Sunday, April 08, 2007

Venus’ atmosphere, microbial communities on Mars and science education on Earth

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 - The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has delivered an unrivalled snapshot of the nearby barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672. This remarkable image provides a high definition view of the galaxy's large bar, its fields of star-forming clouds and dark bands of interstellar dust. See
g Abodes - New images and data from the European Space Agency's mission to Venus provide new insights into the turbulent and noxious atmosphere of Earth's sister planet. What causes violent winds and turbulences? Is the surface topography playing a role in the complex global dynamics of the atmosphere? Venus Express is on the case. See
g Life - Microbial communities in some of the world's oldest, driest and remote deserts may yield clues to the potential for life on Mars. See
g Intelligence - Intimidation and threats are common throughout society, whether it's in the school playground, sporting arena or boardroom. Threatening behavior is equally widespread among non-human animals. See
g Message - When looking for ET, we may have to consider other strategies beyond radio waves. See As a side note, one of those strategies might by looking for optical signals; see
for more.
g Cosmicus - NASA scientists are studying ways to improve space medicine to tackle space travel's medical challenges. One effort is to develop 'image fusion.' In this process, clear, sharp x-rays and other high-resolution, scanned images of astronauts taken on Earth will be combined with less sharp sonograms taken onboard spacecraft to enhance those images. These improved images will enable doctors to better see the condition of major organs in astronauts. See
g Learning - Dana Backman was staffing one of the walk-by tables in a gizmos and gadgets “Share-a-thon” session at the National Science Teachers Association’s annual convention in St. Louis last month. Her demo showed how an inexpensive photocell could detect both visible light from a flashlight, and invisible near-infrared radiation from a TV remote-control unit, which is one of the four activities in her SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) Active Astronomy kit. As hundreds of teachers filed by during two hours, she hawked my wares and handed out teacher guide on CD-ROMs plus web address cards to those who lingered for a conversation. And then things got interesting … See
g Imagining - Could the Pak of Larry Niven's "Ringworld" universe possibly evolve? They've got a homepage to discuss that and other questions about the intriguing fiction alien race. See
g Aftermath - If, as “The X-Files'” Fox Mulder might say, "The truth is out there," then the researchers running the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program are likely to be the first ones to find it. On the other hand, there are numerous people who believe they've already been in contact with aliens. National Geographic's video ”Phantom Quest: The Search for Extraterrestrials” studies the claims of both groups, ultimately seeking to reveal precisely what an encounter with beings from another planet could mean for humanity. See