Friday, August 18, 2006

Redefining planets, SETI 2020 and Voyager I

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 - NASA could soon watch the Sun's violent behavior when the star's magnetic field becomes unstable shooting plasma and high-energy particles deep into space. See
g Abodes - A new "scientific and simple" proposal to define the word "planet" will be released Wednesday and astronomers will vote on it next week. It is not clear whether the definition will settle a long-running debate on the status of Pluto, however. See
g Life - Fossils of a new hoofed mammal that resembles a cross between a dog and a hare which once roamed the Andes Mountains in southern Bolivia around 13 million years ago has been discovered by scientists. See
g Intelligence - Pictures of brain waves that reveal our ability to see color could provide a new objective way to diagnose and monitor diseases that affect human color perception. See
g Message - Book alert: If you are interested in how researchers plan to search the heavens for signs of intelligent life, you should have “SETI 2020” on your bookshelf. Written by Ronald D. Ekers (editor), D. Kent Cullers and John Billingham, “SETI 2020: is a remarkably comprehensive study of how scientists busy with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should direct their efforts between now and the year 2020. Distilling the work of dozens of top SETI experts, astronomers and technology mavens, this book gives an overview of the problem of finding evidence for extraterrestrial technologies, and how to best address it. New radio telescopes consisting of large arrays of relatively small antennas are proposed and detailed. So are new types of antennas that can survey the entire sky at once. Of particular interest is the extensive treatment of optical SETI — the search for signals beamed our way using high-powered, pulsed lasers or their equivalent. A book that's interesting for both the layman and the technically sophisticated, “SETI 2020” is the definitive publication in this fascinating field. For more reviews, see qid=1114304424/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2/002-3047561-6697665.
g Cosmicus - Voyager 1, already the most distant human-made object in the cosmos, reached 100 astronomical units from the sun on Aug. 15 at 2:13 p.m. Pacific time. That means the spacecraft, which launched nearly three decades ago, is 100 times more distant from the sun than Earth is. See
g Learning - There are some great teacher resources on space biology at The modules cover such topics as “Life in the Universe,” “Radiation Biology” and “Life in Space Environments.” Each module includes an introduction, readings and references, teaching resources and research and applications.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for the late Poul Anderson’s “The Byworlder” (1971), which examines metazoans, linked cilia and radial lifeforms.
g Aftermath - If we find other civilizations, what will we say to them? Crafting a message that represents Earth and humanity and can be understood by another life form is no minor endeavor. SETI Institute psychologist Douglas Vakoch has been charged with this formidable task, and has enlisted the help of mathematicians, artists, astronomers and anthropologists. Hear the messages he helped compose and learn about the thinking behind them at