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The Cosmic Call: How a couple of guys created the most ambitious extraterrestrial contact project ever

© ITAR-TASS / Aleksei Pavlishak / Alamy
The Evpatoria radio telescope RT-70 and the Long Range Space Communications Center, which were used for one of the most ambitious efforts at extraterrestrial communication.

You might think it takes vast governmental resources to launch an extraterrestrial communication effort. Nope

On May 24, 1999, a large radio transmitter in the city of Evpatoria in Ukraine turned its dish to the star 16 Cygni, 70 light-years away, and emitted a four-hour blast of radio waves. It was the beginning of the Cosmic Call, one of the most ambitious efforts ever made at sending a message to alien civilizations. It wasn't a project run by NASA or some major government. It was a crowdsourced effort, put together by an unlikely team of Texan businessmen, Canadian astrophysicists, Russian scientists, and Eastern European radio engineers.

It was the brainchild of Charlie Chafer, the CEO of a Texan company named Team Encounter. Team Encounter hoped to launch a prototype solar sail, that is, a spacecraft driven by the pressure of sunlight. Its trajectory would take it out of the solar system altogether. It wouldn't be fast, taking 100,000 years just to go as far as the nearest star. Chafer wanted it to carry a three-kilogram payload with messages, photographs, and DNA samples to show any alien finders what life on Earth is, or was, like.

But 100,000 years is a long time to wait. So Chafer also decided to send a radio message to various nearby stars with drawings, texts, and songs, many of them from ordinary people. "A sort of 'we're coming' announcement," Chafer says. This became the Cosmic Call. (As it happens, the solar sail never flew, but the Cosmic Call project went forward.)

Telescope

Scientists reveal further evidence of Jupiter's moon Europa 'spewing water jets'

© NASA
Europa is one of the best search targets for extra-terrestrial life in the Solar System
Further evidence has been obtained to show that Jupiter's icy moon Europa throws jets of water out into space.

Scientists first reported the behaviour in 2013 using the Hubble telescope, but have now made a follow-up sighting.

It is significant because Europa, with its huge subsurface ocean of liquid water, is one of the most likely places to find microbial life beyond Earth.

Flying through the jets with an instrumented spacecraft would be an effective way to test the possibility.

One could even attempt to capture a sample of ejected material and bring it back to Earth for more detailed biological analysis.

The alternative - of trying to land on the moon and drill through perhaps tens of kilometres of ice to examine the ocean's water - would be immensely challenging.

Hubble made its latest identification by studying Europa as it passed in front of Jupiter.

The telescope looked in ultraviolet wavelengths to see if the giant planet's light was in any way being absorbed by material emanating from the moon's surface.

Comment: See also:


Mars

Elon Musk to outline vision of SpaceX mission to Mars and eventual colonization

© Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Elon Musk's SpaceX company plans to fly an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as early 2018. If all goes well, he hopes the first human mission to the planet will occur in 2025.
When Elon Musk takes the stage of the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on Sept. 27, it won't be to rehash terrestrial concerns such as a fatal Tesla autopilot crash or a poorly received merger proposal. Instead, the space and electric-car entrepreneur will be talking about realizing his boyhood dream: going to Mars.

Musk's keynote address, entitled "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species," will tackle the technical challenges and "potential architectures for colonizing the Red Planet," according to organizers. Translation: huge rockets, big spacecraft.

No one has been anticipating the event more eagerly than Musk, who founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., his rocket-launch company, 14 years ago with the express goal of putting humans on other planets to live and work.

"I think it's going to sound pretty crazy," Musk said, referring to his Mars speech, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center last April. He was there celebrating another previously crazy-sounding accomplishment: launching a rocket into space and then landing the 14-story-tall booster on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has gone on to repeat that feat three more times.

The Mars speech will be a welcome distraction for a man who's been reeling of late. Tesla, which makes electric vehicles and energy-storage products, is blowing through cash as it races to build out a huge battery factory in the Nevada desert and start selling its mass-market Model 3 next year.

Robot

Powerful Russian supercomputer can 'speak' to any robotic system, no matter which manufacturer

© Sergey Mamontov / Sputnik
Russia's state United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation (UIMC) has designed a supercomputer tailored to operate all aerial, ground and sea robotic systems, no matter who produced them, which makes the cutting-edge solution also cost-saving.

The technology, developed by UIMC's Vega Radio Engineering Corporation, enables the unification of "the management of robotic systems with specially-designed interface protocols. Figuratively speaking, a unified point operator is able to 'speak' the language of the various robotic systems," a company representative told RIA Novosti.

The ability to engage in a 'dialog' is not restricted to only one robotic system at a time, as the operator is able to control "a large number of different machines at once no matter what company has manufactured them and what software is being used to operate them."

Cassiopaea

Bright nova discovered in Lupus the Wolf

© Stellarium
A bright possible nova was discovered only days ago near the 3rd magnitude star Epsilon Lupi. It shot from fainter than magnitude +17.5 to its current magnitude +6.8 in just four nights … and it’s still rising. The nova is bright enough to see in binoculars for observers in the far southern U.S., where it’s visible low in the southwestern sky in late evening twilight. This map shows the sky facing southwest about an hour after sunset from Key West, Florida, latitude 24.5 degrees north.
On September 20, a particular spot in the constellation Lupus the Wolf was blank of any stars brighter than 17.5 magnitude. Four nights later, as if by some magic trick, a star bright enough to be seen in binoculars popped into view. While we await official confirmation, the star's spectrum, its tattle-tale rainbow of light, indicates it's a nova, a sun in the throes of a thermonuclear explosion.

The nova, dubbed ASASSN-16kt for now, was discovered during the ongoing All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN or "Assassin"), using data from the quadruple 14-cm "Cassius" telescope in CTIO, Chile. Krzysztof Stanek and team reported the new star in Astronomical Telegram #9538. By the evening of September 23 local time, the object had risen to magnitude +9.1, and it's currently +6.8. So let's see — that's about an 11-magnitude jump or a 24,000-fold increase in brightness! And it's still on the rise.

The star is located at R.A. 15h 29?, - 44° 49.7? in the southern constellation Lupus the Wolf. Even at this low declination, the star would clear the southern horizon from places like Chicago and further south, but in late September Lupus is low in the southwestern sky. To see the nova you'll need a clear horizon in that direction and observe from the far southern U.S. and points south. If you've planned a trip to the Caribbean or Hawaii in the coming weeks, your timing couldn't have been better!

Info

Horses can communicate with their owners, say scientists

© Getty
23 out of 23 horses were able to learn to tell their trainer whether or not they needed a rug to wear.
Horses can be trained to communicate with humans to express their feelings and opinions, scientists have discovered.

Past research has confirmed that some species of animals, including apes and dolphins, can learn to communicate preferences by pointing at symbols, much like humans.

Contrary to previous expert opinions, it is now believed that horses are intelligent enough to tell their riders whether or not they want to wear a rug.

Using slices of carrot as an incentive, scientists from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute worked with a horse trainer to teach 23 horses of various breeds how to signal if they were too hot or too cold.

First, each horse was trained to approach a board hung on a fence and touch it with its muzzle.

The horses were then shown how to tell the difference between different symbols marked on the board to indicate the notion of "blanket on" (a horizontal bar), "blanket off" (a vertical bar) and no change (blank).

Finally, each horse was taught to associate a particular action with each symbol.

Hot and cold temperature challenges were performed in order to help learning and determine the animals' level of understanding.

Although the speed of learning varied, by the end of the two-week training scheme all 23 horses were able to go up to the board and indicate whether they wanted a rug to be put on or taken off.

Telescope

China launches world's largest FAST radio telescope: 500 meters in diameter

© Stringer / Reuters
A 500-metre (1,640-ft.) aperture spherical telescope (FAST) is seen at the final stage of construction, among the mountains in Pingtang county, Guizhou province, China
The biggest radio telescope located in China's Guizhou Province is now operational. Featuring a reflector the size of 30 football pitches, it took five years and $180 million to construct. Called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope's (FAST), the telescope is located in a karst valley in Pingtang County, a mountainous area in southwest China.

Some 8,000 local residents were relocated to ensure a 5km radio silence zone around the facility. About $269 million were allocated to pay compensations to the villagers. The name FAST referrers to the main structure of the gigantic instrument, which has 4,450 triangular 11-meter panels and measures 500 meters in diameter. For comparison, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which held the title of world's largest radio telescope before FAST, has a 305-meter dish.

Comment: It would take a full 40 minutes for the average person to walk around the telescope.
See also:


Microscope 1

Some of the biggest problems facing science

"Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths." — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977 - 2015)

Science is in big trouble. Or so we're told.

Comment: There is another problem that's facing science today which isn't mentioned in the article: harrassment, marginalization and demonization of scientists either by their peers or their employers. Some are attacked for merely investigating fields that are against scientific dogma, while others are for acts of conscience. Some examples:

Rupert Sheldrake, 'The Science Delusion': Banned TED Talk
GMO Researchers Attacked, Evidence Denied, and a Population at Risk
Silencing the Scientist: Tyrone Hayes on being targeted by herbicide firm Syngenta

Another area not touched on which bears expanding:

The Corruption of Science in America


Cut

Monsanto licenses CRISPR technology to modify crops

© Brent Stirton/GETTY IMAGES
Monsanto greenhouses on top of a research building in St Louis.
Agriculture giant Monsanto has licensed CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology from the Broad Institute for use in seed development, the company announced on Thursday, a step that will likely accelerate and simplify the creation of crops that are resistant to drought or have consumer-pleasing properties such as soybean oil with fats as healthy as those in olive oil.

But the deal comes with restrictions that speak to the startling power of CRISPR, as well as widespread public anxiety about genetically modified crops: Monsanto cannot use it for gene drive, the controversial technique that can spread a trait through an entire population, with unknown consequences.

Since 2013 the Broad has issued more than a dozen licenses for commercial research using CRISPR-Cas9, including to Editas Medicine, GE Healthcare, and Evotec. This is the first for agricultural use. Genome-editing of crops offers the potential of increasing yields, reducing the use of chemical pesticides (a plant can be genetically modified to thwart insects), and making strains tolerant of the droughts that are becoming more frequent with global climate change.

But "just as in biomedicine, the use of genome editing in agriculture raises important ethical and safety concerns," Issi Rozen, the Broad's chief business officer, wrote in a blog post.

Briefcase

FBI finally releases long held Tesla documents on death ray, ball lightning and other information

At long last, the FBI has released its document cache of files containing information on Nikola Tesla, including his inventions like death ray and ball lightning, as well as how the government obtained his notes and memos following his death.

Tesla, an inventor and innovator considered at least decades ahead of his time, predicted and helped develop an early prototype of a smartphone, among many other things.

In the Volume 100 of Popular Science Monthly in 1922, for example, Tesla predicted video calling:

"It will soon be possible to see as well as hear by means of electricity. 'Television' will be employed as generally as telephoning. As one listens to a voice at the other end of the line, he will also see every expression of the speaker's face," explained Tesla in his article.

Comment: Don't count on too many individuals being able to replicate or advance Tesla's research - unless they were working for DARPA of course.