Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Protoworlds slowing infant star, computer simulations for Earth-like planets and ‘Star Trek’ biology

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 - Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have found evidence that dusty disks of planet-forming material tug on and slow down the young, whirling stars they surround. See
g Abodes - The steady discovery of giant planets orbiting stars other than our sun has heightened speculation that there could be Earth-type worlds in nearby planetary systems capable of sustaining life. Now researchers running computer simulations for four nearby systems that contain giant planets about the size of Jupiter have found one that could have formed an Earth-like planet with the right conditions to support life. See
g Life - A new study finds that invasive cane toads are using roads to hasten their spread across the continent. The toads take shelter overnight close to the open corridors, then hit the road each evening to continue on their destructive way. See
g Intelligence - An evolutionary arms race between early snakes and mammals triggered the development of improved vision and large brains in primates, a radical new theory suggests. See http://www.
g Message - Interstellar transmissions via energy-markers (photons) or matter-markers (probes) appear to be energetically indistinguishable alternatives for advanced technical societies. Since only Type II and Type III civilizations realistically can afford beacons or star probe technology, alternative distinguishability criteria suggest the possible superiority of intelligent artifacts for contact and communication missions among extraterrestrial cultures. A balanced, more cost-effective Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence strategy is needed. See
g Cosmicus - With Discovery back on Earth, NASA is confident the orbiter can be turned around in time for a December 2006 launch, though ground crews have their work cut out for them to redress the orbiter for that STS-116 mission. See
. For additional story, see “NASA Readies Space Station Trusses for Next Shuttle Launch” at
g Learning - Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation, according to a University of Michigan psychologist. See
g Imagining - Book alert: Browse the local used bookstores for this volume, which examined the scientific plausibility of many alien creatures in “Star Trek”: “To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek.” Published about four years ago, Athena Andreadis' book makes a good read, boosted by her background as a molecular biologist and neurosurgeon. There’s a review of the book at
g Aftermath - How will an alien visit influence the world’s religions? Here’s one common man’s view at