Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dark matter in hiding, methane-consuming microbes and SETV

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 - Scientists don't know what dark matter is, but they know it's all over the universe. Everything humans observe in the heavens‹galaxies, stars, planets and the rest‹makes up only 4 percent of the universe, scientists say. The remaining 96 percent is composed of dark matter and its even more mysterious sibling, dark energy. Scientists recently found direct evidence that dark matter exists by studying a distant galaxy cluster and observing different types of motion in luminous versus dark matter. Still, no one knows what dark matter is made of. Now, a pioneering international project co-led by Stanford physicist Blast Cabrera may finally crack the case and pin down the elusive particles that form dark matter. See article.
g Life - The limits to life have consistently listed carbon-based organisms as central. While methane-consuming microbes are still carbon-based, they do offer novel ways to extract energy even without light or oxygen. Their role in our solar system is a subject of fruitful speculation. See
. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Message - Modern exobiology and astrobiology studies now being sponsored by NASA, with participation by other nations and academia, are doing more than just ponder the probabilities of extraterrestrial life. Technological and human resources are being invested in remote-sensing efforts like the Terrestrial Planet Finder and robotic probe missions to search, in-situ, for clear signs of ET life on Mars, Europa and other promising solar system bodies. To further enhance and broaden the search for ETI, it’s now time to invest in methods, such as SETV, which search for clear evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence locally to aid in proving we are not alone in the universe. See
g Learning - Over and over again, science teachers at a recent convention remarked that their students are always asking about SETI and astronomy. Kids have a keen interest in astronomy, space sciences, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. What's out there? Are we alone? Ironically, this interest is not uniformly reflected in the state science education standards across the USA and these state standards drive textbook content. See Note: This article is from April 2003.
g Imagining - Among the earliest Star Trek alien races that were exact duplicates of homo sapiens were the Beta III humanoids (for picture, see
and click on “Spock and Kirk fire”; look for orange robed man). But the chance of extraterrestrials looking exactly like us is nil. Why? See for the answer. A note here: The Beta III humanoids show up fairly late in Star Trek’s very first season; until that episode, the series was quite conscious of at least making humanoid aliens different in shape and color — or at least producing an excuse, such as the aliens “assumed” human form for some nefarious purpose. With this race, however, exact duplication of Homo sapiens becomes commonplace in the show.
g Aftermath - The next big discovery in science will be the proof that alien life exists — and it could come any day now. See