Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Does universe have an edge, astrobiology returning to Mars and analyzing a signal from space

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 - Does the universe have an edge? See
g Abodes - At the Viking 30th anniversary celebration, Noel Hinners pushed for a Mars Sample Return mission. "The science imperative for Mars Sample Return is equally compelling to what Viking was looking for," said Hinners, "and in many ways associated with some of the same goals related to life." See
g Life - New research published by Rice University biologists in this week's issue of Nature finds that even the simplest of social creatures - single-celled amoebae - have the ability not only to recognize their own family members but also to selectively discriminate in favor of them. See
g Intelligence - Humans have more copies of a possibly important brain gene in their genomes than other apes, a new study finds. See
g Message - Here’s a neat interactive Web game where you analyze a signal from space, just as would a SETI astronomer:
g Cosmicus - NASA managers late Wednesday ruled out an attempt to launch the shuttle Atlantis Thursday but held open the possibility of a last-ditch Friday launching if engineers can resolve a problem with one of the ship's three electrical generators before time runs out. See
g Learning - This module, from the Japan Science and Technology Corporation, provides excellent background to the search for life in the universe, for kids. There is information about all the planets in the solar system and possibilities for life beyond, as well as descriptions of spacecraft and signals that originate from Earth (requires Flash plug-in). See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Marc Bilgrey’s "Random Acts," in the anthology “First Contact,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff (published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, says Paul Davies in “Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject.