Monday, June 12, 2006

Galaxy-sized ball of fire, habitable worlds around red dwarfs and astrobiology expedition to Atacama

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Thanks to data from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray satellite, a team of international scientists found a comet-like ball of gas over a thousand million times the mass of the sun hurling through a distant galaxy cluster over 750 kilometers per second. This colossal "ball of fire" is by far the largest object of this kind ever identified. See
g Abodes - Can planets orbiting red dwarf M-type stars support life, perhaps even intelligent creatures? So far, most scientists emphatically have said “No.” For a different perspective, see Note: This article is from 2004.
g Life - Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who served as the first Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, is one of the world's leading experts on the hepatitis B virus. He was the 1976 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, for his discovery of the virus, and subsequently helped develop both the test used for detecting it and a vaccine to prevent its spread. Hepatitis B virus, a primary cause of fatal liver cancer, has infected some 2 billion people now alive worldwide, and about 375 million remain infected. Blumberg is currently the senior advisor to the president of the Fox Chase Cancer Center and a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, both in Philadelphia. Astrobiology Magazine interviewed Dr. Blumberg about hepatitis B, his current research, and the role of viruses in the evolution of life on Earth. In this second and final part of the interview, Dr. Blumberg discusses the worldwide effort to vaccinate children against hepatitis B, and weighs in on the question of whether or not viruses are alive. See
g Intelligence - Rapid climate change may have enabled early humans to venture out of Africa and colonize the rest of the world, according to a new study. See
g Message - Here’s a neat radio interview on the program “Earth and Sky,” about scientists looking for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. See Note: The interview is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - Future explorers on the Moon and Mars could be outfitted in lightweight, high-tech spacesuits that offer far more flexibility than the bulky suits that were used for spacewalks in the 1960s. Research is under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a “Bio-Suit System” that incorporates a suit designed to augment a person’s biological skin by providing mechanical counter-pressure. The “epidermis” of such a second skin could be applied in spray-on fashion in the form of an organic, biodegradable layer. See
. Note: This article is form 2005.
g Learning - What are seven NASA Explorer School teachers doing in the Atacama desert in Chile? They are studying side-by-side with NASA scientists who search for life in extreme environments, closely approximating what they expect to find on other planets. Why the Atacama - an inhospitable, seemingly lifeless, sun drenched spot that is probably the driest place on Earth? See
g Imagining - The students of Prof. Joan Slonczewski, who taught “Biology 103: Biology in Science Fiction” at Kenyon College in 2003, using astrobiological principles, attempted to create a number of plausible alien civilizations and worlds as a class project. Here’s another one, about the life in the ecosystem of planet Ralinius. See
g Aftermath - If, as “The X-Files'” Fox Mulder might say, "The truth is out there," then the researchers running the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program are likely to be the first ones to find it. On the other hand, there are numerous people who believe they've already been in contact with aliens. National Geographic's video ”Phantom Quest: The Search for Extraterrestrials” studies the claims of both groups, ultimately seeking to reveal precisely what an encounter with beings from another planet could mean for humanity. See