Monday, February 20, 2006

Flashes of light, DNA in fossil bones and ‘Tune in the Universe!’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Astronomers have detected a faint halo of hot gas surrounding and falling into a spiral galaxy located 100 million light-years from Earth. See
g Abodes - Back in the 1980s, airline pilots were told they must have been seeing things when they reported flashes of light shooting toward space atop thunderstorms. But in recent years, scientists have photographed the mysterious flashes and come up with interesting names for them: elves, blue jets, tigers and sprites. The flashes are associated with thunderstorms, and each type is incredibly brief and behaves differently. A new effort has produced the best images and video of sprites ever obtained. See
g Life - Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science recently discovered a new source of well-preserved ancient DNA in fossil bones. See
g Intelligence - The truism is that if you want to know a culture, learn the language. But what if the language and the culture are both dead – long, long dead? See
g Message - Book alert: H. Paul Shuch’s “Tune in the universe! A radio amateur's guide to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence” (published by ARRL in 2001 in CD format) provides a good introduction to SETI by the executive director of the SETI League. The contents range from how to build your own radio receiver in your backyard to Shuch's selected memoirs and songs. See
g Cosmicus - It's only a matter of time. One day, winter Olympics will be held on the moon. The moon's dust-covered slopes are good places to ski. There's plenty of powder, moguls and, best of all, low-gravity. With only 1/6th g holding them down, skiers and snowboarders can do tricks they only dreamed of doing on Earth. How about an octuple-twisting quadruple back flip? Don't worry. Crashes happen in slow motion, so it won't hurt so much to wipe out. See
g Learning - Here’s a cool set of classroom lessons courtesy of NASA: Astroventure, in which students search for and design a habitable planet. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read J.M. Dillard’s noel “Star Trek: First Contact” (based on a screenplay by Brannon Bragga and Ron Moore and published by Pocket in 1996).
g Aftermath - The recent Hollywood movie “War of the Worlds” by Steven Spielberg is garnering much attention, but it's nothing like that accorded the 1938 radio version of H.G. Wells' novel. The extent of the panic that broadcast caused is still debated. So what really happened that night? See