Air pollution is clogging the skies of our planet. Now one scientist thinks Earth may be just one of many polluted worlds — and that searching for extraterrestrial smog may actually be a good way to search for alien intelligence.
"People refer to 'little green men,' but ETs that are detected by this method should not be labeled as green," says Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard University.
The idea of finding alien polluters may be a bit of a longshot, but Loeb says it's possible.
Astronomers have been able to glimpse the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system for a while now. In 2018, NASA will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be larger and better than ever at looking at extrasolar atmospheres.
"The idea would be, that when a planet like the Earth is passing in front of its host star, a small fraction of the light from the star would pass through the atmosphere and show potentially evidence for these pollutants," he says.
Some pollutants don't occur naturally. So if astronomers saw them, it would point to industrial activity on the planet. And that would indicate intelligence.
Loeb and two other researchers have published their calculations in the September issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, and on the preprint site arixiv.org. They show that if an Earth-sized planet orbits a type of star known as a white dwarf and has a pollution level 10 times that of Earth, the Webb telescope should be able to detect it — even from a distance of trillions of miles away.
Of course, one might expect that if intelligent life really was intelligent, then it would pollute less, not more.
But Loeb says the aliens might have a reason. For example, they might be colonizing a cold planet and deliberately creating a greenhouse effect to warm it up.
On the other hand, high levels of pollution also could show that the aliens spoiled their world.
"It may indicate that we are looking at the ruins of a civilization that destroyed itself and that would serve is an alarm signal of not being environmentally friendly," he says.
Either way, it would prove that when it comes to making a mess, we are not alone in the universe.
Cyclists may soon have a convenient way to discourage bike thieves, thanks to new designs that use parts of the bikes themselves as locks. Two projects — one based in Chile, another in Seattle — are promising to provide peace of mind without the fuss of carrying a separate lock.
Like security-minded Transformers, the bikes can be manipulated to use their own parts as a lock. Fans of the approach say that if a thief breaks a lock that's part of the bike itself, it can't be ridden away. That sets it apart from similar ideas such as hiding a cable lock in the frame, or integrating a U-lock into a cargo rack.
From Seattle comes the Denny, whose handlebars are a curved rectangle that also detach to serve as a lock.
And from Chile comes the Yerka bike, whose downtube and seat post combine to become a sort of locking bracket.
Neither of the bikes are currently widely available - but they've both attracted attention this summer, and one of them is already on its way to commercial production.
That would be the Denny, which recently won a competition to pick out "the ultimate urban utility bike," held by cycling advocates Oregon Manifest. A collaboration between the design firm TEAGUE and bike makers Taylor Sizemore, the Denny also has an electric-assist motor, automatic gear shifting, and turn signals that are part of its built-in front rack.
As the contest winner, the Denny will be produced by Fuji Bikes and should be in bike shops next year, the organizers say.
The Yerka Project is the work of three engineering students who are working to get their project up and running. The Yerka team promises that it takes only 20 seconds to secure their bike, which has the stripped-down look of the single-speed bikes that currently buzz around many cities.
"Every lock can be broken leaving the bike intact," Yerka's engineers say. "That's why we decided to make a lock out of the frame."
Bassist, bandleader, and composer Christian McBride has been a presence on the jazz scene for more than twenty years. A veteran Piano Jazz sideman, McBride has accompanied guests like J.J. Johnson and Cassandra Wilson.
On this Piano Jazz session from 2001, McBride takes the spotlight as a dynamic composer and stylist, leading a new generation of jazz players. He features his bass in duet with host Marian McPartland on the standard "Alone Together" and plays solo on his composition "Lullaby for a Ladybug."
Originally recorded May 2001.
- "Alone Together" (Dietz, Schwartz)
- "Billie's Bounce" (Parker)
- "Dolphin Dance" (Hancock)
- "Lullaby for a Ladybug" (McBride)
- "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (Arlen, Koehler)
- "Midnight Sun" (Burke, Hampton, Mercer)
- "Sonny Moon for Two" (Rollins)