Tuesday, April 24, 2007

M dwarf biosignatures, evolution of the bite and orangutan video game whiz

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 - For the past three years a satellite has circled the Earth, collecting data to determine whether two predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity are correct. Over the weekend, at the American Physical Society meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., Professor Francis Everitt, a Stanford University physicist and principal investigator of the Gravity Probe B Relativity Mission, a collaboration of Stanford, NASA and Lockheed Martin, provided the first public peek at data that will reveal whether Einstein's theory has been confirmed by the most sophisticated orbiting laboratory ever created. See article.
g Abodes - The changing view of planets orbiting low mass stars, M stars, as potentially hospitable worlds for life and its remote detection was motivated by several factors, including the demonstration of viable atmospheres and oceans on tidally locked planets, normal incidence of dust disks, including debris disks, detection of planets with masses in the 5–20 M_ range, and predictions of unusually strong spectral biosignatures. See http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0125.
g Life - The ability of ferocious land animals to bite prey evolved in ancient fish, a new study finds. See http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/070416_fish_bite.html.
g Intelligence - Four-year-old Bernas isn't the computer wizard his mom is, but he's learning. Just the other day he used his lips and feet to play a game on the touch-screen monitor as his mom, Madu, swung from vines and climbed trees. The two Sumatran orangutans at Zoo Atlanta are playing computer games while researchers study the cognitive skills of the orange and brown primates. See http://
g Message - Should we modify the Drake Equation to account for civilizations which actually engage in deliberate interstellar transmission? See http://lnfm1.sai.msu.ru/SETI/koi/articles/DrakeEquation.htm.
g Learning - Americans love science in their movies and TV shows, yet recent reports indicate we are losing our scientific dominance to the rest of the world. Can science-themed entertainment get Americans off the couch and into the lab? See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?op=modload
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Hal Clement’s novel “Cycle Of Fire,” published by Ballantine in 1957.
g Aftermath - Within the scientific community, the question is no longer whether extraterrestrial life exists, but if ET is smart enough to do long division — and the United States and other world governments already have detailed secret plans for first contact. My apologies in advanced for Popular Mechanic’s lurid title, but the reporting is sound; see http://www.rense.com/general48/aliens.htm. Note: This article is from 2004.