Friday, March 17, 2006

Titan’s atmosphere, life’s traits across many worlds and funding astrobiology

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Possibly similar to what our own Milky Way looks like, Messier 100 is a grand design spiral galaxy that presents an intricate structure, with a bright core and two prominent arms, showing numerous young and hot massive stars as well as extremely hot knots. The galaxy was the target of the European Southern Observatory to perform detailed observations of the newly found supernova SN 2006X. See article.
g Abodes - A new composite view reveals a tremendous amount of structure in the northern polar atmosphere of Titan. The hazes in Titan's atmosphere are known to extend hundreds of kilometers above the surface. See article. For related stories, see “Titan shines through” and “To the relief of Iapetus”.
g Life - Life on Earth has been shaped by random events unique to the history of our planet, so it may be unlikely we’ll ever find similar life forms elsewhere. But paleontologist Geerat Vermeij says that many traits are so advantageous that they will appear again and again. See article.
g Intelligence - After long suspecting we’re born with some math sense, researchers have shown infants indeed have some ability to count long before they can demonstrate it to mom and dad. See article.
g Message - Should we be looking for extraterrestrial civilizations, rather than just listening for them, as we do in the SETI project? That is the suggestion of a French astronomer, Luc Arnold, in his paper “Transit Lightcurve Signatures of Artificial Objects.” He believes that the transit of large artificial objects in front of a sun could be a used for the emission of attention-getting signals. See article.
g Cosmicus - Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. As part of that, it seeks to understand the origin of the building blocks of life, how these building blocks combine to create life, how life affects and is affected by the environment from which it arose, and finally, whether and how life expands beyond its planet of origin. It requires studying fundamental concepts of life and habitable environments that will help us to recognize biospheres that might be quite different from our own. This includes studying the limits of life, life's phylogeny and effects of the space environment on living systems. Such fundamental questions require long term stable funding for the science community. This means keeping the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the grants programs funded at healthy levels. See article.
g Learning - Discover the universe, its components and origins — play “Spaceball”. Here’s a Web site structured as if a championship baseball game is being played between a celestial object and a spacecraft. Besides being fun, it helps children explore our solar system and the people and spacecraft that made our adventures in and knowledge of space possible.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Barry B. Longyear’s short story "Misencounter," anthologized in “Alien Encounters” (which is edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - As we look toward exploring other worlds, and perhaps even bringing samples back to Earth for testing, astrobiologists have to wonder: could there be alien pathogens in those samples that will wreak havoc on our world? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

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