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The Color(s) Out of Space
April 21, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

The hills of other earths might not be green...The Color(s) Out of Space.

In order to work, I think the first link (slide show) requires Macromedia Flash to be enabled/installed.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I commend you on mixing xenobiology with HP Lovecraft and Heinlein. There, you are commended!
posted by Mister_A at 7:59 AM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


I miss the days when Scientific American was actually about, you know, science.
posted by rocket88 at 8:06 AM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Neat.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on April 21, 2008


I thank you, Mister_A! (Using the titles of other people's work isn't plagiarism.....is it?)
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:11 AM on April 21, 2008


I miss the days when Scientific American was actually about, you know, science.
posted by rocket88 at 11:06 AM on April 21


Those were the days when Discover was pop science. Now Discover is the neuroscience equivalent of Psychology Today. I hoping this all comes full circle and I can read about genetics and quantum theory in Highlights.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:20 AM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


What, why is this not science?
posted by empath at 8:28 AM on April 21, 2008


I miss the days when Scientific American was actually about, you know, science.

Me too. My understanding is the magazine was bought back in 1994 or so and the new management had the idea to make it "more popular" by removing all the actual science.

These days Technology Review occupies the position in my reading that Scientific American used to. Not the same thing, but some of the articles are pretty good.
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hoping this all comes full circle and I can read about genetics and quantum theory in Highlights.

I can has Goofus & Gallant DNA sequencing?
posted by cashman at 9:00 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gallant creates hypermonkeys with a gentle nature and innate desire to serve human needs. Goofus makes normal-sized monkeys with preposterously large genitalia and a powerful sexual attraction for nuns.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


I miss the days when Scientific American was actually about, you know, science.

May I humbly suggest the similarly-named but unrelated American Scientist? It's my favorite subscription.
posted by echo target at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


So is Scientific American actually worse than New Sceintist now? Sad.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on April 21, 2008


(Not that this isn't quite cool, but it's very "heres some wild speculation because reprting on real scinece would just bore you". I'm reminded of Dicscovery/Animal Planest made-up creature specials, The Future Is Wild and the one set on another planet.
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on April 21, 2008


Just trying to help out Artw:

)
posted by JHarris at 9:44 AM on April 21, 2008


A friend once told me that he canceled his Scientific American subscription after he realized that the more he knew about a topic, the less comprehensible he'd find their article. I second echo target's recommendation of American Scientist -- often worth cover-to-cover reading.
posted by Killick at 9:49 AM on April 21, 2008


Well, the one set on another planet, ArtW, was actually based on a science fiction book called Expedition, by author/illustrator Wayne Douglas Barlowe, so while it was almost certainly greenlighted out of a desire for this kind of scientific speculation, it was not originally conceived as non-fiction. Incidentally, the book is worth checking out.

And I'm fairly certain, Kronos_to_Earth, that it's not plagiarism to steal someone's title. It could conceivably be trademark infringement, however.
posted by ErWenn at 9:49 AM on April 21, 2008


i liked it because it let my imagination run free for 5 minutes or so
posted by hpsell at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2008


I'm also still mourning the demise of Horizon as a programme that contained actual real science.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on April 21, 2008


It's still quite a cool link though, Kronos, don't let us bother you :)
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2008


Using the titles of other people's work isn't plagiarism.....is it?

I think this is covered under "fair use".
posted by Mister_A at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2008


Me + Science = Blinded
Me + Lovecraft = Loss of Sanity, roll 1D6
posted by willmize at 11:01 AM on April 21, 2008


How is this not science? I admit the slideshow is a bit over-the-top, but the article's based on some recent work published in Astrobiology.

One of the major goals of American (and European, and Japanese) astronomy for the next decade is finding Earth-like extrasolar planets, and characterizing them. To characterize a planet, you should find its radius, its mass, its orbital parameters, its rotational rate (is it tidally locked?), and examine the spectrum of the light reflected (and emitted) from the planet, and how it changes over time. (Cloud cover will do this, for example.) If you've got a good enough telescope, you'd like to resolve the planet, to see how the spectrum varies over different areas of the planet. For all of this spectral analysis, you'll need to directly image the planet. (Though to be fair, some spectral data has been obtained from transits.)

Astronomical instruments, like the cameras and other optics to image planets, are expensive to build and put "on the sky"--orders of magnitude more so if they're in space--and can only achieve very specific, tightly-constrained objectives, such as taking spectra in a given wavelength band. Before you build anything, you should have at least a basic idea of what you're looking for. As a baseline, we use Earth as a model: we design instruments that can spectrally resolve lines from oxygen, ozone, water, and so on, which would let estimate the composition of the atmosphere and the land or ocean beneath it. More important, if you want to see evidence of life, is the "vegetation red edge", a distinct spectral feature from Earth's plants. If you were 10 parsecs away and looking at Earth, the red edge would be a good indication of life.

There's no guarantee that other planets, if they have life, would have the same sort of life as we do; they may not even use the same metabolic pathways, which could lead to very different atmospheric compositions. However, if they have bacteria, or plants, or some alien analogue which makes a similar use of the spectrum that photosynthesis does on Earth, you can estimate what the "edge" might be, and that's what the authors did in the paper (and is discussed in the article). Moreover, the assumption that extrasolar life would behave like it does on Earth is a pretty big assumption, and they discuss some biological reasons why they would expect this assumption to hold. This is the sort of theoretical work that I think needs to be done before any of the big programs to image extrasolar planets starts being built.

It's an interesting article. Thanks for the link.
posted by Upton O'Good at 4:20 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding "why is this not science?"
The speculative bit was expressly speculative, and the rest was a great education in things that should have been explained more clearly in high school bio along with some nifty other things I hadn't picked up along the way. Good stuff.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:31 PM on April 21, 2008


Not to get too far into the "not really science" realm...

Okay, going really far into the "not really science" realm, Star Trek TOS creators always used oddly colored skies and plants to denote alieness on the worlds the crew visited. Looking at the slide show I kept expecting someone or other to beam in.
posted by nax at 12:50 PM on May 1, 2008


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