Monday, September 25, 2006

Our galaxy’s birth, Saturn’s new ring and Earth’s tallest living thing

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 - Looking in detail at the composition of stars with ESO's VLT, astronomers are providing a fresh look at the history of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. They reveal that the central part of our Galaxy formed not only very quickly but also independently of the rest. See
g Abodes - Saturn sports a new ring in an image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft last Sunday during a one-of-a-kind observation. Other spectacular sights captured by Cassini's cameras include wispy fingers of icy material stretching out tens of thousands of kilometers from the active moon, Enceladus, and a cameo color appearance by planet Earth. See
g Life - A redwood in a remote Northern California coastal forest has been tentatively measured as the world's tallest living thing. See
g Intelligence - Columbia University Medical Center researchers have identified an emotional control circuit in the human brain which keeps emotionally intense stimuli from interfering with mental functioning. These results significantly enhance our understanding of the neurobiology underlying psychiatric disorders involving emotional control, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. See
g Message - The universe is a noisy place, filled with the hiss and crackle of stars being born and dying. There is little escape from this cosmic din, except in one small region of the radio dial — the microwave band. Here, only the faint whimper of the Big Bang breaks the silence, making it a “really good place to communicate,” according to Dan Werthimer of Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, perched close to the stars atop Grizzly Peak. See http://www.alum
. Note: This article is from 2000.
g Cosmicus - When the gates open on the X Prize Cup next month at the Las Cruces International Airport, New Mexico, visitors will get a first-hand feel for a new type of super-slick speedster—the rocket racer. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom lesson for middle school students that examines why we should explore our solar system. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Ivan Yefremov’s novel "Cor Serpentis (Serdtse Zmei)" ("Heart of the Serpent"), published in 1959.
g Aftermath - The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence is accelerating its pace and adopting fresh strategies. This increases the likelihood of successful detection in the near future. Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence will trigger extraordinary attention from the media, from government authorities, and from the general public. By improving our readiness for contact, especially for security during the first 30 days, we can avoid the most negative scenarios — and also enhance humanity's benefits from this first contact with an alien intelligence. Six potential problem areas include communicating with the media and the public, communicating with scientific colleagues, government control, an assassin or saboteur, well-meaning officials and lawsuits. See