Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Help Bring Back the Alien-Hunting SETI Telescopes

The world’s only telescopes devoted to searching for aliens went dark two months ago because of a lack of funds. Now you can help bring them back.

This morning, SETI launched a website called SETIstars to try to gather funds to resurrect the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), which some astronomers call our greatest hope for finding ET.

The ATA, a joint project between the non-profit SETI Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, has been scanning the skies for signs of life (among other things) since 2007. The original plan was to build 350 dishes in a specific pattern over the volcanic plains of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California, which could cover more of the sky more efficiently than a single dedicated dish. To date, only 42 dishes have been built — and right now they’re lying dormant.

SETIstars opens with a concrete goal: Raise $200,000 in 40 days to bring the ATA back online. Donors can choose an amount between $5 and $500 to go directly toward the array’s operating costs, and have their photos and a brief bio featured on the site.

That initial $200,000 won’t cover everything; the telescope needs a total of $2.5 million per year. SETI is looking into other sources of funding, such as collaborating with the US Air Force to use the telescopes to track space debris. But the scientists hope lots of small donations from SETI enthusiasts can help fill in funding gaps so the telescope never has to lie silent again.

“We’ve long believed, and I hope that we will prove to be correct, that individuals around the world would be willing to donate small amounts of money,” said SETI Institute director Jill Tarter. “If it worked for Obama, crowdfunding should work for us.”

Once the ATA is up and running again, it also has a clear goal: Aim directly at potentially habitable planets to see if anyone’s there. Just before the telescope shut down, SETI laid out plans for a two-year program to observe exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft that could support liquid water, and maybe life. Future SETIstars projects may involve buying data processing time by the minute, and watching the data stream in on your phone, Tarter said.

But ultimately, the project is aimed at uniting the worldwide community of people who care about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Catholic Encyclopedia: Demons

In Scripture and in Catholic theology this word has come to mean much the same as devil and denotes one of the evil spirits or fallen angels. And in fact in some places in the New Testament where the Vulgate, in agreement with the Greek, has daemonium, our vernacular versions read devil. The precise distinction between the two terms in ecclesiastical usage may be seen in the phrase used in the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council: "Diabolus enim et alii daemones" (The devil and the other demons), i.e. all are demons, and the chief of the demons is called the devil. This distinction is observed in the Vulgate New Testament, where diabolus represents the Greek diabolos and in almost every instance refers to Satan himself, while his subordinate angels are described, in accordance with the Greek, as daemones or daemonia. This must not be taken, however, to indicate a difference of nature; for Satan is clearly included among the daemones in James 2:19 and in Luke 11:15-18.

But though the word demon is now practically restricted to this sinister sense, it was otherwise with the earlier usage of the Greek writers. The word, which is apparently derived from daio "to divide" or "apportion", originally meant a divine being; it was occasionally applied to the higher gods and goddesses, but was more generally used to denote spiritual beings of a lower order coming between gods and men. For the most part these were beneficent beings, and their office was somewhat analogous to that of the angels in Christian theology. Thus the adjective eydaimon "happy", properly meant one who was guided and guarded by a good demon. Some of these Greek demons, however, were evil and malignant. Hence we have the counterpart to eudamonia "happiness", in kakodaimonia which denoted misfortune, or in its more original meaning, being under the possession of an evil demon. In the Greek of the New Testament and in the language of the early Fathers, the word was already restricted to the sinister sense, which was natural enough, now that even the higher gods of the Greeks had come to be regarded as devils.

We have a curious instance of the confusion caused by the ambiguity and variations in the meaning of the word, in the case of the celebrated "Daemon" of Socrates. This has been understood in a bad sense by some Christian writers who have made it a matter of reproach that the great Greek philosopher was accompanied and prompted by a demon. But, as Cardinal Manning clearly shows in his paper on the subject, the word here has a very different meaning. He points to the fact that both Plato and Xenophon use the form daimonion, which Cicero rightly renders as divinum aliguid, "something divine". And after a close examination of the account of the matter given by Socrates himself in the reports transmitted by his disciples, he concludes that the promptings of the "Daemon" were the dictates of conscience, which is the voice of God.

It may be observed that a similar change and deterioration of meaning has taken place in the Iranian languages in the case of the word daeva. Etymologically this is identical with the Sanskrit deva, by which it is rendered in Neriosengh's version of the Avesta. But whereas the devas of Indian theology are good and beneficent gods, the daevas of the Avesta are hateful spirits of evil.

List of Theological Demons