Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quark star, Enceladus’ geysers and living laboratory for astrobiologists

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 decade-long mystery has been solved using data from ESA's X-ray observatory XMM-Newton. The brightest member of the so-called “magnificent seven” has been found to pulsate with a period of seven seconds. The discovery casts some doubt on the recent interpretation that this object is a highly exotic celestial object known as a quark star. See
g Abodes - A hot start billions of years ago might have set into motion the forces that power geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. See
g Life - Cuatro Cienegas, a butterfly-shaped valley in Mexico’s Chihuahua desert, is a living laboratory for astrobiologists. By studying this unique and endangered ecosystem, they hope to learn more about the earliest life on Earth. See
g Message - Book alert: The father-son team of David E. Fisher and Marshall Jon Fisher brings the study of extraterrestrial life down to earth in “Strangers in the Night: Brief History of Life on Other Worlds,” an informative and entertaining book. In the anecdotal style that is their hallmark, the Fishers trace humankind’s attempts to discover life on other worlds. This informative and entertaining book tells the story of humankind’s attempts throughout history to discover extraterrestrial life. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of “Extraterrestrials.” In the activity, a digital radio message, intended to alert any intelligent life in space to the existence of intelligent life on Earth, has been electronically transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. Students must ensure the message is effective by showing that the senders (humans from Earth) are capable of advanced thinking — but it must not depend on the ability of extraterrestrials to understand any Earth language. See
g Aftermath - Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” at
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