Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Calcium on lunar surface, smallsats and ‘Are We Alone?”

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 heavy form of hydrogen created just moments after the Big Bang has been found to exist in larger quantities than expected in the Milky Way, a finding that could radically alter theories about star and galaxy formation, says a new international study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder. See
g Abodes - The D-CIXS instrument on ESA's Moon mission SMART-1 has produced the first detection from orbit of calcium on the lunar surface. By doing this, the instrument has taken a step towards answering the old question: did the Moon form from part of the Earth? See
g Life - Descendants of extinct mammals like the giant woolly mammoth might one day walk the Earth again. It isn't exactly Jurassic Park, but Japanese researchers are looking at the possibility of using sperm from frozen animals to inseminate living relatives. So far they've succeeded with mice—some frozen as long as 15 years—and lead researcher Atsuo Ogura says he would like to try experiments in larger animals. See
g Intelligence - Research on spineless creatures is unveiling the mechanics of how the brain regulates behavior. See http://www.
g Message - The search for extraterrestrial intelligence could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilizations. See
g Cosmicus - The building and exploitation of small satellites makes possible a diverse set of missions to satisfy academic, scientific, military and commercial needs. However, the U.S. community that develops small satellites — or smallsats — faces a perennial shortcoming of reliable, low-cost launchers — a long-term situation that stymies smallsat evolution and wider adoption of the technology. See
g Learning - Researchers have found that using multi-sensory training programs, a research technique that engages more than one of the senses, helps adults improve their performance of low-level perceptual tasks - such as visually detecting the motion of an object - significantly faster than methods that use only one stimulus. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s “The Mote In God's Eye,” published by Simon & Shuster in 1974.
g Aftermath - Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, writes Paul Davies in “Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject. See http://