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Science

Astronomers Release Enormous Database of Variable-Luminosity Celestial Objects 54

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
wisebabo writes "According to a Caltech news release, 'Astronomers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona have released the largest data set ever collected that documents the brightening and dimming of stars and other celestial objects—two hundred million in total. The night sky is filled with objects like asteroids that dash across the sky and others—like exploding stars and variable stars-that flash, dim, and brighten. ... Using the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey, a project led by Caltech, the astronomers systematically scanned the heavens for these dynamic objects, producing an unprecedented data set that will allow scientists worldwide to pursue new research.' So, anybody going to write a program looking for artificial sequences? (primes, Fibonacci, integers.) Wouldn't a good way to attract interstellar attention 'cheaply' would be to put up some (very) big solar sails in orbit around a star to modulate (and maybe collect!) its output? With 'micro-transits' being a preferred way to find exoplanets, somebody looking could stumble across this."
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Astronomers Release Enormous Database of Variable-Luminosity Celestial Objects

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  • aliens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Friday January 13, 2012 @06:16PM (#38692164) Journal

    "...With 'micro-transits' being a preferred way to find exoplanets, somebody looking could stumble across this..."

    sorry, but we want to hide from aliens as long as we don't have technology strong enough to win an eventual war with them. Evolution as a universal rule prefers stronger species. Of course we want to discover them first, that's why we are looking. But they are hiding, just like we should. Also you can go and read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiasco_(novel) [wikipedia.org]

    • by geekoid (135745)

      No we don't.

    • Re:aliens (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday January 13, 2012 @06:25PM (#38692262) Homepage Journal
      Carl Sagan agreed with this; in Cosmos he pointed out that interstellar wars would be rare because the technology differences would generally amount to a matter of no contest. How do we know when we have technology strong enough, though, without a point of reference?
      • As an alternative, it's possible that we're already doing something that's been wiping out sentient life all over the galaxy.... and who's to say that those modulating stars aren't actually part of the structure of some sentient being?

        • You mean like observing it? :) Our most remote radio transmissions have only gotten as far as a few stars in our near vicinity, and they're statistically indistinguishable from background noise by the time they get there. If we are to blame, it's probably bad breath.
          • I actually did mean like observing it... there may be beings out there that depend on being able to be in multiple states... and by observing them we limit them to a single state.

            Of course, it's more likely they're like the Dr. Who Angels :D

            • I actually did mean like observing it... there may be beings out there that depend on being able to be in multiple states... and by observing them we limit them to a single state.

              Of course, it's more likely they're like the Dr. Who Angels :D

              Which is to say both "completely implausible and illogical" and "we wouldn't want to meet them anyway." Regular ol' biochemical life like what we have most likely has a much higher chance of forming than anything not like us. There are a lot of cards stacked in our favour!

              • Which is to say both "completely implausible and illogical" and "we wouldn't want to meet them anyway."

                I agree 100%.

                Regular ol' biochemical life like what we have most likely has a much higher chance of forming than anything not like us. There are a lot of cards stacked in our favour!

                Considering we have a sample size of 1 (planet/solar system), I think that's a lot of assuming. Our solar system could be part of some lifeform, and we'd never know, not having the right perspective. Hydrocarbon-based biochemical life has been proven to exist, and to contain lifeforms some of whom consider themselves the pinnacle of existence and intelligence. Beyond that, we have certain theorems and hypotheses that appear to hold together based on our observations.

                If the observation that w

                • Ha! I have some things to catch you with here.

                  One: if our sun is part of some giant cosmic organism built out of stars, then its speed of operation must be on the scale of many years, or based on something outside of our observable physical universe that we'll probably never observe (i.e., you're making an unfalsifiable claim, like God.) Also, given that there are so many stars, it's not probable we're interfering with a very important part of it—there are billions of neurons in the human brain, after

      • by Surt (22457)

        When we have a TOE that fully explains the universe to the satisfaction of our scientists, and our technology is provably functioning on the lowest possible level of that TOE, and we have harnessed about 10% of the energy output of the galaxy, we can safely assume that any species we have not yet discovered will be weaker.

      • Re:aliens (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kubernet3s (1954672) on Saturday January 14, 2012 @05:26AM (#38696070)
        Wow, way to misrepresent Carl Sagan in a way deeply offensive to the ideals he stood for. If you listened to the WHOLE episode (and indeed, read the numerous articles, talks and books he was responsible for on the subject) you would know that the intent of that statement was that it is extremely unlikely that two species that come in contact would have anything that both were interested in, but that one had an abundance and the other a paucity of. He was also writing that in the context of the Cold War, during which the worst of all possible worlds was two equally powerful superpowers engaged in an intractable war.

        In the highly unlikely event we were to come into contact with some species that both a) has the ability to travel at or near the speed of light (probably faster) and b) is in desperate need of some resource we possess, it is even more unlikely that they are simply waiting hundreds of years for some signal from a particularly loud race to start warming up the battleships: they probably have ways of finding us.

        The problem with the jungle/colonization analog of alien contact is that space is not an ecosystem. While science fiction is full of species like the Zerg and the Borg and Tyranids and Xenomorphs that work by subsuming or preying on other species, but surely you must realize how staggeringly unlikely that is. The argument is always that we could never conceive of what's out there: if that's true, how can there be other species who not only have conceived of what's out there, but evolved specifically to take unique advantage of it? This is all besides the point that it is unlikely that FTL travel is even a physical possibility, let alone a feasible transport method for a species of conquerors or predators.
        • by Chemisor (97276)

          it is extremely unlikely that two species that come in contact would have anything that both were interested in, but that one had an abundance and the other a paucity of

          On the contrary, there is one resource that all species are competing for: habitable space. Unless you learn to live in bubble habitats on asteroids, most people would want a planet. The number of usable planets (decent temperatures, liquid water, mineral resources, etc.) is limited, so any species would want all they can find. Also, all spe

          • Again, it's inconceivable to me how a species capable of crossing vast, interstellar distances would have a population problem. We have a population problem now, and we're still centuries, if not millenia away from the possibility of interstellar travel. By the time we can travel to another planet, we will have had to address this issue in another way, either by terraforming technology (and related engineering projects) or by efficient social engineering. I suppose it is conceivable that a species focuses s
        • Sorry, yes; reading that comment again I have no idea why I would put up poor Carl to such a survivalist perspective. I think I was focusing on the bit about technology disparity, to the exclusion of the rest of Janek's post.

          That being said, though, in addition to habitable space as Chemisor has said, intelligent labour is always a pretty popular resource. I mean, who doesn't want an ugly clumsy biped with only two workable clumsy manipulators as a slave?
    • by khallow (566160)

      sorry, but we want to hide from aliens as long as we don't have technology strong enough to win an eventual war with them.

      I imagine it wouldn't take long till an interstellar war ran into the same sort of MAD standoff that stopped many conventional large-scale wars after the Second World War.

    • "...With 'micro-transits' being a preferred way to find exoplanets, somebody looking could stumble across this..."

      sorry, but we want to hide from aliens as long as we don't have technology strong enough to win an eventual war with them. Evolution as a universal rule prefers stronger species.

      Wrong, evolution prefers the species better adapted to its environment, if there is selection pressure. It does not prefer a stronger (in what sense anyway) species: A lot of preditor species, including Tyrannosaurus Rex died out because they simply used too much energy. The most successful species are bacteria. Are they "strong"?
      Fittest does not refer to strength but to the degree of adaption.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Hey, two fun facts to roll around your mind:

      1) If you can't ravel faster than light (and practical FTL travel is still considered physically impossible by standard scientific theory), an interstellar war would be impossible in any meaningful sense. Lets say that our alien foe lives at Epsilon Eridani, which is one of the nearest stars to Earth at 10 light years away. At 12% the speed of light (the proposed top speed of the fusion powered Project Daedalus spacecraft) the journey would take you 83.5 years, on

  • ...shiny metal ass!
  • Why not a public database of ALL the known celestial objects? It could be like a web service where you send it parameters, such as coordinate range, magnitude, object type, etc, and a CSV or XML list comes back.

    I wonder how many library-of-congresses that is?

    • by Xolotl (675282)

      It exists, or close enough[*] - it's called SIMBAD:

      http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/ [u-strasbg.fr]

      * - new objects are added all the time, so it takes a while for that information to make it into SIMBAD

    • Why not a public database of ALL the known celestial objects? It could be like a web service where you send it parameters, such as coordinate range, magnitude, object type, etc, and a CSV or XML list comes back.

      I wonder how many library-of-congresses that is?

      Something like Simbad [u-strasbg.fr]? The interface is tedious (but powerful), the amount of data and maps/photos is enormous.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)
        SIMBAD (which several others also appear to have used) is how many Libraries of Sex?

        (And why do people always euphemise it to "Libraries of Congress?")

  • by blueZhift (652272) on Friday January 13, 2012 @06:32PM (#38692352) Homepage Journal
    As near as I can tell, there's no way to access the data programmatically. So there's no way to apply any data mining techniques to the publicly available data set. Hopefully this will change going forward as groups of scientists higher on the food chain request access to do more comprehensive studies.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Reading your comment, I have to think back to that lolcat picture "IZ NOT GUD WITH COMPUTERZ".

      If you can prove the data exists, then there is away to access the data programatically. Or how do you think you just accessed it? Without a computer? Without a program? Is your browser not a program on a computer??

      Crude example based on looking at it for five seconds:
      Just use CURL or wget, to loop through the whole range for all parameters in http://nesssi.cacr.caltech.edu/cgi-bin/getcssconedbvo_release.cgi [caltech.edu] , (use

  • by Trogre (513942) on Friday January 13, 2012 @06:35PM (#38692390) Homepage

    Quick, someone plug these into Celestia. I feel like going on an interstellar cruise.

    • by arnodf (1310501)

      Celestia was the first thing I thought of as well when I read the headline :-)
      I hadn't used it in a while but my brother's quiet into astronomy nowadays and I showed Celestia to him and noticed it hasn't been updated for over a year now and most images are outdated. Sad for such a wonderful application.

  • Back at ya (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Friday January 13, 2012 @06:44PM (#38692482) Journal

    So, if transits are a viable way of detecting habitable planets at very long distances... do we have a list of stars that we would be transit-visible to? (say, within an degree of the ecliptic) A good survey would be to examine those stars which might well be examining us back.

    • by Alsee (515537)

      It should be pretty easy to create such a list. Simply project the plane of orbit out across the sky.
      If my math is right, there should be about 0.54 degree range for another star to see the Earth transit the sun. However that goes up to about a 1.4 degree range if they take interest after seeing a Mercury transit.

      -

  • For fleshing out my submission (I didn't put in the news release).

    Hope you find the story interesting!

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