Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Milky Way’s formation, Titan’s ethane snow and mystery object

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 - The Milky Way might not have formed through the merger of several smaller galaxies as previously thought, but by some other unknown process, a new study suggests. See http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060918_galactic_bulge.html.
g Abodes - Cassini has detected what appears to be a massive ethane cloud surrounding Titan's north pole. The cloud might be snowing ethane snowflakes into methane lakes below. The cloud may be the clue needed in solving a puzzle that has confounded scientists who so far have seen little evidence of a veil of ethane clouds and surface liquids originally thought extensive enough to cover the entire surface of Titan with a 300-meter-deep ocean. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/cassini/060914titancloud.html. For related story, see “Ethane Flakes Into Methane Lakes.”
g Life - They may be tiny, but Argentine ants can kick some ant butt. This invasive species has nearly wiped out native ants in California. Now scientists have discovered a way to turn one of the ants' strongest weapons into a weakness. By altering the identifying chemicals coating the ants' bodies, researchers turned typical cooperative behavior into an ant-family feud. See http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/060914_ant_fight.html.
g Intelligence - Itchy skin fires up nerves and drives sufferers to scratch themselves raw, some even in their sleep. But the mechanisms behind aggravating itches are not entirely understood, and a new finding makes the whole problem seem even more complex. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060918_mm_itch.html.
g Message - We’ve all heard of SETI, bit what about METI — “Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” or sending both scientific and artistic messages to the stars? See http://lnfm1.sai.msu.ru/SETI/koi/articles/METIArt.htm.
g Cosmicus - Flight controllers have asked the crew of Atlantis to leave the shuttle's television and computer network activated while they investigate a mystery object seen floating alongside the shuttle. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts115/060919mysteryobject/.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Arthur C Clarke’s short story, "Before Eden," published in June 1961’s Amazing.