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Michio Kaku: Let’s not advertise our existence to aliens

If aliens do exist, posits theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, why would they want anything to do with us?

Michio Kaku: We have this mental image that a flying saucer will circle the White House lawn, land on the White House lawn and give us a bounty of all sorts of technological goodies to initiate an age of Aquarius on the planet earth. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen. For example, if you’re in the forest do you go out and talk to the squirrels and the deer? Maybe you do for a while, but after a while, you get bored because they don’t talk back to you because they have nothing interesting to tell you because they can’t relate to our values and our ideas. If you go down to an anthill do you go down to the ants and say I bring you trinkets; I bring you bees; take me to your aunt queen; I give you nuclear energy. So I think for the most part the aliens are probably not going to be interested in us because we’re so arrogant to believe that we have something to offer them. Realize that they could be thousands, maybe millions of years ahead of us in technology and they may have no interest in interacting with us in the same way that we don’t necessarily want to deal with the squirrels and the deer in the forest.

Now some people say that we should not try to make contact with them because they could be potentially dangerous. For the most part, I think they’re going to be peaceful because they’ll be thousands of years ahead of us, but we cannot take the chance. So I personally believe that we should not try to advertise our existence to alien life in outer space because of the fact that we don’t know their intentions.

Then the other question is what happens if they’re evil? Well, I think the question of evil is actually a relative question because the real danger to a deer in the forest is not the hunter with a gigantic rifle; he’s not the main danger to a deer in the forest. The main danger to a deer in the forest is the developer; the guy with blueprints; the guy in a three-piece suit; the guy with a slide rule and calculator; the guy that’s going to pave the forest and perhaps destroy whole ecosystems.

In other words, the aliens don’t have to be evil in order to be dangerous to us, they might not care, they just might not care about us and in the process pave us over. In fact, if you read the novel War of the Worlds the Martians in HG Wells seminal novel were not evil in the sense they wanted to torture us and they wanted to do all sorts of barbaric things to humanity. No, we were just in the way. And so I think that is a potential problem. We could be in the way of a very advanced civilization that simply is not evil but simply views us as we would view squirrels and deer in the forest. So personally I think that we should not advertise our existence when we go into outer space. For the most part, however, I do think they are going to be peaceful, they're not going to want to plunder the earth because there are plenty of planets out there that have nobody on them that they can plunder at will without having to worry about restive natives called humanity. And so I think they’re not going to come to visit the earth to plunder us, to do all sorts of mischief. For the most part, I think they’ll just leave us alone.

If advanced alien civilizations do exist, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku asks, why would they want anything to do with us? It would be like an academic talking to a squirrel, he suggests, and he has a great point. Hollywood and science fiction novels have conditioned us for years to believe that aliens either want to hang out on our intellectual level and learn from us... or destroy us. If alien life really does have the technology and know-how to make it all the way here, perhaps we should just play it cool and not assume that we are the top species in the universe. Besides, if we play our cards wrong and go all Will Smith in Independence Day on our smart new neighbors, it could be the end of us. Mankind's biggest folly, Kaku suggests, might just be in its insistence that we are an exceptional species. Michio Kaku's latest book is the wonderful and enlightening The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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