Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ever-changing Mars, abiotic geochemical processes and determining a frequency for contact

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars – Of the 500 scientifically interesting stars within 30 light-years, how many habitable zones will astronomers be able to image? If there's a planet in those habitable zones, how detectable will that planet be? Carnegie's Maggie Turnbull presented a talk, "Remote Sensing of Life and Habitable Worlds: Habstars, Earthshine and TPF," at a NASA Forum for Astrobiology Research on March 14. This edited transcript of the lecture is part three of a four-part series. See article.
g Abodes – Since the time billions of years ago when Mars was formed, it has never been a spherically symmetric planet, nor is it composed of similar materials throughout, say scientists who have studied the planet. Since its formation, it has changed its shape and thus the stability of its polar axis. A Canadian researcher has calculated the location of Mars' ancient poles, based upon the location of five giant impact basins on the planet's surface. See article.
g Life – Scientific teams around the globe are on the trail of methane seeping out of Mars. And for good reason: The methane could be the result of biological processes. It could also be an "abiotic" geochemical process, however, or the result of volcanic or hydrothermal activity on the red planet. See article.
g Intelligence – Iowa Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh sounds like a proud mother when she speaks about her brood of bonobos, eight ultra-intelligent apes that will take part in unique language research meant to shed light on their nature and maybe our own. See article.
g Message – Estimating the frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization is a multi-dimensional challenge. The answer, according to two scientists at the Hungarian Astronomical Association, is less like an equation, and more like a matrix. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus – Speaking before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan said the commercial space industry will thrive but the current regulatory system is need of repair and nearly destroyed his program. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Designer Genes for a Designer World.” In this series of guided inquiry activities, students explore how organisms adapt to their environments through changes in their genetic codes. See article.
g Imagining – Browse the local used bookstores for this volume, which examined the scientific plausibility of many alien creatures in “Star Trek”: “To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek”. Published about four years ago, Athena Andreadis' book makes a good read, boosted by her background as a molecular biologist and neurosurgeon.
g Aftermath – Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” Note: An mp3 player is required to play the audio files; you can download one at the site for free.

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