Monday, January 09, 2006

Hydrothermal vents, Pluto’s temperature and Astroventure

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 - Using the European Space Agency's Integral observatory, an international team of researchers has been able to confirm the production of radioactive aluminium in massive stars and supernovae throughout our galaxy and determine the rate of supernovae — one of its key parameters. See article.
g Abodes - Earth-bound astronomers taking Pluto's temperature have confirmed suspicions that the planet is colder than it should be. It's thought that the planet’s lower temperature is the result of interactions between its icy surface and thin nitrogen atmosphere. See article. For related stories, see “Rare opportunity seized to measure Pluto's large moon” and “Probe nears launch on mission of pure exploration”.
g Life - Capitalists visit Wall Street. Lawyers go to the Supreme Court. Marine biologists go to the "Rose Garden." Or at least they used to. See article. For related stories, see: “Hydrothermal Systems”; “ALISS in Wonderland: Imaging Ambient Light at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents”; and “Habitats: Hydrothermal Vent – Characteristics”.
g Intelligence - Some say success brings happiness, and others say it doesn't. In reality, a new study suggests, happiness buys success. See article.
g Message - One thing is clear about SETI: The search will continue no matter the struggle for funding. From the human perspective, “We have a primate insecurity about being alone." See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Cosmicus - It is the first ever flight to Pluto and the first planetary flyby in decades, but for its lead scientist and one Englishwoman NASA’s New Horizon mission will mark a milestone for space exploration. See article.
g Learning - Dover's much-maligned school policy of presenting "intelligent design'' as an alternative to evolution was officially relegated to the history books last week. See article.
g Imagining - For anyone who has watched the recent incarnations of "Star Trek," one question must present itself: do the majority of alien beings in the cosmos really just look like Earthlings, only with bonier faces or pointier ears? Is that it? Because, aside from the occasional intangible space entity, most “way-out” life forms are remarkably similar to us. Even the weirder images of the little green (or grey) aliens in popular culture are pretty unimaginative. Two arms? Check. Two legs? Check. A head, some eyes, an upright posture? Yes, please. This is not the cutting edge of science fiction, more our own narcissistic reflection dropping in via spacecraft. Surely we can aspire to thinking something a little more ... alien? See article.
g Aftermath - Book alert: Science fiction writers have given us many fine novels contemplating humankind's first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. But our nonfiction world has not thought much about what to do if we are actually faced with this situation. In “Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” Jean Heidmann, chief astronomer at the Paris Observatory (and self-styled bioastronomer), offers a book on the subject that is at once serious and fun. Heidmann's obvious joy in raw speculation - all of it grounded in real science - is contagious. If aliens send us a message from many light years away, for example, how should we respond? Heidmann reviews the protocols established in the SETI Declaration and then offers his own suggestion: send them the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. See review.

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