Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vernal equinox arrives, first 3D visualization of a complete eukaryotic cell and a sign of alien intelligence

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:
- Stars - A month ago, my daffodils began blooming, and I knew that spring was coming. But now it’s official. On March 21 at 00 07 UT (universal time), the Earth spins through the vernal equinox. It’s that special moment in our annual trek around the Sun that marks the beginning of spring. Seen from Earth, the Sun is crossing the celestial equator headed north. Here in the United States, it’s still March 20 at that moment, and so we’re celebrating the first day of spring on March 20, and you’re invited to celebrate “Sun-Earth Day.” See http://space.com/searchforlife/070315_seti_sun.html.
g Abodes - The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on New Horizons captured another dramatic picture of Jupiter's moon Io and its volcanic plumes, 19 hours after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter on Feb. 28. See http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0703/14iovolcano/.
g Life - Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and the University of Colorado have now obtained the first 3D visualization of a complete eukaryotic cell at a resolution high enough to resolve the cytoskeleton's precise architectural plan in fission yeast. The image of this unicellular organism will be published in this week's issue of the journal Developmental Cell and reveals remarkable insights into the fine structure of the cytoskeleton as well as its interactions with other parts of the cell. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070306101110.htm.
g Message - What would be a sign of alien intelligence? Forget mathematics — try a simple, pure-tone radio signal. See http://
g Cosmicus - NASA notified the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory last week that its contract to build a robotic lunar lander would be allowed to expire at the end of March and would not be renewed — at least not anytime soon. See http://space.com/news/060316_nasa_moonlander.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Interstellar Real Estate.” The lesson examines what makes Earth the perfect home for life as we know it as students explore the orbital characteristics a planetary home needs to support Earth-like life forms. See http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/Habitat/habitablezone.htm.
g Imagining - ke stories about alien anthropology and cultures? Then be sure to read James Blish’s classic novel “A Case of Conscience” (1958), in which he explores if original sin exists among the Lithians. See http://members.aol.com/firoane/blish.htm.
g Aftermath - Would should we say to an extraterrestrial? Try the World Wide Web. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak opines at http://www.seti.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=194993&ct=308803.