Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Extrasolar dead zone, miniature star systems and Neanderthal DNA

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Astronomers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario find that "dead zones"- which typically extend out to 13 astronomical units from the central star of an extrasolar planetary system - can significantly slow planetary migration so that planets are not lost to the systems. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/
g Abodes - Two new studies, based on observations made with ESO's telescopes, show that objects only a few times more massive than Jupiter are born with discs of dust and gas, the raw material for planet making. This suggests that miniature versions of the solar system may circle objects that are some 100 times less massive than our Sun. See http://www.astrobiology.com/news/viewpr.htmlpid=20026.
g Life - The discovery of millions of ancient, ultra-tiny microbes 3,000 meters deep in a Greenland glacier suggests that similar hardy species may live in ice elsewhere in the solar system, researchers say. See http://www.rense.com/general53/alien.htm. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Intelligence - Scientists have recovered DNA from a Neanderthal that lived 100,000 years ago - the oldest human-type DNA so far. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5052414.stm.
g Message - Is it more likely for an advanced civilization to resort to some sophisticated encoding scheme than we would? See http://www.setiuniverse.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.aspa=178&z=10.
g Cosmicus - The news was mixed for NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View as the space agency announced the roles its 10 centers will play in missions designed to send humans to space more often and keep them there longer. See http://www.twincities.com/
g Learning - What is an astrobiologist, and can you become one? See http://www.astrobiology.com/how.to.html.
g Imagining - Alien design bibliography: When science fiction writers set out to design a world, they usually take care that their physics and astronomy conforms to known science by reading a few physics and astronomy books. But when designing aliens, anything goes, it seems! The problem appears to be that the literature of biology is simply unknown in the SF world. Mention Freeman Dyson or Robert Forward, and most hard SF readers and writers will know whom you are talking about. But mention Steven Vogel or Colin Pennycuick, and you are likely to be rewarded with polite bafflement. Here’s a list of books that’ll give you a solid grounding in biology. See http://www.branta.demon.co.uk/alien-design/books.htm.
g Aftermath - Book Alert II: Science fiction writers have given us many fine novels contemplating humankind's first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. But our nonfiction world has not thought much about what to do if we are actually faced with this situation. Jean Heidmann, Chief Astronomer at the Paris Observatory (and self-styled bioastronomer), offers a book, “Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” on the subject that is at once serious and fun. Heidmann's obvious joy in raw speculation — all of it grounded in real science — is contagious. If aliens send us a message from many light years away, for example, how should we respond? See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521453402/104-9182723-7020748 for reviews.