Saturday, July 29, 2006

Black hole census, cosmic dust ruled out as suspect and nature’s delta-wing design

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; Career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here’s today’s news:
g Stars - Scientists on a quest to find hidden black holes in the local universe have found surprisingly few. The observation implies that if these hidden black holes exist they must be from the more distant, earlier universe, a concept that has interesting implications for galaxy evolution. See
g Abodes - About 40,000 tons of space dust showers down on Earth each year. And it's been coming down at a steady rate for the past 30,000 years, according to a new study that suggests cosmic dust couldn't have helped end the last glacial period as some scientists have argued. See
g Life - The triangular delta-wing shape found on many modern fighter jets was used by a small reptile to glide between trees 225 million years ago, a new study suggests. See http://www.livescience
g Intelligence - When contemplating the coos and screams of a fellow member of its species, the rhesus monkey, or macaque, makes use of brain regions that correspond to the two principal language centers in the human brain, according to research. See
g Message - Here’s a neat interactive Web game where you analyze a signal from space, jut as would a SETI astronomer: See http://mystery.sonomaedu/alien_bandstand/.
g Cosmicus - Frenchman Michel Fournier is readying himself and equipment to attempt a record-setting free fall from the stratosphere. See
g Learning - Here’s an interesting classroom activity: “Who Can Live Here?” Students explore the limits of life on Earth to extend their beliefs about life to include its possibility on other worlds. See
g Imagining - Here’s a cool Web site: The Exorarium. At the Exorarium, visitors get a chance to mix and match the same ingredients that brought about human life, shaping their own unique intelligent life forms. For example, you might start with a hot or cool star, a heavy or light planet, one with lots of water or a desert world, and so on – until a unique ecosystem takes shape before your eyes … a family tree leading to the ultimate outcome, a species of intelligent life. See
g Aftermath - The issue of stability of conditions prevailing on (at least potentially) habitable planets throughout the galaxy is the central question of the nascent science of astrobiology. We are lucky enough to live in an epoch of great astronomical discoveries, the most distinguished probably being the discovery of dozens of planets orbiting nearby stars. This particular discovery brings about a profound change in our thinking about the universe, and prompts further questions on thefrequency of Earth-like habitats elsewhere in the galaxy. In a sense, it answers a question posed since antiquity: are there other, potentially inhabited or inhabitable, worlds in the vastness of space? In asking that question, obviously, we take into account our properties as intelligent observers, as well as physical, chemical, and other pre-conditions necessary for our existence. The latter are the topic of the so-called anthropic principle(s), the subject of much debate and controversy in cosmology, fundamental physics, and philosophy of science. See