Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Space tsunamis, tools for detecting extraterrestrial life and space shuttle flight schedule

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 - New satellite data are providing insights into space "tsunamis" that disrupt the northern lights and result in auroral dances in the sky. See http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070412_space_tsunami.html.
g Abodes - A team of NASA scientists led by a member of the Spitzer Science Center believe they have found a way to predict the color of plants on planets in other solar systems. Green, yellow or even red-dominant plants may live on extra-solar planets. See http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0704/11planetcolors/.
g Life - An adolescent female Tyrannosaurus rex died 68 million years ago, but its bones still contain intact soft tissue, including the oldest preserved proteins ever found, scientists say. And a comparison of the protein’s chemical structure to a slew of other species showed an evolutionary link between T. rex and chickens, bolstering the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. See http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/070412_dino_tissues.html.
g Intelligence - You might expect men and women to look at sexual photographs differently. But a new study unexpectedly found that men are more likely than women to first look at faces rather than other parts of a nude body. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/070412_sex_pics.html.
g Message - Looking for life elsewhere is a tough task for human or robot. The good news is that the scientific skill and tools to search for, detect and inspect extraterrestrial life are advancing rapidly. See http://www.space.com/searchforlife/lifesigns_spots_020103.html.
g Cosmicus - Space shuttle program officials have affirmed a new launch schedule to accomplish six flights over the next 12 months that will expand the space station to include the international science laboratory modules. See http://spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts117/070416shuttlesked/.
g Learning - The challenge to communicate both the breadth and depth of astrobiology is discussed by Carol Oliver, of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. As a researcher in communicating science, she considers how best to tell a busy public what it means to explore other worlds for signs of life elsewhere. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/article678.html.
g Imagining - Here’s an interesting critical examination of science fiction aliens that’s worth reading: George E. Slusser’s "Metamorphoses of the Dragon," in “Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction," (Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin, eds., 1987). It critiques LeGuin's ideas about dragons as fantasy creatures, then goes on to discuss dragon-like aliens in SF in Clarke's “Childhood's End” and Herbert's “Dune” and “Dragon in the Sea” series, bringing in contexts as wide-ranging as Beowulf, the work of Escher, subatomic physics and Sagan's “Dragons of Eden.”
g Aftermath - Epicurus, in the fourth century BC, believed that the universe contained other worlds like our own, and since his time there has been considerable debate whether extraterrestrial life exists and might communicate with us. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See http://mysite.verizon.net/wsbainbridge/dl/ceti.htm.