Thursday, September 07, 2006

Star formation rate, chemical signatures of alien life and the anthropic principle

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 - Astronomers have combined hundreds of thousands of Spitzer Space Telescope images into a map of the whole Large Magellanic Cloud. They see features throughout the galaxy in such sharp detail that they can count newly formed stars, determine how much dust old stars are pumping into the galaxy and, for the first time, to sensitively map the rate at which stars are forming across an entire galaxy. See
g Abodes - Advanced space telescopes might soon probe far-off worlds for the chemical signatures of alien life. See http://www.astrobio.
. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Life - Researchers at the University of Michigan and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic have uncovered two previously unknown roles for water in RNA enzymes, molecules which themselves play critical roles in living cells. See http://www.astrobio.
g Intelligence - Using information theory, researchers have show that power in monkey society emerges through consensus. See
g Message - About 31 years ago, humanity sent its first and only deliberate radio message to extraterrestrials. Nobody has called back yet, but that's OK - we weren't really expecting an answer. See Note: This article is from 1999.
g Cosmicus - It has been a long, hard drive on Mars for NASA's Opportunity rover. Wheeling across the open, parking lot-like dune fields of Meridiani Planum, the robot is nearing a major milestone: rolling up to "Victoria", a crater that is roughly half a mile (750 meters) wide and 230 feet (70 meters) deep. See http://www.

g Learning - Here’s an interesting classroom activity: “Who Can Live Here?” Students explore the limits of life on Earth to extend their beliefs about life to include its possibility on other worlds. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Poul Anderson’s novel “The Enemy Stars” (published by Lippincott in 1959).
g Aftermath - The issue of stability of conditions prevailing on (at least potentially) habitable planets throughout the Galaxy is the central question of the nascent science of astrobiology. We are lucky enough to live in an epoch of great astronomical discoveries, the most distinguished probably being the discovery of dozens of planets orbiting nearby stars. This particular discovery brings about a profound change in our thinking about the universe, and prompts further questions on thefrequency of Earth-like habitats elsewhere in the galaxy. In a sense, it answers a question posed since antiquity: are there other, potentially inhabited or inhabitable, worlds in the vastness of space? In asking that question, obviously, we take into account our properties as intelligent observers, as well as physical, chemical and other pre-conditions necessary for our existence. The latter are the topic of the so-called anthropic principle(s), the subject of much debate and controversy in cosmology, fundamental physics, and philosophy of science. See