Friday, April 13, 2007

Atmospheres of alien worlds, jellyfish’s 24 eyes and early speculations on ET

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 Abodes - In 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft released a probe that blasted a crater in comet Tempel 1 and revealed clues about the composition of comets and their potential connections to the origin of life on Earth. Now, the spacecraft may be used to make additional scientific discoveries, including observing the atmospheres of alien worlds and visiting another comet. See
g Life - Unlike normal jellyfish, which drift in the ocean current, box jellyfish are active swimmers that can rapidly make 180-degree turns and deftly dart between objects. Scientists suspect that box jellyfish are such agile because one set of their 24 eyes detects objects that get in their way. See
g Message - The earliest speculations about communication with extraterrestrial intelligence involved contact with the Moon and with other planets of our own solar system. In the 1800s, many astronomers thought that — at least theoretically — life might well exist throughout the solar system. But when people raised the question of whether we are really alone in the solar system, they began to imagine ways to find a very concrete answer. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of classroom activities for high school students: “Voyages Through Time.” It’s an integrated science curriculum for ninth or tenth grade based on the theme of evolution and delivered on CD-ROM. Its six modules span the breadth of astrobiology research, from cosmic evolution through the evolution of life, and beyond. See
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology/cultures? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Mary Gentle’s “Golden Witchbreed” (1983) and “Ancient Light” (1987), which examines a culture of feline aliens.
g Aftermath - Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, writes Paul Davies in “Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject. See