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Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the assuming-the-little-green-men-are-not-too-green dept.

Space 95

coondoggie writes: If what we know as advanced life exists anywhere other than Earth, then perhaps they are dirtying their atmosphere as much as we are. We could use such pollution components to perhaps more easily spot such planets. That's the basis of new research published this week by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They say that if we could spot the fingerprints of certain pollutants under ideal conditions (PDF), it would offer a new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

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Major disappointment... (4, Funny)

creimer (824291) | about 3 months ago | (#47518609)

After all these years of running SETI@Home [berkeley.edu] , we still haven't found any extraterrestial TV signals carrying alien porn. :/

Great... (5, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | about 3 months ago | (#47518651)

Our first encounter with an alien civilization will be the EPA trying to fine them millions of dollars.

Re:Great... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518939)

No, the EPA won't be bothering them...

Customs will be after them for importing technology without a license.

ATF&E will be after them for carrying unlicensed military type weapons.

Department of Energy will be complaining about the unlicensed reactor they will be running.

The FCC will be fining them for importing RF equipment and causing interference. Operating an RF transmitter without authorization and listening to 800 MHz and cell frequencies. Depending on the size of the craft, there may be fines for not having the proper lighting.

The county and city will be imposing fines for violation of zoning ordinances and non-payment of taxes on their space ship because it's "real" property. Local authorities will also demand they get a permit for the crowd that gathers, which will include the provision for handicapped parking, temporary restroom facilities, and fees for overtime payments for cops to direct traffic.

The FAA will be insisting that they be provided blue prints, design specs, and given access to the ship to verify it's airworthiness. They will insist on the ship being registered, at least experimental, but only if the occupants can prove they built 51% of it themselves. They will also be looking for the pilot's license, medical and log book to make sure the crew is legally able to fly. There may also be fines for flying an improperly equipped aircraft in a controlled airspace and flying VFR in IFR conditions.

The IRS will come after them for not filing the proper "resident alien" tax returns for a number of years. They may also be due tax credits and Obamacare subsidies, unless they are self employed in which case they will be billed for the fine/tax.

HHS will want to get them signed up for healthcare but will likely require them to seek immediate medical attention so that they can be vaccinated. If they brought medical staff with them, they will be required to obtain new licenses or cease to practice.

ICE will issue citations to each alien for being in the country without a passport, visa or work permit issued by a recognized government. They will then start proceedings to deport them to their country of origin, issue them a summons for a court date 6 months in the future and turn them loose to fend for themselves.

Re:Great... (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about 3 months ago | (#47519051)

Yep and Luhr's next move will be to deploy his death ray. Let me be the first to both welcome and thank our new Omicronian Overlords.

Re:Great... (2)

Jesrad (716567) | about 3 months ago | (#47521203)

And we still wonder why they are keeping quiet ?

Earth must be labelled as "that planet is full of crazies, steer well clear !" throughout the entire galaxy...

Re:Great... (0)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 3 months ago | (#47522313)

tea partiers will be shouting about illegal alian immegration and we need to build an outer space fence. tech cos will want to issue H1Bs.

Re:Great... (1)

skinymike (3642225) | about 3 months ago | (#47523621)

Wrong, First encounter will be america invading them for oil

Re:Great... (1)

skinymike (3642225) | about 3 months ago | (#47523631)

you mean invade them for "democracy".

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518677)

Blerg on blerg action, tentacle docking, sorg fissure licking!!!!

Well it would probably be all scrambled anyway unless we got one of those pirate boxes to descramble it for us....

Re:Major disappointment... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518733)

DRM is illogical.

Re:Major disappointment... (4, Funny)

creimer (824291) | about 3 months ago | (#47518785)

Well it would probably be all scrambled anyway unless we got one of those pirate boxes to descramble it for us....

If the signal wasn't scrambled, all those naked blue-colored girls I saw on a TV as a teenager may actually be naked blue-colored girls... from SPACE!

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 months ago | (#47523691)

If the signal wasn't scrambled, all those naked blue-colored girls I saw on a TV as a teenager may actually be naked blue-colored girls... from SPACE!

I'll be in my bunk. ;-)

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 3 months ago | (#47518845)

After all these years of running SETI@Home [berkeley.edu] , we still haven't found any extraterrestial TV signals carrying alien porn. :/

It was on the tee-vee [sadgeezer.com] , friend. :)

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 3 months ago | (#47518873)

How would we recognize alien porn? They could be very, almost unreasonably, similar to us and maybe it'd look like binary fission. More likely, it would look like six or more Teslas crashing at speed.

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 3 months ago | (#47518881)

"After all these years of running SETI@Home [berkeley.edu], we still haven't found any extraterrestial TV signals carrying alien porn. :/"

They abandoned it 100 years ago, because there was never anything on.
Just as they abandoned pollution.

Re:Major disappointment... (2)

Moof123 (1292134) | about 3 months ago | (#47519171)

What is striking to me is that SETI is mostly looking for spikes in the background noise, but our communication standards have rapidly moved away from such signals ourselves. AM, FM, and VSB+C (old analog TV) were all relatively inefficient ways to transmit information, and often had a large center carrier that sticks out like a sore thumb, which makes for a nice way to detect a transmission.

Most digital transmissions now use various methods that do not need a center carrier, and look very much like amplified noise to outside observers. Our period of transmitting the types of signals that SETI is most looking for only lasted 100 years or so, and most new standards would be very hard or impossible to detect at interplanetary distances. Once can only assume that other cultures smart enough to make radio transmitters would also have similarly short periods during which inefficient methods would be used. Basically it might limit the window of detectability to the brief period between inventing radio, and when Moore's Law makes powerful signal processing very cheap.

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 3 months ago | (#47519325)

One of the assumptions behind SETI is that aliens want to be heard, we have deliberately broadcast radio messages to nearby stars, SETI are hoping aliens will do the same thing.

The idea of looking for atmospheric signatures of technological life that do not occur in nature (such as CFC's) has been around for a long time. Non technological life can be inferred from an atmosphere rich in both methane and oxygen. People are trying to perform atmospheric spectroscopy on exoplanets but the technology is not quite there yet, I believe someone recently claimed to have detected water vapour on an exoplanet.

Having said that I was taught in 1970's high school that it was theoretically impossible to detect an exoplanet from Earth, but that was before wobble mirrors were invented..

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | about 3 months ago | (#47521195)

Once can only assume that other cultures smart enough to make radio transmitters would also have similarly short periods during which inefficient methods would be used.

For information transmission, yes. For other uses of EM radiation [wikipedia.org] , not so much.

Re:Major disappointment... (1)

kuzb (724081) | about 3 months ago | (#47520977)

You couldn't be more wrong - where do you think all the hentai tentacle rape comes from?

Advanced? (3, Insightful)

KeensMustard (655606) | about 3 months ago | (#47518619)

Would an advanced race actually do something so illogical?

In what other ways are we assuming alien life is like us?

Re:Advanced? (2)

Le Marteau (206396) | about 3 months ago | (#47518639)

Pollution occurs wherever there is life.

Re:Advanced? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518821)

Sorry, you have used the incorrect verbiage, POLLUTION has been replaced by CLIMATE CHANGE.

Re:Advanced? (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 3 months ago | (#47519797)

Sorry, you have used the incorrect verbiage, POLLUTION has been replaced by CLIMATE CHANGE.

Come on, get some marketing people on this...
This area now Atmospherically Enhanced with extra monoxides, dioxides, ozone, and for a special twist, ozone depleters!

Re:Advanced? (1)

Architect_sasyr (938685) | about 3 months ago | (#47521315)

Please, it's "ozone readjustment technology".

Re:Advanced? (3, Insightful)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 3 months ago | (#47518825)

It's worse than that. Pollution is highly specific to the existence of given technology at a given stage of development. How long, on astronomical time scales, would a given planetary atmosphere contain iodine-131 (half life 8 days) or even coal smoke, before more advanced versions of the same technology, or a different technology entirely, succeeds the one emitting the pollutant?

Furthermore, we can only detect as pollutants substances that we already know about as side effects of our own civilization. If we were to look at some exoplenet and detect an oxygen atmosphere that has scandium dust in it, or which absorbs slightly more yellow that we think it should, we would have no way of associating this effect with possible intelligence until we experience the same kind of pollution ourselves.

Re:Advanced? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 3 months ago | (#47518901)

"Pollution" is by definition a bit of spin on top of the science, since it is a socially-defined term. (Just as a botanist would never hope to find a gene that is found in all weeds, and only in weeds). But expanding the list of compositions that are best explained by the existence of life is still a useful exercise.

Re:Advanced? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 3 months ago | (#47520445)

Pollution is highly specific to the existence of given technology at a given stage of development.

And as a corollary, a civilization which spends too much time at any given stage is going to collapse again when it uses up its ready resources, and/or renders its biosphere uninhabitable. If we had used up all the trees, for example, on the planet. Many civilizations did deforest astoundingly large areas even before the invention of power equipment. If we had used up all the ready ores without inventing power equipment. If we use up all the fossil fuels without figuring out what to do about the CO2.

Re:Advanced? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 3 months ago | (#47519337)

Pollution occurs wherever there is life.

Indeed, the oxygen we breath is another life-form's pollution.

Re:Advanced? (4, Insightful)

WillKemp (1338605) | about 3 months ago | (#47519901)

Pollution occurs wherever there is life.

True. Earth was populated for millions of years by organisms that polluted the atmosphere with oxygen.

Re:Advanced? (1)

coofercat (719737) | about 3 months ago | (#47521823)

...and a few other places besides. The toilets at my work are probably the first place these people should be looking.

Re:Advanced? (1)

ninjabus (3024459) | about 3 months ago | (#47518641)

At least these would be good chemical markers for extraterrestrial stupidity.

Re:Advanced? (1)

lazy genes (741633) | about 3 months ago | (#47520223)

Industrial pollution at the levels we emit, may not be a sign of intelligent life. It may be a sign of a life form with huge egos that are about to go extinct.

Re:Advanced? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 3 months ago | (#47518645)

Exactly. This human myopic assumptions are purely asinine at times. (Just like Scientists assume the Laws of Physics are constant for the universe based purely on visual data which has huge margins of error.)

Other stupid assumptions: Assuming life favors a single-star system when in reality it favors a twin-star system.

Earth is the anomaly here; NOT the norm.

Re:Advanced? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 3 months ago | (#47519367)

Assuming life favors a single-star system when in reality it favors a twin-star system.

I'm assuming you are a native of a twin-star system who happens to be doing anthropology work among the savages in this system.

Because otherwise, I can't figure out how you'd know that life favors a twin-star system, given that we know of zero twin-star systems that support life.

Re:Advanced? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 3 months ago | (#47519405)

Why do you assume Science is the _only_ way to acquire knowledge?

Re:Advanced? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47521183)

It might not be the only way, but it works better than just making things up on average.

Re:Advanced? (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | about 3 months ago | (#47521213)

"Science" is the collective name for the methods for acquiring knowledge that has, over the last couple of thousand years, been shown to yield self-consistent results that are confirmable by other ways to get the same information. There might be other methods we haven't thought of yet (and realistically, "science" in a thousand years will include more methods than it does today), but for now, the methods collectively known as "science" are the ones we know work.

That is why the assumption that a method outside of science is not helpful in acquiring knowledge is reasonable.

Re:Advanced? (1)

Architect_sasyr (938685) | about 3 months ago | (#47521323)

Because I've never met a clairvoyant who won the lottery, or a telepath who could type my password. Beyond that I'm just assuming.

Re:Advanced? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 3 months ago | (#47539329)

We all can have a laugh then when First Contact happens within 10 years (by 2024) and our Pleiadian parents look humanoid. :-)

You can keep laughing when Scientists discover the quantum energy flow between white holes and black holes, and the remaining 2 fundamental forces.

Clairvoyants have to follow spiritual laws too. Information is NOT allowed to just be "put out there." It follows a schedule just like everything else in the universe.

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47521587)

Depends what you mean by knowledge. Mythology about imaginary beings might be knowledge, I guess.

Re:Advanced? [Or as dumb as us?] (1)

Herschel Cohen (568) | about 3 months ago | (#47518649)

I would have used different words expressing essentially the same sentiment.

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518745)

CFCs are pollution for us, but not necessarily for them. For example, it might be logical for them to emit CFCs to fight an ice-age or to "terraform" a cold planet.

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47519689)

either way we know of no process that naturally forms CFC's.

whether or not it is "pollution" isn't really the point. what they are looking for is chemicals that either don't form naturally or are in a combination that is unlikely to form without life.

Re:Advanced? (2)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#47519007)

Would an advanced race actually do something so illogical?

By "advanced", I assume the summary meant "technologically advanced". How would any civilization reach a high level of technology without going through industrialization? It's not like anyone enjoys living downwind of a coal plant, but the messier forms of energy production are convenient, cheap, and don't require any advanced materials or science. Try to imagine an alternate history where we emerged from the industrial revolution with effective, sustainable fusion and solar power without ever polluting the planet.

One of my least-favorite sci-fi tropes is an alien race which is simultaneously technologically adept enough to build starships and aggressive enough to spread through the galaxy meets (much less technologically advanced) humans for the first time and sadly remarks on our lack of environmental consciousness and our propensity for violence. It requires the assumption that exactly none of the circumstances that constrained our development, and none of the evolutionary pressures which drove it, might apply to other species. Yes, we can't be certain that other forms of life aren't so radically different that these rules don't apply - but we have yet to observe such life forms on Earth, at least.

Re:Advanced? (1)

radtea (464814) | about 3 months ago | (#47519267)

Try to imagine an alternate history where we emerged from the industrial revolution with effective, sustainable fusion and solar power without ever polluting the planet.

First off, what we can or cannot imagine has absolutely nothing to do with what is or is not real, so it isn't clear why you're bringing this up. Three hundred years of knowing what is real through publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment and Bayesian inference had demonstrated that the pre-scientific "method" of "imagining what might be the case and then reasoning from it" is a hiding to nowhere, knowledge-wise.

That said, as it happens I can imagine such an alternative history. One simple way of doing it is to have an intelligent species that evolved somewhat more quickly than we did on a planet formed in very short order after the supernova that birthed it exploded. Such a planet would have a good deal more 235U in the mix, making light-water moderated natural uranium nuclear reactors possible (of the kind that existed on Earth in at least one location 2 billion years ago).

An intelligent species on such a planet would likely never go down the hydro-carbon-fuels path, but would be all-nuclear, all-the-time from a very early stage of technological development (one presumes that in such an environment they would be evolved for somewhat higher radiation-tolerance than most terrestrial species.) As such, no hydrocarbon pollution would be evident.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying any of this is true. Merely that I can imagine it. There are quite possibly any number of subtle issues that make such a scenario impossible, and the failure of philosophy (knowing by imaging) tells us that we will be very hard-pressed to find them. But you asked for an imagining, and there one is.

Re:Advanced? (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#47519505)

First off, what we can or cannot imagine has absolutely nothing to do with what is or is not real, so it isn't clear why you're bringing this up.

The parent poster was criticizing the making of "assumptions" about how advanced alien life might behave in the process of trying to detect it. If we don't make certain assumptions based on what we can observe firsthand, our imaginations are all we're left with. And I agree this is a shitty way to do science, which was kind of my entire point.

Re:Advanced? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 3 months ago | (#47521053)

Also no one is saying this is the only way life can possibly exist. The assumption with the search for extraterrestial life is that our first goal is to find anyone else out there, and the easiest way to do that is to look for people who are enough like us that we can make logical assumptions about them (which is a bit anthropological principlely but it's valid).

If tomorrow we discovered intelligent gas clouds living in the Jovian atmosphere, and correlated a bunch of spectral features to them, then you can bet we'd also be looking for life which obeyed those parameters.

Re:Advanced? (1)

erice (13380) | about 3 months ago | (#47519319)

Would an advanced race actually do something so illogical?

By "advanced", I assume the summary meant "technologically advanced". How would any civilization reach a high level of technology without going through industrialization? It's not like anyone enjoys living downwind of a coal plant, but the messier forms of energy production are convenient, cheap, and don't require any advanced materials or science. Try to imagine an alternate history where we emerged from the industrial revolution with effective, sustainable fusion and solar power without ever polluting the planet.

The thing is, fossil fuels run out rather quickly on the cosmic scale. A few centuries and the consequences of pollution become apparent quickly too. A civilization must quickly move to something cleaner or it dies. Either way, the pollution stops. What are the odds that our telescopes will find a planet inhabited by a civilization that just happens to be going through a (likely) one-time few century window of time?

If they exist at all, the average of civilization out there is probably tens to hundreds of million years old. It is unthinkable that a civilization that old would still be producing significant pollution (at least of a type that we are familiar). Maybe we should be looking for efforts to dump excessive waste heat.

Re:Advanced? (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#47519539)

The thing is, fossil fuels run out rather quickly on the cosmic scale. A few centuries and the consequences of pollution become apparent quickly too. A civilization must quickly move to something cleaner or it dies. Either way, the pollution stops. What are the odds that our telescopes will find a planet inhabited by a civilization that just happens to be going through a (likely) one-time few century window of time?

This is an excellent point, but it's also orthogonal to the post I was replying to. You're arguing based on certain physical constraints which are based on reasonable extrapolation from our present circumstances. The GP was arguing that pollution was "illogical", which is just a nonsensical argument. Polluting the planet to the point of species extinction would be illogical, but trace levels of CFCs in the atmosphere don't necessarily indicate a fundamental lack of logic, just a transitional period where a civilization was smart enough to make such things, but not smart enough to realize the long-term impact. (But I agree that this timeframe is not likely to be very long.)

Re:Advanced? (1)

careysub (976506) | about 3 months ago | (#47524047)

... It is unthinkable that a civilization that old would still be producing significant pollution (at least of a type that we are familiar)....

We often see posters on /. pitching "terraforming" ideas - perhaps creating a biosphere on a planet that initially lacks one. Evidence of terraforming projects carried out by ancient civilizations are "highly thinkable".

Consider one such proposal for terraforming Mars: by injecting "super green-house gases" - chemicals designed to maximize the greenhouse effect - into the Martian atmosphere. One top candidate for this is perfluoropropane - if we find worlds with significant concentrations of this (or other related chemicals) then this might be evidence of deliberate release.

Re:Advanced? (1)

painandgreed (692585) | about 3 months ago | (#47525717)

By "advanced", I assume the summary meant "technologically advanced". How would any civilization reach a high level of technology without going through industrialization?

given a world that didn't have vast resources of stored energy in coal and oil! I imagine it would begin how ours began! with hydro power. Advancement would probably be slower. Wind and eventually solar added to the mix. Possibly even significant amounts of geothermal. Technology would probably advance in different routes as the ICE and even steam engines would play a minor role in things. They might even have their own ecological disasters by deforestation (or equivalent ) to fuel steam engines. The shift away from ICEs and natural gas based fertilizers would change the ag tech and affect the societies significantly.

One of my least-favorite sci-fi tropes is an alien race which is simultaneously technologically adept enough to build starships and aggressive enough to spread through the galaxy meets (much less technologically advanced) humans for the first time and sadly remarks on our lack of environmental consciousness and our propensity for violence.

It doesn't bother me much. After all, it's how most westerners look at the Middle East And even Asia now, and we're the same species. Even discounting physical and psychological diff fences, aliens will most likely find their culture vastly superior or they wouldn't be living like that. This could be because of racial preferences or because of the demands of future society or tech that we couldn't support with our current culture but will required to go beyond what we have now.

Re:Advanced? (1)

aristotle-dude (626586) | about 3 months ago | (#47519207)

Would an advanced race actually do something so illogical?

In what other ways are we assuming alien life is like us?

Do you think their shit don't stink? Everybody poops. That is pollution.

Search for vomits yields better prospects (1)

Elixon (832904) | about 3 months ago | (#47521181)

The search parameters suggested in this post will yield only low quality results.

I would rather search for vomit traces - that way we will find a civilization that knows how to party hard!

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47528619)

Yes. I saw Carl Sagan give a talk on this very topic in 1994. The difference is not "Advanced" but "Intelligent" life. So far the number of intelligent societies known is 0.0. Therefore, the probability of "intelligent" life is 0.0, so looking for pollution makes sense.

Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (4, Informative)

perpenso (1613749) | about 3 months ago | (#47518631)

Well, pollution as in atmospheric O2, not pollution as in SUV exhaust. Atmospheric O2 is not the Earth's "normal" state, its a byproduct of life.

If I remember correctly, Earth's original atmosphere was SO2 based and some photosynthetic creature with a sulfur based metabolism started emitting O2 as a waste product ... and so began global climate change 1.0.

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 months ago | (#47518773)

some say oxygen and ozone were in the early atmosphere in significant concentration due to disassociation of water by ultraviolet light

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com... [wiley.com]

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (1)

Tailhook (98486) | about 3 months ago | (#47518831)

If I remember correctly, Earth's original atmosphere was SO2 based and some photosynthetic creature

The large scale Oxygen contamination of Earth's atmosphere by plant emissions began 650-700 million years ago.

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47522731)

Which I think, was the first mass-extinction event.

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518923)

CO2, not SO2: the first photosynthetic organisms started to use the carbon from the atmosphere to build organic material to let them grow, and released the leftover oxygen.

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47519141)

Nowadays with Wikipedia at our fingertips, "If I remember correctly" is an euphemism for "I'm too lazy to double-check".

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (1)

painandgreed (692585) | about 3 months ago | (#47525755)

Nowadays with Wikipedia at our fingertips, "If I remember correctly" is an euphemism for "I'm too lazy to double-check".

It's often not so much as the poster being lazy as the readers on a time wasting site just not being worth the effort of doing the fact checking.

Re:Pollution as in atmospheric O2 ... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47518985)

You do know pollution can also be atomic particle that can only occur through fusion on the planet.
Also, light is a pollution as well.
Basically too much of things that need to be artificially created would be a reasonable definition of pollution for this usage.

Spock Thoughts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518635)

Judging by the pollution content of their atmosphere, I believe we have arrived at the latter half of the 20th century.

Re:Spock Thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518721)

The entire film was environmentalist propaganda.

dark energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518663)

Yes, that pollution is called dark energy

Apply this to open source project committers? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518701)

Some major open source software projects have suffered from some pretty serious 'pollution' lately. Like GNOME 3 and its shitty, shitty UI changes. Or like Firefox and its shitty, shitty UI changes.

While this technique is applied on a galactic scale to planets, maybe similar techniques could be used when it comes to determining which committers to an open source project are responsible for creating 'pollution' there?

Users who are subjected to these shitty, shitty UI changes often complain on mailing lists and in other forums. So I'm thinking that it'd be possible to collect examples of these angry postings, and use them to determine which changes are 'pollution'. Then the source code repos could be used to track the changes back to individual developers. It would then be possible to see which developers are responsible for the changes that users hate the most.

Now, even when it comes to open source software projects, we can't always blame the developer. Sometimes they're the victim, too, being forced to commit the shitty changes that will just piss off users. But at least these developers, now that they've been pinpointed, can at least say "Joe Hipster over in the Design Dept. said we had to design the UI this way." So we can then tell that of the developers who have committed the changes that most displease the users, it all really comes down to Joe Hipster over in the Design Dept. who is really ruining the project.

I think this could help save dying projects like GNOME 3 and Firefox before they're totally dead. Those contributors who make contributions that everybody hates can be marginalized, to prevent more stupid ideas of theirs from causing additional problems. Anything they did influence or work on can be revisited, too, and any stupid changes reverted.

Re:Apply this to open source project committers? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47518797)

Why's the parent modded down? Of the 11 comments here so far, it's actually the most insightful. Most of the others are people arguing about global warming, yet again. At least that comment is nerd-worthy since it's about Open Source stuff. Slashdot isn't reddit. We mod up stuff about programming and software and computers, and mod down hipsters getting uppity about global warming.

That Would Assume (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 3 months ago | (#47518741)

Aliens don't know better than to shit where they eat. We could be the only species in the galaxy that's so stupid.

Re:That Would Assume (1)

arisvega (1414195) | about 3 months ago | (#47519375)

Aliens don't know better than to shit where they eat. We could be the only species in the galaxy that's so stupid.

But can you imagine if not? Imagine: an alien civ, similar to this one, but at an earlier stage of development. Ripe to be exploited. Would you then, for one, welcome yourself as their alien overlord?

Re:That Would Assume (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47519735)

that depends, do they have hot blue chicks?

Re:That Would Assume (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47520011)

-I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it.
-Jack Handy

Re:That Would Assume (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 3 months ago | (#47521881)

Yeah, fine, I'll get the smallpox blankets ready...

What, too soon?

Look for ET third world war (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about 3 months ago | (#47518749)

Just tune in for fusion and fission bombs.
Would they register on a radio telescope?

Re:Look for ET third world war (1)

careysub (976506) | about 3 months ago | (#47523965)

Just tune in for fusion and fission bombs. Would they register on a radio telescope?

No, they would not. Only narrow beam signals would reasonably be detectable.

idiotic (2)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 3 months ago | (#47519649)

What kind of moron came up with that? Let's see, life was here for like 500 million years, for about 150 we've been ruining the atmosphere, and 100 years from now we'll have solved it. So there's a 0.0000000000000001% chance that we'll find a polluted but populated world.

Re:idiotic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47520033)

Where does your data point about "solved it" in 100 years come from? This is a certainty, or a religion? "Solved"? How about "another collapse"? It's happened before you know.

Re:idiotic (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 3 months ago | (#47521999)

Hmmm, oh I don't know, maybe logic and science. We went from not knowing what cancer was to a borderline cure. We can almost create artificial gravity by finding a way to generate Higgs Bosons and attach them to matter. We landed on the moon. Technically, we can turn lead into gold if we find the right isotopes and we found out that radioactive decay timing isn't static. We already invented wind turbines, really good solar energy systems, and we're almost done with fusion. We already developed algae that can strip CO2 out of the air. Forget 100 years, more like 20 and we'll have the technology to basically custom terraform the planet to get rid of the CO2.

Re:idiotic (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 months ago | (#47525751)

We can almost create artificial gravity by finding a way to generate Higgs Bosons and attach them to matter.

Do you have a vaguely credible citation for that - an Arxiv paper, or a professor of physics describing a roadmap. I've never heard even a hint of anyone planning to do that. (Besides, for a long, long time, it'll be much easier to mimic gravity with centripetal acceleration of the floor.)

and we're almost done with fusion.

Well, give or take a decade or three. It does appear to be closer now than when I was an optimistic schoolkid hitch-hiking to university.

We already developed algae that can strip CO2 out of the air.

I'll grant you that. It means that when I stop drilling oil wells, I can start drilling wells to dump CO2 into. That's fine by me. (You do realise that we've got gigatonnes of CO2 that need to come out of the atmosphere and back into the ground before we can even start to consider the job done?)

I think you're being highly optimistic on a 20 year timescale. Maybe 20 years once we get the political will together and start to actually address the problem. 50 years being highly optimistic ; well over a century being realistic.

Re:idiotic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47533415)

You skim pop-sci articles and take their breathless speculation to be fact. This is because you're an idiot.

Re:idiotic (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 months ago | (#47524171)

What kind of moron came up with that? Let's see, life was here for like 500 million years, for about 150 we've been ruining the atmosphere, and 100 years from now we'll have solved it.

OK. And now let's look at the real figures :

There has been life on the planet for approximately 3500 million years (definite fossils to 3.2 billion, more disputed going back to 3800 million).

The first major pollution event - the production of oxygen - started around 2600 million years ago, with oxygen becoming ubiquitous (if at 1/100th of current levels) by about 2300 million.

Multicellular life first left fossils (the Ediacara fauna) about 600 million years ago (what you think was the origin of life?).

Multicellular life came onto land about 420 million years ago.

For about 150 years we've been polluting the atmosphere significantly (NB : there is detectable pollution in the Greenland ice cores dating back to Roman times. If you consider lead dust from Britain under the Romans "significant".), and we're continuing to do it at an accelerating rate. Going on the previous occasion when this happened, it'll take around 100,000 to 150,000 years for the atmospheric perturbation to self-correct. At that scale, it doesn't really matter if we die this year, next year or 1000 years from now.

and 100 years from now we'll have solved it.

Can you cite a source for that? I've never heard that sort of claim, even from pot-smoking AGW-denying oilfield trash. (Actually, working in the oil field, I haven't met AGW-denying trash. We know fine and well what we're doing.)

A used condom (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47520203)

nuff said

Time delay (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 3 months ago | (#47520287)

So let's assume the premise of these proposed observations and let's assume that we actually find a planet with a high pollution content and let's further assume that we're only able to detect the type of pollution that can never be created from some naturally occurring process e.g. don't look at Venus and assume that it was once a beautiful place until acid rain formed. Such a planet will be quite a few light years away, perhaps hundreds. So what we would be looking at is the pollution from a hundred years ago. If this civilized planet is smart enough to fix it, they are more advanced than we are. But we may never know. The EPA was created 44 years ago and many people think this planet is more polluted than ever. We might have to stare at said distant polluted planet for more than 50 years to find out if they fixed it. Then again, if the atmosphere clears up in a year or two, then they either are even more advanced than we are or they destroyed themselves and their planet healed itself. Or maybe the indigenous population actually exists because it's polluted by human standards. Or this whole thing may mean nothing.

Re:Time delay (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 3 months ago | (#47521063)

Or over the sum of the billions of planets out there, it may turn out that at any given time there are a few hundred in the midst of an industrial revolution, who's light is just now reaching us.

Space is really, really big. And one consequence of that is provided we know what to look for, and have the capability to see it, we have a very large sample population to test for various observations.

Re:Time delay (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 months ago | (#47525871)

Then again, if the atmosphere clears up in a year or two, then they either are even more advanced than we are or they destroyed themselves and their planet healed itself.

We've two data points for the cleaning up of atmospheres after a sudden bout of pollution : the ozone hole we created in a few decades is steadily reducing and dispersing since the 1990 ban on producing CFCs ; that looks as if it'll be cleared up in a century or two (large, sulphate-rich volcanic eruptions not occurring, which may put it back by a few years or decades). Whether that was an externally detectable pollution event is more dubious - it was hard enough to detect from here.

The other datum is the decay of the PETM carbon dioide spike of 55 Myr ago. That took between 100,000 and 150,000 years to return to something resembling an equilibrium CO2 content in the atmosphere and reduce temperatures to something approaching their pre-PETM levels.

Combining the two, expect it to take 10s of thousands of years for a major pollution spike to "heal". If you look at it from the other end of the telescope, that's around 10 overturnings of the oceans (our largest and most massive environmental component).

Same problem as with... (1)

Draugo (1674528) | about 3 months ago | (#47520787)

scanning for radio communications. It's an activity that we've been doing only for a couple of hundred of years now (pollution that is, radio is even shorter) and we have a around 100 000 years worth of time in our galaxy so we have to be lucky and find a planet where the inhabitants polluted their planet around the time relative to their distance from us. Trying to come up with better and more easily detectable biomarkers that cover a larger portion of the planets lifetime is a much better prospect.

Bandwith (2)

profke (546335) | about 3 months ago | (#47520831)

Might be used for communication even. But the bandwith will be very narrow: about 2 bits per century, as it took us that long to really mess thing up...

Problem: (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 3 months ago | (#47521169)

What if the aliens aren't a bunch of irresponsible, selfish shitbirds? A civilization as advanced as ours or better could go unnoticed because they have a clean atmosphere.

Re:Problem: (1)

coinreturn (617535) | about 3 months ago | (#47521581)

What if the aliens aren't a bunch of irresponsible, selfish shitbirds? A civilization as advanced as ours or better could go unnoticed because they have a clean atmosphere.

Answer: Maybe they are only trying to detect Republican aliens.

The trouble with this is that we'd only find other (1)

mark_reh (2015546) | about 3 months ago | (#47521473)

species as stupid as we are.

Maybe when they come to earth looking for food they'll leave us alone because we wallow in our own poo.

Nothing new here. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47521817)

For those of us a bit older who remember the 70's this is nothing new. When the liberals were attacking plastics they used the party line that plastics and other pollutions would outlast all life on the planet. And that aliens visiting our planet long after we are gone will know that we existed. Thank God that these nutters got squashed liked pimples on a baboons arse and we still have plastics today.

More of a re-hash from a the view that we are the aliens.

Hey it is another shot at least. (1)

netsavior (627338) | about 3 months ago | (#47522279)

Every time we talk about SETI, people say "who the hell says they use radio waves"

the answer is, of course "well, it seems plausible, and it is SOMETHING we can look for."

Then we talk about Kepler and everyone says "Who the hell says they have to live in the Goldilocks zone?"

the answer is "well it seems plausible and it is SOMETHING we can look for.

So now we have pollution. Same question, same answer.

This is how science and exploration work... Lets say we get really good at all three types of search... What are the chances that complex life lives outside the "habitable zone," does not produce radio signals, and does not produce industrial pollutants? If we look for all the signs we can think of, we increase our slim chances by a slim margin.

Every specific thing we look for is a specific thing we can find.

Re:Hey it is another shot at least. (1)

careysub (976506) | about 3 months ago | (#47523947)

Mod parent up!

More generally - what we are looking for in planetary atmospheres (once we can routinely analyze them) is evidence of chemical syntheses that cannot plausibly can arise from non-living physical processes. The arguments made in several posts above (as if it were some sort of refutation) that oxygen is pollution cause by photosynthetic organisms is absolutely correct - detecting large excesses of oxygen (for example) should indicated living systems. But looking for more exotic chemicals never found in nature (on Earth) is one way of looking for technological (intelligently designed) processes. It does not matter whether you choose to call it "pollution" or not, the presence of chemicals and concentrations that do not arise from non-living systems is a good way to try to detect such systems.

Also the popular form of argument seen on this page that "No intelligent species would..." or "All intelligent species would..." is fallacious at several levels. Intelligent species evolving in different star systems are in no way bound to behave the way a /. poster imagines, and one could reasonably expect different behaviors for species evolving entirely independently. We aren't looking for features that "every" alien would produce, just for features that some alien might produce that can be distinguished from non-living processes. If you never look for something, odds are you will never find it, even if it is there.

Assumes a lot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47523335)

If we're looking for "pollutants", who's to say what is "abnormal" for a particular atmosphere? Mars's atmosphere contains some 95% CO2, and it is highly unlikely that was caused by extraterrestrial life. Changes in composition couldn't be distinguished from volcanic activity or metabolic activity of simple organisms. Think about the oxygen release when photosynthesizing bacteria started.

Also, to simply look for CFCs assumes that aliens use them for their hairspray too, which is a bit of a wild assumption. Even we don't use that anymore, there's a number of other ways to make aerosols. There could also be a number of other viable candidates for refrigerants based on the average temperature of the planet and whether it's more economical to use something else instead on that planet, say fluorine is extremely rare on that planet.

It's worth a shot, though.

Smell-O-Scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47523591)

Finally, a useful application for Professor Farnsworth's invention.

Pigs (1)

Gliscameria (2759171) | about 3 months ago | (#47523827)

This seems awfully short sighted. If we were pigs we'd probably look for others by seeking out piles of crap and filth... and we're kind of doing the same here. I'd like to think that as we advance technology beyond setting things on fire for energy, that we'd start to clean the place up-- maybe even leave it cleaner than when we got here.
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