Thursday, May 03, 2007

Venus Express at one year, ‘Wow!’ signal hunting and ‘Life on the Edge’

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 - One of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras has been released to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the launch and deployment of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image shows a 50 light-year-wide view of the tumultuous central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth - and death - is taking place. See
g Abodes - One year has passed since Venus Express, Europe's first mission to Venus and the only spacecraft now in orbit around the planet, reached its destination. Since then, this advanced probe, born to explore one of the most mysterious planetary bodies in the Solar System, has been revealing planetary details never caught before. See
g Intelligence - The human brain's ability to process information declines with age, but knowledge about the world through experiences tends to rise over time. So how do these shifts affect a person's ability to make sound decisions? See
g Message - Veteran "Wow!" signal hunter Robert Gray recently turned south in his efforts to track down the elusive signal. In collaboration with the University of Tasmania, Gray used the 26-meter dish in Hobart, Tasmania, to record radio signals from the "Wow!" location for long hours at a time. See what they found at
g Cosmicus - A new robot named Domo may be the next step forward in artificial intelligence. The robot is able to analyze its environment and manipulate objects in ways similar to humans. These abilities may one day help robots explore distant planets and perform complicated scientific studies. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Life on the Edge.” The lesson plans examine the question, “Is there life on other planets in our solar system? No one knows, but if there is it's probably a microorganism that thrives in extreme environments. Students will follow a dog sled team to a high mountain peak, make "Planets in a Bottle," and learn more about nature's extremophiles. See
g Imagining - What is panspermia, a concept that appears in a number of science fiction stories, and how plausible is it? See
g Aftermath - Among scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, it’s quite common to be focused on the future, ever mindful that it could take years, or even decades, to find a signal from otherworldly intelligence. But if historian Steve Dick has his way, astronomers will also turn their attention toward the past as they search for life beyond Earth — to discover the aftereffects of contact between two intelligent cultures. See Note: This article is from 2003.