Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pre-life molecules in comets, reconstructing a 530-million-year-old gene and SETI protocols

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 process similar to a conveyor belt transports heavy elements from the surface of stars into their interiors where they are destroyed, new observations suggest. See
g Abodes - Evidence of atomic nitrogen in interstellar gas clouds suggests that pre-life molecules may be present in comets, a discovery that gives a clue about the early conditions that gave rise to life, according to researchers from the University of Michigan and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. See http://www.
g Life - It's not Jurassic Park, but scientists have reconstructed a 530-million-year-old gene by piecing together key portions of two modern genes descended from it. See
g Intelligence - Is a pound of stones heavier than a pound of feathers? Of course they both weigh the same, but the decisions people make are remarkably susceptible to how choices are presented or framed. Now scientists are pinning down the centers in the brain related to how this "framing effect" can influence decision-making. The findings could have a big impact on economics, among other things. See
g Message - While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See
g Cosmicus - Physicist James A. Van Allen, a leader in space exploration who discovered the radiation belts surrounding the Earth that now bear his name, died Wednesday. He was 91. see
g Learning - What are university students learning about astrobiology? Check out "An Introduction to Astrobiology." Compiled by a team of experts, this textbook has been designed for elementary university courses in astrobiology. It begins with an examination of how life may have arisen on Earth and then reviews the evidence for possible life on Mars, Europa and Titan. The potential for life in exoplanetary systems and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence are also discussed. The text contains numerous useful learning features such as boxed summaries, student exercises with full solutions, and a glossary of terms. It is also supported by a Web site hosting further teaching materials. Written in an accessible style that avoids complex mathematics, this book is suitable for self-study and will appeal to amateur enthusiasts as well as undergraduate students. It contains numerous helpful learning features such as boxed summaries, student exercises with full solutions, and a glossary of terms. The book is also supported by a Website hosting further teaching materials. See http://www.sci
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Mary Doria Russell’s novel, “The Sparrow,” published by Villard in 1996.
g Aftermath - Scientists such as the SETI Institute’s John Billingham and Jill Tarter have taken the lead in planning for the day we might receive a signal from life beyond Earth. Working with diplomats and space lawyers, they have helped develop protocols that guide the activities of SETI scientists who think they may have detected extraterrestrial intelligence. See Note: This story is a couple of years old.