Friday, February 16, 2007

Rowdy comets, analyzing a signal from space and suborbital Earth transit system

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 bunch of rowdy comets are colliding and kicking up dust around a dead star, according to new observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The dead star lies at the center of the much-photographed Helix nebula, a shimmering cloud of gas with an eerie resemblance to a giant eye. See
g Abodes - Despite the icy cold and darkness, beneath the frozen surface of the sea in Antarctica thrives a rich and complex array of plants and animals. But what will happen to all those creatures if global warming reduces the ice cover, as is predicted for coming decades? See
g Life - The rise of multicellular animals about 540 million years ago was a turning point in the history of life. A group of Finnish scientists suggests a new climate-biosphere interaction mechanism for the underlying processes in a new study, which will be published on February 14, 2007 in PLoS ONE, the international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication from the Public Library of Science. See
g Intelligence - Every day we plan numerous actions, such as to return a book to a friend or to make an appointment. How and where the brain stores these intentions has been revealed by John-Dylan Haynes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in cooperation with researchers from London and Tokyo. For the first time they were able to "read" participants' intentions out of their brain activity. This was made possible by a new combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and sophisticated computer algorithms. See
g Message - Here’s a neat interactive Web game where you analyze a signal from space, just as would a SETI. See http://mystery.sonomaedu/alien_bandstand/.
g Cosmicus - Even as the private spaceflight firm PlanetSpace, Inc. aims for orbital space shots, the Chicago-based company is also drawing up plans for a suborbital Earth transit system. See http://
g Learning - Be sure to check out Ken Murphy’s new essay at adAstra: “Unlike many in my generation, I've never been particularly enamored of Mars. I don’t dislike it, but my interest has long been our Moon, such a tantalizingly close destination right there in the sky. Looking for a niche in the space field after graduate school, I decided to try to become the most knowledgeable person of my generation with regards to the Moon. It seemed the perfect Gen. X slacker goal - I'm part of a small demographic, studying a relatively esoteric (for my generation) topic. How hard could it be?”See