Monday, May 07, 2007

Three generations of stars, Martian climate change and Arecibo message

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 - Analysis of Hubble observations of the massive globular cluster NGC 2808 provides evidence that it has three generations of stars that formed early in the cluster's life. This is a major upset for conventional theories as astronomers have long thought that globular star clusters had a single "baby boom" of stars early in their lives and then settled down into a long, quiet middle age. See
g Abodes - Mars is a very windy place—so windy, in fact, that bright, oxidized Martian soil is being scoured away by Martian winds and dust devils to reveal darker, sub-surface soil with the end result of making the whole planet warmer. Mars is experiencing its own brand of climate change. Is this related to planet Earth’s greenhouse gas driven climate change? No. Is understanding the process important for our understanding of how planets evolve and change over time? Absolutely. See
g Life - Unless someone or something stops it soon, the mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation's honeybees could have a devastating effect on America's dinner plate, perhaps even reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet. See
g Intelligence - Defects in the brain's white matter, which is responsible for communication between parts of the brain, may be a key genetic factor contributing to schizophrenia, a new study suggests. See
g Message - In 1974, astronomers sent the "Arecibo message," a binary-coded signal that decodes to a graphic illustrating some basic characteristics of Earth. The message was intended more to demonstrate the power of the telescope than to contact distant civilizations. Cornell's 25th anniversary announcement includes a decoded explanation and more information about what the scientists were thinking. See
g Cosmicus - Bears conk out for up to seven months during the Wisconsin winters, a snooze that would turn a human's muscles into Jell-O. But when nature's alarm clock signals it's time to awaken from hibernation, black bears have just as much muscle mass as when they tucked themselves in for the deep slumber, a new study finds. The discovery could ultimately help astronauts and the bed-ridden maintain their skeletal muscles. In fact, the research was initially spurred by astronauts who had trouble recovering after a trip to space. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site to introduce kids who go ga-ga over movie aliens to the science of astrobiology: http://www.riverdeep.
g Imagining - Many science fiction story lines involve alien life forms. From a literary prospective, aliens often serve as metaphors for something more familiar. From a practical prospective, they make stories more interesting and TV more eye-catching. But what of scientific accuracy? A professor offers his advice about “How to Build an Alien” at
g Aftermath - Book alert: You may have to really scour used book stores for this one: 1976’s “ETI: The First Encounter” considers the consequences to man's view of himself and his world of the first proven contact — when it comes — with beings from another planet. Edited by James L. Christian, this book led the way in reflecting on the next stage in man's gradual self-discovery. For the table of contents and ISBN, see