Monday, September 11, 2006

Black hole census, Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and imagining a creature that evolved in a chlorine-nitrogen atmosphere

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 - Astronomers using the European Space Agency's orbiting gamma-ray observatory, Integral, have taken an important step towards estimating how many black holes there are in the Universe. See
g Abodes - A violent collision with a space rock, like the one that doomed the dinosaurs, may have also caused our planet's greatest mass extinction 250 million years ago. See http://www.astrobio.
. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Life - A species of ant native to Central and South America is entering the annals of extreme animal movement, boasting jaws arguably more impressive than such noteworthy contenders as the great white shark and the spotted hyena. See
g Intelligence - Archeologists say a prehistoric skeleton and campsite discovered on the muddy shore of Lake Travis could be between 700 and 2,000 years old. See http://www.livescience.
g Message - What are our friends south of the equator doing in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? After all, the Northern Hemisphere only covers half of the galaxy. See
g Cosmicus - NASA Administrator Mike Griffin does not mince words when he calls the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services demonstration effort a gamble, albeit one with the potential to pay off big time if the entrepreneurial sector delivers. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Planets in a Bottle.” The lesson plan involves yeast experiments intended for 2nd through 4th grade students. See http://science
g Imagining - Here’s a neat short story about alien biochemistry: “Black Destroyer” by A.E. van Vogt. It examines a creature that evolved in a chlorine-nitrogen atmosphere. It’s available in “First Flight,” an anthology edited by Damon Knight that you’ll probably have to scour used-book stores for.
g Aftermath - Would ET vote? What effect will ET’s political philosophy have on ours once contact is made? See It’s an older piece but well worth the read.