Friday, April 20, 2007

Searching atmospheres for signs of life, extrasolar photosynthesis and forward contamination

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 - ESA's Darwin mission aims to discover extrasolar planets and examine their atmospheres for signs of life, particularly for the presence of certain life-related chemicals such as oxygen and carbon dioxide. The major technical challenge lies in distinguishing, or resolving, the light from an extrasolar planet from the hugely overwhelming radiation emitted by the planet's nearby star. See
g Life - Why do plants reflect in the green and have a “red edge” in the red, and should extrasolar photosynthesis be the same? See
g Intelligence - Like an invisible brass ring or dangling piece of bacon, subliminal rewards can drive people to work harder without them even knowing it. See
g Message - In late 1997, after almost 40 years of operation, the Ohio State University Radio Observatory and its "Big Ear" radio telescope — which picked up the famous “Wow!” signal — ceased operation. The land on which the observatory was sitting (owned by the Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio) was sold in 1983 to land developers who later claimed their rights to develop the property. The telescope was destroyed in early 1998. For a Web page memorial to Big Ear, see
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site with excellent graphics: “The Origin of Life and Evolution of the Cosmos.” It explores events that led to the origin of life on Earth. See
g Imagining - Quantum physics and biochemistry is real, hard as nails science, say many physicists and also, it appears, those who write SF books and screenplays. But, reproductive biologist Jack Cohen asks, “Is biology a science?” And what affect does the answer have on our ability to imagine and recognize extraterrestrial life? See
g Aftermath - There is a good deal of apprehension among the general public that samples returned from other worlds such as Mars - just might - contain alien germs capable of turning into a worldwide plague, or at least wreaking havoc with the Earth's natural environment. Beside this fear of "back contamination," there is also a fear of "forward contamination" - the possibility that spacecraft might contaminate the worlds they land on with Earth microbes, destroying scientifically priceless alien lifeforms before we even have a chance to study them. See Note: This article is from 1999.