Saturday, March 31, 2007

Twin-star systems, predator-prey relationships and ‘The Listeners’

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 - The double sunset that Luke Skywalker gazed upon in the film "Star Wars" might not be a fantasy. Astronomers working on the search for distant, Earth-like planets have observed that planetary disks, which harbor asteroids, comets and possibly planets, are at least as abundant in twin-star systems as they are in single-star systems like our own. See
g Abodes - A serene orb of ice is set against the gentle pastel clouds of giant Saturn in a new Cassini spacecraft image. Rhea transits the face of the gas giant, whose darkened rings and their planet-hugging shadows appear near upper right. See For related stories, see “Unusual Hyperion” at
g Life - Two new studies, detailed in the March 22 issue of the journal Nature, suggest predator-prey relationships, as well as the timing and relative order of a species' arrival into a new environment, can greatly affect how rapidly this branching process occurs. See
g Intelligence - Distractions turn on different part of our brains and do so more quickly than the daily grind of paying attention, neuroscientists have discovered. See
g Message - A lot of science fiction doesn’t offer a particularly accurate description of SETI. Here’s one piece that does: James Gunn’s novel “The Listeners,” published by Signet in 1972. This offers a good early portrayal of a scientifically reasonable search.
g Cosmicus - A European craft designed to ferry science experiments, fuel and other supplies to the international space station will launch this fall, several months later than originally planned, officials said last week. 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 Imagining - Like stories about efforts to communicate with alien? Then be sure to read Fred Hoyle’s "A for Andromeda" (1962). See
g Aftermath - The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence is accelerating its pace and adopting fresh strategies. This increases the likelihood of successful detection in the near future. Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence will trigger extraordinary attention from the media, from government authorities, and from the general public. By improving our readiness for contact, especially for security during the first 30 days, we can avoid the most negative scenarios — and also enhance humanity's benefits from this first contact with an alien intelligence. Six potential problem areas include communicating with the media and the public, communicating with scientific colleagues, government control, an assassin or saboteur, well-meaning officials and lawsuits. See