Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mystery of the spiral arm, water found on extrasolar planet and compartmentalized science instruction

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 - Using a quartet of space observatories, University of Maryland astronomers may have cracked a 45-year mystery surrounding two ghostly spiral arms in the galaxy M106. See
g Abodes - For the first time, strong evidence for water has been identified in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet. The planet, HD209458b, is located 150 light years from Earth. See
g Life - Far-flung regions with similar climates that are suddenly linked by a busy flight route are at an increased risk of an invasion of foreign species, according to scientists at Oxford University. The new research also identified an ‘invasion window’ across the global air network from June to August when climatic conditions at regions linked by long haul routes are most similar to one another and the higher number of flights increases the chances of exotic species hitching a ride to somewhere new. See
g Intelligence - Something old is now something new, thanks to Lamar University researcher Jim Westgate and colleagues. The scientists' research has led to the discovery of a new genus and species of primate, one long vanished from the earth but preserved in the fossil record. See
g Message - In the absence of knowledge of physical and cultural clues, communication between two species can be almost impossible — almost. See
g Cosmicus - Asteroids are Earth's closest celestial neighbors, sometimes passing closer to Earth than even the Moon. And yet, to date, only two spacecraft have ever remained in proximity to one of these bodies. Last month, orbit mechanics experts from around the world met to discuss methods for finding the best possible spacecraft trajectory, or flight path, for visiting a sequence of asteroids. See
g Learning - High school courses have traditionally been compartmentalized into biology, chemistry, physical or earth science, and perhaps physics or an elective such as astronomy or oceanography. This may, in the best of cases, prepare students for the "almighty test," but does it really prepare students for scientific literacy and logical decision-making? See http://www.astrosociety.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Clifford Simak’s ”Way Station” (1963), which examines many different kinds of potential aliens.
g Aftermath - An Outside Context Problem or an OCP is any problem outside given organization or society experience, with an immediate, ubiquitous and lasting impact upon an entire culture or civilization — such as first contact with extraterrestrials. See