Monday, April 23, 2007

Brown dwarf pulsars, planetary embryos and savannah chimps

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 - Brown dwarfs, thought just a few years ago to be incapable of emitting any significant amounts of radio waves, have been discovered putting out extremely bright "lighthouse beams" of radio waves, much like pulsars. A team of astronomers made the discovery using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope. See
g Abodes - The water content and habitability of terrestrial planets are determined during their final assembly, from perhaps 100 1,000-km “planetary embryos” and a swarm of billions of 1–10-km “planetesimals.” During this process, we assume that water-rich material is accreted by terrestrial planets via impacts of water-rich bodies that originate in the outer asteroid region. See
g Life - High temperatures can reverse the sex of dragon lizards before they hatch, turning males into females. See
g Intelligence - Savannah chimpanzees, which can make weapons to hunt other primates for meat, can also seek refuge in caves, much like our earliest human ancestors. See
g Message - A number of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence actually have occurred, are ongoing and are planned. Here’s one of the more famous ones: Project BETA, at Harvard University. See
g Cosmicus - UCLA scientists are now reporting a promising new approach to designing super-hard materials, which are very difficult to scratch or crack. Their findings appear in the April 20 issue of the journal Science. See
g Learning - How are key concepts of astrobiology treated in science fiction? See Note: This article is from 2001 and intended to be used as part of a classroom lesson.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Ray Bradbury’s "Here There Be Tygers,” which appeared in the April-May 1953 issue of Amazing magazine.
g Aftermath - The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence cannot guarantee success in a trivial, superficial sense (that is in the form of the discovery of an alien civilization). But at its deeper levels SETI certainly stimulates and influences our thoughts and transforms our society in profound ways. See