Friday, September 26, 2008

The Cepheid Galactic Internet

Sometimes, I like to imagine all the electromagnetic waves around me, emails and phone calls in transit carrying message of joy or anger all around the world. These days, a wireless can be found almost everywhere, all you need is a laptop with a network card - “all you need” is an incredibly sophisticated electronic toy that only half a century ago would have been impossible to produce, would have been called science fiction, if not fantasy.

When I was a kid, I liked to imagine one day I'd build a device to receive the alien communication in the universe. Because, without doubt, if there's aliens somewhere they would send messages all through space. It occurred to me later they probably wouldn't broadcast all through the universe and the earth being in the line of their signal seemed rather unlikely.

Anyway, there are other ways one can imagine how alien civilizations could leave messages, possibly especially for less advanced civilizations - like us - to provide hints for boosting technological development and hopefully scientific insights. Jaron Lanier e.g. speculates that aliens might rearrange the stars, so we should probably go look for unusual star constellations. Hsu and Zee go one step further to suggest the creator of the universe himself could have left a message in the CMB. (We already found it.) The most recent contribution on this matter is

    The Cepheid Galactic Internet
    By John G. Learned, R-P. Kudritzki, Sandip Pakvasa, and A. Zee

In this paper the authors suggest that alien civilizations would use modulation of Cepheid variable stars to encode their message. Chepheid variable stars are well known for a fairly tight correlation between their period of variability and their absolute luminosity, which makes them ideal candidates to determine distances. Cepheids are giant yellow stars with a luminosity about a thousand times that of the sun and are easily observed. The authors thus “expect that any civilization undertaking astronomy would soon discover them.”

They further speculate that a modulation could be achieved by injecting a pulse of neutrinos into the stellar core where the deposit of additional energy would affect the exact period of oscillation. Such a modification of single periods however, they go on to explain, would likely go unnoticed in the commonly made Fourier analysis of the measured spectrum. Therefore, they suggest to reinvestigate the luminosity oscillations using a different analysis method that would allow to discover the alien message over the periodic signal (and possible noise).

They close with saying
“We propose that there may well be signatures of [extraterrestrial intelligence] communication available in data already recorded, and that a search of Cepheid [...] records may reveal an entre into the galactic internet!

It may be a long shot, but should it be correct, the payoff would be immeasurable for humanity. The beauty of this suggestion seems to be simply that the data already exists, and we need only look at the data in a new way.”

A long shot indeed. Science fiction, fantasy? But isn't it nice to imagine the answer to our questions might be in the stars quite literally?

A nice weekend to all of you!


  1. Dump a planetary mass of lithium, indium, or thallium into a star's atmosphere to create an impossible color for its Main Sequence position. There are NO green stars! Let somebody else in the universe invest in phoning home.

    Add technetium with no stable isotopes and longest half-life of 6.6 million years. Oh, wait... Tc is seen in Class M, MS, MC, S and C stars. Somebody call SETI. OK, add promethium whose longest half-life is only 17.7 years. Oops... HR 465 in Andromeda, HD 101065 (Przybylski's star), and HD 965. Somebody call SETI.

  2. Bee, you said"... the earth being in the line of their signal seemed rather unlikely ...".

    A related idea was set out by Thomas McDonough in his book The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Wiley 1987). He discussed gavity lenses, saying:
    "... The Sun acts as a lens, focusing starlight to a point far beyond Earth. ... Light from another star would be focussed 550 times farther away than the Earth's orbit, more than ten times Pluto's distance.
    However, the gravitational lens has the nifty property that it remains essentially in focus from that distance to infinity. This means that any star other than the Sun could be focusing onto us faint images of other stars.
    Frank Drake described ... an idea suggested by ... Von R. Eshelman ...
    "What does this look like?
    If you're looking down the line of sight ... you see a ring of light ...
    one has collecting areas here which boggle the mind. Besides that, the sharpness of the image turns out to be enormously great. ...
    If we could be see it, this is what every star in the galaxy looks like,
    sort of a sea urchin if you will,
    a star making images of every other star,
    starting at the minimum distance and going out to infinity.
    This casting of very high-resolution images of the whole universe on the sky - and these images are in focus at all distances - is a really remarkable thing."
    Each star produces hundreds of billions of tubes of light, one for every other star, so there are hundreds of billions of hundreds of billions of tubes of light in our galaxy. ...".

    Tony Smith

  3. Interesting topic, which suggests very advanced aliens that could do engineering on a cosmic scale. Such ideas were first proposed (afaik) by the Soviet astronomer (Kardashev). A type III civilization could in principle harness the power of an entire galaxy. When I'm classifying galaxies for the Galaxy Zoo project, I always keep an eye out for unusual patterns in galaxies...After a few thousand galaxies, found nothing that would suggest artificiality. Cant' say I'm surprised by that, though.

    Have a nice weekend...

  4. As Changcho said, Kardashev did talk about such large-scale engineering as far back as 1964.

    However, such ideas go back further. Freeman Dyson, namesake of the Dyson Sphere proposal to surround a star with an artificial sphere to harness most of the energy emitted by the star, said (in his book Disturbing the Universe) that he
    "... took the idea from Olaf ... Stapledon's book Star Maker which ...[Dyson]... picked up in Paddington Station in London in 1945 ...[Stapledon wrote]...
    Not only was every solar system now surrounded by a gauze of light traps, which focused the escaping solar energy for intelligent use, so that the whole galaxy was dimmed, but many stars that were not suited to be suns were disintegrated, and rifled of their prodigious stores of subatomic energy. ...".

    Star Maker had been published back in 1937. In its preface, Stapledon said
    "... Certain ideas about artificial planets were suggested by Mr. J. D. Bernal's fascinating little book The World, the Flesh,and the Devil.
    Bernal's book was published around 1929.

    Tony Smith

  5. Hi all,

    I dont see why aliens would go to such great lengths as messing with the inner workings of stars merely to get attention.

    Maybe I just got pessimistic being a human living in a human world.

    About SEIT: If there were an advanced civilisation 39LY from us having eqiupment like the Arecibo.. Would they be able to see the Apollo11 moonlanding on television? or hear about it as radiobroadcasts? - wouldnt make much sense though..


  6. Tony Smith - interesting that you mention 'Starmaker'. I just finished that book a few weeks ago after reading F. Dyson's book 'The Scientist as Rebel', where he lavished praise upon Stapledon's book. It's a strange and wonderful tale...I'd rather call it 'cosmic mysticism' rather than SciFi. But in 'The Scientist as Rebel', Dyson again credits O. Stapledon for the Dyson sphere idea.

    You can find Starmaker online at Google Books

    I'll try to get a hold of Bernal's book sometime (and, again, Dyson also recomended that one too).

  7. These days, a wireless can be found almost everywhere, all you need is a laptop with a network card

    It is a long, long way to reach the point of "all you need". About 20% of the world's population is illiterate. 1.4 billion of people in the world are very poor (earn less than US$ 1,25 per day). If you find yourself surrounded by people using laptops on streets is because you live in a rich country. The majority of people in the world have no idea of what a laptop is. See the countries that connect to your blog. Africa is almost absent.

    Ok, these are the very poor and completely illiterate. There are people not that poor or that illiterate -- but even those have not reached the point of being able to purchase a computer. They can hardly read a book. And even if they could, they would have absolutely no capacity to understand, for instance, a small fraction of what you write in your blog. You are part of a very very very small fraction of people with high education and reasonable income.

    I pay for a maid to clean up my house (this is common here in Brazil, and I am glad to give her a well-paid job for this). She has trouble in understanding very basic issues, and she is not at the bottom of poverty. She had some school education (just a few years) and owns a small house. She cannot understand very elementary points, but is very religious, and her life circles around religion. She has no idea of what I do when I type my laptop.

    Of course, all this you know well, but for some reason I feel the need to express my disgust from time to time on the fact that the world does not offer opportunity for all and sometime what we see around as is not the reality for most. Apologize for any inconveniences.


  8. correction:

    "we see around as" -> "we see around us"

  9. Hi Bee,

    “so we should probably go look for unusual star constellations”

    This is an interestingly whimsical post. I’m afraid however between those like Tegmark and Dawkins any such notions would be dismissed; for no matter where one looks these days the hand of chance is perceived as the only logical opinion. We might say for instance we already have curious alignments, with say Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (big and little dipper) and yet even if “I can see you” was written clearly in the stars the majority would still insist it all to be an accident and thus a figment of our imaginations. I’m reminded of Carl Sagan’s book Contact, where the heroin’s journey and the alien contact denied for political and religious reasons. That was a bad enough indictment of humanity, yet for me when science follows the same, what hope can there be if the truth be the goal?



  10. Hi Christine,

    Indeed, when I wrote the above it was on my my mind that this accessibility is very unequally distributed. I've been counting on you to point it out, so thanks for that :-) Best,


  11. Hi Klaus,

    I don't understand to what great lenghts humans go merely to get attention either ;-) Best,


  12. Hi Phil,

    Well, I guess the deciding question is not whether a message is a message but whether a message is insightful and tells something new. If there's a potential to learn something that is a great incentive to look. Regarding this specific paper, well, I can't say I indeed believe there is information encoded in the Cepheid modulation, but they've based their speculation on some interesting physics. It's borderline scifi and theoretical physics I'd say, possible maybe though extremely far fetched and with a nice storyline. Maybe we should have a journal dedicated to publications of that sort, so that people could dump all their speculations of decaying vacua and communication with the aliens including the stories they want to tell. Best,


  13. ..I don't understand to what great lenghts humans go merely to get attention either ;-)

    Darwin explained it pretty conclusively ;-)

  14. Well Christine look at it this way. If they were no poor and illiterate people, then how you be able to find a servant to clean up your house? You would have to do it yourself. Exploitation of people by other people is what preserves the social hierarchy, the privileges of which you too partly enjoy.


  15. If you want to see what an alien world looks like in the future?

    Stranger in a Strange land was an interesting exercise work of Alien Introduction?

  16. Oh and Amara can speak to helioseismological as well, in the respect of modulation Bee is mentioning.


  17. Hi Bee,

    “Well, I guess the deciding question is not whether a message is a message but whether a message is insightful and tells something new. If there's a potential to learn something that is a great incentive to look.”

    And yet if these criteria were held the same for theoretical physics much of what is currently proposed would fail to meet this threshold. So I would ask then when does it stop being Science to become Science fiction?


  18. Hi Bee,

    Just as a post script to my last comment there was once a researcher of PI that held out a theory that was very significant in regards to this topic and that was Anthony Valentini. He maintained that what we perceive as the laws of QM were a special case resultant of what he refers to as the quantum equilibrium. He speculated that there could be found in the universe matter that was still in the non equilibrium state and if we could identify and harness such we could potentially communicate almost instantaneously over distance. That’s like having Aspect’s experiment not muddled by random. I often wondered what has happened with Valentini and his ideas since he left PI?



  19. Phil,

    AS a follow up, that is a good question in terms of Valentini's work. Significant, because as a proposal I put to term on equilibrium, one would have to ask, what is allowed through such "a channel?" I refer to the QGP and the anomalistic conditions that are being portrayed in the cosmos, as singular events.

    But I am going to go on the line here and ask a direct question to Bee.

    Are you aware of Our Human-Shaped Universe, by Mark Wyman?

    If not, then I would have to apologize in advance for any correlations that you might find in this post


  20. To Christine - thanks for putting things in perspective.

    No thanks to giotis - you're not funny.

  21. When I was a child, about 5-years old in 1962. Car radios had tubes in them with analog dials that played AM radio stations on an monophonic speaker mounted in the middle of the dashboard. There was no such thing as 8-tracks, cassette or CD players and no satellite radio either.

    We lived the rural mid-western United States at that time and radio stations were weak and far between. Many times you couldn’t pull in a signal when you wanted to. One day, we’re driving along when all that my father could get on the radio was static. He told me that those were Martians talking to each other, and I believed him! From then on, anytime that we’d get in the car I’d want to listen to the Martians on the radio. I’d even asked my dad what they were talking about. I don’t remember what his response was, but it must have gotten old in a hurry. I remember that it wasn’t long before he’d stopped playing the static for me, and wouldn’t turn it on when I’d ask him to.
    I quess that "It's Aliens!" goes back a long way.


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