Wednesday, January 24, 2007

3-D images of Sun, upper layers of Titan's atmosphere and most primitive primate skeleton

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 - NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft completed a series of complex maneuvers this week to position the satellites in their mission orbits leading and trailing the Earth. The craft will be set to produce the first 3-D images of the Sun by April. See
g Abodes - A pair of rare celestial alignments that occurred in November 2003 helped an international team of astronomers investigate the far-off world of Titan. In particular, the alignments helped validate the atmospheric model used to design the entry trajectory for ESA's Huygens probe. Now the unique results are helping to place the descent of Huygens in a global context, and to investigate the upper layers of Titan's atmosphere. See
g Intelligence - The earliest branches of primate evolution are more ancient by 10 million years than previous estimates, according to researchers who reconstructed the base of the primate family tree. The team also discovered two 56-million-year-old fossils, including the most primitive primate skeleton ever described. See
g Message - Here’s a quick, easy to understand primer to SETI’s radio searches and the Fermi Paradox:
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
g Imagining - Some science fiction tales show aliens (and often humans) “de-evolving,” or undergoing some mutation that makes the lifeform the creature its species evolved from. This occurred in a “Star Trek: The next Generation” episode and a Theodore Sturgeon novella. By tracing the 30-million year history of variation in a gene found in plants such as tomatoes and tobacco, biologists at the University of California, San Diego have found new evidence to support an old idea - that some evolutionary changes are irreversible. Their study, published in an early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers new support for the idea that the loss of complex traits, like eyes, wings or in this case a reproductive mechanism, is often irreversible. See
g Aftermath - Here’s an interesting book for some astrobiological reading: “After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life”by Albert A. Harrison. See
for some reviews.