Monday, May 19, 2008

Houses in the Wind

I was watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC yesterday; they were building a home and a church in New Orleans that were designed to resist hurricane force winds. I suddenly recalled reading science articles about winds on other planets and how Earth has very moderate winds by comparison. It may well be that some, or many, alien planets harboring life will have higher average wind speeds that we Earthlings have. If so, that will definitely affect alien architecture and technology. Their houses will tend to be round or octagonal in shape to help deflect the wind around the building, thereby deflecting much of its destructive force. Structures may tend to be smaller - no towering skyscrapers. Some would still be tempted to design skyscrapers, it's just it would be more difficult to build, and would have to be built to deflect as much of the wind as possible as well as have dampeners to help dampen the swaying caused by winds. They may be more likely to have more of the buildings underground than above ground (depending upon the level of tectonic activity). Their vehicles will all have to be rather aerodynamic in design to be efficient. They may be more apt to use the wind to generate electric power than we have been.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Black Holes and Aliens

I was watching The Ark of Truth (surprise, surprise, I'm a Stargate SG-1 fan), and contemplating the super-gate that is powered by a black hole that the Ori use to travel from their galaxy to ours and while traveling such a distance by an artificially produced wormhole may be something that is highly improbable, it did get me to thinking about the power of black holes and that maybe, just maybe, that is one place to go looking for aliens.

Let me explain. I am not saying black holes can be a natural habitat for some alien species. But black holes do give off immense energy. Not all matter that falls into a black hole is swallowed up, never to be seen again. No, a fair amount of it is given off by the matter as it is ripped apart before it gets to the event horizon (from which there is no return). Much of it streams out in a spiral along an axis.

Such unimaginable power sources just beg to be used / tapped into. OK, at least by species with similar outlook on power as humans. Some types of research may require incredible energies - our particle accelerators are but one example of this. Some explorations of our universe can only happen at high energies. And if some methods of interstellar travel, methods deemed impossible by us at the moment, like artificial wormholes, can only happen with great infusion of power, then black holes may be highly sought after. So maybe that's one place some aliens will not be able to resist, and so one place we may find them.

Of course, the aliens need to live somewhat nearby a black hole - close enough that even a very long journey is worth the effort and sacrifice (may be one way trips at first) to first get near one, study it, learn how to use it, and then invent and construct whatever device is needed to extract/capture the energy given off by in-falling matter. And what if other aliens have the same idea?

OK, so not very probable. But that's one of the fun things about speculation - don't need to stay only in the very probable.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where's the Kaboom? - Updated

Has a month passed already? I have a stack of science magazines, and a virtual stack of science e-newsletters to wade through. But more importantly, I have a stack of papers to grade. The other stacks will have to wait. All the best laid plans of mice and men...

Lately, the one question on my mind related to Alien Realities is "should we actively try to make contact with other planetary civilizations?" IF distances between solar systems are such that viable physical travel between them is virtually impossible, then there is little physical danger and thus, little reason to fear contact. Psychological, sociological, theological, and cultural dangers are another topic - we don't need physical contact to still be affected. Many scientists so far say interstellar travel is highly impractical: the energy costs are enormous (maybe close to infinite) and the time needed generational. Also, the speed of light does seem to be ultimate speed barrier, and there are no workarounds that seem viable. For instance, many feel that wormholes are not a viable workaround, despite what one my favorite Sci-Fi series uses for their main means of interstellar travel - as they would require far too much energy, and can not be controlled. But just because we can't see any viable "workaround" at present doesn't mean there are not any.

There are other assumptions at work here as well: what may be a generational travel for us (would take many generations of people to get there) may not necessarily be a generational trip for an extremely long lived alien species. They may not mind the long separation from loved ones (if they even feel such emotions, or have such emotional equivalents).

Also, in such a large universe, could there not be a species that is so xenophobic for whatever reasons (even reasons that may not make sense to us) that they are willing to send out a barrage of weapons toward our planet at the first sign of our existence? The weapons may take hundreds or thousands of years to reach us, but that doesn't make it impossible for a alien society from launching them. On the other hand, if they are that xenophobic, launching an attack would broadcast their presence, and they would need to ensure that their weapons could 1) approach completely undetected and 2) completely destroy their target - otherwise a retaliatory response could be mounted against them. Though as we see too often with our own species, intelligence and wisdom do not always go hand in hand - there is no reason to assume alien species would always have increased wisdom with increased intelligence or increased knowledge.

I think we have to be very careful. The old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Marvin the Martian cavalierly wants to destroy the Earth because it gets in the way of his view of Venus could have a kernel of chilling truth to it.

"Where's the Kaboom? There's supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom?" - Marvin the Martian.
On such an uplifting note I will leave for now, but shall return to this topic from time to time.