Saturday, May 06, 2006

Europa lander, joy of zero G and “The Psychology of Interstellar Communication”

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Most stardust is made of tiny silicate grains, much like dust from rocks on earth. Away from city lights, you can see the dust as a dark band across the Milky Way. This dust comes from dying and exploded stars. Scientists think stars form when these dust clouds collapse and that some of this dust became trapped inside asteroids and comets when our own sun formed. See
g Abodes - Europa, the ice-covered satellite of Jupiter, is currently the most favorable site for the search of extraterrestrial life. Hydrothermal vents on the Earth's sea floor have been found to sustain life forms that can live without solar energy. Similar possible volcanic activity on Europa, caused by its interaction with Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites, makes this Jovian moon the best target for identifying a separate evolutionary line. This search addresses the main problem remaining in astrobiology, namely, the quest for discrete, or 'parallel' evolutionary lines in the universe. We explore ideas related to Europa's possible biological activity, particularly its likely degree of evolution. We have conjectured that evolution may have occurred in Europa and that the experimental test of such a conjecture is feasible 1-3: A lander spacecraft capable of penetrating the European surface ice-layer does not seem beyond present technological capabilities. Although difficult instrumentation issues are involved, we have initiated the discussion of what would seem to be a reasonable biological experiment.The possibility of detecting biomolecules on the ice surface of Europa has recently been made by others. See
g Life - In the frantic world of fruitfly courtship, the difference between attracting a mate and going home alone may depend on having the right wing spots. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have learned which elements of fly DNA make these spots come and go in different species. See
g Intelligence - Book alert: In a universe infinitely large, what is the probability of intelligent life on another planet? Sounds like a trick question, but for anyone versed in cosmology and statistics, the answer is 1; that is, there must be life on at least one other planet in the universe. This is Amir Aczel's theorem I his book “Probablity 1.” But, as physicist Enrico Fermi once asked, if that's true, where is everyone? Aczel tackles that paradox after he goes through the statistical calculations for the probability of intelligent life, considering factors such as how many stars are in a galaxy, how many of those stars might be hospitable, how many might have planets, and how many planets might have environments suitable to support life as we know it (or as we don't). See
g Message - Humankind has been unintentionally transmitting signals into space - primarily high-frequency radio, television, and radar - for more than 50 years. Our earliest TV broadcasts have reached several thousand nearby stars, although any alien viewers would have to build a very large antenna (thousands of acres in size) to detect them. See
g Cosmicus - The joy of zero G? I don't really need to discuss details that people can imagine for themselves, but basically, floating has got to be fun! Anything that makes you giggle in such a situation surely has to be a good thing! Among other effects, being weightless will mean that you and your partner can maneuver round each other without danger of either of you - or any parts of you - getting squashed! No more arms or legs going numb! See http://www.
g Learning - Here’s a good introduction to learning about the characteristics of living things is to get the kids brainstorming as to what makes a living thing living: “Glue Critters.” See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Childhood's End,” published by Ballantine in 1953.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate this article’s title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See http://web.