Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Chara’s habitability, space artists and ‘Consequences of Success in SETI’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - In September 2003, astrobiologist Maggie Turnbull from the University of Arizona in Tucson identified a shortlist of 30 stars that were screened from around 5,000 that have been estimated to be located 100 ly of Earth, as the best nearby candidates for hosting complex Earth-type life. One of them is Chara:
g Abodes - The detection of methane on Mars has generated a lot of speculation about what could possibly be producing it. Is it coming out of active volcanoes? Maybe the methane results from some geologic or chemical process we don't yet understand. Or, since much of the methane on Earth is produced by biology, perhaps the faint whiffs of methane point to the existence of present-day life on Mars. See
g Life - Two schools of thought exist on the question of what life (assuming there is any) will be like on other worlds. These fall under the headings of "divergionism" and "convergionism," or to use Harold Blum's terminology, "opportunism" and "determinism.” See
g Intelligence - We may never agree on a universal definition of intelligence because it is an open-ended word, like consciousness. Intelligence and consciousness concern the high end of our mental life, but they are frequently confused with more elementary mental processes, such as ones we would use to recognize a friend or tie a shoelace. Of course, such simple neural mechanisms are probably the foundations from which our abilities to handle logic and metaphor evolved. But how did that occur? That's an evolutionary question and a neurophysiological one as well. Both kinds of answers are needed if we are to understand our own intelligence. They might even help us appreciate how an artificial or an exotic intelligence could evolve. See
g Message - Should we modify the Drake Equation to account for civilizations which actually engage in deliberate interstellar transmission? See
g Cosmicus - From a cramped garage in Long Beach, astronomical artist Don Dixon has conjured the cosmos — geysers of liquid methane on Titan, Martian moonrises, a supernova in deep space. He's taken people to places they could barely imagine through his illustrations, which have appeared over two decades in Scientific American, Omni and other magazines. Then came the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Rovers and other robotic explorers that have poured out amazing images. Even space artists, who have spent their careers imagining the universe, reel at the photos of boulders on Saturn's moon Titan or star clusters 270 million light-years from Earth. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat interactive Web site for kids: “Are Humans All Alone in the Universe?” In the program, kids get to search for ET — and learn some principles of science along the way. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Harry Turtledove’s novel “A World of Difference,” published by Del Rey in 1990.
g Aftermath - Here’s another “old” piece worth reading: “Consequences of Success in SETI: Lessons from the History of Science,” given during a Bioastronomy Symposium in 1993. See