Thursday, March 29, 2007

Science vs. exploration, astrobiology in our schools and contemplating humankind's first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials

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 Life - Two new raptor dinosaur species have been unearthed in Mongolia, including one that ranks among the smallest non-avian dinosaurs ever discovered. See
g Message - Interstellar spacecraft are superior to electromagnetic wave propagation for extrasolar exploration and communication. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should include a search for extraterrestrial probes. See
. Note: This article is from 1983.
g Cosmicus - Which is a better investment, science or exploration? The question is almost as old as the space program itself, and answering it won’t get any easier as humans move toward establishing a lunar base. But could science be an inevitable outgrowth of exploration? The exploration needed to occupy the moon will give us plenty of opportunities for basic lunar science. See
g Learning - What are SETI scientists doing to foment the study and understanding of astrobiology in our schools? See
g Imagining - Could "Star Trek"'s Alfa 177 canine (for a picture, see 68670.html) exist? Setting aside the facial features that show the canine is an Earth-descended vertebrate, the answer is yes. The Alfa 113 biome the Enterprise crew visits is cold but dry, perhaps a summer plain set below a great continental ice sheet. In cold climates, life forms need to be compact and/or covered in thick hair or fat; this is so with this creature. In addition, the canine's short legs indicate it need not worry about snowdrifts. Based on the creature's canine teeth and jaw structure, it must be a predator; considering the canine's size, it likely preys on creatures no larger than rats - and rodents are quite abundant on the tundra. A lack of claws indicates it doesn't burrow, however, which probably would be necessary in such a climate. Perhaps caves in the area or other creature's burrows provide shelter. As for the antenna upon its head, I'll withhold speculation!
g Aftermath - Book alert: Science fiction writers have given us many fine novels contemplating humankind's first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. But our nonfiction world has not thought much about what to do if we are actually faced with this situation. In “Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” Jean Heidmann, chief astronomer at the Paris Observatory (and self-styled bioastronomer), offers a book on the subject that is at once serious and fun. Heidmann's obvious joy in raw speculation - all of it grounded in real science - is contagious. If aliens send us a message from many light years away, for example, how should we respond? Heidmann reviews the protocols established in the SETI Declaration and then offers his own suggestion: send them the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. See