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NASA Space Supercomputing Science

NASA Creates an Alien's Eye View of Solar System 53

Posted by timothy
from the buncha-showoffs dept.
Flash Modin writes "Using the Discover supercomputer — which is capable of 67 trillion calculations per second — astronomers at NASA Goddard have created a series of images of what our solar system would look like to an alien astronomer at various points in time. Their simulations track the interactions of 75,000 dust grains in the Kuiper Belt, and show that while the planets would be too dim to detect directly, aliens could deduce the presence of Neptune from its effects on the icy region. Strikingly, the images resemble one taken by Hubble of the star Fomalhaut. NASA has put out a cute video to go with the announcement as well."
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NASA Creates an Alien's Eye View of Solar System

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like Eric Foreman from That 70's Show.

  • Press release (Score:5, Informative)

    by symes (835608) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @05:53AM (#33702128) Journal
    You can find NASA's press release and video here [nasa.gov]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      The North Pole view of our system seems extremely unlikely.

      Virtually all the solar systems we've found were viewed from the side, and the only thing we saw was a star with a slight "bulge" on the side to indicate the presence of a giant planet.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Flash Modin (1828190)
        Commodore, We only find "side view," or what astronomers refer to as edge on, systems because of our limited detection techniques. The two methods to regularly find planets so far are photometry and radial velocity. One relies on a faint dip in light when a planet passes in front of its star and the other relies on a planet pulling its star slightly towards it. There's no reason to think that a universal preference would exist for solar systems facing us edge on. So, by simply taking an infrared photo of t
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          >>>There's no reason to think that a universal preference would exist for solar systems facing us edge on

          How about the tendency for all solar systems to orient themselves in the same "up/down" direction as the galaxy, so then they'd all have an edge-on view of one another. Or maybe I'm making a false assumption?

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Flash Modin (1828190)
            Solar system orbits form based on the dynamics of how the cloud of supernovae dust they form from "collapses." The cloud can be set in motion from coming into contact with another cloud or another supernova interacting with it. The rotation (and hence what we might consider up and down) is based on how that interaction occurs. Once it starts rotating it's governed by Newton's second law, aka the figure skater effect (a skater spins faster as they pull their arms in). So, no. There's no reason to assume that
          • To add to what Flash Modin said: next time you have a chance*, note the orientation of the Milky Way in the sky. That's essentially the galactic "equator," and it doesn't line up with the ecliptic (the solar system's "equator"). So we have at least one example of a solar system that doesn't share its angular momentum vector with the galaxy.

            *Assuming you live in an area where you get such chances, of course.
    • The precise North Pole view of our system (by an alien astronomer) seems extremely unlikely.

  • by nroets (1463881) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @05:55AM (#33702132)
    "Strikingly, the images resemble one taken by Hubble of the star Fomalhaut." Be careful in drawing conclusions from the above statement. In 'Cosmos', Carl Sagan summarizes one of the flawed arguments he came across : "Looking at Venus, what do you see? Just clouds. Not a single thing. Conclusion? Dinosaurs"
    • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @06:03AM (#33702154)

      Yes, but everyone knows there's a giant mirror exactly halfway between us and "Fomalhaut".

    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @06:04AM (#33702156) Homepage Journal

      I see your point, but I don't think such a ridiculously unsupportable conclusion is being drawn from the image comparison. As it is though, I see it as interesting, but probably needs more investigation. Weren't some moons initially discovered because of disruptions in Saturn's rings? At the very least, it sounds like interesting parallels.

    • by Graymalkin (13732)

      The Fomalhaut comparison is one being made by a journalist in the article and then the submitter. To scientists studying or looking for exoplanets it's an interesting thing to note but comparing press images is not the same as comparing scientific images. This article doesnt specify the simulated parallax measurements of the images, the spectrographic data, or anything else of scientific importance. I suspect the actual data includes these things but a cool looking amalgam of that data was chosen for a pres

      • You obviously didn't actually watch the video in the article, which was produced by NASA as a press release. It doesn't make any conclusions about Fomalhaut specifically, but it does make the comparison between Fomalhaut and the simulation, and it draws attention to a known exoplanet in the Fomalhaut system, which was found using exactly the perturbations described in TFA.

        Of course, anybody who's played Star Control II knows full well that Fomalhaut is the home of the Utwig. Now where did I leave my Ultron?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Flash Modin (1828190)
      It's astronomy, taking pictures and analyzing them is most of what we do.
  • As if (Score:5, Funny)

    by spoonist (32012) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @06:28AM (#33702198) Journal

    Yeah, right. As if computers could possibly do this kind of calculation.

    This is obviously real data from aliens that have been in contact with the US Gov't for decades.

    Silly US Gov't... didn't they realize that with this data we, the general public, can now extrapolate where the aliens came from?

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      sorry, but the aliens made a klemperer rosette of their inhabitable planets and left their home star millenia ago. their industrial waste heat is sufficient to keep them warm.

    • by The Fell (1804782)
      Aliens would not be able to get to Earth in the time that life exists on it. Even if they could, with the technology they would have from being able to develop FTL travel, why would they need pictures? It was a computer that did that, and if you are being sarcastic, you are doing it way too well.
  • by Idiomatick (976696) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @07:54AM (#33702334)
    Wow, that must make it a super accurate picture!
    • by CxDoo (918501)

      Trillion calculations? WTF? How many megapixels is that?

  • Seriously, I would be interested in seeing the taxpayer cost of this little photoshop session. And they wonder why they're being regarded as irrelevant and having their funding cut...
    • by ebetz (1875642)
      The cost would be time on an already existing supercomputer and the point is to contribute to the search for evidence that we're not alone in the cosmos. What could be more worthy of a few taxpayer dollars than that? People need inspiration nearly as much as they need food.
    • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xmsnBLUEet.nl minus berry> on Sunday September 26, 2010 @10:16AM (#33703006)

      Right; what good could astronomy possibly do? We don't need to know about outer space! [/sarcasm]

      This 'little Photoshop session' helps astronomers better understand what they observe. It's part of the process that started with Copernicus.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You surly jest.

      NASA has such a small portion of the funds it's outsourcing stuff. Projects like this are stepping stones to larger ones. Also this is time used on a machine they already own.

      Their funding is being cut and they're being seen as irrelevant because no one has the balls to take risk anymore. Politicians are too worried about reelection to have Astronaut XXX's name smeared on their name.

      • example: the 2007 national budget was about $2.784 trillion. At $16.143 billion, spending on NASA accounts for 0.58% of this.

        http://www.thespacereview.com/article/898/1 [thespacereview.com]

        And we all know that NASA has suffered budget cuts since '07, so yeah, less than a half a percent of the budget goes to them.
        • let me quantify that, budget cuts considering inflation. where other departments of the governments have seen large increases to compensate for inflation, NASA's budget has not been increased enough to offset inflation.
    • You got my vote, as you beat me to that remark.

    • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @10:55AM (#33703256)
      The Citizens of the United States Spend more on Cell Phones each year than the total budget for NASA. Its no wonder we've not been anywhere cool.
      • by boxwood (1742976)

        but technology advances that result from cell phone research benefits the space program!

    • by log0n (18224)

      Remind us, why exactly are you here on /. ?

      Go turn in your nerd badge. You aren't worthy of it.

  • How does NASA know what frequencies alien's eyes work best in?. They may see more infrared if they were originally night hunters for example.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Baron_Yam (643147)

      The point isn't how an alien's eyes might work, but what frequencies are useful for examining a star system.

      Humans don't see infrared to any useful degree, nor x-ray, nor radio, and yet we image the heavens in each for different reasons.

      While we couldn't guess that an alien might see the same colours on a false-colour representation of our solar system... we can reasonably say they would be looking at some kind of representation of an infrared image of us because that's the best way to get information about

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