Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Venus Express, jellyfish explosion and planet-hunting spacecraft cuts

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 - A long observation with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed important new details of a neutron star that is spewing out a wake of high-energy particles as it races through space. The deduced location of the neutron star on the edge of a supernova remnant, and the peculiar orientation of the neutron star wake, pose mysteries that remain unresolved. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060601212933.htm.
g Abodes - On April 20, after its first 9-day, elongated orbit around Venus, ESA’s Venus Express started to get closer to the planet, until it reached its final 24-hour long orbit on May 7. During this time, and up to today, the spacecraft has been working relentlessly: the new data coming in are already providing first glimpses on planetary features never seen before. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060713081453.htm.
g Life - By sampling sea life in a heavily fished region off the coast of Namibia, researchers have found that jellyfish have actually overtaken fish in terms of the biomass they contribute to this ocean region. The findings represent a careful quantitative analysis of what's been called a "jellyfish explosion" after intense fishing in the area in the last few decades. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060711091411.htm.
g Intelligence - A study of people who suffer late-onset depression, defined as first emerging at age 60, showed that they did poorly on tests of executive function — that's the brain's ability to plan and control thoughts and actions. See http://www.livescience.com/human
g Message - A pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has warned that for any intelligent aliens trying to search for us, "the Earth is going to disappear" very soon. Frank Drake's point, made at a SETI workshop at Harvard University, is that television services are increasingly being delivered by technologies that do not leak radio frequencies into space. But he added that in some ways the observation is good news for SETI, as it means that the failure of Earth-based observers to detect aliens so far may be less worrisome than it would otherwise seem. See http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/viewnews.php?id=20078. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus - With NASA deciding to press ahead with the SOFIA airborne astronomy observatory, another mission — an expensive planet-hunting spacecraft in development for more than a decade — is being scaled back to a mere technology-development program. See http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/060710_business_monday.
g Learning - One of the most frequently cited problems facing those who build and rely on space systems is a receding pool of engineering talent, a function of declining interest among young people in math and science. See http://www.space.com/spacenews/businessmonday_060717.html.
g Imagining - Here’s a neat Web site that examines the life cycle of the Alien — the extraterrestrial from said movie: http://www.brian-oshaughnessy.com/alien/life.html. It’s a little light on evolutionary speculation and discussing plausibility, but the life cycle is thoroughly described.
g Aftermath - How to predict reactions to receipt of evidence for an otherworldly intelligence? Some scientists argue that any unpredictable outcomes can only be judged against our own history. See http://seti.astrobio.net/news/article118.html.