Friday, July 21, 2006

Venus’ cool clouds, language emergence and Martian probe swarms

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 Abodes - Earth's twin, Venus, offers life as we know it few safe places on its faint red-glowing surface, which is hot enough to melt lead. But higher in the clouds, small amounts of water and strange ultraviolet absorbers make for a balmy 107 F abode. The Principal Investigator for NASA's Planetary Atmospheres and Venus Data Analysis Program speculates about what might surprise Venusian explorers. See
g Life - Scientists have discovered that parasites are surprisingly important in food webs. According to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, parasites may be the thread that holds the structure of ecological communities together. See
g Intelligence - New research findings from the world's largest study predicting children's late language emergence has revealed that parents are not to blame for late talking toddlers. See
g Message - The 37th annual Mutual UFO Network symposium is being held this weekend in Denver, attracting throngs of believers, the downright curious—as well as upright skeptics and debunkers. See
g Cosmicus - MIT engineers and scientist colleagues have a new vision for the future of Mars exploration: a swarm of probes, each the size of a baseball, spreading out across the planet in every direction. See
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
g Imagining - Science fiction authors produce a lot of very strange critters. In the desperate dash to be different, many go way overboard to invent fantastic, outlandish species unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It’s an admirable expression of their artistic abilities, but there’s an inherent problem: they almost always lose the reader along the way. Sure, it sounds ultra-cool to have a whole herd of 80-foot quasi-limbed orb-stasis beings, but unless you draw me a picture of these things, the reader often has no idea what you’re talking about. However, if you write that your alien has four wings, 10 eyes and looks a little like a kangaroo, the reader is right there with you. Most readers need at least something familiar to draw on for their imagination, or they get lost. See
g Aftermath - In a cross-cultural study conducted several years ago, to scientists looked at the attitudes of college students towards the possibility that extraterrestrial life might exist, and if it does, what it might be like for people to learn that it exists. See Note: This article is from 2002.