A topic about outer-space and everything in it, from little green men to big spirally galaxies

Speculations on the Physics of Alien Spaceship Propulsion

Shell Spaceship in Arrival

When I saw the new 'alien first contact' movie Arrival last week, one particular element that made me smile was seeing the alien spaceship leaving Earth basically by dissolving into a cloud or mist. Readers with Fortean tastes will likely be familiar with tales of UFOs disappearing into clouds. For example:

On many occasions UFOs are reported to become gradually engulfed in a vapor cloud. One such case can be found in James McCampbell's "Effects of UFOs upon people": A highway patrolman saw a strange object sitting on the ground in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It was early morning on a wintry day. Suddenly, the object became surrounded by a mist. Then a brilliant glow appeared as the object rose off the ground.

And another:

A doctor saw two large disk-shaped objects merge into one, and the single object sent a beam of light in his direction. It vanished with a sort of explosion, leaving a cloud that dissapated slowly.

This 'dissolving into mist' factor - along with other elements from UFO sightings - have been discussed at length by some UFO researchers as possible clues to they way in which they travel (although doing so does tend to make the perhaps erroneous leap from 'UFO' to 'spaceship'). However, there seems little consensus, with explanations for the link ranging from the effects of plasma propulsion, to reduced atmospheric pressure surrounding the UFO.

So I was interested today to read polymath Stephen Wolfram's length discussion of his contribution to the science in Arrival. Wolfram covers a lot of ground, but at one point he does appear to discuss his idea for how the aliens might achieve interstellar travel (an idea which he came up with overnight, surprising even himself):

Maybe the spacecraft has its strange rattleback-like shape because it spins as it travels, generating gravitational waves in spacetime in the process... The gravitational waves would lead to a perturbation in the structure of spacetime, [and] the spacecraft somehow “swims” through spacetime, propelled by the effects of these gravitational waves. Around the skin of the spacecraft, there’s “gravitational turbulence” in the structure of spacetime, with power-law correlations like the turbulence one sees around objects moving in fluids. (Or maybe the spacecraft just “boils spacetime” around it…)

So there you go UFO researchers, there's another possibility to add to your list of propulsion theories!

There's much more of interest in Wolfram's blog post, I recommend it for anyone interested in high-concept scientific thinking about the alien contact scenario. And one particular passage stood out to me, not so much because of the 'alien' concepts discussed, but a very human one. These days, it often seems to be the case that 'speculation' is a no-no in scientific thinking - "stick to the facts". But Wolfram points out how liberating it felt for him to explore how 'the impossible' might be achieved:

It’s fun for an “actual scientist” like me to come up with stuff like this. It’s kind of liberating. Especially since every one of these science fiction-y pieces of dialogue can lead one into a long, serious, physics discussion.

I think there has to be room for plenty of speculation in science - it's just a case of communicating clearly to others that you are doing so, rather than suggesting something as a certainty.

Link: Quick, How Might the Alien Spacecraft Work?

Further reading: Your Choice of Starships (at Centauri Dreams)

People of Earth: A New Comedy Series about Alien Abduction Experiencers

People of Earth is a new comedy series that premiered last night (Halloween) on TBS, starring former The Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac. The entire first episode has been made available online, and is embedded above.

After a car accident, reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) travels to the rural town of Beacon, New York to write an article on a support group for victims of alien abduction. His reporting leads him to realize that his memory of his accident may not be accurate—but instead a cover-up for his own experience with extra-terrestrial species.

I was fully expecting to hate this show, thinking it would be cheap laughs at the expense of experiencers (whatever you think they actually are, there is no doubt that many people have the experience - and many are terrified by it). And there certainly are cheap laughs, but the treatment (at least in the episode above) is good-natured and quite sympathetic to the experiencers.

And it helps that there's some basic research behind it: screen memories of seeing animals like deer is a central part of the storyline, as is the topic of the range of 'species' of aliens involved (the Greys, the Reptilians and the Nordics).

Give it a try above, and let me know what you think.

Alien Intelligence: Stranger Than We Can Imagine?

"To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture-bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant." Ever since I first grokked this insight from Terence McKenna, I've made it a mission to try and think outside the anthropomorphic box when it comes to the question of what intelligent aliens might be like.

So I thought the Aeon video above was worth posting, along with the asking for your thoughts on what form ETI might take?

When we look for aliens, why do we always find ourselves staring back?

Humans have long imagined beings in other worlds or on other planets whose emotions, motivations and physiologies closely mirror our own. Science fiction in its many forms tends toward a human-inflected conception of non-human life out in the Universe. This view of aliens as rather like us is fine for ancient myths and Hollywood blockbusters, but even modern scientists can’t seem to shake the notion that extraterrestrials’ decisions and behaviour would follow logic and patterns akin to our own. Many of the major scientific projects seeking life elsewhere in the cosmos still rely on assumptions that reflect, above all, ideas about how we would do something if we were aliens.

We in fact already know what non-primate intelligence, of varying degrees, looks like: corvids, cetaceans, horses, even bees.

But what does it take to become an interplanetary species? A major topic, I think, has to be the ability to get yourself off the planet. Is it necessary to be able to construct complex devices, as we have with rockets? Or are there other ways - for example constructing hardy lightweight 'transports', such as mushroom spores, that could escape the planet on the explosion caused by an asteroid impact? Or are we even so primitive that we think interstellar travel requires fighting against the power of our gravity well, when advanced species simply transfer their consciousness or slip between dimensions?

Is this a question you've pondered? Would love to hear your ideas for what form an interplanetary alien species might be like, and what their transport technology they might use to travel.

Apollo Astronaut Emailed Hillary Clinton's Campaign Chairman About 'Space War' and 'Extraterrestrial Intelligences'

Aliens Blow Up the White House

In case you thought this US election couldn't get any more surreal: among the Wikileaks release of hacked Clinton campaign emails last week was one from an Apollo astronaut, warning of the coming 'space war' and the danger in angering certain extraterrestrial intelligences "from the contiguous universe".

The email was sent last year by Dr Edgar Mitchell, the 6th person to walk on the Moon, who kept a keen interest in fringe ideas from parapsychology to UFOs (he was the founder of IONS: the Institute for Noetic Sciences). Dr Mitchell passed away earlier this year.

The recipient (and overall target of the Wikileaks-released hack) was John Podesta, Chairman of Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Podesta is an obvious person for Mitchell to be contacting, given their shared interest in the UFO phenomenon (I mentioned Podesta's interest back in 2008). But it's the content of the email that is of interest, as it seems to speak knowingly about ETIs (extraterrestrial intelligences) who are apparently bringing 'zero-point energy' to Earth.

Because the War in Space race is heating up, I felt you should be aware of several factors as you and I schedule our Skype talk. Remember, our nonviolent ETI from the contiguous universe are helping us bring zero point energy to Earth. They will not tolerate any forms of military violence on Earth or in space.

A separate email requests that Podesta meet with Mitchell and colleagues to discuss [UFO] 'Disclosure', zero point energy, and "the Vatican’s awareness of ETI".

For his part, Podesta has suggested that at least some of the hacked emails released by Wikileaks are 'bogus'.

(h/t @TheUFOTrail)

Related stories:

Elon Musk Wants to Make Humans a Multiplanetary Species, in Our Lifetime

Tech billionaire Elon Musk is a man who has set his sights on transforming our world, from his push towards a future of electric cars (through his company Tesla) and solar power, through to him taking the lead on 'corporate space vehicles' with SpaceX. And today, he set out perhaps the grandest vision of space exploration heard since John F. Kennedy issued his challenge for the U.S. to travel to the Moon before the 1960s had ended.

"What I really want to try and achieve here is to make Mars seem possible...Make it seem as though it's something we can do in our lifetimes, and that you can go.", he noted in his speech today at the 67th International Astronautical Congress, in Guadalajara, Mexico. He then went on to discuss the 'long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars'. (His hour-long presentation is embedded below, as well as a shorter 'highlights' package created by The Verge.)

For me, as a child of the 1970s who - after viewing the amazing images of of the Viking probes - thought that we'd be traveling to the Red Planet before the next decade was done, Musk's vision is seductive. Maybe I will one day get to venture to Mars myself! On the other hand, the technical challenges are not trivial - from getting off this planet, to staying safe and sane on the journey there, and then landing and setting up a settlement.

But, when you consider the success of JFK's challenge, perhaps what Musk is doing here is exactly what is needed. Stop talking in increments, in absolute safety, and instead have a grand vision and set yourself a timeline to try and do the near-impossible.

What do you think of Musk's vision of space travel?

Below are some links to news coverage of the announcement:

And, for a view from a completely different angle, remember that m1k3y has covered Musk's plans previously in his Nightmares of the Future series right here on the Grail.

Kickstarter: Limited Edition Reproduction of the Records on the Voyager Space Probes

Voyager Record

Since their launch in 1977, the two Voyager space probes have toured our Solar System - providing some amazing, 'first look' images of the planets - and headed off into the 'great beyond': interstellar space. If any aliens out there ever intercepted the probes, they would discover that they have gold records attached to them, intended as messages from Earth to introduce ourselves and our (current) culture.

Added to the mission by a committee headed up by Carl Sagan (who was also behind the message plaques attached to the Pioneer probes, launched earlier in the decade), the records contain an assortment of music from multiple cultures and eras (including Beethoven, Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion and Solomon Island panpipes) as well as many of the natural sounds of our planet. The record also features spoken greetings in 55 human languages (and one whale language) as well as one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.

Whether aliens ever find the Voyager records is probably a question we'll never know the answer to. But humans can now access them via this Kickstarter that will produce a limited edition reproduction of the original:

An exquisitely-designed objet d'art, this limited edition Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition vinyl box set will only be available through this Kickstarter. It is the ultimate album package of the ultimate album package.

The cloth-covered box with gold foil inlay will house three, heavyweight translucent gold vinyl LPs protected by poly-lined paper sleeves. The LPs will contain all of the same magnificent music, greetings, and sounds as contained on the original Voyager Golden Record, nearly two hours of audio. Those records will slip into old style tip on, black ink and gold foil jackets. The audio will be complemented by a beautifully-designed hardbound book of captivating images from the original interstellar message, glorious photos of the planets returned to Earth from the Voyager probes, compelling essays, and ephemera from the project's history.

Each set will include a color, plastic digital download card with a code to access all of the audio in MP3 or FLAC format. A lithograph of the iconic Golden Record cover diagram, printed with gold metallic ink on archival paper, will complete the box set.

Head over to the project's Kickstarter page to learn more, including the various rewards on offer for backers.

Link: Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition

Related stories:

Space Probe Found on Comet

Philae Lander Found on Asteroid

There's something otherworldly, if you'll pardon the unintended pun, about looking at a photo of an asteroid traveling through outer space which clearly shows manmade technology sitting on its rocky surface. A few days ago, the Rosetta probe orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was able to image the Philae probe which landed on the comet in late 2014.

The images were taken on 2 September by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 km of the surface and clearly show the main body of the lander, along with two of its three legs. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation, making it clear why establishing communications was so difficult following its landing on 12 November 2014.

Philae was last seen when it first touched down at Agilkia, bounced and then flew for another two hours before ending up at a location later named Abydos, on the comet’s smaller lobe. After three days, Philae's primary battery was exhausted and the lander went into hibernation, only to wake up again and communicate briefly with Rosetta in June and July 2015 as the comet came closer to the Sun and more power was available.

At 2.7 km, the resolution of the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera is about 5 cm/pixel, sufficient to reveal characteristic features of Philae’s 1 m-sized body and its legs, as seen in these definitive pictures.

The image comes at the 'last minute', as at the end of the month the Rosetta mission will also come to an end, with the orbiting probe itself descending to the comet's surface.

Now, can you imagine the excitement if, in one of these images, we saw non-human technology sitting on the comet's surface...

More information, and a high-res image, can be found at the European Space Agency website.

Researchers Announce Discovery of a Signal Coming from a Star in Hercules

Not aliens...but aliens

An international team of researchers has revealed the detection of “a strong signal" coming from the direction of a star in the constellation of Hercules (HD164595). The signal was picked up by the RATAN-600 radio telescope at the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science.

As always, there are a number of possible mundane explanations for the 2.7cm wavelength 'transmission' - which was originally detected last year on May 15 - ranging from passing satellites through to micro-lensing of a background source. But it's still definitely worth looking for a repetition of the signal, and SETI researchers are no doubt cautiously excited.

No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.

Signal detected coming from vicinity of HD 164595

HD 164595 is just under 100 light years from Earth, and an exoplanet (HD 164595 b) has previously been detected orbiting the star. As Paul Gilster notes at Centauri Dreams, the planet is "0.05 Jupiter mass with a period of 40 days, considered to be a warm Neptune on a circular orbit". But there could also be other, still undetected planets also orbiting HB 164595.

Geekwire science journalist Alan Boyle spoke with SETI researcher Douglas Vakoch about the announcement, and he confirmed that his team will be taking a look at HD 164595 as soon as possible, using the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama. Not only purely out of interest and excitement, but also because SETI protocols require it:

Standard SETI protocols call for confirmation of possible signals from a separate observatory. This helps ensure that the original signal didn’t arise from a technical glitch in the original observatory, and it helps rule out a hoax perpetuated by some enterprising graduate students targeting a SETI experiment.

In the past, plans for SETI follow-up observations have focused on confirmation of the original signal, seeking a repeat signal at the same frequency. That’s a critical step for confirmation – and we don’t yet have evidence that this sort of follow-up has happened for HD 164595.

In addition, we need to be alert to the possibility than if we do really find a signal from an advanced civilization, they are also transmitting at other frequencies than the one where we first detected them. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for follow-up SETI observations at both radio and optical frequencies, to be launched as soon as we detect a credible candidate signal at any frequency.

Be sure to read the full articles at both Centauri Dreams and GeekWire via the links below.

Link: An Interesting SETI Candidate in Hercules (Centauri Dreams)

Link: They’re not saying it’s aliens, but signal traced to sunlike star sparks SETI interest (GeekWire)

Government Deception Operatives Conclusively Linked to the 'UFO Summer' of 1947

Roswell UFO Newspaper Headline

In his ongoing research to clarify the extent Cold War spy games influenced public perception of the UFO phenomenon, writer and former intelligence analyst James Carrion recently linked military deception planners to the UFO wave of 1947. His latest blog post cites declassified documents that conclusively demonstrate how a career intelligence officer, part of a high-level unit now known to have been specifically assembled to execute strategic deception operations, petitioned the FBI for assistance investigating flying saucers. Given the purpose of the unit, titled the Joint Security Control Special Section, and details of the documents quoted, Carrion concludes there would have been no other reason for the interaction with the Bureau than to actively promote a deception plan.

The post is well worth the time to absorb and digest. It contains several relevant points of interest, including key aspects of the career of Col. Carl Goldbranson. The colonel trained extensively in military deception and, according to author and historian Thaddeus Holt, engaged in deception activity during the 1940s and until the end of his career. Holt documented Goldbranson to be one of the most skilled deception planners in the Allied service in his 2004 book, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War.

Carrion reports Col. Goldbranson to have been the senior member of the deception-tasked Joint Security Control Special Section at the time he was advising FBI personnel on incidents of flying disks. Carrion explained:

This July 21, 1947 FBI memo is extremely important. It unequivocally documents the connection between US strategic deception planners and early UFO events by relating how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events. Goldbranson was a WW2 member of Joint Security Control and one of its principal deception planners.

Carrion continued:

The Special Section of JSC consisted of only seven individuals including Goldbranson who as a full bird Colonel would have been the senior member. So for those who question the importance of Goldbranson to this analysis, only one question need be answered. What are the odds that the senior member of the principal US organization and specific section charged with planning and implementing U.S. strategic deception is on record in FBI official memorandum, getting his hands dirty in the UFO controversy of 1947? Goldbranson had no reason to be involved unless he was actively promoting a deception plan.

For those unfamiliar with James Carrion's work, he focuses on the 1946-47 time frame. He cites declassified documents and related materials to present forensic historical analysis. Carrion proposes that a small group of U.S. intelligence personnel masterminded deception operations surrounding reported UFOs for a variety of purposes designed to create military advantages. Learn more in his free book, Anachronism, and keep an eye out for his forthcoming work, The Roswell Deception.

I've followed James Carrion's research rather closely, including summarizing some of it in my recently published book along with an interview he graciously provided. Some highlights of his work, in my opinion, include demonstrating the 'ghost rockets' saga conclusively involved aspects of deception; a discontinued classified operation, Project Seal, was misrepresented to be ongoing and consisting of developing an airborne weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb; and, now, Carrion shows deception planners were conclusively linked to the UFO summer of '47.

Critics of Carrion's work typically cite unrelated UFO cases or peripheral circumstances. Rarely do they directly address the material presented. Arguments are common that Uncle Sam couldn't be responsible for all reported UFO phenomena, in spite of the fact Carrion is simply sharing what he is learning about the specific 1946-47 era.

A primary point, as far as I'm concerned, is that Carrion's findings justify further research into the extent public perception of the UFO phenomenon was exploited at the time. It's clear that it happened - relevant questions revolve around how much, why, the specific instances and the consequences.

Jack Brewer is the author of The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community. He blogs at The UFO Trail.

The Planet Next Door: Astronomers Find Earth-Like Planet Orbiting in the Habitable Zone of the Star Closest to Us

Artist's impression of the view from Proxima b

Well this is big news. In recent years there has been much excitement every time a new 'Earth-like' exoplanet has been discovered by astronomers (exoplanets are planets orbiting other stars). However, with many of those discoveries being very distant, making exact measurements difficult, there has been much speculation as to how Earth-like, and how habitable, those planets really are.

But today (after a few embargo breaks last week), astronomers have announced the discovery of perhaps the ideal 'Earth-like' exoplanet candidate, orbiting the star Proxima Centauri (one of the three stars that make up the 'left pointer' of the 'Southern Cross' constellation):

There’s a new standard in town, and its name is Proxima b. This planet has just about everything we’d want in Earth 2.0: It’s just a speck bigger, with only about 30 percent more mass than Earth (or slightly higher, depending on its orbital geometry); it’s almost certainly a genuine rocky planet; and it orbits smack in its star’s habitable zone.

The best part, though, is that Proxima, the planet’s star, is right next door, just 4.3 light-years away (130 times closer than Kepler 186f), the single closest star to our sun. Astronomers across the globe are drooling. We’ll be able to take actual pictures of it, to search for clues of life, within a decade.

Let's be clear about why astronomers are so excited, by ticking the relevant boxes:

  • Very close to Earth size.
  • Orbiting in its star's 'habitable' zone (the 'Goldilocks' zone...not too hot, not too cold)
  • Orbiting the star closest to Earth

The 'actual pictures' the article above is describing would be from an Earth-based telescope - the European Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile. But given the third point above - Proxima b is 'just' 4 light years away - and the fact that the Starshot project financed by Russian billlionaire Yuri Milner (as part of his 'Breakthrough Initiatives') was already aiming to send a space probe to Alpha Centauri in coming decades, there is the possibility we could have an actual robot visiting the planet within some readers' lifetimes. For continued updates on this idea, I recommend keeping an eye on the excellent Centauri Dreams website.

On a skeptical note, however, we should also remember that - for all our excitement about Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System - we actually have two very Earth-like planets right beside us. One, Mars, appears to be devoid of life, and would require significant engineering for humans to live there. The other, Venus - as this Discovery article notes - "would surely be hailed as the most Earthlike exoplanet known" if we found it orbiting another star:

It is just 5% smaller in radius and 15% smaller in mass. It is almost the exact same age as our planet, and gets its warmth from an identical star. The only thing that’s a bit off is that it orbits a bit closer to its star than Earth does, so it receives nearly twice as much radiation. On the other, it also reflects away a lot of that radiation. Its theoretical (equilibrium) temperature is just below freezing, so with a little natural greenhouse warming it would be quite an inviting place.

Instead, Venus is "a profound enigma". While all the variables tell us it should be a hospitable place for life (and at one time, scientists have found, it may well have been), in the present day it is "more like hell on almost-Earth".

Understanding why that is–why our planet went right while Venus went terribly wrong–is crucial for finding out whether habitable planets are common or rare throughout the universe.

So, while we should be genuinely excited about this new discovery, we should also be wary when reading headlines like this (otherwise excellent) piece at The Atlantic: "An Epochal Discovery: A Habitable Planet Orbits Our Neighboring Star". Proxima b is in the 'habitable zone'...but it remains to be seen whether it is actually habitable.

Links: