Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gliese 876’s planets, Pluto’s status and the Phoenix Lander

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Within 20 light years of Sol, astronomers may have detected planets only in the Solar System and around three stars. One of them is Gliese 876 / Ross 780. See
g Abodes - At its conference this August, the International Astronomical Union will make a decision that could see Pluto lose its status as a planet. See
g Life - The population of an endangered species of dolphin living in Pakistan's Indus River has increased in recent years, but the animal remains at high risk of extinction, the scientist leading a conservation project said. See
g Intelligence - New findings reported this week reveal that at least some primates can use their stored knowledge of recent weather as a tool for guiding their foraging behavior when searching for ripening fruit. The work potentially informs our understanding of how cognitive skills developed in humans and other primates. See
g Message - If we are not alone in the universe, why have we never picked up signals from an extraterrestrial civilization? Known as the Fermi paradox after physicist Enrico Fermi, who first posed the question, this long-standing puzzle remains one of the strongest arguments against the existence of intelligent aliens. But two physicists say they have come up with a solution. They suggest a way in which aliens could send messages to each other across space that not only disguises their locations but also makes it impossible for a casual observer to even distinguish the messages from background noise. See Note: This article is from May 2003.
g Cosmicus - The Phoenix Lander will explore a polar site on Mars to uncover clues about the planet's history of water and potential for life. The computer "brain" of the spacecraft is now ready for action, and a team at the University of Arizona in Tucson has begun adding engineering models of science payload instruments to a mock lander that will be tested in the Payload Interoperability Testbed, or "PIT." See
g Learning - Here’s a neat new set of afterschool activities for elementary school students: “Astrobiology.” This new resource guide from the American Museum of Natural History brings astrobiology activities to the afterschool arena. As part of an 18-month project, AMNH collected NASA materials originally developed for the formal education setting, and adapted them for use in afterschool programs for participants aged 5-12. Members of NAI's NASA Ames Research Center Lead Team served as science advisors to the guide. See http://www.amnhafterschool.pdf/.
g Imagining - While science fiction has come a long way from the days of bug-eyed monsters, the genre still hasn't gone far enough in presenting well-conceived alien beings. As a derivative genre, role-playing games have an even poorer record. See
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