Wednesday, August 30, 2006

High clouds of Mars, new SETI strategies and Atlantis launch date

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 - When they turned the Hubble Space Telescope on a distant globular cluster of stars, astronomers expected to find 15 or 20 planets. They found zero. See
. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Abodes - Mars is home to the highest clouds ever discovered above the surface of a planet, astronomers say. See
g Life - Piglets are sensitive to cold and shiver to maintain their body heat. Researchers at Uppsala University have uncovered a genetic reason why these newborns are less tolerant of the cold than other newborn mammals. It turns out that the gene that codes for the protein UCP1 was inactivated some 20 million years ago in the evolutionary line to which pigs belong. These findings are presented in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PLoS Genetics. See
g Intelligence - It is hardly surprising that one of the medical programs most important exams is stressful for students. However, research now shows that this mental stress also affects the students immune defense systems, particularly amongst those suffering from allergies. See
g Message - If extraterrestrials are out there, signals that would prove their existence are cascading over your body right now. Needless to say, you don’t notice. The challenge for SETI researchers is to build an instrument that will. Rising to the challenge, the SETI Institute and others are developing new search strategies and telescopes, encouraging some scientists to speculate that a signal detection will occur in the next decade or two. See
g Cosmicus - If shuttle Atlantis weathers tropical storm Ernesto without any major problems, and if engineers can complete hurried preparations, NASA may be ready to make a launch attempt as early as Sept. 6, one day before the shuttle's launch window closes, officials said late Tuesday. See
g Learning - Here’s an interesting idea for teachers: Use science fiction to teach economics. See teachingeconomist/wam10.html.
g Imagining - There are several species in the Star Trek universe that look exactly like humans. The unlikely fact that life on different planets has taken a similar, if not the same direction was sufficiently explained in The Next Generation episode "The Chase." In this key episode to the Star Trek universe, Captain Picard's crew finds evidence that four billion years ago the first human civilization explored our galaxy, and they were disappointed because they found themselves alone. To preserve their heritage, they spread encoded DNA fragments across many Class-M planets throughout the galaxy, thereby triggering a development similar to their own. Aside from the evolution schedule the DNA fragments, correctly assembled, contain a message to their descendants, namely humans, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans and all the other humanoid races of the galaxy that are in some way related to each other. As fascinating is this theory, a couple of problems remain. See
g Aftermath - Even if the public seems less than awestruck by the prospect that alien life is a bunch of microscopic bugs, astrobiologists say unequivocal discovery of microbial life beyond Earth will change human society in profound ways, some unfathomable today. See Note: This article is from 2001.