Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gaseous outflow from super-sized star, convergent evolution on exoplanets and New Horizons heads toward gas giants

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 - Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, Kameula, Hawaii, astronomers have learned that the gaseous outflow from one of the brightest super-sized stars in the sky is more complex than originally thought. See
g Life - On Radio Astrobiology, the podcast of Astrobiology Magazine, Simon Conway Morris discusses how convergent evolution has affected the development of life on Earth, and perhaps elsewhere in the universe. See
g Intelligence - Bored out of your skull is a reality. A new study of mind wandering shows that the mundane moments of life allow brains to shift into a default resting state that invites daydreaming. See
g Message - How's your math? Well, you may want to brush up on it - that is, if you hope to be conversant with ET. Scientists say that any signal we receive from intelligent life is rather unlikely to be in English, but in the language of math. Find out why algebra truly may be an alien concept - just as you suspected in high school - and what a message from another planet might be. See http://www.podcast
for a podcast of this SETI Institute “Are We Alone?” program.
g Cosmicus - Just a year after it was dispatched on the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the APL-built New Horizons spacecraft is on the doorstep of the solar system's largest planet - about to swing past Jupiter and pick up even more speed on its voyage toward the unexplored regions of the planetary frontier. See
g Learning - Here’s a module that provides introductory teaching lessons for classroom coverage of astrobiology and the origin of life that is suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Morton Klass’ "Earthman's Burden," originally published in “Astounding” magazine’s May 1954 issue.
g Aftermath - Book alert: Science fiction writers have given us many fine novels contemplating humankind's first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. But our nonfiction world has not thought much about what to do if we are actually faced with this situation. Jean Heidmann, chief astronomer at the Paris Observatory (and self-styled bioastronomer), offers “Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” a book on the subject that is at once serious and fun. Heidmann's obvious joy in raw speculation--all of it grounded in real science--is contagious. If aliens send us a message from many light years away, for example, how should we respond? Heidmann reviews the protocols established in the SETI Declaration and then offers his own suggestion: send them the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica.