Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Planetary building blocks, METI and suborbital tourism

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 - By linking a trio of telescopes, astronomers have obtained unprecedented detail of old red giant stars. The stars had an unexplained patchy brightness that could be caused by orbiting planets. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=
g Abodes - Scientists are getting their best understanding yet of the makeup of comets - not only of the materials inside these planetary building blocks, but also of the way they could have formed around the Sun in the solar system's earliest years. See http://www.astrobio
g Life - The secret weapon of bacteria - the way they get a foothold in plants to launch an invasion - is less of a secret, according to research published by Michigan State University scientists. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060714103143.htm.
g Intelligence - Is it just coincidence that Bobby Bonds and his son Barry both made baseball history with their all-star power and speed? Or that Francis Ford Coppola and daughter Sofia rose to fame as award winning film directors? Questions like these have long plagued psychologists, geneticists and philosophers. Coined nature versus nurture, it is one of the great mysteries of the mind, and much research has focused on the relative role of genes and the environment in determining everything from athleticism to personality to a person's predisposition to obesity.
See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060718_
g Message - We’ve all heard of SETI, bit what about METI — “Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” or sending both scientific and artistic messages to the stars? See http://lnfm1.sai.msu.ru/SETI/koi/articles/METIArt.htm.
g Cosmicus - Virgin Galactic, a Virgin Group company, has sold some 200 tickets to passengers for suborbital flights, starting in 2008. See http://www.space.com/news/ap_060718_virgin_update.html.
g Learning - Here’s a good Web site that gives an general overview of astrobiology for kids: “Astrocentral.” See http://www.astrocentral.co.uk/lifeindex.html.
g Imagining - Book alert: "Extraterrestrials, Where Are They?" by Ben Zuckerman and Michael H. Hart (ed.) offers a critical analysis by leading experts in a range of sciences, of the plausibility that other intelligent life forms do exists. Exploration of the solar system, and observations with telescopes that probe deep space, have come up empty-handed in searches for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Many experts in the fields of astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics now argue that the evidence points to the conclusion that technological civilizations are rare. After 10 billion years and among hundreds of billions of stars, we may well possess the most advanced brains in the Milky Way. This second edition elucidates many new aspects of research on extraterrestrial intelligence life, specifically biological considerations of the question. For more reviews, see http://www.amazings.com/sbb/reviews/review0051.html.
g Aftermath - Scientists such as the SETI Institute’s John Billingham and Jill Tarter have taken the lead in planning for the day we might receive a signal from life beyond Earth. Working with diplomats and space lawyers, they have helped develop protocols that guide the activities of SETI scientists who think they may have detected extraterrestrial intelligence. See http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_protocols_010228.html. Note: This story is a couple of years old.