Thursday, June 22, 2006

Black hole light shows, recovering meteorites in Hammerfest and world’s first bling

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - A team of astronomers led by the University of Michigan may know how black holes are lighting up the Universe. New data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show, for the first time, that powerful magnetic fields are the key to these brilliant and startling light shows. See
g Abodes - The city of Hammerfest lies at the northern tip of Norway, well above the Arctic Circle. If you board a ship heading north from there, just before you reach the polar ice cap you run into a group of islands known as the Svalbard archipelago. For the past two summers, a group of scientists has traveled to the largest of these islands to study an environment that sheds light on a notorious meteorite, discovered at the opposite end of the Earth, in Antarctica. See
g Life - The Yungay region in Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth. It rains perhaps once every 10 years. It is so dry that not even microbial life can survive there. Almost as dry as Mars. That makes it an interesting place for astrobiologists to study. Later this month, Astrobiology Magazine will begin a series of field reports from Yungay. Join us as we accompany scientists who are heading to Yungay to explore the limits of life. See
g Intelligence - Ancient beads that may represent the oldest attempt by people at self-decoration have been identified from sites in Algeria and Israel. See
g Message - Many common ideas about SETI just aren’t true, but that doesn't prevent them from popping up in popular articles, blogs, books, and even movies. Here are three of my favorite fallacies about SETI. See
g Cosmicus - Geckos, snails and newts thrived on a Russian spacecraft that carried a Montana State University experiment last summer, but not bacteria, said an MSU microbiologist who is studying the long-term effects of space travel. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Samples of the Future.” In this exercise, which reinforces creative thinking and the scientific method, kids build their own toy spacecraft from assorted household materials. See
g Imagining - Traditional science fiction has aliens who speak some form of English or resemble humans. The problem is, chances are slim that non-terrestrial life will have such earthling-like traits. Chemists at the University of Florida hope to overcome that obstacle by figuring out what alien life might look like. See Note: This article is from 1998.
g Aftermath - Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s “Songs of a Distant Earth.” Look for it at your library or local used book store.