Friday, December 22, 2006

Red Planet’s geology, Star Trek’s Kaylar and negative scenarios of first contact

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 Abodes - Mars is showing scientists its older, craggier face buried beneath the surface, thanks to a pioneering sounding radar aboard Mars Express. The new data is revealing a great deal about the geological history of the Red Planet. See article.
g Message - There’s a nice summary of various astrobiological authors on the Fermi Paradox, or the question of why, if there supposedly are so many aliens, we haven’t met any of them yet, at
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Alien Safari.” New from NASA PlanetQuest, Alien Safari can be used in your classrooms or informal education settings to help kids discover some of the most extreme organisms on our planet, and find out what they are telling astrobiologists about the search for life beyond Earth. See
g Imagining - Could the Kaylar (see and click on “Kaylar on Rigel VII”), a Star Trek alien from “The Original Series’ pilot episode, “The Cage,” exist? Like the Gorn, this alien appears to be drawn from our nightmares and hence serves a more dramatic effect than offering any speculation on exobiology. A tall humanoid with intriguing jaw features, skinny legs and broad shoulders, the Kaylar on Rigel VII is reminiscent of a barbarian warrior or an ogre. Brushing aside the nearly impossible parallel evolution between Earth and the Kaylar’s home world for such a creature to come about, there are a couple of possible ways that it could have gained its great height and skinny legs. Its planet might have lighter gravity, which means an indigent alien wouldn’t fall as hard as we do on Earth; hence the supporting legs would not need to be as strong to hold up a little more weight than the typical human. In addition, we might speculate that as a humanoid, the Kaylar shared a similar primate evolution as humans, so possibly the savannah grass of its continental cradle simply was taller than on the African plain during the past few million years; that would have given taller proto-Kaylar an evolutionary advantage. Still, the Kaylar appears to be an unlikely alien.
g Aftermath - The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence is accelerating its pace and adopting fresh strategies. This increases the likelihood of successful detection in the near future. Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence will trigger extraordinary attention from the media, from government authorities, and from the general public. By improving our readiness for contact, especially for security during the first 30 days, we can avoid the most negative scenarios — and also enhance humanity's benefits from this first contact with an alien intelligence. Six potential problem areas include communicating with the media and the public, communicating with scientific colleagues, government control, an assassin or saboteur, well-meaning officials and lawsuits. See article.

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