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 http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.
phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=1344
. 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 www.interstellar-probes.org/SETI/JBIS-SETV1.pdf.
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 http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_devore_astro_030403.html. 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 http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/library
/media/TOS.htmlcategory=&show=season=1context=5.5.2template
=cda.library.media.
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 http://library.thinkquest.org/C003763/index.php?page=exobio09 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 http://www.firstscience.com/site/articles/couper.asp.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Microbial life where no life was imagined before, ‘Is Anybody Out There?’ and social impact of discovering life elsewhere

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 - Are there places on Earth devoid of life? One of the most barren spots on the planet is above the tree line, where glaciers strip the land of nutrients and life. But enough dissolved organics may flow in melting streams to point to microbial life where no life was previously imagined. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Learning - Here’s a great book for fourth- through sixth-grade kids: “Is Anybody Out There?” by Heather Couper, Nigel Henbest and Luciano Corbella. Of the book, one reviewer wrote: “Does intelligent life exist beyond our planet? This visually exciting examination looks at both the myth and the science related to the question. The authors, both British science writers, describe what alien lifeforms might look like, how we might communicate with them, and the impact the discovery of extrasolar planets has had on the development of scientific equipment. The book is organized into 17 appealing photo-spreads, comprising color photographs, detailed captions and boxed insets that contain information about a scientist or about a historic scientific event, or suggested activities for would-be scientists. The inclusion of a "count the alien civilizations" foldout board game is a bonus.” See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0789427982/103-6007180-8832626?v=glance.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Robert L. Dragon's "Egg" (1980), which describes life on a neutron star.
g Aftermath - With humanity now on the verge of being capable to leave its home world, Earth, scientists have begun to wrestle with the consequences of this next great journey; of the social impact humanity will have upon discovering life elsewhere, be it fossil, bacterial or an intelligent civilization. See http://www.space
.com/searchforlife/astro_biology_991119.html
searchforlife/astro_bio
logy_991119.html
. Note: This article is from 1999.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Microbes in frigid lakes, teaching old rovers new tricks and contact’s affect on humanity

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 - With the help of enormous computer simulations, astronomers have now shown that the first generation of stars - which have never been observed by scientists - should be distributed evenly throughout our galaxy, deepening the long-standing mystery about these missing stellar ancestors. The results are published in the Astrophysical Journal. See article.
g Life - Life manages to hang on pretty much anywhere on Earth where there's liquid water. Ice-covered lakes in Antarctica are no exception. But to study the microbes that hang out down under the ice, researchers have to do some risky diving. Dale Andersen is a pioneer of the technique. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/mod
ules.phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=1349
. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Message - It has become somewhat accepted that an extrasolar contact could be interpreted as a good “artificial” signal if it arose from certain branches of mathematics. If another galactic civilization decided to reach us, they would send a beacon of bleeps akin to the digits of “pi” or only prime numbers, because they would realize that no natural process could mimic them. Renowned author and MacArthur “genius” award winner, Stephen Wolfram, argues for a new kind of science, and argues that the line between “artificial” and “natural” signals is not nearly so clear as first supposed. See http://www.astrobionet/news/article860.html. Note: This article is from March 2004.
g Cosmicus - NASA's twin Mars rovers, nearing the third anniversary of their landings, are getting smarter as they get older. See http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0612/29marsrovers/.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site to introduce kids who go ga-ga over movie aliens to the science of astrobiology: http://www.river
deep.net/current/2002/03/031802_extraterrestrials.jhtml
.
g Imagining - England's Astronomer Royal says he believes aliens could exist, possibly as balloon-like creatures floating in dense atmospheres. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2016535.stm2016535.stm.
g Aftermath - What would be the affect on humanity following contact with alien life? Portions of a Brookings Institute report offer some insights. See http://www.humanunderground.com/Brookings.html for either the entire report or the relevant excerpts.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tracking asteroids, searching for life ‘as we don’t know it’ and ‘Transfigurations’

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 - They are the celestial equivalent of sonograms. But their hazy outlines and ghostly features do not document the in-vivo development of a future taxpayer. Instead, they chronicle the explanatory comings-and-goings of some of Earth's least known, most nomadic, and at times most impact neighbors. See article.
g Message - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last March, Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life. In the final part of this seven-part series, Astrobiology Magazine’s Henry Boatman asks how we should search for life “as we don’t know it.” See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&
name=News&file=article&sid=2190
.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Life on the Edge.” The lesson plans examine the question, “Is there life on other planets in our solar system? No one knows, but if there is it's probably a microorganism that thrives in extreme environments. Students will follow a dog sled team to a high mountain peak, make "Planets in a Bottle," and learn more about nature's extremophiles. See http://www.thursdaysclassroom.com/index_09sep99.html.
g Imagining - Like stories about communicating with aliens? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Michael Bishop’s "Transfigurations" (1979), in which ET converses by changing colors.
g Aftermath - What are the theological implications of a universe willed with many intelligent beings from many other worlds? See http://www.metanexus.net/metanexus_online/show_article.asp?2649.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Planet-hunting satellite, microbial environments and ‘Wow!’ signal

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 - A small European satellite began its mission Wednesday to peer into the blinding light of nearby stars in an attempt to discover the first rocky planets outside our solar system. See article.
g Life - Scientists have identified an astonishing diversity of microbes living in the air we breathe, expanding our knowledge of the environments in which Earth's most prolific organisms can grow and survive. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.ph
pop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2188
.
g Message - Veteran "Wow!" signal hunter Robert Gray recently turned south in his efforts to track down the elusive signal. In collaboration with the University of Tasmania, Gray used the 26-meter dish in Hobart, Tasmania, to record radio signals from the "Wow!" location for long hours at a time. See what they found at http://www.planetary.org/html/news/articlearchive/headlines/2002/ Wow2.html. Note: This article is from October 2002.
g Learning - Here’s a great resource for middle school science teachers: “Life on Other Planets in the Solar System.” See http://www.resa.net/nasa/xlife_intro.htm.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology/cultures? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Rebecca Ore’s “Becoming Alien” (1988) and “Being Alien” (1989), which chronicle the adventures of the first Earth cadet in the galactic space corps.
g Aftermath - What if, one day, Earth was contacted by an extraterrestrial civilization? How, as a planet, would we respond to their offer to interact? What if they asked, “Do you have a method in place, or even a policy that outlines how Earth will proceed now that contact has happened?” Here’s an organization that we believes we need in place legal protocol and has proposed the “Extraterrestrial Contact Act.” See http://www.contactact.org/index.htm.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Evolution of multicellular life, postbiological life and exopsychology

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 - Researchers have uncovered new data about how changes in the past environment of Earth may have encouraged the evolution of multicellular life. See article.
g Message - Postbiological life might operate (communicate, organize, travel, colonize) on a larger scale than a single galaxy—possibly on the scale of the supercluster. The most advanced postbiological civilizations in our Local Supercluster may have developed in the Virgo Cluster, a rich cluster where intergalactic communication and travel would be easiest. If these advanced civilizations wanted to contact new civilizations elsewhere in the Supercluster they might collectively broadcast from one central location, for the sake of efficiency and to make it easy to find. A powerful, centrally located beacon would tend to replace all others in the Supercluster. This could explain the failure of SETI. The most likely location for this beacon is the giant elliptical galaxy M87. See http://www.contactincontext.org/cic/v2i1/m87.pdf.
g Learning - An excellent collection of books about SETI, including some for elementary and middle school children, appears online at http://www.space.com/searchforlife/sharing_seti_devore_041209.
html
. These would make some great gifts.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Lisanne Norman’s novel “Turning Point,” published by DAW in 1993.
g Aftermath - The next social science to be created might be "exopsychology" — the study of behavior, attitudes, personalities and thoughts of alien beings. Although necessarily speculative, exopsychology might eventually be a critical link between humans and aliens. In the meantime, such a study could also provide the additional benefit of informing us about earthbound prejudices. See http://www.parentsurf.com/p/articles/mi_m1175/is_n2_v22/ai_63
06697.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Life on Titan, no contact for at least 15 years and how first contact would affect our future views

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 Life - Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life at the Astrobiology Science Conference last March. In part six of this seven-part series, panelists discuss questions such as whether viruses are alive, and if there could be life on Saturn’s moon Titan. See article.
g Message - Stelio Montebugnoli, the director of the radiotelescope installations at Medicina (close to Bologna, Italy), predicts we probably won’t make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization for at least 15 more years. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “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 http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/ExtremeEnviron
ment/Extreme.htm
.
g Imagining - Book alert: Get thee to a used bookstore if you haven’t read “Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek,” by Susan and Robert Jenkins. The Jenkinses focus on the biological logic (or illogic) behind the alien ecologies in Star Trek — the original TV series and all of its sequels and movie spinoffs. The best parts are the biological bloopers, even though only a fan will truly appreciate them. For instance, how did the Klingons evolve forehead ridges between the original and the new series ... and why do all the planets look like California? The science in the book helps the authors hypothesize about how humanoid life might have evolved throughout the universe (panspermia revisited). They offer simple evolutionary theories to explain the various head shapes and behaviors of fictional alien species. See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060
929243/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/104-1152114-8738327
.
g Aftermath - As we begin the new millennium, large elements of both the scientific and lay communities are sensitive to the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere. Whereas it is sensible to be cautious as to when unmistakable evidence of ETI will be acquired, some searchers expect this discovery to occur in the near future. From the perspective of our descendants 1,000 years hence, initial contact will be part of history and their attention will be directed somewhere else. At that time, any difficulties or dislocations that occurred during first contact will be long past. Interacting with other civilizations will be no more unusual than interacting with human colonies that will be sprinkled throughout our solar system. A thousand years from now people will be quite different than they are today. Human interaction with ETI could account for only some of these differences. See http://66.102.7.104/search?q=cache:WWP5W8vC1zYJ:www.bigelowaerospace.com/fff-galactic-club.doc+consequences+of+contacting+%22extraterrestrial+intelligence%22&hl=en&start=5.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nitrogen-rich organic molecules in samples of cometary dust, ‘Introduction to Exobiology’ and ‘In Cosmic Company’

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 - Scientists have identified nitrogen-rich organic molecules in samples of cometary dust from the Stardust spacecraft. The result indicates that comets could have delivered these important molecules to the early Earth at a time when life was first emerging. See article.
g Message - A recent study suggests it is more energy efficient to communicate across interstellar space by sending physical material — a sort of message in a bottle — than beams of electromagnetic radiation. Solid matter can hold more information and journey farther than radio waves, which disperse as they travel. See http://www.winlab.rutgers.edu/~crose/press/natgeog_lovgren.html.
g Learning - Looking for an overview of the astrobiological field? Try "Introduction to Exobiology" (http://www.chem.duke.edu/~jds/
cruise_
chem/Exobiology/), which explores the field from a lay perspective and includes a self-test. It's part of the Cruising Chemistry project at Duke.
g Imagining - Book alert: You’ve got to read “Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series),” by Stanley Schmidt. Whether you're a writer or a reader of science fiction, this how-to guide provides thought-provoking analyses of the ways in which aliens and alien societies can be portrayed convincingly. It's as fascinating as the many classic SF texts it examines. See http://ibs.howstuffworks.com/ibs/orl/framed.htmparent=http:
//ibs.howstuffworks.com/ibs/orl/alienphysiology5.htm&url
=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0898797063/how
stuffworks
for reviews.
g Aftermath - Book alert: In their November 2003 book "In Cosmic Company: The Search for Life in the Universe," authors Seth Shostak and Alex Barnett ponder the possibility of alien life and the consequences of receiving a signal from the cosmos. They explain why scientists think sentient life might exist on other worlds, how we could discover it and what it might be like. Entertaining and informative, this hard cover book is lavishly illustrated. See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail//0521822335/qid=
1089658746/sr=81/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/10399937686
867868?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
for reviews.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

How planets form around red dwarfs, ‘Brave New Biosphere’ and ‘Phantom Quest’

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 - A recent study brings new insight into how planets form around red dwarfs, the most populous stars in the Milky Way galaxy. See article.
g Message - For more than 80 years, we’ve been sending radio (and eventually television) transmissions into space, allowing anyone in space to hear war reports from London, “I Love Lucy” reruns and our latest election results. So wouldn’t hearing aliens be as simple as turning on the radio? Here’s why not: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20041206/alienmessage.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat primer (for kids) to understanding extremophiles and how an understanding of them affects astrobiology: “Brave New Biosphere.” See http://whyfiles.org/022critters/index.html.
g Imagining - Could the Pak of Larry Niven's "Ringworld" universe possibly evolve? They've got a homepage to discuss that and other questions about the intriguing fiction alien race. See http://www1.tip.nl/~t619162/pak.htm.
g Aftermath - If, as “The X-Files'” Fox Mulder might say, "The truth is out there," then the researchers running the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program are likely to be the first ones to find it. On the other hand, there are numerous people who believe they've already been in contact with aliens. National Geographic's video ”Phantom Quest: The Search for Extraterrestrials” studies the claims of both groups, ultimately seeking to reveal precisely what an encounter with beings from another planet could mean for humanity. See http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue128/cool.html.

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 http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/7049/fermi.htm.
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 http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/AlienSafari_launch_page.html.
g Imagining - Could the Kaylar (see http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/library/media/TOS.html 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.

Get your SF book manuscript edited

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Machine vs. biological intelligence among aliens, aliens living on the Sun and guidelines for discovery of non-intelligent extraterrestrial life

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 Message - SETI scientists speculate on whether or not the first extraterrestrial intelligence they contact will be machine intelligence or biological intelligence. See article. Note: This article is from 2000.
g Learning - There’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence at http://ethel.as.arizona.edu/~collins/astro/subjects/ceti.html. It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds.
g Imagining - Could fictional aliens ever live on the Sun? See http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/explore/faq/misc.html#FIC
TIONAL_CHARACTER
.
g Aftermath - While formal principles have been adopted for the eventuality of detecting intelligent life in our galaxy, no such guidelines exist for the discovery of non-intelligent extraterrestrial life within the solar system. Current scientifically based planetary protection policies for solar system exploration address how to undertake exploration, but do not provide clear guidance on what to do if and when life is detected. Considering that Martian life could be detected under several different robotic and human exploration scenarios in the coming decades, it is appropriate to anticipate how detection of non-intelligent, microbial life could impact future exploration missions and activities, especially on Mars. See http://www.seti.org/atf/cf/{B0D4BC0E-D59B-4CD0-9E79-113953A58644}/m_race_guidelines.pdf.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

‘Can We Make Contact with Extraterrestrial Intelligence?’, limits of life on Earth and alien contact’s affect on religion

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 Message - Although the title of “Aliens: Can We Make Contact with Extraterrestrial Intelligence?” by Andrew J. H. Clark and David H. Clark, may conjure up visions of “The X-Files,” this sensible book has more affinity with the movie “Contact.” Above all, it is a plea for continued support of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, presently conducted as the privately funded Project Phoenix due to the withdrawal of government backing. Although readers of other major books on this subject, such as the classic “Are We Alone?” by Paul Davies or the more recent “Probability One,” will be familiar with much of the material here, this is a solid primer for those new to the actual science involved in current efforts to find ETI. Read reviews.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: 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 http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/ExtremeEnvironment/Extreme.
htm
.
g Imagining - Coming to more recent times, modern literature, through the genre of science fiction, abounds in speculation on life in the universe. Incorporating known science into its fabric, science fiction, by invoking alien worlds and alien beings, attempts to extrapolate to unknown science by defamiliarizing the conventional assumptions we make about our environment and ourselves. It tries to make us see the consequences of where our science is leading us, to speculate on the destiny of mankind. Darwin’s theory of evolution, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics provide fertile ground on which to allow the seeds of imagination to grow. See http://www.physics.hku.hk/~tboyce/sfseti/05scifi.html.
g Aftermath - Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” at http://www.seti.org/site/apps/nl/newsletter2.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=289154. Note: An mp3 player is required to play the audio files; you can download one at the site for free.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Glow of universe’s first objects, Titan’s mountains and recognizing an alien intelligence

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 - New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope strongly suggest that infrared light detected in a prior study originated from clumps of the very first objects of the universe. The recent data indicate this patchy light is splattered across the entire sky and comes from clusters of bright, monstrous objects more than 13 billion light-years away. See article.
g Abodes - NASA has released images of mountains on Titan that are coated with layers of organic material and blanketed by clouds. The images reveal a number of additional geological features, including dunes and material that resembles a volcanic flow. See http://www.
astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&name=News&file
=article&sid=2180
.
g Message - Most people see the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence as a project for merely listening for signals from other stars, but Yvan Dutil and Stephane Dumas from the Defence Research Establishment Valcartier in Canada had other ideas in mind when they composed a message recently sent to the stars. See http://www.ibiblio.org/astrobiology/print.php?page=interview01.
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of classroom activities: Life On Other Planets in the Solar System. It examines the possibility of life on other planets in our own solar system and what form that life might take. Designed as a curriculum resource for middle and high school students. See http://www.resa.net/nasa/.
g Imagining - Here’s a neat Web page that asks “What are our chances of actually recognizing an alien intelligence for what it is?” What if ET does not say "Take me to your leader" from an obviously technologically superior spaceship? Will we know if it’s intelligent? It draws in part upon Stanley Weinbaum's famous short story, "A Martian Odyssey.” See http://www.sff.net/people/mmolvray/exobio/recog.htm.
g Aftermath - If we find other civilizations, what will we say to them? Crafting a message that represents Earth and humanity and can be understood by another life form is no minor endeavor. SETI Institute psychologist Douglas Vakoch has been charged with this formidable task, and has enlisted the help of mathematicians, artists, astronomers and anthropologists. Hear the messages he helped compose and learn about the thinking behind them at http://www.exploratorium.edu/origins/arecibo/tools/vakoch.html.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Clues for life elsewhere, creating icy deep-space comets and announce the historic receipt of an alien signal

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 - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last March, Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life. Using Peter Ward’s book “Life As We Do Not Know It” as a launching pad, the participants debated everything from how to define “life” to what kind of strange aliens we can expect to find in our explorations. In part four of this seven-part series, Pascale Ehrenfreund peeks into the heart of the universe to find clues for life elsewhere. See article.
g Abodes - Contrary to a popular scientific notion, there was enough mixing in the early solar system to transport material from the sun's sizzling neighborhood and deposit it in icy deep-space comets. It might have been like a gentle eddy in a stream or more like an artillery blast, but evidence from the Stardust mission shows that material from the sun's vicinity traveled to the edge of the solar system, beyond Pluto, as the planets were born. See http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0612/18stardust/.
g Message - Searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are about to expand into new realms, thanks to new advances in technology — and new thinking. See http://skyandtelescope.com/resources/seti/article_249_1.asp.
g Learning - What is an astrobiologist, and can you become one? See http://www.astrobiology.com/how.to.html.
g Imagining - Designing aliens and alien cultures is easy. It can even be profitable. Look at ET or the barroom scene in “Star Wars.” Nothing to it. Tack some funny appendages on a basically human form, paint the creature an unusual but not unappealing color, and go. Simple, right? Designing aliens and their cultures rigorously, though, building their worlds according to scientific rules, carefully and logically extrapolating extraterrestrial evolution and cultural development, creating an alien species that is believable and self-consistent, that's a different matter. That's hard. See http://www.
findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1430/is_n1_v15/ai_12697467
. Note: This article is from 1992.
g Aftermath - What would an intelligent signal from another planet change about human destiny? This large question is the topic of the book “The SETI Factor,” by Frank White, who also analyzes how to announce such an historic finding and whether it would unite or divide nations. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/article646.html. Note: This article is from 2003.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Martian climate cycles, SETA and establishing a constructive dialogue between humanity and ETI

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 - The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is revealing layers of ice-rich deposits near the poles of Mars that can tell us about the planet's recent climate cycles. Data about the Martian climate can yield clues about whether or not life could have once survived on the red planet. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology and cultures? Then be sure to read Robert Silverberg’s “Downward to the Earth” (1970), in which a colonial administrator tries to do justice to alien culture.
g Aftermath - Here’s a fascinating idea: A group of serious scientists, writers, military leaders and others discussing how to establish a constructive dialogue between humanity and ETI, once contact is made. See article.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New model for Enceladus, alternatives to SETI and crafting a representative message to aliens

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 - Last year, the Cassini spacecraft discovered plumes of gas, water vapor and ice particles erupting from Saturn's moon Enceladus. At first, scientists thought it might indicate liquid water below the icy moon's surface, but now researchers have proposed an alternative model. See article.
g Message - On an episode of “The Space Show” last year, Scot Stride, a senior engineer at NASA JPL in Pasadena, Calif., was the guest for this Space Show program. Stride discussed SETI programs with us and highlighted his discussion with the SETI alternatives, SETV (Search for ET Visitation) and S3ETI (Solar System SETI). Stride provided listeners with a superb background and history on SETI, how it started and how it became what it is today. He also discussed the Allen Telescope Array and what it will mean for future SETI efforts. To hear a copy of the show, see http://thespaceshow.com/detail.aspq=359.
g Learning - Book alert for children: In "Looking for Life in the Universe," author Ellen Jackson and photographer Nic Bishop introduce readers to astrobiologist Jill Tarter and her thrilling, rigorous and awe-inspiring work in the field of SETI. Look for it at your local bookstore.
g Aftermath - If we find other civilizations, what will we say to them? Crafting a message that represents Earth and humanity and can be understood by another life form is no minor endeavor. SETI Institute psychologist Douglas Vakoch has been charged with this formidable task, and has enlisted the help of mathematicians, artists, astronomers and anthropologists. Hear the messages he helped compose and learn about the thinking behind them at http://www.exploratorium.edu/origins/arecibo/tools/vakoch.html.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Philosophical aspects of the search for alien life, verification of potential alien signals and why E.T. can’t phone home

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 Life - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last March, Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life. Using Peter Ward’s book, “Life As We Do Not Know It” as a launching pad, the participants debated everything from how to define “life” to what kind of strange aliens we can expect to find in our explorations. In part three of this seven-part series, Pam Conrad touches on the practical aspects of searching for life, while Carol Cleland takes a more philosophical approach. See article.
g Message - Most SETI programs scan the sky looking for strong radio signals. Any signals that are deemed interesting are put on a list for follow-up observations weeks, months — even years later. Long delays in verification of potential ET signals sometimes generate tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating, stories. See article. Note: This article is from March 2003.
g Learning - Here’s a neat lesson plan, “E.T. Can’t Phone Home,” that teaches some basic principles of astronomy: http://www.scpub.org/filelibrary/pdf/etact.pdf.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read David Brin’s short story "Fortitude." It appeared in the January 1996 issue of Science Fiction Age magazine.
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 http://ieti.org/articles/security.htm.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Secret lives of archaea, tools to search for extraterrestrial life and that space alien is just your mom

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 Life - From hot springs to rice farms, scientists reveal new insights into the secret lives of archaea. Certain archaea can inhabit some of the harshest environments on Earth and provide insights into how life might survive on other planets. See article.
g Message - Looking for life elsewhere is a tough task for human or robot. The good news is that the scientific skill and tools to search for, detect and inspect extraterrestrial life are advancing rapidly. See http://www.space.com/searchforlife/lifesigns_spots_020103.html.
g Cosmicus - Researchers have developed an advanced robot that can adapt when damaged or when its environment changes. The technology could prove useful on future space exploration missions. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&
name=News&file=article&sid=2174
.
g Learning - An excellent collection of books about SETI, including some for elementary and middle school children, appears online at http://www.space.com/searchforlife/sharing_seti_devore_041209.
html
. These would make some great gifts.
g Imagining - Psychologist Frederick Malmstrom, currently a visiting scholar at the U.S. Air Force Academy, believes that “visions” of space aliens are actually the image of the prototypical female face that is hardwired into every baby human's brain. When Malmstrom altered a picture of a woman in a way consistent with the characteristics of a newborn's vision (astigmatism and a shallow focal plane), the result looked very much like a big-eyed alien. See http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/051128_technovel_space
aliens.html
.
g Aftermath - For one futurist’s thoughts about what will happen to humanity when we make first contact with aliens, see http://www.jrmooneyham.com/ctctd.html. I offer this site not for its scientific rigor but as an example of something all of us who care about astrobiology should consider: What are the trends in popular culture about first contact? Such thinking will greatly influence public reaction when first contact actually does occur.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oxygen’s effect on evolution, ‘An Introduction to Astrobiology’ and ‘Extraterrestrial Contact Act’

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 Life - Scientists have found that the appearance of large animals in the Earth's history may coincide with a huge increase of oxygen in the world's oceans. The research yields further clues about how life has interacted with and evolved alongside the planet's changing environment. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop
=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2173
.
g Message - Here’s a neat radio interview on the program “Earth and Sky,” about scientists looking for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. See http://www.earthsky.com/shows/edgeofdiscov
ery.phpdate=20030513
. Note: The interview is from 2003.
g Learning - What are university students learning about astrobiology? Check out "An Introduction to Astrobiology." Compiled by a team of experts, this textbook has been designed for elementary university courses in astrobiology. It begins with an examination of how life may have arisen on Earth and then reviews the evidence for possible life on Mars, Europa and Titan. The potential for life in exoplanetary systems and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence are also discussed. The text contains numerous useful learning features such as boxed summaries, student exercises with full solutions, and a glossary of terms. It is also supported by a Web site hosting further teaching materials. Written in an accessible style that avoids complex mathematics, this book is suitable for self-study and will appeal to amateur enthusiasts as well as undergraduate students. It contains numerous helpful learning features such as boxed summaries, student exercises with full solutions, and a glossary of terms. The book is also supported by a Website hosting further teaching materials. See http://www.sci
encedaily./
com/cgibin/apf4/amazon_products_feed.cgiOperation=
ItemLookup&ItemId=0521546214
.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read H.B. Fyfe’s short story "In Value Deceived," originally published in the November 1950 issue of Astounding magazine.
g Aftermath - What if, one day, Earth was contacted by an extraterrestrial civilization? How, as a planet, would we respond to their offer to interact? What if they asked, “Do you have a method in place, or even a policy that outlines how Earth will proceed now that contact has happened?” Here’s an organization that we believes we need in place legal protocol and has proposed the “Extraterrestrial Contact Act.” See http://www.contactact.org/index.htm.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Martian water cycle, ‘Remote Sensing’ and ‘Consequences of Success in SETI’

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 - Images that indicate liquid water may have recently flowed on Mars are helping a fleet of robotic explorers focus their quest to understand the Martian water cycle. The potential for liquid water on Mars is vital in the search for past or present life on the planet's surface. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules
.phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2170
.
g Life - Sea urchins are small and spiny, they have no eyes and they eat kelp and algae. Still, the sea creature's genome is remarkably similar to humans' and may hold the key to preventing and curing several human diseases, according to a University of Central Florida researcher and several colleagues. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207161037.htm.
g Message - Whatever form extraterrestrials take, why — if they exist — don’t they get in touch with us? See http://www.manilatimes.
net/national/2004/sept/07/yehey/opinion/20040907opi7.html
.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Remote Sensing.” In this lesson, students discover how remote sensing is used to identify the signatures of life even when the particular life form is not directly observable. See http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/astrobiology
/LabActivities/RemoteSensing.doc
.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Fredric Brown’s short story "The Waveries." It first appeared in the January 1945 issue of Astounding magazine.
g Aftermath - Here’s another “old” piece worth reading: “Consequences of Success in SETI: Lessons from the History of Science,” given during a Bioastronomy Symposium in 1993. See http://www.nidsci.org/articles/steve_dick.php.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Water’s role in life, spectrometry in alien SETI and aftereffects of contact between two intelligent cultures

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 - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last March, Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life. Using Peter Ward’s book, “Life As We Do Not Know It” as a launching pad, the participants debated everything from how to define “life” to what kind of strange aliens we can expect to find in our explorations. In part two of this seven-part series, Steve Benner plays with the belief that water is necessary for life. See http://www.astrobio.net
/news/modules.phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2171
.
g Message - The spectral approach is a universal tool of both astronomical observations and SETI. Furthermore, it has a clear physical meaning – a spectrometer finds the energy distribution of photons, in human sensing it is color and pitch. Under the hypothesis on identity of physical laws in our part of universe, it may be proposed that spectrometry also are using by those aliens, who know radio and lead theirs own SETI, too. See http://www.cplire.ru/html/ra&sr/irm/radio-signals.html.
g Learning - How are key concepts of astrobiology treated in science fiction? See http://www.ibiblio.org/astrobiology/index.php?page=lesson05. Note: This article is from 2001 and intended to be used as part of a classroom lesson.
g Imagining - Ever wondered how all those traditional space-opera and epic-fantasy races - the pig-faced warriors, the smug bumheads, and all the rest - came up with their wonderfully clich├ęd alien vocabularies? It's not difficult; once you've mastered these basic rules, you'll be able to produce names and phrases just as stereotypical as theirs. See http://www.xibalba.demon.co.uk/jbr/lingo.html.
g Aftermath - Among scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, it’s quite common to be focused on the future, ever mindful that it could take years, or even decades, to find a signal from otherworldly intelligence. But if historian Steve Dick has his way, astronomers will also turn their attention toward the past as they search for life beyond Earth — to discover the aftereffects of contact between two intelligent cultures. See http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_vakoch_history_030612.
html
. Note: This article is from 2003.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Galaxy evolution, genetic archaeology and try No. 2 for space shuttle

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 revealed that the evolution and formation of galaxies is strongly influenced by their surrounding environment. The new results will help scientists better understand the history of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. See http://www.
astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&name=
News&file=article&sid=2169mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
.
g Life - A bit of genetic archaeology is giving clues to one of the greatest gender bending mysteries in the world of fish: How did a family of fish come to embrace male pregnancy? See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061206095436.htm.
g Intelligence - Ancient remains, once thought to be a key link in the evolution of mankind, have now been shown to be 400,000 years too young to be a part of man's family tree. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207161021.htm.
g Message - Just how does SETI work? Here’s a good primer for those looking to get a basic overview: http://www.howstuffworks.com/seti.htm.
g Cosmicus - Today is launch try No. 2 for space shuttle Discovery. Fueling is finally underway after activities fell behind schedule at the pad. Weather conditions at the 8:47 p.m. EST launch time continue to be a worry. See http://spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts116/status.html.
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 http://ieti.org/articles/security.htm.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Solar tsunami, ‘Life As We Do Not Know It’ and shuttle launch delayed

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 - A major flare on the Sun earlier this week generated what scientists are calling a solar tsunami. See article.
g Abodes - Scientists, including Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, have found that the Earth's global warming, 55 million years ago, may have resulted from the climate's high sensitivity to a long-term release of carbon. This finding contradicts the position held by many climate-change skeptics that the Earth system is resilient to such emissions. The work, led by Mark Pagani of Yale University, is published in the Dec. 8 issue of Science magazine. See article.
g Life - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last March, Astrobiology Magazine organized a debate about alien life. Using Peter Ward’s book, “Life As We Do Not Know It” as a launching pad, the participants debated everything from how to define “life” to what kind of strange aliens we can expect to find in our explorations. In part one of this seven-part debate series, Peter Ward tells how he was booed at a science fiction convention, and Neville Woolf has a conversation with his computer. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload
&name=News&file=article&sid=2168mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
.
g Intelligence - Infants may have been considered equal members of prehistoric society, according to an analysis of burial pits found in Austria. See http://www.livescience.com/history/061207_ancient_burial.html.
g Cosmicus - Thursday night's launch of the space shuttle Discovery was called off due to low clouds over the Kennedy Space Center. A bleak weather forecast for today has forced NASA to delay Discovery's next launch attempt to Saturday night at the earliest. See http://spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts116/061207scrub/.
g Aftermath - How would proof of extraterrestrial intelligence affect humanity’s “world” view? Astronomer Steve Dick discusses the matter in this transcribed Smithsonian Institute lecture, from 1999, at http://www.sil.si.edu/silpublications/dibnerlibrarylectures/extra
terrestriallife/etcopykr.htm
.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cyanobacteria’s rise on early Earth, why we stick with bad habits and NASA’s proposed Moon base

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 - At 27,000 square miles, the size of Ireland, Lake Victoria is the biggest freshwater body after Lake Superior. And it has dropped fast, at least six feet in the past three years, and by as much as a half-inch a day this year before November rains stabilized things. See article.
g Life - Researchers have long been puzzled as to how cyanobacteria billions of years ago could make the Earth’s oxygen without poisoning themselves. To avoid their DNA getting wrecked by a hydroxyl radical that naturally occurs in the production of oxygen, the cyanobacteria would have had to evolve protective enzymes. But how could natural selection have led the cyanobacteria to evolve these enzymes if the need for them didn't even exist yet? See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061208203049.htm.
g Intelligence - It might seem a total wonder that a smoker won't quit after hearing that puffing away is a leading cause of death, or that an obese person can't shed a few pounds after learning that lethal ailments loom for the overweight. But scientists have come up with a host of reasons why humans stick to bad habits, and they are zeroing in on what to do about it. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/061205_bad_habits.html.
g Cosmicus - NASA’s new goal of establishing a 21st century Moon base will require bridge building while mending fences between space scientists and exploration technologists. See http://space.com/news/061209_moon_science.html.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Warming oceans, 500 million year-old embryo and how children learn language

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 - Alarming new satellite data show that the warming of the world's oceans is reducing ocean life while contributing to increased global warming. See article.
g Life - Images of the developmental stages of embryos more than half a billion years old were reported by Dr. Phil Donoghue, of the University of Bristol's Department of Earth Sciences, in the prestigious journal Nature. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061206094235.htm.
g Intelligence - How does a child learn that the stress is on the second syllable of giraffe, and on the first of zebra? Is it memory, the structure of the word itself or clues provided by the sounds in the word? See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061206103033.htm.
g Learning - Last week, rocket scientists, politicians, engineers and educators came together in Los Angeles to explore current and future business opportunities in space at the “Transforming Space 2006” conference. Leaders from Congress, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, universities and major aerospace businesses discussed the current and future prospects for both private and public space programs. See http://space.com/searchforlife/061207_seti_thursday.html.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Liquid water on Mars, psychology of risk-taking and Fermi Paradox examined

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 - A provocative new study of photographs taken from orbit suggests that liquid water flowed on the surface of Mars as recently as several years ago, raising the possibility that the Red Planet could harbor an environment favorable to life. See http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2006-12-06-mars-water_x.htm?csp=24. For related story, see “Reminiscing about Mars.”
g Intelligence - Would you choose a guaranteed $100 or a 20 percent chance of $1000? What if the odds went up to 40 percent? Whatever your answer, your mother would likely agree. New research shows parents and children have similar attitudes toward risk-taking in matters of finance, careers, health and even driving. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/061206_risk_takers.html.
g Message - If you’re not familiar with Astriobiology.com’s “Great Debates series, you’ll want to head right away to their Web site. The discussions draw upon experts in the astrobiology field. The Fermi paradox (“If there’s intelligent life out there, then why haven’t we heard from them?” is examined in six parts.

Get your SF book manuscript edited

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Black hole eating star, imaginary friends and returning to the Moon

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 - A giant black hole has been caught red-handed dipping into a cosmic cookie jar of stars by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer. This is the first time astronomers have seen the whole process of a black hole eating a star, from its first to nearly final bites. See article.
g Intelligence - The imaginary friends a child dreams up, naughty or nice, are good to have around. They have emotional, social, and cognitive benefits, and they help prepare children for real life, scientists say. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiol
ogy/061204_mm_imaginary_friends.html
.
g Cosmicus - NASA on Monday unveiled the initial elements of the Global Exploration Strategy and a proposed U.S. lunar architecture, two critical tools for achieving the nation's vision of returning humans to the Moon. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload
&name=News&file=article&sid=2165mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What astrobiologists would pack, Neanderthal cannibalism and NASA’s plan for a lunar colony

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 - You're an astrobiologist standing in the center of a vast, empty expanse of rock and dust pockmarked with impact craters. There's no water here, no life, but your task is to collect data important for the study of life in the Universe. Douglas Adams, in his book "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," said that "a towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." In order to accomplish your task, you've packed an entire suitcase. The question is what did you bring? See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload
&name=News&file=article&sid=2164mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
.
g Life - To survive the urban jungle, birds change their tune, with faster-paced and higher-pitched songs to make them heard above the din. This discovery, announced today, could help reveal which birds can adapt to life in the city and which can't, researchers said. See http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/061204_urban_birdsong.
html
.
g Intelligence - Neanderthals suffered periods of starvation and may have supplemented their diet through cannibalism, according to a study of remains from northwest Spain. See http://www.livescience.
com/humanbiology/061204_neanderthal_lifestyle.html
.
g Cosmicus - NASA's return to the moon next decade will be focused on establishing a permanent base near one of the lunar poles to take advantage of near-constant sunlight for solar power, agency officials said. See http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0612/04lunarbases/.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Organic matter in meteorites, ‘Alien Minds, Human Minds’ and time lag in ET correspondence

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 - NASA researchers have found organic materials that formed in the early Solar System preserved in the freshest meteorite ever received from space. Organic matter in meteorites is of intense interest because this material may have seeded the early Earth with the building blocks of life. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.
phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2163mode=thread&
order=0&thold=0
.
g Imagining - Book alert: Of course, quality science fiction is really less about aliens than the human condition. That’s why you ought to scour some used bookstores for this rare edition: “Star Trek on the Brain: Alien Minds, Human Minds,” by Robert Sekuler and Randolph Blake. An educational and entertaining nonfiction work that uses Star Trek to explain the workings of the human mind, the authors (both psychology professors) have put together an excellent and highly readable neurology primer. Their two-pronged task is to give a Star Trek example and then link it to contemporary science of the nervous system. Do you want to better understand emotions, their cultural implications and universal expressions? Then this is the book. For reviews, see http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/
0716732793/scifimoviescom/002-5433233-4801635
.
g Aftermath - If we hear from ET, not only can we expect his civilization to be an old one with a great time lag in correspondence, a SETI astronomer says. Could this limit the impact of extraterrestrial contact upon humanity? See http://www.space.
com/searchforlife/seti_long_distance_011227.html
. Note: This article is from December 2001.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

First negatively charged molecule, Mars photos on Web and ‘Contact: Culture of the Imagination’

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 the first negatively charged molecule in space, identifying it from radio signals that were a mystery until now. "We've spotted a rare and exotic species, like the white tiger of space," says an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. See article.
g Cosmicus - Incredibly detailed images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Science Imaging Experiment are available on the web. The pictures show surface features including gullies, sand avalanches and a fossil delta inside a crater that once held a lake. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload
&name=News&file=article&sid=2162mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
.
g Aftermath - An intriguing conference begins today at NASA Ames: “Contact: Culture of the Imagination.” Contact is a unique interdisciplinary conference that brings together some of the foremost international social and space scientists, science fiction writers and artists to exchange ideas, stimulate new perspectives and encourage serious, creative speculation about humanity's future ... onworld and offworld. See article.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Undiscovered alien life forms on Earth, cloud creatures on alien worlds and alien pathogens

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 Life - In the third in our series of “gedanken” thought experiments, Carol Cleland explores the idea that there could be undiscovered alien life forms on Earth. See article.
g Imagining - Could “cloud creatures” exist on alien worlds? Here’s one writer’s speculations: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=776272.
g Aftermath - As we look toward exploring other worlds, and perhaps even bringing samples back to Earth for testing, astrobiologists have to wonder: could there be alien pathogens in those samples that will wreak havoc on our world? See http://www.astrobio.net/news/mod
ules.phpop=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=570
. Note: This article is from 2003.