Friday, April 27, 2007

Photographing exoearths, chimp vs. human evolution and first contact stories

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 - An Anglo-American team of astronomers have used the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain the first direct optical images of the aftermath of a recent titanic explosion that took place in a star system 5,000 light years from Earth. See
g Abodes - NASA researchers have demonstrated that a space telescope rigged with the right equipment could actually photograph an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. The accomplishment is a major step forward in the search for habitable environments beyond the Solar System. See
g Intelligence - Put a human and a chimpanzee side by side, and it seems obvious which lineage has changed the most since the two diverged from a common ancestor millions of years ago. Such apparent physical differences, along with human speech, language and brainpower, have led many people to believe that natural selection has acted in a positive manner on more genes in humans than in chimps. See
g Message - While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See
g Cosmicus - The Mars Desert Research Station is a simulated Mars habitat in the Utah desert established to prepare humans for exploring the red planet. This Web site documents the experience of Kate Harris, who as a university sophomore spent two weeks on Mars in Utah during 2003. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Alien Safari.” New from NASA PlanetQuest, Alien Safari can be used in your classrooms or informal education settings to help kids discover some of the most extreme organisms on our planet, and find out what they are telling astrobiologists about the search for life beyond Earth. See
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Linda P. Baker’s short story "The Allure of Bone and Ice." It’s in the anthology “First Contact,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff (published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - In its simplest and shortest definition, astrobiology may be summed up as, “The study of life in the universe.” There's just one problem when it comes to studying life in the universe. So far, we're it. See