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Remember back in the 90s and early aughts when SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) had those screensavers you could install that would process chunks of radio telescope data, looking for interesting signals? It would quietly download the data packets, process them, and send them back to SETI. That project has long since been canceled, but its successor is even cooler- SETI Live. The latest version of it just launched yesterday, and it literally allows you to visually analyze real data from the Allen Telescope Array. As I understand it, there are parts of the radio spectrum that are crowded by our own human-made signals. Even the most sophisticated computer software has a hard time distinguishing between something that’s manmade and something that’s extraterrestrial in origin, so they need human eyes to make the distinction. The project is part of Zooniverse, which has many other projects that allow the general public to take part in real scientific research and experiments. So sign yourself up and get to analyzing- you never know what you’ll find, especially now that they’re aiming the radio telescopes at stars known to have planets orbiting them!

Now sit back and enjoy this eye candy: yet another gorgeous timelapse video created from photos of earth at night taken from the International Space Station. I could literally watch stuff like this all day. There have been several of these created thus far, but this one just might be the best yet. It’s like crack for your eyes…

(Via Universe Today)

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So there has been some excitement and confusion lately over a signal discovered by SETI researchers after they aimed one of their radio telescopes toward “objects of interest” discovered by the Kepler mission. These are possible exoplanet discoveries, but they’ve yet to be confirmed by other telescopes. (These are called Kepler Objects of Interest, or KOIs.) Until now, SETI researchers have been blindly aiming their telescopes all over they sky listening for possible alien radio signals. Now that the Kepler team has a few KOIs that might be habitable, it makes sense for SETI to narrow their search and start listening specifically in the direction of those KOIs. Well, they did just that, and they found an interesting signal! One that is clearly not just natural background noise. But, that signal is almost definitely interference from one of our own satellites, because the signal still shows up even when they aim the radio telescopes away from the exoplanets. So, don’t let anyone fool you- SETI has NOT discovered an alien radio signal.

As he always does, Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy lays out the truth on this. Universe Today has an excellent post on it as well.

Ares I-X/Man-made Auroras

August 5, 2009

Image Via Universe Today

Image Via Universe Today

NASA is assembling the Ares I-X rocket currently in the the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kenndey Space Center. This rocket is a test version for the Ares I which, under the current plan, will eventually take astronauts to the ISS and moon. They plan to do the test flight on Oct. 31st of this year. However, Obama’s Augustine Commission is currently reviewing the direction of NASA and could come out with a report that recommends scrapping the Ares rockets in favor of retro-fitting the space shuttle’s external fuel tank/SRB assembly to work with the new Orion Crew Vehicle. (I’ve posted about this before.) I’d say the test will happen regardless of the Augustine Commission’s recommendations, and furthermore I’d speculate that their findings will be somewhat dependent on the results of this test flight. Either way, it’ll be cool to see what happens. (Via Universe Today)

It’s unfortunate that most really big advances and breakthroughs in science are the result of military initiatives. (See: THE INTERNET) A scientist can ask the government for money to research a technology that could greatly improve the lives of everyone, but as soon as he/she mentions that the technology could have military applications, their chance of getting said money goes up exponentially. Such is the case with one of the most mysterious facilities ever to be built. No, I’m not talking about Area 51, I’m talking about HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) in Alaska. This thing is literally capable of creating its own miniature aurora in the sky. It’s a 3.6 megawatt antenna array aimed directly into the sky, and its purpose is to turn the ionosphere (a layer at the top of the atmosphere full of charged particles) into a giant low frequency antenna. I think the intent of the scientists behind this project is good, but the facility has fueled tons of conspiracy theories. Some even say it is responsible for Hurricane Katrina. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know exactly how ultra low frequency radio waves can affect the weather, but I do know that something powerful enough to blast the ionosphere and create a mini-aurora is pretty awesome, and the scientific knowledge that can be gained from such experiments is well-worth the evils of military application. The main military application in this case is the penetrating power of those ultra-low frequency radio waves generated by the ionosphere. Those waves could be used to detect underground bunkers and communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. Other radio waves are quickly absorbed by just a few feet of water or land, but these high-powered, low frequency waves have much more penetrating ability. I suggest reading this well written article on Wired about HAARP for more info if you’re interested. Here’s what the antenna array looks like:

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