Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jupiter’s magnetic bubbe, laser beacons from ET civilizations and global space race

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 - As New Horizons approaches Jupiter for a flyby this month, the spacecraft is already generating data that will help resolve puzzling questions about the interactions between the solar wind, the million-mile-per-hour stream of ionized gas flowing out from the Sun, and Jupiter's magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble that surrounds the planet and encloses ionized gas. See
g Abodes - The largest climate change in central North America since the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, a temperature drop of nearly 15 degrees Fahrenheit, is documented within the fossilized teeth of horses and other plant-eating mammals, a new study reveals. See
g Life - Female Antarctic fur seals will travel across a colony to actively seek males which are genetically diverse and unrelated, rather than mate with local dominant males. These findings, published in this week's Nature, suggest that female choice may be more widespread in nature than previously believed and that such strategies enable species to maintain genetic diversity. See
g Intelligence - "There is no such thing as a true aphrodisiac," Dr. Ruth (Westheimer) once said. The pint-size sex expert was being literal. By definition, an aphrodisiac arouses or intensifies sexual desire, and no herb or witch's potion has been proven to do so. But why take the fun out of trying and spoil Valentine's Day? Herein lies 10 touted love tonics, from hopeless fling to sure thing. See
g Message - In 2001, California astronomers broadened the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with a new experiment to look for powerful light pulses beamed our way from other star systems. Scientists from the University of California's Lick Observatory, the SETI Institute, UC-Santa Cruz, and UC-Berkeley used the Lick Observatory's 40-inch Nickel Telescope with a new pulse-detection system capable of finding laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Unlike other optical SETI searches, this new experiment is largely immune to false alarms that slow the reconnaissance of target stars. See
g Cosmicus - A French parliamentary group said China’s recent anti-satellite demonstrations, plus Chinese and Indian plans for lunar exploration, are clear signs that a second global space race has begun and that Europe should join it. See
g Learning - Although exobiology is of widespread interest to high school science students, it is not generally dealt with comprehensively in most textbooks. In addition, teachers often have inadequate resources available to prepare classroom presentations on how life may have begun on Earth and whether these processes might take place elsewhere in the solar system and the universe. Here’s a classroom teaching module suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses: See
g Imagining - An early “Star Trek” alien is the Thasians (
), who serve a deux ex machina role in one episode. The Thasians apparently are a noncorporeal life form that gave a human child incredible powers of telekinesis. Such capabilities, as exhibited by the child (now a 17-year-old teenager) appear to stem from within his own physical being, however. The Thasians themselves also are dependent on the physical reality of a spacecraft for traveling beyond their planet. Of course, how a noncorporeal life form might exist is beyond our physical science, though one might suspect it is an organized pattern of electrical impulses, somehow held together and organized without use of a physical platform (such as our brain cells) — though their powers can be transferred to such a platform, as occurs with the boy. Most likely the Thasians did not evolve as noncorporeal life forms but instead, being eons ahead of us in technology, rely on machines (using teleportation-like technology) to do their work; their own beings might be interfaced with such machines so a mere concentrated thought can command it. The Thasians, thus feeling encumbered by physical form, shifted to another dimension — again, more fiction than reality — where the very nature of that space allows the beings (electrical patterns) to remain organized, and perhaps better able to communicate with their machines. Of course, too little was said about the Thasians in the episode, though the boy did note that the Thasians do not “feel” or “touch” in the same way that humans do.
g Aftermath - If some day we detect a radio signal from a distant civilization, we’ll have to make some adjustments in the way we view ourselves. After millennia of knowing of no other intelligence in the universe than humankind, we could face a considerable challenge to our terrestrial egotism. In the process, will we simply gain a little healthy humility about our place in the universe? Or would it be downright humiliating to compare our own meager accomplishments with those of more advanced extraterrestrials? See Note: This article is from November 2000.