Saturday, December 17, 2005

Debris disk, hopping microbots, mothballing shuttle Atlantis

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 found a debris disk around a sun-like star that may be forming or has formed its terrestrial planets. The disk - a probable analog to our asteroid belt - may have begun a solar-system-scale demolition derby, where the rocky remains of failed planets collide chaotically. See article.
g Abodes - NASA researchers, using data from the agency's AURA satellite, determined the seasonal ozone hole that developed over Antarctica this year is smaller than in previous years. See article. For related story, see “Mountainous Plateau Creates Ozone 'Halo' Around Tibet”.
g Life - For the past several years, NASA has been encouraging scientists and engineers to think outside the box, to come up with ideas just this side of science fiction. One of the projects that received funding earlier this year was a collaboration between Penelope Boston and Steven Dubowsky to develop "hopping microbots" capable of exploring hazardous terrain, including underground caves. See article.
g Intelligence - With help from a common aquarium pet and a recently released online database of human genetic variation, a collaborative team of Penn State researchers has found what could be the most important skin color gene identified to date. The team found that a change in just one amino acid in one gene plays a major role in determining why people of European descent have lighter skin than people of African descent. See article.
g Message - What’s Olum's Paradox? See article.
g Cosmicus - Several lawmakers have warned President Bush in a letter that if NASA doesn't get the budget it seeks for 2007 to 2010, it would have to retire shuttle Atlantis immediately, cutting jobs and gutting the vision for space exploration. See article.
g Learning - The American Geophysical Union met in San Francisco last week, as it does each year. More than 11,000 geologists, students and educators gathered together to present papers and posters, attend lectures, learn about new discoveries, and share the science of Earth and other planets. AGU has become the site for significant sessions on Earth and space science education. See article.
g Imagining - Scientists at the SETI Institute have long considered what life might be like on other worlds. You can join in this quest through a game-like science lesson, "Inventing Life Forms." It’s suitable for inventors of all ages. Using one of a pair of dice, you work through the selection of characteristics for your life form. Then, you apply this data and your imagination to invent a life form and develop a world where your creature could live. Download the instructions for "Inventing Life Forms" from the SETI Institute website. It’s the PDF lesson featured with our teaching guide, "How Might Life Evolve on Other Worlds?"
g Aftermath - Donald E. Tarter, a consultant in space policy and technology assessment, makes a persuasive case for developing the protocols and technology to reply to an extraterrestrial signal before news of the discovery is made public, in his article, “Advocating an Immediate Response.” Delay could be costly as technologically advanced fringe groups or ambitious nations could attempt to score a propaganda victory by being the first to reply, creating a mixed and perhaps embarrassing first message. This could be avoided by settling on a quick and simple message to let the extraterrestrial source know that we had received their message. See article. Note: This report is from 1996.

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