Real Aliens: What Will They Look Like?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

We live in a very large universe. By all accounts, it’s over 14 billion light-years to the edge from here. That’s nearly 10,000 billion billion miles. Our galaxy contains billions of stars. Our universe contains billions of galaxies. Somewhere out in those vast spaces, there must be, or have been, or will be another advanced civilization.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a new, infrared view of the choppy star-making cloud called M17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.

Unfortunately for those yearning to communicate with aliens and fortunately for those who fear alien contact, we are very unlikely — in the extreme — ever to communicate with an alien civilization. Our only real hope lies in violating Einstein’s laws of relativity, and so far they’re as solid as granite.

The vastness of space that makes the existence of aliens, at some time, likely also means that they will be too far away for any meaningful communication. If any are in our galactic neighborhood, they may have broadcast pictures of themselves just as we are doing every day with television, and we may intercept them if we can tease them out of the background noise of quasars, exploding stars, and so on.

Even an image of an intelligent, technologically advanced alien would add enormously to our knowledge of science. Speculation about what an alien would look like may seem like a waste of time, but it can help us if we ever do see one to recognize it.

The topic of what an alien, one with technology, with whom we could, in theory, someday communicate, will look like, act like, and so on has been in science fiction books and movies for many decades. Hollywood tends to reach for the extreme and depict aliens as very frightening. The movie, Alien, is a good example of that trend. Going back very far, there’s It Came from Outer Space.

The science suggests otherwise. Not that real aliens wouldn’t be, well, alien. The likelihood of them passing for one of us is rather remote. If you are teaching science, this concept can begin an excellent and engaging project investigating the possible parameters of alien beings capable of broadcasting images of the themselves. Before heading into the appearance of aliens, consider two separate issues that bear on this topic.  Continue reading

Dinosaurs Among Us?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

You may have noticed one of the many articles such as this one that cast doubt on the asteroid (or comet) strike that annihilated the dinosaurs. Oh, the asteroid did the job, they say, but it had some help.

Careful examination of North American fossil records strongly suggests that the dinosaur population was under stress from lower than usual herbivore diversity. What say?! There just weren’t as many plant-eating dinosaurs as usual, which means that dinner for the large meat-eaters was a bit harder to come by.

The Earth was undergoing extreme changes 66 million years ago when the great impact took place. Massive volcanic eruptions in what is now India were the result of a collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates. Climate was undergoing change. And dinosaur herbivore diversity was down.

The above was really no big deal. Dinosaurs had been around for well over 100 million years and had survived many environmental challenges. This was just another that would kill off lots of individuals and perhaps a few species. As a whole, the dinosaurs would come roaring back soon enough, however.  Continue reading

Out of School STEM Learning Summit: National Academy of Sciences

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

What I liked about this summit was that it was representative of various places in the US and very diverse. It was interesting that all of the researchers used terminologies that even I did not know, but I learned during the process.

This seminar was basically on extended-learning projects and outside organizations that aim to further STEM education. The authors call these joint efforts “STEM learning ecosystems,” and they can deepen student understanding and engagement and broaden access to a well-rounded education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I had to get used to the terminology and wondered if people who are interested would be scared away by the eduspeak. I think people at the Summit heard the terms often enough to finally be comfortable with “learning ecosystems.”

I looked online because I still, at the end of the day, did not have a fluid understanding of ecosystem in this context. This is what I found that may be helpful so you don’t have to puzzle the term.

They share this common term: Learning Ecosystem.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

After school programs come in many varieties. Since we were dealing with understanding of a variety of groups, museums, networks and other providers, I thought that the diagram above would aid understanding.  Continue reading

Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2 After 8 Months

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Updated 7/21/14, 7/26/14

Steven Brown, in a 15 July 2014 comment, asked, “Curious to hear how it went after 8 months –- any updates?” His question refers to my October 2013 article, Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series, and the follow-up in November, The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.

Steven, thanks for the question. Microsoft’s recent offering of SP3 means that the SP2 is no longer a viable purchase option — except for those interested in picking up a bargain. Used, they’re currently going on eBay for about half the original price. However, the differences between the 2 and the 3 are small enough to justify this article update.

For me, the critical variable is weight. The quarter pound difference between the 3 and 2 is negligible. To put this in perspective, it’s the difference between my first-gen iPad and the SP2. They’re both equally heavy — or light, depending on your perspective. The SP3 screen size is touted as a breakthrough, but the 1.4″ difference isn’t that impressive considering the bulk that it adds to the overall size. By desktop and notebook standards, it’s still far too small for serious work for prolonged periods.

The 2160 x 1440 resolution seems enormous compared to the SP2’s 1080 x 1920, but it’s negligible considering the pixels per inch, which is 216 vs. 208. The SP2’s resolution is excellent. I’m using it right now, with the power cover, to write this article. I have it connected to a 32″ 1080P monitor via the SP2’s proprietary HDMI adaptor, and the clarity is equal to my desktop’s.  Continue reading

Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 2 – Rocks

[Note: See chapter 1, Landing. Also see Harry's Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?, especially the long-running, extended discussion at the end of the article. See his other Mars related articles in his list of publications. Chapter 2 is being published as submitted, without editing by ETCJ. -Editor]

Martian Rhapsody
by Harry E. Keller, PhD

CHAPTER 2
Rocks

The four hopeful settlers stare open-eyed at the vista that confronts them. Mars stares back, red-faced and malevolent. They discern nothing friendly or helpful in that stare. Some might see indifference, but they’d be wrong. If ever mankind faced evil, it is here in this impossibly alien and lifeless environment.

Even the dark, sharp-edged rocks strewn across the landscape with apparent reckless abandon seem infused with baleful intent, waiting patiently for countless eons for these soft Earthlings, waiting to cut them and trip them. The surface between the rocks is red, not the red of a poppy or even an Earth sunset, but an intense red that fills the land with emanations of harm. Despite the extreme thinness of the atmosphere, the strangely close horizon does not immediately and sharply turn to the black of space as on the Moon. The red dust of Mars hangs in the sparse air and softens the horizon just enough to give the appearance of red sand reaching up, an almost living thing.

As if sensing the planet’s personality, Chun speaks up, “We have to get that module back so we’re at full strength.”

“You bet!” responds Dawit excitedly, pumping his fist. He is undaunted by the landscape or the problem of the errant module.

“Sure,” says Aleka, “but first we have to put our habitat together.”

“Sorry,” says Chun as she moves into position.

“We all feel the same. All right, we’ve practiced this plenty of times,” says Aleka.

“Seems like thousands,” responds Dawit with a gesture none of the others can see because he’s inside.

“We don’t have all that long before our suits have to be recharged,” warns Balu.

“Right. Let’s rotate and connect,” says Aleka.

“Good thing that missing module connects at the end,” comments Chun.

“The rovers have done a nice job of clearing the site and putting the modules in place,” says Balu.

“I cannot wait to get a plan for the missing module,” comments Dawit over their intercom. Everything is an exciting adventure for Dawit.

Continue reading

Geography? T3G…ESRI in Education

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

While at a recent workshop at the Redlands, CA, headquarters of the Environmental Science Research Institute (ESRI), I heard the most concise definition of geography yet: “What where? Why there? Why care?”

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My wife, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, had been accepted for a week-long workshop in ESRI’s T3G Institute. I traveled with her, thinking I was heading for a holiday in Southern California – maybe visit the beach and chill out in wine country.

No such luck. As soon as he saw me, Charlie Fitzpatrick said, “I’ll get you a badge.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at ESRI. Before joining ESRI in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.

vic063014 2

“T3G” is ESRI’s acronym for “teachers teaching teachers GIS.” So the goal of the workshop was to give a group of some 90 educators the knowledge and hands-on skills to be able to teach other colleagues how to use geographic information system information in their work.  Continue reading

What Does Cyberlearning Mean to You? Cyberlearning Summit 2014

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

(Note: See Vic Sutton’s report on this conference. -Editor)

Teachers working in classrooms need ideas and frameworks and support for initiatives beyond the ideas that have been classified as regular education. Sometimes funding is a problem. Powerful partners get you permission to do wonderful things in the classroom.

My first involvement with a network of powerful people, learning ideas and new technologies was with Cilt. You can tell that it was some time ago. We called STEM, SMET. Here is a look at what we started with:

bonnie 062514 01

We investigated, learned, shared and promoted ideas. Concord has wonderful free resources to share, and here is a summary:

The Center for Innovative Learning Technologies (CILT) was founded in October 1997 with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to stimulate the development and study of important, technology-enabled solutions to critical problems in K-14 science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) learning. Four “theme teams” focused the efforts in areas of highest promise. CILT events, often workshops organized by theme, provided a collaborative forum in which people in the learning science community met to assess the progress of the field, define research agendas, and initiate new collaborations. Many of these collaborations form seed grants funded by CILT. In addition to these successful CILT programs, CILT has generated many resources for the learning science community, including tools, publications, and NetCourses.

In this day and time, people sometimes do not think that meeting people and sharing in conferences is necessary. But the leaders of Cyberinfrastructure have better ideas. They do a conference and put the ideas online. You have a choice. There are pieces of brilliant ideas, presentations and demonstrations, and even poster sessions for you online.  Continue reading

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