Monday, June 19, 2006

Capturing neutrinos, astrobiology field report from Canadian High Arctic and primate altruism

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - The American-born Nobel prizewinning chemist Raymond Davis, who has died aged 91 of complications from Alzheimer's disease, was the first person to look into the heart of a star. He did so by capturing neutrinos, ghostly particles that are emitted in the nuclear fusion reactions that power the Sun and stream across space. According to astrophysicists, the Sun emits 2-followed-by-38- zeros neutrinos a second, which means that as you read this article billions of them are hurtling through your eyeballs at almost the speed of light. See,,1800815,00.html.
g Abodes - Here’s an astrobiology field report from Dale Andersen, who’s in the Canadian High Arctic searching for meteorites. See
g Life - A resilient fish — known as Antarctic notothenioids — keeps from freezing solid thanks to a special "antifreeze protein" that prevents their bodily fluids from turning into crystals. See
g Intelligence - A study recently conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, says that altruistic impulses may exist in primates other than humans. It also brings to light some surprising information about human altruism: It appears even in prelinguistic toddlers. See
g Message - Some people sit in the tub, yell "Eureka", and come up with a brand new view of matter. Others can be riding a trolley home and at the sight of a clock initiate a whole new concept of time. Yet another more pedantic method is to follow government procedures to resolve riddles. Steven Dick and James Strick in their book, “The Living Universe - NASA and the development of Astrobiology,” narrate how this occurred for the new academic field of astrobiology. Though perhaps not as film-worthy as instantaneous flashes, the four decades of meetings, workshops and programs described therein show that this distinct academic area had an eventful and exciting coming of age. See
. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus - After sixteen months orbiting the Moon, ESA's lunar mission is preparing for the end of its scientific exploration. On June 19, SMART-1 mission controllers initiated a 17-day series of maneuvers aimed at positioning the spacecraft to enhance science data return as the mission winds down. See http://www.astro
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 - In nearly all popular science fiction dramatizations on television, most of the alien protagonists look remarkably like humans. In "Star Trek," if you forgave the Vulcan's their ears (and their hair-styles), the Klingons their foreheads and the Bajorans their ridged noses you'd think that they were all human. After all, they have two legs, two arms, 10 fingers and toes, two ears, two eyes and a nose. And while arms and eyes are universals, two arms and two legs are parochial. See article.
g Aftermath - For some provocative reading, pick up “Sharing the Universe,” by Seth Shostak, at your local bookstore. SETI scientist Shostak almost single-handedly is outlining social and political issues that will arise once we make contact with extraterrestrials. For reviews, see