Friday, May 25, 2007

Infant stars hatching, atmospheric details of Venus and how the ingredients of life are processed in space

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 - A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows infant stars "hatching" in the head of Orion, the famous hunter constellation visible from northern hemispheres during winter nights. Astronomers suspect that shockwaves from a 3-million-year-old explosion of a massive star may have initiated this newfound birth. See article.
g Abodes - An exciting new series of videos from ESA’s Venus Express has been capturing atmospheric details of day and night areas simultaneously, at different altitudes. See article.
g Life - Astronomers may be one step closer to understanding how the ingredients of life are processed in space, thanks to NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. On Earth, the elements carbon and hydrogen dominate the chemistry of all life. Because molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, contain both of these elements and are abundant all over the universe, many astronomers suspect that they may be among life's building blocks. PAHs are also especially hardy molecules - typically found in hot, chaotic regions of space - leading some to believe that they could have survived the harsh environments of the planet's early days. See
g Intelligence - When male primates tussle and females develop their social skills it leaves a permanent mark – on their brains. According to research published in the online open access journal BMC Biology, brain structures have developed due to different pressures on males and females to keep up with social or competitive demands. See
g Message - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “The Rare Earth.” How special are the circumstances that have allowed complex life, like animals and plants, to develop on Earth? In this activity, students systematically investigate the time frame for complex life to develop on Earth. See
g Cosmicus - Is solar power from space a better strategy for America and the world than relying on fossil fuels? See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: “The Drake Equation.” Students estimate the number of civilizations in the galaxy by first estimating the number of craters on the Moon and then by performing estimates of multiple-variable systems culminating in the use of the Drake Equation. See
g Imagining - Like stories about communicating with aliens? Then be sure to read Jack Vance’s "The Gift of Gab” (1955), which involves “talking” with intelligent cephalopods. See http://www.jackvance.
g Aftermath - Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See