Nearby Exoplanet Is Best Candidate For Supporting Life

photo credit: Artistic representation of the potentially habitable Super-Earth Gliese 832 c against a stellar nebula background. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA Hubble, Stellarium

Finding new exoplanets is always awesome, but discovering exoplanets within the star’s habitable zone are exponentially more exciting. A team led by Robert Wittenmyer of the University of New South Wales has announced the discovery of the Super-Earth Gliese 832 c, which could very well turn out to be the best candidate for extraterrestrial life discovered to date. It’s also fairly close, cosmologically speaking, which adds to the intrigue. The team’s paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, but has been made available online in an open access format on

Gliese 832 is a red dwarf star that is located 16.1 light-years away in the constellation Grus. Astronomers discovered a Jupiter analog orbiting the star back in 2009, but its orbit takes nine years to complete; far beyond the star’s habitable zone. Gliese 832 c looks much more promising. Though only two planets in the system are known, it appears to be organized quite similarly to our own solar system.

The planet is about 5.4 times more massive than Earth and has an Earth Similarity Index (ESI) of 0.81, which compares an exoplanet’s radius, escape velocity, surface temperature, and density to Earth. Other exoplanets with similar ESI values include Gliese 667 Cc (ESI 0.84, 22 light-years away) and Kepler-62e (ESI 0.83, 1,200 light-years away). ESI does not account for the planet’s potential habitability, which makes Gliese 832 c a little more of a priority for further analysis.

Gliese 832 c has an orbital period of only 36 days. While this does seem fairly short by our standards, the host star is much smaller and cooler than our Sun. This results in Gliese 832 c getting the same amount of solar energy as Earth. One aspect of Gliese 832 c that could make or break its likelihood of supporting life is its atmosphere. Researchers aren’t certain about the atmosphere’s composition or density. A dense atmosphere would make the planet much too hot for life, and Gliese 832 c would be more like a Super-Venus than Super-Earth. If the atmosphere is not quite as dense, it could have weather patterns somewhat similar to Earth, albeit with greater seasonal variations.

New “Godzilla Planet” Is 17 Times Heavier Than Earth

photo credit: The newly discovered ‘mega-Earth’ Kepler-10c dominates the foreground in this artist’s conception. Its sibling, the lava world Kepler-10b, is in the background. Both orbit a sunlike star / David A. Aguilar (CfA)


Among the haul of hundreds of new planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, many have qualified as super-Earths — worlds that are several times larger than Earth, are rocky like our own, and reside in the habitable zones of their stars. But never before had scientists detected a world like Kepler-10c, a “mega-Earth” that looks a lot like home but is 17 times heavier than our planet.

When Kepler first spied this new planet, astronomers measured its diameter to be 29,000 kilometers, or about 2.3 times larger than Earth’s. That would have been remarkable, but not recording-setting. However, when scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) looked at Kepler-10c using the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, they measured the planet’s mass and found it to be so heavy that it must be made of rocks and other dense materials.

Kepler-10c orbits a star similar to the Sun, located about 560 light years from here. It completes an orbit once every 45 days. And this new finding annouced today about its mass could have profound impacts on the search for life out there among the stars.

Scientists would have thought that any planet as heavy as Kepler-10c would be a gaseous world such as Jupiter and Saturn. Indeed, many of the first exoplanets to be discovered were “hot Jupiters” — gas giants located close to their stars. But life as we know it needs to live on a hard, rocky planet or moon. The discovery of such a gigantic rocky world opens up the possibility of many more potentially habitable planets throughout the galaxy.

Furthermore, new research proposes a link between how long it takes for a planet to orbit its star and how large a rocky planet can grow. That would suggest rocky planets can be bigger the farther you get from the star. If this correlation is true, it would mean that astronomers will find even more mega-Earths as they search for exoplanets with longer orbital periods. (Many of the worlds newly discovered by Kepler are relatively close to their stars.)

This new mega-Earth also means that astronomers could look to very old stars for potentially habitable planets. Kepler-10c orbits a star that formed just 3 billion years after the Big Bang, and scientists had thought it make taken the first few billion years of the universe’s existence just for exploding stars to form enough heavy elements for rocky planets to form.

“Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life,” lead researcher Dimitar Sasselov says in a press release.

The work was presented today at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Boston.

[Via Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics]

Image: David A. Aguilar (CfA)


The Fermi Paradox

Everyone feels something when they’re in a really good starry place on a really good starry night and they look up and see this:




Some people stick with the traditional, feeling struck by the epic beauty or blown away by the insane scale of the universe. Personally, I go for the old “existential meltdown followed by acting weird for the next half hour.” But everyone feels something.

Physicist Enrico Fermi felt something too—”Where is everybody?”



A really starry sky seems vast—but all we’re looking at is our very local neighborhood. On the very best nights, we can see up to about 2,500 stars (roughly one hundred-millionth of the stars in our galaxy), and almost all of them are less than 1,000 light years away from us (or 1% of the diameter of the Milky Way). So what we’re really looking at is this:


Milky Way


When confronted with the topic of stars and galaxies, a question that tantalizes most humans is, “Is there other intelligent life out there?” Let’s put some numbers to it (if you don’t like numbers, just read the bold)—

As many stars as there are in our galaxy (100 – 400 billion), there are roughly an equal number of galaxies in the observable universe—so for every star in the colossal Milky Way, there’s a whole galaxyout there. All together, that comes out to the typically quoted range of between 1022 and 1024 total stars in the universe, which means that for every grain of sand on Earth, there are 10,000 stars out there.

The science world isn’t in total agreement about what percentage of those stars are “sun-like” (similar to our sun in size, temperature, and luminosity)—opinions typically range from 5% to 20%. Going with the most conservative side of that (5%), and the lower end for the number of total stars (1022), gives us 500 quintillion, or 500 billion billion sun-like stars.

There’s also a debate over what percentage of those sun-like stars might be orbited by an Earth-like planet (one with similar temperature conditions that could have liquid water and potentially support life similar to that on Earth). Some say it’s as high as 50%, but let’s go with the more conservative 22% that came out of a recent PNAS study. That suggests that there’s a potentially-habitable Earth-like planet orbiting at least 1% of the total stars in the universe—a total of 100 billion billion Earth-like planets.

So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.

Moving forward, we have no choice but to get completely speculative. Let’s imagine that after billions of years in existence, 1% of Earth-like planets develop life (if that’s true, every grain of sand would represent one planet with life on it). And imagine that on 1% of those planets, the life advances to an intelligent level like it did here on Earth. That would mean there were 10 quadrillion, or 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.

Moving back to just our galaxy, and doing the same math on the lowest estimate for stars in the Milky Way (100 billion), we’d estimate that there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.[1]

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is an organization dedicated to listening for signals from other intelligent life. If we’re right that there are 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, and even a fraction of them are sending out radio waves or laser beams or other modes of attempting to contact others, shouldn’t SETI’s satellite array pick up all kinds of signals?

But it hasn’t. Not one. Ever.

Where is everybody?

It gets stranger. Our sun is relatively young in the lifespan of the universe. There are far older stars with far older Earth-like planets, which should in theory mean far more advanced civilizations than our own. As an example, let’s compare our 4.54 billion-year-old Earth to a hypothetical 8 billion-year-old Planet X.


Planet X


If Planet X has a similar story to Earth, let’s look at where their civilization would be today (the orange is a reference to show how long these timelines really are):


Planet X vs Earth


The technology and knowledge of a civilization only 1,000 years ahead of us could be as shocking to us as our world would be to a medieval person. A civilization 1 million years ahead of us might be as incomprehensible to us as human culture is to chimpanzees. And Planet X is 3.4 billion years ahead of us…

There’s something called The Kardashev Scale, which helps us group intelligent civilizations into three broad categories by the amount of energy they use:

Type I Civilization has the ability to use all of the energy on their planet. We’re not quite a Type I Civilization, but we’re close (Carl Sagan created a formula for this scale which puts us at a Type 0.7 Civilization).

Type II Civilization can harness all of the energy of their host star. Our feeble Type I brains can hardly imagine how someone would do this, but we’ve tried our best, imagining things like a Dyson Sphere.

Dyson Sphere

Type III Civilization blows the other two away, accessing power comparable to that of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

If this level of advancement sounds hard to believe, remember Planet X above and their 3.4 billionyears of further development (about half a million times as long as the human race has been around). If a civilization on Planet X were similar to ours and were able to survive all the way to Type III level, the natural assumption is that they’d probably have mastered inter-stellar travel by now, possibly even colonizing the entire galaxy.

One hypothesis as to how galactic colonization could happen is by creating machinery that can travel to other planets, spend 500 years or so self-replicating using the raw materials on their new planet, and then send two replicas off to do the same thing. Even without traveling anywhere near the speed of light, this process would colonize the whole galaxy in 3.75 million years, a relative blink of an eye when talking in the scale of billions of years:


Colonize Galaxy

Source: Scientific American – Where Are They?


Continuing to speculate, if 1% of intelligent life survives long enough to become a potentially galaxy-colonizing Type III Civilization, our calculations above suggest that there should be at least 1,000 Type III Civilizations in our galaxy alone—and given the power of such a civilization, their presence would likely be pretty noticeable. And yet, we see nothing, hear nothing, and we’re visited by no one.

So where is everybody?



Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.

We have no answer to the Fermi Paradox—the best we can do is “possible explanations.” And if you ask ten different scientists what their hunch is about the correct one, you’ll get ten different answers. You know when you hear about humans of the past debating whether the Earth was round or if the sun revolved around the Earth or thinking that lightning happened because of Zeus, and they seem so primitive and in the dark? That’s about where we are with this topic.

In taking a look at some of the most-discussed possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox, let’s divide them into two broad categories—those explanations which assume that there’s no sign of Type II and Type III Civilizations because there are none of them out there, and those which assume they’re out there and we’re not seeing or hearing anything for other reasons:

Explanation Group 1: There are no signs of higher (Type II and III) civilizations because there are no higher civilizations in existence.

Those who subscribe to Group 1 explanations point to something called the non-exclusivity problem, which rebuffs any theory that says, “There are higher civilizations, but none of them have made any kind of contact with us because they all _____.” Group 1 people look at the math, which says there should be so many thousands (or millions) of higher civilizations, that at least one of them would be an exception to the rule. Even if a theory held for 99.99% of higher civilizations, the other .001% would behave differently and we’d become aware of their existence.

Therefore, say Group 1 explanations, it must be that there are no super-advanced civilizations. And since the math suggests that there would be thousands of them just in our own galaxy, something else must be going on.

This something else is called The Great Filter.

The Great Filter theory says that at some point from pre-life to Type III intelligence, there’s a wall that all or nearly all attempts at life hit. There’s some stage in that long evolutionary process that is extremely unlikely or impossible for life to get beyond. That stage is The Great Filter.


Great Filter


If this theory is true, the big question is, Where in the timeline does the Great Filter occur?

It turns out that when it comes to the fate of humankind, this question is very important. Depending on where The Great Filter occurs, we’re left with three possible realities: We’re rare, we’re first, or we’re fucked.


1. We’re Rare (The Great Filter is Behind Us)

One hope we have is that The Great Filter is behind us—we managed to surpass it, which would mean it’s extremely rare for life to make it to our level of intelligence. The diagram below shows only two species making it past, and we’re one of them.

Great Filter - Behind Us

This scenario would explain why there are no Type III Civilizations…but it would also mean that wecould be one of the few exceptions now that we’ve made it this far. It would mean we have hope. On the surface, this sounds a bit like people 500 years ago suggesting that the Earth is the center of the universe—it implies that we’re special. However, something scientists call “observation selection effect” says that anyone who is pondering their own rarity is inherently part of an intelligent life “success story”—and whether they’re actually rare or quite common, the thoughts they ponder and conclusions they draw will be identical. This forces us to admit that being special is at least a possibility.

And if we are special, when exactly did we become special—i.e. which step did we surpass that almost everyone else gets stuck on?

One possibility: The Great Filter could be at the very beginning—it might be incredibly unusual for life to begin at all. This is a candidate because it took about a billion years of Earth’s existence to finally happen, and because we have tried extensively to replicate that event in labs and have never been able to do it. If this is indeed The Great Filter, it would mean that not only is there no intelligent life out there, there may be no other life at all.

Another possibility: The Great Filter could be the jump from the simple prokaryote cell to the complex eukaryote cell. After prokaryotes came into being, they remained that way for almost two billion years before making the evolutionary jump to being complex and having a nucleus. If this is The Great Filter, it would mean the universe is teeming with simple prokaryote cells and almost nothing beyond that.

There are a number of other possibilities—some even think the most recent leap we’ve made to our current intelligence is a Great Filter candidate. While the leap from semi-intelligent life (chimps) to intelligent life (humans) doesn’t at first seem like a miraculous step, Steven Pinker rejects the idea of an inevitable “climb upward” of evolution: “Since evolution does not strive for a goal but just happens, it uses the adaptation most useful for a given ecological niche, and the fact that, on Earth, this led to technological intelligence only once so far may suggest that this outcome of natural selection is rare and hence by no means a certain development of the evolution of a tree of life.”

Most leaps do not qualify as Great Filter candidates. Any possible Great Filter must be a one-in-a-billion type thing where one or more total freak occurrences need to happen to provide a crazy exception—for that reason, something like the jump from single-cell to multi-cellular life is ruled out, because it has occurred as many as 46 times, in isolated incidents, just on this planet alone. For the same reason, if we were to find a fossilized eukaryote cell on Mars, it would rule the above “simple-to-complex cell” leap out as a possible Great Filter (as well as anything before that point on the evolutionary chain)—because if it happened on both Earth and Mars, it’s clearly not a one-in-a-billion freak occurrence.

If we are indeed rare, it could be because of a fluky biological event, but it also could be attributed to what is called the Rare Earth Hypothesis, which suggests that though there may be many Earth-likeplanets, the particular conditions on Earth—whether related to the specifics of this solar system, its relationship with the moon (a moon that large is unusual for such a small planet and contributes to our particular weather and ocean conditions), or something about the planet itself—are exceptionally friendly to life.


2. We’re the First

We're the First

For Group 1 Thinkers, if the Great Filter is not behind us, the one hope we have is that conditions in the universe are just recently, for the first time since the Big Bang, reaching a place that would allow intelligent life to develop. In that case, we and many other species may be on our way to super-intelligence, and it simply hasn’t happened yet. We happen to be here at the right time to become one of the first super-intelligent civilizations.

One example of a phenomenon that could make this realistic is the prevalence of gamma-ray bursts, insanely huge explosions that we’ve observed in distant galaxies. In the same way that it took the early Earth a few hundred million years before the asteroids and volcanoes died down and life became possible, it could be that the first chunk of the universe’s existence was full of cataclysmic events like gamma-ray bursts that would incinerate everything nearby from time to time and prevent any life from developing past a certain stage. Now, perhaps, we’re in the midst of an astrobiological phase transition and this is the first time any life has been able to evolve for this long, uninterrupted.


3. We’re Fucked (The Great Filter is Ahead of Us)

We're fucked

If we’re neither rare nor early, Group 1 thinkers conclude that The Great Filter must be in our future. This would apply that life regularly evolves to where we are, but that something prevents life from going much further and reaching high intelligence in almost all cases—and we’re unlikely to be an exception.

One possible future Great Filter is a regularly-occurring cataclysmic natural event, like the above-mentioned gamma-ray bursts, except they’re unfortunately not done yet and it’s just a matter of time before all life on Earth is suddenly wiped out by one. Another candidate is the possible inevitability that nearly all intelligent civilizations end up destroying themselves once a certain level of technology is reached.

This is why Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom says that “no news is good news.” The discovery of even simple life on Mars would be devastating, because it would cut out a number of potential Great Filters behind us. And if we were to find fossilized complex life on Mars, Bostrom says “it would be by far the worst news ever printed on a newspaper cover,” because it would mean The Great Filter is almost definitely ahead of us—ultimately dooming the species. Bostrom believes that when it comes to The Fermi Paradox, “the silence of the night sky is golden.”


Explanation Group 2: Type II and III intelligent civilizations are out there—and there are logical reasons why we might not have heard from them.

Group 2 explanations get rid of any notion that we’re rare or special or the first at anything—on the contrary, they believe in the Mediocrity Principle, whose starting point is that there is nothing unusual or rare about our galaxy, solar system, planet, or level of intelligence, until evidence proves otherwise. They’re also much less quick to assume that the lack of evidence of higher intelligence beings is evidence of their nonexistence—emphasizing the fact that our search for signals stretches only about 100 light years away from us (0.1% across the galaxy) and has only been going on for under a century, a tiny amount of time. Group 2 thinkers have come up with a large array of possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox. Here are 10 of the most discussed:

Possibility 1) Super-intelligent life could very well have already visited Earth, but before we were here. In the scheme of things, sentient humans have only been around for about 50,000 years, a little blip of time. If contact happened before then, it might have made some ducks flip out and run into the water and that’s it. Further, recorded history only goes back 5,500 years—a group of ancient hunter-gatherer tribes may have experienced some crazy alien shit, but they had no good way to tell anyone in the future about it.

Possibility 2) The galaxy has been colonized, but we just live in some desolate rural area of the galaxy. The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.

Possibility 3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. Remember the picture of the Type II Civilization above with the sphere around their star? With all that energy, they might have created a perfect environment for themselves that satisfies their every need. They might have hyper-advanced ways of reducing their need for resources and zero interest in leaving their happy utopia to explore the cold, empty, undeveloped universe.

An even more advanced civilization might view the entire physical world as a horribly primitive place, having long ago conquered their own biology and uploaded their brains to a virtual reality, eternal-life paradise. Living in the physical world of biology, mortality, wants, and needs might seem to them the way we view primitive ocean species living in the frigid, dark sea. FYI, thinking about another life form having bested mortality makes me incredibly jealous and upset.

Possibility 4) There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location. This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI, which only listens) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.[2]

Possibility 5) There’s one and only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (kind of like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. This would suck. The way it might work is that it’s an inefficient use of resources to exterminate all emerging intelligences, maybe because most die out on their own. But past a certain point, the super beings make their move—because to them, an emerging intelligent species becomes like a virus as it starts to grow and spread. This theory suggests that whoever was the first in the galaxy to reach intelligence won, and now no one else has a chance. This would explain the lack of activity out there because it would keep the number of super-intelligent civilizations to just one.

Possibility 6) There’s plenty of activity and noise out there, but our technology is too primitive and we’re listening for the wrong things. Like walking into a modern-day office building, turning on a walkie-talkie, and when you hear no activity (which of course you wouldn’t hear because everyone’s texting, not using walkie-talkies), determining that the building must be empty. Or maybe, as Carl Sagan has pointed out, it could be that our minds work exponentially faster or slower than another form of intelligence out there—e.g. it takes them 12 years to say “Hello,” and when we hear that communication, it just sounds like white noise to us.

Possibility 7) We are receiving contact from other intelligent life, but the government is hiding it.This is an idiotic theory, but I had to mention it because it’s talked about so much.

Possibility 8) Higher civilizations are aware of us and observing us but concealing themselves from us (AKA the “Zoo Hypothesis”). As far as we know, super-intelligent civilizations exist in a tightly-regulated galaxy, and our Earth is treated like part of a vast and protected national park, with a strict “Look but don’t touch” rule for planets like ours. We wouldn’t be aware of them, because if a far smarter species wanted to observe us, it would know how to easily do so without us noticing. Maybe there’s a rule similar to the Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” which prohibits super-intelligent beings from making any open contact with lesser species like us or revealing themselves in any way, until the lesser species has reached a certain level of intelligence.

Possibility 9) Higher civilizations are here, all around us, but we’re too primitive to perceive them.Michio Kaku sums it up like this:

Lets say we have an ant hill in the middle of the forest. And right next to the ant hill, they’re building a ten-lane super-highway. And the question is “Would the ants be able to understand what a ten-lane super-highway is? Would the ants be able to understand the technology and the intentions of the beings building the highway next to them?”

So it’s not that we can’t pick up the signals from Planet X using our technology, it’s that we can’t even comprehend what the beings from Planet X are or what they’re trying to do. It’s so beyond us that even if they really wanted to enlighten us, it would be like trying to teach ants about the internet.

Along those lines, this may also be an answer to “Well if there are so many fancy Type III Civilizations, why haven’t they contacted us yet?” To answer that, let’s ask ourselves—when Pizarro made his way into Peru, did he stop for a while at an anthill to try to communicate? Was he magnanimous, trying to help the ants in the anthill? Did he become hostile and slow his original mission down in order to smash the anthill apart? Or was the anthill of complete and utter and eternal irrelevance to Pizarro? That might be our situation here.

Possibility 10) We’re completely wrong about our reality. There are a lot of ways we could just betotally off with everything we think. The universe might appear one way and be something else entirely, like a hologram. Or maybe we’re the aliens and we were planted here as an experiment or as a form of fertilizer. There’s even a chance that we’re all part of a computer simulation by some researcher from another world, and other forms of life simply weren’t programmed into the simulation.[3]



As we continue along with our possibly-futile search for extraterrestrial intelligence, I’m not really sure what I’m rooting for. Frankly, learning either that we’re officially alone in the universe or that we’re officially joined by others would be creepy, which is a theme with all of the surreal storylines listed above—whatever the truth actually is, it’s mindblowing.

Beyond its shocking science fiction component, The Fermi Paradox also leaves me with a deep humbling. Not just the normal “Oh yeah, I’m microscopic and my existence lasts for three seconds” humbling that thinking about the universe always triggers. The Fermi Paradox brings out a sharper, more personal humbling, one that can only happen after spending hours of research hearing your species’ most renowned scientists present insane theories, change their minds again and again, and wildly contradict each other—reminding us that future generations will look at us in the same way we see the ancient people who were sure that the stars were the underside of the dome of heaven, and they’ll think “Wow they really had no idea what was going on.”

Compounding all of this is the blow to our species’ self-esteem that comes with all of this talk about Type II and III Civilizations. Here on Earth, we’re the king of our little castle, proud ruler of the huge group of imbeciles who share the planet with us. And in this bubble with no competition and no one to judge us, it’s rare that we’re ever confronted with the concept of being a dramatically inferior species to anyone. But after spending a lot of time with Type II and III Civilizations over the past week, our power and pride are seeming a bit David Brent-esque.

That said, given that my normal outlook is that humanity is a lonely orphan on a tiny rock in the middle of a desolate universe, the humbling fact that we’re probably not as smart as we think we are, and the possibility that a lot of what we’re sure about might be wrong, sounds wonderful. It opens the door just a crack that maybe, just maybe, there might be more to the story than we realize.


To humble you further:

Putting Time In Perspective

4 Mind-Blowing Things About Stars


PNAS: Prevalence of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars
SETI: The Drake Equation
NASA: Workshop Report on the Future of Intelligence In The Cosmos
Cornell University Library: The Fermi Paradox, Self-Replicating Probes, and the Interstellar Transportation Bandwidth
NCBI: Astrobiological phase transition: towards resolution of Fermi’s paradox
André Kukla: Extraterrestrials: A Philosophical Perspective
Nick Bostrom: Where Are They?
Science Direct: Galactic gradients, postbiological evolution and the apparent failure of SETI
Nature: Simulations back up theory that Universe is a hologram
Robin Hanson: The Great Filter – Are We Almost Past It?
John Dyson: Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation

ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment


Black Image = International Space Station (ISS) is on the night side of the Earth.
Gray Image = Switching between cameras, or communications with the ISS is not available.
No Audio = Normal. There is no audio on purpose. Add your own soundtrack.

For a display of the real time ISS location plus the HDEV imagery, visit here:

The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment aboard the ISS was activated April 30, 2014. It is mounted on the External Payload Facility of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module. This experiment includes several commercial HD video cameras aimed at the earth which are enclosed in a pressurized and temperature controlled housing. Video from these cameras is transmitted back to earth and also streamed live on this channel. While the experiment is operational, views will typically sequence though the different cameras. Between camera switches, a gray and then black color slate will briefly appear. Since the ISS is in darkness during part of each orbit, the images will be dark at those times. During periods of loss of signal with the ground or when HDEV is not operating, a gray color slate or previously recorded video may be seen.
Analysis of this experiment will be conducted to assess the effects of the space environment on the equipment and video quality which may help decisions about cameras for future missions. High school students helped with the design of some of the HDEV components through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program. Student teams will also help operate the experiment. To learn more about the HDEV experiment, visit here:


Found! First Earth-Size Planet That Could Support Life

For the first time, scientists have discovered an Earth-size alien planet in the habitable zone of its host star, an “Earth cousin” that just might have liquid water and the right conditions for life.


This artist illustration shows what it might be like to stand on the surface of the planet Kepler-186f, the first-ever Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of its star.

This artist illustration shows what it might be like to stand on the surface of the planet Kepler-186f, the first-ever Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: Danielle Futselaar 

The newfound planet, called Kepler-186f, was first spotted by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and circles a dim red dwarf star about 490 light-years from Earth. While the host star is dimmer than Earth’s sun and the planet is slightly bigger than Earth, the positioning of the alien world coupled with its size suggests that Kepler-186f could have water on its surface, scientists say. You can learn more about the amazing alien planet find in a videoproduced by “One of the things we’ve been looking for is maybe an Earth twin, which is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a sunlike star,” Tom Barclay, Kepler scientist and co-author of the new exoplanet research, told “This [Kepler-186f] is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a cooler star. So, while it’s not an Earth twin, it is perhaps an Earth cousin. It has similar characteristics, but a different parent.”

This artist illustration shows the planet Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size alien planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star.

This artist illustration shows the planet Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size alien planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech


The rocky alien planet Kepler 186f is an Earth-size world that could have liquid water on its surface, and possibly even life. It orbits a star 490 light-years away.See the full details of alien planet Kepler-186f in this infographic. Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Potentially habitable planet

Scientists think that Kepler-186f — the outermost of five planets found to be orbiting the star Kepler-186 — orbits at a distance of 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers), theoretically within the habitable zone for a red dwarf. Earth orbits the sun from an average distance of about 93 million miles (150 million km), but the sun is larger and brighter than the Kepler-186 star, meaning that the sun’s habitable zone begins farther out from the star by comparison to Kepler-186. “This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” Elisa Quintana, of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center and the lead author of a new study detailing the findings, said in a statement. Other planets of various sizes have been found in the habitable zones of their stars. However, Kepler-186f is the first alien planet this close to Earth in size found orbiting in that potentially life-supporting area of an extrasolar system, according to exoplanet scientists. ‘An historic discovery’ “This is an historic discovery of the first truly Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone around its star,” Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research, told via email. “This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock-solid. The planet itself may not be, but I’d bet my house on it. In any case, it’s a gem.” The newly discovered planet measures about 1.1 Earth radii, making it slightly larger than Earth, but researchers still think the alien world may be rocky like Earth. Researchers still aren’t sure what Kepler-186f’s atmosphere is made of, a key element that could help scientists understand if the planet is hospitable to life.  [Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans, Maybe Life (Infographic)] “What we’ve learned, just over the past few years, is that there is a definite transition which occurs around about 1.5 Earth radii,” Quintana said in a statement. “What happens there is that for radii between 1.5 and 2 Earth radii, the planet becomes massive enough that it starts to accumulate a very thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere, so it starts to resemble the gas giants of our solar system rather than anything else that we see as terrestrial.”

This diagram shows the position of Kepler-186f in relation to Earth.

This diagram shows the position of Kepler-186f in relation to Earth. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

The edge of habitability

Kepler-186f actually lies at the edge of the Kepler-186 star’s habitable zone, meaning that liquid water on the planet’s surface could freeze, according to study co-author Stephen Kane of San Francisco State University. Because of its position in the outer part of the habitable zone, the planet’s larger size could actually help keep its water liquid, Kane said in a statement. Since it is slightly bigger than Earth, Kepler-186f could have a thicker atmosphere, which would insulate the planet and potentially keep its water in liquid form, Kane added. “It [Kepler-186f] goes around its star over 130 days, but because its star is a lower mass than our sun, the planet orbits slightly inner of where Mercury orbits in our own solar system,” Barclay said. “It’s on the cooler edge of the habitable zone. It’s still well within it, but it receives less energy than Earth receives. So, if you’re on this planet [Kepler-186f], the star would appear dimmer.” Exoplanet hunting in the future Kepler-186f could be too dim for follow-up studies that would probe the planet’s atmosphere. NASA’sJames Webb Space Telescope — Hubble’s successor, expected to launch to space in 2018 — is designed to image planets around relatively nearby stars; however, the Kepler-186 system might be too far off for the powerful telescope to investigate, Barclay said. Scientists using the Kepler telescope discovered Kepler-186f using the transit method: When the planet moved across the face of its star from the telescope’s perspective, Kepler recorded a slight dip in the star’s brightness, allowing researchers to learn more about the planet itself. Kepler suffered a major malfunction last year and is no longer working in the same fashion, but scientists are still going through the spacecraft’s trove of data searching for new alien worlds. “I find it simply awesome that we live in a time when finding potentially habitable planets is common, and the method to find them is standardized,” MIT exoplanet hunter and astrophysicist Sara Seager, who is unaffiliated with the research, told via email. The new research was published online today (April 17) in the journal Science.

Hundreds of New Exoplanets Validated by Kepler Telescope Team

A trove of 715 planets—all members of multiworld systems—joins the list of Kepler’s finds

kepler planets

The newly validated Kepler planets are all part of multiworld systems with numerous planets orbiting a single star.

A huge new haul of planets has joined the tally of alien worlds discovered by NASA’sKepler space telescope, scientists announced today. All of the new planets are members of multiplanet systems—stars with more than one orbiting satellite. Researchers used a new method for weeding out false signals from among the candidate planets found by Kepler, allowing them to add hundreds of “validated” planets to the count of Kepler’s finds. “We studied just over 1,200 systems, and from there we were able to validate 719 planets,” says Jason Rowe of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the research.* “This is the biggest haul ever.”Kepler launched in 2009 and stopped taking data last year after two of its stabilizingreaction wheels failed. Its relatively short lifetime, however, has already offered up a wealth of discovery, including more than 3,500 planetary candidates as well as 246 worlds confirmed by follow-up observations. The new harvest brings its tally of true planets to over 1,000.

Kepler searches for planets by measuring stellar brightness dips caused when a planet passes in front of a star, briefly dimming the star’s light. This technique, called the transiting method, is more than 90 percent accurate, but sometimes a nonplanet can fool the telescope. One of the most common reasons for a “false positive” is an eclipsing binary—a pair of orbiting stars that sometimes cross in front of one another from our perspective—lying along the same line of sight as the foreground star Kepler is studying. Eclipsing binaries dim when one star passes in front of the other, mimicking the dimming effect a planet would have.

Stars with a single planet can be hard to distinguish from eclipsing binaries. But multiplanet systems are far less likely to be frauds. “It happens, but it’s unlikely that you have two eclipsing binaries in the background of the same star,” says Francois Fressin of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the study. “That simple fact tremendously increases the odds that they are bona fide planets.” It is also possible to have an eclipsing binary and a star with a planet lying right on top of one another, albeit extremely unlikely. “Based on that argument we started to get into the statistics to see if we can quantify that and see how many we can pull out and say with very good confidence they are validated planets,” Rowe says.

About 20 percent of the candidate planets Kepler finds inhabit systems with multiple worlds. Among this group, Rowe and his colleagues tried to weed out the small number that were likely to be false signals by examining the light signature of the candidate planets. The light from a single planetary system would be centered on one point, the parent star. An eclipsing binary in the background, however, would probably not lie exactly behind the main star, but would be offset by a small distance. When this binary blinks out as one star crosses the other, the center of the light in the field of view should shift over to the side, creating a signature called a moving centroid. “The moving centroids are the ones where we’re fairly sure they are false positives, and then we have a subset, the majority of them, that we are very confident are planetary systems and show no sign of blends,” Rowe says.

The idea that multiplanet systems are easier to validate is not new, and researchers have previously studied how to winnow out the small number of false positives. “I made this argument [in 2011] but now it has been worked out in careful detail,” says David Latham of the CfA. “Jason has done a really nice job.”

The new cache of planets is extremely unlikely to harbor imposters, but they are not “confirmed planets,” in the traditional sense. That requires measuring the parent star’s motion to determine how much the planets’ gravitational tugging causes it to wobble, revealing the planets’ mass. “Even though we can be very confident that these objects are real planets, the only information we have right now on their physical properties is their size (radius) and expected equilibrium temperature (which depends on the distance to their parent star, which is known),” says Guillermo Torres of the CfA.

Among the new trove of planets: a small, potentially rocky world; an odd binary star system where each star has planets of its own; and cramped systems where the multiple planets are each gravitationally tugging one another around. “Of course we have every type of planetary system in our validated set that people can think of, except the perfect Earth analogue,” Rowe says. For now, that remains Kepler’s holy grail.

*Editor’s Note (2/26/14): The tally of 719 exoplanet validations announced in the quote was restated as 715 by the Kepler team shortly after this story was posted.

South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X Tracker

planetx-2006-04aAmerica is now spending huge sums to deploy the massive The South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica. The final installation will be the size of a mini-mall and will require a massive C-130 airlift effort to transport pre-assembled modules and a large staff to the most desolate, inhospitable and inaccessible region of the world. Why? Because Planet X / Nibiru was first sighted in 1983 and this discovery spurred the USA to build the SPT — humanity’s new Planet X tracker.Amongst independent researchers like us at YOWUSA.COM and the equally committed researchers with whom we share data, the 1983 IRAS observation of Planet X / Nibiru has always been a hot topic.  On a private level, we often discuss how the NASA’s IRAS spacecraft first captured infrared images of it back in 1983 with the same lament. Given the lack of corroboration, how can you publish a story that can easily be shot down as a rumor?  That was then.

Now we have the corroboration we’ve lacked for years, The South Pole Telescope (SPT).  Far more powerful capable and survivable than the 1983 IRAS spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope put together, this manned observatory will soon begin tracking Planet X / Nibiru from the pristine skies of Antarctica.

Why is America spending a massive fortune to transport this massive facility with massive C-130 airlift to the most desolate, inhospitable and inaccessible region of the world to track this massive inbound? Because this is where astronomers will find their ultimate Kodak moment and this is good news.  Their resulting multi-spectrum observations will translate into life-saving data.


Foreword by Marshall Masters

A key person in the revealing content of this article is a former US intelligence officer by the name of John Maynard.  These days, he is best known for his involvement with Dr. Steven Greer’s Disclosure Project.  With regards to this article, his explanation of how our government first began tracking Planet X / Nibiru in 1983 is now being corroborated with the deployment of the South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica.

When I starting YOWUSA.COM in 1999, I received a good deal of help from John.  Not one to remain idle, he took a position with the World Bank, to begin running their Africa desk following his retirement from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  The NRO develops, deploys and operates America’s reconnaissance satellites for “customers” like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD).

As a former intelligence handler, John’s goals were two-fold.  First, the release of information he’d seen pass across his desk regarding space threats and extraterrestrials.  Second, and of equal importance to him, was teaching those who committed to publishing on these topics how to avoid confrontation with the Machiavellian-oriented groups within our government.  His advice greatly shaped the manner in which we publish our findings to this very day.

When I started this site in 1999 along with Jacco van der Worp, Steve Russell and Janice Manning, our focus was solely on Earth changes.  Rather than follow the footsteps of a narrow Earth-centric debate centered on humanity’s impact on the biosphere, we opted to see if there was an off-world causality.  In late 2000, we determined there was, and this led us to our present research efforts with regards to Planet X / Nibiru.

irasIn late 2000, I also had several conversations with John regarding Planet X.  Actually, I probed him rather hard.  Having worked on the Denver-based Space Imagingsatellite project for Lockheed Martin, I knew if a large incoming object was on the way, the Hubble or some other deep space bird had likely imaged it.  My hunch was on the money. 

John finally told me it had been imaged by NASA’s IRAS infrared sensing satellite in 1983 and that the mechanical failure story was used as a cover story.  As he explained it to me, the IRAS data started pouring in, and that’s when they found Planet X.  During one sweep, it stood out like a sore thumb; worse yet, it is approaching from the South.

This was especially bad news because the vast majority of the world’s most capable observatories are north of the Equator, and the decision was made to devote the remaining lifespan of the IRAS spacecraft to the observation of this one object.

After releasing the mechanical failure cover story, controllers used the IRAS’s remaining fuel to maintain a constant track on the object until they finally lost all control of the spacecraft.


Why IRAS Was Sacrificed

The reason why it was necessary to expend the IRAS’s remaining fuel is that tracking an object to determine its speed and trajectory requires multiple observations.  This is because the more observations you make, the more you increase the accuracy of your tracking calculations.

This is why many Near Earth Object (NEO) announcements are alarming at first and then gradually become less threatening.  As new observations are made, the chance of impact typically decreases through more accurate calculations.


You’re Not Alone! Join with Like-minded
Others on the Planet X Town Hall

Survival Health System for Preppers and Survivalists

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At the time, John’s explanation was helpful in spurring on my own research efforts but I have not felt obliged to discuss this until learning of the new South Pole Telescope (SPT) soon to be installed in Antarctica.  The very existence of the SPT corroborates John’s revelation about the IRAS in three significant ways.


In the visible light spectrum, dust-shrouded Planet X remains a needle in a haystack.  However, it has a powerful infrared signature and so it is much easier to track in light spectrums outside those our eyes can detect.


When tracking an object, observation data is collected to create an ephemeris, an astronomical table that predicts where the object will be on any given day of the year.  With planets like our own, this is a fairly straightforward proposition.  However, with long period objects like PlanetX, it is a different case altogether because they do not run on time like a fascist train, and most especially one with a 3600-year orbit such as Planet X as Zecharia Sitchin pointed out during an exclusive interview with

YOWUSA.COM, 01-June-02
Will Planet X / Nibiru Return in 2003?

… the assumption that the 3600 years, as a perfect mathematical given, is also at all times the actual orbital period, is untenable: Even the orbit of Halley’s Comet, about 75 years, varies from 74 to 76 or so.  All attempts to pinpoint a precise date for future arrivals of the planet and/or of the Anunnaki are thus difficult questions.

Therefore, tracking this object like this for a few years is not enough.  It has to be observed as often as possible, if not continuously.


Over the years, we’ve discussed various flyby disaster scenarios ranging from mild global warming to an extinction-level event (ELE).  Recently, we’ve found accurate historical accounts of the last two flybys in The Kolbrin Bible; those being the worst-case scenario of the Deluge (Noah’s flood) and the best-case scenario of Exodus.

The reason why these two events were dramatically different with regards to the severity of catastrophic events was the position of the Earth relative to that of Planet X as it flew through the system.  Given the long-period eccentricities of this object’s orbit, it’s virtually impossible to render a long-range prediction of where Earth will be in our solar system relative to the Sun and Planet X when the object finishes its inbound leg, crosses the ecliptic and its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) and then begins its outbound leg back to the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt where its aphelion (furthest point from the Sun) lies.

If we’re lucky, Earth will be in opposition to Planet X as it crosses the ecliptic on the opposite side of the Sun from us.  If not, return your seat to its fully upright position, and fasten your seatbelt.  Consequently, knowing which scenario is going play out in advance depends on the accuracy of our ephemeris.

What is the Best Planet X Tracking Solution?

This finally brings us to the meat of the matter.  Our government already knows a good deal about Planet X, but in order to handle what comes next requires the most precise ephemeris possible, and this means that launching another satellite is not the solution.

NASA just announced that the next solar maximum starting in 2007 will be more intense by as much as 50% of the previous solar maximum.  Keep in mind; the previous solar maximum was so intense that they had to invent a new ultra high severity Y class to describe massive solar flares.  In terms of spacecraft, the last intense solar maximum year was 1958.  Back then, the space above our planet was not cluttered with spacecraft, but now it is and they are vulnerable to solar flares.  Nowadays, all it takes is a few catastrophic solar flares headed our way and we’ll see our cable television service stripped down to a few basic channels and we’ll all be back to 28K dial-up for a while (providing we can get it through AOL and EarthLink).

This is why the need for a permanent, powerful tracking station in the Southern hemisphere became obvious.  Unlike a spacecraft, preventing damage to a ground-based observation platform during a solar flare event is simple.  Turn it off.  Turn it all off.  Then fire up the camp stoves for a day or so and sip hot chocolate while you play 7-card draw.

If you turn a satellite completely off, getting it turned back on is not easy.  Especially when it has been damaged by a solar flare.  It is like being in a remotely isolated phone booth in the middle of Backhoe Wyoming in the dead of winter and you’re running out of quarters – fast.

Speaking of the dead of winter, that brings us to the matter at hand.  The South Pole Telescope (SPT) and Jacco’s initial findings.  –Marshall Masters

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McQuate’s Annunaki — The Choice

OK, so the Annunaki land and the next thing we know, we’re all in deep yogurt and scratching our heads. What to do? What to do?

Well, that’s how it will play out for all those who say “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

But this is no ordinary choice. Rather, it is a fateful one whereby you resolve to follow the Creator or to turn away.

Granted, this choice will be too heavy a load to shoulder for many. Yet for others, it will come as naturally as a bee to the nectar.

So in third and final interview with Dr. Scott McQuate, author and publisher of The Tribulation Web Site, we explore the consequences of this choice, both ways. GO


Planet X 101: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

New to the topic of Planet X / Nibiru and feeling a bit overwhelmed? No matter how you got to this point, what you want and need most of all, is a clear bead on what we’re up against. This program gives you that with a time-saving, head start that could save you months of personal research.

Produced and narrated by Marshall Masters, publisher of, this program reveals the different names for Planet X, a chronology of Planet X research from 1781 to the present and concerns about present dangers. It also offers a simple strategy for planning and preparation that can help newcomers to quickly organize using things most folks already have on-hand.

However, the most important thing to help you and your loved ones to survive this coming global cataclysm, is the very reason why you prepare. Here, the strategy in this video is simple. Do not plan against what you fear, but for what you love, because survival is not about holding onto things. It’s about holding on, to each other. GO


Planet Mars: The New Evidence – Documentary


hqdefaultMars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second smallest planet in the Solar System. Named after the Roman god of war, it is often described as the “Red Planet”, as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth. The rotational period and seasonal cycles of Mars are likewise similar to those of Earth, as is the tilt that produces the seasons. Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the second highest known mountain within the Solar System (the tallest on a planet), and of Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons. The smooth Borealis basin in the northern hemisphere covers 40% of the planet and may be a giant impact feature. Mars has two known moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Martian trojan asteroid.

Until the first successful Mars flyby in 1965 by Mariner 4, many speculated about the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface. This was based on observed periodic variations in light and dark patches, particularly in the polar latitudes, which appeared to be seas and continents; long, dark striations were interpreted by some as irrigation channels for liquid water. These straight line features were later explained as optical illusions, though geological evidence gathered by unmanned missions suggest that Mars once had large-scale water coverage on its surface. In 2005, radar data revealed the presence of large quantities of water ice at the poles and at mid-latitudes. The Mars rover Spirit sampled chemical compounds containing water molecules in March 2007. The Phoenix lander directly sampled water ice in shallow Martian soil on July 31, 2008.

Mars is currently host to five functioning spacecraft: three in orbit — the Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; and two on the surface — Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. Defunct spacecraft on the surface include MER-A Spirit and several other inert landers and rovers such as the Phoenix lander, which completed its mission in 2008. Observations by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.

Mars can easily be seen from Earth with the naked eye, as can its reddish coloring. Its apparent magnitude reaches −3.0, which is surpassed only by Jupiter, Venus, the Moon, and the Sun. Optical ground-based telescopes are typically limited to resolving features about 300 km (186 miles) across when Earth and Mars are closest because of Earth’s atmosphere.

New Images Provide Strongest Evidence So Far For Liquid Water On Mars

photo credit: NASA/JPL

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Back in 2011, scientists discovered that liquid water could still exist on the equator on Mars – if only seasonally. The discovery came in the form of dark streaks that appeared on the Martian landscape during the summer months and disappeared during the colder months. Since then, researchers have been further investigating the sites where water appeared to be flowing in search of minerals that could be associated with free-flowing water. The study was led by Lujendra Ojha and James Wray and recent publications have appeared in the journals Geophyiscal Research Letters and Icarus.

What is believed to be water is appearing in narrow trench-like geological features called recurring slope lineae (RSL). The floor and the walls of the RSL become darkened during the summer months, like the dirt and rocks have gotten wet. Though scientists could not definitively say where the water would be coming from, they believed it was the most likely scenario to explain the seasonal darkening.

Following up from the 2011 discovery, Ojha went in search for chemical traces of water or salt, which would indicate flowing water. The first step was going to be to locate the RSL for study in the first place. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) collected images of 200 locations that were scouted based on their mid-latitude in the southern hemisphere and rocky cliff locations, though only 13 were verified to have RSL, which was much lower than they had been anticipating.

For the 13 confirmed RSL sites, the team used the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) in order to survey the sites for water-associated minerals. Unfortunately, they did not find any traces of water or salts, but they didn’t come away completely empty-handed. Signatures indicating the presence of ferric (Fe3+) and ferrous (Fe2+) minerals were readily found at RSL sites yet were not quite as prominent in the non-RSL locations. While this does not prove the presence of water, the researchers aren’t sure how it could have happened without it.

Just as the dark streaks in RSL sites appear darker during the summer months, the mineral signals grows stronger during warmer weather. The team also determined that RSL sites cannot be predicted from one year to the next, as not all of the sites are abundant year after year. It is a cat-and-mouse game of trying to locate the RSL and observe it before the mid-afternoon heat, but researchers will be persistent in determining what is causing the RSL sites to darken each summer. Though water would be the simplest explanation, it will be difficult to prove.

This gif shows RSL sites in time lapse, beginning in the winter when the ground is driest and the color is lightest, progressing through spring and summer, as the dark streaks become apparent. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

10 Mind-Bending Implications of the Many Worlds Theory

In quantum physics—the scientific study of the nature of physical reality—there is plenty of room for interpretation within the realm of what is known. The most popular mainstream interpretation, the Copenhagen interpretation, has as one of its central tenets the concept of wave function collapse. That is to say, every event exists as a “wave function” which contains every possible outcome of that event, which “collapses”—distilling into the actual outcome, once it is observed. For example, if a room is unobserved, anything and everything that could possibly be in that room exists in “quantum superposition”—an indeterminate state, full of every possibility, at least until someone enters the room and observes it, thereby collapsing the wave function and solidifying the reality.

The role of the observer has long been a source of contention for those who disagree with the theory. The strongest competition to this interpretation, and probably the second most popular mainstream interpretation (meaning, a lot of incredibly smart people think it’s a sound theory) is called the Everett interpretation after Hugh Everett, who first proposed it in 1957. It’s known colloquially as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI), because it postulates simply that the wave function never collapses; it simply branches into its own unique world-line, resulting in every possible outcome of every situation existing in physical reality. If you’re having a hard time getting your head around that statement (and the fact that it’s held to be correct by the likes ofStephen Hawking), allow us to spell out some of the implications for you—but first, you may want to plug your ears to hold your brains in.


Multiverse-4You’re probably familiar with the concept of “alternate universes,” and if so, probably because you’ve seen it in fiction. After all, one of the very first instances of the concept appeared in DC comics, first touched upon in a couple of issues of Wonder Woman, but firmly established in a 1961 issue ofThe Flash. The fictional “Multiverse” concept established by DC, and taken further by Marvel, is simply the concept that there exists infinite alternate realities, each containing separate and unique versions of their characters, which exist outside one another and often cross over.

This is the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics in a nutshell (without the crossing over, so far as we know). It states that since the wave function never collapses, every possible outcome of any event is realized in a separate and non-communicating physical reality, which actually exists alongside our own. It is interesting to note that this seemingly coincidental use of alternate realities, perfectly describing MWI, was put forth in a fictional medium just four years after Everett’s initial proposal of the interpretation. If MWI is correct, it is certainly not a coincidence—for fiction may be more than just made-up stories, as we’ll see later.

At any rate, this means that there is a version of you whose car broke down this morning, forcing you to take the bus (or, if that happened this morning, then vice versa). There’s also a version of you who was attacked by a dive-bombing kamikaze bald eagle, for this doesn’t just apply to mundane stuff; as a necessary consequence of Many Worlds, it must hold that…


CreateproductthumbnailLet’s consider an NFL football game being played. Assume that every time the quarterback throws the ball, there is a gigantic invisible die being rolled, a die which contains an infinite amount of values. The most common, likely outcomes—receiver catches the ball and scores, catches the ball but gets tackled, ball is intercepted, and so on—are assigned to a very high number, perhaps billions, of values. Very unlikely outcomes—say, the ball bounces off of the sole of the sprinting receiver’s shoe as he is hit by a linebacker, is barely scooped up off the turf by a running back, who somehow eludes all the tacklers and scores—are assigned to a low number of values. But crucially, they are still assigned.

MWI concludes that all values are rolled in some timeline somewhere, even the most unlikely ones—and inevitably, the timeline where the low-probability value gets rolled will be ours. As evidenced by the play described above, which totally happened and decided the outcome of a divisional playoff game.
And there is no ceiling of improbability, other than physics—whatever could possibly occur.

We have no way of knowing whether or not even those physical laws remain consistent across all possible world-lines, because we unfortunately can’t communicate with or visit them to ask. So even when confronted with circumstances that appear to be impossible, like a glowing ball of light that shoots fireballs at a police helicopter, or a missing woman unknowingly standing in the background of a photo being taken of her family for a newspaper story about her disappearance, it helps to remember that nothing is impossible on a large enough scale—indeed, given an infinite number of chances, literally anything you can imagine is not only possible, but inevitable. And just as inevitably, the impossible or unimaginable—given billions upon billions of chances—will happen here in our world-line. Which leads to a couple of interesting observations about human nature…


Clones-CopyIf you find it impossible to imagine a man inexplicably killing a bunch of people for no reason, or someone surviving injuries that would destroy a normal person five times over, or a pilot managing to land an airplane with all controls restricted or disabled without incurring any major injuries, you may be finding it a little less impossible now—considering what we know about how probability works in a Multiverse. But as soon as we begin to apply this to ourselves personally, the implications threaten to become overwhelming; for there are billions of versions of you—all of which are undeniably you—but many of which are very, very different from the “you” of this world-line.

The differences between those versions are as staggering and vast as your imagination, and the reality of their existence forces us to examine human nature a bit differently. Of course, you would never kill anybody (we hope), but have you ever thought about it? There is a world-line where you did. In fact, there’s a world-line where you’re the worst mass murderer ever. Conversely, there’s another where your tireless efforts and dedication to the cause brought about world peace. Did you have a band in high school? That band is the dominant musical force on the planet, somewhere. Have you always kind of wondered what would have happened had you mustered the guts to ask out that one girl or guy that one time? Well, you get the idea.

This could actually explain a lot: strong feelings of deja vu, feelings of a close connection with someone you’ve never met, morbid fascinations with things that should repulse us, or even instances of people acting strongly “out of character” in our own worldline. For as we will see, some may have a degree of “resonance” with other world-lines or versions of themselves, which can bring about the knowledge that:


Ripples-In-PondHinduism, along with some other schools of religious and philosophical thought, teaches the concept of reincarnation—that we as human beings manifest physically on Earth multiple times, that we can learn from our past and future “lives,” and that such learning is in fact the purpose of our existence. This belief system can be seen as an intuitive understanding of the Multiverse; and given our previous assertion about you being a mass murderer, it can be comforting to know that the experience of all facets of human nature is an explicit part of our growth.

Of course, this is not to say that anyone should kill people or engage in any other immoral behavior—after all, the purpose of this continued cycle of learning (according to Hindu belief) is to eventually learn all that there is to learn, and transcend our physical existence. Ideally, we learned many lifetimes (world-lines) ago all there was to learn from indulging the dark side of our nature.
But the kicker here is that our experience is our experience (an idea we’ll get to in a little more detail shortly)—and that all of human experience must be realized by every one of us before we can move on to wherever it is we’re moving on to.

While some believe that our destination is a type of eventual godhood, wherein we all get to preside over a universe of our own creation, others believe that the cycle simply repeats—that once everything runs down and heat death results in the destruction of all realities, our accumulated knowledge will be used to restart the cycle and create the next Multiverse. Which, of course, means that…


Screen Shot 2013-02-22 At 8.22.46 PmIf reality is a continuous cycle—along the lines of “Big Bang, expansion, contraction, collapse, Big Bang again”—then, given what we believe about the Multiverse and its infinite world-lines, you have existed before. In fact, all the infinite versions of you have existed before, and will exist again—and the same goes for all of us, along with every possible idea, creation and situation throughout all of our past and future, across all realities.

In one fell swoop, this concept explains instances of both deja vu and strong feelings of predestination. Even if deja vu seems meaningless and random, and the premonition turns out to be incorrect, these things are only true of our particular world-line—and it appears that some people (or all people, just to varying degrees) are able to achieve some degree of “resonance” with alternate world-lines—another concept that first appeared in comic books.

Indeed, one of the more common forms of deja vu involves experiencing an event which we recognize from having previously dreamed it. While seen by some as precognition, this really suggests resonance with alternate (or identical but previous) world-lines—especially when you consider that the“dream world” may be seen as an alternate world-line itself, and one just as real as the waking world.

Of course, if everything that exists or will exist has already existed, this leads to the conclusion that…


BookbirdsMany writers of storiessongs and other artistic types describe a feeling of the pieces that they craft already existing, fully formed, waiting for the artist to come along and excavate them like fossils. In an infinite Multiverse, this makes perfect sense, for this is exactly what the pieces are.

Art is a uniquely human endeavor, and one that strives to communicate aspects of the human experience that may be difficult or impossible to communicate by other means. While it is not possible to accurately describe in any language what love “feels like,” there are plenty of ways to communicate this in art—indeed, it is through artistic expressions that resonate with us (that word again) that many of us develop our first notions of the nature of love—and that’s only one example. How should it be possible for an artist to communicate effectively, through a story, song or painting, an emotion that the reader, listener or observer has never felt before?

In our Multiverse, this is explained by the fact that these expressions of human emotion, thought, and perspective have essentially always existed, for as long as the impulses that spawned them have existed. This very piece of writing, which has been written before in order to guide another version of you to knowledge that you already have, can stand as a perfect example.

For that matter, consider the possibility that stories aren’t just stories. The Marvel Comics Multiverse acknowledges the existence of our world-line, one where superheroes don’t exist but are merely stories in books and movies. It could very well be that—since physical laws may be very different in other world-lines—these are not stories at all, but actual people and events transcribed from other realities. This goes for anything ever “imagined” or “created”—there exist world-lines where Hogwarts School and Harry Potter, Camp Crystal Lake and Jason Voorhees, Gotham City and Batman, all exist in physical reality.

And if you’re thinking that this line of reasoning—everything exists, nothing is ever created—implies that nothing is ever destroyed, well.


BraingridcircuitboardThat is exactly what it implies. The fact of our immortality in a Multiverse can be illustrated in various ways. For one thing, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy (such as the electrical charges generated by your brain, or the heat your body produces) cannot be created or destroyed, but simply changes form—implying that the energy that powers your body must go somewhere when it leaves, and that consciousness cannot be destroyed, but is infinite. For another, consider the thought experiment known as Quantum Immortality.

In this experiment (preceded by “thought” for a reason; for crying out loud, don’t try this), an experimenter sits in front of a device which is programmed, with 50/50 probability, to either discharge a device which kills the experimenter, or produce a click (in which case, of course, the experimenter survives). In the second case, the experimenter and all observers experience the same outcome- a click, and nothing else. But in the first—since (assuming MWI is correct) it is not possible for the experimenter to experience termination of consciousness (because consciousness is infinite)—while any observers will see the experimenter killed, the experimenter himself will experience the first outcome, the harmless click, on another world-line. Said experimenter can never experience a different outcome, and thus—no matter how unlikely it becomes after repeated attempts—will always survive the experiment, from his point of view.

This means that while we will all experience dying, we will never experience death—the termination of our consciousness. How can this be? It calls into question the very nature of consciousness, which leads us to the very real possibility that…


F7E51F07In the late 1970s, physicist David Bohm formulated a theory describing what he called the Implicate and Explicate orders of existence. This theory, which is consistent with MWI, states that there is an enfolded or “Implicate” order of existence which encapsulates all of consciousness, and that there is a corresponding “Explicate” order of existence which comprises all that we physically see and experience, and is the projection of the enfolded “Implicate” order.

Bohm arrived at the controversial conclusion (along with physicist Karl Pribram, who arrived at the same conclusion independently) that the entirety of observable existence is basically the mother of all holograms. Just as a laser filtered through an encoded film produces a hologram, our collective energy of the implicate order (the laser) filtered through our human consciousness (the film) produces the explicate, physical reality (hologram).

Michael Talbot’s excellent book The Holographic Universe examines this and many other aspects of Bohm and Pribram’s theories in detail, but the overarching and inescapable conclusion—which you have likely already drawn yourself—is that:


Hinduism-Philosophy-GodIf the Explicate is but a “projection” of the Implicate, then we—our physical selves, and indeed all of physical reality—are a “projection” of our true, unfiltered consciousness. One that we all play a hand in creating, whether we know it or not, all the time.

This one notion explains practically everything that “can’t be explained” about the world we see. Supernatural phenomena, meaningful coincidences, psychic activity—literally anything and everything makes sense when one realizes that this reality is essentially a dream, dreamed by the most powerful consciousness imaginable.

If this is the true nature of physical reality—as suggested for centuries by Hindu scholars, intuited by generations of artists and philosophers, and articulated as well as possible by our most brilliant scientific minds—then there is only one statement left to be made. Probably not coincidentally, one that was made previously as a seemingly throwaway lyric in a 1967 song, by one of our greatest artists…


Surreal-13Throughout the history of artistic and philosophical expression, one concept rises to the surface, especially in works that are particularly influential or have a great deal of longevity. From “Strawberry Fields Forever” to Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream, to Descartes’ assertion that “I think, therefore I am” to Bill Hicks’ great “Life Is A Ride” speech, and even inchildren’s nursery rhymes—life is but a dream. A powerful dream, and one containing an infinite number of lessons for us—but a dream nonetheless.

After all, if everything—Atlantis, Luke Skywalker, your neighbor Bill—is as real as everything else, then what is reality but what we perceive? And what is our perception, if not our creation?

I know that we have to process a lot here, but do keep in mind that there are almost certainly billions of versions of you mulling over the answer to this question; and that given billions of chances to find the answer, one of your versions eventually will—as will we all.

Source/Credits: Listverse