Coming to you live from space radio.

Deep space radio signals might be trying to tell us something. IBM and the SETI Institute are working together to analyze six terabytes of these complex signals to listen for patterns of life. Researchers are using IBM Analytics on Apache Spark to sift through signals gathered by the Allen Telescope Array, and cognitive machine learning to determine which signals are from humans, and which might be from aliens. Maybe they’ll ask us to call-in.

Learn more about listening for aliens →


Folks are getting excited about recent reports of an “interesting” signal picked up by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). SETI scientists say you shouldn’t get your hopes up - it’s probably not aliens.

**UPDATE: Definitely not aliens! - a Soviet Era satellite instead.**

The incident reminded me of another potential brush with E.T. back in 1977: The Wow! Signal. Robert Krulwich wrote a blog post all about it if you want to learn more. And for a more technical description, check out a report from Jerry Ehman, the man who wrote “Wow!”

Images: Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory, Patrick Foto/Getty Images

Finding life on Mars has captured the imagination of generations, but experts still aren’t sure what exactly we’re looking for. The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, with a landscape of boiling pools of water and mounds of salt and sulfur that itself seems extraterrestrial, might offer some clues. Despite being one of the lowest, hottest and driest places on Earth, the region is host to extremophiles–– microbes that thrive in these inhospitable conditions.

Dr. Felipe Gómez Gómez of the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, who is working on isolating and studying these bacteria, believes learning to identify life in extreme environments here on Earth is the key to identifying any alien life that might be out there.

“What is life? What are the limits of life? Scientists don’t agree on what is life,” Dr. Gómez said. “If we find life on Mars, would we be able to recognize it? We don’t know.”

These organisms might also provide insight into how potential life-forms might survive in the sparse environment of Mars. From the article:

These simple organisms can survive with a “very small battery,” and were probably among the first bacteria on Earth, Dr. Gómez said. “That is what makes them so interesting from an astrobiological point of view.”

Organisms such as chemolithotrophs don’t require traditional means of sustenance like light and organic compounds and instead use inorganic compounds such as sulfide, hydrogen and ammonia as energy sources. Though they might be a far cry from little green men with antennae, they could offer us a more realistic idea of what to expect if and when we finally make “first contact”.

Read more at The New York Times here.


Prince of Egypt director’s commentary: “Here we went back and forth in this sequence of whether or not how sympathetic Seti was going to be. And we finally decided that we had to make him have more of an edge. And that’s when we added the last lines where he says that “They were only slaves.”” (2/?)

The largest SETI initiative ever is reviewing 11 promising signals that probably aren’t aliens

Breakthrough Listen is checking in on its initial results. You know, just in case.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been going for nearly 60 years now, and there have been plenty of false alarms in that time and nothing substantial. Now, a giant SETI initiative is looking into its initial round of data to follow up on 11 signals that they think could be aliens … but admit probably aren’t. Good to check, though, just in case.

Two years ago, billionaire Yuri Milner put $100 million into a decade-long search for aliens known as the Breakthrough Listen initiative. It was the widest-scale SETI project announced since Project Phoenix in 1995, which itself was the successor of a cancelled 10 year, $100 million SETI effort by NASA.

Breakthrough Listen is spearheaded by SETI Berkeley and taps into the wider SETI community to listen in worldwide for radio signals that might be artificial. They’ve also opened up the data to the public at large to look for narrowband signals — those in a specific wavelength that are more likely to be from a non-natural source. There are 692 targets in the initial rounds of data.

The news is coming out of a two-day conference in California from the Breakthrough Initiatives organization, which is also sponsoring Breakthrough Starshot, a project based on using laser propulsion to power tiny spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system (specifically Proxima Centauri) in a matter of decades.

A live broadcast will take place today on Facebook at 6:10 p.m. EST (3:10 p.m. PST) with Andrew Siemion of SETI Berkeley discussing the initial results. You can

watch it here

Image: The Robert C. Byrd Radio Telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia is one of the primary receivers looking for promising SETI signals.
    Credit: Jiuguang Wang

FRBs: New Mystery Space Signal from Unknown Cosmic Source Leaves Scientists Baffled
The signal, known as a fast radio burst (FRB), was detected in 2015 by scientists using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. It adds to the two dozen other FRBs previously recorded. FRBs are radio signals that last just a few milliseconds.


“Save my life? From who?”

I’ll never be able to reconcile the fact that the man who becomes Moses’ father is the same person who had ordered his death.

I think about Miriam’s words during the well scene — “Ask the man that you call ‘father’!” — in response to Moses wanting to know who their mother had to save his life from.  It’s things like this that disturb me: They’re the ones who become his family.  They say they love him, call him their son, or brother.  Yet, in the same breath, they consider his people “only slaves,” not people at all.  …Something is amiss.  They should have done so much more.

Moses has a family before he is adopted (actually, this is true for all adoptees — none of us drop from the sky), and his arrival in the basket coincides with the genocide occurring that morning.  Does Tuya ever stop and think about how and why this baby suddenly appears?  Does she ever think about his mother?  His family?  Does she (and yes, I’m personifying her as though she were a real adoptive mother) think of Yocheved as merely the one who “gave” her this blessing, and not as a mother who would have kept him, had it not been for Pharaoh’s murderous edict?  (But then Moses would have grown up in slavery?  …Well, who created that condition in the first place?)  And do any of them once think about the babies who died, or about the families who lost their sons?

The movie portrays Tuya’s belief that the gods brought Moses, and I once read a post regarding how this is connected to Ancient Egyptian faith, especially since it was the river that bore him.  I feel this reflects great research on the part of the filmmakers.  It’s respectfully done; it provides context, gives insight into culture, and makes Tuya a rounded character with her own perspective.  But what else?  I don’t think that this belief makes her/their actions right, or just.  It certainly doesn’t change or erase the fact that Moses is the survivor of a genocide that they instrumented.  Moreover, Moses obviously cares and questions it all once he learns how he came to be their son.  …and they, his adoptive family, never do.  What’s even more: For him to continue to be counted as family, in their eyes, he must remain compliant, and silent about an inalienable part of himself.  Forget and be content.

Is it a culture clash?  Film synopses describe the conflict between Moses and Rameses as one over tradition and responsibility.  To paraphrase a sentence from The Prince of Egypt: The Movie Scrapbook, will Rameses choose his brother, or his honor?  Fate, it says, pushes them onto opposite sides.  It makes me think.  What is the movie trying to say?  What is it trying to spark, in terms of discussion?

…It’s about tradition?  That makes me think about the demands Seti places on Rameses.  The pressure to uphold traditions is very relatable, and sympathetic, as is the fear of being the “weak link.”  So many stories center clashes between generations, tensions between duty and personal goals.  However, the traditions that Rameses defends, and sees nothing wrong with, involve slavery.  His kingdom’s economy and way of life, the monuments he seeks to build, depend on the subjugation of others.  It’s not a tradition worth protecting.  When I watch Egypt fall to ruins and more children die, when I watch Rameses lay his son’s body on that dais, I feel frustrated.  I keep playing all these counter-arguments in my head, but they don’t ease my frustration with Rameses.  I still view these as things he could have prevented, and that he was too myopic from the start to ever consider Moses’ perspective, much less the value of others’ lives.  His own ego and refusal to end an inhumane practice were more important to him than even his people and son.

And, when I think about some of the last words he says to Moses:

My father had the right idea about how to deal with your people.  And I think it’s time I finished the job.

…I cannot reconcile the fact that the man who has been Moses’ brother is the same person who espouses what their father did: the very order that threatened Moses’ life, and ended the lives of many infants, all those years ago.

Last edited: 7/7/17

The god Thoth with Seti I, in the Tomb of Seti I (KV17)

“The ancients thought of death as the essential prelude to life. The two form a polarity; one is meaningless without the other, and they alternate in all spheres of nature - among men, animals, vegetation and stars. Death is passing from one kind of time to another - from life yesterday to life tomorrow. What is in the Underworld belongs to death, but it is in a state of becoming, where the ‘form’ or shape of things is given in which they will later “appear.””

Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt by R. T. Rundle Clark


~ Relief on the North Wall of a Chapel of Ramesses I.
Period: New Kingdom, Ramesside
Dynasty: 19th Dynasty
Reign: reign of Seti I
Date: ca. 1295–1294 B.C.
Geography: From Egypt, Northern Upper Egypt, Abydos, Temple of Sety I, north of NE corner, Chapel of Ramesses I
Medium: Limestone