Thursday, May 17, 2007

Black hole masses, how life got started on Earth and radio signals for ET

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 - Two astrophysicists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have successfully tested a new method for determining the masses of black holes. See
g Abodes - Astrobiologists have a strong interest in understanding the conditions on the early Earth, but the record for the first 700 million years of Earth history is gone. The stages that made our planet fit for life are not recorded in the rocks we have today. See
g Life - One of the biggest puzzles in biology is also one of the principal challenges for astrobiology. Just how did life emerge on Earth and under what conditions might it arise on other planetary bodies?
g Intelligence - The possibility of losing money stresses young adults out, but it doesn’t seem to faze the elderly. New research reveals that while both young and old adults had similar levels of brain activity when anticipating rewards, certain brain regions in older adults didn’t activate when responding to a potential financial loss. Published in the April 29 online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, the results add to the understanding of how age affects mental processes. It could also explain why older people are more susceptible to monetary scams. See
g Message - Researchers writing in an issue of Nature from a couple of years ago argue that radio signals are not the most efficient way of alerting an extraterrestrial intelligence to our existence — and that anyone out there who is trying to send out a similar message is likely to have reached the same conclusion. Here’s a downloadable NPR report on the conclusions: Note: The radio report is from 2004.
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 Note: This article is from early 2007.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site from NASA: A curriculum framework for comparing Earth to other planets with regard to life. See
g Imagining - Here’s a neat Web site that examines the life cycle of the Alien — the extraterrestrial from said movie: It’s a little light on evolutionary speculation and discussing plausibility, but the life cycle is thoroughly described.
g Aftermath - The statement that extraterrestrial intelligence exists or doesn’t can have the parallel statement that God exists or doesn’t. Some people say there’s already sufficient evidence of existence for both. If you set aside abductions and miracles, it’s true that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence for either. However, if and when one ever detects evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence, it will break the symmetry of these two statements and, in fact, that evidence will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions. See