Friday, September 01, 2006

Universe’s earliest galaxies, protein communication code and Voyagers’ golden record

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 discovered large disc galaxies akin to our Milky Way that must have formed on a rapid time scale, only 3 billion years after the Big Bang. See
g Abodes - Ancient sediments that once resided on a lake bed and the ocean floor show sulfur isotope ratios unlike those found in other samples from the same time, calling into question accepted ideas about when the Earth's atmosphere began to contain oxygen, according to researchers from the U.S., Canada and Japan. See
g Life - A biologist is attempting to crack the communication code of proteins, especially the ones whose "talking" aids and abets disease. See
g Intelligence - Skeletal remains said to be that of a new "hobbit" species in 2004 do not represent a new species as then claimed, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today, according to an international scientific team. See
g Message - When the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977, they each included a gold-plated phonograph record (a "golden record") of natural sounds, greetings in human voices, and a variety of music. The record cover has symbolic instructions that show how to use and understand the record, though scientists still debate whether other civilizations will be able to decipher them. For info on Voyager’s golden record, see For an explanation of the record cover diagram, see For an interactive module that contains greetings, sounds, and pictures included on the record (requires Flash plug-in), see
g Cosmicus - Bigelow Aerospace is preparing for a "major course change" after a wildly successful first month in orbit for the maiden test flight of their prototype inflatable space module, the company's founder said. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of lessons about “Life in the Universe” that teaches kids some basic astronomical facts and mathematical skills along the way:
g Imagining - Looking for some classic science fiction alien movies? There’s a fairly exhaustive list, with brief explanations of each, at Now in how each one the aliens really are just mythical monsters that play on human psychology (specifically fear or revulsion). Such films really say less about the evolution of potential extraterrestrial lifeforms and civilizations than about the evolution of human beings and our culture. In fact, here’s an essay that examines a specific detail of that notion: “An Exploration of the Relationship Between Science Fiction Film and the UFO Mythology,” at
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing paper published just last month and translated from German for “Futurological Reflections on the Confrontation of Mankind with an Extraterrestrial Civilization.” See