Thursday, July 20, 2006

White dwarf supernova, Earth-like features found on Titan and moon-landing anniversary

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 - On Feb. 12, skygazers spotted a nova that appeared when a faint star brightened dramatically, becoming visible to the unaided eye. The cause of the brightening was a thermonuclear explosion that blasted off a white dwarf star's outer layers while leaving the core unscathed. See
g Abodes - New radar images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed geological features similar to Earth on Xanadu, an Australia-sized, bright region on Saturn's moon Titan. See http://www.astrobio.
g Life - Biogeographers have long recognized that the spatial distribution of plant species, at a coarse resolution, mainly reflects each species’ climatic requirements. However, few studies have carefully matched maps of a species distribution with maps of climatic variables to see where climate may fail to predict a species distribution, thus suggesting other ecological factors, such as limited seed dispersal or competition with other species. See
g Intelligence - Scientists at The University of Manchester are to build a new type of computer which mimics the complex interactions within the human brain. See
g Message - The Earth is at the center of an expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation. The bubble, expanding at the speed of light, contains all of the man-made electromagnetic transmissions of the earth - radio, TV, radar, and so on. In theory, an alien civilization could receive these signals, and form their opinion about the earth by analyzing them. To most people, it is quite discouraging to think that some alien civilization would form their opinion of Earth based upon our situation comedies. Upon a slightly deeper analysis, the conventional wisdom says, “Aliens might detect our TV signals, but at least they can't form their opinion of our civilization from our TV transmissions. Decoding the transmission is so much harder than detecting it that we don't need to worry about this.” But an editor of the book “SETI 2020” argues that this view considerably underestimates the technologies that aliens might employ. By looking at likely technical improvements - better receivers and feeds, bigger antenna, signal processing, and perhaps stellar focusing, any civilization that can detect our radiations might well be able to decode it as well. Thus aliens can form their impression of Earth from “I Love Lucy.” See
g Cosmicus - 37 Years ago, two Americans stepped on the Moon. Although alone when they planted our flag, they did not claim it for themselves or even this nation, instead, they proclaimed they were there on behalf of the entire human race. Although their mission was a symbolic gesture of dominance in a Cold War that was a battle for control of Earth, our emissaries to the small grey island next door in space made it clear their triumph was not of one nation, but of our entire species. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Pin the Microbe on the Map.” In this variation of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey," students find locations on a world map that match the homes of extreme-loving microbes. Students will also give creative nicknames to real life extremophiles that summarize their characteristics and living environments. See
g Imagining - If alien lifeforms did arrive on Earth, what might they look like? Contemporary images of alien lifeforms differ significantly from previous ones. See
g Aftermath - In the last quarter of the twentieth century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See