Friday, June 09, 2006

Brown dwarf genesis, red rain and virtual astrobiological field trip

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Astronomers have discovered that the large disks of gas and dust around young stars will fragment if two young stars pass close to each other and form smaller brown dwarfs stars with disks of their own. See
g Abodes - No one knows when life first established a firm foothold on Earth. Ask around in the scientific community, though, and you'll probably hear that the surface of early Earth, before about 3.8 billion years ago, was too hostile an environment for even a lowly microbe to set up shop. The main problem, as the conventional argument goes, was that between around 4.1 and 3.8 billion years ago, comets and asteroids were constantly bombarding Earth. The disastrous effects of these impacts would have rendered the Earth's surface uninhabitable. Not necessarily so, say a team of astrobiologists who are studying the oldest known sedimentary rocks on Earth. See Note: This article is from November 2000.
g Life - In 1968, a red-tinted rain dropped fine grit from the Sahara over southern England in 1968. It's not all that uncommon a phenomenon, and so in 2001, when red rain - as red as blood, in some cases - fell over the southwestern Indian state of Kerala sporadically from July 25 to Sept. 23, the first assumption was that the rainwater had been contaminated by dust. See
g Intelligence - First discovered 150 years ago, Neanderthals have been studied more widely than any other form of human. Thanks to a new interactive inventory and online catalogue developed in Europe, scientists worldwide can now probe the secrets of this primitive relative from the comfort of their computer. See
g Message - The earliest speculations about communication with extraterrestrial intelligence involved contact with the Moon and with other planets of our own solar system. In the 1800s, many astronomers thought that — at least theoretically — life might well exist throughout the solar system. But when people raised the question of whether we are really alone in the solar system, they began to imagine ways to find a very concrete answer. See
g Cosmicus - When the space exploration initiative was announced, Congress asked the NRC to review the science NASA proposed to carryout under the initiative. It also asked the NRC to assess whether this program would provide balanced scientific research across the established disciplines supported by NASA in addition to supporting the new initiative. In 2005, the NRC released three studies focusing on a portion of that task, but changes at NASA forced the postponement of the last phase. This report presents that last phase with an assessment of the health of the NASA scientific disciplines under the budget requests imposed by the exploration initiative. The report also provides an analysis of whether the science budget appropriately reflects cross-disciplinary scientific priorities. See
g Learning - Join scientists in Australia via the "Virtual Field Trip" at NASA’s Quest website. The VFT is an immersive multimedia application developed to support student and user exploration of areas on Earth that have been identified as analog sites to regions on Mars. In their first education and public outreach collaboration, NASA and Macquarie University in Sydney, the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, have created an innovative online field experience that combines the cool tools of the Internet with good scientific fieldwork at remote sites. See
g Imagining - What about the invading aliens from the X-Files: Are they plausible? A book released a few years ago that addresses the topic is “The Science of the X-Files,” by Jeanne Cavelos. There’s a review of the book (look near the end for a discussion on the extraterrestrial biology) at
g Aftermath - Among scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, it’s quite common to be focused on the future, ever mindful that it could take years, or even decades, to find a signal from otherworldly intelligence. But if historian Steve Dick has his way, astronomers will also turn their attention toward the past as they search for life beyond Earth — to discover the aftereffects of contact between two intelligent cultures. See Note: This article is from 2003.