Friday, May 19, 2006

Alpha Canis Majoris, trawling for planets and “Planetary Dreams”

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Also known as Alpha Canis Majoris, Sirius is the fifth closest system to Sol, at 8.6 light-years away. Might it support habitable planets? See
g Abodes - An international team of professional and amateur astronomers, using simple off-the-shelf equipment to trawl the skies for planets outside our solar system, has hauled in its first "catch." See
g Life - Book alert: Are we alone, literally freaks of nature, just one planet of living, breathing things amidst a seemingly infinite, lifeless desert? This is one of the big questions posed by human nature, one that we have traditionally looked to religion to answer, but that is now coming within the grasp of science. Despite - or perhaps because - of this, we find increasing opposition to allocating resources to space exploration. Biochemist Robert Shapiro is an unabashed supporter of this research, and his book “Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth” is both a compelling response to the stay-at-homes and a pleasantly readable overview of what we know and don't know about the origin of life here and elsewhere. See
g Intelligence - A group of monkeys have shown a similar ability to humans in telling the difference between large and small groups of dots, according to a recent study by Duke University researchers. See
g Message - A lot of science fiction doesn’t offer a particularly accurate description of SETI. Here’s one piece that does: James Gunn’s novel “The Listeners,” published by Signet in 1972. This offers a good early portrayal of a scientifically reasonable search.
g Cosmicus - Thousands of tiny fruit flies soon will journey into space to help NASA scientists better understand changes in the human immune system caused by space flight. See http://www.
g Learning - Looking for an overview of the astrobiological field? Try "Introduction to Exobiology", which explores the field from a lay perspective and includes a self-test. It's part of the Cruising Chemistry project at Duke.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story "Loophole," appearing in the April 1946 issue of Astounding.
g Aftermath - Humans live and die by approximations. We are seldom as perfect or as accurate as we would like to be. And as we contemplate what we might say to an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, maybe that's a point we should emphasize. See

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