Saturday, September 30, 2006

Planet formation, Europa explored and droids explore Meteor Crater

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 - With the VISIR instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have mapped the disc around a star more massive than the Sun. The very extended and flared disc most likely contains enough gas and dust to spawn planets. It appears as a precursor of debris discs such as the one around Vega-like stars and thus provides the rare opportunity to witness the conditions prevailing prior to or during planet formation. See
g Abodes - Jupiter’s moon Europa was revealed by the Galileo spacecraft, and previous missions, to be a fascinating ice-covered world with some of the best prospects for the presence of liquid water beyond Earth. Results from various instruments on the Galileo spacecraft revealed the presence of a surface layer approximately 100 km thick with the density of water or water ice. These results also suggest that while the top 10 km or so are likely frozen solid, the majority of this water could exist in a liquid form beneath an icy crust. Coupled with the likely presence of the chemical building blocks of life, and a variety of possible energy sources ranging from tidal heating from Jupiter’s gravity to radiative processing of the surface, Europa has emerged as one of the top Solar System locations in terms of potential habitability. See For related story, see “Pluto-bound New Horizons craft snaps image of Jupiter” at
g Life - In just a few generations, the male crickets on Kauai underwent a drastic genetic change that rendered them incapable of belting out courtship songs, according to a new study. See
g Message - During the early 1980s, David Brin offered an explanation for Fermi’s Paradox, which asked why if extraterrestrial life existed it wasn’t on Earth. Brin’s answer: The Zoo Hypothesis. Here’s a copy of that groundbreaking paper, “The 'Great Silence': The Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Life “ at
g Cosmicus - Arizona tourists may have thought they'd stumbled upon a science fiction movie set if they found themselves near the state's famed Meteor Crater in early September. Though they didn't get a glimpse of R2D2 or C3PO, they did see robots, rovers and space-suited subjects with the latest interplanetary gear trekking over some of the state's harshest topography. See http://www.