Monday, March 26, 2007

Milky Way’s history, plate tectonics at 3.8 billion B.C.E. and exopolitics

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 are using the chemical signatures of stars to determine which formation sites they have in common. The research will help unravel the history of the Milky Way and ultimately it can teach us about how galaxies form and evolve. See
g Abodes - Identification of the oldest preserved pieces of Earth's crust in southern Greenland has provided evidence of active plate tectonics as early as 3.8 billion years ago, according to a report by an international team of geoscientists in the March 23 edition of Science magazine. See
g Life - Biologists at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Bonn in Germany have produced a global map of estimated plant species richness. Covering several hundred thousand species, the scientists say their global map is the most extensive map of the distribution of biodiversity on Earth to date. See
g Intelligence - Recent work in the study of dreaming indicates that more than just subconscious entertainment is going on. Sleep appears to help us work through and understand events of the day. Sleep also seems to provide a mechanism for impressing important memories on the brain, to make sure we have a long-term record of an event or concern. Sleep also seems to have a role in learning a skill; people who practiced a skill and then slept on it were more skillful than those who had not yet had a chance to sleep. See
g Message - Most SETI programs scan the sky looking for strong radio signals. Any signals that are deemed interesting are put on a list for follow-up observations weeks, months — even years later. Long delays in verification of potential ET signals sometimes generate tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating, stories. See Note: This article is from March 2003.
g Cosmicus - As NASA makes plans to send humans back to the moon, this time to live and work for extended periods of time, one of the most vexing problems they may be faced with is dust. To explore the potential problems, the NASA Engineering and Safety Center held a Lunar Dust Workshop. 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 - Like stories about alien anthropology and cultures? Scour your used bookstore or local library for Robert Holdstock’s “Eye Among the Blind” (1976), in which an anthropologist becomes identified with an alien culture.
g Aftermath - I offer the following Web site entry on “exopolitics” only as a basis for us to think about how people might react once we know an extraterrestrial civilization exists: Certainly many will give ufology more credence and make fantastical conclusions based upon images in the popular media. Question: How do we counteract this now? Obviously we want people discussing the topic of “exopolitics,” even if it’s in a vacuum. But how do we move beyond silly paranormal notions?