The secret to finding life on other planets is not to look for life as we know it

University of Colorado philosopher Carol Cleland, PhD

Perhaps one day we’ll send a spacecraft to a rocky planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. And perhaps the first images arriving back from across 4.2 light years of space will feature a purple Proxima Centurian peering straight back into the camera.

In the popular imagination, alien life has tended to focus on the take-me-to-your-leader/humans-as-snacks variety. Those who have been paying attention, though, know that the life we’re most likely to find on Proxima b, Mars or anywhere else will be microscopic. That sort of life might have very little resemblance to the microbes we’re used to here on Earth.

This gives rise to what appears at first to be a scientific problem, but which in fact something else entirely. The question of how to recognize alien microbes, which astrobiologists assume to be the universe’s most common life form, is to no small degree a philosophical challenge. Philosopher Carol Cleland has been a leading voice in helping NASA and the astrobiology community figure out ways not to miss extraterrestrial microbes right under our robotic emissaries’ noses. [more]

Save the planet — procreate less!

Travis and Sadiye Rieder read a book with their 2-year-old daughter, Sinem, in their Maryland home

You can drive an electric vehicle powered by rooftop solar panels, replace your old appliances and light bulbs with energy-sipping versions, recycle compulsively, compost, give up meat, eschew air travel, buy used-everything, make your own sandals out of old tires. You can do these and all sorts of other things in your personal quest to lower your carbon footprint. Doing so will indeed mitigate to some tiny degree the climate change that, despite the best efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is hurtling us into a slew of potentially catastrophic unknowns as this century steams ahead.

But if you truly care about the climate and the future of a human civilization that developed in the current temperature regime, you could do something that has a much bigger impact: have one less kid. Or more precisely, says Johns Hopkins University philosopher and bioethicist Travis Rieder, one-half less kid. (Those who have reared children would recommend the top, rather than the bottom, half). [more]

Road trip! AZ-CO in pictures

In late March I flew to Phoenix, spent a couple of days with my folks, and then drove their (former) car from Fountain Hills, Ariz. to Denver, Colo. The trip took 11 hours, 10 minutes, the first 822 miles of it done in 11 hours flat. This is possible if one a) stops only when the engine has trained its tank and and b) if one speeds boldly. This is not hard to do in a 350 HP Ford Flex, which is more or less a massive sports car. I averaged about 75 mph despite fueling stops in Gallup and then Raton, N.M.

To pass the time, I listened to 80s on 8 on SiriusXM (does this date me?) plus some comedy radio and also took photos  (if inadvisable at 90 mph).

Departed Fountain Hills at 7:30 a.m.; Four Peaks in the background

Departed Fountain Hills at 7:30 a.m.; Four Peaks in the background

The Four Peaks looked a bit different on the way in.

The Four Peaks looked a bit different on the way in.

Tonto National Forest comes along pretty quickly -- a saguaro party.

Tonto National Forest comes along pretty quickly — a saguaro party.

And by Payson there's not a saguaro to be seen. One could be lulled into thinking one is already in Colorado. Not quite.

And into Payson (via U.S. 87), where there’s not a saguaro to be seen. One could be lulled into thinking one is already in Colorado. Not quite.

Ditto for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Ditto for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Heading northeast toward Holbrook, things open up.

Heading northeast toward Holbrook, things open up.

Holbrook, which I managed to photograph without referencing petrified wood, which isn't easy to do.

Holbrook, which I managed to photograph without a petrified wood sign, which isn’t easy to do.

Toward Petrified Forest National Park on U.S. 40

Toward Petrified Forest National Park on U.S. 40

Despite the sign, I saw absolutely no one washing here.

Despite the sign, I saw absolutely no one washing here.

Into New Mexico

Into New Mexico (the yellow sign says as much; the truck — and in particular, the fact that I was passing it at a rather hasty clip — vexed the attempted close-up).

Just past Gallup, N.M. I had noted this formation...

Just past Gallup. I had noted this formation…

...from the air on the way down. It took about an hour to get here by Boeing 737. I had at least seven hours to go.

…from the air on the way down. It took about an hour to get here by Boeing 737. I had at least seven hours to go.

A few miles down the road, a long stretch of red cliffs...

A few miles down the road, a long stretch of red cliffs…

...that I had also noted from 4.5 miles up.

…that I had also seen from 4.5 miles up.

I was going so fast the guardrails warped.

I was going so fast the guardrails warped.

At first I thought the black stuff had been dumped into piles. But it's volcanic.

At first I thought the black stuff had been dumped into piles. But it’s volcanic.

Approaching Albuquerque

Approaching Albuquerque…

And there it is, where Bugs Bunny made all those wrong turns. It struck me, after so many miles of emptiness, how immense an undertaking the place is.

and there it is, where Bugs Bunny made all those wrong turns. It struck me, after so many miles of emptiness, how immense an undertaking the place is.

Toward Santa Fe, northbound I-25. Santa Fe managed to avoid showing much of itself to the highway.

Toward Santa Fe, northbound I-25. Santa Fe managed to avoid showing much of itself to the highway.

Past Santa Fe, at a point where enough bugs had splatted on the windshield that it confounded the autofocus.

Past Santa Fe, at a point where enough bugs had splatted on the windshield that it confounded the autofocus.

There were more trees, until everything went big and beige.

There were more trees, until everything went big and beige.

Just when I thought the West couldn't get any bigger, it got bigger.

Just when I thought the West couldn’t get any bigger, it got bigger.

But it does end. Entering Raton, I was following a fellow speeder, both of us apparently having forgotten that police hang out just outside of town. The cop car crossing the median pulled him over. Coulda been me!

But it does end. Entering Raton, I was following a fellow speeder, both of us apparently having forgotten that police tend to hang out on the approach to town. The cop car crossing the median pulled him over. Coulda been me!

Up and over the pass and it's into Colorado we go...

Up and over the pass and it’s into Colorado we go…

where what comes immediately into view but... mountains! No saguaro here, either.

where what comes immediately into view but… mountains! No saguaro here, either.

Trinidad from teh highway

Into Trinidad, the snow gone.

 

Headed for Pueblo

Wind power!

Rain….

 

Closing in on Pueblo…

You might have noticed that the drive becomes noticeably less scenic as one approaches the Front Range.

Things get blurry up the Palmer Divide.

And, finally, home, which is where the Ikea is. Or Something like that (Ikea is actually in Centennial, about 13 miles south of home. But whatever. When you’ve driven 790 already, what’s another dozen-odd miles?)

March for Science Denver 2017

March for Science Denver 2017

It’s a bit embarrassing to say, but I attended my first political march just a couple of weeks back — March for Science Denver. Brought along the girls and their good pal Laine. They were surprised that someone as open/occasionally strident about politics hadn’t put feet to concrete for political purposes before. I said, no, you’ve got me by 35 years on this one.

Part of the reason I hadn’t attended a march is that I’d attended marches, but as a newspaper reporter covering them. As a reporter, your strident opinions/biases are kept quiet, generally by policy (political contributions were, for example, forbidden by Scripps’ scripture, the then-owner of the Daily Camera).

Anyway, we hand-made signs and last-minute Saran-wrapped them, not having interpreted the weather forecast as accurately as might have, for example, Mike Nelson, who gave a great kickoff speech.

I’ve not found crowed estimates, but I’d say 20,000, minimum. Many people. And many great signs. A good toe-dipping in fighting-the-good-fight grassroots protest. I took a lot of photos; a selection below.

Fear-Ignorance-Hate chemistry graphic

The signs at a march on science are bound to be good (and geeky). We weren’t disappointed.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Folks gathered beforehand at the Civic Center Park amphitheater.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Junior scientists were also represented.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This was, obviously, as much protest against our administration’s anti-science bent as a celebration of empirical methods.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This one I had to read twice.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

German was represented, even. (“Trump is dangerous to our planet”)

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This is far more constructive than, for example, “I’m with stupid.”

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Down 17th Street

 

The home team’s signs were constructed of cardboard with paper glued on, affixed to 1/2 inch PVC pipe that, before I’d sawed shorter, had served as misconceived structural elements of a hastily erected backyard sun shade some years back. I glue-gunned them to the cardboard with enough epoxy to hold together a Boeing 787. Nonrecyclable plastic wrap protected from nonexistent precip.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Another good sign.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

My contribution to the visual clutter

 

March for Science Denver 2017

The Groundhog Day meme made an appearance. (“Only in America do we accept weather predictions from a rodent but deny climate change evidence from scientists.”)

 

March for Science Denver 2017

After a quick online search, it appears that this gentleman’s sign refers to the third derivative of the position function, which is “jerk.” 

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Beaker makes his beeping and meeping opinions known.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

More paid protesters (in Smashburgers, after the event) before the Colorado statehouse.

The former president of Estonia: This means (cyber) war!

The Estonians moved a statue; the Russians launched a new form of warfare. Now, a decade later, the man who was president of Estonia at the time proposes a new sort of alliance to counter a threat that has spread far from his Baltic state.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves had been president of Estonia for all of six months in April 2007 when his government moved the “Bronze Soldier” Soviet war memorial from a small park in central Tallinn to a nearby military cemetery. The Russian government responded with a distributed denial of services (DDoS) attack.

At the time, the Estonian defense minister said this: “Not a single NATO defense minister would define a cyber-attack as a clear military action at present. However, this matter needs to be resolved in the near future.”

Ten years later it hasn’t been resolved. Despite a mountain of recent, suspected-and-proven Russian meddling in democratic politics of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the European Parliament and elsewhere, the question remains. Ilves, who served as Estonian president through 2016 and is now a visiting fellow at Stanford University, says it’s time to do something about it. [more]