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Eats, Breathes, Thinks, Creates
The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space—each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

NGC 5128 120 Hours Extreme Deep Field Astrography Source: Rolf Wahl Olsen (flickr)
» Self-replicating alien probes could already be here

Mathematicians in Scotland calculate that “self-replicating” alien probes could already have explored our solar system and may still be here but undetectable to our current technologies.

The new calculations, reported in the International Journal of Astrobiology this week, expanded on the previous work by using “self-replicating” probes in the computer models to see how the self-replication would affect the timescale.

The robotic probes could explore our galaxy and self-replicate themselves from and gas, after which the parent and child probes would each set off for a different star, where they would look for and then self-replicate themselves again. The probes would therefore disperse themselves radially across space.

In all the scenarios the scientists looked at, exploration timescales were reduced when the probes were self-replicating, and they concluded that a fleet of self-replicating probes could travel at only 10% of the speed of light and still explore the entire Galaxy in the relatively short time of 10 million years. This is a tiny fraction of the age of the Earth and the scientists say the results reinforce the idea of the “Fermi Paradox.”
Dr Forgan said that the fact that we have not detected or seen any evidence of alien probes in the solar system suggests there have been no probe-building civilizations in the Milky Way in the last few million years or that the probes are so hi-tech we are unable to detect them. Another possibility is that probes could be programmed to make contact only with civilizations that pass a set measure of intelligence, which could be the ability to detect the probes.

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I consider this possibility quite likely.  Our planet has had a detectable oxygen signature for at least 2 billion years.  Any alien civilization that can build orbital telescopes should know that Earth is a living planet.

(via christinetheastrophysicist)


Enter the Vortex… in Psychedelic Color. This spectacular, vertigo inducing, false-color image from NASA’s Cassini mission highlights the storms at Saturn’s north pole. The angry eye of a hurricane-like storm appears dark red while the fast-moving hexagonal jet stream framing it is a yellowish green. Low-lying clouds circling inside the hexagonal feature appear as muted orange color. A second, smaller vortex pops out in teal at the lower right of the image. The rings of Saturn appear in vivid blue at the top right.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Source (Solar System Exploration at NASA)

Haze on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon
Photo cred: NASA/JPL/SSI/J. Major
The cities of Iran and the Arabian Peninsula illuminated by moonlight.

Earth’s Gold Came from Colliding Dead Stars

We value gold for many reasons: its beauty, its usefulness as jewelry, and its rarity. Gold is rare on Earth in part because it’s also rare in the universe. Unlike elements like carbon or iron, it cannot be created within a star. Instead, it must be born in a more cataclysmic event - like one that occurred last month known as a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Observations of this GRB provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars - the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements - including gold. 
A gamma-ray burst is a flash of high-energy light (gamma rays) from an extremely energetic explosion. Most are found in the distant universe. Berger and his colleagues studied GRB 130603B which, at a distance of 3.9 billion light-years from Earth, is one of the nearest bursts seen to date.
Gamma-ray bursts come in two varieties - long and short - depending on how long the flash of gamma rays lasts. GRB 130603B, detected by NASA’s Swift satellite on June 3rd, lasted for less than two-tenths of a second.
Although the gamma rays disappeared quickly, GRB 130603B also displayed a slowly fading glow dominated by infrared light. Its brightness and behavior didn’t match a typical “afterglow,” which is created when a high-speed jet of particles slams into the surrounding environment.
Instead, the glow behaved like it came from exotic radioactive elements. The neutron-rich material ejected by colliding neutron stars can generate such elements, which then undergo radioactive decay, emitting a glow that’s dominated by infrared light - exactly what the team observed.
The team calculates that about one-hundredth of a solar mass of material was ejected by the gamma-ray burst, some of which was gold. By combining the estimated gold produced by a single short GRB with the number of such explosions that have occurred over the age of the universe, all the gold in the cosmos might have come from gamma-ray bursts.

Credit: CfA/Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.

NASA’s SOFIATelescope Images Ring Of Dust Surrounding Black Hole

Astronomers using a telescope attached to a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft have captured new images of a ring of gas and dust seven light-years in diameter surrounding the super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
The team used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to capture images of our galaxy’s circumnuclear ring (CNR), as well as a neighboring cluster of extremely luminous young stars known as the quintuplet cluster (QC).
The mid-infrared image of the CNR shows off bright Y-shaped features believed to be material falling from the ring toward the black hole that is located where the arms of the “Y” intersect. The neighboring cluster is located about 100 light years away from the galaxy’s nucleus.
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The Sun, seen in different wavelengths of light.
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