Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Primordial form of hydrogen, how Earth got its Moon and plasma-based life

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 - The true abundance in the Milky Way of a heavy, primordial form of hydrogen has eluded scientists for decades, but it turns out that huge quantities of it have been hidden in the dust that is scattered between stars. See http://www.space.com/scienceastron
g Abodes - The mystery of how Earth got its Moon is one step closer to being solved. The European Space Agency's lunar-orbiting craft called SMART-1 has completed the first detailed chemical mapping of the lunar surface. The detected chemicals, such as calcium and magnesium, give a boost to the longstanding theory that the Moon formed from the debris flung into space after a collision between early Earth and a Mars-size planet. See http://www.space.com/
g Life - As a leopard kitten matures into a prowling adult, its baby spots morph into more commanding rosette markings. Now scientists think they have uncovered the mechanism behind the transformation. See http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/060808_leopard_spots.html.
g Intelligence - Researchers report they have mapped the activity of whole ensembles of neurons in multiple feeding-related brain areas across a full cycle of hunger-satiety-hunger. Their findings, open the way to understanding how these ensembles of neurons integrate to form a sort of distributed "code" that governs the motivation that drives organisms to satisfy their hunger. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060819112326.htm.
g Message - How scientifically accurate was the ultimate astrobiology film, “Contact”? See http://www.coseti.org/klaescnt.htm.
g Cosmicus - NASA announced Friday that it has picked El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Rocketplane Kistler of Oklahoma City to share $500 million the U.S. space agency intends to spend through 2010 to stimulate the development of new commercial delivery services for the International Space Station. See http://www.space.com/news/060818_nasa_cots_wrap.html.
g Learning - Here’s a great educational tool for teaching astrobiology and various principles of science: COTI. COTI is an educational experiment in creation — students design an integrated world, alien life form and culture, and simulate contact with a future human society. One team constructs a solar system, a world and its ecology, an alien life form and its culture, basing each step on the previous one and utilizing the principles of science as a guide to imagination. The other team designs a future human colony, planetary or spacefaring, "creating and evolving" its culture as an exercise in cultural structure, dynamics and adaptation. Through a structured system of progressive revelation, the teams then simulate — and experience — contact between the two cultures in real time, exploring the problems and possibilities involved in inter-cultural encounters. See http://www.contact-conference.com/archive/educoti.html.
g Imagining - You’ve heard of carbon-based and silicon-based lifeforms in science fiction. But what about plasma-based life? Is it plausible? See http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/P/plasma-based_life.html.
g Aftermath - How would proof of extraterrestrial intelligence affect humanity’s “world” view? Astronomer Steve Dick discusses the matter in this transcribed Smithsonian Institute lecture, from 1999, at http://www.sil.si.edu/silpublications/dibner-library-lectures/extraterrestrial-life/etcopy-kr.htm.