Saturday, September 16, 2006

Double pulsar, expedition to Europa via the Canadian High Arctic and laser communication

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 - An international research team led by Prof. Michael Kramer of the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK, has used three years of observations of the "double pulsar", a unique pair of natural stellar clocks which they discovered in 2003, to prove that Einstein's theory of general relativity - the theory of gravity that displaced Newton's - is correct to within a staggering 0.05 percent. See
g Abodes - This summer, a science team set out on a two-week expedition of Earth's own little version of Jupiter's moon Europa - the Borup Fiord Pass at Ellesmere Island, a place hidden high above the rest of the world in the Canadian High Arctic. See http://www.astro
g Life - How do some microorganisms manage to exist and even thrive in surroundings ranging from Antarctica to boiling hot springs? See
g Intelligence - Neanderthals might have endured thousands of years longer than previous thought, increasing the possibility they interbred with humans. See
g Message - While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See
g Cosmicus - United States entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari has been training for six months to get away from it all. Unlike most tourists, she won't be sporting a camera around her neck, and come Monday she won't need a boarding pass to get on her flight. See For related story, see “Veteran credits rookies with saving the day” at
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “The Rare Earth.” How special are the circumstances that have allowed complex life, like animals and plants, to develop on Earth? In this activity, students systematically investigate the time frame for complex life to develop on Earth. See
g Imagining - For anyone who has watched the recent incarnations of Star Trek, one question must present itself: do the majority of alien beings in the cosmos really just look like Earthlings, only with bonier faces or pointier ears? Is that it? Because, aside from the occasional intangible space entity, most “way-out” life forms are remarkably similar to us. Even the weirder images of the little green (or grey) aliens in popular culture are pretty unimaginative. Two arms? Check. Two legs? Check. A head, some eyes, an upright posture? Yes, please. This is not the cutting edge of science fiction, more our own narcissistic reflection dropping in via spacecraft. Surely we can aspire to thinking something a little more& alien? See http://www.
g Aftermath - With humanity now on the verge of being capable to leave its home world, Earth, scientists have begun to wrestle with the consequences of this next great journey; of the social impact humanity will have upon discovering life elsewhere, be it fossil, bacterial or an intelligent civilization. See
. Note: This article is from 1999.