Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Titan’s window on early Earth, dust in the planet’s attic and Australian extinctions

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 - Astronomers have launched the most highly sensitive telescope of its kind to be carried by balloon. The balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope - or BLAST - will take a five- to nine-day journey along the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere. BLAST will collect images of objects in our solar system as well as the distant light that details the formation of stars and the evolution of whole galaxies. See article.
g Abodes - Readings from the Huygens probe of the surface and atmosphere around Saturn's largest moon, Titan, give researchers a peek back through time to when and how Earth's atmosphere formed, and how our primitive planet looked before life took a foothold here. See article. For related stories, see “Titan's Mysterious Methane Comes From Inside, Not The Surface” and “Fountains of Enceladus”.
g Life - The dust has been piling up in Earth's attic for billions of years, and now some scientists want to sift through the accumulation to see if they can find evidence of the planet's earliest life. See article.
g Intelligence - Massive extinctions of animals and the arrival of the first humans in ancient Australia may be linked, according to scientists at the Carnegie Institution, University of Colorado, Australian National University and Bates College. The extinctions occurred 45,000-55,000 years ago. The researchers traced evidence of diet and the environment contained in ancient eggshells and wombat teeth over the last 140,000 years to reconstruct what happened. The remains showed evidence of a rapid change of diet at the time of the extinctions. The researchers believe that massive fires set by the first humans may have altered the ecosystem of shrubs, trees, and grasses to the fire-adapted desert-scrub of today. See article.
g Message - Modern Exobiology and Astrobiology studies now being sponsored by NASA, with participation by other nations and academia, are doing more than just ponder the probabilities of extraterrestrial life. Technological and human resources are being invested in remote-sensing efforts like the Terrestrial Planet Finder and robotic probe missions to search, in-situ, for clear signs of ET life on Mars, Europa and other promising solar system bodies. To further enhance and broaden the search for ETI, it’s now time to invest in methods, such as SETV, which search for clear evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence locally to aid in proving we are not alone in the universe. See article.
g Cosmicus - When it comes to taking the next "giant leap" in space exploration, NASA is thinking small - really small: Nanotechnology. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Gravity Hurts.” In this activity, students can sample some of the sensations of space right here on Earth, using the "weightless arms" isometric exercise and a good old-fashioned headstand. See article.
g Imagining - Many science fiction story lines involve alien life forms. From a literary prospective, aliens often serve as metaphors for something more familiar. From a practical prospective, they make stories more interesting and TV more eye-catching. But what of scientific accuracy? A professor offers his advice about "How to Build an Alien".
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.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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