Monday, April 09, 2007

Supernova from tens of millions of years ago, emerging field of metegenomics and COTI

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 - Tens of millions of years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a massive star suffered a nasty double whammy. Signs of the first shock reached Earth in 2004, when the star was observed letting loose an outburst enormous and bright. The star survived for nearly two years, however, until it blew itself to smithereens as supernova. See
g Abodes - High-resolution images that reveal unexpected details of the Earth's internal structure are among the results reported by MIT and Purdue scientists in the March 30 issue of Science. See
g Life - The emerging field of metegenomics allows researchers to study the DNA of entire communities of microbes simultaneously and is set to provide major advances in our knowledge of Earth's most prolific organisms. Microbes can thrive in Earth's most inhospitable environments and are the most likely candidates for life on other locations in the Solar System. See
g Intelligence - McGill University researchers have discovered that a mutant gene improves the long-term memory of laboratory mice, a discovery they hope will one day lead to a better quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients and others suffering from memory impairment. See
g Message - The SETI Institute predicts that we'll detect an extraterrestrial transmission within twenty years. If that turns out to be true, it'll probably be the folks at UC Berkeley's Hat Creek radio observatory who will have heard the call. See Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus - The concept of dispatching low-cost spacecraft to repair and refuel more expensive troubled satellites took a step closer to reality this week when two first-of-a-kind orbiting testbeds began operations to validate autonomous in-space servicing techniques. See
g Learning - Here’s a good Web site that gives an general overview of astrobiology for kids: “Astrocentral.” See
g Imagining - For several years a "game" called COTI has been played, in which the participants design an integrated world, alien life form and culture and simulate contact with a future human society. Here are the results of one of those simulations, in which humanity encounters the Alchemists, sea creatures of a new taxon combining many characteristics found in Earth’s cetaceans, crustaceans and mollusks. See
g Aftermath - Donald E. Tarter, a consultant in space policy and technology assessment, makes a persuasive case for developing the protocols and technology to reply to an extraterrestrial signal before news of the discovery is made public, in his article, “Advocating an Immediate Response.” Delay could be costly as technologically advanced fringe groups or ambitious nations could attempt to score a propaganda victory by being the first to reply, creating a mixed and perhaps embarrassing first message. This could be avoided by settling on a quick and simple message to let the extraterrestrial source know that we had received their message. See Note: This report is from 1996.