NASA joins the hunt for aliens

In the last decade, we have devised amazing instruments to glare unflinchingly at the stars and discovered that other planets are common around them. These exoplanet discoveries have thrown gasoline on the fire of the astrobiology field, where scientists seek to explore whether life might exist beyond Earth. But they have also fueled SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. If life does evolve on other worlds, then we may very well find more than just biosignatures like oxygen.

We might find technosignatures, too. These are things like radio signals, or even megastructures; that is, artificial objects on a gigantic scale such as hypothesized star-sized supercomputers. Now, Supercluster reported in an article this week, NASA has quietly begun to fund the search for such alien megastructures for the first time in the agency’s history…

The best news [to me] is that we’re moving well beyond the typical American cultural response to a new critical investigation of unusual phenomena. Breaking out of the historic mold of latching onto singular means of investigation – in expectation of an equally singular answer to the question, “What’s out there?”

RTFA for early days projections, the first rounds of investigative style.

5 (of 120) Women Photograpers


Consuelo Kanaga, by Annie Mae Merriweather, 1935

A new show opened July 2nd at the Metropolitan Museum of Art continuing recent efforts to reinsert women into the history of photography. Organized by Andrea Nelson and Mia Fineman with Virginia McBride, “The New Woman Behind the Camera” features 120 women photographers working during the 20th century. Its focus is not only Western artists who are already well-known, such as Dorothea Lange and Claude Cahun, but also under-recognized artists from other parts of the world whose work has been influential.

Look at five under-recognized artists included in the Met show, which is slated to travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. after its run in New York.

One of those rare moments when I regret leaving the metropolitan Northeast. Quite rare. But, I don’t travel well, anymore. Too much of that as part of earning a living much of my life. Perhaps someone will produce something in video or print recording the experience of wandering through this show.

Afghanistan can’t wait for the U.S. to get out of the way — to let in China and Pakistan

As the U.S. exits Afghanistan, Beijing is preparing to swoop into the war-torn country and fill the vacuum left by the departed U.S. and NATO troops.

China is poised to make an exclusive entry into post-U.S. Afghanistan with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to government officials in Afghanistan told The Daily Beast that Kabul authorities are growing more intensively engaged with China on an extension of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — the flagship project of BRI, which involves the construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines between Pakistan and China — to Afghanistan…

In other words: The Afghan government, behind the scenes, is welcoming China immediately after saying goodbye to America.

Yup. All part of an obviously subversive plot. Here’s Uncle Sugar finishing decades of superb foreign policy – stationing tens of thousands of American troops in yet one more small nation to show off the benefits of American democracy [and military hardware]. We’re going out the door. Meanwhile, the “subversive” Chinese and their Pakistani allies in the Belt-and-Road Initiative are actually going to build highways, railways and energy pipelines – making the country a key link in East/West infrastructure. And profits.

How sly.

Transgender woman wins place to compete for Miss USA

A transgender woman who won the Miss Nevada USA pageant will soon become the first openly transgender Miss USA contestant…

Donning a rainbow sequined gown she designed herself, Kataluna Enriquez accepted the crown toward the end of Pride Month, and will compete in the Miss USA pageant in November.

The Filipina-American is a fashion designer and healthcare administrator. A biography on the Miss Silver State USA’s Instagram mentions Enriquez is a survivor of physical and sexual abuse who “aims to break barriers and represent those who aren’t always represented and continues to support numerous non-profit organizations and LGBTQ+ youth.”…

Enriquez began competing in transgender pageants in 2016, and began competing in cisgender pageants in 2020. In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal after her win, Enriquez said she wasn’t allowed to use either boys’ or girls’ restrooms, and faced bullying by her classmates over her gender identity.

“Growing up, I was often told that I was not allowed to be myself, or to be in spaces that I was not welcome,” she said. “Today I am a proud transgender woman of color. Personally, I’ve learned that my differences do not make me less than, it makes me more than.”

Bravo! A victory for a strong-willed human being. A victory for organizations ready to join the 21st Century.

Giant arc forcing astronomers to review/revise assumptions

A newly discovered crescent of galaxies spanning 3.3 billion light-years is among the largest known structures in the universe and challenges some of astronomers’ most basic assumptions about the cosmos.

The epic arrangement, called the Giant Arc, consists of galaxies, galactic clusters, and lots of gas and dust. It is located 9.2 billion light-years away and stretches across roughly a 15th of the observable universe.

Its discovery was “serendipitous,” Alexia Lopez, a doctoral candidate in cosmology at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the U.K., told Live Science. Lopez was assembling maps of objects in the night sky using the light from about 120,000 quasars — distant bright cores of galaxies where supermassive black holes are consuming material and spewing out energy.

As this light passes through matter between us and the quasars, it is absorbed by different elements, leaving telltale traces that can give researchers important information. In particular, Lopez used marks left by magnesium to determine the distance to the intervening gas and dust, as well as the material’s position in the night sky.

In the midst of the cosmic maps, a structure began to emerge. “It was sort of a hint of a big arc,” Lopez said. “I remember going to Roger [Clowes] and saying ‘Oh, look at this.'”

Clowes, her doctoral adviser at UCLan, suggested further analysis to ensure it wasn’t some chance alignment or a trick of the data. After doing two different statistical tests, the researchers determined that there was less than a 0.0003% probability the Giant Arc wasn’t real. They presented their results on June 7 at the 238th virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Please read the whole article. At least that portion describing what has been learned. “Discovered” seems silly to me when describing intergalactic assemblies with astronomical timelines.

In this instance, assumptions made to allow mathematical conventions to analyze what we see are now challenged. The essential description of materialist philosophy is not. The universe is an infinite regression of material reality. There is no beginning, there are no boundaries. It simply “is” and has always “been”. Anything else is a mystical human construct which only satisfies superstition – something coming from nothing – whether intended or not.

Oregon Legalizes Human Composting


Photo/Recompose

Oregon is now the third state in the US to allow a deathcare option that’s gaining popularity for its environmental benefits: human composting.

Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2574 into law on Tuesday, adding natural organic reduction to the range of approved after-life options in the west coast state. Sponsored and developed by Rep. Pam Marsh (D – Southern Jackson County), the bill met Oregonians’ growing interest in sustainable alternatives to traditional deathcare…

…The process of so-called natural organic reduction, which breaks down the body into soil, has a small environmental footprint. For example, Recompose, the country’s first human composting funeral home does it like this: a corpse is placed in a cylinder with organic materials, like wood chips, plants, and straw, then heated and turned repeatedly for several weeks with a hook until it’s broken down into a nutrient-rich soil that can be delivered back to the family or used for planting.

Human composting is the latest of a handful of environmental deathcare options to gain traction across the country as available cemetery space declines and emissions from cremation mount.

More on this topic – and other alternatives – this article from the GREEN BURIAL COUNCIL seems useful.

Juneteenth – here’s what it celebrates

The United States has a new federal holiday. On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that officially designates Juneteenth—observed each year on June 19—as an American holiday…Known to some as the country’s “second Independence Day,” Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of enslaved people in the United States at the end of the Civil War. For more than 150 years, African American communities across the country have observed this holiday.

At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and declared enslaved people in the Confederacy free—on the condition that the Union won the war. The proclamation turned the war into a fight for freedom and by the end of the war 200,000 Black soldiers had joined the fight, spreading news of freedom as they fought their way through the South.

Since Texas was one of the last strongholds of the South, emancipation would be a long-time coming for enslaved people in the state. Even after the last battle of the Civil War was fought in 1865—a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed—it is believed that many enslaved people still did not know they were free. As the story goes, some 250,000 enslaved people only learned of their freedom after Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and announced that the president had issued a proclamation freeing them…

With Granger’s announcement, June 19—which would eventually come to be known as Juneteenth—became a day to celebrate the end of slavery in Texas. As newly freed Texans began moving to neighboring states, Juneteenth celebrations spread across the South and beyond.

“Say, Amen!”

Bacteria-sized robots crush microplastic particles


Metallic microrobots (dark blue dots) colonize a jagged piece of microplastic under visible light, breaking down the plastic

Small pieces of plastic are everywhere, stretching from urban environments to pristine wilderness. Left to their own devices, it can take hundreds of years for them to degrade completely…In a proof-of-concept study, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces developed self-propelled microrobots that can swim, attach to plastics and break them down.

…Previous researchers proposed a low-energy way to get rid of plastics in the environment by using catalysts that use sunlight to produce highly reactive compounds that break down these types of polymers. However, getting the catalysts and tiny plastic pieces in contact with each other is challenging and usually requires pretreatments or bulky mechanical stirrers, which aren’t easily scaled-up. Martin Pumera and colleagues wanted to create a sunlight-propelled catalyst that moves toward and latches onto microparticles and dismantles them.

To transform a catalytic material into light-driven microrobots, the researchers made star-shaped particles of bismuth vanadate and then evenly coated the 4-8 μm-wide structures with magnetic iron oxide. The microrobots could swim down a maze of channels and interact with microplastic pieces along their entire lengths. The researchers found that under visible light, microrobots strongly glommed on to four common types of plastics. The team then illuminated pieces of the four plastics covered with the microrobot catalyst for seven days in a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution. They observed that the plastic lost 3% of its weight and that the surface texture for all types changed from smooth to pitted, and small molecules and components of the plastics were found in the left-over solution. The researchers say the self-propelled microrobot catalysts pave the way toward systems that can capture and degrade microplastics in hard-to-reach-locations.

And in a parallel development, Columbia University scientists have built prototype microrobots – called “motes” – that are only 1 cubic millimeter in size. Who knows? Maybe we can yet succeed in magnetizing conspiracy theory antivax nutballs?

How to use culture and music to protect the planet


Yo-Yo Ma plays a “Music in the Mangroves” concert to help scientists and community members drive home the importance of saving mangrove ecosystems

A child prodigy who performed for President John F. Kennedy at the age of seven, the cellist has since recorded more than 100 albums, received 18 Grammy Awards, and played for nine U.S. presidents. Yet at 65, Ma remains a self-deprecating, tireless, and purposefully optimistic human being who shares his music as a means of connecting with people and the world.

Ma believes that culture—which he defines broadly as the place where the arts, sciences, and society converge—can help assuage discord, strengthen community bonds, promote social justice, and protect the planet. In 2018 the cellist embarked on the Bach Project, an ambitious journey that uses culture as a bridge to connect with communities, launch conversations, and spotlight efforts that strive to do good.

The cello virtuoso has been playing Bach concerts on six continents. At every stop, he joins activities to support social justice and environmental causes…So far, Ma has been to 28 of the tour’s 36 destinations—places as far-flung as Mumbai, India; Mexico City, Mexico; Dakar, Senegal; and Christchurch, New Zealand. The anchor of the project is Bach’s six cello suites, which Ma plays from memory in concerts that last more than two hours, with no intermission. Performances are paired with Days of Action, where Ma helps raise awareness about issues of local and global importance during events with community leaders, citizens, artists, students, and activists. For example, in Chicago Ma confronted gun violence by joining a tree planting—using shovels that were made from donated weapons. In Korea the cellist visited an elementary school in the Demilitarised Zone with a traditional kitemaker, giving students, villagers, and teachers the opportunity to decorate kites with their aspirations for the future.

At every event and stop, Ma’s mission is the same: to listen, discover, and join with others to build a better future.

Everything I believe a true world-class musician should try to be.

Wind and Solar got the best of the pandemic

BloombergNEF does not expect power sector emissions to ever recover to their peak in 2018, and another few massive years will only further this trend. With technology, capital, and expertise on the side of renewable power, the only question about the future shape of that curve is how far down it goes, and how fast it gets there.

Global recessions, wars, and (yes) pandemics have a way of driving down energy demand. Last year, the International Energy Agency said the collapse in global primary energy demand brought on by Covid-19 was the biggest drop since the end of World War II, itself the biggest drop since the influenza pandemic after World War I.

Something was different about this collapse, though, something that is not only unprecedented but until recently impossible in global energy. As the IEA’s latest data shows, renewable energy grew last year, and it was the only energy source that did so as consumption of gas, oil, and coal all declined. Renewables were not just an energy growth sector; they were the only energy growth sector

Not only did renewable energy grow, it did so in record fashion. The IEA’s latest data confirms something my colleagues and I have been observing since the end of 2020: renewable energy installations not only increased during the pandemic, they exceeded even the most bullish of expectations, with wind installations increasing 90% and solar increasing 23%. The IEA only expects more this year – as it says, “Exceptionally high capacity additions become the ‘new normal’ in 2021 and 2022, with renewables accounting for 90% of new power capacity expansion globally.”​

Read about it here. Read about it in articles like this at BLOOMBERG. The folks who read sources like this do so because they’re investing for their own future. Yes, some care about the rest of the folks in the country, as well. No straw man needed to make this point. Voluntary or not … this change will continue!