Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Astronomers Release Enormous Database of Variable-Luminosity Celestial Objects

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the go-big-or-go-home dept.

Science 54

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."

cancel ×

54 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

FP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692000)

FTW

Ah. This takes me back to the nursery... (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693056)

Occilate, occilate,
Diminutive variable-luminosity celestial object
How I speculate
From where I gravitate...

They used a universal sql injection attack... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692092)

...to get the database.

And the vulnerability wont be fixed into the next universal patch tuesday in approx 13 billion years.

Re:They used a universal sql injection attack... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692296)

Having consulted with my colleagues, and based on the information gathered from the Intergalactic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I have the privilege to request for your assistance the transfer of the sum of forty trillion quatraloos, to be delivered into your account.

However, before this deposit takes place, we request from you the small sum of....

Re:They used a universal sql injection attack... (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692618)

Oh what I wouldn't give to discover an asteroid, just so I could name it:

';delete * from celestialobjects;

-Rick

Re:They used a universal sql injection attack... (1)

CorSci81 (1007499) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693242)

No astronomer would name something in their database something as sensible as "celestialobjects". The working names for Makemake and Haumea were "Easterbunny" and "Santa" until they were given official names.

aliens (4, Interesting)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692164)

"...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]

Re:aliens (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692258)

No we don't.

Re:aliens (3, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692262)

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?

Re:aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692274)

The answer to both questions: We don't.

Re:aliens (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692628)

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?

Re:aliens (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693792)

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.

Re:aliens (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#38718314)

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

Re:aliens (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38718420)

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!

Re:aliens (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#38719898)

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 we are only able to observe roughly 20% of all matter in our universe holds true, who knows what's happening in the other 80%?

Think of it this way. Assume, billions and billions of years ago, there was a sea sponge on some planet that wanted to better itself. Eventually, the planet evolved hydrocarbon-based humanoid beings very similar to us. Surprisingly, these beings did not destroy their environment.

Then what?

Do you expect them to stay like us forever, for billions of years? They could discover all sorts of things about our universe that would aid them in becoming "better" or at least "different".

Just think of how much language has changed in the last 4,000 years for human beings. We have ways of expressing things that didn't exist, and a person's world-view and outlook is significantly different now than it would have been then -- this despite the fact that we're a single species existing in a 4,000 year period.

Now fast forward several magnitudes of order into the future. Past the point where we've shed our mortal coils as a species. Past the point at which we depend upon energy from a single galactic object to survive.

If the cards are stacked so well in our favour, you'd expect this to happen at least once; those cards wouldn't be stacked to doom us all to destruction and waves of repetition, would they?

Are you really saying that there is just one means for life to generate in the universe, that that is doomed to a predefined cycle, there's no way to break it, and that it ends with Homo Sapiens Sapiens? In that case, we're due for destruction or a cycle repeat (back to single celled biology) any day now.

Re:aliens (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38721662)

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 all, and many more stars in the heavens; there are hundreds of millions of stars in our galaxy alone.

Two: if there is some incredibly advanced pure-energy-being civilization that uses stars or some element of our solar system somehow as a component of their... I dunno, crazy soul-jumping coffee shop, they'd obviously have the power to just avoid us. The worst possible crime we could have committed is equivalent to bombing a Starbucks.

Three: Earth-style biochemical life could not have arisen much earlier than it did on Earth because of a shortage of heavy-element-producing stars. Biological life demonstrably needs a great deal of carbon, a large host of transition metals, and at least half of the non-metals. No biochemical life could have arisen in the universe more than a billion or two billion years before us.

Four: as any astrobiologist will tell you, Earth-style biochemical life (yes, with carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and all the rest) has a very high chance of arising in our universe because of how abundant those elements are and the ways in which they bond with each other. Chemistry is, furthermore, much more capable of remaining stable for a long period of time relative to the rate at which it can go through changes, making it ideal for complex patterns. Electrical and magnetic fields are constantly and dynamically changing (and often relatively short-lived), the hearts of stars are too uniform, and black holes have nothing going on in them whatsoever. Evolution requires traversable obstacles, and nothing else, that we know of, can provide them (except this one really boring example involving clay formations [wikipedia.org] , which in itself is an interesting lesson in insufficiency.)

If there is something out there that has had enough time to go its merry way and transgress the technological singularity as you suggest, the only possible interest to them that we could ever be is a window into their unbelievably ancient past. If they ever let us become aware of their existence, then it will only be because we've caught up with them—but how could we ever do that if they've got such a long head start? Quite simply, unless they reach the ends of invention (which would require using up all of the resources in the universe in a not-so-subtle way because of the Halting problem), we can't. What you have produced, my friend, is another unfalsifiable hypothesis: it doesn't matter if they're out there, and it never will.

I fully believe that humanity will march forward into immortality eventually, however, and that there are other forms of life out there. As has been said: if there aren't, it's an awful big waste of space.

Re:aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692896)

Actually, the obvious reason that interstaller wars would be rare is the vast ginormous distances involved.

Re:aliens (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693806)

That too.

Re:aliens (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692984)

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 (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693634)

Sounds like we're gonna need pretty big shoes. :)

Re:aliens (3, Insightful)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:aliens (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38697868)

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 species are competetive (those that aren't, don't survive long), and will likely not stand for some aliens squatting on a perfectly usable planet. I am sure that if we were ever to find an alien world, we'd just exterminate any life on it that can compete with us. We did that on our planet; and here we're just competing with others of our own kind. Why would anybody care about the lives of aliens, when we don't even care about some members of our own species?

Re:aliens (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38823961)

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 solely on aerospace, to the exclusion of the advances in medicine or social policy which have caused us to proliferate, but then if there is anything universal to life it would be its tendency to proliferate. I suppose it is also possible for a species to live in a solar system with mostly earthlike planets, and to not even conceive of terraforming until they already have incredible aerospace capability. But if there were such a star, it is undoubtedly an insignificant rarity.

The difference between space and our planet is that space is unimaginably vast: if there were some problem here, by the time you made the journey to another planet in order to fix that problem, either the problem would have been fixed by some other means, or it would have destroyed your society! I'd hazard that any alien peoples whose lifetimes were on the order of interstellar travel times would hardly be using the eyeblink blips of other people's radio age transmissions to decide where to go they would just visit. The colonization of America was not predicated on the existence of native people: rather it was conducted in spite of them. Unless you know a way of screening our planet from environmental assays, we might as well bet on the slim that they'll go easy on us if we prove we know math.

Re:aliens (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38701188)

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?

Re:aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692590)

I don't think it's at all hard to imagine a species smart enough to invent a method of interstellar travel, but also smart (or un-human) enough to have never thought or bothered with an invention as destructive as the nuclear warhead.

Re:aliens (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38695674)

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.

Re:aliens (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#38696782)

"...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.

Re:aliens (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#38697912)

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, one way. Assuming you're fighting for any actual reason (say, resources), it's tricky to see how you could possibly hope to achieve anything that would benefit your home civilization. And Epsilon Eridani is remarkably nearby; of all the planets spotted so far by Kepler, the nearest is 123 light years (so a one way journey of more than 1000 years for Daedalus). The furthest is 4338 ly away, so a 36200 year Daedalus trip. Even if you can go faster than Daedalus, you're still not going to be fighting any wars at those speeds.

2) If you can travel at the speed of light you can destroy planets pretty much at whim, making wars a bit short. As an object approaches the speed of light, the energy it contains approaches infinity (which is why you can't go that fast). If you unleash an amount of energy which was even distantly approaching infinite on a planet (by crashing into it), you make a very big explosion. 1 tonne travelling at 90% the speed of light would contain something like 1.2 x 10^20 Joules of energy- something like a 40 gigaton explosion. 6.6 x 10^26 Joules is enough to evaporate all of Earth's oceans. You only need something like 2 x 10^32 Joules to shatter planet Earth completely, reducing it to gravel.

Re:aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38713404)

Damn straight; If there's one thing Halo taught us all, it's to watch out for the Covenant, and don't advertise your homeworld!

(Okay, kidding aside: despite three and a half decades of video game and movie logic, I suspect that we're assuming that there is not an inverse relationship between aggression and technological superiority on the scale necessary to pull off a stunt like this)

Catalogue my... (1)

fotoguzzi (230256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692306)

...shiny metal ass!

Put it all (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692336)

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?

Re:Put it all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692750)

Are you going to pay for the storage, servers, bandwidth and maintenance costs for both hardware, software and the support staff?

Re:Put it all (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38695176)

Yes! Bill me.

Re:Put it all (1)

Xolotl (675282) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692846)

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

Re:Put it all (2)

Koen Lefever (2543028) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692906)

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.

Re:Put it all (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38696006)

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?")

Data Needs Access API (3, Interesting)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692352)

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.

Re:Data Needs Access API (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38694024)

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 a delay so to avoid flooding the server), then parse the results, piece the data together and load into your favorite database on your box,using a small script.
Done.

It might take some time due to the primitivity of the interface (the multi-cone search may be quicker), but there's nothing preventing you from accessing it programmatically.

Kids these days... If they don't get everything pre-chewed and padded in 3 feet of colorful but non-frightening foam, they run away and cry like babies.

Re:Data Needs Access API (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38698704)

And then you'll get sued by accessing it in inappropriate way, just like that one who mass downloaded public articles. Welcome to the modern world, if it's not explicitly allowed you'll get sued to oblivion.

AWeSOME FP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692384)

recent arTicle put there are Fanati3 known Distro is done Here

Motherlode (2)

Trogre (513942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692390)

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

Re:Motherlode (1)

arnodf (1310501) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692944)

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.

Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38692476)

Re:Obligatory XKCD (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38694394)

It might be obligatory, but not for this story. Try the one next door.

Back at ya (4, Interesting)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38692482)

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.

Re:Back at ya (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38695314)

do we have a list of stars that we would be transit-visible to?

Short answer: no.

The orbital plane of any given star is oriented more or less at random to us, so the only way to find transiting stars/planets is to look at thousands of stars at a time, secure in the knowledge that you're inevitably missing more than 97% of what's out there.

Re:Back at ya (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38695590)

You misunderstood the question.

Re:Back at ya (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38697428)

The question was what stars could see us. We know that, those are the stars around the zodiac.

Of course, things are not so simple, since there is no guarantee we could see a planet on any of those stars. Somebody can be whatching us from there, but be completely invisible for us. As we can find planets at stars near the poles, but would be invisible* to them.

* Of course, that is assuming thay'll look through transit changes. There are probably other ways to look.

Re:Back at ya (2)

Alsee (515537) | more than 2 years ago | (#38695686)

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.

-

Thanks editors (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38693452)

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

Hope you find the story interesting!

Spiders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38693454)

Which one is the On-Off star?

Lindsay Lohan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38693838)

Finally Lindsay Lohan can be plotted on a graph.

Re:Lindsay Lohan (1)

FairAndHateful (2522378) | more than 2 years ago | (#38695890)

Finally Lindsay Lohan can be plotted on a graph.

I think you were thinking of this [wikipedia.org] instead.

Is it hashed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38695666)

Does anyone know if the contents of the leak is hashed?

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?