Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gamma ray bursts, Titan’s stones and life’s ingredients in interstellar dust clouds

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 - NASA scientists and engineers have completed final testing and integration of the GLAST Burst Monitor, a space-based instrument for studying gamma ray bursts. Scientists think these bursts originate in the collapse of massive stars up to 100 times that of our sun, a process that eventually forms a black hole in space and poses unanswered questions to scientists on Earth. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0608/07glast/.
g Abodes - An unexpected radio reflection from the surface of Titan has allowed ESA scientists to deduce the average size of stones and pebbles close to the Huygens landing site. The technique could be used on other lander missions to analyze planetary surfaces for free. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload
g Life - A two-year survey of enormous interstellar dust clouds has turned up eight organic molecules in two different regions of space. One is a stellar nursery awash in light while the other is a cold, starless void. The finding, detailed in the current issue of Astrophysical Journal, supports other recent studies suggesting molecules important for life commonly form in the gas and dust clouds that condense to form stars and planets. See http://www.
g Intelligence - The great apes are the smartest of all nonhuman primates, with orangutans and chimpanzees consistently besting monkeys and lemurs on a variety of intelligence tests, Duke University Medical Center researchers have found. See http://www.
g Message - Interstellar transmissions via energy-markers (photons) or matter-markers (probes) appear to be energetically indistinguishable alternatives for advanced technical societies. Since only Type II and Type III civilizations realistically can afford beacons or star probe technology, alternative distinguishability criteria suggest the possible superiority of intelligent artifacts for contact and communication missions among extraterrestrial cultures. A balanced, more cost-effective Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence strategy is needed. See http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/InterstellarProbesJBIS1980.htm.
g Cosmicus - The proliferation of garbage in low Earth orbit has reached a point where it will increase in the coming decades even if all rocket launches were canceled starting now, according to research by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. See http://www.space.com/spacenews/060731_businessmonday.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Moons of Jupiter.” In this lesson plan, students build model rovers to learn about engineering and evidence of alien life. See http://www.adlerplanet/
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Lisanne Norman’s novel “Turning Point,” published by DAW in 1993.
g Aftermath - Book alert: Award-winning author Paul Davies, an eminent scientist who writes like a science fiction novelist, explores the ramifications of successful contact with alien life in his fascinating book, "Are We Alone? Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life." "The discovery of a single extraterrestrial microbe," he writes, "would drastically alter our world view and change our society as profoundly as the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. It could truly be described as the greatest scientific discovery of all time." Though a decade old, the book still is a great read. See http://www.innovationwatch.com/books/bks_0465004180.htm.