Sunday, August 06, 2006

Silicate particles in space, Mars’ planet-wide dust storms and estimating frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization

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 years, scientists have observed unstructured silicate particles in space, but could not pinpoint the origin of recent observation of wide presence of crystalline silicates or their role in the Milky Way Galaxy. But several scientists have successfully created nanoclusters of silicates. They were also able to predict that these particles have absorption features from the red and blue lights found throughout the galaxy, and could be the original building blocks of Earth and other planets in our solar system. See
g Abodes - The planet-wide dust storms that periodically cloak Mars in a mantle of red may be generating a snow of corrosive chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, that would be toxic to life, according to two new studies. See
g Life - Hundreds of dead or dying purple sea urchins have washed up into tide pools at a Southern California marine refuge center in recent days, but no one is certain what is killing them. See
g Intelligence - A new study by a McGill University professor of psychology shows that the capacity for empathy, previously suspected but unproven even among higher primates, is also evident in lower mammals. See
g Message - Estimating the frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization is a multi-dimensional challenge. The answer, according to two scientists at the Hungarian Astronomical Association, is less like an equation, and more like a matrix. See Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - Last-minute objections from the U.S. Government Accountability Office are not expected to derail NASA’s long-awaited selection of a Crew Exploration Vehicle prime contractor. See For related story, see “NASA Considers U.S. Science Suspension Aboard ISS” at
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Interstellar Real Estate.” The lesson examines what makes Earth the perfect home for life as we know it as students explore the orbital characteristics a planetary home needs to support Earth-like life forms. See
g Imagining - Speculation about aliens has typically been left to science fiction authors, science fiction readers and Hollywood writers and directors. But what if we apply what we have learned about life on Earth to speculate about what alien life forms might be like? Here’s a primer:
g Aftermath - Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” at Note: An mp3 player is required to play the audio files; you can download one at the site for free.