Sunday, September 17, 2006

Identifying habitable worlds, Atlantis departs space station and listening for the first interstellar phone-call from ET

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 Abodes - It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already? For clues to the answers, scientists are looking to their home planet, Earth. See
g Life - Duplicating the harsh conditions of space in their laboratory, NASA scientists have created primitive cells with membrane-like structures. These chemical compounds may have played a part in the origin of life. See
. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Intelligence - While it is widely accepted that the output of nerve cells carries information between regions of the brain, it's a big mystery how widely separated regions of the cortex involving billions of cells are linked together to coordinate complex activity. See
g Message - The SETI Institute predicts that we'll detect an extraterrestrial transmission within 20 years. If that turns out to be true, it'll probably be the folks at UC Berkeley's Hat Creek radio observatory who will have heard the call. See Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus - After flying together high above Earth for six days, shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station at 8:50 a.m. EDT this morning. With pilot Chris Ferguson at the controls, the shuttle flew a 360-degree lap around the complex for photo documentation before departing the station's vicinity. See
g Learning - There’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence at It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Richard McKenna’s short story, "Mine Own Ways”, anthologized in “Casey Agonistes” (edited by Richard McKenna and published in 1960).
g Aftermath - Astronomers are searching hard for that first interstellar phone-call from ET. But when it happens, how will we react? Will it be a major trauma for humankind, or a new beginning? See Note: This article is a few years old.