Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Constants of nature, brainy development and reusable space vehicles

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Physicists at JILA have performed the first-ever precision measurements using ultracold molecules, in work that may help solve a long-standing scientific mystery — whether so-called constants of nature have changed since the dawn of the universe. See http://
g Abodes - The discovery of an olive branch buried in volcanic ash for centuries is helping scientists pinpoint the date of one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in the last 10,000 years. See
g Life - Book alert: How did life begin on Earth? Is it confined to our planet? Will humans one day be able to travel long distances in space in search of other life forms? Written by three experts in the space arena, “Looking for Life, Searching the Solar System,” by Paul Clancy, aims to answer these and other intriguing questions. Beginning with what we understand of life on Earth, it describes the latest ideas about the chemical basis of life as we know it, and how they are influencing strategies to search for life elsewhere. It considers the ability of life, from microbes to humans, to survive in space, on the surface of other planets, and be transported from one planet to another. It looks at the latest plans for missions to search for life in the Solar System, and how these are being influenced by new technologies, and current thinking about life on Earth. See
g Intelligence - Kids with high IQs have a distinct pattern of brain development, according to a 20-year study of more than 300 young minds. See
g Message - A number of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence actually have occurred, are ongoing and are planned. Here’s one of the more famous ones: Project BETA, at Harvard University. See
g Cosmicus - Everyone's seen pictures of rockets taking off - both real ones and imaginary ones. And everyone's seen pictures of spaceplanes taking off - but they're all imaginary - because they're impossible (or at least, be prepared for a long wait). The basic problem for designers of reusable space vehicles is achieving the velocity needed to reach orbit without carrying so much fuel that the vehicle is either too heavy to get there or unable to carry anything other than fuel. So the answer is either to make the vehicle very light, or to find a way around having to carry all that fuel. See
g Learning - NASA’s free Astrobiology Education Poster illustrates in words and pictures the fundamental questions addressed by astrobiology: What is life? Where is it? How do you find it? Three activities have been developed to explore these themes. It’s great for teachers — or parents looking to spend some quality time with their children. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Harry Turtledove’s short story, "The Road Not Taken," published in the Nov. 1985 Analog.
g Aftermath - Here’s an interesting book for some astrobiological reading: “After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life” by Albert A. Harrison. See
for some reviews.