Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stellar clusters, ant evolution and searching for ET in the microwave band

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Stellar clusters, gravity-bound collections of stars all created at roughly the same time and from the same material, are the closest thing astronomers have to a controlled laboratory environment. See http://space.com/scienceastronomy/0604
g Abodes - The outermost ring of Uranus, discovered just last year, is bright blue, making it only the second known blue ring in the solar system, according to a report this week in the journal Science. Perhaps not coincidentally, both blue rings are associated with small moons. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0604/06
g Life - The emergence of flowering plants 100 million years ago may have led to the explosion in ant diversity that occurred around the same time, scientists say. See http://www.livescience.com/animal
. For related story, see “Water Found To Be Main Culprit In Argentine Ant Invasions” at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060331153612.htm.
g Intelligence - Scientists in northeastern Ethiopia said Saturday that they have discovered the skull of a small human ancestor that could be a missing link between the extinct Homo erectus and modern man. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/06
g Message - The universe is a noisy place, filled with the hiss and crackle of stars being born and dying. There is little escape from this cosmic din, except in one small region of the radio dial — the microwave band. Here, only the faint whimper of the Big Bang breaks the silence, making it a “really good place to communicate,” according to Dan Werthimer of Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, perched close to the stars atop Grizzly Peak. See http://www.alumni.
. Note: This article is from 2000.
g Cosmicus - Chinese space officials have invited NASA Administrator Michael Griffin to visit their country in the fall, possibly as early as September. See http://space.com/news/060405_nss_griffin.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of DiscoverSchool.com: “Extraterrestrials.” In the activity, a digital radio message, intended to alert any intelligent life in space to the existence of intelligent life on Earth, has been electronically transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. Students must ensure the message is effective by showing that the senders (humans from Earth) are capable of advanced thinking — but it must not depend on the ability of extraterrestrials to understand any Earth language. See http://school.discovery.com/lessonplans/
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Poul Anderson’s novel “The High Crusade,” published in 1960.
g Aftermath - What if we did contact another intelligent life form in the universe? Should we respond? What should we say? What traits best represent our humanity? Douglas Vakoch, the SETI Institute’s director of Interstellar Message Composition, is working with scientists, artists, linguists, composers, and others to imagine how to speak for our planet. Here’s a Web cast in which Vakoch describes his work: http://www.exploratorium.edu/origins/arecibo/live/index.html; scroll to “Talking with ET.”