Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Orion nebula, Red Planet's potential for life and volunteers sought for 520-day mock Mars mission

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 - Astronomers have long scrutinized the vast and layered clouds of the Orion nebula, an industrious star-making factory visible to the naked eye in the sword of the famous hunter constellation. Yet, Orion is still full of secrets. A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope probes deep into the clouds of dust that permeate the nebula and its surrounding regions. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0608/14orion/.
g Abodes - In this interview, Chris McKay explains why future missions must dig deep into the ice of Mars to learn about the Red Planet's potential for life. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/mod
g Life - In the long, dark days of winter, gardeners are known to count the days until spring. Now, scientists have learned, some plants do exactly the same thing. See http://www.sciencedaily
g Intelligence - A brain protein that sustains nerve cells also regulates anxiety and alcohol consumption in rats, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago report in a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060808184435.htm.
g Message - What are the chances that an alien signal has been sent our way just at the right moment to splash upon our antennas during that brief interval? If the extraterrestrials beam their broadcasts to the whole galaxy (or at least a big chunk of it), the chances are 100 percent. See http://space.com/searchforlife/060112_shostak_transmit.html.
g Cosmicus - Russia's space agency is seeking volunteers for a 520-day mock Mars mission. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/
g Learning - There may be numerous intelligent civilizations on planets throughout our galaxy. That's the hypothesis driving SETI research. We seek evidence of extraterrestrial technology using optical and radio telescopes to search for signals that emanate from other civilized worlds. These places are far, far away. But, when discussing the search with school children, they often simply ask, "Why don't we just go there?" This can be a teachable moment. See http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_devore_distance_031204.
. Note: This article is from Dec. 2003.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Richard McKenna’s short story, "Mine Own Ways”, anthologized in “Casey Agonistes” (edited by Richard McKenna and published in 1960).
g Aftermath - If, as “The X-Files'” Fox Mulder might say, "The truth is out there," then the researchers running the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program are likely to be the first ones to find it. On the other hand, there are numerous people who believe they've already been in contact with aliens. National Geographic's video ”Phantom Quest: The Search for Extraterrestrials” studies the claims of both groups, ultimately seeking to reveal precisely what an encounter with beings from another planet could mean for humanity. See http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue128/cool.html.