Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Star’s death throes, prehistoric bird meals and choosing right targets for SETI scrutiny

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 - Earlier this year, astronomers witnessed for the first time the final death throes of an aged and collapsing star as it spewed high-energy light beams into space before exploding as a supernova. See http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060830_grb_supernova.html.
g Abodes - ESA's Cluster mission has established that high-speed flows of electrified gas, known as bursty bulk flows, in the Earth's magnetic field are the carriers of decisive amounts of mass, energy and magnetic perturbation towards the Earth during magnetic substorms. When substorms occur, energetic particles strike our atmosphere, causing aurorae to shine. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060824222120.htm.
g Life - When space shuttle Atlantis next rockets into space, it will take along three kinds of microbes so scientists can study how their genetic responses and their ability to cause disease change. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&name=News
g Intelligence - A new study suggests that prehistoric birds of prey made meals out of some of our earliest human ancestors. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060830005634.htm.
g Message - In the search for life on other worlds, scientists can listen for radio transmissions from stellar neighborhoods where intelligent civilizations might lurk or they can try to actually spot planets like our own in habitable zones around nearby stars. Either approach is tricky and relies on choosing the right targets for scrutiny out of the many thousands of nearby stars in our galactic neighborhood. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/article1884.html.
g Cosmicus - NASA managers Monday agreed to make three consecutive attempts to get the shuttle Atlantis off the ground if bad weather or technical problems prevent an on-time liftoff Wednesday. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts115/060904threetries/.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “The Rare Earth.” In this activity students systematically investigate the time frame for complex life to develop on Earth. See http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/
g Imagining - Speculation about aliens has typically been left to science fiction authors, science fiction readers and Hollywood writers and directors. But what if we apply what we have learned about life on Earth to speculate about what alien life forms might be like? Here’s a primer: http://science.howstuffworks.com/alien-physiology.htm.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate this article’s title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See http://web.