Science Saturday: V’Ger’s Journey + Near-Miss Asteroid + Colored Poo + Planetrise + More |
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Science Saturday: V’Ger’s Journey + Near-Miss Asteroid + Colored Poo + Planetrise + More June 23, 2012

by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback

This week on Science Saturday, get the latest update on Voyager and her journey into interstellar space; witness video captured of a near-miss asteroid; diagnose your ailments by checking the color of your poo; and see ‘planetrise’ from exoplanet Kepler-36c. All this, and more, plus our gadget of the week: The USS Enterprise turn table!


Voyager 1 at the Final Frontier
As we reported last week, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is approaching interstellar space (we’d like to clarify that it’s not clear that Voyager has in fact left the Solar System yet, but it’s certainly very close). This week, NASA released a video giving more specifics about the sharp increase in interstellar radiation that Voyager is experiencing, which indicates that it’s closing in on the border between our Solar System and what lies beyond. When it finally crosses over, this will be a momentous occasion for all of mankind, as it will be the first manmade object to ever leave out Solar System. Will it one day return a la V’ger?

Astronomers Capture Video of Near-Miss Asteroid
The sixth-closest asteroid flyby to Earth occurred on May 29th when asteroid 2012 KT-42 came within three Earth radii of our home planet. Researchers using NASA’s infrared telescope facility in Hawaii managed to track the asteroid with a video camera as it flew past Earth at about 17 kilometers per second. The bright white object in the video is the asteroid, with the background stars whizzing past as the camera tracks with the asteroid’s movement.

More at

Colored Poo May Help Diagnose Patients
Scientists have created a disease-detecting probiotic (yogurt) drink that can color your feces to match your illness. Your poop could tell doctors if you have a range of disease from stomach ulcers to cancer. So far, researchers say that the genetically engineered dung-changing yogurt can only reliably track the progress of E. Coli, but they hope that one day it will be able to diagnose more serious ailments.

The yogurt-like drink can interact with bacteria in the stomach to give you technicolor BM

Alien Planets So Close Together They Experience ‘Planetrise’
Astronomers have just discovered two odd exoplanets around the same star whose orbits are so close together that a person living on one of those planets would see the other rise and set like the sun or moon. Kepler-36b and Kepler-36c, which are 1,200 lightyears from Earth, give credence to the so often depicted scene in science fiction of planets seen hovering on the horizon of an alien world.

More at Huffington Post.

What the view from Kepler-36c might look like in a parallel universe where Seattle has two Space Needles and is located on Kepler-36b. Image credit: NASA.

Gadget of the Week: USS Enterprise Turn Table
Any geeky DJ should be dying to get their hands on the USS Enterprise turn table to lay down some mad beats. B-b-b-b-beam me up, Scotty! It’s just a concept design at the moment, but this Star Trek 2009 Enterprise turn table could be the perfect gift for that audiophile trekkie who has everything!


The Enterprise turn table

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.



1. Thorny - June 23, 2012

That’s actually two views, not two Space Needles. One shows the Moon rising over Seattle, the other shows what it would look like if Seattle were on Kepler 36b.

2. The Sky's The Limit - June 23, 2012

The turn table will go along great with my Princess Leia “bun” head phones!

3. Sebastian S. - June 23, 2012

Love the turntable; a great mix of old and new, much like the 2009 Enterprise itself! ;-)

As for Voyager? It’ll be tens of thousands of years before it’s even in range of another solar system. But nevertheless, it’s a fascinating journey ‘where no one has gone before.’ Too bad it can’t image where it’s going (it’d be too dark to see anything anyway, at this point; it’d need very long time exposure times to see all the stars….).

And the recent asteroid 2012KT42 fly by is just another reminded that we (the human race) are locked in a cosmic billiards game. Sooner or later, a cue ball with our name on it is coming. That’s not being alarmist; that’s a fact. We’d be wise to double our current research efforts into asteroid diversion. And just ‘nuking it’ won’t help; the same mass will still be heading our way, just spread out into billions of pieces instead of one….

And a planet-rise would be a gorgeous sight to wake up to, wouldn’t it? As long as it weren’t steadily moving closer…. ;-)

4. Cygnus-X1 - June 23, 2012

Some of the leading astrophysicists today question Carl Sagan’s wisdom in providing detailed directions to Earth aboard Voyager 1. Technological advancement may not necessarily imply benevolence, as Sagan asserted, in whatever species might happen upon Voyager 1 and learn the way to Earth.

5. Sebastian S. - June 23, 2012


Good point.
But the light years between us and ‘them’ would seem to be an effective quarantine against an all-out invasion fleet. Even hostile radio signals from them would take years to get here…. assuming we were tuned in, of course.

6. Thorny - June 23, 2012

4. Don’t worry too much about Voyager’s “directions to Earth”. Reportedly, scientists around the world were show the “directions” and asked what they were, but none could figure it out.

5. There’s a growing opinion that radio signals dissipate beyond a certain (rather small) radius,and thus probably are indistinguishable from background noise at stellar distances. Hence, SETI has so far failed to detect anything.

7. - June 23, 2012

You would be able to sell off your poor as art pieces and pay your medical bills.

Those would look nice hanging on someone’s wall.

8. - June 23, 2012

You would be able to sell off your poo as art pieces and pay your medical bills.

Those would look nice hanging on someone’s wall.

9. Sebastian S. - June 23, 2012

# 6

Agreed with Thorny. Who says they can read a map? ;-D
And any civilization capable of launching an Independence Day-style invasion fleet would make some kind of radio ‘noise’ if they were within 50 light years or so of us. SETI has had both multichannel and even optical searches (for possible laser signals) going on for decades and so far?
A big fat goose egg.

Now, I do believe there is other life out in the universe. I firmly believe it, in fact. Even intelligent life perhaps. But as to whether or not they’ve developed technology? That’s another question. What if the nearest earth-like planet was populated by an intelligence similar to dolphins? Smart creatures to be sure, but limited by both their biology (no hands, no opposable thumbs) and environment (aquatic) from taming fire and ultimately creating technology that we’d recognize. Or maybe they’re simply isolationists who eschew technology (a situation that could’ve easily happened even here on earth if say, people like the Amish or Luddites were the majority instead of the minority).

10. Red Dead Ryan - June 23, 2012

Coloured poo?



Yeah, and people would mention how your art literally STINKS! :-)

11. I'm Dead Jim! - June 23, 2012

I would literally sh*t if I, uh… shat those.

12. Emperor Mike of the Empire - June 23, 2012

My Main Concern about Voyager is that The Borg will find it and come to Earth and Assimulate us into their collective. Just saying!.

13. CmdrR - June 23, 2012

Mood poo? Very 70’s.

Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc… including works by Mozart and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” We shoulda sent: Float On by The Floaters. “Leo and my name’s Xexovix. I like a woman with four arms, who understand’s an exoskeletal man’s needs…”

“Nine Pairs of Fossilized Turtles Died While Mating 47 Million Years Ago” Was it good for you, too?

Thanks, Kayla!

14. Phil - June 23, 2012

Colored turds are just disturbing. Eat a can of beets, and you pee blood red. That’s alarming, too.

15. Cygnus-X1 - June 23, 2012

5. Sebastian S. – June 23, 2012

—-#4 Good point.
But the light years between us and ‘them’ would seem to be an effective quarantine against an all-out invasion fleet.—-

That’s not necessarily true.

The nearest star system is only 4 light years away. A species advanced enough to travel 1/10 the speed of light could reach us from there in 40 years. And they could even have life spans much longer than ours, such that a 40-year trip would be more feasible for them. Or, maybe they’ve developed even faster propulsion technology (something like warp drive) to travel at half the speed of light or even faster. Systems within 40 or 50 light years could be within practicable reach of the Earth. The point is that we have no idea what’s out there, and Dr. Sagan made a bet (an educated determination, he argued) that any species who might find Voyager and the directions to Earth would necessarily be non-threatening to us solely by virtue of their level of technological advancement.

I’m not sure about the soundness of Dr. Sagan’s logic there.

16. Of all the crap I expected to see at today... I certainly didn't wasn't expecting that! - June 23, 2012

They’re wrong you know.

You can polish a turd.

17. CmdrR - June 23, 2012

Did I miss it? Do we even know where Voyager 1 is headed? If it stays on a straight course, what’s it going to reach? Anything? There’s a truly amazing amount of space… in space. And a lot of space between the thingies.

18. Sebastian S. - June 23, 2012

# 15

The Alpha Centauri system (our stellar ‘neighbor’) is a trinary star system whose stars are loaded with heavy elements (the ingredients for planets). Very likely it has multiple planets (more likely than our own system as more such materials are present in their stars than in our own Sol). But they’ve given off NO radio signatures of any kind. And we’re certainly ‘close’ enough to ‘hear’ something if they had (relatively speaking; 26-30 trillion odd miles or so, give or take). So nearby at least? We’re safe.

And Voyager 1 won’t even get close to another star for about 40,000 years (at closest encounter, it’ll get within 1.6 light years of star Gliese 445, in the constellation Camelopardalis). Even if aimed at Proxima Centauri (the closest of the 3 Centauri stars) it wouldn’t get there for 79,000 years at least. So much for the ‘ship in the bottle’, eh?

Also, the chances of developing warp drive are REALLY low. Not to say impossible, but very, very low. Even pure matter/antimatter wouldn’t necessarily give you the required energy to create ‘subspace.’ It give you a really fast rocket, but not a warp drive. Read Lawrence Krauss’ wonderful book, “The Physics of Star Trek.” It’s a sobering read….

19. Vultan - June 23, 2012

I think the chances of aliens finding the Voyager and Pioneer probes are remote at best, and if they do it won’t happen for a very long time.

And if they are malevolent, would they really want to waste their time invading a species that colors its poo?

20. Max - June 23, 2012

I just clicked this article for the poop.

21. Daoud - June 23, 2012

I wonder if Budgineering now includes a Poop Deck, eh? :)
As for life out there… “life always finds a way”. And, the Sagan assumption is that any advanced malevolent society will eliminate itself before it reaches a point at which it would travel interstellarly and eliminate another planet’s life forms. I’m not so sure about that either, but it is a key factor in the Drake equation, as to the lifetime of a civilization. Every year we hang on, we keep increasing the probabilty, in other words.
And what is fascinating, is that with all the numerous exoplanet discoveries now, the Drake equation probability is even HIGHER as many more planets than we had imagined seem to exist. So, it’s just a matter of time before intelligent arachnoids send us benevolent greetings to the endoskeletal beings of Earth?

22. crazydaystrom - June 23, 2012

Colored poo!
Ha! When I was a kid I used to nibble on crayons and………..never mind…..

*ahem* So Voyager 1 is about to leave the solar system, you say. Kewl.

23. Obsidian - June 23, 2012

The enterprise turntable is very cool!

24. Cygnus-X1 - June 23, 2012

18. Sebastian S. – June 23, 2012

—-But they’ve given off NO radio signatures of any kind.—-

Maybe they don’t use radio transmissions. Maybe they long ago advanced well beyond EM transmissions that we’d detect here on Earth.

—-Even if aimed at Proxima Centauri (the closest of the 3 Centauri stars) it wouldn’t get there for 79,000 years at least. So much for the ‘ship in the bottle’, eh?—-

You’re assuming that the “bottle” would have to come to them. Maybe they’re out cruising about this part of the galaxy one day and they detect it on long-range sensors or whatever. Or maybe they detect Voyager’s radio transmissions from even farther away and come to investigate.

—-Also, the chances of developing warp drive are REALLY low.—-

Sure, given what we know. But the point is that a species advanced far beyond us would know a lot more and be capable of a lot more. Look at how far human technology has advanced in only 100 years. Can you imagine a species 1,000 years ahead of us? 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 100,000 years is a relatively short amount of time in geologic and evolutionary terms. Can you imagine what humans will be capable of in 100,000 years? I doubt anyone can, and so we can’t realistically assume to know what another species so advanced would be capable of.

25. Cygnus-X1 - June 23, 2012

P.S. — Then again….A species that would detect radio transmissions from Voyager would already have detected them from the Earth, so I guess it wouldn’t matter unless detection of Voyager prompted them to come investigate…maybe in 100 or 200 years when it’s well into interstellar space. In practical terms, I suppose Voyager is traveling too slowly to get very far even in 500 years. But, maybe some thousands of years our descendants will be cursing the name Carl Sagan for having shown some nasty species the way to Earth. Then again, by then they’ll be able to catch up to Voyager and destroy it if they’re anxious about it. But you never know what can happen between now and then!

26. Cygnus-X1 - June 23, 2012

On a completely unrelated topic, shouldn’t it be called a “near-hit asteroid” because it nearly hit us? “Near-miss” sounds like we’re disappointed that we almost didn’t get hit by it.

27. Majicou - June 23, 2012

Everything comes down to poo
From the top of your head to the sole of your shoe
We can figure out what’s wrong with you
By looking at your poo

28. CmdrR - June 23, 2012

“Maybe they’re out cruising about this part of the galaxy one day and they d
detect it on long-range sensors or whatever.”

This is where Star Trek gets dicey. The sheer volume of space hurts the human mind. (Can’t speak for Vulcans.) The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years across, and (I think) 30,000 wide at the bulging middle.

1 ly³ = 2.03141908135 × 10+38 mi³

or, if you prefer metric:

1 ly³ = 8.46732407987 × 10+38 km³

the above should be 10 to the 38th power, or…

20,314,190,813,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic miles in a cubic lightyear.

Folks, much as we all want it to be true, it’s ludicrous to think of ships going out on patrol. Space travel will be straight line shots, most like taking centuries. What we need is space colonies (or better yet, engines that can move large asteroids on which we can live for hundreds, even thousands of years.

And that’s not to make fun of anyone. But, the truth is that humans need to evolve to the point where we can grok such numbers. So, unless someone out there is really, really good at math and comes up with space folds/warp drive/worm hole technology/pixie dust.

29. Daoud - June 23, 2012

There’s plenty of terrain left in our solar system on Luna, Mars, Ceres, Vesta, Callisto and countless Inner Belt asteroids that can support eventually-self-sufficient human colonies… who needs exoplanets in the next round, really?
Let’s get serious and settle Ceres!

30. Gregster - June 23, 2012

Wow. Kepler-36c looks exactly like Neptune

31. Sebastian S. - June 23, 2012

# 28


Truly intelligent beings would be unlikely to send living beings into vast expanses of nothingness when telescopes and other far-reaching instruments could tell them EXACTLY what’s there. The only really good reason living beings would go from star to star is because they HAD to. The distances are unimaginably vast. Physicist Michio Kaku put it thusly; if our sun were the size of a grain of sand, Proxima Centauri (our nearest stellar neighbor, at 4.3 light years away) would be another grain of sand five MILES away. Not feet, not yards, but miles! And in between? A whole lot of nothing, really…

The only reason you’d leave en masse would not be curiosity; it’d be necessity (ala “Firefly”, where humans fled ‘Earth that was’). If we encountered fleets of ships in interstellar space? Most likely they’d be fleeing their parent star. And while special relativity means that interstellar travelers at close to light speed (or even a fraction of it) would age slower aboard their ships, their home planets would age hundreds of years older. So, talking to the home planet in real time, for example is not possible (even with the magic pixie dust of ‘subspace’). The time differential is too great.

Now, I love ST and the ideas behind the show, but I also accept that much of what is shows is more fantasy than science (like Star Wars). But the myth of ST seems to promise us that yesterday’s science fiction (ala communicators and tricorders) are today’s i-phones and i-pads. There is a big difference between developing great new personal electronics (the whole ‘communicators are now cell phones’ argument) vs. bending spacetime (without destroying it) just to ‘patrol’ the void. It’s most likely not going to happen. And while I’d argue against anything being completely impossible, I find it incredibly unlikely….

I see our ‘far future’ (assuming we survive as a species) as settling on (as CmdrR suggests) on asteroids, planets and artificial space colonies within our own solar system (which is UNBELIEVABLY vast, by the way; Voyager 1, the fastest object in space, took 35 years to get where it’s at; and it’s still JUST outside the sun’s influence). Even if the sun swells, the outer planets and moons will get warmer and more conducive to life, and we’ll simply settle them one (or more) at a time, as the inner solar system becomes inhospitable….

32. VZX - June 23, 2012

Hey: Heads up: Listening to Bob Orci live on the radio RIGHT NOW!

33. VZX - June 23, 2012

I got on the air with Bob! That was neat fun!

34. Magic_Al - June 23, 2012

It’s sobering to think that the most likely fate of Voyager 1 and the other spacecraft leaving the solar system is that they will exist forever (or as long as anything can exist) and they will never be found. Interstellar space may be so big and empty that forever isn’t long enough for an object going in a random direction to ever encounter another object.

35. Vultan - June 23, 2012


I remember seeing an illustration years ago of a Voyager probe, its skin pitted and beaten by eons of interstellar travel, sailing past a strange alien planet long after the Earth (and possibly mankind) has ceased to exist.

It boggles the mind.

36. Red Dead Ryan - June 23, 2012

Geez, what’s with the negativity here?

I thought “Star Trek” was supposed to be idea-provoking. As in getting people to think about the possibilities of space travel.

On this thread I’m reading posts about how space is too big to explore and the only reason to go into space is “only if we had to” and “survival”.

Well, maybe right now faster-than-light travel is theoretically impossible and technologically far beyond our means, but all it takes are a few individuals with a vision, and an idea. That vision and idea is then handed down to another generation, where they continue to develop and mold it into a possibility. Yet more visionaries, scientists and innovators add their own creative inputs and eventually the dream is realized.

Reaching into space was never going to be easy. It still isn’t. It is dangerous. It is expensive. But we shouldn’t be deterred by those challenges. It is the meeting of the challenge that brings the rewards. Just like it was a challenge for the first humans to create fire, and move across continents. I’m sure the guy who said he could invent fire encountered a lot of skepticism. Indeed, in the early days, fire was regarded as magic. It only became a tool once humans were able to grasp it and harness it.

So, even while Einstein might have said faster-than-light travel to be impossible, I say it hasn’t had the virtue of being tried. Until we try, we won’t know if it is possible. But if we don’t try, then we do know for sure that FTL travel is indeed impossible.

But I think we have the ability to surprise ourselves.

37. La Reyne d'Epee - June 23, 2012

Those droppings look like some of the jewellery they sell on QVC.

Hmmm, I sense a business opportunity…

38. La Reyne d'Epee - June 24, 2012

Looking for extraterrestrial life using radio signals is probably a bit of a dead end. It’s anticipated that we are likely to substantially dispense with radio transmission within a couple of decades due to most content being delivered via internet, unless Wimax or similar takes off, which just doesn’t seem to be happening.

The Earth will fall silent.

It will only have used radio broadcasting for about 100 years, an infinitesimal blip in the overall span of the universe. If ET’s are out there, which I’m inclined to think there must be, to those races capable of interstellar travel, we’d probably be so primitive they’d simply look on us as being unevolved animals and ignore us entirely. The world of Trek is attractive, but I suspect, unattainable.

That’s what I tend to believe…

39. In memory of the Great Bird - June 24, 2012

From the discovery, and exploitation of fire, to the conceptualization, and subsequent realization of the Large Hadron Collider, skeptics have been there fueling the stubbornness of those who’s determination will forever make all things possible.

40. Driver - June 24, 2012

But we have been visited by ETs the evidence is overwhelming. Surely, if they wanted we would have been toast long ago. I’ve often wondered how is it we can envision ETs as being this way and that, but would real ETs ever envision us? I think not. We are too complex a species for any ET to dream up. Or maybe we have our photos and lifestyle as amusement on their homeworld(s).

41. - June 24, 2012


People already say that.

42. CmdrR - June 24, 2012

Sebastian S —

I think we will settle colonies in the stars. But, I think the story will be on a vastly grander scale than even Trek envisions. And I honestly don’t think Roddenberry would disagree… I think he’d be thrilled to peak at even a fraction of the story that lies ahead.

The real science hurts my brain. But it won’t hurt the brain of my distant ancestor, as he flies off to the next world to found a colony.

We’re struggling to get to Mars. One day, we’ll be hopping Galaxies. I don’t think it’ll be easy or quick, but I do think we’ll manage it. Percieving the rules and figuring ways to break them… That’s virtually the definition of “human.”

43. AuroraD - June 24, 2012

What’s funny is that one of the Star Trek novels actually covered whether any alien species could decode the directions sent out on the probes. According to the novel, the Vulcans had come the closest, but even they couldn’t translate the message clearly enough to get any meaningful data off of it.

44. AuroraD - June 24, 2012

I’m one of those who, at least would like to believe, that intelligent life is out there in the cosmos, and quiet frequent.

However, I do tend to agree with the whole “any species capable of regular interstellar transit” would be so far advanced of us that they wouldn’t pay our little society any attention. The comparison of humans to ants is quite apt. Thinking about it, I am very impressed that ants seem to have such a highly efficient “society”, and yet, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sat down on a log, only to jump up 5 minutes later doing the “ants in my pants” dance, because I just never bother to look for them.

And really, whose to blame them? I mean, we currently question what is “Sentient” ourselves. We know we are, but are the cetaceans and higher primates also sentient? How do we know we are? Could it be after another couple million years or so of evolution, our descendants state that Homo Sapiens was only “proto-sentient”?

45. VZX - June 24, 2012

36: RDR: You simply can’t go faster than light. It doesn’t matter if no one tried it or not yet, you just can’t. The quick answer why is that the closer you approach the speed of light, the more massive you get. Remember that Einstein said that mass and energy are the same thing, so the more faster (kinetic energy) you go the more massive you get. It gets to a point that you are so massive that there can never be enough energy to move you. (diminishing returns) And this occurs at around 95% the speed of light.

46. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 36 RDR~

It’s not as easy as a ‘can do attitude.’ You’d have to literally rewrite physics. It’s not negativity or a bat attitude to understand the improbability of warp drive; it’s a recognition of how the universe works and the limits of physical laws. It’s no more negative than saying that I jump off of the Chrysler building, I will most likely be dead. Recognition of that fact isn’t being negative, it’s recognizing limitations.

Faster than light is not as easy as breaking the sound barrier; objects in nature break the sound barrier all the time (especially light beams). But the speed of light is different; as you even approach it, EVERYTHING changes. Time dilates, mass increases. These are not perceived changes; these are actual changes! They really happen. There’s a reason it’s called the cosmological constant.

One can fly at a good fraction of light speed (and use special relativity to slow down their aging; the universe’s way of cutting a space traveler a break, I suppose). But exceeding light speed or literally folding spacetime around a starship? I seriously doubt it. It’d require (literally) more energy than is IN our known universe to do so. Matter and antimatter power would be little more than a firecracker towards making that happen. As Kirk told Charlie Evans, “There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things that you can’t.” I, sadly but firmly, believe humans flying with warp drive are in the latter column.

ST made it look too easy; like all you need is an ICBM and a drunken old scientist. Truth is, it’s NOT rocket science. It’s bending spacetime itself science (the very FABRIC of reality). Not just increasing speed. And unless you ARE Charlie Evans? Bending and folding spacetime is simply not going to happen…

Again, humanity can still have a wondrous future ahead of us. The solar system is more playground (with incredible resources) than we’ll ever need if we use it right. Perhaps Solar Trek, instead of Star Trek.

Again, I implore all serious science geek/ST fans to check out Lawrence Krauss’ brilliant “The Science of Star Trek.”

47. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 47 Edit; “bad” attitude, not “bat” attitude. That’s what Batman has… ;-P

48. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 46 VZX~

Exactly! :-)

49. jamesingeneva - June 24, 2012

Is anyone else occasinally getting redirected to a verify something another scam virus site? It only happens to me when I hit trekmovie’s main site for some reason.

50. Captain Dunsel - June 24, 2012

@49 “Is anyone else occasinally getting redirected to a verify something another scam virus site?”

I don’t know for sure. But lately my AV software is routinely blocking my first attempts to load the TrekMovie main page. So I would *infer* that it is happening here as well.

51. Captain Dunsel - June 24, 2012

“A poop question?” Charles “Trip” Tucker III

52. Thorny - June 24, 2012

40. “But we have been visited by ETs the evidence is overwhelming.”

You misspelled “nonexistent.”

53. CmdrR - June 24, 2012

52 – Attack from the planet Snark.

Again, the futue is far more wonderous than we can imagine… yet. We can feel wonderful that we’ve seen the advances we have. Imagine living one thousand years ago, when your life and you great-great grandfather’s were both the same as your great-great grandson’s. Same clothes. Same food. Same mortality rate. Same weapons. Same horizons. Yikes!

54. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 53

I agree that the future holds promise, if our shortsightedness, greedy materialism and bloodlust doesn’t kill us first. Maybe once we migrate into space (even if only our own solar system) and begin an era of plentiful resources we won’t fight oil wars and racial/nationalism will become diluted and meaningless (people will belong to each other for survival, not their parent countries on earth). And there’s water (in the moons of Jupiter and Saturn; not to mention the martian polar regions) and minerals galore out there; not to mention other potentially useful future resources such as unlimited solar energy and helium 3 for future fusion drives and reactors. We can tap and use those resources and adapt ourselves to living on other worlds (a future challenge; it won’t be easy, but it can be done).

I believe that perhaps CmdrR is right in that we might ultimately migrate to the stars (out of necessity one day, perhaps). But settling and colonizing our own solar system will be an important step. Because the tremendous gulf of utter nothingness between stars will be immense; beyond the scale of normal human comprehension. Daunting to say the very least. We will need to be a patient, resourceful people to look into the deep…. and jump. It won’t be Star Trek, but it would still be the greatest challenge of the human race….

As it is now? IMO we’re nowhere near ready, IMO…

55. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

#55 Edit~

I was referring to post # 54, not #53

56. VZX - June 24, 2012

Sebastion: Thanks bro. Just spreading the physics love to the peoples.

57. Cygnus-X1 - June 24, 2012

28. CmdrR – June 23, 2012

—-“Maybe they’re out cruising about this part of the galaxy one day and they
detect it on long-range sensors or whatever.”

This is where Star Trek gets dicey. The sheer volume of space hurts the human mind.—-

Sure, but I wasn’t supposing that a species from the other side of the galaxy would be cruising around near the Sol system. I was imagining a species from a nearby system, say within 20 light years or so, which had developed very fast propulsion. A species from the Alpha Centauri system, for example, being just over 4 light years from Earth could reach us in 40 years traveling at 1/10 the speed of light. And maybe they live 400 years or whatever. The point being that there are nearby star systems and far away star systems.

58. Cygnus-X1 - June 24, 2012

On a completely unrelated topic: An Apology to Star Trek: Enterprise.

I’ve finally gotten a chance to go back a watch all of Star Trek: Enterprise, and I have to say that I was too hasty in my judgment of that series back in the day. At the time that it aired, I got fed up just after the second season began and gave up on it. Like many other fans, I was very disappointed at the time with Deep Space Nine and Voyager, not to mention the TNG films, and after a less than thrilling first season of Enterprise, I just didn’t have the patience to stick with it.

I’ve actually been watching the Enterprise seasons in reverse order, beginning with the 4th season, as I’d heard many good things about the series having improved with Manny Coto taking charge as Executive Producer in the 4th season. And I have to say that I totally agree. The 4th season was by far the best and the 3rd season, with Coto as co-executive producer, showed great improvement over the 2nd. I’m currently a few episodes into the 2nd season now, and while the stories aren’t as good so far as those of the 3rd and 4th seasons, I’m still enjoying it well enough, partly because I’m now invested in the series as a whole due to the story arcs that run through the entire series, and partly because it’s been a long time since there was a Star Trek series on the air, and I’m no longer suffering from Star Trek fatigue.

At any rate, the conventional Trekkie wisdom on Enterprise is right. It got off to a slow start, then suffered from Star Trek fatigue, and its improvements were unfortunately too little, too late.

In closing, I’m sorry for my petulance and hasty judgment, Star Trek: Enterprise, and I would recommend to anyone to go to Netflix and check out the 4th season, if nothing more. And if you like it, you can go back and watch the rest, like I’m doing.

59. Battle-scarred Sciatica - June 24, 2012

@21 Daoud

yep, the Drake equation is flawed. His equation did arise in the 60’s and since then scientific study and development has moved so much more forward as to render it obsolete!

Fairly recent insights in such fields as cosmology, astrobiology and various future studies have changed our perception of the cosmos and the ways in which advanced life might develop.

The Drake equation:

N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L (I cannot subscript any letters)

R* is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy.

fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets.

ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets.

fl is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point.

fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life.

fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

The problem with the equation is that many of the integers plugged into this equation are subject to a wide variety of interpretation and differ from scientist to scientist and the slightest difference can massively change the result.

Cosmology and astrobiology is changing so rapidly that there is little consensus amongst specialists as to what the variables might be. The margin of error is far beyond what should be considered acceptable or meaningful.

Drakes equation does not take into consideration such factors as the age of the Galaxy, the time at which intelligence first emerged, or the presence of physiochemical variables necessary for the presence of life (such as metallicity required to form planets). The equation assumes a sort of cosmological uniformity rather than a dynamic and ever changing universe.

For example, the equation asks us to guess the number of Earth-like planets, but it does not ask us when there were Earth-like planets. And intelligence itself may have been present as long as 2 to 4.5 billion years ago.

The Galaxy’s extreme age and the potential for intelligence to have emerged at disparate points in time leaves an absurdly narrow window for detecting radio signals.

The distances and time-scales in question are utterly mind-boggingly vast.

SETI, under its current model, is very sadly, conducting an incredibly futile search in my opinion.

Which leads to the next problem, quantifying the number of radio emitting civilizations. I’m sure that back in the 1960’s it made a lot of sense to think of radio capability as a fairly advanced and ubiquitous means of communication, and therefore, an excellent way to detect the presence and frequency of extraterrestrial civilizations.

But time has proven this to result in a negative. Our radio window is quickly closing and it will only be a matter of time before Earth stops transmitting these types of signals — at least unintentionally (active SETI is a proactive attempt to contact ETI’s with radio signals).

Due to this revelation, the entire equation as a means to both classify and quantify certain types of civilizations becomes quite meaningless and arbitrary. At best, it’s a way of searching for a very narrow class of civilizations under very specific and constrained conditions.

Personally I think SETI should continue to redefine the ways in which ETI’s could be detected. They should try to predict future means of communication (like quantum communication schemes, etc) and ways to identify these signals. They should also look for artificial objects such as megascale engineering and artificial calling cards – link to Arnold, “Transit Lightcurve Signatures of Artificial Objects” –

Sorry about the long message. The Drake equation has fascinated me for years and I love it when it is brought up (not that often really).

Hey, at the end of the day, there are loads of planets out there. Lets get exploring!!!!

The human adventure is just beginning…:)

Peace, TrekHominids!!

60. Khan was Framed! - June 24, 2012

That turn table would way cooler if it was the TOS Enterprise.

61. Marshall McMellon (inventor of the "Marshmellon") - June 24, 2012

Diagnosing with colored poo? Wow, find a away to administer the compound in a Skittles type candy and they could use the tagline “… smell the rainbow.”

62. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 58

Cygnus X-1~

Totally agree; season 4 of ENT is the only one I own on DVD. It’s the only one that actually feels like a prequel to TOS. And while I appreciated the dark edge of season 3 (seemed to be trying to steal some of new Galactica mojo), the whole season-long ‘search for Xindi weapons of mass destruction’ was too on-the-nose with the Iraq War; it wasn’t so much allegory as it was just copied directly from the headlines of the day. Feels badly dated now (especially since no such weapons were ever found in Iraq). Seasons 1 and 2 had occasional episodes here and there that were OK, but they pale next to 4. If 4 had been season 1? I think the show might’ve had a good 5 or 6 seasons.

Just my opinion, of course…

# 59 BsS~

The biggest flaw with Drake’s equation is that we only have ONE system we know of where life has arisen for a base comparison. So it’s basically a very elegant guess. I respect Drake, and his contribution to SETI, but his equation is only speculation until we actually discover positive signs of life beyond the Earth.

And from the 600 or so exoplanets currently catalogued outside of our solar system (the number rises every month), our own solar system is looking more and more unique every day. Of course, future space-based telescopes (such as the James Webb scope) will be able to refine the exoplanet search and possibly detect more Earth-sized planets orbiting their own star’s ‘goldilocks zones’ (the orbital area around a star where liquid water is possible on the surface; assuming proper atmospheric pressure and temperature).

Until we have better instruments? It’s a big wait and see…. ;-)

63. Sebastian S. - June 24, 2012

# 61

I have to agree; the 2009 Enterprise looks too slick to play old LPs.
Maybe if it were some kind of i-pod dock (to match it’s i-Mac bridge! LOL).

But the turntable would just feel more ‘right’ as the 1960s Enterprise….

64. Battle-scarred Sciatica - June 24, 2012

@62 Sebastian S

I agree wholeheartedly. The theory for extraterrestrial intelligence civilization evolution and existence had to have started somewhere – kudos to Drake for his hypothesis – especially as it was developed way back in the 60’s (way back? Wow, I’m feeling older everyday!)

It’s a long wait for the right tech to discover those damn elusive ETI’s but it will happen I am sure – depending on whether or not we have destroyed ourselves – which slips into more theories and conjecture which I will not hijack this site with!

Saw the turntable a while ago. Although I love it and definitely wish to own it, I can’t help feeling it should have been the TOS Enterprise and not the confused JJprise.

Also coincidentally I have just got to the end of Enterprise S03 ANC have enjoyed it much more than when it first aired – although I cannot stand T’Pol, Archer or Malcolm bloody Reid and it is a kind of unnecessary and inconsistent prequel to beloved TOS. It was a travesty and should never have been allowed but I have ashamedly kind of enjoyed it as it is a representation of the universe I hold dear.
I am looking forward to season 4.


65. Jai - June 25, 2012

With all due respect to everyone here, some of you are making too many assumptions in your assertions about extraterrestrials and also about the future of human space exploration.

Conspiracy theories about cover-ups aside, none of us actually knows what is “out there”. So you can’t make assumptions about alien psychology and their associated motivations, which could all be completely different from anything we can imagine.

You also can’t make assumptions about their supposed perspective towards us, the level of awareness they already have about us, the methods they use to communicate, the reasons we supposedly haven’t detected any major signs of them, or the extent of long-range exploration they’ve already conducted (first-hand and via probes, much of which could be undetectable) when it comes to our planet and our solar system. And neither can you make any assumptions about the level of technology and interstellar capability they have access to.

This applies irrespective of whether they’re benevolent explorers or involved in aggressive territorial conquest. Especially if they’ve been doing all this for a long time and are very good at it.

I recently read an analogy somewhere which was something along the lines of “An extremely advanced civilisation with full-scale interstellar travel capability trying to explain the science involved to humans in 2012 could be like humans in 2012 trying to explain the science involved in thermonuclear weapons to a stone age society that had just discovered fire”. Think about it.

The level of our current scientific knowledge could be the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s still to come. That obviously has implications for the future of humanity, but it also has implications for the capabilities of alien civilisations that are currently 1000, 100000, 1 million or even 1 billion years more advanced than us.

I’ve mentioned this book before, but anyone seriously interested in this subject should really read “The Eerie Silence” by SETI’s Paul Davies. All of these issues — and much, much more — are discussed and rigorously analysed. It’s by far the best in-depth analysis that I’ve ever read, and some of the ideas and explanations are pretty mind-blowing. Like the universe itself, this subject is actually a far bigger and more complex topic than many people seem to think. Time to open your minds and think outside the box ;)

66. Jai - June 25, 2012

The Amazon webpage for “The Eerie Silence” has a very good Q&A with Dr Paul Davies, where they discuss some of the issues involved:

Q: Why is the search for aliens so popular right now?

A: SETI is 50 years old this year. It was in 1960 that the astronomer Frank Drake (to whom I dedicate the book) took up the challenge and started sweeping the skies with a radio telescope in the hope of picking up a signal from an alien civilization. Whether the anniversary is the trigger, or whether it is simply that the study of extraterrestrial life is an idea whose time has come, the last few months have witnessed a surge of media and scientific interest, in astrobiology in general, and SETI in particular. For example, I am involved in at least five separate television series on ET. I have also attended SETI meetings in The Vatican, at Britain’s premier scientific academy, The Royal Society, and at more than one major NASA congress. Gone are the days when scientists pooh-poohed the whole idea. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, so that many scientists and commentators are overly credulous about the prospect for intelligent aliens. Statements like “the galaxy is teeming with life, and intelligent life must surely have arisen somewhere” routinely trip off the tongue of many a scientific spokesman, without the slightest hard scientific evidence in favor of it. I hope they are right, but there are important issues that get glossed over–issues that I engage in the book.

I have written both a celebration and a critique of SETI. The title gives away the principal result: so far, so bad. Not a whisper of an alien message has been received (although there are some intriguing mystery signals). But the word “eerie” is a teaser, because I for one don’t accept no as an answer. Nor do the SETI folk at the sharp end of the research–the astronomers who patiently sit at the controls of the radio telescopes with the champagne waiting on ice. They argue that they have searched only a tiny fraction of target stars so far, and they look forward to a spanking new system called the Allen Telescope Array that will greatly expand their reach. Nevertheless, traditional radio SETI is a needle-in-a-haystack search with no guarantee that a needle even exists.

Q: What’s wrong with existing SETI?

A: A fundamental flaw lies at the core of most existing SETI strategies. Carl Sagan popularized the appealing idea that an altruistic alien community might be obligingly beaming radio messages at us, perhaps carefully crafted to give mankind a welcome technological and sociological fillip. But that scenario will no longer wash. Even SETI optimists concede that a radio-savvy civilization within a few hundred light years is extremely unlikely (and systematic searches have spotted nothing). Suppose there is an alien community 1,000 light years away. That is still in our galactic neighborhood–the Milky Way is some 100,000 light years across. The aliens belonging to this putative community cannot know of our existence–they cannot know that Earth has radio technology and the means to detect their signals. The reason concerns the finite speed of light. At 1,000 light years away, the aliens see Earth today as it was 1,000 years ago. Because nothing can go faster than light (it is a basic law of physics), there is no way they can know about the industrial revolution and terrestrial radio telescopes. So why would they have started beaming messages to us 1,000 years ago, when their view of Earth at that time would have been the year A.D. 10? They might detect signs of agriculture and large scale building (such as the pyramids), and they may of course surmise that some millennium soon humans would develop radio technology. But it would make no sense for them to start transmitting powerful and expensive radio messages at us until they know we are on the air. When will that be? In about 900 years time, when our first feeble radio transmissions, leaking into space at the speed of light, finally reach them.

I do not oppose traditional SETI. The astronomers are doing a great job, and they have refined their techniques splendidly. The Allen Telescope Array currently under construction will help a lot. They have my full backing. But their methodology is well adapted to searching for narrow-band (sharp frequency) continuous signals. They stick to this because they have built up a lot of expertise in that area and that is what their financial backers are paying them to do. Their systems are less well adapted, however, to what I regard as the more promising approach to radio SETI, which is to look for beacons, for example, towards the center of the galaxy, where the oldest and wealthiest civilizations are likely to be located. The problem about detecting a beacon is that it would show up as just “something that went bleep in the night,” and may not recur for months or even years. You’d have to stare at the same patch of sky for a very long time. SETI is not geared to that kind of observation and is not funded to do it. But the huge advantage of beacons as opposed to directed narrow-band signals is that the beacon-builders need have no knowledge of our existence. A beacon is made for general consumption, and serves only as a beckoning signal; it is not a message deliberately aimed at us. So the chances of finding a beacon are much higher.

Q: How can we do better?

A: My book advocates a massive expansion in SETI, not by doing more of the same (though that is good too) but by shifting the focus toward the search for general signatures of intelligence. All technology leaves a footprint; for example, human technology is producing global warming. Alien technology might leave a bigger footprint, with telltale signs. However, these signs might be very subtle and require our best scientific analysis to detect. Discovery in science favors the prepared mind, so this book is a wake-up call to all scientists to start thinking about how a signature of alien technology might impact on their field of research. I’m also hinting that a signature of alien technology might already lurk in an unexplored database in fields as diverse as astrophysics, geology and microbiology.

One thing I decided to do in the book was to tackle the thorny issue of alien visitation–what the physicist Enrico Fermi alluded to in his famous “Where is everybody?” quip six decades ago. However–and this is crucial–I want to draw a big distinction between stories of ET visiting Earth in historical times, abducting people, re-engineering humans, being drawn on cave walls and so on, and what I regard as legitimate speculation, namely, that some time in its four billion plus year history, the solar system may have been visited or passed through by an expedition or colonization wave. It need not have been alien beings in the flesh, but their robotic surrogates. Anyway, the point is that the time scale is vast–they could have come at any time in 4.5 billion years! Let’s be optimistic and suppose it happened a mere 100 million years ago. Would we know? Would any traces of alien technology survive for 100 million years? Not the plastic cups and rocket parts, I think. It turns out that there are some possibilities, though. Nuclear waste is one, genomic detritus is another. We could look for these things. It wouldn’t cost much, and who knows what we might find?

Q: Are there any new scientific ideas unveiled in this book?

A: Yes! SETI is predicated on the belief that life arises quickly and easily on earthlike planets, an idea sometimes called the cosmic imperative (after Christian de Duve, the biologist who coined the term). Astronomers think there are billions of earthlike planets in our galaxy alone, so if the cosmic imperative is correct, there is a good chance of finding intelligent aliens out there. But how do we know the likelihood that life will arise quickly and easily? Suppose life is a freak phenomenon, the outcome of an incredibly unlikely chemical fluke, unique in the observable universe? Then we will indeed be alone. That view was the prevailing opinion when SETI began 50 years ago, and is still widely held by biologists.

One way to test the all-important cosmic imperative idea is to look for a second sample of life on Earth. If life does form readily in earthlike conditions then perhaps its started many times right here on our home planet. Amazingly, nobody has thought to look until recently. I’ve been developing a research theme at Arizona State University evocatively called the shadow biosphere. That’s not my term–it was introduced by Shelly Copley and Carol Cleland at the University of Colorado. Basically, we are devising strategies to find life on Earth, but not as we know it. Looking for a radically different form of life is restricted to microbes, and it consists of making guesses for how life might be done differently, and then looking to see whether it’s out there in the environment. We have a lot of ideas, and I’m happy to say that some of them are being funded. If we find that there are two forms of life on Earth (more would be better), then we can be pretty certain that life will pop up on most earthlike planets around the universe. It would be too much of a stretch for it to have formed more than once on one earthlike planet but never on all the others.

Q: Do you dismiss all the UFO stories?

A: I am not casually dismissive of the UFO stories. Most reports are not made by crackpots or liars, but by people who have had a genuinely puzzling or frightening experience. I have studied the subject very closely over many years. My conclusion is that although the experiences are real enough (in the minds of the witnesses at least), they have nothing to do with alien intelligence. There is no reason that aliens should be visiting Earth now, as opposed to at any other time over the last few billion years, and none of the stories I hear about today differ much from those I personally investigated 40 years ago. Ufology is stuck in a rut too!

Q: What is the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup?

A: It was set up by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and I am the current chair. It consists of about 20 journalists and scientists, two lawyers and a priest. Our job is to reflect on the implications for society as a whole should we suddenly obtain incontrovertible evidence that we are not alone. Obviously our deliberations are highly hypothetical. Also, we have no teeth–we are an advisory body only. Nevertheless, it makes sense to think through some of the issues ahead of time, so humanity is not caught on the hop. The sort of things we worry about is how to ensure that the scientists who make the discovery can retain control over events for long enough for its significance to be properly evaluated, how we can prevent half-baked attempts by individuals to get in on the act, or even to start transmitting self-styled messages off their own bat, which organizations should be informed and in what order. I like to tell people at those proverbial dinner parties that if ET calls on my watch, I should be among the first to know!

67. CmdrR - June 25, 2012

57 – I’d agree, if you the Starmen and Starchicks were specifically planning a recon of Sol System. It’s the “patrolling” that makes little sense. Patrolling even a single cubic lightyear would be like one man trying to patrol a few billion Earths on foot.

68. Sebastian S. - June 25, 2012

#65 CmdrR~

Too true.
If they were smart they’d use all the subspace scanning equipment from a fixed station in orbit and then only go out themselves when they actually find something worth going out for. If a ‘subspace’ device can scan entire parsecs (a single parsec is 3.26 light years) in a few moments you’d hardly need to be there ‘in person’. “Patrolling” is sadly, another example of earthbound thinking. Doesn’t really apply to outer space so much…

ST is a very fun adventure series, but in terms of realism it’s only a few points above Star Wars really. And that’s not a knock. I love SW too. Seeing it in the theatre in 1977 was a transformative event in my (then) young life. It was definitely one of the inspirations for me to join The Planetary Society years later.

But expecting ‘real’ outer space to conform to our Star Trek/Star Wars images of it is kind of foolhardy, really. It’s like going to Ireland hoping to find a real leprechaun….

69. T'Cal - June 25, 2012

Give it up. With the shuttle program buried, we have no plan in action for America to get deeper into space exploration. How depressing.

70. Jai - June 25, 2012

Kayla Iacovino, why were my two comments on this thread deleted ?

Both comments were polite and on-topic, and the second one directly quoted an extremely informative Q&A with a senior member of the SETI programme discussing exactly the kind of assumptions and issues everyone here on Trekmovie is currently talking about.

Trekmovie’s moderators obviously don’t have a problem with commenters recommending books, so is there an unspoken policy to delete any mention of books specifically written by leaders of the SETI team ? Or delete any summaries of the scientific theories those SETI leaders propose, even if they’re in line with some of the main points mentioned in the lengthy comment #59 ?

This has also happened on previous science threads on Trekmovie at least three times, so some clarification would be appreciated.

71. Sebastian S. - June 25, 2012

# 67

Actually, burying the shuttle program is a GOOD thing for deeper space exploration. The shuttle was an overly expensive and very dangerous space SUV that only ferried cargo and people into low earth orbit. It was never intended to be a vehicle of exploration like the Apollo lunar module. Now that the rather routine task of ferrying cargo and (someday) personnel to the space station is being handed off to the private sector, perhaps NASA can finally get back to the task of real explorations.

As for getting ‘deeper into space’? NASA’s robot probes have been doing very well in that department. Cassini is still orbiting Saturn (which also delivered the ESA’s Huygens probe to Titan), and we’ve still got one active rover (Opportunity) on Mars, to be joined by the Curiosity rover in August. And the New Horizons probe is currently en route to Pluto; ETA 2015 (the first probe to fly by the recently demoted dwarf planet). Messenger is currently orbiting Mercury.

Now that the shuttle is kaput, maybe some more of that heavy fundage can go back into the more exciting and scientifically rewarding field of robotic explorationl….

72. Vultan - June 25, 2012


Give what up? NASA is still here, still building probes, still exploring. And did you miss this little item in the news called SpaceX? Not to mention all the other private companies and countries looking to get into the space race.

Just look around. This is the most exciting time in space exploration in quite some time. is represented by Gorilla Nation. Please contact Gorilla Nation for ad rates, packages and general advertising information.