I’m not even on social media anymore, really, but somehow I still know that everyone is talking too much about Twitter when there are so many more interesting things to talk about. Here’s just a few.
Becky Ferreira for Vice on a proposal to think about “computation” in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Earth is the only world we know of that hosts life, leaving us with a rather limited sample to work with on the important question of whether we are alone in the universe. For this reason, it makes sense for scientists searching for life to focus their efforts on worlds that are similar to our own, and to especially prioritize the presence of surface liquid water, given how important this key ingredient has been to life on Earth.
That said, life may arise in many unexpected places that could be well beyond the limits of our imaginations. This problem inspired Caleb Scharf, a senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and Olaf Witkowski, an expert on artificial intelligence (AI) and director of Cross Labs in Tokyo, Japan, to think of new ways to expand the scope of our search for aliens.
Now, the pair have unveiled a strategy to look for life that is built on the idea of computation, which the researchers define as “a set of physical processes that act on information represented by states of matter” and that “encompasses biological systems, digital systems, and other constructs,” according to a study recently published on the preprint server arxiv.
File this under the same general heading as researchers discussing “lyfe” in the search for alien biosignatures.
Jonathan O’Callaghan for Scientific American on how most of those purportedly-ancient galaxies discovered by JWST are being confirmed.
Those early results came about so quickly because researchers used a clever shortcut to estimate galactic distances. Astronomers usually pin down cosmic coordinates via precisely measuring redshift, a stretching of a galaxy’s light toward the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum as a result of the universe’s expansion. But this requires the act of assembling and analyzing a galaxy’s spectrum—a time-consuming and subtle process known as spectroscopy. JWST’s firehose of discovery was instead powered by cruder, faster photometry-based techniques that essentially use obvious variations in galaxies’ brightness to estimate their redshift.
Thus, while the photometric results came thick and fast last summer, the spectroscopic results have only just begun trickling out. Already, though, with spectra-based distances in hand from only about a dozen candidates, researchers are finding that most measurements are matching the early photometric results. The latest, published in Nature Astronomy last week, confirm earlier distance estimates for four more galaxies identified by the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES). “We’ve been waiting decades for this,” says Emma Curtis-Lake of the University of Hertfordshire in England, who led the spectroscopic results study. “To be able to do it within the first few months of this telescope was just incredible.”
Pair this one with Lina Zeldovich for Nautilus on what JWST is showing us about the beginning of the universe: “[P]erhaps we don’t fully understand the physics behind the formations of stars.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on how the helicopter Ingenuity recently logged its fiftieth flight on Mars.
Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 attached to the belly of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and will soon mark the two-year anniversary of its first flight, which took place on April 19, 2021. Designed as a technology demonstration that would fly no more than five times, the helicopter was intended to prove powered, controlled flight on another planet was possible. But Ingenuity exceeded expectations and transitioned into being an operations demonstration.
Every time Ingenuity goes airborne, it covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Imagery from the helicopter has not only demonstrated how aircraft could serve as forward scouts for future planetary expeditions, but it has even come in handy for the Perseverance team.
As someone incredulously said to me, “How are we not all talking about this?”
Maggie Harrison for Futurism on how a tech bro decided against AI emulating dead parents after watching Black Mirror.
Just days after tweeting that tech designed to emulate dead loved ones would be available to the "masses" by the end of the year, Pratik Desai, a computer scientist and AI investor, has done a full 180 — and all it took was watching a single "Black Mirror" episode.
Investors are eager to find ways to extend life beyond death by making use of AI technology. Though specifics vary between projects — from disembodied voices that were trained on data collected before their death, to metaverse-based avatars — the idea is generally the same: with enough data, you can recreate a version of human consciousness with the use of AI algorithms.
I’ll never not mention a story like this without mentioning that Max Headroom did it first. (“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”)
In a statement provided to Futurism, Makenzie Lystrup, the first woman ever to helm Goddard, explained her unique choice of swearing-in literature — and then some.
”Like many astronomers and space scientists," Lystrup said, "my passion started with watching Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ on public television as a child."
“This is us,” Sagan once said. “Everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, all the people who have ever existed have lived their lives on it.”