Geeking Science: Space Archaeology

Leg Of Medieval Scottish Warrior Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

Vikings in Spppace

“Space Archaeology” (giggle). I love the juxtaposition of outer space with a science closely involved in mud and dust for the gravity-bound. 

In early 2016 Sarah Parcak used her special software imagery to discover a possible second Viking landing site in North America. You can read about it here “Did Alabama space archaeologist just help rewrite history of Vikings in North America” (written by Kelsey Stein on April 2, 2016).

You may have seen the information when it first came out. It was a big deal, especially among those interested in human history.

What really caught my attention was not the Vikings in North America, but the full implications of the software. Folks this is BIG! 

(As a computer geek, anthropology geek, science fiction geek – all types of geek – I am so geeking this geekdom!)

So let’s start with with the “special software”. Most of us are aware, at least peripherally, archaeologists have been using satellite imagery to comb the planet for digging sites. They have been limited to places with little to no vegetation – desert areas – and sites with large stone structures – pyramids and Roman stone & concrete roads.  Basically easy to spot stuff that just happens to be covered in sand. What Dr. Parcak’s software imagery processor has done is shift the paradigm.

The software goes over vegetation areas, the more the better, and looks for something “off”. Straight lines of color, geometric shapes created by differentiation in growth patterns, and other non-organic patterns in the organic materials. The areas are marked on the map and shunted over to human eyes for further review, and finally to human bodies for digging. What forms these vegetative differences? Not huge stone structures, but a dirt wall fortification, long-rotted timbers creating soil differences, and a couple hundred pound rocks moved around. Basically organic materials long claimed by the forest and jungle, but the history remains hundreds of years later because plants grown a tiny bit different in those locations.

Suddenly we can look for human history anywhere on the planet. South America, except for a few ancient stone cities, is a mystery waiting to be revealed. Africa, home of humanity, can be search for in the desert, savanna, and jungle. Huge Asia, from steppes to shore, can be explored. Egyptian and Mediterranean history move over, we are going to see if you are really the cradle of civilization. You got lucky because of the sand and stone clearly wrote your cities locations, now we may find the second-on-the-mother’s side cousin-cities you forgot to write down.

Now the real geeking maximum.

Imagine this software exploring other planets! Before we were limited to industrial markers to find aliens, figuring large roads and cities may be visible from space. But what if the sentient species hasn’t gotten beyond mud huts and stone tools. Would we even notice them before taking over their world?

The answer now is YES! We will find them even if they hide under hundred-mile tall trees.

Discovering a possible second Viking site in North America is nice. But the software which made it possible has some real legs to it; I can’t wait to see what else it does.

Geeking Science: SETI

Radio Telescope Stock Art

Image Courtesy of njaj at

Anybody out there?

At ConCarolinas 2016 I had the pleasure of being on five science panels. I did a TON of research to make certain I was ready to roll on the panels and I think everyone, audience and panelists, had a really good time. For “50 Years of SEIT, Where is Everyone?” I shared a panel with Stephen Euinn Cobb, Dr. Ben Davis, and DL Leonine. (SEIT – Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligent Life)

The blurb for the panel read

“A formal search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been in place for 50 years without meaningful result. Are we alone in the universe? And if we aren’t alone, then why haven’t we heard from anyone else?”

After finding over 1,000 new planets in 2016 alone and having proof of 21 earth-ish size planets in the life zone as we understand it, the questions are legitimate. [(NASA’S Kepler]

What the panelists decided is we are looking in the wrong places for the last 50 years. When we initially started looking radio waves were the BOMB. Everything ran to radio and we knew, WE KNEW, any advance civilization would have an ever-increasing radio footprint spreading out from its home planet. Communication between the native planet and space stations would be by radio. Tons and tons of radio waves would be going out into space randomly once a civilization reached its industrial age and so long as the civilization continued to exist this situation would continue.

The assumption has proven false.

Less than 50 years since we started looking and Earth’s the use of powerful radio waves peaked, then started falling. We have gone wireless, which does mean radio waves – but we have dropped the strength drastically. Most waves don’t make it 100 miles let alone out of the atmosphere. All they have to do is get to the nearest cell tower and go underground. We narrow-focus everything sent to space to save energy, so little leaks beyond Earth’s slowly quieting electronic footprint.

Also in the mix, if we use Earthlings as an example of what might be happening to other sentients, is how far radio waves travel before disappearing in the background noise of space. Which is “not far”. Twenty light years out, and unless the neighbors (only 110 stars in 53 systems, don’t know how many planets, yet) directed a focused radio at us, we would hear nothing. [How far] [Nearest Stars]

I know I published about LIGO in June where we hear the merging of black holes at the edge of the universe from over a billion years ago, but that phenomenon was a 7 millisecond long and used up (converted from mass direct to energy) the equivalent mass of three suns. Somehow I don’t see anyone doing this energy output on a sustained basis. We got lucky because we were listening for the gravity waves during a time when the results of the activity crossed our sphere in space. We started listening in 2002 (14 years ago). [Gravitational Waves]

Maybe we will get lucky again. This time with SEIT. Of course to have the luck work the following will need to happen:

  1. We LISTEN.
  2. We listen in a variety of mediums beyond radio waves.
  3. We narrow the search to where we think life might be. (This does mean life needs to match our expectations, but the sky is HUGE. We need limits to create a cost-effective search.)
  4. The civilization needs to have sent out the message at a particular time in the past and it needs to arrive at our point in space, both physically and temporarily since Earth moves through space, while we are listening.

I think we will eventually hear something. Maybe not this century and 150 years is an exhausting long time to listen for a maybe chance of a whisper. Is the search worth it?

Depends on what else we find looking for extra-terrestrial intellect life. So far we discovered pulsars and gathered a ton of data we are now using to look for planets. Scientists don’t waste data.

I think the most important aspect of SEIT is hope. Hope we might have friends someday when we finish outgrowing our home planet. 


“Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein’s Prediction.” 2016 February 11. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

“How Far Have Our Radio Signals Traveled From Earth?” July 26, 2011. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

“NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces Largest Collection of Planets Ever Discovered.” NASA news release 16-51, May 10, 2016. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

“The Nearest Stars to Earth (Infographic).” Tate, Karl. December 19, 2012. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

Other Cool Blogs: LIGO and A Capella Science

A little departure from my standard pointing to other writing blogs where good writing/editing/publishing advice is provided, I thought I would touch base on a video-blog I love. Because to write good science fiction, one needs to know about science fact. 

A Capella Science was started by a Canadian physics student, Tim Blais, while he was earning his masters, a mash-up of his love of music and physics to blow off steam between research projects. The A Capella Science channel became an unexpected hit after the release of Bohemian Gravity. Like 3 million crazy – who knew string theory had such a catchy beat?

His following continued to develop with each new release, some of them parodies of popular music set to science themes and some original pieces of his own creation. Whether the musical Wicked parody where Newton and Einstein sing a duet about Defining Gravity through time or the original Nerds: A Manifesto, Mr. Blais hits the science and culture of science out of the park again and again.

I highly recommend subscribing to his youtube channel and if you have a dollar or two to spare become his patreon: here. It is stuff like this that makes science accessible and interesting to teenagers and adults; it encourages people to go into technology and biology. And if you are a teacher of physics, biology, chemistry, or music, see if you can work some of these videos into your lessons.