Friday, June 24, 2005

Heavy metal planets, bigger brains and Allen Telescope Array

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 - To see the afterglow of the Big Bang is to know the age of the universe: 13.7 billion years within a remarkable 1 percent error. But in just the first 200 million years, the embryonic stars ignited their fusion of light elements towards heavier ones, according to the most recent NASA microwave measurements. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Abodes - Planets like the Earth cannot form unless elements heavier than helium are available. These heavy elements, or “metals,” were not produced in the Big Bang. They result from fusion inside stars and have been gradually building up over the lifetime of the universe. Recent observations indicate that the presence of giant extrasolar planets at small distances from their host stars is strongly correlated with high metallicity of the host stars. The presence of these close-orbiting giants is incompatible with the existence of Earth-like planets. Thus, there may be a Goldilocks selection effect: with too little metallicity, earths are unable to form for lack of material, with too much metallicity giant planets destroy earths. See article.
g Life - Cornell University entomologist Anthony Shelton finds when engineered crops containing just one Bacillus thuringiensis toxin grow near modified plants with two toxins, insects may more rapidly develop resistance to all the engineered plants. The soil bacterium, whose genes are inserted into crop plants such as maize and cotton, creates these toxins that are deadly to insects but harmless to humans. See article.
g Intelligence - People with bigger brains are smarter than their smaller-brained counterparts, according to a study, conducted by a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, published in the journal Intelligence. See article.
g Message - As SETI researchers are quick and keen to point out, the Allen Telescope Array, currently under construction about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, is the first professional radio telescope designed from the get-go to speedily search for extraterrestrial signals. When completed, it will comprise 350 antennas, spread over roughly 150 acres of lava-riven real estate. See article.
g Cosmicus - Ben Bova writes in his book, "Faint Echoes, Distant Stars" about the science and politics of finding life beyond Earth. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Learning - Need a magazine to read? Subscribe to Astrobiology. The peer-reviewed explores the secrets of life's origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny in the universe. This multidisciplinary journal covers: astrophysics; astropaleontology, bioastronomy, cosmochemistry, ecogenomics, exobiology, extremophiles, geomicrobiology, gravitational biology, life detection technology, meteoritics, origins of life, planetary geoscience, planetary protection, prebiotic chemistry, space exploration technology, terraforming, and much more. See article.
g Imagining - In nearly all popular science fiction dramatizations on television, most of the alien protagonists look remarkably like humans. In "Star Trek," if you forgave the Vulcan's their ears (and their hair-styles), the Klingons their foreheads and the Bajorans their ridged noses you'd think that they were all human. After all, they have two legs, two arms, 10 fingers and toes, two ears, two eyes and a nose. And while arms and eyes are universals, two arms and two legs are parochial. See article.
g Aftermath - The search for extraterrestrial life grips the human imagination because it tells us about ourselves. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

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