Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes, men behaving like dogs and lessons from a Martian rock

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 - A survey of galaxies observed along the sightlines to quasars and gamma-ray bursts - both extremely luminous, distant objects - has revealed a puzzling inconsistency. Galaxies appear to be four times more common in the direction of gamma-ray bursts than in the direction of quasars. See
g Abodes - The Cassini spacecraft, using its radar system, has discovered very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan's north pole. See For related story, see “Titan's Methane Cycle” at
g Life - Cacti have can be found in rain forests and as far north as Canada. But it is their ability to thrive in the desert, where rain falls infrequently and unpredictably that is their most remarkable trait. How do they do it? See
g Intelligence - A male dog will whine and beg in deference to a stronger dog, but will lower its voice into a guttural growl if it thinks it has a fighting chance. Men unconsciously do a similar thing, scientists say. See
g Message - When looking for ET, we may have to consider other strategies beyond radio waves. See As a side note, one of those strategies might by looking for optical signals; see
for more.
g Cosmicus - The Genesis-1 module orbiting the Earth not only transmits its temperature, integrity, power levels and overall health—it also signals entrepreneurial zeal and private sector spunk. See For related stories, see “Lockheed finishes 5th modernized GPS satellite” at and “Indian rocket launch ends in failure soon after liftoff” at
g Learning - Good news for the next generation: Opponents of evolution have lost in the Kansas primary. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Fritz Leiber’s “The Wanderer,” published by Ballantine in 1964.
g Aftermath - Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See