Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Star formation has gone wild, impact crater beneath Antarctic ice and Bernal sphere

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Staring into the crowded, dusty core of two merging galaxies, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a region where star formation has gone wild. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0606/14starbirth/.
g Abodes - "Snowball Earth" proponents, who say that Earth's oceans were long ago covered by thick ice, explain the survival of life by hypothesizing the existence of small warm spots, or refugia. On the other side, supporters of a "Slushball Earth" say the planet included large areas of thin ice or open ocean, particularly around the equator. See http://www.astrobiology.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=17926.
g Life - The eroded remnant of a huge impact crater has been discovered beneath the Antarctic ice sheet in Wilkes Land. Its estimated age of 250 million years and its 500 km diameter make the impact a plausible suspect for the mass extinction that marked the end of the Permian era, when 90 per cent of all species on Earth were wiped out, allowing the dinosaurs to become the dominant land-dwelling animals. See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=5&ObjectID=10386431.
g Intelligence - Hobbit-sized humans who survived on an isolated Indonesian island until 12,000 years ago were smart enough to make stone tools even though they had small brains, scientists have said. See http://www.zeenews.com/articles.asp?aid=301666&sid=FTP.
g Message - SETI research isn’t limited to a single facility listening to radio signals. Another dimension of the program is The Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay, which searched the Southern Hemisphere's skies briefly during the 1990s. To learn more about it, see http://www.planetary.org/html/UPDATES/seti/META2/META-story.html.
g Cosmicus - A key step to establishing humanity as a spacefaring race will be permanent space habitats. One possible design a Bernal sphere, first proposed in 1929 by Dr. John Desmond Bernal. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernal_sphere.
g Learning - Here’s a neat interactive Web site for kids: “Are Humans All Alone in the Universe?” In the program, kids get to search for ET — and learn some principles of science along the way. See http://jvsc.jst.go.jp/universe/et_e/index_e.htm.
g Imagining - Scientists at the SETI Institute have long considered what life might be like on other worlds. You can join in this quest through a game-like science lesson, "Inventing Life Forms." It’s suitable for inventors of all ages. Using one of a pair of dice, you work through the selection of characteristics for your life form. Then, you apply this data and your imagination to invent a life form and develop a world where your creature could live. Download the instructions for "Inventing Life Forms" from the SETI Institute website. It’s the PDF lesson featured with our teaching guide, "How Might Life Evolve on Other Worlds?"
g Aftermath - Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/cosmos/perspectives/corbally.shtml.