Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When galaxies collide, potential for life on 40 Eridani and dark abysses of the Southern Ocean

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 - New calculations are helping scientists understand what will happen to the Earth and the Sun when our Milky Way galaxy collides with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The findings show that the collision is set to take place within the Sun's lifetime and will leave our Solar System on the outer fringes of the newly merged galaxy. See article.
g Abodes - Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have recently concluded that the upcoming planet-finding mission, SIM PlanetQuest, would be able to detect an Earth-like planet around the star 40 Eridani, a planet familiar to "Star Trek" fans as "Vulcan." 40 Eridani, a triple-star system 16 light-years from Earth, includes a red-orange K dwarf star slightly smaller and cooler than our sun. Vulcan is thought to orbit that dwarf star, called 40 Eridani A. See article. For related story, see “Viewing Vulcan”.
g Life - Carnivorous sponges, blind creepy-crawlies adorned with hairy antennae and ribbed worms are just some of the new characters recently found to inhabit the dark abysses of the Southern Ocean, an alien abode once thought devoid of such life. See
g Intelligence - Researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Exeter have found that eating certain plant substances can slow down the rate of aging - and that females prefer mates that will be long-lived. See
g Message - Want to help SETI discover alien life? If you haven’t already done so, download the free SETI at Home software. Using Internet-connected computers, the program downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your desktop when it is idle. The program has been so successful in plowing through data that other scientific researchers, especially in medicine, are adopting it to their fields. See for the program.
g Cosmicus - Here’s a neat Web site that advocates space exploration. It takes its name from a famous quote by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the first great advocate of space exploration and creator of the concept “homo cosmicus.” It’s called “Out of the Cradle.” See
g Learning - Here’s a neat new set of afterschool activities for elementary school students: “Astrobiology.” This new resource guide from the American Museum of Natural History brings astrobiology activities to the afterschool arena. As part of an 18-month project, AMNH collected NASA materials originally developed for the formal education setting, and adapted them for use in afterschool programs for participants aged 5-12. Members of NAI's NASA Ames Research Center Lead Team served as science advisors to the guide. See http://www.amnhafterschool.pdf/.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” (1970) and the sequel, “Ringworld Engineers” (1980).
g Aftermath - For some provocative reading, pick up “Sharing the Universe,” by Seth Shostak, at your local bookstore. SETI scientist Shostak almost single-handedly is outlining social and political issues that will arise once we make contact with extraterrestrials. For reviews, see