Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dark matter measured, Mars’ mineral spheres and ‘Before the Dawn’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - A new study from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that galaxies form within clumps of dark matter. This mysterious substance emits no light, but it does have mass, so it can pull on matter with its gravity. Astronomers believe there's 5 times as much dark matter in the Universe as regular matter. This new Spitzer survey found that the amount of dark matter surrounding distant galaxies is surprisingly consistent. See http://internationalreporter.com/news/read.phpid=1729.
g Abodes - When scientists examined a meteorite from Mars under a microscope, they discovered tiny mineral spheres that, some argued, were produced by living organisms. Now, researchers working in the high Arctic have found similar mineral features, produced not by microbes, but by a volcano. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules
g Life - Thirty years ago, a young biologist set out to explain some new ideas in evolutionary biology to a wider audience. But he ended up restating Darwinian theory in such a broad and forceful way that his book has influenced specialists as well. "Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think" is a collection of essays about Dr. Dawkins's book "The Selfish Gene" and its impact. Contributors to the book, edited by Alan Grafen and Matt Ridley, are mostly biologists but include the novelist Philip Pullman, author of "His Dark Materials," and the bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. See http://
g Intelligence - Book alert: "Before the Dawn" is beautifully done, a grand genealogy of modern humanity, rooted in fact but spiced with an appropriate measure of speculation and hypothesis. Even for a reader to whom the material is already familiar - one who, for example, has been following Nicholas Wade's reports in the New York Times - it is well worth the trouble of reading this book for its narrative value, for the elegant way Wade has put it all together as a single compelling story. This is a brilliant book, by one of our best science journalists. See http://article.nationalreview.com/q=MmFiN
g Message - When scientists get together to talk about extraterrestrial life, they certainly don't imagine little green men. In fact, our first contact with life beyond our planet probably will involve a microbe. See http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/34079_spacelife06.shtml. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Cosmicus - Want to encourage space exploration? Join the Planetary Society (now in its 25th year). See http://planetary.org/home/.
g Learning - Natalie Meyerhoff has been fascinated with NASA and its space programs since she was an elementary school student in Palm Springs, Calif. Now, the third-grade elementary school teacher has the opportunity to participate in a NASA project that will engage her and later her students in scientific observation and data collection. See http://www.thedesertsun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” (1970) and the sequel, “Ringworld Engineers” (1980).
g Aftermath - How might we characterize the political significance of any announcement of discovering extraterrestrial intelligence? How about using the Torino Scale, which characterizes asteroid impacts, as a model to assist the discussion and interpretation of any claimed discovery of ETI? See