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TRAPPIST 1, again.

TRAPPIST 1

First Contact

Proxima B

Fermi Paradox

How many stars there are in the universe?

Why The First Directive

Spacefaring Civilizations are pacifists


TRAPPIST-1, again

It’s awesome, but something is missing.

As I said in the previous post regarding TRAPPIST-1, we will have to wait for the results coming from next generation telescopes such as JWST (2018) and E-ELT (2024), to determine if some of the planets of TRAPPIST-1 system harbors life.

In the meantime we can make some inferences based on data in our possession.

First of all, we see clear similarities with our solar system, including some truly remarkable and never seen before, which make us hopeful about the possibility that at least in one of the planets of TRAPPIST-1 system there may be life; in particular I recall:

  • the presence of seven rocky planets;
  • the possible presence of oceans on some of these planets;
  • the presence of three planets in the habitable zone, one of which is very similar to Earth.

But after a more careful examination, we notice a major difference, the absence of gas giants.

Even if the gas giants are not properly suitable for the development life (at least as we know it), they significantly contribute to the evolution of complex living beings on the inner planets of the system.

trappist 1 solar system comparison
TRAPPIST – 1 and Solar System (represented not in scale). Gas giants act as a shield for the inner planets against the impacts of comets and asteroids. In fact, their intense gravitational field attract many of these celestial bodies [image source: up image: NASA; down image: wikipedia].
shoemaker levy 9
Infrared image of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact with Jupiter on 1994 [image source: University of Hawaii].
In fact, the most widely accepted theories about the evolution of the solar system,  attribute to Jupiter a decisive role in enabling the development of complex life forms on Earth.

According to this model, its intense gravitational field has attracted like a magnet, most of celestial bodies wandering in space, such as comets and asteroids, which otherwise would have caused frequent catastrophic bombardments.

Chelyabinsk-fireball-dashcam-best
The Chelyabinsk meteor (Russia – 15 February 2013) is an event that occur once every 100 years. The object released 400-500 kiloton, about 30 times the bomb blasted at Hiroshima (Japan – 1945) [see footage].
moon impact
Effect of bombardment on the Moon – NASA simulation

The TRAPPIST-1 system, whose age is estimated at 500 million years, is still very young and could still be the scene of intense bombardment of comets and asteroids. The absence of a gas giant in the outer part of the system could lead to a higher frequency of impacts on the inner planets, thereby causing frequent planetary disasters resulting in mass extinctions (as occurred on Earth 65 million years ago ) and hampering the development of complex life forms (the topic is covered in depth in my book “Extraterrestrial Civilization and The First Directive – a possible solution to the Fermi Paradox“).

To date, in case a celestial body will come on a collision course with Earth, there is still no technology to bring Bruce Willis into space to prevent a catastrophe that would bring us to the Stone Age or extinction.

Armageddon
Armageddon 1998 directed by Michael Bay – trailer

Key words: Life in the Universe – ExoplanetsTRAPPIST-1Fermi ParadoxMass ExtinctionGas Giant 

Posted March 29, 2017

 

 


TRAPPIST 1

The new world

Recently, NASA and ESA have announced the discovery of four additional planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, bringing to seven the number of known planets in this system. The news has aroused great enthusiasm, especially because three planets are definitely within the habitable zone.

trappist-1-system
Trappist-1 system compared with the inner Solar System (credit: NASA/CALTECH/JPL)

In the future, with the entry into operation of the JWST (NASA space telescope, whose launch is scheduled for the end of 2018) and E-ELT (ESA ground-based telescope, whose construction will be completed in 2024), we will have the availability of data regarding the atmospheric composition of these planets. In particular, we will know if in the atmospheres are present gas such as molecular oxygen, ozone and methane, the presence of which is attributable to the action of life forms (so-called bio-signature).

However, the remarkable fact about this discovery is the structure of TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. In fact it strongly reinforces, once more again, statistics relative to the abundance in the galaxy and in the universe of planets with conditions suitable for the emergence of life.

At the moment data about the system are few to conduct a deep analysis regarding the possibility of the emergence of life.

Anyway we can speculate, considering following data:

  1. the star TRAPPIST-1 is a Class-M Ultra Cool Red-Dwarf that emits a large part of the radiation in the wavelength of red;
  2. planets size are similar to those of Earth (from 0.76 to 1.13 the radius of Earth);
  3. planets complete their orbits around the star just in few days (from 1.5 to 20 days);
  4. planets are very close to each other, in fact, if they were in the solar system would be all located inside the orbit of Mercury.
trappist-1-planets-and-star
credit: NASA/CALTECH/JPL

From the above mentioned data, fundamental conclusions are:

1.A. the natural evolution should select life forms able to exploit infrared light;

1.B. technology developed by a civilization should be infrared-centered (instead of visible spectrum driven);

2. planets’s gravity field should be similar to those we have on Earth, consequently sizes and structures of complex life forms and possibly artifacts should be convergent to those we see on Earth;

3. years are very short in human terms and probably planets are tidally locked determining no circadian cycle; so in TRAPPIST-1 system the concept of time should be conceived in very different terms with respect to those we have on Earth.

4. from the surface of planets, located in the habitable zone, the others planets are clearly visible and some appear as large as the Moon; with simple telescopes would be easy to observe morphological features and in case oceans and signs of life, if present on the nearest planets.

Considering the above conclusions and in particular the number 4, assuming the possibility that it can emerge a technological civilization on one of the planets located in the habitable zone, for such beings Astronomy should play a key role in their culture, even more if these planets were rich in water. In fact they would appear blue and prospers instead of red and hostiles, like Mars or Venus (let’s consider if Mars would had been habitable for humans……..)

trappist-1f
Artist concept of TRAPPIST-1f (credit: NASA/CALTECH/JPL)

These last factors represent an incredible boost toward the development of a cohesive civilization (if it exists) and toward the space exploration (in our civilization, space exploration has been an important factor towards international cooperation, also reconciling opponent powers, for the construction of the International Space Station). Also, due to the short distances among planets they are reachable in terms of days and not months or years like in our Solar System (it takes about 7 months to reach Mars). Therefore, it is likely that a technological civilization located in TRAPPIST-1 system can easily become multi-planetary.

So it seems that there are right conditions to the development of a civilization in TRAPPIST-1 system, however, at the moment, it remains still unsolved one of the great mysteries of the universe: “The Great Silence”.

allen-array
SETI Allen Telescope Array (source: BBC)

The SETI radio telescopes have already been pointed in the direction of TRAPPIST-1 and have already listened to 10 million channels without identifying any associated signal to an alien radio emission.

Very briefly, possible explanations are:

  1. the star TRAPPIST-1 is 500 million years old, so considering the about 4 billion years needed on Earth to generate a technological civilization maybe it is too early to think that there are radio-telescopes over there;
  2. a technological civilization has emerged and rapidly has developed till building radio-telescopes before us. In this case considering they are about 39 light-years from us, if they are watching our broadcastings they know:

– we have done a World War fratricidal;

– we have nuclear weapons;

– we use nuclear weapons even against our species and on our home planet.

nagasaky-nuclear-blast
Nagasaky (Japan) atomic bomb blast on August 9, 1945

So maybe is better for them to stay in silence, monitor our progress and be ready to defend from our crazy species!!

Key words: TRAPPIST 1 –  First ContactPrime DirectiveFermi ParadoxInterstellar TravelSETIMETIETI.

posted march 04, 2017


 

First Contact and ETIs

In cinematography the First Contact with an Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI) is often represented in two ways.

On the one hand, we have violent invasions. In this case “bad aliens” attack planet Earth to plunder raw materials.

bad-aliens
In movies such as “Independence Day” (R. Emmerich 1966 and 2016) and “Oblivion” (J. Kosinski 2013) alien entities come on Earth to plunder raw materials.

On the other hand, we find “wise aliens” that smoothly conduct the so-called First Contact apparently without a substantial reason, sometime just to meet mankind.

good-aliens
In movies such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (S.Spielberg 1977) and “Contact” (R.Zemeckis 1977) aliens perform the “First Contact” just to establish a peaceful encounter.

The first scenario seems to be very questionable, mainly for two reasons.

Firstly, raw materials, especially those needed to sustain life forms, appear to be widespread in the cosmos such as water (in the form of ice) and carbon. So should be excluded a course of action like that adopted by Europeans when arrived on America in the 15th century.

europa-water
Water is very common on the universe. It is present on a variety of celestial bodies, from comets to moons. For example just on Europa, moon of Jupiter, scientists estimate the presence of much more water than on Earth. (Image credit: Discovery Magazine).

Secondly, technologies needed to design and build huge mother spaceships, like those seen in movies such as “Independence Day” or “Arrival” (the last one of the sequence), and capable of making the Interstellar Travel, require the joint effort  of a cohesive planetary society. I refer to a society that has eliminated social divisions, where individuals do not crave power and luxury, and civilization has outweighed the risk of self-destruction.

The topic is very complex and encompasses various scientific disciplines from Physics to Sociology, through Biology and Psycology and many others.

Anyway, even in the second scenario emerge some matters.

FERMI PARADOX again!

The main issue is: why technologically advanced civilizations able to perform the Interstellar Travel, should reveal themselves at primitive civilizations like ours? instead of begin relationships with civilizations similar to them?

Actually, the technological and cognitive gap with ETIs could provide a possible solution to the famous Fermi Paradox or to the so-called “Great Silence”.

Therefore, we have reason to believe reasonable that, even if, according to the current values associated to the factors of the Drake Equation, the universe is statistically populated by a number of ETIs much of which more highly developed, for many years to come, if not centuries, we will not see mother spaceships flying in our skies.

In fact considering that the dominant civilization on Earth is still intent on conducting fratricidal wars and on pollute vastly the home-planet, would be very strange to consider compelling to begin here some “cultural” relations.

Finally, the hypothesis of “good aliens” that roam the universe in rescuing of civilizations on the brink of self-destruction, as it happens in the movie “Arrival”, is not much convincing. Travel in space is very expensive…

arrival
“Arrival” (D. Villeneuve 2016). Alien entities help mankind to overcome divisions and to establish a planetary community.

Nowadays we recognize that the universe is filled with galaxies each containing billions of stars; almost every star is structured as a planetary system. Thanks to the discoveries of space telescopes we have clear evidences that planets in the habitable zone are common. The majority of planetary systems are older than ours, so is plausible to assume that if life is widespread in the universe ETIs are more advanced than us on astronomical scale (that means millions of years).

Therefore the question is: what kind of advanced technology own ETIs?

If ETIs have the technology of the Interstellar Travel and are able to move an entire civilization on board of colossal mother spaceships, it is obvious that they can defend themselves from any kind of weapon in our possession, so in case of confrontation humanity would have no chance to survive.

legion
John Gertz, in the paper “Post-Detection SETI Protocols & METI: The Time Has Come To Regulate Them Both – published on 2017” suggested that the entire military power of the Roman Empire, capable to dominate the all known world for about 1000 years, should have been annihilated in an instant by few units of a modern army. This supremacy would derive from the technological development of few centuries, which on astronomical scale is an insignificant fraction of time.

However, even if a primitive species such as ours has understood the need to avoid contaminating other worlds, in fact our space probes are carefully sterilized before launch in order to not bringing terrestrial microbes in space, definitely should be an attitude adopted by the most advanced civilizations.

In conclusion, if one day aliens will arrive on Earth in all probability it will be a peaceful experience, at least we hope!

Key words: First ContactPrime Directive – Extraterrestrial Civilizations – Fermi ParadoxArrivalInterstellar TravelSETIMETIETI.

Posted February 23, 2017


Proxima b

When I was young, one of my favorite videogames was “Civilizations”.
The aim of the game was to develop a technological civilization starting from the “Stone Age”.
There were two main ways to win.
The first, to destroy all the other civilizations on Earth.
The second, to become a spacefearing civilization and reach Proxima Centaury and start a new World.
At that time, this second scenario seemed even more Fantasy rather than Sci-Fi.

The recent detection of a rocky planet located within the Habitable Zone of Proxima Centaury (Anglade-Escludé et al. 2016) represents, in my opinion, one of the most extraordinary discoveries of humankind.
Indeed, this is proof that in the immediate vicinity of the Earth there is a possible “New World.”
Furthermore, additional studies show the possibility that this planet, Proxima b, could have an atmosphere suitable to sustain surface habitability (Ribas et al. 2016).
Finally, it’s has been presented the possibility to image Proxima b and to determine the surface habitability through future large telescopes like E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope) or JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) (Turbet et al. 2016).

In conclusion, from the discovery of the first exoplanet 51-Pegasi b in 1995, we reached outstanding results in this field. In particular, we have 3387 confirmed exoplanets (NASA, 08 sept. 2016), we know that rocky planets are common in the universe and that rocky planets in the Habitable Zone are also common. Now, we know that even the nearest star (4.2 light-years from Earth) has a rocky planet in the so-called Habitable Zone.

This is fascinating! And, certainly, SETI projects will pay special attention to Proxima b, in order to detect possible signals coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence.

For more information:

Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star
Frank Marchis Blog (part of the Cosmic Diary Network)
 posted september 10, 2016

Fermi Paradox

One question that many people, including philosophers and scientists are facing is: are we alone in this vast universe? The technological explosion of recent decades and the ongoing discovery of new planetary systems make this issue more and more relevant and intriguing.

The question is neither trivial nor fiction. Today it is even more legitimate in the light of the surprising data, such as those that confirm that there are at least 300 billion galaxies in the cosmos and that each of them contains on average about 200 billion stars.

The picture that emerges depicts a huge population of diversified celestial bodies. Again, if the universe is so full of stars, is it possible that we are alone? And if we are not, as it seems logical to think, where are the aliens?

Enrico Fermi

The renowned physicist Enrico Fermi also posed this question, which made history in 1950 and is called the “Fermi Paradox.” Since then, a growing number of scientists have begun looking for signals that might reveal the presence of alien civilizations.

Frank Drake and Drake equation

In particular, in 1960 the astronomer Frank Drake conducted, for the first time, an experiment (called Project OZMA) aimed to detect radio signals emitted by extraterrestrial intelligences. In 1961, during the legendary conference on SETI held at the observatory in Green Bank, the same Drake suggested a statistical method to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations present in our galaxy (the Drake equation).

In my book  I propose a possible new solution to the Fermi Paradox.


How many stars there are in the universe?

constellation_fornax_extreme_deep_field
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field -(2012) By NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team

The starting point for an estimate of extraterrestrial life in the universe is to know the number of stars.

Observations, conducted over the last decade, through powerful telescopes confirmed the homogeneous structure of the universe on a large scale.

Large-scale_structure_formation.gif
Simulation  performed at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications by Andrey Kravtsov (the University of Chicago) and Anatoly Klypin (New Mexico State University).

Therefore, in brief, by calculating the number of galaxies present in a known volume of space, and knowing the average number of stars present in a galaxy, it is possible to estimate (within a specified margin of error) the number of stars in the universe ( for more information: ESA – how many stars there are in the universe?).

This value is currently estimated at between 10 22 to 10 24 (billions of billions).

Count the stars in the universe is not, in principle, very different from counting grains of sand of a beach. Let’s try …

Let’s go for example in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro at the famous Copacabana beach and we take some grains of sand.

Under the microscope we can observe that, on average, grains are similar to cubes of side 0.3 mm.

Now we measure the beach. We observe which is about 4 kilometers long and 60 meters in width. The depth should be between 2 and 10 meters, we take, for this value, 3 meters.

The number of grains of sand present in the whole of Copacabana beach is given by the volume of the beach divided by the volume of a single grain, then:

(4000m x 60m x 3m) / (3 x 10-4m)3  ≅ 1016 

copacabana

 posted september 23, 2016


Why The First Directive

Gene Roddenberry in 1966 created one of the most popular science fiction television series, which still arouses enthusiasm and attracts an incredible audience and an astonishing number of fans around the world.

I’m talking about Star Trek. The saga includes five television series and 13 movies and seems to have no end, in fact it was announced a new television series that will appear in 2017.

There are no other cinematographic phenomena of this genre that have obtained such a success. Characters like Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Captain J.T. Kirk (William Shatner) are now legends, as well as their spaceship the Enterprise.

leonard_nimoy_spock_1967
In the saga of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy is the legendary Mr. Spock, the Vulcans embarked on the Enterprise space ship.
space_shuttle_enterprise
the Space Shuttle Enterprise, named after the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 (Star Trek space ship), was the first prototype developed by NASA as part of the STS Program (Space Transportation System).

In the world of Star Trek, while humanity is on the verge of self-destruction, as a result of a Third World War with the use of nuclear weapons, the scientist Zefran Cochrane, taking advantage of a military missile launch system, effectively completes the first test of a spacecraft equipped with a warp propulsion device, i.e. a propulsion capable to reach a speed higher than that of light. This experiment is detected by an alien civilization, the Vulcans which, according to the First Directive of the United Federation of Planets to which they belong, send representatives to execute the “First Contact” (year 2063).

In particular, according to this rule, also called “Prime Directive”, civilizations capable to reach the warp speed, and thus to accomplish the interstellar travel, can relate with other civilizations only if the latter have already developed the same propulsion technology. The aim of this logic is to preserve the natural evolution of societies without causing interference that may result in irreparable damages to the detriment of the most primitive civilizations.

This law, even if presented in a sci-fi context, it is not illogical.

Spacefaring Civilizations are pacifists.

Obviously Star Trek is a commercial merchandise and thus the plot responds to marketable dynamics, hence the inclusion of interplanetary conflicts. This is clearly unrealistic. In fact, as shown by Robert Zubrin, a former NASA engineer and founder of The Mars Society, if in the near universe was in place some kind of star wars, our telescopes would be able to detect it.

Actually, the development of the interstellar travel requires significant cultural assumptions and the availability of huge resources, that only a society globally cohesive and morally “clean” could support.

Some predict (and among them there is also some eminent scientist) that if the aliens were able to come to Earth, they might be dangerous, as they may travel into space from planet to planet to plunder the worlds of their resources. On the contrary, the universe is rich of each resource, especially of those necessary to life forms. For example, water (that often in science fiction movies is the cause of alien invasions, for instance “Independence Day” directed by Roland Emmerich – 1996 and “Oblivion” directed by Joseph Kosinski – 2013) is very abundant, as may be found in significant amounts in comets, asteroids and planets, as confirmed by the findings of many probes such as Cassini, New Horizons and Rosetta.

Moreover, space exploration is very expensive and only civilizations that have overcome the lust for power and for possession of material goods can deal with it.

I’m talking about civilizations that have triumphed on the risk of self-destruction and to ensure its own survival. Therefore, in order to be safe from global natural disasters, such as the explosion of a super volcano or the impact of a celestial body, they have reached the full cohesion, overcoming the social and cultural divisions, and they have joined together to realize self-sustaining space habitats.

spaceorbital
Space Habitat (Credit: M.E. Radassao)

In this context, it is logical to assume that these civilizations only sustain cultural relations with civilization cognitively and technologically similar (something like the movie “Contact” directed by Robert Zemeckis – 1997). So, nothing to do with what happened on Earth in the year 1492.

Key words: First Directive – Prime Directive – Extraterrestrial Civilizations – Fermi Paradox – Star TrekRoddenberry – Spock – Kirk – Zefran Cochrane – Interstellar – Space Habitat.

posted december 01, 2016

 

For further insights, the topic is presented in the book: Extraterrestrial Civilizations and The First Directive – A possible solution to the Fermi Paradox.

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