Sunday, September 03, 2006

Formation of new stars, estimating frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization and spacecraft crashes into Moon

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 - Supermassive black holes in some giant galaxies create such a hostile environment, they shut down the formation of new stars, according to NASA Galaxy Evolution Explorer findings published in the new issue of Nature. See
g Abodes - Ancient sediments that once resided on a lake bed and the ocean floor show sulfur isotope ratios unlike those found in other samples from the same time, calling into question accepted ideas about when the Earth's atmosphere began to contain oxygen, according to researchers from the U.S., Canada and Japan. See
g Life - Whether it's a blowout argument or a dinner-table disagreement, a spat with your lover can be trying. Humans have of course devised ways of making up, including tight hugs and the customary apology flowers. Killer whales have their own tricks for mending relations, a new study finds. Rather than a bouquet, however, they might opt for an intimate swim. See
g Intelligence - Neurobiologists have known that a novel environment sparks exploration and learning, but very little is known about whether the brain really prefers novelty as such. Rather, the major "novelty center" of the brain - called the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area - might be activated by the unexpectedness of a stimulus, the emotional arousal it causes, or the need to respond behaviorally. The SN/VTA exerts a major influence on learning because it is functionally linked to both the hippocampus, which is the brain's learning center, and the amygdala, the center for processing emotional information. 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 September 2003.
g Cosmicus - The European Space Agency's Smart-1 mission ended this morning. Its final lunar resting place is located at 46.2º West longitude and 34.4º South latitude. Appropriately for such a successful mission, this area of the Moon is known as the 'Lake of Excellence'. During its 3-year lifespan, Europe's first mission to the Moon advanced both lunar science and the technology that underpins it. See
g Learning - Evolution is fact, not “religion” or “theory” as understood in the vernacular sense of the word. Unfortunately, when obstructing science education in our schools, “intelligent” designers and creationists like to falsely claim that no evidence exists to show evolution is fact. For a variety of excellent papers outlining the case for evolution, see
g Imagining - Will Star Trek’s carbon-based life forms be the norm for alien chemistry? See Note: This article is from last spring.g Aftermath – Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s Aftermath feature about how SETI is using the social sciences to decipher our thoughts on alien life. See
g Aftermath - If some day we detect a radio signal from a distant civilization, we’ll have to make some adjustments in the way we view ourselves. After millennia of knowing of no other intelligence in the universe than humankind, we could face a considerable challenge to our terrestrial egotism. In the process, will we simply gain a little healthy humility about our place in the universe? Or would it be downright humiliating to compare our own meager accomplishments with those of more advanced extraterrestrials? See Note: This article is from November 2000.