Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Galaxy arrangement, Snowball Earth and message beamed at M13

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Scientists at the University of Chicago have bolstered the case for a popular scenario of the big bang theory that neatly explains the arrangement of galaxies throughout the universe. Their supercomputer simulation shows how dark matter, an invisible material of unknown composition, herded luminous matter in the universe from its initial smooth state into the cosmic web of galaxies and galaxy clusters that populate the universe. See
g Abodes - It has been 2.3 billion years since Earth's atmosphere became infused with enough oxygen to support life as we know it. About the same time, the planet became encased in ice that some scientists speculate was more than a half-mile deep. That raises questions about whether complex life could have existed before "Snowball Earth" and survived, or if it first evolved when the snowball began to melt. See
g Life - A scientist at Washington State University says the first extraterrestrial life we find is likely to be single-celled organisms surviving on a moon of Saturn, or in the atmosphere of Venus. See
g Intelligence - The brain is a "time machine," assert two Duke neuroscientists — and understanding how the brain tracks time is essential to understanding all its functions. See
g Message - In 1974, the most powerful broadcast ever deliberately beamed into space was made from Puerto Rico. The broadcast formed part of the ceremonies held to mark a major upgrade to the Arecibo Radio Telescope. The transmission consisted of a simple, pictorial message, aimed at our putative cosmic companions in the globular star cluster M13. See
g Cosmicus - Several Russian media reports, including some citing a high-ranking official in the country’s Federal Space Agency, have stated that an agreement is in hand with U.S. entrepreneur and X Prize sponsor Anousheh Ansari for a future trip to the International Space Station. See
g Learning - Looking for an overview of the astrobiological field? Try "Introduction to Exobiology" (
), which explores the field from a lay perspective and includes a self-test. It's part of the Cruising Chemistry project at Duke.
g Imagining - There are several species in the Star Trek universe that look exactly like humans. The unlikely fact that life on different planets has taken a similar, if not the same direction was sufficiently explained in The Next Generation episode "The Chase." In this key episode to the Star Trek universe, Captain Picard's crew finds evidence that four billion years ago the first human civilization explored our galaxy, and they were disappointed because they found themselves alone. To preserve their heritage, they spread encoded DNA fragments across many Class-M planets throughout the galaxy, thereby triggering a development similar to their own. Aside from the evolution schedule the DNA fragments, correctly assembled, contain a message to their descendants, namely humans, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans and all the other humanoid races of the galaxy that are in some way related to each other. As fascinating is this theory, a couple of problems remain. See
g Aftermath - What would be the affect on humanity following contact with alien life? Portions of a Brookings Institute report offer some insights. See for either the entire report or the relevant excerpts.