Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Astrobiology expedition to Arctic glacier field, golden record and star life

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Sibling rivalry is alive and well in outer space. The Milky Way galaxy has two sister spirals competing for attention from photographers. The Andromeda galaxy usually wins the contest, posing frequently for cosmic portraits. In this new image from the MMT Observatory, the second sister finally gets her due notice. Here, the Triangulum galaxy emerges from the shadows to reveal stunning swirls of stars and dust dotted with brilliant pink nebulae. See
g Abodes - A scientific expedition to a remote glacier field in Canada's High Arctic may help researchers unlock the secrets about the beginning of life and provide insights for future exploration of our solar system. See
g Life - Another important piece to the photosynthesis puzzle is now in place. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have identified one of the key molecules that help protect plants from oxidation damage as the result of absorbing too much light. See
g Intelligence - An ancient rock carving has been linked to an astronomical event. See
g Message - When the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977, they each included a gold-plated phonograph record (a "golden record") of natural sounds, greetings in human voices, and a variety of music. The record cover has symbolic instructions that show how to use and understand the record, though scientists still debate whether other civilizations will be able to decipher them. For info on Voyager’s golden record, see For an explanation of the record cover diagram, see For an interactive module that contains greetings, sounds, and pictures included on the record (requires Flash plug-in), see
g Cosmicus - Biomimetic devices look to nature for inspiration, mimicking the way insects, plants and animals cope with difficulties. From the way plants furl their leaves to how wasps bore holes into trees, evolution has developed clever and varied ways to solve engineering problems. Alex Ellery is the head of the Robotics Research group at the Surrey Space Centre in the United Kingdom. In this interview with Astrobiology Magazine, he explains how robotics can borrow from the strategies used by life, and discusses how these techniques may be used in future European space exploration missions. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of lessons, designed for at-risk students: “The Plausibility of Interstellar Communication and Related Phenomena Depicted in Science Fiction Literature and the Movies.” The curriculum has four major objectives: first, to educate students to develop concepts about the proximity of our solar system in relation to other probable solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy; second, to give students the opportunity to use these concepts to evaluate the plausibility of interstellar communication depicted in science fiction literature and movies; third, to create an opportunity for students not only to look out on the universe but to turn it inward to look at the world, their own society, and themselves as individuals; and fourth, an objective that will be integrated with all of the others is to give students to opportunity to learn and/or sharpen skills in: using the scientific method, research, reading, writing, collaboration, discussion and in critical thinking. See
g Imagining - We normally think of life developing on a planet. But could it evolve on a star? Robert L. Forward took this idea to an extreme in “Dragon's Egg,” a novel about life on the surface of a neutron star, composed of very dense "degenerate" matter. Surface gravity is in the millions, and the inhabitants live and think proportionally faster. See
g Aftermath - Scientists should pay greater attention to discussing the social implications of discovering extraterrestrial life - even though many researchers shy away from the subject because they don't consider it "hard" science. See news/article163.html.