Above: The Hubble Space Telescope's infrared view of our galactic center, 27,000-ish light-years away. At present, reportedly unoccupied.
The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (May-June 2022) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com.
The article on the discovery of yet-most-yet-distant-star-yet Earendel is a wonderful summary of this reported star and what it means for our classification scheme, with the eventual discovery of even more distant and ancient yet perfectly-placed stars only adding to the firmer footing of these most ancient stellar members as important objects in our understanding of the some of the earliest history of the universe. And don't let the Population I II III order confuse you.
Our fearless leader Michele Ferrara also continues to focus his critical eye on recent SETI experiments. In "Nothing but silence from the galactic center," Michele considers a recent experiment using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) to perform a short (7 hours) and narrow (155 MHz) scan in the direction of our galactic center, for which the report is, as you can guess by having read it here and not the New York Times,“No plausible technosignatures are detected.”
It is a conundrum. We (most of us, anyway) want to know if we're alone in the universe (or, perhaps, know that we're not alone), making such surveys irresistible given the availability of the equipment. That said, and I think this has been the loudest theme in Michele's many articles on the subject, many of these experiments are too narrowly-defined, too short, too "like us"-centric, and too in conflict at the planning stages with the rest of the astronomy and astrophysics communities. The discussion of how uninhabitable and how antithetical to evolution the region around the center of the Milky Way is predicted to be for organic creatures like ourselves is very well summarized in the article, and yet one cannot help but wonder how far from life as we know it life as it might actually be out there is – but our tools seem to very much hedge our bets in the direction of finding more of ourselves (if more "like us" are even out there).
Still on the other hand, I've several journal articles that relied on national neutron sources to obtain inelastic neutron scattering spectra. You may ask yourself at the end of a run "Is this good enough data to publish?" The answer you feel your advisor beaming at you from behind the draft report is "This single run cost $50,000 in hardware and beam time and the travel budget to obtain it. You better find a way to publish it." All scientific data is valuable, be it for comparison, refinement, refutation, or combinations of all three. One must try not to get the sense that publishing a non-discovery is of no value, although it is not often one finds a publishable chemistry paper where the authors report they could not make the molecule they set out to (although such a supporting journal would probably be a boon to weekly journal clubs, where advisors command students to "go ahead and figure out how to make this work").
It may be better to know that this first experiment reports the field is empty, but one still wonders how much a collective Apollo-style commitment to focus on the search for a given block of time might yield, if the piecemeal searches being undertaken are still missing far too much of the big picture to see anything, and if the right combinations of several scientific disciplines might be brought together to really dive deeply into the pros and cons, focus-on and just-avoids of locations and means of communication.
Browser-readable version: www.astropublishing.com/3FAM2022/
Jump to the PDF download (25.3 MB): May-June 2022