Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Crashing into the lunar surface, detectable extraterrestrial civilizations and private trips to International Space Station

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 - New observations of galaxies reveal perplexing concentrations in certain directions, astronomers say. See http://
g Abodes - A pioneering space probe has set a course for a dramatic end to its three-year mission in September, when it will collide with the Moon in a spectacular send-off for scientists to learn new information about the lunar surface. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0607/24smart1/.
g Life - Which came first, nucleic acids or proteins? This question is molecular biology's version of the "chicken-or-the-egg" riddle. Genes made of nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) contain the instructions for making proteins, but enzymes made of proteins are needed to replicate genes. For those who try to understand how life originated, this once seemed an intractable paradox. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060721201006.htm.
g Intelligence - Researchers have made a major leap forward in understanding how the brain programs innate behavior. The discovery could have future applications in engineering new behaviors in animals and intelligent robots. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060728103827.htm.
g Message - What technological manifestations would make an advanced extraterrestrial civilization detectable? See http://www.coseti.org/lemarch1.htm. Note: This paper was written in 1992.
g Cosmicus - It may be the pinnacle of travel perks, but the only firm arranging private trips to the International Space Station is now offering a bonus spacewalk for clients willing to pay for more than a standard $20 million trip. See http://www.space.com/includes/iab.html?url=/news/060721_spacetourist_eva.html.
g Learning - How are key concepts of astrobiology treated in science fiction? See http://www.ibiblio.org/astrobiology/index.phppage=lesson05. Note: This article is from 2001 and intended to be used as part of a classroom lesson.
g Imagining - In this interview, Chris McKay talks about the potential for other kinds of life in the universe, and how we could begin to look for those aliens. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop
g Aftermath - Astronomers are searching hard for that first interstellar phone-call from ET. But when it happens, how will we react? Will it be a major trauma for humankind, or a new beginning? See http://www.firstscience.com/site/articles/shostak.asp. Note: This article is a few years old.