September 22, 2009

Exoplanetology and Methuselarity

On Immortality and Reaching Other Worlds
I know, i know. I've been been reading too much Science Fiction lately. Unfortunately, I can't help it. Because the world itself is treading hauntingly close into the realm of sci-fi. For example, just a few days ago I've come across the concept called "Methuselarity".
Methuselarity is the point where we achieve the "Longevity Escape Velocity" (LEV) in the rate of progress of our anti-aging efforts. Longevity and Life-expectancy increases each year as new anti-aging treatments improve. The rate of progress of these technology and therapies will improve exponentially. And similar to the curve that leads to the Singularity, a point may be reached where a person can be constantly treated by life-extension technologies and regenerative medicine. Thus, this person can live longer than Methuselah himself. And, barring fatal accidents--this person can actually live forever. This "immortal" would be similar to the genetic experiments called the "Kildren" in the anime The Sky Crawlers who never grow old.
And it's amazing to think that if Methuselarity does indeed occur, a human being alive or born today might actually get the chance to set foot on an Exoplanet. That scenario, although far-fetched in all respects--may be considered as another culmination of human Space Exploration, especially that mankind must leave earth sooner or later.
The technology that will bring about Methuselarity will also be vital for humans in traversing interstellar space. A debatable issue is whether that person can still be called "human" after being treated with all sorts of radical life-extension technologies. Although "Posthuman" may be a better term, it may not capture the essence of what it means to be human anymore when the technology finally reveals itself.
The technology for anti-aging therapies and life-extension can be carried on "Exodus" ships that will leave the earth to populate other habitable worlds. And mind you, the arrival of Methuselarity would make it a must for Humanity to move off-world from Earth. Why? Because over-population would make Earth a living hell for Methuselarians. A crammed world would drive every "immortal" being on any planet mad. Call it Cabin Fever on a planetary scale.
The idea of a mass exodus of humanity from earth in search of other worlds has already been told in many science fiction novels. Some that i've encountered recently are "The Saga of Seven Suns" and the conceptual book "Exodyssey".
Although the plot of these stories does not mention the ramifications of the Methuselarity that I outlined above, perhaps a story on this Exoplanetology-Methuselarity connection will probably be written by a sci-fi novelist soon. And mind you, when a sci-fi story gets itself written, some aspects of it becomes a due time.
Owing to his out-of-this world ideas, some critics said that "Aubrey de Grey is effectively a science fiction writer", not knowing that it would turn out to be a compliment. But the Methuselarity is no sci-fi to him. He is directly involved in making it come into fruition via the SENS Foundation that he steers.
Perhaps the seeds for immortality are being planted. Will it's fruit take us to the stars and into other worlds?

September 12, 2009

Poetic Planetary Exploration: The Swamps of Sleethe

Today, I indulged the child in me by exploring other Worlds with child-like eyes through poetry. With bite-sized Exo-poems from Jack Prelutsky, The Swamps of Sleethe is a literary exploration of exoplanetary proportions. It is nicely complemented by the illustrations of Jimmy Pickering.
The moment I saw this book, I knew instantly that I had to show it to my kids, and review it. The blurb confirms that this is an enjoyable take on Exoplanets:
"Imagine that you're...travelling to unexplored planets far beyond our solar system...Travel to these far-flung worlds at your own risk!"
Of course, my 9-year-old loved it!
Indeed, wonder and terror is nicely woven by imagination within this book, plus an added fun to go with the play of words. The Swamps of Sleethe has an anagram game where the readers can decipher the word that describes the property of the planet in each poem. Take peek at these anagrams and see what you can come up with: Driffig, Fesstor, Gub, Skreber, Ogdofod, Sarbro, Theentor, Thade, Ning-fa-dee. They're actually cute names for exoplanets!

My favorite poem from the compilation is The Beholder in the Silence which I interpret to be about a Planemo--a sunless planet wandering the cosmos. Here's an excerpt:

Beholder in the Silence
On a planet gray and airless,
at the universe's rim,
Where the night is everlasting,
And the stars are ever dim...

The Beholder in the Silence,
With its one unblinking eye,
Stares into the boundless cosmos
Far beyond its sunless sky.

I also like the fact that the local inhabitants of the planets in the poems are given due attention. For example:

The Demon Birds of Lonithor
They soar above their planet
On perennial patrol-
To feast on otherworlders
Is their all-consuming goal.

And yes, believe it or not, the most poetic description of Extremophiles can be found on this book! The excerpt below suits well to inspire our young future astrobiologists!

The Swamps of Sleethe
On sweltering Sleethe, in swamps aseethe,
Malignant beings thrive,
Abhorrent things that need not breathe,
And yet are quite alive.

We are witnessing the arrival of the plurality of worlds, heralded by accelerating discoveries of weird planets way beyond our imagination. This book nicely introduces to young readers what is truly happening in our midst: bizarre new exoplanets are continually being found by planet-hunters that can only be described via imaginative prose and poetry, as how they can be magnificently rendered in The Swamps of Sleethe.

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September 3, 2009

Epsilon Aurigae and Exoplanets in Auriga Constellation

AurigaI've never really seen a star go dim. Stars may twinkle, but to actually notice a star become less brighter than previous observations over a period of weeks and months is worth an experience.
Determining the apparent magnitude of stars is an observational skill worth acquiring in Astronomy. Very useful for observing Variable Stars, Cepheids, and Eclipsing Binaries.
Observing one of these eclipsing binaries called Epsilon Aurigae was the first time i ever tried seriously estimating the magnitude of stars. My experience with it was variably less than stellar (pun intended). I had to cheat by first knowing the magnitudes of other stars around it and comparing them to each other. And there is one rule that i keep repeating to myself: The brighter the star, the lower the value of its magnitude. It's well worth mentioning again because it's quite confusing. Thus it helps to remember the magnitude of a few stars near the target to set the scale. I started with Capella, the brightest star of the Auriga Constellation which has a magnitude of 0.91, while the three "kids" around it range from 3.0 to 3.88. Epsilon Aurigae (Eps Aur) is the strangest of these kids, and one that lures me into it's mystery.
The strange thing about Eps Aur is that it brightens a bit midway through it's eclipse. Some say that its eclipsing companion is a cloud that has a hole in the middle which causes the strange phenomenon. This theory is but one among many and none of them is satisfactory at this point.
Thus, the appeal of helping to solve this mystery is energized by the fact that you can join a horde of Citizen Astronomers in the effort. The folks at makes this campaign possible. And they are doing a wonderful job.Citizen Sky
The experience i went through to submit my observations were very smooth. I admire how they accomplished the whole setup of tying in data with AAVSO to seamlessly provide me with an ID, present friendly forms to register and input my data, and then show me the graph--marked where my submission appears among the data crowd. Instant feedback!
I wanted to relate my enthusiasm with exoplanets to the mystery of Epsilon Aurigae by charting the known exoplanets within it's constellation. The result is a KMZ file for google sky, and a list at Freebase. As you can see, there is no known exoplanets nearby Eps Aur at this time. It would have been cool to compare it's magnitude with an exoplanet-host star within the same binocular field of view. I currently use my 15x50 Image-Stabilized Binoculars to compare Eta, Zeta and Epsilon's magnitudes since they all fit nicely within it's 4.5 degree FOV. I've pretty much "photographically" etched their view in my mind. And it would be exciting indeed to see the mysterious Epsilon star go dim in the coming months.
Whether exoplanets are involved or not, this is a very exciting thing to be part of. The mystery awaits!

Auriga Exoplanets:
HD 43691 b
WASP-12 b
HAT-P-9 b
HD 49674 b
HD 45350 b
HD 40979 b

Epsilon Auriga

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