner-or-later we will have The Confirmation of life elsewhere.

The anthro-cosmic implications are mind-boggling. We readily invite science fictions like “Star Trek” and “X-Files,” as if to domesticate and suppress the implications of finding intelligent life elsewhere—as if to certify that we must ensure that all of this is fiction. But eventually, it will not be fiction. The God-fearing (bless their souls) will have to explain why “God” (talk about fiction!) created life elsewhere billions of years before “He” (?) created life here.

Anthropological relativity of desire for gods will have to be weaved into the anthropological reality that we are creatures of a planet in a galaxy with millions of candidate planets, in a universe where physics leads to biophysics rather easily, given evidently common conditions. And biophysics leads to complexity. (It's disentropic.) And time leads to evolution which leads to intelligence (from cellular communication through complex organism, be it insect, bird, or mammal), and sometimes—we will find—technological intelligence elsewhere, likely having existed long before Earth had any monkeys, because our star system is relatively young.

Of course there’s no good reason to speculate about any given stellar mystery without evidence. Yet, the more that we know about molecular biology (the more that we delve into exobiology) and the more that we look at Mars and moons of our outer planets, the evidence only corroborates prospects of life beyond Earth, as having already been available to other star systems for millions of years.

Jan. 16, 2016

News today is that the mysterious star is “likely not caused by comets.” A professor of astrophysics who has examined all of the data says “We’ve got ourselves a classic mystery.” In November, Seth Shostak, SETI’s senior astronomer, noted: “There is estimated to be in our galaxy alone a trillion planets. And we can see 100 billion galaxies. It’s believed that one in 10 stars may have a habitable world capable of supporting life.”