Friday, January 05, 2007

New class of black holes, responses to Fermi’s Paradox and ‘Determining the Chances of 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 Stars - Astronomers have found a black hole where few thought they could ever exist, inside a globular star cluster. The finding has broad implications for the dynamics of stars clusters and also for the existence of a still-speculative new class of black holes called 'intermediate-mass' black holes. See article.
g Abodes - Beyond the gas giants of Saturn and Jupiter, NASA plans its vision to explore the ice giants, like Neptune. While Titan attracts all the attention of moon watchers near Saturn, Triton intrigues those looking near Neptune. See
. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Message - Book alert: In response to Enrico Fermi's famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere, physicist Stephen Webb in “If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life” critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. He focuses on our Milky Way Galaxy, which to date has yielded no objects or signals that indicate the existence of alien beings with intelligence and technology. His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. Of special interest are the discussions on the DNA molecule, the origin of life on Earth, and the threats to organic evolution on this planet (including mass extinctions). Webb himself concludes that the "great silence" in nature probably results from humankind's being the only civilization now in this galaxy, if not in the entire universe. This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections. For reviews, see article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom resource courtesy of NASA: “Life on Earth … and Elsewhere?” This booklet contains five classroom activities for grades 5-10 spanning topics from "Defining Life," to "Determining the Chances of Extraterrestrial Life." See http://www.erg.pdf/.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Gordon Eklund’s "Objects Unidentified (Flying)," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff and published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - Reactions during the past decade to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See

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