Sunday, August 20, 2006

Quintuplet stars, near-Earth space radiation and ‘Life on Earth … and Elsewhere?’

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 - For the first time, scientists have identified the cluster of quintuplet stars in the Milky Way's galactic center, next to the super massive black hole, as massive binary stars nearing the end of their life cycle, solving a mystery that had dogged astronomers for more than 15 years. See
g Abodes - The Alps, the iconic rugged mountains that cover parts of seven European nations, might have reached their zenith millions of years ago, some scientists believe, and now are a mere shadow of their former selves. New research offers an explanation. See
g Life - In a study of sexually transmitted diseases, scientists have concluded that the length of time people stay together can determine which infectious diseases circulate in a community and therefore how diseases evolve multiple strains. See
g Intelligence - As we yawn and open our eyes in the morning, the brain stem sends little puffs of nitric oxide to another part of the brain, the thalamus, which then directs it elsewhere. Like a computer booting up its operating system before running more complicated programs, the nitric oxide triggers certain functions that set the stage for more complex brain operations, according to a new study. See
g Message - Here’s something neat: A site about Project Target, or the Telescope Antenna Researching Galactic Extraterrestrial Transmissions, from Hay River Radio, which boldly proclaims that such signals indeed exist! See
g Cosmicus - Four university teams will share $100 million to provide experiments and supporting hardware for a future NASA mission to study near-Earth space radiation. This type of radiation is hazardous to astronauts, orbiting satellites and aircraft flying high altitude polar routes. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom resource courtesy of NASA: “Life on Earth … and Elsewhere?” This booklet contains five classroom activities for grades 5-10 spanning topics from "Defining Life," to "Determining the Chances of Extraterrestrial Life." See http://www.erg.pdf/.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Brian Stableford’s Daedelus Series: “The Florians” (1976), “Critical Threshold” (1977), “Wildeblood's Empire” (1977), “City of the Sun” (1978), “Balance of Power” (1979) and “Paradox of the Sets” (1979). In the series, the Starship Daedelus recontacts lost colonies with biological mysteries.
g Aftermath - Scientists should pay greater attention to discussing the social implications of discovering extraterrestrial life — even though many researchers shy away from the subject because they don't consider it "hard" science. See