Are We Witnessing the Birth of a Cosmic Internet?

Istockgridphotolarger "Over the next million years, a descendant of the Internet will maintain contact with inhabited planets throughout our galaxy and begin to spread out into the larger universe, linking up countless new or existing civilizations into the Universenet, a network of ultimate intelligence."

Year Million -Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge

Whenever microwave towers or satellites send Internet traffic, some of the energy  and data leaks unintentionally into space. The first email messages transmitted via microwave towers in 1969 by the predecessor of the Internet, ARPANET, have already traveled thirty-nine light-years so far, way past the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, four light-years away. In practice, such feeble signals are probably buried in cosmic radio noise.

In the 21st Century, NASA is planning to implement an  Interplanetary Internet (IPI) that will allow NASA to link up the Internets of Earth, spacecraft, and eventually Moon, Mars, and beyond. By the Year Million, billions of “smart dust” sensors will be connected to a distant descendant of the IPI, exchanging data in real time or via store-and-forward protocol or wireless mesh on planets and in spacecraft to track asteroids, comets, and space junk, exchanging three-dimensional position location and time data (similar to GPS on Earth) via multiple hops between sensors. 

As commercial public space travel becomes available, the IPI could serve as the core of an interplanetary version of air traffic control. The IPI could also become the standard communications protocol as we expand out beyond the solar system’s planets, and then beyond the stars and to other galaxies, starting with potentially habitable planets beyond the solar system, such as Gliese 581d, the third planet of the red dwarf star Gliese 581 (about twenty light-years away from Earth)

By the Year One Million, as we reach out to communication nodes orbiting more distant stars, or in other galaxies, we will need to use a lot of power-as much as the entire power of the Sun. A civilization able to do that kind of cosmic engineering is referred to as Kardashev Type II, or KT-II. By contrast, our civilization used about fifteen terawatt-hours in 2004 (a terawatt-hour is one billion kilowatt-hours) of electrical power. New York University Physics Professor Emeritus Martin Hoffert and other scientists calculate that if our power consumption grows by just two percent per year, then in just four hundred years we will need all the solar power received by the Earth (1016 watts = 10,000 terawatts). And in a thousand years, we’ll require all of the power of the Sun (4×1026 watts). 

Eventually, when we have become first a KT-I and then a KT-II civilization, we will reach even farther out to supergalaxies and even to clusters of supergalaxies, which could require a Type III civilization-one capable of controlling the power of an entire galaxy, some 1036 watts. The communication latencies (transmission delays) for such a system would be millions or even hundred of millions of years. 

Possibly by the Year Million engineers will solve this time lag with extreme cosmic engineering feats such as wormholes, or even communication via parallel universes. One intriguing possibility is the use of quantum entanglement-that is, allowing an entangled atom or photon to carry information across a distance, theoretically anywhere in the universe. 

An experiment testing the possibility of communication using this principle is in progress in the Laser Physics Facility at the University of Washington by professor John G. Cramer. Cramer astonished physicists at a joint American Institute of Physics/American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in 2006 by presenting experimental evidence that the outcome of a laser experiment could be affected by a future measurement: a message was sent to a time fifty microseconds in the past. So in principle, perhaps one could bypass the speed-of-light limitation and have messages show up in a distant galaxy long before they could have been received by radio or laser transmission, or even before they were sent.

Casey Kazan via

Image Credit:  kgbwell Photobucket


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