Thursday, August 31, 2006

Proof of dark matter, Earth spinning on its side and why E.T. can’t phone home

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 - New observations of a great big cosmic collision provide the best evidence yet that invisible and mysterious dark matter really does exist. See
g Abodes - Earth might have spun on its side to keep its balance in the distant past, and could do so again, scientists report. See
g Life - Researchers have learned that the removal of just one important species in a freshwater ecosystem can seriously disrupt how that environment functions. This finding contradicts earlier notions that other species can jump in and compensate for the loss. See
g Intelligence - Scientists have discovered a gene that has undergone accelerated evolutionary change in humans and is active during a critical stage in brain development. Although researchers have yet to determine the precise function of the gene, the evidence suggests that it may play a role in the development of the cerebral cortex and may even help explain the dramatic expansion of this part of the brain during human evolution. See
g Message - Would anyone deliberately beam high-powered signals into space? Can we assume that extraterrestrial societies would broadcast in ways that would mark their location as plainly as a flag on a golf green? See
g Cosmicus - A U.S.-Canadian venture to develop suborbital and orbital rocket ships has found a new launch site along the Atlantic coastline of Nova Scotia. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat lesson plan, “E.T. Can’t Phone Home,” that teaches some basic principles of astronomy:
g Imagining - For a fascinating speculation about how one’s environment (in this case, astronomical surroundings) affects a race’s psychological evolution, be sure to read the classic short story “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov. Most science fiction fans consider it among the best — if not the best — science fiction story ever written. In this story, where the aliens’ planet is in a six-star system, the world’s inhabitants believe that life “is fundamentally dependent upon light.” You can find the story in “the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. One.”
g Aftermath - Clearly, if we are not alone in the universe, there are some unavoidable theological and philosophical consequences. We feel that the problem of extraterrestrial life is one of the most important questions raised in science to the present. We should reflect on the consequences of a positive result of either finding extraterrestrial microorganisms, or receiving a radio message form an extraterrestrial source: When such discovery occurs, the implications are likely to have an impact on our culture requiring adjustments possibly more radical than those arising form the evidence that humans descend from microorganisms. See Note: This paper is from 1999.