Archive for January, 2010

Absent Aliens?

Posted in Astronomy, SETI, Speculation with tags , , on January 31, 2010 by davidnm2009

Just a quick thought…

The Anthropic Principle – from an intellectual point of view, it’s largely useless. It makes few genuine testable predictions – Fred Hoyle is about the only person I’ve heard of who managed to get something usable out of it. And not only is the Anthropic Principle a useless bit of psychological fluff, at its worst extreme it can actually lead to some very, very silly intellectual places. So, on the face of it, the Anthropic Principle seems really a bit pointless.


It occurs to me that it might, just might, conceivably tell us something about the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The argument is this – we as human beings are an intelligent species, and we exist. Therefore, the logical inference is that intelligent life is definitely possible, and a basic scientific principle is that if it can happen once, it can happen again, given the right conditions.

So, this means that the debate regarding ‘aliens’ shouldn’t be ‘can they exist?’. Rather, we should be asking questions about the likelihood – and thus the spatial and temporal distribution. (10,000 civilisations at any given time in a galaxy the size of ours? Or one every billion or so years on average?)

And the nice thing about questions like this is that it should be possible to put at least some upper bounds on these numbers, even with today’s technology. The argument would be, if we can reliably detect (say) radio wave signals out to X parsecs, and we don’t, then we can argue an immediate upper bound as ‘no more than one civilization, i.e. us’ per X^3 cubic parsecs.

Divide the volume of the galactic disk by that number, and you have your estimate.

Linkspam Time

Posted in Astronomy, Personal with tags , , , , on January 29, 2010 by davidnm2009

XKCD makes you feel really sorry for the Spirit rover. This is an example of a device that has performed well beyond any original hopes, though – it was only designed to last for 90 days and it’s been going for more than 2000.

Here is a Supreme Court decision from the file marked ‘Batshit Insane’. It came in the same week as Obama’s healthcare initiatives finally died a painful, slow death. In the long run, this decision may well be just as bad for America as the reform-failure. It won’t kill anyone directly, but by putting elected officials even further into the pockets of large financial institutions, it will distort the decision-making. This will hit things like infrastructure projects – like electricity generation, or water supply. Or indeed healthcare policy. And these are things that can hurt people, very badly indeed. (Also, expect the RIAA to get a lot more powerful.)

Worst of all, it doesn’t appear to be particularly-controversial, either. During the Bush years I formed an impression that American democracy is at-best sickly, and more probably dying. I wonder if all that November 2008 brought was false hope? Oh well, at least it’s not my country.

Oh, talking of our country? A certain man has been at it again – almost as if he feels he didn’t spread enough poison during his term. It only strengthens my opinion that the Chilcot inquiry has been little more than a painful sideshow. Was anyone seriously expecting that it might lead to the truth?

In less blood-pressure-raising news, the paper that I’m on has been picked up by the Bad Astronomy blog. Admittedly I’m only 8th author, but it’s still kind of cool!

Ah. I said something about infrastructure, didn’t I? Well, what about step wells? A fascinating and ingenious solution to the problem of storing water between monsoons in India, and also one that happens to look visually-stunning. They’re fascinating structures, as much works of art as infrastructure projects, and all the more amazing because they were built before centuries before the start of the modern age.

Habitable Planets in Unlikely Places

Posted in Astronomy, Speculation with tags , , on January 25, 2010 by davidnm2009

Every now and then, the researcher’s life throws up the odd cherry or two. Today was a case in question.

I’ve been interested in extrasolar planets for a long time. Like a lot of people, I’ve been particularly interested by the idea of potentially-inhabitable exoplanets. I actually do research on brown dwarfs, though, as they’re pretty much as interesting and they don’t involve staring at radial velocity periodograms (eurgh). Anyway, literally several years ago, I wondered in passing if it was possible to have an inhabitable planet around a brown dwarf. And these days, I realised, I have the technical knowledge to attempt an answer. Hurrar!

The short answer is ‘Yes’.

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Swirly Things

Posted in Art with tags on January 22, 2010 by davidnm2009

If there was one thing Avatar did do, it was fill my head with images of big, stormy gas giants. So, here is a piece of Rayleigh-scattered, bluish-gas-planet goodness. (Note: it isn’t intended to be Polyphemus, rather ‘just’ some random exoplanet in the Neptune/Uranus mass range.)

There is a much higher-res version over here, on my ‘proper’ gallery.


Posted in SF with tags , on January 21, 2010 by davidnm2009

Well, I’ve seen it. And I have a few thoughts. (Needless to say, the SPOILER LAMP is lit.)

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Unfortunate Implications

Posted in SF with tags , , on January 18, 2010 by davidnm2009

I’m prone to over-analyzing things. I do like to play with my food, even if some of it is the intellectual equivalent of gristle between the mental teeth.

One such example comes from the ‘Halo’ series of computer games.

I’ve read several interviews with Neill Blomkamp, about the now-aborted Halo movie. He said one thing in particular that stuck in my head. He described the Master Chief as a ‘victim of the military industrial complex‘. This is interesting – as it’s very probably true.

Why don’t we dig into this a bit?

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Posted in Personal with tags on January 18, 2010 by davidnm2009

According to WordPress’s stats page, someone found this blog by a search for ‘dark faculae’.

I kind of like that.

A quick google-search didn’t throw up any horrific porn sites or anything like that. In fact it appears it might actually be an astronomy term, which I suppose is appropriate enough. So, I’ve adopted it.

And let’s face it, ‘Dark Faculae’ is also a bit more memorable than ‘Thoughts from the Telescope’…